15 Phrases Effective Leaders Will Never Say

Being a leader is all about guiding people toward your vision using a consistent balance of communication, action, and encouragement. We can influence change through our actions. Leaders make change happen. What used to work as a leader—spouting out demands, drafting huge outlines for your team to follow, and using negative reinforcement—doesn’t work as well anymore. An effective leader needs to connect with the people they lead. Creating a shift in the way you communicate will help you attract a tribe that will follow you with dedicated loyalty.

Here are 15 phrases that you will never catch an effective leader saying.

1. “I can’t.”

This is perhaps one of the most detrimental phrases for not only leaders, but everyone else, too. Saying “I can’t” limits your action to doing only the things that you believe you can. If you don’t believe in yourself, how will others believe in your vision and themselves? Instead, a better question is “I will” followed by “How?” These two phrases inspire creativity and innovation, two characteristics apparent in all leaders.

2. “I don’t care.”

Saying “I don’t care,” basically says that you don’t have an opinion. Although it may often be said in disregard of a particular idea, it still communicates a lack of regard and a lack of drive. Good leaders say “I’m interested. I care.” It shows they are driven and passionate about executing their vision. They realize that caring for each unit of their organization, from the smallest member to the largest change, is important.

3. “I’m in charge.”

If you want people to resent you from day one, say this phrase. The need to tell people that you’re in charge indicates that you’re not actually in charge. This phrase makes the difference between managers and leaders. Managers often use this phrase to to bark orders from a safe place to a submissive team that works from fear. Leaders realize that the strength of their vision and effectiveness of their leadership is rooted in the drive and passion of their tribe. By simply not saying this phrase, leaders empower their team to contribute to their vision. And by doing so, they open themselves to innovation. Leaders establish respect and build followers through consistent action, not fearful words.

4. “You don’t understand.”

Telling someone that they don’t understand shuts them down before even making an effort to help them understand. Great leaders realize that if there is misunderstanding or if their vision is unclear to the members of their tribe, then it is their responsibility to help their team understand. “Check this out!” or “How can I help you?” are effective phrases leaders use to open up a dialogue to enable members to figure out what they are trying to execute or convey.

5. “Can I?”

Waiting for permission to change something is the quickest way to keep it the same. Followers ask permission before changing a system. Leaders only make the changes they believe in. The ruthless pursuit of the most efficient and effective way makes a great leader. The best leaders don’t wait for permission before making change. They create change through action and ask for forgiveness later.

6. “It’s impossible.”

Saying this phrase in response to an idea or action shuts down any possibility of it ever happening. Faith and confidence go hand-in-hand with leadership. Effective leaders instead ask the question: “How can we ____?” These phrases create inspiration and motivation, two key components of a good leader. It is absolutely essential for a leader to believe. Leaders of an organization—the ones who truly believe in what they are a part of—are confident in their beliefs.

7. “Let’s wait” or “It’s not time.”

No leader ever became great by waiting for the perfect moment to execute a project or idea. The best leaders realize that the timing will never be perfect. “Let’s do it now” and “We can work it out” are ways that great leaders execute ideas and change in an organic way, adapting to the obstacles of their execution as they unfold. Adapting to change during this execution also supplies new strategies for dealing with change.

8. “People won’t like me.”

Worrying about whether people will like you or not will ensure that you stay the same and only make small ripples in the ocean of an organization. Great leaders create huge waves and build their following by changing the status quo. Society thrives on habitual routine and most people do not like change. The best leaders will have a healthy awareness that not everyone will like them, and that they cannot please nor make everyone happy. Being confident in their beliefs and vision allows them to maintain this mindset.

9. “It’s always been done this way.”

People who use this phrase usually maintain a calm cruise through their daily lives. While there’s nothing wrong with this mindset, a great leader will realize that innovation is absolutely necessary in order for people to believe in their vision and follow them. “What if?” is a question that great leaders ask themselves daily when confronted with a system that they believe could be executed more effectively. Just because a system worked in the past doesn’t mean it still works today. Leaders understand that, and are constantly in search of ways to improve upon systems using innovation and strategy.

10. “I did it.”

Any statements that use “I” when referring to accomplishments of your organization or team is never going to establish leadership. By using “I” statements, individuals place themselves on a pedestal of selfish pride. Effective leaders take a position of humble confidence in their role and lavish pride for their team. A successful leader realizes that she is only as good as her group. By saying “We did it!” or even “Y’all did it!” and lifting others up above themselves, leaders empower their tribe members to continually strive for greater success.

11. “I know enough.”

This statement indicates that an individual has learned everything there is to know. It is a surefire way to get passed by others in the quest to be the best. Since leaders strive for the best, you’ll always hear them asking the question “Why?” or “How?” Asking the right questions it essential for any leader to become great.

12. “It’s too difficult.”

This phrase indicates a challenge. The difference between a leader and a follower is that followers often shrink away from challenges while leaders see them as opportunities. Leaders pave the way through challenges and obstacles by saying “Let’s do it” or “We can”. It takes a lot of creativity to overcome obstacles. It also takes a lot of faith. Leaders have both of these characteristics, and they’ve developed them by plowing through the obstacles and boundaries that seemed too difficult to their followers.

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

—Henry Ford

13. “It’s not personal; it’s business.”

The problem with this phrase is that it’s always personal to the person that you say it to. Where people are involved, there’s always a relationship at stake. And great leaders realize that the relationship they have with their members is one of the most important aspects of creating a successful team that will carry out their vision and goals. If an individual can’t engage their team on a tangible, relational level (instead of like a machine), their tribe is destined to resent their leader, or they just won’t care enough to perform to their top potential.

14. “I don’t have time.”

People that say “I don’t have time” have not prioritized or managed their schedule effectively to invest in the things that really matter. This phrase indicates an insulated mindset that doesn’t have schedule flexibility or relational connection with others. But having the ability to connect with your team, family, or organization is what makes an effective leader. Saying “Let’s find a time” or “I can make time for you” are two of the most supportive phrases that engage and connect leaders to their team, and in turn establish their follower’s worth.

15. “It’s perfect!” or “They’ll be perfect.”

Perfection is an illusion. And the people that wait for the perfect prototype, perfect time, or perfect people, usually don’t make much change. These people are often the most unaware of their imperfections, which makes them liable to judgement of others’ imperfections because they cannot see their own. Leaders believe in beginning something, and reinventing it until it works. They will say “It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.” They realize that imperfection and the discovery of flaws (personal and product) is all part of the creative process to establish something worth standing behind.

“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future and go there. People will follow.”

—Seth Godin.