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Words Matter


Even 15 years later, I still recall my eye-rolling. My long sighs. My suggestion that we just move on and get some “real work” done. And the rebuke.

The setting was one of those way too long, want to pull your hair out sessions with way too many people crafting a mission statement for the team. We agreed on the big points and were divided on the finer ones – the exact choice of words, their phrasing and even their punctuation.

This activity is something, in my mind, that should occur on the frequency of colonoscopies – every decade or so, unless it can be avoided.

My Comeuppance: Words Matter

My comeuppance in the moment was a senior leader, who looking directly at me, declared strongly that “words matter”. My more profound comeuppance has occurred over time as I craft key messages for my clients, as I write myself, and as I search for the right words to describe the transformational work I do.

I realize now, deep in my bones, that words matter. They matter very much.

And so I am much more patient in that search for words (and images as well) that convey what is intended. That communicate well beyond the mere arrangement of letters – into cultural connotations, into tone, into similes and metaphors, into that amazing place in our brains that transform symbols into thoughts and ultimately actions.

The collective search for those words can prompt robust thinking, give rise to compelling questions, surface differing viewpoints, lead to new insights, and ultimately create shared deep understanding.

Simultaneously, I’m sensitive to the situations in which we use too many words – creating complexity, boredom and confusion. I’m also sensitive to those times where there are too few words – creating doubt, insignificance and once again confusion.

Creating Clarity

I marvel at those times when there is eloquence, simplicity and clarity. I strive for those times. For in those times, there is comprehension, understanding and illumination.

The right words can send powerful messages without needing to be wordy. It matters if you describe your team as innovative versus improvement-minded. It matters if your team describes you as one that works hard or works with integrity. The difference between being customer-focused and being customer-obsessed is significant.

I would continue to submit that the grammar, spelling, and finer points can be taken off line. Just don’t allow the substantive work of searching for those words and phrases that describe you, your work and your products and services to be shortchanged.

The deadline is quickly approaching for the second annual Community Builders Award. The Community Builders Award recognizes and connects emerging leaders (between ages of 25 and 40) across the state of Indiana who are actively working to improve their leadership and the communities they live in.

Honor an emerging leader, today!

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