The language of leadership – are we getting it wrong?

We are constantly being defined by what good leadership is in the eyes of those who have come before us. The reality of any given situation or organisation is that leadership and what is required to make a good leader is different everywhere. Defining it by a single word or sentence is difficult and often inaccurate.

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How often do we read a blog or article that tells us exactly what it takes to be a good leader?

Snappy titles such as “10 things leaders should do,” “10 signs you are getting it right,” or “10 words all leaders should use” all reflect our need to find a quick win way to solve all our leadership challenges.

The truth is that if a child was asked what a good leader looks like they’d be able to tell you.

The reality is that if we sit back and reflect, we all know what a good leader looks like and we all know the traits of a good leader; resilient, good communication, humility, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, good decision maker or even be results orientated, be customer focused, have a vision etc, etc.

Equally, we all know what bad leadership looks like too and have suffered the consequences. This part isn’t rocket science. The holy grail we are really seeking involves how to take the words and make them a reality so here is my take:

In leadership we are obsessed with verbs and adverbs. In reality they are meaningless.

Understanding what is needed is never the issue that gets in the way. What really gets in the way is understanding what good looks like, what being people focused looks like, what having emotional intelligence looks like. We often jump straight to what we should be seeing instead of what it actually looks like in reality and practice. Leadership is about actions so the language of leadership needs to start moving away from adverbs and verbs and instead look at meaningful sentences involving adjectives.

A good leader is not a “good communicator,” instead a good leader listens to what their people have to say and acknowledges their needs as well as their own.

Leadership and what is required to make a good leader is different everywhere.

We are constantly being defined by what good leadership is in the eyes of those who have come before us. The reality of any given situation or organisation is that leadership and what is required to make a good leader is different everywhere. Defining it by a single word or sentence is difficult and often inaccurate.

Being a “good communicator” when leading a military team is different to being a “good communicator” when leading a team of IT consultants. We have to adapt our understanding of what good leadership is to the situation and the group we are leading. Having a set of buzz words we turn to to describe good leadership is useless, giving very little meaning in the diverse industries we have in today’s workplace. The language of leadership requires sentences describing what good looks like for your organisation is what we should be looking at.

A big part of Leadership is authenticity.

My final point is this and we’ve all been there; Striving for the next promotion and finally getting it involves a huge amount of anticipation. We attempt to think and behave in ways in which we perceive is necessary in order to encapsulate the capabilities of good leadership. The reality is that we can’t all be good at everything, so why do we try to be something new when we get promoted? Just be yourself! Understand the strengths of the team and how you can utilise everyone including yourself. That’s surely the true mark of good leadership. Changing to fit a previously prescribed persona is a sure fire way to bypass your real strengths and only focus on the areas that often result in very little benefit.

With that in mind, leaders have to have the skills to lead or will alienate those around them. Starting with an accurate lengthy definition of what everyone can expect from you as a leader is a good place to start. It’s one thing “defining” good leadership and another actually doing it. Leadership can never simply be defined by verbs and adverbs its defined by action. It’s what we do as leaders and how we do it that counts.

The very art of language in leadership is to connect. Is your language enabling people to connect?

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