Six Ways To Make Your Words More Meaningful

by  Michelle Braden  |  Leadership Development

JoAnn Auger, MSBCoach Executive Coach & Trainer

This weekend I watched the movie, “Anonymous,” a primarily fictionalized theory about the authenticity of William Shakespeare’s work.  I’m not writing a review nor a recommendation for the movie. I’m writing because of a couple of lines that caught my attention. These lines were: “….words will prevail” and ”it is words that will live on and tell the story…”   Maybe the reason these lines struck me was because of a book that I had recently read (Words That Work by Frank Luntz). Perhaps it is because I spend a great deal of time of listening to people as an Executive Coach and I must pay close attention to words.

For whatever the reason, I have been thinking about how we use words. How much time do we spend thinking about the words that we speak or write? I’m not referring to being “politically correct” or just being careful with our words. No, what I wonder about is what do our words and the words of others to reveal about us?

Right now we are in a presidential election year. Every word spoken by those in this presidential campaign is analyzed and scrutinized. What do their words reveal? Are the words that we hear or read the actual words of the candidate?  Often we hear about candidates who have had to retract or explain statements because they were speaking “off the cuff.”  What does that mean?   What does that tell you about that person? Ok, I am not trying to make any political statements either.  What I want you to consider is the thought that if “words will live on and will tell our story,” what will those words reveal about you?  What story will they tell?  Will those words tell a story of success? A story of an authentic leader?  An accurate account of your legacy?  Hopefully you are asking yourself this question, ”How can I ensure that the words that live on after me tell the story of a great leader?”

Below are six ways to make your words more meaningful:

  1. Make sure that your words are supported by your actions. Often leaders “talk a good game” but the lack of supporting action makes your words powerless. Speak words that build-up not tear-down.
  2. Be transparent. People already know that you are not perfect and that you do not have all the answers (that should allow you to breathe easier and relax a bit). Do your words reflect the authentic you? Transparency shows your humanity. It builds trust.
  3. Ask more often than you tell. Be curious about what people are thinking and what they know. They will often surprise you with some really great ideas and insight. You will learn a lot. Make sure you credit those that have taught you something. They will continue to share and encourage others to share.
  4. Hold people accountable for their role and be accountable for yours. Make sure expectations are clearly communicated and measured. For the most part, people will live up to whatever expectations you set as long they can see you are living up to yours.
  5. Communicate your Vision.  As the leader you are the custodian of the vision. Communicate it often and weave it into every initiative, project and event.  No vision – No focus. No focus – no drive. People want to be involved with something larger than themselves.
  6. Be visible. People will see you as more accessible and willing to listen. Being visible is not about “looking over everyone’s shoulder.” Being seen can be done through the use of all aspects of media, written communications, interviews, showing up for team meetings/celebrations, etc. Visible leaders create engagement. Visible leaders inspire confidence.

Finally, remember that each day you are adding to your story. You may not always be afforded the opportunity to edit it. So take advantage of this rare opportunity…edit where necessary. Someday the next generation of leaders will assume your role. What will be said of you? What words will prevail?

If you have additional ways you have used to make your words more meaningful, we would like to hear about them.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

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What People Are Saying

Peter Borner (@PeterBorner)  |  23 Feb 2012  |  Reply


Thank you for a thought provoking article. I think that truth and honesty are two of the most important characteristics of any leader and they form part of my core values. You often hear the phrase “choose your words carefully” and this phrase came to mind reading your article. I think you need to take it a step further and ensure your actions match your words. When I am not doing my day job I am an active Rotarian. Rotary has a simple “Four Way Test”

“Of the things we think, say or do:
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

I would like to think that the words I use and the actions I take reflect the four way test. I never feel it necessary to choose my words carefully because, my values always pick them for me!

I look forward to reading your next article.


Michelle Braden  |  23 Feb 2012  |  Reply

Hi Peter,

Thank you for your excellent feedback. I was a Rotarian myself for years and I remember stating the “4 Way Test” every time we met. Ken Karr on our team is also a long term Rotarian.

I wanted to share with you and everyone enjoying this excellent blog that it was written by one of our Executive Coaches and Trainers JoAnn Auger. We are working to get this corrected so she receives the credit. I have emailed your comment to her so she can respond.

You can learn more about JoAnn at: http://msbcoach.com/coaching/joann-auger/.

Thank you again for your feedback.

Deborah Costello  |  24 Feb 2012  | 

This comment stream reminded me of a blog post by the phenomenal Erin Schreyer.

At the end she shares a fabulous acronym: Before you speak, THINK.

Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?

This has helped me so much in talking to others nd helping us all talk to each other.

Thank you for an insiring post.

steve lord  |  23 Feb 2012  |  Reply

An interesting article that hit the spot, for me, anyway.

“Storytelling” certainly seems to be in vogue at the moment.

And long may it last.

I tend to spend my life telling stories (former Daily Express journalist, today creative director of Da Vinci Communications) and I encourage my clients, our clients, to treat their products, services as part of their story.

Some understand. And some don’t.

One international client, involved in the buying and selling of a particular commodity, and in competition with hundreds, if not thousands of similar companies, did not understand.

They are small players, but had some incredible employees achieving service levels beyond the call of duty.

As we re-branded the company I tried to weave these “people” stories into the new corporate brochure. They were all removed at first proof stage.

And the brochures became a list of “we are an international company offering a wide range of..and we do this and this…” and I lost all interest.

They have a beautiful brochure. They’re happy.

Why aren’t I? Because I like writing, and telling stories and engaging with people and making my clients interesting.

And that’s what I’ll continue to do.

Steve Lord
Creative Director
Da Vinci Communications

JoAnn Auger  |  23 Feb 2012  |  Reply

Steve, you certainly understand the power of story. I, too, believe that when people can read the story behind a product, a position, etc, it creates a link that encourages further exploration.

JoAnn Auger

Poul Andreassen  |  24 Feb 2012  |  Reply

There are certain things you do not realize until you read them, and through your article I have come to realize those few but interesting .
I like the part” People already know that you are not perfect and that you do not have all the answers (that should allow you to breathe easier and relax a bit). Do your words reflect the authentic you? Transparency shows your humanity. It builds trust..” Thanks once again!!

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