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?

How To Respect People You Disdain

You care deeply about breakthrough results. This guy’s a jerk. No no, not just annoying, a poster-child good blocker. You’ve got stories.

Be careful. Two disrespects don’t build respect.

In full disclosure,  I don’t have this mastered. The worst moments of my career have come from the times I let the one or two really nasty, disrespectful (I’m tempted to say “evil”) human beings get underneath my skin and bring out the worst in me.

I’m learning to respect myself enough to seek to find something to respect in even the most ridiculous human beings. The process is important. When I look hard enough it’s often amazing what good or reason is lurking beneath the surface.

5 Ways to Respect People You Disdain

“If we lose love and respect for one another, this is how we finally die.” -Maya Angelou

1. Hang Around Them

“Really Karin, are you crazy? What about the wisdom of being the sum of the people you spend your time with?” Okay, okay, don’t EXCLUSIVELY hang around them, and don’t let their nasty ways rub off. But there’s something to be said for propinquity. Investing time in the relationship may surface an additional understanding.

2. Take the Balcony View

I love the wisdom of William Ury shares in The Power of a Positive No to extract yourself from the emotions of the situation and consider a more objective view.

The balcony is a detached state of mind you can access anytime you chose. Imagine yourself for a moment as an actor on a stage about to speak your line– your no. Now picture yourself up on a balcony overlooking the stage, a place where you can see the scene clearly from afar. The balcony is a place of perspective, calm and clarity.

The balcony is a great place to look for reasons to respect.

3. Stop Dissing them Behind Their Back

It’s impossible to feel genuine respect, or even treat people with respect, if you’re talking poorly about them to yourself or others.

4. Engage Real Conversation

Encourage them to share their opinions and really listen to what they have to say. Try having a conversation with the sole intension of really hearing them (rather than responding with your views). Look them in the eye. It’s amazing how often that will encourage them to respond in kind.

5. Seek Out Positive Views

Look for people who do respect this individual and find out why. There may just be more to him or her than you’ve seen so far.

Respect brings out desirable qualities in ourselves and others.

Respects begets respect.

Let’s keep trying.

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.

5 Ways Naming Things Will Make You a Better Leader

The world goes nuts when someone finds a simple name for that universal feeling that makes you think more deeply about your leadership:  Who Moved My Cheese, Flow, fill in your favorite blank ________. You don’t need to wait for someone else to name it. Chances are you and your team can go a long way in naming your _______(fill in your favorite blank here, e.g. challenge, knee jerk response, team dysfunction). When you get stuck give your “stuckness” a name. When you are angry, name it. When you’ve got a cool project, name it something inspiring.

Leadership vision, challenge and hard work all become simplified in the naming process.

5 Ways to Use Naming in Your Leadership

1. Name Your Role

Consider asking your team to each pick a poignant name for their current role (and for a twist, have them add their desired role). I recently tested out the concept. Here’s what bubbled up.

  • Chief Difference Maker
  • Transformation Specialist
  • Mind Reader
  • Provocateur (I know this chick, trust me, this is not dirty)
  • Savior of Relationships
  • Stud Service Specialist (I realize this too could be taken in a different way. Trust me, his intentions are pure 😉

I’m quite sure there were also self-censored sarcastic names that are staying on hearts and minds. There’s power in naming the truth. If you can’t possibly think of a good name for your current role, that’s data.

2. Name Your Challenge

Give a creative name to your biggest business challenge. The process of finding a name will help you get to root cause and brings some levity to the scene. Operation______.

3. Name Your Anger

What’s really ticking you off? Name that frustration. Naming your anger helps you sift through the source.

4. Name Your Trigger Response

This one can get personal, but can be vital in an intrapersonal or team building context. Where do you go when you’re stressed? Being able to name the patterns makes them easier to recognize. If you can get your team talking about them, it’s easier for them to give feedback in a safe way when they see the response in play (perhaps start with yours). By giving your response a name you give the team permission to talk about it and help you grow.

5. Name Your Greatest Hope

What does your team want most… as individuals and as a team? Naming your dream simplifies the vision.

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The Insiders Guide to Communicating the Big Picture

Is your team struggling with poor results, apathy, and feelings of being overwhelmed?  Stop and consider if they really understand the big picture.

Can they grasp real meaning in their work beyond the growing daily to do list. As we continue our series on the biggest mistakes team leaders make, we focus on the perils of under communicating the big picture.

Symptoms that Your Team Doesn’t Get the Big Picture

Kelly’s Story:

Kelly’s team is really busy. They’ve been working hard and getting by, but results are stagnant. She’s tried everything: more recognition, contests, she even came in dressed as a superhero to try to get the team riled up. Each of these stunts worked for a day or so, but then the results returned to their normal mediocre state and the stress levels creeped right back up.

Frustrated, Kelly went old school and writing warnings for those at the bottom of the stack rank. That got a few people’s attention, but now morale is in the tank.

She asked Frank, one of her most dedicated team members, how he was feeling:

I’m getting pretty stressed out too. It just seems that we’ve got this really long list of things to do and the work just keeps coming. I feel like I’m on a treadmill and am just running toward nowhere.

When Kelly asked if he understood, why they had been asked to work so hard this summer, he just shrugged his shoulders. Chances are, Kelly could make a big difference by doing a better job of communicating the big picture.

  • Mediocre results
  • High Absenteeism
  • Apathy
  • Insatiable thirst for recognition
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed

Why Team Leaders Forget to Connect the Dots

Communicating the big picture is a skill that’s often lost in early leadership development programs. After all, big picture thinking is for execs, right? No. Everyone needs to get where they fit in. Many team leaders under-communicate the big picture for the following reasons.

