The power of transformational leadership language

Victim language is the antithesis of leadership language. When you want to empower someone who talks like a victim, you need to tread lightly. Misguided efforts can entrench someone in their victimhood all the more. Find out how to empower leadership language. 


Our language signals if we’re leaders, followers or victims.

If it walks like a duck…

A dynamic leader is someone who empowers others to speak like leaders. There’s a saying that if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it probably is a duck. If you walk like a dynamic leader and talk like a dynamic leader, people will regard you as a dynamic leader. And if you don’t, they won’t. And may the walk precede the talk.

Our developing leaders need dynamic language skills that reflect a higher leadership level. This section develops language habits to clearly reflect high levels of leadership that emerging leaders are developing.

PowerPhrases to eradicate victim language and empower leadership language

When we see ourselves as victims of circumstances, other people, lack of resources, or some other obstacle, it is impossible to move on and solve the problem. Sometimes we don’t realize when we are seeing ourselves as a victim, but our language will reveal unconscious views. If you mentor, lead or manage someone who sounds stuck, here are some phrases to move things forward. 

You’re talking like you have no power in this situation. Tell me what options you have.

It seems you are playing the victim here, but I believe you always have choices and you always have power, let’s explore those.

What are you going to do about that?

Who controls the story you’re telling? When you resist them, they still define you. How can you make the story your own?

PowerPhrases to get emerging leaders to translate complaints into requests

Many teachers have signs that read, “Would you like some cheese with that whine?” Many leaders wish they had that sign! The difference between a complaint and a request and between stating a problem and whining about the situation lies in wording and intent. The information is often the very same. If you mentor, lead or manage someone who seems to whine, here are some phrases for you. 

  • Are you here to complain or to make a request?
  •  A complaint is a whine and a whimper that sounds weak.  A request is a gracious expectation that sounds empowered.
  • How can we translate that complaint into an invitation?
  • You told them what you don’t want. Have you clarified what you DO want?

PowerPhrases to change follower language into leadership language

Our words signal whether we’ve overcome a school child mentality of looking to the teacher for all the answers and taken responsibility and ownership for our lives and decisions. When we hear our emerging leaders speak as if they are looking outside of themselves for answers and solutions, these phrases will help them redirect their language from follower language into collaborative leadership language.

  •  What do you see as the difference between leader and follower language?
  •  In this instance who do you see as the leader? Who is the follower? Will that hierarchy provide the best solution? Are you the leader or the follower here? Are you acting the part?
  •  Are you speaking as the leader you need to be here?
  • If you want to be a thought leader, focus less on what others say and tell me what you say.
  •  Listen to others and form your own point of view.

Perfect Phrases to change commanding language into collaborative leadership language

There is a delicate balance between being a self-defined person and being a rigid closed book. The previous section aims at getting emerging leaders to stand up in an empowered way, but not to wield power or be controlling. Should your emerging leaders err on the side of rigidity and aggression, these phrases will help you guide them back to a more collaborative communication style that invites input from others without abdication.

  • I believe your language is too commanding and it is stifling the contributions from others. Let’s work toward a collaborative style.
  • How would you define collaborative leadership?
  • I often have trouble getting people to take a stand. I don’t have that problem with you. What I do find, however, is it’s a challenge to get you to really consider other perspectives. Let’s look at how we can make that happen without losing the power of your commitment to your ideas.
  • When you speak this way, I feel an impulse to oppose you out of principle or comply out of avoidance. What do you suppose it is about how you talk that feeds those desires?

PowerPhrases to encourage inspiring leader language

  • A dynamic leader uses compelling language. Inspiration and the ability to motivate others is an important leadership skill. People respond quite differently to being challenged to achieve some goal than to being told what to do. Here are some phrases to inspire our emerging leaders to speak compellingly.
  • I am bored by what I am hearing here and I suspect others are, too. Let’s see if we can inspire ourselves and communicate that inspiration.
  • When our meetings can’t compete with text messaging, maybe our wording needs more impact. Can we be more direct, active, vivid, and succinct?
  • If your team seems unmotivated, they might need a better “why” with their what, when, and how.
  • Tell me a story about the future of our organization.
  • What symbols and metaphors can you create to describe your vision in inspiring terms that speak to hearts and minds?
  • What would a good slogan for (initiative) be?

Perfect Phrases for leadership developmentThese phrases are adapted from the book Perfect Phrases for Developing Dynamic Leaders by myself and Wendy Mack. You can find many more in that book. 

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