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the message or the messenger?

When our backbone is aligned, we walk tall, freely and with no hesitation.  We have balance, see far and wide and can respond to any unexpected influence swiftly and efficiently.  With recent recessionary impact being described by some as ‘unexpected influence’ and others as ‘seen as coming from a mile off’, could the dichotomy of perspective equate to the gap between evolved and less evolved corporate leaders of today, those in full alignment and those less so?

The recent HBR article seen here shines a spotlight on the importance of alignment to achieve real results in today’s complex business landscape, demonstrating and providing examples of

  • a service mind-set – service to all equally
  • authenticity in all we do

in business today. Success metrics of the changing world seem to be balancing financial with contribution elements.

At the same time, Thomas Friedman recently stated in the New York Times: ‘There is a global leadership vacuum. By ‘leadership’, I don’t just mean people who win elections, but rather men and women with legitimacy and the will to tell their people the truth, while also build coalitions’.

So what is the foundation that will ensure a business of today is aligned to the changing world’s requirements of a service mind-set, authenticity, truth and collaboration?  According to Kouzes and Posner, it starts with a leader’s ability to ‘Model the Way’.

Model The Way is the first of five leadership practices that ensure ‘personal bests’ and peak performance.  These five practices evolved from thirty-five years of research about what allows people to wish to follow others.

Model The Way is a practice which has an internal commitment to oneself, to find one’s own voice, identifying what it is that is important to value, knowing those non-negotiable factors in life and business.  It is a time where we need to be able to describe in our own words what we value and why.  No one will feel our authenticity or trust our leadership if we are using the words of others! After all, we cant do what we’ll say we do if we cant describe what we believe and if we indeed don’t fully believe it.  Under those circumstances, it is all simply a façade or an act that others will detect. Our values drive our thinking and our thinking drives our behavior!

The associated external commitment to the environment is where our behaviour will come under the spotlight and credibility will be tested, with others observing how we walk the talk, personify the belief, become the value and be an exemplary example of what matters most.  Critical incidents will provide great opportunity for us to also pass this onto others!

In today’s business world, we need to reconnect with our leaders, and to do that we need to start believing them – yet do they give us a reason to do so?  For too long now, leadership has been like the TV screen running, yet the audio is a second or two behind. Confusion has reigned with doubt everywhere. It’s time for re-alignment, and this can be done not only through the values we hold, but also through the stories told, the language used, the questions asked, the rewards presented and the expectations set!

No one will believe the message until the messenger is believed, and success metrics will never move beyond segregated financial indicators until credibility returns to leadership!


Debbie Nicol, Managing Director of Dubai-based ‘business en motion’, and creator and author of the ‘embers of the world’ series, is passionate about change.  She works with both traditional and contemporary toolkits that move businesses and executive leaders ahead, whilst working on leader and organizational development, strategic change and corporate cultures.

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