Little Words that Pack a Punch

One of the best BAD BOSS movies ever has got to be “Swimming with Sharks” starring Kevin Spacey. Spacey plays Buddy Ackerman, an influential movie mogul and the quintessential boss from hell. Buddy has some strong opinions, and these short lines give an idea of the kinds of things Buddy would say to his direct reports:

  • “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.

Here are some other short phrases you can use as a leader, some even more effective than Buddy’s when it comes to motivating your team.

Please and Thank You.

Effective leaders use manners. The need for manners doesn’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 knocked on the door.  The boss apologized for the interruption, handed the director some report, asked him if he could please send him some quick changes, and he excused himself as he exited. Since the boss was in an obvious hurry, the director didn’t take time to introduce the two of us. But after the boss left, the director said to me:

That guy who just popped in is Ray. He’s 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.

Getting things done is common. Getting things done under stress is a little less common. Getting things done under stress while having manners is rare. Be rare. 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.

After 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 is the one who 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? Ray believed in me, and his Thank You was a down-payment on many more that I hoped to earn from him.

I’m Sorry.

It might sound cheesy, but an apology is a powerful thing when done with sincerity. Is it rare for a boss or a parent to screw up? No. Then why should an apology be unheard of when you’ve done something out of line?

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:

  • I’m sorry for yelling. But you made me so mad when you…
  • I apologize for being an hour late. I can either be here on time, or I can go to work every day…
  • I’m sorry I went in your room without knocking. You should have left the door open… (yes, this illogical bit of rhetoric is something one of my kids said recently)

Leaders, if you arrive late at your own staff meeting, apologize. Acknowledge the time, maybe even tell us why you were late if it’s appropriate to share, and say something like “I know how frustrating it is to come to a meeting that can’t get started when the one who called it is late.” A little act of humility goes a long way.


Little words can be powerful. How many powerful words can you drop today?

0 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom says:

    Another great word to use with your employees and co-workers is “congratulations.”

    1. That is a great addition!

  2. Dorothy Polk says:

    I don’t know but did we mention a simple “thank-you” for a job well don?

    This is a great reminder of common sense Scott. Thanks its much needed.

  3. Aldi Armia says:

    Hi Scott, I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs these days, very inspiring! I too share the same passion with you in terms of practicing good leadership and management, as I believe it is the key to having a successful business. Good leadership pays back in the end, not only for the company, but for all the people whose lives would be affected for many years to come.

    I’ll have a link to your blog on my home page. Feel free to browse through mine when you have a chance.

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