13 Stupid Sentences That Will Derail Your Career

I wish HR would teach a course on the really stupid sentences people say at work. Oh, I’m not talking about he obvious stupidity: “you look hot in that dress” or “hey baby”. There’s training and rules for that. But there’s no code of conduct to protect against the stupid, dis-empowering words I often hear up, down and sideways.

Before writing this post, I decided to do an informal stupid sentence poll through social media. The responses fell into two big categories: Stupid sentences that deny accountability and stupid sentences that prove you are clueless. I’ll start; you add to the lists.

Stupid Sentences That Deny Accountability

  1. That’s Not My Job (#1 by a landslide) – Although we all know this, someone is still out there saying it. Stop it, it’s stupid. Instead, help all you can.
  2. That Decision’s Above My Pay Grade – The really wacky part of this one, is that I hear it most often at the higher levels of the business. Please, please don’t say this. And whatever you do, don’t say it to someone at a lower pay grade than you. They count on you to advocate for what’s right, not shrug your shoulders and roll over.
  3. I Wasn’t Aware – This one is commonly used to throw someone else under the bus. Trust me, you look like an idiot. “Let me find out more”, “I’m digging in”, and “I’m here to help” are all acceptable replacement statements.
  4. My Team really Screwed This Up – No one really says this do they? From my experience and the poll, yes. Sometimes out loud; sometimes by just being silent. Own your team’s mistakes and help them fix them and learn. There’s no better way to gain credibility up and down the chain.
  5. I Can Always Get Another Job At Twice The Pay Some Place Else – Okay, if that’s really true, and you’re disgruntled with the rest of the scene to say that out loud. Just saying. Be careful.
  6. I Just Don’t Have Enough Time To Do That – If it’s not a priority say that. If it’s important discuss what else could move.
  7. It’s Not My Fault, It’s The Other Department’s Mistake – Let’s assume that’s true. Taking the high-road would look like ________________? Who and how would that help?
  8. Stupid Sentences That Prove You’re Clueless

  9. That’s A Stupid Question – As much as I want to throw up every time someone says there are no stupid questions, the truth is leaders keep saying that because other leaders are out there making people feel stupid. Stop it.
  10. What’s Wrong With Them – If your team’s not performing, the problem starts with you, not them. Could be selection, systems, rules, leadership. Figure it out, reverse the direction of your finger-pointing.
  11. That’ll Never Work – If I had a nickel for every time my team proved me wrong or I proved someone wrong, the truth is that just because it didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Put away old biases and really listen. Consider a pilot or some other form of toe-dipping. Most importantly, be a receptive and encouraging leader.
  12. That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It – We get that. Now be a leader.
  13. The Employees Need To Realize They Are Lucky To Have Jobs In This Economy – Okay, so grateful (and without choices) that they _____________. I know you’re not saying these things, but research has shown many someones are.

Thanks to the folks at Lead Change and Twitter for weighing in.

In Other News…

bookcoverI was delighted to have been interviewed about my new book, Overcoming An Imperfect Boss on the powerful podcast: The Business of People In Leadership. Amazed at the stories he got out of me including my most embarrassing leadership moment. Click here to hear the podcast.

Want to know more about the book? Click here to download a sample chapter.

Already read it? I would love to see your review on Amazon.

5 Reasons Your Great Boss Is Hurting Your Career

Like other good things in life, a great boss relationship, taken to extremes, can wreak havoc with your career. I’ve seen otherwise smart and talented people lose credibility by over-aligning with a great boss. Be sure to diversify your relationship investments. Perhaps you’ll recognize these career-derailing characters. Avoid these common traps.

Great Boss Traps

The Coat Tail Rider

On the surface it feels like the perfect symbiotic relationship. You’re her right hand guy. You work hard and always achieve results. She gets promoted to a new department, and she brings you over. It’s comforting for her to have a someone familiar she can rely on, and you get a promotion, or a new assignment. Win-win, right? Then it happens again, and again. Sweet deal?

Although it’s comfortable and feels like the fast track, beware of riding coat tails, particularly into more than one assignment. Your identity will become enveloped within your more powerful, great boss. People will begin to see you as a package deal. If her career derails, so will yours.

Also, the best leadership growth comes from working with a variety of leaders. Although the devil you know feels easy, you’re both limiting the growth you would get from working with a wider variety of leaders. Better to let your relationship morph into a mentoring relationship, or friendship, while you each continue to pursue the next steps of your career.

