The Analysis of a Leadership Cliché

Posted by Matt Berringer on January 2, 2015

Leadership ClicheBy Ramiro Zuniga, Ed.D.

Many times, leaders look for ways to quickly communicate an idea or a thought. Too often, they turn to overused and tired clichés. It is very easy to do. After all, there are so many clichés out there:

  • “Take one for the team…”
  • “There is no ‘I’ in team…”
  • “Be an agent of change…”

I offer no criticism of the use of clichés but rather an observation. Given the lack of time in any given day, those in leadership positions have to make the most of every minute of their day. It is for this reason there is a desire to communicate in as brief a manner as possible. It is that desire that make clichés so full of potential.

The problem with clichés is they simply do not work. Seldom does the cliché achieve the intended inspiration and instead more often results in rolling of the eyes. I would suggest that clear and direct language leads to better end results.

One of my least favorite leadership clichés is, “Think outside the box…”

It is obvious the intent of this cliché is to inspire employees to think innovatively or from a different angle. I would suggest that creative thought is already part of most organizations and is something that seldom needs prodding.

I so dislike this cliché that I have created a comeback for it. I have pointed out, many times, that organizations often suffer from, “forgetting to open up the box and really look at what is inside.” In other words, it is not a lack of creative thinking but rather a lack of understanding of an organization or its mission.

A great place to start when taking a look inside the box is to look at recent accomplishments. Are the accomplishment milestones in line with the company mission? Are the accomplishments the best that could be achieved given the current circumstances? Do these accomplishments open the door to other future goals?

A second place to look within any organization is the area of economics. With any business, whether private or public, wasteful spending can only hurt. It is critical that a deep understanding of expenses be part of the “thinking” portion of any organization.

Third, every organization should have the most efficient processes in place. Too often, time is lost on trivial or minimal steps. Efforts to evaluate processes and procedures should be a constant part of any organization.

Finally, every organization should have a great understanding of who their team members are and what their roles are. Moreover, it is just as important to understand whether each team member is in the correct role.

In short, “It’s time to get back to basics…”

I told you that it was too easy to reach for clichés.

Topics: Leadership, K-12