10 Incapacitating Leadership Mistakes You Make When Youre Scared

10 Incapacitating Leadership Mistakes You Make When You’re Scared

“This guy opened his door and hit your car!” Sebastian, our 12-year-old, announced as Karin and I returned to the car, our arms full of office supplies. He pointed out a small scratch on the door. We laughed about it and how the guy was surprised to find someone in the car he’d just scratched.

The thing is, I don’t mind a few scratches on my car. You can’t speed something down the road at 60 miles per hour, expose it to rain and road debris and expect it to emerge unscathed.

If you’re scared of scratching your car, you’ll never leave the garage. The only way to keep a car in ‘showroom’ condition is to leave it there.

Your Leadership Showroom

Fear is part of the leadership experience. You may fear ruining relationships, damaging your reputation, or even losing your job. When you lead, you’ll probably have anxiety and fear as you face the unknown and take risks to move your team and organization forward.

It’s normal to have these fears.

But if you don’t learn how to manage the fears that come with leadership, you’ll stay in “the showroom.”

10 Incapacitating Leadership Mistakes You Make When You’re Scared

Unmanaged fear incapacitates you and leads to a range of leadership mistakes. These insidious mistakes are dangerous because they can feel rational.

  1. You don’t deal with the very thing that needs attention.

You know that feeling of unease that creeps up and prompts you to procrastinate or avoid doing something?

Listen to it.

But instead of doing what it says (avoiding the problem), use it as an alarm calling for your attention. The thing you feel like avoiding is exactly what should have your full attention. Dive in and get it done.

  1. You lose credibility.

Even if you don’t tell them what’s going on, your team will figure it out. When you’re paralyzed with fear, your leadership credibility slowly erodes.

  1. You feel like you’re all alone.

When you’re scared, you forget your team. This one is particularly brutal because it cuts you off from one of your greatest strengths. Your team is smart and by working together you can figure it out and get it done…but not if fear isolates you. When you’re alone or isolated, things grow out of proportion.

Reconnect with your team to get a healthy perspective and engage many more minds in solving the problem.

  1. You react and create chaos.

Have you ever had a squirrel get inside your house? They are scared and panicked. Every little noise or motion sends them scampering back and forth, climbing up the walls, knocking over everything. It’s chaos!

When you’re scared, you can do the same thing and leave your people frustrated and confused about their M.I.T.s (Most Important Thing) and expectations.

  1. You give up your ability to create the future.

When you’re motivated by fear, you stop building a positive future as you try to just avoid problems. You can’t inspire your team with a message of “Let’s try not to fail…”

Instead, examine and prepare for the actual (not imagined) consequences.

Your mind can play tricks on you and grow imagined problems to epic proportions. This is why listening to your fear is important. What is it you’re scared of? What would actually happen if that came to pass? What would you do then?

If you can find people who have been in the same situations and learn what they did, that’s even better. The point is to reduce the imagined problem to real-life, know you can handle it, and build a positive future together.

  1. You clamp down on information.

In the absence of information, people fill in the blanks with all sorts of pathological nonsense.

And yet, when you’re afraid, you often stop the flow of information (because you worry about communicating the wrong thing or aren’t sure who you can trust). This feeds into the isolation that cuts you off from the very people that can help you.

  1. You avoid risks and end personal growth.

When you worry too much about making mistakes, you don’t take risks. When you don’t take healthy risks, you stop learning new things…and you stop learning altogether. Leaders who don’t grow lose credibility.

Perfectionists and high achievers sometimes let fear paralyze them because they fear making a mistake. But even engineers launching a satellite into space know the margin of error within which they can operate.

Mistakes are a good thing. They mean you’re trying something new and stretching. Use them well.

  1. You won’t apologize, own, and correct mistakes.

When you’re frightened of being seen as a failure, you might not own up to it and apologize. Effective leaders have the humility to “Own the UGLY,” admit their vulnerabilities, and take responsibility for their mistakes.

  1. You become a victim.

Sustained fear erodes your ability to act. That’s the definition of a victim – “This happened and there’s nothing I can do.”

When fear leads to victimhood, one of the best antidotes is to re-empower your self. Do this by asking two simple questions:

What are the results I want to achieve?

What can I do to accomplish those results?

  1. You inspire fear in others.

This is the worst mistake of all because leaders recreate themselves.

