As a leader, your words matter. As a person of any influence, in whatever capacity, your words matter.
To say the least, times have been very interesting. While much of the talk has been about the virus, I want to share a few thoughts on the power of words and leadership.
At the beginning of the State of Pandemic declared in Victoria, the managing director and founder of BGL, Ron Lesh, told the team: “Your jobs are safe, look after yourselves and families, know that we will get through this and we will do all we can to support you”. In that very moment, Ron took away the impact and power of fear in a few brief words and moments.
I listened to a webinar with Jeff Immelt, ex CEO of GE, last week. He said one of the most important roles of a leader is to “absorb fear”. I add to this that true leaders personally carry the burden of fear, shielding their people from its power and potential effect. They use words that instill confidence, hope, courage and belief. Watching and listening to some of the leaders, I cannot help but express my frustration at the choice of words and language used. Phrases like “the worst is ahead”, “prepare for carnage”, “be afraid”, “thousands will die” and “our hospitals will be full” do absolutely nothing to instill a sense of hope or offer any assurance or confidence to the people. In this time, unfortunate as it may be, some leadership styles have defaulted to Leadership by Fear.
Leadership by fear is designed to make you scared. This allows the leader to control, manipulate and force desired outcomes often driven by hidden agendas. Some see this as great leadership when in fact, the exact opposite is true.
By magnifying fear and fuelling its power, we give permission for fear to take hold and define us. This fear and the continual drumming into us “what could be” is contributing to an escalation of mental health issues that will make the virus a literally a bump in the road. The virus curve is flat. The curve of concern, anxiety, insecurity, uncertainty, hopelessness and desperation is well and truly on the rise.
In a recent survey, peoples greatest concern was found to be the global economy, the local economy, a loved one contracting the virus and the person themselves getting the virus. The virus may have been No 1 at the beginning of the pandemic, but this has now changed. However, the language from some of our leaders has not. The level of fear, confusion and despair has escalated significantly. People’s ability to provide for themselves and their families is of significant concern. People need to get back to work, be engaged and have their self-esteem and confidence restored. This needs to happen sooner rather than later. This can only happen with strong positive leadership.
While I do not object to measures taken, we have done and continue to do our part, and what we want now is a plan. What we want is some encouragement, words of affirmation, positivity as well as the many positive stories and developments that give us real reason for hope and a great future. Instead, positivity rarely gets to the surface and negativity is amplified as that is what gets the people’s attention.
We need a plan to address the concerns of the people and that clearly articulates a way forward. We need to see leadership that takes people by the hand, taking each of us through to the other side of this. Countries like Austria and New Zealand have done this superbly. It’s not that hard. Instead, in this country, it has become a game of state government against state government and very evidently, state government against federal government. In this very moment we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to unite a nation (we need this more than ever before) instead we have defaulted to leadership by comparison.
Drop the comparisons, egos and agendas. Leadership is about people. That is a leader’s primary responsibility. The language and words used can either fuel hope and aspiration or hopelessness and defeat.
Leaders of this nation, please come together and make this nation great again!