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What is the language of leadership?

Beverley Glick

Words have power. Use the language of leadership versus the vocabulary of a victim.”

This quote from Robin Sharma, leadership expert and author of the best-selling book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, really got me thinking about language and the power of words.

We all know when we’re hearing the “poor me” vocabulary of a victim but how do we recognise the language of leadership? And when might we use it ourselves?

I’ve been in love with language ever since I was at primary school, when my teacher would often read my little essays out to the class.

I was fortunate enough to forge a career as a writer, initially as a music journalist. I first experienced the power of words to influence when my interview with the band Spandau Ballet was published under the headline “The New Romantics” and an entire pop culture movement was born.

Later in my career I worked for a number of national newspapers, including The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph, and was responsible for editing the copy of many well-known writers, honing and polishing their words for maximum impact and clarity.

More recently, I made the leap from the written to the spoken word and have now been a Ginger trainer for five years. This full-circle move has made me appreciate the impact of language even more.

So what is the language of leadership?

Well, I’m not talking about command and control. I’m talking about the language of inspiration, action and change.

And I believe that, in order to have the impact you desire, there needs to be some congruence between your inner and outer dialogue.

If you are at the mercy of the inner critic or the vocabulary of a victim, the words you speak will not land in the way you want them to. You may be able to talk the talk, but it will not feel authentic to your audience.

How we speak to ourselves impacts the way we speak to others.

I believe it’s an act of leadership to become aware of your negative self-talk and start to challenge and reframe it.

There is a beautiful example of this in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House, the powerful story of four women who put themselves up for election to the US House of Representatives last year.

The standout story is that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC), a waitress and bartender from the Bronx who decided that, if she didn’t run for office, then nobody would. In the primary she was up against a Democratic incumbent with money and influence who initially refused to debate with her.

She is filmed battling her inner demons before her first debate with the sitting Congressman and stating, out loud to camera: “I am experienced enough to do this. I am knowledgeable enough to do this. I am prepared enough to do this. I am mature enough to do this. I am brave enough to do this.”

To me, this mantra represents the foundations of the language of leadership. No matter how inexperienced you may feel as a speaker or leader, first you need to speak the language of self-belief. That’s the starting point.

As we now know, AOC not only won the primary, but also won election to the House of Representatives – at 29, currently the youngest in Congress. The clarity of her language and the passion behind her words now resonates across the world.

In AOC, I hear a new, fearlessly authentic and honest language of leadership. I follow her on social media and often take screenshots of her posts. Here she is, talking about the Netflix documentary that told her story:

“ Vulnerability is something I am proud of. In many ways, I see vulnerability as a coat of arms. A shield. After all, if we are unafraid to cry, to acknowledge our mistakes, to fall down and get back up, to offer a vision so ambitious that it makes the short-sighted laugh… if we are brave enough to be human in front of the whole world, then what can our detractors really do? What do we have to be afraid of when we lift our own veil? The answer is nothing. Nothing at all.”

Women like AOC give me hope for the future. If more people in leadership positions can, like her, act before they are ready and speak without fear, then transformation at all levels of society is possible.

So, as a journalist and public speaking coach, I say be brave enough to lift your veil. Trade the victim vocabulary that might be lurking on the inside for the fully expressed language of leadership that is authentic to you.

Speak. Lead. Change.

Beverley Glick

An award-winning public speaker and storytelling expert, Beverley is an experienced lead trainer who specialises in TED-style speaker coaching and training.

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