The Mini Me

Your great boss is successful, so you work to emulate his every move. You begin dressing more like him and picking up mannerisms. After all, it works for him, why not you? In fact, you may not even notice you’re doing it. Trust me, others do.

No matter how great a leader your great boss is, resist the urge to lead like him. Your best leadership will come when you lead from a place of deep authenticity.   No one wants to follow a copy-cat.

The Tag Along

Your great boss is looking to develop you, and has your best interest at heart, so he brings you along a lot: to the big meetings, to the charity fundraiser… to happy hour. When there’s a company function, there you are right by his side. You always find your way to his table at dinner.

After all, powerful people hang out with other powerful people, right? Be careful. Some such exposure is healthy but over-exposure will burn. Give your peers a chance for the face time. Be deliberate in getting to know other people at those functions. It’s harder, sure, but the widened network will be invaluable.

The Name Dropper

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s tempting to just throw around your bosses name. “Karin said this MUST be done by tomorrow at 5.” Weak leaders hide behind the power of other leaders. Even if your boss is the one asking for something to be done, resist the urge to use that muscle. In the long run you’ll have much more credibility when you own your asks.

The Good Soldier

Your great boss says jump, you say how high… every time. You trust him. Now of course, there’s a time and a place for good soldiering, but real leaders know when to question and put on the brakes. Sure your boss may reward you for your consistent execution of her directives, but she’ll be amazed when you challenge her with innovation and suggest creative, and better alternatives.

Work to build a fantastic relationship with your great boss, but beware of such co-dependencies. What feels easy and comfortable, could damage your career in the long run.

8 Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Every time “Elizabeth” asks her boss, Carol for feedback, Carol tells her she’s “doing great.” But this is Elizabeth’s 5th year in the same job and she’s starting to wonder. She’s watched peers who don’t seem any more qualified get promoted or selected for special assignments.

Her performance reviews are always solid, but never outstanding. She likes her job and the people she works with, but she’s beginning to feel like she’s treading water. Her mentor tells her, “just ask your boss,” but every time Elizabeth’s tried to approach the subject, she’s chickened out.

Elizabeth needs to set up a meeting with her boss just on this topic, rather than trying to squeeze it in as a footnote to some other meeting. She should also do it outside the context of a formal performance review. Let this be its own event. Here is an approach, I’ve developed to help Elizabeth– maybe you will find it helpful too.

Questions You Should Ask Your Boss

Start by sharing how interested you are in her insights. A little flattery can never hurt in this arena 😉 Express your desire for deeper feedback that will help you be more effective for the company. Ask for specifics that will help you identify some new behaviors to increase your effectiveness.

Take it all in and step back and consider the possibilities from the conversation. You don’t have to agree with it all, but if you want to open the door for richer insights, it’s important that you respond well.

Of course, you don’t want to bombard your boss with all of the these in one sitting, but here are some options to get the conversation started. It matters less what you ask, then just getting the dialogue started.

  1. What’s the most important priority for our team this year? 
  2. What do your peers say about me?
  3. If your boss were to give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
  4. Who should I be working with more closely?
  5. What could I be doing to make your job easier?
  6. To what do you attribute your own career success?
  7. How can I be more effective in that area?
  8. Which parts of my style concern you the most?
  9. Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for ___________ (insert the job or assignment you are most interested in here).

You have more power in your career than you may think.  Take the time to invest in yourself by starting a good dialogue with your boss.

7 Reasons You Won't Hear The Truth

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves. They anticipate tantrums, and work around them. They’ll even throw in a few things “they’re worried about,” to make you feel better.

Don’t blame them. You’ve taught them well. Your well-intended intensity sends them to the nearest diaper genie to package their story. To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

How To Ensure You Won’t Hear The Truth

  1. Rush To Fix It – They’ve got this. Your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Instead ask how you can best help.
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. They’re picking up these skills from you. Show them how you give your boss bad news.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. If you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Encourage them to come to you with problems and solutions. Commend them for their honesty.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue. Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm solutions, but don’t just start assigning to-dos.
  6. Bring In The experts – Sure suggest folks who can help, but resist the urge to bring in a superhero to take over.
  7. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

How To Encourage The Truth

  1. T – Time: Be sensitive to scar tissue from previous bosses. Raise the issue one person at a time. Ask how you’re doing and what it will take to nurture their trust.
  2. R – Receive well: Really listen to what they’re saying. Gently probe for more information. Ask follow-up questions, including how you can best help.
  3. U – Understand: Reiterate what you’ve heard. Use empathy statements, “Wow, that must be really frustrating”.
  4. T – Take it offline: Casually talk to team members one-on-one. Ask what worries them most, and how you can help. Ask what they think you should be worried about.
  5. H – Honest: Calmly articulate any concerns. Being real with them, will encourage them to be real with you.

