3 Destructive Things Leaders Say and Shouldn’t

Home » 3 Destructive Things Leaders Say and Shouldn’t

In more than 25 years working with organizations, we’ve seen and heard lots of… ahem… questionable behavior. There are three cringeworthy phrases that say a lot about a leader’s attitude towards his or her people and contribute to a lack of engagement.

Destructive Phrase Number 1: We Don’t Pay You to Think

How insulting is it to have your manager or supervisor tell you not to think while you work? We know that bored employees tend to become demotivated and even act out, stirring up drama and conflict in the workplace. Leaders justify using this phrase because some employees pester the boss with too many questions or suggestions or inform on the misdeeds of fellow employees instead of focusing on their work.

Encourage employees to offer suggestions and ask questions. Proactively ask for input on potential changes and continuous improvement opportunities. In the case of an employee who informs her supervisors about the behaviors of another employee – use that information to see if the behavior can be observed first hand.

Get your employees thinking more, not less.

Destructive Phrase Number 2: That’s Not How We Do Things Around Here

Nothing stops change and innovation in its tracks faster than throwing this phrase out after an idea or suggestion is offered. That’s not to say that all ideas or suggestions are good – some clearly have better merits than others. Instead of using a blocking phrase why not substitute curiosity and ask more questions. Or if there are good reasons why an idea won’t work, explain it fully to build greater understanding.

As the pace of change accelerates in nearly every industry, innovation needs to be encouraged. It’s good to question past practices as some of them will hold the organization back from future success.

One of the biggest frustrations for any employee is having impediments or obstacles in the way of doing their work. Leaders can create goodwill by identifying and eliminating these obstacles. And then there are the policies and practices that turn off customers – those need to be modified or eliminated to spur revenue growth.

Encourage new ideas and consider changing or deleting redundant practices.

Destructive Phrase Number 3: Never Do That (or Decide That) Without Checking With Me First

Most leaders want to have their employees be more accountable and take ownership for their decisions and their work. And yet in nearly every organization we work with, it is clear that decisions are being made one, two or even three levels higher in the organization than they should be.

It’s easy to blame the employees for passing the problem to management but many leaders encourage their employees to escalate questions, issues, problems and decisions higher than needed. Then those same leaders complain about being overwhelmed and over worked (which is true because they are doing work that should be handled closer to the front line).

Things go wrong every day in your business. You don’t see most of them (sorry those of you who are control freaks). And when things do go wrong, most organizations over react with countermeasures that choke off accountability. Organizations are littered with non-value added checklists, procedures and work instructions that are overkill for the problem they are supposed to prevent. But it’s so easy to create another to-do item or have the leader sign off on things that are both low risk and low probability.

Instead of removing accountability, apply consequences (gently) when things go sideways. Ensure that learning has taken place. Thank employees for taking care of items in the best way they can. Revisit some of your old countermeasures that don’t add value and choke off accountability.

Let your people make decisions, solve problems, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

How We Can Help

We can help in two main ways – we can develop and grow your leadership team with practical skills. And we can advise on changes to your policies and procedures that impede accountability. A concise survey can identify opportunities for improvement.

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