Use Words Well to Lead Well

Under performing over failingOur words matter.

As leaders, we spend much of our time communicating with others through our actions, our body language, and especially our words.

Unfortunately, all too often we do not use our words well leading to poor communication and poor performance.

Some thoughts on using words well:

  • Use Proper Grammar:
    • Rules in grammar exist to help us be clearer in our communication. ‘I did not do anything’ is a lot clearer to the listener then ‘I did not do nothing’.
    • Speaking well, especially to other senior executives and stakeholders, shows intelligence and thoughtfulness. ‘John and I went to the store’ is a far better reflection on the speaker than ‘Me and John went to the store.’


  • Avoid Expletives:
    • In many businesses, the “F” word or other types of obscenities are commonplace. Besides being offensive to many people and creating a risk of a hostile work environment, these words reflect poorly on the person speaking.

“By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.”  Winston Churchill


  • Avoid Hyperbole and Incendiary Words and Expressions:
    • Hyperbole makes a problem appear larger and more difficult. As leaders our job is to make molehills out of mountains (not the other way round).
    • Expressions such as ‘we got reamed’, ‘we will bury him’, ‘I got my a** kicked’ ratchet up the emotion and do little to resolve the situation.


  • Avoid Synonyms:
    • In formal writing, synonyms help to relieve the monotony of using the same word over and over. In business, synonyms just confuse the listener or reader.  Being consistent with words across all communication, written and spoken, within our company may appear repetitive; but, it makes the communication clearer and easier to understand.
      • Is it the goal, the objective, or the target that you are trying to achieve and are they the same thing?
      • Are they a customer or a client?
      • Is the business unit a region, an area, a division, or a group?
      • Do I complete this task or this activity?

“No synonyms.  If you want to communicate effectively, you need to be clear with the words you use.”  Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks Football Coach)


  • Avoid Jargon:
    • Words such as ‘culture’, ‘synergy’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘bandwidth’ are rarely straightforward and clear, and these are words that most people do not truly understand.
    • What do expressions such as ‘core competence’, ’empowered’, ‘move the needle’, ‘bleeding edge’, ‘push the envelope’, ‘deliverable’ really mean?
    • All these words and expressions are commonly used by consultants. Such consultant speak is especially known for taking a simple, straightforward idea and making it seem complex and thus especially insightful.
    • This is to be avoided; we need to be specific and clear.

Our real role as leaders is to create clarity and connectedness; to remove the ambiguity.”   Richard Rumelt and Marcus Buckingham


  • Adapt to our Customer’s Vocabulary:
    • In selling, we need to use the words that our customer uses. By adapting to the customer’s words, we make it easier for the customer to understand us.

In a previous life, my company produced telecommunications structures.  We called them ‘buildings’ or ‘huts’.  Our customers called them ‘shelters.’  It is only when we changed our vocabulary both internally and in our marketing and sales that we really began to penetrate the market.


  • Be Brief
    • Words are wonderful things. But, too much of a wonderful thing is too much.  We need to be brief in all our discussions.

“Be brief, be sincere, be seated.”  Franklin Delano Roosevelt


As leaders, it is our goal to be simple and clear so that our employees, our colleagues and our customers understand what we are saying.  By using our words well, we can lead well.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Communication, Leadership, Team / People and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Use Words Well to Lead Well

  1. Wise words as always, thanks David!

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