Tip #641: A Thought-Provoking Leadership Vocabulary

black woman discussing

“Ancora Imparo,” Italian for “I am still learning.” Michelangelo

William C. Taylor, the cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company, has a new book: Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways.

The premise of his book is that: “it is possible to turn even the most familiar offerings, in some of the world’s most traditional settings, into products, services and experiences that are genuinely remarkable.”

I have read only the Prologue: The New Story of Success. However, I’m already intrigued by the vocabulary he has drawn from various sources to describe both effective and ineffective leadership and learning cultures.

Permanently failing organizations: “Organizations whose performance, by any standard, falls short of the expectations of owners, members and clients, yet whose existence continues, sometimes indefinitely.” (Marshall W. Meyer and Lynne G. Zucker, sociologists)

Sustained low performance: A kind of active inertia driven by short-term self-interest, rather than purposeful change driven by a shared drive to excel.

Performance gaps:  What run-of-the-mill executives focus on: the difference between what is and what should be-the work of efficiency, productivity and improving on the past. (Professor Linda Hill, Harvard Business School Leadership Initiative)

Opportunity gaps: The difference between what is and what could be, which is the true agenda for leaders- the work of innovation, transformation, inventing the future.

Tough-minded optimism: The future “is created by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.” (John W. Gardner, public intellectual)

The actual is limited, the possible is immense.” (James F. Lincoln, at Lincoln Electric, a manufacturer of welding equipment and cutting machinery founded in 1895)

Work worth doing: Work that elevates our sense of impact and enriches our sense of achievement.  (Drawn from a quote by President Theodore Roosevelt)

Lighthouse identity: A “very particular take” on what organizations are trying to achieve, a “compelling conviction” that their goals are “uniquely theirs” and uniquely important. (Adam Morgan, brand strategist)

Missionaries versus mercenaries: Entrepreneurs who strive not just for success, but for ”success and significance.” (John Doerr, venture capitalist)

Lunatic fringe: Uniqueness and intensity, what an organization does that other organizations can’t or won’t do. (Vernon Hill, Metro Bank and Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans)

Jargon monoxide: Empty rhetoric, mind-numbing buzzwords, eye-glazing acronyms. (Polly LaBarre, Fast Company staffer and author of Mavericks at Work)

Customer-owners: People who “live and breathe ownership of their health,” who recognize that they literally own the health system that delivers care. (Katherine Gottlieb, CEO of Alaska’s Southcentral Foundation)

Paradox of expertise: Those with the most experience, knowledge and resources in a particular area are often the last ones to seize opportunities for something dramatically new.

Provocative competence: “Leadership that enlivens activity and rouses the mind to life.” The capacity to reflect on your career, think hard about the future, and recognize that the mindsets and skillsets that got you where you are probably won’t get you to where you want to go. (Frank J. Barrett, management thinker and jazz musician)

Learning maniacs: People who have a commitment to maintain their “zest” for learning and discovery, to stay interested in new ideas about products and purpose even as they work to make the company and its brands more interesting to the outside world. (Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40)

Opportunities for serendipitous encounters: Getting “different, diverse groups of people (who are not employed by the organization) together in a relatively small space and making sure they have a bias to collaborate” so they can energize an organization and fill it with new ideas. (Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos)

I’m thinking about how I can incorporate some of these terms into my own writing. I’m also planning to read the entire book!

How about you?

If you would like to read the entire Preview, you can access it by going to < https://williamctaylor.com/2016/09/how-wd-40-created-a-learning-obsessed-company-culture/> and signing up for his Simply Brilliant Newsletter.

May your learning be sweet,



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