The Language of Leadership: The Power of “AND”

In the midst of an exercise meant to unite a team around a school improvement initiative a principal raises his hand and launches into this litany,

“This is all well and good; BUT there are so many things that are out of our control. The state is lowering their contribution to the school budget and that causes property taxes to rise. The public thinks it’s the school’s fault and votes down our budget. The politicians are going to re-authorize NCLB, so we are stuck with teaching to the test and spending tons of time reporting data to the State Education Department…”

As he spoke, he sucked all the positive energy out of the room. The issues he raised were extremely important; AND the timing and the “BUT” of his statement were really saying to the group;“Because we can’t control all of the forces that impact our schools, embarking on a course of change is useless”.

What if the principal had used AND instead of BUT?

“There are many things that influence schools that are beyond our control AND we are going to act to improve things where we do have control.”

We are often sabotaged by the huge “BUT” that finds its way into so many of our leadership conversations:

“I’d like to do more with technology:

BUT I don’t have time.
BUT I don’t have money.
BUT I don’t have support.
BUT the teachers/administrators/community don’t listen to me.
BUT NCLB is holding us back.
BUT there are too many conflicting priorities in the district.

It’s a great time to employ the power of “AND”. “AND” creates a completely different mood and keeps possibilities open.

I’d like to do more with technology:

AND I need to find the time.
AND I need to find the money.
AND I need to find the support.
AND I need to get the teachers/administrators/community to listen to me.
AND we need to take care of NCLB.
AND we need to narrow our district priorities.

Always be on the lookout for the “BUTs” that negate the positive statements that precede them. Understand that they are the lubricant that the speaker hopes will make the trailing negative statement slide by more easily. When we hear them we can restate the sentence with “AND”, thus allowing both ideas to live simultaneously while denying “BUT” the ability to shut things down.

Our sensitivity to the language of leadership must be tuned to other commonly used phrases. How often do we hear statements like, “ I think I can do that.” Using terms like “I think I can” (but maybe I’m wrong and I can’t do it) creates a weaker commitment than “I will do that.” The slight shift in language creates a much larger commitment to the other party and unconsciously builds a more solid foundation of trust.

“I think we will succeed.”

creates quite a different feeling than

“We will succeed!”

If we have doubts that are unresolved, then those doubts will be transmitted to those we lead. We are not likely to get 100% of the commitment we need from them to get the job done.

The language we choose when we speak says a lot about our leadership. It can allow for the possibility for change or shut it down. It can reflect our commitment and confidence as leaders or make public our doubts. It can build trust or erode it.The more deliberate we are in choosing our language the more effective leaders we will be.

There are a million things right about our schools; and they need transformative change.



7 thoughts on “The Language of Leadership: The Power of “AND”

  1. Pingback: EdBloggerNews
  2. Wow… Great Post.

    I like to teach this to my students.
    There is a very powerful leadership exercise that I do at my grade 8 leadership camp. I put tags on students’ foreheads like ‘Agree With Me’, ‘Ignore Me’, ‘Nod and Smile’, “Yeah But…” and then students have a conversation where they must respond to what others have on their heads, when that person speaks.

    In the debrief I always talk about the incredible power we have to make a difference in how someone feels.
    To make that point I often use the power of AND (Yeah but… to yeah And…)
    This post speaks to both of these points. Super Job!

    If you would like to see a write-up on the activity I have a file here:
    Titled: Discussion with Roles (A life lessons as well as a leadership lesson!)

  3. Hi there-
    I’m hunting resources that expand on your idea about the power of ‘and’. Is there a book you know of?

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