Robert Poynton
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Two Be

January 21, 2012 – 1 min read


I find myself thinking about the theme of permanence and change and the balance between again. Hardly surprising perhaps since in Spanish, it is woven into the language. Castillian has two verbs to be – ‘ser’ and ‘estar’. The first is used for things that are deemed to be permanent – like where you are from (or which football team you support). The second is used for things that are deemed to be temporary – like whether you are hungry (or married).
At Oxford in November it struck me that this distinction is useful for leadership development. Leaders need to not only develop their capabilities and capacities (the ‘ser’) but, perhaps more importantly, develop the practical judgement, in the moment, as to which approach, and which personal qualities are more appropriate in that particular context (the ‘estar’).

A shame then that so few of our participants speak Spanish, since the distinction inherent in the language would make this very easy to explain. Looking back it is funny to think how odd the idea of there being two verbs to be, and now how completely normal it becomes over time as the very structure of the language becomes incorporated into the fabric of the way you think.

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