The leadership space is peculiarly susceptible to platitudes.
But oversimplification makes them inadequate for dealing with the real difficulties that people face.
We relate to the grain of truth that a platitude embodies but often apply them in the wrong context in ways that do not fully reflect the complexities of a situation.
Part of a leader’s role is to help others be stretched but not overwhelmed by a problem.
Think about the leader who says bring me solutions not problems. In such cultures, employees may lose confidence if they don’t have an answer or feel it’s pointless to raise real issues that require multiple inputs to solve and that could become problematic and expensive down the track.
A more balanced approach might be to say: let’s talk this through. First tell me what you’ve done so far and some of your ideas.
It’s less snappy to be sure.
A leader who deals with every obstacle by saying bring me solutions not problems may feel as if they have done a job that they have not. In this way, people use platitudes let them off the hook.
Platitudes are even problematic when there’s a cultural pressure for people to buy into them.
You can whoop up a storm around ‘reach for the sky’ or ‘live for the now’ or any of thevariations of these mantras. While they may stir up emotion, the hype rarely lasts, which makes this a largely ineffective form of engagement.
Although we know little about motivation, Daniel Pink says in his talk The Puzzle of Motivation that people are motivated by meaning, this has real implications for leaders who want to build a sustained and productive corporate culture.
Tossing out a bite-sized banality in lieu of considered and productive input doesn’t build it.
Platitude-driven leadership can also generate counterproductive groupthink. For example, those who see problems in a bring me the solution culture may feel inhibited from speaking out with all the risks that poses.
We are all busy and sometimes throwing out a few words seems to alleviate the pressure, but in the long term we are far more likely gain our own and others’ respect if we bring considered inputs matched with appropriate action to our roles.