Words To Lead By
By Doug Dickerson
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. — Proverbs 18:21
A story is told about Casey Stengel, a longtime major league baseball manager who had such a unique way with words that it became known as “Stengelese.” He once said, “I’ve always heard that it couldn’t be done, but sometimes it don’t always work that way.” That’s typical Stengelese.
Casey held a position on the board of directors for a California bank. According to the story that originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Casey described his duties this way: “There ain’t nuthin’ to it. You go into the fancy meeting room and you just sit there and never open your yap. As long as you don’t say nuthin’ they don’t know whether you’re smart or dumb.”
Brian Tracy said, “Never say anything about yourself you do not want to come true.” As a leader we often speak into the lives of others through our words. But have you stopped to consider the words you are speaking about yourself? Our words tend to be indicators of our heart and our attitudes. Words have consequences. Here are four types of words to be mindful of as you lead others and yourself.
Words that engage. One of the greatest gifts that you can give to your employees or to yourself is words that engage and empower. Failure to do so can have negative consequences. In a recent survey, Gallup asked 3,000 randomly selected workers to assess their agreement with the statement, “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand(s) different from our competitors. Only 41 percent of employees strongly agreed with that statement while 24 percent disagreed or were equivocal. According to the report, “this shows that too many companies are failing to help their workers understand what makes their company different and better than the rest.” Many companies are failing to engage their employees and that is problematic.
Engaged team members are productive team members. Make sure your words engage, empower, and connect. Your success depends on it.
Words that encourage. A Wall Street Journal column last year reported on the amount of productivity that is lost by toiling alongside a chronic complainer and that exposure to nonstop negativity can disrupt learning, memory, attention, and judgment. One employer even went so far as to offer cash as a reward for those who could refrain from gossip and complaints for seven days.
You may not totally eliminate negative attitudes and talk from your business but you can remove it from your vocabulary and thereby raise the bar for others. I encourage you to be the example of your expectations. There is more than enough negativity out there to go around. Why not take it upon yourself to incorporate words into your leadership vocabulary that express confidence, faith, and hope?
Words that challenge. Words have consequences and when used correctly will drive you toward desired goals. Napoleon Hill said, “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the minds of another.” It is always a good practice to use words that empower and encourage, but you must speak words that challenges your people to stretch and achieve more.
Words that challenge tend to be the ones that cause people to step up and be creative with their thinking, planning, and execution. They can also be the ones that assist you in separating achievers from slackers. Use challenging words generously.
Words that count. Harold S. Geneen said, “Leadership is not practiced so much in words as in attitude and actions.” This is why our words are so important. The words you speak are as seeds planted. What you plant you will reap. When you sow negative words; words that are critical, demeaning, and cutting, that is what you will reap.
The culture of your workplace is created by your words which influence attitudes, actions and performance. Choose your words carefully. Make them count for something good.
Doug Dickerson is a syndicated columnist. He writes a weekly column for this newspaper. To contact Doug Dickerson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.