March 6, 2021

L. David Marquet Discusses the Language of Leadership

L. David Marquet Discusses the Language of Leadership

L. David Marquet shares his incredible insights into how the words we use shape the relationships between us and our team as well as our clients, and how we can stop using the industrial age mindset in the modern world. Learn how to create a resilient...

L. David Marquet shares his incredible insights into how the words we use shape the relationships between us and our team as well as our clients, and how we can stop using the industrial age mindset in the modern world. Learn how to create a resilient team that generates extraordinary results for your clients, how to stop obeying the clock, and why creating the right business development habits can determine the arc of your career.


Mo asks L. David Marquet: What big idea do you have around using the language of leadership to build client relationships?

  • The language we use today has been passed down from our parents and grandparents, and is in essence an industrial age language.
  • In the past, language has adapted and changed as the work and society have evolved but more recently, language has fallen behind. Work and society are changing more rapidly than our language and this leads to communication issues.
  • The underlying theme of the industrial age in terms of human connections was conformity, where disrupting the hierarchy typically caused problems. We need to retrain ourselves to connect instead of conform and we do that through language.
  • Connection language is about being vulnerable without sharing too much; incremental intimacy is the key. It’s about reinforcing the idea of improvement instead of knowing all the answers right away.
  • Clients are shrewd and if you try to pretend that you know it all instead of being authentic and honest, the relationship will be damaged.
  • Communication is not part of the training for most complex expertise. One activity that we can do is saying “I don’t know” to a question a few times a week and being observant about how you feel about it, even when you do know the answer.
  • We teach leadership as if it’s history, but that’s not the right metaphor. Language is the perfect metaphor for leadership because it’s all about practice and the words that we use to communicate with other people.


Mo asks L. David Marquet: How can the language of leadership help us control the clock?

  • Controlling the clock is the antithesis of obeying the clock. In the industrial age it made sense because that’s the way production was done, but it doesn’t serve us in the way human teams interact now.
  • For creative work, controlling the clock is about acknowledging deadlines but controlling the rhythm between action and doing, and pausing and thinking. Doing is all about focus, whereas variability is an ally for thinking.
  • Many organizations are biased towards doing and action, and leave very little time for thinking and reflecting which leads to less innovation over time.
  • Another aspect of the industrial age is coercion. The very structure of most organizations is about controlling the actions of other people, and if that bleeds over into your client relationship, it’s not going to be very healthy.
  • Work with a client to choose a time to pause and get feedback, and as you get closer to the goal you can deliver more each time.
  • You want your decisions to have expiration dates. When you reach the expiration date, you revisit the activity and evaluate what’s working. The key is to commit until that date.
  • When we work in teams, we want the commitment to be small, so that the team can buy in without having to change their thinking right away. Make it easy for them to commit in the beginning instead of requiring them to admit their prior thought process was incorrect.


Mo asks L. David Marquet: How can we use the language of leadership to deepen our relationships?

  • There is a language difference between resilient and adaptive teams, and fragile teams. Adaptive teams are more open to dissenting opinions with people being willing to speak up. On fragile teams, only the loudest tend to get heard.
  • One of the most common patterns is that word distribution matches the salary distribution of the people involved in the meeting.
  • If you’re in a meeting, the point is not to get your point across, it’s to understand other people’s points and to structure the meeting so that the people that are underrepresented are invited to share. Vote first, and then discuss.
  • If you sense there is a dissenting opinion you should shine a light on that. You need to celebrate a dissenting opinion because that’s where all innovation comes from.
  • Avoid binary questions when you want to increase variability and increase innovation. Always go to the minority dissenting opinion first, you want to hear from the people that feel strongly one way or the other.
  • You should focus your time and energy finding out what the group knows and maximizing learning in the limited time that you have, and you don’t do that by rehashing what the majority thinks.


Mo asks L. David Marquet: How do we get our team to focus on the right client development activities?

  • We act our way to new thinking. When you want to change something, you need to act the way that those people would act and the thought process will follow.
  • Our brains change as a result of our habits. In terms of language, simply switching out the term “they” for “we” can create a very unique team environment.
  • Instead of looking for what you’re doing wrong, you need to look at the things that you’re doing right and celebrate those activities. Invite your team to tell their story.
  • We tend to focus on the outcomes for the things we do. Habits don’t change from the desire for an outcome. You have to put yourself into an environment where it’s easy to have the habits that generate the results you want.
  • Learn what it takes to change a small habit first, because if you haven’t gone through that process yet you have no right to ask other people, including your clients, to change their habits.
  • Celebrate all the actions, yours and your team’s, before you start suggesting incremental improvements.


Mo shares his insights from the habits of L. David Marquet.

  • We, as humans, are typically either thinking or we’re acting and we tend to bias toward action. For business development, this means it can be very easy to just do the next thing and do it right away. Sometimes that focus on action is not the right thing to do.
  • Occasionally, we need to step back and think about the next right move, but that can also include our colleagues and even the client or prospect. Ask the client/prospect what kind of followup they want to see from you.
  • Build default thinking time in with yourself, your team, and your clients, and then act. Put time in your calendar once a week for your thinking time and commit to it.
  • It’s important to not think about completion as just being a deal getting closed. A complete phase in business development can be the Give To Get, then each next step after that. Each step is an opportunity to step back and meet with the team about what worked well and what should change.
  • When you celebrate the small, incremental steps, you will do more of them.
  • Business development is challenging. We all almost always default back to delivery so we need to create mechanisms to celebrate every completion we do.
  • Business development is a journey. Ask open-ended questions and use each moment to learn and get better.
  • If you put 100 hours into improving your technical skills, your clients probably won’t notice. If you put 100 hours into your business development skills, not only do you improve your book of business and networking ability, you also pull through your expertise. Make it a priority and all kinds of good things will happen along the way.


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