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Top Ten Things Nonprofit Managers and Supervisors Should Not Say

We’ve all been there. Said or done things we wish we could take back. As a manager, director, or supervisor this becomes even more of an issue. Sometimes the things we say or do in those roles have far-reaching effects and linger on much longer than we think. So, with apologies to David Letterman, and as compiled by a group of managers with revisions by yours truly, here they are, in reverse order: The top ten things managers and supervisors should not say to their staff.

Number Ten: You Think You’re Having a Bad Day!

It’s not about you! If I’m your supervisee and I come to you with a problem or concern, the last thing I want to hear about is your problems. I need you to listen to me and help me get through whatever the issue is that I brought to you.

If you have a problem, take it to your supervisor. Hopefully she won’t start telling you about her day.

Number Nine: You Did Better than I Ever Thought You Would

Talk about a backhanded compliment!

This one actually happened to me. I was in my first year as a program director at a large agency. During my first-year evaluation my boss literally said to me that he never thought I would do as well as I did. Thanks, I think.

Number Eight: You Didn’t Hear This from Me…

Actually, we shouldn’t hear anything from you except accurate information and facts. Rumors are best left for the lunch room and you shouldn’t be a part of the mill.

Oftentimes, especially in large organizations, there is an excess of what I refer to as myths and legends. Your job is to clear those up, not contribute to them.

Number Seven: “They” Don’t Tell Me Anything

The omnipresent “they.” First of all, who are they? Is it management? If so, guess what? You’re one of them!

If your staff asks questions for which you don’t have answers, this should be the least acceptable response. At best it makes you appear as though you are out of the loop. At worst your staff could perceive you as not caring, incompetent, just plain stupid, or all of the above. If you don’t know the answer, get it. If staff members are not entitled to know, tell them with an explanation as to why.

Number Six: I Don’t Care How You Do It—just Get It Done

The reality is, you actually do care. Or, at least, you should care how it gets done. What if the employee accomplished the task in a way that was illegal, unethical, or at the expense of another employee? Ultimately, you will be held accountable for your employee’s actions so you’d better know what’s going on around you. This type of statement cuts off any discussion as to why the employee might be struggling with the task at hand. It also eliminates any opportunity for you to offer your assistance. Is that really what you want?

Number Five: We Don’t Need to Go over Your Evaluation. Just Sign It and I’ll Send It to H.R.

There is so much wrong with this one that I don’t even know where to start. People much smarter than I have written an enormous number of articles and books about employee evaluations. I defer to their expertise.

Number Four: Anything You Heard about Layoffs Is Just a Rumor

Yeah, right! Sometimes the best way to fan the flames is to try to blow them out. Cutbacks and layoffs are two of the most volatile subjects for any workplace. Here, again, the best thing you can do is to be honest and upfront. People can handle almost anything that is put before them. It’s the not knowing that drives most of us up the proverbial wall.

Number Three: It’s Not My Policy, It’s the Company’s

Trying to dissociate yourself from company policies and procedures puts you into a state of no-man’s-land. Managers often use this type of approach as a way of trying to get themselves off the hook with staff. It creates the illusion that you are on the side of the staff against that big, bad administration. You can’t have it both ways. If you disagree with or have an issue with a policy, take it to your supervisor.

Number Two: I’m Right Behind You

How far behind? Are you there to support your staff members, or will you let them go it on their own? If they fall into the abyss, oh well.

Leadership starts at the front of the line, not the back.

And the Number One Thing Managers Should Never Say or Do…

On Friday at 4:45 p.m., send an email to your employee: “Be in my office first thing Monday morning.”

Great! If I’m your employee I can forget about those tickets I have to the Yankees, Red Sox game, or the dinner reservations I waited a month to get at that fancy new restaurant. I’m picking up a case of my favorite beer, ordering delivery of twelve pizzas, planting myself on the sofa, and spending the weekend binge watching every back episode of the “Walking Dead”! Monday is not going be a good day.

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So, there you have it. Odds are you can come up with your own list, or, at least, add to this one. There’s an old adage about engaging your brain before putting your mouth in gear. For anyone in a supervisory role, this could not be more true.

Tom Butero, LICSW

About the Contributor: Tom Butero, LICSW

Tom hold a masters degree in social work from George Williams College in Illinois and is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) in Massachusetts. He is a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

Tom’s clinical knowledge and experience are extensive, with specialties in the areas of family therapy and treatment services for adolescents. Tom also brings a wealth of expertise in organizational development, administration, and management training. He has served as a program director for several community-based agencies and was the executive director for a youth service agency in Newport, RI.

Tom has taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at George Williams College, the University of Illinois, and Boston University and has presented at numerous local, state, and national conferences on various topics. He has published two articles on diversity training for the Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and an article entitled "Don’t Chase the Dollars" for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation & Inspiration (SOFII) in Great Britain.

Tom is currently self-employed as trainer and consultant to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

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