WALK THE WALK
The Power of Doing What You Say You Will
People who become leaders have many options. One way a leader can lead is by becoming a ruler. Machiavellian leaders who rule tell people what to do, and intimidate, coerce or bully them into compliance. Other leaders ask their followers to help them sustain business as usual, often with declining results. Another type of leader simply holds his or her position until somebody else comes along to mop up the mess.
Finally, there is the true leader. This leader, whose attributes are described in detail in author Alan Deutschman’s latest book Walk the Walk, is the powerful person who does exactly what he or she says he or she will do. A leader who doesn’t just talk the talk but walks the walk is somebody who stands up to opposing forces by following the values and belief systems that he or she described while rising to the top position in the organization.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At the beginning of Walk the Walk, Deutschman describes an elegant example of a leader who embodies the quality that he illuminates throughout his book: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Not only did King preach a nonviolent approach as the best way to end the inequality suffered by African-Americans in the United States, but when called to task, he lived the beliefs that he spoke about in his speeches.
Deutschman describes a day in September 1962 when King was speaking before a crowd in Birmingham, Alabama. While talking to about 300 black civil rights leaders at the annual national gathering of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a 24-year-old neo-Nazi stepped up to the podium and punched King in the face. He then proceeded to pummel the civil rights leader with his fists. Instead of defending himself and returning the man’s blows, King dropped his arms to his sides, demonstrating how somebody who chooses nonviolence should act when encountering a violent response.
When King’s followers in the audience rushed to his defense, King told them not to touch his attacker. King followed the words he had been preaching all along. He showed his constituents how to turn the other cheek. When King did this, he served as an example to his followers of how they should act when involved in their own struggles for fairness and freedom. By doing so, King walked the walk, embodying the rule that Deutschman writes is the singular quality that separates those who truly lead from those who only claim to lead.
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos
Throughout his book, Deutschman offers dozens of colorful examples from a variety of professions to show readers how this quality manifests itself in a multitude of ways. For example, he describes the actions that allowed Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, to become one of the most admired leaders in the world. Early in his life as a leader of Amazon, Bezos said that his main priorities were his company’s customers and its long-term success. Defying the Wall Street analysts who were looking for shorter-term results, Bezos grew his company slowly while creating an infrastructure that never wavered from his original goals. Today, Deutschman explains, Bezos is a leader among leaders whose success is a direct result of his ability to walk the walk.
Part of Bezos’ success, Deutschman writes, comes from one of the crucial ways that a leader who walks the walk can stay on track. To do this, he writes, “you reveal the ranking of your values.” For King, his two values were nonviolence and equality. When he refused to strike back at his attacker, he showed that nonviolence was what Deutschman calls “his paramount value for the movement that he led.” When Bezos refused to remove several customer-centric applications that he installed on his Web site to improve the value that they get from their interactions with his company, he demonstrated his “first virtues” of customer-centricity and a long-term focus.
Many powerful examples like these fill Walk the Walk. Deutschman’s ability to tell stories filled with highly pertinent details make his latest book a compelling inroad to the most important attributes that a leader can embody. Using the techniques described by Deutschman, leaders can take the necessary steps to find their way to organizational success.