An aligned and inspired work force is the dream of every true leader. It takes great empathy to connect with employees; in order to lead them, you first need to understand them. How do you truly understand employees? The answer comes from one of the best movie lines in history, delivered by Atticus Finch to his son Gem in To Kill a Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Employees rarely think about your point of view, but you must understand their point of view. They care about making enough money to buy their daughter a prom dress and their sons' new sneakers. They worry about their family's health and child care. They want to move up in the organization and enhance their earning power. They want to feel empowered and recognized, and they want to be thanked. Their baseline view is that that the person in the corner office--please don't tell me that you actually have a corner office (make it a conference room for all to use and move your office, but I digress)--is out of touch with the workers, earns too much, doesn't work as hard as they do and takes all the credit.

So, you've been Myers Brigged, 360'd, coached, and schooled in the six Primal Leadership styles. But, you still don't have the aligned, passionate, and inspired work force that you need. If you ever say one of the following glib, off-the-cuff comments, you will de-value your employees and a de-valued employee is not inspired or aligned.

  1. "That's above your pay grade." I bet you have said this soon after saying that mployees are not approaching their work "as if they own the company" or never "think outside the box." Hello, President Cognitive Dissonance, you just delivered a mixed message, and guess which one they are going to internalize? Telling employees that there are pecking orders, codes of conduct, and duties and responsibilities by cast, is simply the stupidest thing a manager can say. You want employees to be unfettered and think of things you haven't. That doesn't happen when they are told to stay in their boxes.
  2. "That's confidential," and its twin brother, "that's on a need to know basis and you don't need to know." In a startup there are very few things that are truly confidential. Startups are flat organizations and information sharing is a huge part of maintaining that culture. Telling an employee that something is confidential communicates that you don't trust them, they are not part of the "inner circle," and they are not your peer. Startups are all about a group of peers achieving something amazing. I prefer to go first--to give people the freedom to show me that they are not trustworthy rather than to assume it. A trust first culture is truly inspiring.
  3. "Please leave the room while we continue with other matters." You've invited several managers and employees to a board (or management committee) meeting. The presentations are over and you have other items to discuss with the directors or management committee. What do you say? Don't dismiss them the way a five-star general would do to corporals or privates because they will feel like infantry and await instruction on everything else, rather than taking chances and filling voids that you don't see. There are much savvier ways to have them leave the meeting--like, taking a bio break.
  4. "My people, my team." This is occasionally followed by, "would follow me through fire." Say the first thing if you want employees to feel like chattel; come with the second statement if you want them to feel like stupid chattel. These statements don't elevate team members; instead they serve to remind them that even on the "team" that is working elbow to elbow, there is a hierarchy. It is arrogant and self-serving. It also brings back memories of lunch time in grammar school when kick ball teams were being selected. This ain't grammar school; it's business and everyone should behave as if they're in charge. After years of leading effectively, being empathetic and inspirational, you might get employees to follow you over warm coals, but don't say that you see them as lemmings.
  5. "Employees are like my children." The reason children must leave home is so their parents see them as adults. So, telling 25 to 55-year- olds that you think of them as your children conjures up their memories of being dependent and powerless. I always felt that managing was a God-given privilege and a moral responsibility, for sure, just like parenting. However, I remember early in my career at a company meeting when the CEO made the analogy. I remember thinking that I met his kids, who ranged from eight to 15-years-old, and if that's what he thought of me, I better get a new job! You should nurture employees, but show them they're your peers. And, don't say the company is like a family--if you're a really good leader, the employees will say it. And when you hear that, smile, to yourself.

Please tweet me your top three stupid management quotes that devalue and demotivate you; I will write an article about those comments.