In my Daily Thought  back in September, I suggested that leadership competence-based systems may be better at providing a language than at creating good leaders. Common language, indeed, is one of the characteristics of a tribe, corporate or otherwise. The beauty of the language is the glue. The liability is the same glue that, in organizational and managerial terms provides a conversational shortcut which decreases the need for critical thinking. In fact, it may increase uncritical thinking. I will explain.
If I say that Jim is not good at empowerment, but very good at delivery, chances are I am bypassing lots of ‘unnecessary explanations’. ‘Everybody knows’ what I am talking about. (Seriously?) The ‘empowerment’ and ‘delivery’ terms produce the shortcuts needed to avoid digging in. Language here, instead of explaining, produces anti-explaining. You and I kid ourselves when we say that ‘we know what we are talking about’ (in fact, we use a lot of language such as, ‘I know what you mean Peter’) and fast forward to conclusions, including a management performance score.
There is no way to shape a culture with big conceptual values such as empowerment. They are mind traps that makes us happy (we have a common language) but contribute zero to the shaping of a specific culture, in behavioural terms.
What to do?
- Explain exactly what you want to see people do, that when they do it, you are happy to say ‘that’s empowerment’.
- Define perhaps two or three of those things, as concretely as you can (e.g. don’t just change the words, from, say, empowerment to devolution).
- Agree on those things (now, you can probably call them behaviours).
- Abandon the label of ‘empowerment’ as fast as you can and focus on those behaviours exclusively to, say, role model them, copy them, scale them up, and track adoption.
- And when people say, by doing ‘those things’ you are perhaps not ‘empowering’ but collaborating or teamworking, or delegating, or engaging people, or trusting, say yes, of course, thanks, good idea. (Translation: the label does not matter anymore as long as you all agree that what people should do is A,B,C).
The way to avoid (never completely) the language trap is to focus on behaviours. Of course if you stay at the level of words, they are not behaviours (yet), just words.
Behaviours, at scale, shape cultures. Concepts such as ‘empowerment’ provide the language, trigger conversations and align people. But they per se don’t create cultures. Translate in behavioural terms and scale. Then we are talking. Well, the real talking.
Continue the conversation….culture is key to the complex post Covid-19 future in front of us.
Watch our webinar on The Myths of Company Culture 
Stuck in old concepts, we have made culture change hard and often impossible. The failure of communication programmes or ‘culture training’ tell us a lot about the myths in this area. Learn how to successfully mobilize your people for a purpose and change culture. Culture is the key to the complex post Covid-19 future in front of us. Over the Covid-19 peak across the world we have seen the best and the worst of company cultures. Sometimes it felt like a pressure cooker. Culture is now ‘the strategy’, but we need to get rid of some assumptions and learn inconvenient truths.
What attendees said:
‘Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this fantastic webinar. Both the depth of the discussion between Leandro and Carlos and the very intensive exchange in the chat inspired me.’
‘It was a great pleasure to participate in today’s webinar…. If you would have been sitting next to me, you would have seen a lot of ‘head nodding’ and heard a couple of loud ‘yes’es’ from the bottom of my heart.’
WATCH NOW 
Don’t miss Leandro Herrero’s latest article, which addresses the non-medical management of the pandemic through the lenses of large scale behavioural and cultural change principles, as practiced by the Viral Change™ Mobilizing Platform for the last 20 years, in the area of organizational change.
Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO and Chief Organization Architect of The Chalfont Project , an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a people Mobilizing Platform, a methodology that delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations, which creates lasting capacity for changeability.
Dr Herrero is also an Executive Fellow at the Centre for the Future of Organization, Drucker School of Management. An international speaker, Dr Herrero is available for virtual speaking engagements  and can be reached at: The Chalfont Project .
His latest book, The Flipping point – Deprogramming Management , is available at all major online bookstores.