Book Notes: Leadership is Language

Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don’t by L. David Marquet
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The language we use is a by-product of the industrial age – where we use language to convincing, coerce, comply and conform. A “prove and perform” mindset rather than an improve mindset. We present things as certain and ourselves invincible rather than acknowledge reality. This was a world where the aim was to reduce variability rather than embracing it, there “red word” was done by the people at the bottom and “blue work” was done by the people at the top – so all brains were not engaged, managers spoke and doers listened.

Mindsets

  • Prove
    • I did it!
    • We need to show we can do this
    • Nailed it
  • Protect
    • Wasn’t me
    • No, I’m fine
    • We did the best we could with the time we had
  • Improve
    • How can we make it better?
    • How can I do better?
    • What have we learned?
Red WorkBlue Work
Avoid variability
Prove
Do
Repetition
Physical
Individual
Homogeneous
Production
Performance
Process
Compliant
Conformity
Simple
Narrow focus
Embrace variability
Improve
Decide
Dissimilar
Cognitive
Team
Heterogeneus
Reflective
Planning
Prediction
Creative
Diverse
Complex
Broad focus
Work types

The solution

  • Control the clock instead of obeying the clock
    • Make a pause possible and pre-plan the next pause
    • Give the pause a name e.g “time out”, raising a hand, pulling a cord
    • Instead of pressing on with red work – call a pause
  • Collaborate instead of coerce
    • Vote first then discuss
    • Be curious not compelling – ask better questions
    • Invite dissent rather than drive consensus
    • Give information not instructions
  • Commitment rather than compliance
    • Commit to learn, not (just) do
    • Commit actions not beliefs
    • Chunk it small but do it all
  • Complete defined goals rather than continuing work indefinitely
    • Chunk work for frequent completes early, few completes late
    • Celebrate with not for
    • Focus on behaviour not characteristics
    • Focus on journey not destination
  • Improve outcomes rather than prove ability – use language which is:
    • Forward not backward- e.g. what would we do differently?
    • Outward not inward – e.g. what could we do to better serve our customers?
    • On the process not on the person – e.g. How could this be done better?
    • On achieving excellence not avoiding errors – e.g. What does great look like?
  • Connect with people rather than confirming to the role
    • Flatten the power gradient
    • Admit you don’t know
    • Be vulnerable
    • Trust first

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