Why The Best Leaders Often Say The Fewest Words

Meaghan Sullivan

When it comes to communication, less is sometimes more. The best leaders aren’t those who make the longest speeches or are the most verbose in their rhetoric, but those who make the words they use work hard to motivate everyone on the team. Good leaders understand the importance of clear and concise communication and are able to quickly and effectively deliver their messages to those around them. In my experience, the following tips can help leaders use words more effectively in pursuit of their goals.

Actions speak louder than words

The first priority of any leader should be to create a solid strategy and a clear plan for carrying it out. Without the ability to come up with a strategy, no leader — no matter how charismatic or eloquent — will be able to motivate his or her team to achieve success. By clearly defining what success looks like and the path the team needs to take to achieve it, leaders set themselves and everyone around them in the right direction.

Bosses reprimand; leaders lead

Once you have created a solid strategy, you need to trust those who report to you to follow the plan. All too often, I see bosses who think that leadership means micromanaging every aspect of a project. However, constantly watching over the shoulders of direct reports not only takes a leader’s attention away from where it needs to be — on the higher-level strategy and overall direction of the project — but also makes managers feel that they don’t have the leader’s trust. Rather than constantly checking in on employees and trying to micromanage their every move, the best leaders delegate tasks to people they can trust and then allow those talented individuals a chance to shine.

Overstate and bore; understate and score

As FDR once said, “Overstate and bore; understate and score.” In this succinct statement, he summed up what the best leaders have always known. Too much verbosity can cause team members to mentally switch off. Instead, the best leaders use a few well-chosen words to motivate their teams.

Avoid redundancy

Good leaders think before they speak, so that none of their words are wasted. When an umpire yells “Strike three!” there is no need to add “Yer out!” That’s what a third strike means. We’re all guilty of adding redundant words to our speech, but with a little practice, leaders can get used to choosing their words more wisely to make sure they are not about to say something repetitive and boring.

Take a lesson from the literary greats

The best leaders heed George Orwell’s rules of effective writing in both their written reports and their speeches. These include “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,” and “Never use a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” By getting quickly to the point and speaking in language that everyone can understand, leaders can communicate necessary information to their teams without taking up too much valuable time or causing team members to mentally switch off through boredom.

In the business world, how you communicate your brand, your products, or your services all comes down to word choices. And great leaders understand how to simplify their messages by communicating with fewer words.

Want more management best practices? See 6 Managing Skills That Companies Take for Granted.


Meaghan Sullivan

About Meaghan Sullivan

Meaghan Sullivan is the vice president of Global Channel Marketing at SAP. In this role, she is tasked with accelerating global indirect revenue through channel marketing practices with a focus on VARs and Distributors. Sullivan focuses on Partner-Lead Demand Generation activities to provide SAP partners with innovative programs, campaigns and resources that enable them to more efficiently market their SAP solutions and services.