Too valuable to fire?

Employee Too Valuable to Fire? 6 Leadership Strategies

Is Anyone Ever Too Valuable to Fire?

Have you ever worked with an obnoxious colleague who seemed to be protected because the employee was considered too valuable to fire?

Maybe you’re a team leader who has one of these brilliant bullies on your team.

If so, you might not be surprised at what I watched happen at a corporate leadership development program I was facilitating. The HR Director had set out materials on every table – including dishes of candy.

A tall, lanky man entered the room, went straight to the back row, asked the HR Director and his own supervisor if he had to attend the program. When they told him he needed to be there if he wanted to lead a team, he threw a tantrum.

He picked up the dish of candy, threw it against the wall, swept the papers from the table, and unleashed a string of profanity.

In most organizations, that behavior would be a “career limiting move” so I was curious how the HR Director and his supervisor would respond.

They walked away.

I asked the HR Director how she was going to address his behavior.

She replied, “Oh that? That was tame. He’s been far worse, but I’m not allowed to address his behavior. The CEO says he’s too important to lose. He’s really smart and we need him on this project.”

Too Valuable to Fire?

If you’re a leader who tolerates abusive behavior, harassment, or bullying because the employee is smart or talented, you’re making a big mistake.

Think about the messages you’re sending to your team.

First, you’ve told your team that you’re weak. You’re not a strong enough leader to create a positive work environment.

Next, you’ve told your team members that you don’t value them. If you did value them, you would ensure they were treated humanely.

Finally, you’ve told everyone that this kind of abuse, harassment, and bullying is okay. You’ve planted seeds for even more chaos and disruption.

The reality is: no one is too valuable to fire. If you’re doing work that requires a team of people working together, no one brilliant person can do everything themselves.

It’s easy to get caught in a trap when you think you either have to tolerate the bad behavior or else lose the talent. Fortunately, that trap is an illusion. You have powerful leadership tools and choices to make. Here are six leadership strategies to help you deal with an employee who seems like they’re too valuable to fire:

  1. Pick Your Problems

Leaders recognize that they don’t get to chose if they have problems. It’s not “if problems” but “which problems.” The choice is Which set of problems do you want to have? Before you can do anything else, you’ve got to face reality: you have a serious issue here and you’re going to have serious problems.

Which problems do you want? The problems where everyone leaves and the team degenerates into chaos or the problems where you figure out how to address the issues and build a high-performance culture?

  1. What Does Success Look Like?

One of your most important leadership responsibilities is to capture, communicate, and clarify what success looks like for your team. When you’re interviewing, when you’re onboarding, when you’re meeting with your people…consistently reinforce what success looks like. What results will you achieve together? How will you achieve them? How will you work together, treat one another, and build healthy professional relationships?

Clarify what success looks like from the beginning and you’re less likely to hire, much less have to fire, someone for abuse, harassment, and bullying behaviors.

  1. Develop Early

As you work with your people, pay attention to their development from the first day. Use the Competence / Confidence model to quickly give them the feedback they need to grow. Brilliant bullies are often in the upper right quadrant because they aren’t as good as they think they are – they’re undermining their own performance by driving others away.

It is much easier to deal with a behavioral performance issue when you first see it than to address it once it is entrenched.

  1. Ditch the Diaper Drama

One of our favorite Winning Well leadership behaviors is to speak the truth directly, but in a way that builds relationships. Don’t wrap the stink in layers of self-protection (the way that modern diaper pails do) to cover the stink, but don’t solve the problem.

Directly address abuse, harassment, and bullying by describing what you’ve observed. Often, just the act of describing what you saw and heard will help the other person adjust their behavior.

I once had a high-value employee yell at me: “I’m tired of you acting like Hitler.” (His report was three weeks overdue and he’d run out of grace period to get it done.) I responded with the “Notice” step from the INSPIRE model: “I noticed that you just called me Hitler. Last I checked, I hadn’t committed any genocide.” Then I followed up with the “Probe” step: “What’s going on?”

When he was calmly confronted with his own behavior, he calmed down and we were able to talk about the real issue and make an agreement that we would never use that kind of language again.

  1. Manage Up – Quickly

If you suspect (or know for certain) that your boss doesn’t want to lose this person, get in front of it. Don’t do anything without their buy-in. You don’t want to have to back-pedal on a major decision and lose credibility. Talk with your boss about the behaviors, the impact on your team, the way it affects performance, and the alternatives they’re willing to accept.

You can also ditch the diaper drama in this conversation: “What level of abuse and harassment are you willing to tolerate for this person’s performance?”

  1. Rally the Team

One of the most awesome examples I’ve ever seen of a manager who had to deal with an employee too valuable to fire was Allan, a senior engineer facing a global product launch. He had a brilliant, but abusive, team member who was a key contributor to the project. The entire team had spoken with him individually about this person. Allan had done everything he could and it was time to terminate.

