How to Stop Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers From Destroying Your Team

I often start my speeches on employee engagement sharing prototypes of various kinds of disengagement. The favorite is always Barbara Boatrocker– “her life feels like a sad country song, every little thing is wrong”– for the appropriate audience I’ll even sing that line ;-). “She’s always stirring the pot. Nothing’s ever quite right when Barbara’s around. She sucks the life-force out of your team.”

Last week, when I asked what we should do about Barbara, the entire audience screamed out in unison, “Fire her.”

I paused.

“How many of you have a Barbara on your team?” Again, almost 100% raised their hands, with lots of knowing laughter.

Clearly, it’s not that easy to fire the “Barbaras” of the world, or this exchange wouldn’t continue to work across all kinds of industries and cultures– even the top-notch law firm I spoke to recently hasn’t cracked the code in their own organization.

5 Ways to Deal With Drama Queens and Chronic Complainers

First let me emphasize the CHRONIC part of the syndrome I’m talking about here. Open dialogue and employees expressing concern is not complaining. Seeking to understand is not resistance. I’m talking about the handful of looney tunes you’ll encounter in your career who consistently make matters worse.

1. Take it Off-Line

What Barbara wants more than anything is an audience. Don’t let her hijack your meeting. Acknowledge her concern and schedule some limited time to understand her concern privately (always good to have someone headed to your office right after). Trust me, your team will thank you.

2. Listen with an Open Mind

Honestly, the reason these Barbaras are so annoying is that they have a point. Some of what they say is true, and you know it. But, you understand the bigger picture and the constraints. I must admit, I’ve gotten some great insights from the Barbaras of the world. Pay attention enough so you don’t miss the good stuff.

3. Give Them a Project

I swear this works. Get them involved in solving the problem, not just talking about it. It’s always easier to tear something down than to build something up. Pull her into the solution-building equation.

4. Watch Your Body Language and Facial Expressions

Looking annoyed and ticked off will only reinforce her opinion that you’re an idiot who doesn’t care. It’s easy to slip into passive aggressive mode here, to roll your eyes, or sigh deeply. Remember that Barbara is annoying, not stupid.

5. Fire Them

Not for complaining, but for the other complicating factors. All that miss-spent energy normally comes at a productivity price. If Steps 1-4 still don’t work (be sure you’ve given them a chance), pay close attention to the side effects and document them.

Why Job Descriptions are a Dying Art

A client called. “Karin, I’m going to send you the job description for the new role we designed, but ignore all the HR mumbo jumbo. Just concentrate on the competencies and see if they seem right to you based on the strategy we’ve been working on.”

Game on. We were going to have the conversation that was most worth having: How do we find the right person with the aptitude for this vital job? The 25% this, 37% that of traditional job descriptions was a crap shoot at best. We needed a thinker who would work with us to be as creative as possible and build this role into more than we ever imagined.

Planning out roles and functions is vital. Pricing jobs for fair market value makes sense. But when job descriptions serve to confine, or “swim lanes” become too narrow, you’re headed into dangerous waters.

I remembered the time the union fought so hard to prevent “service reps” from doing higher paid “customer rep” work, and kept a careful watch–telling both groups to be careful not to do too much outside their “role.” Once the lawyers got involved, the higher job was eliminated, and the career path disappeared, and really great people were disappointed, and stopped trying. I was devastated to see good people with hopes of moving up crushed by the instruction to do less, because some artificial boundaries said that would help. It didn’t. It never does.

It’s not just in union jobs. Recently, I failed to convince one of my MBA students in the power of thinking beyond her current low level ” job description.” She sings opera on the side and was asked if she would like to sing at her company gala (with external players). She said only if she were paid for the gig since this is “not in her job description.”

She had a big opportunity to get noticed and to differentiate herself. She didn’t sing as a matter of principle.

As a musician myself, I get it at some level. But, I’ll also never forget the time we were  in the middle of a touching measure of a huge rehearsal and the conductor put down the baton between beats, because it was time for a union break.

Most examples are not this dramatic, and often not articulated. But in almost every company I work in I see signs of the “it’s not my job virus” gaining momentum… and the “A Players” are shooting themselves in the foot while the mediocre get by just fine.

