Choose Your Words Wisely

Leadership is all about language, and it is the words that we speak that others follow. As CEO I’ve learned it’s not just about the language that we use in our role when leading others; it’s also about the language we use when leading ourselves as well. Over the next few weeks I will be doing a series of blogs about language, and will introduce you to some words that carry an impressive amount of power. I challenge you to be on the lookout for language that “builds walls” that shut out hope, denies opportunity, or sustains things we simply don’t like.

There are many ways to define language, one is dichotomy. At any given moment are you speaking liability language or possibility language? These coined terms were recently introduced to me, but I must confess my Dad exposed the concepts to me as a child. One of his favorite parental expressions was “can’t means you won’t;” I am pretty sure I was in college before I had any idea what he meant.

Liability language is anything that sets limits, and keeps us from moving forward or believing that something good can come from some life situation. Possibility language is all about hope, sets expectations that something good will happen, and inspires you to do something; to move!

Liability language is easy, there is no shortage of problems. Consider the workforce shortages; across all sectors there are not enough of industry-specific workers. In human services we are short about seven million applicants. Here is a litany of liability language and possibility language:

As you hear the liability language, the energy in your body drops so low it is hard to move! As you speak in possibility you want to move, call someone, ask for help, and kick around more ideas.

I am sure you know that liability language can also draw a crowd; misery loves company, right? Living in possibility by yourself can be lonely, but you won’t want to do that for long. Living in possibility makes you want to collaborate and find someone to help you bring the ideas to life. I am not a fan of holding still. I have lived in lonely possibility but not for long. You will not find me among those who see no hope. In the coming weeks look for these words or phrases to find their way into our conversation — growth mindset, authentic inclusion, “nothing about me, without me,” emancipation, and red work vs blue work.

As you sit in meetings, talk with others at the work, or with your family and friends at home. See if you can spot these opposites, and tune into how you feel. I would like to hear from you! Maybe you have a favorite saying you use to point out possibilities, feel free to share it with me. With your permission, I will publish them in the town halls!