Your team is learning from you. If you stay in fear-mode, it won’t be long before your team acts the same way and now you’ve multiplied the mistakes on this list across your entire team.

When you see your team afraid to make mistakes, over-reacting, and unable to build a positive future, it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and see if they’re feeding off your fear.

Your Turn

Don’t let fear keep you in the showroom. We need you out there, making a difference. You’ll get a few scratches along the way – and that’s okay.

Overcoming your leadership fears takes time and practice. As you practice, you’ll find the situations that caused you two weeks of anxiety will only give you two hours of serious thought.

People with an extreme fear of spiders don’t overcome it by diving into a tank of spiders. They begin by reading about them, by spending time near them in a safe environment and work up to maybe even hold one.

What is the easiest step you can take? Is it to share your concerns with your team? Is it looking for someone who’s been in the same situation? Is it to write down the situation you need to address and plan for likely outcomes?

Leave us a comment and share: How do you manage your leadership fears, stay healthy, and keep your people moving forward?

7 Ways to Lead Friends and Former Peers

Betrayed

Joe stomped into the meeting room, slammed the door shut, and yelled at me, “How could you let this happen?”

He had just been fired by the company president.

I snapped back, “Me?? I’m not the one who didn’t show up and let the team down over and over again!”

He was angry, but I was frustrated and felt betrayed too. I’d put my credibility on the line to help him, but in the end he’d gotten himself fired.

What made it worse: for the last year, we’d been friends.

That all changed when I was given responsibility to lead the team.

Problems When Leading Friends and Former Peers

When we ask a group of new leaders about their biggest problems, this is always one of the most common.

It’s one of the most difficult challenges for most emerging leaders. We’ve even watched experienced leaders stumble when asked to address or lead a team of their peers.

In fact, it’s a Shakespearian dilemma: Prince Hal faces this challenge when he ascends to the throne and becomes King Henry V. His old drinking pals feel ignored and betrayed.

There were several problems that kept me from being an effective leader for my friend. You will likely encounter the same problems as you lead friends and former peers:

1) You want to be liked and accepted

Positional leadership, even when you are an outstanding Winning Well leader, means taking responsibility for decisions that not every agrees with. It means holding people accountable and it means that the group who you naturally want to like and accept you won’t always feel that way.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting other people to think well of you and have a desire to belong – it’s a very normal, human, and healthy value so long as it doesn’t consume you.

However, when you choose to lead, it will come into conflict with other values.

2) Your loyalty to the team and the mission

This is one of those “ANDs” that is so important – your friends may feel you’ve abandoned them, but you haven’t. You’ve added an important loyalty: to the organization, your team, and the mission.

Learning to balance both takes some work, but to your friends who don’t understand this tension, it can feel like betrayal.

3) Inconsistent behavior

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, Prince Hal partied with the best of them – he drank with the renown lush, Falstaff, and nothing about his behavior said “leader.” Then he took the throne and treated his friends as if they were beneath his notice. He ignored them, tried to act “noble,” insulted them.How to lead friends and former peers - prince Hal

The problem was inconsistent behavior. The Prince wasn’t a leader when he hung out with friends. Once he became King and tried to act kingly, his friends were understandably hurt.

4) Unclear expectations

Conflicting and unclear expectations are the most common problem when leading friends and former peers. When you move from a peer role to a positional leadership role, some of your team may expect to get a “pass” on poor behavior, others may expect favors or special treatment, and YOU may be expecting your friends to work especially hard because of your friendship.

All of this leads to massive disappointment when you do hold team members accountable, you won’t do favors that would hurt the team, and your friends don’t show any special effort.

5) Not everyone can handle it

Some people are able to manage the tension between friendship and supervisor. In my experience, however, it is the exception, not the rule.

It takes a great deal of maturity for both people to be able do this.

Seven Ways to Lead Peers and Former Friends

My experience didn’t have to end the way it did. Early in my career, I didn’t know about the problem I’ve just described. The good news is that a few Winning Well leadership practices can help you manage the transition from peer to positional leader:

  1. Lead from where you are, before you’re promoted.

Leading from where you are, without a formal title, will often lead to you being asked to fill titled leadership positions.

It also helps to ease the transition. If your peers all know you as someone who:

  • Sets an example
  • Practices healthy friendship (where you hold one another accountable)
  • Empowers others, and
  • Already balances the mission with your role on the team,

then you won’t surprise them with radically different behavior when you change positions.

