I’ve seen a number of articles this month on the general topic of how to speak as a leader. For those who have read Stephen Denning’s savvy work on the topic, The Secret Language of Leadership, the sage advice from these columns will be familiar. They talk about setting a clear, inspiring vision for your organization, for getting out front (leading vs bossing), and for making the group’s story your own–in a colloquial and passionate way.
It would be hard to disagree with any of the points made, but I will take issue with one piece of leadership language that seems to have been universally omitted. I hope it’s been left out because it seems so basic or obvious, but in my career it’s been the most powerful arrow a leader can hold in his scabbard. It’s also something that seems to be forgotten so often that I think it bears mentioning.
There are no two more powerful words a leader can speak than “thank you.” Just like the now famous video of a single tiny domino that topples a 20 foot wall, “thank you” is a tiny gesture that can ultimately make the difference in a critical negotiation or give spirit to a tired worker. And just like the domino, a sincere “thank you” has a cumulative effect that can move people in ways no other words can.
Even though the omission of “thank you” is likely just an oversight from the leadership textbooks, it’s one whose effects are felt in the business world. I’ve worked with (and for) far too many leaders who seem not to know the phrase—or deliver it in miserly doses. Though many truly appreciate the work and partnership of others, you’d never know it from their vocabulary.
Words like “please” and “sorry” also rank up there with “thank you” as the most forgotten leadership language. In fact, if you take a look at this list of 25 manners every child should know by age nine, you’ll see what should be the foundation of every leadership book and article published.
With that, I’ll say “thank you for reading.” Let me know what words or phrases I missed.