7 Words Leaders Should Avoid
Toxic words that lead to toxic cultures
In 1966, Lenny Bruce was arrested after a stand-up comedy show in New York City. I will not mention the nine words he used in his act, but let’s just say they are not words you would use around your mother.
In 1972, comedian George Carlin released a stand-up album called Class Clown, and on it there was a track called, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”, a monologue in which he expressed his disdain for not being able to use these words in any particular context on TV. Again, I will not mention the seven words he used, but you can watch his performance here.
In 1978, John Douglas was driving in his car with his fifteen-year-old son at 2pm and heard on WBAI Radio these seven filthy words. He claimed to the federal government that this type of language was inappropriate for public broadcasting.
In a 5–4 decision, The Supreme Court formally established indecency regulation in American broadcasting. It was said that this language should not be consumed by the likes of children and that the language was “offensive” and could lead to malicious acts of indecency.
I was thinking about these seven words that should never be said on TV, and I wondered how this policy could apply to leadership. I came up with the seven words you should never say as a leader:
When you are in the position where people look to you for judgment and approval, it is incredibly disheartening to tell somebody flat out that he or she is wrong. This will only serve as a blow to somebody’s confidence and create a sense of reluctance for the next time they approach you.
Try these phrases instead: On the right track; not quite; I was thinking differently
As a leader, never say or complain about how busy you are. You have made a choice and a commitment to put yourself in that position, and it is not appropriate to fret about something you knew you were getting yourself into.
Try these phrases instead: Wearing many different hats; juggling a few different situations
A leader is never the boss. This immediately connotes a sense of power, an omnipotence that may be intimidating for colleagues.
Try these instead: Leader; Captain
Interesting is a filler word, much like “um” or “like”. When given an idea or a comment that can elicit a remark like interesting, try to take a moment to think further about what emotions truly arose in that scenario, and then share your thoughts.
Try these instead: Thought-provoking; profound; not obvious
This is a real buzzword in the workplace. “It is not the sexiest task, but it is work that has to be done.” As a leader, it is important to find a different word to use in these situations, this word is too popularized.
Try these instead: Unique; dull; trendy
Definitive words like never reveal a lack of growth mindset. Growth and evolution are essential for any leader, so using definitive statements like something can or never happen are quite limiting. Everything is situational in business and in life, so don’t turn yourself into a hypocrite by saying something can never happen, and then going ahead and doing it if the scenario requires that sort of solution.
Try these instead: Rarely; almost never; given the circumstances
Your work as a leader is never done. You can always continue growing. You can always continue getting better. There is always something else to do.
Try these instead: almost there; work-in-progress
These words can lead to toxicity in the workplace and a culture that is driven by negativity. The role of the leader is to incessantly inspire hope, maximize employee happiness, and develop a feeling of respect and equality for everybody in the workplace.
These are just seven of a myriad of words that should never be used by leaders.
What else can you come up with?