However, as a team member, if you are constantly critical of other people and your supervisor, it will be difficult for you to lead when you have a formal leadership role.

  1. Be clear about expectations.

This is the essential step in the transition to leading friends and former peers: have a “no diaper drama” conversation about the transition and your mutual expectations. In this conversation discuss these topics:

  • Your commitments to your team and to the organization.
  • Your management expectations.
  • Your leadership values.
  • Organizational mandates.
  • Ask your peers to be honest about their concerns or expectations of you.
  • Discern if there are where they feel you are being unjust.
  • Be realistic about the times you will have to make decisions that are in the team’s best interest even if it conflicts with what you personally would like.

You want to prevent surprises. Your team needs to know where you are coming from. Don’t let it be a ‘gotcha!’ moment later on.

(Use the Winning Well Expectations Matrix in the free Winning Well Toolkit to help you have these conversations about expectations.)

  1. Clearly identify which role you’re playing.

This is difficult for some people because it takes a greater level of maturity in your thinking and relationships, but is very helpful for avoiding misunderstandings.

When you’re talking with a friend or former peer, clearly identify the role you’re in. Are you speaking as a friend or as their team leader?

For example: “As a friend, I am so sorry. That stinks! How can I help?”

“As the team leader, I can give you tomorrow to take care of your problem and then we will need you back.”

  1. Be clear, not perfect.

Be very clear about expectations, goals, and desired behaviors. You will never be perfect; so don’t try to act as if you are.

Your friends and former peers all know the ‘real’ you, so don’t suddenly try to act as if you’re perfect in ways they know you’re not. It’s fake and your leadership credibility will suffer.

It’s okay to be you. Take responsibility, be as clear as you can, and then:

  1. Apologize as needed.

Leaders often struggle to apologize, but it’s even more pronounced when a former team member is leading the team. Don’t let your insecurity and desire to be liked keep you from owning your junk, apologizing, and moving on.

  1. Weed as needed.

There are times when it just won’t work. For example:

A former peer continued to take advantage of our relationship and, despite my best efforts to clarify expectations and help him correct the behavior, nothing changed.

I had to be clear about the situation: “I want the best for you and I know this is difficult, but if nothing changes this will affect your employment.” He eventually took advantage of a second friend and supervisor and was fired.

You can’t control another person. Your job is to be the best leader you can be and give everyone on the team every opportunity to succeed. When someone isn’t interested in their own success, care enough to move them off your team.

  1. Get a new peer group.

Build relationships with other leaders, find mentors, and get coaching. There is nothing like a group of people who understand the challenges you experience and can share meaningful wisdom.

You can’t get this from your team. Over time, I built my own personal Board of Directors–people outside the company who I could learn from, confide in, and be accountable to.

Your Turn

Leading a team of your friends and former peers can be hugely rewarding, but it’s your responsibility as a leader to set clear expectations and act fairly. Even experienced leaders can benefit from reviewing their relationships to make sure they are healthy.

Leave us a comment and let us know:

How do you maintain healthy relationships with your direct reports or your own leaders?

What other suggestions do you have to help lead friends and former peers?


Creative Commons Photo Credits:

Colors of Fall by regan76 and Birds by barloventomagico

Start Here to Inspire Your Team

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

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

What a Mess

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

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

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

Can We Go Practice?

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

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

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

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

 

Nothing worked.

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

Uh oh.

I tried redirecting.

No luck.

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

He handed me the cards.

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

He folded his arms and tapped his foot expectantly.

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

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

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

The Fundamentals of Trust and Inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

They intend to live this way…but.

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

Your Turn

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

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

Be the leader you want your boss to be,

David

Why Have We Stopped Talking About Diversity At Work?

I’ll never forget attending a leadership development program at a fancy hotel in the early 1990s. The main topic was diversity. John, my well-dressed, articulate, black peer, came back from the coffee break with tears in his eyes, saying he was standing outside getting some fresh air, when some guy handed him his keys thinking he was the valet.

He looked right at me, and said, “Karin there is no way on God’s earth this will ever happen to you.”

It’s 20 years later. I’ve gotten a lot of fresh air just outside of hotel lobbies.

It hasn’t.

