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There’s no 'I' in team

21 June 2013

A SURVEY undertaken recently by the Institute of Leadership and Management gathered together some of the most annoying boardroom clichés.

Here is a world where we "touch base", take a look at "the big picture", "flag-up ideas", risk "blue-sky thinking", and hear our boss reply reassuringly, "It's on my radar." What a relief - clearly, "we're on the same page."

As the meeting proceeds, we decide to "incentivise," "monetise", and "productise", and, when we have run out words with "ise" at the end, we pluck the "low-hanging fruit", which is a "win-win situation", a "no-brainer". And now we feel the "synergy", and sense a "paradigm shift" - always a sign of "best practice". And if we all give "110 per cent", "walk the talk", and "take ownership", we could "get ahead of the curve", "take it to the next level", and get the "best bang for your buck".

There is some unease in the boardroom, however, as we ponder our next publicity stunt. "Have we reached a 'jump-the-shark' moment?" Head of Strategy asks, gravely.

For those who do not live in boardrooms, this phrase first described the American comedy Happy Days, which, towards the end of its run, as it began to tire, began to use stunts to keep the audience engaged. In one episode, this meant that the Fonz, the star of the show, literally jumped over a shark on water skis. It was the beginning of a slow but inevitable end.

Since then, the use of "jumping the shark" has broadened, reaching into business to describe the moment when a brand or design's evolution loses the magical qualities that initially defined its success, and it starts the decline towards commercial oblivion.

Some worried boardroom discussion follows. The Operations Director asks: "Is this 'mission critical'?" Someone else says: "Failing to plan is planning to fail," for no very obvious reason; the head of HR stands up and demands that we "work smarter, not harder", after which the CEO bangs his fist on the table and says: "Bring me solutions, not problems."

But this is more about words than leadership. The overuse of any word or phrase leaves it as thin as the atmosphere on Mars. Like a drifting boat, it becomes ever more distant from the moorings of meaning. The cliché is the language of the lazy, who seek only to kill the life of this present moment. It is practical atheism; the disengaged talk of those who live out some fake persona in the world, grasping for borrowed speech because they have no fresh springs in themselves.

There may be no "I" in "team", but there's a lazy and numbing one in "cliché".

Simon Parke is the author of A Vicar, Crucified (DLT, 2013)

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