Successful business leaders know that they have to lead by example. It’s important to model the kind of behavior you want from your employees. We’ve all heard that “talk is cheap,” and that “actions speak louder than words.” But we should never underestimate the power of words. And while the right words from a leader can inspire and motivate, the wrong words can have a devastating effect.
I’m not just talking about hurting someone’s feelings. I’m talking about the more subtle things that leaders sometimes say that undermine the whole culture you’re trying to create. If you’re not careful, your words can destroy trust, crush creativity, and keep employees from developing to their full potential. Leaders need to lead with their lips. And sometimes, it’s the things you don’t say that are really important.
Here are a few things you should never say to your employees:
- I’m too busy: Of course you’re busy. You’re the boss! But there’s a hidden message here. What you’re really saying is, “I’m too busy for you.” It conveys that the person you’re talking to couldn’t possibly have anything of value to say. If you’re really jammed for time, suggest that the employee come back when you do have time. This can do two things. It can ensure that you really listen (and aren’t distracted by pressing needs), and it gives the employee time to think through what he or she has to say—and either better formulate his or her thoughts—or drop the subject if it’s not important.
- Figure it out: This is similar in some ways. Again, it implies that you’re too busy to be bothered with the employee’s problem. But helping employees solve problems is part of your job. Instead it’s better to make sure your employee understands the issue—and has the resources to tackle the problem.
- Just let me do it: This is the flip side of “Figure it out.” It’s not your job to do your employee’s work. But saying, “just let me do it” sends the message that you think the employee is incapable. Part of your job is to develop your employees. If you constantly grab responsibilities back from them, they won’t learn.
- It’s none of your business: Sometimes employees poke their nose in where they have no knowledge, understanding, or expertise. But there are other times when an employee has a different perspective on a problem or issue because he or she sees it from an “outsiders” point of view. And let’s be honest: Saying, “it’s none of your business” usually happens when you’re struggling and frustrated and don’t have the answer. It’s far better to say, “I’m still thinking this through.”
- You’re doing a terrible job: That might actually be a true statement, but it doesn’t help anyone. It’s a belittling remark. The employee probably knows that he or she is not making the grade. It’s better to be specific and tie the hard truth to measurable, non-emotional, metrics (Your sales goal is X, but you’re only at Y. Your completion date was Monday, and it’s already Thursday.) It shouldn’t be about punishing or shaming someone. It should be about performance. Can you help the employee improve performance, or do you simply have a bad fit?
What you say and what you do are intertwined. Successful leaders lead by example, and that includes leading with their lips!