We clearly needed that diversity program. John’s experience was raw and real. Talking about unconscious bias wasn’t comfortable, but I know it shaped my perspective as a leader and as a human being.

Perhaps you remember the “diversity” era.

If I were running LGL in the 1990s, I’m quite sure “diversity” would be all over my website.

I just did a search. “Diversity” is nowhere to be found.

Is diversity handled?

Sure, we have the occasional debate about where our transgender colleague should go to the bathroom, but diversity has stopped being top on our list of people issues.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, it’s better.  Thank goodness. Many companies turned those strategies into polices. Blatant discrimination is less rampant. Ratios continue to improve. It’s better, no doubt.

At the same time, in Baltimore where I live, the city imploded this year with racial riots over injustice. That can’t be happening on the outside of our businesses without impacting our insides. These issues are touching humans inside all of our organizations.

No one forgets their concern about how black lives matter just because they’re driving to work… and yet sometimes this conversation gets stifled when folks pull into your parking lot.

Am I advocating for a return to the Diversity strategy rhetoric? No. Do I want you to hire me to help you build your diversity strategy? No.

Do I think we need to continue to have real dialogue about diversity, inclusion, and the mess we’re still in as a Nation? Yes. At work? Yes. Even if it’s uncomfortable? Yes, yes. Uncomfortable leads to progress.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I encourage each one of us to consider how we can best re-open the conversation.

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

So here we are. It’s up to us. How will we continue the conversation?

7 Fundamentals For Building Real Trust With Your Team

Trust is tricky. It sure looks easy on paper (or a blog post.) But get out in real life, and what seems obvious and easy, suddenly becomes more difficult than securing funding for a corporate hover-craft. The sooner we talk about trust, why it works, and how it breaks down the better. That’s why I always start any emerging leader program by talking about trust.

I’m preparing now for a new emerging leader program for one of my clients. Our first session is called: Trust Matters: Behaviors and Techniques that Foster Trust and Connection. 

As part of the workshop, we’ll focus on these 7 fundamentals and have dialogue about why it’s so hard to pull off, and what to do to increase your chances of success.

7 Fundamentals For Building Real Trust with Your Team

  1. Trust Yourself
    “Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” -Golda Meir   Your team looks to you for clues about whether to trust you. Genuine confidence goes a long way in building trust.
  2. Have a Solid Plan
    “Those who trust by chance must abide by the results of chance.” -Calvin Coolidge
    Everyone feels safer when they know where they’re headed and what to expect. You can’t control everything, but the more solid your plan, the more apt your team will be to trust that you know what you’re doing.
  3. Ask Great Questions
    “The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he asks the right questions.” -Claude Levi Strauss
    The best way to convince your team you know what you’re doing and are paying attention is to ask great questions. Be genuinely interested in what they are doing and why.
  4. Always Tell the Truth
    “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important matters.” -Albert Einstein
    It’s so tempting to spin what’s going on to make it more palatable. But at some point, your team will taste the truth and your credibility will suffer. Of course, you can’t share everything. Sometimes the truth is that plans are still under development and it would be pre-mature to share. Your team will respect that far more than a half-baked, fabricated story.
  5. Give Them Some Space
    “Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him–and to let him know that you trust him.” –Booker T. Washington
    No one likes to be micro-managed, but then again too much space can lead to unclear expectations. Invest in an ongoing dialogue about what level of over-sight and support will achieve the best results.
  6. Admit When You’re Wrong
    “Better to trust the man who is frequently in error than the one who is never in doubt.”- Eric Sevareid
    Chances are when you screw up, your team already knows. Admitting your mistakes goes a long way in building trust and enhancing your credibility.
  7. Be Consistent
    “Trust is built with consistency.” –Lincoln Chafee
    In a turbulent world, people long for as much consistency as possible. Knowing that “If I do x, I get y,” goes a long way in building trust. Sure, circumstances vary. When you’re purposefully inconsistent be sure to explain why.

Building trust takes time and real effort. None of us nail all these all of the time. It’s worth an honest assessment of where you stand and to make a deliberate investment in improving the trust with your team.

Working on your 2016 leadership development strategy? I’d love to help! Please contact me for a free consultation 443-750-1249.

Also, if you have not yet completed my 2016 planning survey, I would really like your input on how I can add more value to you and your organization in 2016. Please click here. 

Are You a Closeted Servant Leader?

