As leaders, it’s easy to say things too quickly without thinking of the implication of our words. Likewise, we can get into the habit of repeating phrases that can demotivate team members. Carey Nieuwhof shares 7 phrases that driven leaders use that have the potential of really frustrating the team.

Originally published by Carey Nieuwhof

If you’re a driven leader, want to know how to really frustrate your team?

Just utter some of the phrases that naturally flow from your mouth.

I’ve driven my team crazy over the years by saying things and sharing expectations that seem logical to me but crushing to them.

As a driven leader myself, I’ve learned that I see the world through a lens that has both an upside and a real downside. As a young leader, I only saw the upside of the way I saw things and thought everybody should see the world that way I see it.

Big mistake.

The older I get and the more experience I gain, the more I realize that the unique lens through which I see the world as a driven leader has to be tempered.

Okay, let me qualify that.  You should only temper your words and approach if you want to keep high-quality team members around for a long time. If not, no worries. Carry on.

Two things can really help you become a better leader; self-awareness and self-regulation. To be self-aware is one thing. Self-aware leaders know that what they’re going to say or do is a problem.

To know what you’re about to do is counter-productive is only part of the challenge.

Even better is a leader who decides to self-regulate…to stop, reflect and change before the damage is done. I’m working hard at self-regulation because, of course, self-aware, self-regulated leaders make far better leaders.

So, in the hopes of becoming more self-aware and more self-regulated, here are 7 things driven leaders say that really frustrate their team.

1. These numbers can’t be right

So what do you do when you don’t like the numbers?

Too many times, here’s what I’ve done: dismissively said These numbers can’t be right.

Occasionally—very occasionally—I’m right. Someone miscounted, or the there’s an error in the formula in the spreadsheet.

But usually, I’m wrong. I just don’t like what I see.

Just because you don’t like the numbers you see as a leader doesn’t mean the numbers are inaccurate.

When you don’t like what you see, stop questioning what you see. Change whatever you need to change to make things better.

Great leaders stop complaining about results they don’t like and start working on the problems that produce the results.

2. How hard can that be?

Many—not all—but many driven leaders are visionaries. (To find out whether you are, listen to Les McKeown here.)

I am, which means I often see things from a 30,000 feet perspective.

And at 30,000 feet, everything looks easy.

Launch a new location? Simple.

Change everything? Start right now.

Write a book? Piece of cake.

After all, how hard can it be?

Well, apparently, quite hard.

Doing anything significant is hard work. Anything significant I’ve done (including launching a new location, changing everything and writing books) has been hard. But visionaries easily forget how hard things are.

Visionaries see the opportunity when everyone else sees the obstacles. Usually, that’s a good thing.

Except when you’re trying to motivate your team. They see how hard it is. They’re living it.

The best thing you can do is acknowledge how hard it is, empathize with them, ask what barriers you can help remove and let them know you see how hard they’re working.

Then keep seeing opportunities when it’s so easy to let the obstacles defeat you.

When your team knows you see how hard it is, they’re far more motivated to work hard.

3. That won’t take much time at all

Another chronic trap driven leaders fall into is underestimating how long it will take to complete a task or project.

Doing that with your own work is one thing, but undervaluing the time it takes your team to do something is demotivating.

For example, you might think asking your assistant to change a flight is easy. But when was the last time you rebooked a flight? I know last time I did it, I messed it up royally and someone else had to swoop in to fix it. But I almost forget that.

With any project, it’s a great idea to ask a team member how long they estimate it might take. Don’t assume. Ask.

Then check in and ask how it’s going.

Do they need more time?

Is their workload still realistic?

Is there anything you can to help?

Minimizing the workload your team is facing maximizes their frustration with you.

4. Didn’t I just say that?

You love to be the one with all the ideas. Except you’re not.

It’s easy as a leader to want to take the credit, to remind your team that you had the idea first, or that they’re echoing something you said.


Just don’t.

The fact that your team may be repeating something you said is a sign that the vision and ideas are catching on. That they’re owning the ideas you may have crafted.

Let it happen. Don’t steal back any credit. Let the ideas circulate in them.

Not only will they own them, they’ll make all your ideas and concepts better and come up with some fascinating insights and ideas of their own.

Celebrate it when ideas vest in your team and arise from your team.

The leader who tries to steal someone else’s thunder ends up creating a whole new set of storms.

5. That’s exactly what I was thinking

This isn’t one of my pet phrases, but when I’ve had others say this in response to something I’ve shared, it’s often deflating.

Sure…if you’ve truly been thinking something that someone else articulated, that can be a fun moment.

But often I’ve sensed that people say this when they want to take some credit for your idea or they want to devalue what you’re saying to make them look good.

As a leader, I have to remind myself to celebrate whenever someone articulates something I was thinking about, says something I’ve said or communicated an important idea.

Just shut up. Swallow your insecurity. And celebrate the other person’s idea sincerely and deeply.

When you celebrate your team’s ideas, you’ll discover that your team tends to generate more ideas.

6. I thought you just got back from vacation

It can be easy as a boss to think everybody should be at work every day, 52 weeks a year.

Bad idea.

People need a break and should have meaningful time off.

Don’t disparage days off and vacation. Applaud them.

As much as there’s a part of me that wishes everyone on my team was available all the time, I’ve found that when I ask them whether they’re getting time off, whether they’re enjoying the time off, and whether work is making unfair demands on them, you get team members who show up and give you far more than if you’re always driving them.

Remember, you bring who you are into everything you do. And a rested you is a better you.

So make sure you create a culture in which it’s easy to rest, take time off and then come back ready to engage powerfully and meaningfully in work.

7. You Have To…

Guess what? Nobody has to do anything.

Sure…your staff gets paid, but they don’t have to work with you. They can quit and find meaningful work somewhere else. And along the way, they’ll find a better boss.

Volunteers can quietly walk out the door at any moment.

Nobody has to do anything.

And, as resentful as you might feel, you don’t have to do anything either for that matter.

You get to do things. I get to do things. And if you really feel like everything’s a horrible burden and obligation, maybe you’re in the wrong job or at least in the wrong headspace.

What I find is that if I ask people to do something, they almost always do it, and with greater enthusiasm than if I told them to do it.

Sometimes I’ll even ask my team “Hey, would it be possible for you to do X? If not, I completely understand.”

I almost never have anyone who says no. And on the rare occasion they do, we can drill down and see why something is difficult for them to do in the moment.

The principle under this? When you give people an out, they lean in.