Real Leaders

Authority and Language: What You Say Can Transform Your Leadership

Authority, authorship, and authenticity share the same Latin root, auth, which comes from authenticus, which meant “principal” in the sense of being first or chief. As the root of the words “author” and “authority,” it denotes the chief person who determines how the story goes. “Auth” is also the root of “authentic,” which means that personal behavior is regarded as genuine, significant, emotionally appropriate, responsible, and self-directed.

Being an authority figure does not make someone the authority in the room because most of us have a visceral sense of who is being straight and who is not. How you say things signals whether or not you are in authority. Scrupulousness with the dignity and integrity of your words is an important part of that. The speech process is both a physical and a metaphysical phenomenon. Extrapolating from Einstein’s wisdom, you cannot use the status quo’s language to define change. In other words, you can’t keep saying the same things and expect to manifest different results. Be diligent with words and ideations like, “I always…,” “We can’t…,” “They never…,” “Remember what happened before…,” and, “That’s the way it is.” That kind of language is limiting at best, maybe even extremely damaging, because it indicates an ontological basis that may be rigid and likely stuck.

Having authority includes doing due diligence with the consciousness with which your words flow. Your authority and your authorship with the words you choose are intertwined. Command of language is an authoritative skill that is so basic that it is easily overlooked. Take stock of your words and the stories you tell. Be impeccable with your words—say what you mean and mean what you say in ways that preserve others’ dignity.

Before speaking, consider whether what you are about to say is true, kind, and helpful. If what you have to say is not at least two out of those three, consider doing some silent self-reflection on your authorship.

Alchemical adeptness starts with truth-telling. While our truths can and do morph, it is incumbent on each of us, in the name of basic civility, to tell our most honest truths at any given moment. Think about it: one of the universal triggers of upset is when we realize we’re being lied to. Lies break down relationships, and they disrupt mojo. A lie may ease a short-term condition, but it sows long-term authenticity issues. The authenticity of your words reflects the clarity and integrity of your consciousness, and it indicates the degree of authority you hold. Impeccability with how you choose your words is a metaphysical task. The impact of language on outcomes is alchemical in that it can make the difference between a team producing more than it knew it could or producing at a subpar level.

Words can have the effect of leveraging cultural capital, and they can have the effect of debiting it. As a leader, your comments pretty much define your impact because they can create or destroy possibilities. The more we find out about the impact of values on productivity, innovation, and profitability, the more leaders need to be accountable for how well their language reflects positive values. It pays off to stop and name the subtle triggers that upset our guts, minds, and hearts because they are disruptions in our being-ness. Quality of being determines the quality of doing and the quality of language is a good indicator of the quality of being.  

If a situation triggers or nags at you, even after you’ve done everything you can think of to manage it head-on, keep working on finding words that reflect your next level of authenticity. If you can feel authentic contentment in the presence of thinking about, or facing, the issue or person that triggered you, you have likely reclaimed the mojo that had been trapped in the problem. Issues sort out as we find new words for them—as we re-author our stories about them. Evolve your language to resolve your problems. Consciously aiming your language toward greater and greater levels of integrity is a powerful strategy for changing your work world.

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