Great Big Hairy Pet Peeve #243: Management by Cliché
Date: July 18th, 2011
Blog Post by Denise Montgomery
If you want to see me instantly transmogrify into a seventy-foot-tall geyser of irrational, mouth-frothing annoyance, it’s really easy.
Lock me in a conference room full of motivational posters.
It’s a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, I’m sure, tied to the year I worked an administrative assistant job for a giant Boston-based management consultancy. The Chicago office was lousy with this “artwork,” which I’m sure you’ve seen (it’s deservedly and deliciously mocked at www.despair.com). As an aside, I’ve always felt kind of sorry for the photographers who took all those magnificent images photos of nature—trees, streams, rivers, animals, sunsets, mountains, stars—that were then licensed by one of Satan’s underlings and defaced with chirpy, empty happy-talk.
Think Big! Be Great! Take Risks! Succeed!
I don’t care how much you believe in the power of positive thinking, that gets a little tiresome after a while. Especially in a work environment that’s not in any other way motivational.
The hours at the consultancy were brutal. Many days began at 8:30 am and ended with a (company-paid, but still…) cab ride home at 2:00 am, long after the El had stopped running. The crushing workload and breakneck pace were, I’m sure, just a part of the dues that the junior consultants were willing to pay when they signed on, as they whooshed their way from Harvard/Yale/Princeton into a first job that paid six figures. But we who supported them (making, I assure you, less than a fifth of that sum) were just as beleaguered, at a tenth the pay, with no prospects for career advancement (because we didn’t have those Harvard/Yale/Princeton degrees).
Under those circumstances, being smacked in the face with the visual equivalent of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” at every turn got irksome.
• Be the Bridge
• Dare To Soar
• Embrace the Challenge
• Aim High
• Rise Above
• Embrace Change
• Never Give Up
• Lead the Way
• Make Your Mark
• Be the Light
All of which are fine little sentiments, I suppose. But I always found them condescending and simplistic, and I know I wasn’t alone. When I went through leadership training (Dr. Thomas Gordon’s L.E.T.), I figured out at least part of the reason why I find them exactly the opposite of “motivational.” Little inspirational slogans are prime examples of communication roadblocks. Specifically, roadblock #3 (moralizing, preaching, imploring); #7 (Praising, Agreeing, Buttering Up); and #10 (Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting).
There’s nothing wrong with sincere praise and encouragement in some situations. Leadership training helped me to identify appropriate and inappropriate times to use them.
But when I’ve got a 200-page PowerPoint deck to crank out for a 9:00 am meeting in Minneapolis, and I’m on page 175, and the team leader just brought me a brand new hand-drawn version of the presentation (plus corrections), and it’s 4:00 pm, and there are only two other people to help with production?
Trust me, last thing I want to see is a kitten dangling off a branch, captioned “Hang In There.”
I’ll be the one to decide when to hang and when to let go, you stupid cat, you. Now take your adorable little whiskers and your big green eyes and get out of my line of sight.
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