It’s not good enough to be right. Or to do what you think is right. The hard truth about leadership is that to be effective you have to master the power of words. You have to master delivering those words in the right tone.
A good example of this comes from perhaps the greatest ruler who ever lived.
In early 335 B.C., Alexander the Great began his quest for world domination. No other ruler had a passion for conquest like Alexander.
Not even his father, Philip II of Macedon, who had expanded the Greek empire further than any king before him.
After ten years of fighting, Alexander arrived at the edge of India without having lost a single battle. His army controlled most of the known world at that time — Greece, Egypt, and what had been the Persian empire. But Alexander wanted more.
The problem was that his men were tired.
They had followed him for ten years — fighting thousands of miles across lower Europe, into Africa, and to the edge of the Middle East. Far away from families and wives, they languished in fatigue, without the rage to conquer another empire.
Alexander gathered his men together and delivered an impassioned speech: “I observe, gentlemen, that when I would lead you on a new venture you no longer follow me with your old spirit.
I have asked you to meet me that we may come to a decision together: are we, upon my advice, to go forward, or, upon yours, to turn back?
I will make those who go the envy of those who stay.”
Those words made a big difference.
You don’t have to be in too many shouting matches to figure that when things get heated it’s very easy to say things that are cruel. Things that are unfair or highly manipulative, hurtful, or mean.
These sort of words rise quickly to the top of an angry argument especially when you feel like you are losing the fight.
And then, instead of arguing about the original reason for your discussion, you find yourself simply trying to hurt the other person. Trying to win at all costs.
That’s because words are effective weapons.
What is especially interesting about those moments where you say hurtful things is that those cruel words didn’t just magically come out of your mouth. They were words shaped by thoughts that you had been doing a good job keeping bottled up inside you.
But once you say the words out loud, you can’t take them back. The words are out there. The emotions they create. The way they make people feel. You can’t take that back.
So it’s important to act like words matter.
It’s important to know that your tone delivering those words matters.
You don’t need to act fearfully. Or without candor. You need to use words purposefully.
Here are a few lessons to learn about words and leading with tone:
- Ask smart questions and people will believe you’re a smart person. Challenge yourself to ask more questions than making statements.
- If you want people to take action, then be specific about the results that you expect and a timeline that is acceptable.
- Words spoken angrily are ineffective in the long run — even if they contain something truthful. Give yourself 3-seconds of quiet before you answer.
- Don’t be unclear. It makes you untrustworthy. Effective conversations require words that inspire trust, confidence, and intrigue.
- If everything you talk about is “I’s” and “Me’s” then don’t be confused when you don’t get a lot of help.
- Whining creates massive amounts of irritation, anger, and fear — not positive progress or constructive growth. Ruthlessly eliminate it.
- Choose words that make the mission personal for the other person. It’s not about what you want, it’s how they hear you.
- Passive-aggression is confusing (and annoying) for anyone listening and the least effective way to get what you want from others.
- There is nothing you can say to be interesting when you’ve talked for too long. Fewer words make for an effective conversation.
- Grateful and thankful words are the best way to motivate people to accomplish results over the long run.
The wrong words can make your life miserable
They can make it take longer accomplish your goals. And impossible.
Just because you need to say “what’s on your mind” doesn’t give you permission to be a jerk. You don’t get a chance to take things back, hurt people, or re-explain bad behavior.
Words matters. Act like it.
Actions might speak louder than words, but words are the best way to drive better actions.
That’s important to remember when you need to get things done.
Say what’s important. Be purposeful. Ask questions. Take responsibility for the results of the words that you use.
It didn’t make sense.
King Porus had hundreds of elephants. The Persians had none.
But that simple speech Alexander the Great delivered to his tired army had an incredible impact.
It inspired his men to dig a little bit deeper and push into India — adding another victory and more territory to the largest kingdom of all time.
It took actions. But behind it all was the artful delivery of words.
Speak to inspire.