Leaders are always being watched, and whether or not we want to admit it, judged. Lately I have run across a couple instances where leaders use two vocabularies when they speak and/or write - one for peers and one for employees. When I asked for the rationale behind this, the response was usually shock and confusion, as they weren’t aware of doing this and wondered how to stop. It is generally at these points I get a big smile and say that this is why I was hired as their coach: to increase their awareness and reflect how they show up in different situations.


Leaders prepare for situations by crafting a clear message (Simon Sinek), thinking about body language (Amy Cuddy), and presenting well so people listen (JulianTreasure). One thing that doesn’t always come to the forefront are the words we choose. Let’s take the example where a client was writing down an action they wanted to do: “Push ‘Oscar’ to get the project back on track.” Granted, this statement was written for personal use and not intended to be spoken or used in an email, but I’ve seen examples where thoughts are be reflected and conveyed in emotions and actions. This is also highlighted in Amy Morin’s article describing how thoughts become reality, and that what you think directly influences how you feel and behave. Another way to write this is “Help ‘Oscar’ identify and craft a plan to remove barriers to get the project on track.”


In order to effect a change in ourselves, how do we identify subtleties like word choice?


Reread from receiver viewpoint. In a similar vein to above, put yourself in your audience’s shoes and read what you’ve written.Replace any words that could be misinterpreted or taken poorly.


Record yourself. If you are preparing for a difficult conversation or presentation, record yourself. You will then be able to listen to the words that are chosen from the audience’s perspective. Identify how it would be received by your audience.

Solicit Feedback. Ask for honest and direct comments how your words come across. To get the most value from the feedback, inquire about areas of opportunity and if there might be words that could be interpreted differently from intent.

Hire a coach. Another way to identify how we appear to others is through leadership coaching. A professional coach is a confidential ‘mirror’ to reflect our words and behaviors allowing a focused course correction with the ability to form positive words and habits. Coaching by a certified executive or leadership coach enables you to try new skills and provides accountability over time to form the new behavior. I really like the approach James Clear lays out for building new habits; start small and build each day. If you visually track how you perform each day, it will allow you to see how you are doing and quickly get back on track quickly. If you make the pace realistic, you will be able to sustain the change. Your coach can help you through the changes.

The key to increasing your presence as a leader to see how you are presenting yourself. Once you have identified those behaviors you would like to amend, identify the triggers, craft small goals that allow consistent improvement every day, and monitor the change with a positive attitude. If you slip, don’t fret - just get right back on it. This type of change and improvement is completely within your control.