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Language Matters

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

On a recent trip abroad, I couldn't help but notice how many people were wearing clothing with English-sounding sayings. Trying to look cool and stylish, few had any idea that many sayings were misspelled or misapplied and made them look a little silly to English speakers. For example, one shirt said, "The Wind City: Chicago." I'm not sure if that implied flatulence or climate, but true Chicagoans would be aghast at the error. Another guy meant to wear a shirt that said "Cocktail shots" but instead it said, "Cocktails in shoots." These unwitting subjects wanted to demonstrate they understood a culture, but lack of accuracy in their language made them strangers to it. This is instructive for leading and for teams. Organizations need shared language that communicates a common story, direction and community. Without a common language and shared stories, there's little common ground. Community suffers. Wise leaders pay attention to language, both spoken and written. They find ways to steer the organizational narrative toward specific storylines and away from more general words like "excellence," so overused they've become meaningless. They remember that words have impact. Words change minds. Words change the world. What does your employees' language say about the health and cohesiveness of your organization?

On a recent trip abroad, I couldn't help but notice how many people were wearing clothing with English-sounding sayings. Trying to look cool and stylish, few had any idea that many sayings were misspelled or misapplied and made them look a little silly to English speakers. For example, one shirt said, "The Wind City: Chicago." I'm not sure if that implied flatulence or climate, but true Chicagoans would be aghast at the error. Another guy meant to wear a shirt that said "Cocktail shots" but instead it said, "Cocktails in shoots."

These unwitting subjects wanted to demonstrate they understood a culture, but lack of accuracy in their language made them strangers to it. This is instructive for leading and for teams. Organizations need shared language that communicates a common story, direction and community. Without a common language and shared stories, there's little common ground. Community suffers.

Wise leaders pay attention to language, both spoken and written. They find ways to steer the organizational narrative toward specific storylines and away from more general words like "excellence," so overused they've become meaningless. They remember that words have impact. Words change minds. Words change the world.

What does your employees' language say about the health and cohesiveness of your organization?

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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams