5 Conversations Your Millennial Employees Are Longing To Have

Morgan (a family friend who also happens to be a millennial) was practically screaming in frustration as we began our mentoring session, “Arghhh, Karin, I’m just so frustrated. They want me to do all this crap… none of it seems important, and it’s getting in the way of my real work.”

It would have been tempting to just take Morgan’s word for it– that the “crap” she was being asked to do made no sense.

After all, I suppose I should be on Morgan’s “side,” but as I dug below the “crap,” I could see a logical explanation for almost everything she was being asked to do.

K- “Has your boss explained why these things are important?”

M- “Nope.”

K- “Do you think your boss has your best interest at heart?”

M-“Sometimes.”

K-“Well let me try to explain why I think they’re asking for all this.”

She let out a palpable sigh as I went through the possible explanations. (Keep in mind that I have no idea if these were the real reasons… but just connecting her dots with my experience.)

Imagine how much better that would have been coming from her boss.

I stand by my view that millennials are just human beings doing the best they can, like the rest of us. The more I work with this generation, however, I realize that it’s not that they their needs are that different, it’s that they are more vocal when things don’t make sense.

Thank goodness.

Asking more “whys” can be powerful, positive disruptive force
in our organizations, communities and world.

And of course, the flip side of this conversation is that there often is a very good “why” worth listening to. We need to all get better at explaining and listening, even if we don’t like what we hear.

Five Conversations Your Millennial Employees Are Longing To have

If you’re running into frustration with your millennials questioning everything and not “getting with the program,” consider tackling one of these five conversations.

  1. How can I show up authentically (be true to myself) and still be effective? (Help me navigate the politics.)
  2. Why do we have to do it this way? (Explain the why behind all these policies and processes that seem to be wasting my time)
  3. Why does my work matter? (Help me find the greater meaning in the work I do.)
  4. When you say “I’m not ready” for a promotion, can you be more specific? (And how do I get ready beyond just putting in my time?)
  5. I’ve got some ideas for how we can do this better. (Please listen to me and take me seriously).

The best way to bridge the generational gap is open dialogue. Let’s have more.

Who Leads Next? What Every Employer Needs to Know To Develop Your Millennial Employees

As David Dye and I prepare for our Winning Well Asia Tour this Spring, we continue our dialogue on with Michael Teoh, author of the Potential Matrix and founder of Thriving Talents. To hear more, you can listen to this recorded webinar in which we discuss:

  1. How to Build a Culture that Develops Leaders before they have Titled Responsibility
  2. Ways to Talk with your Younger Talent to keep them Engaged and bought into the Development Process
  3. Key Mistakes to Avoid – Don’t Push Your Leaders Out The Door!
  4. A Process to Identify and Draw Out the Best from Your Emerging Leaders

 

The Morning After: 6 Sure-Fire Ways to Ensure Your Training Sticks

“John” glanced excitedly at the conference room walls filled with easel sheets, plans and ideas. And then sighed deeply as he shuffled though his deep pile of notes and action items.

“Karin, I guarantee you, I’ll be a better leader tomorrow morning as a result of your Winning Well bootcamp. And I’m almost certain I’ll still be a better leader the following week, and maybe even the week after that.

It’s week three that worries me. How can I be sure to maintain the ROI and that I keep applying these Winning Well techniques when real life hits the fan?” 

John’s question is real. If you’re like most managers, you’ve left more than one training program with good intentions, only to fall back into old behaviors. So how do you make the training stick? 

6 Sure-Fire Ways to Ensure Your Training Sticks

  1. Focus on one behavior change at a time.
    When you learn game-changing leadership techniques, it’s tempting to try everything all at once. After all, if these techniques produce results, you owe it to your team to use them. Right? Perhaps. But not all at the same time. Pick one specific behavior or approach you know will make the impact and integrate it into your leadership approach. Practice it consistently. Tweak it. Make it your own. Ask for feedback. Once you feel confident and competent in that behavior, the timing might be right to add in another technique. Too much change all at once will overwhelm both you and your team.
  2. Find an accountability partner.
    Change is hard, and it can be lonely. It’s much easier to give up when no one’s looking. Find someone you trust who understands what you’ve just learned (someone else in your training class is a great choice). Share the behavior you’re working on and make a commitment to check in with one another once a week to see how things are going and discuss challenges and brainstorm next steps.
  3. Invite your team on the journey.
    Tell your team what you’ve learned and what you’ve chosen to work on and why. Invite them to notice when it’s working and offer suggestions as to what you can do better. Your team already knows you’re not perfect, and they’ll be delighted to know you’re working on becoming a more effective manager.
  4. Teach what you’ve learned.
    One of the best ways to become a rock star at a skill is to teach it. Consider sharing some of the tools you’ve learned and teach them to others.
  5. Ask for feedback.
    Make it a point to ask for feedback on the impact your new approach is having on the people you’re leading. Ask open-ended questions about what you can do to improve.
  6. ww-winning-well-sidebar-impact-live-dec2016-370x370taglineWhen you screw up, apologize and try again.
    New habits don’t come easy. If you slip back into old behaviors, apologize and try again. Your team knows you’re not perfect. They just want to know you’re trying. 

    Training is important, but what matters most is what you do when you get back to your team. With just a bit of focus, you can ensure the strongest ROI for you and your team.

Give yourself (and your team) the gift of a fast start to the new year. Join our Winning Well event in MD this December. Click on the image to the left for more information.

 

5 Proven Ways To Make Your One-On-One Meetings More Impactful

“Nicole” called me looking for help on employee engagement. “Karin, I’m looking at our employee engagement survey and 80% of the respondents said they haven’t had a one-on-one meeting with their boss in the last year. How is that possible? And what do we do now?”

Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve run into such a situation. If you’re not having one-on-one meetings regularly (ideally once a week) with your direct reports, just start. Show up and listen. Ask where they need help. Recognize effort and accomplishment. Say thank you. Connect.

Don’t over-think, just start.

On the other hand if you’re doing one-on-one meetings, and they feel like a waste of time on either side, read on to discover a few tips to make them more impactful.

I learned the value of a great one-on-one meeting from my boss, Mel, when I took over a new division at Verizon Wireless. She had her assistant schedule a “pull-up,” on my calendar,  so I thought we were in for a casual chat. She jumped  in eagerly and inquired, “So, what’s on your list?”

My list? I didn’t have a list, and asked her for hers to get a sense of the “pull-up” scene. 

Mel’s list was scratched in various colored ink and pencil … clearly she’d been keeping it all week. Apparently, she’d saved interrupting me on IM, phone calls and email by keeping a list of important, but less urgent topics and highlighting the decisions that required dialogue.  I could have leaned over the desk and kissed her. 

From that moment on, I replicated the process with my direct report team, saving all of us from needless interruptions and ensuring we had quality-time for focused conversation.

5 Proven Ways To Make Your One-On-Ones Meetings More Impactful

  1. Build a Two-Way Agenda 
    Mel taught me the power of a two-way, one-on-one agenda. Come with an agenda and ask your direct report to do the same. Develop a cadence of keeping a list throughout the week.  As both a leader and follower, after I learned the fine art of a great one-on-one, I would keep a growing list for each direct report (and my boss)  each week of the important/less urgent things we needed to discuss. This saved us a lot of interruptions and emails along the way. 
  2. Reinforce the MIT (Most Important Thing) and link to the Bigger MIT
    In Winning Well, we talk about identifying the MIT or Most Important Thing you can do each day, each week, and each quarter to make the biggest strategic impact. Meaningful one-on-one sessions link clearly back to that. If you’re finding yourselves stuck in continuous conversation that has nothing to do with what matters most, that’s an important indicator that it’s time for a prioritization conversation. 
  3. Notice Something Great
    The most impactful recognition is often what you notice along the way — it’s the small behaviors and efforts that you reinforce that lead to breakthrough outcomes. If you’re preparing for a one-on-one and can’t think of a single thing going right, here’s the lay-up question, “What are you most proud of this week?” 
  4. Ask Great Questions
    Terrific one-on-ones are a conversation. Come prepared with a few great questions and build from there. 
    -What was the MIT (most important thing you accomplished last week– and why was this so impactful?)
    -What’s your MIT for this week?
    -Where are you stuck?
    -Who else can we engage to help?
    -What do you need from me?
  5. Say Thank You
    Mean it. Be specific. 

