Really Important Interviewing Advice

Juan and I were sure this was the candidate of our dreams. His track record was solid. The awards plentiful. In fact, we’d already began to wonder if we needed to continue the search. Surely this interview was a formality and would support our intuition.

Thank God. This was our guy. Ahh… that was easy.

But as the interview continued, Juan’s face revealed the angst in my heart. Crap. How were we going to justify that this guy’s not qualified? We hadn’t listed humility in the “required” or even “desired” competencies in the job posting.

We both felt this candidate was a nightmare in the making. He wasn’t listening or open. He had a plan and was ready to execute, but had very little desire to hear what we had to say. He told us five times he was the most qualified candidate, and why we shouldn’t waste a second more on our job search.

But we couldn’t get past the cocky decorum.

Perhaps he really was as good as he said, and all the “me, me, me” stuff was just nervous energy. I’ll never know. Juan and I hired the next “best” candidate on paper. She turned out to be a rock star.

I have a mentor who tells anyone interviewing for a job, “This is not the time to be humble.” To some extent that’s true.

Interviewing is  certainly not a time for self-deprecating remarks or uncertainty. Be bold in your ideas, vision and in sharing what you bring to the table.

But–the leaders you really want to work for will also be looking for a humble streak. They want to see that you’re willing to learn, can lead from behind, and are open to new ideas. If you’re that kind of leader, don’t hide those rare and precious qualities.

The best candidates interview with confident humility.

How to Approach an Interview With Confident Humility

Confidence Says...I’m smart and extremely qualified.
Humility Reveals...I’m eager to understand your culture.

Confidence Says... My skills are highly transferable.
Humility Reveals...I’m open to new approaches.

Confidence Says...I have a long track record of success.
Humility Reveals…I like to surround myself with strong talent.

Confidence Says...I’m a quick study.
Humility Reveals...I’m eager to learn.

Confidence Says…I’m a visionary.
Humility Reveals...Vision is nothing without solid execution. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

Confidence Says…I know I can make a difference for your organization.
Humility Asks…If I were in this role, what could I do to make your job easier?

Helping People Find Their Voice

Even the most confident among us sometimes lose our voice. Everyone needs encouragement every now and then.

A Story of Voice Losing and Finding

Our church is exceptionally progressive when it comes to women in leadership. In fact, the ministers and all church staff are women. And yet, we have this big deal tradition– a fundraiser auction– which has been historically led by male auctioneers. Something just didn’t seem right about that.

After hearing enough behind-the-scenes chatter on the phenomenon, I mentioned my/our concern to Bob, the auctioneer lead.

“Why are there no women on the stage? Why are they all behind the scenes?” He looked surprised, “Not sure. I guess no one’s expressed an interest. There used to be a woman who did it.” That wasn’t quite enough for me, ‘”Who have you asked recently?” It was friendly banter, and he said he’d work to change it up next year.

We picked up the conversation 10 months later, when my phone rang. “Karin I’m doing the line-up for the auction. I’d love for you to be an auctioneer.”

Oh boy. I’d wanted SOME woman to do this. But didn’t really see myself in the role. Sure, I’m a speaker, but “go bidder bidder” wasn’t exactly my style. But what could I say?

“I’d be honored.” I smiled and thanked him for his follow-through.

So that year, I donned an evening gown–in some feeble attempt to have the congregation notice there was a woman at the mic. I did the best I could (or so I persuaded myself). But honestly, I had a hard time finding my auctioneer’s voice. I’d give myself a C at best. I was a little sorry I’d brought the whole thing up.

Generously, I was asked back again this year.

Time for an upgrade. As I looked at my auction item list, I realized that the first few items really leant themselves to song. If you haven’t heard this before, I was voted “most likely to burst into song” in high-school, so this is not really a stretch thought, but the wacky place to which my brain orients naturally.

But stay with me… There was a grown-up women slumber party, just calling for a round of “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.” Or the poker night, “Luck be a Lady Tonight,” from Guys and Dolls. You see?

And so I went for it, belting out the attention-getting openers. The crowd smiled.

