Whether or not you like it, what you say matters a lot to the people you lead. Sometimes your utterances are not well thought-out and can lead to concern from the people you lead. Sometimes what you say reveals how you manage and what is important to you. Either way, below are seven things that leaders need to avoid saying as they portray a lack of leadership ability.
1. “My door is always open.”
Talk about the most passive statement possible. Of course your door is open. Unless you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company with dense layers of security and multiple assistants, chances are your door is open for anyone. The copier salesman. The disgruntled client. Responding to a need from staff or someone else by saying “my door is always open” is like saying “you aren’t worth me getting out of my chair.” Leaders seek. Leaders pursue. Leaders ask and confront. Leaders don’t sit in a room behind an open door.
2. “It made me sick to fire him/her/them.”
It should make you sick to fire someone, but you shouldn’t say it. Saying it usually is for purpose of eliciting sympathy for the decision you had to make. No offense, but let’s reserve the pool of sympathy for the person that is now out of a job and whose livelihood has been cut off. No one feels sorry for you and implying that they should makes you look self-centered.
3. “The bylaws/rules/title gives me the authority.”
If you have to use the authority given to you on paper as a leader, you’re probably not a true leader. Leaders lead because people follow them—not because they have been granted the authority to lead. At best, that means you are a manager. At worst, it means you don’t have the capacity to lead and you know it.
4. “You need to trust that I am doing the right thing.”
If you have to remind people that they need to trust you, then they probably don’t.
5. “I don’t want to meet with the staff/volunteers/members about that. I know what they are thinking and they’ll just use the time to vent.”
Sometimes organizations go through difficult patches which require leaders to make difficult decisions. Whether or not you are completely responsible for the perceptions surrounding those decisions, part of being a leader is standing in the line of fire. It is a leader’s job to answer questions, face the anger, and set the record straight. Hiding from the “angry masses” isn’t going to solve the problem, it will just make it worse.
6. “I had no choice.”
People don’t want to follow people who have no choices. If you had to do something or make a decision that was unavoidable or inevitable, that is fine. But don’t tell people you didn’t have a choice. “I exhausted all possible opportunities,” is an answer. “I had to do what needed to be done,” is an answer. Having no choice puts you in a place of weakness, not authority.
7. “I apologize for the problem but I have never done [action] before. How was I supposed to know it would turn out this way?”
No leader knows everything. Good leaders try to find the best path forward. Usually the statement above results from a leader unwilling or not humble enough to seek out help from those who have gone before them. No situation is unique. Someone has dealt with it before. There are plenty of people out there willing to help—leaders seek out help and learn as they do.