The terms management and leadership are frequently confused, conflated, and misunderstood. They have many definitions, some of which are useless or worse, and which can together create as much confusion as clarity. The easiest and best distinction between management and leadership has to do with expectations and aspirations. In a nutshell, the work of management meets the predetermined expectations held by known stakeholders, while the work of leadership sets forth new expectations that people can embrace as aspirations for themselves. Thus:


Management is the real, day-to-day work of ensuring performance to a predetermined expectation, as in quantity or quality—a budget, target, goal, quota, standard, law, process, criterion, threshold, or deadline, for example—held by known stakeholders. These expectations are important because the stakeholders must be satisfied, lest bad things happen to the organization or movement, even possibly threatening its survival. By its nature, management worries about meeting these expectations and thus naturally seeks to discourage deviations from the norm, for any deviation from the norm can interfere with reliably meeting the predetermined expectations.

Leadership is the extraordinary work of envisioning, inspiring, and bringing about significant change or breakthrough performance through the discretionary and even self-sacrificing efforts of people, often in a state of uncertainty, despair, or risk. Instead of just acknowledging and meeting predetermined expectations, it sets new expectations and calls on people to embrace them as aspirations for themselves and to rise to the challenge of meeting them. By its nature, leadership seeks to encourage deviations from the norm, because it is looking for and hoping to find new opportunities and solutions that will bring about unprecedented change or improvement.


We identify five analytical perspectives, or lenses, on leadership. An analytical perspective is just a way of looking at something; it typically emphasizes some aspects and de-emphasizes others. The five analytical perspectives on leadership are:

  • Position, by which we mean that leadership is viewed as a senior position in a hierarchy, and the leaders are the individuals occupying such a position. This is the dominant perspective of leadership in Western society, but it has significant disadvantages that interfere with a clear-eyed understanding of leadership.

  • Power, by which we mean that leadership is viewed as the acquisition and deployment of power over other people. Though closely related to Position, it is sufficiently distinct to warrant its own treatment, as many leaders throughout history have lacked official, formal authority but nonetheless exercised considerable power over other people.

  • Persona, by which we mean that leadership is viewed as traits, attributes, or skills of a leader. These are commonly cited as charisma, eloquence, appearance, poise, energy, assertiveness, influence, and relational or interpersonal ease. When people speak of “a natural-born leader,” they are typically referring to this set of qualities.

  • Prominence or performance, by which we mean that leadership is derived from one’s role, visibility, success, or prominence. Thus we often expect famous or locally prominent people—television stars, musicians, professional and collegiate athletes, candidates for public office and holders of public office, clergy, teachers, coaches, doctors, and lawyers—to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their success and inspiring to young people. In some cases, owing to their role and our confidence in them, we entrust these people with the care of young people. We are especially disappointed to find them fall short, and we are duly outraged when their behavior exploits or endangers young people.

  • Purpose, Principle, and Process, by which we mean that leadership is viewed as the work that a leader does to become a leader and to lead people for the sake of achieving a goal or defending a principle. This perspective has decided advantages over the other four. That is because definitions based on position, power, persona, and prominence excuse other people, who have much to offer, from the challenge and opportunity of leading people. We need more leadership from more people in more places if we are to grow organically and thus have, do, and be more tomorrow more than today. (See process of leadership.) 

The process of leadership, or the Eight Steps, is an iterative model that sets forth eight sequential (though overlapping in practice) steps to exercise movement leadership, all revolving around what we call the vital connection between leader and led. Like any model, it simplifies complex reality, and it can legitimately be criticized for perhaps oversimplifying things. The Eight Steps are:

  • Community, which involves discovering the identity and cultural norms, priorities, anxieties, and aspirations of the group one seeks to lead, and nurturing a tighter sense of cohesion among people.

  • Concern, which involves noticing and identifying the bedrock concerns among people in the community. Are they political? Economic? Social? Something else? Are they borne of fear, anxiety, or hope?

  • Cause, which involves developing and championing a cause that responds to one or more concerns people have. This cause becomes the substantive focus of one’s leadership.

  • Challenge, which involves translating the cause to the practical implications for people. (In a fund-raising campaign, that can mean calling donors or making donations. In war, it can mean taking up arms. In politics, it can mean volunteering or voting.)

  • Coalition, which involves broadening the base of stakeholders who will support the Cause. Rarely are a small number of proponents sufficient to bring about a large social change. By finding more supporters, and giving them both an emotional stake in the change as well as a factual basis for their support, you can build a much larger base.

