Every teacher, parent, coach and church leader would agree....words matter. The old playground saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is at best wishful thinking, and couldn't be further from reality. Carey Nieuwhof recently wrote about some key phrases many of us probably use each day that can be harmful to our leadership and productivity. Read his top three phrases to eliminate, and you might be surprised how many areas of your life this challenge can apply.

You and I say things as leaders that work for us. And we say things that work against us.

Sometimes we know we’re saying counterproductive things…and sometimes we don’t. The latter is what this post is about. The words you speak as a leader can make you a better leader...or create the opposite effect.

Here are 3 common phrases to eliminate. Unless I remind myself to stop saying these 3 phrases, I say them every day. And they never help me lead well. In fact, they do the opposite.

So what are they?

3 Common Phrases Leaders Should Eliminate

Here are the three phrases I’m banishing from my vocabulary as a leader.

1. I'll Try

You’ve said it. I’ve said it a thousand times:

  • I’ll try to get that done today.
  • I’ll try to make the meeting.
  • I’ll try to get home by 5.
  • I try to get to the gym 3 times a week.

Which usually means, you don’t.

Think about it: when someone tells you they’ll try to Eliminating I'll try from your vocabulary stops you from predicting failure before you start.get something done, you likely run it through a translation filter that tells you they might not get it done. At least I do.

Saying you’ll try leaves you with an out. And often under that out is fear (I hate the gym!) or a lack of forethought (which really devalues the person who’s hearing your half-promise) or even self-centeredness (I’ll be home by 5 if it’s convenient for me).

Why leave yourself with an out? Just commit.

  • Either go to the gym 3 times a week or stop talking about it.
  • Get home by 5 or be realistic.
  • Move the project out the door when you said or stop promising false delivery dates.

Eliminating I’ll try from your vocabulary stops you from predicting failure before you start. And eliminating I’ll try will help you lead better because you’ll simply be more honest in every conversation you have, including the conversations you have with yourself.

2. I Don't Have the Time

Sure you do. You absolutely do.

You have the same time everybody else does on the planet. The only two exceptions are the day you’re born and the day you die. Other than that, we’re all handed the same amount.

Should you say yes to everything that comes your way? Absolutely not. You can’t say yes to everything. But that still doesn’t mean you should say you don’t have the time.

Years ago I made a shift. I stopped saying “I don’t have the time” If you want to get serious about what your real priorities are, stop saying I don't have the time and make yourself say (even internally) I'm not going to make the time for that.and made myself say “I’m not going to spend the time.” This is a change you shouldn’t talk about out loud all the time—you’ll offend people. But as an internal shift, it’s powerful.

When you make yourself say I’m not going to spend the time, you force yourself to make a decision. You will become a better time manager because you’ll be honest with yourself.

If you want to get serious about what your real priorities are, stop saying I don’t have the time and make yourself say (even internally) I’m not going to make the time for that. You’ll be a better leader.

3. I Can't

A third simple but powerful shift happens when you eliminate I can’t from your vocabulary.

  • I can’t make that.
  • I can’t get that done.
  • I can’t help.

Sure you can.

Often I can’t is a cover up for I don’t want to. I get that. No one wants to offend. When you're honest with yourself, you will become a far better leader. You'll avoid excuses. You'll make hard choices. And you'll get better.Other times it’s a cover for a lack of confidence, as in there’s no way I can do that! Occasionally that’s true. You likely can’t run a marathon you haven’t trained for. But most of the time that’s a lie. You could. If you wanted to.

Well, as long as you think that way, you’re right. There’s no way you can do it.

As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.”

So stop thinking you can’t.

"Whether you think you can or think you can't—you're right." —Henry Ford

How do you know? Why don’t you try it? (This is an appropriate use of the word ‘try’ by the way.) So what if you fail? And when it comes to your schedule, instead of telling yourself you can’t, force yourself to say “you won’t.”

It’s okay not to do things. Just be honest with yourself. When you’re honest with yourself, you will become a far better leader. You’ll avoid excuses. You’ll make hard choices. And you’ll get better.

You can still be polite and say “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it that day. I have another commitment.” or “Thanks for the invitation! I’d love to help but I’ve got some other things I need to get done!”

What Will You Cut?

Those are three phrases I’m cutting or have cut from my leadership vocabulary. I think they’ll force me to be a better leader.

What phrases would you cut?

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Find the original article "3 Common Phrases Every Leader Should Eliminate Starting Today" by Carey Nieuwhof.