Are you afraid to talk about leadership development at work? Would you like to invest more in developing your people, but worry that your boss will pooh pooh the idea?

You’re not alone.

This week, I had the honor of co-hosting the Online Servant Leadership Summit with Becky Robinson. We had some great guests including Ken Blanchard, author of the new One Minute Manager and Cheryl Bachelder, CEO of Popeyes. You can watch the recordings and pick up some awesome free resources here. A common question coming in from the audience was “Is it possible to be a servant leader if the culture doesn’t support it?”

The answer from all participants was a resounding “Yes!”

Now as a moderator, it would have been uncouth for me to jump up and down and scream,  “YES, YES, YES!!! In fact, the more the culture is lacking these behaviors, the more vital it is that you put your own fears and vulnerabilities aside and serve well. You’re not serving anyone if your first thought is to protect yourself, fit in, and let fear and intimidation roll right past you on the way to your team!”

But the phone call I received yesterday, made me realize I needed to scream this message from some rafter, and thank goodness, we have one right here 😉

A high-ranking official of an important non-profit doing great work reached out to me via LinkedIn– after participating in the Summit.

We laughed about the Summit attracting people who already believe in leading through service, and that the folks who most need to hear the message would likely not sign-up. His next words shocked me. “You’ve got to understand the culture. My boss has no idea I participate in such things, we just don’t talk about leadership development around here. I do what I need to do–but in secret.” Wow.

I thought back to the conversation I had earlier in the week with a manager who so wants to bring in my online course for her team, but is afraid to raise the topic with her boss–because it will look like she’s not focused on more important matters. Huh? If you know your team’s results will improve as they develop, have THAT conversation.

A vital part of being a servant leader is advocating for what your team needs.  Scared leaders can’t serve well.

You Can Serve Well Without Using the S Word

If the S word scares your boss, for goodness sake, don’t use it. Just serve. Serve your team. Serve your boss. Serve your peers. Serve your customers. Get results. You’ll attract real servants like a magnet and the upwards results spiral will continue.

I’ve worked for some really tough cookies over the years. I would never have set up a meeting to talk about building a servant leadership culture. I just did it, the results followed, and they gave me bigger teams to turn around. I spent 30% of my time developing leaders, who then got promoted and led the way they knew got results (no S word articulated, just lived).

One of the senior execs I worked for actually told me privately over coffee, “The difference between you and me is that you’ll stand up for your principles even if it rubs people the wrong way. Man, do I respect that.”

I don’t think most C-levels care if you want to be a servant leader, as long as you out perform expectations with a side effect of strong employee engagement. If the culture’s not right to call it serving— don’t worry about semantics. Just live it. Teach it. Help your team grow.

P.S. If you need help convincing your boss to invest in leadership development, call me 443-750-1249. I’ll help you.

Go Slow to Go Fast

Have you every had a really crazy date? Or worked with a leader who was totally delusional?

Well that was me, about 15 years ago, single (again), feeling old (ironic now) and unsure on the Acela train.

It was just after the diversity council debacle.  I was sitting in the café car on my way to NYC for another meeting trying to rebuild trust.

I hadn’t looked up when the crowd pushed on at the Wilmington stop. It always gets crowded at that stop, and frankly I was really hoping no one would sit next to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling like company.

The conductor came on the overly loud loudspeaker to remind us they had just put on a fresh pot of coffee and the café car was open, when I heard a voice across the aisle, say, “You look really beautiful in that dress.”

To give you a sense of my mental state, it didn’t even occur to me that comment could possibly have been directed at me.

After all, I was beginning to believe my mother’s fear that at 35 it was too late to find someone new and I’d end up alone. In fact I was pretty much accepting the fact.

Five minutes later the voice came closer and I realized that the voice and the man it belonged to were standing in the aisle beside me.

“You know, it’s customary here on the East Coast to say “Thank you” when someone pays you a compliment. Where are you from?

I looked up and locked in on his beautiful brown eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Yes, thank you so much, err, very much. Do you want to sit down?”

We exchanged stories in a non-stop flurry of excitement. As it turns out Kurt was a West Point grad, also divorced with a small child, and spent half his time in Maryland, with his daughter and the other time in New York running his business. He had a similar juggling lifestyle, except I was in a row home and the Sheraton and he a Waterfront property in Annapolis and a penthouse.