  • Congruence, which involves ensuring that one’s own thoughts, words, and behavior are consistent with the cause and present oneself as suitable to carry a torch of leadership. (See first follower.)

  • Campaign, which involves ceaselessly talking about and on behalf of the cause, as well as building the apparatus of a campaign organization.

  • Consensus, which involves encouraging and empowering people to think, speak, and act for themselves in accordance with the overarching cause. As a general accord, it leads back to community, as the community becomes something more and better as a result of leadership than it was at the beginning.


Expanding on the seminal work of James MacGregor Burns in his 1978 book Leadership, we recognize three models of leadership, each having four common varieties (with some overlap), as follows:

  • Transactional leadership, first articulated by Burns, emphasizes an explicit transaction between the leader and the led, such that a leader is paying something (such as money, services, access, favors) to potential followers for adhering to the leader’s agenda. We discuss four common kinds: custodial, authoritarian, political, and institutional (or fiduciary).

  • Transformational leadership, also first articulated by Burns, involves a broad transformation of people, their values, and their expectations. It has no explicit transaction; instead, people embrace the leader’s agenda out of pride, values, camaraderie, satisfaction, glory, or other intangible incentives. We may also refer to it as transcendent leadership. We discuss four common kinds: visionary, moral, heroic, and normative (in prior versions, we called the latter cultural).

  • Transitional leadership features the widespread adoption and transition to a new idea, style, technology, priority, or approach. A hybrid of the transactional and transformational models, it has aspects of both. It may or may not involve a transaction, and it may offer either tangible rewards or intangible incentives or both. We discuss four common kinds: strategic, charismatic, intellectual, and innovative (in prior versions, we called the latter creative).


Movement leadership is distinguishable from other leadership by its lack of an organization or legal authority and its focus on growing support for change. Its leaders are often case studies in the process of leadership (see also). Famous examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, and Martin Luther King Jr.


First follower is the notion that a leader leads best by example, by offering himself or herself as the model, before asking anyone else to do likewise. We occasionally illustrate this idea by citing the pre-flight instruction on airlines to “put your own mask on first.” We implore aspiring leaders to be their own first follower.


We identify four archetypes of leadership, which amount to stages in the conceptual evolution of leadership. They are:

  • The Absolute Archetype, or an oppressive, even tyrannical approach to leadership that strives to suppress independent thought, speech, and action. It operates from a basis of fear, and it presumes that people are selfish, wrongheaded, restless, and rebellious.

  • The Traditional Archetype, or a dictatorial, autocratic approach to leadership that strives to control independent thought, speech, and action. It operates from a basis of doubt, and it presumes that people need boundaries and limits to do what’s right and necessary.

  • The Modern Archetype, or a paternalistic, supportive approach to leadership that strives to influence independent thought, speech, and action. It operates from a basis of guarded confidence, and it presumes that people may or may not do what is right and necessary, and therefore they need support and guidance.

  • The Dynamic Archetype, or a liberating, beneficent approach to leadership that strives to inspire independent thought, speech, and action. It operates from a basis of trust, and it presumes that people will often surprise us with principled, prudent choices.


A leader (also referred to as a true leader) is anyone, regardless of position or rank, who knows, appreciates, embraces, and carries out the hard work of leading people. We expect to find leaders in high-level positions, but often what we see instead are authority figures who presume to be leading people when they actually are not. Conversely, we are often surprised, but really shouldn’t be, to find true leaders in mid-level or in lower rank-and-file positions. Organizations that want to grow and evolve need true leaders up, down, and across their hierarchy who want to, and can, work together.


Nature / Nurture, a dichotomy often used in debates about child rearing and social psychology, asks whether someone is primarily a product of parentage and genetic endowment or of upbringing and self-discipline. The same issue arises in discussions of leadership whenever someone asks: “Are leaders born or made?” Our answer is that successful leadership does benefit from certain innate traits or abilities such as intelligence, energy, optimism, and an affinity for people. But most of it depends on sheer work, creativity, and the constancy of purpose that any serious endeavor requires.


Serving leadership or servant leadership (we also term it 5th Degree Leadership) is a powerful ethic of leading by first serving the people to be led. It relies heavily on clarity of purpose, generous stewardship, soulful authenticity, self-awareness, vulnerability, empathy, humility, and community. It rejects the hubristic presumption of a leader’s arbitrary moral superiority, and reaches for relational collaboration more than legal authority and force.