He spoke with senior vice president who told him: “I won’t stand in your way if you want to let this guy go, but this is totally your call. You are still responsible for getting the product launch done on time. It that doesn’t happen, it will likely mean your job.”

Allan chose to terminate the problem employee’s employment and then met with his team. “That employee is no longer with us,” he told them. “We still have to meet our deadline. I believe in us and I know we can do it, but without him, it’s not going to be easy. How can we do it?”

The team was grateful, energized, and innovative in coming up with ways they could meet their deadline. Productivity soared.

“It was a major gut check,” Allan shared with me, “I was worried about my own job, but I’m so glad I made the decision I did. I chose to believe in my team – and I’m glad I did.”

Your Turn

You might be wondering what happened to the company where I met the candy-thrower.

I explained to the executive team that if they didn’t confront this man’s behavior, they should stop wasting money on leadership development (because your behavior tells your people that you don’t actually value leadership), should spend the money on recruiting (because no one will stick around to deal with that every day), and prepare to miss their next product development deadlines (because the caustic atmosphere was killing everyone else’s productivity).

Leave us a comment and share your best practices when confronted with an employee who seems as if they’re too valuable to fire.

Employee Engagement - Avoid Tremendous Leadership Mistake

Employee Engagement – Avoid This Tremendous Leadership Mistake

Employee Engagement – Play the Game, Don’t Game the Score

When you see low employee engagement scores, what is your first reaction?

I spoke with a company executive who was upset with his engagement scores. “The numbers are horrible,” he said. “Can you help us with some team-building?”

I replied, “Probably not.”

He looked at me with a combination of shock and amusement.  He wasn’t used to consultants telling him they didn’t want his money.

“Okay, tell me why not?”

It’s not that I wasn’t willing to help – of course, I would. But when morale stinks, employee engagement scores are down the drain, and your people are upset, team building isn’t the solution.

In fact, it’s a tremendous mistake that will almost always make things worse.

Start With Why

Low employee engagement scores are the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. Leaders who are Winning Well focus on playing the game, not gaming the score. That means they don’t try to manipulate the score with team-building, pizza, or incentives – they stay focused on the critical behaviors that drive performance and results.Employee engagement - play the game don't game the score

Employee engagement is no exception. Focus on the score and you’re lost. Instead, play the game: focus on the behaviors that create the score.

When I asked the executive why his people were upset, he wasn’t sure.

As we dug deeper, we discovered that there were significant breakdowns of clarity and commitment. There were problems communicating major organizational changes, one mid-level manager who had become territorial and was needlessly frustrating other departments, and front-line leaders who were driving talent away by scaring people into performance.

Fix The Real Problem

Don’t try to motivate your way out of a mess. Fix the mess. (Tweet This)

For this executive, that meant apologizing for the communication problems, getting the right information out to everyone, listening to and addressing the concerns his people had about the new process, and taking aside the territorial manager for some one-on-one coaching and accountability. Then he invested in leadership development for his front-line leaders and we worked with the middle-level managers to reinforce the front-line leaders’ new focus on results and relationships.

Don’t use team-building in response to problems or low morale. Fix the communication problems. Improve the process issue that prevents people from doing their job.

Icing On The Employee Engagement Cake

Team-building is often loathed and panned by employees and managers alike because it can be such a waste of time – a well-intentioned, but a completely ineffectual response to a problem that takes real work to solve.

Done properly, real team-building is the icing on a good cake.  It takes a solid foundation and makes it something truly special.

Imagine trying to spread frosting on a cake that is only half-cooked. You’d a have a nasty, goopy mess that ends up in the trash. You can’t frost a half-baked cake and you can’t use motivation or team-building in place of fundamentals.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: How do you make sure you’re not trying to “motivate your way out of a mess”? Or if you’ve got a particularly awful example of this mistake at work, you can share that too.

get things done leading when life isn't fair

Get Things Done – Leading When Life Isn’t Fair

Get Things Done by Changing Your Question

Sara leaned back, crossed her arms, and sighed.

“It’s not right! My VP expects me to hit these numbers, but customers want updates, and research is focused on new products and won’t give me the time of day. How can I get things done with all this?”

She shook her head. “I guess I’ll go down to R&D and tell them they’ve got to change their attitude or the company’s going to end up in the toilet. This just sucks!”

When Life Isn’t Fair

Can you identify with Sara?

You’re working hard, you take your work seriously, and then you’re confronted with obstacles. Problems. Challenges.

They’re not your fault.

You didn’t ask for them, but there they are, staring you in the face, keeping you from moving forward. You can’t get things done.

Every leader is faced with unfair, difficult circumstances at some point. That’s just life.

Many people will spend years or even their entire life stuck in the quicksand of ‘not-fair-despair.’

But it’s also the moment where leaders are born.

Stuck

Sara was stuck because she hadn’t asked herself the most important question that every great leader asks of both themselves and their team.

She was stuck because her focus was on her problems: other people’s expectations and attitudes.

She was stuck because she chose to see herself as a victim.

