10 Signs You’re an Infomercial – Not a Leader

by Alli Polin on November 19, 2013

There is a time for sales and a time to be a leader - they are not always the same time

When I first moved to Australia, I caught a few minutes of the equivalent of Good Morning America on TV.  It reminded me of the morning program in the USA until something unexpected interrupted the banter, pseudo-news and discussion.   They were teeing up a segment on nasty carpet stains and I was curious enough to keep on watching.  Finally, one of the hosts of the show headed over to do the segment and instead of tips and tricks, it was a ten minute infomercial with a full-on sales pitch for some product.  It clearly wasn’t the news or a personal interest story but if i wanted to cough up $29.99 I was in luck – agents were waiting for my call.  I was fascinated.

In the US, we don’t have infomercials integrated into our television programs.  That’s not to say that we don’t have an exceptionally large amount of product placement which is a more subtle form of advertising. In this case, it was so… blatant, unwelcome, and as a viewer I felt like it broke the bonds of our implied contract.  I’m looking for information and to be entertained, not sold.  Needless to say, I’ve never watched that morning program again.

I’ve seen similar behavior from business leaders.  I vividly recall presenting the first page of a SWAT analysis to senior level clients and my partner, the SVP, jumped into the conversation.  Instead of reinforcing findings, or asking questions to deepen our understanding, he spent 15 minutes on why our solutions (from another division) are a superior service in the market and would definitely add value given their challenges.  It was a hard sell, and a long sell, and unwelcome not only by the client, but also by the consulting team present in the meeting.  We were hijacked and couldn’t flip the channel.

People don’t want to feel deceived but instead spoken to as intelligent human beings. (Click to Tweet)

10 Signs You’re an Infomercial, not a Leader

1. Fake FAQs 

Instead of opening the floor to Q&A, you pre-write “frequently asked questions” that nobody has actually asked.  You just share the info that you want to provide.

2. Present, Don’t Discuss

Rather than having a group discussion with the team and brainstorming on current challenges, you decide that each team meeting will be used only for customer overviews – presented by you.

3. Push, Don’t Pull

When you give team members a new assignment, instead of asking what they think, you don’t stop talking for 20 minutes about why it’s such a great opportunity and voila, the meeting time is over.

4. Focus on Show, Not Heart

People’s eyes always seem to glaze over when you’re talking about the CEOs upcoming visit and why it’s important to put on a great show, dress-up, clear desks etc.

5. Me, Me, Me

You use the word “I” a lot and are constantly selling your ideas:  I think, I believe, I want, I need.  Not much mention of “We.”

6. Wear ‘Em Down to Win

You are so confident that you’re right, when you discuss with people their alternative ideas, your strategy is to wear them out with why you’re right.  They’re bound to cave once they see the light.

7. Covert Manipulation

At home, you decide that the family should go on vacation to London.  Instead of bringing  up the idea and building excitement, you bring up London in every conversation, share news stories and random facts.  People around you begin to think you’re an Anglophile and are not surprised by the time you suggest the holiday.

8. Never Take a Breath

The actors in infomercials are constantly talking: “Amazing!  Look, that egg didn’t stick at all” but there is literally no listening.  If you are talking for 90% of a meeting, and listening for only 10%, you’re suffering from infomercial syndrome.

9. We Want to Hear from YOU (Later)

After you present your plan at the team meeting, instead of having a discussion and gathering real-time feedback, you suggest that people email you after the meeting with their thoughts or use the anonymous feedback in the cafeteria (that you’ll never, ever check)

10. Tone Over Content

You think that the best way to get people excited is to show them that you’re over the top excited.  You use big gestures, flowery words and an upbeat tone when you talk about how the system isn’t working and the client is unhappy. I love a good informercial when I know that’s what I’m watching but I’m still left wondering about what they don’t tell me.  I see it for what it is, head on, big time, sales.  When I am watching a leader make a veiled pitch, I’m left annoyed and also wondering what’s left unspoken.  

