From Delusional to Powerful Leadership Language

mentalkingMany of the statements and conversations that pass for normal today are filled with words and phrases that have no power and fill the conversational space with the false implication of action. This type of communication seems to keep the speaker from being present to his or her own experience and commitment, (or, more likely, lack thereof).  Let’s start with the word "like." Admittedly this overused word is mostly in the younger set. It seems to be a substitute for being articulate enough to share one’s own experience accurately and authentically.  As an example, the phrase “it’s like I’m cold,” - does that mean you are? You aren't? Why not just state “I am cold?”  Including "like" seems to allow a lot of talk without much real connection to personal experience. The words speak to an experience that is similar or "like," rather than a statement that owns one's physical state in that moment.

Another set of words and phrases we hear quite regularly are: “try,” “need to,’” “want to,” “should,” “ought to,” and “would be nice if…” Our view is that these, and many more phrases like them, occur constantly in every day management conversations and are worse than meaningless. In fact, it could be said that in these types of conversations both the speaker and the listener are "deluded." They are deluded because there is an implication of action where there will most certainly be none. We call these words and phrases the “said” portion of a statement. Underneath the "said" is that which is “unsaid.” We find the "unsaid" is usually some version of, "but I can’t."  For example, the "said might be" - “we should put a budget together on that." The "unsaid" might be, "but we don’t have time.” Another example of the "said" might be -  “I’d love to go with you guys." The "unsaid" might be, "but my wife would never stand for it."

The third, even subtler phrasing we hear is some version of “my opinion would be…” or “my idea would be…” Said in this way, the speaker never seems to be questioned and yet, what does he or she mean?  “”My idea would be…" but, it turns out what they're saying isn't really their idea? Or is it? Another example is “my opinion would be…" So does that mean it's that person's opinion unless it meets with criticism in which case they’ll change it? As listeners we really don’t know where the speaker stands. It's easy to wonder if the speaker knows their own point-of-view or whether they are just testing the waters to see what is acceptable, popular, or meets with approval from the top of the hierarchy in the conversation.

It seems the culture of many organizations today encourages this type of "soft pedal" speak. It leaves people latitude to shift to what is acceptable and to recover more easily if they "step in it." The issue is that people aren't encouraged to have a real point-of-view, nor are they encouraged to articulate it if they genuinely have one. From a leadership standpoint, we don't believe this builds leadership skills, confidence or a healthy cultural paradigm in which team members can bring all that they are and have to the table.

The antidote to all of this unreal or deluded conversation is taking the risk to say directly and succinctly what you are really experiencing/feeling, what your truth is, what you are committed to, what you promise, and what you can be counted on to do. If you are a leader and you begin to communicate in this way, those around you will recognize the authenticity of it. You will likely build more trust within your team. Particularly if you encourage them to also take on this style of communication. An important key is that it will only succeed if people see that they will not be punished, criticized, embarrassed or shamed for doing it. A strong leader builds a safe container for those around them to bring their best thinking knowing they can articulate it and it will be received with respect even when others disagree.

Workgroup laughingIf you take this on and find yourself uncomfortable, make note of what your mind is saying is going to happen to you or how your internal dialogue is criticizing you.  Use your self-awareness skills and you will likely find what's stopping you is a limiting belief.  Once identified, you can go to work on letting go of it.  Check out Kimberley Heart  or Morty and Shelly Lefkoe  if you need help working through your limiting beliefs.

To become a clear, powerful, and intentional leader, listen to your statements over the next few days and make a record of all the times you say things from one or more of the above groupings.  You probably have your own favorite versions of each!  If you are having trouble self-observing, keep going for it and also start recording what you hear others saying.  What is the "unsaid" in each conversation? Are you willing to restate your comments with real self-awareness, authenticity, and commitment? 

This is an opportunity to multiply your and your team’s productivity and effectiveness!