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5 Things Toxic Leaders Say

Leadership //

You’ve had that boss.
Maybe you’ve been that boss.
The one who said something that made you feel horrible.

Words are powerful. Our words represent how we feel about others, what we believe about them, and how we view ourselves. As leaders, we can wreck our team through our words.

Here are five things toxic leaders say (and how to avoid them):

1. “I’m Busy.”

Most team leaders know better than to say this out loud. But busyness is still communicated – often unknowingly. Busyness communicates value: We give our time to things provide value. That may sound a bit selfish, but allocating value is not not a bad thing. The task for good leaders is to keep team members near the top of their “valuable” list.

But it’s true: You are busy. How do you balance task and relationship? Instead of shutting a team member down, set a time for conversation by saying, “Let’s find a time.” And then stick to it. Clearing a spot on your calendar will go a long way in communicating value to someone. In the meantime, consider the following examples of speaking value into a team member:

“You are a priority to me.”
“I want to hear what you think.”
“Let’s think this out together.”
“I’m looking forward to getting together.”
“I want to give you my undivided attention.”
“You’re thoughts are important to me.”

2. “Run This.”

If you lead a team, there’s always stuff that needs to get done. And the people on your team love to give. They love to feel empowered. But it’s important to keep in mind that real leadership isn’t about empowering people for a task – just something to keep them busy. Leadership is about empowering them toward something they can own.

Rather than saying “Run This,” look for opportunities to say “Own This.” Empowering your team members is like saying “I trust you.” Delegating tasks is vastly different than delegating authority. When you say “run this,” you’re communicating to your team that you’re in the business of getting stuff done. When you say “own this,” you’re communicating that you’re in the business raising people up. There’s a big difference.

3.”You’re Not Ready To…”

This idea kills self-confidence on a couple of levels: 1) It places distance between you and them, 2) It makes them the problem. This idea is rarely said out loud. It’s communicated more often through decisions, posture, and other intangibles.

Instead of killing the confidence level of your team, take more responsibility by saying “I haven’t led you to…” This puts the pressure on you to up your leadership game. Your team will appreciate that you’re in the trenches with them.

4. “That Won’t Work.”

You’ve got dreamers on your team. The kind of people who are always asking “why” and looking for new ways of doing things. They’re the thinkers. The dreamers. The ones who love to push the envelope. These kind of emerging leaders can be uncomfortable – especially if you’re a naturally conservative team leader. And as a result, many team leaders get used to telling people “no.”

Telling your best people “no” is like taking the wind out of their sails. Instead of “no,” give these team members freedom by saying “Prove me wrong.” They’re ready to spend their leadership capital trying new ideas. Let them fail safely. Emerging leaders will learn more from their failure than they will through your prevention. Leaders who lead by prevention aren’t saving their team from any embarrassment. They’re only showing them that risky ideas aren’t worth chasing.

5. “I’ll Fix You.”

As a leader, you see the potential in your team. You see some members who are serving way beneath their potential and you want to help them. Remember: People on your team aren’t projects to be fixed.

Instead of fixing problems, look for ways to say “I’ll develop you.” Think about the difference between potholes and pavement. Fixing people is a lot like repairing potholes: It’s a quick solution, but doesn’t last long. Paving, although time intensive, speaks to the value of doing the job right over time. Development can take the form of mentoring or coaching – both very time and energy intensive, but worth it the sacrifice in the long run.

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About the Author

Brannon Marshall is Director of Global Church Engagement for Awana and serves on staff at Christ Community Church. He has served as a church planter and youth pastor, and is a frequent speaker on issues relating to church health. Brannon and his wife, Mandie, live in Elgin, IL, with their children: Joseph, Carston, and Hannah.