It’s seriously hard to have a bad one-on-one if you’re coming from a balanced perspective of strengthening results and relationships. The hardest part is carving out the time and preserving it for your team. 

7 Things Your High-Performing Employees Long To Hear You Say

These are all real statements I’ve heard in the last few weeks:

“Oh we don’t worry about observing our high-performing call center reps. We just focus on the ones who are struggling.”

“John doesn’t really need a training and development plan like everyone else, he’s got his job nailed.”

“Well, he’s a bit a rough around the edges, but we don’t say anything. He’s so good at his job, we’re afraid to tick him off.”

“Oh Sally’s good. She loves what she does. Thank God for her. She just likes to be left alone to do her thing.”

I get it. Your high-performing employees never seem like the MIT. (Most Important Thing). They’ve got it. You can count on them. They don’t appear to want your help. They don’t complain. You’ve got other fish to fry.

But the truth is, when I meet with such high-performers and ask what they need, here’s what they tell me they long for from their boss.

What Your High Performing Employees Long to Hear You Say

  1. Wow! Thank you.
    “Wow” is a highly under-used word in corporate America. It’s okay to be impressed. No one’s going to slack off because you were wowed.  A big “Wow” followed by a genuine and heartfelt “Thank You” from someone a high-performer respects will trump almost any token of appreciation you can offer.
  2. I know what you’re doing isn’t easy. I’d love to hear more.
    No matter how easy they make it look, it’s not. Your high-performing employees are dealing with all kinds of crap that they’re not bothering you with (and may even think you don’t understand). They would love to tell you some stories. And the stories are worth hearing. Pull up a chair and listen.
  3. Can you show me how you did that?
    Think about the last time you figured something out that you were wildly proud of. What did you long for most? For me, I know it’s someone to share it with. Ask for details and if you’re amazed, show that. Side benefit: this is a remarkable way to uncover best practices. Some of the biggest turnarounds I’ve been a part of began by asking a few high-performers what they were up to.
  4. What could we be doing to better serve our customers?
    They know. If you truly care about the customer experience ask this question, listen and do what you can to take action on the response. 
  5. What’s getting in your way?
    Just because they’re low maintenance, doesn’t mean they don’t have a list. Every time I’ve asked this question I’ve been surprised about some of the easy asks. No, you can’t fix everything. But if you can fix a few small things getting in the way of your highest performers, can you imagine the ROI?
  6. What do you want to do next?
    High-performers want to know you care about them as much (or more than) the work. Make that clear.
  7. I want to help you do even better.
    Challenge them. Help them grow. Even when they think they’re done… ask deeper questions. True high-performers almost always want to achieve more. Inspire them to get past the tired.

Not every high-performer is looking to be promoted. And that’s fine. You need rock stars in every role. But every high-performer is human and longs for appreciation, connection, and wants to be heard. It’s so easy to direct our attention to the folks who need our help the most. Be sure to pay attention to your top 20% as well.

The Performance Potential Matrix Demystified: 5 Behaviors Keeping You Out of Box 9

You know your boss is headed into the talent review meeting. You’ve updated your resume, had the heart-to-heart, and said your prayers. And then… the response, “It went fine… just keep up the good work… oh, and be patient.”

