employee engagement

Employee Engagement: Ideas on Insights for Improvement– A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival on employee engagement. We asked thought leaders from around the world to share their very best post on this topic.

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 about managing remote teams. New contributors are always welcome. Submit your relevant blog posts here!

Employee Engagement Research Statistics and a Call to Action

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference shares some scary statistics from the Edelman trust barometer which indicate that trust and employee engagement are declining. We need a leadership jolt and reboot our practices to raise trust and engagement to better levels. Follow Jon.

Dean Vella of University of Notre Dame Online  shares some of the research-based insights on the drivers of employee motivation in his post Motivating Employees is Key to Effective Management.  Lots of great information here from some of the best research in employee motivation showcasing how soft-skills are so vital in running highly effective organizations. Follow Dean.

Julie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds takes an in-depth look at the causes of attrition and ways to make your organization more sticky in Attenuating Attrition: How Leaders Can Create a Sticky Situation. Follow Julie.

Ways to Increase Employee Engagement

According to Eileen McDargh of The Energizer, when a job is patterned, the same-old-same-old stuff, and a traditional career ladder is offered, great talent will not accept nor will they stay. In today’s fast-paced, changing competitive world, resilient people look for creative options, the ability to adapt on the fly, and the excitement of a challenge. Learn how you can, as an organization, change your policies to take advantage of this energyFollow Eileen.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” -Steve Jobs

Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding shares a motivational technique that applies to basketball,  business, education, medicine and virtually any industry where people can be inspired to give more effort and focus to their jobs.  Follow Sean.

Lisa Kohn from Chatsworth Consulting Group presents Skipping to work, bounding up the stairs, and other signs we love our jobs on The Thoughtful Leaders™ Blog.  She shares that one of the best ways to increase engagement is to help employees find what they love at work, so they indeed skip on their way in. Follow Lisa.

Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture gives us a Culture Leadership Charge: Seismic Change, where he describes the changes society is facing. This shift creates new demands on leaders. Leaders must change how they influence others to leverage employee passions, creativity and productivity no matter where those employees choose to work. Follow Chris.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader reminds us not to be crabby leaders. Crabs in a fisherman’s crate will pull other crabs down into the pack to prevent some from escaping. Does your leadership pull people down, or allow them to stretch and fulfill their gifts? Follow Paul.

Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership reminds us to First Engage Yourself: 7 Ways to Increase Your Own Engagement and Satisfaction. She gives us seven questions to evaluate our own level of engagement along with tips on what we can do if we score low on any of them.  Follow Jesse.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group explains that employees come to work for different reasons, have different goals, and are motivated by different things. If employees could collectively tell you what they want and need, here’s what they might say. Follow David.

“The way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.”
-Sybil F. Stershic


According to Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership 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. He shares 10 ways managers can create better engagement. Our favorite was his number one answer:

“1. Show up a lot. All good things flow from this. You get to know your people and they get to know you.” Follow Wally.

William Steiner of Executive Coaching Concepts shares a post dealing with the lack of engagement from an “under management epidemic” that occurs when managers get so busy they do not take the time to connect well with their staff and focus on the fundamentals. He offers several suggestions for allocating more time to do just thatFollow William.

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates offers some tips for reaching true consensus with your team–a feat that when done well, demonstrates the level of engagement on the team. Follow Shelley.

Ken Downer of Rapid Start Leadership shares Demotivation: 7 Ways You Might Be Killing Your Team’s Spirit. A team’s spirit means everything when it comes to productivity and engagement, but despite our best intentions, the way we lead can be a source of demotivation. Ken gives some concrete steps to get the team organized again.  Follow Ken.

Rachel Gray of Patriot Software, LLC  shows us How to Improve Employee Engagement. Engaged employees can increase your bottom line and lower your turnover rate. Rachel gives us five actionable steps toward that goal.  Follow Rachel.

