The Language of Business: Courage Required

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By Raluca Manolache, CHRP candidate

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word.”
—Emily Dickinson

Words have the ability to change worlds.

That power is undiminished by the proliferation of modern communications.  However, what the rise of social medias has exposed is a disconnect between the traditional language of business and the hearts and minds of employees and employers alike.

Amidst all the change that defines the world around us, we often forget that the most powerful technology of all are the words we use daily. Their impact, and the impact of others’ words upon us, in many ways defines our shared and individual realities—in life as in business.

Simply put, that is because words both reflect and direct our emotions, both positive and negative.

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Where is the Love?

As noted by management consultant and author Gary Hamel in his latest book, What Matters Now, the need to humanize the language of business is both overdue—and hurting business. He advises companies collect and read through a batch of their most recent communications, including the last annual report, blogs and the mission statement.

“Note the key phrases. Make a list of oft-repeated words. Now do a little content analysis. What are the goals and ideas that get a lot of airtime in your company?” Hamel asks. “It’s probably notions like superiority, advantage, leadership, differentiation, value, focus, discipline, accountability, and efficiency. Nothing wrong with this, but do these goals quicken your pulse? Do they speak to your heart? Are they “good” in any cosmic sense?”

“Now think about Michelangelo, Galileo, Jefferson, Gandhi, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. What were the ideals that inspired these individuals to acts of greatness? Was it anything on your list of commercial values? Probably not.”

Hamel points out that remarkable achievements are most often rooted in passionate commitment to values which transcend the current business vocabulary, including “beauty, truth, wisdom, justice, charity, fidelity, joy, courage and honor.”

“A noble purpose inspires sacrifice, stimulates innovation and encourages perseverance. In so doing, it transforms great talent into exceptional accomplishment,” says Hamel. “That’s a fact—and it leaves me wondering: Why are words like “love,” “devotion” and “honor” so seldom heard within the halls of corporate-dom? Why are the ideals that matter most to human beings the ones that are most notably absent in managerial discourse?”

Courage and Beyond

Leadership consultant and Vancouver-based author Ross Buchanan, founder of Strategic Results International, has spent much of the past 20 years working through these types of questions with over 1,000 organizations across North America.

According to Buchanan, the number one reason most organizations hit a plateau and stay stuck is that “they allow the mindset of scarcity to reside at the heart of their corporate culture. Without a strong presence of abundant thinking in any organization its success will be severely limited.”

Businesses seem to use the same words but expect different results. Language applies to everyone, so why don’t we change the language in which we communicate? Is it fear that leads to a language of scarcity rather than a language of abundance?  Or is it a language of scarcity that leads to fear?

As for the language of business, Buchanan sees room for almost immediate improvement for organizations and individuals alike, by simply embracing a single word: courage. “To me, abundance is all about the courage to dream, to trust and to act—which are three of the 10 steps outlined in our new book,” Buchanan says.

In his latest book, co-authored with Bob Anderson, Courage and Beyond: 10 Steps to Courageous Living, Buchanan asks a question right up front that goes to the heart of the matter. “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

“Courage or the lack of courage which we call fear will really define and determine our lives won’t it? We allow fear, which more often than not is nothing other than a feeling of discomfort or anxiety, to paralyze our success and the success of others around us. The price we pay in the workplace for this courage deficit is high in that it erodes our ability to enjoy life to the fullest and robs us of freedom, joy, health and success”.

An Abundance of Potential

When people love what they do, they transpire their voluntary positive energies into innovation, which leads to productivity. According to the numbers, there is room for improvement—much of which hinges upon how we communicate.

As per Gallup’s 2013 survey, 70 per cent of employees do not want to be at work.  While a discouraging statistic on disengagement, it is perhaps underlined by the fact that over 60 per cent of the workforce do not trust their senior leaders according the the Canadian Management Centre’s Build a Better Workplace survey.

What then does it than take turn negative energies into positive energies?

Buchanan offers that “in order to embrace and embed courage at the heart of an organization, it really must be modeled by the leadership team. I have personally witnessed how freeing and refreshing it is to the members of a firm when their leaders model courage—and how contagious courage really can be when the leaders do more than simply mouth the words.”

Walk the ‘New’ Talk

One area where the language of business has evolved is in recruitment. However, aside from those vanguard companies of change, Buchanan often sees a wide gap between the good words and the actual bill of goods.

“What I see is typically nothing other than false advertising. They advertise for what they want to become rather than what they are,” says Buchanan. “Once invited on board most new employees in a matter of days awaken to the chasm between what they had been sold what the reality is. Unfortunately, only the courageous few have what it takes to immediately rectify the situation by escaping the fraud.”

Unfortunately, those courageous few are most likely top performers, which makes walking the ‘new’ talk essential at all levels of leadership.

The language of business is key to employee happiness and organizational success. That words such as courage, love and beauty inspire us in our daily lives is beyond question. That these same words and ideals can elevate the culture and bottom line of any organization is growing increasingly apparent.

“Heck, if the leaders and employees of an organization can’t get excited, then how or why should they expect their clients (or employees) to be excited?” asks Buchanan. “The real, genuine and meaningful inclusion of these words would produce results beyond our wildest expectations.”

CHRP candidate Raluca Manolache is a passionate writer and HR professional who has worked with CBC/Radio, Service Canada and S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2013)

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