12 Things Smart Leaders Don’t Say
#1. I should have.
‘Should have’ is backward facing. Do your best to speak into the future.
Instead of shoulding-yourself, say, “Next time.”
#2. You should have. Why didn’t you?
‘Next time’ is better than ‘last time’.
#3. What can we do about that?
‘We’ is a tiny act of cowardice that softens the blow of responsibility.
“What could ‘you’ do next,” is better than, “What could ‘we’ do next?” (Unless you are planning to actively participate.)
It’s insincere to say ‘we’ when you mean ‘you’.
#4. It’s simple.
What’s simple to you is often difficult for others. Judge people through the lens of their experience and strength, not yours.
#5. It’s easy.
#6. I don’t care.
People who don’t care are heartless, less than human. It’s not a superpower to NOT care.
People who say, “I don’t care,” often do, but they’re afraid to admit it.
#8. Don’t you agree?
Questions that begin with ‘don’t’ insult people’s intelligence and pressure them to agree.
Who’s going to say, “No,” when you ask, “Don’t you agree?”
#9. Failure is not an option.
You learn when you fail.
Some situations require perfect execution, landing airplanes and brain surgery, for example. The learning happens on cadavers and in flight simulators where failure doesn’t kill people.
People set low goals when failure is not an option.
Never say ‘but’ after saying something good. Try using ‘and’ when you’re tempted to use ‘but’.
‘But’ is an eraser.
#11. I didn’t mean to.
‘I didn’t mean to’ is a sleazy way of not taking responsibility. The damage is done. Own it and move forward.
Say what you intended, not what you didn’t intend.
#12. Nice job.
Be specific, not vague, when giving compliments. What was ‘nice’ about it?
What do smart leaders NOT say?
See also: 10 Things Leaders Never Say Unless They Want Trouble
Reading this post was not exactly enjoyable, I have some training to do. Thank you for the challenge
Thanks for waking me up today, as always. Perfection at its finest!
Thanks for the direction on what I need to improve upon. I use “we” often, as a means of promoting the team approach, but I definitely see your point above. I need to consider whether “we” or “you” is appropriate in a given situation.
David, your post about communication is inspiring.
‘we’ emphasizes that leader is with team if you are talking about something positive. And it is also useful when you want make an improvement or reminder – ‘We should report such issues on stand up next time’. ‘you’ should be mostly used only when prizing someone or on 1-2-1 meetings.
‘Failure is not an option’ is a good way to encourage people. Though you should be mindful when you use it to avoid issue described in article
‘nice job’ is an easy way to say that you overall appreciate what was done. It sounds much better than ‘It’s great that you have finished it so quickly/on time’ as it can be misunderstood. Though I agree that you should emphasize specific positive things when possible.
Also I wholeheartedly agree about ‘I didn’t mean to’. This is horrible phrase which shows that either you are lying or your communication skills are so bad that you can’t even properly explain tasks
I think that sincerity or the lack thereof is far more important. “You’re brilliant” has much different impact, depending on sincerity. With sincerity, “What could WE do differently?” indicates willingness to contribute to the solution instead of placing the blame fully on the other party. I’ve said it, and on occasion a determined subordinate gave me constructive feedback on how I could help her/him with her/his performance.
Instead of “What can we do about this?”, try, “What can be done about this?”
Small, easy to digest nuggets that go straight to the issue, e.g., “…’but’ is an eraser.” Which makes these actionable and relevant. Well worth the 3 min read.
I heard a speaker at a conference years ago who said, “replace ‘but’ with ‘and’, and it really rang true to me. I have tried to do this ever since and have shared this advice often. It is powerful!
“Just…” fits right in there with #4
Very helpful for leadership and in any relationship. Thanks