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Leadership: “If” and “But”… Small Words with Big Meanings

July 8, 2011

“Life is a continual distraction which does not even allow us to reflect on that from which we are distracted” ~ Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka’s “Up in the Gallery,” is a short story. The complete narrative is written in two paragraphs, using only 368 words. The truth behind it cannot be missed.

In short, the visitor “Up in the Gallery” wanted to save the equestrienne from the ringmaster and the crowds but realized that he could not do it alone. Instead, he sat where he was and cried about his helplessness.

Kafka’s raison d’être is about the truth. His ambiguous parables and stories provide exercises for the brain that begin to prepare it for that moment in time when we are faced with the truth, so that we will be able to recognize it.

By design, Kafka opens his story with the word “If” …

“If” is the language of uncertainty. Meaning a requirement or stipulation must be met in order to precede somewhere else. In computer science, the construct: “if-then-else” is a basic concept common across many programming languages. It’s conditional. The important takeaway is “uncertainty.”

Again – by design, Kafka’s closing paragraph begins with the word “But” …

“But” is the language of contrary. In Kafka’s world, the visitor in the gallery recognizes the violent truth that the unconscious audience applauds. And yet, “puts his face on the railing and, sinking into the final march as if into a difficult dream, weeps, without realizing it.”

In modern day politics and business, many recognize this syndrome as: “going along to get along.” And that’s the nexus of Kafka’s message.

Global citizens most want long-term security, stability and predictability. Uncertainty and contrarian beliefs undermine these desires.

There is no such thing as an idle word.

Leaders and managers across all sectors and industries may want to consider eliminating the words “if” and “but” from their vocabulary.

When starting out a sentence with the word “If” – it’s important to consider exactly what it means. It clearly implies that you do not believe yourself whatever it is you are about to say or do. So, why should others?

Likewise, beginning any sentence with the word “But” contradicts whatever you just said. And it creates a mixed message. Others will be confused.

Above all else, say what you mean and mean what you say. Consistency matters.

Up in the Gallery – the complete narrative…


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