3 Things You Should Basically Never, Ever Say

Sometimes leadership is quite simple: Avoid these three phrases.

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Great leadership is hard. Very occasionally, it’s pretty simple– like just not saying dumb things.

In the spirit of simple leadership, I give you my personal top three dumb things leaders shouldn’t say. No doubt your mileage will vary:

1. “Don’t bring me any surprises.”
I hear it all the time, and so do you (maybe you’re even guilty of it yourself)– a leader is blindsided by some event they couldn’t have predicted, and, out of embarrassment, swears they’ll never be caught unawares again.

At first they work harder, longer, assimilating data like an apocalypse is on the horizon that only they can avert, but then…bam. Another unexpected shoe drops, another unpredictable event occurs, and our leader is left with egg on their face all over again.

Redoubling their efforts, the leader adds another layer of protection against catastrophe – a mantra they begin doling out to all their direct reports: “Don’t bring me any surprises” (or its close cousin “Don’t bring me any bad news“).

Well, guess what happens when you tell people often enough not to bring you any bad news or surprises? They don’t bring you any bad news or surprises. Does that mean that all of a sudden there isn’t any bad news items or surprises going around? Of course not.

It just means they’re brushing them under the carpet…because, well, because you told them to. (Where did you think they were going to put all the bad news and surprises you told them not to bring to you?) Which in turn means that there is now a time bomb waiting to explode right in your face.

If you’re concerned about predictability and consistency, do yourself a favor and don’t try to wish away bad news or surprises. Try the opposite. How about telling people “The first whiff you get of bad news or a surprise, bring it right here.” That way you do actually stand a chance of controlling things.

2. “If you were an animal, what kind of an animal would you be?”
Or “What body of water would you be?”, or “What books influenced you when you were young?” or “What’s your favorite color?” –any question, in fact, that you think provides some deep insight into whether or not a potential employee has the ‘right stuff’.

It’s all meaningless pseudo-psychological mumbo jumbo, and adds precisely zero to a true understanding of a candidate’s ability to do the job you’re hiring for. If you need to ask one of these pointless, irrelevant questions for your own peace of mind, by all means go ahead. Just don’t confuse what’s going on with an effective job interview.

3. “Don’t take it personally.”
Really? You’re talking to, let me check…yes, a person, about them, their work, their livelihood, their ideas, their sense of competence, their choices, their discretionary effort, their life’s work, and you’re telling them not to take it personally?

How about you give every person who works for you a free pass for a week to make whatever comments they like to your face about what you say, do, or suggest, in whatever terms they wish, so long as they preface it with “Don’t take this personally…”.

If you don’t think the act of working with others is in any way ‘personal’, perhaps you might be better thinking of a career as, I don’t know, a beekeeper, perhaps? They really don’t take things personally.

Read more from Inc.com:Before You Open Your Mouth Ask These Four Questions
3 Most Important Words to Say to Employees After They Screw Up

14 comments
CrisoforoMar
CrisoforoMar

Don't take it personally?

It's just White talk !!!!!!

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

Not taking it personally means it wasn't directed offense at the person, any offense taken is collateral. But you knew that already, no?


And does anyone even say the first two?



IanFlannagan
IanFlannagan

Yes they do. Beekeepers are incredibly broke up about the random hive death catastrophe happening in this country. It's very sad and I think they take it extremely personally.

ddavel544
ddavel544

It's good for business owners to know what not to say. But Political Correctness can and does get a bit to controlling for me. And I'm gonna speak my mind no matter who it 'offends'! Cuz I'm to old to learn 'Newspeak' !

Openminded1
Openminded1

Add never say anything bad about jews even if it is true.

AndreasCY
AndreasCY

As soon as someone says, 'don't take this personally..' You immediately take it personally! And i just toke it personally :D Connect with me: @andreaschriscy

Malakai_Schager
Malakai_Schager

Don't take this personally, but I'm not surprised at the animal-like behavior that has been observed in this article.

Well, I guess no one will hire me now.  :P

jherndo
jherndo

@ddavel544 Just so you know, most people don't take that as "oh he's just old school or a rebel against political correctness" they take it as "This guy is too stupid or lazy to bother to learn how to communicate without offending people, really? Time to polish off the resume." All too often I've seen people try to glide over their shortcomings in communication and  failure to learn the difference between frankness and crudness with  with some rallying cry montra against PC culture. It's an excuse for a failure on your part and if you are a business owner or manager it costs you money and talent. Look inward and fix the real problem.