Use Words in Leadership that Mean Something

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Every company spends a lot of time talking about what words to use to describe important things.

Too many companies don’t spend enough time talking about what the best words are to describe what matters to them.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

Michael Shrage provides some crisp examples of how “Good Leaders Don’t Use Bad Words” in a recent post on the HBJ Blog Network.  A prominent one is the shift IBM made when they moved from talking about “customers” to “clients.”

In our work with clients, we often find that they have a lot of words that they use to tell stories about themselves, but that when it comes down to picking a few words that capture the essence of what they intend to do, they are stymied.

We counsel them to focus on four basic principles around the words they use:

  • Are they logical so they make sense to the people who hear them?
  • Do they describe real functions that are addressed in the business?
  • Are they relevant to the lives of the people who hear them?
  • Are they accountable?  Do they represent something that a person can look at — in terms of behaviors or outcomes — and evaluate?

When you use a handful of clear and simple words that logically describe what you intend to do in your business and how each person contributes to that process, then you are using words that mean something.

Every other word you use…every communication you make…flows from there.

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