In my last post, I added thoughts on my friend and colleague Ed Callahan’s piece about the importance of leaders intentionally using a regular, disciplined process to cascade “true rumors” your organization needs to hear. It was a reminder that in addition to Ed’s suggestion, leaders need to be aware of the message they are conveying by what is unsaid.  

Here, I address another leadership communication issue: What is said but not done.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” The most dangerous unsaid message.

The most egregious examples of this always make the news. This past June, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich abruptly resigned after it was discovered he had engaged in what was described as a “past consensual relationship” with a company employee even though Intel’s non-fraternization policy, which applies to all managers, was clear.

Press reports noted, “Krzanich’s immediate resignation was accepted to show ‘that all employees will respect Intel’s values and adhere to the company’s code of conduct,’ according to Intel.”

Not all examples of “do as I say, not as I do” are this public, this spectacularly out of whack with the company’s core values, and lead to such a high fall from grace. But they always have an extremely negative impact if leaders are guilty of it.

Herein lies the first lesson for all of us who are in leadership positions. We call this “walking the talk.” It’s another way of saying you must be consistent in behaving in ways that are in line with what you say you value. The added burden for leaders is this rule applies not only to their own personal behavior, but also the behavior leaders tolerate from others.

Failure to “walk the talk” on either level is incredibly dangerous to a company’s culture, which is the second lesson to be learned here. Leaders and managers often mistakenly believe their job is entirely about performance and business results. That’s only half the equation. They forget, or sometimes blatantly ignore, the second, equally important aspect of leadership which is to protect and promote the company culture.

Great leaders know and understand this intuitively. Firing someone who is a top performer who consistently violates the culture is scary, risky and unpopular. It’s also a tell-tale sign of a leader who “gets” her unique and special role.