5 Leadership Clichés to Ditch

UPDATED: October 24, 2022
PUBLISHED: October 22, 2022
5 Leadership Cliches to Ditch

Have you ever noticed that many of the leadership clichés we live by are not living up to their reputation? Leaders flippantly throw around sound bites of so-called “wisdom” picked up from conferences or leadership books and use them without questioning whether or not they are true or useful. Operating within these limiting beliefs keeps leaders and their teams from delivering results and achieving success in these challenging times.

So as a lover of reality, I began the campaign to eradicate the following clichés and limiting beliefs that we in leadership have come to believe and, worse yet, actually use:

Limiting belief No. 1: Everyone’s opinion should count.

Human resources departments have always tried to make employees feel as if their opinions counted. After all, this is America, and democracy is a good thing, right? Well, not at work—especially if you’re seeking results. Your workplace is not a democracy. Employees who want to be consulted on each and every decision create chaos in the organization.

Can you imagine what the morning commute would be like if each person took the time to discuss their opinions of whether or not stop signs were needed? Instead, they just stop—not feeling at all offended that they were not consulted—and then drive on. We need the same behavior in the workplace so that we can stop hindering progress and move on to results.

Limiting belief No. 2: There is no “I” in “team.”

I often hear leaders reminding their teams, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’” And the way I see it, this is the exact problem with teams. With no “I” in “team,” leaders are ensuring that no one is taking accountability for their part in creating the current results and are, therefore, not in a position to create anything more successful in the future.

There may not be an “I” in the word “team,” but there certainly is an “I” in “improvement” and “innovation.” Reality-based leaders spend time focusing the energy of the team on either achieving the desired results in spite of challenges or learning what to adapt so that the desired results can be achieved. Learning and results will only come when each team member is able to honestly assess what they contribute, both positive and negative, without considering the circumstances. Only by acknowledging this can they know what needs to change in the future.

Limiting belief No. 3: There is no such thing as a stupid question.

Leaders must stop allowing employees to pull them away from their main roles with questions such as, “Why do things keep changing?,” “Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything?” or “Who thought of this?”

In essence, these questions are not productive, and here’s why:

  • Even if you could speculate an answer, it adds no value to the situation.
  • They all imply blame.
  • They fly in the face of personal accountability as a concept.
  • They are focused on other people who are outside of the control of the employee.

Instead, help employees ask better, more productive questions such as, “How can I get the information I need?” or “How can I help support the idea?”

Limiting belief No. 4: Don’t come to me with an issue without a solution.

I cringe when a leader recites the familiar and worn-out philosophy, “Don’t bring me a problem without also coming armed with a solution!” I know the motive is to prevent employees from whining and to encourage their willingness to help fix the issues at hand, but if this were the case, wouldn’t it be more direct to tell people, “Stop whining and start helping?”

Insisting that those who identify an issue must also be the ones who single-handedly recommend a workable solution is asking the impossible in today’s complex team environment. If employees could resolve the issue, they would have. We need employees to raise issues and teams of personally-accountable people to help solve them.

Limiting belief No. 5: Great results can only come from perfect plans.

Whether a plan is your own or comes from another level of leadership, it will always entail a certain amount of risk. There are no perfect plans or decisions—all have one or many downsides. It is a poor use of your time to try and perfect a plan that will never be faultless. The highest use of your team’s talent and energy is to implement the plan with excellence, using talent to mitigate risks and succeed in spite of the challenges. Great teams can implement average plans as long as they commit to doing whatever it takes to get results.

This article was published in December 2015 and has been updated. Photo by

Cy Wakeman is a national keynote speaker, business consultant, New York Times best-selling author, blogger and trainer who has spent over 20 years cultivating a revolutionary, reality-based approach to leadership. For more on Cy, check out RealityBasedLeadership.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.