You’re working hard to build a good reputation as a manager. So you’re taking on new projects and delegating certain tasks to others. You think you’re getting the hang of it, but then you make a remark that seems to rub someone the wrong way—and you aren’t sure why.
Being decisive and knowing how to say no are important leadership skills, but handled the wrong way, they can come off as excuses that can damage your career. Managers need to lead with confidence, humility, and a long-term focus on building relationships. That means being vigilant about avoiding these statements or anything that sounds like them.
It might not be, but the work still needs to get done, and it’s up to managers to figure out how. If you can’t bring yourself to help, then look for some other way to be part of the solution—and not just any solution, but one that leads to the results you’re after. Even if you work in a culture of “not-my-job”-sayers, you’ll really stand out when you roll up your sleeves and do the right thing.
In our own professional experience, this excuse turns up at higher levels of businesses—which is really quite strange. Whatever you do, don’t say this to someone who actually does work at a lower pay grade than you. Why? Because your team counts on you to have the confidence to advocate for what’s right, even if that means knocking on the doors of your superiors, not shrugging your shoulders and protecting yourself.
Just because it didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Put away old biases and really listen before you dismiss something that sounds outlandish or risky. If there’s even the potential of merit behind an idea your company hasn’t tested, consider some sort of pilot or other toe-dipping venture. Whatever you do, be receptive and encouraging. If you hear others using this phrase as an excuse for not trying something, ask them, “What would it look like if this did work?”
If what you’re being asked to do really isn’t a priority, say so. If it is important, but you don’t have the time to tackle it yourself, don’t just leave it at that. Set a time to discuss what else could be moved off your plate or someone else’s in order to make sure it gets done the right way and on time. Remember: Being a good manager is about finding solutions, even if you aren’t the one personally carrying them out.
That may be true. But of course that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to get to the next level. When you’re tempted to utter these words, try adding in, “I wonder why?” or “What would happen if we tried a different approach?” The way you’ve always done it may not be the best way to do it, and what worked in the past might not work again.
This seemingly benign response typically winds up throwing someone under the bus. It’s always fine to admit when you don’t know the answer to something, but don’t plead ignorant as an excuse when something goes wrong. Better to say, “Let me find out more,” “I’m digging into that now,” or “I’m here to help us get to the bottom of this.”
Okay, maybe they did! But don’t let that thought get past the inside of your head. You need to own your team’s mistakes and help everyone involved recover from whatever setbacks they face. There’s no better way to gain credibility up and down the chain of command than a well-placed apology followed by a swift recovery.
Let’s assume that’s true. Imagine what would happen if instead of placing blame, you took the high road and started to work on the right situation. Sure, you might not have the skills, resources, or expertise to carry it out. But you’d be laying out what your team needs from the other one in order to move forward, plus what you can do to help everyone pull through together.
Every manager gets exasperated once in a while. If your team isn’t performing, though, it’s your problem. Maybe it’s the personnel, systems, rules, or even your leadership getting in the way. Don’t just lament what you perceive to be incompetence. Take the time to figure out what’s behind it—which starts with reversing the direction of your finger-pointing.
You might smirk every time someone says there are no stupid questions, but the only reason leaders need to keep reminding folks of that is because other leaders are out there making people feel stupid! Sometimes your response or demeanor makes someone feel that they’ve asked something you feel they should know—or discourage them from asking in the first place. Whatever the case, giving the impression that some ideas aren’t welcome is just an excuse for leaving people out and cutting off debate. That will wind up harming you as much as anybody else.
Karin Hurt is a leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, and coauthor of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results—Without Losing Your Soul with David Dye, a former nonprofit executive, elected official, and president of Trailblaze, Inc., a leadership training and consulting firm.