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?

How to make real change happen when you're not ceo

How to Make Real Change Happen When You’re Not CEO

Let’s Grow Leaders Q&A

In a recent post we invited you to send us your biggest leadership challenge. We received a great question from a healthcare leader in the United Kingdom. It’s a question we hear all the time from audience members and workshop participants around the world about how to make real change happen when you’re not in charge.

(Please, continue to send in your questions and leadership challenges – yours may be the next one featured here).

Dear Karin & David:

I’m an innovation team leader in healthcare and we’re tasked with delivering a new model of care. It has met with some resistance – change is quite challenging in some parts of our industry and I don’t have the power to enforce these changes. How do you challenge and convert mindsets to change? How do you change cultural norms? How do you make real change happen when you’re not the CEO?

Dear Healthcare Leader:

Creating change from within an organization is often challenging.

It can be frustrating when the benefit of a new way seems so obvious to you, but is not obvious to others. Most human beings are “wired” to keep doing what they did yesterday because it costs less energy and is safe (after all, what they did yesterday got them safely to today, so why change?).

You ask two questions. I will take them in reverse order:

How do you change culture norms?

The short answer here is often: slowly.

Particularly if you’re not leading the entire organization.

Both Karin and I have made significant changes in internal cultures, but the work starts with the culture you build within your own team.

When people who interact with your innovation team come out of those interactions saying “Wow – that is an awesome group of people doing amazing work. I want to be treated like that, treat others like that, achieve results like that, and be a part of something fantastic!” – then your culture will start to spread.

We call this a “cultural oasis.” You create a culture within the team for which you are responsible. You may have to coach them to remain positive and to stay focused on results and relationships when others in the organization don’t understand them or minimize their work.

Summary: Changing a culture from the inside takes time and starts with the culture you create within your team.

How do you challenge and covert mindsets to change?

From your description, it sounds like you’re hoping others will accept the changes your innovation team is proposing. If that is your goal, I invite you to think differently about “challenging and converting” mindsets. People almost never change their mind because they were challenged.

The good news is that there are several ways you can make it more likely for change to be adopted:

  1. Answer the Question

When we’re asked to change, every human being has one overriding question: “Why should I?”

So answer their question. Before proposing a specific change, take the time to connect-the-dots: What about the current situation isn’t working? How will this change improve their life? Their patients’ lives?

When people buy-in to the “why” moving on to the “what” is much easier.

Know your audience here: one person might care more about that data and research while another is more concerned about the institution’s reputation and a third might be more focused on how changes will affect people.

  1. Make Them Partners

People don’t argue with their own input.

After you’ve shared the problem you hope to solve or the results you want to achieve, ask your peers for their ideas about how to make it work. Acknowledge the limitations and competing priorities they face. Ask “How do you think we can do this AND meet your objectives? What might that look like?”

As they share, find ways to incorporate their ideas. Now you’re all implementing a shared solution, not just something you’ve put on them.

  1. Demonstrate Success

Related to connecting what-to-why: Can you pilot the change in one area to demonstrate how desirable it would be for others? Can you find people in that test-case who can be ambassadors for the change with their colleagues and talk about what it’s doing for them and their patients?

  1. Leverage Leaders

Lateral change is easier to accomplish if your supervisor is supportive and reinforces the message. You may have to ask for exactly what you need. e.g.: “I’m hearing regularly from colleagues that these other initiatives are higher priority. Can you clarify for all of us the order of implementation?”

If your supervisor isn’t supportive, take the time to connect your initiative to their goals. What keeps them up at night? What goals do they need to achieve to be successful? Demonstrate how your changes will help them achieve their goals. Then enlist their aid with colleagues.

Here is an article that discusses these conversations with your supervisor or colleagues in more depth: PERSUADE Model

  1. Make Real Change Happen More Easily

People often resist change because they don’t know how to do it. We are more likely to adopt small behaviors than large ones. To make real change happen, ask yourself: Is there a way to focus on one or two fundamental behaviors and then build from there?

  1. Make It the Norm

The brain takes two shortcuts to figure out what to do: the environment and what other people are doing. What in your physical environment can make the change the default action? Consistently keep the new way of doing things in front of people. Tell the stories about how different people are implementing. They should see it every day so that it becomes the assumed “this is how we do things.”

  1. Share the Score

Find a meaningful way to publicly track progress. It may be a scorecard, a weekly video, or stories from patients. When people look at a score that tells them they’re 70% successful, but their colleagues are 92% successful, they often work to close the gap.