Dean Vella of University of Notre Dame Online shares that recruiters and interviewers are looking deeper into a candidate beyond skills and experience. They also want to know how they will adapt and get along with their co-workers. This is referred to emotional intelligence and is known to play a role in promotion. EQ feeds employee engagement and is a part of work collaboration and team cohesiveness. Follow Dean.

P.S. If you’re looking for more great quotes on employee engagement, check out Kevin Kruse’s collection here. 

town hall meetings: 5 critical mistakes to avoid

Town Hall Meetings: 6 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Leadership Message

When done well, corporate town hall meetings are an inspiring way to get everyone on the same page, to communicate your MIT priorities, to hear what’s on the minds of the people closest to your customer, and to say thank you. We’re huge believers in great town hall meetings, motivational kickoffs, and bringing the team together for a creative ruckus.

And as keynote speakers, we are often truly honored to be included in these corporate events. It’s awesome to collaborate and hear the messaging and how the senior team is working to engage and connect with the team. It’s the best when we can all work together and align and integrate our ideas to have the greatest impact.

6 Critical Mistakes to Avoid in Your Town Hall Messaging

We’ve seen some amazing Winning Well communication from rock star leaders. And sadly, we’ve also experienced a few town hall meetings that, despite best intentions, turned into a colossal waste of time and expense.

What makes the difference?

No amount of theme-based snacks, creative SWAG, or even remarkable keynote speaking can make up for poor messaging from the senior leader. Be sure to avoid these six common, critical mistakes when forming your message in your town hall meetings.

1.Talking EBITDA* over What I Need From Ya

Of course, including a few slides on the state of the business is important. Your team wants that kind of transparency. But resist the urge to pontificate on all the details. Work to simplify the messaging and focus on the “so what?” What do you want them to do to move the needle? How can they make an impact on the bottom line? Be as specific as possible in terms of needed behaviors.

2. Winging It

“Oh I had some notes prepared, but you know what, I’m going to just throw these away and talk to you.” Every time we hear these words, we cringe.

We get what you’re trying to do here, and we love the sentiment. You’re looking to show up real and really connect. And yet, the CEOs who really pull this off well, aren’t actually winging it–they’re usually the ones with the MOST executive communication training and experience.

They know exactly what they want their audience to think, feel and do as a result of their message. They know what stories they might want to share and why. They may not know the exact words, but trust us, the folks that pull this off have a master plan.

3. Banning Interaction

It might seem paradoxical to hold a town hall meeting without a time for questions, but we’ve seen it happen. When you don’t engage with your people you look either insecure or arrogant. Insecure leaders don’t believe their own message. Arrogant leaders lack the confident humility to Channel Challengers.

4. Staging Q & A

Nearly as bad a mistake as no interaction is faked interaction.

Just like when preparing for skip-level meetings, we highly recommend you do your homework and consider the questions you’re most likely to be asked—and to consider your best answers so you’re not caught off guard.

What shouldn’t be rehearsed is the people asking the questions. If your direct reports are meeting with their teams to vet all the questions in advance, and telling folks what they can and cannot ask you, you’re completely defeating the purpose. We’ve seen this practice more than once. Bless their hearts, they’re just trying to prevent their teams from embarrassing themselves in front of you. But that’s not the point is it?

Take questions, be ready for the tough ones, and grow your influence by answering authentically.

5. Being Out of Touch

This a particularly cringe-worthy mistake. David has sat with entry-wage employees while a leader spoke to them about the difficulties of owning a sailboat in the Caribbean. Back in Karin’s corporate executive days, she sat with her team as her boss took the stage in a town hall that she had helped to arrange. She watched as her boss delivered the most out-of-touch message you can imagine:

Her team and many others in the audience had been in one of those “all hands on deck” seasons … as requested from senior leaders. No vacations. Lots of overtime. Crazy hours for all.

Then, from the microphone, they heard the leader say, “At the end of the day it’s all about work-life balance. Here are pictures of me and my kids over the last week. I’ve got to tell you, in the last decade, I’ve never missed a little league game.”