If you’re there now, it’s okay. It means your human.

Just don’t stay there.

“Why me?” and it’s cousin “What’s wrong with those people?” are horrible leadership questions. They suck the energy out of you because they give away your power.

The good news is that you can transform your energy, instantly reclaim your power, and get unstuck in just a few seconds.

Three Worlds That Will Transform Your Leadership and Help You Get Things Done

It only takes one question.

It’s a question every great leader asks and its only three words long.

“How Can I…?”

Those seven letters may not look like much, but they are the foundation of leadership.

With those three words:

  • You return your focus to your own power and ability to act.
  • You tap into the energy of your prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that problem-solves and plans.)
  • You vastly increase the odds of finding a solution (because you’re looking for them!)
  • And you take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control – yourself.

Restore Your Power

When Sara asked “How can I…?” she finished the question with her goals.

Eg: “How can I work with R&D to find a solution to the customer updates and meet my numbers?” Or, “How can I work with my VP to meet or modify my sales goals? “

With that one “How can I?” in mind, Sara generated a list of potential solutions that didn’t involve forcing someone else to do something.

This question works for teams too.

When I served as an elected councilman I watched our mayor at the time, Joe Rice, transform a room full of stymied constituents, staff, and representatives with one question:

“We can find 1000 reasons why this won’t work. Let’s try a different question, ‘How can we do it?’”

In a matter of seconds, everyone’s thinking changed.

This powerful question is at the heart of leadership. Leaders take ownership for themselves, others, and the world around them. You cannot lead without first taking responsibility.

What About…

1) When you ask “How can I…?” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.” That’s okay. Use this follow up question from our coaching model: “What might I do if I did know?”

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

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

2) Responsibility doesn’t mean co-dependency. You are responsible TO your team, not FOR your team. To your organization, not for your organization. To your spouse, not for your spouse.

Your Turn

What problem are you and your team facing that you’re not sure how to solve? How can you pull together and figure it out? (See what I did there?)

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts or your favorite way to move out of victim-thinking and back to responsibility and leadership.

Solve Problems - 9 Questions to Help Your Team

9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems On Their Own

“David, I just don’t have time. My team constantly needs my help, but I need them to do more and solve problems on their own. There’s so much to do that some days I just want to give up!”

Lynn was a midlevel manager in a mid-sized healthcare company. She’d sought out coaching because the demands of her job were nearly unbearable. Between the needs of her team members and her supervisor’s expectations, she’d been working 60-hour weeks, her health was suffering, and she’d reached the end of her rope.

Have you ever felt like Lynn? If you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone.

If you ever struggle with feeling like you’re doing your team’s thinking for them and don’t have time to do your own work, these are signals that your team needs help to think and solve problems more effectively.

Hero or Harassed?

Most managers respond to these signals one of two ways: they get upset or they dive in to “help” by offering solutions. Unfortunately, neither response gets you what you want: more time for your work and more responsibility from your team.

On the one hand, if you get upset and chastise your team for bothering you, they will stop bothering you. They’ll also resent you and begin dragging their feet rather than solve problems that need attention. But hey, they’re not bothering you anymore, right?

On the other hand, if you play the hero and jump in with answers, the immediate problems get solved and work continues. But next time an issue comes up, your team still can’t solve problems on their own and, worse, you’ve now taught them that if things get difficult, you’ll just figure it out for them. Yes, you’re the hero, but say goodbye to your own productivity!

The good news is that there’s a better way.

9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems On Their Own

When a team member comes to you for help (assuming they’ve been trained and this is a problem they should be able to solve on their own), rather than jumping in with the answer, you have an opportunity to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The following nine questions will help you to free up your own time and increase your team’s ability to think and problem solve on their own.

  1. What is your goal?

Start here to check for understanding and ensure that the team member has a good grasp on their task and is focused on the right goal.

  1. What have you tried?

This question ensures you don’t spend time covering ground they’ve already explored. It also requires your team member to make some effort before requesting help.

  1. What happened?

Finish gathering facts by asking them to talk about the consequences of the solutions they’ve already tried. Sometimes just the act of talking about it will help them figure out a new solution.

  1. What did you learn from this?

With this question, you ask them to reflect on their experience. Often, the act of examining what happened and what learning they can draw from it will spark a new approach.

  1. What else do you need?

This is a check to see if there is additional training or equipment they need. Sometimes your team member will say something like: “You know, if I knew how to use pivot tables, I think I could do this.” Great – connect them to a spreadsheet guru for a quick lesson and get them moving.

  1. What else can you do?

Now it’s time to have them generate some new options. When you ask this question, one of two answers usually happens. Your team member might say, “I don’t know” or they might offer some options, eg: “Well, I was thinking I could try option A or I could try option B.”

If they say, “I don’t know,” we’ll come back to that with question #9. Let’s assume for now that they offer some options.

  1. What do you think will happen if you try option A? What about option B?

You’re asking your team member to explore the potential consequences of their proposed solution. This gives you insight into their thinking and helps them think through what makes their choices viable or desirable.

