3 Simple Vocabulary Shifts to Up Your Leadership Capital

Much of leadership is about developing the right kind of culture on your team. We are naturally drawn to tasks and deadlines; these scratch immediate itches, provide short-term wins, and keep the proverbial ship from sinking. But how you do what you do is just as important as getting done what you do. The culture of your team will drive its production over time. Unhealthy team cultures produce burnout, high turnover, and toxic environments. Healthy teams produce synergy, long-term commitment, and ownership in the work.

"How you do what you do is just as important as getting done what you do. The culture of your team will drive its production over time." Click To Tweet

There is much more to creating and maintaining a healthy team culture than just the words you say (spiritual investment, clear communication, compelling vision, transparency and trust, relational bridge-building, etc.). However, allow me to offer this suggestion to get you jumpstarted toward creating and facilitating a healthy culture on your team:

3 simple vocabulary shifts to up your leadership capital…

ONE: Change “But” to “And.” The word “but” highlights contradiction, and most of the time when you employ it you actually intend to build on your previous statement, not contradict it (see what I did there?). For example, if you were to say, “Susan, I appreciate your enthusiasm on this project, but we need to slow down a little to ensure we are doing everything with excellence.” While it is not your intent, the little three-letter word “but” has communicated a level of dissatisfaction with Susan’s enthusiasm. Listen to this small change: “Susan, I appreciate your enthusiasm on this project, and we need to slow down a little to ensure we are doing everything with excellence.” With a simple three-letter change, you have communicated that Susan’s enthusiasm is a benefit to the desired result of excellence, not a contradiction to it. I know it seems trivial while reading here. Try it on for size today. I promise it will up your leadership capital.

TWO: Change “I” to “We.” Your team needs to feel included, and valuable in the mission. Using inclusive language lends itself to creating a culture of togetherness, respect, and shared value on the team. For example, if you are to say, “I need you to have this done by Friday,” the implication is that the desired result will benefit you personally. However if you were to say, “We need you to have this done by Friday,” the implication is that the desired result benefits the whole team. Especially when reporting outside your closed team setting, using “we” language instead of “I” language shows your team that you publicly champion their work and not just your own. Compare, “I am honored to serve in this capacity,” to “It is our joy to serve in this capacity,” and “I direct the department of the company that evaluates capital gains,” to “Our team evaluates capital gains for the company.”

THREE: Change “You Need To” to “Have You Considered.” The beauty of a healthy team environment is that everyone brings specific strengths to the table. You may see these individual strengths, and even thank God for them. However, have you considered that the language you use may unintentionally communicate something else (see… I did it again)? As a general rule, competent people–the kind you want on your team–do not want to be told what to do. They want to be challenged, stretched, resourced, released, and championed in what they do. Using strict, directive language that minimizes their contribution to the team is a sure way to communicate that their intellectual and creative contributions are not as important as they would like to believe. Instead of saying, “You just need to add a third line in the spreadsheet and filter results there,” asking, “Have you considered adding a third line in the spreadsheet to help you filter?” is much less demeaning. Problem-solving is inherent to any job, and people do not normally buy in to your solutions for their problems. Bosses think, “fix-it.” Leaders think, “draw it out.” Bosses want to be the heroes. Leaders want their team members to be the heroes. When you facilitate a culture of co-creating solutions, using phrases like “Have you considered,” you up your leadership capital by drawing out the wisdom of your team member instead of superimposing your wisdom upon them.

"Problem-solving is inherent to any job, and people do not normally buy in to your solutions for their problems… Facilitate a culture of co-creating solutions." Click To Tweet

I would not pretend that these three vocabulary shifts will magically create a healthy culture on your team. I would dare to say, however, that this will give you a good jumpstart. Begin today. Make these simple shifts in the way you speak to and about your team, then build on the foundation of togetherness and value-sharing in the future.

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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