Kill Will: Part I

Want to be more effective personally, professionally, and economically? Apparently, one solution is kill will.

One of the CultureSync Approved Tribal Leaders Leslie Bennett reminds me to take “will” out of the proposals we develop together. Statements like “participants will learn about the connections between organizational culture and organizational performance” become “participants learn about the connections between organizational culture and organizational performance.”

As we make the change, I always think, removing “will” can’t be that important can it?

Turns out it just might be.

Behavioral Economist Keith Chen is researching language differences that align with differences in national behavior when it comes to savings as a percent of gross national product.

Early results are more than a little startling. Nations with languages that speak differently about the future than they do about present (think: It will rain tomorrow) have a 5% lower savings rate than nations who do not (think: It rain tomorrow).

In the United States, with English reliant on “will,” it turns out that our national savings rate as a percent of GDP is at the very bottom of the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

When eliminating for every difference except whether the language is future-based (it will rain tomorrow) or not future-based (it rain tomorrow), Chen’s research shows that the occurrence of savings is 30% greater among families using language that is not future-based. The differences don’t end there – they also apply to things like obesity rates, use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, and smoking.

It turns out that when we use language that creates a distance between now and the future, we take actions as though the future is distant.

I just went through a real example of killing will.

I’d felt something disturbing as I brushed up against the side of my dog Spody: a slightly protruding, softly shaped blob. I found myself ignoring it for fear of what it might mean: “he has a tumor, he will die.” The “will” part meant it wouldn’t happen today. And, every day was a new today. For several weeks, I’d subconsciously avoided petting that area. Turns out the whole family was in on it too.

Finally, it dawned on me, I was avoiding what “will happen” someday rather than being focused on the truth: my dog had some strange new lump. With this recognition, I shared the fear with Leslie who “killed the will.” The next day, Spody had an appointment. It turns out that everything is fine. He has a benign fatty lump called a Lipoma and that we can expect more. Just of those middle-life things. Killing will allowed me to move forward, stop worrying and get an answer. Had it turned out to be more serious, bringing him in sooner, rather than later would have been even more important.

Chen and his research partners at Yale haven’t tapped into the impact of “will” in leadership, but let’s make that leap.

One completely avoidable cost of “will” is the energy wasted in not attending to what is in front of us today. Even if the energy wasted is simply the energy of pretending that a relatively benign tomorrow never comes, it’s energy we’d do better to expend in other ways. Freeing up this energy has huge (and positive) consequences in the organizations we lead.

Are there areas where you are thinking about “what will be tomorrow” in ways that are reducing the likelihood of action? If so, try a little experiment with us. Kill will, even if you need to speak oddly at first. Then let us know what changes take place in your actions – and more importantly in your results.

Share your experiences here. Then, come back for next week’s blog post: Kill Will Part II. In it we dig more deeply into the implications and impacts of “will” in leadership.

You may also like

Send this to a friend