Karin’s phone blew up. It was May,  the heart of little league season. She had a team of people who really cared about their kids and their sports, all of whom had missed a little league game that week. #NotHelpful

6. Bringing the Diaper Drama

Don’t wrap hard truth in layers of spin, manipulation, and evasive double-speak. We’ve watched leaders who didn’t trust their people enough to be honest with them lose all credibility as they avoided saying what needed to be said. If you have to reorganize to stay competitive, if a new initiative is going to require changes, or if everyone needs to improve their customer service by a quantum level, it’s time to Ditch the Diaper Drama. Think through the consequences of the change, have a plan in place, be compassionate, and speak the truth.

Your Turn

When you avoid these six mistakes, you’re on your way to town hall meetings that inspire your people to achieve results with specific behaviors and build more connected relationships with every team member. What are your secrets to successful corporate town hall meetings?

*Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization

11 Ways to Grow Leadership Skills in Children

Developing Leadership Skills in Children: 11 Ways to Grow Your Kids

When we talk about developing leadership skills in children, we’re often met with a sigh, “Oh my kids not ready for that…” And yet,  most of us take a deliberate approach to developing other skills in our kids early on. We teach them to swim, to ride a bike, to read, and read music, as early as we can. Leadership development should be no different. The earlier we can develop leadership skills in children the more natural these skills will feel.

how do I develop leadership skills in my chidren?Dear Karin and David,

You talk about growing leaders. How do I grow leadership skills in my young children? I’m trying hard to give my children the best advantage in life I can, but I can’t find much out there on how to help them develop as leaders. What would you recommend?



Dear Mom Growing Leaders,

Yes! Thank you for asking this important question. It’s a subject we’re very passionate about. Here are few insights from our experience. We hope others will join this conversation and share their experiences and approach as well.

11 Ways to Develop Leadership Skills in Children

Start with lots of love and building self-esteem. Too many grown-ups with power mess things up because they’re still dealing with childhood muck. Be a role model, and know they’re always watching. Beyond that, here are a few of our favorite approaches for building leadership skills in children.

    1. Teach them to give.
      Join them in volunteer activities  talk about the “why” as much as the “what.” Help them look for needs in everyday situations, and to consider how they can improve the scene. Help young children delight in giving and call it leadership. Averie’s experiences building homes in Mexico as a child shaped her leadership roles in college and her eventual career. Learning the servant part of servant leadership is as important as anything else when helping your children develop as leaders. You can help them to find the joy in their work and school assignments.
    2. Talk to them like grown-ups.
      Young children are smarter than they look. Talk about current events. Expose them to people who think differently than you and help them learn to listen and respectfully articulate their own point of view.
    3. Give them a say in some family decisions.
      Pick some decisions where you don’t need control. Invite your young children to brainstorm creative options. Encourage each family member to listen to one another’s viewpoints before deciding as a family.
    4. Nurture a love of reading.
      Read together and talk about the characters and relationships in the stories. For a list of great books to read with your young children click here. (one of the most popular posts every on Let’s Grow Leaders)  We would love to have you add your additional suggestions in the comments on that post (we received some great additions from other readers.)

