The Impact of Our Words

The Impact of Our Words

It was my first briefing as a sergeant. I was nervous. Would the “guys” give me a hard time? Would I cover everything? Would I instill confidence in them? Would they follow me as a leader?

Honestly, the 30 minute briefing session was a blur. I remember covering all of the recent information that needed to be shared, assigned all of the vehicles (based on seniority of course), and left them with my new catch phrase…”Stay safe out there”.

Wow! As I walked out of the briefing room, I was on cloud nine. This could not have gone any better. They paid attention, they were engaged, and I didn’t stumble over my words.

I thought to myself… “This sergeant thing isn’t that hard after all!”

I went through the rest of the day basking in my own hubris, until about 4:00 that afternoon.

A Powerful Leadership Lesson

One of my buddies, who happened to be one of the senior officers in the Briefing that morning, came up to me in the hallway outside the Watch Commander’s Office. The look on his face was a mixture of fear, confusion and disappointment all at the same time.

“Hey Charlie…” he began.

“What you said this morning in briefing has been the buzz amongst the patrol officers all day long. The officers cannot stop talking about it!”

I was dumbfounded.

“Wait…what did I say???”

“Well, you made that comment about ‘productivity’ and now everyone is worried we are taking a huge step backwards. They are afraid your whole focus will be on ‘stats’ and how many tickets we write and arrests we make…they are really worried!”

Not only did I not remember mentioning the word “productivity”, that was nowhere near the message I wanted to send to the troops. In fact, we had worked hard on the culture of the organization for the past few years to change that dynamic. I wanted our officers to focus on quality over quantity and the last thing I wanted for them to worry about was the “numbers.”

Needless to say, I spent the entire next morning in Briefing, clarifying my comments and my expectations as it related to productivity, to hopefully put their minds at ease.

But the powerful lesson I learned that day was that it is very easy to underestimate the impact of my words. I may have said something very similar a few weeks prior to becoming a sergeant and no one would have blinked an eye. But having those stripes on my sleeve gave a new weight to my words. Being in a position of formal authority required me to carefully examine what I was saying and more importantly HOW I was saying it.

I realized that day that leaders in an organization have an incredible responsibility for their words because they have influence; influence over thoughts, opinions and ultimately morale. Taking personal responsibility for the words that come out of your mouth is one of the most effective communication strategies you can implement as a leader and it can enhance your relationships, both on and off the job.

Choose your words carefully and most importantly, “Stay safe out there!”

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