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Want to be an effective Leader? You need to examine your Track Words

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Good Leadership skills and practices - quote


A good leader knows how to lead his team to greater achievements but if the leader doesn’t mind his or her words and vocabulary, they aren’t going to be effective leaders and their stint in this role can be short-lived.

It’s even more important if you are an aspiring leader who wants to project the right image to your team members and key decision makers who hold the power to promote you to the next level or you have been newly promoted to a leadership role.

Using the right words at the right time can enhance your authority. On the flip side, you might just undermine your authority if you don’t learn to talk like a leader.

Many years ago, I was fortunate to work for a wonderful partner (I’ll call her Anna for convenience) who was a subject matter expert in my then area of specialization as an auditor. Anna was a newly promoted Partner and was still settling into her new role and style of leadership.

Her door was always open to her team members and we were encouraged to be our best. She exercised legitimate power with strong doses of referent and expert power as the leader of her team. I learned a lot from her and our small department was a happy one.

A few months after her induction into partnership we had to do a training series for the rest of the Audit staff, managers and Partners. That was when her authority and role as a leader came under challenge.

It was innocent enough, or so I thought. Our team of 3 presenters was present on all days. When the Partner was facilitating a training session, the other 2 would move around the room to help the participants with any queries and hands-on exercises.

During 1 of Anna’s sessions, I saw a few of the participants’ texting messages. I slowly walked up behind one and saw the message “25 times”. Then the reply “No make that 28”.


During the lunch break, I took that participant aside and gently mentioned the texting that I had seen and pointed out that they were undermining Anna’s presentation by texting in class.

The participant told me that they were listening to the session but were also counting how many times Anna interjected ‘Umm’ into her sentences!

I honestly didn’t know what to say but made use of this information to make sure that when my post lunch presentation started, I had a strategy to keep everyone’s attention.

I went to a local shop and bought a big bag of toffees. When my session came around, I placed it on the presenter’s table in full view and tossed toffees at participants who answered the questions correctly. It worked like a dream.

Someone must have tipped Anna about the tracking of ‘Umms’ because on Day 3 when Anna’s next presentation came up, she spoke slowly and the ‘Umms’ were missing. Her audience listened to her and there was no texting.

My biggest take away from that experience was to always monitor how people were reacting to what I was saying for indicators of whether my message was being communicated or not because I couldn’t always manage every situation with a bag of toffees.

This isn’t a one-off incident of communicating as a Leader.

In my post about how monkeys on our back prevent us from moving on, I shared the true story of a young trainee who picked up the phrase which the partner used a lot and applied it left, right and center until he was stopped before he could do too much damage with his newfound Monkey Mania. The Partner in question became more circumspect when using phrases that might be misunderstood.


Leadership lesson in classroom


It’s not just words and phrases, we can often undermine our authority and leadership with recurring phrases that we use, often referred to as track-talk.

I remember during my consulting days when I was doing a project in Minsk, the Managing Director would start his Monday morning meetings with the phrase ‘This is something terrible’.

Fortunately the meeting was conducted in Russian and the impact of his words was lost during the translation but I did notice the doom and gloom among the hard working employees during the meeting. It didn’t matter that we got a swig of high quality vodka with our coffee and cake.

My translator couldn’t explain why he started the meetings the way he did and put it down to his leadership style, which was quite demoralizing.


Our words and track talk affects our Brand and Executive Presence


The common factor in all 3 cases – words, phrases and talk was that the leader in question didn’t even realize the impact that their words were having on others. They were using them all the time and it became a part of their brand and executive presence.

Effective leaders need to understand that their words impact others around them who are taking cues from them and this can impact the work culture whether for better or worse. It’s up to us to decide how we want to project our leadership, brand and presence.


3 things you can do with your words to improve your executive presence

 3 tips to improve executive presence with words


You can improve your communication skills as a leader. Change is always possible and starting with the small ones can lead to bigger ones.


Identify the words or track talk that you need to change.


What are the words or phrases that you find yourself using regularly whether at work or at home? Write them down.

Some examples


  1. Phrases like ‘do you know what I mean?’ or ‘Get the point?’ after every sentence or two suggests you don’t have confidence in the other person’s comprehending capabilities.
  2. Gushy words like ‘awesome’, ‘mind-blowing’, ‘splendid’. Leaders don’t gush, they recognize good work when the work deserves recognition.
  3. Jargon that drowns the team member or scares them. You might think that you are demonstrating your prowess as a leader and expert but sometimes, simple English or language of work helps get more out of the team when they understand what you want and aren’t wasting time checking the dictionary or technical manual.
  4. Putting a ‘but’ when giving feedback. Yes, there is something called the sandwich approach to feedback where you cushion the area of improvement between 2 bits of praise or acknowledgement though from what I know about this technique, the word ‘but’ is not used and can undermine the confidence of the other person rather than motivate them to improve.
  5. Negative talk statements – like ‘this is something terrible’, ‘this won’t work’ or even ‘I’m surrounded by imbeciles’ (I actually had a Finance Director who’d say that)

Once you have that sorted out


Consider the impact of your words, phrases or track talk.


As a leader, your words carry a lot of weight and others are looking up to you as a role model. Are you inspiring others or forcing them into the corner? Are your words consistent with the image you want to project or the behaviors you want to see in your team?


