Legacy and lessons for leadership

An enormous thank you to my senior coachee who recently presented me with ‘Legacy’, James Kerr’s 2013 book (reissued in 2020) on the culture and practices of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. It was a fascinating read, and well worth indulging yourself in over Christmas if you would like an uplifting yet grounding reminder of the fundamental role that values have to play in leadership and effective teamwork in organisations. Humility, authenticity, sacrifice, putting the team before yourself … all of these have key parts to play in this, and as leaders, it is always good to reinvigorate ourselves with core messages we already know, but on which we ought regularly to focus explicitly.

One particular aside in the book caught my attention, and felt worthy of drawing out for further reflection. Chapter 7 – Expectations – is all about the stories we experience, and the stories we tell ourselves, and, as an avid proponent of leaders creating stories for themselves and those around them, this resonated strongly with me. I was therefore (very pertinently, as you will see) primed to be fascinated by the inclusion of a reference to John Bargh’s 1996 social psychology experiment on how words affect our responses to the world – also known as ‘priming’ (hence the pertinence mentioned above). It is also known as ‘the Florida Effect’, named after the inclusion of the word ‘Florida’ in the list of words referencing the negatives of aging which impacted on how subjects walked down a corridor (ie more slowly than those who had not heard those words).

Primed or not, though, I loved being reminded of the power of words to affect how we conduct ourselves – in every aspect of our lives, and not just in our leadership. Words have deep, rich layers of understanding embedded in them that – when we do not challenge them, and understand from whence they have been derived – can slip unconscious biases into our minds and our actions. One of the exercises I do when I work with coachees on the results of their Thomas International Personal Profile Analysis (PPA) is to challenge them to recognise their emotional reaction to the words that jump out at them, in order to explore first why they might not like them, and then how they might own them. It is always so interesting to unearth what words mean to people, and why, ie to see how the meanings of words have been shaped through their experiences. Upon understanding how their actions are subsequently shaped by these words and their embedded meanings, the next step is then to write an alternative, clearer, sharper narrative. If words affect how we walk down a corridor, then let us choose how to undertake the walk, and pick the words that surround us accordingly.

Words are powerful and dynamic creatures which impact us in all that we do … my message for today is to embrace and rise to the challenge of interpretation that they pose! Let no word go unchallenged today …

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.