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5 Things You Say That Kill Your Leadership

The innocent phrases you say every day impact you—and others— more than you think.

Have a look at the list below, and you’ll immediately recognize that you say some of these things without even realizing it. They’re almost verbal ticks in our culture.

Even if you don’t really mean anything by them, these statements undermine your effectiveness as a leader.

So why do little phrases matter to your leadership?

Two reasons.

First, what we say reflects what we believe. Especially the little phrases that slip out without giving them much thought. They expose convictions that are worth letting go.

Second, they matter because each of these five phrases I’m sharing with you is a lie—not in the horrible moral sense, but in the sense that they’re actually not true.

Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most deadly because they follow us everywhere we go in life and leadership.

Thoughtfully choosing your words about how you handle time is one small step out of the spin of constant busyness and low productivity that kills both your leadership and your life.

I’ve tried to eliminate all of these phrases over the years. It’s hard because they roll off the tongue so naturally. But I think I’ve become a better leader, husband, and dad as a result.

things you say

1. I didn’t get a chance to…

It’s so easy to say you didn’t get a chance to do something.

You didn’t get a chance to get that report done, or write that email you promised someone, or empty the dishwasher.

Actually, you did get the chance to do whatever you said you didn’t get a chance to do. You just didn’t take it.

Imagine what might happen if you started admitting to yourself that you had all the chances in the world to do whatever you needed to do… you just didn’t take them.

A little sobering. But a little liberating too.

Hours and minutes don’t discriminate. They let you do whatever you decide to do.

You just didn’t decide to do it.

2. I just don’t have the time for that.

That phrase was one of my most frequently uttered responses anytime someone asked me to do anything new or extra.

Then one day I woke up and realized… all high impact people I admire who produce so many great things with their life don’t get any special treatment.

They get 24 hours in a day. Just like me. Just like you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You have the time and I have the time, just like we had the chance.

So how do you counter this one?

Well, years ago I stopped saying that I don’t have the time; I started admitting I didn’t make the time.

That sounds like a small thing, but if you do it consistently, it can be revolutionary.

Try it for a week. Stop saying you don’t have the time (because you do). Start admitting you didn’t make it. (Pro tip: don’t use your outside voice. You will have no friends left. Just admit you’re not making the time to yourself.)

When you (silently) admit you aren’t going to make the time, it forces you to ruthlessly evaluate your priorities. You’ll realize that never making time for your mom, or your most important priorities—or a life dream—is a mistake.

And when you’re dead honest with yourself about not making the time to work out, or do proper sermon prep, or have a date night with your spouse, or work on your top priorities it’s so much easier to change.

3. I’m busy.

In many circles, the #1 response people give to “How are you?” is “I’m busy.”

What’s up with that?

Whatever happened to “I’m doing really well” or “You know, things are a little challenging, thanks for asking” or “I’m great. How are you?”

Everyone you meet is busy these days. Even retired people.

So why is saying you’re busy not the best way to respond to a simple greeting?

Well, first, how does being busy help or engage the other person? It doesn’t.

But more importantly, mediocre leaders wear busyness as a badge of honor: Look at how busy I am. I must be important. Before you think I’m judging, I used to wear busyness as a badge of honor when I was in my thirties. Then I burned out.

Busyness is not a sign of effectiveness. It’s a sign you can’t manage your life. So why tell people you’re not effective?

If you feel too busy, do something about it. Then you won’t feel compelled to tell anyone how busy you feel.

4. I can squeeze that in.

I was talking to a leader this week that’s making great progress.

His former approach to time management was to squeeze as much in as possible. He said his old mantra literally was “I can squeeze that in.”

It was consistently becoming more difficult to do because his church is growing by leaps and bounds. That strategy has a lid: eventually, you can’t squeeze anything else in because nobody’s making any more time.

Fortunately, he realized he just couldn’t keep squeezing things in. If you abandon this approach, you’ll see great gains as well.

Instead, he’s learned to say no nicely (I show you how in the course), to carefully assess his priorities and from that, he determines what he’s going to do and not going to do.

You can’t squeeze everything in. And if you do, it will eventually squeeze you so hard there’s nothing left.

Surprisingly, when you stop trying to squeeze everything in, your capacity as a leader doesn’t shrink; it grows.

5. I just can’t.

A final challenge with overwhelm is that it leaves us feeling like we can’t.

And so we end up turning down great opportunities by saying things like “I just can’t.”

My guess is that even recently, you’ve probably said I can’t to something you really wanted to do. Like maybe a family night, or a vacation, or a promotion, or an expansion, or some meaningful time with God, or training for that half marathon.

Want to hear the bad news? You can.

You really can.

As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, says, you can do anything, just not everything.

Everything competes with anything. When your priorities are confused and you’ve chosen everything over anything, your dreams die.

If you stop saying I just can’t and start admitting that you actually can, you will begin to clear your life of the lower value things that are robbing you of what could bring you the highest value.

Any Phrases You’ve Stopped Saying?

So let’s continue the dialogue.

What phrases have you stopped saying (or do you think you SHOULD stop saying)? Scroll down and leave a comment!

10 Comments

  1. FAB FOUR! | on May 19, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    […] 5 phrases to avoid that are potentially killing your […]

  2. Marcus Walfridson on February 10, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Great post Carey! One could argue that you should only say things as a leader that you would want to hear from your employees right? And I guess most leaders would not be very happy to hear the 5 things you listed from their employees when handing out work or asking for help… So basically behave and talk like a role model? Hmm… I think I’m going to write about that! 🙂

  3. […] 5 Things You Say That Kill Your Leadership by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Ian Hyatt on January 24, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for sharing. Ha Ha, I am totally guilty of saying all of these. Since reading this post I am bitting my tongue every day to try to keep these statements from coming out. Driving me crazy but is very helpful LOL.

  5. Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's Reason on January 21, 2017 at 6:42 pm

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  6. Jeff Fuson on January 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Carey Nieuwhof, these are absolutely vital to becoming the most impactful in our lives as possible. Telling the truth to ourselves and gently to others sets us free to be about what we are truly called and designed to do. The more I’ve chosen to zero in on those things that matter the most, the more effective I’m becoming AND I have a vibrant walk with God and family life as well! Thanks for posting this. This is a great way to let our ‘yes be yes’ and our ‘no be no’ which I’ve heard of somewhere…. ALL THE BEST!

  7. Christoph Koebel on January 19, 2017 at 10:23 am

    That issue about time is a big one. Once a staff member met me for lunch. So he was quite limited for his time. At least that was my impression. so much different a Pastor I did an interview for a seminary assignment. His secretary “interrupted” our conversation, because an important phone call came in. I just wanted to tell that Pastor: Go ahead take that call. but the Pastor responded that he is a conversation with me. so his conversation was more important than that “important” phone call. People around you sense very quickly if you take time with people.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 19, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Thats a great story Christoph. I love how that pastor honoured you!

      • Jeff Fuson on January 19, 2017 at 1:23 pm

        I wanna be like that pastor! So, whenever possible I put my phone far away from me and turn off all ringers, buzzers, zappers and flappers so that I can focus on the person in front of me. The rest can wait.

      • Christoph Koebel on January 19, 2017 at 3:57 pm

        That was many years ago. He taught me so much by his actions

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