In the BOLD experience we lead for women leaders, we create a list of language we call our “Unconscious Word List”. This is a list of words most of us automatically use that is disempowering and decreases our level of personal power, clarity and boldness.  All of us, both men and women, consistently use words that make us less powerful as leaders and humans.

In our programs, we listen for the words as they flow in conversation and “doc & drop” them one by one, slowly capturing and eradicating words that keep us leading smaller than our potential. 

Once we shine the light on the key words and create a community of leaders who are tuned to the same high level frequency, they can individually practice and help each other manage their language, and hence, their leadership presence.

Why Prioritize Language? 

Language is a window into our souls of our mindset about ourselves, how we are viewing ourselves and ultimately, our worth in the world. Having our language match our leadership intention allows us to align what we say we want with what we are actually saying (and doing).

When we are being BOLD, we are (get ready for the new word thanks to a mentor of mine…) 


We are BOLD when we are “unmessable” because we are grounded, sturdy, present, unwavering. “We have it.” 


On the other hand, when we are “messable” (or able to be “messed with”), we are operating small, shaky, knocked off center, reactive, unsure, less than our best selves. This is when “it has us.”

It is obvious where we are, based on our language, which is why so many leaders want to work on their “leadership presence” in executive coaching. 

We are everyday humans.

Feeling “messable” happens to all of us!  

BOLD Leadhership Presence

Remember, when we are being BOLD we are willing to:

B:  BE ourselves (even when we feel we can’t)
O:  BE courageous (even when we feel fear)
L:  BE present (even when we feel distracted)
D:  BE daring to ask (even when others’ needs seem more important)

The “L” of the BOLD Leadhership framework is Lead with Presence, which refers to our presence, verbally and non-verbally. Our language is an external artifact that represents our internal beliefs, and can give us immediate data (when we pay attention) about how BOLD we are feeling at the time.

We don’t always feel BOLD, and the language that comes out of our mouths often reflects that.

The key is how we respond when we feel this way. 

While it is hard to believe and consistently remember, at every moment we have a choice about how we respond, engage, and view people, situations, or events. 

One of the indicators we can use to help us determine if “it has us” or if “we have it” becomes obvious through listening to the dialogue inside our head  (see Quieting the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee) and particularly to the language that makes its way out of our mouths.

One of the Most Common “Unconscious” Words that makes us “Messable” is:


This is a word that I hear All.The.Time. 

  • This week I had a client ask me to amend a contract . If I had said “I’ll try to get that to you” – what kind of trust would he have in my ability to deliver? (see the Trust Tool. Hint: it starts with an “R”). Short answer – none. 
  • Yesterday I offered an assignment to a team member. I told her when I needed the final report and her answer was “I’ll try.” At that moment, I felt like I couldn’t count on her. Most of us slide over those comments and move on. Then, we spend energy and worry wondering for the next two months if we’ll get the deliverable on time. I slowed down and inquired what that meant, and if she could actually deliver by the deadline. And she slowed down, thought about it and said definitively, “Yes.” I was then able to help her problem-solve what she needed to do in order to deliver on time. By adding the 3 minute check, the difference in her energy and mine was palpable and served to build trust and remove worry and stress.  

As Yoda so aptly declared:

“Do or do not. There is no *TRY*”

  1. Our word IS our integrity, and we need to get very clear about what we take on. *TRY* can be an indicator that we are agreeing to too much and need to renegotiate:

    Recently I asked a new client what the likelihood was that she would do what she had told me she would (it seemed like a lot she was agreeing to!) She said she would *TRY* to do them all. BAM. That is the clue into being messable. This would have started a vicious cycle of overwhelm, stress, and guilt. So I asked her: what can you REALISTICALLY take on? Of the 3 she renegotiated down to one, and said, “I will practice this. And if I want to take on more, I will.”

  2. *TRY* can also signal a lack of confidence in self:

    In a meeting, a leader asked another leader to explore a new area that was unfamiliar, and her response was that she would *TRY* to see what she could find. She sounded un-confident and the story I made up was she was unsure if she could deliver. We hit ‘pause’ and ultimately she said “I will explore the options and get back to you on what’s possible. I will let you know if I need anything in time for our next team meeting.” Her “executive presence” transformed when she shifted her language.

  3. We say *TRY* when we want to give ourselves a way out, like standing on the steps in the pool instead of getting all the way in:

    Where *TRY* often surfaces is when teams are looking at Next Steps.  We are looking at the pages of commitments and assigning dates by when deliverables will be due. 

There are two ways it often occurs: people say they’ll *TRY* to deliver by the date, or they get quiet. This week I had a large group agree to a date and I asked 3 times if that date worked. Head nods, no comments, 3 times. 15 minutes later one brave soul was willing to say “That date seems too tight – can we move it back one week?” The room collectively exhaled and energy lifted. Dare to speak up earlier, and it will increase trust, ease, and save time.

I’m a realist. You have options! Here are a few examples you can say other than I will …:

  1. I can do it if we add (or take away) …
  2. I will do A and then determine timing for B …
  3. I will start and let you know if I need to renegotiate before x …
  4. I will do part 1. Let’s check in briefly and determine timing / deliverables for part 2 …

Ask Yourself:

  • How often do I hear myself using *TRY*? Most people don’t notice when they say this, even after we add it to the list. It’s usually what you notice in others first. (Just saying…)
  • What help do I need to hear how much I’m saying *TRY*? trusted team members and children are great. Tell your kids you’re playing a game and every time they hear you saying it they need to point it out – they LOVE that.
  • What has me using the word? What is my mindset about my ability to deliver, my level of overwhelm, my willingness to put my word by deliverables so people can count on me? There is a lot of gold in getting curious about these questions in all areas of your life.
  • What is my feeling when I say I’ll *TRY*? How often do I agree to things I know I can’t do? What is the feeling behind the pit in my stomach, clenching of my jaw, tightness in my heart when I agree? Resentment, anxiety, guilt, frustration, overwhelm, all of the above?

Please drop me a note and let me know your thoughts and reactions to this article. I’ve love to hear how it plays out for you. If you want to discuss any of this content and how it’s relevant to you, please feel free to reach out.

Yours in practice,



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