Your Choice of Words Can Make or Break Your Leadership

By Gary Clayton

What you say and what you do affect whether people see you as a leader.  In fact, how you state your goals can determine your success or failure as a leader.  Some words excite your potential followers, others turn them off.  Using the right words at the right time is a key leadership skill.  It is very important that your actions be consistent with your words, but if your words don’t attract and motivate your followers, you will have few opportunities to demonstrate your leadership.

Emphasize opportunities but don’t downplay risk

Focus your followers on the opportunities, but be authentic and acknowledge the risks your group must accept.

Focus your followers on the opportunities, but be authentic and acknowledge the risks your group must accept.

With every communication, you need to consider whether you are presenting the glass as half-full or half-empty.  Everyone knows that with opportunity, there must be risk.  It’s your choice as to which you promote. People expect that as leader, you will manage the risk so they and you can benefit from the opportunity.  They look for your leadership to lead them through the dangers to the Promised Land.  Your followers are smart enough to know you will get a larger portion of the rewards for your management of the risks.  If you communicate clearly and often enough, they will know they are assuming some of the risk – and may have to act on it – but they’ll trust you’ve determined the rewards are greater than the risks.

Use terms that promote feelings of security

In tough financial times, it pays to talk in terms of community, family, sacrifice and “pulling together”.  If your organization doesn’t really feel like a family to your workers, I wouldn’t push the concept on them, lest you come across as a phony.  In this world where terrorism and estrangement are constant possibilities, people are placing a high value on community.  That may be a better word to use than family.

Sacrifice in today’s economy is needed and, for the most part, expected.  Yet sacrifice should mean that everyone in the community or family shares in the pain.   Otherwise, your followers will feel that they are being sacrificed to maintain your standard of living.  That is a point when they will distrust you as you have shown your interests are different than theirs.

Pulling together is what everyone expects a healthy family or community to do because of the commonality of interests.  Such language is encouraging to your followers.

Demonstrate there is a future through your words and leadership

Once an organization has gone through emergency cost-cutting and “right-sizing” the focus needs to shift to innovation and revitalization, which is what your followers want to hear about.  Innovation is how your organization grew in the first place and your followers want to hear that there will be a  revitalization from  a new an different type of innovation that their leader has a vision of and is building plans for.  Innovation and revitalization are what will restore your followers’ trust in you.  They need to hear those words – and see you act in ways that demonstrate your commitment to those words.  Otherwise, they’ll start seeking another leader, one who makes them feel safe.

Using the right words in your communications is a key leadership skill that will convince people to follow you.   There are many other words that need to become a regular part of your vocabulary - and many that you must banish from your speech and writing.  Take the time to figure out what they are and you will be rewarded in the strength of the leadership bonds you create with your team.

Gary Clayton helps CEOs, executives and other leaders work through current challenges and find paths to greater future success.

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Categories : Qualities & Skills