Boardroom Beat #21 - Words Matter



Words matter - choose wisely. Partnering with clients toward big picture goals includes everyday word choices.

These common coaching objectives each have vocabulary implications;

1. Increasing influence,

2. Elevating executive presence,

3. Motivating and inspiring others.

Increase Influence


Step one is to develop a clear business case with analysis and supporting data. Step two is to detach personally and communicate with crisp efficacy. On a foundation of thus established credibility step three is to tap into emotion with vision casting. Power words may include “pioneering, greenfield opportunity, transformation, revenue impact, retention.”

Clients prepare to convey competence, and confidence via body language, voice tone, and message content. I play devil’s advocate and trouble shoot how strongly the business case supports their position.

This subtle difference in word choice has impact. If, in fact, they are not asking for validation, but they are telling what the business case and data support, then say so with word choice. The substitution of “recommendation” for “proposal” changes nuance. It may or may not change the outcome, but it will influence perception of executive presence over time.

Exude Executive Presence

Navigating the difficult and/or the unexpected provides an opportunity for leaders to emerge. One universally experienced challenge was managing self and teams throughout COVID. Rarely has a challenge been felt so universally across geographies and demographics. Out of practical necessity many humans an organization went into solution mode. “It is what it is” is the mantra of moving from reactive apathy and/or anger about unfair or unrelenting challenge to the practicality of problem solving for what can be controlled. Some people and organizations jumped more quickly than others to recognize cloud silver linings and new business possibilities within the context of an egregious epidemic.

An aptitude for looking through an opportunity lens conveys executive presence. This isn’t like at the eye doctor, with a quick click lens switch “1” or “2” to bring more clarity to a row of small font letters. It takes time. The realistic expectation is not to banish the instinctual reaction to crisis (typically apathy or anger,) but to develop awareness and tools to shorten the time from negative reaction, to neutral practical solution finding, and ideally to creative opportunity ideation.

Replacing the word “challenge” with “opportunity” is the step one behavior. Step two is repeat, and repeat. Repeated behaviors become habits. Habits roll up to influence attitudes. An attitude of embracing opportunity and leading others to do so exudes executive presence. Part of executive presence is the ability to motivate teams through organizational ups and downs.

Motivate and Inspire

Feedback should be clear and timely, with an expectation of initiative to improve and assurance of resources to help meet expectations and achieve potential. I recall a particular client who worked relentlessly in coaching, always taking on actions between sessions to stretch beyond comfort zone and to grow as a leader. After several sessions this client shared that a sub par annual performance review just prior to coaching motivated a fiery pursuit of excellence. Significantly, the organization has a structured approach to the review process that guided language choice and forward focus. Plus, this client’s manager did a superb job of using a sub-par review to ignite this employee’s motivation. Of course there were many factors, but again, words matter.

The cynical among you may chalk this up to “HR” blarney….but words matter. A “weakness” conveys an inherent shortcoming. At the risk of stating the obvious, a development area is, well, developing. Paired with the right messaging and encouragement toward envisioned potential it inspires motivation. The client I mention achieved an atypical off-cycle promotion after stepping up to manage a high visibility challenge beyond role scope.

Synergy Abounds

Real life blends the lines of coaching objectives with overlapping real life synergies. The assertion of a “recommendation” to influence a decision also lifts executive presence. The opportunity lens that enhances executive unleashes a leadership style that motivates and inspires teams.

Lagniappe (a little extra)


Shelly Priebe

Since 2010 Shelly has consulted and coached companies of all shapes and sizes, ever finding herself in the midst of disruption. COVID made disruption the norm; It impacted the way people think about life and work and priorities. As the “Future of Work” is being reimagined Shelly works with companies and leaders to author their parts in the story. She delivers IPEC's Core Energy Coaching™ methodology to create awareness and shifts in the energy that feeds thoughts, emotions, and actions. She is also certified in Insights Discovery™ and Energy Leadership Initiative™ assessments. These days Shelly elevates her “inner introvert” as she relishes more time in her Tree House office overlooking Lake Austin. Her dogs rejoice that their daily trail runs are not too frequently interrupted by her travel. While she wears many hats, “Mom” of four age range 14 to 28 is her favorite, and she recently added the title of “Gogo” with the birth if her first Grandchild in 2021.