15 Powerful Phrases That Will Make You A Better Leader

Powerful Phrases That Will Make You Better

Years ago, I was walking down a long office corridor in a nondescript office building. Visiting one of the largest companies in the area, I was being escorted to a conference room. What the purpose of that visit was, I really can’t remember.

But I do remember walking by one room. As I was passing by, I glanced in and saw a man at the front of a room filled with maybe twenty or so people. That would not be in my memory bank except for what I next heard.


“I’m sorry, I screwed that up and let you all down.”


That’s not something you often hear from the front of the room.

I froze, right in the doorway, wondering what he was apologizing for and what was going on. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had no business stopping to watch, so I willed my feet to keep walking.

In those few seconds, I don’t know the details of what happened. But I could discern that this was the boss, and he wasn’t holding back. He had made a mistake and was taking full responsibility for it.

It was impressive. I wonder what the others in that room thought. My guess is that they still talk about this boss of theirs.



There are a few power-packed phrases that anyone can use to change the course of a conversation. Here are a few that leaders use to transform their teams:


“I’m sorry.”

As I said above, this one is powerful because it’s unexpected, and it demonstrates both self-awareness and personal responsibility. That’s not a boss who looks to throw the blame faster than a quarterback about to be sacked.


“Tell me more.”

It’s open-ended. It shows interest. It demonstrates listening skills.


“What’s working?”

Especially good if everyone is complaining. This one refocuses on what’s positive. You can build on what’s working before you get into what’s not.


“I’m proud of you.”

It sounds parental and maybe that’s where its power lies. But I’ve seen this one both as a giver and a receiver. When it’s sincere, it’s a powerful phrase because it is clear and concise.


“How can I be of help?”

I’m often surprised at the response. It may be that simply offering an ear helps enough, but often there are a few specifics that really make a difference and are easy to do.

“What are your goals?”

This may be the goal for the team or the project. It may also be personal goals including career aspirations. Knowing the goal, as articulated by the person, can change your opinion or perspective.


“What’s the most common thing you’ve heard employees grumbling about?”

Try this one. Many will be shy about complaining. They don’t want to be seen publicly as a naysayer. But this question allows them to say what “others” are thinking and therein lies the power to get to what that person is thinking.


“You have my full support.”

Confidence-builder if I ever heard one. What a way to instill confidence and trust.


“Let me start by bragging about you and this team.”

If that’s followed by specifics that matter, it’s a way to bolster confidence and support.


“If you were me, what one thing would you do differently?”

This question gets the listener to give advice. If it doesn’t work right away, try another version: “Tell me a few ways I can get better at what I do.”


“What’s keeping you up at night?”

The boss may be up at night thinking about a major organizational or strategic issue. There can be an assumption that everyone is thinking about the same problem. That’s not the case. Listen to what others are worried about and then help them solve their challenges.


“How could we get faster and better?”

Speed, efficiency, and quality questions are always good to ask. Many consulting companies make millions asking questions, writing down the answers from the employees, and then putting them into glossy reports. Why not ask this directly, save time and money, and start taking action?


“Tell me what you’re hearing from customers.”

Customers are the lifeblood of an organization. A good leader is listening to customers directly and talking to employees who have a vast amount of information about them. Reorienting conversations to what matters to customers is always a positive thing to do.


“What else?”

What else? It’s a question that my friend Bruce Rhoades taught me to use. When you ask this open-ended question, you don’t really know where it will go. And that’s the point. Asking ‘what else’ is like a key to a door. You don’t know what’s behind it, but you’re better off for asking.


“Why are you proud to work here?”

Another to turn grumbling around—but also a phrase that allows people to talk about people or teams. I take copious notes because I hear about another employee who helped on a project or stayed late to pitch in on something. Leaders need to find the unsung heroes and sing about them.


These are just a few phrases that leaders can use. Maybe you’ll find yourself in front of a room somewhere using one. When you do, pay attention to the young person who stops in the hallway. He or she may be writing about you twenty years later.

What other phrases would you add? You can add them in the comments below. (Commenting is easy…try it!)


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