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The Power of a Leader’s Language

by Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

Words have meaning. Of course they do. Every word that falls from our lips is full of meaning that reverberates through the air, bouncing off ears, hearts and egos in sometimes unimagined ways. The power of a leader’s language can make or break a team.

Whether they are chosen words or reactionary words, the words, full of meaning, fall into the air in the middle of a team meeting, in a discussion with an employee, or in a rant with a boss.

Those words have power and they will motivate a team to high performance, or they will tear down a team. You are the leader, so it’s all up to you.

It’s your choice.

Positive Language to Support Your Team

Today, will you choose to say words in anger, spoken with harshness and meant to inflict wounds in your team members? Through gritted teeth will you ask “WHAT are you talking about?”

Or will you choose words meant to support and solve? With a heart seeking to serve will you ask, “Help me understand, I am not sure I see where you are coming from.”

We are only human. Yes, even as leaders, we are still only human.

We will all face times when unwanted words slip out, in frustration, surprise or anger andthose words will linger in the air. They will do damage to the trust we have built with our teams. They will hurt feelings, bruise egos, make our team less likely to ask for help or to share problems.

But knowing that it will happen sometimes, when we are most tired, or weak from stress, does not excuse us from always seeking to choose positive words.  You choose to use the power of language to help or to hurt. It’s really that simple.

As the leader, all conversations, especially difficult conversations, should be approached with positive supportive words. You can be honest and deliver feedback to team members that corrects behavior and gets the team back on course.

Within the business world or the educational world, there is nothing that cannot be said in a positive way, to build people up, instead of tearing them down.

As the leader, it’s your choice. You decide how you push your team to reach your goals. You can choose darkness, or you can choose light.

Image of the Power of a Leader's Language Light

What Should I Say? Making Your Language Count

Maybe you heard about the boss who said to his teammates after missing the team’s weekly sales quota, “You suck! I don’t know how I got stuck with a bunch of deadweights like you!”

Or maybe you didn’t hear about him… Because he was fired. One can hope.

While that may be an extreme example there are plenty of common statements made by supervisors that serve as a detriment to the team’s motivation and progress.

Negativity does no good. Let’s try a few easy examples that use the power of a leader’s language to achieve positive outcomes.

Instead of:

  • “my subordinates” or “my employees” when talking about your team, try “my team members” or “my team” to build rapport with your team and show that you respect them. “My team is analyzing the results so we can determine the next steps.”
  • “I” when talking about the work that your team has achieved, try “we” – it will build trust with your team and respect from higher ups. “We finished the project early.”
  • “What are we going to do?!?” or any language that shows panic or fear, try “We can solve this, let’s put our heads together and come up with our next action steps.”
  • “You obviously don’t know what you are doing!”, try “Let’s talk through where you are in the project and see if there is anything you need to be able to finish this up on time. I know there are several new topics you have had to learn that are outside your normal area of expertise and I want to make sure you have everything you need.”

Several studies have been conducted that indicate that on average people speak about 16,000 words per day.

That is a lot of choices to make in a day.

You set the tone for your team. You lift them up to be more positive, so they keep moving with speed toward your goals. Or, you slow them down and hang words of negativity around their necks.

Your choice. Make it a good one.

Choose the powerful leadership language of positivity.

Join the movement, become a leadership reformer today!

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Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is a thought leader in the area of positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

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