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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Picking Good Managers

Those of you familiar with business management literature are surely familiar with the works of Peter Drucker. His contributions to the advancement of the modern corporation are numerous. In fact, Drucker is often cited as the most influential thought leader in modern business management movement.

Drucker is credited with inventing the concept of management by objectives, coining the term “knowledge worker” and founding one of the first-ever Executive MBA programs for working professionals at Claremont Graduate University. He was also widely known as the grandfather of marketing and modern business consulting.

Drucker was keen on understanding the success (or failure) of businesses through the management process, which consists of planning, organizing, leading and controlling. Understanding the process and its concepts is key to preparing your managers to be successful. 

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The role of a manager is to engage his or her team members to perform at their best by  providing direction, offering feedback and setting goals. According to a study by Gallup, managers are often the most important hires in any organization. They account for at least 70% of employee engagement in the workplace. Yet more than 80% of the time people are hired to become managers/supervisors it is because they were good at their previous job.

However, “being good” at a task doesn’t guarantee that a person will be able to effectively lead others through that same task. The best managers are most often proficient in four skills that speak to effective leadership:

  • Identifying Talent: Taking note of the skills, knowledge, education and experience necessary for the roles you have on your team.
  • Setting Expectations: Effectively communicating the contributions, responsibilities and needs of an employee to ensure clear understanding of the parameters of the job. 
  • Motivating Employees: Finding the most appropriate and effective ways to recognize the unique factors that motivate your employee to perform at optimal levels. 
  • Developing People: Recognizing a persons abilities, strengths and tendencies in the workplace and developing a plan to leverage those qualities to improve your team's performance. 

In his book The Practice of Management, Drucker stated that “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. .... Therefore, any business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation.” So, if he were to be believed, it stands to reason why Drucker would point out the two primary activities that bridge the gap between the customer and business. And that's where managers come in.

The best managers are an organization's glue. They create and hold together the scores of people who power high-performing organizations.

Think about the best managers you've ever worked for. What were the qualities that made them so good as a leader? 

Share you thoughts about the best managers you've worked with in the Comments Section below!

Why Diverse Perspectives Are Important

Darren Nichols, a member of the OVP Management Consulting Group team, had a guest editorial published on the TribLive website on the subject of police profiling of black men and the killing of 17 year old Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, PA by local police. 

The OVP Leadership Blog is normally reserved for discussions about ways people can become better leaders in their organizations. But, we decided to highlight Darren's piece to shine a light on an issue that often confronts leaders of organizations and communities: diversity of perspective. 

Similar to the Starbuck's incident in Philadelphia earlier this year (see previous OVP Leadership Blog: Do Your Employees Reflect Your Best Intentions?), we see how a lack of diverse perspectives can potentially influence how people of color can be treated in public spaces. And this has consequences to leaders of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that operate in communities around the country.

OVP spoke with Darren to understand why he felt it was important to share his experience with being stopped by police. We wanted to know how these occurrences impacted him in his professional work, and if there were lessons that leaders could learn from. It turns out there are.

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Darren Nichols

Darren shared the following: "The point of this is not to simply share my bad experiences with the police or to imply all are bad... It’s also not to inject race as my scenarios involved officers who were black and white....(T)his is meant to point out that too many people of color have similar stories. And each span socio-economic backgrounds."

As leaders of people, it is important to be empathetic and understanding of the experiences your teammates have that can have an impact on work performance. Remember there are several meta-skills that leaders need to be effective, including empathy. 

We thank Darren for his courage in sharing his experience. 

Why Organizations Need Process Frameworks

Most any organization that you encounter is likely to have a process for virtually any activity. That framework is often viewed as an outward manifestation of an organization's culture. 

How often have you heard the phrase "That's just how we do it here."? I've found that responses like that are usually a sneak peek into what it must be like to be a part of that organization. It is also a kind of leading indicator to a business' process framework. In short, its a way to gauge how groups choose to solve problems. 

In the lexicon of Continuous Improvement Process Design work, a process framework is a way to visualize the effectiveness of a process by employing three distinct sets of tools: 

  • Process Definition Systems: Pre-specification materials like process maps & checklists that help practitioners with problem identification, problem measurement and the development of process designs.
  • Process Management Systems: Root Cause Analysis findings that signal & surface problems, allow for rapid experimentation and utilize countermeasures to establish stability within the process in question.
  • Process Innovation Systems: Measurement data of processes that creates a launching pad for the targeting of newer and improved goals to be reached by the process being improved upon. 

So, what are you supposed to do with this information? What's in it for your organization?

You can start by defining as specifically as you can, what your processes are. Do you know why you do what you do? Do you know what your processes are supposed to look like? You should examine whether the way things have always been done is actually working. This deep examination can get you closer to identifying problems your organization is facing and the best solutions for those problems.  

Other approaches to sketching out Process Frameworks include interviewing employees about what and how they do their jobs, observing (aka Go-and-See) how employees do their jobs and asking key questions about how they are able to measure success, repeat it and course correct when needed. 

What this process work will do for your organization is help you organize your priority processes and offer you ways to find efficiencies, decrease waste and save money.

At OVP Management Consulting Group Inc. we believe helping clients determine what kind of problem-solving organization they are is a great way to begin any culture change or change management process. And asking the kinds of questions that start with, "How do you know...?" is a great way to establish baselines for your process framework. 

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