5 Top Leadership Articles Week of September 18, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 18, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too. (Click on the title of the article to go read it for yourself.)

Burn Your Rule Book and Unlock the Power of Principles by Eric McNulty

The producer of a thought leadership event for senior executives called me recently. She shared with a rueful chuckle that the theme for this year’s meeting was uncertainty: in economic policy, trade, healthcare, international relations…the list went on. I replied that the event would certainly tap into a larger zeitgeist — everyone is wrestling with uncertainty.

Although some argue that there have been more turbulent periods in history, I would respond that these comparisons don’t matter. Perceived turbulence and uncertainty is higher than it has been in several generations.

My Comment: This is such an important concept. You’ll never have a rule for every situation. When we share Winning Well with our corporate clients and keynote audiences, we always start by sharing the core model: an internal balance of both confidence and humility combined with an external focus on both results and relationships. Even in our six-month programs we can’t possibly give you the specific solution to every single scenario you’ll ever encounter (they’re constantly changing, after all). When you have principles, however, you’re ready for whatever comes. How can I show up with confidence and humility? In this moment, how can I achieve results and build relationships?

When to Quit Your Job, if You’re a Leader (and how to exit well) by Mark Crowley

A number of managers have asked us forms of this question; What do you do when you’re deeply unhappy in a job, and you’re a senior leader?

Today we tackle that question, and how to transition out in a way that’s good for your career, and the company you’re leaving.

When do you make a change?

When you’re an individual contributor, if you’re unhappy for too long, it’s easy to just go get another job. You give your notice, help find and train your replacement, and all is well.

For better and for worse, when you rise in an organization, the stakes are much higher. While normally this is a good thing (more responsibility, compensation, and ownership), it has major drawbacks if you want to quit your job:

My Comment: I read this one with interest as I’ve been in a senior leadership position when the time came that I knew I needed to move on. Crowley addresses both when and how to make this transition gracefully. Even if you’re unhappy or ill-treated: don’t burn bridges or depart with any less dignity than you want to have every day.

4 Strategies to Build a Company Culture of Employee Engagement In a Virtual Workplace by Perry Koh

As the number of Americans who work remotely continues to increase, business owners and managers are finding that keeping workers engaged in a virtual environment can present some challenges. A recent Gallup poll found that only 30 percent of workers who work exclusively from home or mobile devices are engaged with their jobs, compared to a 33 percent engagement rate among all workers. Lack of connection with co-workers and lack of developmental guidance from managers contribute to these lower engagement levels.

Gallup’s research also found that companies who achieve higher engagement rates from remote workers take proactive steps to equip remote workers for success, with managers playing a key role in maintaining motivation. Here are four steps companies can take to build a strong company culture that promotes engagement in the virtual workplace.

My Comment: The first sentence in the second paragraph above reads equally well if you remove the word “remote.” High engagement results from proactive, intentional effort and managers play a key role – both for on-site and remote teams. In fact, remote teams need the same things: connection, purpose, encouragement, growth, and influence, but how you create these things changes when people are not sitting next to you. Koh discusses four elements and how you can help create them for your remote team.

5 New Leadership Literacies to Prepare for the Future by Skip Pritchard

If you want to get ready for the future, you need new leadership literacies. That’s what noted futurist Bob Johansen teaches those who aspire to lead well into the future. If you’re a rising star and want to prepare for what’s ahead, this book outlines future trends and skills you need in the decades to come.

Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. He has worked with global organizations from P&G to Disney. He’s the author or co-author of ten books. His newest is The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything.

My Comment: It can be challenging to think about how you will need to lead in the future when you have immediate issues and a team that needs you now. However, looking at these views of leadership in the future will help you lead more effectively today. Some elements – particularly being there when you’re not and clarity over certainty — are totally applicable today.

11 Emojis That Make You Look Really Unprofessional at Work by Peter Economy

As technology advances each year–if not each day–we, as consumers and communicators, are always delighted by the new ways in which we can strike up conversations with each other. Whether it be online or on our smartphones, long-gone are the days ruled by the simple colon-parenthesis smiley face. Our horizons have expanded, and the smiley and winky faces of the past have now made way for emojis, emoticons popularized by iPhone text messaging….

