Sales Moves

Leadership words that need to be banned — forever

September 6, 2013
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Pabulum leadership words really bug me — but not as bad as they may bug you if they’re uttered by your leader. 

Leaders are known by their words, deeds, actions, values, principles, and by the people they attract, both on their team and in the world, but …

  • t’s their words that set the tone for the environment. 
  • It’s their words that start the internal chatter. 
  • It’s their words that start their internal reputation. 

Then, it’s the actions that follow. All are studied and judged by the team. 

Obvious observation: Great leaders attract great people. So why is there so much leadership mediocrity? Must be their words (and the way they’re spoken)!

I read a lot of stuff about leaders and leadership. Below are a bunch of leadership “words” (in no particular order) that sound good but mean virtually nothing. You’ve heard them and groaned about them. 

I’m defining several of the words I have an issue with (cannot stand) in italics, then explaining why I have the issue, challenging the status-quo and suggesting better words —replacement words, substitute words — in all caps, and explaining my reasons. 

• Embrace means you’re OK with it but not necessarily a participant — not good. I don’t want leaders to “embrace change.” I want a leader who takes ACTION. Action is a better word because it means something’s happening.

• Accountable means fessing up if (and after) something goes wrong and results are measured. RESPONSIBLE is a better option. Be responsible for yourself and to yourself. Be responsible for your words and deeds. Be responsible for your attitude. Be responsible and take responsibility for your achievements.

• Effective: To me, effective means mediocre. It sort of carries a “so-what” feeling to it. I really don’t want an effective heart surgeon. I want the BEST surgeon. He’s an effective salesman? Or he’s the BEST salesman? Which would you rather have?

• Diversity: I really don’t know what this means in business. It’s a word spoken by many and understood by few. I guess it refers to hiring and doing business with all types of people and businesses. Sad that the world has come to this. It seems forced. When leaders preach diversity, they have to make a special effort, rather than a natural effort. I prefer the word INCLUSIVE. It tells a deeper tale of involvement and is a positive word that needs no defining. It’s also singular: “I’m inclusive.” “I’m diverse” or “I’m all about diversity” sounds contrived.

• Focus: This is a word that means the leader is “honed in on” something, and that’s what he or she is paying major attention to. I would rather know from my leader what his or her INTENTION is, and what the intention is to do something about what you’re focused on. Just because you’re focused on something doesn’t mean you intend to do something about it.

• Understand: You’re kidding me, right? This is a totally weak and passive word. “Bob understands,” or “Bob is understanding.” So what? Is Bob doing anything about it? That’s leadership. I want someone who knows what to do and does it. I want an EXPERT. When I have an issue, do I want to bring it to someone who understands — or do I want to bring it to an expert?

• Paradigm: This is a two-decades-old word that has lost its way. Sometimes it’s accompanied by the word “shift” and means there’s a new way. Or to add to this corporate-speak dialogue, the word “change” is added, as well. Change is arguably the most negative word in business besides bankrupt. A better word is OPPORTUNITY. When change occurs, or there’s a paradigm shift, doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to look for the opportunity? I agree.

• Results: “Bob is results-oriented.” “Bob focuses on results.” Not good. Bob needs to lead his people and convey his intensions. A better word is OUTCOME. Outcome takes both people and task into consideration and stresses what happens after completion. 

• At the end of the day is a summary of expectations and predictions — usually stated in the negative. When someone says this I can assure you they’re just searching for words. At the end of the day has no alternative. The phrase should just be eliminated — forever. 

Reality: Think about all these words in a group. As a leader, which group would you like to have attributed to you?

Group one: Embrace, accountable, effective, diversity, focus, understand, paradigm, results, at the end of the day.


Group two will consist of proactive, powerful, respected, followed leaders. Group one will consist of reactive, weak, disrespected leaders that will lose their best people — to the leaders of group two. 

Embrace that paradigm. 

Jeffrey Gitomer’s website,, has information about training and seminars, or email him personally at

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