As a  leader, your words have a genetic impact on your organization. 

Words create stories, and stories form the basis of all human decision-making-- particularly in new, unusual environments. Leaders set the narrative tone from the top. Your stories seep into your organization's bloodstream and drive behavior at every level.

Simply put, success originates in culture. Culture originates in language. As a leader, language originates in you. That said, here are a few lessons I've learned about language, and how you can use it to encourage a healthy corporate culture. 

Use words that normalize failure and enable quick decision-making.

Some of our most powerful stories revolve around failure. The words "success" and "failure" are understood to be opposites, with "success" being preferable most of the time.

One of my company's core values is "Defy Conventions". What this means in practice is we want the team to question the status quo, be nimble and embrace change. If you're not failing, you're not learning. We want a culture that encourages a test and learn approach, which means that failures and learnings are constantly present. 

Like all growing companies, our early days were full of mistakes whose lessons paved the way for our future successes. As we've become bigger, we've had to work hard to avoid becoming more risk-averse, where decision-making and pushing the boundaries slows down. 

Particularly for innovative, growth-oriented companies, it's crucial that perfect not be the enemy of good. It's much more important to foster a culture of quick, informed decision-making -- one that's comfortable acting with 80 percent certainty, rather than waiting for 100 percent. 100 percent certainty doesn't exist. You become a better decision-maker by learning from the results of imperfect decisions.

Rather than calling them "successes" and "failures," my team uses the terms "hits" and "misses." A "miss" sounds much less punishing than a "failure," especially when we couch it in learning-oriented terms. 

Use words that encourage your team to learn lessons and apply them to what's next.

This is particularly important after a miss, when your people turn to you for the story. If your story revolves around negative outcomes, it will have a negative impact on your team. But if your story revolves around lessons you can carry forward, your team will understand that mistakes build successes. Misses help you home in on your target. 

For example, we recently overbought in a certain product style. We have more inventory than we'd like. In the aftermath, I encouraged us to ask questions like: How do we reposition ourselves? What have we learned? How do we talk about it, and how do we fix it? We made that buying decision with a particular view of the world. Now, we learn from it and use the lessons to reorient moving forward.

This framing is just as important after hits as misses. Oftentimes, when junior team members report to me after hits, they describe an outcome without telling me what's next. The positive rewards of success can make us bypass the lesson-learning phase, assuming that a good result was due to a great decision.

After both hits and misses, encourage reflection, lesson-learning, and future-crafting. "That's an awesome learning -- how can we push it forward? What are you going to do next?" Encourage your people to think of results -- positive and negative -- as part of a continuum, not isolated points on a graph.

Use words that encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

The poet Robert Kelly said, "We sleep in language if language does not come to wake us with its strangeness."

I believe what he meant was that if you use the same old language, you'll get the same old results. New language, on the other hand, wakes us up. It makes us see familiar things in a new light. It prompts us to visualize a future more aligned with our values.

If your language grows dull, repetitive, or is otherwise indistinguishable from your competitors' language, neither your team nor your customers will develop a personal connection with your mission. Fresh, distinct language builds a fresh, distinct culture, one whose members feel confident thinking against the status quo.

Of course, different conditions call for different kinds of action. Sometimes, you have to add processes, learning to act more deliberately; other times, you have to act quickly, taking results as they come. ThirdLove has gone through periods of both. Indeed, individual departments often have different needs with regard to action versus deliberation. But whatever our circumstances, using the right language helps my team take stock, respond accordingly, and learn valuable lessons.