A few items in, it was time for our dinner break. I checked in with my veteran auctioneers. “Oh yeah that works,”  they were all with me using the non-traditional approach. When I confessed I had no idea how I would sing about sushi, we brainstormed ideas (we landed on “Fish Glorious Fish (Oliver style).” Richard on sound gave me a thumbs up and adjusted the mics for the new sing-to-sell approach.

We sold a plenty of sushi.

When taking on an uncomfortable role, it may feel safer to play the role as it’s been played before. But that’s not always what will bring the best results. Digging deeper to find your most natural voice (and encouraging others to do the same), may be the best way to inspire confidence and improve results.

The Importance of Applauding Yourself

Confident, humble leaders take a moment to privately applaud themselves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a mini-timeout to tell yourself “Wow! Great job,” particularly for the incremental baby steps that change the game. Privately applauding yourself is vital if others aren’t looking at or caring about your greater mission.

One of the great joys of my new journey is that I get to meet so many kindred spirits from all over the world. I’m honing my “confident-humility” radar-detection system. I’m pleased to introduce Roberto Martinez from Bogota, Columbia to you through his guest post and short video interview.

I met Roberto after a speech I gave at the National Speaker Association’s Business Accelerator Lab.  He’s a doctor, a musician, a teacher, a speaker, a husband and father doing important work. You have to pull all of that out of him, though, because mostly he’s a humble man working to inspire good where it needs to happen most.

I was inspired by his thinking on taking time to “applaud yourself.” (Watch the video to hear more.)

See my interview with Roberto here. 

Roberto Martinez’s Thinking on Applauding Yourself

Some time ago a friend of mine asked me how to stay true to your journey toward fulfilling your dreams.  After all, it’s hard. There are competing pressures. Here’s my best thinking for the LGL community.

  1. Link to Passion:  Be sure that what you’re doing is connected to your passion and to your greatest purpose in life. It is not about “the what”… it is about the “why” and “the what for.”
  2. Don’t Think Small: The key is to verify that you are not doing what you want for a small reason. As I told my friend, make sure you are walking up that road not only to pay the rent, or to be able to go to the movies after you paid the bills of the month, but to create something really great. Something that counts for many and helps many people around you,while you are in the process. Your true passion is that thing that will get you out of your bed every morning full of energy and with a big smile in your face!
  3. Bring Optimism:  You have to mix that passion and intention with optimism, so you can ignite persistence. Remember that real optimism is not about being always happy, or never finding a bump in the road. It is about having confidence that sooner or later you will reach all your goals, even if you don’t necessarily know at present how you will accomplish them. If you persist in the intention and do the homework, you will find the way and you will meet the right people to overcome the barriers.
  4. Applaud Yourself: Celebrate the small victories that you have along the way. Usually people throw big parties, receptions and celebrations when they accomplish great steps, but you know what? You do not have to celebrate these great victories! Other people will celebrate them for you.  The ones that you have to celebrate are precisely the small ones. Those that nobody know about but you. Those victories that in the bottom of your heart you truly know they were very hard to gain, but you did it. Those victories will give you the confidence and the strength to continue when everything seems uphill.
  5. Be Aware of Your Legacy:  Make sure you are going accompanied in the road. Whose life is easier down the road as a result of your efforts? This is certainly one of the steps that creates the greatest commitment to your vision because is no longer just about you– it is about them.
  6. Enjoy the Journey: At the end of the day, it is not so much about the goal itself… it is about the type of person that you will become as you pursue the goal.

The synergy of these six steps will inspire you, and others, to support your vision.

I would love to hear your insights and thoughts. Feel free to reach out. Roberto@rmleadinglife.com

Visit Roberto’s site rmleadinglife.com or find him on Facebook, or Twitter @rm_leadinglife

The Simplest Way to Set Clear Expectations

Great leaders have great expectations. They expect excellence and hold people accountable. Great expectations are vital, but slippery. Unarticulated expectations frustrate… you…your boss, your team, your children, your lover. “But I assumed you would.” “Why should I have to spell that out?” Unarticulated expectations are a sign of ineffective leadership.

My MBA students make it perfectly clear. They want a “rubric” on how they’ll be graded. It’s an intensive practice to clearly define my expectations up front, and check for understanding. Sure the real world is “messier,” but there’s something to be said for clearly defined expectations on both sides of the relationship equation.

