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10 Clichés Leaders Use (and How to Avoid Them)

Sarah LandrumHolly welcomes guest blogger Sarah Landrum-

As a leader, one of your responsibilities, among other things, is to make sure you and your employees remain on the same page. If you do that by bombarding them with clichés , however, it is likely you’ll end up with a team of bored, unmotivated and jaded people.

Here are a few common overused sayings and suggestions on what you might replace them with. 

  1. “In Today’s Highly Competitive Marketplace…” 

Employees are usually well aware of the competition or at least strong competitive forces impacting the organization. They’re also aware that it’s “today” — which may or may not be different from any other day — and that there’s a hypothetical marketplace waiting to splash over them, the way a raging river splashes over a hapless school of salmon. 

What to Do Instead: Avoid adding phrases like this one or its cousin, “now more than ever,” to the beginning of every sentence. Be concise and careful with words.  State specifically what any new threat is to the business.  Be clear on what market forces are shifting and what individuals and teams can do to counter those forces or take advantage of them.    

  1. “There’s No ‘I’ in Team” 

A team is like a jigsaw puzzle; it is made up of a diverse set of unique individuals. It’s not enough to toss the individual pieces onto the board; you need to figure out how they fit together to form the big picture. 

What to Do Instead: Treat each individual as a respected member of the team and play up their strengths to get them on board as a team player. 

  1. “There Are No Stupid Questions” 

But there are questions that add nothing to the discussion. For example, “what did we talk about last time again?” Or “when will the men’s restroom be renovated?” 

What to Do Instead:  Keep the discussion from wandering by addressing the redundant questions. Tell your team to make sure you haven’t answered their question previously before asking, or to ask at a time when it is more appropriate. 

  1. “Give 110 Percent” 

The mathematical impossibility of this aside, here’s the thing: Your employees have no idea what “110 percent” means. Does it mean spending 48 more minutes in the office every day? Or is it increasing production by 10 percent? 

What to Do Instead: Be specific yet realistic, about goals and give them a quantifiable objective. Say, “what I hope to achieve is [goal] by [time]. Think it’s doable?” 

  1. “Think Outside the Box” 

As Dr. Ramiro Zuniga points out, creative thought is already a given for most organizations. It’s fine to encourage innovation, as long as it’s grounded in sound — but not outdated — business principles. Also, the solution might be inside the box; it’s just that no one’s seen it yet.   

What to Do Instead:  Clearly define the problem and the set of principles you’d like to see guide the solution. Encourage your team to look at the same problem from a different angle to stay on focus. Provide clear guidance for innovative thought to encourage creative thinking – don’t outright demand it. 

  1. “The Customer Is Always Right” 

Customers don’t care about the impact of their words on your employees. All they care about is getting what they paid for — regardless of what they have to do to get it. This doesn’t mean they were right in their actions, and your employees shouldn’t feel as if they were. 

What to Do Instead: Calmly ask employees to explain the situation from an objective point of view and have them come up with possible solutions. By focusing on the solution, you’ll eliminate pointless complaining and easily determine what needs to be done. If the company was at fault, help the employee determine a course of action. If the customer was unreasonable, remind the employee that they still deserve quality service and guide them through appropriate behaviors. 

  1. “Strategic [Blank]” 

Appending “strategic” to words like “planning,” “management” and “positioning” will not, by itself, work miracles for your company. It’s already understood that everything should be aligned to the determined strategies. 

What to Say Instead: Avoid using “strategic” as much as possible. It’s as redundant as “end result”, “serious crisis” and “final outcome.” Explain the strategy supported or referenced in a clear and concise manner. 

  1. “Eyes on the Prize” 

This, along with “bottom line,” comes across as condescending. It suggests employees don’t know, or don’t care about, what they’re doing.  You also run the risk that employees too focused only on results won’t think twice about using dishonest or unethical business practices to accomplish things. 

What to Do Instead: Be clear about what the goal is and give your employees incentives for reaching it. Encourage transparent and honest methods of achieving the goal and focus on the means and the ends. 

  1. “It Is What It Is” 

It’s one thing to be realistic. It’s another to choose not to do anything when something can still be done. If employees pick up a defeatist attitude from their leader, they won’t have the motivation to get up and move either. 

What to Do Instead: Address the circumstances, but don’t dwell on them. Be positive and look to the future with solutions to overcome the problem at hand. 

  1. “(Insert Buzzword Here)” 

If your employees had a dollar for every instance they hear words like “synergy,” “profit maximization” and “thought leader,” you won’t have to worry about funding their retirement accounts anymore. But then they’d have little incentive to continue working with you.   

What to Do Instead: Be straightforward and tactful, and eliminate these business buzzwords from your vocabulary.

Remember: Employees aren’t necessarily looking for a “perfect” leader. They just want someone who keeps it clear, fresh and real. If you can manage this, you’ll be rewarded with loyal and motivated employees, who will do everything in their power to realize your vision for your company.


About the Author 

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on finding happiness and success in the work world. You can find her dishing out advice on everything from the job search to professional and leadership development on Twitter and her career advice blog, Punched Clocks.

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