How many times have I seen this great quote from Mahatma Gandhi used in training programs? I think every consultant must have it tucked away somewhere inside their slide pack.
Trouble is, despite all these presentations, there are precious few leaders who seem to really be prepared to do what it takes to make this true. I see so many statements of corporate intent – values, strategy, vision, credos and principles – with very high aspirations. Leaders are becoming skilled at describing the change they want to see. Their ‘talk’ is very good indeed. Great talk sets the bar much higher than no talk at all. The gap between the ‘walk’ and the ‘talk’ just got a whole lot bigger. The scene is set for eye-rolling and a loss of credibility in leadership.
I have often wondered whether I should be advising clients to hold back on the talk, and just concentrate on the walk. But the advantage of the talk is that it sets the standard, and provides a rallying point. It offers hope and shows intent. It puts a stake in the ground that can act as a conscience to the leaders.
So first I encourage leaders to realise that achieving the talk they are about to communicate will almost certainly require some change in themselves. Once they can see this gap in themselves, I suggest focusing on the way in which the ‘talk’ is delivered. And for those of you in HR, ‘being the change the organisation wants to see’ is far and away the most powerful way of gaining the influence that will help others be that way too.
‘Be the change’ communication:
- Always position values statements as aspirational. “We want to be an organisation who cares about all stakeholders” rather than “We are an organisation who cares about all stakeholders”. If you say you are, and you are not, your credibility as a leader diminishes.
- Ask for feedback whenever people see something that does not live up to the values. And practice receiving that feedback in a way that encourages the messenger to do it again. (See, right away this stuff gets hard.)
- Acknowledge areas where you can see there is a gap between aspiration and reality. Especially in your own behaviour. This step, often seen as a sign of weakness, when done skilfully, is actually the sign of greatest credibility for you as a leader.
Carolyn is the CEO of Walking the Talk and the author of ‘Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success’ (Random House).