The Biggest Problem with Executives: They Talk Too Much

Tim Denning

“Knowing it all” can be a burden. Here’s a solution you can use.
Photo by Jeremy McGilvrey on Unsplash

Many executives I meet are destined to fail and they don’t know why.

It looks like this. A business meeting is held. There are twenty people in the room. Guess what happens? The person with the highest paying job title does most of the talking.

The executive mistakenly thinks the other members in the meeting came to hear them give an impromptu speech. But the purpose of a meeting is to end with actions that lead to an outcome or to make a decision.

Giving executive speeches doesn’t move business forward. People do. And people need to be heard for progress to be made.

Knowing it all is knowing nothing

I once sat in a meeting with a CEO. Revenue was down. Employees were leaving every day in huge numbers.

“I don’t see the problem. Attrition is extremely low.”

They then proceeded to deny the facts. You only had to look at the IT department to see how many laptops were coming back from unhappy employees who quit because they weren’t being heard.

The problem? The CEO was looking at data collected by another senior executive. The executive had sugar-coated the numbers to convey a narrative that saw them keep their job, and perhaps get promoted.

The CEO thought they knew it all, but all they knew was what their other executives were feeding them.

It payes not to talk too much. Listen. And don’t just listen to other executives. Keep your ears close to what’s happening on the front line with the doers. The doers don’t have huge bonuses that incentivize them to falsify data.

Talk is dirt cheap

Executives sell dreams. Read that again.

They leave those dreams for the doers to take action on. When people take every word they hear from an executive as fact, I roll my eyes. Executive stories and stories from the front line are far apart by design.

The way to overcome the problem is to focus on what an executive does, not what they say. If they do very little, then you know what they say doesn’t matter too much, so you can simply drop out of their town halls or take their daily email blasts lightly (or auto-trash them).

Executives talking too much happens outside of the office

I’ve spent the last seven years on LinkedIn as a content creator. I come across executives all the time who get sucked into the personal brand movement.

The first question they ask themselves is, “How can I benefit from talking a lot on social media?” They have it back the front. Their journey starts with selfishness, followed by over-talking and overuse of their phone’s selfie camera.

You start talking on social media by listening to what is said, and then adding to the conversation with the intent of solving problems for the audience.

Talking online has nothing to do with one’s life goals. Those who talk too much without thinking or listening to others end up giving up. Very few follow along or listen in return and so, the social media vanity metrics never progress upwards.

Talk less.
Listen more.
Speak to solve problems.

Too much talking leads normal people to become entrepreneurs

It’s common to believe regular people become entrepreneurs so they can turn into millionaires. I’m plugged into many online entrepreneur communities. Over the last seven years I’ve consistently asked normal people why they quit their job to become an entrepreneur.

The most common answer isn’t what I expected.

Most of the entrepreneurs I asked cited not being listened to by their boss or the leaders they worked for as the frustrating reason they quit and became an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is by no means the answer to all your problems. But being heard again certainly is motivation to get away from busy executives who talk too much.

The answer isn’t only talking less

Talking less is step one to solving the problem, but there’s more to it. Listening is the superpower in business, not talking. Listening is key to the UX/CX movement many companies now have at the center of the way they operate.

When you listen and collect feedback from a variety of different people you start to see patterns. When you get all your feedback solely from executives you get a distorted view.

When we listen we don’t always hear what’s been said. That’s why the next technique of playing back what you hear is key. When you listen to a person, see if you can briefly, without draining their life, playback what you think you heard. Our understanding of what’s being said can easily be affected by our values, beliefs, career experience and biases. Playing back what is said can help show you what areas you might be unintentionally misunderstanding.

The final step is to take action on what you hear. I see lots of executives say they listened to feedback, but the number that take action on the feedback is low. The best time to take action is after you’ve seen a problem. It doesn’t need to be a huge action either. The first tiny step to solving a business problem builds momentum and creates visibility.

Listen. Play it back. Take action.


As you hold meetings, keep tabs on how much time you spend talking, and how much listening. And when you get a question, sometimes invite other team members to weigh in as part of the answer. That way everyone is included, and feels that their input is valued.
— Startup Founder Hjalmar Gislason for Harvard Business Review

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