As a leader, when you become a walking, talking infomercial, you’re not fooling anyone.  (Click to Tweet)

Just because people can’t turn the channel doesn’t mean that they’re engaged with your message.  Employee engagement and customer engagement is a two way street and it starts with LISTENING, not talking or selling.

BREAK THE FRAME ACTION: Give people a break from your agenda.  If you feel the need to sell something and it’s not a sales call, ask yourself why.  What do you really want?  How do you want people to feel?  What do you want people to remember?  What do you want your leadership legacy to be?

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(Photo credit)

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

John Thurlbeck November 19, 2013 at 6:20 am

Great thoughts from the heart Alli and a great leadership message captured too! You’ve shared how I’ve often felt in dealings with other people, especially previous line managers! The one line that springs to mind is the tired old cliché, “This will be good for your professional development!” It was usually applied to a task they did not want to do and needed someone, anyone but themselves to do!

Thank you for sharing some great learning!


Alli Polin November 19, 2013 at 7:29 am

I think I’ve met with that manager a time or two, John! They’re selling but we’re not buying.

Leaders that want to control our experience out of fear are all too common in every organization. Hopefully the message will get out – we want real… even if it’s messy. Authenticity beats infomercial every time.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here, John!


Lalita Raman November 19, 2013 at 6:52 am

I loved your 10 points. The one that appealed to me was most was “Me Me. Many get twined in narcissism. Love the word infomercial :-(.

An insightful post Alli.


Alli Polin November 19, 2013 at 7:31 am

Thank’s, Lalita! Early on in my career I heard it so often I made a conscious choice to go to the other extreme – “We, We, We!”


Jennifer Olney November 19, 2013 at 7:28 am

Me…me…me..there are so many leaders who put themselves FIRST and others last. Those leaders who take and never give back. I find that I just leave them to their own devices. They will eventually be talking to themselves over time. 🙂


Alli Polin November 19, 2013 at 7:33 am

I think you’re right, Jen. Most of us are smart enough to see through the flash and sizzle over time and their me-first messaging ultimately just falls flat. I just wish that some people could see through it sooner because talking about how awesome some leaders are that are truly not leaders at all gives me a headache.

Thanks, Jen!


Jennifer Olney November 19, 2013 at 8:18 am

I agree, Alli. I’m not big on the giant egos, rather tell me how leaders are making a difference – show me not tell me.. 🙂


Lolly Daskal November 19, 2013 at 8:32 am

great post.

What I love about your post is the fact you turned the conversation inside out.

It is very easy to say, what we want from our leaders, what we want from our peers, what we want from others.

It is harder to look in the mirror and ask yourself, am I a leader the kind of leader I WANT to see in the world.

And so therefore, your post is brilliant, because we first must work on ourselves before we can say what we want from others.

To LEAD FROM WITHIN is the first step to LEAD FORWARD with HEART.

Thanks Alli for all the great thoughts that you share!



Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 5:55 am

Thank you, Lolly! I’ll bet that at one time or another most of us have been guilty of some of these behaviors. The question is if it’s chronic and a part of our everyday persona or situational. Being honest about it is where change starts to happen.

I’m 100% with you that change, and leadership starts within us at our core – not just in our doing.

Appreciate you, Lolly!


Joy Guthrie November 19, 2013 at 9:28 am

Great reminders, Alli. I know I’ve done at least some of these way too much. Thank you!


Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 6:02 am

Joy – As much as it annoys me when I see those behaviors, I’m sure that I’ve also guilty.

Thank you for all of your support!


Blair Glaser November 19, 2013 at 11:49 am

Alli– Is there any way we could get our politicians to read this? I experience what you describe so often with business leaders, but also when watching any presidential debate.
Thanks for this post. Really loved it.


Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 6:03 am

Blair – Love the “I’m so glad you asked me that question so now I can answer a totally different question that I actually prepared” that I see so often in Presidential debate.

