4 Toxic Leadership Phrases You Probably Say Daily

They might seem harmless, but these words and phrases tell employees that you're not a people-focused leader.
Written by Jane Doe
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They might seem harmless, but these words and phrases tell employees that you're not a people-focused leader.

This article was originally published here https://www.inc.com/heather-r-huhman/4-toxic-leadership-phrases-you-probably-say-daily.html

As leaders, our language defines us. Literally.

In a new report, the behavioral analytics platform Mattersight analyzed at least 10 minutes of public speaking engagements from well-known leaders. They then used the linguistic-based Process Communication Model -- or PCM -- to determine the personalities of these successful leaders.

While PCM identifies six different personalities, the most popular is the connector. According to the report, 30 percent of people, including former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, naturally focus on relationships between people.

"Connectors are hardwired to view the world through a lens of feelings, emotional states, and people," chief people officer of Mattersight, Melissa Moore, said.

Some of the most common words and phrases these leaders use are 'the best,' 'feeling,' and 'very kind.' They're focused on the human side of the workforce -- a trend that's becoming more popular in leadership.

In communication, however, what we don't say can be just as important as what we do say. For leaders trying to be more people-focused, there are some words and phrases to avoid:


'I need that report.' 'I expected more.' 'I think this is our best option.'

When a leader constantly uses 'I,' they direct the focus and need on them. As Stacey Hanke, the author of Influence Redefined, points out, this creates the sense that the leader is having a conversation with him or herself, not the team.

People-focused leaders are inclusive. Use words like 'we' and 'the team' to show everyone that they're an important part of the organization. Instead of feeling like they're working to make you happy, they'll see they're contributing to the company and its goals


As Yoda once said, "Do or do not. There is no try." The word is noncommittal and implies doubt. When a leader says, 'Try to get me that report by Friday,' they are showing a lack of confidence in the employee's abilities. This can make people feel unappreciated.

As Art Barter, the CEO of training resource center Servant Leadership Institute, explained, the word is just as bad when a leader uses it to refer to their own actions.

"Try is a word that provides an excuse for leaders not to do what they said they would do," he said.

When a leader says, 'I'll try to fit you into my schedule,' they're already signaling that it won't happen. While this can assuage a leader's guilt, it shows employees that they aren't valued.

A better option is 'let's.' Employees at my company, Come Recommended, work remotely. Especially in this type of environment, it's crucial I communicate with my team in absolutes to show them they're valued. For example, when an employee asks to speak with me, I let them know where I'm at in my day and acknowledge their time by saying, "Let's find a time this afternoon."

This creates a sense of collaboration. No matter what happens, even if we can't chat until the next day, both my employee and I were part of the process.