Language Matters In Leadership

Let’s get started by talking about the language we choose as leaders. Asa kid I was always told, and I’m sure you were too, that sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Sorry grandma, love ya, but, words freakin hurt! As leaders we have a responsibility to use language carefully, for the sake of others and also for ourselves. Let’s start with others. I’d like to share a few quick tips for ways you can improve your language as a leader for others around you:

  1. Know your audience and environment:

Do you know about those with whom you are communicating? Do you recognize their values, the identities they hold? If not, you need to take time to genuinely and humbly ask to learn more about what makes them tick. If not, you’ll be making assumptions based on your own experiences in life and your experience and life is not the same as theirs. Just because the individual with whom you may be communicating is wearing a skirt and has long hair, you cannot assume they are a woman. Gender isn’t binary, and sex isn’t the same as gender expression. Maybe the individual prefers to go by the pronouns of they/them/theirs. You’d never know if you aren’t willing to ask and then use the chosen language. We also see this happen when people choose to use vulgar or foul language without knowing how others around them feel about it. Religious beliefs or values may cause others to be offended or upset by the language you choose to use. Again, its up to you to ask what others expectations are around language.

Okay, but what if I’m speaking to a large group of people that I don’t know. I can’t ask each of them what their beliefs and values are. Correct, so ask yourself the next question.

2. Can it go on a billboard?

Think about it like this, if your language represented a specific company, would your company be comfortable putting that language on a billboard? If the answer is no, then you should reevaluate if its appropriate. This is a great way to gauge what may or may not be appropriate when you have no way of knowing. Error on the side of caution and you’ll be better off.

3. Does this word/phrase exclude others? Language has power to make others feel unwelcome, and most of the time it is completely unintentional. Nevertheless, leadership requires us to carefully choose our language. A great example of this that I use in my work as a trainer on a college campus is the word parents versus family members. We train and encourage all employees to say “family members” when speaking with students. While many of us may have parents or had parents part of our lives during our college experience, it isn’t fair to assume that every student does. So we suggest employees ask about family members rather than assuming a parent could help. This is just one example. So I ask you to consider, does this language exclude somebody? If so, let’s find an alternative.



Ok, now let’s focus on  three ways that you can improve your language for your own sake:


  1. Use words that affirm your leadership power: It’s time to start calling yourself a leader. Stop reading this and say out loud, “I’m a leader!” If that feels strange, maybe you shouldn’t have done it public, or maybe we just need to state more positive affirmations. Feel in the following three statements everyday and you’ll start feeling better about your ability to live life as a leader.
  • Today I can…
  • Today I am….
  • Today  I will


2. Stop talking to yourself and be still: In the ancient practice and religion of Buddhism they say that we all have monkey minds. A mind that is easily distracted, concerned, worried, fearful. Sounds like we are all just a bunch of primates running  around searching for the next coconut. I’d say that’s accurate, except, it’s not coconuts, it’s the next task, the next success, the next item on your list, career change and the worry and search for more continues. Leadership requires us to slow down and stop talking to ourselves about all of our concerns. One of the best ways you can do this? The next time you catch yourself worrying, ask, Is this useful?



3. Choose DO versus don’t: How often you created a goal that included what you were going to NOT do or what you were going  to stop. For example; I’m going to stop eating cookies, or stop procrastinating. If you want to be more successful as a leader, I suggest you tell yourself what you will DO, versus what you will NOT do. Let’s take the previous two examples. I’d prefer to tell myself that I’m going to have an extra glass of water everytime I’m at an event where cookies are served…I LOVE cookies by the way! You could rephrase the other statement to say, I’m going to study for my exam, 3xs a week. The act of telling yourself what you will do is a wonderful way to choose a positive language.

It’s my sincere hope that you can start to choose language that allows you to your leadership influence and impact every day. As I’ve said, and I’ll say it again, you are a leader! Let your life and the language you use show others that you care!


Until next time, keep chasing the awesome life!

Nick D


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