If that’s ever happened to you, it’s probably because of a “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type oath amongst the execs having the conversation. And rightfully so, the most important part of any talent review conversation is candor. And no exec wants to tick off a hi-po by being the naysayer–even when it’s true. Because, you never know who you will work for next. 

But as the holder of the marker, leading hundreds of succession planning conversations inside Verizon  and with many clients since then… I’ll tell you right now, yes– candor is key– and so is feedback.

I will also share that every single time someone in my organization asked where they fell on the grid I told them, and why. Not who said what, of course. But the only fighting chance someone has to get better is to know how they’re being perceived. Candor is rare. And valuable.

5 Behaviors Keeping You Out of Box 9

When I lead these discussions, I don’t accept “There’s just something about her style.” Or “He’s just not that strategic.” Such generalities are BS. And so we drill further. When we get to the real issue, there are 5 issues that come up again and again. So if you’re not where you want to be on the grid, or you’ve been sitting in a square… “ready now” but getting passed over again and again, consider if you fall into any of these behavioral traps.

  1. Your Performance is Sketchy
    The performance part of the talent review is pretty clear-cut. If you’re not knocking it out of the park, no matter how brilliant or talented you are… results matter. If you’ve taken over a bad scene that’s not your fault, even better… fix it.That will be great fodder for the next performance-potential discussion.
  2. You’re Always Talking About Your Career
    If you have 37 mentors, and are seeking advice from everyone with a title who will listen… chill out. In my keynotes, I call that woman “Carol Career Path,” who’s more focused on the job she wants, than the job she has. “Carol” always gets laughter and many “I know this woman (or man)” nods. Carol is everywhere. Don’t be Carol.
  3. You’re the Loudest One in the Room
    Either literally or metaphorically. Either way it drives folks crazy. Meetings take twice as long when you’re in town. If you find that you’re doing most of the talking, instead of wondering why everyone else is so quiet, try changing half of your sentences to questions, and then be quiet. Really listen. High-potential leaders get others talking. 
  4. You’re Overly Competitive
    This one’s tricky, particularly in a stack-ranked world. And, I’m quite sure it kept me out of box 9 early in my career. It took me a minute to understand that peers are your lifeline. Yes, your team’s performance matters. Yes, yes, you’re more likely to get into box 9 if you’re sitting at the top of the stack rank. But keep the bigger picture in mind. The company needs EVERYONE knocking it out of the park. High potential leaders look around and see who else they can help get the results they neeed.
  5. You’re Rude
    Yes, rude. It comes up in nearly every discussion. Some rock star thinks they’re above the need to treat people with dignity and respect. To say “good morning” and “please” and “thank you.” If there’s any chance you’re treating your boss with more manners than you are your assistant, you may need some more work in this arena.

ww-winning-well-sidebar-impact-live-dec2016-370x370taglineYou’re working too hard and care too much to sabotage your career with these behaviors. If you’re not where you want to be in your career, I encourage you to ask those you trust for candid feedback about what might be getting in the way. 

Join Us For a Live Winning Well Event

If you’re looking for to get your team off to a fast start to 2017, I’m pleased to announce our public Winning Well Impact Live event. Click on the image to the left to learn more.

You may also enjoy this article we wrote in Fast Company: 10 Common Excuses that Silently Damage Managers’ Careers

 

Teachable Moments: Learning to Win Well the Hard Way

When I told “John” what I did for a living, he chuckled. “Oh, I learned how to be a good leader the hard way.” 

Don’t we all. 

It’s often our most klutsy moves that teach us how to Win Well.

John’s Story

Here is “John’s” story. I hope you’ll share yours with our LGL community in the comments below.

I was the VP of well-known hotel chain. We’d been preparing for a month for Bob, our COO’s,  annual visit to our region.  This was our moment to shine. 

