I was listening to other people order lunch. And I quickly realized they were speaking a secret language. Everyone understood it. I didn't. Apparently, In-N-Out Burger has a secret menu. What is "animal-style" anyway? I didn't have a clue.
Secret languages exist in many cultures, industries, and professions. IT people can have entire conversations that I don't understand. Accounting departments can use words that completely boggle my mind. But leadership language is something I do understand--because I've been blessed to hear the raw, rare truth from countless executives, managers, and C-suite leaders.
What is the language the best leaders understand that you might not? Well, quite honestly, the best leaders talk about pride differently--and it has nothing to do with their money, status, or title.
Pride can mean different things to different people. On the one hand, we all want to feel proud of the work we do, the company we work for, and the achievements we've made in our careers. On the other hand, pride is one of the seven deadly sins--a concept (also known as hubris) clarified in the year 590 by Pope Gregory. Basically, it was defined as the most dangerous sin--a perversion of the faculties that makes humans believe they are God. And, let's be honest, that's a grim perspective of pride.
The truth of the matter is that we can all see both the value of, and the danger of, pride. And this is where the best leaders seem to speak the same language--because when the best leaders talk about the accomplishments they're most proud of, those achievements rarely benefit themselves.
The best leaders take pride in:
1. Unified progress
While many of us meet people who love to talk about everything they've personally accomplished, great leaders (even when they should take most of the credit) feel a sense of pride for the people, the groups, and the teams who made progress possible. You won't hear the best leaders say a lot of things like "Look what I did." Instead, you'll hear them say "Look what we did" or "Look what they did."
This, unlike the example above, is one area where the best leaders will express personal pride. Great leaders will take personal pride in their own ignorance (maybe during their younger years). And they'll take great pride in their mistakes--because those fumbles are many times the exact reasons they've become successful today.
Listen to the best leaders you know. Don't find it shocking if you hear them say something like "I was clueless" or "I thought I was so smart back then" or "I was too stubborn to see that I was the problem."
A long list of achievements is always highly impressive. But the best leaders actually care more about how a person achieved success than the success itself. Character counts, and the greatest leaders take pride in doing things "the right way."
This is why you might see certain employees being promoted to management positions first, even though some of their peers may have achieved more. It's because those employees are speaking the language of great leaders--they're revealing their character.
This might feel a bit squishy for some of you hard-nosed readers. But it's not. The best leaders, while they're good at inspiring teams, and rallying people around a shared goal of creating a successful outcome, take pride in what their work, and the work of the organization, means to the world.
They take pride in creating a positive impact--in the lives of customers, to members in their community, or to causes that might be half way across the globe. Ask a great leader you know about the meaning of their work. The best leaders will surely be passionate about their response, because they get it.
5. Success of others
While this last one might feel similar to the first, it's not. The best leaders understand their job isn't to be admired. The best leaders understand their job isn't to create more success than everyone else on their team. They understand their job isn't to be feared, respected, or even liked. The best leaders understand their job is to lead others to become their best. Listen closely to a great leader talk about what makes them truly proud. It's likely they'll tell you a story about someone else's success.
We all carefully choose the language we use--to clarify a point, influence a decision, and build relationships. Think carefully about the language you speak, especially when it comes to pride. Employees, peers, and leaders are listening--everyone below you, equal to you, and above you. And the role you have in that structure may be decided by the language you choose to use.