10 Phrases Incompetent Leaders Keep Saying
You can try and fail one or two times. But, persistent failure – in the same area – signals incompetence.
Everyone who gets ahead establishes a track record of reliability.
You can’t be trusted if you keep falling short.
Lose trust – lose leadership.
10 phrases incompetent leaders keep saying:
- I can’t.
- I don’t know how.
- I’m over-committed.
- I need to do less.
- I’m doing too much.
- I don’t have time.
- I didn’t get to it.
- My team fell short.
- I hope to do better.
- I’m not good at ….
Recurring use of “incompetent phrases” reflects lack of ownership and responsibility.
Weakness whines. Leaders act.
- Stop talking.
- Seek advice.
- Take action.
- Reflect and repeat.
10 ways to rise:
- Remember that recurring failure disadvantages others. You matter more than you think. You damage your team’s reputation, too.
- Be proactive. Go to the boss before she comes to you. “I’m concerned about meeting this deadline.”
- Don’t pretend you’ve done more than you have. “I ordered the parts but they didn’t come in,” is a half truth, if you ordered them late. People see you blowing smoke and learn not to trust you.
- Press forward aggressively. Never begin a sentence with, “I’m waiting for ….” Instead, say, “I’m trying this.”
- Ask for help. People enjoy helping, if you’ve done your best and fallen short. But, people never enjoy doing your job for you.
- Learn from people who are succeeding where you’re failing. They’re success may irritate you. Get over it.
- Reflect on your passion. Do you love what you do? Or, are you doing things just to please others.
- Own it?
- Surround yourself with talent.
- Start again.
What might leaders do when they persistently find themselves falling short?
Project: Everyone has areas of incompetence. Make a list of three ways you can deal with one of your areas of incompetence. Show it to a trusted colleague. Take action.
You “missed” some of those leadership quotes like, “We don’t have the budget for that” and “That is simply not how we do things here” and all those corollaries!
Mediocre leaders have a broad lexicon of can’t and won’t verbiology, it seems.
But the worse ones are those who use more discrete language indicating tentative support for others but where the support will just not materialize.
Self-reflection and self-analysis are two really good themes running through your writings. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Dr. Scott. I feel incompetent after reading your comment. 🙂
Seriously, that “discrete language” thing is killer.
From Dr. Simmerman: “Self-reflection and self-analysis are two really good themes running through your writings.” I completely agree themes of this blog AND so important – whether an appointed leader or just providing leadership.
Very good Dr. Scott. 😀 I can so much remember these “standard” quotes 😉
Thanks to you Dan for always make so good leadership articles.
I think I understand the view behind items 3 through 5 – I’m overcommitted, I do too much and I have to do less – in that these could easily be excuses or, worse, evidence a leader is trying to create a “martyr-like” case for themselves. That’s not helpful!
Having said that, I do think it’s important for leaders to think about their most critical activities. What moves the biggest needles and not what just consumes time. I don’t necessarily think about what I can do less of. I think of what I can do more of – and that should then naturally squeeze out what I shouldn’t be doing.
And maybe that was the point you were trying to make. Or maybe I just discovered I’m not as competent as I like to think I am!
Alf – In today’s business environment, no one is competent enough, with the exception of the mega-millionaires who are generally less accountable than the average manager. The DATA on this is seen in the over-connectedness of the average manager, who is trying to get everything done in that 72-hour actual workweek, including the before-work emails and the on-vacation communications (every hour or so…).
I popped up some frightening stats in a blog post — we simply are in an unsustainable working environment when it comes to being a manager in a company and we can only hope that AI takes over all our jobs at some time in the future.
Blog at – http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2014/10/24/issues-of-workplace-over-connectedness-and-vacation-day-giveaways/
Have you seen the radar and stuff they are adding to major league ballparks this year? They will measure the pitch speed, the batter’s reaction time, the ball speed off the bat, the shortstop’s reaction time and speed to the ball and the catch and release time, not to mention the speed of the throw to first.
Just wait until we can apply this technology to the average workplace! Wheeeee.
Thanks Alf. I like your take on “what can I do of.” I think you’re a strength-based guy and your idea resonates with that approach and mine. I’m poking at things I’ve heard leaders say that I find disappointing.
I’m with you. Do more of what really matters and less of what doesn’t. Do more of what you do well and less of what you don’t.
this is worth a print and keep article…so much of this content resounds in my HEAD!
