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In mid-October of this year, I travelled to the Chesapeake Bay to visit one of my best friends for her birthday.  During our trip, we ventured into town for lunch at an old-fashioned soda shop.  While we were waiting for our food, I spotted something on the wall that inspired me so much that I had to take a picture of it. This simple sign says “Before you speak, think” and was taped to the glass cabinet behind the cash register.

I am confident the sign was meant for the service staff of the restaurant; however, the more I read it and the more I thought about the message the sign conveyed, I saw the applications to leadership.  Effective people leaders think before they speak.  In this case, T.H.I.N.K. is an acronym which I stands for:

T – Is it true?  As simple as it sounds, this is a great question to ask yourself before any words, thoughts or phrases come out of your mouth.  Many times information is delivered without being vetted or verified that it is in fact truthful.  Much of the drama and disruption that happens in our personal and professional lives stems from saying things believed to be true yet have not confirmed for accuracy.  The word that comes to mind when I read this question “is it true” is gossip.  Based on my experience, gossip is usually part truth and part speculation (not truth) which is why it so enticing but damaging.  As leaders, if what you say is not truthful, people will read through the B.S. and will spend enormous amounts of time searching for the truth and creating their own “stories” resulting in major productivity losses and energy drains.  Even worse, if when doing their own research they discover your words were full of half-truths, your credibility and respect will be destroyed in the eyes of that person.  Leaders ensure they communicate the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

H – Is it helpful?  Making sure what you say is helpful requires thinking through the intention of your conversation.  What outcome do you want to achieve through this communication or interaction?  Once you understand that, then you can verify that what you have to say is going to move you and the other person in a positive direction.   One way to ensure what you say is helpful is to ask, “How can I help you?” before you start a conversation. Doing so allows the other person to give you clues into how you can meet their needs so you can ensure all parties are pleased with the conversation. Being helpful also entails providing just the right level of details ad information, not too much and not too little, “just right.”  Leaders strive to be helpful to everyone that they interact with to ensure a positive outcome.

I – Is it inspiring? How many conversations have you had that are less than inspiring?  There are many different examples of uninspiring dialogues.  How inspired do you feel when the person delivering the message speaks with no passion or emotion?  Or what about those people who speak with a very abrupt tone and with very terse words?   I don’t know about you, but these conversations leave me feeling drained of energy and with no desire to continue working with the individuals.  Conversations are most effective when you say something inspiring- which does not mean just delivering smarmy platitudes.  It means that you leave the other person with a feeling of importance and that they matter to you and what you are trying to achieve.  Leaders inspire and give life to people with their words.

N – Is it necessary?  So this is a big one for me.  I loathe conversations that add no value.  Frankly, much of the small talk that happens in social settings I see as totally useless because there is no substance behind the conversation.  I encourage you to consider how what you are saying is adding value to the other person.  Are you trying to get to know them better? If so, ask them questions instead of talking only about you.  Are you nervous and not sure of what to say? Then try asking questions instead of jibber jabbering.  See a theme here?  If you don’t know why you are saying something and don’t understand the value of your words, then please listen and refrain from talking.  Leaders add value to every conversation in which they engage.

K – Is it kind?  Wouldn’t it be great if everything that came out of our mouths was kind?  Unfortunately, we are humans and not saints so there are times when in the “heat of the moment” we lash out.  However, does that ever leave you feeling good?  If you are like me, you automatically regret your harsh words and spend a lot of time trying to apologize and repair relationships.   Most of us probably heard, “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it.”  Let’s try to do a better job to live by these simple yet profound words!  Being kind in your conversation makes you and the other person feel good.  Even delivering what feels like bad news can be done in a gentle and kind manner. Leaders are kind in everything they say.

I encourage each of you as the leader in your life to apply these words of wisdom to all your conversations.  Before you speak, T.H.I.N.K. Be truthful, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind.  Leaders THINK!!

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