What’s in a word?

I don’t think it can be overstated how important the leadership capability of effective communication is – and even more so when it comes to change leadership. And yet, it’s a skill that is rarely focused or developed which really is a missed opportunity. Or should I say, an opportunity still to be taken. That subtle reframing is what I’m going to focus on as we consider the power of positive language. 

Communication plays a vital role in inspiring and motivating teams towards a common goal. By carefully choosing our words and framing conversations in an optimistic and empowering manner, senior executives can create a transformative impact on their organizations. By being a little more intentional in our word choice we can shape a more constructive and inspiring leadership style. It can be as simple as flipping the words: think what to do versus what not to do. (This is something parents often have to figure out or spend their child’s formative years saying ‘no, don’t do (fill in the blank)’ multiple times a day until it becomes more like white noise than a directive!) 

Here are four ways to power up your leadership language with positivity

  1. Redefining Perspectives:

Words hold immense power. They can either inspire or demotivate, empower or disempower. When we choose positive language, we actively shape a culture that fosters innovation, collaboration, and resilience. By reframing negative terms, such as replacing “deadline” with “due date,” we can transform a sense of pressure into a shared commitment towards accomplishing goals. This linguistic shift encourages a proactive mindset and motivates teams to take ownership of their tasks, ultimately driving better outcomes.

  1. Fostering Engagement and Empowerment:

Positive language has the ability to engage employees at a deeper level and instill a sense of empowerment. Consider replacing “problem” with “challenge” to transform an obstacle into an opportunity for growth. By using words like “solution” and “innovation” instead of “fix” and “patch,” leaders can inspire their teams to approach obstacles with creativity and a forward-thinking mindset. 

  1. Building Trust and Collaboration:

Effective change leadership relies on building trust and collaboration across all levels of an organization. Positive language is instrumental in cultivating these essential qualities. Rather than labeling a setback as a “failure,” leaders can frame it as a “learning experience” or “feedback for improvement.” Instead of being “lost” we are “not where we planned to be”. This approach allows employees to feel safe and encourages them to share ideas, take calculated risks, and embrace experimentation. 

  1. Inspiring Change and Resilience:

Change leadership inherently involves navigating uncertainty and ambiguity. In such situations, positive language becomes an anchor that helps senior executives inspire change and cultivate resilience. By using phrases like “we are en route” instead of “we are lost,” leaders convey a sense of progress, resilience, and adaptability. This shift in language fosters a growth mindset and encourages teams to remain focused on finding solutions rather than dwelling on setbacks. It builds confidence and fuels the determination needed to overcome obstacles during times of change.

We all know that words have the power to harm and to heal. When we embrace the power of positive language, we create a culture where individuals feel motivated, supported, and empowered to bring their best to the table. Doesn’t that sound good to you?

Seven Smart Language Swaps for Leaders

  1. Instead of saying “deadline,” say “due date.”

   Example: “Let’s work together to meet the due date for this project.”

  1. Instead of saying “problem,” say “challenge.”

   Example: “We are facing a challenging situation that requires our innovative thinking.”

  1. Instead of saying “fix” or “patch,” say “solution” or “innovation.”

   Example: “Let’s focus on finding innovative solutions to enhance our processes.”

  1. Instead of saying “lost,” say “en route” or “exploring new paths.”

   Example: “Although we may have faced some detours, we are en route to finding a better way.”

  1. Instead of saying “weakness,” say “areas of opportunity” or “potential for growth.”

   Example: “Let’s identify areas of opportunity where we can leverage our strengths.”

  1. Instead of saying “conflict,” say “constructive dialogue” or “diverse perspectives.”

   Example: “Let’s engage in a constructive dialogue to explore diverse perspectives and find common ground.”

  1. Instead of saying “deficit,” say “untapped potential” or “room for growth.”

    Example: “We have untapped potential that we can leverage to achieve remarkable results.”


I actually use this in everyday life, especially when traveling. If while exploring, I make a wrong turn (or get on the wrong train in the New York subway) I resist the urge to say “I’m lost” and replace it with “I’m not where I want to be yet”. And as a result, I’ve explored cities all over the world without the fear of getting lost, only the excitement of discovery. Our words impact our emotions, so help them remain positive, even in a challenging situation.


📷 Eileen Pan