Watch What You Say

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Are you responsible for the performance of a group? If you are, what you say is important. Words matter. One danger is that common words and phrases can have unintended consequences. Here are three to watch out for.

Be honest

On great teams, teammates trust each other and the team leader. Great customer relations are based on trust and truth-telling, too. We undermine trust when we say things like “you should under-promise and over-deliver.” That’s a recipe for deceit.

Truth is our friend. Share honest, good faith estimates of what you can do with your teammates and with customers. Don’t make folks wonder or guess what you really mean.

Don’t shut down communication

My Worst Boss Ever constantly spouted what he was sure embodied management wisdom. One of his favorites was, “don’t bring me a problem unless you bring me a solution, too.”

One day, a fellow named Charlie informed him about a problem he’d spotted. Alas, Charlie did not have the solution for the problem since that was way above his pay grade. My Worst Boss Ever berated poor Charlie because he didn’t have a solution to offer.

I was just outside the door when Charlie left our boss’s office. “Did you hear that?” Charlie asked. “That’s the last time I’ll tell that SOB anything he needs to know.”

For most people, it’s an act of courage to tell their boss anything unpleasant. Make it easy and safe for them to do so. When a teammate brings you bad news or a problem, say “Thank you.”

You can easily turn that gift of a problem into a coaching moment. Start the conversation by asking, “What do you think I should do with the information you just gave me?”

Talk about the whole job

“We need more leaders and fewer managers.” I’ve heard that, or something like it, attributed to a lot of business gurus. The problem is that it fails the reality test.

If you’re someone responsible for the performance of a group, you have three different kinds of work to do. Think of them as three separate roles.

Your leadership role is to establish direction and maintain progress. Your management role is to juggle priorities and details so the group works well. In your supervision role, you work with individual team members to improve their performance today and reach  their goals tomorrow.

Don’t worry about whether you’re a leader or a manager. If you’re responsible for the performance of a group, you must play both roles and supervise.


Words matter.

Make honest, good faith promises.

Encourage people to bring you problems.

Make it easy and safe for people to bring you problems and other bad news.

Be the best leader, manager, and supervisor you can be.

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