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Words Matter But Actions Matter Most

When I went to visit Washington DC last week, I stopped by the National Archives to visit some of the US’s greatest political treasures. By far, the most compelling exhibit was the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Taking a look at these two documents side by side was a powerful moment in my life. The words (now barely visible) jumped out of the bulletproof cases and into my psyche. It got me thinking:

Why are these words important to me?

The words are obviously significant. There is quite a bit of hubris centered around what is and isn’t defined by the Constitution these days. So we know they are important in some respects.

But the words don’t enforce themselves. However perfect (or imperfect) the words may be, someone has to carry out the task of interpreting it and taking action.

Without that care and without that action, it would simply be another piece of paper. Probably long gone by now too. Without the supporting action, the words become meaningless. They become “Oh, that would be nice.” Or perhaps “Man, whatever happened to that?”

Do you fail to live up to your words?

I’ve seen many attractive job advertisements and mission statements. I’ve seen beautifully crafted handbooks (simple, short, and readable). Somebody spent a lot of time writing these pretty words out on a piece of paper.

Yet, when you do not operate in concert with those words, you betray their very meaning. Not only do your actions come unexpectedly but your words become completely meaningless. Take a look at Enron’s code of ethics from 2000:

“As officers and Enron Corp, its subsidiaries, and its affiliated companies, we are responsible for conducting the business affairs of the companies in accordance with all applicable laws and in a moral and honest manner…We want to be proud of Enron and to know that it enjoys a reputation for fairness and honesty and that it is respected.”

That’s a joke in retrospect. When you fail to live up to the words you’ve crafted, there is no meaning in what you’ve written.

The same goes for blogging

We talk about word meanings and structure all of the time. For example, there is a debate going on about what to call work/life balance. How about spending less time worrying about what to call it and more time doing it?

Bloggers (like me) get worked up by words. I think it is worthwhile to stand back and not only admire and dissect the words but also the accompanied actions that take place.

That was when the Constitution became powerful to me. Not only the chain of events that led up to it being written (which is written about and recognized) but the actions from the writing to this very day that have served to preserve this document. Veterans, politicians, judges, businesses, unions, protesters, journalists (even some of us stupid bloggers) and just people in general. We all play a continuous role of making this document mean something significant.

Those who faithfully work within our system on a daily basis pay tribute to the words written on the document. Can you match that passion in your organization? Probably not but the words can still be significant and carry meaning throughout your organization.