teaching your children leadership

  1. Bring them along and give them a role.
    Kid’s love to see mommy and daddy in action. We’ve taken our children with us as we work and travel, given them concrete roles ranging from working the Verizon booth at a Festival to working the expo floor and promoting our book in Singapore. We’ve explained what we’re doing and why, and ask for their insights. Seb has seen our Diaper Genie™ talk so many times he can give it himself. See also  A Great Way to Teach Your Kids About Leadership.
  2. Admit when you screw up.
    Talk about your leadership mess-ups. Kid’s need to know that leaders aren’t perfect and that mistakes are all part of their learning. One of the best ways to develop leadership skills in children is to show them you’re still growing too.
  3. Hang out with other leaders
    So they can see leaders are regular people too. We’ve even included Sebastian on some of our Skype conversations in prepping for our International work—makes it much more meaningful when they meet in person. Sebastian has built his own relationships with leaders around the world and that can be fun for the whole family. Averie regularly spent time with David’s team-leaders, Directors, and Board members, developing her own friendships and business role-models.
  4. Teach them to craft and deliver a great prayer (or toast) at family gatherings.leadership connection
    “Let’s talk about why we’re gathered and what people may want God to hear ” or “Let’s find some words that would make everyone here feel special before we sit down to eat.” It’s so much fun to see what they come up with. After a few times with some guided help, it’s likely all they’ll need is a nod from you and they’ll know what to do.
  5. Encourage connections.
    Cultivate an awareness of other people, each person’s dignity, and the negative effect of labels. Help them to connect by showing interest. If you want to learn about networking for you or your children this is the post.
  6. Help them find their own voice.
    Help them find cultivate their passions and to talk and write about what they love. If you can get them on a stage early on, it will make speaking to an audience seem like a natural part of life. They might by-pass that fear of so many grown-ups by speaking early and often.
  7. Ask great questions.
    Asking great questions is one of the best ways to help your managers be more strategic. It’s also a great way to develop leadership skills in your kids. “What’s another approach we could try?” “Why do you think that happened?” “What’s the next best choice we could make here?”

Developing leadership skills in children is one of the most important ways to grow our future. Investing just a little time with any of these techniques each week can go a long way in helping your children grow.

If you enjoyed this post, or are a parent looking to help your children develop leadership skills,  you can download a FREE ebook Karin wrote in collaboration with Alli Polin a few years ago, write as she was starting Let’s Grow Leaders.  A Parent’s Guide to Leadership.

And stay tuned… we have an exciting Let’s Grow Leaders growing leadership skills in children surprise coming later this year.

See also: Issues Families Face: Are You Raising a Leader?

motivate your team

Motivate Your Team – Avoid This Mistake

Early in my career, I made a critical mistake that’s very common, even when you’re a leader who cares and wants to motivate your team.

I discovered my mistake when Joanne handed me an envelope.

Inside was a single page. I unfolded the paper with its neat creases and found a letter, typed in three succinct paragraphs.

“David, thank you for the opportunity to volunteer, however, I would like to reevaluate my service…”


I was twenty-four years old and Joanne was one of several volunteers on a team I led. Together we served students in an after school program.

With words as clean and crisp as the onion skin she’d typed them on, Joanne told me that I was wasting her time.

But, she didn’t stop there. In those sparse paragraphs, she gave me a blueprint.

A blueprint that would transform my leadership, a key to release team members’ energy and motivation, and a secret weapon to attract top performers.

The blueprint will work for you too. With it, you have the foundation to motivate your team.

The Truth

If you truly want to motivate your team, understand that everyone is a volunteer. (Tweet This)

Every employee you lead, every director you report to, every colleague you work with.

Regardless of their pay, you can’t force people to work beyond the minimum. You can’t compel creativity. You can’t push problem-solving.

Your employees choose (often unconsciously) how they’ll show up each day, especially for the hard work. How much energy will they spend? Will they will find solutions and solve problems or ignore them? Wages and salary don’t directly motivate your team and affect these choices, but leadership, culture, clear goals, and their intrinsic motivation do.

The Trap

This is where many leaders fall into a trap.

It’s the same trap I’d fallen into and that Joanne highlighted in her letter.

You see, I believed that since everyone on the team was a literal volunteer, I should not set my expectations too high or hassle them about their performance. After all, I needed bodies to help, they weren’t being paid, and if I were hard on them, they’d leave, right?

As a manager, you might have found yourself reluctant to hold an employee accountable because you were worried that they’d leave. We’ve watched many leaders tolerate abusive employees and childish temper tantrums for fear they’d lose the person—who was always “too valuable to lose.”

Nonsense. That’s a trap.

When you let expectations slide, when you tolerate poor performance, when you allow abuse, you are telling everyone on your team that you don’t care.

Imagine a volunteer who contributes their time and energy, works diligently, and always strives to do their best, working alongside someone who is abusive or half-hearted in their efforts.

What will happen to your hard-working volunteer?

