Conscious Leaders Use Wisdom Words
It was the late 80′s and the economic situation looked bleak. Several hundred of us sat in an auditorium poised to hear our CEO give a speech, nervously awaiting his plan to lead us through the recession.
The one thing I remember from that day was “rightsize.” It was the first time I had heard the word and my bullshit meter went off. In this case, it was a euphemism for layoffs. It was Spin.
What was the effect? I felt, as did many others, insulted. He was disingenuous and he eroded whatever trust or confidence he had previously engendered. We couldn’t count on him to be straight with us.
Imagine, all I remember from his talk was that one word.
For leaders who are thinking about how they want to be remembered, this is a good yardstick.
Roll the tape forward several years. Now I’m working in Europe and I hear the phrase from my British colleagues “1200 people are being made redundant.” Again, I ask you, “what kind of BS is this?” How can a person be redundant? How dare we refer to people as objects as if we are just changing out the parts in a car engine?
Another phrase that is troublesome is collateral damage. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, “scores of unintended people were killed and injured as part of an attack”? Collateral damage makes it sound as if no humans were involved. This is yet another example of spin. If your loved one was referred to as “collateral damage,” how would you feel?
People are not objects. We are living, breathing, feeling-full, meaning-maker human beings. This spin lets leaders off the hook. If people are thought of as objects then those in decision-making power don’t have to feel. They don’t have to experience compassion or empathy either. It’s like dropping a bomb out of a plane at 40,000 feet. You see neither the countless people you’ve killed and maimed, nor their grieving families.
Words have a profound effect. Even though we know what rightsize really means, it sounds nice. Rightsize sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?
When leaders get away with spin, just one little time, then there’s the next and the next. We start convincing ourselves it’s okay. We tell ourselves we’re being kind, we’re helping grow the business, we’re meeting shareholder and board expectations, we’re making money for people…
When leaders use words to soften, mislead, obfuscate they can do harm to countless others and ultimately to themselves.
This is not just semantics. There is enormous power in words and in naming. Words, repeated over time have stickiness (evil doers, axis of evil, tax and spend liberals, trickle down theory, the 1%, etc.). They become the truth.
Words direct the course of action.
Words create a perception of reality. This naming creates a separation between us and them. We’re good and they’re bad. It allows us to treat the other as an object. We are much more able to harm an object than to harm a living, breathing, feeling person.
We say to children, “use your words.” I say to leaders, “use wisdom words.”
Words can be kind.
Words can be cruel.
Words can harm.
Words can heal.
Words can be used to treat people with dignity and respect.
Words can inspire people to action.
Words, put together, tell a story.
Conscious leaders are leaders who use wise words not clever words. Conscious leaders are leaders who care, leaders who speak the truth, leaders who speak truth to power. This is leadership authenticity in action. Mark my words!
What are your wisdom words?
What are the words you’ll use to make a positive difference; to inspire people to action?
What are the words you want to be remembered by?