Walk the Walk

The #1 Rule for Real Leaders, Alan Deutschman, Portfolio.

“This is a book for people who aspire to be leaders or want to understand leadership,” writes Alan Deutschman in the preface to “Walk the Walk,” his follow-up to the well-received “Change or Die” (2008). In this latest work, Deutschman’s method for illustrating leadership (or lack thereof) is decidedly simple: He recounts the exploits of famous people whose successes can be traced to their ability to lead by example, and highlights those leaders who have failed to practice what they preach, often at their own peril.

The positive examples include Martin Luther King Jr. (who, on September 28, 1962, “turned the other cheek” after being assaulted by Nazi Youth while in the midst of a speech at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference); Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds (who made cleanliness a core value of the company, and demonstrated its importance by picking up trash and pitching in to clean the restaurants he visited); and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com (who insisted that Amazon could become a profitable, enduring public company by always putting customers first, even if sales and profits suffered in the short term).

Meanwhile, Deutschman doesn’t hesitate to call out those who have been unable to walk the walk. Global warming educator Al Gore is scolded for living in a 10,000 square foot mansion; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who earned valuable political capital by publicizing his willingness to take the subway to work—is criticized for commuting in a chauffeured SUV; and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a hit for pledging to make historic reductions in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, even as he maintained a fleet of five gas-guzzling Hummers.

Finally, in the conclusion, Deutschman takes the helpful step of identifying the virtues leaders must possess to walk the walk—traits like focus, empathy, and belief in their own ability, not to mention persistence and endurance. If you feel like you’re lacking these traits, you might want to pick up a copy of “Walk the Walk” at your local bookstore. If you’ve already got these virtues in abundance, there’s no need to pause at the business display. Just keep walking.