5 Things a Leader Should Never Say



“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.  This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

Being a leader—for some it’s innate, for others it’s a learning curve. Certain aspects of leading a team are a little more grey shaded and lenient than others.  One area that is plain black and white is the language you opt for when speaking to your team.  You can’t ‘hmmm and hah’ and you should never show uncertainty.  Asking for input, ideas, and your team’s opinion is absolutely fine—actually it’s crucial.  Admitting that you are amidst the creative process of an idea and are unsure of what the entire picture will look like is necessary when it’s the truth.  When I refer to ‘hmmm and hah’, I am talking about the actual verbiage you use when in those discussions or during meetings.  When an employee comes to you, when they show uncertainty, it is up to YOU to step up, bring the confidence level up a notch and NEVER use the following language:

  1. I don’t know – While this might be true, there are plenty of different responses that will keep your team feeling that you are the one to look to for answers.  If Sally asks you about what something means, a current trend or how a similar issue was dealt with in the past, a good ole’ “Let me look into that and get back to you” works wonders.  If the question does not lie in your landscape of knowledge, direct your employee to someone who should have the answer.  A confident “The best person to ask that question to would be Sara down in Accounting” shows that while you might not know the answer, you do know the person that has the answer they’re seeking out. Plainly saying “I don’t know” insinuates that it’s not important enough to know, you don’t care enough to know or you just don’t remember.  Stop saying “I don’t know”!
  2. I can’t – This is perhaps one of the most detrimental phrases for not only leaders, but everyone else, too. Saying “I can’t” limits your action to doing only the things that you believe you can. If you don’t believe in yourself, how will others believe in your vision and themselves? Instead, a better answer is “I will” followed by “How?” These two phrases inspire creativity and innovation, two characteristics apparent in all leaders.
  3. It’s always been done this way – People who use this phrase usually maintain a calm cruise through their daily lives. While there’s nothing wrong with this mindset, a great leader will realize that innovation is absolutely necessary in order for people to believe in their vision and follow them.  “What if?” is a question that great leaders ask themselves every day when confronted with a system that they believe could be executed more effectively.  Just because a system worked in the past doesn’t mean it still works today. Leaders understand that, and are constantly in search of ways to improve upon systems using innovation and strategy.
  4. I did it – Any statements that use “I” when referring to accomplishments within your organization or team is never going to establish leadership.  By using “I” statements, individuals place themselves on a pedestal of selfish pride.  Effective leaders take a position of humble confidence in their role and lavish pride for their team. A successful leader is one who realizes that they are only as good as their group. Leaders who say “We did it!” or even “You all did it!” and lifting others above themselves, empower their tribe members to continually strive for greater success.
  5. That’s not my problem, That’s not my job, or I don’t get paid enough for this – If you asked someone for help, and the person replied with one of the above phrases, how would you feel? How do you think it makes them feel? Regardless of how inconvenient or inappropriate a request may be, it is likely important to the other person or they would not have asked. Therefore, as a contribution of the team, a top priority is to care about the success of others (or at least act as though you do).  An unconcerned, detached and self-serving attitude quickly limits career advancement. This doesn’t mean you have to say yes; it does mean you need to be articulate and thoughtful when saying no.

As a leader, it’s important to be precise with the meaning of your words.  Take a second to look at your language.  Is it clearly conveying what you want to say to yourself and your team? More importantly, is it true to your vision? In other words, mind your p’s and q’s and be aware of the impact that you have on those who follow you and lead those who follow them!



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