"Everything you say can and will be used against you."

That statement is true not just in a criminal arrest. In the workplace, great leaders know the words and phrases you use are critically important. They set the tone for the entire office, and you simply can't lead a team unless you choose words carefully. (I wrote about one word yesterday that could make all of the difference with a gas company in Massachusetts.) If you use the right words, even with unruly and difficult employees, you can lead well.

"Maybe..."

This is a killer word in the office. Marginal leaders, the kind who won't last that long in management, like to play on emotions and "what if" scenarios, but the best leaders don't travel with that pack. They state their opinion and viewpoint clearly. They never say the word "maybe," because it implies an uncertain future for everyone involved.

An interesting note to make here, though, is that great leaders never even use the word with their worst employees; in fact, it's even more critical to be direct and clear with them.

"We won't approve that budget item" is a far better statement than something more wishy-washy (e.g., "maybe we'll approve that"), because employees will know how to plan and adjust their projects when you spell it out and skip the vague proclamations.

"In my opinion..."

What's wrong with having an opinion? Everything.

Opinions are fine in politics and around the break room, but let's be honest, in the workplace, if you're leading a team and setting the direction, it's not really just an opinion or a suggestion. As a servant-leader, it's better to "serve" others by stating the facts and the decisions as they stand. Employees know what to expect.

If it's just your opinion about the budget, or the office space, or the company meeting next week, how does that give employees any direction for the future? Obviously we're talking about opinions if it's a brainstorming meeting, but even then: The more you can deal in facts and relay actual plans, the more employees will be able to act on those plans.

"I'm the boss..."

Here's where things get dicey.

Great leaders communicate clearly; they don't make vague proclamations or suggest a few options as though the entire company is run by a Magic 8-Ball.

In servant-leadership, clarity is everything. At the same time, being clear and avoiding the word "maybe" and sharing opinions instead of facts does not mean you should act bossy.

Clarity is not the same as handing down dictums from on high.

Reach consensus, gather viewpoints, brainstorm the heck out of a topic, but then have the tenacity, confidence, and leadership prowess to then make a decision--not to lord it over others, but as a way to make it easier for them to do their jobs.

That's why you're the boss.

Published on: Sep 16, 2018