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Live the Message by Example

As a leader-communicator, it is imperative that you live your message, i.e., that you walk the talk. What can happen when leaders fail to perform in accordance with their words can be disastrous. The sexual abuse scandal that has swept through the Roman Catholic Church is a sad example of what can happen when the values of the organization do not match the actions of its members. Although cases of priestly pedophilia had been well documented for decades, the Catholic hierarchy, chiefly the bishops, took no public action. Rather than turn the predatory priests over to the authorities, they simply transferred them from parish to parish, enabling these disturbed adults to continue their molestations. They extended this same veil of protection to homosexual priests who had abused teenage boys. The crisis came to a head in the Boston archdiocese in early 2002, when it became public knowledge that Cardinal Joseph Bernard Law had been a prime mover in protecting some of the most heinous of these pedophiles. Law's actions demonstrated that the Church was more concerned with protecting its own than in ministering to its victims. Only after repeated badgering from the media did Law and other members of the Catholic hierarchy acknowledge how hurtful they had been to the victims of abuse. Law ultimately resigned under great pressure.

Similarly, we have witnessed another spectacular fall—that of the celebrity CEOs who placed their own well-being above the well-being of their employees and their shareholders. To be sure, the overwhelming majority of CEOs are decent and trustworthy, but the examples of John Rigas at Adelphia, Dennis Kozlowski at Tyco, and Bernie Ebbers at WorldCom cast a negative light on all business executives. Their excessive greed cost shareholders billions.

These negative examples, however, did have positive outcomes as a result of the news coverage of the scandals. A more informed Catholic laity insisted on zero tolerance for abusers. A more informed investment community insisted on stricter standards of corporate governance. The effectiveness of a leader depends upon the trust of those who follow. Leadership communications reinforces that bond on a regular and frequent basis. So what can you do to ensure that you live your message?

  • As an executive, you must conduct yourself for the good of the organization and make choices that are right for employees, for suppliers, and for shareholders.

  • As a professional (e.g., physician, attorney, or accountant), you must embody the principles of your trade and treat people fairly and honestly.

  • As a teacher or coach, you must set the rules and enforce them for everyone for whom you are responsible.

  • As a parent, you must live for your children, doing what you can to promote their physical, mental, and spiritual development.

You can think of many more examples for yourself, but what it comes down to is this: Walk the talk. Lead by example.

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