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A Leader’s Words Carry Weight: Are You Saying the Right Things?

by | Feb 6, 2017

A Leader’s Words Carry Weight: Are You Saying the Right Things?

The other day, as I scrolled through my LinkedIn newsfeed, I saw a diagram about leadership.

The title was, What Great Leaders Say to Highly Engaged Teams. As a student of management and motivation, I liked what I saw. In fact, I thought it was spot-on:

What great leaders say to highly engaged teams
Source: SketchNote by Impact Wales.

That said, I also thought the diagram lacked substance. It failed to answer an important question: Why?

Why are these statements and questions so significant to employees?

Why do these questions and statements—or lack thereof—affect people?

Aside from the fact that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, the answer, simply, is that each comment demonstrates a leadership quality that people are engaged by and, most importantly, trust.

Here’s some context to color in this concept:

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1. “Sorry, my fault!”

Underlying leadership quality: Accountability.

An apology is a declaration of responsibility.

Assuming responsibility, then, is a testament of character, proof that you can set your ego aside for the benefit of another person, or the team, or the entire company.

Even when they’re wrong, prideful leaders are slow to apologize. Getting the words out is taxing for them. People notice this, especially if they were the ones wronged.

On the other hand, leaders that fluidly acknowledge and take responsibility for their mistakes demonstrate accountability, which makes them more trustworthy in the eyes of their people.

Leaders that acknowledge their mistakes demonstrate accountability, which makes them more trustworthy in the eyes of their people.

2. “What do you need from me to make this a success?”

Underlying leadership quality: Focus.

Asking this question demonstrates a desire to cross the finish line, to accomplish something.

Goal-oriented, focused leaders ask this question and, in doing so, empower their people.

3. “What did we learn from this that we can use next time? How could we have done this better?”

Underlying leadership qualities: Restlessness & Innovation.

Focus, then, leads to follow-through and, with a little luck, accomplishment, which demands the question: How could we have done this better?

Answering this question begins with analyzing mistakes to arrive at learnings, or things you didn’t know when you started.

This degree of restlessness and discontent, even in the glow of success, breeds innovation.

4. “Thank you. You’ve done a great job. I value your contribution.”

Underlying leadership quality: Appreciation.

People love being thanked. We love hearing that we did a great job. We love knowing that we add value…

That’s people. That’s humanity. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “Esteem Needs” are built into us.

We all desperately want to be appreciated, in our personal lives and at work. Therefore, as a leader, you hold a lot of power. Put that power to good use: Give credit when it’s due and watch productivity increase.

5. “I have complete faith in you.”

Underlying leadership quality: Trustingness.

Trusting someone with a responsibility puts pressure on that person, pressure to succeed or excel or whatever else.

Some people fall apart under pressure. Others will use it as a potent source of motivation.

6. “What do you think?”

Underlying leadership quality: Respect.

On his blog, Bill Marriott (like the hotel chain) shares a story about the time President Eisenhower came to his family farm in 1955.

To make a long story short, the President asked Bill, a young Navy man at the time, a simple question: “What do you think?”

More than 60 years later, the hotelier still remembers how consequential that question made him feel, even in a room full of statesman and top advisors.

“[T]hose words, ‘What do you think?’ are really a key to good leadership,” writes Marriott. “They give you an opportunity to express your opinion, they show that your boss is interested in you, interested in your opinion and that he or she is willing to pursue what you are thinking about.”

Read the full story here.

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7. “Do you have the capacity to do this now?”

Underlying leadership quality: Empathy.

People appreciate being asked this question because it demonstrates regard for their time and energy.

It’s a practical question, but it’s also an empathetic gesture.


Say smart stuff.

Earn trust.

Engage your team.

Lead with confidence.

Technology can engage, too.

Increase employee engagement and delight customers with a modern workforce management system, customized for your business.

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