Don’t be Passionate about Shorthand Abstractions…they have no Integrity

Over the last few years, I have written and talked about the communication problems that happen when business leaders use words like Passion and Integrity to lead/encourage/inspire people to be the best they can be at work. The words Passion and Integrity are laced with double entendre and have been overused and misused to the point of obfuscation. Put another way, these two words have been clichéd to the brink of uselessness. Their use has evolved and become mostly bad habits.

Like many of the words and phrases we exchange with one another, the words Passion and Integrity are shorthand abstractions. You can also think of these two words as troubled memes. The words Passion and Integrity have been passed down the generations and passed around the tables for so long and by so many that intent and meaning have been bastardized as happens in ‘telephone games’.

Business leaders should exercise care when they communicate, especially when they use shorthand abstractions that are likely to touch sensitive territories including personal values, morals, emotions, and powerful feelings.

Why should leaders take greater care when we use shorthand abstractions?

Here’s some thoughts from Tor Norretranders’ –

“That is also the point with abstractions. We want them to be shorthand for a lot of information that was digested in the process leading to the use of the abstraction but not present when we use it. Such abstractions have depth. We love them. Other abstractions have no depth. They are shallow, just used to impress the other guy. They do not help us. We hate them.”

PS: Yes – interesting use of the shorthand abstractions ‘love’ and ‘hate’ in the quote above. That goes right to the heart and brain of my message here.

PPS: Yes – much of what we communicate has the forms of both shorthand abstraction and bad habit. That’s why we provide definitions of words and explanations: this is one way to help people understand what we are trying to communicate.

PPPS: Definitions of words used in the title and subtitle–


  • When you know your Personal Values and
  • When you can express your Personal Values in writing [showing how you think the think] and
  • When you can talk with others about your Personal Values [talk the talk] and
  • When your actions are consistent with your Personal Values [walk the walk] and
  • When you acknowledge your think-talk-walk errors and strive to not repeat them.


  • a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something
  • a strong feeling (such as anger) that causes you to act in a dangerous way
  • a strong sexual or romantic feeling for someone

PPPPS: It seems the ‘motivational gurus’ cannot break the habit of using the word ‘passion’ when talking about ideal workplaces and their followers cannot get beyond feeling little twinges of inspiration, albeit incredibly short-lived twinges, when they hear messages about ‘passion in the workplace’.  But – really – what does all this talk about ‘passion in the workplace’ mean and does it contain any value?

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