Even the worst leaders, at one time or another, can shed wisdom to team members. Regardless of how significant or insignificant it might be, it sticks.
It becomes something that people hold on to and that they carry forward during moments of their career or life.
I was working with a division manager named Craig, who was struggling with leading his team. Through some interviews and his willingness to get feedback on how he was leading, we uncovered the words he was using daily were creating negativity on the team. Some had even begun looking for new jobs. To help the situation, we came up with a list of words and phrases he would start using to replace pessimistic ones.
A month or so later, my phone rang, and it was Craig. I could tell by the sound of his voice he was excited to tell me something. "John, you won't believe it. I walked out of my office today, and I overheard one of our managers speaking to their team member, and she said, 'Our best is ahead of us.' He continued, "those are the words I intentionally substituted for the negative words in our management meetings!"
What Craig finally understood, is a powerful lesson for all leaders: The words you say, are words they will say.
While there are many essential phrases a leader can and should say to his or her people, here are a few phrases all leaders need to tell their team members more often if they want to be successful:
"I'm not going to be perfect, and I don't expect you to be either."
To many professionals, it's easy to look up to someone in a position of leadership and fool yourself in believing they are perfect. Saying this phrase, "I'm not going to be perfect, and I don't expect you to be either" creates a foundation of empathy and forgiveness. It expresses to your people that you are human and are going to make mistakes just like they are going to.
It's not about if mistakes happen, but when they happen, we are going to admit the mistake, learn from it, and then work to not make the same ones in the future. A mentor of mine always tells me, "consistency beats perfection."
"I have seen your best effort, that wasn't it. I know you can do better."
One of the most important things any leader can do is to create a culture of accountability within their team or company. A culture where each person embraces their obligation account for its activities accepts responsibility for them and works to reach higher levels of performance.
"I know you can do better" transfers belief to a team member. As hard as it is to give maximum effort in every situation, people don't just need to be called out; they also need to have their confidence built up and know you're confident in them.
"I've seen you handle this type of situation before. I trust your judgement, and I'm confident you'll make a good decision."
Today more than ever before, people want control over their own decision making. It's one of the core teachings in the Ultimate Leadership Academy. No one likes to be micromanaged and have every decision made for them. Too often, managers struggle to let go and allow people to make decisions when they are ready to make them.
By saying, "I've seen you handle this type of situation before, I trust your judgement and am confident you'll make a good decision" you are not only telling someone they are ready to take ownership of their decision making, you are mandating it. It won't take long for your team to be empowered to make decisions. In the end, you're creating more leaders instead of more followers.
The only caveat here is we have to make sure team members are ready to make them. If they aren't, you have to coach them, mold them, and teach them to help them be prepared.
"I realized I made a mistake. Here's how we're going to fix it."
The only thing worse than making a significant mistake is not being willing to admit the error. Most leaders know deep down when they made an error, and instead of admitting it and finding a solution, they blame someone else or ignore the problem altogether.
By saying this, you are showing real vulnerability. Not only will your team appreciate the fact you are taking ownership of the mistake, but you are bringing to the table a solution moving forward.
Saying "thank you" is simple, and it must be done often because it means a lot to your team. Those two little words have almost a magical power because people desperately want to be acknowledged for the work they do.
But don't just take my words for it. A recent study by US psychologists in the journal Psychological Science provides clinical proof of what many of us already knew: Saying "thank you" can positively transform your relationship with others.
Choose the words and phrases you use with your team carefully. The words you say are words they eventually will say to their people.
What are the words or phrases you use most often that's most important for your people to hear?
Get the #1 Best New Management Book to Read by Book Authority: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others.
About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn's 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the "Follow My Lead" Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today's leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.