What Consultants And Employees Need To Know About “Treadmill Leaders”

 Some of the most common verbs found in business conversation, and especially on meeting agendas, are what I call “Treadmill Verbs.” These words invite people to talk without purpose. Like being on a treadmill, these words offer no destination—no lakeshore, no mountain top—you simply never “arrive.” On a treadmill, you can always walk another mile, and in response to a treadmill request, you can always talk another mile (or another ten minutes). As a result, you could conceivably keep talking forever. And those who like to talk, often seem to do exactly that!

Treadmill verbs

Unfortunately, there are many, many treadmill verbs. Here are some of the most common—and therefore some of the most harmful. Notice that in every case, you could do them forever; there is no way to know when you are done.

  • Review
  • Report
  • Share
  • Update
  • Discuss
  • Inform
  • Communicate

Have you heard those words? Can you see why I call them treadmill verbs?

When asked to review something, do you realize how many dimensions that review could take? Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, organization, logic, accuracy, persuasiveness, credibility, strategic alignment, appropriate inclusion of backstory and historical and factual references, clarity of objectives and roles, appropriate emphasis, relevant prior and pending decisions, important opinions, and appropriate length. Imagine if you tackled all of them! And then you could start over and double-check each one!

I coined the term treadmill verbs (along with the variations: treadmill activitiestreadmill requeststreadmill conversations, and treadmill leaders), to draw attention to the frequency with which these productivity-killing verbs are used.

Anyone who speaks in treadmill verbs is “Clarity Blind,” another term I coined to describe those who don’t realize how unclear they are and haven’t a clue as to how costly is that “Disclarity.”

How unclear is the word “clarity”?

Oh, yes, I coined disclarity as well because I got tired of typing “a lack of clarity.” As a matter of fact, to write the modern classic, The Power of Clarity, I had to coin a lot of new terms because one of the reasons we are so unclear is that we don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about how clear or unclear we are. The word “clarity” itself is incredibly unclear. As we struggle to distinguish between what is clear and what isn’t, we say things such as:

  • It’s a little unclear.
  • It’s very unclear.
  • It’s confusing.
  • Let me see if I can clarify.
  • I’m not sure I understand completely.
  • If only things were a little clearer.

It’s as if things are always just a smidgeon off from that nebulous point called “clarity.” As if a little nudge in the right direction would make things perfect.

When we talk that way, are we being diplomatic and polite? Maybe.

Or are we clarity blind and don’t realize how incredibly unclear things often are (such as requests like “Please review this”)? Probably.

But there is another answer as well. We simply don’t have the vocabulary to discuss levels of clarity.

Consider the following list of descriptors for the temperature of soup. I bet you would have no trouble organizing these from hottest to coldest. Furthermore, I bet you and your coworkers and friends would agree on the order!

  • Scalding
  • Cool
  • Lukewarm
  • Cold
  • Frozen
  • Nice and hot
  • Warm

Now can you make a similar sorted list for levels of clarity that you and your coworkers and friends would agree upon? Other than ranking “a little unclear” ahead of “very unclear,” I doubt it.

Destination verbs

Now back to those treadmill verbs. If you don’t want to look like a foolish clarity blind treadmill leader, you need to eliminate them from your vocabulary and choose “Destination Verbs” instead.

The really good news is that there are only six destination verbs that lead to true progress. These verbs leave no question as to the outcome. In every case, you will know when you are done. Furthermore, every single one unleashes the next steps!!! And that is huge. That’s called progress!!! Especially in the cognitive zone.

So here are the six awesome destination verbs. Notice that in every case, it’s pretty easy to know when you are done. Notice also that when you are done, you have unleashed the next steps.


This is a biggie because decisions are arguably the most important and most common task in the cognitive zone. Once you reach a decision, you are done. And you’ve unleashed the next steps.


Another biggie. Once you have a plan, you are done and you’ve unleashed the next steps. Just be sure you don’t turn planning into a treadmill verb! Some people are really good at that!


Once again, when you resolve a problem, you are done. And you’ve unleashed the next steps. Isn’t that wonderful?


This one might look a little strange, but you need several lists to execute the previous destination verbs: decide, plan, and solve. For example, a decision requires a list of decision criteria, a list of alternatives, a list of risks, and a list of actions to mitigate those risks. A plan also requires lists such as objectives, action items, resources, milestones, risks, and mitigating activities. When you resolve a problem, you need to list possible causes, most likely causes, possible solutions, best solutions, and steps for verifying the best solution. As long as your list is in service to a decision, plan, or problem resolution, it’s a worthy list. Once you’ve made your list, you are done and you’ve unleashed the next steps.


We’ve all needed confirmation at times. “I’ve done X and I’m about to do Y. Am I on the right track?” This is a simple Yes/No question. If the answer is No, a follow-up conversation might be warranted to generate a new plan or list of factors to investigate further. Either way, this should be a quick response that unleashes the next steps. Unfortunately, confirmation requests often lead to rambling answers about what to look out for later, old battle stories, and endless advice that was not asked for. When you ask for confirmation, be firm. Demand a Yes or No before allowing any other conversation.


Approve, like confirm, is another Yes/No request. “I’ve done X and I’m ready to do Y. Do I have permission to begin?” Like confirm, it ought to generate a quick answer, with a Yes unleashing the next steps immediately.

Don’t be a treadmill leader!

Instead of asking others to update, share, communicate, inform, report, and the like, concentrate instead on accomplishing two things:

  1. Determine what decisions, plans, problem resolutions, lists, confirmations, and approvals you need to make real progress.
  2. Tell others what you are doing that may interfere with or influence their decisions, plans, problem resolutions, lists, confirmations, and approvals.

Bring that kind of clarity to your interactions, especially your meetings, and instead of talking endlessly, you will get off the treadmill, get to the point, and get what you need!

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post