Wikipedia defines a cliche, in part, as “. . . an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect . . . ”
I’ve spent some time recently thinking about cliches, in part because I have recently heard (through Twitter) that a short video I did included “every leadership cliche in the book.” This feedback was hard for me to take at first (possibly the source of another post in the future) and that same feedback led me to write this post. (I’ll leave it to you to decide if that was a good idea or not!)
As I review some of my recent writing, I find that several leadership cliches could summarize those thoughts (though I am not sure that I used the cliches themselves), including:
- We should learn from our mistakes
- We should lead by example
- Enthusiasm is contagious
These three statements have several things in common:
- They are profoundly true.
- While everyone would agree with them, they are very often not practiced.
- They could be considered overused cliches.
I’m sure everyone has some cliches that bother them (one of mine is “taking it to the next level”), but I encourage you not to dismiss them – even your least favorites – immediately.
The reality is, that when we dismiss them, we miss the profound underlying truth. There is, after all, a reason they became overused – because they elegantly conveyed an important point.
If we dismiss the three statements above, we miss three keys to being a more effective leader, parent, friend, and human being. Stated another way, if a leader were to take those three truths/cliches to heart, and make them cornerstones of their leadership philosophy, would that person be well on their way to being an effective leader?
I’d argue that they would.
The next time you hear a cliche, stop and think about it and ask yourself these questions:
- What is the underlying message or truth in the statement?
- What lesson does it hold for me?
That exercise will help you find the latent power in a cliche.