I am not comfortable with much of the new "corporate speak" that is invading our business vernacular. I do not like the phrase "thought leader", and am tired of hearing about "paradigm shifts". Sometime over the last decade managers became "leaders". I was probably in the bathroom and missed that moment. "Visionary" is vastly overused and I absolutely want to hurl when I hear the phrase "Serial Entrepreneur".
I suppose my objections to those words lay not so much in the words or descriptions, but the fact that they are now used regularly by people to describe themselves, instead of others. It is one thing to describe another person as a "visionary thought leader capable of paradigm shifting strategies"; but a tad presumptuous to use that phrase to describe oneself.
I thought of that while watching a recent episode of a show I love to hate, Undercover Boss. As I have written before, "Undercover Boss" is a show on CBS where an oblivious CEO who is completely unaware of what actually happens within their company, dons a cheap and unconvincing disguise and spends a week working undercover within the organization, meeting employees along the way, who, while turning out to be the bedrock of success for the company, have every possible malady and crisis occurring in their personal lives.
This particular episode featured the president of an international pastry company, and she was talking about her management style prior to donning her cheap and unconvincing disguise. Several times she referred to herself as a leader, by saying things like, "As a leader, my mantra is 'get it done'”. While that may work for Larry the Cable Guy, I personally find it somewhat lacking in inspiration. It is as if the mantras of most managers - excuse me - "leaders", is "Don't bother. I don't give a crap". She went on to say (as a leader) that she wanted people under her to know that, while they may do the job well, someone else "may be able to do it better".
Well, sign me up. Lead on, McDuff. Show me the way.
I visited her LinkedIn profile the following day. It is a virtual cornucopia of managerial motivational double speak. Her "Specialties" are listed as:
Change Management (reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions, new leadership transitions) International Communication, Servant Leadership, Teambuilding, Franchise Business Support, Situational Hospitality, Motivational Speaking, Training, Personal Branding, Development and Succession Planning, Performance Coaching, Hospitality & Service, International Business and Culture Transfer, Building Profitable Sales, Teaching and Integrating Business Acumen: Finance, Marketing, Ops, Tech, Service, HR
I love the "Servant Leadership" skill set. I had to look it up. It turns out that Servant Leadership is not a motivational approach for getting the most out of your butler, chauffeur and estate gardening staff. It is instead a philosophy representing a participative management style, and a "leadership philosophy which implies a comprehensive view of the quality of people, work and community spirit. It requires a spiritual understanding of identity, mission, vision and environment. A servant leader is someone who is servant first, who has responsibility to be in the world, and so he contributes to the well-being of people and community."
Has responsibility to be in the world? What kind of Zen babble is that? If I actually had a “spiritual understanding of identity, mission, vision and environment”, would I even be watching a moronic show like Undercover Boss?
I am sure this woman is a very talented and effective executive. I just don't know why she feels compelled to tell everyone that she is a very talented and effective executive. And she is not alone. LinkedIn is loaded with visionary change management serial entrepreneurs specializing in motivational leadership. Most of them are looking for a job. This is the path we apparently are supposed to follow.
The very day after watching this episode, the cartoon Dilbert carried a message just on this very topic. You can see it here (because I am too cheap to pay the $110 republish fee). Essentially, Dilbert's pointy haired boss tells their HR Director that he views himself more as a leader than a manager. The HR Director replies by telling him "That's what all bad managers say", and then "I'm just being honest". Dilbert's pointy hair boss replies, "That is what all jerks say".
So let me be a jerk here.
Big words don't make us more effective. Calling a spade an "earth shifting change catalyst" doesn't mean it does anything besides what it was designed to do, which is move dirt. Are good manager's leaders? Sure. They are also good followers, good listeners, good communicators and they likely shower daily. They are still managers, through and through.
Even Dilbert understands that, probably more than most. Then again, what do I know? This is only my opinion, but many believe I am a visionary change management serial entrepreneur specializing in motivational leadership and paradigm shifting catalytic thought provocation.
Other people say that of course, not me. I would tell you that I am just full of crap.
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