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Conor Kenny urges you to avoid management by slogan

It's Not That Simple Stupid!

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When storms hit the high seas, people perish. Sometimes they perish at the hands of pirates. Sometimes by managers who manage by slogan.

As the world economy slowly tries to get back on its feet, like an outflowing tide, we can't help but see what damage the storm left below the surface. That damage is often not repairable.

When people are under pressure they can reveal the truth behind the superficial charm. That's easy in a boom, not so easy in a collapse. Thing is, masks that slipped are not easily forgotten.

Peter Drucker, in The Age of Discontinuity said
"Management is simple but not easy. The simple part is knowing what to do. The part that is not easy is getting others to do it"

Books Bearing False Promises

Walk in to any bookstore and you will be bombarded with books bearing promises of simple solutions. They draw attention because they confirm our prejudices. They draw attention because they pretend to make something complex simple. People are not machines and emotions play an enormous part in our decisions. It is all too easy to think the solutions to good management can be lifted off a bookshelf and learnt in a day. They can't.

A Good Boss

If you ask anyone to reflect on the good bosses or managers they encountered in their lifetime, you'll see that it is always a very small number. If you asked about bad bosses, the numbers would rise. A good manager is often remembered as "tough but fair" and, interestingly enough, never "fair but tough"

In my own daily life working with managers, I can remember a handful that are outstanding. At the other end of the spectrum, I remember a very tall manager doing his best to knock out a member of his team across the boardroom table. Thankfully the table was wide enough to reduce his powerful reach.

Those that you remember, as well as being tough but fair, also have a strong sense of their own humility and how their words and actions impact on those below their rank.

I can think of great managers who never did anything but the 'right thing' even when it was difficult and unpopular. I can think of one especially awful manager who spied on his staff all day long. Happiness for him was to lay traps and watch, on CCTV as they tumbled. Of course the next step was execution.


Words, no matter how simple, can have an impact we never know. Our language is complex enough and ambiguity can destroy a gentle soul. What we say, and how we say it, can make or break the most loyal individual. Yes indeed, words, damn words, can paralyse a giant.

"Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Words can be the ignition to launch an army and words, misused, can wreck your voyage, capsize your ship and feed the pirates.

The Managers Slogans

Recently, I gave a workshop to a fantastic group of very bright managers. We talked "management by slogan" and I gave them a 15 minute breakout to come back with classic Pub Talk Management clichés. They did and here's just some of the list they produced.

  • I'm the boss – just do it!
  • Hmmm – I don't like that
  • I heard you...but....
  • Tried that, done that, not doing it again
  • Going forward/Action it/cascade etc. etc.
  • It's out of my pay grade
  • That's just the way it is
  • Not him again!
  • I'll do it myself
  • Yeah yeah yeah
  • I wouldn't bother asking him
  • What would you expect?
  • I bet that's "...." on the phone
  • They need more training
  • Sure you love doing cash don't you
  • Get rid of them!
  • Maybe another time
  • Do us a favour and say this...
  • What are you talking about?
  • I could but I won't
  • No or no you can't
  • The only thing they understand is ...
  • Keep your eye on the ball

A New Year's Thought

When they were done and when the laughter was over, smiling faces turned a little dark. Of course they had just realised that they were energetically writing down the very things they themselves say.

When the day was over this exercise had really stood out. In the end they realised just one thing. Slogans that are only good for Pub talk have no place at work.

Now that you've read this article, perhaps you'd agree too? Better still, avoiding Pub Talk Management Slogans might even be a powerful New Year's resolution.


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