7 Misleading Phrases to Avoid in Every Leadership Conversation

We all know that words matter—and the words of leaders have particular weight. In leadership and business it’s easy to fall prey to jargon and wordiness, but there are other phrases that mislead employees and signal poor leadership. Here are some of the most disruptive and defeating phrases I hear in my work as a leadership coach:

“I wouldn’t say it like that.” Even if it’s not your intention, when you use this phrase and others like it you’re being dismissive of the person communicating. It’s a show of disrespect and the belief that your way is necessarily best. Instead, ask “Can you try rephrasing that? I want to be sure I understand what you’re saying.”

“I’ll do it myself.” Most leaders struggle to some degree with the belief that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself. But that level of control sends some terrible messages about your leadership: that you don’t trust people to do their jobs and you aren’t willing to give them room to grow and learn. Instead, communicate expectations clearly and ask “Is there anything you need my support in? 

“With all due respect…” It’s appropriate for a leader to push back at times, but that’s a situation that calls for a tactful approach rather than a demeaning one. Instead, ask “Are you open to another perspective?”

“Here’s how you need to do it.” When you tell people not just what to do but how to do it, you’re micromanaging. And few things leave people and teams feeling more demoralized and demotivated than micromanagement. As a leader you’re charged with empowering, motivating and inspiring your people. Instead, ask “What do you think is the right approach?”

“That being said…” Some phrases don’t just signal a U-turn but do it in a way that dismisses everything up to that point out of hand. Rejecting someone’s ideas fully is discouraging and may give the impression that you weren’t even listening. Instead, ask “How can we refine that idea?”

You don’t need to know why—just execute.” Leading from authority loses the essence of true leadership. The best leaders know that when you communicate the purpose of something, people work even harder. Instead of barking orders, ask “What connects you to this work? How is it important to you?

“I don’t need help.” Too many leaders treat asking for help as a sign of weakness. In truth, it signals strength and confidence. When you ask for help, you’re being inclusive and collaborative—traits that employees value in their leadership. We all preach that great accomplishments take teamwork, so model that principle in your own work. Instead, ask “How can we best use your talents to support this work?”

Leaders often unknowingly cause people to feel defeated, demoralized and excluded by not giving enough thoughts to their own words. Give focused attention to the things you say to your team—and if those words aren’t serving you well, make the changes you need to make.

Lead from within: The phrases you use matter, and the words you speak have meaning. Be careful with them. People are listening.

#1 N A T I O N A L  B E S T S E L L E R

The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.


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