Distributed leadership is a deliberate array of primary and collateral leadership up, down, and across the hierarchy. Official leaders (especially of an enterprise) cannot be everywhere, so they must find a way to force-multiply their vision, priorities, or will. They do so through a mutually reinforcing network of primary and collateral leaders.

  • Primary leaders create and own a vision, priority, initiative, or program. They define and champion a particular future for the organization and its stakeholders. Primary leaders often, though not always, derive their authority from their position.

  • Collateral leaders build and sustain support for it. In a typical large organization, many leaders are both primary (for the particular unit for which they have official responsibility) and collateral (for the whole enterprise). It is vital to understand that anyone in any capacity can exercise compelling leadership.


Asymmetry is simply imbalance with particular reference to the little-discussed differences between people of varying level or rank in a large, complex organization. Asymmetry is important and necessary in terms of legal authority for a business, as it enables accountability for getting things done, and for technical authority, simply because of the complexity of our times. That is not necessarily the case for other kinds of asymmetry, such as differences in education, job security, strategic information, accountability, and dignity, all of which complicate issues of trust. (See trust.)


Trust is a straightforward proposition in most interpersonal relationships, but in business and politics it takes on three additional dimensions. In addition to the mainstay of integrity and authenticity, which is common to any relationship of trust, business and political relationships also involve varying degrees of affinity and nobility, or the perception of being on the same side; of presence and resonance; and of competence and authority. Wise leaders put a premium on all four dimensions.


Social proof is the phenomenon of behaving in a manner consistent with the behavior of others nearby or in a similar situation. It is most apparent in ambiguous or new social environments, when people are uncertain how to act. Thus, cultural norms tend to be self-perpetuating. Social proof is a critical tool in the leadership of change.


Tipping point, explored by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2000 book The Tipping Point, began as a concept in epidemiology to describe the critical mass in the spread of a contagious disease. Academic research, most notably by Everett M. Rogers, broadened its application to innovation in general, and it spawned the field of diffusion theory, which looks at how innovations become popular. The central idea is that communication of the innovation must consist of both objective, mass disseminated information and personal endorsements by trusted peers. Today tipping point refers to the inflection at which any idea or practice suddenly begins to enjoy widespread popularity and adoption. The term is useful for transformative leadership because it represents the point of rapidly growing acceptance of a new vision, strategy, or priority.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see also Theory X and Theory Y) is a multi-level hierarchy, depicted in a triangle, developed by the humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow. It asserts that people must meet basic needs before they can pursue more ethereal interests. Maslow’s Hierarchy has five levels. In ascending order they are: physiology (food, water, air); security (safety, employment, health); love and belonging (family, friendship, intimacy); esteem (achievement, confidence, respect, dignity); and self-actualization (individuality, expression, creativity, exploration, personal growth).


Theory X and Theory Y, terms coined by MIT professor Douglas McGregor in his 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise, refer to contrasting assumptions—traditional and progressive—about employee motivation. Because a manager’s decisions and behavior reflect assumptions, Theory X and Theory Y can each become self-fulfilling. Theory X holds that most employees are indolent and unproductive, and thus are motivated only by fear and money. In contrast, Theory Y posits that employees naturally want rewarding work and will motivate themselves. A third approach, Theory Z, offered by psychologist Abraham Maslow after McGregor’s death, is a middle path dependent on circumstances and relationships. (See also Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)


The Great Man Thesis (or Great Man Theory) of the 19th century holds that history is largely the record of extraordinary individuals, whose work and force of presence determined the outcome of debates and disputes. The influential Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle is most commonly associated with it. His rival, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer, countered that the thesis was puerile and simplistic. He argued that society makes individuals who they are. Popular thinking today agrees with Spencer more than Carlyle.


WIFM (pronounced WIFF-um) refers to the question people often ask in reaction to a new proposal: What’s in it for me?


INC is short for interests, needs, and concerns: the mainstays of WIFM.




Positive mental attitude is a catchall phrase coined by W. Clement Stone, a self-made millionaire, insurance magnate, and philanthropist who credited his success to positive thinking. (He borrowed the general idea from his mentor Napoleon Hill’s best-selling 1937 book Think and Grow Rich.) We recognize five kinds of positive mental attitude among people in the workplace. All five are important and valuable, but only two of them are absolutely necessary—one for survival, the other for growth. Three other kinds of PMA, while not essential, are highly desirable attributes of a healthy, productive workforce.


