Leadership Traps to Avoid – Your Mouth

The Mouth Can Be Dangerous

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.  – Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, in 2007

As you can see, five years ago Microsoft was the most valuable tech company in the world, and its CEO was sneering at Apple. Today, Apple is the most valuable company in the world. Microsoft is building its own hardware, just like Apple.

It’s amazing that this man still has a job. How often do we, as leaders, say things that are detrimental to our image and damage relationships, or create problems for the organization? There have been several occasions when broadcasters have been terminated for things they have said on the air. There is a minimum standard for what we say as leaders. Transformational Leadership is about transformation – not copying or status quo.

Even if the language is not offensive, the language might be limiting. Just this week, Steve Ballmer did it again. In an important meeting when announcing new products, he said, “we are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple.”  He has defined his company in terms of living in the shadow of another company, rather than striking out as a thought leader. Even though Microsoft is chasing Apple like every other technology company, this is not a reason to define a company in terms of another company and acknowledge that you are simply a follower.

In a recent post for church musicians, I defined the 5 Dumb Things Directors Say to Their Choirs.  There are things that we say that are useless and actually turn off the listening skills of those who follow us. The top dumb thing a director says to a choir is, “Look at the director.” Well, they already know this, so why say it over and over. If they are not looking, then give them a reason to look. Be interesting. Be engaging. Command the space with your personal presence.

How often do we say things to our staff, board, or team that could have been expressed in other ways? I’m guilty. I’m utilizing a new rule. Think – think again – respond. Don’t react.

A well-crafted and thought-out statement is effective use of leadership position.

Many times, silence works just as well, and maybe much better than the wrong words.

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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(c) 2012 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.


Just for fun, here are some other dumb statements from leaders:

“It will be years –not in my time– before a woman will become Prime Minister.”

– Margaret Thatcher, October 26th, 1969.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

“That virus [HIV] is a pussycat.”
– Dr. Peter Duesberg, molecular-biology professor at U.C. Berkeley, 1988,

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” –Associates of Edwin L. Drake refusing his suggestion to drill for oil in 1859.

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”
– New York Times, 1936.

“Reagan doesn’t have that presidential look.”
– United Artists Executive, rejecting Reagan as lead in 1964 film The Best Man

“The singer [Mick Jagger] will have to go; the BBC won’t like him.”
– First Rolling Stones manager Eric Easton to his partner after watching them perform.

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” – Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859)

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” –Lord Kelvin, 1895.

“There will never be a bigger plane built.”
– A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that holds ten people.

“Taking the best left-handed pitcher in baseball and converting him into a right fielder is one of the dumbest things I ever heard.”
– Tris Speaker, baseball hall of famer, talking about Babe Ruth, 1919.

“Ours has been the first [expedition], and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.” – Lt. Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon in 1861.

“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” – W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954.

“You better get secretarial work or get married.”
– Emmeline Snively, advising would-be model Marilyn Monroe in 1944.

“Read my lips: No new taxes.” – George Bush, 1988.



Hugh Ballou (Author)

  • bcoleVA

    Reminds me of IBM Executives in the early 90’s who routinely trashed Bill Gates even as he was eating our collective lunch . .

  • How true it is! I was inspired recently by Dan Cathy, President of Chik-fil-A Restaurants when I heard him speak in Phoenix, AZ. One of the things that stood out to me was how he referred to the competition as “friends.” He would say, “my friends at McDonalds” or ” my friends at such and such.” His level of respect for other business owners was amazing. Quite a contrast from the norm.

  • Hugh Ballou


    Thanks for sharing this perspective.


  • Hugh Ballou


    Thanks for your thoughts.