If they are missing a critical piece of information, you can supply it here without telling them what to do. Eg: “One additional factor you will want to know is that the customer considers that a vital feature.”

  1. What will you do?

This is the critical step that you’ve been leading up to. As you helped them review the facts, reflect on what they learned, explore alternatives, and the consequences of each choice, the goal is for your team member to choose their solution.

When they choose it, they own it. If they choose something that seems to be a clearly inferior option, you can ask them to help you understand why they think that’s their best option. If they don’t understand some of the other issues affecting the decision, you can also add those to the mix.

  1. Super-Bonus Question

You might be wondering what to do if the person replies to one of your questions with, “I don’t know.”

No problem!

“I don’t know” can mean many things. Rarely does it mean the person has zero thoughts about the issue.

More often, “I don’t know” translates to:

    • “I’m uncertain.”
    • “I don’t want to commit before I know where you stand.”
    • “I haven’t thought about it yet.”
    • “Will you please just tell me what to do?”
    • “I’m scared about getting it wrong.”

Your job as a leader is to continue the dialogue – to ease the person through their anxiety and train their brain to engage. This is where the super-bonus question comes in.

With one question you can re-engage them in the conversation and move through “I don’t know” to productivity.

When someone says, “I don’t know,” your super-bonus question is: “What might you do if you did know?”

It’s like magic.

The person who was stymied two seconds ago will start to share ideas, brainstorm solutions, and move on as if they were never stuck. It’s amazing and hard to believe until you try it.

The super-bonus question works because it addresses the source of the person’s “I don’t know.” If they were anxious or fearful, it takes the pressure off with tentative language: “If you did know…” Now your team member doesn’t have to be certain or look for your approval and they’re free to share whatever they might have been thinking.

If he or she hadn’t thought about the issue or didn’t want to think about it, you’ve lowered the perceived amount of energy they have to spend. You’re not asking for a thesis on the subject, just a conversational “What might you do?”

Our brains can do amazing work when we remove the emotional blocks. When you do this for your team, you train their brain to engage, to push through their ordinary blocks, and increase their performance. Ultimately, they will be able to have these conversations with themselves and will only need to bring the very serious issues to you.

You’ll know you’re succeeding when a team member tells you: “I had a problem. I was going to come and talk it over with you, but then I thought, you’re just going to ask me all these questions. So I asked myself all the questions instead and I figured it out.”

Celebrate those moments and encourage them to start asking those questions of the people around them. You’ve just increased your team’s capacity for problem-solving, freed up time to focus on your work, and…you’ve built a leader!

Your Turn

Remember, when a team member can’t solve problems, good questions are your best solution. We’d love to hear from you: Leave us a comment with your questions about this business coaching process or share your best practice for helping team members improve their critical thinking and problem-solving.

 

Be the Leader 52 Tips

52 Tips to Be the Leader You Want Your Boss to Be

Be the Leader You Want Your Boss to Be

You’ve got this. You care, you want results, and as a leader you’re committed to Winning Well. But life gets busy and complicated. Sometimes you just need a quick reminder to get you back on track. Here they are: 52 tips to be the leader you want your boss to be.

1 Remember why you choose to lead: prioritize people and purpose above power, prestige, or pennies.

2 When stuck or overwhelmed: Ask “How can I…?”

3 Solve problems before they occur with clear expectations. Mind the MIT (Most Important Thing)

4 Know your addictions: Are you prone to do it all yourself, people-pleasing, using fear and using people to get things done, or playing games to keep yourself safe?

5 Land in the “And” – It’s not an either/or choice. In every circumstance choose to show up with confidence and humility. Choose to focus on results and relationships.

6 Remember that everyone you lead is a volunteer – even when they’re paid they have a choice about how they show up. You get to influence the choice they make.

7 What matters to them should matter to you.

8 End every meeting by asking: “Who will do what, by when, and how will we know it is done?”

9 Apologize when you screw up, break your word, or hurt someone.

10 When leading peers, be clear whether you’re speaking as their leader or as their colleague.

11 When delegating, create a mutual face-to-face appointment on both calendars where you will receive the project. This ensures delegated tasks don’t fall through the cracks.

12 Hold everyone accountable. It tells your high-performers that you value them. When you let performance or behavior slide, you’re telling everyone you don’t care.

13 Terminating someone for cause is compassion for them and an investment in your team. Be the leader that cares enough to let them go.

14 Connect every “what” to a meaningful “why”.

15 Value people’s time – treat it with respect and expect results from everyone.

16 You can’t lead if you’re always exhausted. Take care of yourself.

17 You’re the drummer of the band. Be the leader who keeps the beat for your team with consistent expectations.

18 You won’t have all the answers and shouldn’t solve problems on your own. Share them with your team. Ask “How can we…?” and let the team take it.

