..We talk a lot about leadership and we have created many different names or styles of leadership: servant leadership, spiritual leadership, transformational leadership, kinetic leadership, situational leadership, and transactional leadership it name just a few. Then we get into styles: charismatic, authoritarian, democratic, coercive, coaching to name just a few. Confused?
As a leader you are someone who has people reporting to you or you are leading or creating a company or you are creating a change through an organization or group. You have a vision and are working with others to make something happen. Even as a CEO with a stable paying position where you might feel you have the time and resources to delve into finding out what kind of leader you are and what kind of leader might work better in your situation, it can feel a bit like extra work and a deviation from your 'real' tasks - figuring out all this leadership stuff.
I've worked to make it simple for the folks I work with. What is the impact you want to have and then how do yo get there? It doesn't really matter what the form or style is called, what really matters is are yo getting the results, the actions from others, that you need to see? If not then maybe it's as simple as reflecting on the language you use.
We communicate in words, with the assumption that the words we use are understood in the same way by everyone. We know that's really not true. Add in tone of voice and everyone's history and family baggage brings in additional meanings that you have not even considered. The words we use make a huge difference! Fortunately, what we are learning about how our brains work through chemistry and neural networks, is easily translated into a more precise understanding of how people are impacted by words.
Our brains are hardwired in certain ways. When we feel the need to protect our selves, or when we feel distrust, our Amygdala is activated by the chemical cortisol. In this state we are only paying attention to the words that help us deal with the fight or flight responses we feel we need to use to be safe. Visioning doesn't cut it, but rewards or penalty's are relevant.
On the other hand, if we trust the situation and those around us then our Prefrontal Cortex is activated by the chemical oxytocin and suddenly information that was hidden or seen as irrelevant in the protection mode becomes available and we become innovative and willing to co-create. It is the words that we choose to use that enables us to 'up regulate' or 'down regulate' our brain chemistry.
So, think about the words and tone of voice you use. Are you stimulating a felt need for self protection or generating trust and innovation? The choice is yours...
I went to see Spy with a friend the other day. This is not a movie I’d have chosen and truthfully, I knew very little about it, but I loved it! It was funny and clever and it was a very nice model of pushing women forward. The language, however, was full of F bombs. Now that sort of fit the content, but both my friend and I felt the need to comment on the rather excessive use of that word. I, for one, have always wondered why an act that gives such pleasure would be used to show such disrespect.
Sharon Ellison, in her book Taking the War Out Of Our Words: The art of powerful non-defensive communication gives example after example of how we seek to hide and ‘protect’ ourselves through our choice of words. She demonstrates how our choices of words (tone and body language too) can cause lasting harm, prevent us from achieving what we say we want, and put us on a path of no return as we engage in power struggles instead of co-creation. Words matter!
So many young people use ‘bad’ words to make a statement about their ‘freedom’ and ‘adulthood’. They use the constant stream of epithets to declare that they are big, bad and powerful, at a time when all of those things are up for grabs. I remember doing just that at a certain time in my life. I stopped because I didn’t want people to think of me the same way as I thought about people who used foul language. I also sensed the weakness inherent in using language to demonstrate power when real confidence was lacking. After all, if I was really big, bad and powerful why would I need to use slang and cursing to prove it?
Relationships and Words
Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou, held a rich discussion on the damage of using ‘it’. He described how distancing that word is in relationships. The word ‘it’ objectifies the world and makes everything an ‘other,’ an other that is less than, one that can be/should be ‘managed.’ Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Anishinaabe tribe makes that same point in a more lyrical and heartfelt way in her article, Alternative Grammar: A new language of kinship in the 2015 spring issue of Yes! Her solution, however, is one I find thrilling and very clever. There is no word for the ‘other’ that is relationship-based, in the English language. We need another word to replace ‘it,’ she writes. Her choice is ‘ki’ to refer to living things. Her example, “Oh, that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.” Makes me feel warm and close to the tree. For me the difference is profound – and that’s the point!
Words Impact Climate Change
We ask ourselves what we can do to end global warming and climate change, but language is not the first place we look. Yet we will not make this shift without changing our relationship to the natural world and a good first place to start would be language. I challenge you to take this up in your own life. Replace ‘it’ with ‘ki’ – the plural is ‘kin,’ her example, “Look kin are flying south for the winter, come back soon.” (nice or what?) in your own speech. By doing this you will do a number of things. You will become a warrior for the Earth as you risk the taunting of your friends; you will engage yourself in your own reframing and in a rebuilding of your own awareness of your relationship with life; you will become a bright light – showing the way into the future; and, you will become a model for the kind of deep and lasting change we need to make – as a people – to ensure that we can live on this dear Earth for generations to come.
If you find this small task too daunting, then ask yourself how likely is it others will make the changes you see they need to make? Look into your own commitment and see what it lacks to make the difference that needs to be made. Listen to your own rationalizations about how this is ‘not important,’ too small to make and ‘real’ difference, or what other ‘reason’ you give yourself to not take this very small step.
Climate change requires behavior change, but we won’t change our behavior if WE don’t change our behavior. We gripe about changing light bulbs, about using alternative – anything, and we have ‘real’ and easy excuses about why our actions won’t make an impact, so we can justify our own reluctance to change. At the same time we desperately hope that someone else will make those changes, that someone else will do what must be done, that someone else will save us.
Change your language and change your relationship with all the other beings on the planet. If we can change that, then changing our actions will be a piece of cake. We will find it offensive to do harm to what we love. We will find it outrageous to kill a tree to make a parking lot. We will reduce our own water use so that fish and wildlife may live, as see that action as an obvious one. The first value of the sustainable Values Set is: All actions create the conditions that support Life. Our language should reflect that!
Kathryn Alexander, MA: futurist, speaker, author CIQ coach, her systems thinking approach to values and ethics enables deep change by impactful leaders.