Clear understanding improves performance.

The Simplest Way to Set Clear Expectations

1. Get Clear on Your Own Expectations

If you’re not clear on what you want, I guarantee you won’t be able to communicate it.  I had one VP who could never articulate just what he wanted in the presentations we were creating. He just knew it when he saw “it.” The lack of clear expectations always resulted in rounds and rounds of frustrating iterations wasting everyone’s time and weakening respect along the way.

2. Engage in Conversation

Be clear about what you want, but also listen carefully to concerns. Better to identify expectation disconnects as early in the game as possible.

3. Write them Down

In some circumstances it’s useful to write down agreed-to expectations. This works one-on-one and with teams. The process of writing down expectations often leads to further clarity and serves as an objective reminder as expectation violations arise (P.S. if you want some musical inspiration see, Write It All Down— my cousin’s awesome folk band singing Write It All Down.)

4. Check in 

From time to time it’s useful to check in. You can easily draw a 4-quadrant box to guide the conversation (see graphic above). You can do this as a one-on-one or a team exercise.

Step 1

Each person completes the matrix, jotting down areas where their expectations are being met and where they are not.

Step 2

Discuss areas of agreement and areas of concern

  • What do you expect that you receive, or don’t expect and don’t receive? Start with appreciating that.
  • What do you receive that you don’t expect, or expect that you don’t receive? Recognize the good or the issue here and discuss.

Step 3

Identify specific actions that would enable you to work more effectively together.

You can download a PDF of the worksheet here. EXPECTATIONS EXERCISE

Why Costumes Work at Work

As luck would have it, this Halloween finds me in my home office. It hits on a Friday which typically means writing and development… no keynotes, no consulting gigs, no teaching the MBAs… sadly no reason to wear a costume.  In fact the next few Halloweens are on weekends– great for kids, terrible for dressing up as your favorite leadership message (yes, that’s me on the left).

Your next weekday (Halloween) chance is Monday, October 31st 2016, although I’ve found excuses to dress up at all times of the year. But for the traditionalists in our tribe, you have plenty of time to prepare. Go for it. I’d love to see your plans. Of course, if you dressed up today, send me a pic.  I’ll add it to the post.

Why Costumes Work at Work

  • Costumes are a great way to reinforce key messages. Try dressing up as your favorite objective, priority or customer complaint.
  • Costumes are silly, and silly is fun. We all need that.
  • Fun makes us real. Real creates connections. Connections inspire awesome customer experiences.
  • Teams long for a leader to show they are vulnerable. Nothing says “exposed” like a silly hair do.
  • Risk taking is an important leadership competency. It’s a bit gutsy to ask your team to follow you into a costume. Maybe it will make the next risk easier to take.
  • When done as a team… silly creates lasting team experiences which draw the team together. “Remember the time she had us all…?”(They may complain, but I guarantee the guy who resisted the most has a picture of that day in his office.)
  • It says fun is good. Let’s make more.

Whenever you have a chance to lighten the mood, create connection, and reinforce the message, go for it. If you missed it this year, make a plan (don’t wait for Halloween)…and please share your story.

What Do You Like Most About Your Job?

Ray had a long list of things that were wrong with his job. Most of us do. The most important work is never easy and sacrifice can sting.

But as I listened, I was struck by the stark contrast between what was wrong and the deep loyalty to stay that went way past trappings of salary or benefits.  So I shared that observation and asked the obvious question:

What do you like most about your job?

My initial question was met with a nervous laugh, a pause, and then…”lots of things.” Then more silence. We let it steep.

A few hours later I got an unsolicited email from him entitled, “A Random List of Things I Like About My Job.”

Some of the items on his list included:

  • All the good people
  • Meaningful and interesting work
  • A company you feel good about telling others about
  • Good people despite the craziness that can induce belly laughs
  • and concluded… “Did I mention all the good people?”

I couldn’t help but thinking how much happier the world would be if we each sat down to make such a list.

Which got me thinking about our LGL Community.

What Do You Like Most About Your Job?

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” –Willie Nelson

So this Friday, may I suggest an LGL teambuilder?

