Confidence Lost aka When Words No Longer Matter

One of the first things one learns when they are in a position of leadership is this: Choose your words carefully, mean what you say, then do what you say you’ll do. If you find you were wrong – admit it, state the reasons why clearly, then articulate once again clearly eschewing as much obliqueness as humanly possible what your intents are going forward – then do them. Rinse, repeat.

The above comes via experience, not some text-book found on some dusty bookshelf within the hallowed halls of academia where theory and an overdrawn dissection of minutia allows one to feel empowered to “lead” others.

The attitude displayed for many who’ve partaken only in thought experiments is this: If they endured endless hours of discussion in classrooms, with noses buried in textbooks, listening to drawn-out oratory given by some professor (where they themselves more than likely never applied these principles in real life situations) and now bear some parchment stating they concluded the preceding, then by dint – they are now qualified to either “lead” or be “leaders.” It’s not only a misguided pretense – It’s a load of bunk.

No more is this phenom becoming more prevalent than in the political arena today. I don’t care if you’re on the Left, Right, or somewhere in between. This isn’t about which side you’re on, or the “your guy or gal” debate. I’m speaking directly about confidence in leadership and what happens when it’s lost.

Although the clearest current examples are what is taking place in the political, make no mistake – they are also happening within the business community at a similar breathtaking pace.

Currently politicians and others involved in policy making are clamoring up to any camera, microphone, or reporter to “clarify” what they stated clearly and emphatically previously.

The problem? More or less many are claiming they were either “taken out of context” or, “that’s not what they truly meant.” The real problem? They forgot about all the cameras, audio recordings, speeches, and more they made previously so there would be no confusion what they originally meant. Now it is they that stand confused.

It’s one thing to try as to clarify, or to make sure original intent is understood. However, when your clarification takes on the aura of an out right lie or revision to the exact opposite of what you said. No words are going to help going further. In actuality – they’ll only cause more outage.

Let me set the premise of this with a very simple example.

You can’t make the argument that you were “taken out of context,” or you now need to “clarify” what you said previously if let’s say you told everyone, “There would be a park filled with flowers, along with a pool, all paid for with new-found revenue sources, that everyone may enjoy to be built in the center of town.”

Then after the construction one finds themselves looking for the words to calm an angry group standing outside their office outraged for when they visited the site not only did they not find a field flowers – it was nothing more than a paved parking lot named “The Flowering Meadows Parking Lot” with meters to insert money into from carpool-ers.

There is no “explaining” or “clarification” or anything else that’s going to work here. It’s all too clear. The only confident thing one will take from any words going forward is the confidence, no matter what you say going forward – is untrustworthy.

You can make this example pertain directly to future earnings calls when the equivalent rational will be used when trying to explain why “earnings” missed because “buybacks” were no longer inevitable with QE no longer available. (availability subject to change I might add just to be “clear”)

When issues like these suddenly rear their ugly heads, textbooks and debate gymnastic skills are not going to provide the answers or resolutions they once believed. (and many will quiver in the realization that maybe – the only textbook answer that may refer to an example is from 18th century France. And we all remember how that worked out.)

The issue at hand that many gloss over, or worse, have no understanding of whatsoever is the undeniable fact as well as truth in the phenom: When people are both scared as well as mad; their memories of what one said are not only long, rather – they are mentally written in the equivalent form of set concrete.

What must also be added to this is the very fact most intellectuals never quite grasp (for their judgement is clouded via their own superiority complex) People may not know or understand the inner workings of X+Y=Z. However, if the resulting combination was told (especially if promised) by a leader that it would result in a monetary or security based payout – and it doesn’t? Katie barring the door as well as lifting the castle bridge won’t hinder the ensuing onslaught. Nor will any proceeding words as to help “clarify” work. It will all be nothing more than moot points shouted over the moat.

This is where that proverbial “fine line” once crossed instantaneously becomes the equivalent of “crossing the Rubicon” when trying to “walk back,” or “clarify” previous remarks.

Few are prepared for such an adventure. And the more one looks for answers in the “textbooks” the higher and brighter the flames rise from the masses as they proceed to burn those very books.

Here is where only action means anything. Words no longer matter. As a matter of fact words more often than not should be sheathed in such circumstances.

Only clear, decisive actions taken by the leader will make any sense as to possibly lay any form of sway to those who now feel disenchanted with either the leader, the organization, or both.

If you’re in the policy making arena there are no words, no statements, no clarifications, no nothing that will change both the perceptions as well as the ensuing anger when people scared of impending perils that may beseech them as in such things as healthcare or other personal issues.

