By Dr Hercules Kollias
There are without a doubt particular phrases and sayings that good companies should just ban from their workplaces.
If you’ve ever worked for a horrible boss or bad manager, then you know it. You also remember some of the things they said. You might recognize they were the wrong things to say, but you also might not have had time to realize why.
For your enjoyment and education, this is a list of 21 things that the worst corporate leaders have been known to say. Use the list to identify incompetent bosses, avoid being a bad leader yourself, and also speculate as to how some of these people got the positions they’re in at all in the first place.
1) "You're not going home until this is done."
If you’re working an hourly wage, this is bad news, but there might not be much you can do about it, although it does possibly indicate a manager’s inability to delegate and manage workflow appropriately. That’s more evident if they charge in and tell you or everyone to drop everything else and do something immediately. While it’s true that any boss can have a sudden urgent situation the deprioritizes everything else, the frequency at which it happens is telling. Good bosses only pull this particular move when they have a genuine crisis. A bad leader might do it daily.
If you’re on a salary, however, things get worse. Salary employees typically get discretion over some or all of their schedule, meaning you choose when it’s time to call it a day. In either the hourly or salary case, a great comeback to use on your lousy leader is saying “Sure, I’ll get right on it. That does mean that [whatever the previous crisis project was] won’t get done until Friday. That cool?”
2) "You're not surfing Facebook or checking game scores while you're on my clock."
In defence of many managers, if you’re an hourly employee and not on an official break, they might have a point. Having said that, they should be asking you if you’re on a break instead, as a gentle reminder of the policies and expectations.
It’s a far different world if you’re a salary worker in a white-collar profession. Knowledge workers are professionals who don’t just do 40 hours a week. They work at their jobs, but they also eat, sleep, and practically live there. They never get their work done, and it never will get done, as email inboxes get crammed just as fast at 8 in the evening as they do at 8 in the morning. Most of them are around the office during the day to have access to one another, but they also know they’ll be working solo either there, at home, or on the road during evenings, nights, and weekends. That can mean a need for some mental freedom during the day, and they should feel free to watch funny cat videos or highlight reels from their favourite teams when their brains need to cool off. Daydreaming salary employees often means you get better productivity from them the rest of the day.
3) "I do not care if you agree with it, I just want it to get it done."
It’s easy to get angry at a manager that says this, but that’s not as productive as taking it on the chin and finding another place to work. Such a manager has no respect for you or any other employee. Worse yet, they’re not interested in anyone else’s ideas, and the best ideas don’t always come from the top.
4) "That sounds like a personal problem to me."
Managers might not want to know about the personal lives of their employees, but people do have families, spouses, kids, medical needs, and a million other personal matters that sometimes are a higher priority than work. Glossing over that means the employees are dehumanized, and managers that don’t care about the priorities of their employees wind up having employees that return the favour by not caring about their goals.
It’s even worse if an employee has approached a manager about another employee or even another leader. While it’s true that most coworkers should find a way to coexist, some folks don’t just get it. A good manager is going to at least listen for a few minutes so that misbehaviour does not go unnoticed and tolerated. It’s also a chance to discover employees who have standards and expectations of those around them that are just unrealistic and need a reset.
5) "If you don't like this job, I can find someone who does."
A manager who drops this classic threat is beyond salvation, and so is your job. Finish your shift, and then polish up your resume.
There is a certain basic transaction that defines the relationship between employees and managers. An employee brings value in terms of brain power and sweat labour, while the employer gives you cash in exchange for your work and services. However, good and great leaders know that this transaction is so basic that it shouldn’t be all there is. If they truly hired the right folks and gave them the right training or responsibilities, then they should trust them and give them the latitude to do things their own way.
6) "In this economy, you're lucky you have a job in the first place!"