The three kinds of PMA that are highly desirable but not essential in the workplace are:

  • Morale is the degree of happiness or contentment that people have, largely as a function of their personal disposition and outlook, of their perceptions of others relative to themselves; of their socioeconomic status and security; of their identity, health, and energy; of their self-confidence and dignity; and of their personal and professional relationships. It is important to note that morale is largely if not exclusively determined by individuals for themselves.

  • Satisfaction is a feeling of peace and equanimity with one’s circumstances at work: responsibilities, reporting relationships, resources and tools, fair compensation, perceived role in a mission, camaraderie, respect by one’s peers, job security, work-life balance, and general treatment.

  • Loyalty is the inclination of employees to speak well of their employer, to protect the property and interests of the employer, to give an employer the benefit of the doubt, and to continue serving the needs of the employer and its customers. It’s a two-way street, so everything that applies to an employee’s attitude toward the employer also applies to the employer’s attitude toward the employee.


The two kinds of PMA that are absolutely essential, for survival and growth, and thus critical to the success of any business, are:

  • Alignment is the regular and consistent performance of duties necessary to recognize and meet the predetermined expectations of known stakeholders: customers, employees, investors, government regulators and inspectors, courts, strategic partners, vendors and suppliers, banks and bondholders, underwriters, distributors and retailers, service providers, news media, philanthropies, labor unions, and society at large. Alignment is vital for a company’s survival. It focuses on concerns of today. We think of alignment as the work product or deliverable of managing well. Most companies already have a good foundation of alignment, simply because it reflects their survival.

  • Engagement is a culture of discretionary, positive, creative, extra effort that enables an organization to grow into something bigger and better. It imagines and creates new expectations for the future, and it is vital for a company’s organic growth. It focuses on concerns of tomorrow and beyond. We think of engagement as the work product or deliverable of leading well. It follows that the work of leading is the work of creating or changing and then nurturing and sustaining a culture. Few companies have the culture of engagement they need for organic growth. (See growth and organic growth.)


Growth for business can be either inorganic or organic. Inorganic growth typically involves the purchase (or theft) of intellectual property or means of production through the acquisition of a patent, algorithm, computer program, molecule, customer list, portfolio, distribution system, factory, or whole enterprise. It is usually expensive and complicated and very uncertain. Organic growth typically involves the development of intellectual property or the enhancement of production through internal innovation. It is difficult to nurture a culture conducive to organic growth, but the benefits of doing so are huge. Apple Computer is a terrific example of a company that prides itself on organic growth.


For purposes of leadership, we recognize five tiers of engagement: creative engagement (the best), active engagement (very good, the minimum necessary for a competitive advantage), passive engagement (acceptable only in monopoly markets and generic industries), passive disengagement (never acceptable, often dangerous), and active disengagement (dysfunctional and absolutely intolerable).


Note: Employee engagement surveys often lack a precise conceptual foundation of engagement. Their questions may inquire broadly about positive mental attitude and reflect the bias of questions phrased in the first or second person. For the sake of leadership on a strategic priority, the results should be treated with circumspection. Efforts to build people engagement should be designed not on survey results but rather on objective evidence in the workplace, such as volunteering for special projects (creative engagement), trends in product defects or workplace injuries (passive disengagement), or unfounded grievances and work actions (active disengagement).


Creative engagement looks like a great deal of common focus on strategic imperatives, rigorous curiosity about their implications, a burning passion to realize them, and the strength of perseverance and courage to challenge the status quo. By unpacking engagement as these four variables, we can better nurture and support their development in the workforce, and thereby create high levels of engagement.

  • Strategic focus is an intense, exclusive attention to the organization’s strategic situation, customer needs and expectations, the leadership vision, the organization’s strategy and goals, one’s own contributions to success, and opportunities for future growth and development. The opposite would be frequent distractions, a preoccupation with one’s own career, and in general a non-strategic orientation. We think of focus as the highest level of Awareness, the first of four stages of execution.

  • Strategic curiosity is a disposition toward asking good, rich questions about things that matter to the organization and its customers. Examples include: How can we better serve our customers? What new products can we offer to attract more customers? Whose needs can we meet that are not adequately met now? How does our pricing or selection or availability or quality or delivery compare with what our competitors offer? We think of curiosity as the highest level of Understanding, the second of the four stages of execution. Of particular note, curiosity is more important to an organization than broad insight because it can generate ideas for future growth.

