What To Do When You're Really Stuck

I received this email from subscriber (modified enough for anonymity). Let’s call him Guy.

Would you be up to offer a little free advice to beat down manager? I have been in some type of leadership position for over a decade now. Two years ago I took over as manager of the noted, “ really tough crowd” in our company. A slight understatement, but–I was up for the challenge.

In discussions with my boss, she informed me that I needed to win my team over and that I did not have their respect. I have never had anyone tell me anything like that with either of the previous teams that I oversaw. Dazed and confused, I moved forward.

I have worked beside them and did the same jobs that they were doing, and bought them breakfast or donuts when I held early morning meetings. I’ve taken some of them to lunch to get to know them. I championed for their needs for extra fabric, materials, and machines, and got them the resources they needed.

I have stood before them and asked them to tell me what they needed me to do to work better for them and make their work lives better–very few responses but at least a couple of them offered.

Today I was lambasted by my boss because of one individual who easily gets her feelings hurt when she is required to do more than she believes she should be doing. The epitome of, “ I’ll do what I want to.” Each time I have tried a new approach, and ease into conversations with this individual. I now have all but stopped trying to work with her. I only get in trouble when I do.

So, tell how you would proceed. I am at my wit’s end. I am giving up. It became painfully obvious to me when I began this email seeking advice from an unfamiliar, outside source.

Most of us have hit a wall like that.  We all have times in our careers where we feel stuck, lack confidence, or wonder why no one sees things our way.

If you’ve ever felt even a third of what Guy’s feeling, it’s easy to have similar sentiments like “Maybe I should just give up.”

When it gets that bad, the co-author of our upcoming book, David Dye, and I encourage you to start with three words.

“How Can I…”

With those three words you:

  • Return focus to your own power and ability to act
  • Tap into the energy of your prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that problem-solves and plans
  • Vastly increase the odds of finding a solution
  • Take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control–yourself.

Let’s try some “How can I?” questions with Guy’s scene.

  • How can I better understand this employee’s resistance?
  • How can I get more input and feedback from my team?
  • How can I set clearer expectations?
  • How can I build deeper trust with my boss?

or maybe even…

  • How can I find a job that doesn’t make me so frustrated?

When you ask “How can I?” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.” That’s okay. Try David’s bonus question,  “What might I do if I did know?”

Now watch what happens. It’s amazing how you can generate ideas when you give yourself permission.

Sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t have the information you need in order to craft solutions. Then the question becomes, “How can I get the information?”

Stuck sucks. But you can and will get through it. Start with the simple question, “How do I?” Then move to an even more powerful question, “How do we?”

Looking to get your team unstuck? Call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.

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Posted in Career & Learning, confident humility, Energy & Engagement and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

7 Comments

  1. I’ve heard and seen this attitude by subordinates a lot over the years…at some point the question is this: does this person represent the majority or is she simply a problem employee?

    If she is the only who is making this statement, Guy would be better off getting rid of her (that is another blog topic). I know it’s all PC to salvage every team member but if they are toxic, it’s like cancer—cull them and cut them ASAP.

    I have to ask Guy if he is being stone-walled by a few naysayers on his team? Once the morale becomes toxic, it’s very hard to get it back to a healthy level….

    • LaRae, I’m with you. That seems to me to be the vital question. Thanks as always for your insights.

  2. I love the “How Can I..” question! It really does open the dialogue up for discussion and show a caring part of us.

    If an employee is really destructive, and it has been going on for a long time, I would ask them if they would rather work somewhere else. If they say yes, I would help with the transfer. I would even “sell” the transfer by stating what a great opportunity it is for them.

    If they want to stay, I might use a person on the team as a buffer- someone they have a good relationship with. Sometimes working through another person can really work.

    At all costs, don’t personalize it and keep a healthy boundary.

    Thanks for sharing Karin and good luck with your new book!

    • Terri, Thanks so much! So agree. Sometimes it’s really a bad job fit, and everyone would be happier if the employee was somewhere else (including the employee).

  3. Sounds like “Guy” did all the things you would expect a person in his position to do. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the leader. I’m curious about what’s going on with the follower.

    A question I like to ask is “What are/am you/I willing to do to ___________?” Words like might, should, could aren’t as powerful as willing or will.

  4. I love “How can I ” some team members you lead do not always provide feedback for self development/ awareness and this can be challenging for any leader. I really wish they would openly share their thoughts and feelings. Has any one had success in simply asking team members straight out .. How am I doing ? 1-2 employees may just never see eye to eye with you which can contribute to the teams overall success or not. Advice would greatly be appreciated

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