19 Cultivate confidence by asking “What would a confident leader do here?” Then do it.

20 Ask for, and expect the truth. Don’t shoot the messenger.

21 Promote wisely. The most important decision you make is whom you will trust with power and authority.

22 When you don’t agree with a decision, own it anyway. Empower your team by asking “How can we?”

23 Be clear about who owns the decision before you ask for ideas.

24 You can’t ‘do your best’ at everything. Know your MIT (Most Important Thing.)

25 Check for understanding. Don’t ask “Any questions?” and assume they get it.

26 Choose to be effective rather than ‘right.’

27 Things will go wrong – sometimes badly. Don’t blame. Ask, “How can we fix this?”

28 Ask your team “How can I help?” and listen to what they need that only you can provide.

29 When asked for answers, don’t rush to help. First, ask questions that promote critical thinking and problem-solving.

30 Every meeting should achieve results and build relationships.

31 Meetings: invite the least number of people to make the best decision.

32 Meetings: choose only one discussion at a time: Where will we go? or How will we get there?

33 Meetings: begin by clarifying how the decision will be made. Will you make it? Will the team vote? Or by consensus?

34 Learn and leverage your team member’s strengths. Don’t waste time or energy on weaknesses unless it’s limiting the use of their strength.

35 Find superstars by hiring for the strengths displayed by your top performers.

36 When interviewing, avoid hypothetical questions. Ask: “Tell me about a time when…” they demonstrated a key competency.

37 People are different. Value, embrace, and incorporate the strengths in those differences.

38 Ask “How can I help?” when you know things are going well.

39 Release energy with specific, meaningful, and relevant encouragement.

40 Know where your team needs to go. Focus on the steps to get there, not on the obstacles.

41 Put people before projects. The project will end, but the people will still be there. Invest and collaborate.

42 To influence your supervisor, know what keeps their leader up at night.

43 People need to hear you say “You can do this.”

44 Want innovation? Make it safe for people to have ideas that don’t work.

45 Address performance issues by observing the behavior, ask about it, confirm the desired behavior. (See the INSPIRE model for more.)

46 Foster collaboration and end needless bickering by establishing clear expectations, priorities, and how everyone interacts to achieve these results.

47 Play the game, don’t game the score. What are the key behaviors that drive results. Your customer doesn’t care what you get on your internal scorecard.

48 A blunt axe can’t cut down a tree. Invest in your skills and health.

49 It’s not about you – people’s behavior is about them. Help things make sense to them.

50 Remote and virtual teams are still people. Treat them as such.

51 Use performance reviews to develop strengths and limit liabilities. Everything else is a waste of time.

52 Grow your leadership and impact by connecting to your team, to a community outside your job, and to mentors.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you. What would one vital leadership tip you add to help others be the leader they want their boss to be?

collaboration - can we trust you

Collaboration – Can We Really Trust You?

It’s easy to talk about collaboration. It’s much harder to do it.

After visiting one of our clients in Guatemala City, Karin, Sebastian, and I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala where my daughter owns a clothing design business. She took us to Hobbitengango, a Tolkein-inspired Hobbit-like village set in the mountains overlooking a beautiful Guatemalan valley whose motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”collaboration - building trust

There, we met Dan, one of the visionaries and architects behind the solar and wind-powered village (where you can stay overnight in a Hobbit house and enjoy fantastic food.) Dan is passionate about Guatemala’s natural resources. He works to fight deforestation, regrow Guatemala’s forests, and clean up trash in the countryside.

He shared some of the challenges he encountered creating what has become a popular tourist destination.

When he started out, Dan encountered a man who was illegally harvesting lumber. He called the authorities. They caught the man and asked if Dan wanted to press charges.

Instead, Dan offered the man a job: planting trees.

“He needed to make a living and support his family. He can’t do that from jail,” Dan said. “Now he’s able to provide and he’s repairing some of the damage he did to the forest.”

Dan shared another incident where a car drove off the road and into a neighboring farmer’s field where it did a lot of damage. As soon as he heard about the damage, Dan went to see what had happened.

When he arrived at the field, a woman “rushed out of her house, waving a machete, and yelling, saying I destroyed her fields and don’t care about anyone.”

Dan explained that another motorist had caused the damage. He had also already called his soil construction expert to repair her field. In addition, he would build a fence for her property at his expense to prevent future problems.

“She seemed surprised that I didn’t fight back, that I didn’t want to argue.”

Dan smiled, then said, “Why make enemies when you can make friends?”

Why make enemies when you can make friends?

Land in the And

We meet many leaders who talk about the value of collaboration, who want their people working together, and who get frustrated when their colleagues won’t cooperate (which often means “why won’t you see things my way?”)

It caught our attention is that, as a leader, Dan wasn’t just “being nice” in building the relationships with his neighbor and the illegal logger. He was focused on achieving his business results: reversing damage to the forest and building a viable visitor attraction. He does it by building collaborative, results-focused relationships.

This is the heart of Winning Well: your ability to “land in the and” – to focus on both results and relationships, to show up with confidence and humility.

