Language of Leading: The Core Values of John Keating

The character John Keating, played by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society, is my role model. He encouraged his students to be authentic, innova­tive, and to find the courage to plot their own career paths. In my work with students and executives, my goal is to embody the timeless core values expressed by the Keating character, which remain as compelling today as they were when the movie was released in 1989:

  • We must constantly remind ourselves to look at things in a different way.
  • No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.
  • Strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it all.

To me, these core values speak to the importance of the language of leading, which results in more effective leadership not only in our careers but in all aspects of our lives. Let me break down each of these principles a bit further to explain why they are so important.

We must constantly remind ourselves to look at things in a different way.

John Keating was different, and he was different on purpose.  At the beginning of the movie he was faced with a class of skeptical young men; however, it was his different approach that ultimately inspired each of those young men to discover more about themselves.  We need to remind ourselves as leaders and individuals to look at our surroundings differently – to view others in a different light.  The result will lead to greater enlightenment and the exploration of ideas and possibilities not previously considered.

No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.

It’s true, language can change the world. What we communicate through our non-verbal cues is extremely important, but so are the words we choose in any given situation.  Powerful leaders who inspire, persuade and provoke change use powerful communication. Think about the most influential leaders – for good or bad – and their use of words that have carries those ideas. Note your use of language in several scenarios you find yourself on a continual basis.  Do you choose powerful words that inspire and gets other excited?  Do they want to hear more?  Or are your words listless, and not compelling anyone to listen?

Strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it all.

Onto the last of Keating’s core values. To me, the heart of this value is finding conviction in your ideas and how you communicate (with passion, confidence, and assuredness). Speaking with conviction is far more than just words; it is also expressed in actions and More than a century ago, the philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “Conviction is worthless unless it’s converted into conduct.” Find what you are passionate about and choose to communicate those ideas in a way that inspires others.

Despite evolving management theories, differing corporate cultures, and various product lines, there is one common thread that weaves its way through today’s business world: success comes to those who cannot only communicate well, but communicate in a way that inspires others to view the world differently, provokes actual change in the world, and persuades with strong, individual voice. For more insights into the language of leading, check out my book, A Climb to the Top.