Remember George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words comedy skit? It’s brilliant. Irreverent. It’s funny because it’s true. But it’s incomplete.
At least in a business context, there is one word that’s worse than all the rest – yes, even worse than the one you’re thinking of right now.
The first time I was CEO, I made an enormous list of mistakes, but at the time it looked like everything I touched turned to gold – so I made a big mistake when I let a friend call me Midas without calling him on it. “Boy, this guy’s so successful, and he’s calling me that? I must really be good.”
The truth is, I was more like a gambler on a roll: I was Midas until the day I wasn’t. Ouch. Looking back, I wish I’d read Tim Harford’s Adapt before I’d founded that company. Oh, well.
Midas is a bad word in business, but it isn’t the worst.
Around this same time, I also made the mistake of allowing our girls’ niñera (babysitter) to call me “Mr. Coiné.” As with Midas, my ego did not need anyone calling me “mister.” Neither does yours.
But Mister isn’t the worst thing someone can call you, either. You know what is the single worst four-letter word in business? Boss.
Oh, boy. I’ve learned from personal experience to hate that one. Here’s why:
What the speaker means: “All I have to do is obey my boss’s marching orders, keep her happy, and I can keep my job. Someday I’ll even get promoted for my loyalty. Critical thinking? That’s above my pay grade. It’s my boss’s job.”
Is this who you want to lead? A follower?? Me, too – when I was a less confident kid. These days, I refuse to lead anyone other than other leaders. Meanwhile…
What the listener hears: “You’re important. You’re wise. You have all the answers.”
I’ve met plenty of egomaniacs who think they have all the answers. Time typically proves them wrong. I’ve never met anyone who’s had more than a few of the answers herself. That’s why we need other leaders to help us. Build a well-rounded team, hopefully one with plenty of misfits, and typically someone in there will have the answer you need to any given problem – or they’ll know where to find it.
Please, do your whole company a favor, and ban the four-letter word “boss” from your workplace entirely. It’s a bad message sent, and a cancerous message received.
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