The Secret Power Of Business Clichés

Published on .

By Jason Rose, CEO of AdhereHealth
Originally published in Forbes Business Council

We’re told from the time we start high school English class to avoid clichés like the plague. (There’s one right there.) And we’ve all rolled our eyes a time or two at a boss’s well-worn business buzz phrases.

But here’s a secret about clichés: Some of them are great.

Early in my career, I had a terrific executive leader who mentored his organization to live by the motto, “If you must oppose, you must propose.” Sure, the rhyme might sound a little cheesy at first, but it is memorable. And even more importantly, it distilled an important idea down to just a few words. My mentor was clear that it was unacceptable to lodge a bunch of complaints if you thought somebody had a bad plan. His expectations were for us to be prepared with alternative ideas if anyone disagreed with the plan. Cliché or not, the motto was embedded into the psyches of managers and employees throughout his organization, and it influenced our behavior.

More than two decades later, I continue to demand individuals on my teams bring their own ideas to the table rather than just being critical of others’ ideas. Sure, there might be other ways to say the same thing, such as “Don’t be a naysayer,” or, “Offer solutions instead of complaints.” But for me, it will always be: “If you must oppose, you must propose.”

Throughout my career, I’ve picked up a number of these words to live by. They’re not exactly original, but that’s not the point. We’re taught to bristle at the familiarity of clichés. But at their best, they can provide a useful shorthand for complex ideas that have the power to galvanize teams, establish expectations and instantaneously nudge people to align behaviors with their values.

Here’s another of my favorites: “Fake it until you make it.” Roll your eyes if you must, but hear me out. To me, that familiar phrase (which you can also find in the lyrics of the 1968 Simon & Garfunkel hit single “Fakin’ It”) means stretching yourself out of your comfort zone. It means that we’re all novices the first time we try something, but it is important to approach new experiences with confidence and enthusiasm. Getting over our imposter syndrome is essential if we ever hope to accomplish anything worthwhile (and certainly if we ever hope to lead). It means that no one else is going to believe in you if you don’t first believe in yourself. And it means that we need to be the best version of ourselves instead of focusing on our insecurities or perceived inadequacies.

Maybe you can keep these perspectives always at the forefront of your mind, but I can’t without a mnemonic. I need a one-liner that I can hold in my head. It needs to be succinct enough to fit on a bumper sticker, but profound enough to serve as a placeholder for more nuanced thoughts. For me, “fake it until you make it” fits the bill.

If you’re going to use these shorthand phrases, it’s important to explain to your team what you mean — and what you don’t mean. For instance, “fake it until you make it” shouldn’t be used to justify faking technical expertise or as an excuse not to learn new things.

Similarly, another of my favorites — “Do or do not; there is no try” — should not be interpreted as an instruction to only attempt a task if success is guaranteed. When that sagest of business gurus, Master Yoda, uttered these timeless words to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, he wasn’t telling Luke he was doomed to be a lifelong failure if he couldn’t use the Force to raise his X-wing out of the swamp waters of Dagobah. Rather, he was instructing his pupil to tackle the task with intention and full commitment. To me, “do or do not” means don’t just give something a whirl and hope for the best. Go all-in on your goals and really commit to seeing them through to the end. If you end up failing, so be it. But don’t let a feeble, lackluster attempt be the reason for your failure.

Do my employees get tired of hearing me say, “If you must oppose, you must propose,” or, “Do or do not; there is no try”? Perhaps some of them do. But nonetheless, as their mentor, they’ll likely remember those clichés — and the ideas behind them — and hence I’ve “passed the torch.”

This article originally appeared here.

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