Nov 29, 2016

Leading before speaking? Definitely a backwards order!

With such promising individuals from all over the world working for tech companies, there is unsurprisingly a growing trend to promote from within. However, tech companies face some unique issues with hiring for leadership positions within the tech field: being a great programmer does not equate to being a great leader, as many important leadership skills are not taught or emphasized in education (despite their value). To combat this, tech companies have wisely chosen to provide their high potential employees with leadership training to equip them with the managerial skills to effectively lead a team. Great leaders are integral to a successful company because a great leader unites the people they manage and communicates with them effectively to ensure progress and satisfaction within the workplace.

As many engineers working in tech companies are now being hired from all over the world, a new element has been emphasized in the work dynamic- English as a non-native language. Many high potential employees are overlooked for promotions into managerial roles, even after going through leadership courses. At English speaking companies, traditional leadership training will not be effective until the employee is confident and articulate when speaking English, making it impossible to address leadership skills in non-native English speakers without first addressing communication skills in English. Effective communication is intrinsic to good leadership and forms a basis for which these skills are learned. If English barriers prevent employees from being able to communicate confidently and effectively, how will they be able to lead confidently and effectively?


Situated Language Learning is the Best of Both Worlds

Improving language ability while simultaneously acquiring leadership skills is efficient and effective. Language learning is much more than vocabulary and grammar. Using language adequately in different contexts is the whole reason behind learning a language-language is learned to communicate. This seems obvious, but then why aren’t students taught language from a communication standpoint first? Instead of learning basic conversation, and building on it, practicing in different situations, students learn lists of words which are promptly forgotten because there is no context in which they are learned. Learning work-related skills, such as the communication skills necessary to be a good leader, puts language learning into perspective and allows a student practice language properly and observe the place of language in different situations. It also pushes the learner out of their comfort zone by opening them up to new situations, which is where real growth happens.

So then, what are some ways in which language learning assists in learning leadership skills? Here are some examples:


1. Articulating Clear Goals

A primary job of a manager is to create and communicate clear goals to team members and any miscommunications can set projects back, cause frustrations and create unhappy team members. Confusion wastes time and makes people less productive, so effectively voicing goals and ambitions is necessary to efficiently manage work. Being a good speaker and writer is imperative to being a good leader. Being able to express not only ideas, but desired outcomes of these ideas, is necessary to have a team that works well together. Learning to articulate thoughts clearly and organize ideas makes it easy for the audience to follow ideas and stay engaged.


2. Confidence

Non-native speakers often have the issue of feeling confident and comfortable while expressing themselves in another language. Many ESL students point out that is not the ideas that they struggle with, but the delivery of them. While they may just be nervous to make a grammatical mistake, self-conscious about needing to talk slowly, or embarrassed about a thick accent, the employee’s hesitancy often comes off as uncertainty about the idea or decision.

The appearance of uncertainty sends negative signals to the team and can make them question the authority of the decision. Confidence is also key when dealing with dissension- while a leader should be open to other viewpoints, they must have the confidence to stand by and support their own decisions when others question them. People trust and want to follow someone who is confident.

English coaches help to identify the source of the fear (grammar troubles, pronunciation challenges, cultural differences etc.) and provide a safe environment to practice and build confidence with real-time feedback.


3. The Art of Persuasion

Whether encouraging their team to buy in once a decision has been made or acting as a representatives of their team in cross departmental settings, leaders must constantly persuade others. Cultural differences and language challenges often make it difficult for non-native English speakers to create a persuasive argument.

When presenting an argument, the phrasing of an idea is just as important as the idea itself. For Americans, the most persuasive people use carefully chosen vocabulary, stress on the right phrases and carefully placed metaphors to evoke an emotion and get others to buy into their ideas. People are more likely to listen and agree with the more eloquent speaker in a debate. The phrasing of an idea is just as important as the idea itself. Not having adequate vocabulary renders expressing ideas elegantly yet concisely impossible. Nothing bores an audience like rambling, but that is exactly what happens when the speaker doesn’t know a word and has to describe around it to convey meaning.

For non-native speakers, not understanding how to persuade in the US or another English speaking country serves as a barrier for effective persuasion. For example, persuasion in the US tends to evoke both emotive and logical arguments- this is not true world-wide. Language learning gives them the cultural background necessary for effective persuasion.

In short, good communication is the foundation of being a good leader and learning English allows non-native speakers to build skills in leadership while becoming more fluent,increasing their value in managerial and leadership positions. Non-native speakers are at an unfair disadvantage if they are not given the opportunity to improve and hone their language skills, and companies risk missing real talent and opportunities for growth within.


– Megan Harwell, Lingo Live Coach

Interested in reading more by Lingo Live coaches?

Check out Improving Small Talk Skills and Advocating for Your Ideas.



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