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10 Differences About Buzzwords and Leadership

On several occasions when teaching, I’ve noted the difference between buzzwords and leadership. In fact, I think that a key facet of leadership is knowing the difference between a strategy and a collection of buzzwords. In the corporate world, there are a multitude of buzzwords (and phrases) that need to fall out of existence. And, yes, I’m an offending party on several of these.

  • Red ball leadershipLearnings
  • Synergistic
  • Guru
  • Bandwidth
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Let’s talk offline
  • Deep dive
  • Granular
  • Come-to-Jesus moment

The list could go on and on. For those who lead in the church, we have a completely other set of buzzwords. The sad thing is that many of the words have an important meaning. Nevertheless, they have become junk-drawer terms that are applied to everything and often come to mean nothing. A short list would be:

  • Postmodern
  • Missional
  • Relevant
  • Contemporary
  • Gifting
  • Resonate
  • Gospel

A few of these terms are important to me. They might be important to you. And, yes, I just put “Gospel” on the list. The reason is not that the biblical term has lost its meaning but that it has been so widely applied that others have lost a sense of its meaning. The three questions I have are simple: “When you use that term, what do you mean?” and “Do the people listening to you understand what you are saying?” and “Do they now understand enough to follow where you are leading?” It is a lesson that was driven home for me when I recently traveled to teach at the Kiev Theological Seminary. When leading, we must know these facts.

  • Just because you speak does not mean that they heard you.
  • Just because they nodded their heads in affirmation does not mean they understand.
  • Just because they said they understand does not mean that they agree.
  • Just because they agree does not mean that they will do it.

So, as I consider the power and the bane of buzzwords, I would offer these 10 thoughts.

  1. Buzzwords begin as a rallying cry and end as words too broadly applied. Leadership constantly looks for fresh ways to keep the movement alive.
  2. Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content. Leadership offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialogue.
  3. Buzzwords give a false sense of momentum when stagnation is the reality. Leadership identifies stagnation and tackles it.
  4. Buzzwords are an easy way to say nothing when those who follow you need to hear something. Leadership shows the willingness to have the difficult conversations.
  5. Buzzwords kill the meaning of a movement. Leadership continues to give life to a movement.
  6. Buzzwords are the escape hatch for the speaker who is unprepared. Leadership finds a way to be the most prepared person in the movement.
  7. Buzzwords provide a facade of being knowledgeable. Leadership actually learns.
  8. Buzzwords give false hope of a possible future. Leadership tells a beautiful and detailed story of what can be.
  9. Buzzwords are big ideas boiled down to the lowest common denominator of thought. Leadership offers everyone a way to access the big ideas and bring understanding to them.
  10. Buzzwords make important words eventually seem disposable. Leadership redeems the important meaning of words and phrases.


Posted on by Philip Nation in Church, Leadership

15 Responses to 10 Differences About Buzzwords and Leadership

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  2. Wayne McDaniel

    Regarding the # 1 in the contrast between buzzwords and leadership: servants are given the words of their master – because it is not they who speak, but the Spirit of their Father who speaks in them, Matt. 10:19-20. RE # 2: the church dialogued, Acts 20:7. ALL at Corinth were to speak for God, 1 Cor. 14:31, and ALL discerned, vs. 29.
    Wayne McDaniel, Phx Phil. 1:6

  3. A. Amos Love


    Wouldn’t “Leadership” also be buzzword?

    Since it is NOT a “Biblical” word or term?

    “A buzzword is a word or phrase used to impress, or is fashionable.”

    And Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called Leader?
    And NOT one of His Disciples called them self Leader?

    Kinda hard to have “leadership”
    When His Disciples refused to call themselves “Leader.”

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible.
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant.”
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

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  6. Philip Nation

    Sure – anything can become a buzzword – including the term “leadership.” My hope is that we can reclaim the words that are helpful to our work in God’s mission. But, even when our words fail, we should offer the kind of leadership that emulates Christ and expresses the gospel.

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  8. Robin Locksley

    The biggest mistake people make is self-appointing themselves leaders. I have made that mistake. I tried to start a small group and called myself a leader. I hoped that other would want to join and follow. But I failed miserably. Why? Because a true leader is chosen by God and the congregation. A leader will have people following him without him having to use a title for himself. If no one is following you, if people do not naturally gravitate towards you, and want to be around you, then you should not call yourself a leader.

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