What Does a Leader Say?

Insight from a preschooler

What does Mimi always say?

That was the question that we asked our youngest grandchild as we were sitting around the dining room table yesterday afternoon. For those of you who know some of my parenting rules, you will know that I do not like asking a question to which I don’t already know the answer to, or to which I can’t control the answer. And, asking a young child to repeat what his impression is regarding what his grandmother always says was risky. His answer, much to our delight was this: “Jax, do you want Mimi to get you something to eat?”

We went around the table and asked each of our grandchildren the same question about what their individual parents or we the grandparents are always saying to them. Some of the responses were hysterically funny. Some of them tweaked our hearts a little bit. It tweaked a little because when they were asked for something that they hear from our mouths on a regular basis, not everything was as nurturing as Mimi fixing them a little snack of comfort food.

What does that have to do with leadership?

As leaders, we have developed a repertoire of words and statements that we use on a frequent basis. They are our “go to” statements and answers. They are second nature to us and require little if any thought before we respond. 

In a sense, they paint an emotional picture of our leadership. Whenever someone thinks of our leadership style and our leadership efforts, certain words or statements jump to the forefront of their mind just as they did for our three grandchildren. Those words define us. They do so because they are the first words that pop into our brains when someone says our name.

Are you feeling a little “tweaked?”

Boy, I am! What do my followers hear me say all the time? Is it uplifting? Is it encouraging? Is it helpful? Is it instructive? Or, is it snarky, belittling, negative, or childish? 

It doesn’t do any good to say at this point that we don’t mean any harm in what we say or how we say it. It is too late. Notice that I stated that our words paint an “emotional picture” of our leadership. Looking at it from one perspective, it is our words that define our leadership style and not our intentions. It doesn’t matter that “we don’t mean to come off snarky.” The reality is that our words are sending an emotional message.

What does a leader say?

I don’t know everything that they say. But I know that here are some things that I want to hear from my leader. Most are questions. Some are statements.

  • How am I doing?    Every leader needs to get feedback on their leadership.
  • Do you have everything you need from me?    This opens up a dialog about resources.
  • Do you have some time for some feedback?    Every follower wants to know what their leader thinks about their performance.
  • What do you see that I am not seeing?    No leader knows all and sees all. They need our eyes and ears.
  • What are the biggest challenges that you are facing?    This also speaks to resources, but also to barriers to success that hinder us.
  • Who have you seen that really needs to be encouraged right now?    Each of us knows someone who is struggling or hurting. Don’t keep that info to yourself.
  • Who have you seen that is really performing at a very high level?    Each of us knows someone who is excelling. Don’t be jealous and don’t keep that info to yourself either.
  • Are you clear about where our organization is headed?    As a leader, we think we have communicated clearly. But, maybe we haven’t.
  • You are doing a great job.    Who doesn’t want to hear that from their leader?
  • I have heard some really great things about you.    And who doesn’t want to know some specifics? Plus, others have noticed my contributions as well.
  • Thanks for your contribution to the team.    A little bit of gratitude goes a long way.
  • Please pass along to your family our gratitude for your contribution to the team.    A great leader recognizes that we have an emotional ecosystem at home that supports us.

This list is really in no particular order. But, I think it is a pretty good list of questions and statements from those who are leaders. Try them out with your team. Use them or other similar words and try to build a pattern of communication that is empowering to those around you.




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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.