  • Strategic passion is a zealous enthusiasm and excitement for the work at hand and for the benefit it provides to customers. It plays out differently in diverse industries, but fundamentally it is the same thing. It looks like a strong, heartfelt desire for excellence, for attention to detail, for the technology or process, for creative solutions, for collaborative teamwork, and for constant improvement. We think of passion as the highest level of Acceptance, the third of the four stages of execution.

  • Strategic courage is mustering the initiative to deal with tough issues, to deliver negative news promptly and respectfully, to mentor young people and develop your own successors, to change your own self-limiting habits, to ask difficult questions and offer innovative suggestions, and to find and speak the truth with civility. We think of courage as the highest level of Commitment, the fourth and final stage of execution.


The Four Graveyards of Strategy (Where Good Strategies Go to Die) refer to the brink of each of the four stages of the Rainbow model: Awareness, Understanding, Acceptance, and Commitment. Without a deliberate and sustained effort to build each stage, strategies often quietly die before they can be implemented and at the conceptual place where the effort first failed. Commonly senior management does not realize until much later that a strategy has died.




Communication is anything—words, numbers, attitudes, pictures, experiences, punctuality, absence, eye contact, decisions, behaviors, performance reviews, rankings, uniforms, slogans, even a memory distorted by time—anything that conveys information or influences or creates meaning for people.  Strategic communication is any communication on or about the strategy of an organization. Depending on the strategy itself, strategic communication may be long range or short range, memorable or forgettable, inspiring or matter-of-fact, and successful or unsuccessful. Note: We recommend avoiding the term communications, with an s, for the reason that it regards communication as a succession of products and ignores the constancy of communication through behavior, conversation, presence, attentiveness, show of respect, and so forth.


The Three Voices (of Highly Effective Leadership) are the three complementary rubrics that account for all communication in an organization. They are:

  • The formal voice (or formal communication) is official communication as you have conventionally understood it: announcements, slogans, presentations, publications, Intranet sites, town-hall meetings and so forth. Of the three voices, only the formal voice is typically managed as communication. However, the formal voice accounts for only 10 to 20 percent of all the messages that employees receive. The other two voices, both commonly unmanaged, are usually much louder.

  • The semi-formal voice (or semi-formal communication) consists of messages that employees perceive through management decisions on budgets, personnel, production and sales quotas, systems and procedures, policies and programs, union agreements, work rules, meeting agendas, spending authorizations, the delegation of authority, and so forth.

  • The informal voice (or informal communication) consists of messages that employees perceive through interaction with their manager and their manager’s manager. The informal voice typically deals with trust, dignity, teamwork, belonging, and other intangibles so vital to a sense of community in the workplace. Note: Contrary to common belief, the informal voice does not refer to the rumor mill or to casual conversation.


Important note: Organizations must manage all three voices just as they manage any other resource. The more consistency there is within, between, and among the three voices, the less likely people will fall into states of confusion and doubt. Only when an organization’s formal, semi-formal, and informal voices are all sending much the same message, only when they are facilitating a mutually respectful dialogue with employees, only when they are honoring the nobility of an organization’s purpose and values, and only when they are encouraging the alignment of behavior with strategy, can the organization reach its fullest potential. Otherwise it’s a roll of the dice. If the three voices are not managed and integrated, the semi-formal and informal communication will prevail over the formal communication, and people will sense a lack of integrity and thus a lack of leadership.


Metamessages are official messages as they are heard, understood, and remembered by the people of an organization. How a message is perceived almost always differs from how it was sent. For all intents and purposes, perception is reality. People naturally filter new information through their own collection of stored knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes. The inter­pretation of a message depends on that filtering process. Together, the workforce’s knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about a message will create the metamessage.  It is what people remember was said, regardless of whether it was.


Integrated strategic communication is a deliberate, systematic process to clarify and strengthen pro-strategic messaging and to reduce or eliminate counter-strategic messaging, so as to build and sustain workforce engagement for an initiative, policy, program, or strategy. The systematic process integrates the three voices, such that an organization is able to cultivate increasing levels of awareness, understanding, acceptance and commitment toward its strategic success. The alternative—leaving communication to the happenstance of a cascade (see cascading)—is shortsighted and unwise. Everything that leader or a leadership team says and does should strengthen and reinforce the workforce’s awareness of, understanding of, acceptance of, and commitment to the strategic direction. Integrated communication should be integral to strategic planning, or it is likely to be an afterthought that ultimately undermines the execution of the strategy.

