Vision is critical.
Structures and systems are vital.
These are all important aspects of organizational leadership.
But, they are trumped by what leaders actually say.
Lately I’ve been studying the book of Proverbs and thinking about the impact of words on our lives and organizations.
I’m realizing that there have been turning points in my life that are a direct result of something someone said to me.
When I was in 9th grade, my youth pastor told me, “You are a leader.”
When I was in 11th grade, my English teacher told me, “You are a good writer.”
When I was a new preacher, my senior pastor told me, “Act like you belong on that stage…because you do.”
I think we all have these moments.
If that person had not said those words in that moment…I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
They were the right words at the right time.
Words are powerful and the words that leaders speak in your church are shaping your people and your collective future.
So, here are three examples of the right words at the right time.
1. Gentle Words
A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
(Proverbs 15:1 NLT)
I wonder if you were on the receiving end of harsh words this week?
You missed a deadline.
You didn’t meet someone’s expectations.
One of your kids vehemently disagreed with a boundary you’ve placed in their life.
How did you respond to those harsh words?
Harsh words are words that hurt.
They are mean or they expose a wound.
Most of the time, when this happens to us, we respond back with harsh words of our own.
Their words felt like an attack so we defend ourselves with harsh words of our own.
This leads to a cycle of reactions.
He reacts then she reacts back, then he reacts to her reaction…and on and on and on.
This cycle of relational conflict makes for good TV drama but is terrible for families, offices, and churches.
So, how do you break the cycle?
With a gentle word.
What exactly is a gentle word?
I asked my friend Mario for advice here—he’s a counselor who specializes in relationships and organizational dynamics.
He said it really comes down to one thing: ownership.
The only way to break out of this cycle is to take ownership for your own wrongs.
It looks a lot like apologizing for my part and asking for forgiveness.
Yeah, but what about those times when the conflict is 95 percent their fault?
Own the five percent that is your part.
The beauty of gentle words is that they model vulnerability, transparency, and maturity and literally show the other person that it is safe to be honest and actually dialogue about whatever the issue is.
Here’s the point: The way leaders talk shapes the culture of your organization.
When leaders choose to use gentle words in the midst of relational conflict, we show, especially those who are below us in the organizational chart, how to behave.
This is important.
2. Wise Words
Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.
To one who listens, valid criticism is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.
(Proverbs 25:11-12 NLT)
There have been a few moments in my life when timely advice kept me from making a bad decision.
I’m guessing you have a few similar stories.
But, something that has recently struck me is how important the second line of this Proverb is.
Criticism, to a person who is open to listening, is incredibly valuable.
If there is one quality I am looking for in the people I hire its humility.
Without teachability, it is impossible to grow and improve.
Those critical moments in my life where timely advice was crucial…it wasn’t always fun to hear.
Sometimes, it was a person revealing a character weakness.
What if I didn’t listen?
What if God desired to grow my character through valid criticism and I wasn’t open?
I would have missed a huge opportunity for growth.
Are you open?
Are you teachable?
Are you humble?
I believe that it’s entirely possible to miss the right words spoken to you at just the right time because of a lack of humility.
As a leader, it’s incredibly important to model humility and teachability.
People watch leadership and follow their example when it comes to receiving negative feedback.
Leaders must set the tone here.
3. Uplifting Words
Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.
(Proverbs 12:25 NIV)
They have the power to bring a smile.
They can paint a tough day in a new color.
In some cases, they change the course of a life.
They can lift a person out of the pit of despair and give them the courage to get moving again.
I’m sure you’ve been there at one point or another.
Recently, I had lunch with the man whose words influenced me, more than any other person, toward a decision to follow Jesus.
While we were at lunch, I told him about those words, where we were, and everything I remember about the event.
He had no recollection.
A few years back, a guy who was in my high school youth group with me told me that the reason he is a missionary is because of something I said to him in high school.
I had no idea what he was talking about.
A friend recently told me that a friend he had in college, after years of not seeing each other, thanked him for encouraging words he gave her at a critical moment in her life.
She was planning to take her life and what he said to her helped change her mind.
He had no idea.
My point in sharing these stories is that uplifting words have the power to shape a person’s life—to give them courage when they’ve lost hope and most of the time, we have no idea in those moments that our uplifting words are having such an impact.
There is something about the right words, spoken at the right time.
They can have an incredible impact on the lives of others.
But, we usually have no idea that it’s the right time.
Instead of waiting for the right moment, take every opportunity to speak uplifting words because you never know when it is the right moment.
Create your own right moment!
You are reading this because you are a leader. You are influencing others in your church. Your words have power. What if God desires to use your words to help guide someone to their God-given potential?
Don’t hold back.
Speak the words.