Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Language of Leadership

A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. – William Arthur Ward

An entry in Reader’s Digest relates the story of an individual calling for information about one of his credit cards. He stated, “I got the following prompt: ’Please enter your account number as it appears on your statement.’ Then the system said, ‘Please enter your five-digit zip code.’ After that, he got the third message, ‘If you would like your information in English, press one.’”

That story is a reminder of the barriers of communication and how language plays such a relevant role in our everyday lives. As a leader, the words we speak and the manner in which we convey them is a matter of importance. The way in which you and your team communicate with each other and your clients is a reflection of your leadership vocabulary.

This truth was recently brought home to me in two unique ways. The first experience was in a fast food restaurant chain where my family and I had dinner. The behind-the-counter staff was exceptionally friendly and greeted us with a warm smile. Throughout our stay the hospitable employees communicated a friendly and professional attitude that ensured that our decision to eat there was a good one.

The other experience occurred at an automotive service center. I was there with my father-in-law and when he went to pay for the services rendered he asked the representative if that was their best price for an eight-year customer. The young man replied, “Well, you paid me every time you came in didn’t you?” Even if the price was not going to change it was clearly not the answer either of us expected and it was not delivered in a tone that demonstrated appreciation toward a loyal customer.

Many comparisons have been made highlighting the differences between management and leadership. And while there are valid defenses and needs for both, I have come to realize this one truth: Good management needs good leadership just as much as good leadership needs good management. And the language of leadership is crucial to both. 

As a leader you need to find your voice, but it is imperative to speak the language of leadership. When you and your team members speak the language of leadership it will change the culture of your organization. Not sure where to begin? Here is a primer to help you build your leadership vocabulary.

The language of leadership is positive. How well you communicate and what you communicate is a reflection of your core values. While organizational structures and operations vary from place to place, the ability of a leader to communicate in any environment is imperative. From the two examples I cited it’s obvious which one spoke the language of leadership. 

Surround yourself with any successful leader or organization and you will find this common characteristic among each one; a positive outlook, a positive attitude, with positive outcomes. Negativity is easy enough to come by but when you make positive language a focal point of your leadership practice you can change hearts and minds one positive thought at a time.

The language of leadership is polite. William Feather said, “Politeness is an inexpensive way of making friends.” When you make it your practice as a leader to be polite you are expressing another degree of leadership competence that will always be in style. 

When politeness is the centerpiece of your language as a leader, it will not make all of your problems go away nor will it eliminate the difficult decisions you have to make in order to run your organization. But when you speak with politeness towards others it then becomes the benchmark by which all language is measured. 

The language of leadership is passionate. Most successful leaders I know are passionate. But not only that, they speak with passion. That is something you cannot fake or manufacture. The language of leadership is filled with passion and a desire to make that passion known.

Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion in playing small-in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” What a powerful truth. When you tap into your passions and begin to communicate them you are speaking the language of leadership.

The language of leadership – are you speaking it?

© 2012 Doug Dickerson

- What would you add to the list? Your input is welcomed! Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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