Things Successful Leaders Avoid Saying (Part 16)

I was re-reading the outstanding Flawless Consulting by Peter Block and appreciated how he outlined the issues underlying phrases like:

“These people” OR “Those people”

(followed by)

“don’t understand” OR “need to understand.”


So, what’s wrong with this? It separates the leader from the people they lead, diminishes a leader’s capacity, and makes a powerless victim out of the leader. This underlying mindset can, then, perpetuate problems and allow a leader to escape their stewardship responsibility for their organization.

How can you turn this upside down if you are doing it without realizing it? Or, what can you do if you have influence over someone who is doing it?

First, you can turn it into a solution-finding, capacity building process.

For example: “These people need to understand that our audiences hat that kind of music” turns into, “Let’s help our people understand the kind of music our audiences like.”

Example #2: “Those people don’t understand the pressure of profit and loss accountability in our unit” can be reframed into, “Maybe we could help people understand how their daily performance translates into profit and loss for our unit.”

Secondly, you can educate your people about the topic.

Example #3: “These people don’t understand that Campbell will never go for such an idea” can be better expressed as, “Here are some of Campbell’s priorities. What ideas can we generate that are consistent with her goals for our branch?”

Thirdly, you can turn your statement into a workable action plan.

I remember an ugly scene from a teacher’s lounge once. Mr. Smith sneered, “These kids. They just want to be entertained.”

Ms. Jones, a highly regarded teacher by her students and peers, responded to the snarky comment. “Well, entertain them then!”

Mr. Smith stared at her. “Excuse me?”

“Well,” Ms. Jones responded, “if you’ve got it figured out, then execute your plan – entertain them. Teach in an entertaining way, then you’ve got them!”

Mr. Smith glared. The rest of us sat stratight-backed in suspense. We knew that Jones got great results in the classroom, had decent classroom management, and was respected by students and parents alike. We also knew that Smith was a little on the bitter side, not well-regarded, and not very interested in self-improvement.

Mr Smith finally replied, “Look. It’s like feeding horses. I lay the food out in the trough. It’s the horse’s job—[or “they’ve got to understand”]—to come eat it. If those people want to learn, they’ll learn.”

Granted, Ms. Jones could have handled it better, but she was right. And Mr. Smith, in short order, made it clear that instead of respecting and serving students, he diminished them, made himself a victim of the circumstances, and abdicated his power to serve.

To read the previous posts about “Things Successful Leaders Avoid Saying,” click on the links below.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15

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