As the self-proclaimed top-25 buzzword authority and humble brag champion of the world, the next written onslaught might take the cake for my most hypocritical rhetoric. *Cracks knuckles*
Yes, I'm another tech-washed has-been from San Francisco, but I bet you still can't grab your Blue Bottle without hearing some fresh-faced dropout talking about the next B2B Saas AI/ML/NLP big-data cloud architecture that will revolutionize F500 orgs.
I'm not exactly sure what that means, but someone impressive probably does. And it's been impressively funded. So there's that.
And herein lay my point. The TL;DR?
It's more important to communicate and reach alignment than to sound impressive.
Loren Grieff jumped the gun and stole this concept from me earlier this week—but no hard feelings ;)
Speaking fluent buzzword-eese doesn't make you sound impressive to serious executives, nor does reliving your glory days and historical clout. Instead, communicating your mutual alignment of values, shared outcomes, and your ability to deliver the mission does.
Bonus points if you dare to push back and challenge other executives (politely, please) to come to more advanced and articulate 'aligned' solutions.
Let's hop right into it.
You're Too Close To Your Industry/Function
As you climb the corporate ladder, your tried-and-true efforts to grow your career eventually deliver diminishing or zero returns.
Doing more of the same is equivalent to hitting the ceiling. You plateau—or more often—regress as your competition circles around your complacent self.
I go into annoyingly deep detail in a recent article on how the different tiers of executives prepare for interviewing and networking. To stay caught up, you must invest in continuous learning and new ways to improve throughout your career.
But the gist of today's diatribe is that being quick on your feet to rip buzzwords, doublespeak, and talk the new-new about the latest software is brilliant for managers and some directors.
But the wow factor wanes as you become more senior.
I'm not saying that executives should be oblivious to the buzzy language, far from it. It would be best if you were a master.
Instead, I stress that executives must evolve their communication to understand and translate industry and functional jargon into a message that maximizes effective communication and performance across the entire business.
It's one reason I'm a proponent of telling simplified anecdotal stories.
Strong storytelling and word-smithing will speak to a broader audience, demand attention, and keep that attention when you need to drill down into the weeds.
We Use The Same Acronyms; We Must Be Aligned.
Buzzwords cloud communication and may erode our shared understanding of what we collectively "know" to be true.
Communication is highly complex. Particularly when trudging the trenches of the corporate hierarchy,
Shortspeak/coding your way through complex conversations (and negotiations) is a recipe for someone to miss an important detail. Or all of the detail.
You'll recognize this when you speak, and your audience's face presents the social queue of nervous understanding because they don't want to be left out, but their brain has gone smooth with terror.
These queues happen with highly intelligent people, too—even the smartest people in the room.
It's your job to take ownership of how the team understands one another, the objective, and what to deliver. If a ball drops from lazy communication—that's on you.
By the way—It doesn't end with spitfire TLAs (three-letter acronyms), even if everyone on the team understands what an OKR is.
Let's go deeper.
Fine! We Use The Same Words; Now We're Aligned.
Even common industry words are misconstrued.
For example, ask ten marketing executives what marketing means. You'll get eleven unique answers and maybe 6 or 7 different job titles.
How can that be true?
If even the experts can't agree on what they do functionally for a living, how will engineers get it? How will the investors understand? Don't even get me started about your customers.
I hear frequent complaints from marketers and salespeople that, "It was a technical founder, and they just didn't understand marketing."
Well, that's your fault, right? I mean, you know your functional expertise more than the engineer; shouldn't you also have the ability to explain it?
It happens in reverse.
"Oh, the CEO is a sales gal. She doesn't get the technical aspects."
Help them understand. You need alignment across the org if you hope to be on that "winning team" we all yearn to achieve. You must use the common tongue and ask for understanding—even with simple concepts.
These concepts apply to leadership and interviewing alike.
Brief Client Learning
I once worked with a C-suite executive navigating a career transition after a short tenure—a tricky scenario, even for the most seasoned leaders.
It took me about five hours of pressing to understand what happened to warrant the short tenure. (Hey, sometimes it takes me a while.)
And the answer might surprise you. I'm paraphrasing here.
My client said, "They hired me to transform the business and grow the company another (~100m+). We had a killer start, and I delivered the highest quarter in the organization's history. Then the CEO said I wasn't a good culture fit. I don't understand."
"What did the CEO mean when they said they wanted you to transform the business? It sounds like you weren't aligned."
Fast-forward about half an hour. My client arrived at: "When they said they wanted an executive to transform the business, I assumed transformation meant change agent."
Well, it turns out the CEO didn't want anyone to stir the pot or disrupt the team they built that was loyal to the company for years.
The executive role was positioned like this: "We want an innovative executive to transform our business and rocketship our team to the next level!"
The executive positioned their narrative and interviewed like this: "I am an innovative executive ready to drive transformation and rocketship your team to the next level!"
Eroded trust in executive leadership.
Question: Who is to blame?
Solution: When somebody says, "I want to transform the team and grow!" the response IS NOT, "I've done that before."
You must get past the words—and read between the lines.
Instead, the response is borderline annoying, "What does that mean?"
Look, this sounds simple—but it is hyper-important.
And when in doubt, never assume. Insert something clever about assuming meaning, making an ASS out of U and ME.
Fine! We Use SIMPLE Words; Now We're Aligned.
Even the very basics of communication are misconstrued.
I'm not going to discuss the intricacies of the common tongue in this article because I recognize that you get it.
However, I will note that cultural differences, English as a second language, and remote communication add notable magnitudes of complexity to how you craft your communication.
I implore you to spend more time deeply interested in listening to understand, challenging buzzy techspeak, and shedding the fear of asking basic questions to break any complexity down.
If you improve your communication, you can overcome major career obstacles and make life more pleasant for those in your atmosphere.
Want to speak directly with me about your career? Contact me below.