Crutch Phrases That Weaken Our Leadership

The words we use as leaders make a difference, but to be honest, some of the phrases we’re using in our attempts to lead are actually making things harder for us.  Here are three examples of these crutch phrases that we tend to rely on that don’t really give us the support we think they do.  Do any of these sound familiar?

Crutch Phrases That Weaken Our Leadership

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Honesty That Causes Doubt

Let’s start with one I just used – To be honest.  We’re trying to say that we’re leveling with someone, giving them the unvarnished truth. 

There are other versions of this: 

“Can I be honest with you?”
“To be perfectly frank….”
“I’m not gonna lie…”

Maybe we’re trying to show our respect for the person we are speaking with – they need to hear what we’re about to say, and we think they can handle it without embellishment or spin.

But if we feel the need to precede what we say with this crutch phrase, what does that mean about all the other times that we speak?  Are we not being honest then?   Should our teammates just assume we are being less than honest if we don’t start with this preface?

Signaling Distrust

How about this one:  Trust me.  It may sound similar to honestly, but I think this one is worse because it relates to our future actions.  Shouldn’t it already be evident that we are trustworthy?

If we feel we have to tell someone that they should trust us, it might mean that a trust gap has opened up that we hope to close with this crutch phrase.

But while we may think it’s a way of convincing others to give us their support, bringing up the issue of trust at all signals that there may be some trust issue to consider.  

I don’t know about you, but the minute I hear that phrase, it puts me on high alert:  I’m going to be a little more wary, and if anything, I’m not more convinced, but less.

Masking Manipulation

One more:  when we hear the phrase, “No disrespect intended” we know what’s coming, right?  Usually, it’s disrespectful. 

Variants of this include:

“Don’t take this wrong, but…”
“No offence, but…”

This crutch phrase is a double no-go for leaders.  First, because it’s a poor excuse to make it OK to say something that maybe shouldn’t be said.  Is there ever a time when we should be disrespectful to others as leaders?  Is that the example we want to be setting?

And second, it’s manipulative.  Hidden in the phrase is an attempt to try to disarm the listener, so that when the unflattering words emerge, they have to sit there and take them without becoming offended. 

It’s a power move, but on some level, people recognize this.  And how do we generally respond when we suspect someone is trying to manipulate us?  The shields go up, and trust goes down.

If something needs to be said, say it, but always be respectful.  If we can’t be respectful, then we shouldn’t be saying it.

If we can't say something respectfully, maybe we shouldn't be saying it at all. Click To Tweet

Crutch Phrases – The Takeaway

I’m not gonna lie and pretend that I don’t find these phrases slipping from my mouth from time to time.  But trust me, the more we rely on these crutch phrases, the weaker and less meaningful our words become, and the bigger the question mark in the minds of our listeners about what we are actually saying.

Don’t take this wrong, but anyone who needs these crutch phrases to lead may not be leading as well as they could.

Leaders rely on trust to be effective, but trust doesn’t come from claims of honesty.  Trust doesn’t come from demands for trust.  Trust doesn’t come from words of disrespect.  

Let’s let our words stand on their own merit.  And to strengthen those words, let’s make sure that our actions back them up every time.  If we do that, we won’t have to ask for their trust.  It will already be there.

Umm, hopefully this all makes sense, do you know what I mean?

(How about that as a clever lead-in to a possible sequel to this post?)

Lead On!


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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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