The language and vocabulary of leaders

As marginal as it may seem at the first appearance, actually the vocabulary of a leader has a tremendous impact. The use of an appropriate vocabulary impacts at two different levels: at an instinctive level, by asserting the leader’s knowledge and charisma; at a practical level by separating roles and smoothing relations as well as motivating the team. At instinctive level the simple fact that, as a leader, you use a particular set of words or you construct your phrases in a particular way, opening a direct channel with others and making easier the influencing effect. At practical level the use you make of language sets or confirms your role as a leader, makes relations fluid (relations and respect always benefit when roles are clear) and motivate the team who sees a competent leader.
Language, and vocabulary, are very important for a leader as they can open the communication with the team when used appropriately or raise barriers when used inappropriately. Effective leaders communicate differently than others and this translates into motivation, mobilization of teams and casting vision.
Human beings are the fastest processors you’ll find around for still a very long time, especially if you consider that as living beings we are not only processing data based on numbers or yes and no, but we are simultaneously processing data and emotions, sensations, feelings each of which has again an innumerable number of nuances. A human being is able to process all this information in a fraction of a second and return you the verdict in terms of I’m available / I’m not available do know more and go farther.
Nobody knows who you are, what is your inspiration, what level of charismatic influence you can reach, how strong and determined you are towards your goals. Nobody knows what kind of leader you are and this is perfectly legitimate if these people have never met you before. Your past experiences have only a relative importance in this process because whatever others said or wrote about you, it will all be leveled the first time you meet with a team or an individual that will have to share a project with you. Each individual relating to you, whether you talk to the whole team or to the single, will open a direct communication channel and evaluate you independently from any other information they may have received.
When you relate to a team and each ‘human processor’ in the team, it will actually take a few fractions of a minute to
assert yourself as a leader or to lose control. Then you have either conquered or lost them. The information crossing from you to the team in those seconds is mainly channeled through language and vocabulary.
There is also other information that passes in those instants, for instance body language, however this information in the case of the leader is rather compressed and brought down to minimum levels, because the fact that you have been introduced as ‘the leader’ gives you enormous prestige and credit at the eyes of the team, to the point that you could almost stand there in front of them motionless and your body language would still be fine, since you are ‘the leader’.
So, it actually is what you say – your vocabulary – and the approach you give to the discussion – your construction of the concepts – that will convey most of the information about your leadership in those few seconds.
Your authoritativeness as a leader comes directly from your approach and your vocabulary. What you say and how you say it will greatly influence your interlocutor, the other and the team as a whole, and it will also set the pace of your effectiveness as a leader.

The linguistic approach of the leader
The rule is to make it simple, make it simple, make it simple. Whoever you are talking to, however competent you are, whatever technical jargon you may exhibit or cultural level you may parade, make it simple. Simplicity in the linguistic approach conquers. Simplicity in the linguistic approach also tells you know extremely well your subject, you have absolutely nothing to show-off and you have the elegance of a leader that knows the subject and needs not show-off since a long time.
Of course, if anyone tries to raise the level of language with an impolite provocation, your answer even though again simple, will include that single word or concept that straightens the provoker by clearly showing you can raise the level of language whenever you want.
Simplicity finally puts at ease the team by conveying everybody the message that you are concentrated on the goal and that you want to share strategies to get there and not lose time in the details.
However, simplicity in language is never a starting point, rather it is a sophisticated point of arrival. Take into consideration that when you talk you always, instinctively, talk differently depending on three main factors:

  1. Your interlocutor;
  2. The subject you are talking about;
  3. The proposed aim of your talking.

Language is dynamic and these main factors will constantly adapt and change even during the same situation. A leader will essentially talk with a basic, simple language (the code), and he or she will draw from the technical jargon (the subcode) only when strictly necessary. If one or more of the team members has a higher education level or use of the language, the leader will adapt to the lower level but sometimes, when addressing these members, the leader will raise the language level, both to confirm the leader is addressing everybody individually and to reassert the leader, whilst simplifying, knows a higher language approach and is in control.
The linguistic approach of the leader bears one ultimate nuance, it never precisely aligns with the interlocutor or the team as a whole. Never aligning means that the leader uses a different register, a variety of language or level of usage, that sets the leader slightly apart from the team, reminding the team the leader is apart, thus preserving the necessary influence on the team.