  1. Celebrate Success

Acknowledge people who are doing it well, tell the stories of how it’s working for colleagues and patients. Be specific about what people are doing and why it is important. Celebrate in ways that are meaningful to the people you’re acknowledging. This can help win over some of the reluctant people.

Those are a few thoughts to get you started. If I were in your shoes I would start with a conversation with my supervisor about goals and how these changes are supported.

Remember: it takes time to to make real change happen from within an organization. It is also a fantastic way to build your leadership, influence, and credibility.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share: How do you create meaningful change with your peers and colleagues?

(And don’t forget – we’d love to hear your biggest leadership challenge!)


Creative Commons Photo by Mattanalogue

Shocking Truth About Santas Leadership

The Shocking Truth About Santa’s Leadership

Year after year, I’ve watched the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special and cringed at Santa’s leadership and the atrocious leadership displayed by nearly every adult character.

  • Donner rejects his son.
  • Santa ignores Rudolph’s obvious leaping skills because of his nose.
  • The workshop foreman ridicules Harvey (the elf who wants to be a dentist).

The workplace culture at the north pole stinks! It’s a great example of what we call “trickle down intimidation.” The leaders take their cues from how things are done at the top. Santa’s leadership leads to dysfunction at every level.

Fortunately, Santa must have found an early copy of the Winning Well Confidence-Competence model in his stocking. By the end of the show, he sees and encourages Rudolph’s true strength, competence, and talent. Christmas is saved.

Do you build on your team’s talents, strengths, and competence or do you waste time, energy, and capacity focused on irrelevant “weaknesses”? Let Santa be your guide.

SANTA THE INEPT LEADER

Santa, the inept leader
Had a special flying deer,
But if you can believe it
Santa wouldn’t let him near.
All of the black-nosed reindeer
They did all of Santa’s work
He never valued Rudolph
In fact he was quite a jerk.
Then one foggy Christmas eve,
Santa came to see.
Strengths are what you really need,
Weakness is a waste to heed.
Then how the Reindeer loved him
As they flew around and beamed.
Santa, the strength-based leader
Built a real productive team…

Happy holidays!

Your Turn

How do you avoid Santa’s leadership problem and stay focused on the strengths and talents your people bring to work, rather than obsessing about the characteristics they don’t have (that also don’t matter)?

5 Top Leadership Articles Week of 12-11-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of December 11, 2017

Each week I read leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. Click on the title of the article to read the full text. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

When Leadership Demotivates Employees by Mary Kelly, PhD. US Navy Ret.

I was part of an organization that loved conducting employee surveys. As an economist and leadership author, I love data that yields results. However, surveys need to be properly conducted, or the intention can backfire.

The leaders dutifully distributed survey after survey about work conditions, corporate culture, and ways to improve the workplace.

The problem was that the senior leadership didn’t share the information collected, nor what they planned to do with it. It was simply busy work for the sake of appearing to do something that looked like leadership, but clearly was not.

As employees realized that they were spending time on surveys that didn’t matter, their attitudes shifted. Employees felt that their time, their inputs, and their jobs didn’t matter. Worse, it was rumored that the survey was actually intended to pinpoint unhappy employees to get rid of them.

My Comment: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen scenarios like this play out with employee morale taking a nose dive, leaders frustrated, and at a huge waste of time, money, and energy.

If you’re going to gather information of any kind, whether through a survey or just asking for feedback, it is critical that you plan and commit to responding before you get the information. Don’t ask questions you’re not prepared to address. Asking a question and then ignoring the answers makes you look craven or manipulative. In contrast, when you Channel Challengers and productively respond to feedback, your credibility soars.

How Leaders and Their Teams Can Stop Executive Hubris by Jonathan Mackey and Sharon Toye

If an organization has just one or two people whose power has gone to their head, it can demoralize subordinates, cause valuable talent to flee, disempower teams, and lead to foolhardy strategies. Whether you are a board member, a CEO, a senior executive, a high-potential employee on the rise, or an HR leader concerned about culture, you need to understand how such hubris works so you can head off its destructive effects on careers and on your company.

My Comment: This is an excellent article to help you address excessive confidence in both executives and to prevent it from happening to you. As the authors point out, this hubris is often acquired over time as leaders encounter fewer peers and people who will tell them the truth. You can counter these influences with intentional strategies to leverage doubt in decision-making, Own the UGLY, and Channel Challengers.

10 Questions to Ask Your Employees Every Quarter by Michael McKinney

Most leaders (the less than great ones) can become afraid of learning their employees’ true feelings towards the company and its overall structure. In turn, they shy away from even initiating such conversations and asking the important questions.

