Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“Executizing” Academic Sounding Terms – Gaining Social Authority

A short story inspired by happenings in the real-world. 
Brandon is a young engineer working as a technical business improvement leader for a mid-sized business in a service industry.  On a recent day, his youthful enthusiasm for learning, and his desire to share new ideas, smashed right into the reality of what seemed to be a harsh executive perspective.  Here’s what happened:
In a chance lunchroom conversation, Brandon excitedly mentioned a new term and concept he had learned to an operations executive.  The term was “gaining social authority”.  When he said it, the executive, who had been relaxed, almost spit out his drink.  Next, he looked at Brandon and said in an irritated tone, “I’d throw anyone out of my office who used that kind of academic sounding term.  I hate terms like that!  They make me think the person using them doesn’t know a thing about getting things done in the real world!” 
Later Brandon complained about the incident to his manager.  During the back and forth conversation Brandon learned people throughout the company had come to respect this particular executive’s preference for plain speaking, if not his gruff manner.  Those who’d been around awhile understood the executive didn’t want technical experts using specialized terminology as a means of separating themselves from the rest of the workforce. 
After the conversation with his manager, Brandon thought to himself, “maybe the executive should show more tolerance for different perspectives.” And, in the next moment he thought, “in any case, I’ll make sure I respect the preference for plain speaking, at least until I see some reason not to.  And, in the future, I’ll work harder to phrase things in a more common way.  Maybe it will make my work more accessible and stronger as a result.” 
Months later Brandon was giving an executive overview of the very same concept, “gaining social authority”, to a room full of people.  The presentation clearly conveyed his passion for the “social authority”  approach despite the fact it had been completely scrubbed of the specialized term.  Instead of "gaining social authority," Brandon talked about working to “get everyone on board” before “moving ahead” with a suggestion or plan for improvement. His presentation was comprehensive and understandable. 
During the presentation Brandon noticed the executive who had responded so gruffly in the lunchroom.  To his pleasant surprise, this time the executive seemed both engaged and pleased.   
Afterwards, Brandon reflected once again on the lunchroom interaction, this time with a smile on his face, and thought, “imagine that, in one fell swoop the gruff old guy taught me a lesson and did me a favor!…Good for him!”  
To gain deeper understanding of the social authority concept, please read the following post “Separating Responsibility from Authority” and consider reviewing the following presentation, “Nobody Likes Bad Change”. Both appear elsewhere on this blog.