Cliché Managing and Why to Avoid It


Cliché : Something, most often a phrase or expression, that is overused or used outside its original context, so that its original impact and meaning are lost. (source: wiktionary) 

Most of us have witnessed this scene before.  A manager and one of their direct reports do not see eye-to-eye on an issue at large, whether performance or behavior based.  The conversation between the employee and their manager is heading towards a non-productive outcome when the manager states, “You know what, It Is What It Is” (I refer to this as IIWII syndrome.)  Coaching and counseling sessions should be dialogs, not monologues, and managers who suffer from IIWII syndrome will turn most coaching sessions into a one way conversation.

There are many clichés used in sports, business, and the entertainment world.  When we see people use clichés in these forums, usually they are trying to avoid a difficult topic or not wanting to answer a question for fear of repercussions.  As a member of the viewing public, we can see right through these cliché’s and realize that a vague response does not offer much value to either member of the conversation.

Are we being effective with our coaching and counseling if we consistently use clichés to lead others?  Here are some examples of clichés used in the management world and reasons to avoid them:

  1. “It is what it is” – There are times and places to use this quote, but this term is extremely overused when trying to gain buy-in from a direct report.
  2. “Take it to the next level” – Managers use this quote when they are not sure what the next level is or should be.
  3. “Let’s think outside of the box” – This one really confuses me. How big is the box?  If I think outside of this box and provide a solution, does that solution go into the box? Is there room in the box for more ideas?
  4. “At the end of the day…” – Unless you are talking about a specific action to be completed at the end of a specific day, this quote should be used sparingly.  I have even heard this used with IIWII.  “At the end of the day, it is what it is”.
  1. “Cross Functional Experience” – Just because someone has worked in many different departments, it does not necessary mean they were good in those roles. Remember that experience does not equal proficiency.

I am sure there are many other clichés that are used in management and would love for you to e-mail me your favorites at

Cures to Cliché Managing:

Cliché Managing is often used when a manager is not confident in their abilities to lead the individual.  Managers must understand their direct reports and what motivates them in order to effectively lead the individual to meet and exceed their goals.  Each of the 5 quotes listed above can be re-worded to provide more specific clarity to a coaching conversation.  Let’s provide you an example from #2 above.

Cliché Manager: “I am ready for you to take your career to the next level.”

Non-Cliché Manager: “In your development plan for this year, you mentioned your career interests include a move into our training department.  Over the last several months, you have participated in meetings with several department leaders, and helped mentor new hires.  As a result of your efforts, you have my support to apply for this new position.  If you get this position, I know it will be a great next step in your career”.

Tips to Avoid Cliché Managing:

  1. Make sure you are specific with your questions concerning what motivates your employees. People may say they are motivated by money, but their internal motivator is having money to pay bills, buy a new car, provide for their family, etc.  Money and Recognition are not what motivates people.  The true motivator is what an individual does when they have money or receive recognition.  Find this out for each direct report before having coaching discussions, especially for your newer employees.
  2. Develop a pre-call plan before your next coaching conversation. We always ask sales representatives to have a pre-call plan before a sales meeting.  Managers need to do the same thing before working with their employees.  Review the employees file, review their career interests, and know their personal information.

There are times when clichés can be used in your development conversations.  Sometimes, we are presented with a challenging scenario that will require us to use clichés to manage others.  These cliché conversations should be the exception rather than the norm and the most effective leaders are the ones providing specific direction to their employees to help them achieve their goals.  So, don’t be afraid to take your coaching to the next level…be all you can be and push the envelope to create win-win situations for your employees. (4 clichés in one sentence!)

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