the shape of leadership

The Weight of a Leader’s Words

Three things to remember when you speak

We’ve all been on the receiving end of words that got lodged in the depths of our soul and shaped the story we tell ourselves today. As author Mark Batterson once said, “Our words don’t just carry weight; they have the power to rewrite narratives.”

Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget just how powerful our words are when we become leaders. That’s when our words become heavier, land harder, and impact people more deeply—for good or for bad. Dr. John Townsend once observed, “Leaders carry around a relational megaphone, whether or not they know it. What I mean by this is that the normal impact we have on others with our words is amplified by the leadership role.”

Wise leaders understand the weight of their words. What they say, and how they say it, are exaggerated by the sheer fact that they are the leader. Therefore, wise leaders keep three things in focus when they speak.


The Significance of Words

The words you speak aren’t random or haphazard aspects of leadership. Words aren’t just fillers in day-to-day conversations, or pointless messages with no lasting effect. Quite the opposite—words produce outcomes. Words create worlds.

Life and death are in the power of your tongue, and the substance and sound of your words will determine the outcome in people’s lives.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” This is a great reminder for leaders. What you say significantly shapes your life and the world of people around you. If leaders don’t embrace this reality, they won’t own their words or the consequences they create.

Proverbs 12:18 offers another pointed reminder: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Words are significant because they pierce or heal, bring death or produce life.

How much thought do you give to the words you speak? Have you paused to consider the significance of your weighty words?


The Substance of Words

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Words matter, and Proverbs provides four great insights on the substance of our words. A leader’s words should be:

  • Life-giving. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence” (Proverbs 10:11).
  • Truthful. “TheLorddetests lying lips, but he delightsin people who are trustworthy” (Proverbs 12:22).
  • Helpful. The lips of the godly speak helpful words, but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words” (Proverbs 10:32, NLT).
  • Wise. “The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the hearts of fools are not upright” (Proverbs 15:7).

This doesn’t mean every conversation a leader has is easy. Sometimes leaders have hard conversations to address difficult issues in people’s lives. However, even hard conversations can be handled with life-giving, truthful, helpful, and wise words.


The Sound of Words

In her book, Dare to Serve, Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, said, “When leaders get mad, listening and learning go out the window. Mad leaders know exactly what they want to say. They cut to the chase and tell you exactly how they feel—which is highly efficient but very ineffective. The unfortunate truth: efficiency with people ruins relationships.”

Good leaders understand that the substance of words must be matched by the proper sound of those words. Simply put, we must talk in the right tone. What we say and how we say it matters. If we don’t get this right, we’ll run the risk of ruining relationships.

Proverbs gives some great insight on the power and importance of tone-setting words. Our words must be:

  • Gentle. “A gentle answerturns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
  • Gracious. “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
  • Timely. “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23).
  • Self-controlled. “Those who guard their lipspreserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3).

Your tone will determine if you correct people downward or coach people upward. The right tone will ensure the weight of your words brings life and hope rather than death and despair. I often tell leaders, “Speaks the truth in the tone of grace.” This approach makes a world of difference in how you connect with people and lead with excellence.

Choose your words carefully. As a leader, life and death are in the power of your tongue, and the substance and sound of your words will determine the outcome in people’s lives. Your words carry disproportionate weight because of your position as a leader. Be sure to use your position carefully to deliver words wisely.

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