What if we each picked the top three things we liked about our job and placed them in the comments? In fact, share with your team and your friends, and lets see how many comments we can collect. Then, I’ll create a word cloud and a content analysis of the themes that emerge.

Game on. Even if you’ve never commented before today is your day. Do it!

5 Reasons Teams Lose Confidence

Great leaders help teams visualize a winning future. They arm their team with the courage and audacity to remove roadblocks and galvanize people toward “impossible” feats.

Take John. John had been in tough situations before, but this time the cocktail of challenges was just too much. He needed more time, more resources, better systems, and the uncertainty of the restructure was distracting to everyone, including him. He confided, “I don’t think we can do this.”

I was sure he was right. Not because of the systems or the resources, or even the organizational chaos. But, if the leader lacks confidence, the team knows. It’s nearly impossible for a team to win when their leader loses faith.

5 Reasons Teams Lose Confidence

1.  A Doubting Leader

When the leader loses faith in their teams ability to perform–with these players, in these conditions, on this field–the team will sense it. Even if the words are encouraging, the underlying emotions speak louder. If you’re not sure you can win, find a way to get your own head there, or let someone else call the shots for a while. If you don’t believe it can be done, neither will they.

2. Under-Preparation

The team is tired, so the leader backs off on the training and preparation. They cut the team some slack when it comes to additional research or practice. The team feels initial relief, and thinks the coach is “nice,” but on game-day doubts they’re truly ready.

3. Discounted Wins

The team has wins, but every time the leader discounts it or fails to understand it. Success without understanding is hard to replicate.

4. Over-Direction

The leader is at the center of every move: calling the shots, holding a huddle, directing the moves. Teams feel lucky to have the leader, but question their own contribution to the matter.

5. Reliance on a Star Player

Players get hurt, move on, become hard to deal with. It’s dangerous when a team begins to attribute success to just one guy (or gal). The most confident teams believe in the team and its synergies. If the team starts to bet against themselves when one player is injured (or obnoxious), you’ve begun a downward spiral.
 

Great leaders build confident teams, who believe in the vision, the process and one another.

5 Ways to Encourage Your Team Toward “Yes You Can”

28 eyes looked at me skeptically. They were convinced the task I had outlined for their strategy session was beyond their reach. “Just too hard,” they explained. “I’m not that creative,” said another.

No time for second guessing. Sure this exercise had worked in other contexts, but I had never worked in this industry before. What if they were right? “Shut up,” I told my inner voice, rudely. Sometimes you’ve just got to be direct with that sucker or he’ll get the best of you.

On the outside, I was equally direct, but kinder. “Of course you can do this! I’ve never seen this approach fail (true statement). You’ve totally got this. Now let’s talk about where you’re stuck.”

Still skeptical, a few pairs of eyes softened. I could see the beam of possibility shining through.

I knew I needed to diffuse the scene, 14 doubters against one was too much. “When I get stuck like this, I often find it useful to take a walk,” I offered.  “If anyone wants to take a lap around this beautiful hotel to think, that’s just fine. If you’re ready to bounce your ideas off someone else it may be helpful to talk it through with your colleague. And, I’m going to be over here and would love to talk through this with anyone one-0n-one.”

A few took a walk.  Others paired up. I held a few consultations, where we explored what they were most afraid of.

When we regrouped, they nailed it. Not just in a hammer and nail sort of way. They nailed it with all the impact of an electric nail gun. In fact, that session was one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen.

5 Ways To Encourage Your Team Toward “Yes You Can”

1. Be Audaciously Confident

Be confident in the mission. Be confident in the team. Be confident in the power of discomfort. Don’t articulate your own self-doubt– that’s not humble, it’s destructive.

2. Divide and Encourage

It’s easier to stay stuck when you’re surrounded by stuckness. Chances are everyone’s not stuck in the same place or for the same reasons. Find a way to separate the naysayers.

3. Build on Past Success

Ask your team member to recall a time they’ve been successful in a similar situation. Start from a confident place. “I’m sure you’ve done well in similar situations in the past. Can you tell me about a time… what did you do… what made it successful?”

4. Scaffold

Be available. Ask provocative questions that lead them to success.

5. Help Them Identify What Scares Them

“What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” I asked one woman.

