12 Things Smart Leaders Don’t Say

Oct 4, 2021

#1. I should have.

‘Should have’ is backward facing. Do your best to speak into the future.

Instead of should-ing yourself, say, “Next time.”

#2. You should have. Why didn’t you?

See #1.

‘Next time’ is better than ‘last time’.

A sunflower droops its head under overlaid text: 'Never say 'but' after saying something good.'

#3. What can we do about that?

‘We’ is a tiny act of cowardice that softens the blow of responsibility.

“What could ‘you’ do next?” is better than “What could ‘we’ do next?” (Unless you are planning to actively participate.)

It’s insincere to say ‘we’ when you mean ‘you’.

#4. It’s simple.

What’s simple to you is often difficult for others. Judge people through the lens of their experience and strength, not yours.

#5. It’s easy.

See #4.

#6. I don’t care.

Always care.

People who don’t care are heartless, less than human. It’s not a superpower to NOT care.

People who say, “I don’t care,” often do, but they’re afraid to admit it.

#7. Whatever.

See #6.

#8. Don’t you agree?

Questions that begin with ‘don’t’ insult people’s intelligence and pressure them to agree.

Who’s going to say, “No,” when you ask, “Don’t you agree?”

#9. Failure is not an option.

You learn when you fail.

Some situations require perfect execution — landing airplanes and brain surgery, for example. The learning happens on cadavers and in flight simulators where failure doesn’t kill people.

People set low goals when failure is not an option.

#10. But

Never say ‘but’ after saying something good. Try using ‘and’ when you’re tempted to use ‘but’.

‘But’ is an eraser.

#11. I didn’t mean to.

‘I didn’t mean to’ is a sleazy way of not taking responsibility. The damage is done. Own it and move forward.

Say what you intended, not what you didn’t intend.

#12. Nice job.

Be specific, not vague, when giving compliments. What was ‘nice’ about it?

What do smart leaders NOT say?

By Dan Rockwell