Leaders and their use of motivating language

James Christopher Sarros, Elvira Luca, Iain Leonard Densten, Joseph C Santora

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to use Motivating Language Theory (MLT) as a framework in determining leader use of different language styles during times of dynamic change. Design/methodology/approach: This exploratory study of executive members of the Australian Institute of Management examined how MLT may provide a mechanism for analyzing what leaders say in the context of a work setting. Written transcripts of interview data were analyzed to determine leaders use of three language styles: meaning-making (locutionary), direction giving (perlocutionary), and empathetic (illocutionary) language. The software program NVivo was used to help aggregate themes emerging from written and interview data into discrete modules to enable more robust and comprehensive analysis of the data. Findings: A range of issues pertinent to the way executives lead and manage their businesses, both in private and not-for-profit organizations, was identified in this study. Direction giving language was most prominent in management activities and leadership that was strategic or people related, followed by meaning-making and empathetic language. The findings suggest that business leaders could develop a repertoire of language approaches in order to achieve organizational outcomes. Research limitations/implications: More research of the language of leadership and its implications for organizational outcomes is warranted. For instance, the strategic integration of motivating language with a compatible set of leader behaviors, organizational objectives, and cultures may reveal mechanisms as yet unknown for achieving outcomes. Research is needed to determine the content and construct of these behaviors, objectives, and cultures. Some questions also remain regarding the appropriateness of using the Motivating Language Scale to examine the types of language used by managers and leaders in the work place. The authors recommend further application of MLT through the Motivating Language Scale in order to help clarify these queries. Originality/value: This paper used MLT as a framework for identifying leader use of different language styles during times of dynamic change. MLT has been used to identify the speech patterns of leaders during verbal communication exchanges with staff and work colleagues, but this study is the first example of the use of MLT when examining leader responses to interviews and in their written responses to survey questions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226 - 240
Number of pages15
JournalLeadership & Organization Development Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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