Words Matter – For Retail Leaders Too!

We have been watching our government devolve into turmoil as politicians, reporters, and others analyze the meaning of words that are said (or tweeted) by those in charge.  Whichever side of the political debate you are on, it’s hard to argue that words have not been responsible for generating passionate feelings, either in support of or in defiance of, our government leaders.  While our words as retail leaders are unlikely to create international incidents of the same scale, they can indeed have similar impact on the smaller worlds over which we have influence.  Some things to think about…

We have responsibility to anticipate the impact of our words on the self esteem of those who work on our teams.  When our words make others feel empowered and motivated, the impact is good.  When our words make others feel defeated and hopeless, the impact is bad.  Giving constructive feedback is part of our job, and doing so in a way which maintains or enhances self-esteem gives us our best chance of leadership success.

We have responsibility to be honest and direct in our communication.  Anything less than direct leaves open the possibility of misinterpretation and confusion.  Anything less than honest leads to wrong conclusions and future problems.  It is very possible to be honest and respectful at the same time.  We should not be less than honest just to avoid hurting the feelings of others, but we should communicate our honest feedback/feelings/decisions with senstivity and respect.

We have responsibility to take care with the jokes we tell.  You have heard the old saying – “There is an element of truth in every joke.”  That’s especially true when the joke comes from the boss.  At least that’s the way members of the team will perceive things.  Sometimes it’s better to hold the tongue rather than be funny and risk sending an unintended message.

We have responsibility to manage the things we do NOT say as well as the things we do say.  Don’t say “hello” to a team member, and they will interpret something from it.  Don’t answer a question raised by a team member, and they will interpret something from it.  Don’t address an obvious situation which should be addressed, and others will interpret something from it.  Team members notice what we don’t say as much as what we do say.

We have responsibility to accept when we are wrong and apologize when appropriate.  As hard as I try to be right and do good things, I very often am wrong.  That includes my own humbling violations of the four responsibilities I just laid out above.  We show leadership strength, not weakness, when we accept and acknowledge the times we are wrong.  Similarly, we show strength when we listen openly and allow our minds to be changed.  Doubling down on wrong-mindedness undermines the respect others have in us as leaders.

So, while we observe the sad state of discourse amongst our political leaders, let’s use it as a way to challenge ourselves to a higher level of performance within the context of “words matter.”  After all, we can’t control how they behave, but we sure can control the way we communicate and the way we impact the parts of the world that we influence.


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