Agile Leadership - Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Ed Holt

Walking the Talk - Tips For Good Practice

Agile Leaders will translate intention into reality by acting on the concepts and messages that they teach, and the things they say to those around them, that is why in Agile leadership – actions speak louder than words is a critical principle.

Good leaders must lead by example. By walking your talk, you become a person others want to follow. When leaders say one thing, but do another, they erode trust and credibility – both critical elements of productive leadership.

There are many examples of good practice in action when it comes to ‘leading by example’ – some are anecdotal, the others a result of formal study. Either way, they offer the aspiring Agile Leader ideas for “being the change”.

This slide, courtesy of Simon Sinek ( says it all:

Here are our top tips for demonstrating Agile Leadership through actions rather than words:

  • “Walk the talk” – don’t tell everyone to stay late, and then leave promptly at 5:00pm leaving everyone else in the office
  • Be authentic – with a leadership style that is honest, dependable, fair and open – and that will generate trust in your teams, and encourage similar behaviours from them
  • Be kind and generous and that will create similar characteristics in the organisation
  • Be fair and self-sacrificing – a study by Haidt (2010) showed when leaders gave of their time to their employees unstintingly, the team members experienced a heightened state of wellbeing (called ‘elevation’); As a result they felt stronger loyalty to the boss and the organisation, and were more likely to show the same behaviours to their colleagues.
  • Be ethical – Ethics are a key element of leadership and have been described as ‘the inner compass that motivates and directs a leader toward what is good and fair’. Ethics help leaders to use their skills for the right purpose.
  • Be courageous – when times are tough people respect and follow leaders who step up to the challenges. Take the lead in taking calculated risks that demonstrate commitment to the purpose and strategies of your organisation.
  • Acknowledge failure – use failure or a setback as a learning opportunity. It makes it OK for your team to do the same and defines failure as part of the process of innovation. If you never acknowledge failures, the people around you may not be comfortable admitting it when things are not going well.
  • Be persistent – inevitably there will be setbacks; they happen to every business, every team and every leader. You can deal with them by reviewing progress and trying a different tack. In doing this you will demonstrate to your team that obstacles don’t mean giving up.
  • Take responsibility – blame costs you your credibility, keeps team members on the defensive and ultimately sabotages real growth. And your people turn their attention to covering their backs so to not get blamed for mistakes. When people are focused on protecting themselves, it takes energy and attention away from delivering great results.
  • Embed leadership by example in your HR practices and policies:
  • Implement Leadership Programmes – with an emphasis on leading by example
  • Recruit new team members who have an action-oriented approach
  • Promote people who lead by example – and let it be known


Author: Ed Holt