Words To Avoid If You Are A People-Focused Leader

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I began my career as a power leader. I was trained in the corporate world to only care about short-term quarterly results, revenues and profits. For the first 20 years of my career, I found limited satisfaction in leading others. Thankfully, I’ve gone through a transformation in my leadership style and today I consider myself a servant leader. I’ve been transformed by my experiences and by people who helped me realize I should care about others above myself. As a servant leader, I care more about people than results. 

I made that change in my leadership mindset about 15 years ago, and now I spend my time teaching and investing in others. I love to help people grow to their fullest potential. Over the years, I’ve learned there are several words or phrases leaders should avoid if they want to be people-focused. I’d like to share those with you today.

The first word is try. When leaders use that word, they leave the impression they’re not sure where they want to go or how they want to get there. Try is non-committal in nature. According to Merriam-Webster, it means, “To make an attempt at.” As a leader, when you use try, you leave the impression that you aren’t really committed. When you tell someone in your organization you’ll try to fit them into your schedule, how do you think that person feels? If you aren’t able to make time, the next time you see that person, you’ll say, “Well, I tried but it just didn’t work out.” Try is a word that provides an excuse for leaders to not do what they said they would do. 

The second word is really a phrase. I’ve learned that when you care about people, you should never tell them you don’t care.  When you really care about others, and they know you care, you’ll be able to work and grow together to your fullest potential as a team. The best way I can show others I care about them is to listen to them, listen to understand and ask them to tell me more until I do understand. The two phrases I’ve found to be most powerful for caring leaders are tell me more and help me understand. If you tell someone you don’t care about them, the process, or the results expected of the team, how can you expect them to care about you, the company, or the team’s results? Show people you care about them and watch how the world around you is transformed. 

The third word is also a phrase I’ve learned never to use as a leader: just do it. Today’s business world is focused mostly on short-term results. When leaders use this phrase, our teams believe we don’t care about how we get the results — just get them. Business news is filled with stories about companies that didn’t care how they obtained results. This is the primary reason the majority of our workforce today is disengaged. I believe how you get results is more important than the results themselves. When you focus on helping people grow to their fullest potential, you’ll experience results you never thought were possible. The future leaders and workforce are looking for purpose and meaning in their lives. They are looking for work/life integration, not just work/life balance. They care about the how. They care about values, about purpose and why they’re doing what they’re doing. If it’s all about results, they’re not interested and will end up leaving for another company. 

I’ll try, I don’t care and just do it — these are words and phrases people-focused leaders should never use. When you eliminate them from your leadership language, you and those around you will be changed for good and your results will exceed expectations. Be a caring, focused leader who cares about how you get results, not just the results themselves.  

Art Barter
Founder and CEO Servant Leadership Institute
Owner and CEO Datron World Communications