As a leader you are known by your words as well as your actions. Words are powerful and versatile. They can turn into bombs as well as bouquets or blessings. Your choice of words in print, online, or in person are like ripples in a pond. They can’t be undone and they travel uncontrollably. So, you’d better think again before you speak once.

You’ve heard a lot of words that were as insincere as a dozen plastic roses purchased at the last minute from the counter of a convenience store. And you’ve heard a few words spoken with such sincerity that they have shaped your life to this point. I think you can put words through a very simple “sincerity filter” in your mind and heart before you toss them into the mix of a strategic conversation.

First, are they honest without being petty? Conversations that start innocently can end in a disaster. Honesty is still one of the best policies, as long as it is tempered with gracefulness. Honest words can be said in a way that allows leg room instead of cutting off at the knees.   

Second, will they help or hurt? Most people already know their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. If your words put pressure on either, they’ll feel pain and ignore principle. Criticism without a plan is a “grammar grenade”—it destroys EVERYTHING for the sake of SOMETHING.

Third, how will they make you feel? How would you feel after someone said what intend to say? How would the other person feel? If you feel your words won’t make things better, you’d “better” not say them.

Fourth, will they teach positively? A conversation is often a classroom where life lessons are learned sentence by sentence. What can be taught by these words? What can be learned? You’re not just speaking, you’re building or bulldozing. Be a builder.  

Napoleon Hill said, “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” Now, that’s a good word!


– Stan Toler