Words don’t always have the same “weight.” How seriously they are taken depends on who speaks them.

Let me give you a true example from my consulting experience (this was not even a word, but a gesture!). It was in Mexico. The company was owned by an old, very aristocratic and autocratic “Don.” During our work I noticed that the discussion died, and I could not figure out what caused it to end abruptly. During a break I asked the vice presidents who attended the meeting what happened.

“No use discussing,” they said. “He (the Don) has already decided against it. Did you not see how he moved his head left and right, even a bit annoyed. It is no use talking anymore.”

I went to the Don and asked him why was he so adamant against the proposal we were discussing.

“I am not at all against it,” he said, surprised.

“So why did you shake your head left to right, annoyed?” I asked.

“There was a fly trying to land on my nose.” he replied.

If this would have happened to a third level administrator, he or she could have shaken their head as much as they wanted. No one would have paid attention. Even if they adamantly vocalized their objection to what was proposed, they would have been, if not utterly ignored, at least disregarded.

What am I saying?

The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more seriously your words are taken.

Many executives I coach do not understand this. They talk too much. What worked for them as junior executives is becoming a major problem when they ascend to the top of the organization.

My prescription is this: The higher up the organizational ladder you climb, the bigger your ears should be and the smaller you mouth should be.

President Obama has big ears all right, literally and figuratively. He listens, but he also talks too much. Says too much. So far his eloquence and charisma have saved him, but the day is coming when he will make a blunder. He will try to explain that was not what he meant, but it will be one explanation too many and his charisma will evaporate and his eloquence will be rechristened as “pure big-mouth, hot-air Obama.”

He speaks too much, on too many occasions and on too many subjects. One example of this tendency to express himself too much is the episode with Professor Gates of Harvard. There are more.

“No drama Obama” was a great expression used to describe his style when he was running for President. What he needs now is “shut up Obama.” You are the president now and every word you use is a potential black hole that can swallow your credibility in no time.

Sincerely,
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes