Leaders are always communicating, even when they are not talking. But what words must a leader say on a regular basis? Here are four words leaders must use, not merely every now and then, but continually. Over and over again:
Wise leaders constantly ask “why” and continually communicate the “why.” Wise leaders communicate the philosophy beneath the decisions, the thinking that guides the behavior. They help people see the reason the team moves in a certain direction. If leaders fail to offer the “here’s why,” people mindlessly execute without their hearts fully committed. Without a strong “why,” an organization drifts. New activities and programs are implemented that look great on the surface but hold competing philosophies underneath. Without a consistently communicated “why,” an organization loses its soul. People are less motivated because there is not a strong sense of “here is why we are on the planet.” The “why” is vastly important.
Leaders are responsible to keep the team moving in the same direction, to keep everyone focused. And this often means saying “no” to distractions, to other opportunities, and to good things that are not the best things. Wise leaders are skilled at saying “no.” Steve Jobs once said, “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” When a team has a clear and compelling “why,” it is much easier to say “no.” When a leader holds a deep-seated conviction, saying “no” is inevitable.
The longer leaders lead, the more they are aware of their imperfections. They know they miss the mark in communication and in providing support to those they serve. Because they move fast and are decisive, they sometimes hurt others with their decisions. Because they love the people they serve alongside and want to root out relational tension that erodes trust, wise leaders are quick to say “sorry.”
Max De Pree famously said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.” Great leaders express appreciation and gratitude to the people on their teams. The best people on a leader’s team are volunteers, no matter the amount on the paycheck, because they could always go somewhere else.