Eight Techniques to Help Your Middle Managers Cultivate Their “Sweet Spot” in Your Organization

On paper, your middle managers are in your organization’s sweet spot. They’re the conduits between your strategic vision and the teams who implement that vision. In reality, however, your middle managers are in a tough place. They’re under increasing pressure–from above to improve results and from below to cultivate deeper relationships with their teams.

Results and relationships can be complementary; in developing relationships, managers can improve their teams’ results. But in practice, too many managers fall into an either/or mindset. They either drive hard for results and railroad their people, or they focus on team building and miss the numbers. Either way, they wind up feeling isolated, frustrated and overwhelmed. They find themselves working longer hours, caught in a vicious cycle between “being nice” to their teams to prop up morale and running everyone into the ground to win at all costs.

The final outcome is inevitable. After years of trying to win while sandwiched between the employees who do the heavy lifting and the leaders above them piling on more, managers in the middle give up. They succumb to the feeling that, little by little, they’ve lost their souls. After the prolonged stress and declining performance, they disengage and leave, or get fired.

Whether managers quit and leave or quit and stay, morale and productivity go down across your organization, at all levels of responsibility.  Disengagement is that contagious.

There are steps you can take to help your middle managers learn to thrive again. You can help them shift from feeling like middle management is a rigged game to leveraging their sweet spot in your organization. The most effective managers in the world focus on both results and relation­ships. The key to Winning Well – to sustaining excellent results over time – is to combine a focus on achieving results with building healthy professional relationships.

Here are eight techniques you can support your middle managers to practice. When they practice these techniques, your managers will begin to deepen relationships and results at the same time, win well, and serve your organization effectively.

1. Mind the MIT

The number one cause of poor morale, performance problems, and subpar results is a lack of clarity. You can boost morale and productivity by helping your managers learn to communicate clear, shared expectations. Teach them what it looks like to be sure everyone is on the same page. Guide them to ask: “Does everyone on this team know exactly what ‘winning’ looks like? Do we all know the key behavior that will help us to succeed?”

 

2. Ditch the Diaper Drama

People need direct feedback that will help them know what to continue and what to change. However, most managers struggle to give direct feedback. Like stinky diapers in the modern-day diaper pail, they wrap their feedback in layers of self-protection so it doesn’t offend anyone.

It’s time to ditch the “Diaper Genie®” feedback. Effective managers speak the truth. They solve the stink – they don’t try to cover it up or sandwich it between half-hearted compliments. Support your managers to improve their team’s morale and productivity by having the tough conversations and speaking the truth with compassion.

3. Channel Challengers 

“No one listens around here, they don’t know what I do, and they don’t care what I think.” These are the hallmark words of poor morale and lackluster performance. In contrast, effective managers recognize the value every person on their team contributes. They deliberately surround themselves with people who will challenge their thinking.

It’s not enough for your managers to have an “open door.” They must actively seek out feedback. They must ask their employees, “What is working to help you be productive?” And then ask, “As your manager, what is one thing I could do that would help you be more productive at your work?” Coach your managers to listen, respond, and celebrate the changes that enable their team’s morale and performance to soar.

4. Own the Ugly 

Many managers avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes. They fear that apologizing will make them look weak or that they’ll lose credibility. In fact, the opposite is true.

When managers make a mistake, hurt someone, or break their word – it’s not a secret. Their teams know and they’re watching to see what the managers do. Can they trust their managers to own the mistake? Will they see a leader who is strong enough to recognize their own vulnerabilities? Help your managers learn the critical importance of owning a mistake, apologizing for it, making it right, and moving on. When you do this, you will support them to build trust with their teams.

5. Play the Game, Don’t Game the Score

For managers to maximize their team’s morale and productivity, they must keep them focused on what matters most. Your customer doesn’t care what you get on your internal scorecard. They care about the value you deliver.

Support managers to isolate the key behaviors that drive the value they contribute to your clients and customers. Help them play the game, fair and square. Teach them that if they reinforce these critical actions every day, the score will take care of itself. Above all else, don’t let your managers “game the score.” That is, don’t let them waste time trying to artificially adjust measurements that aren’t meaningful to the people consuming what you create.

6. Put People Before Projects 

When managers prioritize people before projects, it prevents them from falling into the trap of seeing people as machines. Highly productive teams enjoy high levels of trust, connection, and collaboration. Col­laboration is more than simply working together. It’s an attitude that communicates managers are in it with their people, not apart from them.

