leadership traits

15 Things Successful Leaders Never Say

This article was last updated on December 4, 2015

Communication is a key part of leadership. Every great leader knows how to efficiently communicate their vision to the team and keep tabs on the development of a project by exchanging regular communications with employees. The style, tone and content of their words is extremely important – it shows whether they’re really leaders. Here are 15 things you’ll never hear a great leader utter.

15 Things Successful Leaders Never Say

1. “I’m in charge.”

This is a phrase that irritates employees and certainly doesn’t make its content happen. If you’re a real leader, you don’t need to tell people about it – they’ll know. This is a phrase often used by managers who need this kind of reinforcement when giving orders to a submissive team working in anxiety or fear.

True leaders know that their vision is strong and their passion is the driving force of the effectiveness of their leadership. By refusing to use this phrase, leaders empower their team members and encourage them to contribute to this vision. Consequently, they open themselves to innovation. Leaders know better than to use fearful words – instead, they build respect by means of consistent action.


2. “It’s impossible.”

Using this phrase as a response to a suggestion is the best way to remove any possibility of it ever happening. And closing doors is not something real leaders do. Leadership requires a fair amount of confidence and faith.

Facing such a suggestion, true leader would instantly ask this question: “Ok. Now, how can we make it happen?” This is a phrase that will motivate people and inspire them to work even harder to find a solution. A great leader simply finds the beliefs of other people a possibility worth exploring.


3. “We don’t need any more ideas.”

True leaders never quench their thirst for new ideas. They’re constantly looking for ways to do things more efficiently and at higher standards. People who come forward with new solutions know they’ll be rewarded for their engagement.

Great leaders realize that one brain cannot serve as a source for all possible ideas – just because somebody suggests a great idea doesn’t constitute a threat to their ego and pride. Great leaders realize that there’s always room for improvement and they never criticize people who ask questions and try to do things in a better way.


4. “As long as you aren’t breaking the law.”

True leaders know that unethical transactions will come back at them in some way – that’s why they avoid putting themselves or their team in such situations at all costs. Justice is the best building block of a business. Great leaders know that every sector offers ways to profit by unethical practices, but those are dangerous and sooner or later bring losses.

Successful leaders would never ignore their values for financial gain. They wouldn’t encourage or tolerate corrupt and unethical behavior just for the sake of accomplishing specific financial or organizational goals. Disregard of company policy, deliberate deception or noncompliance just aren’t part of their game.


5. “I don’t care.”

This is the worst thing a leader can say. “I don’t care” means “I don’t have anything valuable to add” or “I don’t have an opinion”. You might hear it uttered by leaders who want to express their disregard of an idea, but it also communicates disregard of the person and a lack of drive in general.

Great leaders never say that – instead, they’re more likely to be all “I’m interested. I care”. They will show it in their behavior. Taking proper care about each and every unit of their organization, no matter how small and insignificant it appears, is important for them.


6. “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

True leaders know that it’s always personal because you’re saying those words to a person. And wherever there are people, there are also relationships to take care of. Great leaders know that relationships they cultivate with other team members are key to building a successful team which will carry their vision forward and reach set goals.

Bad leaders are aloof and don’t even try to engage their team on a relational level – they expect that the distance will grow into respect. But it never does. Team members will gradually resent their leader, or they will stop caring enough to perform at their top potential.


7. “It’s perfect!”

Great leaders realize that words are important. Perfection is not attainable – it’s an illusion. Waiting for the perfect time, project or professional leads to nowhere. People who believe in perfection are usually not aware of their own imperfections – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to see and judge the imperfections of others.

Great leaders firmly believe in initiating a process, and reinventing it until it works. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a start” – this is something a true leader will say to their team members. They realize that discovering flaws leads to a more effective creative process.


8. “I’ll do it myself.”

True leaders realize that leadership is never a solo act. After all, who is a leader without people to lead? The “do it yourself” kind of habit dictating the behavior of many bad leaders never leads to an actual improvement in their leadership style.

Great leaders realize that climbing up the corporate ladder, they gradually stop to contribute to projects individually, but do it through the agency other people. They do it for and through others. Great leadership means placing the right people in the right places and consequently enabling them to succeed.


9. “That’s not the way we do it here.”

This piece suggests that there exists a certain consensus about how things should be done at this particular organization and that all employees should abide to it. Bad leaders avoid developing new practices and standards.

Steve Jobs once said: ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower’. The best leaders are those who can think creatively and are flexible enough to embrace new methodologies and boost their problem-solving skills. A phrase like the one above shows how closed-minded leaders are and how inflexible in their approach to solving issues in different environments.

When they disagree, true leaders offer a constructive response, for instance: “That’s an interesting idea. How would that work in practice?” or “This is a new approach we’re talking about. Let’s discuss key pros and cons”.


10. “I can’t.”

This is something you’ll never hear a real leader say. Ever. Those mere words signal that your possible actions are somewhat limited, that you don’t believe in yourself or your team and that you can do only those things you believe you can. A true leader will agree and then start working on the problem by asking his or her team questions, consequently inspiring innovation and creativity.


11. “X does this better than you.”

Comparing employees never does the job you think it will. Saying something like this, leaders effectively turn a relationship into a rivalry, which might soon become too unhealthy to inspire hard work and spur innovation. Internal competition is good when healthy and not spiteful. The management team should always think twice before suggesting that colleagues are better than each other. Strong leaders know how to acknowledge accomplishments without causing internal tension.


12. “I’ll try…”

Saying something like this, we usually mean that we won’t do something. Instead of using these words, leaders should aspire to use “I will” and then deliver to the promise. How would you feel if a critical task was met with a response of “I’ll try”? It doesn’t exactly sound inspiring, does it?


13. “Don’t show up with bad news or surprises.”

This is a mistake we see being made over and over again. What it basically says is: “Come to me only if you’ve got something I want to hear”. This will only lead a team to sweep time bombs under the rug. True leaders will want people to come forward with anything, especially with something which might explode into a serious problem later on.

True leaders aren’t born like that – they become leaders through error and trial. Knowing what kind of communications to avoid is the first step towards a conscious and successful leadership.


14. “I don’t have time right now.”

Yes, leaders tend to be busy, but it doesn’t mean that they should too busy to be there for their team. In essence, they should always make make time to answer an employee’s question. Imagine that you’re a worker who is constantly told “Better come back later” or “Now is not a good time”, at some point you’ll stop asking questions altogether. Great leaders always find the time for their employees. If they’re in the middle of a hiatus and realize that the question can wait, they simply schedule a definitive time to address it and always hold their promise.


15. “Because I said so.”

This is easily the worst thing a leader can say to the team. It’s disrespectful to workers, primarily because it’s not a real reason for asking someone on your team to perform a task. A strong leader is able to trust their employees and allow a degree of transparency to help them understand how an idea or task ties back to the company’s mission.

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