Monday, May 7, 2012

Leader Speak: "I think..." / "How do we..."

In my previous blog I talked about roadblock statements managers make in failing at their role as leader in an enterprise.  What leaders say, and how they listen determines the level of engagement, problem solving, innovation, and joy that others enjoy in the enterprise.  Here is a very specific example of what not to say, and what to say.
When the boss opens his or her mouth, do you know what the two most counterproductive words are?  They’re “I think.”  By starting your statement with “I think...”, you immediately tell your subordinates what they should be thinking and saying.  Unfortunately the words “I think...” have become such a natural part of our speech pattern that it is hard to even notice when we are using them. 
In Good to Great, Jim Collins wrote:
“The sign reminded me of our interview with Walter Bruckart, vice president during the good-to-great years.  When asked to name the top five factors that led to the transition from mediocrity to excellence, Bruckart said, ‘One would be people. Two would be people. Three would be people. Four would be people. And five would be people. A huge part of our transition can be attributed to our discipline in picking the right people.’”
If you think Bruckhart was talking about the right people in terms of their ability to do manual labor, you’d be mistaken.  It was their brainpower that mattered.  “I think...” undermines that most valuable resource, the thinking of the right people.  If you want to maximize your investment in people, now is the time to reduce the use of “I think...” and ultimately remove these most unproductive words from your vocabulary completely.  This includes using them socially and in your family.  
Instead, replace the words “I think...” with a sentence that begins with something like “How do we...”.  For example, instead of saying “I think Simon Sinek is right, our customers buy our products because of our internal ‘why’.”  Replace that with something like “How can we determine if our customers buy our products because of our internal ‘why’?”  
We have a little tool to help a leader get rid of their “I think...”s and replace them with “How do we...”s.  If you’d like the tool, send me an email with your mailing address to
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