6 Expressions Christian Leaders Should Stop Using

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by Carey Nieuwhof

You say things every day as leaders that work against you, not for you.

Have a look at the list below, and you’ll immediately recognize that you probably say some (or all) of these things without even realizing it. They’re almost verbal ticks in our culture. They’re stock expressions that everyone uses and nobody should.

Even if you don’t really mean anything by them, these statements undermine your effectiveness as a leader.

So why do little phrases matter to your leadership?

Two reasons.

First, what we say reflects what we believe. Especially the little phrases that slip out without giving them much thought. They expose convictions that are worth letting go.

Second, they matter because each of these six phrases I’m sharing with you is a lie—not in the horrible moral sense, but in the sense that they’re actually not true.

Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most deadly because they follow us everywhere we go in life and leadership.

Thoughtfully choosing your words about how you handle time is one small step out of the spin of constant busyness and low productivity that kills both your leadership and your life.

I’ve tried to eliminate all of these phrases over the years. It’s hard because they roll off the tongue so naturally. But I think I’ve become a better leader, husband and dad as a result.

With that in mind, here are six stock expressions everyone uses, and every leader should eliminate.

1. I Didn’t Get a Chance To…

It’s so easy to say you didn’t get a chance to do something.

You didn’t get a chance to get that report done, or write that email you promised someone, or empty the dishwasher.

Well, yes you did. You had the chance.

Actually, you had the chance to do whatever you said you didn’t get a chance to do. You just didn’t take it.

Imagine what might happen if you started admitting to yourself that you had all the chances in the world to do whatever you needed to do…you just didn’t take them.

A little sobering. But a little liberating too.

Hours and minutes don’t discriminate. They let you do whatever you decide to do.

You just didn’t decide to do it.

2. I Just Don’t Have the Time for That

That phrase was one of my most frequently uttered responses anytime someone asked me to do anything new or extra.

Then one day I woke up and realized…all high impact people I admire who produce so many great things with their life don’t get any special treatment.

They get 24 hours in a day. Just like me. Just like you. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You have the time and I have the time, just like we had the chance.

So how do you counter this one?

Well, years ago I stopped saying that I don’t have the time; I started admitting I didn’t make the time.

That sounds like a small thing, but if you do it consistently, it can be revolutionary.

Try it for a week. Stop saying you don’t have the time (because you do). Start admitting you didn’t make it. (Pro tip: Don’t use your outside voice. You will have no friends left. Just admit you’re not making the time to yourself.)

When you (silently) admit you aren’t going to make the time, it forces you to ruthlessly evaluate your priorities. You’ll realize that never making time for your mom, or your most important priorities—or a life dream—is a mistake.

And when you’re dead honest with yourself about not making the time to work out, or do proper sermon prep, or have a date night with your spouse, or work on your top priorities, it’s so much easier to change.

3. I Have To

Again, no you don’t.

You don’t have to do anything. I fell victim to this phrase for years.

How many times have you said, I have to…

preach this weekend.

go to a meeting.

meet with X.

go to my kids’ game.

Nope, you don’t.

You don’t have to. You get to.

There’s a huge difference.

What if you flipped it and instead started thinking and saying, “I get to…

preach this weekend.

go to a meeting.

meet with X.

go to my kids’ game.

Or how about this???? I get to go to work today. 

Since I’ve flipped that in my mind and vocabulary, I’m both more grateful (so much of what I get to do is a privilege) and more selective (if I really don’t want to do something, why did I say yes?).

Really hate your life so much that you won’t say any of this? Change it.

In the meantime, I get to finish and post this blog.

4. I’m Busy

In many circles, the #1 response people give to “How are you?” is “I’m busy.

What’s up with that?

Whatever happened to “I’m doing really well” or “You know, things are a little challenging, thanks for asking” or “I’m great. How are you?”

Everyone you meet is busy these days. Even retired people.

So why is saying you’re busy not the best way to respond to a simple greeting?

Well, first, how does being busy help or engage the other person? It doesn’t.

But more importantly, mediocre leaders wear busyness as a badge of honorLook at how busy I am. I must be important. Before you think I’m judging, I used to wear busyness as a badge of honor when I was in my 30s. Then I burned out.

Busyness is not a sign of effectiveness. It’s a sign you can’t manage your life. So why tell people you’re not effective?

If you feel too busy, do something about it. Then you won’t feel compelled to tell anyone how busy you feel.

5. I Can Squeeze That In

I was talking to a leader this week that’s making great progress.

His former approach to time management was to squeeze as much in as possible. He said his old mantra literally was “I can squeeze that in.”

It was consistently becoming more difficult to do because his church is growing by leaps and bounds. That strategy has a lid: Eventually, you can’t squeeze anything else in because nobody’s making any more time.

Fortunately, he realized he just couldn’t keep squeezing things in. If you abandon this approach, you’ll see great gains as well.

Instead, he’s learned to say no nicely (I show you how in the course), to carefully assess his priorities and from that, he determines what he’s going to do and not going to do.

You can’t squeeze everything in. And if you do, it will eventually squeeze you so hard there’s nothing left.

Surprisingly, when you stop trying to squeeze everything in, your capacity as a leader doesn’t shrink; it grows.

6. I Just Can’t

A final challenge with overwhelm is that it leaves us feeling like we can’t.

And so we end up turning down great opportunities by saying things like “I just can’t.”

My guess is that even recently, you’ve probably said I can’t to something you really wanted to do. Like maybe a family night, or a vacation, or a promotion, or an expansion, or some meaningful time with God, or training for that half marathon.

Want to hear the bad news? You can.

You really can.

As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, says, you can do anything, just not everything.

Everything competes with anything. When your priorities are confused and you’ve chosen everything over anything, your dreams die.

If you stop saying I just can’t and start admitting that you actually can, you will begin to clear your life of the lower value things that are robbing you of what could bring you the highest value.

Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church and the author of several books, including his latest best-selling work, ‘Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.’ Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership and personal growth.