More Secrets To A Great Relationship With Your Boss

When it comes to developing a great relationship with a boss, most of us can use all the help we can get. You have more power than you think.

I’ve been having a blast talking with leaders and writers on tips for creating a great relationship with your boss.

Their questions are challenging and ideas robust.

Today I share excerpts and insights from a few of these conversations.

If you haven’t yet seen my book, download a free chapter here.

Overcoming An Imperfect Boss

Interview With JJ Jarell – The Business of People in Leadership

Let’s start the talk with a podcast from JJ Jarell:

    • Karin shares her most embarrassing moment
    • Karin’s most awesome (and worst) boss
    • Document your own accomplishments
    • Getting your boss to trust you
    • Working with a disengaged boss
    • Broadening your network – turning to people who can help you

 Building a Better Relationship with Your Boss

Interview with Moe Abdou, 33 Voicesmoe-abdou

As a leader build your subordinate relationships with these R.E.A.L. principles:

  • Results:  Focus and measure results
  • Energy:  Make it energizing and personal
  • Authentic:  Invite candor and authenticity
  • Learning:  Make it about constant learning

Listen to the podcast or download the inspirational moments slideshow here.

How to Transform a Relationship with a Bad Boss

Interview with Leadership Freak – Dan Rockwell

Be careful that you don’t become like the bad boss. Bad bosses often teach us who not to be. Bad bosses are:

  • Unproductive – They run update meetings rather than collaboration meetings.
  • Demeaning – They treat people above them differently from people below them.
  • Closed – They’re not open to feedback.
  • Short-sighted – They don’t invest in development.
  • Confused – They have unclear vision and cause rework.
  • Wasteful – They waste people’s time.
  • Disrespectful – Common courtesy goes a long way to solving tensions.
  • Disorganized – No explanation necessary.
  • Indulgent – They think they’re above others and take special treatment.
  • Self-Centered – Their career is Their ultimate concern.

Become a great boss or employee by becoming the opposite of an imperfect boss. Dan challenged me by asking: “You’re telling me all about the wonderful bosses who supported you in your career what was it about you that made them invest so deeply.”

Questions like that sure make you think. I’ll ask you the same question. Worth closing your eyes and making a list. Read more and listen to interview excerpts at Leadership Freak.

Q&A With Karin Hurt: Overcoming An Imperfect Boss

Interview with ASTD – Julie Winkle Giulioni

Question: Have you learned more from good or bad bosses? Which do you think are more powerful teachers for most people?

Answer: Bad, hands down. If we can get past the frustration and allow the learning to seep in, bad boss behavior teaches us what not to do at a deep emotional level. We are more empathetic to the impact we’re having on others. Also, paying attention to your reaction teaches you to manage your own emotions and stress.

Read the full interview at

6 Proven Ways To Work With A Bad Boss

Interview with Inc. Magazine – Peter Economy

Dislike your boss? You’re not alone.

According to research on the topic, three out of four employees say that dealing with their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. Two-thirds say they would happily take a new boss over a pay raise.

According to Karin Hurt, author of Overcoming An Imperfect Boss, “The secret to a healthy boss-subordinate relationship is to remember that it’s just that, a relationship. You’re two messy human beings doing the best you can.”


How to Manage an Imperfect Boss

Interview With Susan Adams – Forbes

Question: What if your boss is a jerk?

Answer: “The most important thing is not to become a jerk yourself,” says Hurt. She recalls a boss who periodically lost her composure and blamed her direct reports for her mistakes.

Hurt and three colleagues got together and initiated individual conferences with the boss. “First we said: something is not right and we want to help you.” Hurt recalls, “I told her how her behaviors were impacting me and I said: I must be doing something wrong.”

The boss wound up confessing that she was feeling undue pressure and acknowledging that she was taking it out on others. The lessons Hurt learned from this encounter: do not point fingers. Instead, describe how the boss’s behavior is impacting you and volunteer to share the responsibility.


There is No Such Thing as an Ideal Leader

People Equation – Jennifer Miller

The humanity of leadership is a key theme in Karin’s book. She says that one of the reasons she wrote the book is to help people understand that leadership isn’t about achieving an unobtainable level of perfection In the end, my very-human leader did me a huge favor.

It’s tough living up to a superhuman standard. Had I not seen that even the best–of–the–best sometimes do things that cause upset, I may have not been willing to step up to lead when the time came. Read more at

Important Note For Subscribers

I am working on enhancing my website and will be doing a migration this weekend. I will not be posting on Friday. We’ll be back new and improved next week.

Already read Overcoming An Imperfect Boss? Tell us what you think by leaving a review on Amazon.

4 Signs You Have An Inspiring Point Of View

Weak leaders waffle and shape-shift. They’re easily swayed by popular opinion or the path of least resistance. 

Their point of view is remarkably consistent with whatever their boss says, or send messages that will cause the least amount of work. They attract other easy people, who’ll just go with the flow. The flow turns to stagnant mediocrity.

