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Blow up the language barrier.

Updated: Feb 12, 2019


5min30sec total to both watch and read.

To hear the Audio Version, click here.


The movie Elizabethtown tells a meaningful and comedic story of loss, failure, and the treasure that can be found in the rubble of dreams, goals, and relationships if we're willing to sort through our scars and share our stories. In this scene Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) quiets the chaos of the kids at the family reunion by capturing their attention using a video that speaks their language.


I've never felt leadership requires a particular type of communication style. I've worked for exceptional leaders that were gifted and inspirational speakers, or brutally blunt, or even painfully shy. Some were comfortable speaking in rooms full of hundreds or thousands. Some only comfortable speaking in rooms of ten or less. Styles varied widely.

What was absolutely consistent in these men and women that I was fortune to work for was an appreciation for the differences in how people communicate. They learned how we listened, and tailored just enough of their words and style towards us to ensure we knew the work that had to be done and how to do it.

As a young special operations officer, I worked for one of the most motivational and gifted communicators I've ever known. He could captivate and hold the attention of a room full of door-kickers and freedom-fighters with seemingly little effort. It appeared as simple and natural as breathing to him. He was, after all, one of us.

One afternoon he asked another junior officer and I to drive him to the Naval Base across the bay in San Diego and join him for a meeting with members of the Surface Warfare Community. The Special Warfare community (SEALs) and Surface Warfare community (Ships) have widely different, but supporting, missions.

Unsurprisingly, we have different mentalities, methods, and mannerisms. Not better or worse - just unique to each of our domain.

Sitting in the back of the room, my friend and I watched as he had the exact same impact on this room of fighting men and women as he did our own - yet his words, style, and mannerisms were different. Not altered so extraordinarily that it was like watching another person ... just ... different.

He was himself, and completely authentic.

His message consistent and shared with hard-earned credibility and authority.

But he had "become" enough of his audience to ensure they heard him well. In taking time to (i) learn their language, (ii) consider the realities of their world, and (iii) understand how they had to fight their wars and make their decisions - he not only showed respect, he created an extraordinary efficiency. There were few questions, fast agreements, and the way forward quickly agreed upon. It was a pretty stunning display of talent and mastery, I thought. Our Commanding Officer's curiosity was a catalyst that expedited mission success.

On the way back to our base I asked him, "Sir, how did you learn to do that? To talk to them in their language." His answer was pretty humbling. He paused and looked at both of us - almost like he was surprised by the question - and said, "Well, it never really occurred to me that everyone should have to learn to listen the way I like to talk."

Decision, Design, & Discipline:

What is most important to our mission: (a) That our people hear what we have to say the way we like to say it, or (b) that our people hear what we have to say and know what, when, and how to do what needs to be done? And do they know if they have a question they can ask it, and get an answer they will understand?

This isn't about becoming someone else, or being disingenuous to who we are. This is about respecting the diversity we've brought around ourselves to accomplish a mission we can't do on our own.

Dictators and tyrants make everyone listen how they like to talk. Leaders are talented enough to learn the languages needed to get the job done. Visit with 2-3 of your key relationships and ask them if and when you consistently "lose them" when you're tasking them or trying to explain something. The go to work on those things. But only if you're interested in being hear more clearly, and getting things done faster and better than ever before.

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