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Choose Words Carefully

February 28, 2018

Words have the power to build up and unite… and the power to tear down and destroy.



hristian marketplace leaders must be painfully aware of the power of the spoken and written word and the impact it can have in people’s lives. How Christian leaders use their words will have a direct bearing on their ability to influence the workplace culture for Christ. The Bible says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Prov. 25:11).

How many times have you wished that you could take back words that came out of your mouth? What about the scathing e-mail, text, or social media post you just launched? Isn’t it disappointing and infuriating all at the same time? The old man in the flesh takes control in the moment, and we are left shaking our heads in utter disgust at ourselves. Did I just say and do what I think I just said and did? Yup, you did! A sharp retort, stinging comeback, misguided comment, or a word written in the heat of the moment or in the flurry of daily activity can have devastating consequences on our ability to lead.

Certainly, we can scurry around and muster the courage to ask for forgiveness from our co-workers, hoping and praying that it will be enough to make amends and satisfy the hurt. However, depending on the magnitude of the offense(s), it can leave a big chink in our Christian armor. We might try banging out the imperfection of the new and obvious chink, buffing and trying to smooth the rough surface, or even using a strong temporary filler or adhesive to make it look brand new. Unfortunately, the underlying strength and durability will have forever been changed. What we say and what we write must be carefully thought through, studied, and composed before delivering the message.

The first two bosses I had after graduating from college were on opposite ends of the management and leadership spectrum. The first was a “Theory X” management style all the way. There was never a pleasant conversation or pat on the back. It was all prickles and stings with the most biting words possible. The sarcasm and vitriol used by this person was unconscionable. He thought he could bully and intimidate me to higher standards of productivity. Well, it just so happened that, three years later, he was fired. His words and actions finally caught up to him.

The next manager assigned to our facility was a “Theory Y” type of leader. He encouraged, praised, corrected, and led with words and actions that were appreciated and understood. He was a very tough boss who demanded excellence, but he did it in a way that one wanted to knock down walls for him. He was the quintessential relationship builder, and his words complemented that passion and ability. Eventually, he became a highly successful president and leader of a large public organization.

In a different experience, I was a relatively new facility manager. For the previous two years, our team in Vermont had our heads down, stayed focused, and were grinding it out to make sure our facility was the best it could be. Each of us was fully determined to do his/her part to make a difference. By the third year, it finally happened! Our team was recognized for achieving two separate and significant milestones in the same year. The recognition took the form of an acknowledgment of a “perfect audit” and admission into the “President’s Ring of Honor” club. Winning one was a big deal, and winning the second one in the same year was exceptional. We were overjoyed by our achievements and the corresponding recognition.

Looking back, what made the biggest impression on our team were not the plaques, dinners, or the extra bonus money. No, it wasn’t the material things that made the difference. It was the power of both the spoken and written word that had the biggest impact. Our leaders went out of their way to publicly recognize the all-out effort put forth by our team. Then, they took it one step further. Each of the executives took the time to write a handwritten note of congratulations and thanks. The CEO, president, vice presidents, and district managers all made sure that we knew we were appreciated and valued as a team.

The personal handwritten note is an art form that has been replaced by technological substitutes that are uncensored, poorly constructed, curt, and with grammar that is unfit for preschool students. They are so commonplace that it is difficult to derive any special and meaningful significance or impact. Down through the ages, some of our best leaders have employed the practice of handwriting notes of thanks, sympathy, and encouragement. These leaders understood that a timely and fitting word is precious and pleasing to the soul.

Abraham Lincoln was a master of the handwritten personal message. Here is a letter that was sent to Ulysses Grant after he captured Vicksburg.

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg… I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I that the expedition could succeed… I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.[1]

I still have all of those handwritten letters of encouragement from the executives during my time as a facility manager these 25 years later.   Yes, a positive handwritten note can be outrageously impactful for encouraging others and giving them the confidence to reach for maximum heights. Our words should reflect Jesus Christ.

God has given Christian leaders two methods for exercising true leadership. The spoken and written word are the ways that we inspire, teach, train, excite, and persuade others to action. Some would argue that brute force and oppression, dictatorship, would be considered a form of leadership. However, I believe that tearing down and destroying others is not true leadership. It’s a chink in the leader’s armor that needs to be changed by the Spirit of God.  

[1] Lincoln On Leadership, Executive Strategies For Tough Times, 1992 by Donald T. Phillips, Published by Business Plus (New York, NY)



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