Inspiring leaders have a more deliberate, inspiring point of view. They’re attracted to, and attract, others with carefully considered perspectives.

“The most difficult work most professionals do is getting someone else to agree with their point of view and take action. The second most difficult work professionals do is developing a point of view in the first place.”
~ Seth Godin

Strong leaders articulate a recognizable point of view:

  • What would Gandhi say?
  • What would Jesus do?
  • How about Martin Luther?
  • Martin Luther King?
  • What would (insert your favorite leader here) do?,/li>

4 Signs You Have An Inspiring Point Of View

V – Vision: Your expectations are clear and easy to follow. People get where you are headed and why. Clarity brings consistency and comfort.

I – Integrity: You do what you say and say what you do. Your team knows what to expect from you, and what behaviors you expect from them.

E – Empowerment: An inspiring point of view guides, scaffolds and empowers action. No waiting around for permission and guidance. You stay out of the weeds because you know your team understands your perspective. They don’t have to run to you for decisions, they can just ask WW_D?

W – Wisdom: You’re clear but not stuck. You help others clarify their own thinking and articulate their point of view. You know the best results come after careful consideration of diverse perspectives. You welcome debate.

Point of View Check-Points

Consider your point of view on leadership or parenting, marriage, friendship, customer service. What beliefs do you hold most strongly? How do you communicate your point of view to your followers or children, spouse, friends, customers? If you’re brave, ask them. Do you like what you hear?

secret to great skip level meetings

5 Secrets To Great Skip Level Meetings

Done well, skip level meetings can inspire, engage, motivate and inform the skipper, skipee, and even the skipped. On the other hand, poorly run skip level meetings inadvertently bring on diaper genie feedback and diminish trust.

In my latest role, most of my skip level meetings were even more tricky because I was skipping across many layers or holding focus groups in other companies for which I was the client. There was the added fear that the reps would tell me something that their boss’s, boss’s, boss didn’t want me to know. And yet, I wanted to know it, so we could help. Tricky.

How to Hold Great Skip Level Meetings

  1. Prepare – It’s arrogant to go into a skip level meeting without doing your homework. Understand what the team is doing really well and know what concerns to anticipate. Know something about the people attending, have a few specifics to recognize. Bringing along a note taker enables you to fully engage in a dynamic conversation, but don’t overwhelm the room with extra spectators.
  2. Make it Personal – I always start skip level meetings the same way. I invite participants to share their name, and “what makes them a ROCK STAR in their current job.” People like to share what they’re good at, and it’s beautiful to see what matters most to them.
  3. Relate Through Stories – Skip level meetings are not only a great way to find out what’s on people’s minds, but they are also a great way to reinforce key messages through strategic storytelling. Share your stories, and invite them to share their stories then summarize the themes. For example, “tell me a story of when you turned around a really frustrated customer.” Or, “do you have a story of your team leader was most helpful to you?”
  4. Ask Positively Framed Open-Ended Questions – Framing your questions in a positive light makes it more comfortable for employees to share ideas for improvement.
       •  What’s the best part of working here?
       •  How do you know how you’re doing? In which areas would you like more feedback?
       •  If you were in my shoes and could change one thing to make your work easier, what would that be?
       •  What could we do to improve the customer experience?
       •  Which of your tools/resources do you find most helpful? Why?
       •  If you could invent a tool or resource to help you do your job, what would it be, and how would you use it?
       •  What does your team leader do that’s most helpful to you?
       •  If you were the team leader, what would you focus on (or do more of) and why?
       •  What additional support or resources do you need?
       •  What questions haven’t I asked that you wish I would?
       •  What questions can I answer for you?
  5. Follow-up – Share a summary of your notes and key take-aways with the group. When giving readouts to others, including the “skipped” leaders, be curious, not accusatory. Remember there’s always many interpretations of every story.

Are you looking to achieve better business results through stronger employee engagement and commitment? I can help. Please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

5 Reasons Your Great Idea Isn’t Working

When you’re running full speed ahead with a great idea, be sure to look back over your shoulder to see who’s with you.

A Great Idea

My staff team had a great idea. They were buzzing with excitement. We needed some fun recognition to inspire call center reps to provide great customer service.

“Let’s give the reps a lanyard like in Disney world. You know the kind where you collect pins. The employees can use the lanyard to carry their ID and access badge, and then they can earn pins each time they do something extraordinary. We can have a contest to design the pins.”

The presenter (a big Disney fan) could hardly contain her excitement about their great idea. After all reps love contests, and this one had bling. What a great way to reinforce our new priorities. We needed to act fast, so lanyards were ordered and pins designed. There were about 9000 folks to buy for. Anything x 9000 is not cheap. But it would be worth it.

The staff team held a conference call to roll out the plan. Boxes of lanyards and pins shipped to call centers across the country. Game on.

Fast forward 3 months later, I’m on a tour of the call centers, not a lanyard in site. “Oh, I think we have them somewhere.” That somewhere was most often in a storage closet underneath the Halloween decorations. What went wrong?