I’d staffed that day with our top-notch managers who were all on point to be sure every guest was getting white glove treatment. I’d personally done the rounds to ensure we were prepared. I checked everything from the lightbulbs to the kitchen inventory.  I even had the staff practicing their elevator pitches for any skip level meetings, to ensure they could discuss their results in just the right way.

 I’d left nothing to chance. Or so I thought.

The day of the visit, he asked to walk around unescorted. I wasn’t worried, my staff was ready to show him all our best practices.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he pulled out his Moleskin on the way back to the airport with a long list of problems he’d uncovered. The brakes were squeaking in one of the shuttle vans.  One hotel was consistently running out of shampoo. One manager was having terrible trouble recruiting maid staff. The list went on and on.

Embarrassed, I looked at Bob and asked how he’d possibly uncovered so many issues in such a short period of time.

Bob said matter of factly, “I just asked every employee I met if there was anything they needed to create a better customer experience.  And they told me. Simple as that.”

“When’s the last time YOU asked?”

That was a critical turning point in my leadership journey. 

I’d been so busy working to tell people what needed to be done, I’d completely overlooked the obvious point. They were the ones with the answers. I needed to ask, not tell.

I’ve found that’s the answer to almost every real management challenge. Ask more questions. Listen. And respond. 

How to Win Well, When Winning Feels Impossible

Last week I was doing a Winning Well workshop with the United Nations, when one of the participants, “Pete,” looked at me sincerely and said, “I hear you, and all these tools sound good, and I’m going to use them.  But what do you when Winning is impossible?”

I waited for more. 

“Our mission is world peace.”

Okay, Pete has a point. 

And I’m writing this from an airplane on my way to speak to 900 healthcare workers who’s mission is to create “26 million exceptional patient experiences a year. “That’s a tall order.

If I was facing a terrifying diagnosis, or I was watching my sister die, or my baby was born four months early, it would take a hell of a lot to convince me I was having an “exceptional” patient experience.

How to Win Well When Winning Feels Impossible

“Impossible” missions can crush the soul. You dig the wells, build a school, buy back the guns, and stabilize the village, only to find the next day a revolution causes you to evacuate. 

Or despite an army of dedicated doctors and nurses all executing flawlessly together, the baby still dies.

I’m sure you have your stories too.

How do you get back up the next day and try again?

My advice to Pete and anyone else doing work that really matters is simply this.

Focus on the “well,” and the “wins” will follow.  The Win with a capital W might be impossible, but the lower case wins add up and change the world.

Be confident your work makes a difference and stand up for what matters.

Stay humble, knowing that the mission is bigger than you and your frustrations.

Identify, reinforce and celebrate the specific behaviors that lead to breakthrough results.  Discouraging times often call for a confidence burst. 

Invest in the relationships with your team. Reach out to others who can help. Recognize the impact you’re making at a human level.

If you’re working on achieving the impossible, thank you. 

Focus on the well and the wins will follow.

Internal Internships- A Winning Well Best Practice

Have you ever been an intern? Have you ever hired an intern? 

There are many reasons to hire an intern. Sure some see it as a short-cut to cheap labor or to appease HR. 

But if you’ve ever been part of a great internship program–on either side of the desk– you know that it can be a fantastic job preview–an extensive 2-way interview process. It’s an opportunity to try before you buy.

Internships give interns the opportunity to ask:

  • Does this work align with my passion and purpose?
  • Are these my people? 
  • Can I see myself doing this every day?

Of course, employers are asking similar questions:

  • Does this kid have potential?
  • What unique contributions would they bring to our company?
  • Do they fit in?

Watching my MBA students in the great internship dance is fascinating. You can learn a lot about workplace culture and how to attract and retain millennial talent over a “How’s your internship going?” cup of coffee. (Even more over a beer.)

This observation is why I was so intrigued when I bumped into this best practice while I was doing some Winning Well consulting. 

The senior leadership team had sent me to this location to understand what was going so right and to help them spread it to their other locations. The list of Winning Well best practices was healthy, but this one struck me most.  And it’s going in our next book.

