Leadership communication is under attack.

Blah Blah

Executives, advisors, and business journalists are increasingly spouting business jargon, doublespeak, and bunkum to describe strategy or market conditions.  The use of meaningless phrases in business communications is compromising leadership effectiveness, giving employees something about which to sneer.

Mere mortals—workers and lesser business types listening to this gobbledygook are bewildered—fretting that they may have missed instruction on some important new business code.

Financial Times Columnist Lucy Kellaway’s Monday column caught my attention.  She, too, dislikes pretentious language that obfuscates the message or is downright meaningless.

Her target and the winner for a new award she has created—recognition for Outstanding Service to Bunkum—is Angela Ahrendts, Chief Executive Officer of Burberry, who, Ms. Kellaway aptly describes as a “living legend in a trenchcoat.”

Here is the example she quotes of consultant/leadership speak that is over the top:

“In the wholesale channel, Burberry exited doors not aligned with brand status and invested in presentation through both enhance assortments and dedicated, customized real estate in key doors.” 

No, seriously.

If this is not utterly incomprehensible, then what is, Ms. Kellaway asked?  “What are all these doors?  Did Burberry acquire …building supplies?”

If you can figure that statement out, would you mind helping me with another of her phrases, “democratizing luxury”?  I am guessing that does not mean that the knock-off manufacturers will get a free pass to rip off Burberry products.

As I read Ms. Kellaway’s On Work column, I could not help but think about what a wise leader once said about communicating—that telling stories that help employees and customers connect with the brand and product or service is an essential leadership skill.

Good stories inspire us. There was not much inspiration in “…enhanced assortments and dedicated customized real estate in doors.”

I know a health system CEO in the Northeast.  He is, I believe, the world record holder for the use of words and phrases such as “platforms”, “distribution channels”, “portfolios of services”, “wholesale opportunities” and “enterprise specific options” in one sentence.


You cannot effectively lead people if they have no idea what you are talking about.

© 2012 John Gregory Self