The language leaders use needs to align with their aspirations for their reputation, team and organization. When I listen to the rhetoric of the current political campaign, and how many people seem to be embracing language that reminds me of schoolyard bullies, it is not a model that I want to see replicated in business (or anywhere else for that matter). In a world where anyone can easily be recorded, “live streamed” in seconds and where their words can be tweeted and quickly go viral, skillful language is more important than ever. And if you are a global leader, the stakes are even higher because many countries have higher standards than ours with regards to the language expected of business leaders.
I was talking with a senior executive in a large, global organization, discussing one of his leaders. He thought highly of this leader and had supported the individual being promoted. He clearly cared about this person and wanted them to be successful. At one point he said, “I think [this person’s] lifestyle is difficult for some people, but not me.” After inquiring what he meant by “lifestyle”, he clarified that he was talking about a homosexual relationship. I am not an expert, but I am pretty sure that most gay people think of themselves just like heterosexuals, as having a “life” and not a lifestyle. It also is preferable I believe to describe whether a person is straight or gay (or anywhere on the continuum) as their sexual “orientation”. Connected, current leaders know this and if they want to represent themselves well, they should.
When I work with leaders I always want them to be as informed, intelligent, inclusive and astute as possible. This is not a superficial desire on my part. I am motivated to help clients create the highest commitment and performance on their teams and in their organizations. My role with clients often allows me access to hearing things that their team might not share openly with others. They trust they can tell me because they know I am committed to confidentiality and direct communication (direct from them and not me). I can tell you that even if you think you don’t have a person who is gay on your team or on a team with whom you work closely, you are probably wrong.
There are myriad other examples where people may prefer to keep information about themselves private: issues of identity, gender, family, health, religious and political affiliation. So when leaders use language that may cause an individual or group to disengage (even when they don’t mean to), what I am most aware of these days is how unskillful they look. Considering how our language might hurt, bother or demotivate another person is not political correctness, it is smart, skillful and compassionate.
None of us is perfect. We all have blind spots and lack awareness on ways of being that are unfamiliar or unknown to us. The world is only becoming more transparent. I anticipate that the next generation of business leaders will be more open in all sorts of ways. I am excited about this. Let’s prepare right now by becoming more knowledgeable and mindful of the language we use and even more important, consider how our beliefs and values when expressed might be experienced by others. This comes with the commitment to lead. The more prepared you are to connect with a wide range of people, the more you will be able to inspire and motivate others to their best contribution, and the more capable your organization will be to meet whatever demands come your way.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.