Q: In your new book, Leadership Is Language, you talk about the language of leaders in Industrial Age organizations coercing people to comply with decisions. As we emerge from that era, why do you think some leaders still hang on to an old style of language?
A: I think that there are a couple of reasons, but one is I feel we’re programmed in a sense, to speak and react and respond in different ways. For example, if I’m in a business meeting and someone says, “Hey, I got some bad news. I don’t think we should launch the product next week like we were scheduled to,” I can almost predict how people will respond. They’ll react, reply, respond. They’ll defend their position. At best they may say “Well why would you think that?” which again is kind of provocative because it puts the other person on the defensive.
What I rarely see is a curiosity about what the other person sees, what they think, that the rest of us may be missing. Instead of reacting, we say “Be Curious.” Ask for their perspective by saying “Tell me more about that,” or “What do you think is going on?” and “What did I miss?” This is what we’re trying to get at with Leadership Is Language.
I don’t think we respond in the less helpful way because we’re evil, I think it’s because we’ve been programmed to respond like this and this programming just kind of gets passed from generation to generation.