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The Meaning of the Word

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

I love words.stick figures

They are at the foundation of our ability to communicate, and they are a significant part of my life, both spoken and as a writer. As a leadership consultant, trainer and coach, I spend much of my time trying to understand the words of others and use words effectively to help them see my perspective.

Words are just as important in my role as a leader — and I would say the same is true for you.

Given that, let me share an observation I’ve had about a specific word, and how instructive it might be (both specifically to this word and more broadly as a communicator) for you.

It is my experience, and I suspect it is true for most everyone else too, that certain words bring a whole cloud of emotions and connections and meanings to my head. In other words, when I hear certain words, it isn't like my brain just processes a Webster definition, but a whole lot more.

Such is the case for me with this word:

Heretic.

When I read or hear this word, I feel and sense religious zealots with opinions far outside of the norm. Beyond that, I get a bit of a sense of danger in association with this word.

Contrast that with the actual definition:

heretic (HER-i-tik) noun

One who holds unorthodox or unconventional beliefs.

adjective

Not conforming to established beliefs.

[From Middle English heretik, from Middle French heretique, from Late Latin haereticus, from Greek hairetikos (able to choose), from haireisthai (to choose).]

Wow.

In reality I value "one who holds an unorthodox or unconventional beliefs." Without these people, we would never make progress, improve things or challenge the way we've always done things.

The more I thought about it, the more I want to be seen as a heretic!

Yes, there are definitions of the word that contain a religious connection, and I am sure this is about the only connection I've ever made in the past.

Of course, not everyone who challenges conventional wisdom is right, and yes, some people we might label as heretics could be dangerous if they act on their nonconventional beliefs (but this is rare and not likely what we encounter on a daily basis).

What struck me most is that a word I've shunned mentally in the past has a meaning that can contribute positively to my worldview and thoughts.

I share this with you for four reasons:

  1. Given my new information, it doesn’t mean I will call someone a heretic tomorrow! It does allow me to think differently and perhaps be more tolerant and open to the unorthodox ideas of others as we solve a problem or explore an opportunity.
  2. Remember this word the next time you need to be more creative or come up with a host of new solutions to a vexing problem. Be a heretic. Lose the preconceived notions and choose to think in new ways!
  3. What I experienced as I learned new meanings for this word explains one reason why we should all work to build our vocabulary. New words give us new thoughts — nuances and new ways to describe and think about things. This is very powerful in communication for sure, but equally helpful to our thinking.
  4. Lastly, to become a more powerful communicator and thinker be more curious about words — look them up and explore their roots — you will find insights and ideas that will allow you to share your ideas more powerfully and lead more effectively.
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