5 Reasons Your Great Idea Isn’t Working

  1. Lack Of Field Testing – “I’m from staff, I’m here to help” is a phrase that makes field leaders cringe. I’m allowed to say that since I’ve spent much time on both sides of that imaginary line. Always get the folks who you’re trying to help to kick the tires early in the game. A small pilot goes a long way. Test the concept, but also the logistics. In this case the lanyards didn’t fit with every centers badge. Programs developed in a vacuum suck the potential out of potentially great ideas.
  2. They’ve Seen This Movie before – Your new idea may feel like old news to veterans in the field. Check for scar tissue and past experiences. Ask what’s worked well (and not so well) with similar programs in the past. Talk about what’s different this time. Whatever you do don’t say: “this is not just another flavor of the month”. If you have to say that, it probably is. Reconsider.
  3. It’s Lost In The Sauce – Know what other priorities and programs are competing for attention. Support programs work best when they’re supportive of the priorities at hand (shocking, I know). If your idea feels like one more thing do on top of an already stressful job, it’s not going to get attention.
  4. Lack Of Leadership Support – If your middle managers and front-line leaders are not passionate about your idea, I’d bet my paycheck it won’t work. A great idea without excellent execution is useless. Be sure the folks you need to make your great idea happen are overwhelmed by the value. It may take a minute to get there go slow to go fast.
  5. Lack Of Clarity – Most plans feel straightforward when you’re sitting around a conference table at headquarters. Remember it’s 100 times noisier where that idea is headed. Be sure everyone knows what you expect them to do and vet all questions. Sure leave room for creativity, but leave nothing to chance. Explain what needs to be done 3 times, 3 different ways, and then check for understanding.

Comebacks: Lessons From The Boston Marathon

A conflicted happy-sad feeling welled up in me as I drove to church this Easter Sunday. I was listening to NPR recount comeback stories from the 2013 Boston Marathon. Thousands of human beings racing back toward the scene of one of the most horrific days in their lives.

I was particularly touched by the 2013 First Responders running their first marathon tomorrow. The Boston Athletic Association had expanded their definition of what it means to qualify to run Boston along with more bibs to accommodate those with a strong need for closure and sense making.

As I turned the corner, I saw the colorful explosion of glorious He Is Risen balloons tied to every tree, parking meter, and sign in our town, a sunrise offering by the youth of a neighboring church. That scene always makes me feel like God just can’t hold back. On this particular morning a smiling runner had grabbed up a handful of those balloons and was running down the street.

I shot him an energetic “YES”! The kind you can’t hear, but you both feel deeply.

YES.. we must show up again even when it scares us.

YES… we must find strength through fear.

YES… we must keep running.

I thought of the running:

  • I did when I was overcoming a divorce
  • I was doing when I fell in love with my now husband as we both ran the Dublin Marathon.
  • I had done so to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and the people who were there to watch.
  • That had led our children to support us at many finish lines over the years, “It will only be a few hours”
  • .

What The Boston Marathon Has Become

The Boston Marathon has always been a beacon, a hill, a journey for which runners yearn to be a part. “If only I could qualify for Boston.” An individual aspiration.

Now it’s about coming back strong. A community working together to overcome fear to show the bad guys we’re not afraid to come back. A metaphor for my work ahead. Your work ahead. Our work ahead.

Sure we’re scared. Bad things do happened that don’t make sense. What if? Or what if they? What if I’m not strong enough to come back?

There’s power in YES.

Most of our stories are not as dramatic as those experienced by the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, but we all have comebacks which are worthy of lacing up our shoes, picking up a balloon, and taking the first step.

To what (or whom) does your heart want to say YES!

27 Experts On Employee Engagement: April Frontline Festival

April’s frontline festival is on one of my favorite topics: Employee Engagement. We have a wonderful line-up of posts. We begin with this month’s graphic from Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx LLC (see below).

27 Experts On Employee Engagement: April Frontline Festival

Practical Engagement Practices

Jesse Lyn Stoner, of the Seapoint Center, offers her guest post on switch and shift, First Engage Yourself. It’s difficult to engage your employees if you yourself are not engaged. Here are 7 questions to assess your own engagement and suggestions for what you can do. Follow Jesse @JesseLynStoner.

Wally Bock, of Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership, shares 10 Engagement Building Behaviors For The Boss. Study after study has shown us that if you’re the boss, you are the person with the biggest impact on the productivity, morale and engagement of your team. Here are ten things you can do to improve all three. Follow Wally @WallyBock.

Tune it to Tanveer Naseer Leadership to find out what 3 critical steps leaders should be employing to boost employee engagement levels in their organization. Read Tanveer Naseer‘s post Learning To Connect To Boost Employee Engagement. Follow Tanveer @TanveerNaseer.

Alli Polin, Break the Frame, brings us practical advice in her post  Are You A Negativity Carrier Or The Antidote?. There will always be negative people at work who like to create a crisis. Discover how you can transform their negativity and invite engagement. Follow Alli @AlliPolin.

