The Eloquent Leader

by | Apr 30, 2024 | Professional Growth

“True eloquence consists in saying all that is necessary, and nothing but what is necessary.”
Heinrich Heine, German Poet

“I probably will get that report to you by Monday.”
“I might want to lead that project.”
“I kind of like your idea.”

Probably? Might? Kind of? Do we really say these things at work and home? Yes, we probably do.

Eloquence is expressing yourself clearly and with influence. Using your words well. Avoiding filler language, ums and uhs, as well as passive terms such as probably, might, and kind of.

The challenge is we often believe we are more eloquent than we really are. Many of the leaders I coach do not realize how often they say um, uh, or use passive language. When I give them feedback, I hear two responses:

  • Surprise – no one ever told me I do that.
  • Denial – you must be mistaken; I did not say um five times.

So why do we qualify our comments with probably, might, and kind of? Where does the infamous “uhs and ums” come from? My sense is we underestimate the power of our word choices, allowing our words to stream out with no quality control. Eloquence requires us to manage what we say – choosing our words carefully.

Years ago, I realized my need to improve my communication skills, and I was fortunate to discover Toastmasters International – a public speaking and leadership development organization. I was early in my career as a management trainee and feared public speaking. Toastmasters provided me with the opportunity to build my confidence by speaking on diverse topics, some impromptu, and receive constructive criticism.

My early Toastmaster days were not pretty, plenty of ums and passive language. The good news is the group believed in me and I began to believe in myself. Toastmasters was a great experience and I encourage you to find a club in your area.

Toastmasters International

Three keys to improving your eloquence:

Awareness:

Listen for inactive words, ums, uhs, in your everyday speech. A best practice – use silence rather than um or uh when you pause during a conversation.

Analysis:

Notice the situations when you speak inactively (who are you talking to, are you under pressure, etc.). Best practice – watch for questions from others that indicate they are not sure you are going to follow through.

Adaptation:

Inventory your inactive words and make a deliberate effort not to use them. Best practice – get feedback sources you trust to observe you.

Eloquence is not perfection. Even the greatest speakers have an um or two. To communicate clearly, we must think clearly. I encourage you to clean up your language – saying only what is necessary.

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e readers.

My April 2024 favorites:

How to Know a Person by David Brooks

David Brooks latest book is a great resource on relationship building. In the book he challenges the reader to “look somebody in the eye and see something large in them, and in turn, see something larger in ourselves.” Brooks encourages us to dig deeper to really get to know the people in our lives.

Table for Two by Amor Towles

This is the third Amor Towles book I have read – I really enjoyed The Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility. The author offers a collection of short stories describing incredibly unique individuals in both New York City and Los Angeles. Throughout the stories, two characters often find themselves sitting across a table for two where the direction of their futures may hinge upon what they say to each other next.