Conventional wisdom holds that leaders who “walk the talk” – who demonstrate consistency and congruence in what they say, do and believe – set the best examples for others. There’s a lot of truth in this, but I’d like to make a plea for the opposite: talking the walk.

I’m not suggesting that we adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. I’m just noting that there are times when talking about “the way things are done around here” can be a powerful means of shifting awareness and facilitating positive culture change.

We tend not to be aware of the conventions that govern our speech and behaviour. They’re implicit, silently directing our actions in the world and are outside our conscious awareness most of the time. A good way to highlight this is to think, what would a child observing this say? Children who are learning social conventions for the first time, are sometimes chided for being impolite when they draw attention to the obvious like this (“Why are you talking angry?” “Why do you always sit there?” or “What’s making you look sad?”). They haven’t yet learnt that not talking about these conventions is often part of the convention.

By focussing on what is occurring as it happens – the decisions that are being taken, the behaviour that is being observed – we can get past the stories that we tell ourselves and understand what is actually happening. By focussing on this a Gestalt approach can raise awareness of what is being said, by who, and how, as well as (perhaps more importantly) what is not being said, who is being silent, what is not being done or questioned.

As Gestalt-orientated organisational theorist Karl Weick put it, “To ‘talk the walk’ is to be opportunistic in the best sense of the word. It is to search for words that make sense of current walking that is adaptive for reasons that are not yet clear.”

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