10 Things Every Leader Should Say

by Sheryl Nance-Nash

3 min read

As a business owner, what you say reveals as much about your leadership skills as what you do. Using the right words at the right time will increase the odds of your company’s success.

“The right words have the potential to be transformational,” says Jason Henham, managing director of Slate Consulting.

Not sure what to say? Here are 10 phrases every leader should use, according to Henham and a few other experts.

1. “What do you think?” Leaders often fail to listen. “Always start by listening to the other person’s point of view,” says Linda Henman, president of consulting firm Henman Performance Group.  Why? When you sincerely ask people for their input, they’re more likely to support a given course of action — even if it’s not the one they would have chosen. It also leads to better decision making on your part, says Rick Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting. “Involve people in decisions that affect them to enhance decision quality.”

2. “No.” As a leader, you are the final arbiter of your company’s values and reputation. You should have only one response to suggestions or actions that violate (or appear to violate) those values or general business ethics, which is no, absolutely not, says Susan Battley (pictured), author of Coached to Lead: How to Achieve Extraordinary Results with an Executive Coach.

3. “Tell me more.” Successful leaders are inquisitive. They want to hear good news, of course, but they also want to delve deeply into bad news and differing opinions. Being open to all feedback creates a culture of healthy discussion, feedback, and innovation, Battley says.

4. “Here’s why…” Getting people to agree with your decisions or request to complete certain tasks often is less about what the decision or request is and more about providing a reason why. Explaining “here is why I’ve made this decision, here is why I’m asking you to do this,” can be very powerful, Henham says.

5. “We’re a team.” You are all equal parts of the group, says David Porter, co-author of Where Winners Live: Sell More, Earn More, Achieve More Through Personal Accountability. The best leaders are collaborators and team builders. Battley notes: “It takes a community of dedicated people to deliver consistent winning results. Highly effective leaders don’t hog the limelight, but instead, speak about the team and the company.”

6. “This is our goal.” “Your employees help drive your organization toward success, but if they don’t know the intended destination, it will be significantly more challenging for them to get you there,” says Willy Stewart, co-creator of Integrated Intelligence, a business management consulting firm.

7. “I’m sorry.” They say confession is good for the soul. It’s healthy in the workplace, too. If you’ve made a mistake, say so

8. “I don’t know.” Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. “When a leader can’t say, ‘I don’t know,’ we know that’s a facade and in some way, we can’t put our complete trust in that leader,” Henham says. “Saying, ‘I don’t know,’ provides confirmation that we can trust him or her.”

9. “Why?” Why do people think something will work or won’t work? Why do they want to change an established procedure? “Asking why gets ideas flowing,” says Stephen Balzac, president of consulting firm 7 Steps Ahead.

10. “Thank you.” People like to be appreciated. Giving thanks is one of the best and easiest ways to show your appreciation. Recognizing others’ efforts and contributions is a critical leadership skill. “This is an aspect of emotional intelligence that research shows differentiates good leaders from great leaders,” Battley says.

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