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Leadership: Say It Again. And Again. (And…)

Smart leaders, because they respect their team members’ intelligence, loathe the idea of voicing the same point repeatedly. They should get over it.
Good leaders repeat the same message over and over again
photo by Martijn Munneke

"The Advantage"

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

Samuel Johnson, English author, critic, and lexicographer (1709-1784)

Samuel Johnson, in case you didn’t know, was such an authority on all things linguistic that his colleagues often referred to him as Dr. Johnson. The man wrote dictionaries, for crying out loud, and in addition to numerous essays, plays and poems. So, how does an esteemed bloke like this pertain to the world of management wisdom?

It just so happens that this quote is a favorite of Patrick Lencioni, founder of The Table Group, a consultancy whose mission is “helping organizations, and the people who work within them, become healthier and more effective.”

Lencioni cited the above quote from Johnson in a blog from April 2008. “I‘ve recently come to the conclusion that I should stop reading so many new books and magazine articles,” he wrote. “Instead, I should go retrieve the top ten books and articles that I‘ve already read, and start re-reading them again and again. After all, I‘ve forgotten most of what I‘ve learned in those books, and I‘m certainly not using or tapping into more than a fraction of what they have to offer. Instead, I‘m pursuing more and more new material, which only crowds out the space in my brain to recall and put to use the tried and true goodness of what I‘ve already learned.

“Why do we do this? Perhaps we want to stay current. Or we don‘t want to feel out of touch. But I think it is based more in pride of knowing things than in real pursuit of excellence, integrity and discipline.

“Don‘t think that the irony of all this is lost on me, an author who writes a new book every few years and who wants people to buy and read them. But I cannot deny that one of my favorite quotes comes from the author Samuel Johnson who said that “people need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” I suppose what he really meant was that we already have plenty of information. We just need to use it.”


Prior to the season, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was so worried about his mechanics that he invited his longtime coach, Tom Martinez, to Boston. You might think the problems of an elite player like Brady were complex; but as it turned out, all he needed was a refresher in Throwing 101.

Brady’s list of Martinez’s tips – which he scrolls through on his BlackBerry before games – includes: “Keep your hips closed. Keep your elbow high.” (Read all about it in the San Jose Mercury News article by Dan Brown.)

The lesson is that the gist of Johnson’s quote -- the importance of reminding, rather than instructing -- applies to high-level team members in every field. Rudimentary reminders are essential; it’s downright easy to forget your core tasks in the twist of day-to-day gyres.

Mind you, the above is far from Johnson’s only business bon mot. You can find the mother lode here, including this pearl on what it’s like to have a leadership position: “He whose rank or merit procures him the notice of mankind must give up himself, in a great measure, to the convenience or humour of those who surround him.”

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