Leaders Talking … but Saying Nothing

By | October 27, 2014

[October 27, 2014] Ever talk with a leader and come away wondering what the heck the person told you? Ever listen to a leader’s speech and wonder if there was any part worth listening to? Well … then you are not alone. Leaders talk all the time and many say nothing. While this is unfortunate, it is nevertheless part of the 21st Century of bureaucratic leadership. Leaders are expected to know everything and have an informed opinion on all matters. At least that is what we are told. In reality they are not omnipresent and don’t’ know it all. Therefore, when they make comment on matters, often what is said is the same as saying nothing – it’s the safe thing to do.

Not long ago it was a virtue to keep quiet. In some cultures today it is still polite to not speak your mind. Having spent much of my military time in Asian countries, I found this bit of cultural guidance to be well founded.   “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” Abraham Lincoln is given credit for this bit of wit but I’m sure the thought has been around for all of human history. Yet, the pressure of a media-driven society compels many leaders to comment on events of the day. We do want to know their thoughts and their see their leadership.

Regrettably, some leaders lack the courage to decline an invitation to talk. A solution they often resorted to is talking but not actually saying anything that is useful, could be fact-checked, or may get them into trouble. I’m not thinking only of politicians with this line of observation.1 We all know about this annoying tactic … to talk but don’t say anything. Leaders learn to perfect this skill. I’ve also been guilty of talking about things I knew nothing about, but that was early in my career. When my commander caught me talking worthless platitudes to my soldiers, he gave me a good piece of advice, “Talk only when you have something useful to say. The men will respect you more.”

The result of leaders talking, but not saying anything, generates an increasing demand for their thoughts. In a world that demands good leaders, it’s not their thoughts that are not important. What is important is whether they make good decisions that can be explained in simple matter-of-fact words. Less is better.

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[1] This is not pick-on-politicians” month. With so many political elections approaching soon across the democratic world, and in the United States is this coming Tuesday November 4th, not only are politicians in the news more but they are talking a whole lot more. Admittedly, I’ve had a good run here lately pointing them out when they make comments that support immoral, unethical, or illegal behavior.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

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