leadership language

During a recent overseas trip, I had the privilege of hearing one of the top leaders of a Fortune 50 company speak to my leadership workshop participants.  They were honored to have him take time out of his day to spend time talking with them and they were hanging on his every word.  He was very warm and transparent, while he shared his career path, choices and mentoring experiences.  He was very likable and appeared to have the best of intentions to inspire and motivate his middle level leaders.  And as a white American male, he had his challenges in trying to relate to the gender diverse group of Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean attendees.

Although overall I think he was received well, I couldn’t help but notice a few bloopers I wish I could have shared with him:


He used some American colloquialisms, and had to explain their meaning so no one would be offended. For example, he kept referring to ‘you guys’, and finally explained “ you know when I say ‘guys’ that I mean men and women, right?”

Wrong.  Even I was slightly offended as an American female that he kept using that term.  As the leader, you are setting the example.  You need to change YOUR language to meet the audience, not the other way around.  Make your language inclusive regardless of where you are.  To do otherwise just comes across as lazy and in this case, as white male privilege.


He talked about how lucky he was to have great mentors and proceeded to name them—–and as a matter of fact they were all white males, just like him, who are now also in high leadership positions.  He encouraged them all to find mentors (which I agree), but then followed with—‘find mentors that you can really relate to’, i.e. that are just like you (I’m paraphrasing here admittedly).

Again, I disagree.  If we are to truly value diversity as leaders, find mentors who are not like you and learn from them.  One of my best mentors was a liberal, highly creative, black male colleague who had more experience and saw the world through a different lens than I.  At the time I was highly conservative and narrow minded.  He challenged me to open my thinking both in my job, my career and in my life.  I treasured our time together.

Excellent Advice

The one thing I think he got 100% right was his advice to have a life outside of work. Work should never be a higher priority over family and loved ones.   Work never loves you back.  And, by the way, you are much more productive when you’ve taken the time off to re-charge anyway.

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