Why Job Descriptions are Old School

I can’t claim to fully understand every circumstance, and I know there are grave situations where good people are being exploited. I’m not talking about that. What I do know is the hundreds, at this point likely thousands, of people I’ve met over the years in reasonable paying jobs, whose fear of working outside their job description absolutely damaged their careers and sabotaged their long-term earnings.

And it’s even more critical now.

We’re in a knowledge and technology economy when even lower level jobs change faster than HR can keep up.

Your job description is the skeleton–the unimaginative view of minimal requirements. Many will stop there and stay put. And that’s a tragedy.

The game changers will understand this limited view, and know that the real work is to think past the basics and add value that changes the game. In most cases the money will follow. If not, know there are plenty of companies hungry to hire people willing to change the game.

The Call to HR

Of course you need job descriptions. It’s just time to get more creative. Imagine the possibilities if every job description had the 75% skeleton as it exists today, and then 25% encouraging innovation and additional contribution?

  • Continuously seeks new ways to enhance the customer experience and shares them with peers
  • Collaborates across departments for innovative solutions to improve quality and reduce costs
  • Builds a deep bench of talent through recruiting, mentoring and organic employee development

Let’s Discuss

The old Field of Dreams idea of “build it and they will come” sometimes fails as a short-term solution. But I’ve never seen a genuine effort of a competent person giving a little more than expected over time fail.

I’m wide-open to real dialogue here. Let’s talk about this important issue.

Why to Be Overconfident (every now and then)

The outdoor wedding on the water was beautiful, the bar was open and the line for the fanciest version of a Port-o-Pot I’ve ever seen was long–which is why so many heard the screams of the little boy who couldn’t escape from the potty on wheels.

His cries grew more frantic as his dad and others tried to calm him down. “Lucas, it’s going to be okay… just turn the knob…. please stop crying….” Lucas stayed stuck. There was a key, but it was on the inside. It was starting to feel like one of those stories that would be really funny when Luke is 22, but tonight, not so much.

Never having met the kid, I knew he wouldn’t recognize my voice. I walked over to the door. “Hi Lucas, this is Karin, and I’m the potty expert. I know all about these things. All you have to do is turn the knob to the right.” (His dad, whispers to me, “Actually, I think it’s to the left.”) “Oh, wait, I was thinking about the girl’s potty, sorry about that. Sometimes I can be so silly. Just turn it to the left.”

Click. Out comes Lucas.

Confidence begets confidence.

When someone is really struggling, what they often need most is confident scaffolding.

Clearly, I’m not the potty expert (although, now I don’t think I’m ever going to lose that title with my large gaggle of cousins).

Every now and then what employees need most is to feel confident, to feel safe, and to see a clear path forward.

Sometimes the best answer isn’t “Let’s brainstorm here” or “What do you think?”– all great approaches which I advocate for much of the time.

Every now and then the best leadership solution is a simple. “I’ve got you. You’re in good hands. Try this. You’re going to be just fine.”

How To Get Their Attention

I’ve written 640 blog posts and never had a response like I received from last Monday’s post, What Happens When We Really Listen. Notice I didn’t say “reaction,” I’m not counting up social shares or page views, I’m talking about real human beings from around the world reaching out in deeply personal ways.

First was the executive who picked up the phone as soon as he read it. “I’ve never done this before, and I’m a bit surprised I’m doing this now. But I just called to say ‘thank you.’ You really made me think. I try to listen the way you describe here, and sometimes I do that quite well, but I know I fall short when other priorities get in the way. Thanks for the reminder to do this better. That is all, I guess, I really just called to say ‘thank you.’ ” Wow.

The next phone call was from a senior leader who began almost entirely the same way…”I’ve never done this before, but your story reminded me of my story.” (PS: that’s why stories work.)

“You see I was headed to an important appointment with my boss, the CEO of our company–he was driving. I received a phone call. I mostly listened. ‘Yes… I understand… okay.’ When I hung up the phone my boss asked what was wrong.

Without taking time to process, I just said, ‘That was my doctor. I have cancer.’

