Words Mean Things by Jim Johnson

Leaders are in powerful positions.  We sometimes forget that.  We often fail to realize how much weight our words carry with the teams we lead.  Careless words, harsh words, and thoughtless words will no far more harm than good.

But the opposite is true, too.  Caring words, encouraging words, and meaningful words have the potential to build up a team member in more ways than we can imagine.

When you discover something your team or another team outside of your area has done that could possibly adversely affect your company, what do you say?

  • “How could you be so stupid?!”
  • “Who’s responsible?!”
  • “There will be hell to pay!”

Or is there a better way to say it?

  • After you gather the right folks in a room, ask them, “Can someone summarize the situation?  Focus on the facts.”
  • “Tell me how you came to this decision.  What criteria/resources did you use in your process?”
  • “Was there a reason that you didn’t come to me for assistance?  Or another leader?”
  • “Knowing what you know now, what is your course of action to resolve this?”
  • “What did you learn from this?”

In which scenario will your team respond with action leading to resolution?

Too often, leaders pull out the broad sword of authority and start cutting people down.  They call them into a conference room in order to shame them into submission.  The people then walk out defeated with no motivation to do anything about the bad situation.  In fact, it is worse.  Resolution must be found – all through the filter of fear.

Leaders must help their teams make solid, sound decisions.  There must be room for failure.  And when failure happens (and it will), there must be an environment where resolution can occur while lessons are learned.

Leaders, words mean things.  People will remember harsh words directed towards them far beyond a “meets expectations” annual review.  People will also remember when you helped them develop into a solid decision-maker.  They will remember that you are more concerned with their development than your authority and ability to be right.

“A good word costs no more than a bad one.”
(English proverb)

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