“What are you doing for dinner tonight?”

I told him my plans were to head back that night on the train.

“Is your son with his Dad?”

I said yes, totally relieved to find someone who got the picture before I had to explain it.

“You can grab the 11:14 train home after having dinner with me at this awesome place in Central Station. I do it all the time. I’ll make reservations for 6 that will give us plenty of time to talk.”

By the time I got on the train home that night I began wondering how I’d stumbled on someone so interesting, smart, and let’s face it, rich.

I resisted the urge to call my mother and tell her so. As it turned out, that was a good choice. She never heard this story.

After a week of flirtatious emails and some flowers delivered to work, he invited me to dinner in Annapolis with his daughter, Molly.

“Don’t you think that’s premature?” I asked.

“Nah, It’s casual. I like to have her meet successful women. She needs a good role model. We hang out with friends a lot.”

The evening was going great until I found myself alone with little Molly at the table. “My daddy has already figured out how he’s going to ask you to marry him,” she said matter of factly.

I choked on my water.

“He has? Really. How?”

“Well he’s going to be at the finish line of your next marathon with a bottle of champagne, roses, and a ring.”

Kurt came back to the table and I locked in with those brown eyes again, but this time searching for signs of mental illness.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I told her your secret,” Molly sang out.

“We need to talk.” I said coldly.

“Later. Let me get Molly to bed and I’ll put on some coffee. I can explain.”

We got home and he encouraged me to wait downstairs in the rec room.

I smelled the coffee brewing, and could hear sweet daddy daughter chatter. Hopeful that this was Molly’s delusion, I made myself at home and poked around (as any self-respecting-freaked-out second-dater would do).

I opened the door next to the stairs and found his office–which was decorated as the spitting image of the oval office.

I was still standing in the doorway in shock when he tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a cup of steaming coffee.

“What is going on?” I was shaking now.

“Sit down”, he said calmly, as if he had done this a hundred times before.

“Look, Karin, it’s like this,” he touched my hand sincerely.

“I’m very successful and very busy. I’ve got my life mapped out. I’m going to be President some day and I like my office this way as a constant reminder and inspiration. Every time I sit in that chair, I’m reminded of my goals. Anyone who visits knows my intentions.

I don’t have a lot of time to date, and quite frankly neither do you. We both have a hard time finding someone who meets our standards.

You meet ALMOST all of mine.”

Almost all ??? (I was insecure but still feisty).

“Yeah, you’re divorced and that’s not good for a first lady.”

I started, “May I point out…” and then stopped myself. Why in the world was I defending myself?

“But I’ve been doing a lot of digging. You’re attractive ENOUGH you make a good ENOUGH salary, you’re articulate,  and you go to church.”

And he continued, “I think we can make it work.”

My only thought now was how fast I could sprint to my car, whether I could outrun this West Point grad, and how many other first lady candidates he’d scared off on the second date.

I know you’ll find this shocking, but I’ve yet to see him emerge as a candidate.

Although this year, he might actually have a chance.

Accelerators have great vision, but they also know when to go slow to go fast.

Don’t scare off your team with audacious expectations too soon. Sure paint a vision, but make each step feel doable and realistic. Go slow to go fast. Burn the script and watch the magic unfold.

Two weeks later I met a grad student living in a rented room studying to be a teacher.

Two years later I married him.

But first, I checked the basement.

How Do I Get My Peers to Trust Me?

Honestly, I wish I learned this sooner. Having a tight network of trusted peers is as vital (and often trumps) your relationship with your boss and your direct reports. Trust matters even more with your peers because it’s TECHNICALLY optional and therefore more meaningful and sticky. There’s no “official” accountability levers. It’s easy to put them last on your trust-building priority list.

Your peers aren’t evaluating you on an employee engagement survey, or writing your performance appraisal. Often they have competing agendas, and of course you know it’s you against them in the stack rank.

So many of us buckle down, approach our peers with cautious pleasantries, and watch our backs.

Real trust develops when no one is watching…when you’ve got something to lose, and choose to be vulnerable anyway.

5 Ways to Get Your Peers to Trust You

Building trusting peer relationships starts with you. Here’s how.

1. Get Naked

Well not all the way, but at least take off your parka and mittens. Let them know what scares you (yes, yes, I know getting naked scares you. Do it anyway.) People trust those they can see. Share a vulnerability or two, and then wait for it. It might not happen right away, but stay open and investing as trust grows.

