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A Leadership Essential: Clarifying What Your Words Mean

“What do you mean by ‘collaborate’?”

I smiled at John, a top executive

at a multinational software company in Silicon Valley.

The other execs in the room

looked at me like I was insane.

I was coaching 6 leadership team members

on their presentations for the big upcoming company event.

I continued.

“What kinds of actions do you want your team members taking?

What specifically are you envisioning them doing?”

John, who leads the Customer Experience team, thought for a moment.

“Well, I’d like them to post

their projects in our internal design portal;

and I’d like the other team members

to log in, comment and offer feedback.”

The other executives leaned in.

I then took John through a 3-part system I have

so he could crystallize and articulate

even further what he’d had in mind.

The problem had been just this.

The ideas had all been ONLY in John’s mind.

He had a vision of what he meant by “collaborate”

…but did his team?

This past Wednesday, I delivered a keynote

in Boston for Wolters Kluwer

who also had a theme around collaboration.

I asked the executive in charge

—the woman who had hired me—

what she meant by the word.

No doubt, her vision was totally different from John’s.

Hers is an entirely different organization.

It’s a different company culture; division; and geographic set up.

They have different resources, systems and 2023 goals.

Every individual has their own interpretation of a word like





or any other large-scale concept

that organizations tend to reference A LOT.

This particular executive at Wolters Kluwer

had a specific (and brilliant) vision

for how her team could collaborate—

one that I can’t reveal here due to confidentiality—

but it was essential for me to understand it

so that I could tailor my keynote’s messaging

to support her and have my points land.

And land they did (I’m thrilled to report…)

in a big way. (Hooray!)

The next time someone uses a general word

to articulate an important outcome,

ask a few more questions,

get a few essential details,

and make sure you understand

what that individual really, truly means.

Risk Forward and Rock On,


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