Monthly Archives: January 2016

On saying what you mean

Gender-based violence. Those words are powerful. Say those words to someone and they mean something, even if they have never heard the term before. Female genital mutilation. These words conjure up images of brutality, of violence, of pain, of discrimination and sexism. Even sexually transmitted disease, maybe something you’re more used to hearing in its abbreviated form STD, is more powerful when spelled out.

If you work in global health or international development you’ve probably called gender-based violence “GBV” and female genital mutilation “FGM”.  You’ve probably written PMTCT, short for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (of HIV), and heard SAM (severe acute malnutrition), SRH (sexual reproductive health), FP (family planning), MCH (maternal child health), NTDs (neglected tropical diseases), NCDs (non-communicable diseases), OVC (orphans and vulnerable children), DALY (disability-adjusted life-years), my newest one is EVDS (Ebola virus disease survivors)…the list goes on and on. This alphabet soup is endemic amongst institutions working in social impact, government, and policy, so even if you aren’t familiar with these specific to global health, I’m sure if you work in this space you can come up with laundry list specific to your field.

There’s the obvious argument that using these abbreviations alienate people who aren’t in the aid, development, human rights or health fields and don’t know the wonky lingo and so by its nature acronyms are elitist and pretentious, and I would agree with that. But there’s something even more important – we dilute the meaning of these words and phrases by bunching them up into comfortable little packages of letters. We start to forget what they really stand for. This shorthand stands for words that articulate inequity, describe human rights violations, elucidate real issues that need to be described with real words. These letters represent circumstances that describe the trials of being a human being in the face of injustice and the work being done to try to solve some of these pressing issues. This isn’t LOL and BRB and IDK.

As a leader, it is so important to say what you mean. Language is essential, not only because it is the vehicle for people to understand what you mean but also because the words that you choose communicate your values. And while I’ll talk more about communication in another post, the first part of communication is being intentional with your words.

So, while I might vaguely understand people’s desire to shorten things up, I would advocate that it’s important to take the extra few letters, take the extra breath and say the actual words. They mean something. And isn’t it so much more powerful to call things out by their names?

This post was modified from it’s original post “Alphabet Soup” in January 2014 on my other blog 


Intention Setting – The new New Years resolution for the modern leader

Starting off the new year, many people make their resolutions – go to the gym, eat healthier, write more, read more – the list goes on. But most of those resolutions don’t live on in people’s hearts and minds past a week or two into the new year. Are we so uncommitted to accomplishing the things we want to do for ourselves?

I would say, no. The problem with New Years resolutions, or resolutions in general, is that they are focusing on the wrong things – the what and the how – when instead they should be focusing on the values behind it, or the why. Our why is the heart of who we are, it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, what gives us reason and meaning, and yet we rarely contemplate or verbalize it in an intentional way. When you list off a bunch of arbitrary things that you want to do, with no underlying reason as to why, you can see how easy it would be to allow them to drop to the bottom of your priority list. And so I propose a new type of ritual for the new year, or for any important milestone moment in life – a new job, a new relationship, a new day – that rather than focusing on resolutions, focus on personal intention setting. Nietzsche wrote “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,” and so understanding and being mindful not only about what you want to accomplish, but why you want to accomplish it, is core to being a values-driven leader, especially because it recognizes that there are many hows to getting there.

The practice of intention setting gives you the space when you are about to start something new to ask yourself – “Why do I want to do this?” “Why is it important to me?” “What are the deeper, values-based lessons that I want to learn?” “What do I want to get out of this or achieve?” “What is the impact that I want to have?” “Why do I want to have that impact?” The why is your North Star, while the whats and the hows are the different roads you could take to follow it. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, if you haven’t drawn yourself a bigger picture to be your guide, you may find yourself wandering blind. It’s also worth checking out Simon Sinek’s TED talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by leading with their why.

Writing out your reasoning is the best way to live intentionally. Setting this out from the start doesn’t mean that you need to be inflexible or that you have an agenda, your intentions can and should be fluid and grow and change as you learn and discover. What intention setting does do is give you the insight to experience your life and your work in a proactive and present way.

And so for this new year, I challenge you to practice intention setting, and to revisit it time to time to help yourself stay on track.

As for my intention setting for this site in the new year – I believe that if everyone spent time working on their own personal leadership and building up the qualities needed to be a modern leader, the world would look very different than it does today. Because I enjoy thinking about leadership and what those qualities are, I want to continue to contribute to people’s leadership identity and thought process by pushing them to consider some of my interpretations of leadership through the pieces that I write on this site. As I go through my experiences in life, it is my intention to capture them in writing and share them with anyone willing to read. And I sincerely thank all of you who do.

Happy New Year!