Leader Language Creates Culture

In practice, the concept of lingua franca is familiar to most people.

It’s the commonly used language used by groups to communicate thoughts and ideas that can be shared by diverse groups of people. And in specialized worlds – like that of leadership - it is the common thread that binds the activities and approaches to decision-making that help frame the ideas of organizations.

Visionary leaders have always used language to express their grandest ideas that would change the world. They are masters at figuring out how to get the rest of us to adopt their language to express our own intentions.

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The kind of leadership that relies on dictate has long passed most organizations by as antiquated, ineffective and unsustainable (despite what some public discourse may sound like today). Instead, the idea of influencing behavior by tapping into what affirmatively motivates people is how the most successful leaders of our day operate.

Whether it’s the language of finance, community organizing, healthcare or technology transfer, the people we revere as transformational in their fields use language to motivate, inspire and shape the cultures that they find themselves in.

I would venture to say 75 percent of a leader’s role is to communicate expectations, inspire people to perform to their abilities, course correct when work is off course and transmit the importance of everyone’s participation to the larger goal of a project or enterprise.

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To successfully do those things, leaders must possess a number of technical skills that are essential to understanding what “perfect performance” looks like in a given field. But, once a leader is able to demonstrate her technical bona fides, much of the rest of her portfolio is really about inspiring, convincing, influencing and praising the golden triangle of stakeholders for any organization: the company, the customers and the collaborators.

Noah Zandan, CEO of Quantified Communications once noted in an article published by Inc. Magazine that there are several ways visionary leaders can best create an inspirational lingua franca for your organization:

·      Use more of the present tense versus future tense language when speaking about your organization

·      Talk more about your team more than you do about the institution or yourself

·      Use more sensory or feeling language to describe how things appear

This advice goes for the language you use in written materials, as well. Transmitting a “sense” of “who” your organization is can have equally motivating impacts on people that are (or want to be) associated with your team.

I’m also reminded of Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why when considering how to use language to inspire. In it, he posits that people are inspired by “a sense of purpose”. It is that connection that must be made in order for a resonant lingua franca to begin to take hold and reflect your culture.

Below are a series of questions leaders should be asking themselves on a regular basis when seeking to figure out if he is using language that reflects inspiration:

·      How do you transmit vision?

·      How do you praise good performance?

·      How do you constructively criticize misses?

·      How often are you “walking the shop floor”?

·      At what point in a process do you offer praise for good performance?

·      At what point in a process do you offer criticism for poor performance?

·      Do you check to see if the language you use to lead is understood by your audience?

·      Does the language you use to talk about that vision support your vision?

·      Are new employees “taught” your organization’s lingua franca in a systematic way?  

All of these questions and many others ought to be considered when thinking about the development of a robust and inviting culture in your organization. Let us know if any of these concepts are helpful as you begin changing your own workplace cultures.

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Alejandro Bodipo-Memba

Chicago, Illinois