Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

2 Language, identity and exploring the unknown

You are going to spend some time here considering the language used in leadership practice. The language you use also shapes how you experience the world. For example, organisations can become fixated with instrumental language – we do x in order to achieve y. Instrumental language can replace alternatives, such as the language of ethics, of intellectual stimulation or political language. After a while, organisations settle into a pattern of speaking that shapes the way they think and see the world.

There is always something lacking in the language and knowledge available to us, however. Language always fails to capture all of our ambitions for leadership: we often chastise ourselves in this regard. You wish we had produced a more perfect policy report or been more eloquent at a meeting. Yet the fact that you can find it hard to find the right words, the fact that you stumble mid-sentence can be a sign that you are exploring something important – that you are entering the unknown.

We advocate a practice of noticing and working with the cracks and flaws in language as important in signalling when we are starting to explore the unknown. We can help each other in collaborative leadership by encouraging each other to explore further these issues that we find hard to communicate satisfactorily.

A practical example will serve to illustrate the point. Think about the last time you felt something strongly but lacked the words to express yourself satisfactorily (as Ellen found in the audio you heard earlier). Or the last time you spoke with someone about something that mattered to them and their talk was filled with pauses, repetition, uncertainty, contradiction. These moments are a sure sign that you are onto something important.

The reason you find it hard to express is precisely because your identity and system of thought are being stretched.

This is a provocative proposition as most people are taught and trained to pursue only eloquence and coherence. You seek to only speak out loud when your thoughts are fully formed or to only share polished, final drafts of papers. Yet could it be that you close off all kinds of opportunities for growth by working in this way?

Dictionary definition of ‘word’.
Figure 2 Language

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371