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. Continue reading

The unintended consequences of poor communication

Some years ago a dear friend of mine had to sack a member of his team. He tried to do this as humanely as possible and so called the team member into his office for a chat. At the end of a conversation about poor performance, he said “I think you need to consider whether you have a future in this organisation”. The next day his team member came into his office smiling and said “I’ve thought about this and I really do think I have got a future here!” At which point my friend had to give the message in a more direct way. Continue reading

Getting the language right in leadership communications

One of the things that I love about running our leadership training programmes is the quality of the conversations we have with the great participants who attend. Take last week, for example, when I was running our two day Ignite programme in a sunny day at one of the lovely country house locations we use for our courses. At the start of the first day, as always, I put up our definition of coaching:- “Coaching is supporting people to get what they want, without doing it for them, or telling them how to do it”. The discussion that followed just showed how important getting the language right is in leadership communications

When we first crafted this, we used the word “helping” rather than “supporting”. After a while, we changed this, because I felt that the word “helping” implied too much of an active intervention by the coach. I was quite pleased with this definition and it has stayed the same for all the years we’ve been running courses.

Last week so, somebody challenged the word “want “; they said “surely it’s about getting what they need, not what they want“. My first reaction was to disagree, but in the spirit of one of our core principles – accept, blend and create – I looked for that part which I could agree with in this challenge, saw the common ground between us, and thus opened up a fascinating conversation.

Our disagreement really was just semantics – I was concerned that when we are leaders acting in a coach-like way, then using the word “need” might lead to the leader imposing their agenda, rather than exploring the vision of the person who worked for them, and supporting them to achieve that, in the context of the organisational need. I know how much more powerful it is when the coach like leader and their team can find alignment between their individual goals, those of the team and those of the organisation. As we talked, it became clear that the person who started this debate was using the word “need” to add an extra level of compulsion – he believed that the word “want” was a little casual and that “need” would get to the core of what was the true purpose for the client.

All this served to remind me of the importance of constantly re-examining the language that we use as leaders. A word or a phrase that we use may have a different meaning for the people we are trying to get the message over to. As leaders, not only do we need to have a vision, but we also need to be able to communicate that with passion and clarity in order to inspire people to join us in creating it.