Do your leaders walk the talk?

How do you assess whether leaders will drive sustainable performance or build a house of cards that will eventually collapse?

Answering this question has become critical with ethical breakdowns causing billion-dollar fines, reputational disasters and a financial crisis. Well, it really comes down to whether leaders ‘walk the talk’, i.e. take responsible decisions and create conditions for others to do the same. But what does it mean and how do you measure it?

Just ask employees. With the Responsible Leadership Matrix below, employees can - within seconds - reveal whether or not your leaders promote and act with integrity. You can easily to map out your leaders to make sure only the right ones stay and performance lasts.

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The Window Dresser talks about integrity in speeches, newsletters and other communications, but does not back up words with actions. He or she fails to realize that daily remarks and decisions have much stronger impact on employee behavior than majestic statements on ethics. This “do as I say, not as I do” attitude leads to cynicism, destroys trust and saps employee motivation. Companies should terminate its window dressers if they do not immediately take responsible decisions that reflect both economic and ethical perspectives.

The City Snake leads people as ‘general on a horseback’ with an autocratic, controlling style that went out of fashion along with the black and white television. Although city snakes do not promote or act with integrity, companies still employ them for their undeniable drive for (short term) results. With the characteristic “whatever it takes” management style, they lead using fear, shrug at ethical shortcuts, use company resources as their own and promote managers who push the envelope. The City Snake rewards those who make the numbers, whatever the means and should be terminated before destroying companies.

The Lone Rider acts with integrity but does not promote it. Such failure to lead is insufficient in today’s performance-driven business climate. He or she assumes that good people will act responsibly no matter the circumstances, even when faced with business pressure and bonus seductions. The Lone rider fails to embed integrity into performance management processes for hiring, promoting, developing and rewarding people. Companies should equip Lone riders with the required skills to lead others responsibly through establishing clear behavioural expectations, encouraging challenge and introducing balanced performance incentives.

The Responsible Leader champions integrity through words and deeds. He or she invites challenge and embeds ethical behavior into key management processes. As a consequence, the performance appraisal system not only ensures clear expectations for what is to be accomplished, but also for how so ends do not justify the means. The responsible leader sacrifices business deals, which do not meet integrity standards. He or she recognises responsible business as a competitive advantage, which attracts talent, improves motivation and drives innovation by forcing reflection beyond a narrow commercial focus.

How quickly can you map your leaders in the Walk the Talk Matrix? If you are a leader yourself, wear a t-shirt with the matrix on your back and ask employees to pencil you in (and hope that you don't get pain on the left side).