conversation is an engine

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Never Say This To Your Boss On A Monday

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“Easy, Peterson. We’re in mixed company.”

Unless your employee figures “Why” for themselves

Certain words and phrases race from useful to cliché within an hour-long meeting. Just check out this list of 89 clichés, many of which you’ll likely hear today. Other words carry so much heavy baggage that when your VP says them, the air in the room suddenly seems carbon monoxide-heavy and people start to drift.

This word is among those problematic words.

It’s a common word. So common, in fact, that when uttered aloud it brings to mind exactly…nothing. This word is invisible.


Three of us have been talking about why it is so many clients see strategy as something hammered out by a few bosses in the back room—or simply as a complete waste of time. These organizations reward a “bias toward action,” which looks like lots of activity, lots of people staying late, lots of emails on Saturday and Sunday, without lots of results. Too often all that activity is at cross-purposes across an entire organization eager to prove their bias toward action.

The three of us would like to rehab the concept, but not the word itself. Our rehab efforts consist of breaking the concept into component parts that become as sticky as a five-year-old’s wonderment: What? Why? How? Simple stuff. But when approached directly, these words become profoundly effective tools for guiding teams and organizations and, especially brands. Incredibly useful words not just for giving instructions, but for engaging someone’s emotion and intellect. The first order of rehab is to include all three components. The second order of rehab is tell the straight story about each—without cliché, with clear endpoints. And that means end points that others can see if they get done (or not).

We’re starting to believe that managers who major on the “What” or “How” without telling “Why” are getting employees to feel OK running about on impulse drive without ever taking their work to warp speed. Of course, it is possible the manager still feels knowledge is power and to withhold the “Why” is a way to maintain that power. Impulse drive is all they’ll ever get.


Unless their employee figures out the “Why” for themselves. Unless the employee finds a way to put meaning into their work on their own. Unless the employee learns to engage in the kind of dialogue that helps a group move forward.

I hope to write more about this. The topic includes lots of working parts: leading from anywhere in an organization, learning to help a boss ask the bigger questions without disappearing down the rabbit hole of industrial strength strategy/BS sessions, helping each other grow into people who care and do our best. And many more.

Oh—and the third, most important order of rehab: courage. The whole thing needs to be stirred up by people willing to share their dumb ideas. Because sometimes dumb ideas produce solid, cogent, meaningful results, despite the awkward moments along the way.


Image Credit: 4CP via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

June 25, 2012 at 5:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] I’m not against witness, in fact I’d like to take the word to rehab along with fellowship and strategy. But life is a fully-orbed thing, not a single set of words that when uttered complete you. Life is […]

  2. […] words in need of rehab: fellowship,  strategy, and maybe […]

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