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If You Use These 6 Phrases a Lot, You're a Better Leader Than You Think


Jun 2, 2023

Communicating effectively with your employees is vitally important to your success as a leader. Even Warren Buffett considers developing your communication skills one of the best investments you'll ever make, stating that it "can increase your value by at least 50 percent."

But to inspire people with words isn't as easy as merely talking. It takes a very human approach in the way you speak to them. Even if you believe that you're a good communicator, chances are you've run into situations where no matter how clear the message, there's a disconnect with the other person.

Taking into account the countless human interactions during a normal workday, there are certain verbal expressions that may help you increase trust and enhance your relationships. For example:

1. "We could not have done it without your hard effort."

This is a great way of showing gratitude to someone for exceeding expectations on a tough project that tested the whole team. Stating this publicly in view of team members, with permission from the person receiving the message, is especially gratifying and shows that person how much he or she is valued.

2. "I could use your advice on what direction to take."

There's a false belief that leaders shouldn't ask for advice from their employees or team members. On the contrary, research has linked people who ask for advice to being perceived as more competent than they are. The most effective leaders I have studied and coached are emotionally present and ask for help when it's needed. By being real, humble, and emotionally honest -- and giving team members permission to be the same -- teams connect and collaborate better. That's a recipe for good business outcomes.

3. "How can I help?"

This is a welcoming phrase, especially during times of high stress or when team members are facing deadlines or challenging situations. Offering to help demonstrates that you genuinely have the backs of fellow employees.

4. "I trust you." 

This is a tough one to consider. For example, before you say this to an employee or colleague, should that person first earn the trust? Or does trust develop from extending it as a gift? Conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first; however, it has been found that in high-trust organizations, leaders are willing to extend trust to their followers first, and they give it as a gift even before it's earned. When you extend trust to your team members -- as a gift, before it's earned -- your people will be more inclined to return the favor and trust you back.

5. "Honestly, I don't know."

As leaders, it's rather uncomfortable admitting you don't know something when people expect you to have all the answers. Garry Ridge, chairman and CEO of the WD-40 Company, has a different take. Ridge says "I don't know" are the three most powerful words he's ever learned in his life. When he got comfortable with not knowing, he began to learn and grow -- a lot. "As soon as you make out you know everything, you shut down all the opportunity to learn more and get different points of view," says Ridge. "So not only do I get comfortable with 'I don't know,' but even more today, I keep asking myself, 'Why do I believe that?' Because the world's changing so quickly."

6. "What do you need from me?"

Effective leaders serve the needs of others by making sure they're being set up for success. They also hold them accountable for that same success with a pretty high bar. But it all starts with the hallmark of caring and concern. And the first question they ask is always: What do you need from me so I can help you perform better?

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