Executive coach Scudder teaches the language of leadership

Whether you’re looking to land your next big client or pitch your new startup idea, executive coach Trisha Scudder has some simple, yet game-changing advice: Avoid hesitant phrases like “I hope,” or “I guess.” Instead, utilize committed, future-focused language like “I will,” and deliver on your word. It’s a risk, but she said it’s worth it.

“Language is the house of being,” Scudder said. “Be someone who can generate extraordinary conversation.”

That was the upshot of the master class Scudder, who founded Executive Coaching Group, Inc., presented as part of her Oct. 16 visit to the University of Missouri campus, where she traveled to accept a Missouri Honor Medal. Every year since 1930, the Missouri School of Journalism school has recognized individual journalists, communications professionals and media organizations for distinguished service in journalism. This year, Scudder was one of eight recipients of the award.

Scudder’s company started in New York City in 1987 and now has coaches in Stamford, Connecticut, and Charlotte, North Carolina, who teach clients the art of using committed speaking to get results. The coaching group’s tagline: “When leaders grow, companies grow.” Driven by that mantra, Executive Coaching Group has earned praise for its work with over 750 senior executives looking to take their agencies to the next level.

“A leader’s job is to make something happen that wasn’t going to happen,” she told the dozens of MU students and faculty attending her class in Fred Smith Forum at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

A self-described woman of action, Scudder said using committed speaking techniques is about pushing leaders outside of their comfort zones and taking risks. She likened it to the high pressure a professional tennis player faces on the court versus the low-pressure feeling of sitting in the stands, reacting to the match. “Professionals have to play the game; they can’t listen to others,” Scudder said as she asked the audience: “Are you an observer who’s going to complain?”

She added that complaining, along with other common pitfalls like blame, worry and gossip, can diminish or destroy a leader’s power. It’s hard to break these innate human habits, she said, but using language like “I declare” or “I promise” not only creates a vision for the future, but raises the stakes and holds leaders to account.

Scudder emphasized, however, that leading starts with “listening with an open, curious mind.” That’s how the 1965 graduate of MU’s journalism school developed the idea to start her own company more than 30 years ago.

After graduation, Scudder, who had worked as editor of her high school newspaper, took a copy-editing job at the Minneapolis Tribune. From there, she moved to the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, before transitioning into the Chicago — and eventually New York — advertising world.

With each new job, she found herself asking the same question. “I was curious about what made one person or one team effective over another with the same experience or intellect,” she said in an interview before her talk. “What made the difference?”

So Scudder started researching answers to that question and concluded that thinking patterns and language were two of the biggest predictors of successful leaders.

“Inspired by this and my own journey to be a more effective leader and make an impact in the world led me to opening (Executive Coaching Group) 31 years ago and becoming a pioneer in this field,” she said.

Starting her own business and helping to shape the field of executive coaching did not come without its challenges, but Scudder said she wouldn’t have it any other way. She said she made plenty of mistakes, but takes it in stride.

“Mistakes lead you to either learn something or try something new,” Scudder said. “All of those led me to where I am now.”

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