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How Great Leaders Use the Power of Language

All successful organizations have their own language--whether it be a shared vocabulary or shared beliefs--that helps motivate people and create a sense of community.

After you've hired a new employee, it's very important during the onboarding process to impart your company's mission, its reason to exist, and what actions and characteristics help it to succeed.

Most leaders have the gift of gab, but great leaders have the power of language--an ability to communicate the company's driving forces and special attributes and to motivate employees to internalize them.

From the police department's "To protect and serve" to the medical field's Hippocratic Oath, every field has a unique language that must be mastered if you want to succeed. That means your company needs one too.

Bill Taylor, co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine and author, writes in Harvard Business Review about how leaders must have the ability to "talk the walk--that is, to be able to explain, in language that is unique to their field and compelling to their colleagues and customers, why what they do matters and how they expect to win." He adds that "The only sustainable form of business leadership is thought leadership. And leaders that think differently about their business invariably talk about it differently as well."

Taylor writes that he attended a new employee orientation seminar for Quicken Loans, the Detroit-based online mortgage lender, to hear the company's founder Dan Gilbert and CEO Bill Emerson teach the troops the company's "isms."

"A few of the Isms get covered in 10 or 15 minutes, some take an hour. But the end result is a full-day immersion in a whole new language--a 'vocabulary of competition' that sets the company apart in the marketplace and holds people together in the workplace," he says.

Taylor says that the company's language is a key to how it operates: "Behind it all, at the heart of the company's approach to strategy, service, and culture, is a language system that defines life inside the organization and reminds everyone what really drives success." 

Below, check out some of Gilbert's and Emerson's ideals that each employee must learn and work toward.

"The inches we need are everywhere around us."

This axiom is about how positive opportunities to make a difference within the company "are everywhere, and usually they're found in the little things," according to Quicken's website. "Everything we do matters. If we keep our eyes open we'll see that the little things--the 'inches' we need--are everywhere around us. It's the 1,001 of these little things, or inches, that add up" and make the difference.

"Numbers and money follow, they do not lead."

Quicken doesn't want its employees to focus on the pursuit of money. "Chase the skills that will make you great at what you are doing or what you are building. Become an expert. Become the best. Then, and only then, do the better numbers or the good money follow you," the company says. The company pushes its employees to pursue their "vision with uncompromising passion" and if they do so, the "numbers and money will follow."

"Innovation is rewarded, execution is worshipped."

It's not just about ideas at Quicken. "A great idea is just the first step," Quicken says. "The real magic is bringing that idea to life with great execution." 

"Simplicity is genius."

When you talk to someone, you need to remember to be clear and make no assumptions about what they know. "They do not know what you know, because they are them and you are you," Quicken says. "Don't start at chapter five, start at chapter one. As simple as that sounds, it's something we often overlook. Many times simple is not just simple, but also better."

"Responding with a sense of urgency is the ante to play."

Quicken runs its business on urgency. "On this team, we return all phone calls and e-mails the same day. Not just to clients and partners, but to each other! Urgency motivates us to ensure we communicate all news fast--good and bad," the company writes.

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Last updated: Aug 13, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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