If you’re just boarding the emoji train and are not sure which emojis specifically should be left alone when it comes to their workplace use, here are 11 emojis that are guaranteed to make you look really unprofessional…

My Comment: I would hope that no one needs to be told that a poop emoji is unprofessional, but I’m sure it’s happened before. As with all your communication, does it represent your personal brand as you intend? Will you be comfortable with it representing you in a year or two? Would you be comfortable if it were printed in a newspaper or website for everyone to see?

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Mind the MIT

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

 

2. Ditch the Diaper Drama

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

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

3. Channel Challengers 

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

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

4. Own the Ugly 

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

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

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

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

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

6. Put People Before Projects 

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

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

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

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

8. Rock Your Role, One Skill at a Time

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

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

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

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

5 Stages of Manager Soul Loss #WinningWell

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Sentences to Energize and Support Your Volunteers

1. What can I do to help?

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

2. What you are doing here is valuable.

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

3. Thank you.

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

4. Let’s have some fun!

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

5. What do you think we should do?

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

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

See Also: Why Volunteering Will Make You a Better Leader

How to Survive a Terrible, User Boss

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

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

meeting

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

Everyone hates bad meetings. And bad meetings are everywhere.

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

Three Simple Secrets to Running a Remarkable Meeting

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

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

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

    or “We’re going to decide by consensus”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Three Behaviors That Will Convince Your Boss You’re a Rock Star

Yesterday “Doug,” a participant in one of our Winning Well workshops, asked, “Karin, if I were to walk into your office right now with the goal of convincing you I’m a rock star, what behaviors would get your attention?”

I’m always intrigued by what comes out of the other end of my microphone during spontaneous Q & A— the raw advice bubbling straight from my heart without the benefit of the backspace key.

So, here’s my answer to Doug, and for you if you’re looking to make a bigger impact.

How to Convince Your Boss You’re a Rock Star

 Of course, the table stakes are integrity—a reputation of doing what you say. I’m going to assume you’re there. On top of that my big three are…

  1. Are You Gung-Ho?
    Of course, I’d never tell an interview candidate “You’re just not gung ho,” but I can spot an all-in, positive spirit within the first few minutes of an interaction with another human being. “Gung ho” can take many forms: the quiet introvert who comes prepared with a spreadsheet of our biggest organizational challenges and his thoughts for fixing them; the passionate extrovert sharing stories of customer turn-around efforts she’s led; or the eager employee bringing new ideas for a special project.“Gung ho” means you’re as excited about this work as I am—and you’re ready to give this job everything you’ve got to be successful.
  2. Do You Offer Solutions?
    Let me be clear, “gung ho” is necessary but not sufficient to hit the Karin Hurt rock-star radar. There’s always a long line of people “gung ho” with ideas of what I could do to make things better. I want to know what you’re eager to do and how you’re planning to do it. True rock stars bring solutions—not just problems. They view constraints as creative challenges, not road blocks. They’re willing to try new approaches and are resilient and determined to overcome setbacks.
  3. Do You Have the Respect of Your Peers?
    Even if you’re gung-ho and full of creative solutions—if you’re driving your peers batty, something is amiss. And no—it’s not because you’re that much better than everybody else (and if you even hint that you believe that—I’m not buying your “I’m a rock star” sales pitch.) It’s impossible to Win Well in the long run without trust, collaboration, and sharing of best practices. I’d take a team of B+ performers who know how to truly collaborate over a few smart lone rangers every time.

If you’re looking to convince your boss you’re a rock star, show up with confidence in your skills and the willingness to go the extra mile to make an impact, along with the humility to know what’s broken and how you can help. Be committed to achieving breakthrough results through collaborative relationships.

That’s Winning Well.

Before You Forget, Stop and Do This Immediately

Have you ever met a truly humble person– someone who’s entire life is a sacrificial commitment to a cause they deeply believe in? As I spoke with Sister Louise in Thailand about her 50-year commitment to helping women and children out of extreme poverty and danger, I was blown away by her selfless mission.

Although she’s Catholic, her focus is not about a conversion of her 95% Buddhist community–it’s about “saving (with a little “s”) lost sheep.”

