A Leader's Words Matter

A Leader’s Words Matter

“It’s only words, and words are all I have, To take your heart away.” Bee Gees (1968)

Whether it’s love or leadership, words matter. Actions, of course, move the world. But so do the words and phrases that accompany them.

Reframing “a word or phrase” can open minds and conversation rather than suggesting a need to defend yourself. Here’s an example from another context of how shifting a word or phrase can make a difference in the feelings that are engendered.

If you heard the phrase, “a hydromechanical process of horizontal drilling using water for the purpose of liberating natural gas and oil, you might not recognize it as “fracking.” Saying that word almost makes your ears hurt.

The synonyms I found for fracturing (from which fracking is derived), are splitting, cracking, rupturing, splintering, and smashing. Certainly descriptive, but on their face emphasizing the destructive nature of the process rather than the valuable commercial outcome.[There is not room here to discuss environmental outcomes.]

Some of the words for describing leaders in the last mid-century included “tough, demanding, directive, stoic, remote, unapproachable,” etc. Many leaders viewed those descriptors as high praise. “I must be doing something right!” Sounds a bit like leadership as “fracking.”

In the latter part of the 20th century, those accepted (or tolerated) “old school” descriptors gave way to ones including “strong, disciplined, decisive, and results-oriented.” In some cases, the “old school” attitudes shifted along with the descriptions. I was one of those leaders who was slower to evolve in practice than did the vocabulary. The then-new descriptors sounded more like “a hydromechanical process–horizontal drilling using water…” than fracking. A step in the right direction and many former “old schoolers” were pulled along.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the term “servant leadership” was defined and explored by Robert K. Greenleaf. He wrote first about “old school” leadership: “…traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid’ . . . perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”

But, “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong… the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. The best test is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”

The term “servant-leadership” and the words to describe it, were the seeds of a shift that has been embraced by progressive leaders since then.

Sometimes, when introducing certain words and concepts into an environment where it could cause discomfort or dissonance, it is necessary to first use ones that require less of the listener. Think of them as stepping stones from “what was” to “what’s now” and “what’s next.

These evolving words and concepts may have represented the beginning of some humanity in leadership by suggesting there is room for a heart in the actions and words of a leader.

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Will Keiper, co-author with Steve Chandler of The Leader and The Coach–The Art of Humanity in Leadership https://tinyurl.com/bdfzffmr and The Well-Being Bucket List: 29 Mindful Choices

[Steve’s Online Coaching School https://www.coachingprosperityschool.info/

#leadership #leadershipcoaching #businesscoach #coachingleaders #leadershipdevelopment #executivecoaching


The Leader & The Coach by Steve Chandler & Will Keiper
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