Being a leader is about working with people. It’s about being diplomatic, and bringing people together, and helping them grow and develop. The concept of servant leadership is, as you can guess from the term, about serving the people you are leading, by putting the teams’ needs first and helping the team be successful by attending to the people who make up the team.
A huge part of leadership development is about developing your own awareness and building your interpersonal skills. Along those lines, one place you can start putting some focus is on the language you use in speaking with others.
This can be tricky, especially because different contexts have different norms, and it may be uncomfortable if you feel like you’re editing yourself or policing yourself for what you’re saying. For example, a lot of people get really comfortable with their colleagues in their team or unit or department, and in some environments it’s part of the culture to be very casual with each other. It’s part of the bonding of how you get through the tough parts of the project.
However, nurturing an awareness of your own language use and means of communications in those everyday situations can help you nurture an overall awareness of how you show up and the way you come across to people.
A few simple examples are terms you might have previous used without thinking — but which maybe deserve some thought, and possibly a substitution of a different word instead. One such term is “girl” — “That blonde girl in Marketing said…” or “We interviewed three girls for the project last week.”
It may feel awkward to refer a female person who is a little bit younger than you are as “woman” (and even more so as “lady”) but those words are actually the correct ones. “Gal” is not a word most people go for, but it’s probably an acceptable choice. (“Chick”? Probably not.)
Here’s another word that we don’t ever see the need for anyone to use: “Underlings.”
This sometimes comes out in essays or an interview, when an applicant to bschool is trying to talk about the people who work under him on a project. It’s not a very respectful-sounding word.
That’s probably the core message we’re trying for today: Are the words you’re using in everyday speech respectful?
Are you using cliches in your meeting with VIPs that are off color — like “open the kimono” when you’re saying that you’re ready to talk about sharing corporate secrets in a partnership deal? That may seem innocuous to you but it’s both racist and sexist.
Or do you use phrases like “screw the pooch” which isn’t necessarily offensive to someone — it’s just crude?
Certain work cultures do seem to expect this type of rough language. However, even if you’re in such a culture, that doesn’t mean you have to participate. You can be part of a team and not stoop to their crass customs.
Paying attention is one of the hardest skills to master, and it’s incredibly important to be able to do it when you want to become a leader. Paying attention to the little things — like what words come out of your own mouth — is a great habit to get into. Especially now, when you’re in that in-between state, of starting to think about who and what you want to become in the near future.