Sunday, December 7, 2008

Do you speak Mumbo Jumbo?

Since stepping aside from the daily corporate world, I now have the objective distance to see things in a new light. This objective distance helps me to assist others that may be too close to things in order to get a good perspective. I find that this new light, combined with my practical experience, helps me to coach people effectively. I am grateful for this.

One of the observations this new objectivity has allowed me to see is the extensive use of corporate "speak" or what I term as "mumbo jumbo" language. It is not that I wasn't aware of the use of "mumbo jumbo" during my more than twenty years of corporate tenure, I was. But, what I failed to see before was the impact "mumbo jumbo" language has on organizations, people, and leadership.

A few weeks ago while traveling to Dallas for a speaking engagement, I overhead a business man in the Houston airport speaking about the timing of "due diligence," the need for more "right-sizing" and the importance of "informational cascading," all in one conversation! I wondered why he would choose to speak this way. Was it because he wanted to be understood more effectively? Probably not. Was it because he was trying to impress the person he was speaking with and to make himself feel like he was in-the-know? Probably.

For a moment, I pictured him as my 4 and a half year old daughter who for the last several weeks has been blurting out newly acquired and popular words from school like "fart," "idiot," "jerk," etc. Kids do it all the time, they pick up on the "cool" words and then in their attempt to be like the big kids, they use those words at home to get a reaction and on the playground to be accepted.

Yes, we are all social animals that want to be accepted into the crowd. Yet, as leaders and professionals, our main objective should be to connect with people and to be understood, not to be accepted as part of the in-the-know crowd. As leaders, we are expected to be self-confident and not searching for ways to fit in. Leaders have much to lose when they jump on the "mumbo jumbo" language train. First and foremost, they lose trust and credibility.


Becoming a leader is a lifelong journey that is very personal and requires a tremendous amount of introspection. Authenticity and being true to oneself is at the foundation of being an effective leader. When you choose to use corporate speak or "mumbo jumbo" language on a consistent basis, what it says to others is that you are like a robot: you don't have original thoughts, you don’t have original ideas and you can't be trusted because you are not real. People follow people, not scripted robots. “Mumbo jumbo” language raises our "B.S." red flag. Its impact is the opposite of the intended one.

As a writer and a speaker, I certainly know the importance of words. However, as a mom of a 4 and a half year old, I understand the implications of words and the impact they have on behavior. Clean and direct language always works best. Whether you have to deliver bad news, good news or anything in between, skip the "mumbo jumbo" language and you will be several steps ahead in becoming a more effective leader that others trust.

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