2. Give More Than You Receive

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a company and seen two teams with the same objectives, doing the same work, both with best practices that they’re completely keeping to themselves. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” is old school. Show your great idea first without worrying about what comes next.

3. Take a Field Trip

I learned this from one of my direct reports in my sales exec role. His peers in the finance department were not approving contracts for a subset of our customers. My deeply southern district manager got in the car and drove three hours for an old-fashioned visit. They had some sweet tea, cleared up misconceptions, developed a streamlined communication protocol, and our acceptance rate for that market skyrocketed. These were qualified customers that “didn’t look good on paper.” But the paper didn’t do them justice.

4. Lose a Battle

You don’t care equally about every issue. Know what’s worth going to the mat for, and what isn’t. A few concessions can gain you the reputation of being “easy to work with.” When you really need something, they’ll be more likely to trust your motives.

5. Lift Them Up

As a customer service director, my friend Dan and I stumbled on this one by accident. We were peers (who were always stack ranked against one another), but we also realized we had different gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit, he went first. He rolled up his sleeves and helped me tremendously on the operations side. He even silently sat in on a few tough customer calls and privately messaged me with what to do while I was getting my sea legs.

I then came to his region and helped him attack his employee engagement issues.

In every operations review we genuinely credited one another with our success. A high-tide rises all boats.

Don’t overlook the importance of trust amongst peers. It’s harder, it makes a difference, the big guys notice, and the relationships last a lifetime.

Are you looking to take your team to the next level? Please give me a call at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

leadership lessons

Who are you? Who Who?

You used to be sick? Or you ARE a survivor?

You used to be a marathon runner? Or you KNOW the power of endurance?

You used to be an artist? Or you have the ABILITY to create something beautiful?

You used to be successful? Or you understand what it FEELS like to win?

You used to be a screw up? Or you UNDERSTAND the importance of mentors?

You are what you’ve learned. The power of those lessons are buried within you.

Never let them go.

Let your learning inform your leadership.

How to Motivate Yourself

I had just finished reviewing the syllabus with my Masters level leadership class, and asked my typical follow-up question. “What else would you like to cover?” Lin raised her hand and asked sincerely, “Professor, you are so passionate about what you do, it’s oozing out of you. How do we motivate ourselves to feel like that?”

Oh boy, a challenge.

You see this is the debate my husband, Marcus, and I have been having for the last 12 years. He swears that kind of motivation is genetic, and therefore, unteachable. If you met my family, you’d see where his gene theory comes from. But still, I’m passionate about proving him wrong. Yes, the irony is not lost on me.

I do know one thing, you can’t give someone 5 steps to figuring it out. It involves miring in the muck of what drives you, what you value and why.

From Motivation Theory to Real Life

So last night, I told them to buckle their seat belts and took them on a tour of motivation theory. We started with the classics: content theories (what motivates), process theories (how to motivate) and of course good old reinforcement theory. We then moved to more current thinking like Sinek and Pink. I told them to take good notes because it would be on the exam (that’s always a motivator.)

Then the real work began. I asked them to break into small groups and come up with five ways to help someone motivate themselves (all of which had to be grounded in at least one of the theories).

They started miring in the muck. I overheard deep conversation about where they get stuck and why: Childhood memories of reinforcement motivation for which they blame their bad habits, frustration of sending out so many resumes they have a hard time mustering up the gumption to send one more, questions of how they had let themselves turn from an athlete to a couch potato.

And so today I bring  you five ways to motivate yourself, courtesy of BUMO 796.

5 Ways to Motivate Yourself

1. Love (my personal favorite)

Connect with the feelings of love and sacrifice others have made for you. Acknowledge that support. Go get more if you need it. And then, turn that love into something spectacular. (P.S. this might not be unrelated to gene theory).

2. Focus on Your Basic Needs First

Work your way up Maslow’s hierarchy. If you need sleep and food, get that first. It’s hard to be motivated to change the world if you’re exhausted.

3. Set Achieveable Goals

Expectancy theory seemed to resonate.

4. Create a Support Network

Don’t try to do this alone. Articulate your goals, and surround yourself with people who will help to keep you on track.

5. Reward Yourself

Give yourself something to look forward to at each milestone.

If you’re feeling stuck, perhaps a good mire in motivation theory muck will help.