He pulled the car to the side of the road. Looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to be okay. You know we all love you.’

I was shocked. If you knew this guy, you would never imagine him to be someone who would say anything like that.

Can you imagine how lucky I am, of all the people I could work for in the universe, to be able to work for someone like that?

Five years later, the cancer has not returned and there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for that guy.”

The truth is the “universe” would be a heck of a lot better if a more people took the time to pull their car over.

It didn’t stop there, the next call came from a man wanting to explore some collaboration opportunities. The next, an invitation to present at an executive summit  for manufacturing C-levels– on (you guessed it– listening). And then the CEO from Lebanon whom I’ll be Skyping with tomorrow:

This might be a bit of a different email than what you usually receive, but when I read your blog on “What Happens when we Really Listen,” I felt a kind of connection between what you are saying and how I actually think about relations…

What really encouraged me to write to you is not only the fact that we share a common passion towards growing Leaders, and our sincere belief in the power of emotions in successful business communication, but actually what you mentioned about the fact that your mother will not be able to read your book.

You see, I lost my mother to cancer in 2000, and my Dad passed away last September. Amidst all this, I always get this burst of sad feelings that they both will not be around to see my kids growing, nor they will be around to enjoy what life we are making. Still, and in connection to intellectual content, I always feel a bit bitter that they will not be around to celebrate my achievements…

(and then a lot of his background and a request to help him think through his thought leadership strategy)

But the question remains, having the thought, the content, the ability remains insufficient if you do not have the Ears and Recognition of the World. Because we can only be influenced if we get the World to listen to us….

 How did you get the World to Listen to you?

Why do people listen? I’m not exactly sure. But I’m convinced it has to do with showing up human.

Frontline Festival: 22 Leaders Share about Peer Relationships

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. Our August Festival is all about communication. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Festival is a special edition! See details below.

 Twenty-two Ways to Strengthen Peer Relationships

What one word would your co-workers use to describe you? Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited gives an A-to-Z list of positive character traits for work.  Follow Beth.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership says your peers can help you do a better job sooner. Here’s how to get the most from their experienceFollow Wally.

Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC asks, “Where is the value in peer relationships?” Turns out, there’s quite a bit. Follow Michelle.

According to David Dye of Trailblaze, one of the most difficult leadership transitions you ever make is to move from being ‘one of the gang’ to leading that team. David shares practical tips to help you make this transition work and maintain your relationships.Follow David.

My film maker nephew, and LGL tribe member, Jared Herr with Steven Spielberg.

My film maker nephew, and LGL tribe member, Jared Herr with Steven Spielberg.

When I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it’s you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself. -Steven Spielberg

Chery Gegelman of Simply Understanding asks, “Do you take pride in speaking the truth but often struggle to speak it in a way that others will hear and receive your message?  A spoonful of sugar helps!”  Follow Chery.

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement advises that when you build a team-based culture the relationship between co-workers should nearly always be peer to peer (with exceptional cases where someone must take authority to make decisions that require reverting to the hierarchy on some specific decision). Follow John

Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across America shares that high trust organizations embrace collaboration which leads to higher productivity and profitability. Follow Barbara.

According to Terri Klass of Terri Klass Consulting, constructive work relationships can make or break a team’s success. To build meaningful connections with our peers, it is essential that we trust one another and cultivate an open line of communication. Follow Terri. 

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships. – Stephen Covey

Melissa Lamson of Lamson Consulting  shares, “It may surprise you–as it did me–that there are still times when men have difficulty finding common ground with their female colleagues. Men and women both miss out on opportunities to build advantageous new connections in their industries. Here are ten tips to help men connect with female colleagues.” Follow Melissa

John Manning of Map Consulting reminds us that as leaders we have the power to make our direct reports feel good or bad about their performance.  So set a new goal to bring out the best in your people.  Follow John.  

Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership explains why you need to pay attention to your peers, and offers 10 ways to get started. Follow Dan.

In the post, Why it is Imperative to Break Down Silos Now and Five Ways to Do It, Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog shares that building trust, fostering collaboration, and being a role model lessens the friction points within your company and creates more productive alliances.  Follow Robyn.

