As I write this article, I am sitting on an airplane headed to the east coast to meet with a group of amazing Petro CEOs.  Over the years, this group of men has become more than clients to me; I consider them treasured friends.

I’ve witnessed each diligently persevere through temporary valleys; most through family and employee crisis, some life shattering debilitating illnesses and death.  All this while on their path  to exuberant peaks of personal and business bests, watching each repeatedly achieve volume and profit records as the years rolled on.

Maybe it was the book I was reading about the power of words or maybe it was a phone call late yesterday afternoon with a second generation marketer struggling with the right approach to an aging employee, but it suddenly hit me.  There are phrases in businesses that, if left unchecked, can at best wreak havoc and at worst bring a business down, literally kill it.

Think about the last time you heard or said:

1.  I’ll try to ___(fill in the blank)___.   This phrase comes with a built in excuse.  It allows me to say I tried, so the fact it didn’t happen is OK.   It shows lack of commitment and passion.  And half-finished tasks are not only lethal to a business, they are lethal to personal integrity.  Do you ever say “I’ll try?”   Start catching yourself first.  Then, call out others when hear the phrase.  Only by getting rid of this phrase will you create a culture of complete accountability.

2.  That won’t work.  Translation – this requires making a change I’m not willing to make.  I am too comfortable with my way to make a change.  And, it has the added nasty inferred tone of superiority with the unspoken “you are an idiot for suggesting it.”  Are you too fast to say it won’t work?  Is anyone on your team the first to jump in and kill “far-fetched” ideas?  As I sit on this airplane, I wonder how many people said this to the Wright brothers when they stated man will fly in a flying machine!  Enough said!

3.   That’s not my job.  Every time Meridian attends a large trade show, it seems there is something we need from the trade show staff.  Almost like clockwork, at least one hotel staff person will be sure to mention our request is not their job.  If you are like me, that phrase sends me into less than desirable thoughts and frustration.  Are your people saying this to your customers?  Worse yet, do you as a leader sometimes avoid a task because it’s beneath you?  I’m not suggesting you start taking out the garbage again.  I am suggesting you take an ego inventory and have your team do the same.

4.   If I want this done right, I must do it myself.  The person who says and believes this usually has a personal problem that needs to be solved.   That problem can be pride, often driven by a lack of self-esteem; or the need to control, driven by perfectionism and/or fear; or simply a complete lack of coaching and teaching skills.   It can also indicate weak hiring.  (If none of the staff are capable, the only common denominator is the leader who hired those incompetents!). I challenge you to make a list of what “only you can do” and then vow to mentor another person on your team to cover that task.

5.  We can’t do that.   Unless what’s requested is legally or morally wrong, these words show complete lack of respect for the person requesting action.  And those words are even worse when followed by “because it’s our policy.”

When you feel the urge to immediately swat a request down, buy yourself some thinking time by simply summarizing and repeating the request.  “Let me see if I understand.  You want us to _________ and tell me again why that is?”  If the person is being unreasonable, they will usually catch themselves as they hear it played back and have to give supporting rational reasons for the request.

If not, this type of reply gives you room to think and you can say, “let me consider that and I’ll get back to you.”  Then do it!  Or, “what if we did <option one>, <option two> instead?”  Now you’ve shown your willingness rather than a flat refusal.

And now to my personal favorite business killer phrase:

6.  Because we’ve always done it that way.   By the time you get to the fourth or fifth generation in a petroleum business, it’s highly likely you’ve developed some sacred cows.  If someone asks the curiosity question of “why” and you can come up with no perfectly good answer, a better response is to answer the question with a question.  Do you know a better way we should know about?

Forgive this female perspective, but I’m reminded of the story of the little girl learning to cook ham.  Her Mom showed her that you always cut off both ends before you bake it in the oven.  Curious, the little girl asked why and her Momma said, because that is how we do it.  Ask your Grandmother when you see her.  And so at Sunday supper, the little girl piped up with, Grandma why do we cut the ends off the ham?  And she said, so it will fit in my 8×8 glass roasting pan.  Oh said the girl as her Mom removed the nice little ham in its nice big 10×13 standard roasting pan!

Right now in the petroleum business, some marketers are treating their dispatch and trucking operations like the ham roast and it is costing serious dollars.  Be alert for what you take for granted as “right.”

And this leads me to a final thought before it’s electronics off for landing.  I believe every business has blind spots.  And it’s the willingness to be challenged about your blind spots that make great leaders.

I remember one meeting where one of my CEO friends was a bit distracted and distraught at our semi-annual get together.  We discovered the reason.  He had just learned his office manager had given her two weeks’ notice and he was worried about finding a replacement in his somewhat rural location.

As he shared his worries his entire focus was on how to find another good office manager.  And then we challenged him (in love).   Did he really need a replacement?  Would he do an experiment and just try going two weeks, or even a month, without filling the position to make sure he really needs a replacement.

His gut reaction was to immediately push back on this idea.  Then I could see in his face as the ideas started taking root as a possibility.  Finally he said, “That’s an interesting idea.”   And you know what?  He never replaced her.   Her tasks got divvied up, and the rest of the office was happy.   Later he discovered she had been stalling a bunch of internal changes that were implemented quickly once she was out of the picture.

I love employing outside coaches and I love that Meridian gets to be that outside coach through our renowned M-Power™ program.  Contact us at 817-594-0546 to discuss the possibility of putting our two plus decades of industry knowledge and insight to work for you.

PetroAnswers Six Common Phrases that Could Kill Your Business