Mad Libs

Have you ever played Mad Libs?

According to MadLibsLive, “Mad Libs are stories with words removed and replaced by blank spaces. One player acts as the “reader” and asks the other players, who haven’t seen the story, to fill in the blanks with adjectives, nouns, exclamations, colors, adjectives, and more. These words are inserted into the blanks and then the story is read aloud to hilarious results.”

People enjoy filling out Mad Libs on long car rides to pass the time or as an after-dinner game. There is another place where we play Mad Libs. We play Mad Libs at work, and it needs to stop.

I’ve talked in the past to you about the importance of the messages you send to your people. I want to provide you with an illustration of how important that is. Let’s say, for example, that you’re getting ready to send your people a message, but then you pull back thinking, “I don’t know if I could share that information.” Or perhaps, “I can’t be quite that transparent right now.”

Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to send a message that says this:


We are on track to have our __best__ year ever. We will be __opening__ three retail locations, __hiring__ 100 employees, and sending out __bonus checks__ to you and your entire team.


However, you don’t send the message. Maybe you feel like you can’t share it yet or don’t know how to convey the message. Perhaps you are waiting for the next big event to make the announcement.

I understand that timing matters and that you may have restrictions on what you can and can’t share. However, it’s important to recognize that your half-messages or silence are turn into your team members playing a game of Mad Libs. They start filling in the blanks. Sadly, they often assume that your silence is an indication of something bad unfolding. Here’s what they are thinking:


We are on track to have our __best worst__ year ever. We will be __opening closing__ three retail locations, __hiring firing__ 100 employees, and sending out __bonus checks pink slips__ to you and your entire team.


I made a video for you this week that explains the Mad Libs challenge we face at work. Please share it with others to encourage them to be more transparent, timely, and effective in the messages they deliver.

Regarding delivering effective messages, I’m also including a video about the importance of providing simple, bold, and inviting messages. You can also find a tool to remind you to create such messages as you work with your team members, customers, and the range of stakeholders in your world.

Speaking of messages that influence, I encourage you to listen to my latest Leadership Lab podcast episode: Learn the Rules of Power with Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Dr. Jeffrey is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of 15 books, including Dying for a Paycheck, Leadership BS, What Were They Thinking, and Power.


Photo by Piotr Łaskawski on Unsplash