10 Reasons You Don't Sound Like a Leader

Apr 28, 2014
7 Min Read

If you’ve worked hard and have been rewarded with a leadership role, congratulations.

Now, every time you open your mouth you can inspire, motivate, persuade and coach others.

No pressure, right?

It can be intimidating to think that your words now will have much more power. But on the downside, you also face the threat of undermining yourself if you don’t learn how to talk like a leader. Without the right words at the right time, your leadership track may be a very short one.

As entrepreneur Jim Rohn notes: “The challenge of leadership is to be strong but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

One of the keys to become a more effective leader is to monitor how others react to what you say. For example, do you feel you’re not really being “heard?” Do you hear that employees are finding you harsh and insulting? Or customers report finding you arrogant?

Any of these reactions is a sign that your communication needs to be improved. Let’s look at the mistakes you’re making that hurt your leadership effectiveness.

  1. Dishonesty. One of the things you’ll quickly learn as a leader is that there are some things you are told not to discuss with employees – and the employees will do their best to get you to tell them. Don’t lie to employees when they begin to probe – just tell them that it’s something you cannot discuss and change the subject. It’s especially important that you don’t let your guard down at something like a cocktail event where you admit, “Yeah, we never should have hired that guy.”
  2. Gushing. Constantly using words such as “awesome,” “amazing,” “unbelievable” and “incredible” can leave you with little to say when something truly needs to be recognized.
  3. Juvenile habits, ya know? Using “uptalk” where your voice ends a statement as if it’s a question, beginning every statement with “so” or peppering your sentences with “like” or “you know” are habits that don’t convey confidence or leadership. Keep in mind that you may be completely unaware that you’ve got such problems, so tape record your conversations and then play them back to catch yourself.
  4. You’re wishy-washy. Avoid using terms like “kind of” or “sorta” or anything that may convey you’re not sure of what you’re saying. Be specific when making statements as employees need leaders who display confidence.
  5. Everything has a “but.” Saying, “I really like your work, but I think we can make some improvements,” is an example of a message that an employee may interpret as “All your work sucks.” It’s better to be specific when citing what you like, and what you don’t like. Then the employee has a clear message about what needs to be improved.
  6. You’re the jargon master. If you’re using lots of jargon then you can quickly alienate a listener. A customer may see it as arrogant, while an employee may be confused or intimidated. The outcome is that your message is not well-received and you’ve wasted everyone’s time with poor communications. A company with at least 100 workers spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communications, costing businesses $524,569 a year, finds an SIS International Research study.
  7. Discourtesy. Nothing reflects better on a leader than treating others with respect, by doing basic things such as saying “please” and “thank you.” If you tend to cut people off – even if it’s because you’re enthusiastic – it can be seen as rude and arrogant. Let someone finish a sentence before adding your thoughts. Many leaders have won over employees by simply being polite, attentive listeners.
  8. Being unprepared. New York University researchers say that we make 11 major decisions about one another in the first seven seconds of a meeting. Always be prepared with a strong opening statement for your team, and then follow it with concise information.
  9. Bad body language. Don’t start checking your email when an employee is trying to talk to you, or be glancing at your smartphone while in a meeting.  When you’re a leader, employees will be watching your non-verbal cues. Checking your watch while a worker gives a report tells her that you don’t consider her important.
  10. Muttering. Your voice should carry clearly to a listener. If an employee or customer begins leaning in to hear you, then you need to turn up the volume. If they’re asking you to constantly repeat what you say it could be that you have a bad habit of muttering or mumbling. Investing in a voice coach to develop a confident and clear tone can be a good investment in your career.

What are some other bad speaking habits that leaders need to improve?