The vocabulary of the leader
The choice of words of the leader goes together with the linguistic approach of the leader. Leadership has a specialized vocabulary. However, the rule here, like with the linguistic approach, is, again, make it simple. Use technical jargon only and exclusively when necessary, keep the words that leaders often use to motivate the team at a minimum. Simplicity wins. Your aim is not to act as a leader, motivate as a leader or do things as a leader. Your aim is to lead. Authenticity is the key that opens all doors. The words you use need to pass the message that you are authentic. What they see is what you are, what you say is what you think. This builds trust and opens relations with each team member.
Be always elegant and respectful but be authentic in your use of words. Actually, a useful solution is that to pick a selected number of words from other jargons that have nothing to do with leadership, for instance teenager’s jargon, show business jargon and so on. Inserting these words in your daily language will slowly build a personalized jargon, which actually is not the leader’s typical jargon but is your team’s personal jargon. This creates a strong bond and highly motivates the team, because everybody is using a sort of private language almost unintelligible to others. For instance, in front of an unexpected issue you may need to do a ‘washing machine’ which means it is urgent to get together, brainstorm and bring some fresh idea to a procedure or to the project. This washing machine, as simple as it may seem, is instead a strong enhancer of the teamwork because the team is not pushed by an authoritarian and superior leader to do something but is urged by a collaborative leader to participate at something. The right mood brings the right solutions.
Mastering the language of leadership requires to follow some essential rules:

 Clear: the leader’s language aims at being clear, this means will not try to impress his team with special words but will address the team with words that are simple and clear;
 Incisive: use only essential words that get directly to the point. In case of doubt, the less is better;
 Respect: use only respectful words and do not talk excessively or imposing your point of view;
 Participate: everybody needs to come out of the discussion with the feeling they had the opportunity to say what they thought without fear and without limits;
 Listen: lend your ear, there is much to learn and discover, especially when you are a leader;
 Move: talking with a leader always ends up with action. As a leader with your team, you are not making friendly conversation, you are moving people to do things;
 Authentic: be yourself in what you think, in what you do, in what you say. Be yourself also in how you say it: don’t use the words of a leader, use your own words and they will become the words of the leader;
 Enthusiasm: no matter how hard the issue, no matter how big your doubt, no matter how uncharted the road you travel, you are the leader and you are the only one who can inspire the team and move them with your enthusiasm and passion for the project;
 Passion: always and constantly let others see and sense your passion for what you’re doing;
 Adapt: there is never the conclusive word for any situation, there is always the right word for the right situation. Adapt your thought and your words to the contingency of the situation;
 Thoughts: talk slower and take your time if necessary. You are expressing thoughts that should always have a depth and determine consequences, you are not expressing opinions.
 Story: keep it short and talk about you. A personal story makes you alive and activates relations;
 Body: arms always open and never crossed, hands always visible;
 Empower: don’t lose momentum through layers of opinions and confirmations, when a decision is taken empower who is necessary and make them go for it. Organize feedbacks to farther push to action;
 Trust: use the words ‘I trust you’ or ‘I can count on you’ they are powerful movers to action and make others want to show you what they can do at their best;
 Errors: words like ‘I got it wrong’ from a leader are powerful for the team and build strong relations and respect. A leader admitting an error is not a weak leader, on the contrary is a leader so strong and determined with the project that is able to move away his or her ego, is competent and has nothing to show, is able to work on the project without prejudice and available to change. All positive factors that reinforce the team;
 Words: take advantage of some basic construction suggestions. For instance, ‘Here’s something to think about’ is better than ‘Here’s what I want.’, ‘What do you think will work’ is better than ‘It’ll never happen.’, ‘How can I help’ better than ‘Just do as I say.’, ‘What do you think’ better than ‘Here’s how I see it.’, ‘Go for it’ is better than ‘We’ll see and decide with others’.
 Transparency: this is a strong motivator for the team, it shows the leader is competent, knows what he or she is doing and has nothing to hide. It also helps the team feel in control of the project keeping them committed to the project. Always be straightforward in communicating the truth by using such phrases as ‘Here’s what’s going on’. Be trustworthy and always require that others do the same with you, by telling you their thoughts or any other information they have regarding the project.
 Explore: it’s an essential part of any high-profile project. Always have an ear to the ground with regard to the team and to the project. Be open to discuss alternative roads, be open to take alternative roads.