People listen to leaders. It’s one of the qualities that helps define them as leaders — and their followers as followers.
But because of this, leaders need to mind what they are saying, and avoid knee-jerk responses. “A leader’s brain must always work things out ahead of his mouth speaking them,” says Patrick Alain, author of The Leader Phrase Book: 3000+ Phrases That Put You In Command.
To help wannabe leaders cement their status, Alain has compiled a shortlist of four phrases that a good leader will never, ever say. Avoid these lines and people will be more likely to follow your lead.
This flip statement will hurt your credibility in two ways, says Alain. “It is inherently negative and makes the individual who uttered the statement or remark feel like they need to justify it immediately. [Also] using this phrase in excess can expose the user as someone who wantonly trivializes others and their work, even if they don’t really mean to.”
A better choice, according to Alain? “I find that hard to believe.” Truthful, yet not dismissive.
‘[John Doe] is a jerk’
Randomly gossiping about or putting down others will kill confidence in you as a respectable leader. “Even just venting frustration near the coffee machine or in a chat window can prove disastrous. Anyone with an axe to grind can forward your vent simply by clicking [send],” says Alain.
If you need to discuss a problem employee with another colleague, discuss it with the appropriate person — privately and in a constructive way. For instance, “I have a tough time seeing eye to eye with [John Doe],” says Alain. John Doe may eventually hear your concerns, but through the right channels — not the grapevine.
‘My way or the highway’
Real leaders don’t give ultimatums. “Ultimatums like this one don’t usually solve anything. In fact, open threats often lead to grievances and even litigation,” says Alain.
If you really have a problem with an insubordinate direct report, use the proper steps (and guidance from HR) to work through the issues. You may still need to let someone go — but you’ll likely sleep better at night knowing you gave him official notice of his shortcomings and tried to help him improve. And others will likely notice how you handled this situation.
‘I’m always right’
Using this phrase is the equivalent of taping the word “narcissist” to your forehead. “Anyone tempted to use this phrase runs the danger of being perceived as distant, haughty and self-aggrandized,” say Alain.
That said, there are some situations, particularly if you are in a decision-making position, where you really need to take control. If you must leave no room for discussion, Alain suggests starting with, “I’m sure you can agree with me when I say …”