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Leadership Dictionary: How to Talk Like a Leader

Do you know which buzzwords and phrases to use--and which to avoid?
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One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is communicating with important people in a wide variety of roles. Every day, you have to motivate your employees, capture the attention of potential customers, and inspire confidence of your investors.

The question is, are you using language appropriate for a leader? 

Words and Phrases to Use:

Emotions

"If leadership is mainly engaged in human relations, then leadership, at its core, is largely about emotions," says Brian Evje. "If you neglect to proactively address emotional issues with your team, you lose a powerful opportunity to strengthen the shared purpose of the group."

Emotions also play a major role in most purchase decisions, says Jeff Haden, and leaders should never lose sight of how potential customers want to feel.

"I don't know." 

By using these three words you establish instant credibility, says Geoffrey James. 

"Admitting ignorance marks you as a person who's not afraid to speak the truth, even when that truth might reflect poorly on you. Needless to say, the 'I don't know' should be followed by a plan to discover the information that's required, if the issue is truly important."

Mistakes and Failures

A leader should not be afraid to talk about mistakes and failures, says Howard A. Tullman. The proper way to discuss these two ideas is that: mistakes should be original, not repeats of someone else's blunders, and failure should not be the end

"We never complain about failures--they’re merely approaches and ideas that didn’t work at the time. In our world, failure is just another word for education."

Value

A great leader is focused on value, not just on price. "Shift your focus onto how the customer can get more, not how they can pay less," says Haden. 

Why  

"All the great organizations in the world, all have a sense of why that organization does what it does," says Simon Sinek, author of The Power of Why

According to Harvey Mackay, the knowledge of why should be a company-wide policy. "Pay attention to those employees who respectfully ask why. They are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could eventually translate into leadership ability." 

Words and Phrases to Avoid:

But

"It's always something like 'Hey, that's a great idea, but ...' or 'I agree that we need to take action, but ...' It's discouraging, and it kills momentum," says James. Instead, try a word that creates momentum: the word and. 

Enemy

According to James, there are no enemies in business. "The moment you demonize competitors by calling them enemies, you close off your business options. Today's competitors are often tomorrow's partners."

"I will try …" 

These three words indicate intent to fail, says James. "People who say 'I will try' have given themselves permission to fail.  No matter what happens, they can always claim that they 'tried.'"

If you are truly focused on achieving your goals, use "I will do" or "I must do" instead. 

Luck

Luck has nothing to do with business, says James. "Luck is an excuse that explains away failure--'it was just bad luck'--and devalues your success--'it was just good luck.'"

"That's not the way it's done."  

To stand out, you must do and think unlike anyone else, not maintain the status quo, says Gasca. "Great ideas and concepts come from disruptors who drive outside the lines, and nothing revolutionary ever came from doing things 'the way they are done.'"

User

For Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, "user" is a dirty word.

"We speak about 'user-centric design', 'user benefit', 'user experience', 'active users', and even 'usernames.' While the intent is to consider people first, the result is a massive abstraction away from real problems people feel on a daily basis." 

IMAGE: Flickr.com / Marc Wathieu
Last updated: Jul 16, 2013

JANA KASPERKEVIC | Staff Writer

Jana Kasperkevic is a graduate of Baruch College, City University of New York, where she earned a bachelors degree in Journalism and Political Science. She covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurship for Inc. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, InvestmentNews, Business Insider, and Houston Chronicle, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.




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