Learn a New Leadership Language with Just Five Words

At its core, leadership is about influence. And what does that mean? That means I want to influence my team and the people around me as best I can, and I also want them influencing me as much as they can.

It requires powerful two-way conversations with a common leadership language.

That’s we teach in our SLII® course. We teach leaders how to build strong relationships by increasing the quality and frequency of their conversations with team members, thereby creating a space where people feel their best ideas are being utilized.

Learning a new language can be a challenge at first. People will tell you it takes practice, repetition, and immersion. The good news is that the leadership language I’m going to share with you here has just five words. If we can learn five key words and use them over and over again, we can increase the quality of our leadership conversations.

I know it sounds too good to be true, but I’ve taught thousands of leaders what I’m about to share with you. And it truly works.

Have I piqued your interest? Let’s get started.

Word one is about clarity

Our goal as leaders is to increase our conversational effectiveness. Creating this effectiveness begins with clarity on the goal or task. That’s word one.

(Okay, I know some of you might say goal or task is two words, but let’s put that aside for a minute while we focus on the idea behind learning this first part of our new language.)

Goal or task is a critical phrase when speaking SLII®, the foundation for the language of leadership we teach at Blanchard.

I have a suggested lead-in to help you get started with this new language. From now on, anytime someone says to you “I need help. Do you have a minute? Can I talk to you?” I want you to respond by asking “What is the goal or task?”

Asking this question will help you clarify the following:

  • What goal or task is most important for you?
  • Is this really the goal or task we want to talk about?
  • Am I getting it right?
  • What do you want to achieve, and by when?

Clarifying the goal or task gets to the heart of the matter and makes your meeting instantly more effective. What does your team member want to talk about with you? What are they concerned about in terms of moving forward? What's that goal or task? That's word one.

Words two and three are about diagnosing development level

Word two is competence. Now that you’ve gained some clarity on the topic being discussed, where is this person in terms of their competence on this goal or task? Determining competence requires a quick analysis. Is the team member a learner or a doer on this task? Have they demonstrated task-specific competence? Do they have the knowledge and skills to achieve what they need to achieve?

After you ask “What’s the goal or task?” and they share, ask them “Have you ever done this successfully before?” Word two is about demonstrated competence.

But there is another part to diagnosing where the person is on this goal or task.

That's why we need to double-check with word three: commitment. What is the quality of the person's motivation and confidence to do the task? If they don’t have motivation or confidence around the task, it will limit the quality and the quantity of energy they put into the task.

Learn to use this word explicitly. This is where you ask “What’s your commitment on this task or goal? Does it fire you up? Do you feel confident you can be successful?”

Taking the time to diagnose properly using new words like competence and commitment makes you a different type of leader with the people around you. Now you’re an others-focused leader concerned about what others need, what they’re working on, where they are, and what they're hoping to get in terms of help from you. This instantly changes the quality of your conversations.

Words four and five are about providing what people need

Before I share word four with you, I want you to think about this: If someone comes to you and says they are concerned about a goal or task because they’ve never done it before, what do they need from you?

I’ll bet you’re thinking guidance—or, more specifically, direction. Direction is word four.

This is where you can say “Since you're new to this task, would it be helpful if I gave you some direction on how to do it?” This fourth word is going to help accelerate your ability to give people guidance when they are learners on a task—as opposed to what many leaders do: merely encourage and then assume people will figure it out on their own.

Word four is paired with word five, which is support. Supportive behaviors are those behaviors that encourage commitment: Listening, helping people solve their own problems, appreciating their efforts, and helping them understand why the task or goal they are working on is important.

Different combinations of direction and support open up new possibilities through greater influence and improved relationships. If you know someone doesn’t have competence (word two) on a goal or task (word one), it might open up the door for direction (word four) to be seen as welcome assistance instead of micromanagement when a person doesn’t know how to do something.

Same with commitment (word three). If a team member is lacking either motivation or confidence, what a gift it would be to give them support (word five). Support builds that commitment to doing the task, which impacts morale, builds trust, and releases the energy it takes to do the amazing things your people need to do.

Becoming fluent in your new leadership language

What’s the goal or task? What is the person’s competence and commitment? What do they need in terms of direction and support?

Becoming fluent in your new leadership language allows you to start helping people hear their own voice so they can make progress on the goal or task. It gives you the mindset to slow down long enough to use these five words as you lead others toward success. No more generic or small talk leadership. Instead, you’re going to start conversations by double-checking the goal or task, diagnosing the individual’s competence and commitment, and then providing just the right amount of direction and support to help the person grow and succeed.

With practice, you’ll get better and better at helping others thrive through the quality of your leadership conversations. That’s a great new capability to get started on today!

About the Author

Vicki Halsey

Vicki Halsey is Vice President of Applied Learning for Blanchard®. She is the author of Brilliance by Design, Legendary Service: The Key is to CARE, and Leading at a Higher Level. Vicki is the co-developer of Blanchard’s Legendary Service, and SLII® training programs.

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