Poetry–Mightier Than The Sword? Words Law Firm Managers Should Kill In Their Vocab

“I’ve been list’nin’ to them lawyers

      In the court house up the street,

An’ I’ve come to the conclusion

      That I’m most completely beat…”

Excerpt from The Lawyers’ Ways by Paul Laurence Dunbar

It may surprise you to know, many of America’s greatest poets are equally great businessmen.

In fact, the Pultitzer-prize winning poet Wallace Stevens even refused to leave his position as Vice President of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company once offered a prestigious faculty position at Harvard University, recounts John Coleman for the Harvard Business Review (HBR).

In the HBR article, “The Benefits of Poetry for Professionals,” Coleman reminds us that leaders can also be lyricists.

“Dana Gioia, a poet, Stanford Business School grad, and former General Foods executive, notes that T.S. Eliot spent a decade at Lloyd’s Bank of London; and many other poets including James Dickey, A.R. Ammons, and Edmund Clarence Stedman navigated stints in business,” writes Coleman.

It’s not just that professionals happen to be poets. Quite the contrary. It’s often poetry that leads these men and women to become excellent managers.

Harman Industries founder Sidney Harman quickly realized the competitive advantage of hiring creative writers as executives. He told The New York Times, “I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers.”

“They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.”

So instead of talking about burden of proof, discuss ballads. Instead of discovery, discover dactyls. Instead of writing on briefs, write in blank verse.

But, before you get ahead of yourself, consider this. Not all lawyers or law firm professionals are meant to be poets.

If you use (or abuse) any of the following words, it’s time to eradicate those terms from your diction. Here’s how you know you’re more Clarence Darrow than Emily Dickenson:

You use the word “Synergy”

The word synergy can be traced back to 1660. At that time, the Greek roots syn-“together” and ergon-“work“ were used to mean “cooperation,” explains “Take Our Word For It.”

In the 1950s, the word “synergy” was popularized in the business world. Its synonymous use for “teamwork” got a bit out of hand. Today, the word “synergy” is still used to express the idea of coordination among systems and people, but it’s time to turn the page.

If you use the word “synergy” to manage teams in the boardroom, chances are they’re synergetically making fun of you behind your back.

You use the word “Downsize”

When it’s time to lay somebody off, managers make use (and abuse) the word “downsize.” Except, we all know what that word means.

In speeches, it strikes fear in the heart of every employee.

One-on-one, the word means “you’re fired.”

Of course, the word “downsize” was coined to soften the blow of what’s often an unavoidable consequence of doing business in the recession. But, instead of dancing around the true meaning, be honest with your employees.

Don’t use the word “downsize” as an excuse to buy a flat-screen monitor for your personal office, but require employees to buy their own lunches during a noon meeting. If you gratuitously use the word “downsize,” the only thing down-in-size will be the quality of your reputation among your peers.

You use the word “Team-Player”

As a manager, nothing is worse than asking your employees to be “team players.”

Today, the word “team player” is used when assistants are expected to exceed their job descriptions, associates are expected to work on weekends, or managers would like to dismiss complaints about bad corporate culture.

Being a “team player” implies a subordinate employee must endure some painful task or pitiful person.

Don’t guilt employees, incentivize them or show appreciation. Instead of asking associates to be “team players,” try a simple “thank you.” Turn “team player” into a sentiment of sincere appreciation.

Plus, appreciate rhymes with a lot more—like motivate, innovate, and create. See? Poetry is natural to keys to entrepreneurial success.



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