Four Things Every Leader Should Consider About Language

Thank You Word Cloud printed on colorful paper different languages

Language is everything. Your words communicate what you value, as well as what you don’t. If you are redesigning your organization, take time to think about the words you select for job titles. This is important for paid staff as well as volunteers. If I’m volunteering to speak to customers as they walk into your business, I’d rather be called Door Holder than Greeter. For me, Door Holder has an added sense of warmth and hospitality.

On the flip side, there are times when job titles should not be placed at the forefront. I’ll never forget visiting an organization and meeting with staff from every aspect of the operation. After collecting their business cards at the end of the day, I noticed that none of their cards had their titles mentioned. Only their name, email, and phone number. How is that for contributing to a culture that values every employee equally? And the culture was the biggest complement I had for them. It was healthy, and the same heartbeat was felt in the President’s office, facilities management, human resources, food services, etc. They all held the same values, and you know what? They all spoke the same language.

If you’re implementing change, take a look at the organizational language. What words need to be eliminated from your meetings? One thing I always tell my staff is to take the word “try” out of their vocabulary. We’re not trying to do anything. We’re just going to DO it. We know we’re capable, so why talk about trying to do something that we already know is within reach?

Your signage is also significant. What is your written language communicating (e.g. building signage, emails and office memos)?

Finally, think of language that you want to start incorporating. One organization I work with provides elementary education to children in a city where the public school system has failed. Instead of addressing students by their first names, the staff addresses them by what they want to be when they grow up. My son attended their summer camp and was addressed as Dr. John because he aspires to become a physician. His favorite classmates were Professor MacKenzie, Fireman Edward, and Artist Giovanni. The school founder and CEO’s philosophy is that if you address the children by what they dream of becoming, they will believe their dream is reachable. My son lit up when he first realized he would be called what he dreamed of becoming–a doctor. At the end of his first day, he asked us to call him Dr. John at home.

Language matters. If you’ve been working with your company for several years, I recommend bringing in an outside consultant to help you determine what your company is actually saying to those outside the organization.

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