Talk is Cheap, But it Can Cost You

David Day

3 min read
If I were to ask 100 people their most important advice on Leadership, I’d get 100 different answers. Perhaps no topic in the world is more common and less understood than Leadership. All 100 answers may be excellent, but none are really ever complete.

While we can’t solve that problem here, we can discuss one leadership trait that’s been on my mind: Talk.

Words matter. Being aware of your words before you speak them is an invaluable trait of leadership. And not just in a planned speech. Our “off the cuff” words matter. How many times do you see leaders getting into trouble for remarks they make without thinking?

When a leader speaks, by nature people listen. Too often leaders fail to recognize how impactful their words are and they make comments that are taken out of context, that are ambiguous, or that aren’t sincere. That’s when the trouble starts.

I recall a time when my staff heard me dreaming out loud. I wanted to take everyone on a nice trip as a group at the end of a great year. I thought it would be a terrific way to build unity and get to know some of our new staffers, so I voiced my “wouldn’t it be great if…” idea out loud. I had no plan. I had no money. I had an idea that sounded awesome. What I excused as just a nice thought, they counted on and they counted the days. They were profoundly disappointed. And I heard about it in one employee’s exit interview the following January.
So, here are a few tips I’ve learned that may be a bit elementary, but the most impactful things usually are:

Don’t dream out loud. When you’re in a position of leadership, your words count. People get their direction from you. When you ask them to do something, it’s their responsibility to get it done. We train our people to heed our words, so when we speak, our words need to be laced with truth, fact, and wisdom, not “I wonder…” Let’s avoid speculation and ambiguity. Speak with purpose, always with a result in mind.

You don’t have to comment on everything. If you did, you’d never shut up. Don’t fall into the trap of talking. Let others speak. Give another leader the opportunity to lead on that particular issue. It’s not a competition- it’s a compilation of leadership impact that makes you a leader worth following.

Keep it simple. The need to pontificate is usually overwhelming for most verbally gifted leaders. But, if you can keep it to an 8th grade level, you will be more effective.

Say it quickly. And by that, I mean soon. Don’t wait three days to speak up about an issue. Get the facts, make a plan, and communicate. Waiting creates unrest and uncertainty.

Actions speak louder than words, but don’t forget the words. People will follow a leader that is sincere and is willing to put her time, energy, money, and strength where her words are. Doing the work alongside our team is huge and necessary, but not enough. Doing is part of the “what” category, but they need to know WHY. By speaking, you can tell them WHY they do it, which will win hearts and launch other leaders.

Have a confidential reflector source. Every leader needs someone close to them who can keep a secret, who will not judge, and who isn’t freaked out by what you might say in private. That setting is the testing ground for your words. You MUST have it straight in your head and your heart before you can motivate others. I call this person a “coach.” You can call them whatever you want, but I have had some Marketing Coach ProgramTM clients tell me that this is the single most important part of their week. I can help. That’s what coaching is for.

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