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6 Toxic Phrases That Should Never Come Out of a Leader's Mouth


Dec 14, 2022

Let's start with a hard truth: Many people in management roles got promoted to managerial positions based on individual job performance or tenure, not because of their natural ability to effectively lead, serve, and engage other human beings to be and do their best.

With this premise in mind, it opens up the unfortunate reality that way too many managers aren't equipped to inspire and motivate their people -- especially with their words.

And while action speaks louder than words, saying the wrong things can be devastating to an employee. 

In toxic workplaces, vitriolic phrases or words used to attack and dishonor the human spirit contribute directly to high stress levels, plummeting company morale, and low productivity.

Here are six phrases that great leaders will never say.

1. "I don't need anybody's opinion. This is the direction we're headed."

You'll never hear that phrase coming from good bosses who place their teams first. They seek perspective from several angles. When difficult situations arise, they talk to several people cross-functionally -- up and even down reporting levels -- to get clarity and determine a course of action. When they arrive at a decision, sometimes the decision may not be popular; but it's always the right one because they sought many views and opinions from sound minds.

2. "I'm not responsible for that--go blame someone else."

The best leaders resist the tendency to deflect responsibility and cast blame elsewhere to protect themselves at all cost. They accept that they're not perfect and that they make mistakes. So when they make mistakes, they admit them. They recognize that they are accountable to others below their line of sight, not just to those above them. When leaders model this type of authenticity, employees feel safe enough to take risks, make their own mistakes, and be open enough to say, "Hey, boss, I messed up." 

3. "I don't need to get trained. I know everything there is to know."

Few things are as infuriating as leaders who think they're above it all, including their own need to be a better leader. Good bosses are willing to learn and gladly accept the role of a continuing learner among their team members. Leaders know that they have much to learn and that each person has something important to teach them. Truth is, leaders don't always know what is needed and what to do. They are willing to listen before making suggestions. They ask questions, and are sincerely interested in the answers.

4. "That's why I hired you. Figure it out yourself."

Yes, we hire smart and creative people to do complex and ingenious things. But when an employee comes to you for guidance, great leaders leverage the opportunity to coach them to success. According to one study, fewer than half of organizations surveyed had implemented coaching as a part of their performance-management process. The few that did -- you guessed it -- were high-performing organizations. 

5. "It is what it is."

When you hear this empty phrase from a boss, you can bet he just dismissed something that is important or worthy of further discussion as the opposite. It's a sign of lazy discourse. Good bosses are willing to engage others in deeper conversation to explore solutions, new ideas, or solve problems together. While this phrase may be something you say to your friends during a football game on the couch while eating popcorn, in a professional setting as a leader, it makes you sound like a total dingbat and exposes you as a lazy thinker.

6. "I can't do this for you, so don't even bother asking again."

Employees translate this as I won't do this for you, which is also the ultimate way of saying, "I don't care about you." As a leader, using I can't do this for you conveys that you're not pulling your own weight to get the job done to everyone's benefit. It speaks to your unwillingness to do what it takes to empower the team and make them better.

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