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Empowering leadership language

You can do it

If you’re keen to explore strategies to inspire others, empowering leadership language is worthy of your attention. At a recent workshop I presented, participants were intrigued by the notion of efficacy-based language and how the visionary language they use plays a key role in inspiring others. So what is efficacy-based language? Firstly, a key factor is that most people are aware of their strengths, and the things they are successful at, both at a personal and collective level. Awareness of our strengths and their contribution to our success builds our belief in being able to perform successfully in specific tasks and situations in the future. Essentially, this is self-efficacy. In my experience, people without self-efficacy will not put in the effort, in certain endeavours, because they perceive their efforts will be in vain. Efficacy-based language builds our belief and includes communication that conveys high expectations, praises outcomes, celebrates achievements, and highlights future potential.

You may know of the ‘Pygmalion effect’. The effect was coined as a result of a study in the 1960’s, where teachers were told some of their students were high achievers and could be expected to attain great things. Those ‘identified’ students, however, were randomly selected and yet their performance improved. High levels of expectations that teachers placed on their students positively influenced their performance. It’s like that saying, ‘if you hear something often enough, you start to believe it’. Leaders who use language that paints a picture of a successful future, coupled with high expectations, inspire learners to achieve amazing things. Remember, the painted picture must match the self, or collective, efficacy of people listening.

Why does it work?

Essentially, a key contributor to building our self-efficacy is verbal encouragement and persuasion. Leaders who tell us we can achieve great things, within the realm of our confidence and competence, contributes to our self-efficacy and increases the likelihood of successful performances. Leaders need to understand the strengths of, and have a strong connection with, people around them for efficacy-based language to be valuable. ‘Talking up‘ people and performance ‘ is a key role of leadership that is fast becoming a dying art. Language of expectation and achievement has been overtaken by the desire for leaders to focus on and articulate performance data and quarterly figures. High expectations produce high motivation – performance figures don’t!

How can I do it?

Short questions often require complex answers – this one is no exception! However, here are a few steps that can get you started:

  1. Identify the critical success factors of recent wonderful performances
  2. Ask people about their strengths and how they contributed to the wonderful performance
  3. Align the results of your diagnosis (answers to 1 and 2) with a future event
  4. Plan what to say, and importantly how to say it (stories, metaphors, etc)
  5. Speak from the heart (use your language and ideas that are important to you).

Example – At the Olympics, I watched our Nation’s rowing four win a silver medal. I was amazed by their synchronicity and the apparent effortlessness of their performance. When I look back on the Winsome project, I see an Olympic effort in our teamwork and client focus. We seemed to cruise through the project in a way that belied our effort and commitment to the outcomes. Our success speaks volumes for our effort. The Winmore contract gives us a great opportunity to tap into these successful processes and achieve outstanding results. I sense a gold medal performance is within our grasp with this project.

Inspiring leadership skills include the ability to craft and articulate messages and expectations that are highly motivational and build belief. What does your empowering leadership language sound like?

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