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Servant Leadership: Communication Don’ts

Our words have more power than we realize. And when you’re trying to lead a team, or group of people, what you say shapes the culture and dynamics of your team. Effective communication is essential for more reasons than I can list. So, I want to take you through some common phrases I know leaders use and what impacts they can have on their teams. 


My goal with this blog is that you become a more mindful communicator. We have to be conscious and present in our interactions, choosing empowering language that reinforces our beliefs as a leader and strengthens our teams. So, let’s talk about communication, servant leadership style!


Communication, Servant Leadership Style:

Communication is a vehicle for conveying our intentions, values, and beliefs. The words we choose have a lasting impact on the culture and relationships we’re cultivating. I like to think about it like this: “Is what I’m saying the right message and am I saying it in a way that can be received?”


"Because I said so"

Wow, if I had a nickel for every time, I heard this one! I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel like a kid again. When you’d try to do something and your parents say “No!” and you ask why, they’d hit you with his catchphrase. Here’s the thing, the why matters. Your team isn’t going to buy into the goal, task, or project at hand if they’re not given the why behind it. By denying them the opportunity to understand their work you create a disinterested and unmotivated team who end up working just for a paycheck.


"That's not my job."

And it’s not going to be mine if I quit! I’ve had this thought, and I’m sure if you said this to your team they’d have the same one too. When you’re in a team it’s crucial to foster a mindset of collective responsibility and support. So even if it’s not your job, taking initiative to help your team sets a standard for your team to follow. When you demonstrate a willingness to assist your team it encourages a culture of teamwork and collaboration from the top down.


"It's always been done this way."

Yikes! I hate this one, it actually makes me cringe. I can’t help but imagine seeing this individual deflate, losing all excitement after hearing this from their boss. If you say this you are stifling innovation and growth within your team. Now I’m not saying every idea is a good idea. But there are ways to effectively challenge new ideas instead of shutting them down. I want you all to think about how you can encourage creativity and open-mindedness in your team. You’d be able to build a team where members feel empowered to challenge the status quo and propose improvements, even if not every idea is implemented.


"You should have known better."

This sounds like a training or communication failure to me. But instead of figuring out what the true root of the conflict was, a bad leader will just hit their team member with this catchphrase. It’s this blame-and-shame game that erodes trust and instills fear. I have, in my time as a leader, had the urge to say this to my team. But I have to be aware enough to be more curious and understanding. Everyone makes mistakes and I challenge myself to figure out what created the problem, offer constructive feedback where appropriate, and accept responsibility if I didn’t effectively communicate or train my team! When we focus on learning opportunities and encourage personal growth rather than dwelling on mistakes our teams will feel more comfortable taking on work and accepting more responsibilities.


"I don't have time."

Everyone’s time is important. Please do your best to avoid dismissing requests or delegating tasks solely based on time constraints. The last thing I want is for my team to think they are less important than me and my time. I can’t stress how important it is to prioritize your team members' needs and find ways to support them. And if you do have time constraints you can’t avoid, at least offer an alternate time to connect with them. We want to make sure everyone feels valued and supported on our team.


"I'm the boss."

I don’t know if this is better or worse than “Because I said so” but it gives off the same vibe. This just screams badge tapping to me, you know the boss that is all about their authority and entitlement? I don’t know about you but that’s not the kind of person I want to be. Even if I’m the boss I want to have mutual respect and collaboration in my teams. It’s just better to treat team members as valued partners rather than subordinates, otherwise, no one is going to want to work with you.


"You're lucky to have this job."

You’re lucky to have anyone on your team with that attitude! I don’t know anyone who feels lucky to have to work. And we all know most people have jobs because they need money to live. If you say this, you’re asking the person to forego any expectation of joy or excitement in their workplace. This mindset can lead to toxic and apathetic cultures that degrade working relationships and destroy teams. It’s not hard to express gratitude for your team members' contributions, especially if the job is difficult.


"It's not my problem."

But it is your problem boss. As my leader, you are responsible for everything I do. When you avoid problems, you tell your team you are not going to protect them. A team that doesn’t feel protected loses willingness to do work because of fear and uncertainty under their leader. We should demonstrate support and offer air coverage to our team, so they feel safe under our leadership. A way I like to do this is to tell my team I trust their decisions and when upper-level management challenges their work I’ll willingly take the blame. Anyone under my leadership is my responsibility, that includes all the work they do.


Takeaways

What we say matters. It’s really that simple. There were more phrases I wanted to include but I think these few examples demonstrated my point well enough. I’d be happy to start a forum where you all can post phrases you’ve heard and how they made you feel. Let me know in the comments if you’d like that and I’ll get right on it!


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