Leader Lingo

How do your words leave people feeling?

Do your words contribute to your company vision and purpose?

If you don’t see yourself as a leader STOP right there! Who is leading your life? Who is leading your family? That’s right, you are in fact a leader and, as such, this blog is as much for you as it is for those who carry the title “leader”. Either way, you will at least recognise some leaders you know 😃.

As a leader, personally or professionally, do your words shout of power and control, or do they uplift, motivate and inspire those around you?

Your words matter, and with each one you are influencing the culture, your team, the organisation and its future, or your family, your children and their futures. Remember that organisations do not live within buildings, structures, or hierarchies – they live within the stories employees tell about the organisation.

How do your words inform the stories that are told?

Many have, and want leadership positions, yet so few are willing to fully take the accountability that comes with it.

Are you Hitler or Madiba? Yes, a strange comparison, however, the only thing which truly separated these two, other than race and nationality, were their words – the words informing their beliefs and the words underpinning their actions. They were driven by their words and their actions spoke of their beliefs. People were led and shaped by their words in ways few can understand, particularly in the case of Hitler. One is left wondering how so many seemingly well-balanced, family orientated people were blindly led by a madman until we stop and note that it was his words that initially drove them to almost blindly follow him down a path of pure madness.

What do your words and actions say about your beliefs? How are you experienced? What memories do people carry of you?

Think about those careless words spoken in meetings or performance appraisals, those throwaway comments made in front of colleagues and how they impact the people around you. Your influence and impact are as simple, and as complex, as that.

Could your words be the reason that people are left feeling depressed, isolated, fearful or intimidated? Are you encouraging or discouraging those around you?

When last did you take just a moment to think about the impact of your words, either at home or at work?

Your words matter
Failure and accountability

Don’t you find it interesting that leaders are very rarely held accountable for the words they use and the often devastating impact they have on people and the organisation? Take a moment to think about all the companies you know of which have been devastated by leaders whose word lacked integrity, who could not be trusted to do what they said they would and consequently eroded shareholder value and destroyed trust.

History shows that most organisational failures are primarily linked to leadership failure. Further research and a deeper look show that leadership failure is often pinned on poor communication underpinned by a lack of credibility, nonexistent employee engagement, and out-of-date ego-based leadership styles. Chuckling to yourself yet? Any images coming to mind? 🙂

As organisations and leaders fail, people are left to manage challenging economic conditions, chaos and uncertainty, often finding themselves exposed and consumed by fear.

What do you think happens when people face uncertainty and fear?

Well, they often revert to control, which as Margaret Wheatley explains, is the very unwelcome partner of fear. Control then results in isolated critical decisions being made without key pieces of information from a critically important network of employees, customers and other stakeholder groups.

Fear-based language

Think about the command-and-control style language leaders often use when under pressure:

“We are under the gun to get this delivered”

“We are in the firing line to achieve our targets”

“Make sure you are well armed when you attend the meeting”

“We need to attack our competition”

“This is not the time to retreat.”

Consider how many leaders continue to reflect this type of command-and-control language, founded on old school ideas and habits, within imposing structures and serious titles without noticing that the world around them has changed forever.

Our world needs leaders who are willing to have real, authentic conversations about purpose and shared meaning; people willing to embrace diverse perspectives that challenge their own beliefs and thinking rather than surrounding themselves with people that look and feel just like them.

Leaders who are real humans, who can be trusted to do what they say they are going to do, even when the truth is that they don’t have all the answers. In fact, even more so when they don’t, since this drives that all important ingredient known as credibility.

Building bridges

Leaders’ words should be building bridges encouraging people to cross over into new possibilities in the face of chaos and uncertainty, not erecting ego-centric walls which keep employees at a distance, separated from each other and their leaders.

In times of unpredictable change, leaders who detach themselves from their teams, refusing to invest in building relationships based on trust and integrity, are destined to fail, since meaning and purpose are the most powerful motivators of human behaviour.

People want to feel like they are an essential part of the organisation, its future and their future within it. They do not want to be held accountable for something they’ve had no part in creating and don’t believe in. Anyone been here before?

It is little wonder so many strategies fail before they’ve even left the starting blocks. Strategy may engage intellect, however, people won’t give their heart to something they haven’t helped create.  After all, the heart is where passion and purpose are ignited.

Organisations seeking long-term survival, beyond profit, need to develop and employ leaders able to generate a sense of meaning and belonging for employees. These leaders are the ones who are prepared to ask questions they don’t have the answers for and show sincere interest in their employees as wholehearted humans, not machines.

People joining the workforce today, irrespective of age, are no longer happy to be submissive to autocratic, paternalistic leaders where control and compliance are the order of the day.

These leaders will simply not attract or retain key talent because they crush the exact things organisations desperately need to ensure survival –  adaptability, agility and innovation.

A question?

Are you a leader who people would choose to follow if given a choice? What stories do your words inspire people to tell about about you? Do you attract talent?

Some thoughts to consider whether you are leading at home or at work.

“If you believe in the power of words, you can bring physical changes in the universe” – Scott Momaday

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