Not a number

Executive Leadership - Jaques and Clement

Executive Leadership - Jaques and Clement

Some years ago I was in a meeting where someone said the equivalent of: “We aim to have 80% of the balls being blue” .

Me, I like to understand things, so I said:

“Do you mean that each ball will be two colours, 4/5ths blue and 1/5th white, or do you mean that 80 balls in a hundred will be entirely blue and 20 balls in a hundred will be entirely white?”

Actually I wasn’t as articulate as that, but that was the question I was asking.

He missed the point the first time, so I rephrased it.

He missed the point the second time, and when I drew breath for the third time, he cut me off and snarled at me “It’s just an expression”.

I can only assume he was referring to the 80/20 rule.

I took a deep breath, and said … nothing.  Nothing at all.  What was there to say?  What I wanted to say was “it’s not a bleeping expression, it’s a number” but I was so astonished by his remark that I couldn’t think of a way to phrase it without swearing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is an example of what Jaques and Clement call ‘hollow language’ in their book Executive Leadership.  By this they mean the language used by people who don’t really understand what they are saying.  They can barely talk the talk, let alone walk the walk.  Me, I just call it being a tosser.

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