She just wants to give as many women and children as possible a shot at an empowered life.

And she and her teams are transforming lives. She’s Winning more Well than I could ever hope to.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m so haunted by the story she shared when I asked her what was the most challenging part of her work.

She didn’t miss a beat. And her answer surprised me.

There Was This One Time

There was a woman who had come to us for help many times. We worked with her on skills like hairdressing and sewing, but she struggled. She would give up, quit, and then come back.

Several times we just gave her money to get her out of a jam. We didn’t give up.

And then one day after being gone for quite a while, she came back to us and she proudly showed me a stack of money she had earned.

Relieved, I said “Oh you must be so grateful for this blessing.”

And then she screamed at me, “THANKFUL? BLESSING?  I DID THIS ALL BY MYSELF!!!!”

Sister Louise looked at me with tears in her eyes, “Can you imagine? How could she not see all the people who had worked so hard to help her? To be grateful to those who didn’t give up?”

Sister Louise had no expectations that this sheep would believe in God, but held out hope for a little gratitude for the work of his “hands and feet” in the form of her volunteers.

And there she stood, arguably the most humble human I’ve ever met– dumbfounded by the lack of a simple expression of gratitude.

Everyone needs to hear that they are making a difference.

Who Do You Need to Thank?

When we’re working really hard, it’s so easy to delude ourselves into thinking we did it all by ourselves.

I hear it all the time “I EARNED this promotion.” “I WORKED MY BUTT off to get here.”

I’ll admit. I’ve said those words.

But the truth is, none of us got here on our own– no matter how hard we worked.

There are managers and teachers and parents and peers who all helped in some way. There’s even the boss you hated, that finally convinced you that you weren’t as strong as you thought you were…and you worked harder to prove her wrong.

Who helped you today? Last week? Last quarter?

Who had an INSPIRE conversation that made an impact? Who helped become more confident? Who consistently takes the time to sweat the small stuff so you don’t have to?

What if you stopped right now and said thank you?

How to Build a More Customer-Centered, Empathetic Workforce

When you call customer service you want to know 2 things:  (1) Does the person who picked up your call care about you and your issue? and (2) Are they capable of fixing it?

You don’t have to be a customer service expert to know within 20 seconds whether the guy on the other end of the phone cares and is eager to help.

When we work with customer service departments, empathy is always identified as a top MIT (Most Important Thing). And yet it’s also one of the hardest set of behaviors to train.

A Best Practice For Training Empathy (Care About Real Lives)

I recently did a follow-up visit to a client who had invested in one of our Winning Well Operations Excellence Rallies. They had identified “Does the Customer Know How Much We Care?” as a top MIT, and set about isolating the behaviors and building a focus on empathy into their training, performance management, and recognition systems.

They built a confidence burst approach to encourage empathy. One day the representatives came in to find signs of a missing baby all over the office: a crocheted bootie, a pacifier, and some randomly scattered signs, “Has anyone seen baby Carl?” “What happened to baby Carl?” The representatives were intrigued. The entire center was talking about the baby Carl mystery during lunch breaks and between calls.

The managers had fun with this for a few days and then did what they call “the reveal.” They transferred the calls to another center for a few minutes and brought in “Baby Carl,” a carefully swaddled doll. “Remember how much you were worried about baby Carl? That’s how concerned we need to be about every customer’s issue. Every customer has real life concerns like small babies to take care of or sick friends and family.

Baby Carl represents our mission to show our customers how much we care. Every call should start with CARL–Care About Real Lives.”

As weeks went on, and a representative exhibited extraordinary empathy on a call– when they showed how much they CARLed (now a verb), they were awarded the Baby Carl recognition, had their picture take with Carl who stayed on their desk until someone was able to “steal” him back with a similarly empathetic call.

Every time someone won the Baby Carl award, the management team communicated exactly HOW the representative had shown empathy. Each selfie snapped with Baby Carl reinforced the behaviors they were looking to emulate. Representatives gained more confidence and competence as they showed up more consistently as someone who Cares About Real Lives.

One thing great leaders do is make the invisible, visible. Want your employees to show more empathy? Find ways to consistently make empathy visible, and celebrate the impact.