Choose your words

by Kevin Eikenberry, co-founder The Remote Leadership Institute

We all know words matter. Too often, we are too sloppy with them. I believe sloppy language has been a big part of our problem in recent months.

Here is my perspective.

I believe what we all need is a perspective that acknowledges the challenges we face without settling for less or “giving in.” If you agree with me (and as a leader, I truly hope you do), consider these word choices.

Shutdown vs. Pandemic.

We’ve been in various stages of “shutdown” over the last year. When something is shut down, we immediately begin thinking about how to effectively (and safely) start it back up. The assumption in the word is that we can and desire to open up what has been shut down. Words like “pandemic”, “coronavirus,” or “COVID-19” are about illness (in the best case) and even death. As leaders, we don’t want to communicate our organizations are sick and dying. No, they are temporarily shut down, paused or restricted and are waiting to come back. Our teams should think of this disruption as something short-term, not something permanent that will go on without end.

Get back to normal vs. new normal.

Life experiences change us. When you put your hand on a hot stove, it changed you. 9/11 changed us. The events of this past year have changed us. “Back to normal” doesn’t have to mean “as if nothing ever happened,” but it can imply that we will work to create or recreate things we miss and are useful. Finding stability in our current situation is psychologically valuable but settling for a “new normal” is not.

Now what? vs. what now?

“Now what?” is one of my favorite questions. It begs movement and suggests, even demands, action based on what has been learned. “What now?” (especially in a victim/defeated tone) is a question that expects another negative shoe to drop and wonders how much worse things can get. Movement defeats moping. Now is the time to move, adjust, and adapt – not wait and wonder.

In spite of, vs. because of.

There is no doubt these have been trying times. Many have found a way to move forward in spite of the challenges, fear, and unknown. Sadly others have been immobilized by those same things. The choice is always ours.

I’m advocating that we always choose language that propels us forward. Not in denial of the current state, but with a proactive mindset that says, “Let’s do something positive” vs. “There’s nothing we can do.”

You want leaders in your life that are acknowledging reality but moving forward.

You can be that leader for others.

It starts with the words you choose.

Choose wisely.

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