Let Your Yea be Yea; and Your Nay, Nay

Businessman Crossing FingersI read a quotation in a stock report a number of years back that I found humorous at the time, and it has stuck with me ever since. I have seldom, if ever, seen such a blatant example of someone trying to sound like they were saying something important when, in fact, they were saying virtually nothing at all.

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, was predicting growth in Cisco’s revenues in the upcoming quarter despite a decrease during the previous quarter. To support his position, he made the following statement:

“We are starting to see some very early signs that could be interpreted – with the appropriate caveats – as cautiously optimistic.”

If you didn’t listen to him too closely, you could be encouraged by the potential of the company and therefore the performance of its stock.

However, if you look more closely, you’ll see that virtually every word in the statement is what I call a “weasel word”. We (not solely him, so if it’s wrong he can’t bear all the blame) are starting to see some very early (could be wrong since it’s still early) signs (not facts, just indicators) that could (or could not) be interpreted (open to errors in methodology of analysis) — with appropriate caveats (beware) – as cautiously (proceed with caution) optimistic (not definitive, but hopeful).

Now I don’t know that much about John Chambers, but based on what you read, he must have some game. He has helped grow the company from $70 million when he joined Cisco in January 1991, to $1.2 billion when he assumed the role of CEO, to record revenues of $46 billion in FY12. His bio states that he has received numerous awards for his leadership over his past 18 years at the helm of Cisco, and it goes on to list about 15 of those honors. However, with apologies to my attorney friends, I think the lawyers got to his statement before it was released.

The Bible tells us in James 5:12, “let you yea by yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” Now, I’m not trying to condemn John Chambers, but Leaders need to be clear, forthright, and deliberate in their communications if those who are following them are to base their actions and their support on the guidance they are being given.

By the way, past performance is no guarantee of future results!


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Dan is a business and non-profit organizational leader with many years experience in both worlds. He is a trusted advisor to many because of his insights and his discernment.

He is a family man with a wife and two grown children. And his interests range from broadcasting to tennis to ice hockey.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • We shouldn’t need a “stack of Bibles” to swear upon. Our word should be sufficient if we have demonstrated integrity in the past.

  • Rene Rivera

    I remember when folks did business with a nod and a firm handshake. It is unfortunate that we have to define what “it” means and too frightened to speak truth. Keeping your word is difficult. Standing by your word even harder. But if folks kept their word we would be less to over-commit ourselves. I have told others and my family it is okay to say “no”. Why say “yes” then back out and be seen as one who doesn’t keep your word.

  • Dan, Welcome, and thanks for the thoughts. As a salesman and a Leader in my company, I find myself using the term “we” when handling a new client or contract, but I have realized I use “I” when there has been an issue or a problem. I think subconsciously I want to succeed as a team, but I am willing to accept negative feedback alone to protect my team. As leaders should we shield our teams from negative feedback, or should we find a positive spin on it for the team to learn from?

  • Aure

    Nice job, Dan. Good reminder on a very important topic. Unfortunately, not many would subscribe to what James say, much less other parts of the Bible. Motivations govern what most people say, whether that be money or self-aggrandizement. There are of course more pure motivations. Has that been evident in a public leader lately? “Why do the nations so furiously rage together? Why do the people imagine a vain thing?” Sometimes leaders tell lies because the majority of their constituents are so dumb and foolish that they can’t tell the difference. No one would say “the emperor has no clothes”. And there usually is a very steep penalty for telling the truth as Jesus did experience. Does anyone agree that a “spin”, whether positive or negative, is a lie?

  • Dan DeVries

    Aure, on the surface I agree. But I think we would have to stipulate the definition of “spin” before I could concede that all spin is inherently a lie. One relevant dictionary definition that I see is “give public biased information”. The term “biased” does suggest a distortion that would likely give the spin a dishonest representation that would be considered a lie. However, a second definition is, “a particular viewpoint or bias”. If spin can just be pointing out the elements of something that support one’s position without proposing that they are more true or relevant than they are, then in that sense, many of us on this site are spinning statements or observations to support our position or the points we are wishing to make. And I wouldn’t consider that lying.

    By the way, I was not suggesting in my article that John Chambers was being untruthful, only that what he said was so wishy washy that it was almost meaningless. His statement was not something that one would want to base a decision on. I’m not sure if it was a Yea or a Nay…

    • Aure

      Point well taken. In general, spin does not make for any substantive discussion of the issues, much less undertake to examine the presuppositions that underlie the spin.

      • Aure

        In agreement with you, many leaders open their mouth often without saying a lot, even after a lot of parsing.

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