The Jargon Pit

This article is the perfect example of the kind of leaders who desperately need the help of behavior analysis. It literally gives me a gag reflex to see lists like this. This list contains nothing that is objectively measurable and if you can’t see it to measure it, why on earth would you assume to use these “indicators” to make decisions about my performance and therefore my future?

And the sad part is, does anyone out there know any better? Look at the comments of people who praise this guy? Even LinkedIn has named the author of this article as a keynote speaker for a social recruiting conference in London next month. Barfing all over my desk.

“…the kind of working habits…that will lead to success”

First major mistake. These are not habits. Habits refer to repetitive behaviors. Behaviors are observable and measurable; the items on this list most certainly ARE NOT behaviors.

“…making sure you have the right attitude and approach is vital”

Second major mistake. Focusing on attitude will get you nowhere. Why? Because it’s far too open for interpretation. There are too many personal, cultural, educational, momentary nuances that go into a person’s “attitude.” And anyway, you can’t really see attitude so how will you, Mr. Big-Boss-Man/Lady-With-My-Professional-Future-In-Your-Hands, be able to really tell what my attitude is and how it affects the kind of professional I am?

This is a list of flowery jargon that can be interpreted in a million and one different ways and therefore will serve no one in the way (I assume) it was intended.

This was my stream of consciousness when I read this article (sarcasm intended):

“When I am looking to employ or promote people, one of the key qualities I always look for is a thirst for excellence”

WTF does a thirst for excellence look like!?! Does it require that a deprivation of excellence build up or do I just need to be thirsty at all hours of the work day?


“…those who are constantly challenging themselves and are setting themselves new targets”

This makes me slightly less pissed but only because it is possible, given more information, to see someone setting new targets and assess the frequency and success at which they are achieving these targets. However, as easy as it was for ME to say…why did his explanation include nothing tangible whatsoever?



“Put yourself forward for training courses, learn new skills”

This is the only part that makes sense as a distinct behavior that I can actually engage in but something tells me that this is probably not the whole story.


Commercially minded

“This is basically about being proactive and removing yourself from your individual bubble….having the overall vision of the business in your head”

When instructions start with “basically about” or include the need for something to exist “in my head” I know I’m being set up for failure.



“There is nothing better for a manager than to see his or her employees actively taking ownership of projects. Equally, nobody wants to be seen as someone who passes the buck…ensure you are the one who sees it through – even if you inevitably have to delegate.”

Well it’s good to know that you are going to use your eyes to assess this one. But how does one ‘actively take ownership of projects’? I should take notes. Ok…take ownership…don’t pass the buck…see things through…delegate but only if you have to.


Kill me.



“….prioritize between the essential and non-essential, and focus your energies on things that add the most value…employees tend to get caught up in the ‘nice to have’…I would much rather you produced outstanding results on the most important ones, rather than mediocre results on all ten.”

These kinds of items are maddening on a variety of levels. For one, if they aren’t important, don’t assign them to me. Otherwise, I will assume that they are part of my job and I WILL stay late, work through lunch and beat my head against the desk to get it all done. To assume that someone is not “focused” (also NOT a behavior) assumes that I am not a smart or hard enough worker and I resent that. I already know that quality suffers but you/the business gave it to me so I’m going to assume I have to do it since I really don’t want to lose my job for insubordination. Tell me what things are most important.



“…reflect – and sometimes criticize yourself”

I always critics myself. Like most people, I am my own worst critic. I replay everything in my head over and over again. I’m confused as to how this helps me be successful or how you will see me doing this in order to promote me for it.

Here is a better list. You’re welcome, James Caan:


To be successful, there are some observable and measurable behaviors that you should learn to engage in. When I am looking to promote people, these are the things I assess.

Here is what you need to do and how you can seek the leadership support you need.


Participate in professional development activities

I want to see that you are constantly learning and growing. To show your leaders this, sign up for and participate in trainings that will enhance your current skill set or teach you something that doesn’t currently exist in your repertoire. Then take a few minutes to review the activity with your leader afterwards. Be sure that you explain why you think attending the training was beneficial for you and/or the business.


Take time to understand your impact on the larger business and how it functions

Show your leaders that you understand the impact that you make on the overall business and how that business functions through the way you speak and behave. Explain metrics about yourself or your department in terms of its impact on the business. If there is something about the inter-working of the business that you don’t understand, ask about it. Go to presentations in other departments. Read those mass emails from the CEO that talk about the health of the business. Take notes during your next Town Hall and reread them with your team the next day.  There are a wide range of behaviors you can engage in to create habits that pull back your lens to include the larger business. If you are confused or overwhelmed with opportunities, ask your leader for advice. It’s likely that their experience can help you weed out activities that are not functional to your growth.


Take on leadership roles and participate in activities that drive progress and completion of projects

Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead on a project. Sign up for the leadership role explicitly and gain agreement from the team that you will act as leader. Come up with milestones, targets and outcomes and engage in activities that drive them. Evaluate your progress regularly. Seek help if you are falling behind on those metrics and utilize the skills on your team by asking others to come up with potential solutions. If the intended outcome changes or is shown to no longer be attainable, be sure to speak with stakeholders before bringing the project to a close. Ensure that you provide data and evidence to support the closure of the project whether you have achieved your intended outcome or not.


Use the majority of your time at work on things that directly affect the important business metrics of the moment

Hopefully you’ve been taking notes in those Town Halls as suggested above and have a good understanding on how you fit into the larger business. Now take a look at your calendar. How are you spending your time? Ask yourself, “Do the majority (that’s more than 50%) of the activities I engage in on a day-to-day basis directly affect the metrics that my business/department/team is after?” If the answer is no, take your list to your One Up with some carefully crafted solutions to get yourself to a place where the majority of your time is on activities that truly impact your organization.


Seek feedback and make changes that will shift your impact when the feedback indicates that it doesn’t align with your intention

Don’t assume that everything is OK because you “haven’t heard anything”. Make sure you are having the intended impact by seeking feedback from your boss and your peers. If the feedback (and organizational metrics) indicate that you’re doing the right things, awesome! Ask, what specifically is making the most impact that you should continue doing. If metrics in your department aren’t meeting the mark, ask yourself and others what you can do differently to change that. Once you have the data about what you could be doing differently, start doing it! Make sure the feedback you are getting is behavior-based. If someone says, “you are letting home life get in the way of work” ask things like, “what specifically have you seen me do that you wish I would stop doing?” then you will likely get responses such as “you are spending less time with me and you are always texting when I am giving my update during our stand-up meeting”. These are specific things you can and should change based on the impact you are having.


In behavior analysis habits are referred to as “repetitive” behaviors and are typically focused on maladaptive responses like nervous hand gestures. Other closely related sciences broaden the definition to include the idea that habits are behaviors that recur “automatically” or without thinking too much about it. I get why one would want to use this language in relation to work-related behaviors but it’s messy, as most jargon tends to be. How about we just ditch the idea of using the word “habit” and all agree that in the world of business, there are things we need to do regularly and make a part of our behavioral repertoire.

That, in my opinion, is what we are all seeking. Clear, concise direction on what to do and what not to do and objective assessment of performance. Behavior Analysis understands this and can help organizations get to a place where jargon is replaced with actionable behaviors to help us create success for ourselves and our workplaces.

The sad news is, for now, society says this management style is what we want! LinkedIn, this is not fresh. This is not cool. This is not the future of leadership and it is most definitely not helpful in creating successful professionals.