The Power of Internal Internships

The strong culture was keeping people there, but there was also a bit of stagnation. Employees were getting comfortable in their roles and afraid a lateral move would impact their performance rating or earning potential if they were not successful.

So the manager built an Internal Internship program. Employees could raise their hand to intern in another role for two weeks. They would receive some training, shadow, take on some tasks, and finally “try on” the job. No commitment. No risk. No guarantees. 

If after two weeks, everyone loves it, they are encouraged to apply for the next open position.  If they tried it and hated it, at least they knew without a lot of sunk costs or time on either end.

Benefits of Internal Internship

  • Exponentially more discussion around career pathing, even for those who didn’t decide to intern.
  • Frank career path conversations: “No, you cannot do an internship with that attendance record. Let’s get that cleaned up first.”
  • A broader understanding of the big picture. “Oh, that’s why they do it that way.”
  • Increased collaboration across departments, with more folks having walked a mile in the other guy’s shoes.
  • Improved morale and retention. More people seeing a future–not just a job, but a career.

When I asked the manager about the ROI, she was all in. The value of getting the right people in the right seats, performing well, far surpassed the additional time and effort her team spent on the program.

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 Powerful Organizational Trust Elixer

It was my second time up a 14er mountain in Colorado. Oxygen was at a premium as I joined my Winning Well partner, David Dye, as he led this mission of mostly first timers up Mt. Democrat. As the self-designated trip photographer, I’d taken some decent shots along the way, including the in-the-dark-before-picture that everyone was counting on.in the dark  So you can image how frustrated I was when I realized that I’d left my camera on the trail  (and all the shots from this trip and the adventure before) somewhere at the midpoint rest stop. Apparently, I’d accidentally exchanged a decent camera and all the memories it included, for a granola bar. David could sense my concern, and looked at me sincerely. “I’m not worried. No one steals a camera… even a left one… on a 14er. There’s an unspoken code.” My inclination was to immediately scramble back down to begin the search. How was he so sure an ad-hoc village of strangers would comply with this “unspoken code?” Another young  hiker overheard our conversation. “I agree. And I’m in. What kind of camera did you lose and where? Text me your number, and I’ll look for it on the way down (we were still on the way up). If I find it I’ll meet you in Denver.”

And So We Continued

Apparently, sometimes the best answer is to trust the culture. As we reached the crest of the mountain I heard the excitement coming from a group of happy hikers who spotted some of my friends who were about 20 yards behind me. “We looked through all the pictures, and clearly you were on the way up, not down, otherwise there would be victory pics. We’ve been watching for your crew the whole way and finally started to see people we recognized.”

What Would It Feel Like To Work in A Truly High-Trust Culture?

When we fear loss, it’s easy to scramble to the next plateau of self-protection. We wonder, why would they help me? Why would they go there? Is there anything here for them to gain? What if we started a new conversation in our teams and organizations? Start where you are. Ask your team.

What would it look like if we had a truly high trust culture?

When I ask teams I work with, this is some of what comes up:

  • When you make a mistake, you know someone will have your back
  • We know everyone’s putting in their very best effort
  • No one wants to steal your stuff or take credit for your work
  • Folks will go the extra mile to help you
  • Good behaviors are rewarded
  • We care about one another as human beings

I’m not sure how the unspoken code on the Colorado 14ers started, but I do know what keeps it going. Hikers know that “people like us” have each other’s backs and don’t steal people’s stuff. How do “people like us” act in your organization. What’s the unspoken code? What do you want it to be? It’s worth the conversation.

How To Be a More Powerful Listener

Want to be a more powerful listener? If you’re like me, sometimes the distractions are personal. We’re afraid to hear ourselves. Great listening starts by setting aside the physical and emotional distractions that get in the way of what we most need to hear. But when we can, the impact is palpable.

I encourage you to pick one person this week and really listen to what she has to say. Even if that person is you.

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.