Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

Be Careful What You Say About Yourself

“The whale that spouts first gets harpooned first” was one of the first things I learned in 1984 as I started in the management training program at Steelcase, Inc. A quote attributed to its then CEO and chairman, Bob Pew.

The message was clear – we shouldn’t talk about how good we are as a company. We just needed to demonstrate it through our superior products, service and value. The need to “spout” indicated more serious issues, issues that would eventually lead to being “harpooned”.

Being understated was a strong value of Steelcase’s and it permeated the entire company’s culture. It’s a value that continues to influence my career and as a result influences SpringHill.

It’s so integrated into my own values that I hadn’t thought much about the quote until one day, late in July, I drove by this sports bar in a small town near Marion, Indiana.

The sign on the side of the building read “Best Damn Sportsbar Period”.

As I went by the front of the bar I said to myself “it doesn’t look like the best one – period” and then noticed the “for sale” sign in the window which confirmed my assessment of the place.

The owners surely hadn’t gone through Steelcase’s management training program. Because if they had, they’d had known not to spend money spouting off on signs. But instead they would have invested that money and energy into the service and experience they provided their customers with the result being that they wouldn’t have needed that final sign I saw in the window.


  • vusa vundla

    Interesting approach indeed. This is where in a positive way ” Action should speak much louder than words”. We live ina society where self praise has to dominate every thing you say or do. Perry , i always get intrigued by churches who make statements such as ” Your life has nerver been the same since you came into this Church. There is a blessing in this church that you will find no where else or this and that blessing is as a result of the blessing upon the man of God”. This to me amounts to the issue that you are talking about. If indeed there is a blessing , should people be the ones saying that than that message to come from the pulpit. More so are people not blessed because they came to Christ rather than just the Church. So what if people are not flourishing or walking in break throughs , can this as well be as a result of the church or its leadership. Sorry if i am off topic but your article resonated with something that has been in my heart .

    • Michael Perry

      Thank you for your insight and sharing what’s on your heart. Yes I agree that when we begin to “spout” about our spiritual life, or the spiritual work we’re doing or our church is doing we’ve crossed into dangersous waters. The reformers were correct that in all things Soli Deo Gloria.

  • Mark Ismond

    Marketers the world around are now M.P. haters! ha.

    There goes 98% of their catch phrases, jingles and campaign themes. Advertising, especially self promotion, is based very strategically on the act of blinding our common sense and intelligence just long enough to grab our money.

    I still agree quite completely with your thoughts and likewise point to the Proverbs which rather bluntly state (in The Message translation); “Knowledge flows like spring water from the wise; fools are leaky faucets, dripping nonsense.” I remember my dad laughing out loud when reading it from another translation which was something like; “Don’t talk like an idiot, be sensible and turn off the flow.” Am still attempting to let these words sink in every day.

    blessings brother,

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