Leaders, Your Words Matter

Posted 01.10.2011

In response to the horrific wounding of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others and the killing in Arizona this weekend of a nine year old girl, a Federal judge, a Congressional staffer and three citizens who came to the local shopping plaza to talk with their member of Congress, President Obama has asked for a national moment of silence at 11:00 am on January 10.  Let’s use that moment of silence to remember the dead and wounded, but let’s also use it as a pause to consider the impact of what we say and how we say it. 

It looks like the media noise machine is gearing up for a debate on how much impact the political dialogue had on the thinking of the shooter in Arizona. If the recent past is any guide, this conversation will quickly degenerate into name calling and posturing on both sides of the argument. At some level, it doesn’t matter at this point what influenced him. On the other hand, the events in Arizona prompt a much broader question that is worth considering. Does the content and tenor of what leaders say and how they say it, have an impact on the level of civility and comity in our society? 

My answer is simple. Words matter.

As I’ve written here before, leaders influence those who follow them. In an age in which almost anyone can immediately go global with their influence through the tools of social media, that’s likely more true than it’s ever been. On occasion, that influence comes through demonstrated action. Most often, it comes through words.

No matter what type of leader you are or what kind of formal or informal organization you lead, I encourage you to pause today and everyday to consider the possible impact of your words. As you pause, it might help to remember what many etymologists believe is the root meaning of the magician’s word, “Abracadabra.”  One theory  traces the word back to two words in the ancient Aramaic language which, when said together, mean, “I will create as I speak.” 

I will create as I speak. If you’re in a position of leadership you have that power. As they say, with power comes responsibility. What impact do you want to make with your words?