What we say serves to shape our identity in the minds of others and creates

expectations. By living the values we profess i.e. talking our intended walk, we build credibility over time – a reward worth having.  

New perspectives were gained from managers while I was conducting ‘Walk your talk’ workshops a few years ago. At first, ‘Walk your talk’ seemed a simple enough idea, but this was not to be. Situations we face every day do not lend themselves to simple ‘black and white’ thinking. There are infinite shades of grey in between. 

Saying what you mean in the ‘grey’ zone requires a much deeper analysis and understanding of a situation and with a good sense of timing to boot. There are occasions when speaking the truth is not advisable, particularly if it harms someone, and also yields no benefit. At times a ‘white lie’ may be the best course of action to solve a particular problem. All this, however, should be done without in any way being unethical.  

‘Walk your talk’ is about execution; it’s about your personal leadership that is imbued with integrity as you make things happen. It takes confidence to deliver on promises you make by walking your talk. 

Saying what you mean is a crucial aspect of professionalism, which remains a crying need in organizations. Professionalism invites us to ‘profess’ or lay a claim to some types of expertise we possess. It is about us declaring our capability. 

What we say serves to shape our identity in the minds of others and creates expectations. By living the values we profess i.e. talking our intended walk, we build credibility over time – a reward worth having.  

You don’t have to go very far to discover your real values. Decisions you make in every day life reveal what you actually consider important. Just this morning, outside International Arrivals at Islamabad Airport, I saw a group of passengers getting off a bus. One of them was a smartly dressed gentleman in a dark suit. It was surprising to see this seemingly refined and educated individual casually drop litter on the floor as soon as he set foot on the tarmac. I wondered whether, if asked, he would claim cleanliness to be one of his values!? 

Some values are personal to us, while others have to do with the collective. Observe how people keep their homes clean, yet litter is strewn outside their boundary walls. Many drivers, chauffeurs or owners, clean their cars, yet mindlessly chuck the rubbish outside on the street. We talk of discipline, yet lose our temper at the slightest mistake made by others.    

Try sharing your values at home, in your organization and amongst friends. Be prepared to receive feedback in the form of criticism from those who care for you. They will convey inconvenient truths every time your conduct varies from your stated creed. In this context, what you claim is just like your ‘specimen signature’ at the bank - a pattern of your writing – a description of your identity. Your ‘cheque’ (your actions) will not be honored; if your ‘signature’ on the cheque varies from the ‘specimen signature’ (your claim) you gave to the bank at the time of opening your account.  

It is easy to enter the world of self-delusion by espousing one set of values, while living another. Organizations and individuals often have the tendency to embrace values that sound and feel good. This is a useful starting point. At least there is something to go by. It is easy to see gaps in behaviors and practices when the expected standards are clearly laid down. It’s only when gaps are known that steps can be taken to narrow them. I recall a local company which had this sentence at the beginning of its mission statement: “Seeking Allah’s pleasure in all that we do.” It soon became apparent to its management team that this was too big a claim to live up to and retracted it. 

Choose whatever values you like. What is important is that you remain true to them by role modeling them. It is sad to see people compromising their principles, and consequently their credibility, for securing short-term gains. 

For building greater credibility it helps to remember the following: 

  1. Acquire and develop greater personal and professional expertise in your chosen field of interest 
  2. Develop personal attraction by working on your key relationships (family, work and community) and 
  3. Make consistent efforts directed to an end (a worthy goal). 

While making tough decisions, don’t lose sight of wisdom. Wisdom is making correct use of knowledge. We have always known that honesty is the best policy. Yet, why is it, that despite us having this knowledge, we conveniently risk losing our credibility, by flouting it? 

It will not surprise you to learn that cheating and deceiving has become a widespread practice amongst politicians, lawyers, businessmen and other professionals. In fact, ethical violations have conveniently been relabeled as ‘practical’ and ‘expedient’ - a way to succeed in demanding situations. By anaesthetizing our conscience through transformational vocabulary, doing wrong becomes ‘painless’. 

The habit of deceiving self and others stems from our fears, which are mostly unfounded. People who are risk-averse prefer to sit on the fence and delegate upwards. There are others who suffer from the fear of losing their job and avoid disagreeing with their bosses when needed.

Managers who find themselves paralyzed by ambiguity and chaos become a liability for any organization. Change by its very nature leads to varying degrees of uncertainty. We are living in times characterized by massive social and technological change which demands credible leadership. To add value in these challenging times, you need to be a professional with adaptability; resilience and risk-taking as your visible attributes. If we don’t address our fears caused by your infected beliefs about people and life in general, we will not only harm ourselves but also those around us. 

To fear doing what you know to be good is a form of evil. Therefore, by overcoming your fear and developing greater self-confidence you will eliminate your tendency to commit this subtle evil – of not doing what you know to be good. It’s not enough for you to say, ‘I have never harmed anyone!’ Instead, ask yourself what good can you do and then do it!  

Start by saying what you mean. This way you will commit yourself in public to a course of action that will be a positive challenge for you to live up to.