(May 31, 2016) -- A new study by Jonathan R. Clark, assistant professor of management at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), states that the language of leaders has a profound effect on the performance of their employees. Clark’s top-tier research, published in Organizational Dynamics, shows that how a company presents its vision and values is deeply entwined with its overall success.
“Surveys have shown that only about 18 percent of workers are happy and engaged at work,” Clark said. “We believe part of the problem is that organizations have largely become economic vehicles and, as a result, leadership in those organizations has largely become an exercise in financial engineering.”
That narrow purpose is apparent in most companies’ vision statements, as they often use abstract language instead of vivid imagery.
Clark noted that many banks, for example, use vague statements that all sound similar such as, “We will be the preferred provider of targeted financial services. We will strengthen these relationships and provide the right solutions.”
He says that kind of language is conceptual and does little to tell the clients, or even the employees, what the company’s vision is.
Clark considers Toys ’R Us an example of an organization that had a strong vision statement. Its previous statement reads, “Our vision is to put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces.”
“Everyone can imagine a kid, everyone knows what joy feels like and everyone can imagine a parent with their child smiling,” Clark said. “That’s what makes something vivid: when you have concrete objects and behaviors that people can actually imagine in their minds.”
According to Clark’s research, the best-performing organizations frequently have well-coordinated employees operating under a vivid vision statement that is consistently interpreted in the same way by employees. He and his colleagues also discovered that a focused set of values can have positive effects if used beyond mission statements.
In his study, Clark used the Cleveland Clinic, a mid-western health system, as an example of an organization that changed its ways by emphasizing the needs and comfort of its patients. The center’s CEO began by communicating a new vision using vivid language, but took it a step further by making certain that every employee, from surgeons to janitors, were referred to as “caregivers.”
“A leader provides focus for people and points them toward a specific set of values that guide action within the organization,” said Clark. “In that sense, the language that leaders use is absolutely critical.”
-- Joanna Carver
Public Affairs Specialist
Read Jonathan R. Clark’s study, “How the language of leaders drives performance.”
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Management.
Throughout the summer, UTSA offers more than 60 camps in science, engineering, architecture, sports, music, writing, language, culture and more.
Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
Chat with members of the Downtown Campus Initiative Task Force about changes taking place as the Downtown Campus grows and transforms to offer a comprehensive living and learning experience. Table topics will include curriculum changes, orientation updates, transportation, food and living options.
Frio Street Building Commons Area, Downtown Campus
UTSA and the San Antonio Express-News will jointly host this town hall meeting to discuss Unequal Justice in Bexar County and in Texas.
Buena Vista Street Building Theater (BVB 1.326), Downtown Campus
Experience a fun, interactive week at UTSA as new students and their families take the first steps to becoming a Roadrunner.
Various locations, Main Campus and Downtown Campuses
Finance and Budget Modeling Task Force presents a panel presentation of experts from 4 universities with experience in incentive-based budgeting. All UTSA campus community is invited to attend and be informed about budgeting processes.
Business Building Richard Liu Auditorium (BB 2.01.02), Main Campus
This event showcases the work of trainees, faculty, staff and students from multiple disciplines and public health agencies across San Antonio.
H-E-B Student Union Ballroom (HSU 1.104), Main Campus
This exhibit highlights the UTSA Special Collections, which includes historic photographs from Texas, San Antonio and UTSA history.
UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Come learn about the benefits available before the enrollment period July 15-31.
Business Building University Room (BB 2.06.04), Main Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.