This one’s just absurd, and it would almost be funny if it didn’t make the leader look so amazingly stupid. At the time of writing this list, the unemployment rate was 4.4 per cent, which means that over 95 per cent of the population who wanted to was working. The ironic and even hypocritical thing is that the manager thinks you’re lucky to be in that 95 per cent, but somehow they’re above that and not lucky themselves as well.
7) "I'm not telling you again."
Threats are for playground bullies and dictators. Neither makes good bosses. It might be acceptable to hear this once or twice from an exasperated leader at times, but it’s got no place as routine talk to subordinates.
8) "Nothing I can do about it."
If they shrug their shoulders while saying this, or just say that it’s the policy and you have to deal with things, then they’ve grabbed an easy-open can of the ultimate cop-out. If you get the feeling they’re unwilling to do anything about it, your instincts are probably right.
9) "When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you."
It makes a great t-shirt to wear with friends, and in the right crowd, it can even be a funny joke among those who already trust you. More often than not, it’s a power trip and ego inflation for the person in charge. A more common refrain goes along the lines of “If I wanted your opinion, then I would’ve asked for it.” Managers and bosses who brush off people like this are afraid and hostile. Good managers recognize good ideas and don’t care whose brain or mouth they come out of because they’re more concerned about getting work done than fighting off challengers to their pathetic hilltop throne.
10) "I do not care. I am too busy. Do you know what I have to deal with on top of your complaints?"
Everyone has too much on their plate most days, but managers are called managers because they’re supposed to manage things and delegate the responsibilities and work around, not stand around and bellyache about how rough their life is. This definitely causes friction with people at lower pay grades.
11) "Okay, do it your own way, but if goes south, you're the one responsible."
Good bosses know their employees support them, so they support their employees. A lousy leader runs from any responsibility possible.
12) “You’re not doing that right. Who gave you permission to do that?”
Don’t go running for job interviews the first time you hear this. It might actually just mean a manager doesn’t know how to actually phrase criticisms constructively, and there are millions like that left in the workforce from older professional cultures and companies. Try to translate what they’re really saying, but if it happens repeatedly, and there isn’t really anything constructive there, then start looking over the fence for greener grass. Just keep in mind that a step-mother or in-law might be equally critical but coming from a place of love.
13) “What a dumb idea!”
Your boss might be trying to recycle a joke from a previous boss of their own, but if you’re feeling anywhere from insulted to bullied, it might be time to sit down with HR…or freshen up your resume…or both.
14) “You look good for your age. You should wear that more often.”
There’s a fine line here. A positive comment about an object, like “nice shirt,” is okay. However, objectifying someone is not okay. You can’t tell a woman, or even a man, how you like how they fill in that shirt.
15) “I have some feedback for your improvement, and I'm not alone in feeling this way."
You need feedback about how you’re doing. You need to stay on track, to keep up, or just get better. However, whereas a good boss will give you constructive criticism in private, a lousy one is going to publicly reprimand you. The worst ones try to get peer pressure on their side against you. If you can’t get that conversation moved into private, you’re really dealing with a stinker of a leader.
16) “I need more people like me.”
A good leader knows that growth and innovation are the results of diverse thought. Weak leaders with fragile souls surround themselves with yes-men and yes-women.
It can actually be a little understandable to hear some managers say this at times. They might remember doing their job pretty well at lower ranks and are shocked that their post-promotion replacements don’t do as well. However, not everyone is an all-star, and role players matter. You can’t play sports with five point guards or eleven quarterbacks, nor could you fill a baseball field with nothing but pitchers and win. Golden State doesn’t win rings because it has 15 all-stars on its roster, it does it because it has three or four with a deep bench of individuals who bring singular talents to the whole.
17) “You have no idea what you're talking about.”
This is a coarse insult, but it also deflates an employee. There are of course times when employees simply have no clue what they’re rambling about or doing, but a good manager recognizes a teaching moment where they can improve, correct, and inspire an employee to do better. A more engaged employee will be far more of a contributor than one whose confidence and caring for their work just got crushed.
