Start Here to Inspire Your Team

“David, it’s a mess.” Barb ran her hand through her hair and sighed.

“I’ve been here 20 days and have met with people at every level and every department, asking what it’s going to take to turn things around.”

What a Mess

Barb had been appointed interim CEO by her Board of Directors after two executives in a row had resigned at the Board’s request. Employee retention had dropped to an all-time low in the history of the company, their finances were a wreck, and their institutional reputation was in jeopardy.

“One thing that keeps coming up.” She frowned. “Over and over again, I’ve heard these stories – about how people were told to do things with no explanation, how policies were set and then ignored by executives and those they favored, while everyone else was punished if they didn’t comply, and how no one saw or heard from their leaders apart from all-hands meetings or sudden, secretive disciplinary meetings.”

She shook her head, “These leaders were MIA and there’s no trust left anywhere.”

Can We Go Practice?

This conversation was fresh in my mind when Sebastian, our eleven-year-old budding magician asked if I would take him to a downtown street frequented by tourists so he could practice his magic skills.

If you’ve ever met Sebastian, he’s the epitome of “outgoing.” People frequently use the words “fearless” and “precocious” when talking about him. Nevertheless, when faced by the prospect of approaching strangers on the street (with me observing from a safe distance), he froze.

Stage fright set in. The fear of rejection paralyzed him and this normally outgoing kid turned into a shy wallflower.

I encouraged him to give it another try. I identified some likely prospects who looked like they wanted to be entertained, and I shared how success often is found on the other side of rejection.

 

Nothing worked.

Then he looked it at me and said, “If it’s so easy, you do it.”

Uh oh.

I tried redirecting.

No luck.

I protested, “I didn’t ask to come out here.”

He handed me the cards.

“I’ve already done this, I don’t need the practice.”

He folded his arms and tapped his foot expectantly.

I took the cards and scanned the crowd, searching for a friendly face, while fending off eleven-year-old heckling.

Finally, I found a likely prospect and proceeded to perform one of Sebastian’s tricks for a teenage boy, his mom, and his sister.

Ten minutes later Sebastian had earned a couple of dollars, lots of laughs, and was talking about how fun it was to perform for people.

The Fundamentals of Trust and Inspiration

As we walked home, I asked Sebastian what had changed for him that allowed him to go for it.

“I didn’t think I could do it, but…” he smiled, “when you did it, you showed me it was possible.”

Sebastian and Barb had identified two sides of the same leadership truth: your example sets the tone, builds trust, and makes the impossible possible.

Barb’s discovery of dysfunction was a vivid reminder of the importance of trust.

Can your people look at you and see you doing what you ask of them? Do you embody the “why” behind the “what” you ask of your team? Do you treat people consistently, justly, and transparently?

Most leaders we work with will say that they want to do these things.

They intend to live this way…but.

They get busy. They’ve got so much to do that they don’t take time to lead by example. They assume people will “just get it” or that someone else will make the connection and explain why this is important. Or they get impatient with the process, let their frustration get the best of them, and make poor employment decisions.

Your Turn

As Sebastian reminded me that afternoon as he shuffled his cards: you never outgrow the need to lead by example.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure that you lead by example, even when you’re busy and overwhelmed?

Be the leader you want your boss to be,

David

5 Sentences to Energize and Support Your Volunteers (and everyone is a volunteer)

I was cycling from Breckenridge, Colorado up Vail Pass on a recent Sunday afternoon. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the Copper Triangle, a major cycling event, was happening at the same time, and I soon found myself slowly climbing up the steep mountain while hundreds of cyclists were racing down. A mile and a quarter before the summit, one of those speeding cyclists clipped the wheel of another rider and was thrown from his bike about 10 yards in front of me landing on his head.

Several of us watched helplessly as he flew through the air, and then raced to the scene of his limp and lifeless body, while blood streamed from his head onto the steep asphalt trail. Fortunately, one cyclist was a nurse and she immediately jumped in to help; another rider called 911; another retrieved the number from his helmet to contact the race officials; and I rode fifty yards up the mountain, placed my bike perpendicular to the trail and worked to slow down speeding racers so they didn’t ride into the accident or into one another as they were forced to brake suddenly.

