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Leadership is a valuable quality in any organization; its qualities are difficult to develop and even harder to find. A great leader is a priceless asset, whether on the sports field or in the boardroom.
We often associate leadership with what we do: setting an example for others, taking the initiative, and organizing peers. Yet, oftentimes we overlook what we say. Our language should empower ourselves and our peers, instill confidence, and promote collaboration.
We’ve compiled a list of 5 common phrases that great leaders should never use, and phrases to use in their place.
1. "Mistakes Were Made"
Mistakes happen: admitting this is the first step to being a leader. But to be a great leader, it’s important to admit responsibility for mistakes. Attempting to hide behind others and make excuses for mistakes only diminishes a leaders strength and confidence.
As executive coach Terina Allen notes, the phrase “Mistakes were made” fails to take responsibility for any mistakes. It is a weak acknowledgement of a mistake since it places the blame on an unknown person. As a leader, responsibility always rests partially on your shoulders.
Instead of deflecting blame, a great leader should acknowledge responsibility. Phrases such as “We made a mistake, what can we fix and learn from it?” promote accountability and team growth. Nobody is a perfect leader, but learning from your shortcomings will make you a great one.
Our goal at UpHabit is to continually improve our product and user experience. To achieve that, we have to step out of our comfort zone and try new things. Mistakes might happen, but we acknowledge and learn from them. Part of our philosophy at UpHabit is “make new mistakes”, so we make them, support our team members who’ve done them, fix the problem, learn from them and move on to do better things, knowing we’ll soon make new mistakes.
2. "I Did That"
Everyone likes to be recognized for their successes and efforts, and in the corporate world, taking credit can be very beneficial for career advancement. Yet, to be a great leader, it’s important to divide credit among your team.
Mark Hozza, a life science executive, explains the benefits of sharing credit with your entire team. It shows that you care about them and are willing to share successes with them, not just failures. In the long-run, this will lead to greater initiative and responsibility as team members view team success as individual success.
A simple change to “We did that” can go a long way in developing a successful and productive team.
3. "It Is What It Is"
When we find something very difficult and frustrating, we may feel tempted to just throw our hands up and exclaim, “It is what it is.” According to author and keynote speaker Jeff Haden, accepting failure as inevitable is detrimental to any organization.
Using this phrase as a go-to whenever times get tough can create a culture of upholding the status quo. As a great leader, it’s important to understand what you can and cannot change.
Simply saying “It is what it is” as a “get out of jail free card” sets a bad example and shows an unwillingness to take the initiative to find solutions. Instead, ask yourself whether you made mistakes, if you could have changed things, or if lessons could have been learned.
At UpHabit, we never settle for “It is what it is.” When faced with a problem, we strive to find the best solution for our users. Communicating with them to find issues and improvements is helping us become the most important app on your phone.
4. "Failure Isn't An Option"
Motivating and pushing for the best out of every team member is a key part of being a leader. Setting a certain standard can help people set goals and put in the work to reach them. Yet, setting too high of a bar can be counterproductive.
Phrases like “Failure isn’t an option” may appear to push team members to work their best, but as psychologist Dr. Patricia Thompson explains, they do the exact opposite.
When failure isn’t an option, people are far less likely to take risks. Risks lead to mistakes, and mistakes lead to failure. So, this phrase leads to individuals upholding the status quo and doing the same, comfortable thing over and over again.
To promote initiative and experimentation, great leaders should let their team members know they can take risks and that mistakes are okay. As long as mistakes lead to lessons learned and improved in the long term, they are better than the status quo.
5. "But We've Always Done It That Way"
Two of the most important characteristics of a great leader is the willingness to lead innovation and promote creative thinking. By doing so, they enable increased productivity, better results, and long-term growth.
The phrase “But we’ve always done it that way” promotes the opposite attitudes. Author Jacquelyn Smith highlights how this phrase stifles creative problem solving and promotes an unwillingness to change.
Being open-minded and understanding that things can change and be done in a different way is crucial to being a great leader. Using phrases like “That’s a different approach, let’s discuss it” help build better teams and better leadership.
No matter the setting, being a leader is a challenge. Understanding how your language is perceived by your teammates and peers can go a long way in easing the problems that arise in a leadership role. Whether you’re coaching a next intramural basketball team or leading a major project at work, removing these 5 phrases will benefit everyone on your team and make you a great leader.