10 things you should learn to say

Mid adult businesswoman holding glasses and looking sidewards.
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(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY It happens to everyone. You'll be talking to friends or watching a movie and somebody says something that, for whatever reason, strikes a resounding chord with you.

I wouldn't describe it as an epiphany because you probably weren't even aware of how much it spoke to you. But that particular phrase somehow resonated with your situation and state of mind at that point in time.

After a while, you probably won't remember when you first heard it or what you were going through that made it stick with you like it did. But every so often, that phrase pops into your head and you use it. Over time, it becomes part of your toolbox, your belief system, your internal compass, what you stand for. It becomes part of your DNA.

It's the same thing with companies - a collection of beliefs and behavior becomes part of the culture.

I'm not sure a week goes by that a few of these don't go through my mind and impact the way I live and work. They figure prominently in the decisions I make and the way I act once I've made them. It's a good thing I learned to say them. Hope you find them useful.

My work doesn't define me. Work is about business. Mostly that involves a company delivering a product or service to its customers. Notice you're not in that equation. I don't care if you're the CEO. Sure, everybody plays a role, and some roles are bigger than others. While it's great to be engaged and passionate about your work, just remember that it's what you do, not who you are.

What should I do differently? Also what am I missing or not seeing? Inertia's a killer for lives, careers, and companies. If you're not happy with the way things are going, that's not going to change until you do something differently. That means sitting down and thinking about what you should maybe do differently. Yes, that takes effort and energy. No kidding.

Do the right thing. This simple phrase that one wise CEO used to say all the time articulates the work ethic that my father instilled in me when I was young. It represents my moral and ethical compass. You can say that what's right for one person isn't right for another, and that may be true in some cases. But more often than not, at least on some level people usually know what the right thing to do is. They just choose not to do it.

Tomorrow's another day. As a senior executive I've had managers complain about the lack of resources and cry that there just wasn't enough time in the day to get everything done. No kidding. It's not as if I forced them at gunpoint to do x, y and z that day. If I had to pick one Golden Rule of the workplace, it's this one. I don't know how anyone can live without it.

What's the worst that can happen? People are forever taking big risks with stuff they can't afford to lose while playing it way too safe when they have nothing to lose. The most important things you need to do in life are the things that scare you. It's called facing your fear and having the courage to act. It helps a lot if you learn to ask yourself this question so you can tell if your fear is justified or not.

How am I doing? It's truly sad that someone in the human resources or organizational development field had to come up with "360 degree" reviews so managers and executives can find out how they're really doing. Yes, the anonymity factor is unique, but if your people or peers aren't comfortable telling you the truth when you ask for it, something's wrong with your management or leadership style.

What's my value proposition? Said another way, how can I help my company, customer, organization, or management? These days I guess they call it "servant leadership," but to me it's always been a question of what can I do better than anyone else that benefits whoever's paying me. It's the same thing with products, services, organizations, and companies. If you can't articulate what unique benefit you offer, then why should anyone pay for it?

What the heck. The line that defines the movie "Risky Business" is when Miles says to Joel (played by Tom Cruise): "Every now and then say, 'What the $#*!.' 'What the $#*!' gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future." It's repeated in one form or another throughout the movie. It's similar to "What's the worst that can happen?" but I think of it more like "letting go." When you learn to let go, good things come to you. Really.

I'm wasting my time and energy. This phrase is a relatively recent one for me, but I suspect that every single one of you will benefit by learning how to say it. Why? Social media. Smartphones. iPads. The blogosphere. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, texting, Pandora, iTunes, gaming, Hulu, reality television -- we live in a world of endless distraction, information, and communication overload. It's too much.

Hope is a terrible strategy. Once you make decisions, having faith that you're doing the right thing and sticking with it as long as it makes sense is all well and good. But far too many people aren't willing to do the work. They take the easy way out or take bigger risks than they should and hope things work out. They won't. When hope takes the place of cold, hard facts and smart decision-making, it's a recipe for disaster.

What phrases come to your mind when you need guidance?