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Leaders: Say This, Not That

When I started my first agency, I was unaware how much our language determines our thoughts and actions. During those formative years I defaulted to some unfortunate choices of words and phrases. I now hear my choices reflected back to me from my clients all the time. In all candor, I still find myself working to weed these words out of my language, and as my clients and I do this replacement activity together, we laugh, and recognize this is some powerful mindset work. Our whole outlook changes right there in the moment of re-choosing our words carefully.

It doesn’t really matter whether the words/phrases are spoken aloud, or stay hidden among our inner dialog. What I have learned over the past 30 years is that there are a handful of key phrases which, if we replace them with a well-chosen reframe, are transformative – for our lives and our business/career trajectory. Not only that, it is an extremely fast shift.

Here are the phrases and their replacements:

Instead of “Why Me?” Say “Why Not Me?”

We use “Why Me?” most often when we are leveling up. Whether it is a new role, a new skill, or starting a new business/career, some self-doubt is normal. After all, it’s new to us. Confidence happens as we begin to practice and achieve some experience and mastery.

However, those who experience imposter syndrome (which is built on the societal messages we receive, not some inner flaw) will take this natural self-doubt and turn it into a perverse sense of being a fraud in this new role. They (we!) will ask themselves things like:

· Why would anyone pay me when I am still learning this?

· Why would anyone hire me when I don’t have a wall of awards, recognition or credentials on my wall?

· Why would my ideal clients/organization pay me full value when I am new to this role?

All these questions equate to: Why me?

When we replace that why me with why not me, we invite an answer to a different question. Sure, we could pile on with a bunch of negative reasons why they wouldn’t. Or we could explore why they might find a fresh perspective to be incredibly helpful. Or that employers pay us when they promote us and provide on-the-job training, why wouldn’t we allow ourselves the same grace? Or we might consider that previous roles and skills do apply in this new endeavor, and we can leverage them even as we are building a track record for ourselves.

Instead of “I’ve Got To” Say “I Get To”

We all have a lot of responsibilities and commitments. That’s just a fact. When we think in terms of what we MUST DO or SHOULD DO, we shut down our creativity, ability to choose, innovative thinking and put ourselves in a victim role - a victim of our circumstances. On the other hand, when we tell ourselves we GET to do something, suddenly we recognize how many options there truly are. Sure, we may not like most of them, but at least we can see they exist, and we step into our power then.

This reframe also activates the physical impact of gratitude.

I get to go to work today.

I get to spend time with my kids on their homework.

I get to write a proposal to a new, exciting client.

It’s a lot. At the same time, when we acknowledge our choices, and why they are a gift, we tend to create more of the good result inherent in the obligation, and less of the efforting we tend to resist. Yay, you!

Instead of “But” Say “And”

Which sounds more proactive and collaborative to you?

I’d love to do this, BUT I am already overloaded.


I’d love to do this, AND I will, if we can reassign some of my other responsibilities.

‘But’ shuts a conversation down, limiting our thinking. It negates whatever preceded it. ‘And’ adds to the conversation, expanding the choices available. I have yet to find a situation where ‘But’ could not be replaced with ‘And’. I’m not saying they don’t exist, so you are invited to send your suggestions.

Here is another pairing as an example:

I am looking for a new career, but I am afraid I am too old to do so.

I am looking for a new career, and if I find agism is a problem, I am going to position my experience as an advantage.

Now it’s your turn. Look for where you say ‘but,’ then replace it with ‘and’.

Instead of “No” Say “Yes”

I might be shot for this suggestion, so, bear with me for a moment. Sure, there are a lot of leaders (especially women) who say yes to doing all the things to their own diminishment and overwhelm. They need a hefty dose of saying no before they say yes in a different way. I will not argue that.

At the same time, that’s not the sort of yes/no I am exploring here. I am discussing using ‘yes’ as a negotiation tactic, an engagement builder and a growth tool that is often overlooked. It builds on the previous pairing.

Again, here are some examples:

No. We are not going to make that deadline.

Yes, it is taking longer than expected, and it will be done right, with time for review.

No, we don’t accept cash app payments.

Yes, a lot of people use cash apps, and we can offer PayPal and Stripe if you prefer.

No, I won’t be able to attend.

Yes, that meeting is very important. What if I sent one of my team in my place?

Instead of “What I Need to Tell Them Is…” Say “What They Want to Know Is…”

If you are communicating to an audience, whether it is a keynote, workshop, podcast, book, Facebook Live, or YouTube video, it is easy to focus on what you want to tell them. You are likely to initially be eager to convince, convert, enlighten and engage. Most of the executives I write for and coach, start here. They are, after all, the content experts, and the pressure to move their audience into action is intense, with a high dollar value attached.

At the same time, we all have a radio station playing in our head, called WII FM (What’s In It For Me) radio. If you can ask yourself what your audience wants to know, putting yourself in their shoes (which of course means, you need to have a good idea of who they are, what they struggle with and how you can help) then you are 10X more likely to engage them and build followership.

Instead of “When I…Then…” Say “I am already…”

In the season of business goal-setting it can be second-nature to defer our sense of achievement. We say,

When I double my revenue, then I’ll feel like this business is growing.

Or “When I have that new sales person, I know I can focus on the business, instead of working in it.

Or, “When I am earning as much as a coach as my full-time salary, then I’ll quit this job.”

All of those ideas are worthwhile to pursue. The catch is we defer our sense of satisfaction and achievement during the process if we aren’t careful.

The trick here is not to rewrite the goal. It is to redefine how we focus as we pursue it. So, the first statement becomes:

I am already growing this business by focusing on doubling my revenue.

It acknowledges that growth is already happening, simply by taking actions in a direction. Growth is not like a light switch, and happens more readily when we embody it, even before it feels entirely real to us.

The second statement becomes:

I am spending time focusing on my business, instead of working in it, and a new sales person will amplify those growth efforts.

Look, if you wait to focus on your business until the conditions are right, you never will. Act out the goal as much and as often as you can to build the muscle now.

And the third statement becomes:

When I am earning as much as a coach as I am with my full-time salary, then I’ll quit this job.”

We all crave a safety net, financial security and a sure thing. At the same time, staying in a full-time job takes away critical business growth energy, prolonging the limbo. Interestingly, most of my clients who were in that limbo got kicked out of the proverbial full-time job nest and then found they were already ready. I never advise someone to jump before they are ready, but if you think you might be, let’s talk about how you could create a bold new business in 2023.


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