The language of leaders

Holly H. Brower, C. Marlene Fiol, Cynthia G. Emrich
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 1 Issue 3, p. 67-80

Information fatigue, analysis paralysis, communications gridlock: These and other terms entered the business lexicon with the rapid acceleration of information technology and globalization in the late 20th century. Taken together, these terms paint a picture of an increasingly complex workplace and hint at the challenges facing leaders in the 21st century. Today’s leaders cannot afford to focus solely on the inspirational rhetoric that their predecessors used to build commitment. In fact, we argue that there are four significant objectives that leaders must accomplish with their language: building and breaking down commitment and building and breaking down understanding. By focusing on all four objectives, leaders engage the hearts (through commitment) and minds (through understanding) of their followers. We draw from literature in communication, management, organizational behavior, and psychology to describe and illustrate techniques and objectives with contemporary examples of executives such as Steve Jobs of Apple Computer and Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines. By providing a thoughtful analysis of the critical language objectives and techniques in a contemporary context, we not only highlight cutting-edge work on leader communication, but also provide actionable insights for leaders, researchers, and students who want to improve their understanding and execution of the language of leadership.