Assumptions are the termites of relationships. – Henry Winkler

Scott Mabry of Soul to Work shares that leading in community is transformational. It moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. The paradigm of work and the organization changes. We become for each other, not just the firm or even the mission. Follow Scott.

Matt McWilliams of Matt McWilliams Consulting notes that the secret to getting more out of relationships is simple and yet so difficult to swallow. If you feel unfulfilled in any relationship, if you feel like you are not getting enough of out of it, then you are not putting enough into it. Follow Matt.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference asks, “Would your peers consider you in the category of ‘saint?’ Can any effective leaders be qualified as saintly? Here are a few virtues to pursue on the road to saintly leadership. Follow Jon.

Jonathan Moss of the Lead Change Group shares that clearly communicating the big picture and leading through change isn’t enough. Leaders have to figure out what behaviors need to change and change the situation that will lead to changing those behaviors. Follow Jonathan.

Michelle Pallas of MichellePallas.com has simple advice. Work on trust first.   Follow Michelle.

Our culture is all about shallow relationships. But that doesn’t mean we should stop looking each other in the eye and having deep conversations. – Francis Chan

Leadership Coach Julie Pierce (Empowered by Pierce) says leadership is lonely; therefore community is critical to our success.  Cultivating relationships with peers, coaches and 3am friends will make our leadership thrive. Follow Julie.

Alli Polin of Break the Frame  points out that if you’re second in command, it doesn’t make you a second fiddle. You have a peer relationship, both with the unique ability to lead the way forward in different ways.  Follow Alli.

Jim Ryan of Soft Skills for Hard Jobs gives us a few good reasons why we shouldn’t judge others at work and how to stop doing it. Follow Jim.

It may sound silly, but you’ve got to remember to care deeply about the people you are training.  Bill Treasurer of Giant Leap Consulting, shares, “I remember to ‘love them’ which helps ground me in the truth that these are people coming with their own wisdom and experience. Follow Bill.

Dr. Artika Tyner of the Planting People. Growing Justice Institute  suggests that effective peer relationships begin with building a shared vision, supporting collective engagement, and promoting mutual respect. Follow Artika.

Call for Submissions

SPECIAL EDITIONFor October, we have a SPECIAL EDITION of the Frontline Festival. It’s about 7 Roles of an Exceptional Team Leader Submissions due October 9th. As this special edition coincides with the launch of my multi-media course Results That Last: 7 Roles Every Manager Must Master, I’m going to invite you to submit a post that relates to one of the 7 roles (you’ll actually see that almost anything you have will fit into one of the roles in the model.) The Special Edition will go live October 16th– and I’m hoping to make an extra ruckus.

The 7 Roles of an Exceptional Team Leader

Translator: Don’t motivate until you translate
Builder: To see more, be more
Connector: Trust them to trust you
Galvanizer: Help them taste the win
Accelerator: Burn the script
Backer: Detect, then protect
Ambassador: Polish the boundaries

You can read more about the 7 roles by clicking here.

And, if you can, I’d like you to think of a well-known leader that exemplifies the role you chose to include. (We’ll use this in a separate post on October 23rd again with links back to you, so there’s additional exposure). Please use this link for your submissions.

Stay-tuned for additional fun throughout the month, including an opportunity to celebrate every day life leaders performing exceptional in each of these roles.

What Happens When We Really Listen

Have you ever noticed that sometimes life rhymes?

Something happens to you that fits together so well with what happens next that (as my editor would say of another one of my other rhyming days) “That story is so tight no one is going to believe it.” But the truth is, our lives are full of true rhyming stories ready to knock a message into our hearts if we can listen well enough to  hear them. This weekend that happened to me–again.

Saturday evening I was coaching a friend who wants to become a keynote speaker. I was drawn in by her powerful stories full of transformative potential. I connected to her raw conviction and was listening carefully for how I could help her hone her message. As she spoke her voice shook just a bit, not from fear but from her authentic emotion. She didn’t cry, and the truth is, the emotion made her message more powerful. It was raw, real and compelling.  She kept apologizing for getting “emotional” and saying how she just couldn’t understand it. “I never have this problem in front of an audience.”