7 Reasons You Won’t Hear The Truth

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves. They anticipate tantrums, and work around them. They’ll even throw in a few things “they’re worried about,” to make you feel better.

Don’t blame them. You’ve taught them well. Your well-intended intensity sends them to the nearest diaper genie to package their story. To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

How To Ensure You Won’t Hear The Truth

  1. Rush To Fix It – They’ve got this. Your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Instead ask how you can best help.
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. They’re picking up these skills from you. Show them how you give your boss bad news.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. If you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Encourage them to come to you with problems and solutions. Commend them for their honesty.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue. Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm solutions, but don’t just start assigning to-dos.
  6. Bring In The experts – Sure suggest folks who can help, but resist the urge to bring in a superhero to take over.
  7. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

How To Encourage The Truth

  1. T – Time: Be sensitive to scar tissue from previous bosses. Raise the issue one person at a time. Ask how you’re doing and what it will take to nurture their trust.
  2. R – Receive well: Really listen to what they’re saying. Gently probe for more information. Ask follow-up questions, including how you can best help.
  3. U – Understand: Reiterate what you’ve heard. Use empathy statements, “Wow, that must be really frustrating”.
  4. T – Take it offline: Casually talk to team members one-on-one. Ask what worries them most, and how you can help. Ask what they think you should be worried about.
  5. H – Honest: Calmly articulate any concerns. Being real with them, will encourage them to be real with you.

How To PERSUADE Your Boss

He’s smart, quick on his feet, and he’s got power. All attempts to persuade him have failed. You could just give in. After all you’ve tried and he’s the boss. If he wants it that way, fine. But, deep in your heart you know you’re right. You care. It matters. Others are counting on you.  Click here for a FREE PERSUADE PDF to use with your team. PERSUADE-Model (1)

How to PERSUADE Your Boss

Of course, every boss is different. Understand and play to their style. I’ve had lots of bosses over the years, and am constantly being persuaded by those I lead. Here’s 8 time-tested approaches to consider.

P – Private
Whatever you do don’t confront him in front of your peers, his peers, your team. You get the picture. Take it offline.

E – Emotion
Let your passion inspire your argument, but don’t emote. Stay calm. Appeal to his heart and mind, but don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. It might help to tell a story, but think it through first. Overly emotional appeals will weaken your argument.

R – Research
Do your homework. Prepare for questions. Do the math. Do more math. Do the math his way. Poke holes. If he doesn’t like math, collect stories. Do more math, just in case.

S – Share
Share your concern frankly. Speak your truth. Share why you are concerned for the business. Have several supporting points.

U – Understand
Listen CAREFULLY. He’s got broader perspective and more context. Learn as much as you can. Hear him out completely and suspend judgement. Listen some more.

A – Acknowledge
Appreciate his point of view. He’s likely not a jerk. He’s got pressures too. Understand them. Learn all you can. Consider, deeply.

D- Data
If you’re still convinced, bring on the data. Build graphs. Show correlations. Draw pictures. Find stories. Benchmark with the best.

E- Engage
Engage your supporting team. For me, this usually means the finance gal. She’s fantastic. Yours can be too. In my last gig it was the finance guy. These folks are more reasonable than you think. Convince others to care about your point of view. Get a light murmur of whispers headed to support your cause in their own words.

The PERSUADE model is just one of the many tools and techniques I share in my online program: Results that Last– 7 Roles Every Manager Must Master. Please contact me at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com for a demo.

5 Ways to Support Your Boss (Without Kissing Up)

I don’t know your boss.

She may be great. He may be a pain in the neck. He may be supportive. She may be a real witch.

I’ve been that boss. I’ve had all those bosses. All leaders have “bosses” of one sort or another. Sometimes you are the boss of you. Most of the times, someone else also enters the boss scene. Regardless of what breed of boss you have today.

My guess is your boss also…

  • wants you to succeed
  • is dealing with pressures you don’t fully understand
  • sometimes feels overwhelmed
  • is trying to please a boss too
  • is working to balance work and family
  • is doing the best s/he can
  • could use your help
  • ?

There’s the age-old advice “always make your boss look good.” I find it also useful to make them feel good– reduce the stress by making their job a bit easier.

