Gord Cummings has provided me with another thought provoking post. What are the most overused words in leadership? What should we replace them with?
I've been exploring this myself a bit lately. Some words that come to mind for me that we might use more would be listening, silence, intuition, presence and I love Gord's suggestion of curiousity. Read more for Gord's thoughts and include your comments below.
What do you think? Are there other words that are overused? What words should we be including more often?
If you are interested in guest blogging on my site, contact me!
4 Overused Words in Leadership (and 3 you’re not using enough)
I really wanted to discuss this specifically in context with 2013, but the more I thought about it the use of these words go back further and have been overused throughout the past five years at least. Of course you use these words, and I do too. It’s just that the overuse of these words have likely dampened the meaning behind them and have become buzzwords that have been associated with our leadership lexicon. With it the overuse of words comes the underuse of words as well which should hit to the core of our leadership.
It’s as if we’ve now entered into an age of innovation where technology has moved so rapidly in improving our lives that change and the introduction of new practices is a daily occurrence. This is great news for businesses where Google and Westjet build on the dynasty of 3M. This is fine and has sent the dialogue of every self styled visionary into a ruckus of overuse. The surge in usage of the word innovation has brought with it this assumption that people weren’t innovating to begin with. There’s no way that’s true and we don’t have to look that far back. Most of the organizations that we work for today are innovations in themselves and have been around for over twenty five years. Suddenly everyone is innovating. If you think of a new form with which to count beans, this is an innovation. If you take a new route in getting to work, this too is technically innovation. Innovation is the introduction of new concepts or processes and a new route of commute could be interpreted as that. Using Twitter to let the world know about your ear infection is innovative.
Why don’t we stop the use of this word and replace it with something a bit more meaningful. Revolution comes to mind but this word is one that itself gets used a little too much. Every industry has had a revolution. What we need is something that captures both the introduction of something new and a level of dramatic impact that comes with the things that truly are innovative. Advancement is a word that also comes to mind and likely fits. Rather than being a innovator, try being an advancer.
2. Evidence Based
There has been a much needed movement towards making decisions based less on gut and more on truth that exists elsewhere. This has given way for “evidence based management”. Unfortunately, when one uses the evidence provided to them from their experiences this is confused as evidence based judgement when really it is thoroughly entrenched in bias. My gut tells me that this is from laziness and a lack of humility, but evidence would state otherwise. The need for productivity and generations of top down management have created an expectation for decisions to be made on the fly. This is not a condition conducive to evidence based management. And even if there were time for the manager to consult outside sources who could they consult? The could consult other self professed experts. This costs money and not every organization is able to justify such an expense. Or they could consult the literature available to them. Unfortunately this is basically whatever comes up on a Google search. The great thing about the internet is that you can find a third party to back up whatever claim you want to make, but this doesn`t make it evidence based. What companies need access to is third party refereed publications that outline best practices based on experiments or surveys. This is the best evidence out there. It too is not immune from the threat of impartiality but at its likely got the best checks in place to prevent tinkering.
3. Transformational Leadership
Just because this is included in this list doesn`t mean that it isn`t valuable in its purest meaning. Getting staff to do more than they thought previously possible is a great practice and is what we should all strive to do in management. If you look at the evidence based reasons this is a good practice, you will see elements of humility and trust on the part of the leader that excel the practice of the staff. If you take it merely at face value you will be satisfied when staff are merely doing what you hired them for without ever striving for advancement of the organization. Transformational leadership is not based on the act of having staff appreciation days or competitive benefits. Competitive benefits are expected. Staff appreciation should occur with every interaction.
The overuse of this term dilutes the concept. Managers and leaders are stating they have a transformational style without really knowing what that means. Even scholars have jumped on this train of thought and diluted the term further to use it interchangeably with charismatic leadership. These are not the same things, and check yourself to make sure you are practicing what it is you say you are practicing. In this same category of overuse see retention.
Just as there are lots of evidence based managers out there, there are even more leaders or those who are proclaiming themselves masters of the mystical art of leadership. This term has taken on a whole new life and really is a buzzword to use in a job interview for that management position. Where I would lay the biggest blame is on organizations who still have not divided in their culture the difference between leadership and management. This is an old conundrum in the leadership arena, but unfortunately most organizations are seeing leadership as their hierarchies. What they don`t realize is that likely most of the frontline staff are practicing more of the qualities that are associated with leadership and that those of us higher on the ladder are really just managing.
At its core, leadership is the process of guiding others through change. I would be surprised if that`s what organizations expect of their managers unless there is a problem that can`t be handled by time or turnover.
As promised, here is a list of words that are underused in our leadership conversations. Their simplicity makes them self evident.
As more contracts are granted on the basis of cooperation we have to have the consciousness that we are not the pivotal part, however we are a necessary ingredient in the pivotal part. This requires a healthy measure of humility. As well, we need to have the humility to recognize that we don’t always know or don’t always have the solution to the issue. The easy part is saying
“I don’t know” however allowing people the grace to respect that is even more difficult. When we practice true transformational leadership and true coaching, we do so with others. The solution can be found together. Because you aren’t a wizard. I’m sorry if you thought you were and I’m sorry if this news is unwelcome but it’s true. You don’t have all the evidence you need to make the best decision. Look around you though, because the people who are there are magical when they work together.
As above, interaction is necessary in all industries. We are a social economy where financial success is the by-product. People know when you are faking your interest. The only way to be truly interested is having the humility to say “I don’t know, but I want to know.” Doing this also communicates that you care enough about the input of others. In fact you don’t just care for that input but you crave it. A word closely associated with this is listening which also doesn’t get used enough.
3. Positive Psychology
In leadership culture, we haven’t yet hit that tipping point where our movement is synonymous with what is good in the world and what is valued. We know what we are heading towards but we aren’t yet there and the practices mentioned above are the reason why. When we start to look at the evidence behind why we should practice in one way as opposed to another, that road leads very quickly to positive psychology. In that you will find the school of appreciative inquiry. You will find attachment theory. You will find neuropsychology. You will also find conversations where the synthesis of those schools of thought challenge the ways you once thought about how people work, but the information will still be validating.
Gord Cummings is a Calgarian adding to the social fabric. He is a student of Leadership through University of Guelph as well as through those he meets. He is a family man, author of Boundary Road, and is passionate about comic books as a medium. He also might have started to collect vintage action figures. He's not sure yet, but it certainly looks that way.
I lead a full life full of love, adventure and growth. Check out my latest thoughts here.
Sign up for my newsletter here!
Want to follow my blog?
Click the RSS feed below and follow the instructions. That way, you won't miss any updates!