  • Pro-strategic messaging is any message —verbal or nonverbal, intended or unintended, in any of the three voices—that sends signals consistent with the strategic vision, direction, goals, and priorities. At best it can be a powerful reinforcement of the formal voice by either the semi-formal or informal voice or both.

  • Counter-strategic messaging is any message—verbal or nonverbal, intended or unintended, in any voice—that sends signals contradictory to the organization’s strategic vision, direction, goals, and priorities. At worst it reflects serious gaps between the formal voice and either the semi-formal or informal voice, or both, and thus it can compromise and undermine the integrity and therefore the leadership of the organization.


Cascading is the common management practice of disseminating business information downward through an organization one level at a time. It leads to information hoarding, middle-management spin, leaks and rumors, confusion, and ultimately the ground-level perception of strategy as nonsense. A much better alternative is the rain forest, which provides for (a) continuously sharing business information by electronic media and front-line supervisory support, (b) disseminating time-sensitive announcements to entire employee populations in cloudbursts when necessary, and (c) using front-line management to explain the rationale and repercussions of new policies, programs, and initiatives.


Corporatespeak and gobbledygook are ham-handed efforts to institutionalize and depersonalize formal communication. They usually take the humanity out of communication and run the risk of confusing, misleading, and alienating people. Wise, caring leaders resist such efforts and instead “tell it like it is” in plain English, just as they would speak to peers.


Doubletalk and doublespeak originally referred to language that was purposely ambiguous or misleading and difficult to understand. Both terms came to prominence with George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, published in 1949, but they were coined in the 1930s. Today they often refer to bureaucratic, euphemistic, or legalistic language that obscures its true meaning.


Safe spaces and trigger warnings, terms that were coined in academia, refer to practices intended to blunt the adverse impact of language perceived by victims as either abusive or hostile. Safe spaces are places to which someone can retreat to avoid hearing the language in question, and trigger warnings are advance notification that such language is forthcoming. Both terms are associated with political correctness, a sensibility that abusive language should not be tolerated in public discourse. Advocates of political correctness are sometimes ridiculed as snowflakes, a pejorative that itself could be regarded as abusive language.


Framing and reframing put information in a context that encourages a particular interpretation and application of it. Whenever people say, “Now that you put it that way . . . ,” they are acknowledging a successful reframing. To reframe an issue, just mentally broaden or alter the context and say: “Let’s look at it another way.”


Spin is generally regarded as a devious means of convincing people that a harsh reality is actually palatable. It can also refer to a particular person’s perspective or view. Spin is often a fool’s paradise, and leaders are far better off speaking the truth and speaking it in plain language. Because of the negative connotation of spin, we recommend avoiding the term as a synonym for a person’s interpretation or view of something, as in “He had a different spin on the issue.”


Propaganda is a systematic and usually malicious effort to convince people of the truth of something false or the wisdom of something foolhardy. Its definition varies from culture to culture; in some countries it includes advertising. Despite its manipulative nature and history, we can adapt certain rhetorical tools of the propagandist—simplicity, social identity, emotional appeal (see pathos), repetition, and social proof (see social proof), among others—for honorable and noble purposes.


Demagoguery is the deliberate misrepresentation of facts and the manipulation of people, especially the uneducated, through base appeals to their jealousies, insecurities, fears, and anxieties.


Rhetorical devices are verbal shortcuts to crafting sticky messages (see also). Some of the most common, each with one or more examples, are:




internal repetition

rhythm of threes


mandamus (invocation)




lettered set

numbered set


  • Loose lips sink ships.

  • If it does not fit, you must acquit.

  • Measure twice, cut once.

  • Vote early, vote often.

  • Location, location, location

  • Veni, vici, vidi

  • A day without orange juice is a day without sunshine.

  • Be all you can be.

  • Don’t mess with Texas.

  • Six Sigma

  • The Toyota Way

  • Lean Manufacturing

  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

  • a thousand points of light

  • a city on a hill

  • A-B-C Analysis (for antecedents, behaviors, consequences)

  • GIGO (for garbage in, garbage out)

  • TIMWOOD (for the seven types of waste, or muda, in lean manufacturing: transporting, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, and defects)

  • 5S

  • McKinsey’s 7S Model

  • The 4-H Club

  • The Four Zeroes


MRI stands for the three criteria of sticky strategic messages (see also): memorable, resonant (or repeatable), and inspirational. In our usage it has nothing to do with magnetic resonance imaging; we do, however, use the initials in the same order as an aid to recall.


