Book Review: Leadership is Language
By Jenn Bodine, DNP, FNP-C, NPD-BC, CEN
Marquet, D. L. (2020). Leadership is language: The hidden power of what you say and what you don't. Penguin Random House LLC.
Leadership is one of the seven roles of a nursing professional development (NPD) practitioner. “The NPD practitioner influences the interprofessional practice and learning environments, the NPD specialty, the profession of nursing, and healthcare” (Harper & Maloney, 2016, p. 8). While some people may be fortunate enough to have leadership abilities come naturally, I find it is something I have had to work hard at for most of my professional career. Therefore, I find it helpful to read the occasional leadership book to gain insight into others' experiences and recommendations.
L. David Marquet is a retired U.S. Navy submarine Captain whose most defining moments occurred aboard the USS Santa Fe (SSN-763). Marquet used intent-based leadership to change the Santa Fe from the worst submarine in the U.S. Navy to one of the best. Marquet currently works with leaders to help them implement intent-based leadership and is a nationally recognized speaker. During his 28 years in the U.S. Navy, he cultivated an intent-based leadership model to empower his crew to participate in decision-making and problem-solving. An intent-based environment encourages leadership at all levels (David Marquet, n.d.).
In Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don't, Marquet notes that most organizations continue to work in an antiquated Industrial-Age leadership model, which separates the role of the leader (the person who thinks) and the follower (the person who does the task). In this model, there is no overlap in roles; the follower does as they are told, implementing the leader’s ideas. Marquet observes that this separation of roles can lead to job dissatisfaction and critical mistakes. Especially considering the person immersed in doing the actual work can give crucial insight to processes. Intent-based leadership involves using language that invites opinions—rather than asking questions that generate binary answers (yes/no), answers your own questions, or begs for the right answer. This type of language permits the team to speak of their intentions rather than to ask for permission.
As NPD practitioners, we can apply Marquet’s (2020) recommendations to create an intent-based environment:
- Control the clock instead of obeying the clock. This philosophy encourages leaders to role-model being thoughtful in their actions rather than being reactive. Thoughtfulness is challenging and requires practice in the fast-paced healthcare environment. NPD practitioners often feel a sense of relief when they can quickly tick off tasks from their never-ending to-do list. However, encouraging thoughtful actions allows staff to voice any concerns that they may have and eases the stress that they may feel to adhere to the pressure of getting a task done. Language that can spur thoughtfulness acknowledges hesitancy to execute a plan and asks what the team is thinking about the action.
- Collaborate instead of coercing. NPD leaders should elicit the opinions of the team before voicing their thoughts. When a leader expresses their opinion first, it tends to sway the team to adopt the same opinion. This lack of diversity of thought stunts innovation and creativity. Therefore, NPD leaders should seek to understand their team’s perspectives before sharing their own. Make it clear that disagreement is healthy and be comfortable with supplying information rather than instructions. Collaboration language involves curiosity and asking people if they can expand upon the reasoning behind their opinion.
- Commit rather than comply. This logic instills a commitment to learning versus forcing the team into compliance. We practice this commitment when we evaluate outcomes for potential areas of improvement. The commitment to learning directs NPD practitioners to reflect on past experiences but not be bound to them. Language that indicates a commitment to learning asks the team to identify what they hope to learn from their actions.
- Complete defined goals instead of continuing work indefinitely. Marquet advocates for breaking projects into small, measurable goals. This approach prevents the NPD team from feeling like their work is repetitive and interminable. Goals with a definitive start and end date give the team a sense of progress and let us celebrate our team’s efforts. Celebratory leadership language does not involve praise but instead acknowledges the work that the team has contributed.
- Improve outcomes rather than prove ability. This mindset shifts the focus from the individual to processes and actions. NPD leaders should always have a forward-looking attitude of how the team can be better rather than how to avoid mistakes. In other words, we need to deviate from a “proving ourselves” to an “improving ourselves” mentality. This journey of improvement uses language that asks how the team could do better.
- Connect with people instead of conforming to your role. Connecting is foundational to sharing your leadership role with your team and means seeking and using your team's expertise. Leaders need to allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to admit they do not know all of the answers. This vulnerability is necessary to use language that enhances participation, such as "I'm not sure, does anyone else have any ideas?"
Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don't is an interesting read. This book caused me to reflect on the importance of diversity of ideas and how my language can empower people to share their ideas.
David Marquet. (n.d.). Our story. https://www.davidmarquet.com/our-story/
Harper, M., & Maloney, P. (2016). Nursing professional development: Scope & Standards of Practice (3rd ed.). Association for Nursing Professional Development.
Marquet, D. L. (2020). Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don't. Penguin Random House LLC.