The Language of Great Leadership

The Language of Great Leadership

Great leaders strive to connect with their teams through clear communication

The words we use in everyday conversation reveal a lot about who we are. Most of us have broad vocabularies, but rely on a core set of go-to words that regularly pop up in most of our discussions. Has a family member ever coined a particular word as a “-ism”? If so, then you understand the concept. Pay attention to your daily speech and you’ll soon see the pattern of your favorite words emerging. You may be surprised to discover the words that are part of your linguistic toolkit.

Language is an important component of leadership. The words (and tone) that a leader uses in conversations with team members or peers are often a direct reflection of the individual’s leadership style. I remember a colleague who regularly used the term “relentless” in her discussions with others. And relentless she was: unyielding, tough and stubborn. By talking the talk as frequently as she did, she eventually walked the walk.

Those confusing buzzwords

Unfortunately, certain words find their way into the business world, becoming buzzwords that many leaders adopt in an attempt to appear more contemporary, strategic or just plain smart. Many of these words are needlessly complex and some, such as “relentless”, are downright harsh. By latching on to these words, leaders may unwittingly send negative or confusing messages to the very employees they are trying to engage.

We know that exceptional leaders are the key element in creating great workplaces. The quality of employee’s day-to-day work experience shapes satisfaction and engagement more than any other factor. Even the best and most innovative programs or benefits can’t compensate for a poor leader.

Great leaders keep it simple

Given that great leadership is so crucial in the workplace and that language has such an impact on how we act and who we are, might it make sense to identify the language of great leadership? Here are a few suggestions for the great leader’s alternatives to commonly used business terms and buzzwords:

Common Leadership Word or Phrase

What Employees Hear

The Great Leader’s Alternative

“Drive results”

Work us hard, without regard for our personal lives

“We will accomplish this together”

“Ensure accountability”

Micromanage us with a magnifying glass

“I will support your success”

“Execute flawlessly”

Mistakes aren’t allowed

“Together, we’ll give our very best”

“Relentless focus”

Nothing else matters (even if it should)

“Here’s why this is important”

“Be strategic”

No clue about my daily tasks

“I’ll explain the long-term goals”


Some kind of change is coming

“We can make things better”


Notice what the great leader’s alternatives have in common? Yes, they are all simple and easy to understand. Most importantly, though, they emphasize partnership. Great leaders know that success is not theirs alone to claim. One cannot be a successful leader without full support, dedication and hard work of a great team.

Examine your leadership language

Certain words – such as the “-isms” - can quickly become anchored into our everyday language. You may not even be aware of some harsh, complex or confusing words that you frequently speak. However, you are surrounded by the very best “language auditors” you can find - your own team. Ask your staff (either individually or as a group) to point out these words and terms as they arise. Then work to change them, with emphasis on simplification and clarity. Big words aren’t always better words. A great leader always strives to connect with staff and in the process, conveys his or her belief that success can’t happen without each other.

Lillian J. LeBlanc, SPHR, PCC is an Executive Leadership Development Coach at Baptist Health South Florida.