Words can clarify or confuse. A favorite pastime of mine is to watch politicians or corporate CEOs squirm when asked straightforward questions on sensitive issues. Accountability can be tough; the language of leadership is not for the faint-hearted.
Here are some of the top code lines that contribute to the growing cynicism in today’s workplace:
—”We’re not here to talk about the past. My focus is on the future.”
Translation: “I’ve made some mistakes and bad decisions that I don’t want to admit. Let’s not discuss those.”
Result: Others resist. They push to talk about those mistakes the leader is trying to push under the proverbial rug. And followers tend to emulate the leader, learning to side-step discussions about mistakes, weaknesses, or errors. Lesson learned by observation: Obfuscate. Distract. Triangulate.
—”With all due respect…”
Translation: ‘I’m about to make a disrespectful, insensitive comment that could be phrased more tactfully and objectively if I thought about it a moment.”
Result: Uncivil discourse prevails when open, honest dialogue would better solve challenging problems and strengthen, rather than weaken, relationships.
—”He left to pursue other opportunities.”
Translation: “He has been fired or asked to resign.” We routinely see and hear this statement when someone leaves an organization abruptly—even when a scandal involving them has made national headlines, when rumors run rampant, or when tweets trend to the top.
Result: Skepticism and distrust grow.
—”That division has seen less than stellar performance.”
Translation: “This division has hit rock bottom.” Or: “This division has decreased from its typically high performance.”
Result: This ambiguous statement sets off a scramble to accurately assess the department’s performance and its ramifications. Defenders of the performance will be upset. Outsiders will be alarmed.
—”It’s a no-brainer; this is a win-win opportunity.”
Translation: “I don’t want to take the time to identify, assess, and explain the real benefits.”
Result: The staff learns that declaring is as good as doing. That is, a phone call made… is as good as a phone call returned. A promise is as good as a signed contract. A product ordered is as good as a product installed.
—”She fell short of her potential.”
Translation: “We never set realistic goals, communicated those goals, nor prepared her to reach those goals.”
Result: Leaders continue to lie to themselves about the frequent cause of poor performance. Other observers fail to understand the cost of employee development.
So what’s a leader to do to become a straight-talker and build credibility? Own up,… polish up,… speak up.