As she was walking out the door, she stopped, turned around,  looked at me with concerned eyes and said,  “I figured out why I was getting so emotional. It’s because of how you were listening so intently. What if my audiences listen like that?”

“Then you will have made a powerful connection and will change lives.”

The next morning the tables were turned.

And the Tables Turned

As I entered the church lobby, my friend who had moved to New Mexico a few years ago came running across the room and gave me an enormous hug. A fellow leadership junkie, I excitedly shared all my new news, the book, the course, the keynotes…and he shared his. Our conversation was cut short by the chiming of the bell.

After service he came up and said, “Something’s not right with you. What is it?”

He had just asked me how I was an hour before and everything I had told him was sunny. What had he heard? I thought I was alright.

Tears started streaming down my face. Now, I was getting in touch with an emotion I didn’t even realize was so strong.

“My mom died a few months ago. And yesterday, we came up with such a powerful ending to the final chapter of our book, I know she would love it. But I can’t show it to her.”

Apparently that’s what he heard in the earlier exchange.

He started crying too, and said that his mother died 15 years ago, and he still feels that way anytime something good happens, and then shared, “She’s in you, and she’s in that book.”

And we just cried for a minute together, knowing that it’s better to know how you feel.

Real listening transforms us.

What would happen if we all listened just a bit more intently?

The Secret to Holding a Meeting that Gets Results

Does this sound familiar? You went to a meeting where you had invigorating discussions, examined alternatives, came up with a cool plan of action, everyone left the meeting feeling motivated, and then six weeks later you get back together. As everyone enters the room and takes their seat, there are sideways glances, “Did you do that thing we talked about?”

“No…how about you?”

A quick shake of the head and you realize that the great idea everyone talked about has languished.

The prior meeting, the discussions, the new meeting – all of it – are a waste because nothing happened. In fact, it’s worse than doing nothing because now you’ve created negative energy…that feeling that “it doesn’t matter what we talk about because nothing really changes around here.” That corrosive malaise will eat away at your people and leave them looking for excuses to take your next meeting via conference call so they can multi-task and “get real work done.”

Every meeting you hold should produce activities that move results forward, build momentum, and build morale with healthy relationships. You can achieve all this in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting.

The Best 10 Minutes of Every Meeting

At the end of every meeting ask these three commitment questions:

Commitment #1:  Who will do what?

There are actually two questions here:

  1. What is to be done?
  2. Who will do it?

Every task must have a specific person who is responsible to complete it. For smaller decisions there might be only one or two answers to this question. For larger strategic initiatives you might have an entire work plan that outlines dozens of tasks and people responsible.

Commitment # 2 By When?

This one is straightforward. What is the finish line for the tasks people have agreed to complete? When these deadlines are shared and publicly available, everyone is more likely to meet them.

Commitment #3 How Will We Know?

“How will we know?” is the magic question that moves your meeting from good intentions to real-world impact. It’s also the one managers most frequently ignore. “How will we know?” closes the loop from intention to action and creates momentum without you having to spend hours every day tracking down action steps. Here’s how it works: When someone completes a task, what do they do next?

  • Do they need to pass the results to another person or group?
  • Should they update the team and let them know?
  • Will they make a presentation of their findings?
  • Do they report completion in a common area or software?

The specific answers depend on the task and project. What matters is that the accountability and next step are “baked into” the decision. Everyone knows what he or she is accountable to do, the team knows if it’s been completed, and no one is left waiting around for information they need.

Combine these commitments into one sentence: Who does what, by when, and how will we know? and you have the Winning Well Meeting Formula to get clarity, accountability, and results in just ten minutes at the end of every meeting: In fact, you can ask these questions whether you are the positional leader of a group or not. That’s a great way to establish yourself as a leader who gets things done – people notice when you produce clarity, accountability, and results. Don’t let the simplicity of these questions fool you into not using them.  These are the most important ten minutes you’ll spend to make your meetings achieve results.

Winning WellExciting news, the book I’m David Dye and I are publishing is off to the AMACOM for publication this Spring. We’re jazzed and honored that Marshall Goldsmith wrote a smashing foreward. More to come, but in the meantime here’s a peek at the cover.