Answer: the same thing happens to a paid employee. They’ll lose heart, shut down, and possibly leave altogether.

And why not? You’ve told them you don’t care about them. Their work doesn’t matter. The mission isn’t important.

That’s the exact opposite of trying to motivate your team.

Joanne’s Blueprint to Motivate Your Team

In her simple, plain-spoken letter, Joanne shared some ideas I could use to set clear expectations for the volunteers and how those expectations would serve the children.

In short, we needed accountability.

If nothing changed, she explained, she would find better uses of her time.

Can your team find a better use of their time?

Or…are expectations clear, everyone holds each other accountable, and together you accomplish results beyond what any of you could do individually?

Your Turn

Joanne’s letter was a lesson in tough love. It didn’t feel good at the time.

But her message changed everything for me: She helped me understand that everyone’s a volunteer.

That everyone has a choice. That people’s time is precious. That it’s up to me to make their time on my team worthwhile.

When you don’t practice accountability, you devalue the mission, the work, and disrespect your staff.

When you hold people accountable for their work and behavior, you communicate that what they’re doing matters. You demonstrate respect and value for your mission, for your work, and for your employees. That’s a blueprint to motivate your team.

Leave us a comment and share: What does people-centered accountability look like for your team?

Project Manager Tools: An Easy Communication Tool

How to Run a Better Project: A Communication Tool For Project Managers

Whether you’re a PMI certified project manager working to spearhead several large-scale projects, or a manager balancing a critical project while still doing your day job, you know the importance of communication. 

And yet, people typically don’t communicate well. Especially not about risk; about the myriad ways their best-laid plans could implode. And when their plans do implode, and negative emotions kick in? Their communication gets progressively worse.

What does this mean for you, as a project manager? It means that in your efforts to get a struggling project back on track, the deck is stacked against you. The very thing you need—open, fluid communication among your stakeholders—is likely to be the one thing you won’t get. Communication takes time to rebuild once it’s broken down. You know the schedule you’re always up against. You don’t have that kind of time.


The best solution for you is to prevent your project from veering off track in the first place. To do that, you’ll need to consistently and ruthlessly seek out understanding of the risks your project faces.

An Easy Project Manager Communication Tool

A significant part of our work is supporting project leaders and teams to ‘own the ugly’ around what could prevent their teams from meeting project goals. Technology is progressing faster (and workplace culture is changing faster) than at any other point in human history. Your most important work as a project manager is to be aware of when you’re lagging behind, so you can take steps to immediately redirect and get your initiative’s efforts back on course.

To launch and guide candid, “ugly” conversations about the ways your project could be at risk, you can use the “Own the Ugly” Communication Tool inspired by our best-selling book Winning Well A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul:

Own the UglyU- What are we Underestimating?

Typically, the element of project management that’s most often underestimated is communication. You and your stakeholders understand the technical and operational risks to your project. You’ve taken steps to mitigate those risks. But you can understand risk and still underestimate the impact of failure on people.

When a project begins to veer off course—when deadlines are missed and deliverables don’t produce desired results — communication breaks down. Poor communication increases the risk of your project’s failure exponentially.

Consider, are you underestimating that?

Ask yourself how can you shore up your communication channels now, before your actual encounter with any of the dozens of elements that can take your project down. Where do you need to pay closer attention to how people talk to one another? The tone of your team’s day-to-day conversations is a good indicator of the strength of their relationships. People who are in strong relationships are more likely to keep communicating under pressure.

Create space for contributors to your project to dig in and identify exactly where communication will break down first—how, why, and between whom—if goals start to be missed. In having this conversation, you’ll learn a tremendous amount about your stakeholders. You’ll discover where they are already struggling to communicate effectively with one another and, possibly, with you.

G- What’s Got to Go?

As a project manager, you know better than anyone, to succeed, projects must be agile. Conditions change, and the things that you’re doing now may not make sense anymore.

Ask your team, “Which of our processes are more habit than value? What meetings are wasting your time? What’s simply gotta go for you to have the time, energy, and resources to focus on what matters most to this project’s desired outcomes?”

