12. Walk Your Talk – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Twelve

Walk Your Talk

Walking your talk is a great way to motivate yourself. No one likes to live a lie. Be honest with yourself, and you will find the motivation to do what you advise others to do.


Vince Poscente

Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Marin Luther King Jr. are leaders who made a difference to this world by setting an example. People trusted, revered and followed them because they practised what they preached. Mahatma Gandhi played a crucial role in India’s freedom through non-violence. At a time when the entire world was adopting violent means to achieve their goals, Mahatma Gandhi adopted an unconventional path based on non-violence and truth. Similarly, Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights leader, was responsible for fighting for equal rights of Blacks on par with the whites. He put an end to colour discrimination in America through peaceful means. Mother Teresa, considered the mother of compassion, helped the poor and lepers through her selfless service. Why were these leaders followed by the people? It was due to three words—‘walk your talk’—which are key to effective leadership and soft leadership.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

Dwight David Eisenhower, former US President

Martin Luther King was a visionary leader who dreamt of an America that could rise above colour and creed. He was a true leader who walked his talk throughout his life. He walked his talk by travelling over six million miles and giving over 2,500 speeches to end colour discrimination in America. He strove for equality of Blacks on par with whites without any colour discrimination, in a world where Blacks would live with honour and dignity. He was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Peace for his peaceful civil rights movement.

Jim Collins—How the Mighty Fall

Jim Collins writes books after thorough research. He delivers punches through his books, which impact readers effectively. In his book How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins talks about how great companies fall, and unfolds a fivestage model as follows: First, sometimes companies become arrogant due to their success and take things for granted. Second, taking their previous success for granted, they make undisciplined moves. Third, leaders sometimes present a rosy picture while discounting the negative inputs, thus landing themselves in a big mess. Fourth, they adopt the ‘silver bullet’ solution; and finally, they turn out the lights and end up in a big fiasco. The key message from Jim Collins’ book is that the mighty fall when they fail to walk their talk. Here are some tips to help you walk your talk.

Tips to Walk Your Talk

Every company must define a framework for values, a framework for ethics, a framework for behavior of its leaders. Leaders must walk the talk, leaders must lead by example. There has to be zero tolerance for values violations.

Kris Gopalakrishnan, Infosys Technologies, India

  • Promise less and deliver more. And don’t make false promises that raise the expectations of others. If there is a mismatch between expectations and realities, there will be a rift. Hence, be careful when you commit to something.
  • Be transparent. Do not hide the things that can be kept open. The more you hide, the more suspicion you create in others. Hence, try to be transparent and ethical in your approaches, attitudes and behaviour.
  • Always look at what is right and wrong, not at who is right and wrong as viewing issues from personal perceptions leads to prejudices.
  • Once you commit to something, stand by it. Let the heavens fall. Do not waver from your commitments.
  • Treat all people equally without looking at their titles and positions, whether big or small. It builds your character and reputation as a good leader.
  • Apologize if needed. To err is human. Hence, there should not be any false prestige in apologizing when something goes wrong. Rather, it elevates you, and you end up standing taller in stature.
  • Above all, create trust, as trust is the basic foundation on which the entire leadership depends. If leaders lose trust, they lose everything. Hence, trust is the key for walking your talk.

When companies move away from their mission to achieve organizational goals and when people deviate from their ethical paths to reach their personal goals, they tend to fall from grace. For instance, companies like Enron, WorldCom and Lehman Brothers have collapsed due to unethical practices and a failure to walk their talk.

It is rightly said that organizations don’t fall, but leaders do. Albert Einstein once remarked, ‘Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.’ Hence, people must care more about ethics and must walk their talk to set the right example to their followers. Several corporate leaders walked their talk during their careers and turned their organizations around, thereby excelling as leadership legends.