All they will remember is: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” to then find clearly – they can’t.

Or, “If you like your health-plan, you can keep your health-plan” to then receive a cancellation notice stating clearly – they can’t.

Add to this the other mantra, “Your premiums will decrease by as much as $2500.00” to then receive a bill stating clearly – they are going up by a minimum that amount.

There will be nothing one can say to “clarify” or state they were taken “out of context” or any other such revisionist request. People will not buy it – literally.

When times are good as in a raging economy, or a business that’s exploding in growth people as well as many leaders (whether in business or the political) for all intents and purposes tune out the minutia of most discussions and events.

Many will pay little if any attention to what might be seen in retrospect as a “costly set back” because the overwhelming mood or meme is, “things are going along pretty good, we can make up for it going forward.”

However, more often than not it is that exact reasoning that leads one into finding themselves up the river without a paddle just when a missed forecast or previous “unimaginable” tsunami hits.

Personally I only have a degree from the school hard knocks. However, I’ve been the one who received the phone-call or was asked to deal in a company more than once in both crisis management as well as a turnaround situation and have done it successfully. Again – more than once.

I know what it’s like to try to move a company forward picking up the pieces of the preceding “leader” or management where the only thing left behind seems to be distrust.

I’ve worked in both a union, non-union, as well as a mix of the two. What I’ve both learned as well as observed in both the implementation as well the resolution to a crisis is this: You only have one shot to say what you mean, then mean what you say articulated with decisive, immediate action. Other than that – no amount of words or oratory gymnastics will restore a molecule of confidence. Period.

The textbooks currently touted within the hallowed halls of academia all point to dealing with the masses or business interests based on “the state of the economy.”

In general it will be professed when the economy is going along well based on the capital markets, as well as the government reporting agencies (i.e. government reporting agencies reporting GDP is up, unemployment is down etc., etc.) that one can afford to do this, that, or the other thing with little too no concern of costs associated financially or politically. Fair enough one might say. What’s wrong with that?

I might tend to agree with that myself however like I said, I have had the privilege of gaining my education from “Hard Knocks U.” and have learned to be very leery and cautionary of what everyone else deems “conclusive evidence.”

Today we find the most egregious examples of policy makers backtracking, walking back, clarifying, restating, rewriting, you name it in an effort to vanquish the growing onslaught of outright anger festering within the populace.

And many are finding themselves with little time as to scratch their head let alone come up with the words to slow down the crowd as they try piling the living room furniture ever higher against the door in a hope this will allow for more time and find the “right words or message” that may quell the fury. It won’t, for this didn’t happen in a vacuum.

It happened because they believed the words of others that only parrot back what the policy makers wanted to both hear – as well as believe. Which people like myself and very few others have been pounding our desks and keyboards trying to get anyone to listen.

For it’s for these very reasons the interventionist monetary policies first implemented by the Federal Reserve and now being carried into the future in unison by other Central Banks are, and have been, so dangerous.

For they’ve been shielding policy makers as well as a great many of the business community from seeing or believing the true health and structure of the once best gauge of financial health and political stability – The capital markets.

Earlier during the dreaded days following the financial crisis of 2008 policy makers everywhere took to what was once known as the “business media.” Many were appearing more often on a “financial channel” than they were on CSPAN™.

Suddenly politicians and policy makers seemed to be (and currently still are) “the go to guests” crowding out the once coveted true “business leader.” Let alone any with an opposing viewpoint of true economics.

It became quite obvious any business leader (one that actually ran a company) that seemed indifferent to the “party line” that things were not all that they seemed, suddenly found themselves out of the on-air, rah, rah, “power rotation.”

What was not lost on some of us was when then House Leader back then was quick to state not only did they watch channels such as CNBC™ (which was where this interview was conducted) but that they were on in every office throughout Washington.

Is it any wonder why these leaders are suddenly finding themselves caught within the wrath of a political firestorm coming from all sides?

It would seem the only people still watching this channel (as per their reported ratings which are prima facie disastrous) are these very same leaders.

Words, numbers, earnings and more at one time had a believable meaning there also. But that was a very long time ago. So long – even the leaders of that network seems to have forgotten what the meaning of words like business, free markets, capitalism and others once meant.

Now it’s nothing but a televised version of crony styled capitalism cheerleaders rolled out one after another in such procession P.T.Barnum would be proud.

The problem is the more they talk – the more people tune out. For no amount of words stated matter any longer. Nor do the myriad of “charts” “reports” or so-called “facts” they hold up as evidence. No one is listening or watching. And what’s worse?

Nobody now cares.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr