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 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

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.

Try This Surprisingly Simple Way to Raise the Bar

She looked right at me and yelled across the gym floor with conviction, “You are a dancer!”

Now there are a lot of labels I’m ready to buy:  “You are a leader!” I hope so.

“You are a Mom!” Well, that one could go both ways, couldn’t it? Anything from “Good job, Mom” to “Is this your kid? What was he thinking?”

“You are a keynoter!” I’m working hard every day on my craft, so yes, I’ll take that.

But “You are a dancer?” Seriously? Not me.

But there I was in Barre class at my gym, trying to tone away the Christmas cookies, and the instructor, who clearly IS a dancer, once again looks at me.

“Dancers look at the audience not the floor.” I straightened up. I quickly glanced around the studio, everyone else was standing taller too. Hmmm… maybe she wasn’t just speaking to me.

“Dancers present their legs with a little more attitude in this move. And “YOU are a dancer. A little more attitude please.”

I watched as this entire room of stressed out moms of toddlers, athletes, executives, and folks clearly in it for their January resolution all brought a little more positive “attitude” to the dance.

A Simple Way to Raise the Bar

Want to raise the bar? Help your team get beyond the just.

“I’m just a keynoter looking to tone and be more graceful on the stage.” True. But how much faster will I get there, if I also embrace my lurking dancer?

“Oh, I’m just a tech guy without an eye for design. Just tell me exactly what you want on your website and I’ll do it, but don’t ask me think to about the way it looks.” Or, “You are a website genius. What do you think is most compelling?”

“Oh I’m just a ticket agent, I don’t make the rules.”  Or, “You are creative travel steward.”

“I’m just _____, ” is a self-limiting cop-out which squashes potential and lowers the bar for all of us. Just because you’re this, doesn’t mean you can’t serve the world more effectively by also being a little of that.

How will you raise the bar for yourself and your team in 2017?

The Power of a Good Pause

To me the most remarkable part of Christmas is how everything goes from ridiculously busy to a full-on stop.

The Winning Well workshops, the keynotes, the 2017 planning, the filming, the travelling (well not that), the rehearsals, the concerts, the shopping, the cooking, the visits, and then the pause.

When I walk into a candle lit church, all the chaos seems to melt away. We stop, we remember, we give thanks, we hope.

I love to take a run through our town, usually bustling with people shopping or meeting over coffee and feel the peace of the empty village.

I wonder what others are doing and thinking in their stopping. What do those closed doors offer? What inspirations are brewing? What hopes are catching spark?

The Power of a Good Pause

What’s about to start after the stopping?

I recognize that for many there is pain in the stopping. Quiet time does not always equate to peace. My thoughts and prayers are with you. In our family we also have concerns that weigh heavy. Stopping can sometimes be too quiet.

I am also so grateful to all who cannot stop this holiday. Police, firefighters, military, call centers, convenience stores. There are many people “going” to empower our stopping. Thank you.

May this holiday season give you the peace of pause, today or in the year to come. Enjoy the quiet along with the joy.

What will you become in your holiday pause?

In Peace, Hope and Joy,

Karin

The 7 Deadly Sins of Skip Level Meetings

Skip level meetings always seem like a good idea at the time.  A little MBWA (management by walking around) never hurt anyone. Or did it?

Done well, skip level meetings are a remarkable tool in your Winning Well toolkit. Skip level meetings help you connect “what to why,” reinforce the MIT (most important thing), help you build genuine relationships, give you a chance to ask strategic questions to learn what’s really going on, and most importantly, to build genuine relationships.

Maybe that’s why after over 700 blog posts, the most read is 5 Secrets To Great Skip Level Meetings. In fact, there are some days that this post from 2014 has more hits than whatever new is going on. And how we manage the skip level communication, is always top of mind with my consulting clients. 

Why the intrigue?

Because done poorly MBWA becomes OCHTC (Oh Crap, Here They Come). If your skip level meetings are backfiring, or if you have a boss who could get better at this and you want to help them out, be sure to avoid these 7 traps.

7 Deadly Sins of Skip Level Meetings

  1. Not Doing Your Homework
    Sure you’re their bosses boss. They should be glad you’re there, right? Hmmm…Want to ensure you make an impact? Learn what’s up with the people in the room. Get their names. Know what’s driving them crazy. Be able to speak articulately about a few of their biggest accomplishments.
  2. Showing Up Needy
    Yes, I get it. You’re sandwiching this skip level in-between really important calls with C-level execs, vital customers, your boss… Go minimalist here. What do you need? A closed-door in-between your skip-level meetings? Ask for that. Otherwise show up as low-maintenance as you can (and ensure your assistant gets this too.)
  3. Sticking To Your Agenda
    The real magic of skip-level meetings is never planned. Even if your team gave you a carefully crafted list of conversation starters, stay real and open to where the conversation may lead. 
  4. Talking Too Much
    Resist the urge. You will learn way more by listening. 
  5. Asking the Wrong Questions
    So often I see leaders ask leading questions that ensure they get told what they want to hear. You already know what you think. Have the courage to ask the questions that might surface answers that frustrate you. It’s better to know what people are really thinking. 
  6. Failing to Recognize Contributions
    Your people want to know that you know what they’re up to. Be sure you do and tell them.
  7. Neglecting to Follow Through
    If you promise to look into something, be sure you do. If you promise to get something fixed right away, do it. And just as importantly, be sure you close the loop and let them know. Making commitments without follow-through does more harm than not showing up at all.

Great leaders spend lots of time talking to the people closest to the customer. It’s worth the extra effort to dig deep and do it right.

What's Really Killing Morale and Employee Engagement

Janice shared:

I’d had enough: the gossip; the veterans scaring the new hires; more and more people doing just enough to get by… And I was frustrated because we’d done so much to foster employee engagement.

I changed out some toxic leaders. We revamped our coaching program to focus on the positive. I’m here every Saturday right along with them. I bring bagels. The day I forgot the bagels, I bought lunch. We have fun incentive programs and have really positive approach to coaching.

I was intrigued. The call center I’d been called in to do consulting work for was doing so much right. And yet they had brought me in, “because there’s always room for improvement.” Yes, another sign that they are Winning Well. They had terrific margins, unheard of low turnover, and everyone was smiling.  

Apparently, it wasn’t always that way.

I asked about the tipping point.

One Saturday, I just couldn’t take it any more. So I transferred the phones to another center, and had everyone pull their chairs to the center of the office. I expressed my frustration– and then said, “Please, please help me. What is the source of our morale problem?”

I was shocked by the answer. 

They didn’t want more fun, incentives or even time off the phones.

It all came down to one thing.

They wanted us to take a hard stand on the slackers. Those coming in late. Putting customers on hold for an extra breather. Absence. 

Side note– Apparently there was almost unanimous agreement that this was the issue, while three people remained silent– you guessed it– the slackers.

So I pulled reports and dug into the patterns of every rep. 

Note: She then pulled out binder-clipped half-inch stack of paper– which was a computer print out of one rep’s tardy logins (all one or two minutes), but there must have been hundreds of occurrences.

Which of course begs the question– why should I sign in on time, if no one does anything to those who don’t?

Then I met with every rep and showed them the impact they were having on our morale problem. If they were consistently on time and doing the right things, I thanked them and apologized for not paying closer attention. If they were part of the problem, I asked for their commitment on specific behaviors to improve.

Morale soared.

Letting slackers slide may seem like a short-cut to being likable. But such “Pleaser” behaviors crush the spirit of those making the biggest impact on your team.  

Where do you need to hold people more accountable?

Winning Well Bootcamp

The Great Leadership Cop Out: Why "That's Just Who I Am" Is Derailing Your Results

Sam knew something was wrong. It just wasn’t fun anymore. The creativity and enthusiasm had drained from the company. Decisions took forever. Managers were finding it harder than ever to recruit and retain talent. Sam had hired me to help him crack the code.

As I pulled up to Sam’s office, I knew he’d be unhappy with my recommendation–which involved a serious look in the mirror at his own leadership behaviors. His reaction was disappointing, but highly predictable– based on what I’d heard from his team.

“Karin I’m 48 years old. That’s just who I am. Let’s talk about the real issues here. I can’t change. Give me something else.”

“Sam, I’ve got a whole list of something elses–actions that I know will improve the bottom line. But none of those are the MIT (Winning Well for the Most Important Thing).

“What matters most is how you’re showing up as the leader. If we can focus on just a few vital behavior shifts, your team will know you’re serious about making an impact. If you can do that, everything else we do will be easier.”

Why “It’s Just Who I Am” is a Cop Out

Have you ever uttered those words, when hearing tough feedback? “It’s just who I am. I can’t change.”

I hear it all the time, at every level of the business and across industries. It’s most dangerous with the CEOs and start-up founders I work with.

“It’s just who I am… I’m direct. I say what I mean.” Excellent. But imagine how much more easily your message would be received if we added in a little tact?

“It’s just who I am… I’m a visionary. I don’t want to get bogged down in the details.”  Your vision is amazing and got the company this far. AND from what I can tell you’re about to go bankrupt. You need to listen to what your team is trying to tell you.

“It’s  just who I am. I’m not a people person. I have people for that shit.” I hear you. But when you roll through the office like a hurricane tearing everything and everybody apart, you can’t hire enough people to clean up the path of destruction. Your culture and productivity are suffering.

Quite frankly, “That’s just who I am” is BS. It’s not “you” who’s driving people crazy. It’s your behaviors. And it’s usually just one or two that can make all the difference.

What to Do Instead

Have you been told you’re overly direct? Pause 10 seconds before you open your mouth and ask three genuinely interested open-ended questions (and really listen) before offering your opinion.

Is your team trying to tell you something you don’t want to hear? Try again. Promise to really listen. And then shut up. Stay curious before responding. Ask probing questions and listen some more.

Does your team think you’re an SOB? Pick one day and only look for what’s going right, point it out and thank people for their contribution. Notice the impact.

God (or the Universe) didn’t create anyone to be mean and nasty, clueless, or obtuse. Your parents didn’t mean to raise you that way. For better or worse, we pick up our behaviors along the way. And they ARE changeable.

Behaviors are not WHO you are, they are WHAT YOU ARE DOING.

And if you’re a leader, when you won’t change, you give everyone on your team permission to dig their heels in and use the “that’s just who I am” cop out too, and the whole team begins to accept toxic behaviors.

Imagine the possibilities of starting with admitting to yourself that WHO YOU ARE is a fallible human being with great intentions.

And then picking just one thing to change, and prove to yourself it’s possible.

 

How To Create a More Optimistic Workplace

You can’t win well if you’re not optimistic. And one of the most important parts of being a Winning Well leader is inspiring confidence that the scene and results can and will improve–and identifying the vital behaviors to make it so.

Today, I share a video interview with my friend and kindred spirit on the Winning Well journey, Shawn Murphy. Shawn’s book, The Optimistic Workplace, is so completely aligned with Winning Well, that our Kindle version comes with a link to some free chapters of his book.

In this 20 minute interview, Shawn shares a bit about his philosophy as well as practical approaches to making your workplace (or team) more optimistic.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

When a workplace is optimistic you…

  • have hope that something good is going to come from your work.
  • have an understanding of the bigger picture, not just the day to day stuff.
  • focus on what’s possible and what’s right.
  • believe you can make an impact.

“My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud.” – Henry Rollins

Optimism starts with confidence that a brighter future is possible, and the humility to know that it’s worth the struggle. David and I are grateful for Shawn and others fighting for healthier workplace climates that lead to lasting results.

10 Ways to Overcome Negativity at Work

Jane confided, “I feel like an enthusiastic puppy with all kinds of ideas and possibilities, but when I go to share them, there’s always someone who stomps on my tail.” John chimed in, “I know exactly what she means, everyone around here is just so negative. I’m beginning to wonder why I bother.” Perhaps you’ve felt that way too. It can be tough to stay motivated in a negative workplace.

