Management Mumbo Jumbo: Words Leaders Use to Shun Accountability


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 words and phrases 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?

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Three things: Own up, polish up speak up.

This was originally published on Dianna Booher’s Booher Banter blog.

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of 49 books, published in 62 foreign-language editions. She helps organizations to communicate clearly and leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence — and often by their own published book. Her latest books include Faster, Fewer, Better EmailsCommunicate Like a Leader; What MORE Can I Say?; Creating Personal Presence; and Communicate With Confidence. National Media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, FOX, CNN, NPR, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on workplace communication issues.  @DiannaBooher  817-283-2333