Learning to Speak Leadership Rewires Your Brain

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I have two friends serving as missionaries in a southeast Asian country. They’ve been there about two years and are still focusing on developing relationships and learning Mandarin and the local culture. I receive regular email newsletters from them sharing their latest adventures, victories, and mishaps. It’s all part of the process of building relationships so that they can introduce people to Christ. As you can imagine, proficiency in the local language, Mandarin, is one of the most important parts of their work. Many of the people know English, but my friends’ influence in others’ lives will be greatly enhanced by learning their language. In their most recent newsletter, my friends shared fascinating insights about this process.

Shelly wrote:

I am finding that as I go beyond merely learning another language into speaking and listening, really “living the language,” I seem to have discovered a second identity. It sounds a little weird, I know, but there’s something about “living Mandarin” in the context of this culture that has revealed an inquisitive, talkative, child-like aspect of my personality. I’m curious to see how I continue to develop as time goes on.

In that newsletter, Len shared from his experience learning Mandarin, too:

As a child, I was voted most likely to be abducted because I would talk to anyone. I talked with strangers, stuffed animals, and myself. I am an extrovert, except here in this country. I have found Mandarin learning to be frustrating and humbling. My speaking has been corrected by children. I have become self-conscious and quiet when interacting with others in Mandarin. Finally, I am learning to listen well before I speak.

I find all of this fascinating! As Shelly learns a new language, dormant elements of her personality are emerging that she is now able to use in her work as a missionary. At the same time, Len has discovered that learning Mandarin has challenged him to develop a new dimension of his people skills.

Have you seen the recent movie Arrival? A central part of the story (no, I’m not giving away the plot) is that Louise Banks, a linguist, must quickly learn the aliens’ language. The process of learning this language actually rewires her brain. This process is not science fiction. Learning a language really does result in new brain activity and patterns.

Learning the language of leadership is much the same way. It, too, rewires the brain. Much like the experiences that Shelly and Len report, learning the language of leadership draws out elements of a leader’s personality as well as previously unknown abilities that make them a stronger leader. It also challenges leaders to develop skills they hadn’t previously needed.

What is the language of leadership? It’s more than just a vocabulary: strategy, vision, values, encouragement, strengths, development, discipline, and more. The “language” of leadership includes the broad range of communication skills and strategies that a leader uses to drive people and organizations to a better future.

How proficient are you at speaking leadership? If you’ve discovered new skills in working with people or new dynamics to your personality that help you lead, and if you’ve realized you need to grow to become a stronger leader, then you’re probably on your way to fluency.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Markus Spiske. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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