Perishable Thoughts — Actions
Speak Louder Than Words
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 7, 2008
Scott Danner, Chief Operating Officer of Liberty Fruit Co., Inc., has been a frequent contributor to the Pundit. A few examples of the many contributions he has shared with the industry can be found in these pieces:
Pundit’s Mailbag — Traceability Precision
Perishable Thoughts — Resolve To Succeed
Today Scott is kind enough to send a quote that is perfect to spark a discussion of relevant leadership qualities in politics, business and all areas of life:
“The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.”
Book XIV. Hsien Wan, Chapter XXIX
The Confucian Analects are what are typically quoted in America as Confucius. In reality they were probably written over a half century or so by disciples of Confucius and students of those disciples.
The centerpiece of the Imperial Examination for 2,000 years, one could not be an educated man in China if he had not studied the thoughts of Confucius.
We first were drawn to the quote because, of course, Barack Obama is thought of as a great orator. Many times he was dismissed as being all eloquence and no substance.
Yet we always thought that this particular critique was unfair. An ability to speak and write well is not irrelevant to the politician’s calling. It strikes us as essential.
Constitutionally the Presidency is a weak office. It is, though, as Teddy Roosevelt said, a “Bully Pulpit” — put another way, the President is powerful in proportion to his ability to persuade.
Persuade Congress, the media, foreign governments, the people at large. Indeed the power of eloquence can amplify a President’s power so, for example, a foreign government may not be persuaded itself, but it may fear a President who can persuade the Congress and the American citizenry to back military action against that country.
Of course, another way of looking at this quote is an echo of another Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt popularized this phrase when he was looking to expand the Navy, and he meant that a nation should not be threatening or belligerent but should always have the capacity to take care of itself if it must.
We confess we have found almost unbearable the way George W. Bush has reversed this phrase in dealings with both North Korea and Iran. After countless speeches and demands explaining that it will not be tolerated for these countries to have nuclear weapons, it appears the Bush administration is prepared to tolerate exactly that.
In line with this quote, this is to us much worse than if the Bush administration had never expressed an opinion on the matter as it makes a shambles of American credibility.
All these principles seem to apply to business as well. An ability to speak and write clearly — to persuade — is important and a crucial arrow in the quiver of managerial skills. Yet with employees, vendors and customers, it does seem that speaking softly — under-promising in managerial lingo — while over delivering is perhaps the most reliable way of building a strong reputation. That reputation is often the key to building a strong business.
Many thanks to Scott Danner and Liberty Fruit Co., Inc., for passing on this quotation.
The quote can be viewed here:
The Chinese Classics (Download the entire book from Google Books)
By James Legge, Confucius, Mencius, Ming Zuoqiu
Published by The author, Oxford, Clarendon Press 1893
Original from the University of Michigan
502 pages, Pg. 286
The quote can be purchased here:
By Confucius, translated by James Legge
Kessinger Publishing (June 30, 2004)