Tapeworms And Leadership

Yep, gross as it is, there’s a connection.

Let’s turn to Warren Buffett and an announcement he made this morning: “The booming costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy.” This vivid statement was part of Buffett’s unveiling of a three-partner effort (Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon) to respond to healthcare costs.

The connection I want to make between the tapeworm and leadership is one of measurements. You can measure your leadership by the kind of imagery you’re able to use in your public statements. Not many leaders could get away with invoking the tapeworm. Because of his wealth and business acumen, Buffett can. He’s also utilized tapeworm before. On another level, maybe you’re deeply well-read, like Lincoln, and are comfortable citing the Bible, Shakespeare, and other literary sources. Your choice of imagery may also reveal as much about your sense of your audience as it does about your pool of references.

The imagery used by a leader can also say something about the target or focus of the comments. Buffett’s tapeworm says a lot about his view of the value of his current expenditures for employee healthcare benefits. “Tapeworm” suggests a parasitical drain, the taking of something without the giving of equivalent value. Indeed, it’s worse than that–the tapeworm absorbs nutrients that need to be spent elsewhere.

If you’re in healthcare, I’d recommend fastening your seatbelt. Tapeworms make for bumpy rides.