Are You a Walker or a Talker?


There are two kinds of leaders—the kind who get in the trenches with their team to experience growth together and walk alongside their team members; and the kind who set up things for their team to experience, and then walk away.

The first type of leader—let’s call them “Walkers”—isn’t afraid to learn along with their team. They aren’t worried about appearing vulnerable or not having all the answers, and never claim to know more than they do. They play with their team, work with their team, and model leadership through action.

The second type of leader—let’s call them “Talkers”—typically removes themselves from the center of “the action”, either leaving the workshop completely that they’ve set up for their team members, or just hanging out on the fringes, never participating. They have an interesting perception of themselves as being somehow above or removed from their team, so participating alongside their team members doesn’t feel appropriate somehow. This type of leader models leadership through words.

The main challenge the second type of leader will face with their team is engagement. How do you get a team to be engaged when they see their leader removing themselves from the experience? How do you show them it’s okay to ask for help? Or not know all the answers all the time? How do you get them to grow if they never see you trying to grow?

Most of the time, we have the pleasure of working with Walkers and their teams. The teams will participate and really engage during the workshop because they feel free to do so. Their leader is doing so, so it gives them unspoken permission to jump right in. These groups have a great time together, and get so much more out of the experience because they are fully involved.

Recently, we worked with a Talker and his team. The group was exceedingly difficult to reach. Their participation in the exercises was perfunctory. Group discussions aimed at drawing out opinions, insights, and experiences were painful due to the nearly complete lack of participation. Their Talker leader sat apart from the group, not participating, working on his laptop throughout their workshop. Several of the team members followed suit, working on laptops or checking cell phones constantly during the workshop. He didn’t seem to feel the experience was worth, well, experiencing, and consequently, several of his team members didn’t either.

What kind of leadership do you model for your team? What level of performance, engagement, and growth do you expect or hope for? How do you go about achieving it? With some teams, the answers about goals line up with behavior. With others, they don’t. Which type are you?

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