Collaboration – Can We Trust You?

Real collaboration isn’t easy because it requires you to put people before projects and truly invest in the other person’s success. How can you help your colleague achieve their results while they help you with yours?

If you’re in a cutthroat work environment and true collaboration is rare, this might feel incredibly vulnerable and perhaps even naïve.

In these situations, don’t sacrifice your project for the sake of building collaboration. Find small ways to invest in other people, to build trust, and create mutual wins. If someone is toxic and destructive, focus your energy with others.

It will take time.

Dan gained a great team member when he offered the illegal logger a job. His relationship with the farmer, however, didn’t turn into a collaborative success. He greets her and she nods. “But,” says Dan, “She’s not an enemy.”

Your Turn

Collaboration requires trust and investment in other’s success. Leave us a comment and share: How do you build collaborative results-focused relationships at work?

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…”

Ouch.

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?

How to Motivate Your Team - Not Your Goals

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

Wondering How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals? Hint: Don’t Motivate, Cultivate

Have you ever been given a goal by your supervisors and thought, “Ugh! What are they thinking? My team’s gonna hate this!” If so, you’re not alone. Every manager has to figure how to motivate your team in situations like these.

People don’t like it when they feel goals are ‘shoved down their throats’ – goals that might have been set by people who may not have all the facts and didn’t ask for input.

The good news is that you and your team can still thrive in these situations – there are ways to motivate your team even when you didn’t set the goals.

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

  1. Understand that you don’t actually motivate anyone.
    A person’s motivation always comes from inside them. Your responsibility is to help release that motivation. The first step when you’re wondering how to motivate your team is to remember that you can’t actually motivate anyone. Don’t motivate, cultivate.
  2. Take Responsibility.
    In these situations, the very worst thing you can possibly do is walk into your team meeting and say, “Those clueless jerks gave us these goals and I guess we’re stuck with them.” These kind of statements are leadership suicide. They kill your credibility, disempower you and your team, and make your team wonder who they should be talking to, if not you. Do not shirk this responsibility. Own it.
  3. Be Transparent.
    While you don’t want to act like a victim nor encourage victim-thinking in your team, it is also okay to acknowledge the situation. If the goals are difficult, say so. Remember, the most important currency you have with your team is their trust. If the team is clearly feeling that the situation is unfair or challenging, it is okay to voice those feelings for the team. Eg: “You may be feeling that this is tough or even a little unfair, and I get that.”
  4. Believe In Them.
    Your team needs to hear you voice your belief in what is possible. This is the “vision” work of leadership – picture your team succeeding and let them know their own potential.” Yes, these are difficult goals and I know you haven’t done anything like this before, and I also believe we are up to the challenge. In fact, this will be the most significant achievement we do together.”
  5. Help Them.
    Rather than, “These are your goals, go figure it out and stop your complaining…” Try, “This will be our greatest achievement…and, you won’t be alone. I will be with you each step of the way. I’m committed to helping all of us succeed together.” Note: you MUST back this offer of help with real action or you won’t be asking how to motivate your team, but how to reclaim your lost credibility.
  6. Own the Problem.
    Top-down goals are difficult because people feel disempowered. Motivation drops when they don’t feel they have control over their own fate.Your job as a leader is to restore some of that power. You may not have had input into the goals, but as a team, you can have full ownership over how you will accomplish them. Ask: “How can we solve this problem?”As you settle on specific strategies and tactics, make sure to get people working out of their natural talents and energy wherever possible.When you help the team own the solution, you will have restored some of their power (and their motivation!)
  7. Advocate for Your Team.
    Part of your responsibility as a leader is to advocate for your team, department, or organization. Actively manage up and get as much information about why goals were set the way they were. The more information you can share with your team, the better. Also, take the opportunity to share any facts the decision-makers may not be aware of – be sure to share it in a way that will help them with their needs and goals. Note: you will not always succeed in changing the decision-making, but your credibility with your team and the organization will grow. Your team knows you have their back and, over time, you will gain more opportunity to speak into the goal-setting process.
  8. Do It.
    Whatever strategy your team developed – do it! Become its biggest champion. Remind everyone of their potential, the process, and their input into the decision. Hold yourself and the team accountable for results.
  9. Celebrate.
    When you get it done – make it a big deal! Thank individuals for their efforts. Celebrate the team effort. Fly the flag and let your own supervisors know what the team did and how they did it.

Your Turn

When you’re wondering how to motivate your team, remember that you don’t actually motivate anyone. Cultivate an environment where you honor them and bring out their best.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts on how to motivate your team – especially when you don’t set the goals?

surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?

Jennifer secret to retaining high performers

One Obvious Secret to Retaining High Performers

Recently, I received an incredibly strong message about retaining high performers.

The message came from Jennifer, a former store manager at a national women’s clothing chain. Jennifer is outgoing, incredibly gifted at making customers feel comfortable, and was considered a “high-potential” by her district and regional managers. Within a year, however, she had quit.