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
~ Simon Sinek

Mary Jo Asmus,, offers Where Do you Spend Your Time?. A recipe for failure in a new position: keeping your head down, not reaching out to others. This post offers tips to lead and actually lead your team to get them engaged. Follow Mary Jo @mjasmus.

Jim Ryan, Soft Skills For Hard Jobs, shares Morning Check-In Meetings – Maybe The Most Powerful Management Tool There Is. Making a simple addition of a quick 10-minute meeting before the day starts can have quite an impact on the engagement level of your team. I’m with Jim, I had certain roles where a morning check made all the difference. Follow Jim @jryan4.

In her post, Please, Thank You, and I’m Sorry – Words For Kindergarten & Leadership, Robyn McLeod from The Thoughtful Leaders Blog shares how these three phrases that we learned in kindergarten can pave the way for better relationships and communication at work as well as engender trust, respect, and a higher level of engagement from your staff. Follow Robyn @ThoughtfulLdrs.

“Dispirited, unmotivated, unappreciated workers cannot compete in a highly competitive world.”
~ Francis Hesselbein

Matt McWilliams, author of Life. Leadership. Love. Learned the Hard Way, offers Two Scientifically Proven Techniques To Be A Better Leader, Spouse & More. In this post, he shares two incredible techniques that will increase employee engagement and so much more. Follow Matt @MattMcWilliams2.

Chantal Bechervaise, Take it Personel-ly shares specific ways to offer support in her post, Help Employees To Believe In Themselves. Employees need to know that you have faith in their ability to do their jobs well. It also requires commitment to help support employees when times are tough. Follow Chantal @CBechervaise.

Employee Engagement Starts With Leadership

Julie Winkle Giulioni, of shares a sentiment I often feel. It’s not always about doing more to drive engagement, but by what we need to stop. In her post, Stop Driving Employees Nuts, Julie reminds us that employee engagement, motivation, and results are less about introducing new leadership behaviors and more about just stopping the stuff that makes employees crazy. Follow Julie @juliewg.

How important is heart to mental toughness? LaRae Quy, author of Empower The Leader In You, shares 5 Unconventional Ways You Can Lead From Your Heart. Mental toughness is finding a way to continue moving toward our goals, even in tough times. But if our heart is not the driving force behind those goals, failure will be enough to persuade us to give up and try something else. Follow LaRae @LaRaeQuy.

Martin Webster, of Leadership Thoughts, brings us 4 Reasons Your Team Is Frustrated With Your Leadership. Do you know if your team is frustrated with your leadership? Learn about some common team gripes and what you need to do about them. Follow Martin @tristanwember.

Building Engaging Cultures

Chip Bell, of, brings us The Leadership Echo. Leadership is an echo sounded through the actions of those under the leader’s influence. Customers get a peep-hole into the organization’s culture their experience created and delivered by the front line. Follow Chip @ChipRBell.

“On what high-performing companies should be striving to create: A great place for great people to do great work.”
~ Marilyn Carlson, former CEO of Carlson Companies

Steve Broe, of My Career Impact, shares Why Do We Need To Assess People to Build A Great Organization. Take the time to evaluate people working for you. Consider their strengths, look at how their strengths can best be deployed. Follow Steve @DrSteveBroe.

What are you engaging employees to do? Kate Nasser, of Smart SenseAbilities offers Engaging Employees to Succeed At What – Integrity. When leaders approach me to help them with employee engagement, I immediately ask them: “engage employees to do what?” If you want company-wide success, engage them to engage each other. This is how to build accountability and integrity throughout the company. Follow Kate @KateNasser.

Jennifer Miller, of The People Equation, shares the7 Moods Of Employee Engagement. Leaders need to learn to coax the troublesome types out of their moods in order to create the most productive and engaged work environment. Follow Jennifer @JenniferVMiller.

Michelle Pallas, at Fireside Chat For Leaders, shares a post on a life strategy I believe in deeply. Care Enough To Take The Time To Know People. Go first, get engaged. Show you care, make connections. It doesn’t cost anything to care. It requires energy and focus. Listening with heart and mind. Engage your workforce by taking the time to know them. Follow Michelle @MichellePallas.

Chery Gegelman, of the Simply Understanding Blog offers, Banging Pans & Throwing Fish In Corporate America. An under-performing, under-supported team that was feeling victimized, changed leadership, changed their focus, learned how to play together, built trust, began meeting and then exceeding their goals and a VIP customer said, “I don’t know what you’ve done with the place, it was a tomb, and now it is alive.” Follow Chery @GianaConsulting.

A powerful personal story that shows the impact we can make, when we invest in one person at a time. David Dye, of Trailblaze, shares The Leadership Question I Couldn’t Answer. How do you motivate a former gang member to succeed in school? David shares his surprising answer to that question and how it will help you lead motivated, energized teams. Follow David @davidmdye.

