Doing Business | Management

September 02, 2013

10 Dumb Things Bosses Say (and What to Say Instead)

Being the boss is difficult enough without making it harder by saying silly things.

Being the boss is hard work and it's even harder if your employees think you're acting like a fool.  Here are ten common silly phrases that bosses use, followed by a far more effective alternative.

10. "Don't ever talk to my boss."

A boss sometimes worry that if employees talk to his or her own boss, it will undermine the boss's own authority.  To prevent this, the boss instructs employees to channel all communications through the official management chain.

This is dumb because information/gossip/opinion flies around the company with the speed of light and it's ridiculous for anyone to try to control it. Because of this, a boss who wishes to suppress discussion just comes off looking paranoid.

Smart bosses say: "Always keep me in the loop."

9. "Track how you spend every hour."

Some bosses believe that if they can track how everyone in the organizations spends his or her time, they'll get a better handle on what's going on and thereby be able to make better decisions.

However, obsessive time tracking makes it harder to have "skunk works" projects that are the primary source of innovation in most companies.  At the same time, employees inevitably start "fudging" their hours to match management's expectations.

Smart bosses say: "Here's what I need you to accomplish:..."

8. "Use fewer office supplies."

Sure, office supplies cost money, but so does worrying about using less of them. For example, I was once in a firm that sharply limited the amount of copier paper to save money.  The result was hoarding and raiding, all of which consumed time and money.

Similarly, I have twice seen email from inside Fortune 100 firms suggesting that employees reuse their paperclips. However, if an office worker spends .1 second worrying about a paperclip, it costs more than the cost of the paper clip.

Smart bosses say: "Worry about getting the job done."

7. "The customer is always right."

I addressed this issue recently in the post "The Customer is Often Wrong."  The problem here is that when bosses use this tired phrase, it's usually to undermine the best judgment of a salesperson who's much closer to the situation.

Bosses are supposed to manage employees, not customers and when they intrude themselves in customer relationships, there's a high likelihood they'll take action based upon ignorance.  Just ask any salesperson.

Smart bosses say: "I support your decision."

6. "We expect corporate loyalty."

Many bosses believe that employees should be willing remain in their jobs even when they can get a better job elsewhere.  This is especially true when the employer has spent money to train the employee in a specialty.

The thing about loyalty, though, is that it's supposed to go both ways.  Maybe corporate loyalty made sense when companies guaranteed lifetime employment.  But, today, why should employees feel loyal when they know they could be outsourced in a heartbeat?

Smart bosses say: "I'll continue to pay you what you're worth."

5. "This is a meritocracy."

Many companies--especially in high tech industries--claim that the smartest employees always get the promotions. However, a cursory glance at almost any medium-sized firm shows that the "Peter Principle" is just as often the rule.

Beyond this, it's perfectly ridiculous to talk about a meritocracy in any industry where less than half of the top executives are female.  After all, women started attending college in equal numbers as men 40 years ago.

Smart bosses say: "We try our best to hire and promote the best."

4. "You'll gain valuable experience."

Bosses say this whenever they want somebody to work for less than their labor is worth to the company. The perfect example of this is the unpaid internship, but bosses also use this bait to hook seasoned employees, too.

Let's suppose that the concept has merit.  In this case, shouldn't first-time CEOs who take over established firms all be paid $0.00? After all, aren't they gaining valuable experience that they can use when they get their next job?

Smart bosses say: "You'll be paid what you're worth and you'll learn something, too."

3. "There's no truth to at rumor."

thBosses often believe that the can tamp down a rumor by denying that it's true. However, anybody with an ounce of sense realizes that if the rumor weren't true, the boss wouldn't be giving it special attention.

Nevertheless, bosses keep trying, especially when their company is about to downsize.  Here is one case, though, where a meritocracy exists.  The smart employees start looking for another job as soon as the downsizing rumor is denied.

Smart bosses say: Nothing.

2. "It's my way or the highway."

Many bosses think that they should know more about their employees' jobs than the employees know themselves.  As a result, the boss lays out exactly how everything is to be done and insists that the employee toe that line.

However, bosses are supposed to be managing people, not the work that those people do. A boss should tell employees what to do rather than how to do it.  Even when coaching, the boss should help the employee find his or her own way of doing things better.

Smart bosses say: "Let's try it your way."

1. "Because I said so."

While this justification might make sense for a five-year-old who can't understand adult reasoning, in the context of business, leaning on your authority as a manager is both lazy and stupid.

Because they're responsible adults rather than toddlers, employees are far more likely to support a decision with which they disagree if they understand the boss's reasoning for making that particular decision.

Smart bosses say: "I made this decision because..."


Text by Inc.

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