The Need for ESPers to Enhance Their Leadership Skills

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Have you ever thought about how ESP and leadership are related? In my mind, they are clearly connected through the concept of “buy in.” However, I am looking at ESP from an EOP/EOS (English for occupational purposes/English in occupational settings) perspective, and I am thinking of the role of ESPers as consultants.

These days, I am teaching at a Japanese university (Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan) and preparing students for their future careers in business and in the government, for internships in foreign countries, and for interviews related to jobs and internships. However, when I was working with Sony and thereafter the career college (KGCC in the Kanda Foreign Languages Group in Tokyo, Japan), my primary focus was on workplace language training.

Peter Drucker states in The Essential Drucker (2001) that “[an] effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision” (p. 271). Warren Bennis in his book On Becoming a Leader (2009) quotes John Sculley as follows: “As I see it, leadership revolves around vision, ideas, direction, and has more to do with inspiring people as to direction and goals than with day-to-day implementation…” (, p. 132). How do such views of leadership relate to an ESPer engaged in workplace language training?

In a TESOL publication titled Effective Practices in Workplace Language Training: Guidelines for Providers of Workplace English Language Training Services (2003), the authors (Joan Friedenberg, Deborah Kennedy, Anne Lomperis, William Martin, and Kay Westerfield, with contributions from Margaret van Naerssen) write about nine effective practices. Effective Practice 3, which concerns relationship building and conducting an organizational needs assessment, is subdivided into “establish a relationship of mutual respect and trust,” “determine client needs, expectations, and goals,” “design a program,” “prepare and submit a proposal,” and “negotiate the contract” (p. xii).

Effective Practice 3 is especially important because it involves getting “buy in” (or stakeholder agreement) from the prospective client, and getting “buy in” is what leaders do. In fact, you could say that a leader-follower relationship is created at the moment that one person agrees to follow the other person; i.e., at the moment that the stakeholder buys into or supports the leader’s vision and subsequently takes action in that regard.

To ESPers who are interested in learning the language of leadership, I often recommend The Power of Framing: Creating the Language of Leadership by Gail T. Fairhurst. The book includes a number of different activities that can help an ESPer improve his or her own framing ability. Getting stakeholder agreement is also one of the topics covered in the webinar (2012, David Kertzner, Kevin Knight and Ethel Swartley) listed in my previous TESOL Blog post.

ESPers who are involved in the program creation and implementation aspects of workplace language training have to gain the support of stakeholders. This leadership role involves collaborating with others to make real a vision. For this reason, I encourage ESPers to develop their leadership skills!

By the way, a great way to develop your leadership skills is through a leadership position in the TESOL ESP Interest Section.  The person to contact for more information is the immediate past chair, Najma Janjua.  Take the initiative, and nominate yourself!

All the best,



About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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