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”
~ Stephen R. Covey

Brett Faris, of Feed Leaders, shares How To Be Great With People. This is a fun, short post on 3 lessons his golden retriever taught him on how to be great with people. Brett writes with the church leader in mind however believe it is applicable to all business owners. Nothing like taking lessons from a dog. Follow Brett @BrettFaris.

In this case study, Overwhelmed, Linda Fisher Thornton, of Leading In Context explains how a a caring manager is one of the key elements that drives employee engagement. So managers, let’s remove “It’s all important. I’m sure you’ll figure it out” from our vocabularies.

DATIS Delivers, Thought Leadership For Human Services Organizations, shares Employee Engagement: A Time To Give. Does your company have an employee engagement program? Empower your employees by using technology as a tool for success while building a foundation for solid communication in your organization. Follw Datis @DATISe3.

Artika Tyner, Planting People, Growing Justice shares Jumpstart Your Career: 3 Tips To Discover Your Strengths. Employee engagement can be fostered by supporting strengths development and developing the leadership capacities of your team members. This blog provides 3 key tips for strengths development. Follow Artika @DrArtikaTyner.

Michelle Cubas, of Business Influences, brings us Employee Engagement Is About Purpose. Why do people want to work—employee engagement is about purposeful action. Follow Michelle @CoachCubas.

Subha BalagopalFrom the Principal’s Pen offers For An Organization With People. This post is about how I engage with my organization and how I think employees might engage in a healthy organization that invites their voices. Follow Subha @PrincipalsPen2.

Call For Submissions

May’s Festival is all about Careers and Career Development. Please submit your posts using this link. New participants welcome.

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Productive

I texted my colleague: “do you think we both need to attend the 3pm meeting?” He quickly shot back: “Karin, I don’t think anyone needs to go to that meeting. Don’t worry, I’ll represent both of us.”

And there we were two executives, not speaking up in the spirit of being politically correct, and covering for one another to minimize the pain. After all, we had real work to do.

Sometimes, apparently, I’m also the instigator of such meetings. I attended a meeting the other day and every person in the room was on their iPad working except the speaker and I. I stopped the meeting and questioned what appeared to be very rude behavior.

As I soon uncovered, the rest of the participants had held a dry run of the meeting the day before I arrived in town. Since I was the boss they wanted to practice. This entire meeting had turned into a read-out for me. Those meetings should have been consolidated, or the second meeting should have been cancelled: “Karin, we’ve got this.” Or at least become a one-on-one.

They did have this and didn’t need me. Pre-meetings are often a sign of wasted time. Invest in knowing how much your team is preparing to meet with you. Even if you think you’re low maintenance.

Despite my best efforts to change-up the meetings under my influence, I sometimes succumb, keep my mouth shut, and attend my fair share of time-wasters. That’s why when I received this note from a subscriber, I promised to write a blog response and schedule it up next.

I’ll offer my best thinking and hand it over to the LGL village for additional suggestions:

“I just read your recent post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork, and was personally touched when you started talking about misuse of staff meetings. It seems all I do is have read-out staff meetings and my staff hates them. But, I like it because the team is together as a whole and they learn what each other is working on and it does stimulate great conversation. However, they still hate them and, honestly, I hate them too. I would love to hear your perspective on how to have high-energy staff meetings. What are my alternatives? What can I do to achieve my goal of getting my 12 member team together weekly but not be a boring mess?

Make Your Meetings More Productive

  1. Cancel The Meeting & Create White Space – Pick one afternoon a week or a month that no one can talk to each other. Or take a regularly scheduled meeting, and just cancel it. See what happens over time. See how work gets done. See Jason Fried’s TED Talk: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.
  2. Make Each Meeting Unique – Even if you hold a regular weekly meeting, have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting that you articulate in advance. For example, by the end of this meeting we will:
    • identify the most important pages for our website
    • review our declining customer service trends and brainstorm 3 key actions to take this month
    • identify the theme and breakouts for our next symposium

    If your answer is read-out on results and progress on action plans cancel the meeting, and find another way.

  3. Ins-and-outs – Decide who needs to be there for which part of the meeting and then design the agenda accordingly. My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect. We started with the larger group and narrowed as the topics move along. I make it clear that this is not to exclude, but a time-saving exercise.
  4. Stand-up Or Walk Among Yourselves – I’ll admit, when results go down, I intervene more. I’m a big believer in the stand-up huddle. Almost like a time-out check in for the day (or week). I think a big problem with meetings as we see them as sit on your butt occasions. Some of the best meetings start with “got a sec?” Try to emulate that feeling as much as possible. As Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk: Fresh Air Drives Fresh Thinking.
  5. Make them think – I love the idea of Idea Tickets from Michael Michalko: “In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.”

PS: Tune in on Monday and we’ll talk about the most challenging kind of meetings: skip level meetings.

How To Ensure Your Greatest Fears Come True

After a hectic but fun Saturday morning of speaking on a Lead Change panel and schlepping my son to baseball practice and art lessons, Sebastian and I decided to try out the newish Ethiopian restaurant for lunch.

