Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mixed Messages

I took this picture this week at an airport in San Diego. Crazy, isn't it? But it got me thinking about the mixed signals we send to our teammates. When we say one thing and do another, we generate this same sort of confusion. Here are some examples:

-- You are empowered. (Just ask me before you do anything bold).
-- People are our most important asset. (As long as we are profitable).
-- Keep me posted and let me know what you are doing. (But don't expect me to answer you -- I'm real busy!).
-- People are free to be themselves. (As long as they fit within our very narrowly defined culture).
-- Don't waste my time. (But it is okay if I waste yours!).
-- We invest in our people. (But we're too busy to train).
-- Hold each other accountable. (But don't tell me if I'm letting you down).
-- Failure is simply an opportunity to learn and grow. (But you're out of here if you make a mistake).

You get the point. Leadership is about walking the talk. It's about consistency between our language and our actions. And it's about avoiding the kind of mixed messages that this picture represents.

One leader who embodies the "walk the talk" approach is Mr. Herb Kelleher. Wally Bock writes in "Three Star Leadership" about Herb finally stepping down as Chairman at Southwest Airlines. I had the opportunity to have dinner with Herb about a year ago and truly believe that he is the real deal. His approach to Servant Leadership is genuine. People truly are first at SWA.

Thanks for the post, Wally. Congratulations Mr. Kelleher on your amazing ride. And thanks to all of you for what you do to avoid mixed messages, to "walk the talk," in your respective professional lives.

That's Leader Business.


Anonymous said...

This is SPOT ON! I would actually take it one step further ...

A "Rap Poet" once put the phrase on wax that the "Faces Change But The Game Remains The Same". This observation SCREAMS THIS. Hopefully another 9/11 will not come to pass to get our country into alignment...

Gannon said...


I just found your page today from a post on Erika Andersen's blog.

You're writing is wonderful. I've long thought the military had a lot to offer the civilian world in terms of leadership theory and instruction. I come at it from the Marine Corps perspective. I did a lens on the Marine Corps philosophy a while back that you might find interesting:

I've always wanted to know how the other services have approached leadership so you can count on me being a regular reader.



Totally Consumed said...

Nicely said. The dichotomy between the "walk" and the "talk" is often the result of a simple lack of awareness. Simply letting someone know that their actions and words don't seem to mesh is often all that's needed to motivate a person to take corrective action.

Eric Peterson said...


This is a GREAT post! Mixed signals can kill morale and kill production! I love your point on consistency between our "language" and our "actions." There are many leaders out there that need to read this post!

Tom Magness said...

Totally Consumed -- you are so right. The challenge for leaders is holding peers and people above them accountable. That definitely requires courage and a commitment to do the right thing -- no matter the cost! Thanks for stopping by. TM

Tom Magness said...


Thanks for your feedback. Spread the word. We definitely need our leaders to understand the importance of consistency between "walkin'" and "talkin'!" Hooah! TM