Karin’s Leadership Articles

The words we choose as leaders are powerful. Helping our teams find the right words to clarify their thinking, can be even more powerful. As with so much else in leadership and life, less can be more. Sometimes, reducing the thought down to one powerful word can create vision and focus.

I have two friends both looking to lose a little weight. One is following a strict regimen of counting every calorie eaten and burned, with special calculators and lots of optimistic conversation around how many calories we actually torched in each workout.

Another friend takes a simpler approach, just don’t eat anything “white.”

Turns out, they are eating very similarly– avoiding refined sugar, potatoes, bread. Both are losing weight. One is spending a lot more time thinking about it.

Reducing challenges down to one word can create for easy following.

One word can clarify priorities (customers, safety).

In team building, having each person pick one word metaphors to open the conversation creates imagery that culls out the issues quickly in a non-threatening way.

“Today this team is a _______.”

“I want it to be a __________.”

In coaching, asking the employee for one word to describe their concerns helps to crystallize thoughts and clarify the issues.

For informal recognition, a powerful well-timed word, can be more memorable than a long discussion.

When supporting decision making, asking for a one word reason can help, “in one word, what differentiates this candidate from the others?”

Of course using the wrong one word without explanation can be devastating “no” and a few un-bloggable others come to mind.

However, encouraging people to find the right word can.

  • calm emotion and confusion
  • clarify thinking
  • reduce conversational clutter
  • creating a starting point for more useful words to follow

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Larry


  2. Steve Borek

    One method to clarify thinking doesn’t work for everyone. We’re all built differently.

    I’m certified in an assessment tool that looks at Behaviors, Values, and Personal Talents and Skills as well as Emotional Intelligence.

    In all my years in studying behavior, I’ve learned we’re all different. The one word tip might work for some, though it will frustrate others. The person that likes counting every calorie, using calculators, etc. is the perfect process for them. In fact, asking to simplify their process you’ll only make it more difficult for them.

    As a business coach, I coach each person differently. This is why my clients are successful.

    It’s vital leaders understand what makes each player on their team tick, then adjust their leadership and management style accordingly.

  3. Ray Wheeler, DMin

    Karin, I like this exercise. I have seen it open the conversation with clients and redirect their thinking from the whirl pool of despair to the platform of new perspective. I agree it does not work with everyone. When that happens I switch to narrative – asking clients to tell me the story of what they have experienced. Typically in the story a single theme still emerges that helps them clarify (1) the nature of the obstacle they face, (2) the obstacle itself or (3) a solution they had not thought of before.

  4. Marcus

    Another excellent post. I know some people who’d really benefit from this strategy. Sometimes if I’m talking too soon, before I’ve had time to think, I flounder and use too many words. Perhaps brevity is a result of thinking.

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