“Every man, through fear, mugs his aspiration a dozen times a day.”
~ Brendan Francis

The place wasn’t crowded and the engaging owner did the cooking, waiting, and busing himself. The food was amazing. I asked how long he had been in business (a year), and admitted that I had never realized the place was there. We were politely interrupted by a woman asking to see the dessert menu.

“Oh no, we don’t carry desserts. I fear not enough people will want them. Once we really get things going, I’ll feel confident to expand the menu.”

As he came back to our table,Sebastian 8-years old, apparently now my Chief Marketing Officer, offered:

“You know, I think my mommy might really be able to help you with your business (I’m now searching for a menu to duck behind). She knows a lot about leadership and making money. You see she…”

The fantastic chef shared his story: “I’m a really good cook. My friends all told me I should open a restaurant. I’m taking a cautious approach. I know this location is not ideal (it’s really tucked away), but I didn’t want to invest much in location, until I knew for sure it would be a success. I want to attract a crowd, but it’s hard.”

He must have seen me glance around (I’ve never been accused of having a poker face).

“Yeah, I didn’t want to invest too much in decor to start either. Same philosophy. Better to play it safe, it might not work out. Once I have more customers, I’ll make the place more attractive. I have a vision.”

I had already picked up a take-out menu, because I couldn’t imagine convincing my husband this was a great place for romantic dining so I asked, “have you ever considered letting your customers bring their own wine at dinner?” (several really successful BYOBs are within a 5 mile radius) in similar rustic locations.

“Oh no. The insurance would be too much, you know and there’s the fear that a fight could break out.”

Okay, I don’t know about you, but the last fear on my mind when I plan for an evening of romantic ethnic dining (in a Suburban area) is a brawl. His fears were driving his business plan. A coat of paint, some sorbet in the freezer it wouldn’t take much. What was he really afraid of?

When Fear Takes Control

Fear based thinking happens in big business too:

  • “Let’s be like Zappos and truly empower our customer service reps to do what’s right for the customer. BUT if they need to give a credit over ten bucks they need to bring in a supervisor.”
  • “Forbes and Fast Company have great ideas about leadership. Joe has fantastic business results, and everyone wants to work for him, but, his approach is still unconventional for our culture. Not sure he’ll play that well in the board room, better promote the guy that leads like us.”
  • “Sure access to social media at work would help our employees promote our company, BUT what if they say something stupid?”
  • “I have a great idea, but what if my boss hates it? Better to lay low and do what she thinks is best.”

Don’t let fear stop your greatness. We need your creative cooking in our neck of the woods.

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork

If your team has as much teamwork as a box of crayons without a child to guide them, don’t blame them. Consider what you may be doing to inadvertently sabotage their teamwork.

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork

  1. Insisting On A Team That Doesn’t Make Sense – I’ve seen so much energy and money wasted to improve the team dynamic when the real issue is organizational structure. A cluster of human beings is not a team. No one is bonding if the only common denominator is who they report to. If you can’t identify several common goals (beyond your performance agreement), consider the structure rather than organizing a team karaoke night. The best teams truly need one another to be successful. If you can’t change the structure, think harder about a few collaborative goals or projects that can get the team moving forward together.
  2. Ignoring The Obvious Dynamic – If everyone on your team is frustrated by one member, stop pretending it’s not an issue (yes, even if she’s an a player). I once worked on a team where one of our peers won a numbers-only based National recognition. Every one of her immediate peers understood the nasty back-stabbing dynamics beneath the surface. Our boss seemed to get it, but she got results, and results helped him. Instead of addressing it, he chose to call each of us individually and remind us of the right thing to do, to call her and congratulate her. The truth is, those calls had already begun. But his call assuming we couldn’t get there with her, reinforced the fact that we all had work to do in these relationships. Pushing us to be cooth was scratching the surface on a bigger issue that needed to be addressed.
  3. Fuzzy Vision – Teamwork blossoms when the group is inspired by a vision bigger than themselves. If all you’re doing is passing down organizational goals, you’re missing an opportunity to energize your team toward creating local magic. Everyone likes to be part of a winning team. See: Teams Need Vision Too.
  4. Misusing Your Staff Meetings – If you’re using your staff meetings as an opportunity for serial updates from your team, instead of a high-energy brainstorming of ways to collaborate, you’re wasting time. Trust me, everyone hates your meetings if all they’re really doing is reading out to you with no engagement from others. If you want your meetings to inspire teamwork, save updates for your one-on-ones, and then shorten the team readouts to what’s most relevant for the whole crew. Have updates conclude with statements such as and what this means to the team is or the implications for our team are. It will take a bit more time investment on your part, but the resulting teamwork will be worth it.
  5. Overusing Competition – Trash talk has its place, but it’s tricky. In many organizations there’s an unspoken stack ranking dynamic that’s already out there. See: 6 Secrets To Building Teams In A Stack-Ranked World. Instead of firing your team up to out do one another, reward the sharing of best practices and collaboration. Be sure that leadership toward the greater good and team behaviors are part of your performance evaluation and recognition strategy.
5 Ways to Be a Positive Force in a Negative Workplace

9 Ways To Be A Positive Force In A Negative Workplace

My German Father-in-law would call trying to fix this negative workplace, Furzen gegen den Donner, farting against thunder. I’ve got to admit, the description I got on the other end of the phone was pretty bad: little to no recognition, development, or teamwork combined with long hours, limited resources, lots of finger-pointing, and the uncertainty of a new acquisition and consolidation.

