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Literature of Leadership - Leadership is Language

Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say--and What You Don't. L. David Marquet. (2020, Kindle Edition).

Have you considered how your use of language in the workplace enables or inhibits the work of others? David Marquet, former US navy captain and bestselling author of Turn the Ship Around! uses the art of storytelling to convey the power of language and dialogue in leadership.

Marquet advances the view that most of us are working with an outdated leadership playbook. Based on actual transcripts of the words spoken and actions taken by the captain and crew of the ship El Faro, Marquet examines how language played a critical role in their 2015 failed attempt to achieve a mission against tough odds. The core of this book focuses on lessons learned from this real-life incident. Specifically, Marquet introduces six leadership plays that demonstrate the power of language, contrasting the outdated plays from the El Faro situation with more modern era plays that better equip leaders for today’s challenges. The six plays include:

  1. Control the clock instead of obeying the clock.

  2. Collaborate instead of coercing.

  3. Commitment rather than compliance.

  4. Complete defined goals instead of continuing work indefinitely.

  5. Improve outcomes rather than prove ability.

  6. Connect with people instead of conforming to your role.

For each play, Marquet reveals not only what to say, but why and how—thereby providing readers with the tools to find the right language for any situation. In doing so, he compares two types of work that require the use of different language—“redwork” for activities related to execution (doing), versus “bluework” for activities related to decision-making (thinking). Finding the right balance between the two is key to driving team learning and enabling continuous improvement.

Interestingly, the book concludes with an imagined scenario in which the El Faro crew might have been saved by following a different leadership playbook. While the redwork-bluework comparisons used throughout the book are somewhat tedious, the storytelling and scenario approach to leadership lessons make for an enjoyable and instructive read.

Image source: Amazon

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