The Power of Purposeful Language (Two Things Every Team Needs)

If you’ve spent any amount of time at an airport then it’s likely you will have experienced the two words nobody likes to hear – ‘flight delayed’. It’s inconvenient of course, but when it comes to the safety of passengers it sure beats the alternative.

Having flown with a number of different airlines over the years one thing has been consistent when I experience a delay. I’m almost guaranteed to hear the airline crew use the words – ‘safety over schedule’. It’s their go to mantra in any situation that relates back to an issue of safety.

It’s this shared language, rooted in the shared value of safety that empowers crew to speak confidently in moments of inconvenience and disruption. It’s the sheet music that allows everybody to come together and play the same song.

Shared value gives people a common purpose to rally around. It’s the collective ‘why’ and reason to care.

Shared language gives people a simple and memorable way to articulate this value. It’s the collective expression they can use to talk about it.

Without shared value or shared language team members are easily confused. They rely on information from their own perspective and develop their own opinions about what values matter and how these values are expressed.

When a leader articulates shared language but fails to take the time to share the collective why or value, the result is cliché slogans and sayings. They might be well known in the organisation but are often insincere and feel artificial.

When a leader communicates the shared value but doesn’t give it a memorable expression then it often results in a variety of expressions. It’s talked about, but inconsistently and that hearsay is easily misinterpreted. Relying on hearsay only leaves people feeling cautious, wondering if they are responding appropriately. 

I’ve found that the best leaders know how to communicate shared value clearly and articulate a shared language that is both simple and memorable. These memorable messages become the mantras that build confidence and belief in the team and ultimately results in the team feeling deeply empowered

What shared language do you have in your team that is rooted in the shared values you want to see modelled? If you can’t think of any here’s a few questions you could ask your team:

  1. What is one core value that matters deeply to our team? 
  2. How would we describe this value in 7 words or less?
  3. When we are faced with a situation that conflicts with this value what mantra could we use to express our shared value? 

*If you’re looking for some ideas on how shared values can be turned into shared language take a moment to read through the Netflix Culture here