The Interpersonal Language of Leadership Engagement

This week, I had a digital meeting with Jim. He was heading into a performance discussion with a team member.

Jim had done a lot of background work, sought feedback and reflected on his experience with this manager and his team. He had written his comments relating to various objectives and he wanted my perspective on the clarity of his message.

He read, “You need to lead your team more, you need to keep them better informed, and you need to coach each team member.” All valid comments.

However, I imagined the recipient may have felt criticised and judged with his approach. I noticed Jim’s own perspective on how this manager was working was absent.

I asked Jim how he might include his perspective on what he wanted the manager to develop.

He began, “I need you to lead your team more, I need you to keep them better informed…”

When I heard this, I sensed Jim was a bit desperate and frustrated. I asked him if this was the case and he confirmed it was.

Person at computer

“I can see what he needs to do,” he explained. “How on earth do I communicate that?”

I noticed Jim’s emotional tone was negative. He sounded pressured. I repeated back to him, “I need you to…” then asked, “What does that sound like?”

“It sounds as though what I am asking is a requirement,” Jim realized. “It also sounds like there will be consequences if he doesn’t do this.”

Jim now saw the problems with using this language, but remained at a loss.

“How on earth do I shift the ownership to my team member?” he asked. “I want him to succeed. I want him to be far more effective with his team.”

Jim had worked out how he might inspire his team member to develop his abilities. He practiced with me…

“I want you to be a more effective leader. I want you to actively lead your team. I want you to keep them well informed of the bigger context and what is going on, and I want you to actively coach each team member to develop their abilities.”

Where he had written,  “You should delegate more, and you should set priorities,” he shifted to…

“I want you to delegate more, and I want you to set priorities and work to these.”

By using I rather than YOU, and WANT rather than NEED, you can both own the direction and shift the action to your team member. #LanguageOfLeadership Share on X

We reflected together. By using I rather than YOU, and WANT rather than NEED, Jim was both owning the direction and shifting the action to his team member.

Jim had shifted his language to be inviting and inspiring rather than demanding. He sounded more engaged and his emotional tone was positive.

My sense was the recipient was less likely to feel judged or criticized and more likely to feel inspired to develop his abilities.

Let’s imagine that YOU were the recipient of Jim’s feedback. Which language would work best for you?

© Diana Jones

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