New leaders understand the power of words
Words are the code that programs our thoughts and ultimately cultivate our internal and external environment that directs our behavior.
To transform culture, we must reprogram the language, firstly of the leaders, and then the whole organization.
Such is the power of language, that as well as being the code that programs our minds, language shapes our thinking, behavior, feelings and the quality of our relationships and lives. In fact the word is so powerful that it literally shapes our beliefs. So strong, it can resonate forever, because words don’t just have energy, they are energy; energy that has the power of the atom.
Words can create great emotions of love that transforms lives for the better, or ignite a world war and destroy the planet and all of life on it.
As the great Manly Hall said ‘Words can be used, misused and abused.’ He also said that words work on three levels: those that evoke truth, evoke hope, or evoke fear.’
Let’s use his model to explore just how much the language of an organization can affect its ability to survive and prosper through disruptive change.
Think of words as the currency of culture. Poor currency, lousy culture. Rich currency, great culture.
Harnessing the power of language is not a nice to have, in this age of disruption, it is our survival kit.
Integrity and authenticity are critical. This is not because these attributes are a nice to have on a poster on the wall, but because the truth has the power to create infinite possibility, enabling us to do the innovating and not be disrupted.
The language of truth is real because it comes from the heart, not just the head. It emotionalizes, not just rationalizes, yet it has clarity and wisdom. It releases high creative energy that inspires people to follow you into the unknown, even though they know you don’t fully know where you’re going. They intuitively trust that where you are going will be better than where they are currently, because you have the true passion to create a vision, and the belief, courage and resilience to stay on the rocky path until you get there.
Sadly, in many organizations, though they want to change and innovate, their language is keeping people’s beliefs and habitual frame of thinking stuck in scarcity, limit, impossibility, problems, difficulty, misery, conflict and reliance on others.
The fact is, the language of truth does not mean continuously telling people how it is ‘right now.’ E.g.
- We have to make ‘cuts’
- Times are ‘hard’ and ‘difficult.’
- We must ‘do more with less.’
- We continue to be in a period of ‘austerity.’
- We must all be willing to ‘suffer for however long it takes.’
- Times are going to get ‘even tougher.’
- Debt, debt, debt, no money, no budgets.
- Doom, gloom and more misery.
- Dis-ease…depression…even more misery.
Though you could argue that ‘we have to tell people the way it is, as this is the ‘fact,’ the ‘truth.’
Only the real fact is that this is low energy and if we keep on programming our people’s subconscious about the ‘way it is right now,’ we will keep on getting more and more of ‘what is right now.‘
I have had many leaders tell me that ‘people like to hear it the way it is,’ calling this ‘straight talking.’
Figures don’t lie. The shocking figures of disengagement is workplaces across the globe clearly speaks the truth. The truth is that people will not engage on a journey that has no personal motive for them, regardless of how ‘straight’ the talking is, and putting the fear of god into them is not a personal motive for them to engage.
When it comes to change and innovation, ‘truth’ is defined by a leader’s power of intention to create a vision of something great that will improve the world and the lives of people. It is then about inspiring people to seize the opportunity and come with them on a journey that will manifest that vision into the new and exciting reality of the future.
The truth is, it takes no leadership skill to tell people the ‘way it is right now.’
Humans need ‘hope’ that tomorrow is going to be better than today
Truth leads to hope. Hope is the energy that fuels human growth and evolution. Without hope, humans as a species would perish.
The language of hope is framed in optimism, values and confident expectation. It resides primarily in the faculty of our imagination, not the memory. It is not about what is, but about opening up our minds to seek possibility about what could be…
‘What would happen if we could create new paradigms?’ It develops new beliefs. The language of hope empowers people to think for themselves, be present and mindful, it releases the need to control others, yet it inspires people to engage, learn and create, rather than worry and despair.
The language of hope is high energy, collaborative, strong and ‘commanding,’ but not ‘controlling.’ E.g.
- The road ahead is ‘challenging,’ we all know that. We must also recognise that it is ‘full of endless opportunity’ that will ‘enrich’ all of our lives; it is up to ‘all of us to create it.’
- We can develop ‘innovative ways of working’ that will create ‘a great place to work’ and a ‘great company that people want to do business with.’ These new and innovative ways of working, that ‘we will discover and develop together’ will naturally ‘save us time, energy, resources, money’ and make us more ‘agile’ and ‘sustainable’ as a business. This means ‘greater potential’ for us all.
If we focus on the keywords and phrases, note that they provide personal motive to engage the recipients, are inspiring and solution (forward) orientated, rather than problem (backward) orientated, and the language evokes collaboration and social inclusion.
Fear is the tool of control and it’s a powerful tool and one that is used extensively by politicians, the mass media, some organizations and individuals. Fear is the energy that very often can fuel failure, isolation, low self-esteem, disease and all the other negative things that add to human misery pot.
The language of fear is the opposite of ‘commanding’ and ‘mindful,’ it is ‘confusing’ to the brain, as the recipient has to process more information about what you do actually want them to do. This language is in ‘rules’ based heaven, telling people what ‘not’ to do, what they shouldn’t do, or think, what they can’t do etc.
As well as the language above in telling people ‘the way it is now,’ the language of fear includes any words that frame negative thinking that is closed, difficult, non-inclusive, sweeping generalization, blaming and as we said already, can imply an underlying threat to the recipients. E.g.
- We ‘can’t’ do that…
- Times are ‘tough,’ the organization will ‘have’ to take some ‘difficult decisions’ in the ‘future.’
- Don’t do that…
- You are ‘not allowed’ to do that…
- You ‘shouldn’t…’
- That ‘won’t’ work, we have ‘tried’ it before…
- Corporate jargon….of everyday working life (not technical, or scientific)
Living in a disruptive world is confusing enough without adding to that confusion. It is time to reprogram organizational language to be commanding, clear and inspiring; a language fueled by values, not rules. A language that evokes trust, collaboration, creativity, innovation and better well-being in the workplace.