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The Importance of Words in Leadership

The Importance of Words in Leadership

The words we use carry immense weight in our relationships —with others, with ourselves, and with the world.

We interpret our lives through a prism of language. To address life’s challenges effectively, we must understand them effectively. Understanding, in turn, is fundamentally a product of language. We don’t need a grad-school vocabulary; we simply need to realize that the words we use become our thoughts. Language is the only box out of which we can’t think.

The importance of language begins with the internal dialog — our conversations with ourselves.

If we use reasonable words, we become more reasonable. If we use angry words, we become angry. If we use cruel words, we become judgmental and closed to reconciliation. If we use words of inquiry or curiosity we become more focused and objective.

A person can either be a “pain in the ass” or “have a significant unmet need.” Another’s idea can be a “non-starter” or it can be “an interesting perspective.” A situation can be a “death march” or it can be a “significant challenge.”

I’m not suggesting we use words in a manipulative way, or to mislead. I’m also not suggesting that we abandon discrimination, insight, or discernment. What I am suggesting is that we at all times choose our words with the filter: “How helpful?”

The effectiveness of leaders tracks with the quality of the language they use. I’m not talking Public Relations stuff here, but rather how good leaders use language to ask appropriate questions, reframe difficult situations, motivate, create higher levels of reasoning — to put themselves and their organizations in the best possible position to move forward.

Your Path Forward: Take a week to assess the language you are using, both inside your head and with others. Ask several people to help you listen to yourself, and to challenge language that is unproductive, judgmental, or stifling. Try to find at least one situation each day where you can change the words you use and by so doing create a better leadership mindset and perhaps a better work environment.

An excellent book to read on this subject is Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.


About the Author

Jim Hessler
Jim Hessler bootstrapped his way from retail work into a successful career as salesman, sales manager, Fortune 500 executive, and corporate turnaround engineer. Along the way, he developed The Leadership Platform, a proven model for training managers to become sustainably better leaders. It became the basis of his leadership primer, Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guild to Building Your Leadership Platform. Jim is the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development Services.

2 thoughts on "The Importance of Words in Leadership"

  1. Judith Gray says:

    I am not actually in a “boss” position, but still have leadership and role model responsibilities in my work. Nevertheless, I am going to try a week of assessing my language as you suggest, and listen to myself more attentively. Thanks for the assignment!

  2. Steve Motenko says:

    I hope you learn much from your practice, Judith. Thanks for taking the time to check out our blog!

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