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Words are empty without action

Public cynicism in response to the fashion for declaring a climate emergency has surely underlined that leadership (and PR) must be about astutely chosen words and actions.

Organisations are judged not by what they say, but what they do. Reputations are set by first and second-hand experience far more than pious words.

If words are all you have at hand, then original phrases and realistic concepts are more believable than standardised rhetoric.

The most commonly heard complaint about the declarations hinges on the word “emergency”. There is no emergency in the sense that ordinary people commonly use the term. It may be apt, but it is not believable.

The language justifying the declarations is weak. Advocates have used ready-made phrases such as “this is about our future, our children’s future.” These words are found in every issue every day of the week. They don’t match the claimed momentous nature of the event.

The error is to think that since perception is our reality, language can be used to create perception, and therefore leadership is about language. Language is indeed powerful, but only with powerful language.

The problem for organisations who reach for words first is that physical experiences are our strongest guides to the world and to our reactions. It fatally undermines the declarations not to pair them with actions recognisable as urgent, grave, or momentous.

There are repercussions to empty gestures. The public is not stupid. They know that if leaders can afford to indulge in symbolism, then there isn’t an emergency. And so they continue to tune out those who say vapid or shrill things, and those who lecture hypocritically.

If you want people to act, you must talk to those people (not to your peers), say something unique, and take the actions yourself.

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