Jun 14, 2022

Learning to speak the language of leadership 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela knew that language goes far beyond words. All languages represent the culture, history, and beliefs of a community. It’s the same with the language of leadership.

What is the common language of leadership?

Do you remember the last time you were in a foreign country and tried to find your hotel or closest restaurant? When you were misunderstood or faced with blank faces, did you panic and get frustrated? Perhaps you laughed at yourself trying to explain things as if you were playing charades? 

Effective communication means knowing how to use words. It also means understanding all the assumptions and beliefs behind those words. Furthermore, did you know that there are 6 times more words in English than in French? Does that make the English more precise or more perfect in our search for exactness? 

The business world is just like any foreign country. Every organization develops its own set of formal and informal ways of doing things, including how it uses the language of leadership. Moreover, every organization has a specific set of values, processes, and demographics. These together create a culture that demands particular leadership characteristics.

No matter what type of leader you are, it’s important to build a framework to create a common language of leadership for your organization. Here are three steps to get started: 

  • Step 2 – Tie your business goals to your company values. Values such as helping each other and being creative go much further if the leaders are talking about them and acting on them. In this case, the language of leadership means being vulnerable to failure and asking for help from other teams.
  • Step 3 – Reward the right behaviors. Successful leaders don’t just focus on the end result. Their language of leadership also includes highlighting the positive steps taken to get those results.

The science of language

Understanding leadership language means knowing how the mind operates. As leading speechwriter Simon Lancaster states in his book “Winning Minds: Secrets from the Language of Leadership”, people follow leaders who “offer the promise of safety and rewards”.

The question is how do leaders get that promise across? Many will tell you that this depends on their leadership skills, including the ability to build relationships. There’s actually something much deeper going on with the language of leadership. 

Today, neuroscience tells us something that Aristotle learned through observation in Ancient Greece. Many of us like to think we are logical thinkers. The reality is that emotions drive 80% of our decisions, according to this article on emotions versus logic. The art becomes knowing how to balance your emotional and logical intelligence as all great leaders know. 

Aristotle called this balancing the ethos, pathos, and logos. Another way to think of it is that your instinct first tells you if you can trust someone. Then, your emotions, or pathos, kick in releasing various hormones into the brain. These bias you whether you like it or not. The result is that the logical mind, the logos, fits in whatever logic it thinks is appropriate, regardless of accuracy.

Think back to any great speech or writing you ever came across. Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream comes to mind. No one ever forgets the feelings that speech creates. 

How does transformational leadership leverage Aristotle’s 3 aspects to win hearts and minds?

  • Ethos or building credibility – Effective leadership starts by building trusting relationships and motivating your followers. The best leaders do this well with empathy and vulnerability. They also know when to share stories and metaphors that make people feel connected.
  • Pathos or connecting emotionally – The words leaders prioritize people and relationships rather than tasks and processes. On top of this, emotionally intelligent leaders build communities and bind people to their vision. 
  • Logos or presenting a logical message – Regardless of emotions, messages still need to be effectively communicated with a clear structure. This often works best with simple but powerful techniques. For example, presenting information in 3s, repeating sections, and using the power of rhetorical questions. The mind likes patterns and it loves feeling included when listening to the language of leadership.  

Characteristics of the language of leadership 

Effective leadership means leveraging powerful tools to get the right language of leadership. Essentially, top leaders apply their soft skills to build credibility with their followers. They connect emotionally and then follow with a clear and logical message. Naturally, this message leverages the values and beliefs of the inherent culture.

Soft skills don’t necessarily come naturally. That’s why it’s important to have clear leadership development programs that focus on learning within the limbic system. That’s where we process our feelings and impulses that impact our ability to connect with emotions. 

Everyone is different and leaders need tailored support to develop a strong language of leadership. They also need a safe space to open up emotionally and learn how emotions impact behaviors. Leadership coaches are adept at providing that space. In fact, they take leaders on a journey to discover their unique traits and identity. That’s how those leaders leverage the language of leadership for success.

Leadership is an art with a powerful concoction of secret ingredients unique to each leader and context.

These traits, listed below, support the right leadership words. Consider also how each of them is critical in learning a new language and culture. 

  • Emotional intelligence – The language of leadership involves self-awareness but it also requires empathy and social skill. Leaders who resolve conflict and balance tensions will more naturally create rapport and trust. Most of us know intuitively that we need emotional intelligence to learn another language. Today, studies prove to us that emotionally intelligent people apply a wider range of language learning strategies resulting in greater success. 
  • Action-focused – Team members need to be focused on a vision while understanding what really drives people to deliver. Again, we all need focus and a well-defined plan to learn languages. 
  • Respect and humility – The language of leadership is inclusive and supportive. Furthermore, the mindful leader prioritizes others’ needs whilst balancing their own. Moreover, with humility, we can better listen. We can then more easily observe the subtle cues that constitute communication, including the language of leadership. 
  • Adaptability and flexibility – Learning any language demands flexibility and suspending judgment of assumptions. Likewise, the language of leadership drives adaptability.

Developing your organization’s language of leadership 

Communication is the difference between great leadership and good leaders. To win hearts and minds though, leaders need self-awareness, among other soft skills and the language of leadership. These don’t come naturally though. That’s why, at Lingo Live, we carefully select our coaches to be adept at combining emotions with logic to transform leaders.

At Lingo Live, we strongly believe in providing an adaptable and tailored coaching program. Through our platform, leadership and management get the space to explore and practice their own language. Moreover, through our language coaching, leaders can focus on developing their communication. They get to fine-tune their language of leadership with a personal ally to then inspire their teams to push on to the next level. 

All leaders can be coached to apply the perfect blend of compassion, vulnerability, and flexibility. This allows them to cater to instinct, emotion, and logic such that they can motivate, inspire and rally the support they also require. That’s how great leaders move people to action and deliver their vision of the world. And as Simon Sinek succinctly reminds us, “leadership requires two things; a vision of the world that does not yet exist and the ability to communicate it”.


Communication, Leadership

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