Forge a pathway for your managers to connect with their people as human beings. Encourage them to treat everyone with respect and dignity, instead of as a number, object, or problem. Work with your managers to help them recognize the unique strengths and perspectives each person brings to the team. Teach them to take the time to look at a person’s potential to perform beyond her current role. What holistic wisdom and experience do people bring?

7. Trust the Trenches 
Your managers have a tremendous source of wisdom living in your front line–product knowledge, insights into customers, and latent opportunities to improve performance. Unfortunately, most managers never get the benefit of these insights because they don’t ask.

Coach your managers to know the people closest to your customers and products and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes these may not know how valuable their observations can be. Help managers learn to draw out the opportunities. Encourage the celebration of success and giving credit where credit is due when these front line ideas work.

8. Rock Your Role, One Skill at a Time

Can people look at your middle managers and see the excellence you’re expecting of them? It’s hard for people to bring their “A games” 100% of the time, but the most effective managers show up to play every day. They model the aggressive skill development they need from their people. Morale goes up when people feel empowered to position themselves for success.

To help your managers model honing their professional crafts, zero in. Read what the experts are saying about the future in your field. Assess how your managers’ skill sets stack up against the trends driving your industry, and address the gaps. Find a mentor or two who has skills your managers need, or invest in a specialized leadership development program. Rocking your role is about progress, not perfection. Support your managers to engage that process – to model that step-by-step development. You’ll liberate and energize them to take ownership of their roles and results.

Your middle managers are your number one competitive advantage. When you consistently cultivate their practice of these techniques, you’ll see organization’s morale improve and productivity increase. You’ll build a founda­tion to sustain breakthrough results long into the future. That’s not just winning – that’s Winning Well.

One Easy Way to Encourage Your Team

I took my bike to the cycling shop for a quick repair before heading out for a beautiful Saturday afternoon ride in Breckenridge. Recognizing me from the last time, the manager asked where I’d been riding so far this summer. I shared, “Oh you know Swan Mountain Road toward Keystone? It’s gorgeous, but yikes, that’s quite a hill.”

He laughed. “Karin, it’s okay to call a mountain a mountain. And that ride is definitely a mountain. If you can do that, you can ride just about anything around here.”

I thanked him for the encouragement and headed out on my ride. About 10 minutes in I had a choice…to head straight up the steep incline or take an easier route. “Hmmm…” I thought. “This is a mountain. But I do mountains.” And up I went.

It’s Okay to Call a Mountain a Mountain

When we do keynotes for companies, we always like to talk to a few of the Senior leaders as part of the preparation. Consistently one of the insights they share is, “Our team’s job is so hard! We’re asking them to do a great deal with limited resources, in a rapidly changing environment.” Or, “They’re working so hard, this is one of the toughest times our industry has ever seen.” Or “I’m so proud of this team. What we’ve asked them to do is nearly impossible, and somehow they’re making it happen.”

So then we’ll ask, “Have you told them you know how hard it is?”

Most frequent answer, “Oh, no! I don’t want to discourage them.” Or, “If I admit it’s hard, then they may think it’s okay to not accomplish it.”

And then we’ll inquire: “Is it okay if I let them know you know? Here’s why _______.”

And then from the stage we share, “We talked with ‘John’ in preparing for our time together. And here’s what we learned. Your job is hard! You have to do ___ and ____ without ___ and ___ in the context of _____.”

And a sense of relief falls over the room. There are always big smiles and sometimes applause. Not for us, but because “John” gets it.

Don’t be afraid to call a mountain a mountain.

If your team is facing a steep climb, recognize it. And then remind them of the mountains they’ve scaled before and why you know they’ll be successful.

5 Stages of Manager Soul Loss #WinningWell

As we’ve travelled around the world sharing our Winning Well message– that yes, it is possible to get results that last without losing your soul– along with the tools to help, so many managers have shared, “well, I don’t think I’ve quite lost my soul– but it sure feels like I’m headed in that direction.” Or “yikes, it’s a slippery slope.” And so we’ve worked to capture the themes we’ve been hearing along the way in this downloadable infographic. We encourage you to use this as a conversation starter with yourself or with your team.

You can download and share the PDF of this infographic here.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Sentences to Energize and Support Your Volunteers

1. What can I do to help?

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

2. What you are doing here is valuable.

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

3. Thank you.

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

4. Let’s have some fun!

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

5. What do you think we should do?

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

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

See Also: Why Volunteering Will Make You a Better Leader

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Survive a Terrible, User Boss

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

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

meeting

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

Everyone hates bad meetings. And bad meetings are everywhere.

