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The Language of Leadership Development

August 8, 2012


A scholar once observed that “language is reality.”

At first glance, this expression may seem obtuse. But, make no mistake, this is not idle philosophical babble. In today’s globalized society, colleagues are frequently separated by boundaries of geography, culture, and even time–working together in spite of great distances and differences. In this asynchronous world–in which email is the most prevalent form of communication, meetings are often held with one or more remote participants and are always rushed–every interaction, every word, has the potential for great impact, and must be seized.

The language we use is more important than ever. This is especially true for leadership development.

Consider, for a moment, the daily challenges presented by your job now. Then, consider how much more challenging you would find your job if each of your colleagues spoke a different language. Sounds impossible? Indeed it does. Sound like a preposterous example? It shouldn’t. Organizations across the globe suffer from this very syndrome, emerging as neo-Towers of Babel. This syndrome takes root when leadership development efforts are decentralized and asynchronous. Consequently, what leadership means, and what it means to be a leader in your organization, differs from person to person, team to team, department to department, confounding progress.

In contrast, the ideal state of leadership development is exemplified when an organization adopts and rallies around a single leadership model, a single ideal of what leadership means for your organization. One of the surest ways to achieve this ideal state is to adopt the same leadership development language throughout your organization. When done successfully, with expert guidance, the concepts become integral to your culture, become part and parcel of your daily work, become the underpinnings of all initiatives, no matter how large or small. Components of your model cease to be mere words and instead become ideals–ideals to which to aspire. And, as these words become ideals, and the language resonates throughout an organization, employees begin talking about their own development in terms of the organization’s leadership model. What’s more, this language becomes abundantly clear to outsiders–your partners and your clients will sense the harmony, the progress, the intentionality, and the aspiration.

So, if language is reality, each of us has a choice. Do we want our leadership reality to be discordant and decentralized? Or do we want leadership in our organization to be an essential element of our culture, resonating in all our work, reinforcing our ideals?

What’s your organization’s leadership reality?


About the Author:

Ashley Wollam is Program Manager at Linkage, responsible for its Global Institute for Leadership Development. A life-long, passionate student of leadership, Ashley received his early leadership training at the McDonough Center for Leadership and Business at Marietta College, one of the first undergraduate leadership programs in the country.

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