The 3 Most Powerful Leadership Words.

Leadership hinges on the words you use. Great leaders inspire others to reach the summit of their abilities. They stand above us, shouldering great responsibility. They stand with us, helping to shape movements that change our world. In each case, their words ignite the passions, dreams and aspirations of people- just like you.

When looking back at the great leaders, and those making change today, there arethree key words that their message hinges on. They are three words you can use as a leader, to catapult your impact throughout your life.

But each word’s use must mirror the needs of the moment. The needs of your followers. The hinge is whether your “tribe” needs a sense of leadership where accountability is rock solid; a call to action to reach for their best; or their mobilization to a common purpose.

These leadership scenarios are different. Whether you are seeking political office, the corner office or global change the right leadership frame will determine your greatness.

1. “I” The Lonely Statement of Leadership

In an age where teams are held up as a summit of organizational success, the concept of “I” may seem self-centred, if not arrogant. After all, the much repeated maxim is there is no “I” in team. But the reality is, that leadership, in many cases, is lonely. Teams do not make decisions. Leaders do. The harder the decision, the more isolated the leader. And at some point the buck does finally stop.

Let’s look at history. Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill’s most important speech was on the eve of Nazi invasion. France had been shattered. England stared at defeat. The great and learned of the land, believed peace talks with Germany were the only option. Continued resistance seemed pointless.

At this darkest hour, people and leaders were looking for hope and decision. They were looking for a leader who would shoulder the burden and declare their stance as unequivocal.

Known as the “blood, toil and sweat” speech, it is memorable for its uncompromising use of the “I” to denote leadership. There is no sense of decisions by committee, but rather a leader standing his ground and declaring a position.

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” says Churchill. “You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air…You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory.”

His words are gritty, plain spoken and a resonating with defiance. His words tipped the balance from defeatism to stoic resistance. The result, a nation united, in a belief in ultimate victory

What can you learn from this? At times of crisis, uncertainty or adversity people look to leaders to give them reassurance. Using the simple word “I” defines you as the leader. A leader who is accountable, who is putting her stake in the ground. A leader who does not apportion blame. But embraces responsibility. Using “I” marks you as the leader who will steer the ship through the storm.

2. You…a Call to Action

Movements are not made by leaders. Great movements are made when people’s passions fuse with an irrepressible momentum to make change. When we are all raised to a greater version of ourselves, when we feel we are contributing to something greater than ourselves.

What is needed to spark a movement is a call to action. Leaders who push us from frustration to action. Who tell us the change is ours to make. Not the effects of others decisions.

As a leader wanting to ignite a movement you must deliver a clear call to action that includes what you want people to do with your message, the action you want them to take. But a clear message is only half the story.

An inspiring leader, looking to mobilize others must always hinge your words on “You”. This simple word can tip a talk or speech into a recruitment event. Ask yourself who you talking when you use the word “You?” The answer: each member of the audience or staff…individually.

No finer example of a leader’s use of “You” as a call to action than President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration address. His most famous line, from the 1961 speech:

“My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask whatyou can do for your country.”

The key here is not the President stating that he will reshape the nation. But it is every member of the audience, if not every citizen’s responsibility.

You means “you” the reader, not “I” the writer. But it means every reader and each reader will derive a slightly different message. But the ball is in your court and with “you” to make the change.

3. We…Comrades in Arms

The final key word for a leader is the use of “we”. It sounds like a small word but it can have a massive impact. The leader who uses the word “we” has made a decision to be a leveller. Where there is no difference between the leader and followers.

For example, “We are in this together. We share these hardships. We are in the same trench. We will succeed together.”

The tone is clear. The leader is alongside you. Our struggle, change and the company is a common purpose. Our common future. Our shared success.

The suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was a great exponent of this leadership approach. She led a multifaceted early women’s movement, as part of a popular movement and not an elected official. Instead of relying on the authority of political office, she led with courage, demanding women’s right to vote by inspiring women (and men) to stand beside her for change.

“We were called militant, and we were quite willing to accept the name. We were determined to press this question of the enfranchisement of women to the point where we were no longer ignored.”

As a leader if you lead a modern tribe, where your leadership does not derive from “authority” but your commitment to the common cause, using “we” is always your best bet. People will follow you because you epitomize their aspirations. You are brothers/sisters in arms.

Final thoughts

Great leaders realize the potential in others. The words you use can ignite your followers’ passions and propel change. Choosing the right key words conveys both the type of leader you are and the impact you want to have. Leadership is never a committee exercise. It takes courage. Your greatness, as a leader is in your mastery of three words. It depends on the situation, the role of leader and the needs of your following. So try using the leadership words “I”, “you” or “we” to lead great change.

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About the Author

Simon Trevarthen is Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer of Elevate Your Greatness (EYG). EYG helps individuals, teams and organizations unpack the secrets of success by becoming even better versions of themselves through dynamic keynotes, seminars and workshops on innovation, inspiration and presentation excellence.

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