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

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

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

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

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

    or “We’re going to decide by consensus”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brand awareness

Frontline Festival: Leaders Share about Building Brand Awareness

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is about building brand awareness. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is all about team building. What’s your favorite team building experience? What are your best practices for building teams?  Submit your relevant blog posts here!

Our Reflections on the Festival Contributions and Insights on Building an Army of Brand Ambassadors

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement  talks about how building brand recognition with your team starts with inspiring passion in your message and teaching employees about what your business stands for.  Aligning Marketing Vision and Management  

David Grossman of The Grossman Group explains that when done well, internal branding is a powerful and proven strategy to drive engagement and the behaviors leaders want inside organizations, especially as it relates to a company’s ability to deliver on its brand promise. Top 10 Tips for Successful Internal Branding Efforts  Follow David.

Brand is just a perception, and perception will match reality over time. Sometimes it will be ahead, other times it will be behind. But brand is simply a collective impression some have about a product. – Elon Musk

Michelle Cubas, CPCC, ACC, of Positive Potentials, LLC discusses team buy-in on brand awareness which takes many forms. Find ways to support your efforts.  Ways to Build Team Brand Awareness   Follow Michelle.

Amanda Cameron of Patriot Software, LLC   says that building brand recognition with your team starts with inspiring passion in your message and teaching employees about what your business stands for. Building Brand Recognition With Your Team   Follow Amanda.

Shelley Row of ShelleyRow.com warns us that the tone of our emails can negatively affect our brand. Flaming Emails: Don’t Be THAT Person.    Follow Shelley.

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited  looks at why something as simple as our email signature can help our brand.  Five Ways to Make Your Email Signatures Work!   Follow Beth.

The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability. – Simon Mainwaring

A Few of My Thoughts on Brand Awareness

So many companies have strict social media policies for employees. I’m always struck by the impact social media can have in progressive companies who embrace these powerful tools and encourage their employees to blog and tweet about the brand. Encouraging employees to have a voice and not just be a “bot.”

I love this Inc. article, How to Find the Right Employees to Be Your Brand Ambassadors, where Eric Markowitz shares how to recruit and encourage employees to promote your brand on social media.

My most popular piece on the topic was published in Brand Quarterly   7 Ways to Turn Your Employees into Brand Ambassadors.

In this Fast Company article, 10 Excuses That Silently Damage Managers Careers, David Dye and I tackle some of the language that can easily derail your personal brand.

In The Amazing Side Effect of Making-it-Right Customer Service, we explore the benefits of customer service that builds brands and creates a best-in-class customer experience.

I’m often asked to speak on how to turn your employees into brand ambassadors. I really enjoyed my work with senior HR leaders at the HR Asia Summit C-Suite Symposium forum this spring on the topic, where we discussed the importance of building empathetic connections between employees and your companies purpose– and connecting what you’re asking employees to do, with why you’re asking them to do it at every level of the business.

 

5 Surprising Reasons Your Ideas Aren't Being Heard

Have you ever felt this way? You’ve got great ideas. You care deeply. AND you’re frustrated. Why is no one picking up what you’re putting down? Don’t give up. Take a careful look at your idea in the context of your other behaviors and interaction with the team.

Five Surprising Reasons Your Ideas Aren’t Being Heard

1. You’re Under-Invested

If you want your idea to gain traction–start with talking about what you’re doing to help.

“Here’s what I’ve already done to get us started.”

“Here are five ways I can help.”

“Here are some additional resources I can contribute.”

2. You’ve got a Track Record of Great Ideas–For Everyone Else

You’re all ideas–no action. No one wants to listen to the guy creating a lot of extra work for THEM to implement. Build a strong reputation of contributing to other people’s ideas first.

3. You’re Apologizing For Your Idea

Sounds crazy, right? And yet it happens all the time. “This is probably a dumb idea…” “I’m sorry but…”

4. You’re Too Gung Ho

What? Did Karin Hurt the “gung ho” queen just say that? Why, yes I did. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being overly emotional or so passionate people wonder what you put in your oatmeal that morning.

5. You’ve Under-Invested in Peer Relationships

Boy did I have to learn this one the hard way. In my early career, I had a few ideas that I know were just brilliant die on the vine. How do I know they were good? A few years later when I’d built strong trusting relationships sideways, I tried something almost identical again, and people were lining up to help. If you want folks to come along, work hard to get along. Invest in prioritizing your peers and the next time you look around there will be more people by your side ready to listen.