Watching me struggle with the volume of riders coming at me at a fast speed, another cyclist approached me. “How can I help you? I want to be of assistance, but the scene down there is just too sad for me to watch.” We decided he would take my spot and I would position myself another 25 yards up, just before the blind curve.

Most of the riders were appreciative, slowed down immediately, thanked us, inquired as to how serious things were and followed our directions immediately. But we were shocked by the 5% who not only didn’t help but actually made matters worse.

Within the first five minutes of the accident, one rider refused to stop and rode her bike directly through the spilled blood and headed down the hill. Other riders shouted rude remarks to us as we directed them to slow down. “I see there’s an accident, sh_t happens.” “Don’t tell me what to do!” “This IS SLOW (for me),” which was decidedly beside the point.

Every time a rude remark was thrown our way, my fellow-rider-turned-traffic-cop and I looked at each other in disbelief. This was not the tour de France. How in the world could people be so self-centered? Why would anyone treat folks just trying to help in such a rude manner?

Just as my mind flashed back to the dozens of times my mother had come home in tears over her 50 years of volunteering due to a lack of couth, common sense or appreciation of some jerk, another rider slowed down and said: “What you are doing here is valuable. Thank you.”

I was shocked at how important that stranger’s quick sentence of encouragement felt during that stressful moment.

I haven’t been able to find out what happened to our fellow fallen cyclist. I pray that he’s recovering well.

And I’m left with a vivid memory of how quickly a team of volunteers can come together to do the best they can, and of the outliers who made their job more difficult.

5 Sentences to Energize and Support Your Volunteers

1. What can I do to help?

Sometimes the best we can do is follow. The nurse was in charge, but she needed help from the rest of us. It’s easy to assume we don’t have what it takes to be useful in a time of crises… but it’s so important to stop and think. What must be done here and how can I help?

2. What you are doing here is valuable.

Sure volunteering comes with its own intrinsic rewards, but it also comes with a lot of crap. You can’t go wrong by reminding a volunteer that their work is making a difference.

3. Thank you.

So simple, yet so often underused. I try to quadruple my “thank yous” when working with volunteers–and remember everyone is essentially a volunteer–discretionary effort can’t be bought.

4. Let’s have some fun!

Okay, clearly not appropriate in this context, but many times that’s exactly what your volunteers need. I loved it when Sean Glaze suggested this in his Frontline Festival Post 12 Exalting Phrases Good Leaders Share With Their Team

5. What do you think we should do?

Have you ever volunteered for something you know you’re good at, only to be micro-managed? Your volunteers have great ideas and different perspectives. Tap into their hearts and minds as well as their lending hands.

I think one of the reasons that we sometimes forget to support volunteers is because we’re volunteering too– there’s a sense that we’re all in this together because we believe in the mission and the cause. A little extra effort to say the right thing at the right time can still make a remarkable difference.

See Also: Why Volunteering Will Make You a Better Leader

Frontline Festival: Leaders Share About Team Building (with video)

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is about team building. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is all lessons learned, overcoming setbacks and resiliency.  Submit your relevant blog posts here!

Leaders need to adjust to the skill and abilities of the people, and don’t expect new people to fit into the team exactly as those doing the job previously. John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement reminds us to take care to design the system to minimize risk of failure and maximize the advantages each employee brings to work every day in Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work. Follow John.


Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding tells us a good leader will recognize the importance of encouragement as a key part of team building.  In 12 Exalting Phrases Leaders Should Share with their Team, he helps you to take advantage of every opportunity to be an encouraging and inspiring flame that your people want to be near and benefit from.  He also shares ways to strengthen your team even if you aren’t ready to schedule a team building event.  Follow Sean.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group  explains that research shows the best and most effective teams aren’t those that combined the best and brightest people, but rather, something you might not expect.  Follow David.

In Are You a Team Player? Nikki Heise of Ridgeline Coaching explores the definition of team and asks how we look at our teams at work.