2 Reasons Employee Engagement is So Hard– And What to Do About It

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of employee engagement results, you most likely know the, “How in the world could they feel THAT WAY after ALL I’ve done?” head-scratching frustration. I know I have. You’ve recognized, mentored, career-pathed, taken some bullets, helped them win… and yet, it somehow wasn’t enough for everyone. A few folks still feel frustration and are not afraid to make that perfectly clear on your “stupid survey that no one ever does anything with.”

The truth is, what makes employee engagement so hard is that it’s not just about what’s happening today. Your employees are impacted by all their yesterdays, and their view of how they will fit into the future of your organization tomorrow.

Winning Well managers are translators of the past and sherpas toward the future. Before they motivate, they translate.

Winning Well managers know they need to help employees recover from their memory of past experiences: a boss that took credit for their work; an organizational structure change that made their role less meaningful; a shift in strategy which made their project less of a priority… and at the same time help them see a bright future for themselves in the organization. If employees are skeptical that they’ll matter in the future, they’ll be less likely to go the extra mile today.

How to Help Employees Make Sense of the Past

1. Have a private conversation

I actually had one manager who had worked in my organization for three years tell me how intimidated she was around me for a very long time. I was shocked, as I’d never treated her with anything but kindness and respect, and was always working to connect with her at a human level.

She confided that she’d “been burned so many times before” by other female leaders that she just didn’t trust my motives.  Her opening up to me allowed me to share some of my personal stories of my career growth and why I believe and act like I do now–based on mistakes by myself and others in the past. I then explained that all leaders (whether they admit it or not) have similar insecurities and regrets–that instead of starting from a place of fear or skepticism of a new leader, it’s much more productive to get to know one another and give them a chance. Assuming mal-intent will color your perceptions and potentially lead to false interpretations.

After we had that conversation, she became much more secure in her role, took more risks, shared her opinions, and eventually was promoted. Her fear from her past had actually been holding her back from being her best self. Once she realized the past did not define the future, she was able to truly engage and build a better one for herself and the company.

2. Help them understand the context

Often when something negative happens, the employee doesn’t have all the context. Start with questions: Do you know WHY they made the decision to close that office? Do you know WHY the project lost funding? Often employees are so caught up in the impact, that they may not have truly sought to understand the bigger picture (or someone may not have explained it well). Translators take time to help employees understand the greater context of decisions so they seem less arbitrary.

And Get Excited About the Future

3. Help them understand what they can control

Nothing creates anxiety more than feeling out of control. Helping employees understand that although they may not have influence on some of the bigger strategic moves that could potentially impact their future, they have much they can do to prepare to be a utility player that adds value when circumstances change. Finishing their degree, learning new skills, networking with other departments, all go a long way in helping people feel better about themselves and their future in the company.

4. Help them see the road ahead

The main reason employees don’t think strategically is that they aren’t given enough information to connect the dots. Help employees see the strategic and competitive environment and where the organization is headed. Help them understand how the work they do contributes today and where it fits into the future. When holding career discussions, help them develop the skills that will be most important as the company grows and transforms.

To feel better about their jobs, employees need support making sense of the past and understanding what’s possible in the future.

Before you motivate, translate.

How to Get Your Team Fired Up About a Change

The minute I walked into their building, I could feel the excitement reverberating from the walls. Everyone was buzzing about the unveiling of their new company name, branding, and messaging. The IT Guy explained that they were “no longer” a start-up (true), and the designer clearly articulated how these changes were to take the company into the next phase of their growth. Everyone I spoke to was fired up, and could articulate the reasons behind the changes in a remarkably extemporaneous and consistent way.

“How long have you known about this?,” I asked suddenly aware of how different this announcement felt from the ones I was a part of in my corporate roles. “Oh about a month,” was the consistent answer. “They trusted us to keep in under wraps until today.” “We don’t really have secrets around here.” I looked around. The only closeable doors were the conference rooms and the cleverly designed old-fashioned red phone booths employees could use in case they needed some privacy for a personal matter. “Plus WE WERE PART OF the design for the new look for the website and social media channels.”

