After employees are hired, they listen to leaders to set the tone of the organization and to impart a direction. Yet few leaders have powerful language. Many have an easy communication style but fail to communicate in ways that energize the people who drive the business.

Every field, every endeavor and every company has a narrative, a story that is repeated daily, consciously or not. The best leaders are mindful of how they use language to create a repeatable narrative and shape their culture. Most leaders we coach seek new ways of speaking about what they need and want from their people. We hear “let’s realign the mission, recalibrate the sales targets, revisit our marketing plan or redesign our scorecard” a lot.

While it is not a careless act to use this type of language, these words are used unconsciously.

Bill Taylor, author and co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine, writes in a Harvard Business Review article that “the only sustainable form of business leadership is thought leadership. And leaders that think differently about their business invariably talk about it differently as well.”

Reaction, Reignite, Reengage, Realign, Reconnect, Reimagine, Remember, Revisit, Retool, Recalibrate, Redo, Reexamine, Repay, Reshape, Reassess, Redesign, Reawaken

I had a new insight into these “re-” words while working on my latest book, “Zombies to Zealots, Reawaken the Human Spirit at Work.” As I considered the Latin prefix “re-” and conducted online research, I took a deeper dive into its origin. “Re-” is defined as “again and again.” Looking deeper into the etymology gives us insights about its original intention as the alpha and the omega, which is to say that the beginning is the same, in essence, as the end. For example, “reawaken” is to “awaken,” to view everything around you as if for the first time and in the ways that were originally intended. I played with this notion in the book, wondering on the page about its meaning relative to humanity, now:

The power of re as I see it is to reawaken to the notion that this human vehicle is your means for expression, for living, for connecting, and for contributing. That’s provocative isn’t it? It’s a powerful invocation—and maybe a simple reminder to fearlessly dive into the chaos surrounding you, to welcome the challenges, to move beyond this frozen state you may find yourself in these days given the noise in the news, and to get jiggy, get moving, take charge on your path to change–not because you have to but because you can. In that frame, each word the begins with RE can become an invitation and a pathway back to wholehearted ways of working!

Coach’s Challenge: Pay Attention to Your Language! Five ReMinders

  1. Remember who you are. Consider what you do beyond your company’s leadership mandates and lexicon. As Jerry Garcia said, “It’s not enough to be considered just a thought leader in what you do, you must be considered the only one who does what you do.” What’s that for you?
  2. Reexamine how you speak about others. Consider the “-ings”: the recalibrating, realigning, reminding, reassessing, reawakening. Notice how people are reminded of their genius or their failures in your language.
  3. “Rework” your language this week. Capture both your own and others’ repetitive and limiting language on a visible whiteboard or company communication site. Keep a running list as the words are thrown out in conversations. Make it a game to capture them somewhere. They don’t have to be “re-” words, but give extra points for those!
  4. Remind people why you do what you do in service to something greater. Determine what others might be missing in the backstory that would be compelling to remind them of this week.
  5. Reimagine together. Invite everyone you meet to remember the essence of their highest and best contribution throughout their lives, and reconnect that to their work each day. Invite people to unleash new possibilities in the way you frame and reframe your story of work.