I have been silent reader of your blog and admire. Also the discussions in comments section on you blog is even more realisitc and from REAL people making it believable!
Thanks Sourabh. I’m very glad you left your first comment. I’m also thankful for your kind words. Have a great week and be please be sure to come back to comment, soon.
This post is one of my favorites; the directness of the “10 Ways to Rise” is a reminder to “Own It”, or as my Dad would say “Man Up”.
Could you expand on your comment in #4, the “I’m trying this”. I know that we all wait on other people or pieces of a project to be completed before moving on, would like to not have to push the onus on someone else.
Thanks Dan. It’s true. We do wait for other pieces of the puzzle to finish things. I just hate to hear, “I’m waiting.” Perhaps in it’s simplest form it’s be sure that you are doing everything you can to move the ball down the field.
“I’m trying this” reflects the idea that if we aren’t moving the ball forward, let’s try something else, rather than waiting. When an employee comes to you, you want to hear them say that they are trying stuff.
You might say, “I’m sending emails to the team.” … “I’m scheduling our follow up meeting.” “I’m calling a new vendor.” I’m revising the timeline…
Nothing too deep there. It just reflects my passion for progress. I’ve heard young leaders use the slowness of others an the reason they aren’t performing. That drives me nuts. Glad you asked. 🙂
Thanks sooo much Dan. Your posts are always “spot on” and the topics seem to come at the perfect time during the various seasons we muddle through.
Failure can be the result of many factors; it does not always mean that a leader is completely incompetent.That being said, a leader should:
1. Identify the EXTERNAL factors that might be contributing to her failure.
2. Determine whether these factors are controllable, even if only partially.
3. Think about what she can do to mitigate the effect of these factors.
4. Enlist the help of her team, if fair, if possible.
5. Act on her findings.
Then, more importantly, she should flip this process around and use it on herself:
1. Identify the INTERNAL factors that are contributing to her own failure.
2. Use self-reflection/self-awareness to determine what, in her nature, can be more easily controlled.
3. Consider what she can do to help herself e.g. read Leadership Freak posts every day for inspiration : )
4. Make her shortcomings known to others on her team. Letting others know what you are NOT good at is as important as letting them know what you are good at. Remember that if you work with a team, each person brings both strengths and weaknesses to the table. Your weak point may be your team mate’s strength – use this dynamic to your team’s advantage and everyone wins.
Agree with your “10 ways to rise”, especially #2,3,5,7 & 8; honesty is the best policy!
Thanks for a another great post today, Dan!
Thanks Dr. Pinzon. My short posts always need the broader perspective that I find in the comments.
You are so right. Failure doesn’t always mean a leader is incompetent.
One thing that makes this awkward is that we’ve all failed and will again. Repeated failure may be another matter. We might consider changing course if we are persistently failing.
Thanks for expanding the conversation.
Dan, I sincerely believe it is okay for a leader or manager to be “temporarily incompetent”…until we find our way. However, it is not okay for a leader to be “insecure” and incompetent– which breeds excuses rather than reasons when explaining our errors or even our faults. Yet, it is human nature for almost all of us to fear being blamed, judged or disbelieved–which is where I believe excuses come from.
It’s surprising how tough and unforgiving staff members can be when a new and incompetent leader plows his way through his formative days like a big ox. It’s also surprising how helpful, generous and forgiving almost all persons will be when a new, incompetent leader asks for a little help, time, patience, and indulgence from one’s staff. Blessed are the staff members who have heard a great leader say, “I need your help.” And grace is the outcome of a manager’s inward harmony.
Dan, I just wanted to stay thank you because as young student learning business I don’t want to be begin my journey saying or doing the wrong things.
This is a great article. A little tough to swallow but got read!
I recently listened to Cheryl Bachelder’s book, Dare to Serve, and in it she remembers a leader saying to her…”I’m here to trip you up.” I think you can add that one to your list Dan.
Under 10 phrases Incompetent Leaders Say – #10 is I’m not good at…. In your post on April 15, you say “Hold conversations about what people are good at and not so good at. Everyone sucks at something.” Seems contradictory – am I missing something?
Thanks Terry. I’m certainly not above contradiction. In this case, I’m thinking of two different contexts.
Incompetent leaders use “I’m not good at” as an excuse for their incompetence. Better to compensate for your weaknesses than use them as excuses. … does that make sense?
Thanks for asking.