Another interesting factor in leadership is communication. When I ask people who they think are great leaders, they often name people like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill and more. What is common in all of these names is that they are great orators. Their speeches are marked in history, and often cited as inspiration. One of my personal favourites is this video of when Steve Jobs returned to lead Apple as CEO in 1997 and some jerk in the audience asked him a pretty insulting question, saying it was clear he didn’t know what he was talking about and what had he been doing for the past seven years?
This video is well worth the watch, and Steve Jobs is a pretty inspirational person. That’s why there are websites dedicated to Steve Jobs quotes, as there are for many other leaders named above.
Now what’s interesting about communicating is that I don’t know anybody who wants to communicate worse. We all want to communicate better. And leaders communicate the best. After all, people don’t follow leaders because they are told to, unless you live in a dictatorship; no, we follow leaders because we want to. Because they inspire use. Because they lead us. And it is their ability to articulate complex ideas and bring those to our hearts as well as our heads that makes them great leaders.
Now the English language gets interesting here. English has over 750,000 words to enable us to be able to communicate, but you can get by with about 3,000 words. In particular, English was not invented by the English, but by the Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Scandinavians and more. That is why English is such an incredibly rich and deep language, mixing many dialects and acting as a method of allowing cross-border communication.
I remember reading a book in 2000 called The Year 1000. It was an interesting book, describing life in England a thousand years ago, and one section of the book talked about the English language and how it developed.
The core of the English language are words that are very basic and simple. In fact, most of the core of the English language are words with one or two syllables. The more complicated words of three syllables or more came from France. And, a thousand years ago, you couldn’t swear at anything. You could swear by my honour or swear by my liege, but you couldn’t swear at me. That all came from the Dutch.
Anyway, why the discourse into English language derivation? Well, it turns out that the greatest speeches of all time – I have a dream, We shall fight them on the beaches, Think not what your country can do for you – and so on, are all based upon the core English words. The basic words. The simplest language.
It is this simple language that great leaders harness and use well. They can inspire us by appealing to our basic instincts. It is their gift and what they do well. Does your company have such a person? Who inspires you? Think about why they inspire you? Is it their success, their personality or their use of language? It may be all three, but their language will be a critical part of why and how they inspire you. After all, to lead people you need to have a vision of where you want people to go. Then you have to share that vision with passion to get them to follow you.
That’s what leadership is all about and why we have so few great leaders.