Talk is Cheap

What did you say?

I’ve spent most of my life in the West, the American West that is for my world-wide friends. Except for a few minor forays to the East Coast, and some happier tromps to the Deep South, I generally shy away from anything that calls me east of the Mississippi or north of the Mason-Dixon. You kiddos look that up and study your geography.

One of the things about growing up and living out west that’s still true today is that a man’s word is his bond. Or, a person’s word that is. Now, not as true as it once was due to the influx of visitors who discovered life could indeed be waged successfully sans snow and ice, it still is where we start out here.

We believe in what each other says, especially since many of us natives use our words economically. In other words, we don’t say much. We let out actions do the talking.

Now, the application of this notion – let our actions do the speaking – is clear to anyone who’s ever watched a friend fall into a romantic hole with the wrong guy/girl. Talk is cheap, you argue, look at what they do! And your friend ignores you even as you know there will be late-night counseling sessions downstream about ‘how they could have made such a mistake.’

And I offer, the same is true in business. Talk is cheap. snake-oil-salesman-big

Looking back over decades of experiences with gms, senior managers, vps, presidents, etc., I can tell you the better ones didn’t say much although the truly great ones asked a lot of questions. I can also remember a few of the flameouts – the people who not only crashed and burned but in some cases took teams with them – and they all seemed to have snake oil sales charms attached to their name. I can still see them laboring over power points and speech drafts to “get the message” right although my experience is is that if you live the message, you don’t have to shape it.

And I’ve noticed this verbosity, this tendency to talk more than is necessary and yet say little to nothing seems to be increasing, Now this could be a function of my ability to spot bullshit more quickly but the truth is my BS detector has always been highly calibrated. I think its actually a function of our inability to collaborate as effectively as we might. The hallmark of the digital age has been our increased difficulty to really communicate, and, in the US anyway, we’re still focused on a 90-day clock while the majority of us are fixated on what we need to do to get ahead despite or regardless of the team.

So we talk up a good game.

But the truth is powerful influential persons seldom have to convince others to follow them. The rightness of that they’re doing and their ability to enroll others and work across boundaries is what makes a difference and what is indeed visible to others. There is no need to pronounce that or boast about it.

The truth is the greatest leaders I’ve seen have said very little about themselves and tended not to make promises or boasts. They speak about the challenges in front of the organization and how much they count on everyone to address them. Yes, even though its just a job real leaders make you want to be there, to be part of something bigger and greater than yourself.

Talk is indeed cheap, and actions speak louder than words. Let your actions be your calling card, and when you do feel the need to speak out, let your word be your bond.


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