Leadership Skills: Words Are Power

Words, words, words. Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books…. With so many words around us, we quickly say: “Well, they’re just words.” Thus, words have lost much of their power. *

– Henri Nouwen

Words Are Power


Transformational leaders choose words carefully.

Here’s a column that I wrote to choral conductors about words:
5 Dumb Things Directors Say to Their Choirs.

Words build up.

Words tear down.

Carefully-chosen words facilitate effective communication. Although communication is fundamentally based on relationship and is not really about talking, words are important. Choosing words is a primary leadership skill.

The right words cut through the noise of the busy world of media, networking events, sermons, and children.

Poorly-chosen and badly-placed words can produce the opposite of the intended result.

Critical, thoughtless words can destroy or damage relationships.

Too many words negate any message and close communications with the receiver (not called a listener because the person has tuned out the noise).

Words without action expose a fake. Words without follow-through expose a lack of integrity.

One negative expletive displaces over 37 affirmations.

Carefully- and thoughtfully-chosen words build effective relationships and fortify healthy teams.

A leader’s words can:

  • Show caring
  • Provide affirmation and support
  • Give support when refinement is needed
  • Show kindness, rather than criticism
  • Define a mentoring relationship
  • Invite creative thinking
  • Energize and empower teams
  • Build respect
  • Create pathways for communication
  • Build a culture of collaboration
  • Allow for individual thinking
  • Create a consensus culture, promoting individual best thinking
  • Allow for individual best practices and discourage “Group Think”
  • Promote a culture of best practices
  • Allow for a spirit of continuous improvement

Before you open your mouth – think.

Oh, by the way, silence, as punctuation, can be a very, very effective communication tool.


* Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 44). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.


Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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