When my caller tried to get a hold of a list of the company values, no one seemed to know where to find them. The veterans knew they existed, somewhere they were as opaque as the vacation policy no one took seriously.

Leaders were fleeing this negative workplace every day. And yet this LGL member was staying, and pulling people together to improve the scene (which had nothing to do with his day job). Why?

“I used to feel like I needed to get out of here, but now I’m so excited to be part of the solution. it’s fulfilling to see progress. I know I may lose my job in a year or so, but for now, this feels like important work.”

Important work indeed. The world needs people who dive deeper to change a negative workforce. It’s far easier to run away. Here are some tips that can help. Please add yours to the list.

How To Be A Positive Force In A Negative Workplace

  1. Ask Why They Work – In this negative environment, this may seem obvious: “for the paycheck, stupid”. But take it a step further. Do they work to support their sick mom? To pay back student loans? To save for their children’s education? Because they enjoy helping customers? Because? Reconnecting to the purpose of work can help make the smaller annoyances less frustrating.
  2. Call It What It Is – When you see negative thinking or actions, talk to the person privately to call it out – particularly if other leaders are involved. When negative attitudes and talk are all around, it’s tempting to ignore it. Raise the bar and change the conversation.
  3. Rise Above The Drama – Refuse to get sucked into the rumors and gossip. Respond to your team’s concerns with transparency and candor. Be the one people know they can trust for a straight answer.
  4. Find Kindred Spirits – The truth is not everyone is negative, although it can feel that way at times. Look around and find other folks trying to change the scene for the better. There is strength in numbers.
  5. Create A Cultural Oasis – It’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to fix the overall culture. Start with your own team and do what you can to make it feel better to come to work. See: BYOO: Build Your Own Cultural Oasis.
  6. Find Reasons To Celebrate – With all the negativity, it’s easy to overlook the good. Go out of your way to recognize and celebrate small wins. Substitute weak phrases like no problem with more enthusiastic recognition power words.
  7. See Barriers As A Challenge – Encourage your team to embrace the problems they are seeing as challenges to learn and grow from. Recapping learning along the way helps them feel a sense of positive momentum even during the most challenging times.
  8. Laugh More – I had one colleague who would respond to the ridiculous political nonsense by reminding us it’s all comedy. Stepping back and recognizing how ridiculous some behavior is creating a healthy distance from which to respond more appropriately.
  9. Hold Deeper Developmental Conversations – In periods of uncertainty, people yearn for a sense of control and connection. Take your developmental conversations to the next level. Ask your team and your peers about their hopes and dreams, what motivates them and what scares them. Show up as a real human being caring about other real human beings.

Do you want more ideas for being a positive force in a negative culture? Check out our book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results– Without Losing Your Soul.

Transitions: My First Week As An Entrepreneur

As my regulars know, I’ve recently left my job as a Verizon Wireless executive to pursue my entrepreneurial dream. I promise that my blog will continue to be about ways to support you.

With that said, I’ve received so many wonderful notes and lots of questions about what’s next as an entrepreneur, that I figured there were others who were curious, but not asking. I imagine my own angst can be helpful to others in the midst of such transitions. I would love to hear your stories.

Q&A On Early Transitions

Question: What’s your biggest surprise one week in?
Answer: My new boss is a handful.

Her heart’s in the right place, but she’s hard to keep up with. Her passion is contagious, but sometimes it just wears me out. I think sometimes she forgets we’re just a small team. I’ve tried to explain, but she’s got this new entrepreneurial spirit thing going. Not sure she’s listening. You see, the tricky part is, my new boss is me. I’ve become the boss I wish I had, and I’m swimming in imperfection.

I suddenly have a new realization of what it must have been like to work on my teams all these years. I’m having flashbacks to what one of my leaders said after working with me in a new gig for a few weeks. Yikes, we’ve been running so hard, my watch is spinning around on my wrist from all the weight I’ve lost.

Back then, I took it as a joke and a compliment. We were having fun and had great momentum. But maybe, this sweet Southern gentleman was also kindly trying to tell me to slow down, that I was creating a cloud dust of deliverables that were hard to keep up with.

A week in to being my own boss, I’m experiencing what my own teams have felt from me passion, impatience, extreme focus on results, and lots of work.

It’s a humbling exercise to be the visionary and the one who must execute. I’ve got more to-dos than I can possibly do.

Question: Did you leave Verizon because you hit a glass ceiling?
Answer: No.

Verizon leadership goes out of their way to develop and promote women. I have been surrounded by amazing women and men mentors and examples over the years, and continue to have these supportive people in my life. I left from the right box on the grid.

