The Top Ten Changes to a Leader’s Lexicon

Female Firebrands

2021 is filled with potential, and so are you. I challenge you to look at some words and phrases that may be limiting you. A commitment to removing or replacing these words and phrases is a commitment to improving how you communicate, how you represent yourself, and how you will excel in 2021.

You cannot unsee this list. After you review these words and phrases, you will be attuned to when you and others choose them. Practice the pause. Pause and consider a replacement word that inspires and truly represents your intent.

Let’s countdown the top 10 changes to a leader’s lexicon.  Here are the words and/or phrases to remove in 2021:

10.  You don’t understand –

This statement limits you from accessing the perspective of the other person and it limits the perception of your openness. Try inviting perspective with an approach such as, “I have some information on that, what are your thoughts?” Consider how you stand to benefit from expanding your view of a topic or issue when you do not cut someone off with this statement.

9.  There’s nothing I can do about it –

Resilience is founded in positivity and a focus on what one can control. When you choose this phrase, you are abandoning ownership and therefore leadership. You are choosing the stance of the victim and potentially creating a we/they dynamic if you blame the lack of control on others. There is always something you can do about it, at the very least that “something” is explaining the why behind a decision. You can always reframe as well, “Here is what we can do.”

8.  But –

Regardless of what comes before this word, the topic is severed, and the message is derailed. Focus on when you can replace “but” with a better joiner. “And” is the primary replacement. It forces you to frame the second part of your message in the positive. Think of “and” as the glue that adheres ideas together, and “but” as the scissors that cut them up. When you offer “but” because you truly believe there is an obstacle, switch to “and” then clarify the obstacle. You might say, “We can do that, and we will have some challenges to explore/overcome.” This positive reframing will benefit your team.

7.  Pretty –

“Pretty” as an adverb diminishes your message and is entirely unnecessary. “I’m pretty sure we will hit that goal.” If you are unsure, you are better served to clarify the degree of uncertainty, as “pretty” does not support your certainty in any meaningful way. Try, “I’m more than 50% sure” or “I’m 75% sure.” 

6.  Might –

Will you, or won’t you? People look to leaders for clarity and accountability. Offering the word “might” in your messaging does not provide either. “We might be able to do that” is better stated as “We will be able to do that when we know….” This leads you to highlight the gap – what is missing. Consider why you are choosing to sound uncertain. Is this your intention?

leader's lexicon

5.  Should –

Choosing words such as “should” or ‘might” lessens the perception of capability and ownership. Think: “can we/I, or can’t we/I”, or “we can when…” and shake the “shoulds” to elevate your commitment. Speaking from a place of ownership inspires and influences others.

4.  Enough –

The use of this word limits potential and screams a lack of clarity. While the definition of enough is that “it satisfies” or “is sufficient,” leaders are expected to provide clarity and challenge assumptions. Are you proud of “sufficient?” Removing “enough” and choosing words aligned with that which is greater than “sufficient” raises the bar and moves you beyond mediocrity.

3.  Just –

“Just” is the great minimizer when used as an adverb, meaning barely, only, simply. This is particularly true when referring to a person or their position. Removing “just” is a start as it brings no value to the description of the person or position and only serves to minimize. No one aspires to be “just” anything, or to be doing “just” anything. “I am the Executive Assistant; I excel at keeping everything in order and on time.” No minimizing the confidence in that sentence!

2.  Think –

Leaders are not expected to know everything. However, a consisted use of the word “think” may suggest a lack of knowledge, ownership, or confidence. More specific messaging provides clarity and suggests you are confident. This requires straight up removal – simply eliminate “I think” and proceed with the assurance you intend to offer. “I think our clients will love this product.”

1.  If –

“If” casts doubt and represents vagueness. It is easily replaced with “when” in most circumstances. Leaders serve their teams well when they speak in hopeful, inspiring terms and “when” is one of them.  Everyone benefits from the perspective of “when” something will happen – a place of confidence, belief, hope. Collectively we will make 2021 a productive and inspiring year when we remove the doubt that “if” casts.

Eliminating or replacing these words and phrases will position you as an inspiring and influential leader. Doing so will enable you to lead with powerful statements of ownership and commitment throughout the year. Isn’t that who you want to be in 2021 – a leader who stands out and makes a difference?

This guest post was authored by Terre Short

Terre has been a coach in some capacity her entire career. Through coaching, speaking, and facilitating she has inspired staff, physicians, and all levels of leaders to connect to their why, and to harness the power of empathy and personal relationships. She has more than 30 years of leadership experience, a Masters in Business Administration/Healthcare Management, her Professional Coach Certification (PCC), and is a Certified Patient Experience Professional (CPXP).

She is also the author of the recently released book, The Words We Choose: Your Guide to How and Why Words Matter, which was just awarded 2020 American Book Fest Finalist. Download the first chapter from the site now. She has been featured in Authority Magazine, Business Know How, Advancing Women, and more. Additional information can be found at 

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.