x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Why big words don’t mean everything in business

The Life: Not all of business is simple, but the genius of leadership is making it appear so, writes Tommy Weir.

Business leaders can learn a lot from Albert Einstein's assertion that
Business leaders can learn a lot from Albert Einstein's assertion that "if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough".

Not all of business is simple, but the genius of leadership is making it appear simple.

Albert Einstein rightfully said: "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." When leaders fail to simply explain complicated subjects, it makes one wonder if they know what they are talking about. It's like listening to a reading of the dictionary.

This reminds me of the episode in Friends in which Joey is writing a letter to support Chandler and Monica in their wish to adopt a child. While writing his letter, Joey discovers the thesaurus and decides to use it for every word in his letter. To Chandler and Monica's horror, the letter had big words but no meaning.

Listening to leaders use big words often leaves followers confused by what is being said and thinking: "Does he really know what this means?" The leader might appear smart on the surface, but the result is people questioning his or her competence.

It is incredibly frustrating when a leader attempts to "wax eloquent", using 50-cent words (an obscure term used to describe a simple idea, thus making the user appear highbrow) and leaves his team completely lost. Big words can make a message devoid of meaning.

In this country, we operate in a fast-growth and complex market. When that is coupled with the reality that we have more nations in our workforce than the United Nations has member countries, it brings to light the need to simplify. Without simplification you will be leaving your team lost as to what your words really mean.

Brian Roberts, the chief executive of Comcast Cable, the largest cable operator in the United States and a significant provider of residential internet and phone services, says it is the leader's job to take complicated things and make them simple, make them fun, make them beautiful and easy. With 24.1 million customers and 100,000 employees, he knows that he must practise "simplexity" or risk losing the business his father started in 1963. If that was true in his relatively static, monoculture environment, how is it more true here?

Einstein's advice was rooted in simplexity, which is bringing simplicity from the midst of complexity. Our business environment is complex enough without leaders making it worse. Clarity is needed. A leadership action compulsory in this region is bringing practical meaning to words, concepts and strategies.

Practising simplexity means providing different ways of looking at an issue and making connections that aren't obvious to others while building solutions and strategy. Leaders need to move between the micro and macro issues when dealing with business challenges. This is how they see the patterns and trends that others miss.

Finding simplexity in the midst of complexity is rooted in a leader's ability to apply logic and common sense. Some argue that common sense is not so common, perhaps because people get lost in complexity rather than applying sound judgement based on a simple perception.

Making complex situations clear for employees and customers is in your control. Be like Einstein, not Joey: keep it simple.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center