The one phrase that makes me want to scream at work.

Business can be a frustrating game. In this game, a conveyor belt drops challenges at your feet, over and over again. Your job is to solve those challenges before they bury you alive. Like soccer Quidditch and Jarts, some people love this game, and other people hate it.

Team Sport

When a company wins everyone goes home with money. Which makes business the ultimate team sport. It requires great communication to be successful. Since I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I pay even closer attention to the words and phrases used at work. I have found that there are a number of words and phrases you never, ever want to hear in your place of business. They include the following:

  • “Fire!”
  • “You’re not going to like this but…”
  • “Ponzi”
  • “I just called animal Control.”
  • “Sorry, it looked like a real search warrant.”
  • “It worked for Enron.”
  • “The Repo Man”
  • “I handled it, Lorena Bobbit-Style”

But there is one phrase that bothers me more than all others:

“That’s above my pay grade.”

This phrase jolts me like an electric fence. Because it reveals powerful forces at work within the mind of the person who says it, or within the culture where it is used.

A Mindset Problem

Making this statement is a way to shirk responsibility.  It is a way of saying, ‘This is not my problem.’ Or, ‘It is out of my hands.’ Or, ‘I don’t get paid enough to think about these kinds of things.’ This mindset is the polar opposite of entrepreneurial thinking.

A Cultural Problem

If ‘That’s above my pay grade’ is commonly tossed about in your workplace it means your team members feel their opinions don’t matter. Or that they don’t feel free to speak their mind on important topics. It usually represents a clear Us vs Management division within an organization. None of these are good for business.

The Power of Empowered People

I like people who don’t sense a limit to their thinking, responsibility or problem solving abilities. I like people who take ownership. I want my people to operate as if they must make a leadership decision. Which is a product of recruiting the right types of people, and empowering them to always do what they know is right.

Key Takeaway

Take on as much responsibility as you can. Regardless of whether or not the work and the decision-making is part of your job description. Always think like a leader. When you view the world like a manager, department head or CEO, sooner than later that conveyor belt will drop a set of business cards on your desk with a title that matches your take-charge mindset.

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The most frightening result of scaring your employees.

I am always surprised when I hear people say they want to be entrepreneurs, but don’t want to manage other people. Without employees you greatly limit the potential scale, scope and impact of your business. Because businesses are powered by people. Just as we measure engine output in horsepower, business output is measured in human power.

To harness and apply human power you have to be able to lead other humans. Which is easier typed than done. A shocking number of smart, talented and hard-working people are shockingly horrible at leadership. In fact, a significant segment of the population fails to even recognize what leadership is. And I have worked with a few of them.

Leading

Leadership means you are out in front, leading people along the right path.  It means you are showing a way forward that others will eagerly and voluntarily follow, because you have made it look smart, right, and even fun.

The Critical Leadership Mistake

Don’t use your position of leadership to push people around. Don’t scare or intimidate your employees or teammates. You may get them to do what you want. But you won’t get them to do anything else. Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summarized intimidation leadership this way:

Frightened people don’t take initiative or responsibility. And their organizations suffer as a result. -Colin Powell

If you want people to think for themselves, to take interest and ownership, they can’t be frightened. Creative thinking and innovation require a spirit of support. Because they require risk taking. If your people are afraid to make a mistake they will make sure they don’t. Of course the easiest way to avoid making a mistake is to do exactly what you are told to do. And nothing more. Just like Simon Says.

Key Takeaway

Fright has no place in the work place. In fact, it is so detrimental to business success it’s scary. Initiative and responsibility are the hallmarks of a successful organization. They are the key ingredients that create momentum. Without initiative and responsibility there is no growth. There is no future. And there is no reason to think. Which is the ultimate waste of human power.