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Powerful Little Phrases

Powerful Little Phrases

Remember the movie "Swimming with Sharks"? It is the quintessential "bad boss" movie. Kevin Spacey plays Buddy Ackerman, an influential movie mogul from hell. Buddy's motivation is best described as short and cutting. To his employees, Buddy says things like:

  • "You. Have. No. Brain."
  • "You are nothing."
  • "If you were in my toilet I wouldn't bother flushing it."
  • "My bathmat means more to me than you!"
  • "Shut up. Listen. And learn."

Undeniably, if Buddy were your boss, you would find him memorable. It would be hard to forget someone who screamed "f--- you" to your face on a regular basis.

But Buddy's on to something. No, I don't mean his particular brand of inspiration, but I admire his brevity. It’s easier to remember short phrases than long ones. Practice the same short-n-sweet messaging with your employees to build their engagement levels. Try some of these short phrases on for size, and insist that other leaders in your organization do the same.

Please and Thank You.

Effective leaders have and use manners. Manners shouldn’t disappear with a promotion into management.

Years ago I was chatting with a director in his office when the person who would become my boss, Ray, knocked on the door.  Ray apologized for the interruption, handed the director some report, asked him if he could please send him some quick changes, and he apologized again as he exited. After Ray left, the director said to me:

“That guy who just popped in is the senior vice president of the division.”

I didn't know Ray at that time, but I knew that I wanted to get to know him.

Be a leader with class that everyone wants to get to know. Say please. Your results will thank you.

Nice Job.

Behind every good leader is a host of people who helped that leader be successful. Thank those people.

Eventually, I began working for Ray, I saw another reason for the loyalty his people had for him. Not only was he a creative, passionate, visionary leader who produced outstanding results, but he also gave everyone around him the credit for his success.

I experienced this firsthand shortly after he hired me. At the close of a manager/officer meeting, he asked me to stand up and he said something like this:

This is Scott Carbonara. If you don't know him, you're going to want to fix that very soon. Scott stalked me to get on my calendar so he could tell me why our attrition was so high. He has already identified several root causes, and I expect to hear regular updates from him about what we are doing to keep good people with us. (Turning to me, Ray continued) Thanks for keeping after me, Scott, and I'm looking forward to seeing how else you can help us...

Although I wasn't a subject-matter expert on attrition at the time, I made it my business to learn everything I could so I could help turn things around for the better. Why? My boss believed in me, and his Thank You was a down-payment on how I hoped to continue to earn his respect and trust.

I'm Sorry.

Is it rare for a boss screw up? No. Then why is it rare for bosses to offer apologies?

The reason it is rare is also the reason why it's powerful. An apology is an act of humility.

Think about the most recent apology you've heard. I'll bet it was weak like one of these, not so much an apology as a flimsy justification:

  • I'm sorry for yelling. But you made me so mad when you...
  • I apologize for being an hour late. Darn traffic...
  • It's regrettable to that some people took offense to my words...

Leader, no one expects you to be perfect, and people end up liking leaders who demonstrate their own humanness. But if--make that WHEN--you screw up, apologize. A little act of humility goes a long way.

What Do You Think?

It feels pretty awesome when someone asks you for your opinion. It's another way of saying, "I think you're smart, and I would appreciate knowing your thinking to help me clarify my thoughts." How can you not appreciate someone who values you and your thoughts?

Years ago, my boss Ray told another one of his direct reports, "When I have a question, I ask Scott." Care to guess how that made me feel when I heard what Ray said about me behind my back? The big boss was using me as an example to others--in a good way! Not only did he ask me for my opinion, he set me up to others as the go-to subject-matter expert.

Positive little phrases create engaged employees more than a 2% cost-of-living adjustment can accomplish. How many powerful phrases can you use today? What small little dynamos would you add?

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Scott Carbonara is a speaker, author, and consultant known as The Leadership Therapist for his diverse background working as an award-winning crisis intervention counselor, followed by chief-of-staff of a multi-billion dollar healthcare company. He is the author of four leadership books including A Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement (McGraw Hill 2012), and specializes in leadership topics pertaining to employee and customer engagement, and change management.


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