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Leadership + Business

Effective Words for Leaders to Use and Live By

Essay by Becky Gaylord

I’ve got nothing against books on leadership. Or formal training for managers. Or advanced degrees, like MBAs. But leading is not a formula. It’s about approach and mindset. Great leaders inspire respect. They are, universally, authentic, genuine and humane. And they also employ these words and traits…


1. Empathy

Empathy leads to rational, thoughtful solutions. It doesn’t imply weakness. Rather, it demonstrates a secure, calm confidence. It enables a leader to assess a situation and make a decision that creates the best outcome possible for the most people.


2. Humor

No need to explain this one. How much better the work world would be if more people in power could just laugh a little more.


3. Please

Yes, employees should take direction from their managers — as long as it’s legal and socially appropriate — without grumbling or shirking. Yet, adding “please” goes a long way toward making a team want to take direction. And that’s a different matter altogether.


4. Thanks

Saying this is good, of course. But really meaning it is much better.


5. Yes

Respected leaders try to consider all reasonable requests from the perspective of how to say “yes” more frequently than “no.” They realize that doing so can create easier, smoother compliance with their requests, as well. It also makes for happier staff.


6. Ask

Leaders inquire, instead of dictating. They seek, instead of demanding. They ask. It means they’re interested. Open. And, willing to weigh other viewpoints.


7. Listen

This is more difficult than asking, but even more important: great leaders take the time to really listen. It matters.


8. Support

Inspired leaders help those around them whenever they can. They mentor, guide and offer a hand. They know being supportive goes a long way toward engendering other wonderful things among staff and colleagues.


9. Trust

This is the position that great leaders start from when dealing with the folks they manage. When a boss approaches relations with staff from the assumption that “they’re up to something,” defensiveness and distrust seep in and strangle the goodwill that lubricates civil human interaction.


10. Humility

Nobody is perfect. No one has learned it all. Outstanding leaders remember that — and act like it, as well. They know that doing so shows staff and colleagues that they are true leaders. The managers who bang their chests about their conquests and what they know are just showing insecurity and arrogance — not leadership.


11. Model

Amazing leaders can honestly say, “Do as I do,” instead of “Do as I say” (but not as I do.) They know that the model they provide influences their employees — and make sure that that’s a good thing.


12. Sorry

This word has prevented lawsuits, mended friendships and almost surely avoided wars. Too many bosses don’t use it — or know the magic it can create. Great leaders know it, and use it.

I realize that these words are not just for leaders. And I also realize that these words are not technical or based in theory. But I can’t think of a leader I truly admire who doesn’t weave these words or traits into his or her management style.


Becky Gaylord

Becky worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times,, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact. Becky blogs about that (a few other things) at Framing What Works.



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