How Do You Spell Authority?
Auslaut. Erysipelas. Saxicolous. Geeldikkop.
Before you reach for your Translate app, you should know that these words are all English. They are also a few of the words that have been successfully spelled by winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
It’s that time of year when spellers from across the country and around the globe compete for the honor of Spelling Bee champion. I love this competition. The winners demonstrate that it’s not your age or your gender that matters. In this competition, what matters is your ability to stay calm under pressure and to successfully master extraordinary vocabulary challenges.
That equality strikes me as I think about all those young female competitors who will one day enter the workplace and encounter a very different environment. In my book Climbing the Spiral Staircase, I detail the challenges too many professional women encounter. They advance to a certain level in their careers, and then become stuck, unable to move into the executive roles to which they aspire.
As I’ve talked with many of these bright, ambitious women, I’ve discovered that their leadership brand is being hindered by something quite familiar to the spellers: vocabulary. Specifically, a vocabulary that is diminishing their authority and their executive presence.
There are certain words that I encourage women to eliminate from their workplace vocabulary, whether in a presentation, a brainstorming session, or an email:
- Just: “I am just wondering…”
- Actually: “I actually disagree…”
- Kind of: “I kind of think that we should take a different approach…”
- Sorry, but: “Sorry to bother you, but…”
- A little bit: “I’d like to tell you a little bit about our new product…”
- Disclaimers: “I’m no expert, but…”
- Requests for affirmation: “Does that make sense?”
If you’re serious about building your authority vocabulary, you need to be mindful not simply of the words you say, but of how you say them. Record yourself speaking in a professional setting and then spend some time assessing what you hear.
Do you hear “uptalk”—a raised pitch in your voice at the end of a sentence, almost as if you’re asking a question rather than confidently conveying information? That’s a habit that will diminish your authority.
And speaking of questions, you’ll want to avoid them when what’s needed is a statement. Look at these two examples and identify which demonstrates expertise and authority:
“We need to hire more salespeople.”
“What about hiring more salespeople?”
The Scripps spellers have one more lesson for anyone who aspires to a leadership role, and that’s focus. As they stand on that stage, they ask a few concise and targeted questions. They don’t digress. They don’t share examples of other words they’ve successfully spelled. The winners don’t rush or pile on words; they clearly enunciate the one word that matters.
Every June, I’m impressed by the skills, the poise, the intellectual capabilities and the potential of the Spelling Bee finalists. They are role models for anyone who aspires to a leadership position.