Recently I was discussing management styles with a CEO whom I hold in very high regard. He was describing his leadership philosophy and said something that got my attention. He spoke of the difference between the phrases: “My staff works for me” and “My staff works with me”.
My friend theorizes that the deliberate selection of one word over the other provides huge insights into how a Manager leads and relates to his/her direct reports. If you say your staff works FOR you, does that really suggest that you have a controlling and dictatorial management style? On the other hand, if you say your staff works WITH you, do you sincerely see your staff as peers and partners? And, if the latter, what can/will you do to manage and lead your team differently from the hundreds of thousands of executives who view their direct reports as bought-and paid-for ‘hired hands’?
Some think that great leadership begins and ends with the right demeanor and mindset. They believe that a leader’s words are less important than their actions. I beg to differ. I see life as a flow of actions and exchanges, framed, punctuated and governed by our choices of words (semantics).
Here is a great study that speaks to the power of semantics, for the doubters in the audience. In an article released by my favorite social media braniac at HubSpot.com, http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/6737/Don-t-Submit-To-Landing-Page-Button-Text.aspx , Social Media Scientist Dan Zarella looked at conversion rates of landing pages with ‘submit’ buttons. Dan checked out 40,000 pages and compared those using ‘submit’ as the default semantic of choice at the end of a web form , with those that had changed their button to read “click here”, “go”, “download” or “register”. Interestingly, he found that landing pages with submit buttons which were actually labeled “submit” tended to have lower conversion rates than those that used other wording. Aha! There it was! Clear and undisputable evidence of the power of words, definitively framing our lives and our conscious or subconscious decisions and activities!
Dan went on to conduct an informal test offering a few other ‘submit’ button label synonyms, and found that the top performing button variations were “click here” and “go.” Very Interesting… considering the clear difference in the meaning of those words. As Dan points out: “Compared to ‘submit’; ‘click here’ and ‘go’ are much less committal and imply a lower investment of time and effort.”
Which takes us back full circle to the implied differences in leadership style, inherent in the selection of the words ‘with’ or ‘for’. Funny, they are simple, short words. Nothing fancy or complex. Each consists of only three or four letters— but the selection of one word over the other could signal a huge difference in the way a Manager views, leads and governs his/her employees.
Today, I am renewing my vows. I pledge to be known as a ‘With’ versus a ‘For’ type of leader. I take the vow because I believe that as a “W” style leader, I’ll be framing relationships with my team members to generate the highest probability of success. It’s sort of like the button on the landing page controversy. I would omit the word ‘submit’ from the universal lexicon of landing page button labels. If given a choice, I would always use ‘GO’ as my button’s default label. Why? Because words count. What would your button say?