The ability to understand and speak different languages creates significant advantages for leaders in a globalized world. While English is still considered the universal language, it’s important to realize that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all communication solution.
Leaders need to know how to communicate, and if they speak at least one other language, they can be more effective at communication. However, this isn’t everything about leadership; there’s also the need to persuade or to project a personality that appeals to the people you’re communicating with.
Multilingualism works when there is a need to interact with people who speak other languages, even if other parties (employees or clients) willingly learn English, or the language their leader speaks.
The ability to communicate in other languages obviously boosts communication skills but the advantage is not limited to this. It also improves at least three traits of a good leader – persuasiveness, authoritative assertion, and intuition.
A great leader has to be persuasive to make members follow him or her. At least knowing the language of the people a leader supposedly leads will make them more endearing. Team members will appreciate leaders who go out of their way to learn their employees’ language to improve communication. Moreover, a leader can easily persuade members by using terms, phrases, and idioms that appeal to the people they are trying to address.
When it comes to authority, multilingualism creates the impression of being knowledgeable or being fully aware of what’s going on in a particular issue, project, or decision making point. Would you trust a leader to make a good decision when he or she may misunderstand something written or spoken in an unfamiliar language? Additionally, the multilingualism advantage is not necessarily confined to a group. A leader who fluently deals with external parties (customers, clients, government agencies, etc.) without getting baffled by the language barrier easily projects authority.
Being familiar with the language used by subordinates or other important characters that influence a leadership structure, enables a better analysis of situations and evaluation of personalities. It creates the advantage of being able to understand cultural references and nuances.
Ideally, leaders who interact with people who use different languages should consider learning the basics. However, not everyone has the time for such an endeavor. That’s when translation professionals remain relevant. Experienced translators and interpreters can help leaders understand the written and spoken words of the people they are dealing with– especially for new managers or supervisors who are reassigned to offices or branches abroad.
Effective leadership requires effort. Managing personnel who have difficulties expressing themselves in English is not going to be a walk in the park. A number of studies have already proven that multilingualism has cognitive benefits, especially when it comes to two important attributes in good leadership: perceptiveness to the surroundings and focusing on small details.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
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