A few months later, she ran into her district manager at a coffee shop. As they talked, the district manager expressed surprise that Jennifer had left. “You were one of the most talented, capable, managers we had. You had so much to offer and you left. Do you mind if I ask why?”

Jennifer told me, “It took me a few moments to recover from the shock … the district manager had never shared any of those positives with me. I got a weekly, sometimes daily, breakdown of where I wasn’t good enough – and that was it.”

Jennifer told her former district manager, “I thought I was failing. I’m shocked to hear that I was doing anything right. I wish you had told me I was talented or capable at the time.”

A “Secret” to Retaining High Performers

This shouldn’t be that much of a secret. Sadly, however, it’s not as common as it should be:

Tell them.

Tell them they’re doing well. Be specific about what they’re doing well and why it matters. Build on that foundation with a path forward. How can they continue to grow? What future roles are available for them and what skills will they need to master to thrive in those roles?

Unfortunately, we still run into managers who ask (with a completely straight face) “Why should I have to encourage people for just doing their job?”

That depends … how important is retaining high performers? How much lost talent, energy, and productivity will a lack of encouragement cost you?

Human beings need encouragement. It’s a fact of life. You get more of what you encourage or celebrate and less of what you criticize or ignore. If you want a team that doesn’t need to be encouraged, get a cat. Otherwise, if you’re working with people, they need encouragement.

If you want a team that doesn’t need to be encouraged, get a cat. Otherwise, if you’re working with people, they need encouragement. (Tweet This)

If you’re married, imagine what would happen if, after your wedding, you never said “I love you” or never held hands or kissed the other person. You couldn’t expect your relationship to last very long.

That’s the equivalent of never saying “thank you” or encouraging your team members. Yes, it’s their job in that they’ve made a commitment to your company – just like spouses make a promise to commit to one another. That doesn’t mean you should take that commitment or your team’s work for granted.

3 Keys to Effective Encouragement

Recently, when I shared Jennifer’s story, an audience member asked, “How do I encourage people? I understand the concept, but struggle to do it well.” Effective encouragement requires three things. Try these:

  1. Avoid saying “Great job!” Instead, try something like: “I really appreciate the extra effort you put in on that project last Tuesday. The client loved the work and renewed their account.”
  2. Encourage people in ways that are meaningful to them. The easiest way to find out, is to ask. When you onboard people into your team, ask them, “How do you like to receive recognition for a job well done?”
  3. Make sure your encouragement is related to the work and business outcomes. It demoralizes everyone when you encourage someone for something that actually detracts from the team.

Consistent encouragement doesn’t need to take hours of your time. I often work with managers to create ‘micro-encouragement’ with their team members – small moments where you are specific, meaningful, and relevant in a sentence or two. These consistent micro-encouragements add up to massive influence, productivity, and yes, retaining high performers.

Your Turn

Remember, when it comes to retaining higher performers, you get more of what you encourage and celebrate. Start with encouragement. Everyone needs it in ways that are meaningful to them. (On that note: Thank YOU for investing in your leadership. You’re making a difference for the people you work with.)

Leave us a comment and share: How you make sure to give people the encouragement they need?

why your team won't collaborate and what to do about it

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate (and What To Do About It)

“I’m sick of this crap! My team won’t collaborate – why can’t they just figure this out?”

Scott was CEO of an engineering firm that produced communications hardware and software for industries around the globe.

He had worked hard with his board and senior leadership team to settle on their strategic M.I.T. for the next 18 months. They needed to launch a new product to remain competitive in a market they had once led.

He held a company meeting where he made the goal painfully clear to everyone in the room. “We need to get this new product to market by this deadline, or we’re out of business in five years.”

Within six weeks he was exasperated. His people were at war with one another. Several senior VPs were about to quit and the do-or-die deadline was looking like a dream.

We see this frequently: leaders lay out a clear M.I.T. (for more on the Most Important Thing), they check for understanding, and they turn their people loose to get after it.

Before too long, customer service and sales are at each other’s throats. Engineering and marketing are having shouting matches in the halls while finance and human resources won’t talk at all.

When their team won’t collaborate we’ve watched executives get frustrated and shout, “Why can’t you guys figure this out? Just work together and solve the problem!”

Maybe you’re a frontline leader and you’ve worked hard to establish a clear, shared team vision and the M.I.T. initiative for this quarter, but your team ends up squabbling.

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate

When your people can’t unify in pursuit of a common, clearly established goal, the problem is usually that you’ve only established 50% clarity.

You’ve clarified results, but you haven’t clarified relationships – and that is frequently why your team won’t collaborate.

In Scott’s case (and this is VERY common) he had made the new product a priority, but was still evaluating individual departments based on other criteria.

For instance, customer service was evaluated on their ability to retain customers, but at the same time, engineering was all but ignoring response-to-existing-customer requests in favor of getting the new product to market. So customer service naturally saw stubborn engineering as a threat to their bonuses and even employment.