“I might get emotional,” she confided.

“Okay that’s understandable,” I said matter-of-factly, and continued. “Emotional in a bit verklempt type of choking up or a full on wailing and gnashing of teeth?”

She laughed, “Nah, it’ won’t be that bad.”

“We can handle that…”

She shared her story with the team. She wasn’t the one who cried. Message received.

Teams need encouragement to take little risks that feel big.

Little risks lead to brave steps which lead to bold work which lead to breakthrough results.

Encourage them. Please.

The world needs more brave doers.

5 Ways to Encourage Your Team Toward "Yes You Can"

28 eyes looked at me skeptically. They were convinced the task I had outlined for their strategy session was beyond their reach. “Just too hard,” they explained. “I’m not that creative,” said another.

No time for second guessing. Sure this exercise had worked in other contexts, but I had never worked in this industry before. What if they were right? “Shut up,” I told my inner voice, rudely. Sometimes you’ve just got to be direct with that sucker or he’ll get the best of you.

On the outside, I was equally direct, but kinder. “Of course you can do this! I’ve never seen this approach fail (true statement). You’ve totally got this. Now let’s talk about where you’re stuck.”

Still skeptical, a few pairs of eyes softened. I could see the beam of possibility shining through.

I knew I needed to diffuse the scene, 14 doubters against one was too much. “When I get stuck like this, I often find it useful to take a walk,” I offered.  “If anyone wants to take a lap around this beautiful hotel to think, that’s just fine. If you’re ready to bounce your ideas off someone else it may be helpful to talk it through with your colleague. And, I’m going to be over here and would love to talk through this with anyone one-0n-one.”

A few took a walk.  Others paired up. I held a few consultations, where we explored what they were most afraid of.

When we regrouped, they nailed it. Not just in a hammer and nail sort of way. They nailed it with all the impact of an electric nail gun. In fact, that session was one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen.

5 Ways To Encourage Your Team Toward “Yes You Can”

1. Be Audaciously Confident

Be confident in the mission. Be confident in the team. Be confident in the power of discomfort. Don’t articulate your own self-doubt– that’s not humble, it’s destructive.

2. Divide and Encourage

It’s easier to stay stuck when you’re surrounded by stuckness. Chances are everyone’s not stuck in the same place or for the same reasons. Find a way to separate the naysayers.

3. Build on Past Success

Ask your team member to recall a time they’ve been successful in a similar situation. Start from a confident place. “I’m sure you’ve done well in similar situations in the past. Can you tell me about a time… what did you do… what made it successful?”

4. Scaffold

Be available. Ask provocative questions that lead them to success.

5. Help Them Identify What Scares Them

“What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” I asked one woman.

“I might get emotional,” she confided.

“Okay that’s understandable,” I said matter-of-factly, and continued. “Emotional in a bit verklempt type of choking up or a full on wailing and gnashing of teeth?”

She laughed, “Nah, it’ won’t be that bad.”

“We can handle that…”

She shared her story with the team. She wasn’t the one who cried. Message received.

Teams need encouragement to take little risks that feel big.

Little risks lead to brave steps which lead to bold work which lead to breakthrough results.

Encourage them. Please.

The world needs more brave doers.

How to Have a Difficult Conversation

When I ask leaders why they’re not telling people what they need to know, the most consistent response I get is “She or he didn’t ask.”

Quite frankly that’s a cop-out.

Yeah sure–ideally everyone would be ASKING for feedback.

If you’re not asking, start asking now. It may be the only thing standing between you and the truth.

But, if you’re the one not giving feedback, think again before holding back.

Your Team Needs You to Tell Them the Truth

You team needs to hear what you don’t want to say. The difficult conversations are almost always often the most important.

“You’re consistently not getting promoted because….”

“When you start an email that way…”

“If you bathed more…”

“Wearing those Google glasses all day long (including at the elegant dinner party) isn’t helping your brand…”

Confident, humble leaders have difficult conversations because…

  • they care so deeply
  • they want people to grow
  • they know it’s not about them
  • they care more about helping than protecting themselves.

Lessons From The Discomfort Zone

I spoke with Marcia Reynold’s about her new book, The Discomfort Zone:  How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs and asked her for her best advice for leaders having difficult conversations with the people they lead. Here are a few of her tips.

