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6 Stock Expressions Every Leader Should Stop Using


You say things every day as leaders that work against you, not for you.

Have a look at the list below, and you’ll immediately recognize that you probably say some (or all) of these things without even realizing it. They’re almost verbal ticks in our culture. They’re stock expressions that everyone uses and nobody should.

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 six 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.

With that in mind, here are 6 stock expressions everyone uses, and every leader should eliminate.

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.

Well, yes you did. You had the chance.

Actually, you had 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 Have To

Again, no you don’t.

You don’t have to do anything. I fell victim to this phrase for years.

How many times have you said I have to…

preach this weekend.

go to a meeting.

meet with X.

go to my kids’ game.

Nope, you don’t.

You don’t have to. You get to.

There’s a huge difference.

What if you flipped it and instead started thinking and saying “I get to…..

preach this weekend.

go to a meeting.

meet with X.

go to my kids’ game.

Or how about this???? I get to go to work today. 

Since I’ve flipped that in my mind and vocabulary, I’m both more grateful (so much of what I get to do is a privilege) and more selective (if I really don’t want to do something, why did I say yes?).

Really hate your life so much that you won’t say any of this? Change it.

In the meantime, I get to finish and post this blog.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

Buy Yourself a Month of Extra Time Vacation This Year

Struggling with time and priorities? Who isn’t?

That’s why I created the High Impact Leader course, an online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a week to 3 productive hours a day.  That’s somewhere between 150 and 1000 hours of found time each year. Even on the low side, that’s like giving yourself a month of extra vacation/downtime/productive time (40 x 40 hours a week is 160 hours, which is the low side of recovered time for course alumni).

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – First Priority, Clayton County, North Carolina

“Carey’s course was the perfect way for our team to prepare for the new year. Our team, both collectively and individually, took a fresh look at maximizing our time and leadership gifts for the year ahead. I highly recommend this leadership development resource for you and your team.” Jeff Henderson, Gwinnett Church, Atlanta Georgia

“A lot of books and programs make big promises and cannot deliver but this is not one of them. I have read so many books and watched videos on productivity but the way you approach it and teach is helpful and has changed my work week in ministry in amazing ways.” Chris Sloan, Tanglewood Church, Kingston, North Carolina

“Just wow.  Thank you, thank you.” Dave Campbell, Invitation Church, Sioux Falls South Dakota

A game changer.” Pam Perkins, Red Rock Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado

If you want to start leveraging time, energy and priorities to help you lead better at work and at home, visit to learn more.

I don’t know where you’re at, but my heart is for every leader to get out of the trap of being busy but not productive, of working long hours but producing less than hoped for.

That’s what the High Impact Leader Course is all about: it’s about getting time, energy and priorities working in your favour. It’s about getting your life and leadership back.

Oh, and there’s a 30-day money back no-questions-asked guarantee. Nothing to lose. Everything to gain.

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

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!

6 Stock Expressions Every Leader Should Stop Using


  1. Chris Epp on August 11, 2018 at 7:11 am

    #4 also begets a comment I’m tired of hearing myself say, “I’m tired”. Started asking myself why that is so often. Why not say I’m doing great? I often feel guilty for saying so as though others can relate more to “I’m tired”. Truth: I may be tired, but what defines me is the joy I have in engaging Life purpose. So my challenge to myself has been, “Proclaim that you’re great even if you’re tired. Perhaps the other person will be encouraged. Perhaps you’ll incite a conversation that gives the opportunity to express the reason for the Hope and joy you have in the midst of life’s fatigue.”

  2. Do You Say These Things? – The Grove Church on August 9, 2018 at 8:30 am


  3. Mark Stanley on August 8, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Hey Carey – some interesting ideas.
    I certainly would agree with you that we need to be aware of what we can truly control and what we can’t, and take responsibility for it. That’s the overarching theme I’m hearing in your article.

    A caution about this approach is that it could lead to being a fake leader. We hear a great deal these days about the need for authentic, transparent leaders. I don’t want to get into parsing words – but as an example, there are days when things get done because “we have to” – not because we feel like it, desire it, or want to put energy into it. Whether that’s as mundane as taking the trash to the curb or showing up for a meeting you committed to attend when you’d rather be elsewhere. Some days, getting it done is more important than whether I feel like it or not.

    If “I have to” is becoming a frequent refrain, it could be a ‘healthy’ indicator that you’re burning out, need some coaching, or maybe need to start looking for another line of work. Respectfully, I would suggest that exploring the ‘why’ of your “I have to” is likely going to be more important and helpful than denying a deep need and pretending gratitude.

  4. Erin on August 8, 2018 at 9:43 am

    I’ve stopped saying “I’m busy” and if I’m feeling busy at the time I’ll say “life is full right now, but I can’t complain” or I’ll just respond with “Life is full”. I find it makes people think about what you are saying because they aren’t hearing the same response everyone gives and has opened up opportunity for conversation about what having a full life looks like but still having time for those around you.

  5. Craig Carlson on August 6, 2018 at 11:18 am

    I love these! Especially like the comment: “Busyness is not a sign of effectiveness. It’s a sign you can’t manage your life.” I’ve (for the most part) mastered the first two myself and have been moving my employees to say “I choose not to prioritize X over Y” rather than “I don’t have the time”, etc.

    I’m not sure I totally agree on #3, but I’ll give it a whirl. I’m OK at 4, but could be better and appreciate #5 & 6 as areas I need to work on. Thanks!

    • Erin on August 8, 2018 at 9:49 am

      Years ago now I was with my co-worker and we were chatting and I happened to use the phrase “I get to” rather then “I have to”. He responded with, “Wow, I like that, ‘I get to’. It makes it seem like you actually want to do it rather then you ‘have to do it’ out of obligation or for some other reason.” Changing from “I have to” to “I get to” can really help change your attitude toward something you “have” to do. You should definitely try it out. 🙂

  6. Paul Armstrong on August 6, 2018 at 10:49 am

    “Busyness is not a sign of effectiveness. It’s a sign you can’t manage your life.” I never understood why the comment “busy” in response to “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” annoyed me so until I saw this. You are exactly right. Somehow folks equate busyness with productivity and it’s just not so. Great post. thanks.

  7. Eric Dingler on August 6, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Lots of these fall into what I call “victim vocabulary”. Along with things like, “the people in my church won’t let us change….” instead of saying “I have yet to lead our folks to the point they are ready to change….” And so many more examples. Thanks for sharing this list.

  8. Rick Rabe on August 6, 2018 at 9:54 am

    THANK YOU! Years ago I was Franklin Planner trainer and over and over again I let people know that each of those statements about time (I didn’t get a chance to…, I just don’t have the time for that or I didn’t have the time, I couldn’t… etc.) meant just one thing to the listener, your request request wasn’t a priority for me. You can add the other similar statements to the list, something came up, I had to take a call (which unless you are in medicine and someone is in deep trouble is no excuse).

    The old statement of plan your day or it plans it for you couldn’t be more true. I loved your planner you shared before, which encourages people to set aside time for themselves, for their family, for their growth, for work, education, and fun.

    People in my classes were always surprised when they started planning their days how much time they actually had left over!

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