Author Lance Secretan once said that authenticity is the “alignment of head, mouth, heart and feet - thinking, saying and doing the same thing consistently.”
Effective leaders are constantly trying to match their words with their actions. Ultimately, this process builds trust and earns credibility. Trust is earned when the leader is able to both walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders use language to communicate their vision and beliefs, but their actions ultimately determine the validity of their words.
Learning to walk the walk and talk the talk is about the crucial work of creating alignment between what we say and what we do. No great leader, team, or organization can perform at a high level without first committing to the hard work of building trust, earning credibility, and creating alignment.
Talking the Talk
Author James Kerr wrote this about the importance of our words: “Language becomes oxygen that sustains belief. In this way leaders rewrite the future.” What we say matters. It matters because the limits of our language are ultimately the limits of our world - and even more importantly, the limits of our leadership!
As Kevin Roberts once said, “Revolutions start with language.” The language we use as leaders creates the culture, the mindset, and the foundation for our behaviors. Language embeds itself in our teams and comes to fruition (whether we like it or not). Language leads to action, so it is crucial to respect it, craft it and use it strategically to build our teams. Creating a common language is critical to crafting an effective culture. It is the tool that reinforces belief, builds a common purpose, and creates the metaphors that inspire a team to become more than the members thought they could be.
Talking the talk is about intentionally using language to propel a team towards its objective and fusing a group of individuals into a collective unit. When motivation weakens and belief runs dry, language can be the fire-hose of refreshment that helps a team to persevere towards its final destination. In short, talking the talk can move a team from isolation to community, from selfishness to selflessness, from mediocrity to excellence.
Walking the Walk
Walking the walk is the natural extension of leaders who talk the talk. Actions speak louder than words because the ultimate test of our character is the transference from our beliefs to our behavior. Our character comes from our values, our values are informed by our beliefs, and our beliefs grow out of our purpose. Character is simply the manifestation of these values in our day-to-day actions in the world. Put more concretely, leaders can learn to walk the walk by asking themselves a simple question: “Are you going to do what you promised to do?”
Walking the walk is about taking responsibility and owning your piece of the pie; it is about doing your job to the best of your ability. When leaders walk the walk, they gain instant credibility because authenticity is built in the follow-through and in the promises kept. There is nothing that builds trust more quickly than a leader who keeps his word. In contrast, there is nothing that destroys trust more quickly than a leader who makes promises he can’t deliver on. Leaders who operate with integrity understand this distinction and embrace the responsibility that comes with a position of leadership.
Alignment of beliefs, words and actions creates a culture of trust. Trust is the most valuable currency a leader can earn; without it there is no team — there is nothing more than a collection of individuals who are grouped together around a common activity. For leaders, there is no discipline more valuable than ensuring the alignment between what they say and what they do. This is what it means to lead with integrity and authenticity, this is what it means to talk the talk and walk the walk.