By Lisa Heay, Marketing Planning Manager at Heinz Marketing

MarketingProfs recently posted an infographic that piqued my interest: 11 Things Managers Should Never Say to their Team. I’ve been writing a blog series on new management and had been thinking a lot on how to provide value to my own team, so I had to click through to see more. I’m glad I did.

Some of the statements included in the infographic seemed like no-brainers. Things like, “I don’t pay you so I can do your job for you” and “Don’t waste my time” seem like obvious things you shouldn’t say to a teammate if you ever want them to feel valued or motivated to do their job.

However, some of the less obvious, and potentially damaging statements were a surprise to me. “Keep doing what you’re doing.” “Nice job today.” Both positive statements, right? Things I probably say weekly, if not more often. Dangit!

The point this infographic is making is that people may not realize these statements are ambiguous. “Many team members require specific and constructive feedback to help them develop.” As I explored in a blog post earlier this year—An Exercise in Feedback—providing only positive feedback is just as bad as no feedback at all. The employee will produce the same results over and over because they think they’re doing just fine, instead of learning, innovating, and improving.

Or, in the case of “Nice job today,” it can come off as you’re not even paying attention to what they’ve got going on. Maybe that person rocked it today, but that simple statement is just too generic—it’s a passing thought without any meaning behind it.

The infographic goes on to reference research done in 2014 by the Seattle University School for New and Continuing Studies—Leadership coaching for organizational success: “An open culture is the most valued thing by employees. 67% of people value recognition for quality work, support and opportunities to share feedback with decision-makers.”

This got me thinking about management/team relationships and how a good manager can have a hand in not only how a person feels about their job and performance, but also in enabling that person’s success or failure in a position simply by the attention the manager is willing to give their team and the mentorship and feedback they provide.

In a recent CIO article, 9 reasons good employees leave — and how you can prevent it, Wendy Duarte Duckrey, vice president of recruiting at JPMorgan Chase, says “Most people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers.” Employees need to feel heard and valued. “One manager with poor people skills can do damage to the culture and effectiveness of a company in a short period of time,” says David Stevens, executive vice president of corporate relations at Valor Global. “Managers need to be people-orientated and able to harness their team’s talent and passion.”

And it doesn’t necessarily have to be this profound Yoda moment where the great guru sits cross-legged, face to face with his student and unveils the secrets to success. Even what seems like passing statements at the time can leave a lasting impression on someone if they hear it at the right time—when it really hits home for that person.

There are so many sound bites that play through my head when thinking about the best advice or feedback I’ve ever received from a manager, but “Just start” sticks out the most. It’s very tactical, but I’m prone to letting myself feel overwhelmed by a project before I even begin to tackle it. Just thinking about all the ins and outs and implications and to-dos can render me paralyzed.

A previous manager of mine, patiently listening to me ramble about all the things I was unsure about, said to me, “Lisa, just start.” It’s so much easier to think about a project in step-by-step increments – even baby steps! But you’re moving forward – and that’s what’s important. So simple, yet so profound – it’s really gotten me over the hurdle many times when faced with new challenges. It’s changed my viewpoint and has stuck with me for over a decade.

I was curious what soundbites or great managerial moments have stuck with other professionals throughout their careers, so I turned to LinkedIn to ask the question: What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve received from a manager?

Here’s what I heard:

  • Get comfortable with change and embrace it! Use it to fuel your creativity and push your campaigns outside of the box.
  • Great marketing requires patience.
  • Treat everyone as a customer. [From my very first employer.]
  • Always anticipate the needs of your customers. [Given by my manager in my first marketing role and I can truly say it was the catalyst for my customer centric mindset.]
  • Become an advocate for your customers in your meetings/planning/strategy.
  • Don’t overreact to short term bad news.
  • Adversity is opportunity.
  • Recognize that the best ideas can come from anywhere so be open to all points of view.
  • Never apologize. 

That last one gave me pause, because I feel there are times when an apology is necessary in the workplace, so I pushed for clarification. She went on to say that: I think this one could be more for women— we tend to try to soften a comment or decision or disagreement with “I’m sorry you feel that way but” or I’m sorry but” …. “I’m sorry you don’t …. But.” Early in my career, an SVP I respected immensely offered his advice after an executive meeting we had just finished. His words, “never apologize”. We need to express ourselves from a position of strength and confidence. To never apologize doesn’t mean we’re never sorry or incorrect. It’s the way we express our misgiving – it should be from a position of strength not weakness.

I was pleasantly surprised by not only the variation in advice that has stuck with people, but in how these soundbites shaped many careers. A lot of what was said here will stick with me, too. It’s easy to see—these managers are the good ones.

A lot can be said for relationship building in the workplace and the effect a good manager can have on a team member when they lean in to the success of their team. Even passing comments can have an impact – so use your powers for good. Every interaction counts.

Now I turn to you— What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve received from a manager?