Of course, the side benefit here is that if the whole gang’s all in, your boss will be much more eager to listen.

Your ideas matter–positioning them takes practice, but it’s worth it.

How Do I Find a Great Mentor?

I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked me to be their mentor, and when I asked what they were looking to accomplish–I was met with a blank stare. I guess they were just looking for me to start espousing wisdom to help get their career to the next level.

But mentoring doesn’t work that way.

To find a great mentor, start by being a rock star mentee.

Four Ways to Be a Better Mentee

Just like everything else in your career, the more you put in, the more you get out. Show up with a plan to launch an enriching relationship.

  1. Know What You’re Looking to Accomplish
    Determine specifically what you’re looking to achieve from your work together. Is there something about your mentor’s background or skill set that you want to learn? Perhaps they’re particularly good at navigating the political landscape, or great during times of stress. Or maybe you’re looking for better insights into how you’re being perceived in the organization or support in expanding your network with a few key introductions. As with all relationships, you’ll be more successful if you both are clear on your expectations for your work together. Have an open conversation about expectations upfront to determine if you’re aligned.
  2. Be Truly Open to Feedback
    If you’re going to ask for feedback and advice, be sure you’re listening. You don’t have to agree or act on it, but be sure to be open and say thank you. Nothing will turn off your new mentor more than a defensive argument about why their perception isn’t accurate.
  3. Offer to Help
    The best mentoring relationships are reciprocal– both human beings grow in the process. Ask what you can do to be helpful to them– even if it’s rolling up your sleeves and pitching in on a project they’re doing.
  4. Bring Conversation Starters
    The first few mentoring sessions can be a bit awkward if you don’t know your mentor very well. It can be good to come with a few “starter” questions.
  • What are you most excited about in terms of the future of our organization? Why? How can I best prepare to add the most value?
  • What are the things that excite and energize you about your work here? What are the things that drain or frustrate you? What have you done to reduce this frustration?
  • What are some of your outside interests? Are you able to leverage any of those skills here?
  • What are the skills and behaviors you think are required to be successful in my role? What advice do you have for accelerating my learning curve on those?
  • What skills and behaviors have helped you be successful here?
  • What do you know now that you wish you learned sooner?

The best mentoring relationships are grounded in deep-trust– and that takes time. Be patient and invest the time it takes to truly get to know and support one another.

See also:

Your Mentor May Not Be Helping Your Career

9 Ways to Strengthen Your Personal Brand

Speed Mentoring: Jump Starting Deeper Conversations

Looking Dow the Mountain

How to Motivate Yourself When You’re Exhausted

You’ve been working long hours, fighting the political and logistical battles to do what’s right for the business–and just as you think everything’s on track, the landscape changes… a merger, a reorganization, reduced funding… and you feel like you’re starting all over again.

Most of the time when people come to me feeling burned out and exhausted–or even feel like they’re “losing their soul” (it’s not that they no longer care)–it’s that they care so deeply and the lack of progress has made them weary.

Have you ever felt this way? Both gung ho AND exhausted?

When the going gets tougher, it’s easy to stare at the mountain of problems and work left to do and wonder if it’s worth the climb.

The Benefits of Looking Down the Mountain

This summer we’ve convinced  Sebastian (age 11) to join us in hiking his first Colorado 14er.  We began training last week to help him acclimate to exertion at elevations with 35% less oxygen.

On Saturday, we were nearing 12,000 feet on his first serious training hike and I look over and Seb is gasping for air and visibly frustrated. David’s arms were around him so I smiled and waited for the (oh so familiar) words I knew were coming next.

He turned Seb around and pointed him down the mountain. “Seb, do you see that lake way down there? Do you remember when we passed that and were looking for moose?” Seb’s eyes got wide. “Look how far you’ve come.”

And then David turns him to face up the mountain… “Okay, now look up at what’s left. You’ve got this!”

I can’t tell you how many times that line has worked on me. I promise it’s worth a try.

If you’re feeling exhausted and discouraged by the mountain ahead I encourage you to gather your team and reflect on what’s better now than 6 months ago?

  • How has the customer experience improved?
  • What processes are more streamlined?
  • How is your team stronger (leadership, hiring, skills?)
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
  • How are you showing up as a better human being?
  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Yes, yes, look up, and plan. But never underestimate the power of a good pause to look down the mountain.