Creative + Strategy

Lead With a Comma

In my years as a leader, I've often thought Running a business is hard.

I've spoken it to friends and other leaders. And it's true. Leading people and running organizations is hard.

But I haven't found the statement helpful. Whenever the thought passes through my mind, it's often accompanied by discouragement.

So, I've decided to try something new. Call it a new strategy and I'm loving it! Rather than plop a period right there behind hard, I add a comma. I then complete the sentence with positive, hopeful words. I use this little exercise, not just with statements like the one above, but any phrase that has the potential to carry discouraging tones or diminished optimism.

As leaders, we must live in reality, a reality that is at times difficult and trying and even painful. But I also believe as leaders, we must not allow difficulties to define reality.

For example, while running a business is hard, it's also rewarding and exciting. We have an opportunity everyday to influence people and create positive change in the world.

Here's my original statement, again: Running a business is hard.
Now, here's my revised one: Running a business is hard, but it's also rewarding, exciting and life-giving.

In using this little exercise, I neither deny the reality of leading (that it is sometimes hard), nor allow the statement to define the reality of leading.

And isn't this true of reality, that it doesn't have a period? As leaders, we must understand that things are always in flux and moving. When we lead with commas, we tell our organization that nothing is final. Maybe things are hard right now. But we will learn and grow. This moment will not define us.

When we lead with commas, we tell our employees that we believe in them. Maybe someone on your team, for example, isn't where they need to be. You hire someone - let's call him Tom - and he's just not getting it done. As time passes, Tom doesn't seem to be improving. You begin to wonder whether he will ever figure it out. Maybe you hired the wrong guy. Have you ever been there? I have.

Even though the doubts are there, you continue equipping Tom with resources. You continue helping him learn and grow. And then, something changes. Tom suddenly gels with the team. He becomes more efficient and productive. Tom's upward trend continues, and he grows into one of your organization's most valuable employees.

Rather than inserting a period after Tom's weaknesses, you insert a comma.
As leaders, when we insert a comma with our team, we put faith and trust in them, individually and collectively. We commit to giving them every resource they need to learn and grow. We don't give up on them too easily.

When we lead with a comma, we have the potential to change everything, from the way we see ourselves to our employees to our organization.

When we lead with commas, we see things through a growth mindset. When we lead with periods, we see through a fixed mindset.

When we lead with commas, we focus on potential. When we lead with periods, we focus on their deficiencies.
When we lead with commas, we grow from hard times. When we lead with periods, we're defined by them.
So, while this excercise of using commas rather than periods is simple, it can radically change our perspective.

The next time you think or say something negative, don't allow the statement to end with a period. Insert a comma instead, and find a positive, encouraging thought to accompany it.

cj alvarado