Actions speak louder than words. This is a common idiom used in the development of leadership skills. Another idiom that is used is “walk the walk.” As developing leaders (we are all developing leaders whether or not we are a 25 plus year CEO or a new entrepreneur), we have been taught, told, and mentored into believing that it is our actions that are going to help dictate the culture of our organizations.
Yet, it is not only our actions that influence our organizations, our words do as well. Our own personal language, the body of words and how we use them, conveys much about our personal values, our leadership style, and ourselves. Thus, as leaders we must assess and evaluate the quality of our own language. This means that we need to not only look at our vocabulary, the library of words that we use and understand, but in also in how we use that stock of words to express ourselves.
Our language builds culture. And, it is the culture that sets the unwritten rules of society, and our organizations. You want to build a culture of inclusiveness? Think about the words that are used in conversation in meetings:
- We were discussing in the hall …..
- Listening, to the hallway conversations……
- Did you talk with …….
- We need to do it this way ……
- The administration says …..
- Don’t bring them into this discussion …..
While each of these openings may be appropriate at a particular time, if we are starting a meeting this way the first set frees up an open discussion, while the second set closes the discussion. Phrasing becomes just as important as what the words mean.
The structure of a sentence, the specific words used, and the setting of the transmission of the words to another individual becomes highly important to the development of the culture and the atmosphere of the organization. A quick public thank you in a meeting, may have much more value to the organization than a lengthy in office more formal thank you. A handwritten congratulations on an achievement to a line employee may be as valuable as a bonus at the end of the year. Even a handshake in the elevator introducing yourself to someone, may be a very valuable exchange conveying the importance of everyone in the organization.
Today as leaders, we hear about the importance of the motivational speech or sending out mass emails about the status of the company or organization to both employees and stakeholders. We are told by our public relations people that we need to communicate and we assess every word in a press release and in the speech. But, do we really take time to listen to ourselves. Are we using precise speech? Are our words communicating exactly what we are trying to convey?
We need to look at how we speak, write and the methods of communication. As each of these elements convey meaning and color how our words are consumed by the audience.