Hey Boss… Time for a Name Change


…At Long Last, a Meaningful Alternative

By Stephanie Nora White

Never before have so many new words entered the English lexicon at such rapid speed.

Inspired largely by the never-ending proliferation of technology in our lives and a rash of national political and social movements, we now have “political words of the year,” “digital words of the year,” and even “WTF words of the year.” New words in 2018 included “mansplainer,” with a likely 2019 addition being “complexifier” (courtesy of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’, ahem, complex love life and business holdings).

According to the Global Language Monitor, a new English-language word is created every 98 minutes, or about 5,366 a year. Linguistic-loving organizations such as Merriam-Webster and the American Dialect Society have made a publicity-generating cottage industry out of publicizing, ranking and legitimizing the continuous stream of new words.

Perhaps even more intriguing are old words that have gotten new meanings. Think “cloud,” “handle” “troll,” “dumpster fire,” “rogue” and “lodestar.”

But what’s the one word many of us detest at worst and tolerate at best, which never seems to go away? “Boss.” It’s a word that just won’t die, despite the widespread aversion to it, and its particularly repugnant pedagogy.

Boss is an English bastardization of the Dutch word “baas,” which roughly means “master.” It emerged as a less-offensive alternative in the time of slavery, according to 1872’s Americanisms: The English of the New World. In more contemporary times, boss “became a convenient moniker for the rising capitalistic equivalent of the corporate figurehead,” according to U.S. author, photographer and “guerrilla historian” Jonathan Haeber. Nonetheless, such odious phrases as “my boss is a slave driver” endured, and in too many circles over too many years, employees of all ranks disdained the word. It has a bluntness to it, a lack of humanity, and its boorish phonetic sound doesn’t inspire worker bees to “lean in.” Complexifying the situation is the often-byzantine structure of today’s matrixed workplaces.

So, we propose a placement for “boss”: LINC™, which stands for “leader in charge.” Whether someone is an executive vice president reporting to the CEO, or a coordinator reporting to a specialist, LINC covers it. The letter “L” is more lilting and friendly than its brutish-sounding predecessor. Besides, “leader in charge” actually means something, and is free of the baggage of one of the country’s most reprehensible chapters. LINC also should work equally well in left-brain-driven computer science and engineering companies that have never encountered an acronym they didn’t like, and in right-brain-dominant creative design labs and think tanks.

So, who’s with us? Can we star six “boss” and wordsmith it with “LINC”?

Stephanie Nora White is managing partner of WPNT Ltd. The U.S.-based firm has provided communications training and strategy to organizations worldwide from Fortune 300 companies to Silicon Valley start-ups for more than 20 years. Follow her on Twitter at @WPNTLtd.

■ Sans the Sex, What if a Kavanaugh/Ford-Like Incident Strikes Your Organization?

by Stephanie White for CEOWorld Magazine, October 2018

by Stephanie White for CEOWorld Magazine, October 2018

The allegations, recriminations and public spectacle have subsided after the messiest Supreme Court nomination proceedings in more than a quarter-century, and the court has seated a new justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

But with Democrats potentially poised to take the U.S House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, and multiple national mainstream news organizations reporting that, if victorious, the new majority party will renew its investigation and possibly move to impeach the junior justice, it’s likely the controversy that surrounded his confirmation is far from over.

In the meantime, what can business and organizational leaders take away from the episode? What lessons emerged that can help them protect their organizations and ensure their employees and organizations aren’t marred by an analogous incident?

Let’s consider a hypothetical devoid of the sensationalism of alleged sexual misdeeds. Susan is a trusted lieutenant who has spent her entire career in your organization’s finance operations. On the eve of a major promotion to the organization’s senior leadership ranks, Susan is accused of embezzlement more than two decades ago. At the time, Susan was an entry-level employee, and the organization was fledgling, with few systematic financial controls. Managerial and operational changes since then make it impossible to prove the most serious accusations. However, it’s clear from recollections of former employees that Susan’s record-keeping was shoddy, and her proclivity for providing over-the-top entertainment and gifts for customers and vendors would violate the organization’s current policies. Although she’s had her detractors regarding management and policy issues, Susan has had a solid performance record, and been regularly promoted.

Almost more concerning than the initial allegations, however, is Susan’s reaction to them. She was loudly defensive and belligerent when asked about with the accusations. She forcefully responds that this is the work of a powerful minority within the organization, set on taking down one of the highest-ranking women in the company. She vehemently denies all negative assertions about her behavior, including recollections several former co-workers have about drunken junkets with customers. She offers seemingly disingenuous explanations for a few of the lesser, but still troubling, anecdotes. Her response doesn’t appear to be about setting the record straight, but about saying whatever she thinks will salvage her reputation and position of authority within the organization.

