3 Ways to Watch Your Words and Be a More Effective Leader

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” – James C. Humes, author and presidential speech writer

Leading others comes with responsibility. Although inclination toward leadership can be innate, no person is born with every tool necessary to lead effectively. The skills of leadership can be learned. Even the best leaders need to consistently refine their leadership practice.

Perhaps you’re a natural when it comes to leadership and have the persuasive ability to influence others. People may readily look to you for advice and guidance and may even try to emulate your behavior. Maybe you aspire to direct others and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity. 

On the other hand, you could be somewhat uncomfortable in a leadership role and might prefer to take a supporting stance behind the action.

There are so many different types of leaders—and certainly, some have more success in the role compared to others. Keep in mind that you don’t have to hold a particular position or title to be a leader in the eyes of your colleagues.

People with leadership qualities exist at all levels of an organization. One of the things that the most effective leaders have in common is that they communicate using the language of leadership. There are many ways to do this, and here are a few that stand out.

Rally the troops

The words you use count when you need to help your employees and colleagues get behind your organization’s vision. Everyone working for the organization, of course, has their own job to perform. However, to truly motivate and be a leader others will look up to, you need to tell people why what they do, day in and day out, is integral to the organization’s mission. People need to know the purpose behind their jobs and how their individual actions benefit the whole.

This is where your words count for so much. Make the effort to reinforce what your organization stands for by communicating its values and mission. Point out where you see these values in action when it happens. Be sure to tell everyone regularly and with enthusiasm when the organization reaches its goals—and identify the specific people and actions that made it happen.

Apologize sincerely

Everyone makes mistakes at one time or another. In the workplace, there are things that can go wrong every day—from simple misunderstandings to regrettable errors with far-reaching consequences.

For instance, a miscalculation in numbers might throw a manufacturing deadline off course. Maybe your company was contracted to deliver a quantity of product by a certain date and, due to an oversight, you can no longer meet the deadline.

Alternatively, perhaps something you said to a staff member was taken the wrong way. Miscommunications of this type are common. These blunders can have an unfortunate snowball effect if they’re not handled quickly and with sensitivity.

Whatever the scenario, the best leaders own up readily to their mistakes and apologize sincerely. If you were the responsible individual, it’s important to take ownership of your actions and sort things out with the other party. Don’t try to muddy the apology by adding an excuse for your behavior or saying something evasive about being sorry that your words were taken out of context. Acknowledge the effect that your actions or words had on the other person. Offer a heartfelt apology, plain and simple.

This goes for CEOs, managers, and everyone down the line. That said, having a bona fide leadership title after your name means that the buck stops with you for any problems your organization is responsible for, regardless of which employees were at fault.

Regroup after adversity

How you handle adversity as a leader is critical. This is where the words you choose can really have an impact. The way you decide to describe what’s happened and how your team is going to move forward can make all the difference for people. Remember: your words create the narrative about the problem or crisis. You can shape the meaning that people take from the event. 

When something major goes off-track or is anticipated to, it’s important to show confidence that people can pull together and the organization will weather the storm. The specific words you use are critical.

Say, for example, there’s a looming economic slowdown expected, and your products might be sitting in the warehouse for a while. Frame the problem as a challenge and opportunity. You could explain it as a chance to pivot production or look for other clients further afield. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided ample examples of organizations that have grown their business by being creative in the face of adversity.

Take care to use positive language when possible in talking about the situation, without sugarcoating the facts or misrepresenting the seriousness of the situation. By reminding staff of past occasions when people pulled together and any silver linings that resulted, you’ll bolster morale and set the stage to lead people forward effectively.

Finally

Your employees will pay attention to the tone you use when speaking in any of these circumstances. Each aspect of your verbal and non-verbal communication adds to the whole. Be mindful to convey your intended message in your words, tones, and body language.