18) “I never saw that one coming.”
Is your boss genuinely right to be shocked something happened? It happens. Or were they ignorant and oblivious of an oncoming train because they didn’t listen to everyone around them, failed to keep the big picture in mind, and were too busy micromanaging or dealing with petty matters?
19) "You're not paid to think."
Actual translation: your horrible boss doesn’t like the idea they just heard. It might threaten their power, and they know down deep inside how inept and worthless they really are. It could just be that it would mean firing up dead brain cells or even expending some political capital inside the establishment. These are folks you should just walk away from.
20) "I’ll take it under consideration."
Some professionals do say this and mean it. Most who say it, are just politely refusing to go about your suggestion and really want you to crawl away on fire and then die in a ditch.
21) "Bring me answer and solutions, not problems and questions!"
In the advent of the school of thought that employees could often solve their own daily problems in their own responsible realms, this was somewhat empowering. In the modern economy, technology, protocols, and processes are too complicated for people to figure out on their own, and the employee that often spots an issue is rarely the one with the skill, knowledge, access, and power to fix it. The chain of communication exists for a reason, and it’s not so someone can feel great about being higher up than most.
What Do Better Bosses Say?
If you’re a good boss or at least a competent manager, then you would unlikely say anything on the list above. However, what do you say? Consider how things should work if you’re a decent leader. Your employees, subordinates, or direct reports know their roles and responsibilities but should have also been given the training they need to do their work. While you do need to supervise and check in with everyone routinely, you also shouldn’t have to actually do all that much. So, here are 7 things you can possibly say in your interactions with those underneath you:
1) “Attaboy” or “Attagirl”
You might decide to avoid gender-specific terms, as some can consider them condescending or patronizing. However, a genuine compliment of pride should make any subordinate feel a little better.
2) “Let me know when you find any roadblocks, and I’ll help you get rid of them.”
If you’re a good leader, you’ll find and have workers looking to move up. That means they might tackle projects outside their scope and skill set, looking to prove themselves. Support them. Not only are you earning everyone’s loyalty now, but you’re also making yourself look good to your leaders as someone who can identify and advance talent.
3) “You’ve been killing yourself; why don’t you take off at noon on Friday?”
Don’t do this so often that people can get out early for the weekend by working too hard early in the week. However, as a rare or specific reward, doled out with mindful intention and attention, it will make hearts melt.
4) "Great job!"
It’s easy to overdo this one, but it’s still one of the most effective rewards you can verbally deliver.
5) "How's it going?"
In general public, a lot of folks ask this and don’t really care. They’re just being polite. In the workplace, it shows you care, and it helps you identify folks that need your help.
6) “How do you suggest we address this?”
If someone brings you a problem, they might already have a solution in mind. Even if you don’t or can’t use their answer, hearing them out shows tremendous respect and sensitivity, making it a lot easier for them to accept whatever it is you can or can’t do about a problem.
7) "Good night!"
Even if you’re leaving hours earlier than the workers still there, they need to know when you’re around and when you’re not. It’s also a great chance to make sure all is well before you walk out the door.
In more general terms, good managers don’t just say the right things, they know how to listen. They use phrases and words that are trust-based or are at least helpful and encouraging.
Some companies are lost causes, and if you know there’s more than one bad boss or horrible manager around, it might be time to recognize a deteriorating corporate culture and get out of town. On the other hand, if you use this list to identify a bad boss or two but like where you work, you can flip all this on its head to be a good leader yourself.
As much as bad bosses are often promoted into positions they can’t handle because they excelled at a lower position they could handle, you can prove yourself to be a great leader whenever possible, even if not currently in a position of authority.
Your company should eventually recognize this and move you up. If not, you can show positive leadership potential in an entry-level opportunity on a better ladder somewhere else. Hopefully, that will be a place where you don’t hear any of the 21 things on this list that only incompetent leaders say to those looking to them for leadership.