By Chuck Lawless
If you’ve read my blogs here, you know I, like Dr. Rainer, am an introvert. I’m inclined toward aloneness, quiet, and listening. I listen a lot, actually—especially to people in positions of leadership. I’m convinced that if you want to learn about leaders, you should listen to their words.
- Do they greet others? The best leaders I know say, “Good morning” and ask, “How are you?” They understand that relationships facilitate achieving a vision, but that’s not why they speak to others. They’re just kind people who know that others matter. They recognize the affirming power of a few words, for a few moments, to a few people. A leader who walks past others without greeting them is simply too self-absorbed.
- Do they speak more about themselves or about others? The focus of a leader’s words reveals the leaning of the leader’s heart. In the course of a day, do you hear about their activities, exploits, knowledge, and renown more than you hear about others? Good leaders point to others, knowing that their responsibility is to build an organization bigger than themselves. Their very words honor the teams that make their effectiveness possible.
- Do they speak more about yesterday or about today and tomorrow? Leaders who consistently speak of the “way things were” may be stuck in the security of yesterday, perhaps even in a previous organization. Their passion for today and vision for tomorrow are likely weak, if not non-existent. They may well be leading on fumes while gasping for yesterday’s oxygen. Indeed, the backwards-only looking leader is not leading at all.
- Do they compliment as well as correct? You may know these leaders. They talk with others only when a problem occurs. Others dread seeing them approaching because they know the leaders have little good to say. Lunches are only for discipline, not for friendship and encouragement. Their compliments are few and fleeting, regardless of how hard others work. Often, their team feels underappreciated—and perhaps even used.
- Do they speak of faith and prayer? I realize that expressing faith and prayer in some work settings is not easy, but leaders with a genuine faith will allow that faith to influence their words. They will not hesitate to speak about their God and their family of faith. They may not always pray aloud but will offer genuine prayer support for their team. On the other hand, leaders who speak little of faith and prayer may well be operating in their own strength.
- Do they criticize or ridicule people in front of others? Some leaders get frustrated with people and then express disapproval to anyone in hearing distance. Others never miss an opportunity to ridicule people who aren’t as “smart” as they are. Here’s the danger with this kind of leader: if they talk about others in front of you, they may well talk about you in front of others. These leaders should not be trusted.
- Do they honor their spouse and family with their words? The best leaders lead first at home and adore their family—so much that they talk about them positively. Every word about their spouse is honorable. They almost cannot help but brag about their kids. Leaders who ridicule or shame their family publicly are neither godly family members nor good leaders.
- Do they use ungodly speech? The Bible calls it “coarse and foolish talking or crude joking,” and it is improper (Eph. 5:4). Some leaders fall into this trap to “fit in” with others, but such talk does not strengthen leadership. In fact, consider how many leaders have lost their position because of words they could not explain away once spoken. The wisest leaders speak only those words that build up others (Eph. 4:29).
- Do they lie? To state the obvious, leaders are not trustworthy if their words are not trusted. Nevertheless, some leaders exaggerate statistics, overstate accomplishments, and embellish stories. In the ministry world, we even have an accepted phrase for it: “ministerially speaking.” We inflate the data and then joke about it—as if the truthfulness of our words really doesn’t matter.
- Do they laugh in their conversations? Good leaders enjoy what they’re doing. They have fun, but not via ungodliness. They make the workplace a place of enjoyment without compromising the vision or neglecting the task. They look forward to coming to work, as do their team members. These leaders have learned to laugh at themselves, with their team, and in the face of challenge. A leader who never laughs is likely a leader without true joy.
What will others learn about you today through your words? What did they learn yesterday?