The way the episode has unfolded means it’s well-known through much of the organization. The executive team must decide how—of even if—the allegations will be addressed, including whether Susan receives the long-expected promotion to the organization’s highest ranks.

Avoiding “Willful Blindness” in Responding

Even if it becomes clear that it’s impossible to conclusively prove that a crime occurred, organizational leaders still have a responsibility to consider what did happen, and weigh what their response will communicate about the organization.

Enter the concept of “willful blindness,” which businesswoman and author Margaret Heffernan popularized in a best-selling book of the same name. Heffernan defines willful blindness as the complex process by which people choose not to see troubling or difficult behaviors because it’s more comfortable for them at the time not to know, a form of plausible deniability that makes them equally blind to the possible consequences of their inaction.

When institutions and organizations evaluate situations like Kavanaugh’s and Susan’s, their analysis can boil down to a two-part question: When is a person’s defense a white lie—a negligible untruth told to spare feelings or prevent embarrassments? And when is it a misrepresentation or obfuscation—including events that may be less serious than those initially alleged, but are still very troubling, and which call the individual’s judgement and veracity into question?

If it’s the latter, the episode provides important insight into a person’s character that should not be ignored, and certainly should not be rewarded.

Susan’s employer may determine that, given her performance over the bulk of her tenure, that her career and reputation should not be destroyed by these belated revelations. However, rewarding her defensiveness, anger and belligerence, and overlooking the less serious, but still troubling incidents that subsequently came to light will ultimately cost the organization more than the benefits of promoting her.

Senate leaders and President Donald Trump made the calculation that the political payoff of confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was worth the reputational damage his ascendancy will do to the Senate and the court. History will be the final arbiter of the wisdom of their decision. If you take a similar tack, first consider whether the fallout for your organization ultimately may be more existential.

■ What if Trump Led Rather than Boasted, Blamed and Bullied?

A Cautionary Tale for Business Leaders On the Value of Credibility & Empathy. From the size of his hands to the size of his first “State of the Union” TV audience,  President Donald Trump has spent the two-and-a-half years of his candidacy and presidency getting caught in outright lies, maligning everyone from American immigrants and Red Star families to a former Miss Universe, and taking credit for successes over which he had little control.

“President Trump has, so far, tarnished the reputation of business experience in public service, but good business skills are about sound leadership, which is consistent with good politics, and a quality that is badly needed in American government,” Dan Glickman, vice president of the Aspen Institute, and a former Congressmen and U.S. secretary of agriculture, recently opined. 

■ Teaching our Kids to Talk to People in Today's Screen Driven World: Practice

Lack of human connection now cuts across just about every aspect of our lives—from receiving health care to buying everything from groceries to gas. And the implications can be especially unsettling for our children, who are growing up with fewer opportunities to practice and master the art of face-to-face interaction.  Read more about what WPNT Ltd. managing partner Stephanie Nora Whitesays are everyday opportunities for kids to get practice for these life dress rehearsals.

■ Don't Count On An NFL Defense; Free Speech Rights Aren't Guaranteed In The Workplace

ESPN host Jemele Hill, Goldman Sachs president-turned presidential economic advisor Gary Cohn and fired Google engineer James Damore have all learned the same painful lesson in the past few months. Despite what many Americans may believe — and what unfolded at the start of a number of NFL games this past weekend — there are few, if any, freedom of speech rights in the workplace.

■ Weathering the Trump Presidency: Be Your Stakeholders’ Go-To Source

The Trump Administration’s on-going political drama makes it easy to forget that not long ago, companies were the almost-daily subjects of Trump Twitter tirades. But corporate executives who assume they and their organizations are now off the hook should consider Trump’s mastery at creating distractions – and take this breather to plan for the real possibility that they could soon be back in the president’s Twitter crosshairs.

■ Need to Rescue Your Online Reputation? Here is What You Can Do

If a person likes your service, they will recommend you to a friend; if they leave dissatisfied, they will tell ten friends. That’s how the old saying goes, but that is no longer the case. With the increase in social media popularity, the number of people who can potentially learn about your bad reputation can count in thousands or even millions.

■ Is the Self-Serve Economy Costing Businesses More than It Saves?

Although consumers have grudgingly grown accustomed to providing their own customer service—whether at the bank, gas stations, grocery stores, public transit systems, airports and now even at restaurants, post offices and hospitals—there’s mounting evidence that this trend isn’t as good for business as many organizations bargained for.

■ Thought Leadership

Few preparations made in anticipation of a disaster pay bigger dividends than how the team communicates with the news media and the public during a disaster. Seamless and coordinated communication is as important as seamless and coordinated operations – both during the disaster and in the recovery stage. Communications and operations must work in tandem.