Leadership Language: Using Authentic Communication to Drive Results, by international leadership authority Chris Westfall, is the antidote to the “business speak” that’s infected our culture. If you’re struggling with expressing or achieving your vision in business or in life, says Westfall, you might be doing the one thing that’s keeping you from connecting with the people you need to the most.
You might be using the wrong language.
Leadership Language sets out to recalibrate the old and tired jargon many of us default to in favor of authentic and effective communication. As leaders, we may come up with perfect ideas and solutions, explains Westfall, but if we fail to communicate these ideas clearly in ways that genuinely compel others, we’ll end up with the wrong result. And we might even end up with a disaster.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Westfall’s opening story in the book, in which he recounts the harrowing tale of the Mann Gulch fire. On a brutally hot summer day in 1949, a team of fourteen firefighters, led by a gentleman named Wagner Dodge, parachuted into Montana’s Helena National Forest to fight a raging fire.
After bad luck—and a few bad decisions—the team of men found themselves surrounded by a wall of whipping, hot, impenetrable flames. Dodge, the oldest and most experienced member of the group, discovered an unexpected way to escape the flames and cried out to his team. But he wasn’t able to convince his men to follow his lead, and most of them died at the scene.
It’s the quintessential story of a failure in leadership, Westfall writes. A failure to communicate when the stakes were highest. And it’s a story that effectively conveys the point of Westfall’s book. Right from the get-go, Westfall shocks readers into a private assessment: “Would I lead my team to the same fate? How effectively do I communicate?”
Westfall has an incredible talent for engaging his readers with stories like this one, honed by his years of helping thousands of business leaders, Fortune 100 companies, high-growth entrepreneurs, and Shark Tank startups refine and polish their branding and messaging.
The book is divided into thirteen chapters, many of which include illustrative stories like the Mann Gulch fire. For example, early on Westfall recounts the story of McCalley Cunningham, a young college freshman who beat out MBAs and PhDs in a pitch competition where she presented to a multibillion‐dollar industry.
The story gently reminds readers that achieving success comes from a place of authentic passion, not necessarily age or experience. A story about a Detroit security guard, who proved science wrong by hitting a 266-mph fastball, morphs into a lesson on anticipation. And so on.
Amongst these stories, Leadership Language offers plenty of actionable advice. One standout example is about harnessing the hidden power of what Westfall terms “you” language, a technique you’ll instantly recognize from Shark Tank pitches. It’s easy to tell a story from your personal viewpoint, Westfall asserts. But the fact is, he chides, nobody cares about your story.
If you want people to care, you need to begin every conversation with your listener’s viewpoint. By using phrases such as “Have you ever noticed…” or “You know that feeling when…” Westfall explains, you’ll create engaged listeners who acknowledge, “Yes, I do know what you’re talking about, and I want to hear more.”
Westfall offers his share of contradictory advice, but it rings with truth. For example, data-loving readers will be dismayed to read that their beloved data, facts, and figures mean nothing at all—without the right context, that is. According to Westfall, facts just don’t speak for themselves.
His proof? He asks readers to look at a fact. In this case, the fact is a number: 20 percent. A 20 percent chance of rain seems like a low number, right? In contrast, a 20 percent chance of a fatal heart attack is an anxiety-inducing high number. The fact itself, 20 percent, did not change. But the meaning changed drastically based on the difference in context. The language you use to provide this context matters. And it matters greatly.
Though written for those currently in or eyeing a leadership role, Leadership Language speaks in a language anyone can benefit from, from fresh-faced students all the way to the C-suite. It’s a relatable, personal guide to mastering the kind of language that creates connection and understanding. As Westfall writes: “Change the conversation and change your results.” His book certainly shows you how.
For more on the author, visit his website.