Most of us do most of our work in teams. Here are four important things you should know that make a core work team effective, from Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership  Follow Wally.

Looking for teamwork quotes? Here are some unique ones from Inc.

Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership shares how understanding the characteristics of effective teams gives you a target to shoot for and better prepares you to support your team’s development. They conducted an extensive research study which revealed six Benchmarks of Team Excellence.  Follow Jesse.

In the post,The Biggest Barrier to Your Team’s Development? You,  Robyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog shares how to avoid getting in the way of your team’s success and the steps you can take to help them flourish.   Follow Robyn.

Learn about three critical factors leaders need to employ to help keep their employees on course to achieving the long-term goals of their organization via Tanveer Naseer of Tanveer Naseer Leadership  Follow Tanveer.

Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture asks “How can your team boost it’s performance?” then looks at Formula 1 racing for insights. This pit crew changed all four tires during a mid-race pit stop in less than three seconds! Everyone knowing their responsibilities doesn’t boost team results – everyone working in harmony while doing what they must do is the way to nirvana. Follow Chris.

Are your teams coming up with the same old tired solutions to new problems? Learn how to inspire them through the use of creativity via Eileen McDargh of The Energizer   Follow Eileen.

A strong team can take any crazy vision and turn it into reality. – John Carmack

Team building is an important part of managing a small business workforce. Foster collaboration between your employees with these simple team building activities from Amanda Cameron of Patriot Software, LLC    Follow Amanda.

In order for a team to function properly and effectively, they must find common ground. Eric Torrence of Thin Difference shares five ways we are all alike. By focusing on what unites us, even tasks that seem insurmountable are possible.  Follow Eric. 

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates observed strong teamwork in an unfortunate, emergency situationFollow Shelley

American Business models began to move away from “command-control” in the 1990s. Since then, team building has been covered from top to toe over the last decades because it was a novel approach to performance.  Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC  asks, why does it still seem foreign to many managers?   Follow Michelle.

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited gives us some questions to ask when our team doesn’t seem to be performing wellFollow Beth.

How to Survive a Terrible, User Boss

I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but approach this temporary situation in your life well, and you’re in the best leadership training program money can’t buy.

Observe your jerky boss’ actions and the impact.
Repeat.
Keep your comments to yourself.
Repeat (the hardest part.)
Seek out role models of better leadership.
Repeat.
Try some.
Refine.
Repeat.
Keep your boss informed of your progress.
Take a deep breath and thank her for her support.
Repeat.
Repeat.
Watch the A players flock to be on your team.
Ask them for their ideas.
Repeat.
Develop a strong network of peer relationships.
Repeat… go deeper this time.
Be as helpful as possible.
Repeat.
Repeat.
Repeat.
Address performance issues of the stragglers–set a higher standard (don’t skip this part or you’re just a nice guy, not a leader). 
Repeat.
Notice improved behaviors.
Repeat.
Ask for what you need.
Repeat.
Recognize upward trends.
Repeat.
Thank your boss for his support.

meeting

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

“This is so stupid–they asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m going to just shut my mouth and do my work.”

“Arghhh. We keep rehashing the same conversations. Why can’t we make a simple @#%*&% decision?”

“I don’t know why we even try! We make a decision and by the time we get back together, no one has done anything we agreed to.”

Sound familiar?

I’ve heard these words so frequently, in focus groups, in one-on-ones, and even behind closed doors with seasoned managers. If you’ve been working in organizations for any period of time, you may have said them too.

Everyone hates bad meetings. And bad meetings are everywhere.

If you want to be a great manager, build a reputation of running great meetings, and watch for an immediate improvement in who shows up and what they contribute.

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

  1. Communicate a clear objective for the meeting.
    Be clear up front.  Determine if this a “Where are we going?” discussion, or a “How will we get there?” conversation.  If you’re not clear, you don’t have a fighting chance of an organized dialog. Yes. You can have both conversations in the same meeting, but not at the same time. Put it on the agenda. Reinforce it in your opening remarks. Heck, put it in the meeting invite: “By the end of this meeting, we will have decided __________.”People want to know that something will be accomplished with their time. Make that “something” perfectly clear.  One of our Winning Well clients has started including this message in their Outlook invites

    This meeting’s goal is to reach a decision on xxxx, and to begin to define how we will achieve this, we need your best thinking on _______.

