The Leader’s Leader— by Jack Lannom

Jack LannomEmpowering Language vs. Dis-empowering Language Here is the influence that is exercised by true Leader’s Leaders, and it creates an environment in which ordinary people become extraordinary performers.  I have used the metaphor of the leader who seeks to intimidate through the baseball bat rather than motivate through the skillful wielding of the baton. Obviously, no legitimate business leader will threaten people with physical violence; nevertheless, a great many of them assault the human spirit on a regular basis. The high-command, high-control manager uses words to bludgeon a staff into submission. Just as a child who was raised in an abusive home often grows up to be an abuser himself, many managers who rose through the ranks in a verbally abusive environment often assume a leadership role and begin degrading co-workers with debilitating and dis-empowering words. I never cease to wonder at such tactics. These “managers” actually believe that they are going to bring out the best in people by motivating through fear and intimidation.  NULL Yet even the most casual observer will observe that harsh and unkind words throw the kill switch on the human spirit just as surely as a bright red OFF button will shut down a piece of machinery.

On the other hand, the Leader’s Leader understands that creating an environment of high-empowerment and high-involvement will result in a staff that willingly puts forth their best discretionary efforts.

The Leader’s Leader uses words to edify and to encourage; the high-command, high-control manager who thinks he is motivating a staff through abusive language is actually producing precisely the opposite results. Staffers are dis-empowered and discouraged by such antics. Study the chart below, which contrasts the words that encourage others to be fully human and fully alive, as opposed to words that do violence to the human spirit. You “play to win” as a leader by using empowering language.

“The Bat” “The Baton”
1. We’ve got a problem. 1.We have an opportunity.
2. What’s wrong with you? 2. What can I do to help you?
3. What a crazy idea! 3. I never thought of it that way before.
4. That will never work. 4. Let’s explore all our options.
5. We can’t afford to do that. 5. Let’s talk about how to make this cost-effective.
6. No! 6. Yes!
7. It’s about time! 7. You’ve worked hard. I appreciate your extra effort
8. You’re not making sense. 8. I don’t understand; will you explain?
9. I told you that before! 9. I probably didn’t explain myself very well.
10. I don’t have time for you now. 10. I’m swamped; can you come back in an hour?
11. Because I said so! 11. Let me explain my thinking to you.
12. I don’t want to discuss it. 12. I’d really like to hear what you have to say.
13. You can’t do that. 13. I know you can do it.
14. You’ve got a long way to go. 14. You’ve really improved/grown
15. Oh, I can get anybody to do that. 15. The work you’re doing is very important, because …
16. Aren’t you done yet? 16. How close are you to completion?
17. I’ll have to get someone else to do that. 17. Next time, I know you’ll do better.
18. There are lots of people out there who would like to have your job. 18. I couldn’t have done it without you.
19. You should have done it this way. 19. In the future, what would be most effective is…
20. Shut up! 20. Tell me more!
21. That’s stupid! 21. You’re very intelligent.
22. I don’t pay you to think. 22. I really appreciate your input; keep it up.
23. Don’t you ever make another mistake! 23. Let’s discuss what we’ve learned from this setback.
24. You have nothing to teach me. 24. I can learn so much from you!
25. This is my idea, and it can’t be improved. 25. Please help me improve on this idea.
26. Listen to me when I talk! 26. I really enjoy listening to you. Tell me more.
27. This is all your fault! 27. What could I have done to prevent this?
28. You just don’t get it, do you?! 28. I should have stated my expectations more clearly.
29. I’m important, so don’t interrupt me. 29. You’re important. I apologize for interrupting.
30. We never see eye-to-eye. 30. I like the way you challenge my thinking.
31. I don’t understand you! 31. I really want to understand you.
32. We’ve always done it this way. 32. Good, you’re thinking outside the box. Tell me more.
33. If you don’t hear from me, you’re doing a good job. No news is good news. 33. You’re doing a great job. Thank you; I’m proud of you.
34. I don’t need you. 34. I need you.
35. I don’t believe in you. 35. I believe in you.

Leader’s Leaders have a different theory about empowering others; therefore their daily practices are different. Their theory on authority is not that they need to work to build and maintain personal power. Their personal philosophy rejects the notion of totalitarianism; they don’t see themselves as rulers or despots. Rather, Leader’s Leaders see the workplace as a tremendous opportunity to serve others and to make them more powerful. Recall our definition of the leader’s authority:

True authority is the authority that makes other people authoritative; real power is the power that makes other people powerful.

People watch the leader’s example; they see when she could have used her positional power to crush individuals professionally or fragment them emotionally—but the leader who practices proper authority is magnanimous and gracious, seeking to expand others’ strengths, not to exploit their weakness. Those who watch are arrested by the leader’s discipline and humility, and they begin to practice the same behavior with families, friends, and co-workers. This is the influence that is exercised by true Leader’s Leaders, and it creates an environment in which ordinary people become extraordinary performers.


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