Does Our Language Affect Our Leadership Skills?

Does Our Language Affect Our Leadership Skills?
February 2, 2016 Linda Murray

women's languageGreat leaders understand that their choice of language and communication has become the key driver of engagement, innovation, and performance in today’s competitive world. Communication is the critical link necessary to create bonds where respect, collaboration and cooperation can develop. It is what allows us to forge relationships based on mutual trust and benefit, rather than fear and need.

Communication is important to every leader, but what is communication, really? Is it limited to our choice of words? Is it just the language that we use when we speak with others, or is communication something more?

Is Leadership Really More About What We Say Rather Than What We Do?

One of the most controversial leadership topics today concerns the specific words that we use in our speech, and what women say when they talk to others.

Globally, news reports are filled with examples of the words women should now avoid if they want to be taken seriously and be “allowed” to lead. From actress Amy Schumer’s sketch, “I’m Sorry,” to former Google Executive, Ellen Petry Leanse’s LinkedIn article, Un Just,” women everywhere are being told to stop apologising and stop using “weak, feminine” words such as “just” because it is eroding their ability to lead. But, is this criticism founded? Can our ability to lead really be eroded by an apology or simple word choice?

Are We Really Leaders if We Allow Fear to Dictate Our Word Choices?

Should female leaders, or leaders of either gender, follow this latest leadership advice? Should all of us now avoid certain words because they have been traditionally viewed as “soft, weak, and feminine?”

Traditionally, women have been seen as caregivers because of their ability to empathise with others, and their leadership abilities have been dismissed because they were seen as less authoritative than men. While a hard driving and uncompromising attitude might have been enough to lead others in the 19th century, this traditionally masculine behavior is not enough to lead and succeed in today’s world.

As our world grows more connected, and each of us has more choices, the entities that are able to connect with and respond to the needs of others will be the organisations that grow and flourish. We are in desperate need of leaders that can build connections with others and increase understanding – so why are some pressing women to give up this perceived “natural” advantage?

Are we really eroding our leadership ability by using words that indicate empathy for the feelings of others? Will our ability to lead others suddenly improve if we change our words to those that are more “direct” and viewed as “masculine” because they are seen as less caring and more assertive and aggressive?

Language vs. Authenticity – How High is Your E.Q.?

The language that we use can give us the power to create a strong connection with others, but we can only establish bonds of trust and respect when our word choices are honest.

As leaders, we shouldn’t be afraid to use words that happen to have been traditionally viewed as “soft, weak and feminine” if those happen to be the words that will best allow us to create strong connections with others. As leaders, we should not be afraid to empathise with others and express our feelings about a bad situation or circumstance, even when it is out of our control, or theirs. We also should not be afraid to apologise.

Being honest and expressing our feelings, extending our empathy, is not showing weakness. It is using our emotional intelligence to build a strong bond forged with the elements of our common humanity.

Just as we shouldn’t fear taking action or using words that some might perceive as being weak, we also shouldn’t opt out of using direct action or words. Sometimes, there are circumstances that require more direct, assertive language. We also should not be afraid of being viewed as “masculine,” and fear being labeled “bossy,” or “domineering,” when we need to use this language.

We should have integrity; and we should use the language that allows us to best express our most authentic, honest self. We should lead and not be afraid to use whatever words or language that is required given the circumstances.

Integrity over Fashionable Trends

If we wish to improve our ability to lead then our focus should be on how to use communication to best forge that bond, that connection, with others. We can do this by making certain that our words match our actions and values and are thus part of our authentic language.

Rather than give in to fear, we must choose the words that will enable us to develop honest rapport and genuine relationships with others.

To choose anything else, anything less, is both artificial, and obvious. Basing our word choices solely on what’s currently “fashionable” will only create mistrust, disharmony and disengagement in the end.

Fashionable Fear or Actual Leadership – Which Do You Choose?

Should you stop apologising? Are you ready to drop, “just,” from your vocabulary? The answer really depends on whether or not you are ready to lead through inspiration, motivation and engagement rather than fear. If you are basing your language on how “masculine” or “feminine” certain words are perceived, it’s time to stop allowing trends and fear to guide you. It’s time to lead by shifting your focus and beginning to work on developing your confidence and vision for the future.


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