In working with leadership teams around the country, I have the luxury of seeing how many leaders and their management teams approach the concept of leadership. With that, I frequently see a few consistent themes among those organizations that struggle in particular with attraction, culture and retention of their employees.

And of course, many companies are blind to the fact that it isn’t about money. In reality, they’re either completely blind and accept that excuse from employees turning in their uniforms and nametags for that ten cent raise across the street as truth, or else they just don’t really want to investigate and dive deep into the core issue going on and fix it.

The truth of the matter, however, is that the fix really isn’t all that complicated. It really comes down to making sure you’re implementing a handful of specific approaches in you organization, and it all starts with effective communication throughout.

Great communication is the absolute key to a vibrant and high-performing culture. It creates trust, accountability and commitment from individuals and teams. It generates buy-in and allows healthy conflict to occur. And ultimately, it’s going to attract and keep people in your organization due to employees feeling appreciated, listened to, motivated and challenged, all in the same.

So where is an easy place to start with your employees or direct reports that you manage and lead? I call them power phrases. You can use them in everyday conversation with your people. In meetings. And during quarterly reviews or conversations. However you use them, they’re going to be a powerful first step in opening up and becoming vulnerable yourself, which in turn allows your employees to open up, share honest thoughts and insights, and ultimately build strong trust with you as their leader.

7 Power Phrases

1) How can I help you?

Believe it or not, many employees never hear this from their leader. Once they’ve been onboarded, trained and given their duties, many supervisors don’t take the focused time to check back in to see how things are going. Using this phrase as a leader also shows you’re willing to back up the talk with a bit of the walk, especially when they ask for your personal involvement. And as a supervisor, it’s always good to stay in touch with a little bit of the day to day and front-line operations.

2) What do you need from me?

This shows your employees that you’re willing to provide the resources they need to be successful. Remember, great leaders don’t just lead strategy and the cause. They lead people and empower them to become more. This power phrase is also a fantastic servant leadership style line that shows you’re willing to put their needs and the organization’s first.

3) What are you struggling with?

Your employees and direct reports are not robots or pawns. They’re people, and don’t ever forget it. As people, we all have struggles – personally and professionally. Don’t forget to show you truly care about them on a very personal level, especially when you start to notice hiccups in their work or red flags arise. As much as we want to live in the fantasy world or personal baggage not coming to work, we must be honest and realize that we ALL do it. Be the leader that takes the time to show you care and see how you can help. Now, that doesn’t always mean you are directly providing the help. Sometimes it’s just providing direction more than anything. Your employees will greatly appreciate the fact that you even asked, however, when you notice things out of whack.

4) That’s on me – That’s my fault.

Nothing shows vulnerability and builds trust more than one owning up to their mistakes. If you made one, openly admit it and own it. Don’t pass the buck. Don’t ignore it. Admitting you screwed up also shows your employees that growth mindset mentality you want to breed within the entire organization. Psychologically safe organizations are high performing ones!

5) What do you think?

I frequently have leaders struggle with their teams committing and buying in to organizational decisions and change. The first question I always ask those leaders when they’re telling me about a failed initiative is What did your team think about it before you implemented it? And that’s usually where they start to claw back a bit and start making excuses as to why their team wasn’t super involved in the decision. Ultimately, we always end up coming to the conclusion that there was probably a failure to take input and discuss items and finalize next steps with enough clarity to gain the amount of commitment needed. It’s amazing how effective it can be when you simply ask for feedback and input from somebody. It helps them feel appreciated, listened to and that their opinions are valued. Now, where this process can go wrong is when you don’t directly implement your team’s or an individual’s ideas and you fail to explain the why behind the decision. Take the time to explain why you had to or why you couldn’t do as requested and you’ll gain a lot of respect.

6) I really appreciate that you…(be specific)

Let’s face it, most employees don’t feel very highly appreciated. And I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s definitely trending in the direction of employees putting it higher and higher on their priority list. Avoid the canned Good job! And Great work! Those just plain don’t work, and they lack specificity about what it really is you’re appreciating in that person. Put some personal touch on the complement, as well as make sure that you aren’t just stating what they did, but more so the personal characteristic they have and was displayed in their actions. Add in another one or two of the 5 Languages of Appreciation specific to them on top of this, like a fist bump and small gift card, and you’ll quickly gain some serious loyalty and commitment from an individual.

7) Their first name

That’s right. Merely their first name. No other word has a sweeter tone to everyone of us than our own first name used by somebody when they’re talking to us. Don’t believe me? Think of the last time a salesperson tried to pitch you or when you were dealing with a friendly customer service representative. Or when somebody at a restaurant or store passed you back your credit card or receipt and referred to you by your first name. It creates immediate familiarity with another. Familiarity or commonality creates connection. And connection builds trust. Take any of these previous power statements, add in your employee’s first name and you have a great combination to connect and show you care.

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