Think of a person who was an exceptional performer as a technician, systems analyst, accountant, sales representative or any other individual contributor role. What many well-intentioned companies do is promote this stellar performer to become a manager or leader over their former peers.

Unfortunately, what can happen is the loss of a great technician and the hiring of a lousy manager. Why is this? Simply because the skills the person has to be a great technician are very different from those skills needed to be an effective manager.

In many cases, the person receives no training or coaching on the role of the manager or the behaviors expected of a manager. A particular concern is when the person doesn’t hone in their communication skills. The skills to create a connecting environment can be the last thing the newly promoted manager has in their possession.

Marcel Schwantes has written a piece on discussing 6 toxic phrases a leader should never utter. They are:

  1. “I don’t need anybody’s opinion. This is the direction we’re headed.”This phrase will never come from the leader who puts their team first. Strong leaders know what they know and know what they don’t know. They know when they need to seek input and counsel from others, particularly those on their team. When they actually decide on a course of action, the decision may not always be popular, yet the chances are high the team will rally behind the decision simply because their input was sought and considered.
  2. “I’m not responsible for that – go blame someone else.”It was Jim Collins in Good To Great who described the humble leader as the one who looks out of his office door to the people who helped deliver on a success and looks in the mirror when there is a failure. The best leaders accept they are not perfect and will make mistakes. They accept and welcome accountability not just for their own actions, but for the results (successes and failures) of their team as well.
  3. “I don’t need to get trained. I know everything there is to know.” This kind of thinking, while flawed indeed, may be expected from the technician, but never the leader. I’ve often said if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. The best leaders know they don’t know everything and are humble enough to admit it. They readily seek input from others who are smarter than they are in several areas. These leaders are also very comfortable hiring people smarter than they are because of the synergies which will naturally develop.
  4. “That’s why I hired you. Figure it out for yourself.” While the “figure it out for yourself” can be a good developmental tactic, the tone of the phrase is quite toxic. Strong leaders take an active role in coaching those on their team to develop alternatives and solutions to problems. This coaching is supportive and instructive, not punitive or demeaning.
  5. “It is what it is.”When people say this, they are essentially saying there is nothing they or anyone else can do about a situation. This toxic phrase is quite dismissive. Strong leaders will welcome the opportunity to engage others in a deeper conversation to explore solutions, generate new ideas and settle on the best approach. Using this phrase exposes the leader as a lazy thinker who doesn’t think anything is wrong with the status-quo.
  6. “I can’t do this for you, so don’t even bother asking again.”When team members hear this, they interpret it as the leader not caring about them or their concerns. Strong leaders know success comes from a team effort in an environment of trust and collaboration where the team is headed in the same direction. Leaders who use this phrase aren’t leaders at all. They are concerned more about their own to-do list which likely has nothing of real impact on it!

Hopefully you don’t use any of these toxic phrases. Yet, maybe you do know someone who does. Allow this to be a call to action on your part to lean into your colleague and share some of this with them. Their team will be glad you did!

What other phrases are toxic and should never be spoken by a leader? I’m curious, so please let me know.

Best regards,


​​​​​​PS – I will be conducting a virtual mastermind study of one of John Maxwell’s most recent books Developing The Leader Within You 2.0. John originally wrote a book by the same title 25 years ago. Over 80% of the content has been updated in this 2.0 edition, published this year. It will be a 10 week study with 60 minute sessions held weekly. If you are interested in learning more about this study, please contact me directly. You’ll be glad you did and so will your team!