  • Step back and consider, “What does this person really need from me?”
  • Know that your job is not to just develop skills, but develop minds. Ask difficult questions that really make them think.
  • Know that this will be uncomfortable and that there may be an initial negative reaction. That doesn’t mean you aren’t helping, or they won’t be grateful later.
  • If they get emotional, be quiet. Let them experience and breathe through that emotion. Know that’s all part of the process.
  • If you’re trying to help someone get unstuck, ask
    • What’s the worse thing that can happen if you do ____?
    • What’ s the likelihood that could happen?
    • How is that worse than what’s happening now?

She adds, “For true shifts in thinking and behavior to occur, you must be willing to challenge a person’s beliefs, interrupt his patterns, and short-circuit the conviction to his logic even when it feels uncomfortable.  This is a Discomfort Zone conversation.”

4 Reasons Underdogs Will Rule the World

The playing field was clearly uneven, but the “visiting team” had chosen to come and play by our rules: An underdog team at its finest. I was teaching executive presence and communication to MBA students, 30% for whom English is their second language. The final assignment was TEDdy talks, 5 minute speeches in the style of TED.

I knew the assignment was stacked in favor of the American students. I was sure I’d have to give them the benefit of the doubt in grading. Not so. After the talks, I asked the students to rate “best in class.”

On both days the international students won by a landslide. My non-English speaking students out-performed the Americans in their own tongue. Why?

A Few Theories

They Didn’t Expect a Handicap:  There were no office appointments asking me to understand their plight. They just got in there and worked it.

They Were Deeply Committed: This course was an elective. They could have easily spared themselves the agony, but they wanted to improve.

They Welcomed Feedback: Throughout the course I had been worried that their accent would make it hard for their English speaking audience to understand. We worked on pacing, pauses and in some cases volume. They nailed it.

They Embraced Vulnerability: Each of these students grounded their speeches in their own vulnerability. They told THEIR stories with a passion that drew us in.

They Worked Hard: They embraced their disadvantage, and incorporated the tools and techniques we discussed in class. They clearly had practiced, again and again. There was no winging it involved.

Sometimes confidence is over-rated. Swimming upstream takes more work. Hard work produces results.

Beware of the side-effects of your own confidence. A humble underdog may be nipping at your heels.

Because You Know Better

I was pretty shocked by the reports of how Laura had acted in that impromptu encounter.  Clearly I had to address the “rude and snarky attitude” but first I had to understand it. “Can you tell me what happened?” I asked, praying for an explanation.

And there it was in all the glory– the rest of the story. Snarky didn’t come out of nowhere. Stupid behavior seldom does. More often one misstep triggers another and the dance begins. Unproductive at best. But even more tricky if when the music stops you’re the one caught singing off-beat.

And so I told her my story straight off the “Karin Hurt’s worst leadership moments” highlights reel (you can stop now, it’s not searchable on YouTube).

It was after a long day, long month, long quarter. We were both were tired. Trust was low between our departments– and competition was high–a terrible cocktail. And then her ugliness hit me right in my weak spot. I was convinced she was discriminating against one of my top guys. Perhaps she was, perhaps she wasn’t (he’s later proved himself as rock star… just saying).

What I do know for sure is that my rage had me operating out of the wrong side of my brain. I listened to the spewing stupidity and responded completely unelegantly and threw in a bad word (okay, maybe two)– right in front of HR. Poor choice. The aftermath was ugly.

When debriefing the situation with a close colleague, he told me a story that has stayed with me for years.

“Karin, when I was little, I was one of the few minorities in a primarily white school. I was picked on (they’d probably call that bullying now). These kids would rile me up to the point that I would feel like I had to defend myself, and I’d end up being the one sitting in the principal’s office. Because– I threw the first punch. You lose all ability to defend your position when you’re the guy with blood on your hands.”

Yup. No matter what was right or what was wrong, I was the screamer with the bad words.

It’s easy to justify our less than elegant leadership behavior (to ourselves) because someone else “started it.”

Always remember their behavior is entirely beside the point.

Lead elegantly, and the turkeys will lose their steam.