“Just think of any negativity that comes at you as a raindrop falling in the ocean of your bliss.” -Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

10 Ways to Overcome Negativity at Work

  1. Make a list of what you like most about your job. Share it with others. Ask them what they like most about their jobs.
  2. Ask people why they work. In a negative environment, the answer may seem obvious—“For the paycheck, stupid”—but take it a step further. Do they work to support their sick mom? To pay back student loans? To save for their children’s education? Because they enjoy helping customers? Reconnecting to the purpose of work can help make the smaller annoyances less frustrating.
  3. Call out negativity. When you see negative thinking or actions, talk to the person privately to call it out, particularly if other leaders are involved. When negative attitudes and talk are all around, it’s tempting to ignore it. Raise the bar and change the conversation.
  4. Rise above the drama. Refuse to get sucked into the rumors and gossip. Respond to your team’s concerns with transparency and candor. Be the one who people know they can trust for a straight answer.
  5. Find kindred spirits. Not everyone is negative, although it can feel that way at times. Look around and find other folks trying to change the scene for the better. There is strength in numbers. Look outside your organization as well.
  6. Create an “envelope of excellence” or cultural oasis. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to fix the overall culture. Start with your own team and do what you can to make it feel better to come to work.
  7. Find reasons to celebrate. With all the negativity, it’s easy to overlook the good. Go out of your way to recognize and celebrate small wins. Substitute weak phrases like “No problem” with more enthusiastic words like “I’d be happy to.”
  8. See barriers as a challenge. Encourage your team to embrace the problems they see as opportunities and challenges to learn and grow. Recap learning along the way to help them feel a sense of positive momentum even during the most challenging times.
  9. Laugh more. I had one colleague who would respond to the company’s most ridiculous political nonsense by reminding the team, “It’s all comedy.” Step back and recognize how ridiculous some behavior is. You’ll create a healthy distance from which to respond more appropriately.
  10. Hold deeper developmental conversations. In periods of uncertainty, people yearn for a sense of control and connection. Take your developmental conversations to the next level. Ask your team and your peers about their hopes and dreams, what motivates them, and what scares them. Show up as a real human being caring about other real human beings.

Don’t let the naysayers win. Be the positive spark that ignites possibilities in others.

Winning Well Pre-Order Bonus

Winning Well-3DFor every copy of Winning Well that you pre-order, David Dye and I will send you a free custom-signed bookplate with your requested message.

Simply order Winning Well from your favorite bookstore (eg Amazon) or CEO Reads for bulk orders, then go to www.WinningWellBook.com. Click on THE BOOK, then on CUSTOMIZE YOUR BOOK, and submit your message in the form. When the book ships, we’ll send you a custom, hand-signed, adhesive bookplate that you can put inside the front cover.

Even better, there is no limit to the number of bookplates you may get. Get an affordable, customized resource for yourself and for all the managers in your life!

 

Image credit:

Copyright: alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

The Biggest Reason Employees Stop Caring

When I was in my sales and customer service executive roles, whenever I needed a pick-me-up, I would go talk to the new hire classes.

They’re fired up, full of ambition, and ready to serve.

“Raise your hand if you’re looking to be promoted into management.”

Every hand in the room goes up.

Sadly, in many companies something happens along the way.

Talk to the same group a year in, and the sentiment is not quite the same. Just why does that happen?

Please comment and I will capture your thoughts on a future post– what are the main reasons employees stop caring?

Here’s an excerpt from my Results That Last Program.

P.S. If you want to take a quick look inside my Results That Last Program, here’s an easy link to preview the first 2 modules. Please reach out to me if you would like a full demo.

What's Going to Happen to You in 2016

If only you had a crystal ball. The planning, the decisions, the choices would be so much easier. But you don’t. And those decisions and tradeoffs aren’t easy. Should you stay? Should you go? Is that project realistic? What if they reorganize… again? Are you getting the whole story?

What You Do Know About 2016

There’s much you can’t possible predict. But I’m confident…

  • A co-worker will really tick you off.
  • An unlikely subject will surprise you with their generosity.
  • Work you do will be vastly under-appreciated.
  • You’ll learn something new.
  • You’ll regret what you said.
  • He’ll take more credit than he should.
  • It will be one of those weeks.
  • The balance will get way off kilter.
  • You will know you did the best you could.
  • You will screw it up.
  • The news will suck.
  • You will fix it.

Knowing natural ups and downs are going to happen, and they are happening to everyone, will help you save vital energy for what matters most.

There’s much freedom that knowing the minor frustrations are not so much a matter of “if” but “when.” That way when they do show up, instead of reacting poorly you can say “Oh there you are… I’ve been expecting you” and keep perspective on your bigger mission.

I was inspired to write this post when my blogging hero, Seth Godin, shared his more universal Surefire Predictions.