If I hit a ceiling, it can better be described as an authenticity ceiling of my own making. I have very strong leadership values which I stick to. It became more important for me to lead in the way that I felt most compelled to lead than to organize my leadership around what would best position me for the next level.

Question: Aren’t you scared?
Answer: Of course.

Entrepreneurship is highly personal. There’s no one to blame but me. Every swing and a miss, makes me sad. But the base hits are worth it. But besides all that, it came to a point that I was more frightened of the consequences of not doing what I felt most called to do.

I don’t want to leave this world contributing less than I should. I resonate with Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on innovation. It’s starting to feel that I’m supposed to be responding to things happening through me. That’s hard to ignore.

Question: What are your first steps?
Answer: Head clearing, strategic planning, website/video development, building on partnerships, and book launching.

Honestly, I need some unwinding. I’m mixing in some yoga and kickboxing with the strategic planning and other work. I am resisting the urge to do too much doing until my priorities and strategy are solid. With that said, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of the leadership media crowd in support of my book launch.

I’m spending a lot of time in interviews, podcasts, and other media responses. That’s been a BLAST. P.S. If you’ve enjoyed the book, I would love to have you write a short review on Amazon with all the media commotion, we could use some help in the basics.

I’m also delighted to be collaborating with a highly talented group of management consultants in a group called Agamie, each of us bringing different areas of expertise. We have some exciting possibilities brewing.

Question: What’s the focus of your new company?
Answer: Helping companies achieve transformational results by building rock-solid front-line leadership teams.

The new website coming in early May will share the whole story stay tuned.

Question: Do you have other books in the works?
Answer: Yes.

Overcoming An Imperfect Boss is tapas. It will be an exciting 2 years.

Question: Will Let’s Grow Leaders stay the same interactive community?
Answer: You bet!

Only stronger. We have many new subscribers, and more people joining the conversation. Amen. If you’ve never shared a comment, join the fun. It’s much more exciting to be involved.

Imagine There Are No Talent Reviews

Sara called me excitedly: “Karin you know how you’ve been encouraging me to take a lateral move to broaden my experience the perfect job just came open. I can really imagine myself in the role. Can you put in a good word for me?”

“Imagine all the people…”
~ John Lennon

Excellent, I thought. Sara was so convinced she was ready for a promotion, but I knew she had a little more growing to do before she was ready. She was right. This job was perfect for her, and I was glad she was willing to consider a lateral move. I called HR immediately to ensure she would be considered.

“I’m sorry Karin, you don’t have Sara listed as high-potential on the performance-potential grid.” We’ve been told to reserve lateral moves for succession planning candidates.”

Huh? Just how did that make any sense? I understand using the grid to define pools for promotions, but were we really going to stop developing everyone else? Besides if a solid performer can’t be promoted, and can’t move laterally, are we really going to just let them stagnate in the same job? Surely this HR person was confused, so I took it a level higher.

The next conversation went something like this: “Well, I’m not saying we’d never consider Sara for such a move, but maybe you have her in the wrong box. I can move her to high-potential now, if you’d like and put her on the slate.” Okay, now it was getting even more stupid. Systems that need to be played are never effective.

4 Reasons Talent Review Systems Break Down

John Lennon had a point. Good systems can have dangerous side effects. Talent reviews are an important part of a healthy succession planning and development process. Here are few reasons to be careful:

  • Organizations & Priorities Change – I went back and looked though the grids I had used in my organization as an HR Director years ago. Many names from the best parts of the grid have since been promoted and having strong careers within the company. But other high performance-potential candidates have been recruited away or have left to start their own companies. Sadly some of whom we’d invested the deepest development had been caught up in mergers, downsizing, and other drama. There were also people who had been once deemed lower potential now holding significant leadership positions. They’d missed out on much of the development we offered to the others who are no longer around.
  • People Change – I’ve seen organizations get so hung up on doing succession planning down to the lowest levels of the organization, that managers get labelled as high potential or low potential very early in their careers. Labels are hard to change, even when the people do.
  • Potential Is Subjective – Every leader has their own definition of what constitutes high potential. Even with reasonable calibration politics, personality and favoritism can get in the way.
  • Feedback Gets Watered Down – The big rules in most talent reviews are what’s said in the talent review stays in the talent review. Makes sense, to a point. You want people to speak freely without fear of third hand feedback. But if leaders are saying things about a manager that they would not say to that manager, how will they ever grow? I wrote about this in more depth in: “Talent Reviews: What They’re Saying Behind Closed Doors”.

    I’m all for replacement and succession planning. Such processes support more deliberate and fair leadership selection. But don’t fall into the trap of only focusing serious developmental efforts on your shiny stars of the moment. Limiting rich development to the top 20% of your team is a waste. Imagine the power of tapping into ever human being on your team’s most powerful potential.

    PS: Now that I’m an entrepreneur, I was delighted to be featured for the first time in Entrepreneur magazine with my story, Why Sucking Up is Bad For Business.