I thought back to my early years on the receiving end of such transformation messages. As a lower level manager, I’d receive last-minute notice of a meeting and then would head to a conference room or a conference call to hear a carefully prepared speech about why we should be fired up and then handed a tee-shirt to seal the deal.

A few years later, when I was closer to the inner circle, I’d receive an invite to a conference call 30 minutes before the press release, where I would be handed a list of carefully crafted Q & As to cover with my team 30 minutes after the press got the news.

In my most recent executive role, I signed a stack of non-disclosures and was one of the few “in the know,” wordsmithing talking points and crafting As to the Qs most likely to be asked, triple checking to ensure the wording could be stomached by both legal and the employees.

Of course, you can’t manage a Fortune 50 company like a “no longer a start-up.” But, when the veil of secrecy becomes the norm, employees waste valuable energy bracing themselves for what’s next and guarding their enthusiasm.

Organic fire comes when change ignites with you, not on you.

If you want a team on fire about your change, trust them enough to help gather the kindling.

How To Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

Our MBA Orientation committee debated whether was this too much pressure.  The second week on campus, teams of first year MBA students would have 48 hours to research and make recommendations on a real business challenge for a large, high-profile company and package and communicate their recommendation to a high-profile audience.

Clearly, it’s more than a “game” when potential employers and university leadership are involved. I served as executive communications consultant, equipping them on presentation skills and packaging a compelling story, and then visited their case rooms up until the late night pancake “breakfast” critiquing their rehearsal and helping them fine-tune.

Every team was given the same challenge, information and resources. What was fascinating was how the teams varied in their approach to team dynamics and interaction. I got an insider’s view to most of the teams and watched the teams and their presentations transform (a few didn’t think they needed any help, but that’s another story.)

How to Move a Team from Forming to High Performing in < 48 Hours

I spoke with several of the teams that made it to the final round–mostly curious about how the most successful teams accomplished so much so quickly.

You guessed it–they had a balanced focus on results AND relationships, confidence AND humility. #winningwell

1. Quickly Identify Each Team Member’s Strengths (and Challenges)

The strongest teams didn’t waste time jockeying for position or covering up weaknesses. They weren’t afraid to say what they were good at, “Oh, when I worked for the World Bank, I used to work on this kind of stuff all the time, let me lead the analysis.” Or where they weren’t, “I don’t have much of a finance background, that’s why I’m here to round it out, BUT I’m GREAT at PowerPoint.”

2. Work Extremely Hard at Communication

Every team had International students studying in their non-native tongue. This often meant slowing down to repeat or find different words to explain a complex idea. The teams that won well understood the deep value their teammates were bringing to the table and took extra time to ensure they were heard and understood.

3. Invest in the Long View, Even in Short-Term Projects

Sure they all wanted to win the 48-hour challenge, but they also knew that the relationships they were building would last at least two years as they worked together throughout the program, and of course could become a powerful network down the road. They kept the big picture in mind as they managed their interactions.

4. Establish Formal Norms

Before they began they wrote down the big rules for team functioning AND they called each other on it when someone was out of bounds. This happened most during times of stress, “We agreed we do a little one-minute dance party when the stress got to much.”

5. Offer (and Receive) Candid Feedback

There was no time to sugarcoat. They cut through the B.S. and feedback was offered and received with the understanding that they all had the same big goal. When their second year coach, or someone gave them ideas to improve, they quickly said “Thank you,” took the advice, and made their presentation tighter.

Here’s a quick interview with one of my favorite winning well teams.

To learn more about these leaders you can click on their LinkedIn profiles.

Alison ScharmanMohamed BoraieShengnan WangSunghooh Huh,Will Boddy

Thanks to my nephew, Jared Herr for producing this video.

Need help accelerating your team’s development, or communicating more effectively? Please give me a call 443/750-149.

Does Marissa Mayer's Choice Limit Yours?

I wasn’t going to weigh in on Marissa Mayer’s choice to take a 2 week maternity leave, because quite frankly, I’m conflicted. I know the choices I’ve made (and continue to make) as a working mom leave some of my friends scratching their heads. “Why would she want to travel like that?” “All this time working on that book can’t be good for her kids.”  Sometimes they say it, sometimes I just see it in their eyes, or hear it as subtext to their question, “oh where are you off to this week?”