Strong leaders, on the other hand, happily ask these questions with an eye on making things better for their team. When everyone is heard and acknowledged, only then can a leader make the right decisions and give each employee what he or she needs. If you don’t ask, who will?

My Comment: WOW – there is definitely a theme this week – three articles in a row focused on getting feedback from your employees. McKinney’s questions will help you assess your team’s health and how the individual employee is doing. In order to make questions like these to work, you’ll need to have built relationships with your people (so it feels like a conversation, not an interrogation). In addition, be sure not to react or punish people for the feedback they share.

Are You a Micromanager or a Macromanager? By Julie Giulioni

Micromanager. It’s one of the least flattering labels one can be tagged with in business today. It connotes an unproductive level of involvement in the work and work products, excessive need for control, nit-pickiness, attention to unnecessary details and a generally unpleasant overall workplace experience. Nobody wants to be a called a micromanager.

Question: But, what’s the alternative?

Answer: Become a macromanager!

My Comment: There are some great suggestions in this one to help you get out of the weeds, stop micromanaging, and focus on what matters most. One of the things I appreciate here is Julie’s acknowledgement that many managers micromanage because it’s all that they know. They know how to do the work. They know the individual contributor role very well. It’s uncomfortable to learn a new set of skills and to view the world differently – from the view of a macromanager. One additional way to avoid micromanaging is to focus on how you delegate. Focus on the outcome. Don’t delegate the “how”; delegate the “what”, be clear about the finish line, and schedule a mutual appointment to receive the project back from your team member.

The 8 Best Interview Questions You Could Ever Ask by Jim Haudan

I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my career for all kinds of positions and from many backgrounds. Most people have favorite interview questions to ask and some believe certain questions can quickly reveal what they need to know about a candidate’s cultural and positional fit.

The leaders with the greatest success in hiring the right talent often like to point to the exact questions that made it clear that a candidate would or wouldn’t work. I’ve made it a hobby to consider the questions that really made me think and to experiment with the ones that make it hard for interviewees to prep for, as those are the ones that reveal the most.

I often ask people from different walks of life about their “go to” interview questions and why are they so important. Here’s what I’ve collected.

My Comment: I’m a fan of behavior-based interviewing. If you only have 20 minutes with a candidate, start there. This is an interesting list of interview questions for the times when you want to go deeper. Most of them provoke thinking and may give you insights into a candidate. They may be most useful when you’re looking at a deeper partnership with someone. Some of these questions, however, I’d have to see in practice before I would recommend them. In particular, #3 is absolutely not mutually exclusive and I’m curious what is behind this one.

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.

6 Ways to Get the Information You Need to Make the Best Decision

6 Ways to Get the Information You Need to Make the Best Decisions

Mark stared at the floor, his jaw clenched in frustration. He wanted to make the best decisions, but…

I was sitting with a leader who had just crashed and burned. He’d made a decision that had cost him his reputation and maybe his job.

He looked up at me and with a quiet whisper, Mark asked, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

The sad part was that it didn’t have to happen this way. People in his organization knew it wasn’t a good call. He had everything available to ensure that he made the best decisions…

But he never heard their feedback.

He was known for an explosive temper, for belittling and shaming people who saw things differently than he did, and he only ever asked people to validate what he thought.

In short, he never knew how to Channel Challengers.

Many people in positions of power often sabotage themselves and create environments where no one will tell them the truth – often difficult truths about themselves.

If you want to achieve breakthrough results, however, you’ve got to make the best decisions possible. To do that you need to have as much relevant information as possible.

6 Ways to Get the Information You Need to Make the Best Decisions

Here are six ways to Channel Challengers and ensure you have the truth and get the feedback you need to make the best decisions:

  1. Ask for the Truth

Regularly encourage dialog in your team. Ask people to teach you one thing you didn’t know. Become a person known for caring what’s really going on. Does what you hear match what you see?

  1. Say Thank You

When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank the person for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.

  1. Respond

If you ask for input, take time to respond. Even if the ideas aren’t actionable, when you acknowledge that the ideas were heard and considered, you increase the likelihood of hearing more in the future.

  1. Never Ever Shoot the Messenger

If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, bite your lip. If you attack them, they won’t bring you another concern.

  1. Find Your Truth-Tellers

There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.

  1. Look In the Mirror

If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to look in the mirror and examine how you are interacting with others. I would bet you are not doing one or more of the first four items on this list.

If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.

Your Turn

It may take time, but if you consistently Channel Challengers by asking for the truth, showing gratitude for input, and responding to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure you hear the truth from your team and colleagues?