Leaders need to 'pass' on the sports cliches
It's the middle of football season and, for the most part, that's a good thing in my book. I follow college football with the same fervor most thirty-something women reserve for shoe shopping. I have been known to scream much louder at televisions than my husband after an interception or a blown call. And I have resisted the temptation to devote an entire blog post to the leadership problems that have befallen my beloved Georgia Bulldogs this season. (Can someone please tell Mark Richt to take back the play calling from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo? Just because you delegated responsibility once doesn't mean you can't take it over again.)
But the one thing I can't stand about this time of year is the way football analogies seem to crop up even more in leaders' speech than they already do. Here's AOL CEO Tim Armstrong at an investors' conference in late September: "I promised investors, no hail mary passes. There won't be hail mary passes with the cash." Or GE Energy CEO John Krenicki yesterday after GE's acquisition of oil-and-gas equipment maker Dresser: "This is another sign we're playing offense."
The usual argument against using sports analogies to, um, rally your team, is that they aren't made for a diverse audience. In other words, women don't get them. While I take issue with that statement (see above), and I'm sure it's true in some cases, the real reason leaders should stop already with the sports lingo is much simpler: It's annoying, and it makes you look inauthentic.
The problem is pervasive. This blog post does a hilarious job rounding up the ubiquity of the sports analogy, and we've all no doubt let the words "coach," "team," and "bench strength" enter our workplace lexicon. While that can get out of hand--especially when CEOs refuse to use the word "employee" because they think saying "team member" makes people feel better about their frozen salaries and dwindled job security--phrases like that are so ingrained in corporate speak today that most people don't notice them.
But when the sports analogy gets overplayed, it ceases to be useful. Not because people don't understand it, but because it's more likely to have your people rolling their eyes than feeling motivated to work better or smarter. The manager who talks about fumbling the ball when something goes wrong, or using the hurry-up offense on a competitor, or being in the red zone when quarterly numbers are close to being met sounds like a caricature, not a leader.
Like its awful cousin, corporatese ("going forward, our customer centric metrics will be optimized and enabled for actionable deliverables"), overwrought sports analogies distract people and muddle the message. Simple, direct guidance, with honest, candid feedback, is really the only language managers should use. So much of office life is already a cliche. Must leaders make it worse?
October 8, 2010; 6:44 AM ET |
Save & Share:
Previous: The BP oil spill papers: A case study in management failure | Next: Paying top dollar to snag a star performer? Big mistake
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: jgoldbe4 | October 10, 2010 11:32 AM
Posted by: lsmith1 | October 9, 2010 6:05 PM
Posted by: WestCountry2 | October 9, 2010 3:08 PM
Posted by: bubbad | October 8, 2010 1:09 PM
Posted by: kathymac1 | October 8, 2010 12:17 PM
Posted by: bucinka8 | October 8, 2010 12:04 PM
Posted by: Hunter | October 8, 2010 9:59 AM
Posted by: jlhare1 | October 8, 2010 9:28 AM
Posted by: jcindy | October 8, 2010 6:15 AM
Posted by: JamesChristian | October 8, 2010 5:26 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.