How do you spend your airtime? You might be surprised at what other people think matters to you.
When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, I volunteered in her classroom every other Friday.
One day, the kids were making Mother's Day presents. The teacher prompted them with "What are your mommy's favorite things to do?" The kids drew pictures and wrote words about what their moms love the most. It was my job to staple the drawings together to make a little book. Naturally, I read them. All of them.
Two themes emerged. According to a group of five and six-year-olds, their mothers' favorite things to do were cleaning and sleeping.
Clearly this merited further investigation. "Who were these strange women?" I inquired.
"Um, Lauren, sweetie, tell me more about this mommy of yours, how do you know her favorite things to do are cleaning and sleeping?"
"Jason, do tell about all this cleaning and sleeping. How do you know they're your mom's favorite hobbies?"
The answers were all the same.
"She talks about it all the time. She's always saying, we have got to clean up around here, we have got to clean up. And if she's not talking about cleaning she's saying, I am so tired, I have got to get more sleep."
The words of the leader matter. Cleaning and sleeping were given the most airtime so the kids assumed they were the favorites. Whatever you give voice to the majority of the time is going to be what people assume is the most important thing to you.
The same principle applies at work. Ask yourself, if someone created a transcript of your weekly, how would the narrative read? What would people think matter most to you? Do your words reveal someone who cares passionately about customers, or students, or the people your organization is there to serve? Or is it a transcript of complaints, problems and internal metrics?
The words of the leader tell the team what matters. A common complaint we hear frequently is: I care about our clients, guests, students, etc., but all my boss cares about is money, problems, test scores etc. It's a shame because the boss may care passionately about the people their organization serves. Yet their daily language doesn't reflect it.
One of our clients, Amanda Harrington, vice president of Foundation Supportworks, a foundation repair network, describes how company leaders relentlessly use language to elevate their culture, "Our purpose is to redefine our industry." When many people call a contractor, they get mixed results. Contractors often don't show, pricing can be iffy; they don't have the best reputation as an industry. Foundation Supportworks aims to change that. They're out to set a new, higher standard for contractors.
Their leaders' language reflects their higher purpose, every single day. Harrington says, "It's not just that we talk about redefining our industry. We show people what that means. And we do it over and over again."
You can see Amanda discuss how FSI became a Best Place to Work in our latest LinkedIn Learning course, Finding Your Purpose At Work. In the course, Harrington describes how to use language to shape organizational belief.
When you're the leader, your words create the sound track for your organization. Your team is listening, and they're drawing conclusions about what matters here.
If you're not giving voice to your values and purpose, people are probably misreading you. Ask yourself, what do words tell my team about what I believe?
Lisa McLeod is the author of the bestsellers Selling with Noble Purpose and Leading with Noble Purpose. Her clients include Google, Flight Centre and Roche.