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Things Leaders Say When They Think No One is Listening


Things Leaders Say When They Think No One is Listening

Waiting for my flight during a long layover, I admit, I tried to read my book but listened to a lot of the people around me talk on their phones. More than a few of them used their time productively and deserved a gold star. They were working on their fancy-schmancy PowerPoints and talking to a colleague. What I couldn’t get over was the dumb stuff they said, and even more interesting was that they had no idea how dumb they sounded. 

There are leaders who:

Trust their team to get things done whether they’re in front or not.  

Encourage people to contribute their ideas. 

Invite participation, not passivity.  

Are role models in both their life and leadership. 

And there are leaders who:

Are sure they’re indispensable. 

Think talent is only found in a rare breed.   

Consistently have the best ideas and the only ones worth choosing. 

Believe things will collapse without them. 

Thing is, yes, these leaders said some ridiculous things. I’d like to believe that if they stopped and heard a playback, they’d blush and make another choice. It’s not a big deal that I heard it, but it’s a big deal that the person on the other end of the phone did. The fact that they said it with all seriousness is a serious problem.  

I work in leadership as a coach and consultant, so my ears were especially tuned in, but imagine if I was their employee or recruiter. There’s no hanging up the phone and moving on, this is their reality, and it isn’t pretty.

Here’s what I heard, word for word. You decide what it says about their leadership.  

They said: “I just want you to know that I’m available while I’m off.”

Employee heard: “It’s not okay to unplug while you’re on vacation. I’m not so you shouldn’t either.” 

Recruiter’s interpretation: “Hire someone who tells you that they never take a vacation. Anyone who values time off will not be happy here long term.” 

They said: “We need to only hire unicorns.” 

Employee heard: “Hope you never fall short. If you’re not an “A Player” all the time, in all areas, we don’t need you.” 

Recruiter’s interpretation: “Get ready for a long search where I give you little direction other than “hire a unicorn.” Not exactly sure what that means but you’ll figure it out. Good luck.” 

They said: “I know I haven’t stopped talking. I’m just thinking, and you happen to be on the phone.”

Employee heard: “Blah blah blah.”  

Recruiter’s interpretation: “When I find that unicorn, they’re going to just love working for them. Not.” 

They said: “If you can’t reach me. Don’t do anything. Just keep trying. I’ll pick up eventually.”

Employee heard: “Do nothing, think nothing. You are not capable of leading this so don’t try.” 

Recruiter’s thought: “I’ll send them all the candidates and let them narrow it down. Trust is not high on their list.” 

The moral of the story isn’t to think about what you say on your phone at the airport because yes, someone you don’t know is listening. Instead, think before you speak and consider what it says about you and your leadership.  

Ask Yourself:

Is that the leader who you want to be? The culture you want to create? The life you want to lead?

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