  • You Don’t Fully Understand It – Face it, sometimes the big picture is murky. It could be that change is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Or, there’s a lot of secret stuff happening behind closed doors, and what’s hitting the front line really doesn’t make sense. If what you’re being asked to ask your team to do feels stupid, it’s important to ask the right questions to ensure it makes sense to you. If you’re frustrated and confused, your team will see it. Get the clarity you need first. If that’s tricky ask for advice, or talkpoints, or an opportunity to role-play how to best communicate a message to your team. If it still doesn’t make sense, respectfully articulate your concerns. You may have a perspective that has yet to be considered.
  • You’re Relying On Someone Else To Do It – You know your team has heard the message at least 4 times. Go for 5. Even if they’ve heard the webcast, participated in the town hall, read then company newsletter, and had a visit from the senior team, they need to hear it from you. Teams need people they trust to translate the big picture. They need time to ask questions and to voice their concerns. Just because the smiled happily when your bosses boss shared the news, does not mean they’re gun ho and ready to go.
  • You’re Just Too Busy – When you’re drowning, it hardly seems like a good time to step back and contemplate the big picture. But you may be surprised how much time you can save from such a little investment. Once upon a time I was leading a sales team that was just not executing in one particular arena. They just didn’t seem motivated to try. It didn’t make any sense to me, because the comp plan clearly paid big bucks in this arena. I was venting to my finance guy, “don’t they understand that just doing this one thing right could go a long way in paying off their car?” He asked one simple question, “Karin, are you sure they know how they’re getting paid?” You guessed it, despite all the training on the comp plan, the team meetings, and the fact that they got a detailed statement each month, the majority of the team could not explain to me how they got paid. We took the time out to go through everyone’s statement one-on-one. Bingo.

3 Ways To Communicate the Big Picture with Ease

So you want to get better in this arena? Try these three steps:
  1. Magnify The Meaning – Talk to your team about the impact their work has on the greater good: the customer, the world, and others they serve. Engage in dialogue and ask them to identify what makes them most proud about the work that they do.
  2. Clarify Priorities – It’s vital that the tasks you’re asking the team to perform does not feel like a to-do list of unrelated tasks. Bundle the work into meaningful chunks that link back to the bigger picture. If you can’t combine the tasks into meaningful clusters, you may have too many priorities. Figure out what matters most and nail those. Know that if something needs to drop what that will be. If you have to fail at something be sure you’re the one that chooses what that will be
  3. Simplify the Message – If you can’t explain your team’s mission in one sentence you don’t fully understand it. If you’re really struggling, ask a few strong team members to give it a shot. Everyone on your team should be able to respond to your team’s mission in a very similar way.

All the other work you do as a team leader will be undermined if your team doesn’t have a strong unifying sense or where they’re headed. Ask your team today. Can they articulate your team’s mission in one sentence?

Note:

Under-communicating the Big Picture surfaced as an important theme in response to my post The Biggest Mistakes Team Leaders Make. If you missed that post, take a quick look so you can join the fun.

We’re working on a crowd-sourced e-book that will be free to all LGL subscribers. The Insiders Guide To Communicating the Big Picture is the starting point for chapter two.

Please share your success stories and lessons learned for possible inclusion.

We hope you will join the fun. It’s not to late to contribute your thoughts to the Insiders Guide To Micromanagement.

Informational Interviews: Not Just For Rookies

A common misconception is that informational interviews are only for folks starting out in their career. Sure informational interviews are a great idea for the new college grad, but they can be game-changing later in your career as well. Two of the best executive roles I’ve had came from such informational interviews, and eventually the real interviews once a job was available.

I used this technique to move to a completely new side of the business, from Verizon to Verizon Wireless and establish an entirely new network (pun intended).

Of course I didn’t call them that. If you’re more established in your career, I’d avoid the term informational interview, but a rose by any other name…

In my case I just reached out via email with a short summary and my resume attached. I shared a bit of my background (with enough of an elevator speech to get them to open attached resume.). I indicated I would be in “the neighborhood (e.g. the same state)” and asked if I could swing by to introduce myself. It was important to say that I was perfectly happy in my current role (which was close enough to the truth to still go to church on Sunday), but just looking for career guidance and future possibilities.

Each of these introductions inevitably led me to ask the question: who else should I talk with?  That question led to more such informational interviews, a ride along, and an invitation to attend a local charity even dinner with the VP (which felt like a 4 hour interview). It takes time, so you can’t be in a rush. One job surfaced 9 months later, another took two years to bake, but involved a promotion. Both were worth the effort.

Tips For Conducting a Great Informational Interview

  1. Remember this is your dime, be prepared to lead the conversation
  2. Have intelligent questions prepared
  3. Listen more than you talk
  4. Be actively interested and take notes
  5. Have a strong elevator speech ready
  6. Don’t over-sell or ask for a job
  7. Share enough of yourself to leave them intrigued and remembering you

A Few Good Questions

  • What’s the best part of working in this areaof the business?
  • Who is the best at this role? What makes them exceptional? (those names are great people to follow-up with)
  • Who else would you recommend I talk with to gain additional perspective?
  • When you look at my current background, what’s missing to best prepare me for a job here? What additional experience would be helpful?
  • If a job were open in your department, what reservations would you have about considering me
  • Is there someone I could shadow to get to know more about this role?