March - April 2008
Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence
Wisdom to lead minds:
“The words with which you communicate determine the quality of your life.”
Ted Nicholas, US author and entrepreneur
Your Words Define Your Impact
How many times have you heard someone say “It’s just words”?
If they really meant it, they were missing a profound truth. All great leaders
make meaning for people by carefully choosing the words that get others excited
and acting on their ideas. Both choosing powerful words and ordering them in
powerful sequences are the leadership keys to unlocking attention, conviction
and action in others.
This has always been true of historical leaders from Hannibal to Napoleon to
Churchill. Perhaps it is even truer today with the chaotic chatter of thousands
of messages a day forcing everyone to protect themselves from increasing and
mostly unwelcome intrusions. As people batten down advertisers and other
would-be persuaders shout louder and more often – and it just seems to get worse.
The leader’s skill with language is much more than being able to cut through
this clutter. It also is about their ability to think clearly. The better
a leader can express his or her thoughts in clear evocative words, the
more clearly he or she actually thinks. Perhaps George Orwell said it best:
“…the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
For example, examine the following paragraph from a CEO’s letter in the report
of a major global financial group:
“Our care and support for our people remains an important priority. It is
their relationships and expertise that will ensure our business continues
to grow while we help customers during this period of relative economic
This looks ordinary and unremarkable because it is typical of most business
and government language today. At one level it seems a blinding flash of
the obvious, but is it really? Is it clear what “care and support or
our people constitutes”? Or how their relationships and expertise
will continue to grow the business, or help their customers? This is
the language of abstraction – so general as to be almost devoid of meaning.
And if Orwell is right, perhaps also of meaningful thought itself.
Ask yourself these questions of this passage and of others like it that
wash into your inbox, in tray and mail box:
- What pictures does it create in your mind?
- What feelings does it evoke?
- What actions would you consider upon reading it?
- What kind of leader would write it?
Noted linguist Richard Lederer calls concrete language the language
of control because it enables the leader to control the message rather
than cede it to the prospective follower. Abstractions require others
to work harder to assign meanings, and make it more likely they will
differ from the original intent.
So leadership language needs to be concrete to lead others to action.
The endless abstractions and woolly language of most of today’s
business and government language is both dull and uninspiring.
Much of it also is almost devoid of useful meaning and equates to
the mindless chatter characteristic of most day-time talk-back
While on one level we can argue that cutting through is difficult
given the competition of so many channels and messages. However,
on another we can see the opportunity created by the fact that
so much of it is devoid of meaning, emotion and audience focus.
Therefore those leaders who want to lead only have to take their
ideas seriously enough to package them in the language of leadership.
They will not only stand out, they also will think and act
more clearly, and people starving for real leadership will follow.
So how do they adopt this language of leadership? Start by thinking,
speaking and writing in concrete language – the simple words and phrases
that put interesting picture in our minds. And avoid the safe
abstractions and complications that have crept in to cripple
the business-speak of so many failing leaders of today.
More next month...
Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information
© 2006-2008 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
You are free to use material from the Leading Minds eZine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read: "By Geoff Kelly of Kelly Strategic Influence. Please visit Geoff's web site at www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au for additional articles and resources on earning support for your ideas and strategies." (Make sure the link is live if placed in an eZine or in a web site.)