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We should all talk a little less and do a little more

Jan 25, 2015 Success, Sunday Nation

Talk, talk, talk.

Everyone talks. They talk incessantly. They chat, analyse, pontificate. They debate and discuss. They love to hear the sound of their own voices.

People gather in seminars, workshops, conferences, off-sites. They yap for days. Then they gather the results of all that was declaimed and bloviated in elaborate reports, complete with detailed appendices.

Leaders make grand speeches. They are full of highfaluting words and noble utterances. Their intentions are grand. Their promises are expansive. Their vows are remarkable. They will transform society, they say. They will deliver development and remove poverty.

People gather in assemblies for all sorts of reasons: to work, to pray, to mark, to record. But those are just the purported reasons. The real reason is to meet up and talk. Chat, shoot the breeze, catch up, chew the fat together.

Now, talk has gone digital. With handy messaging and social media apps in so many pockets around the planet, people prattle and yammer 24/7. There are no limits. The ability to chat with anyone anywhere is free and widespread.

What’s the end result of all this talk? In most cases, nothing. People talk until they are tired, and then they sleep. After that…nothing. Nada. Nil. No result. Nothing changes, nothing improves.

Don’t get me wrong. Talk is part of being human. We are social creatures, wired to interact and learn through exchange. It’s a natural condition.

And yet. If we put a fraction of the energy we expend in talking into actually doing things we would be in a different place. Talking about things we need to do seems to come naturally; doing them, less so.

I have been a strategy advisor for much of my life. Here’s what I tell my clients: it’s not real until it happens. Most strategies are just designs and intentions, not results and impacts. But talk is not worth anything; achievements are. The true strategist does not just come up with the beautiful plan; the true strategist puts the plan to work. In the real world. Where it can make things better, or bigger, or more useful.

As I get older, I am hugely impatient with leaders who just make speeches, conferences that just record utterances, gatherings that just exchange views. Yes, we all have opinions. Yes, we can all recount telling anecdotes. But it’s all hot air, if it never leads to anything tangible, anything different, anything impactful.

Most people just talk about doing; a precious few do the doing. True, rushing to action without giving sufficient thought to the problem is unwise. And yet, the true achiever is as much doer as thinker, as much preoccupied with execution as with design.

So don’t have a strategic plan that isn’t attached to an execution plan; don’t engage in endless debates that go round in circles. Link your words to actions, your thoughts to deeds.

Making a great speech is not leadership. Turning it into true change and progress, is. A speech is not a result. It’s the beginning of a result. Don’t clap too hard for good speeches. They’re just words. Clap for outcomes. The best leaders are not found on podiums and on the conference circuit; they’re the ones who use words for impact, as a beginning.

A speech is mere words. The words will vaporize. A speech that inspires people to do something better, that transforms into a plan and set of concerted actions, that morphs into actual results – now that’s a great speech. Applause is not called for until the results happen.

This article is mere words. If you read it and return to your breakfast and do nothing differently, this article has no meaning. If it inspires you to talk a little less and do a little more – then we’re really talking.

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