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Words Activate! Words have Impact!

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Jim Babcock - Gavin O'Connor - Ryan Walter

The rhetorical question, "Do you believe in Miracles?" was shouted by announcer Al Michaels in 1980, as a bunch of college kids playing for the US olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union's team of professionals, and went on to win the Gold medal for the USA.

In 2004 I was invited to join the cast and crew of the Disney movie Miracle as a hockey expert, and eventually the Referee of the big game between the Soviets and the USA. I want to start by thanking my friend Jim Babcock, on the left for his work and long-time friendship, and honour the man in the middle, Miracle's Director, Gavin O'Conner, for allowing our players to make the hockey real in this movie.

Have you ever been behind the scenes of a major motion picture?

This was my first experience behind the cameras, on-set, and yes the craft services (the food people) were amazing. Kurt Russell was also amazing. Noah Emerick and the rest of the cast-members, on and off the ice, were exceptional. However, it was something that Gavin O'Connor, Dan Stoloff, and other technicians did before the cameras were even turned on, that really caught my attention.

For context, I am just an old hockey player, so I really didn't initially understand what these movie-making experts were doing. Then it hit me. They were getting a sense of what the camera was going to see without burning up film (and money). Inside and outside of Hollywood, I like to call this technique Framing. We pay attention to what is in our frame. What we choose to Frame-in is crazy important to how we perform and live.

Another behind the scenes movie-making element that fascinated me, something that many of us take for granted, is sound. When we are watching movies, we don't see the boom-mic that hovers just outside of the camera's view, or the powerful microphones that actors have taped behind their clothes or under their hockey sweaters. What if the next movie that you watch had brilliant camera work, but made you lip-read what the actors were saying?

Behind the scenes of the movie Miracle, being shot at MSA Arena in Abbotsford BC, Canada.

Words count! Language defines reality!

"Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer is a researcher who has published several important and provocative studies. In this study, she decided to look at whether our perception of how much exercise we are getting has any effect on how our bodies actually look. To do this, she studied hotel maids.

As any casual observer of the hospitality industry knows, hotel maids spend the majority of their days lugging heavy equipment around endless hallways. Basically, almost every moment of their working lives is spent engaged in some kind of physical activity.

But Langer found that most of these women don't see themselves as physically active. She did a survey and found that 67 percent reported they didn't exercise. More than one-third of those reported they didn't get any exercise at all.

'Given that they are exercising all day long,' Langer says, 'that seemed to be bizarre.'

What was even more bizarre, she says, was that, despite the fact all of the women in her study far exceeded the U.S. surgeon general's recommendation for daily exercise, the bodies of the women did not seem to benefit from their activity.

Langer and her team measured the maids' body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, weight and body mass index. They found that all of these indicators matched the maids' perceived amount of exercise, rather than their actual amount of exercise.

So Langer set about changing perceptions.

She divided 84 maids into two groups. With one group, researchers carefully went through each of the tasks they did each day, explaining how many calories those tasks burned. They were informed that the activity already met the surgeon general's definition of an active lifestyle.

The other group was given no information at all.

One month later, Langer and her team returned to take physical measurements of the women and were surprised by what they found. In the group that had been educated, there was a decrease in their systolic blood pressure, weight, and waist-to-hip ratio — and a 10 percent drop in blood pressure.

One possible explanation is that the process of learning about the amount of exercise they were already getting somehow changed the maids' behavior. But Langer says that her team surveyed both the women and their managers and found no indication that the maids had altered their routines in any way. She believes that the change can be explained only by the change in the women's mindset."

That is amazing! What was the differentiator? One team was informed that their activity already met the surgeon general's definition of an active lifestyle. The other group was given no more information.

One team received words; the other team did not receive those words.

One team realized a marked increase in health benefits; the other team did not.

Words give movies depth and meaning. Words give people hope and change mindsets. Words adjust body sizes. Words activate, Words have impact.

I truly believe that the definition of leadership in 2021 is Intentional Influence.

If we were allowed only one word to describe leadership, I believe that John Maxwell's "Leadership is Influence" definition is accurate. However, because of the complexities of the worlds that we lead In 2021, I like to add a word: "Intentional Influence." To increase our influence, we must be more intentional with our conversations, with our language, with our words.

Next time we are together I will be delivering some new science suggesting how we can better contour our words and conversations in order to increase our influence. This new process will help empower us (as did Ellen Langer's research) to maximize our positive impact on the mindset of our teams, families, and culture.

Words activate; words have impact.

What words are you using today?

Would you like to hear the words of a Vistage Chair to his CEO Team while introducing one of Ryan's 3-Hour Leadership/Performance Trainings over Zoom?

NPR YOUR HEALTH January 3, 20084:35 AM ET

Hotel Maids Challenge the Placebo Effect

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