Statements That May Unknowingly Make You a Poor Leader

The makeup of a great leader is always up for debate. Are they born? Are they created? Is it thrust upon them? Research suggests that those that are truly successful leaders have a higher level of emotional intelligence and intrinsically know how to adapt to situations, with exemplary communication skills to navigate any moment (Judge & Bono, 2001; Judge, Jackson, Shaw, Scott, & Rich, 2007; Rosete & Ciarrochi, 2005).

Other times, a person might be a great leader, but have little awareness of how some occasional slips may make their employees feel. It’s not that those leaders have a lower EQ, but that they—like the rest of us—are human. Like all humans, we sometimes don’t say the perfect thing, and may even have a fondness for the way our feet fit into our mouths.

Here are five foot-in-mouth worthy statements that can be received poorly by your employees:

“I don’t have time to discuss it right now.” You’re busy. Your staff understands that. However, when you make statements that indicate you don’t have time for them, you negate their importance. You are essentially saying, “I don’t have time for you,” and in the same breath, indicating their value is less than yours (Kim, Egan, Kim, & Kim, 2013).

“I don’t get involved in the minutia.” Let’s assume you made this statement with laugh, or offhand remark. Sadly, the implication is that you find yourself of a position that is too high on the ladder, or status, to be involved in lesser functions. While you may not have the skillset to perform certain tasks, all good leaders should be prepared to fill any position or complete any assignment.

“We’ve always done it this way.” Just never say this. Personally, I want to bang my head on the desk any time someone utters this statement

“We’ve always done it this way.” Just… never say this. Personally, I want to bang my head on the desk any time someone utters this statement. You (with the best intentions) may be remarking on institutional knowledge, and may have every intention of being open to change, but the statement is restrictive and allows the person to whom you’re communicating interpret it as resistant to new ideas. Worst case, you may even imply that you are not open to that person’s ideas.

“You’re doing fine.” When any staff/employee/project member asks you for feedback, you should pay close attention. People that request feedback are usually your high potentials who are looking for ways to better their performance. Take a moment to respond thoughtfully and with positive constructive criticism if necessary. If you are at an instant where you cannot give the employee the response they are requesting, make sure that person knows you want to discuss it, and schedule a meeting in the very near future (Grossman, 2011).

“Give me the information and I’ll take it up the ladder.” You have the best intentions. However, without explanation or an invitation to join the meeting, you are opening yourself up to negative scrutiny. Your employee may feel they are not being recognized, or that you consider them too far down the ladder to present to those higher up. Either way, it’s best to either sponsor that person face to face or include them in a way that allows for recognition to be passed along (Parker & Baltes, 2003).

Managing different personalities with different expectations is challenging without adding to your personal arsenal of blunders and mishaps. While awareness can’t always solve the problem, it can help you in speaking with intention. The best option is to pause before talking to make sure you feel you are communicating clearly and effectively (Kim et al., 2013).

Grossman, R. J. (2011). The care and feeding of high-potential employees. HR Magazine, 56(8), 34–39. doi:10.1109/93.580390
Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits-self esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability-with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80–92.
Judge, T. A., Jackson, C. L., Shaw, J. C., Scott, B. A., & Rich, B. L. (2007). Self-efficacy and work-related performance: the integral role of individual differences. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 107–27. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.1.107
Kim, S., Egan, T. M., Kim, W., & Kim, J. (2013). The impact of managerial coaching behavior on employee work-related reactions. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(3), 315–330. doi:10.1007/s10869-013-9286-9
Parker, C., & Baltes, B. (2003). Relationships between psychological climate perceptions and work outcomes: a meta-analytic review. Journal of …, 416(July 2002), 389–416. Retrieved from
Rosete, D., & Ciarrochi, J. (2005). Emotional intelligence and its relationship to workplace performance outcomes of leadership effec … Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26(5), 388–399.

Published by Melissa A. Walker, Ph.D.

Training and Development Network believes there is always a positive way to engage, develop, and retain your employees; create a supportive environment for diversity, equity, and inclusion; assess opportunities to build on current knowledge or skills; and facilitate change management for any organization. We believe in engaging, actionable programs that enable your staff and leadership to immediately implement tools for change and growth. TAD offers a variety services for both the individual and the organization. We are here help you navigate career challenges, or achieve your organizational or event goals. Contact us to start your proactive journey today.

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