Ask these questions now. Be fierce about purging the policies and norms that are keeping your contributors in a holding pattern. Facilitating agility is more often about subtraction than addition.

L- Where are We Losing?

Mapping out a project management strategy and following through on your plans can be a monumental effort. But what happens when you and your contributors do everything ‘right’ and still fail to make strides in meeting your project’s initial goals?

Well, then it’s time for the gloves to come off—all the way off.

Ask, “Where are you under-performing despite your best efforts, and why? Who is doing it better, and how? And, most importantly, what systems and partnerships must evolve to support your effort?”

Leading projects within a rapidly shifting business environment isn’t easy. It’s hard. Be proactive in discovering why you’re not effective. Set yourself apart from other project teams that are waiting for change to happen to them, instead of because of them.

Y- Where are We Missing the Yes?

Beyond your project’s scope lies a universe of possibility. As project manager, you know this. That’s why you keep a sharp eye on scope creep. To meet your project’s budget, timeline, and promised outcomes, you must ensure promises don’t outstrip resources.

And yet. Is the mindset to prevent scope creep holding you back from effectively assessing creative options? Are there partnerships, research, or tangential efforts that, while not strictly within your project’s parameters, could deepen your team’s results?

Every now and then, remind yourself and your team that it’s okay to remove the blinders and explore counterintuitive options. Cultivate that curiosity. And, have the uncomfortable conversations about the ways curiosity isn’t cultivated within your project and the impact of that absence.

PMI EMEA Congress 2018 Karin Hurt and David Dye

Remember—you’re going to need innovative solutions should your project’s risks ever become reality.

Won’t you join us? Are you a Europe-based Project Manager? We would love to have you join us for our session at the PMI EMEA Congress in Berlin. Click here for more information.

Download this Project Article to Share with Your Project Manager Colleagues

Would you like a printable version of this article? Click here.

See Also: 6 Reasons Even the Best Project Managers Fail 

5 Secrets of Utility Player

6 Secrets of a Utility Player: How to Hire For Indispensable

It’s easy to hire for rock stars—the folks with the exact niche skills you need in the marketplace. But don’t underestimate the value of a true utility player for long-term success.

How (and Why) to Find, Hire (and Promote) a Utility Player

My boss came back from the succession planning discussion with the executive team. “Oh, it’s all good, you’re a utility player.” As a young Gen Xer, I didn’t love the sound of that. Utility player sounds so, well, utilitarian (practical, functional, serviceable). I was young in my career, I wanted to be seen as an up-and-coming rock star, not an easily tradeable unsung hero.

Six months later there was a massive reorganization and a layoff. My hands shook as my boss handed me the new org chart. Our entire department was missing. And then he smiled. “I have two words for you: utility player. You’re fine. Here’s what’s next (a promotion).”

I get it now. Utility players provide you with the flexibility to embrace change fast without a ruckus. It’s why Inc. recommends that startups hire the utility player first.  

Makes sense. I’ve had several new start-up clients call for help because their original team of founders/specialists just didn’t have the skills to lead as they scaled.

6 Indispensable Utility Player Competencies

Of course, you’ve got to hire specialists for certain roles. But when hiring leaders, don’t underestimate the flexibility you’ll get from a few of these key skills.

  1. They love the Game (and by the game, I mean your business.)
    They understand and are energized by the big picture vision. They’re gung-ho and ready to go with the twists and turns. They don’t play games to get ahead. They stay focused on the bigger mission.
  2. They Build Strong, Trusting  Relationships (up, down and sideways)
    Rock stars sometimes alienate their boss and peers and REALLY tick off their direct reports.  Utility players know that other human beings are their lifeline to success. They’re inclusive. They invest in a wide network of go-to relationships up, down and sideways.
  3. They are Curious, Eager Learners
    They don’t know it all, but they sure try to learn as much as they can. They embrace new situations with curiosity and confident humility as they work to understand what’s really happening and how they can help.
  4. They Work Hard
    They dig in harder and longer than most. They care about quality and doing it right.
  5. They’re Resilient
    Although they’re attached and really care about their current mission, when the direction shifts they can cope with that too (okay, they might go into the bathroom and scream first- give them a minute and they’ll come around.)
  6. They Tell the Truth
    They’re willing to have the tough conversations that make the business and the people better. They ditch the Diaper Genie™ and own the U.G.L.Y. in a way that builds trust and maintains relationships.

