Pabulum leadership words really bug me — but not as much as they may bug you if they’re spoken by your leader.
Leaders are known by their words, deeds, actions, values, principles and by the people they attract both on their team and in the world, but
• Their words set the tone for the environment.
• Their words start the internal chatter.
• Their words start their internal reputation.
Then it’s the actions that follow. All are studied and judged by the team.
Obvious observation: Great leaders attract great people. So why is there so much leadership mediocrity? Must be their words — and the way they’re spoken.
I read a lot of stuff about leaders and leadership. Below are a bunch of leadership words, in no particular order, that sound good, but mean virtually nothing. You’ve heard them and groaned about them.
I’m defining several of the words I have an issue with — cannot stand — then explain why I have the issue, challenge the status quo, and suggest better words.
• “Embrace” means you’re OK with it, but not necessarily a participant — not good. I don’t want leaders to embrace change. I want a leader that takes action. “Action” is a better word, because it means something’s happening.
• “Accountable” means they ’fess up if — and after — something goes wrong, and results are measured. “Responsible” is a better option. Be responsible for yourself and to yourself. Be responsible for your words and deeds. Be responsible for your attitude. Be responsible and take responsibility for your achievements.
• “Effective” means mediocre and carries a so-what feeling. I really don’t want an effective heart surgeon. I want the “best.” He’s an effective salesman or he’s the best salesman? Who would you rather have?
• “Diversity” doesn’t mean much in business. It’s a word spoken by many, understood by few. I guess it refers to hiring and doing business with all types of people and businesses. It’s sad that the world has to come to this. When leaders preach diversity, they have to make a special effort, rather than a natural effort. I prefer the word “inclusive.” It tells a deeper tale of involvement, and is a positive word that needs no defining. It’s also singular. I’m inclusive. “I’m diverse” or “I’m all about diversity” sounds contrived.
• “Focus” is a word that means the leader is paying major attention to something. I would rather know from my leader what his or her “intention” is, and what the intention is to do something about what you’re focused on. Just because you’re focused on something doesn’t mean you intend to do something about it.
• “Understand” is a totally weak and passive word. Bob understands or Bob is understanding. So what? Is Bob doing anything about it? That’s leadership. I want someone who knows what to do, and does it. I want an “expert.” When I have an issue, do I want to take it to someone who understands — or do I want to take it to an expert?
• “Paradigm” is a two-decade old word that has lost its way. Sometimes it’s accompanied by the word “shift” and means there’s a new way. Or to add to this corporate-speak dialogue, the word “change” is added as well. “Change” is the most negative word in business, besides “bankrupt.” A better word is “opportunity.” When change occurs or there’s a paradigm shift, doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to look for the opportunity? I agree.
• “Results” is not good. Bob is results-oriented. Bob focuses on results. Bob needs to lead his people, and convey his intensions. A better word is “outcome.” Outcome takes both people and task into consideration and stresses what happens after completion.
• “At the end of the day” is a summary of expectations and predictions usually stated in the negative. When someone says this I can assure you they’re just searching for words. “At the end of the day” has no alternative; the phrase should just be eliminated.
Reality: Think about all these words in a group. As a leader, which group would you like to have attributed to you?
Group 1: Embrace, accountable, effective, diversity, focus, understand, paradigm, results, at the end of the day.
Group 2: Action, responsible, best, inclusive, intention, expert, opportunity, outcome.
Group 2 will consist of proactive, powerful, respected, followed leaders. Group 1 will consist of reactive, weak, disrespected leaders who will lose their best people to the leaders of Group 2. Embrace that paradigm.