Words have the power to build, but they also have the power to destroy. They can convey strength or weakness. They can inspire armies to conquer nations and they can take the wind out of your sails.
One of a leader’s most potent strengths is their choice of words. It can determine their effectiveness and be a powerful contributor to their success.
“That’s not my fault”
Being a leader means, more than anything else, taking responsibility. It stands to reason that a leader must take responsibility for their own actions, but it is just as important for them to take responsibility for the actions of those under their supervision.
Leaders who immediately seek to deflect blame as soon as things take a turn for the worse show themselves to be untrustworthy. Pointing fingers and placing blame on the members of their team will understandably foster mistrust and erode morale.
Likewise, blaming a predecessor for current problems is akin to announcing incompetence with a neon sign. Instead, a leader is accountable, and focuses on solutions.
“This is the way we’ve always done things”
Innovation is a hallmark of successful leadership. If a leader isn’t making improvements, implementing new strategies, or generally finding better ways of doing the things that have always been done, they are falling behind.
A good leader should always welcome and encourage creative thinkers and problem solvers on their team. Not being open to fresh ideas and new ways of thinking demonstrates that a leader is mired in the past and inflexible.
Instead of rejecting new ideas outright, a clever leader seizes the opportunity to explore all options to see if something useful can be made of them.
“Failure is not an option”
Leaders who use this as a rally cry to motivate their troops may be unaware of the message they are really sending. Often people see this as another way of saying that no one is allowed to make any mistakes. That is a fast way to shut down creativity and innovation.
Maintaining the attitude that only perfection will be tolerated, whether it’s the intention of the leader to convey this message or not, instills fear. When workers are constantly second-guessing their actions, it keeps them from producing anything of true value.
Projects produced in fear are often too “safe” to be appealing enough for anyone to get excited about. Innovation requires risk and risk means there is the chance of failure. As Thomas Edison said when asked about why he failed 10,000 times to invent a working light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“It isn’t personal, it’s business”
When dealing with human relationships, even business-related ones, you cannot remove the personal aspects. As much as it would be convenient to avoid dealing with this side of things, every successful leader knows that a thriving business is built on personal relationships.
A successful organization is comprised of individuals who share a common vision and goal. If a leader chooses to ignore that and treat the people who are working to carry out that vision as mere automatons or cogs in a machine, resentment will grow and morale will erode.
“Now is not the time”
It is tempting to fall into the mindset of believing there is a perfect time for everything, and that all one needs to do is wait for it to appear. This is an illusion. Like thinking that perfection exists, putting off taking action on a project until the “perfect time” arrives will have you waiting until the end of time.
Adapting and changing to overcome obstacles is the only way to move forward and guarantee you even have the chance at being successful. If the time isn’t right, the successful leader figures out what can be done now to get started and what can be done to make conditions right to move forward. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
A common trait among successful leaders is that they inspire others through their words and actions to “dream more, learn more, do more, and become more,” as President John Quincy Adams once said. Great leaders know their words have the power to move others and they wield that power effectively.