Consider an alternative word, phrase that you can use or what you can drop


Is there a better word or phrase that you can use to replace the one that isn’t consistent with the brand or presence that you want to project?

Are there words that you need to remove from your vocabulary? Like the wishy-washy ones, the ‘Umms’ and buts?

You might not even be aware of the words that you are using and while observing how others react to you is a good way to assess what you need to change, you might still hit a blind spot.

I suggest asking a colleague or friend to monitor your speech and give you honest feedback about your words or if you are too shy to ask for help, record yourself in conversation and pick up what you need to let go off or change.

This latter method works well. In one of the Leadership courses that I attended, participants were recorded during role play activities to show them their blind spot, which was then used to help them improve on their communication weakness.

After that, the only thing left to do is to practice changing it and see the results of your efforts.

Do you have a track word, phrase or talk that is hurting your brand image or  projecting the desired presence?


PS. I invite you to enroll in my free 5 day mini-course on Executive Presence. Click the image below to learn more and see if it fits your need.


Karmic Ally Coaching Executive Presence Course invitation



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16 Responses to “Want to be an effective Leader? You need to examine your Track Words”

  1. This is so interesting, Vatsala. As an author, I see this in my own world a lot. How folks react to my words is sort of survival 🙂
    And funny enough, in the books I edit, one of the major issues I quite often see is jargon. Sometimes writers use it to show off, but mostly, they don’t even realize the rest of the world doesn’t know what those words mean. Changing them to plain English makes such a huge difference!
    Love this post.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Susan. Speaking in plain English or any language carries more weight than demonstrating that one is a Jargon Master. Interestingly, I recently signed up for a free mini-course that had caught my attention and the person who had provided the course had some great content – except that I dropped out after the second video because my head hurt with all the jargon that wasn’t explained properly to start with. I might return someday to the series but yes, jargon lost me. 🙂

  2. Jodi Sky says:

    Wow! Very insightful

  3. Hey Vatsala 🙂

    Improvement of yourself is key to being a successful leader and you have outlined some awesome tips (by changing the words you use) is a great start! Thanks for sharing this great post!!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Hi Joan. Our words carry a lot of power and good leaders know how to express themselves. Glad you liked the post.

  4. As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think of the ‘leader’ of the United States and how people seem to gobble up his rhetoric, which for me, isn’t very leader like at all! He could take some lessons from your post, Vatsala. 🙂 How we speak, how we communicate, is ultimately how others relate to and view us. I see how effective communicators are also great storytellers and how they often include the listener or audience in the conversation. Building respect and having people pay attention to you and regard you as a leader, takes awareness, practice and I will add compassion. To lead others, it’s so important to show a sincere concern for them and be a cheerleader for them to succeed. Thanks for the great points in this post, as often we continue doing the same things, without stepping back to assess how effective they are.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I guess at some level, President Trump is able to speak to the angst of a section of Society, Beverley, although for the rest of us, it doesn’t sound like Leader Talk at all. When I think more along the lines of your comment, I realize that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mastered the art of talking to the people, otherwise the massive demonetization drive of last year would not have worked. That is leadership!

  5. Reba Linker says:

    I love this post as I am fascinated by human interaction and communication. I loved the toffee throw idea! I also loved your list of word-habits to look out for. Women have particular challenges in corporate-leadership-speak as we’ve often been taught to be apologetic, or less than positive or are unused to being unashamedly assertive. It takes awareness and practice. Thank you for this!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      The toffee throw idea worked well, Reba. The participants didn’t know what to make of it and put it down to my being a foreigner with some strange Indian quirk. 🙂 It’s true that women need to be more assertive in the corporate world. I normally see the behavior swinging between timidness and pure fire breathing aggression. There is a middle path where one can retain one’s feminine side and yet be assertive and I love teaching women professionals all about it!

  6. Sue Kearney says:

    Great reminders to help me stay conscious of my presence, my pacing, and words. Thanks! And I love the toffee candies!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      The toffee candies were a hit back then, Sue, because nobody had ever tried that tactic to keep the audience’s attention. 🙂 As leaders, we need to sometimes think outside of the box. LOL

  7. Suzie Cheel says:

    Wow this is powerful I think the word habits is important to know about . I do love the Sinel quotexx thinking more deeply about leadership

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Our words can empower or dilute our leadership persona, Suzie. There are lots of words that need to be banished from the Executive’s vocabulary. I’m glad you loved the quote – I do too!

  8. This has been an informative post as you dived into something I may not have focused on in the role of a leader. There is no question about it, though, that the way we communicate can have a huge impact on the roles we play in life.

    As I was reading I thought of a program I recently purchased where the program developer narrated over the Powerpoint. After watching a few of the videos, I’ve changed to the pdf, which was thankfully included in the package. She has some annoying mannerisms and phrases that she peppers throughout the monologue, that I find extremely annoying.

    Words, phrases, and speech props can definitely detract from our credibility. Thank you, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I can relate to your wanting to switch over to the pdfs, Yvonne. When we know the presenter we might ignore the mannerisms, not notice them or even find them appealing. When it comes to a first time participant, it’s a different ball game. Thanks for sharing your experience and insights.

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