Things successful leaders avoid saying (Part 2)

Last week, I raised up the value of the principles in “Drive” by Dan Pink.  If, as research has shown, people are motivated by autonomy, then there is a class of words we ought to avoid, as they can crush autonomy.  These may include “ought,” or “must,” but let’s focus on the one that seems to pass judgement:


“Ought” is a little softer, and “must” is so strong that it’s intention is more obvious.  “Should”, however, is more ominous, and implies something about the speaker’s attitude toward the listener’s ability to make their own decisions.

Can you feel it — the judgment?  The moral superiority?

“You should roll it all into a 401(k).”

“You should post on Twitter more often.”

“You should read ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’.”

“You should outsource your accounting.”

“You should go to church more.”

“You should get the steak when you eat there.”

(What if I need more liquidity because I have health problems?  What if I find frequent tweeters annoying, and don’t wanna be “that guy”? What if Mitch Albom’s style makes me wanna brush my teeth and I’d rather read stuff by John Irving? What if I enjoy numbers and want to know financials better than anyone else? What if that’s none of your business?  What if I love fish?)

“Should” implies superior knowledge.  “Should” implies superior judgment.  And “should” can deny personhood.

[You should avoid it.] (no)

[You ought to avoid it.] (no)

[You must avoid it.] (no)


Please consider avoiding it.

Please give some thought to avoiding it.

It might make sense to avoid it.

Or, to use the behavior-outcome model:

If you avoid using the word “should”, you’ll give people more dignity.


When you say “should,” here’s what happens; you rob the listener of dignity (or autonomy, or personhood, or judgement).

You get the idea.

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