Wanted: A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action
It’s a lot easier to talk about doing the right thing than to actually do it, but that never stopped anyone from being all talk and no action. And by “talk,” I mean words coming out of your fingertips as well as your mouth.
Perhaps the key word is “should.” Everyone talks about what they should do. They talk even more about what everyone else should do. The irony is, the more we talk about what we should be doing, the less we seem to do about it.
Clearly, we see talking as a substitute for doing. It’s not -- not even a little.
No one would argue that we’re more concerned about health and diet than ever before. But the more we talk about getting healthy and the more we spend money on fitness and food, the more obese and unhealthy we become. That’s right folks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a whopping 41 percent of women, 35 percent of men and 21 percent of teens in the U.S. are now obese. All those are increases from a decade ago -- significantly for women and teens. When it comes to eating less and exercising more -- two things we all know we should be doing -- we’re clearly doing a lot more talking and spending and a lot less doing.
They say “talk is cheap” and you should “put your money where your mouth is,” but we increasingly seem to view both talk and money as disposable, especially when it comes to things we know we should do but don’t really want to put the effort into doing.
Another example of this troubling trend is entrepreneurship. It’s all anyone talks about anymore. We’re clearly in the midst of the mother of all entrepreneurial booms, right? Wrong. New business creation in America has been steadily declining for decades, and that’s especially true in the millennial age group.
Why the huge discrepancy? We’re all talk, no action.
And what about leadership? Another enormous craze, if there ever was one. Just like the word “entrepreneur,” more and more people are calling themselves “leaders,” but I have no idea what that means. Neither word describes a job or a title.
Related: 7 Telltale Signs of a Weak Leader
Perhaps that is the point. The more I think about it, it’s a lot easier to substitute vague talk or a vague label for action. The more nebulous and illusive, the easier it is to make it look like you’re doing something when you’re actually not -- or for others to see the truth; that you’re not really doing anything at all.
You know how we’re always saying that leaders should be more transparent and authentic? I can’t tell you how many popular and trendy books, blogs and articles I’ve seen on those themes. And yet, the more people talk about transparency and authenticity, the less transparent and authentic their actions seem to be.
Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes never stopped promoting her company’s unparalleled transparency, even while keeping investors and the biomedical community from vetting its supposedly breakthrough technology which we’ve since learned doesn’t work.
Meanwhile, Harvard professor Bill George pumps out one book after another on authentic leadership when, in reality, he’s simply glomming onto an impressive array of leadership fads du jour, from emotional intelligence and employee engagement to non-hierarchical organizations and collaborative cultures.
Transparent and authentic indeed. You’ve got to marvel at the irony.
Let’s summarize, shall we?
If you’re into something, just do it. Talking and spending are not substitutes for actions. And if you find yourself being vague, that’s a red flag that you’re avoiding accountability for your actions.
Lose the labels. “Entrepreneur” and “leader” are not jobs; they’re just watered-down labels that don’t mean a thing. Your work is what matters. What you do is what matters; not how creatively you can describe what you don’t do.
Don’t talk about transparency and authenticity. Rather, just say what you mean and mean what you say. Be honest and straightforward. Be your genuine self, flaws and all. That’s all the transparency and authenticity you’ll ever need. Besides, when savvy people hear those words, they’re instantly skeptical.
Erase the word “should” from your vocabulary. Talking about what you should do is likely to be just that, talk. And talking about things that others should do is a waste of time. You can only control your own actions. Focus on that, and let everyone else deal with their own issues.
Strive to be all action, no talk.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.