Walk The Talk Or Talk The Walk?

In a sales driven organisation with which I was working, I had come across a very special and extremely successful leader. He was not my boss. However, was a peer to my boss, leading another team managing a different product. The reasons as to why I found him unique were:

1.Equality: I observed that he treated each person in the organisation with due respect. Be it the Country Manager, his own team member or an Office Assistant, he was equally amiable to one and all.

2.Uniformity: He made it a point that all rules applicable to his team are implemented by him as well. He was always the first within his team to arrive in office, prior to the start of each work day, as well as the last to leave. Rarely observed him walking in to office late or leaving early, which was the case with some of his peers.

3.Commitments: He ensured that every commitment which he made to his team members was strictly adhered to. His word was truly his bond. His team respected him for this. Every statement which he conveyed was imbibed as the gospel by each member of  his business unit.

I was keen as well as curious to understand more about this leader’s management style. During a company offsite, I had an opportunity to discuss with him in detail about the recipe of his success. Being extremely crisp in his responses, the 2 hardhitting points from his side were:

1.Team members do not follow what leaders SAY. They follow what leaders DO.

2.What I PLAY, my team members REPLAY. Hence, one needs to lead by example.   

These are very simple, nevertheless, profound thoughts. I was inspired and motivated! From that day on, I have attempted my very best to incorporate the mentioned points within my own leadership signature. However, it is not at all a simple exercise to Walk The Talk!

In today’s times, where it is immensely difficult to come across people who practise what they preach, there are a few individuals who still walk the talk. Over-ambition, stiff competition and personal agenda have made the necessary attribute of walking the talk, a mere lip service these days.  

Gone are the times, when we had leaders across various spheres in life such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and J.R.D. Tata who truly led by example. They had conducted their lives with the highest dignity and have become outstanding role-models for legions. How many such conscientious leaders do we come across these days in any walk of life? Are there too many role models who do what they say? Do we ourselves walk the talk? 

I recollect a feature on General George S. Patton, which I had come across some time ago. General Patton led the United States Army during the Second World War. He was a popular military leader and strategist, whose legacy remains until this very day. He genuinely walked the talk and commanded massive respect of his troops for this trait of his. He was famous for his compelling speeches to his troops, which used to be a major hit with them. They used to wait anxiously to hear him speak, as his words motivated them and boosted their confidence. 

Prior to the Second World War, within a speech, he had mentioned that when the opportunity arises, he would be the first to lead an Army battalion into the enemy territory. And that is what he actually did! At the height of the World War, he led the charge by entering into a strongly-armed and potentially dangerous German controlled village in Europe, atop a battle tank. This inspired his fellow army men to follow suit and the rest is history.    

An example in the realm of business is that of Japan Airlines’ erstwhile CEO, Haruka Nishimatsu, who was known for being a “People’s Leader”. The manner in which he led his professional life, became a symbol of inspiration to one and all. One of his airline’s pilots was caught drunk prior to a flight at London’s Heathrow airport. In line with the stringent rules, the pilot was severely penalised. In the light of this, Haruka went a step further. He voluntarily took a 20% pay cut for a period of 3 months, to punish himself for the incident. His belief was that – in case one of this team members had erred, then he had erred. In case one of them has failed, then he has failed. What an extraordinary gesture! 

Do we come across many such leaders such as General Patton and Haruka Nishimatsu now? Your guess is as good as mine! At the same time, I assess that we cannot and should not only expect leaders to walk the talk. You, me and everyone else can do that. I am aware that it is a path of thorns and not a gold-paved street. However, it is imperative that we guide our words and our words guide us. Otherwise it would only be an endless dilemma – Walk The Talk Or Talk The Walk?           

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