Customer service continually requested that sales lend some of their people to try to save existing accounts. Sales people were being assessed on quotas that were unrelated to the new product’s launch.

In short, everyone was doing what made the most sense for their individual success and was frustrated that their colleagues wouldn’t cooperate.

Scott had defined an overarching goal, but had left the organizational systems and processes untouched.

Those systems and processes were built to achieve different goals.

When his people came to him and asked whether the engineering prioritization of new product over customer retention was okay, he got frustrated. “Why can’t they just figure it out?”

The answer: Because he’d given them conflicting goals.

What To Do About It When Your Team Won’t Collaborate

Real teams succeed or fail together. They have a clear goal and they all have a clear role to play in achieving it.

Effective leaders establish clarity of results and relationships.

Clarity of results is often easier to define:

  • What’s the M.I.T. we must accomplish this year?
  • What are our three most important strategic M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the M.I.T. behaviors we need at the executive, manager, and frontline levels?

Clarity of relationships, however, requires you to address some additional questions:

  • How are roles and handoffs defined and communicated?
  • How do department or individual team member priorities align with M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the most important values, systems, and processes guiding everyone’s behavior?

In Scott’s case, this meant we had to ask and answer some tough questions:

  • Would customer retention goals be lowered or continue at prior levels?
  • Either way, how could these be achieved in ways that aligned with the timely new product launch?
  • How much attention should engineering give to resolving existing customer issues?
  • How would performance bonuses be changed to align with the stated M.I.T. of the new product launch?

Your Turn

If you’ve established a clear M.I.T. but people are siloed, caught in endless arguments, and the team won’t collaborate, take a hard look at the relational clarity and how you can get everyone aligned with the new goal – not just in theory, but in reality.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts: How do you ensure that everyone on your team understands their role in achieving a shared goal?

5 ways leaders can focus when everything is important

5 Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

How do leaders stay focused when everything feels so important?

“Mark, What’s your M.I.T.?”

Mark pushed back from his desk. “That’s a great question. I’ve so much flying at me…” He sighed. “I don’t have a clue.”

Mark’s calendar might look familiar: wall-to-wall meetings, often with two or three appointments competing for the same window of time.

Management means an unending stream of information, problems to solve, decisions to make, fires to put out, constant interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, messaging apps, and that’s not to mention the projects you want to work on to build a better future.

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

The first step to address this overwhelm is to accept the reality that you cannot do everything. I often refer to this as “Infinite need, finite me.” You can’t succeed by doing everything – only by doing what matters most.

Once you’ve made peace with the reality of infinite need, finite me, it’s time to get crystal clear about your M.I.T. or Most Important Thing. In your work, what are the one to three most important strategic objectives you and your team can achieve?

Your ability to Mind the M.I.T. is critical to your success, but what if you don’t know what’s most important?

It’s not always as straightforward as we might hope. In fact, we’ve seen many frontline leaders and middle-level managers in organizations we work with struggle to identify their M.I.T.s.

Five Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

Here are five ways to figure out what’s most important and where you and your team can have the most impact:

1. Ask Your Boss.

When you feel swamped with competing priorities and initiatives, start by asking your supervisor: “What is the most important thing my team can accomplish this year?”

We’ve often sat with befuddled leaders and invited their manager to the conversation. We’ll ask the manager to identify the MITs and they rattle off the top one, two, or three priorities for the next year. They may not have communicated them well, but they knew what they were.

2. Think Two-Levels Above.

If your boss isn’t clear about the MITs, trying thinking up a level. What keeps your boss’s boss awake at night? What are the goals they’ve got to achieve? How does what your team does contribute to these outcomes? You might even try initiating a skip-level meeting in order to align your team with strategic goals. If your boss is amenable, invite them to join you.

3. Ask What Matters Most to Your Customers.

If you can’t get clarity from your managers, the next place to look is at the value you add for your customers. Whether you provide a product or service and whether you do that for external or internal customers, they don’t care about your scorecard. What do they care about? What are the one or two things your customers most need from you? Focus on doing that exceptionally well.

4. Ask What Matters Most to You and Your Team.

If you’re still struggling for clarity, imagine a day six months or a year into the future where you and your team are congratulating one another for having done your very best. What did you achieve? What made you most proud? How do you know you did your very best?

5. Look for the Leverage.

Often, there is one action you can take or one result you can produce that will have a profound effect on everything else. What is that one point of leverage that, if you did it successfully, would change the game for you, your team, and your organization?

Your Turn

When everything’s important, you blunt your impact. When you take time to figure out your one, two, or three strategic M.I.T.s, then relentlessly focus on them every day you’ll energize your team and results can soar.

Today, Mark has his three M.I.T.s written on a whiteboard in his office. He reviews them every day and discusses them with everyone he talks to. The team focuses on the specific behaviors that will help them achieve their M.I.T.s.

Leave us a comment and let us know: When everything feels important, how do you choose what is actually the Most Important Thing?