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!

Positive Discontent

Positive and discontent. The words don’t seem to go together. For we all know, too well, those times of discontent. When we are out of sorts and at times grumpy. Where things are just not right. When our worlds are not awful… but neither are they awesome.

So to describe those times of discontent with an adjective of “positive” jolts us. Far better pairings might use the words dark or disconcerting or uncomfortable. But positive? How can that be?

Discontent can be positive when it signals to us that something needs to change. When it causes us to examine our situation in more detail. When it prompts us to envision better options, and especially when it spurs us to action.

Innovation from Positive Discontent

I suspect there would be very little innovation without positive discontent. Our founding fathers used positive discontent to “form a more perfect union”. The drawbacks of horse drawn carriages prompted the invention of the motor car. Discontent with the first handheld cellar phone, which weighed 2.5 pounds, cost $3,995 and enabled a half hour of talk time on a full charge fueled rapid improvements in cell phone design and technology.

Virtually every invention is the human attempt to “make things better”.

The trap in times of discontent is becoming numb. Too often we persevere, suck it up, blame others, or claim hopelessness. This is tolerable for a short time and terrible for a life time.

And so putting the words “positive” and “discontent” can serve us well. It enables us to see discontent as a signal that we need to slow down and examine the cause of the discontent. In that slowing down time, we can explore what is at the root of all this unhappiness. We can envision what is better. We can tap into the creativity that discontent can spark. We can refuse to passively accept that which is not whole and solid and healthy and good.

What if you looked at disconnect as an early warning sign? The canary in the coal mine? The little voice that tells you to wake up and move on, to grow into your potential, to move to a better place? What then?

Might you really see the positive aspects that discontent holds?


Evergreen Leadership is excited to announce we are accepting nominations 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.

Pre-enactment: A Way to Create the Future You Want

I am a big advocate of working forward rather than backward. I’ve transformed my life into one of meaning, fulfillment, and joy by using several methods of envisioning what I wanted to create in my life.

As such, I’ve journaled, created vision boards, set HEART goals, and created accountability systems to ensure that I acted unfailingly on those dreams. And, it’s worked.

Yet, as powerful as those techniques are, none are nearly as amazing as a way of envisioning (and then creating) a better future than one I learned from Joanna Taft, director of the Harrison Center for the Arts and visionary community leader.

Her question is this. Rather than reenact, why not pre-enact?

Learn more about pre-enacting by reading the full post.

[Continue reading…]

Reframing – “Fix Your Face”

Two women leaders recently shared a wonderful story to me that struck at a basic truth. Here is how the story unfolded.

Michelle was commanded (not asked, but told) to participate in a developmental program that required her to be out of her regular work for a day and a half. Her coworker, Kenya, also was asked to participate in the same program; albeit in a more inviting way.

Michelle’s first response was negative. She was angry. She was frustrated. She vented to Kenya about how annoying, unjust and terrible this whole thing was. Kenya’s first response was different. She was curious. What was this program about? How might it help her?

So when Michelle’s email came to Kenya, with all the disbelief and complaining and frustration, Kenya presented Michelle with very sage advice in three short words: Fix Your Face.

Keep reading to learn more about the story of Michelle and Kenya, reframing a situation, and how to “fix your face”.

[Continue reading…]

Can Doing Nothing be an Act of Leadership?

Leading seems to us to be an action verb. Visionary. Problem solver. Manager. Fire fighter.

As leaders we can feel compelled to build, to fix, and to organize. Very seldom do we give ourselves the latitude to do nothing. We are busy. We are needed. Others rely on us.

Yet, I would propose there are times when, as leaders, we might do nothing.

Read more to learn a few examples.

[Continue reading…]

Have you ever felt stuck? Here’s my process for getting unstuck and moving forward.

There are times in life we get stuck. We dislike where we are. It might be in our career or in a relationship or in a specific geography. We might not like our current employer, boss or customers, yet we don’t see any other options.

I’ve been there – and I have had plenty of conversations with people who are stuck and want help getting unstuck. What I’ve noticed is that there is a consistent pattern that accompanies the “getting stuck” times both with me and with others.

The good news? You can learn how to break this pattern and move forward when you are feeling stuck.

[Continue reading…]

20 Free Ways You Can Invest in Yourself

In a recent post, I discussed the importance of investing in yourself. In this post, I’m sharing a great list of no-cost ways you can do that. No-cost means no funding required, no need to open your wallet and/or use your credit card.

Of course, there is a cost. Investing in yourself will require time. It will require effort. It will require that you value yourself enough to nurture your growth, and it might require you to take a risk and try something new!

Read my list of 20 free ways you can invest in yourself, and see which ones you could try this weekend!

[Continue reading…]

Invest in Yourself: 5 Things Every Professional Should Do to Develop Themselves

Expanding your knowledge, developing your skills, and broadening your network is a gift that keeps on giving. It improves your job performance, which leads to other good things like plum assignments, new opportunities, and career growth.

Yet in spite of a host of good reasons to invest in ourselves, we can lose sight of actually taking tangible actions.

Today, the stakes are higher. When the best jobs 15 years from now don’t even exist today, when the amount of technical information doubles every two years, when employers are hiring, more and more – for capability rather than competency – it is our duty to own our personal learning, growth and development with focus and intention.

Learn about how capability is now a critical employment criteria, and the five things every professional should do to develop themselves, starting today.

[Continue reading…]

Demystifying Strategic Planning Steps

It’s that time of the year. Perhaps not the “most wonderful time of the year”, but the time of the year that businesses and nonprofits alike go through the process of strategic planning and goal alignment. The notion is this: direction gets set at the top, then is cascaded down the organization through a goal alignment and setting process.

Today, I’m not going to quibble with the process. I’m going to attempt to demystify the language, as I observe much head scratching (and some of it’s my own) when asked to participate in the process. What is an objective? How does it differ from a goal? Should I have a mission? A vision? And when someone tells me I should be more strategic, what do they mean?

[Continue reading…]

The Basic Principles of Leadership

Long ago, in a factory in a mid-west town, a young woman was chosen to lead. The factory was filled with large and heavy equipment, hummed with activity both day and night and was filled with craftsmen skilled at their trade.

For weeks, this new leader went off to class where she learned how to have performance discussions, how to resolve problems, and how to find ways to improve situations.

Yet the biggest lesson, by far, was that there were some guiding principles to leading that she could apply, no matter the situation. In fact, they were called the basic principles, and each and every lesson was grounded in approaching all situations with them.

As you might guess, I was that young woman. I realize now, many years later, how ingrained these basic principles are in how I approach work, leadership, and the world.

[Continue reading…]