Tone and Tempo as a Servant Leader

We have all heard the statement “it isn’t what you said, it’s how you said it.” For me, that has been a critique I have heard most of my life. I have a deep value for language and a great deal of expectation from others. I assume that people, if they don’t have a hearing problem that they shouldn’t have a problem following the things that I say. I mean, after all, we all had some kind of basic education, been exposed to the outside world and had conversation right? So what’s the problem? We all know what a dictionary is…words have meaning, and if you have the meaning, there shouldn’t be any issue!

We remember this scene from the 1998 movie “Rush Hour” where Chris Tucker’s character, James Carter was just hired by the FBI to handle a “G-14 classified” case. He hit the big time, didn’t he? So picking up Jackie Chan’s character Chief Inspector Lee was beneath him, so much so, when speaking to Inspector Lee, Cater leaned in hard, pointed at his own face and said “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” Audiences everywhere laughed at this moment. Not just because Chris Tucker is hilarious, but because we can all relate to moments when we are speaking plainly to a person and it seems as though the person we are talking to just doesn’t get it.

There is one heck of a lesson in this moment. There is a communication barrier between many of that is as far away as the United States is from China. But because we are so focus on us we can’t see it. It leaves us frustrated and misunderstood and many of us, we are so self-absorbed, that we believe the problem is them. We say to ourselves “I’m doing all the right things because I’m in the right position, I’m saying the right things because I’m in control. It’s them who doesn’t get it, they need to adjust.” What we’ve missed is that there is a rhythm to live that we all live on, a wavelength we all move by. That rhythm and wavelength, just like many pieces of art and music, is different for other people. This is where understanding tone and tempo come in.

Do you remember just a few moments later what Lee says once Cater discovers that Lee completely understands English? He said “I like to let people talk who like to talk. It lets me find out how full of (expletive) they are!” When we deal with people and don’t recognize how the tone and tempo of how we live and move and communicate matches or mismatches with others, it shows that we are full of it. There was a moment when I realized that I was full of it. Living a life that is devoted to others, it got me in the same kind of trouble and embarrassment Carter was in during this movie. I looked and felt stupid and ignorant. I was certainly branded by others as a failure.

So how do we learn tone and tempo as Servant Leaders to go from confusion to cohesion? Here are some things we can learn from Lee and Carter:

(1) Listen more than you talk.

(2) Watch more than you act.

(3) Flow more than you go.

(4) Ask more questions than always giving answers.

(5) Be more present than absent minded.