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MCLEOD: Words matter, so you them wisely

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Whoever said that probably never had a parent call them stupid.

They probably also never knew the pain of having their boss denounce them as a “low potential.”

As a writer and speaker, I’ve long appreciated the value of words.

Words can make someone weep, laugh or plunk down their hard-earned money to buy something they believe will improve their lives.

Wordsmiths spend a lot of time and effort trying to capture just the right phrase.

But sometimes, even professionals don’t put much thought into what come out of our mouths each day.

The words you utter as a leader sets the tone for your entire organization. If you doubt the power of words, consider this: The words in the Declaration of Independence inspired a country. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words ignited a movement.

On a more personal level, when I was 7 years old and visiting my grandmother for the summer, she took one look at my Barbie, and her wardrobe of swimsuits, short shorts and a wedding dress and said, “Let’s make Barbie a judge’s robe.” With that one sentence, she ignited a sense of possibility in me that hadn’t existed before.

Unfortunately, many people, many leaders, frequently use words that aren’t so positive.

Negative words from someone in power are so powerful that we often hear them long after their mouths have closed. How many times have you agonized over a boss’ critique, or a colleague’s snide remark? You turn it over and over in your head, going down endless rabbit holes. Is it true? Why did they say that? Is this what they’ve always been thing about me?

I’ve known adults who spent 20 years hating their body just because their father once called them “Chubbo.”

The other person might only say it once, but the words live on your mind forever.

But the most powerful words are the word we repeat to ourselves. Our internal talk track affects everything we do. It’s more powerful that anything happening outside us.

It doesn’t matter if we formed it ourselves, or we’re repeating what we hear from someone else, our inner dialogue forms the sound track of our lives.

If your talk track is negative, it’s almost impossible to erase it, unless you replace it with something. You have to substitute negative words with positive ones.

As a leader, you set the sound track for your business. If your narrative is all about problems, your people will internalize the message, this business is hard. If your dialogue is all about money, your team will assume that’s the primary purpose of your organization.

If you want to be a top tier leader, you’ll focus your conversations on how your business improves life for your customers. It will be more motivating for your team, and you’ll be more likely to create competitive differentiation.

Mantras matter. As a person who grew up hearing, “Suck it up and quit crying,” I decided that I would create a new motto for my family. Whenever my kids face a difficult situation, I chant, “Remember, we’re the McLeod’s, we can do anything.”

It’s hokey, but it works. My kids now find themselves saying it whenever they face a challenge.

Words matter. Sticks and stones may crack up a few bones, but the wrong words in your head will your break your spirit forever.

Lisa McLeod is the author of “Selling with Noble Purpose.”