The language of leadership


It’s interesting how we humans assess our effectiveness in communicating what we are thinking to others. So many of the challenges we experience in our personal and professional relationships come down to little more than an inaccurate conclusion that what we have attempted to communicate actually hit the mark. While we may believe we’ve conveyed our thoughts in high definition, the person on the receiving end may feel as if he or she received the message through two soup cans and a string. No wonder Dr. John C. Maxwell points out in his book of the same title, “Everyone communicates; few connect.”

The reality is many of us muddle our way through expressing thoughts and emotions to others, rarely giving much time to being deliberate about evaluating or improving the effort. That’s unfortunate, because if we wish to be better leaders, we need to be better communicators. This is why Grindstone includes Communication among its five founding values in our mission to sharpen leaders. Indeed, as no less an authority on communication than author and presidential speechwriter James C. Humes observed, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

Among the books I am reading this summer is Principles, by Ray Dalio, co-founder of the hedge fund company Bridgewater Associates and among the top 100 wealthiest people on planet earth. The book focuses primarily on life and work principles, but in a brief biographical section Dalio reveals that nearly 20 years after starting his company, three of his senior employees sent him an alarming memo. It stated that although he was “innovative [with] very high standards [and] good intentions,” he would sometimes say things that made his team members feel “incompetent, unnecessary, [and] overwhelmed.” Wow.

My marginalia on that page of Dalio’s book was simply “MDD” – familiar initials to everyone who has worked with me, because I felt like I was reading a self-description, albeit an extreme one. Revealing a rather strong “Conscientious” style on the DISC assessment, I have a tendency to exhibit some of these less than noble traits. In my relentless drive to complete the mission, achieve excellence, and provide transparency, I drive those around me as hard as I drive myself and can sometimes be too blunt. Fortunately, my “C” style is tempered with elements of “Steadiness,” which prioritizes teamwork and stability, not to mention empathy and diplomacy! (My DISC score appears in the featured photo accompanying this post.)

Some years after receiving the memo from his coworkers, Dalio took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and found it to be an accurate assessment. I first encountered MBTI in graduate school a couple of decades ago and also discovered it offered a true reflection of my personality type (ISTJ, for those who know Myers-Briggs). Having more recently become familiar with DISC, however, I believe it to be an even better instrument. When paired with Motivators, it is a powerful tool to understand how and why people behave as they do. DISC is easy to remember and universally applicable as we interact with others.

How about you? Do you have an accurate picture of how you communicate with your spouse, coworkers, or neighbors? Can you clearly read the way others communicate and wish to be treated when you interact with them? If you’d like to find out more, our team at The Grindstone Institute can support you with individual assessments or group workshops.

Trade in those soup cans and string for a better way of communicating, being understood, and understanding others. Make an investment in yourself or your company and contact us for an assessment today.

After all, as Lee Iacocca pointed out, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”


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