6 words leaders need to rethink

Words are extremely powerful, there’s no doubt about it. They have the power to inspire and spur on as much as they have the power to tear down and diminish. In a leadership position, it’s important to be sure that you’re using the right word for the right situation and, perhaps even more importantly, cutting some  words out of your everyday speech or making sure your using them in the most effective way..

The bad words aren’t always what you would think and they’re not necessarily negative words or even words that would raise an eyebrow in polite society – these words are in regular circulation amongst leaders but they don’t always have the desired effect.


Many people use ‘honestly’ to add emphasis to what they’re about to say but unfortunately, saying “Can I be honest with you …” or “Honestly …” or even “To be honest …” implies that everything else you were saying wasn’t the truth or that you’ve been lying to everyone else and you’re only going to tell this specific person the truth. Don’t cast any doubt over your words and don’t give your team any reason to distrust what you’re saying. If you’re using ‘honestly’ for emphasis, it’s time to think of a new word.


These two words are a minefield. Both ‘actually’ and ‘obviously’  are indirect criticisms of whoever you’re speaking to. They’re both ways of subtly letting someone know they’re wrong without it being so subtle that they won’t notice. Both words can cause people to feel as though they’re being talked down to and, while leaders are in a position of authority, talking down to intelligent and committed team members is a surefire way to get them offside.


Having flashbacks to a high school English teacher telling you to cut out your ‘Ums and Ahs’? Good! ‘Like’, ‘whatever’, ‘um’, ‘ah’ and ‘etc’ are all examples of filler words. Our brain spits them out when it’s not sure what to say next and it’s a hard habit to break. When you use them, you can sound a little lost and your team can get distracted by these words so that your real message gets lost behind them. Instead, take the time you would usually spend saying those words and collect your thoughts. That extra time will make sure that what really comes out of your mouth will be calm, confident and collected.


‘Can you get me that stuff by 12pm?’ or ‘Make sure the things are ready as soon as possible’ – these words creep in when our mind isn’t completely focused on what we’re saying and they can cause all kinds of trouble.  Wires are bound to get crossed if the instructions aren’t straightforward. Just be specific from the get-go so there’s no confusion over what you mean.


This is perhaps the single most prevalent word in our speech. It’s always hiding in sentences and it often goes undetected. Many of us use it so that we sound less demanding – “Could you just make sure I get that report by 12?” It’s the speech equivalent to adding a little smiley face at the end of your email to let them know you’re not so scary. It is effective in softening the blow of what you’re saying but it’s a double-edged sword because it really does soften the blow. It takes what you have to ask or say and it makes it turns it into something that might be seen as less important or something that can wait. Take ‘just’ out of the equation and you have a strong statement or question that will be taken seriously.


Our penchant for apologising constantly is a particularly annoying one, even though we all do it. As a leader, you have a lot of responsibility and things go wrong all the time, so it’s likely that you will be apologising sincerely quite often. Why add to that by apologising every time you want to share your opinion or contribute to a conversation? “Sorry, I just wanted to say …” Stop using sorry as a filler word or a way to introduce yourself, it takes the weight out of your real apologies and it’s unnecessary.

Recognise some of these words in your own speech? Some of them are harder to shake than others, but People Make the Difference can help you to get your message across with the right words.To find out more, visit www.pmtd.com.au or call us on 0412 333 415. Our online leadership training videos start from $99 for a year’s access, with new video training added each quarter. Great value if you’re committed to growing your leadership potential.