  2. Be clear on how decisions will be made.
    Nothing is more frustrating to people than asking for their opinion and ignoring it. Be clear up front as to how the decision will be made.“I need to make this decision, but I would love your input”

    or “We’re going to decide by consensus”

    or “After 30 minutes of discussion, we’re going to take a vote.”Of course, the most important part of this approach is to make a plan and stick to it. If you say the decision will be by consensus, and then hate where the conversation is going and just make the call yourself, you would have been better off making the decision in the shower and communicating it well.

  3. Establish accountability for every decision.
    For every next step stop and ask “Who will do what, by when and how will we know?””Joe’s got this” is not sufficient.” “Joe will talk to Sue and make a decision about X by Friday and send us an email with what they came up with,” works better.

Very few managers run meetings well. Can you imagine the possibilities if you were known as the go-to for holding a great meeting?

How to Get Noticed as a Leader– Before You've Led a Team

Last week “John” shared his “No Diaper Genie!” frustration in the middle of our high-potential leadership development program.

Yeah, I get that I’m here… and the company is investing in me and all that. But my boss keeps saying, “You’re not ready to be promoted, you’ve never led a team. I can’t recommend you for that particular promotion now, give it time”

but the truth is, my job is 18 times more complex than any front-line supervisor. I’m neck-deep in a complex organizational structure doing really strategic work and making an impact. How do I get noticed?”

Flashback to about 20 years ago, when I looked at my boss, Mary Ann, and said almost EXACTLY those same words. I had a masters degree and most of a Ph.D., I was gung ho working really long hours, thinking strategically, and contributing in any way that I could.

And she said the words I found remarkably frustrating and stupid at the time…

Karin, “What’s for you won’t miss you. We’ve got a lot of old-fashioned ways of thinking and being around here… but you’re bigger than all that. Stay the course. Show up as the leader you think the guys three levels up should be.”

And so I did. And as it turns out, Mary Ann was right. It didn’t miss me.

Five Ways to Get Noticed As a Leader Before You’ve Led a Team

Be so good it’s hard to notice. Here are five ways to make a leadership impact before you have a team.

  1. Master the art of the tough conversation.
    Be the guy that can give tough feedback to peers, project team members and even your boss in a way that makes them feel valued and grateful. People will then seek you out as a trusted advisor). Here’s a tool that can help INSPIRE feedback model for project managers For some additional inspiration, you can see part of my Managing the Art of the Tough Conversation keynote here.
  2. Rock your role.
    Yes, yes, you’ve heard this from me before (see related advice here).  But I can’t tell you how many people come to me each week frustrated that they’re not at the next level, and when I ask about their current performance they shrug that off because “they’re bored and ready for more.”  Not a chance. I would never promote you if you’re not showing up consistently as a high-performer, and neither should your boss.
  3. Be sure every meeting you attend is better because you were there.
    You can pull that off in a variety of ways: help keep the team on track by separating “Where are we going?” conversations “How will we get there?” discussions; help to clarify and summarize action items, “Who will do what by when and how will we know?” Invite softer spoken team members to offer their contributions.  See more ideas for running effective meetings here.
  4. Keep your boss informed of your strategic contribution.
    When done well, it’s not bragging. It’s useful– and when you’re adding more value, so are they. Here’s a free huddle planner to help you have more productive one-on-ones with your boss.
  5. Practice Two-level thinking.
    When faced with a difficult business problem or when you’re asked to do something that feels challenging think, “Why is this important to my boss’ boss?” If you can’t come up with a good answer, ask your immediate manager to help you think it through. Everyone wants to have team members who “get it” and want to make a more strategic impact on the business.

If you want to stand out as a leader, don’t wait until you have a formal title. Leading without authority is the best way to stand out “as a natural” and get noticed for what you bring to the scene.