So I’m a bit in the camp of “who are we to judge?” But then again moms and dads at Yahoo and elsewhere will watch her actions more than her policies and take notes about what it takes to get ahead. Just as my team (then) and you (now) watch mine.

But when I got this note from an LGL tribe member I realized the topic was worth bringing to our community for insights. And that avoiding the subject because of my own discomfort was weak. #notconfidentorhumble

Hope you’re doing well. I was very sorry to hear of the passing of your mother. I lost my father earlier this year.

My purpose for getting in touch is because there seems to be a pretty good buzz going on regarding women and executive roles lately with Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer’s announcement to take only 14 days off after the birth of her twins. I could not think of a better person to ask about this. Not that I’m planning for children but there very well could be a number of young women who are on the fast track to executive leadership, yet also desire to have a family. Ultimately, it’s not anyone’s place to judge this woman, but there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that her decisions will influence potentially thousands of young women’s future career pathing.

What I found interesting about the article I have referenced below is that there is no mention of the role her husband plays / will play in their family unit.

How Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Choice Effects Young Women

What say you?

So I offer you my initial response, and then a bit more. I’d love for you to weigh in.

My Initial Quick Response

I’m sorry to hear about your father. It’s hard.

Wow. That’s a great article. I agree with what’s said there. It’s also really audacious to assume everything is going to go perfectly well and that nothing will change.

I did come back a bit early from my maternity leave due to some crazy circumstances at work (I had planned to take 3 months and took 2), but quite frankly, I’m not the hangout with a baby all day type 😉 I’ve made choices that I know make other mothers cringe, like the kind of travel I’ve done at various points in my career. So I think it really has a lot to do with personal choice. In my case, I have a very supportive husband who really does his share of the parenting. I know many female execs for whom the dad is the stay at home parent.

For me it’s about seasons.   If I can pull it off time wise.  I might try to get this out on the blog for our LGL community to weigh in. See Seasons, Messy, and Doing the Best You Can

After deeper consideration

It was a debate my mom and I had for years often resorting to tears on both sides. She had some regrets of time she took off to raise kids, and yet gave me a good bit of grief early on about my choices. We agreed on one aspect of this topic–raising kids is a vitally important job which moms and dads need to take seriously. We had different approaches.  In her final months as she reflected on her life for a video at her church she shared, “I look back at my life and I’m so grateful that my children are all significant human beings raising other significant human beings.”

It’s true. Her sacrifice made a huge difference in who we became and are becoming. On the surface I did it radically differently. My sister took a middle road. I feel confident that both of us carried forward the investment legacy the best we could muster and are supporting one another in the process.

I’m probably channelling mom, here (I hope so). Part of me worries for Marissa, that she may later regret what she’s missed. One thing I do know is that the life YOU build you live with. Corporations, are well… not people. You might just sacrifice a lot to find out something out of your control screws up your plan.

What I do know from both my mother and my experiences is that you reap what you sow. Not just for women but for any human investing in other human beings. Whether you are working to invest as a parent, friend, volunteer, or leader your focus and effort matters. If you’re going to go the high-intensity-career route, you DO need a pit crew. Not mentioning who’s helping to me seems like a miss.

P.S. My Dad (a HUGE player in our pit crew)  and Sebastian hung out while Marcus and I travelled to Oregon on a well-needed reconnect and for this shoot. Investing in your relationship is such an important part of being a healthy parenting team.

P.S.S. I know my posting has been spotty this week. I apologize. I had the final edits due to the AMACOM editor book converge with the timing of my trip to Oregon to film my multi-media course (can’t wait to show you the previews!) AND a last minute keynote on the 7 roles of a highly engaging manager (which was a blast) thrown in.. and yes the husband reconnecting.  It’s been quite a wonderful and busy week. Namaste.

karin hurt training
Here’s a little postcard. If you’re a parent-leader and have not downloaded my free Parent’s Guide to Leadershipkarinandmarcus, I offer more perspective.

Namaste.