Sticky messages are strategic messages that people can easily remember. We may refer to them also as Velcro messages.


Slippery messages are strategic messages that people ignore or forget. We may refer to them also as Teflon messages.


Listening is critical to successful communication, and it requires steadfast attention. We recognize four levels of listening. In ascending order, from good to best, they are:

  • Alert listening is open, accessible, welcoming, and patient. You are receptive to a big conversation.

  • Attentive listening involves focusing on content, tone, and context. You are respectful, and you don’t interrupt.

  • Active listening adheres to a rigorous process of clarifying and confirming what another person said.

  • Affirmative listening is a commitment to recognizing and honoring people through genuine, authentic, balanced conversation that can explore new and sensitive issues. It relies first and foremost on sincerity, complete attention, and full presence.


Body language is a subset of nonverbal communication (see also). It refers to the physical and visible aspects of one’s presence. Most commonly body language is thought to consist of eye contact, facial expression, physical energy, apparent attentiveness, posture, and attire. Research of dubious value by Albert Mehrabian in the 1960s asserted that 55 percent of all interpersonal communication was a matter of body language, and another 38 percent was a function of voice and tonality; thus only 7 percent was the product of words. Mehrabian himself has since repudiated the research as simplistic and unfounded, but it lives on in many books and Web sites, some of them published long after Mehrabian recanted his own work. Even apart from Mehrabian’s claim, body language is notoriously open to multiple interpretations, as people see what they want or expect to see.


Nonverbal communication is far more than body language. Important nonverbal signals include decisions, behaviors, temperament, punctuality, dignity, deference, attentiveness, appearance, etiquette, responsiveness, patience, interest, friendliness, integrity, work ethic, energy, and the use of profanity or offensive humor. Note that nonverbal communication can involve spoken or written words but, when it does, points especially to the decision to use certain words (such as profanity, sarcasm, or pejorative) and not others.


Jargon, of course, is endemic in business. It has both the obvious drawbacks and, in moderation, some surprising benefits. It most commonly appears in four varieties:

  • Argot is specialized jargon within a particular trade, profession, or industry. It is less problematic than most jargon in business because people within a particular field commonly know what it means, and it is a useful shortcut. Examples: 86 in food service, Gantt chart in project management, and double entry in accounting.

  • Neologism is a newly coined word or phrase. Examples: meme, staycation, BFF, app, LOL, crowdsourcing, 404. Many corporations and other organizations (armies, orchestras, hospitals, schools, even families) have their own. Neologisms are subject to misinterpretation and must be repeatedly defined until their meanings become clear.

  • Euphemism is a word or phrase designed to obscure a harsh reality. Common examples of euphemism in business are a merger of equals for one company’s acquisition of another and rightsizing for eliminating jobs. Avoid all but the most commonplace euphemistic expressions (such as pass away for die and restroom for toilet). Note: While euphemism is well known, its opposite, dysphemism, is scarcely known at all. Dysphemism is a word or phrase intended to demean or diminish a plain, inoffensive attribute. Some examples: egghead, redneck, tightwad, dittohead, bookworm, wallflower, geek. Avoid them as well, unless you are speaking deprecatingly about yourself.

  • Acronym, technically an abbreviation you pronounce as a word (such as scuba, GIGO, the BRIC countries, OSHA, NATO, Unesco, snafu, ZIP code, and most recently ISIL or ISIS), has become all but synonymous with abbreviations in general. Nevertheless, the distinction between acronyms and other abbreviations (such as SOS, the UN, IRA, UK and US) is useful. Because acronyms can be pronounced as words, they are easier to use and remember. (Never thought you’d hear a kind word about acronyms, did you?)


Aristotelian rhetoric broadly refers to any or all of the principles on communication set forth by Aristotle, primarily in his work Rhetoric. Of these principles, three types of persuasive appeal are central to leadership communication:

  • Logos: a persuasive appeal on the basis of facts and logic. It usually appears as words.

  • Pathos: a persuasive appeal on the basis of emotion. Modern advertising employs a great deal of pathos. It is at the foundation of transformational leadership.

  • Ethos: a persuasive appeal on the basis of character. Aristotle said ethos was the most important of the three. It, too, is foundational to transformational leadership.