5 Ways To Support Your Boss

  1. Sweat the small stuff. Do what you say you will, without reminding. Get ahead of deadlines. Administrative stuff is a drag, you boss has better things to do than to chase down your paper work.
  2. Communicate frequently in bulleted summaries— leaders often suffer from information overload. They are often called upon to summarize complex issues on the fly, that’s not when they want to go digging through emails. Resist the urge to cc and forward emails without a summary attached.
  3. Uncover issues & address them — your boss knows there are problems, shielding her from them will only make her nervous. Lift up the issues you are finding, along with the solutions to address them. She will sleep better knowing you are paying attention and are all over it.
  4. Thank him for his help. Be honest and specific. Done well and privately this is not brown-nosing– it’s feedback that can help him help you. A side benefit he will grow as a leader.
  5. Document your accomplishments. This is not bragging, it’s useful. Well timed, detailed summaries helps to support the performance management process.

How To Tell Your Boss The Truth

I learned this one the hard way.

My first year out of grad school, I was invited to a symposium on self-directed work teams. In academia, I was well versed. I had little practical experience. The morning began with a senior executive sponsor setting the vision. After he spoke, I immediately raised my hand and challenged one of his major assumptions. I shared my “truth.” There was a palpable gasp from the crowd. He was embarrassed, as was I.

It doesn’t matter if my “truth” was true. I am not sure if I ever recovered with that executive.

I believe in telling the truth. I need to hear it. My boss needs to hear it. You boss needs to hear it.

Frame your truth in a way that can be heard.

Truth Packaged Well

Your boss is likely working on her leadership as much or more than you are working on yours. No matter how confident someone appears on the outside, they are dealing with insecurities, complex personal and family dynamics, and personal triggers just like the rest of us.

When done well, your boss will hear the feedback, and be grateful that you cared enough to take the time.

A few tips:

  • Stay centered in your own intentions is this about you or about them, or the chemistry between?
  • Ask– are they open to some feedback?
  • Schedule some time, or look for an opportunity free from distractions
  • Provide the feedback in private
  • Come from a spirit of caring and helping
  • Ask questions, try to understand her point of view
  • Be prepared with specific examples
  • Own the feedback, this is from you, you are not representing the rest of the group
  • What would you add ?

Trusted and Empowered? 6 Ways to Get Your Boss To Trust You

Last week’s post, A Matter of Trust, generated some great conversation on the Center For Creative Leadership LinkedIn group. One interesting addition was a paradoxical question from Carol Ann Hamilton, “which comes first, trust or trust?” Indeed, trust is a complex two-way street.

In a follow-up conversation she shared:

Let’s make three lists:

1.) Someday
2.) The Bigger Story
3.) Now

Onto “Someday,” place everything you haven’t touched and that really doesn’t relate to anything in the short-term (because if it did, you’d have completed it already).
I ask this paradoxical question to get my facilitation and coaching clients to think about which type of person they generally are: 1) Do you accord trust naturally and only re-evaluate your interactions with someone if it is violated? or 2) Does trust have to be earned with you, so that you dole out your trust and respect when the other proves themselves worthy in your books?

The truth is most leaders (including me), don’t treat everyone on their team with the same level of trust. Whether we “accord trust naturally” or if “it has to be earned,” trust is impacted by behaviors. We learn who we can trust with the most important work. Those we trust, we empower with less oversight. When someone has given us cause to question their competence or follow-through, we are more likely to double-check and provide more hands-on support.

Carol’s question got me thinking: what are the behaviors that lead me to fully trust someone on my team? What behaviors cause me to back off and let them do their thing? Here are my top 6. I hope you will add more to the list in your comments.

Your Boss Will Trust You When You

1. Do what you say you will

Every time. Integrity and consistency are vital to trust. When stuff happens that changes your commitment, communicate quickly and explain why.

2. Follow through

This one is slightly different from #1. Follow-through involves looking at the outcomes of your actions and ensuring they achieved the desired result. “Doing what you say” is not enough if it did not produce the right outcome. There is more work to do. Do it, or ask for help.

3. Develop great peer relationships

You boss cares what other people are saying about you. She wants to know you work well with others, offering and asking for help when needed.

4. Follow the “no blind side” rule

This is the one I see breakdown the most. Always be the first to share your own bad news and what you are doing about it. Don’t let your boss get wind of a breakdown through the grapevine (or worse, from their boss).

5. Know the details

You boss will trust you when you know what you are doing. She will be less likely to want to know every detail if she is sure that you do.

6. Ask what else you can do to help

No boss wants to wonder if their people have enough to do. If you have extra bandwidth offer to do more. Your boss will then trust that you have plenty to do when you are not asking.