James Sudakow, Principal, CH Consulting, Inc.
In the business world these days, leaders at all levels have to play numerous roles to drive short and long term success and viability of their companies. Among one of the most important of these roles pertains to people. As leaders, we need to find ways to create forums where we can have the right discussions about the right topics with people at all levels of the organization. We need to do this not only to ensure that the company works and runs effectively and efficiently, but maybe more importantly we have to continuously find ways to engage and motivate our employees through good open and real communication. The more effective we are at the latter, the better we will be at creating dedicated “followership” – employees who are so behind us as their leaders that they will literally push through walls to help us and the company build and maintain success through both the good times and the hard times.
Of course, achieving this is always easier said than done. So what are some things that get in the way of building this dedicated followership?
One of the most important things we can all focus on is the language that we use. More and more in the corporate world today, our people want communication coming from authentic, sincere, and “human” leaders. And they want it in plain English without corporate-speak and corporate jargon. Why? Because most of us simply want to be able to relate to our leaders. The more relatable we are as leaders, the more likely our employees can find commonalities between themselves and us – that common ground being a big driver of the lengths people will or won’t go to support us.
So how can we use language that makes us more relatable? For starters, there are certain corporate expressions that we should simply make pacts with ourselves to never use again when talking to our people. Whereas there are many on the list of expressions to be trashed, here are three that I have completely removed from my vocabulary as a leader – although it took minor forms of shock treatment through the years to break my habit. Equally importantly, here are some ways I have replaced these expressions with more relatable language:
- Paradigm Shift: We all know that as leaders our job in many cases is to actually create paradigm shifts. We’ve got to change thinking or approaches to business in our industry. But talking about paradigm shifts to our employees doesn’t do much to make us relatable. When was the last time you talked about a paradigm shift at a family barbeque? Or when you went with friends to a basketball game? I know in my household, using that term with my wife would likely cause us to go into marital therapy, and if I tried it with my friends, I might just have fewer friends to try it with. So that being said, what should we tell people? I have found that we just need to let people know that we are going to be really making some big changes to the fundamentals of our business and how we do it so we can move things in a totally different direction. People get that without then needing to figure out how something like a paradigm shift fits into the equation.
- Human Capital / Leverage People as our Greatest Asset: It wasn’t too long ago that we all focused on referring to people as Human Capital and thinking about how we could more effectively get a return on investment from this human capital. The thought process behind it is actually good – we have to find a way to get the attention of all of us as leaders in a corporate environment where the language we use is finance and money. The only problem with this is that most of us people don’t really like to be called Human Capital. It’s impersonal and not very relatable. And whereas strategic, we don’t want to be called an asset, and we certainly don’t want to be “leveraged.” I remember an employee of mine years ago asking me, “aren’t corporate buyouts leveraged?” after I enthusiastically talked about how I was going to leverage my team better in the organization. So as leaders, what should we say to people that will resonate with them around this important concept? We can simply tell people that we know as leaders that the people in this company are what make this company what it is and that we care as much – or even more – about what we are putting into our people compared with other company investments. That is motivational and connects with people and still speaks to “value” we can achieve as a company through people.
- Glean: Lastly, we as leaders have the hard job of taking a lot of information – some of it very helpful and much of it useless – and pulling out of it the most meaningful and important things to create focus and motivation on our teams. So we certainly do have to “glean” things a lot. But for many people I have spoken with at different levels, this word creates a finger nails on the wall effect. It just generally rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Why? Because most of us don’t use that word in every-day life. I certainly don’t ask participants in learning modules I lead what they gleaned from the materials. I simply ask them if they understood the key points and knew what to do going forward from here. So why wouldn’t I use the same approach with my people at work?
As we all know, changing behavior around language isn’t easy. It is like any habit. Habits are hard to change alone. So for what it’s worth, years ago I asked one of my team members to actually correct me in all of our team meetings when I used any of these (and other) terms. Not only did it become comically and painfully obvious to me how much I was using them, but I also ironically ended up developing a stronger working relationship with my team simply for trying to change the behavior and getting them involved to help me. The act of working hard as a leader to make these changes helped me actually build followership. Eventually, I deleted these terms permanently from my corporate vocabulary. But to this day, those same employees still find a way to jokingly give me a hard time about what I used to sound like before I became a more relatable leader. I’m just happy that the joke is about my former self and not who I am as a leader today.
[Image courtesy of Nujalee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
About the Author
James Sudakow serves as the principal of CH Consulting, Inc., a boutique management and organizational effectiveness consulting practice he founded in 2010. He specializes in helping companies manage organizational transformation, create talent management strategies and programs that maximize employee capabilities and improve business performance. Before starting his own consultancy, James held leadership roles in several global multibillion-dollar organizations across the technology and health care industries. For more information, visit jamessudakow.com.