There are many barriers to communication, even when we speak the same language. Yesterday I presented “what your CEO needs you to know” to Learning and Development professionals at ASTD. I shared the top issues that occupy CEOs: revenues and profits, strategic focus, and key talent. More deeply though, what I believe forms the greatest gap between CEOs and their functional leaders is a language barrier. Organizations run the risk of the Tower of Babel situation – groups working on the same project with different “languages” not accomplishing their results in spite of their great competence.
There is a ‘language of business.’ Language is not just sounds, it is consciousness. Language embeds values, perceptions, and an interpretation of the world. I shared with the Learning and Development folks that they will be heard by executives when they speak “executive language.” In fact, all managers will be better off if they speak the language of business – to their managers, their staff, and their peers. The language of business is constructed around key talent focusing their efforts for a profit.
When HR speaks the language of risk mitigation and legal compliance, that’s different than CEO language. When accounting speaks the language of reporting and compiling data, that’s different than CEO language. When manufacturing speaks the language of lean production and timetables, that’s different than CEO language. Now the CEO needs to be fluent in all these languages, but primarily speaks in terms of growth, focus, and talent.
The Tower of Babel is further aggravated by accents. Each organizational culture has its own accent in the language of business. A highly venerated leader in an ice cream company might find herself ineffective in a fast food company. She may be baffled for she is strong in all the competencies of her job. It is her “language of business” accent that’s in the way. It is her cultural bias from the old company that makes it hard for her new staff to “hear” her.
Good leaders learn the language of business and speak like a native. Great leaders have the ability to adjust their accent for the culture they are leading.