As a leader, your energy has a profound impact on your team. The way you show up in meetings and 1:1s, and even the tone in your emails can influence psychological safety in your workplace--for better or for worse. That's why I often remind myself that words matter when it comes to building a high-performing, engaged, and inclusive team.
In an effort to be more intentional about the tone I'm setting every day, I've discovered these seven phrases help convey gratitude, vulnerability, and trust.
1. I appreciate you because ...
Gratitude is a powerful tool; consider that more than 40 percent of Americans said they'd put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often. Importantly, though, is that gratitude works best when it's specific. Don't just thank people for their contributions. Tell them one thing you especially appreciated about how they ran that meeting, collaborated on that project, or shared that update. Doing so makes people feel seen, and who doesn't love that?
2. What do you see that I don't see?
My company now has a quarterly team meeting where people in our organization tell me about data I'm missing, perspectives I should be paying more attention to, or early warning signs of an issue we should spend more time on. These are some of my favorite meetings of the year, because I learn something new every time, and it's a subtle reminder that leaders don't have all the answers, but that we need, and value, our teams' perspectives.
3. Welcome to the team
Being new is hard. Imposter syndrome is at an all-time high, and so proactively welcoming new employees is critical. I try to make it a point to see, notice, and welcome new people in our organization and learn a little bit about what makes them tick. Inclusion and belonging start on day one, so taking a few minutes to make an active effort helps people feel confident they made the right choice joining your team.
4. I've got you
My company starts our leadership meetings with a few structured prompts, and one of the questions is, "Who will you ask for help when you need it?" The person you choose then responds with "I've got you." It's just three words, but it normalizes both relying on the support of others and being ready to give it. That's why this simple phrase helps build a culture of trust.
5. Tell me more
We all know that active listening is a critical skill in leadership. But if you're like me, a fast talker and quick reactor, then it's probably not always your first instinct. When I feel myself speeding up, I try to ask people to tell me more about their idea, challenge, or observation. Not only do they feel heard, but I can actually give better advice as a result.
6. I'm sorry
Vulnerability is arguably one of the most important traits of a great leader. The easiest way to practice it is to admit when you've made a mistake. For example, I recently derailed a meeting because I was not as prepared as I could have been, and it resulted in my getting frustrated. Later that day, I apologized to the team and we moved forward. Remember that you're a human being; it's not only OK to admit when you're wrong, but it also goes a long way with your team in building trust.
7. I'm signing off
Now that workplaces are reopening after the pandemic, many companies are trying to figure out how to effectively address burnout. One of the most meaningful actions we can take as leaders is to set the tone at the top that it's not only OK to take a break but that it's encouraged. Leave loudly by telling your team you're signing off or using a Slack emoji to show that you're offline. These seemingly small signals go a long way in promoting healthy work-life integration.
The most important thing we can do as leaders is recognize that our tone can shift the energy in the room (or Zoom). That doesn't mean you need to be a cheerleader every day--you're only human, after all--but it should serve as a reminder that your words carry weight. So when possible, choose them intentionally.