The three hardest and most important leadership phrases

The three hardest phrases to pronounce in any language are:

  • Please
  • Thank-you
  • I am sorry

Of course it is easy to say them as a common courtesy, but to say them in a way that the other person genuinely feels them, is not easy at all.

Please is related to the word plea and is especially effective if the other person hears a tone of pleading in your voice. Please means "I need your help, even though I have no right to demand or expect it." That is an empowering and uplifting message to give to another person. We are all wired to respond to pleas for help, and most people rise to the occasion when they are summoned to help. A heartfelt please assures people that you don't take them for granted and will not exploit them. When people know they will not be exploited or taken for granted they act with unbounded generosity.

The term thank you in Hebrew, todah, shares a root with the word for confession or admission. In genuinely thanking someone you are admitting to the fact that you had no right to their support and do not consider yourself deserving of it. This is yet another phrase that uplifts people's esteem and sense of self-value in their own eyes. It also assures them that you do not take them for granted and will never exploit them.

I am sorry means "I feel truly bad that I have let you down, disappointed you or hurt you." I am sorry, when accompanied by an undertaking to repair the damage and never repeat it, is the foundation of accountability.

The reason these three phrases are so hard to say genuinely is that they all entail the display of vulnerability. In each of these phrases we acknowledge that we are not infallible, that we make mistakes and we need the help and support of others. A lot of our social and business training teaches us that showing vulnerability is a weakness, but it isn't. Only strong people can afford to display their genuine vulnerabilities. Weak people must cover their vulnerability. Weak people are embarrassed about their fallibility, strong people embrace it as part of their humanity.

Showing vulnerability is an indispensable brick in building the foundations for trusting relationships. We trust people who are honest with us about themselves, we don't trust those who pretend to be God, having all the answers and never failing. So don't play God, be your authentic self, with all the vulnerability and blemish that makes you unique, valuable and irresistibly charming! Say please, say thank you and say I am sorry.


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