Thanks so much, Blair!


LaRae Quy November 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I loved this post, Alli. And I’m shocked at how blatant informercials are allowed into Australian TV…

Loved all your points…like many others have observed, the ME ME ME thing gets really tired, really fast. I also liked the “Wear them down tactic.” I’ve seen this many times. Managers just keep repeating the same old line, hoping people will finally see things their way. Of course, they never do!

The best place to start is by working on ourselves so we can see our own foibles. That means ego needs to get out of the way so we can see ourselves for who we really are.

Great post!


Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 6:06 am

LaRae – I was so shocked that I called my husband at the office to tell him. I had never seen anything like it before.

That same old line! Yes! Often something like: “It’s not our choice, we’re told what to do.” or “It’s totally out of my hands.”

There is nothing like doing the work on ourselves to see the behaviors and beliefs that we built up over time and realize that we can intentionally choose a new way of being.

Thanks, LaRae!


Jon Mertz November 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

An interesting analogy, Alli. Another one to add is in consistency. Messages of how to be a leader or lead in better ways are communicated while actions divide, distort, and difuse the message. Message and action need to be aligned. Infomercials seem to be a lot of words with products (actions) that don’t match in quality of result. Great points here. Thanks! Jon


Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 6:09 am

Jon – You are so right! Somehow, that magical product, when it arrives at the door, is never, ever the same as what we’re sold. (Not that I’ve ever bought anything from an infomercial but I’ve googled them to see if it’s remotely possible that they could be that amazing!) Alignment of message and action is critical for leaders – people notice when there is a mismatch much sooner than those leaders think.

Thanks so much!


Terri Klass November 19, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Terrific post Alli! What I dislike most about infomercials is the dishonesty and deceit that they stand for. When people push their agendas without regard to what others think, they are showing no respect for others.
In addition, we can’t be authentic leaders without being honest and without including others’ ideas and suggestions.

Crazy how infomercials are part of a TV program. Hopefully people can differentiate.


Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 6:13 am

I always love when big movie stars that have fallen out of the public consciousness over time are suddenly on infomercials, front and center, sharing their seal of approval for “the best thing ever.” You really hit on it – it’s deceitful and disrespectful to sell, sell, sell when they know that they are covering up the whole story and really truly trying to manipulate. Leaders in too many organizations have taken a page out of that playbook.

So shocked it was a part of the program! I actually caught another segment at the airport last week. Host side by side with the guy and his vacuum that can pick up not one, not two, but eight billiard balls! Um, the next time I need a vacuum to pick up my billiard balls I’ll be sure to place an order. 😉

Thanks so much, Terri!


Alice Chan November 20, 2013 at 1:43 am

Nice post, Alli! There truly are a more infomercials than leaders. I think much of it stems from a combination of lack of self-awareness and insecurities. When we have a lot to prove (to our egos), that’s when we hog the stage, use a lot of “I” references. When we feel healthy confidence, generosity and inclusiveness flow more easily. Of course, again, self-awareness is important, too. Nice way to frame the kind of leader we DON’T want to become! Thanks, Alli!


Alli Polin November 20, 2013 at 6:16 am

Alice, What you wrote here really does ring true for me. When someone is pushing a sales message hard, they are clearly pushing what they want us to hear and are often hiding the rest of the story. Insecurity and ego probably do come into play.

Love how much vulnerability and personal truth you share with the world on your blog. I’m sure it shines through in your leadership.

Thanks, Alice!


Karin Hurt November 21, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Great list. I particulary hate the prescripted questions. I always wonder… is the executive really that scared to answer what just might come up? If you have something to say, put it in the talk track. Don’t script the Q&As and pretend they are someone else’s agenda.


Alli Polin November 22, 2013 at 5:43 am

You know, as I was writing the post, that’s the first one that came to mind for me. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen too many times. I’m with you! Why have a face to face meeting if you don’t actually want to have an open and honest conversation with people?

Thanks, Karin!


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