Leadership and Language Series: Should

19 Jan Leadership and Language Series: Should

“Words matter, they shape the way we understand ourselves, the way we interpret the world, and the way we treat others.” -Krista Tippett, Journalist

In honor of the New Year, and resolutions that accompany this holiday, it seems fitting to make a resolution around expanding compassion. Compassion is a key element in mindfulness, and ultimately, being an effective leader. With compassion comes deep listening and an understanding that, as humans, we do not have to agree with each other to honor each other’s humanity.

So for the first Leadership and Language Series of the year, I’m focusing on the shame and judgment-filled “should.” “I really should work out more.” “We really should proofread those proposals one more time before they go out.” “They really should update their website.”

As we look at the next evolution of leadership development, the trend in conversation will expand from mindfullness and vulnerability toward compassion and awareness. Daniel Goldman who coined the term “Emotional Intelligence” announced recently on the podcast Ted Radio Hour that he is now writing a book on compassion. Compassion is a central element of vulnerability and mindfulness…it is a core virtue.

Compassion is a central element of vulnerability and mindfulness…it is a core virtue.

“Should” is a shame blanket, full of judgment and distraction – a distraction from moving into our greatness. It’s understandable that we say it, being a common recognition that we know the “right” or “proper” thing, but are unable to do that thing for some mere human reason. Unfortunately, “should” is an emotional vampire: sucking away our humanity…and ultimately keeps ourselves, and others, from accessing our core power.

We often hear people say “nobody is perfect,” but where we misstep is still expecting people to be perfect – including any ideas of perfection we direct inward. Failure is the key to growth and learning, let’s celebrate this idea!

As a leader of a company, a team, your community, or just yourself, think about the ripple effects “should” (and “ought”) might have. We live in a culture that fears failure and being seen as anything less than perfect. As leaders, we want to help people move into their greatness, so below are some alternatives for addressing “should.”

Here is my leadership (and human) challenge: if you want to inspire others, be aware how language influences your interactions and environments. Awareness is key. “Should” is a helpful word, no doubt, but there is a time and a place. Ask yourself these questions: “How does it impact me? my team? my family? How does it make me feel?” Together we can work to shift this language epidemic of shame. I truly believe we can inspire each other to be great!


Hanna Richards-James has a Masters in Organizational Leadership, is a professional coach, organizational change consultant, business leader, marketer, and writer. She is the owner of Fantail Collaborative – a certified women-owned business.