Are you looking to take your team to the next level? Please give me a call for a free consultation.

Excited vs. Excitable: The Real Secret to Executive Presence

The situation would have sent any leader who cared running for aspirin. I asked Mark, the Senior VP, “Are you okay? Are you stressed? What needs to happen next?” Mark responded, “Karin, I don’t get stressed. There’s no use in that. But as it turns out I’m a stress carrier.”

In humor lies the truth.

Mark had mastered executive presence. Mark had excited but not excitable nailed. Deeply passionate about the cause, nothing rattled him. He’d taken on each new scene as if he’d seen it a thousand times before. His actions were values-based, consistent, deliberate and timely. And yet he knew that his calm words didn’t always have a calming effect on his team. In fact sometimes, the more calm he appeared, the wilder his VPs became– as if to make up for his lack of excitable.

Stress was still rolling down hill, even though Mark had tried to stop it.

Excited Energizes, Excitable Freaks People Out

In almost every company I work with, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern– things are remarkably calmer on the executive “floor.” (Thank goodness, not always a real floor these days.)

The stakes are higher, the decisions graver, these folks have farther to fall, and yet when the going gets tough (for the execs who get it) the volume doesn’t amplify.

In full disclosure, I didn’t learn this early in my career. For a long time I believed my excitable nature proved I cared. I confused stress with passion. Fired up is a long way from freaked out. Know the difference in yourself, and in those you lead.

Your team longs for calm in you and in them. Don’t stop with you.

How to Encourage Excited vs. Excitable

So how do you grow leaders who emulate calm, in the midst of a frantic context?

1. Acknowledge Reality

More than anything your team needs to know you get it. Otherwise they think your head is in the sand. When you calmly state the issue and the implications, I promise that your team will breathe a sigh of relief. They’ll move from trying to prove that the fire is real, to trying to figure out how to extinguish it.

2. Stay Consistently True to Your Values

Great leaders stay true to their values when the going gets tough. If “customer service is #1” has been your rallying cry and you start short-cutting when budget (or boss) pressures loom, your team will be confused at best. Don’t change course. Instead ask, how do MAINTAIN OUR COMMITMENT to a great customer experience with these new parameters?

3. Encourage Wacky Solutions

Chances are that someone is sitting on an idea that is so crazy it might just work. Give them an opportunity to share. Then help them calm down, ask great questions, and consider how they could best execute.

4. Use Failure as Learning

When the going gets tough, our  tolerance for failing decreases, and in many well-intentioned leaders, disappears. Ironically, it’s in the toughest times that we need it most. The 18th failure is much harder than the second. Help your team stay calm and keep learning.

5. Stay Real

When the going gets really tough, your team wants the truth. Share what you can and help them to make informed decisions.

Leaders who win well are excited, but not excitable. They have a strong vision and a strong sense of where they are headed. They expect disruption and leverage chaos as an opportunity to engage creative solutions.

Stay excited. Resist excitable–for you and those who care enough to follow your lead.

giving employees another chance

Jack, Jill and a Slippery Hill

Antoine was an accomplished millennial retail sales professional  considered “a bit rough around the edges.”

His no-BS approach created a natural bond with entrepreneurs and mom and pop companies, that left some managers scratching their heads. But, heck it worked.

Antoine was maxing out his compensation and winning the big recognition trips year after year, but he wanted more.

He went back to school at night and got his degree. He waited until he was selling more from the store than his counterparts in the business channel, and then applied for a job with the business sales manager.

Rejected. He applied again. Rejected.

His mentor, Jill, encouraged him to shave his scraggly goatee and begin wearing suits to work. He applied again. This time he didn’t even get an interview–just a call from HR saying he “wasn’t quite ready.”

So Jill called up the Jack, the hiring manager, and described an ideal candidate she’d like to refer to him. Jill described everything about Antoine without using his name. Jack salivated and asked for the resume ASAP, after all Jack didn’t want to risk losing a candidate like that.

Jill sent over Antoine’s resume.

Embarrased, Jack gave Antoine a chance in a junior role–a level down from the position to which Antoine had applied. Within six months he was promoted, and began teaching his new peers his secrets to success.

“Job fit” is more complex than it looks. Discrimination comes in many forms.

Do you have an Antoine who deserves a chance?

For whom could you be a Jill?