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Leadership from a different perspective – Total Jargon

Naked Leader Week – 182 (w/c Monday 13 November 2006)

Leadership from a different perspective – Total Jargon

Business jargon is everywhere, and with clarity, focus and simplicity as three key aims for success in the 21st century, we must do something about it.

Jargon happens on three levels – generally adopted / accepted phrases and words that run across different organisations, such as initiatives (Right first time), phrases taken from books (Good to Great), and other terms that come from I know not where (Best Practice).

I write this with some caution – the naked Leader philosophy is to keep things very simple, not least because I only understand simple, and yet I have been accused of inventing my own jargon around simplicity.

Also, I spent many years in Information Technology, and so am as “guilty” as anyone else in using jargon and accepting it as part of the everyday lexicon – the first term I heard when I went into telecoms was “twisted pair” (don’t ask), I well remember being told with absolute disdain by a consultant that “knowledge management” was “the management of knowledge” and my personal favourite, although I have never met one, is a “thin client?

My personal favourite is the services company, who helpfully explain on their web-site what they do:

“Cartus’ customized solutions boost employee productivity and satisfaction, while supporting effective program management and cost control. Our focus on service excellence, technology investment, and Six Sigma measurement standards ensures consistent results-driven performance. Clients receive continual information on best practices, cost-reduction opportunities, and competitive program enhancements, while our consultants provide each employee with resourceful and responsive personal advocacy.”

As The Economist puts it:

“This is a sort of uber-jargon, expressed in such an Orwellian, dead-pan tone that it is not even funny.”

So, where do we draw the line?

Well, you draw the line the moment you hear a term, word, phrase of acronym (usually at TLA – Three Letter Acronym), that you do not understand, or, and here’s the rub, that you feel anyone else in the room does not understand.

This takes bravery, however as with so much bravery, it will make you a hero. And remember the person using the jargon thinks they are being clever; in fact they are being and looking very very stupid.


Whether it is you that does not understand, or you feel someone else present may not do so, simply ask what thy mean.

If the person using the jargon laughs, or scoffs, or says something like “I thought everyone knows what that means” look at them right in the eyes, and if you feel confrontational say:

“Apparently not”

Or you may go for the gentler:

“I don’t, would you mind explaining?”

You are speaking on behalf of the silent majority, and will win massive respect.


  • Organisations are simply legal collections of people, so it is people who invent, use and thrive on jargon
  • Never ever use jargon with a customer – and if they pull you up on a term, explain it. If they use jargon, ask them what they mean
  • People who use jargon are doing it to look clever, when in fact they make themselves look the complete opposite
  • People who use jargon a lot do it to make themselves indispensable, which is the fastest route to redundancy that I have ever known.

With cav*



* clarity and love


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