Donkeys and the language of leadership

donkey and cart

I was stuck in a traffic jam on a dual carriageway when I was overtaken by a donkey and cart travelling in the outside lane. My journey to deliver this particular training programme was a little different – a couple of weeks ago I was delivering leadership and influencing training to a group of managers in Senegal in West Africa.

Our client on this trip was a charity called Plan International, a child rights organization working with communities in many countries to alleviate child poverty so that children can realize their full potential. I spent a wonderful three days working with 16 managers and two translators; half the team spoke French as their first language and my schoolboy French was never going to be good enough.

I was far more conscious of every word I said, trying to ensure I was communicating as clearly as I could, cutting out the ”noise” words we often use and trying to cut down on the colloquialisms. That started me thinking about the communication skills required by leaders – and why I don’t take such care normally!

Leaders always have an impact by nature of their position as leaders. It’s important that they consciously choose the impact they are going to make because if they don’t, they will still have an impact, just not necessarily the one they wanted to have!

This week, we’ve been working with a group who want to develop their coaching skills and we had some great conversations about the subtlety of language and how changing just one or two words in a question can turn an ordinary question into a truly powerful one.

So for example, “Do you have any ideas on how to achieve that?” versus “What ideas do you have on how to achieve that?” As a leader or as a coach, asking the first question may imply you have doubts about their ability to think of an idea as the second form suggests a belief in them.

As I was returning from this week’s course, I reflected on how very different the worlds were of these two groups of people I had been fortunate to work with.

And then I got stuck in a traffic jam on the A45 and remembered how similar they are too

One thought on “Donkeys and the language of leadership

  1. Lynn Clayton

    Great post Bob – love the example of how to use positivity in your questions and the impact this has on the people you manage or coach

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