Sunday, December 27, 2009

Say it, mean it and do it

Your words must match your deeds

by Richard Pachter

Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders 
Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders. Alan Deutschman. Portfolio. 208 Pages.

Each of us may be the star of our own movie, but that doesn't guarantee an intriguing plot. In a similar fashion, most war stories recounted by business leaders are dull cautionary tales rather than inspiring works offering useful examples and actionable instructions.

In many cases, the problem is that deeds fail to match words. These captains of industry may be legends in their own minds who can glibly talk the talk, but may not walk the walk. No one is perfect, of course, but most leadership failures can invariably be ascribed to the disconnect between the walk and the talk.

We see it all the time in Washington, D.C., and in our local governments. Two-faced politicians, for example, call for austerity, slash spending on important programs yet reward allies, cronies and lackeys at the expense of the public. But when other supervisors fail to follow their own rhetoric, especially in business, there's a ripple effect. ``Leaders'' are supposed to lead, and their behavior is far more revealing and meaningful than mere words.

Alan Deutschman's short and readable book looks at a number of people and the failure and success they achieved for themselves and their organizations based on whether or not their actions aligned with their words. Military leaders, coaches — even companies — that were consistent in their rhetoric and practices are profiled, as well as those who failed to live up to their own responsibilities and standards.

You may not cheer for his team, but there's no way that you can read Deutschman's observations about University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer and not admire his integrity and behavior. His actions communicate more about his values and expectations than any hackneyed half-time speech or sideline exhortation.

Historical figures including Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Eleanor Roosevelt are profiled along with business people such as Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffet, Southwest Airlines' Herb Kelleher, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, politicians Al Gore and Mike Bloomberg, and a bunch of unknown figures whose behavior demonstrated unambiguous leadership and set examples for the people they led -- or fell short.

It's an interesting and absorbing set of stories, sure, but invariably, while reading these exemplary tales, one immediately is reminded of all the moralizing political hacks who condemn the behavior of others while cheating on their wives, lying to their staffs and defrauding the public.

Also springing to mind are thoughts of the more mundane managers who demand standards they fail to achieve. It's especially telling in tough times when bosses expect employees to trim budgets, endure salary cuts and take on additional work, yet somehow those same budgets still accommodate the leaders' high salaries and perquisites.

Deutschman does a fine job demonstrating the importance of moral equanimity and the effectiveness of leaders who are consistent in their purported values and their actions.

He also does a terrific job of portraying the deleterious effects of failure with examples from General Motors' plants to failed military campaigns, plus politicians who preached what they failed to practice. It's a lesson that transcends business but is especially important in it, where trust and integrity can ultimately determine failure or success.
Originally published in The Miami Herald

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