The 5 Dumbest Things Leaders Say

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“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom” – Gen. George S. Patton.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” – Abraham Lincoln.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Great leaders have said some great things. But not everything that comes out of a leader’s mouth is pure gold. Sometimes leaders say things that are—let’s be honest here—pretty dumb. Unfortunately, some of these things are said all too often, and by too many leaders. Here are five of the dumbest.

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Before we get to the 5 dumbest things leaders say, I have to offer an embarrassing bit of full disclosure here. (This, you’ll be pleased to know, has nothing to do with inappropriately texted photos.) During the fifteen years that I was leading my multiple Emmy Award winning team, I said each of these 5 things. Probably more than once.

And now that you’ve had a nice laugh at my expense, let me ask you: have you ever said any of these, the 5 dumbest things leaders say?

1. “Because I said so.Okay, first of all, you need to get clear on something. “Leader” and “dictator” are not synonyms. It’s one thing if you’re parenting a two-year-old. But unless I’m mistaken, your work team is not composed of two-year-olds. Instead, your team comprises smart people, each of whom possesses a working brain. And smart people like to know the reasons for the things they’re asked to do. They like to know how their work fits into the mission—the team goal.

2. “That’s not the way we do things around here.” This one seems pretty obvious, and yet it’s still said all the time. Maybe not with these exact words, but words like them. “I dunno—we’ve never tried it like that before.” “Yeah, we tried something like that a few years ago, and it failed. We’re not making that mistake again!” “That’s not our policy.” The problem with all of these is that they send a message to your team that you (and, by extension, the organization) are not open to new ideas. You’re not open to taking a risk, even if that risk carries the potential of huge rewards.

3. “I humbly accept the credit.” Perhaps nobody has ever actually said this, but you know who I’m talking about. The leader who takes sole credit for what the team accomplished. Generally, the leader does this to impress someone: the boss, the shareholders, the cute intern. But, in so doing, the leader alienates his or her team. Leaders who accept sole credit rarely build a loyal team. Remember what Harry S Truman (a great leader) once said: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Bottom line: A great leader takes the blame and shares the credit. A great leader takes the blame and shares the credit. @billstainton #producingresults #leadership Share on X

4. “That’s a stupid idea.” Yes, I know. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both famous for saying this, and they did pretty well. But the odds are that you are not Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (the odds are really good that you’re not Steve Jobs). They are anomalies. When you tell a team member that their idea is stupid (especially when you tell them this in front of other team members), what they really hear is “You’re stupid.” Now, I know that’s not what you said, and it may not be what you meant, but it’s what they heard. Once again, not a great way to build team loyalty. Plus, when you shut an idea down like that, you miss the huge potential that can be realized when you explore an idea—even one that at first seems untenable.

5. “                     ” No, that’s not a typo. The fifth of the 5 dumbest things leaders say is—nothing. Nada. Zilch. They never tell a team member that he or she is doing a great job. (And I’m not talking about the Millennials who, if you believe the bad press, need to be told how great they are every 17 seconds. I’m just talking about common courtesy.) They don’t communicate a vision of where the team is going. They don’t share crucial information, particularly during times of change. Let me tell you something about human nature: in an information vacuum, people will assume the worst. You know this is true; you’ve experienced it yourself. So don’t do this to your team. Communicate with them. Let them know what’s going on and, above all, let them know that they’re appreciated.

In an information vacuum, people will assume the worst. Communicate with your team! @billstainton #producingresults #leadership Share on X

So there you have it. Avoid these 5 things, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a better leader

QUESTION: What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever said as a leader, OR, what’s the dumbest thing a leader ever said to you? Please share your experience in the Comments section below.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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