Making This Mistake as a Leader Can Be Detrimental to Your Team

By: Angelica Rodriguez

Offices nationwide have moved to telework arrangements, with some managers nervous about the productivity of their team members. Conversely, team members are working overtime to manage their personal life (which, for many, now includes home-schooling) as well as maintaining their job productivity.

As we all adjust to the current “normal,” there is a key mistake leaders make that can be detrimental to their team. The phrase is subtle and creates misunderstandings — and in a time of uncertainty, clear communication is crucial.

In my experience, supervisors, project managers, team leaders, and employees alike have tricked themselves into thinking that this phrase is a constructive method of idea-sharing, brainstorming activities, and motivating team members.

The opposite is true. This phrase not only negatively impacts employee morale but also smashes creativity.

The phase leaders mistakenly use is: “We should be…” (Keyword: should.)

This short, yet sneaky, phrase communicates to team members that work that could benefit the organization is NOT being done.

In other words, “we should be” recognizes that we are lacking in something, but it does not identify what is lacking. Moreover, this expression has a demoralizing effect on teams, as it fails to recognize all of the work that is currently being done.

[Related: What Becomes Possible When You Get Rid of “Should?”]

Mini case study: The project leader that “shoulds” on their team.

A key project leader at a best-in-class organization consistently used the phrase “we should be” when providing feedback to their team about product launches. Regardless of the time and energy needed to accomplish major feats, the leader consistently provided feedback that insinuated the team was not meeting expectations.

Team members were confused and demoralized. The project leader’s feedback directly contradicted the external success, customer satisfaction, and stellar publicity the product launches received.

To course correct, a team member informed the project lead that their feedback was negatively affecting the team, as it pointed to what they weren’t doing. As a result of the interchange, the project lead immediately changed how they communicated to the team and the team’s morale bounced back.

It is often more productive to consider the desired outcome to determine what needs to be stated. A few alternative ways to re-frame a sentence using “should” are in the below example:

We should be launching a new product next quarter.

Here are alternative ways of making this statement:

By substituting one word, the entire sentiment of a sentence changes and the message is received differently by the audience.

The phrase “we should be” is draining and demotivating, whereas the alternatives “we could” or “I want/would like to” are more energizing and state a vision for the future. It is the role of leaders to show team members a vision and earn their trust, which then creates an environment in which creativity and innovation can flourish.

[Related: The Secret to Success is Knowing What Motivates Your Team]

Stop should-ing on yourself (and everyone else).

This is a common phrase in the personal development space. “Stop should-ing on yourself” usually is directed at someone who has unreasonable expectations about their work, goals, or accomplishments.

Right now, COVID-19 has many of us distracted, and this is causing anxiety. This is a perfect time for leaders to be clear, focus, and remove any doubt about what “should” be done. Get straight to the point and communicate what you want or need done.

[Related: Leader Equals Motivator]

Angelica Rodriguez is a non-profit executive and corporate coach who helps leaders of organizations reach their next level of mastery and innovation so they can leave a legacy of lasting change in their industries. She helps executive leaders go “below the surface” to uncover what is really holding them back from identifying and leading the big transitions needed to catapult their organizations to industry-leading mainstays.

Originally published at

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