There isn’t much as disorienting as being in a place where you don’t know the language. Trying to navigate, order food, find a restroom, can be particularly complicated when the sounds, letters, signs, and accents aren’t familiar, right? It’s enough to cause you to simply want to stay home. (And that’s saying a lot, because staying home has taken on a new meaning in 2020, hasn’t it?!)
Now, I love to travel. Prior to the pandemic, traveling made up a significant portion of my life both professionally and for enjoyment. I love to interact with different cultures and to learn the history and the nuances of different ways of life.
In fact, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary last year, my husband and I went on a cruise down the Rhine River. The vistas and villages of Switzerland and Germany were breathtaking. The locals we met were warm and welcoming. It was a near-perfect, unforgettable vacation. Truly the only challenging moments of the entire trip came when all our research and preparation couldn’t circumvent what was lost in translation. When we couldn’t communicate–when we couldn’t find a common language–we couldn’t get where we wanted to go.
If you can’t find a common language, you can’t reach the outcome you’re hoping for.
The same is true in your organization. When your team isn’t speaking the same language, you won’t be able to get where you want to go. In the biblical account of the tower of Babel found in Genesis 11, we see this idea played out. When there was a shared medium of communication, the people were basically unstoppable in their efforts (however misguided those efforts were). It was confusing communication that God used to thwart their progress.
Though we certainly don’t want to emulate their motives, the reality that clarity of communication can render a group basically unstoppable in pursuit of their goals can’t be denied.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create and teach a common language that will set your team up for success. There are 3 key languages you need to know AND teach your team.
3 Languages You Need to Know (and Teach your Team)
1. The Language of Why
It’s likely that your organization has a mission statement and a vision for your desired future. Most do. The question is, does everyone on your team understand your mission? Can they articulate it? If they can’t, then there’s no possibility that they can internalize it in a meaningful way. You eliminate guesswork for your team when you give them common language for the purpose you’re working toward.
2. The Language of Who
Self-awareness is a crucial predictor of an individual’s success. Likewise, organizational self-awareness–the ability of the individuals on your team to understand each other’s strengths, communication styles, and roles–is a valuable component of team success. You can create a common language for your team by employing one of any number of tools that probe personalities, motivations, and strengths. Resources such as EQi, Strengthsfinder, the Enneagram, or a variety of others all serve the purpose of providing your team with a greater depth of understanding of themselves and each other, and a common lexicon to draw from when conflict or crisis arises.
3. The Language of How
While it’s foundational that you and your team share language to express the purpose of your efforts and to understand and engage with one another inter-personally, it’s equally important that you speak the same language when it comes to how you work together to achieve the vision.
Some of the most rewarding work I do with clients is guiding them through the process of clarifying their team values. Defining values for your team creates guiding principles by which they can make decisions and engage with each other. Providing expectations for how to work together, eliminates the need for your team to spend sideways energy attempting to figure that out.
When you have a common language–particularly the languages of why, who, and how – you clear the path ahead of your team. You allow them to spend their best energy on achieving the goals of the organization rather than on deciphering and navigating the confusion and disorientation brought about when things are lost in translation.
I encourage you to focus today on just one of these languages. Where do you need to provide a common language for your team: in the language of why, who, or how?
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning there is no additional cost to you, but I will earn a small commission if you use the links to make a purchase.