Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

Walk your talk

By Oscar David | January 4, 2017 | 2 min read

Accepting responsibility means doing what you say. Having an inner compass to guide us and receiving good feedback help us to develop power 3.0 leadership and to exercise power with integrity. But responsibility becomes particularly significant when we manage to convert our own visions and any feedback we have received in our behaviour. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

If a leader says that involving his staff is important to him, but his behavior does not corroborate this, then what he says has little value and may even backfire on him: such a leader may be regarded as unreliable. What matters is that you do what you say and that you embody what you regard as important. This is known as walking  our talk. The more our behaviour expresses our values, the more others will perceive us as exercising power 3.0. Then details that seem small can make all the difference.


I had reported to the reception desk of a bank and had been asked to wait in the corridor. I had an appointment with the general manager to  talk about team training for the executives. I had just about sat down when a young lady greeted me really warmly. ‘Good morning’, she said, looking me straight in the eye. I started to get up to introduce myself,  supposing she must be the secretary. This turned out not to be the case. She was just a member of the staff simply wishing me a friendly good morning. I had just settled down again when I was again greeted by a decisive-looking man wearing a suit. And this kept on happening. I have visited many companies, but for me it was a new experience that everyone greeted me — a mere visitor — with such a friendly hello. As I sat down at the general manager’s desk a few minutes later, I told her how impressed I was by all the friendly hellos. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I really like it too. I have never asked them to do it, but I do it myself whenever I bump into my staff.’ Good examples are often followed. Staff respond not so much to what you say, but to what you do. It’s as simple as that.


Many leaders know how important it is to connect with all layers of an organisation and be on good terms with all employees. At the same time, in reality, because of their position, they often spend more time in their ivory towers than they realise. The story is told that, whenever he had fifteen minutes to spare, Sergio Orlandini, a much-loved CEO of KLM, made daily trips up and down in the lift, as if he were a piccolo. This enabled him to meet a number of people from all levels in the organisation in a short space of time.

I came across Robert Simons, one of the nursing executives of the Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam, wearing a white coat. I was meeting him to discuss a team session that I would be holding for the executive board. ‘Why are you wearing a white coat?’ I asked. Robert: ‘I still work as a nurse one day a week’, he said. ‘This enables me to stay in touch with the profession and with my hands-on colleagues.’ 

These are but a few examples of ethical behaviour, though clearly many others exist. You do not have to be a leader to behave with integrity. Irrespective of the work you do or the life you lead: by allowing yourself to be guided by vision and behaving with integrity, you are demonstrating leadership and revealing your motives. Not only does this help you to develop inner power, but you can even serve as an example and a source of inspiration to others. 


Oscar DavidOscar David is lecturer at the TIAS Senior Executive Program, a program for ambitious senior professionals. His book The Integrity of Power tries to increase insight into what power is and how it works, and to encourage a greater awareness of the significance of power in our life and work. 

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