Personal pronouns are subliminally powerful. Research has shown that personal pronouns in the first-person singular (I, me, my, mine) and second-person singular (you, your, yours) are common to the work of management because they reflect hierarchy and accountability, whereas personal pronouns in the first-person plural (we, us, our, ours) are common in the work of leadership because they reflect community, mission, and opportunity.


Tense (past, present, future) is significant because, for purposes of managing and leading, conversations in the past tense often concern accountability and search for people to correct or to blame, whereas conversations in the present tense often involve priorities and reflect values, and conversations in the future tense often point to choices and explore alternative means and ways of accomplishing something. Thus conversations broadly in the future tense, especially if powered up by open questions and affirmative listening (see also), will usually be more productive for leaders.


Questions, for strategic communication, are a highly effective means of thinking through and communicating strategic priorities. There are two basic kinds: open and closed. Leaders can stimulate dialogue by using more open questions and fewer closed questions.

  • Closed questions elicit particular data and implicitly close off a conversation. Examples: What was the budget for that? How many days did it take? Do you agree? Closed questions, especially in the past tense, most commonly support the work of managing.

  • Open questions elicit general knowledge, ideas, thoughts, and feelings, and they implicitly open up discussion. Examples: How should we proceed? Where should we go? What should we tackle first? Why do they want that? How can I help? Open questions, especially in the future tense, support the work of leading.


Multitasking is a vain (and vainglorious!) attempt to do more than one thing at a time. It is counterproductive to effective communication. It is also offensive and, in factories and motor vehicles, dangerous. Just stop it. Pay attention.




Here are a few other concepts and terms you may hear in discussions of leadership, engagement, and communication and whose meaning may not be entirely clear to everyone, especially people who live and work outside the United States and people for whom English is a second language:


Agile is a philosophy of work that emphasizes speed, collaboration, flexibility, and frequent iterations. It is derived from software engineering and, in particular, a 2001 meeting at the Snowbird ski resort in Utah that focused on overcoming bureaucratic and behavioral hurdles to the delivery of good products. The meeting produced the Agile Manifesto, which featured four values and twelve principles. For more information visit or search for the term Agile Manifesto.


Dog whistle, derived from the ultrahigh-pitched whistles used by hunters, is a word or phrase that most people may find innocuous but that certain groups of people understand to be code for their interests, needs, and concerns (which see). Well-known examples are “law and order” and “tough on crime” as code for taking a hard line against unruly behavior by young people, “welfare queens” as code for criticism of African-Americans, and “tassel loafers” as code for well-connected congressional lobbyists.


Gaslighting, derived from the 1944 film noir Gaslight (directed by George Cukor and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, and Angela Lansbury), is emotional abuse that psychologically manipulates people to the point they begin to question their own sanity. It is closely related to brainwashing, which is an organized effort to convince people of something that is plainly untrue.


Jumping the shark refers to the moment at which a leader becomes irrelevant and foolish by saying or doing something ridiculous. The term evolved from a 1977 episode of the popular American television comedy “Happy Days,” in which the character Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler) jumped over a shark while waterskiing. The program gradually lost its audience after that episode.


Lean / Six Sigma is a methodology originally developed by Motorola in the 1980s, and subsequently adopted by Allied Signal (now Honeywell) and General Electric, that uses highly skilled practitioners (known as Black Belts) in a collaborative effort to identify and reduce waste and variability in manufacturing. It is similar to the Toyota Production System, the process developed by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda after World War II, which also seeks to drive out waste. It emphasizes the Just-in-Time delivery of parts and production.


Snicker Test is the threshold at which employees begin to take a policy or decision by management seriously. It derives from the snickering that may greet an official pronouncement. The term has nothing to do with candy bars.


Superman Syndrome refers to a manager’s belief that only he or she can perform a task properly and that he or she must be present at every meeting and involved in every decision. Thus the manager is reluctant to delegate authority or groom a successor. Based on arrogance and distrust, it is burdensome to the manager and ultimately harmful to the organization.


Third rail is a topic or subject that is deemed too dangerous to broach. The term comes from the electrified third rail used to power subways and elevated trains. It is similar to the elephant in the room and the 800-pound gorilla, both of which are labels for obviously important subjects that people dance around, which is to say they decline to acknowledge them as priorities or they avoid discussing them forthrightly.


Whack-a-Mole is a maddening situation in which you solve one problem only to find another one, or in which all the available solutions are temporary and short term. The term is derived from the name of an arcade game.


For more information contact Thomas J. Lee at or by telephone +1-650-464-1770.