I had been paired with a fellow missionary who had been on the island much longer than I and whose job it was to train me. One of the very first things he did to welcome me to the island was to take me to Wendy's for lunch. We walked in and he told me that my challenge was to order my own lunch in Spanish. I was nervous. I had minimal training in the language and ordering a cheeseburger and fries seemed daunting.
I stepped to the counter and in my broken Spanish said, "Me gustaria una hamburguesa con queso y papas fritas."
The lady stared back in confusion.
I repeated myself, gesturing at the menu: "Una hamburguesa con queso? Y papas fritas?"
Again, she had no idea what I was saying. Her colleagues chuckled and my fellow missionary leaned past me and said, "El numero uno," pointing to meal #1.
She finally got it and said, "Ah, quieres un 'cheeseburger' y algunas 'french fries.'"
Turns out, at least in Puerto Rico, cheeseburger and french fries are the same, except spoken with a slight accent. No matter how much I emphasized, gestured, and repeated myself, we simply didn't speak the same language.
This is the great challenge of leadership development training. Leaders go off and learn new language and new methods, and then return to their teams speaking French in Italy. People don't get it -- don't speak the same language -- and do one of a few things:
- Write off the leader as a lunatic.
- Grin and bear it until this phase passes.
- Seek to understand.
Most of the time, unfortunately, the response is one of the first two.
How can you prevent this language gap?
First, recognize that leadership is all about common language. Everyone must speak the same language. This is why most of Proof's leadership training packages include not only one-on-one coaching for the leader but also team training. Common language creates efficiency and unity.
Second, if you do attend a training alone, carve out time to teach what you learned. Share readings and resources and invest the time to share the wealth. Leaders sometimes keep the learning to themselves, hoping to deploy their new tactics subtly without others knowing. Better to show them exactly what you're going to do and then go and do it.
Lastly, if you're ever the one to walk into an environment with its own language, do #3 above. Seek to understand. Get time on someone's calendar to explore the lexicon. Better yet, keep a running log of phrases and vocabulary you've never heard before and use time in a check-in on a periodic basis to gain clarity. Your efforts will not only help you acclimate but also show your interest and desire to learn.
Before you can even begin to lead, make sure everyone around you is speaking the same language.