Your turn. What have you found to be the most indispensable competencies of utility players?

You may also enjoy our recent post: Interviewing: How to Hire For Winning Well Competencies (interview questions to help you hire the best)

how do i stop my boss from treating me like a kid?

How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid?

Have you ever seen this dynamic? A manager has known “a kid” on their team forever. LOVES her. WANTS the best for her. AND is ironically holding her back. If you ask “the kid,” (who also loves and respects said manager), it’s because he just “can’t stop treating me like a kid. I know I’ve grown. How do I convince him?”

We call this the “Tommy syndrome.” Tom is ready for what’s next, but his well-meaning manager can’t stop thinking about him as Tommy.

Dear Karin and David,

I’ve grown so much as a leader. I’ve gone back to school. Worked hard as a volunteer leader in my professional associations. My team’s results are solid. But my boss doesn’t give me a chance. I’m her go-to guy to get stuff done, but when it comes to presenting to senior leaders, or for stretch assignments, she seems to give those opportunities to the folks she’s hired in the last few years. I know I have the deeper personal relationship, and I value all I’ve learned from her. But honestly, I wonder if I should start looking outside for a fresh start.


A Grown-Up #AskingForAFriend

How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid?

  1. Don’t act like a kid.
    This may seem like the most obvious answer, but we often find that this familiarity goes both ways. Don’t over-disclose your frustrations, your insecurities, or ask for extra guidance or concessions. Act the part of the role you want.
  2. Approach one-on-ones as organized as if you’re in a new job.
    Our free MIT huddle planner can help you organize your thoughts and prepare for your discussions. Treat every one-on-one as if it were an interview for the next role. Bring that level of professionalism and preparation.
  3. Ditch the Diaper Genie® and clearly state your goals.
    Be straightforward with your manager and tell her that you would like to be considered for the role that interests you. Ask her what skills and competencies you need to demonstrate to be qualified for consideration. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. David’s first middle-level management promotion came when he actively said, “I want to do that.” The organization had been looking externally until he expressed interest.
  4. Get real about expectations.
    What does success really look like for your current role and at the next level? Be sure you’re crystal clear about your manager’s expectations. Here’s another approach that can help. Often, your manager isn’t sharing where you’re not meeting expectations because they see you as a known quantity and don’t want to jeopardize the relationship. Be clear that you want to exceed the requirements of your current role and get the feedback you need to know where you’re not meeting the mark.
  5. Play bigger.
    To be seen as a thought-partner, you’ve got to act like one. Start thinking and speaking strategically. What are the business concerns that keep your boss’s boss up at night? What goals must they achieve to be successful? In interactions with your boss and her colleagues, start speaking in terms of these initiatives and concerns.
  6. When you’re overlooked, have an honest conversation.
    Once you’ve done all of the above for several months, if you’re not considered for the next opportunity, it’s time for another conversation. You might say something like, “It seems like you don’t consider me as qualified for these roles. Do I have that right?” Pause and let them respond. See what additional information you uncover. If it’s not obvious, ask again what skills, behaviors, and achievements you need to demonstrate to be considered.
  7. Change your context.
    Some people will always have a difficult time seeing you differently than the person you were when they first met you. If you try all of these tactics and you’re still not being seen the way you’d like, check with a mentor or some other colleagues to verify that it’s not something you’re failing to do. If you’re doing everything you can and nothing changes, you may have to change your context where you new professionalism and strategic thinking are seen without the baggage of history.

Your turn. What advice would you give A Grown Up so their boss stops treating them like a kid?

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