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.

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.

The Best Damn Doer Syndrome: Why the Hardest Workers Seldom Get Promoted

Are you working too hard?

Does everything fall apart when you’re not around?

Do you find yourself bailing out your boss, your peers, and your team?

If you can answer YES to any of these questions, it’s likely you’re being held back by the “Best Damn Doer” syndrome.

Be careful.

I know. I’ve felt the guilt of being promoted over people working longer and harder than me.

I’ve also promoted the “right candidate” over the one with the most sweat equity in the game.

And the other night, I had one of my clients ask me to help “John,” his high-potential “best damn doer.”

“John’s the go-to for everyone, he adds huge value AND it’s holding him and the business back. How do we get him past being ‘the best damn doer?'”

5 Ways to Overcome Being the Best Damn Doer

The Best Damn Doers are the glue, the lynch-pins, the guys or gals who consistently win the awards…. AND yet are frustrated when year over year their less “competent” peers get promoted.

If this sounds like you, here are a few ways to back away from the grind and add additional value to the team–and your career.

  1. Start with a Heart-to-Heart with Your Boss
    Bosses love the go-to guy. I know. I’ve had them on speed-dial for years. But the truth is, your boss is likely the same person coaching you to “delegate more and be more strategic.” Even when it’s your boss asking for you to be doing the doing, pause and explain how you’re working to develop your team. Commit to setting clear expectations and inspecting outcomes, but resist the urge to be the one to take care of it, even if it’s your boss doing the asking.
  2. Build Skills Before the Fire Drill
    When the crap’s hitting the fan, it’s hard to hand over the reins. Bring your team in early and often in low-stake situations. Get them ready.
  3. Delegate Well
    In Winning Well, we offer lots of tools to help in this arena. Be sure you’re delegating process not outcome, defining the finish line, and are holding people accountable.
  4. Ask Great Questions
    The best way to get your team thinking is to ask not tell. One secret to great leadership is getting your team thinking along the same wavelength. Ask your team open ended questions that encourage them to find solutions (if you’re reading Winning Well, see pages 135-139 for a useful list.)
  5. Be a Curious Learner
    Ask your team to teach you what they know. You might be surprised by their knowledge and approach. Then your coaching is gravy.

Bottom line. The more you can replicate your best damn doer skills, the better the results, for your organization, the team, and for your career.

Step away from the doing, and watch the magic.

How to Not Screw Up Your Career– #WinningWell in Fast Company

You’re working hard to build a good reputation as a manager. So you’re taking on new projects and delegating certain tasks to others. You think you’re getting the hang of it, but then you make a remark that seems to rub someone the wrong way—and you aren’t sure why.

Being decisive and knowing how to say no are important leadership skills, but handled the wrong way, they can come off as excuses that can damage your career. Managers need to lead with confidence, humility, and a long-term focus on building relationships. That means being vigilant about avoiding these statements or anything that sounds like them. Read more at Fast Company

WINNING WELL UPDATE

Our new Winning Well landing page is here, including the opportunity to download a few chapters for free, and to Winning Well-3Dorder customized, autographed bookplates as a thank you for pre-orders. Click here to see more. Also please know that CEO Reads is offering a nice discount for quantity orders.

I’m working on my Spring Winning Well Speaking tour. Please contact me if you would be interested in a keynote, workshop, or virtual training.

 

8 Ways to Refresh Your Career in the New Year

If you’re like me, at this point, the holiday hoopla already feels like a distant memory; you’re invigorated by the possibilities for the year ahead; and perhaps just a bit overwhelmed by the the stretch-goals in front of you. You’re neck-deep in planning and goal setting. If you’re a people manager, you’re likely meeting with your team to establish performance agreements and developmental plans. Excellent. Don’t forget about you.

8 Ways to Refresh Your Career in the New Year

The new year is the perfect time to step back and take some tangible actions to invest in your career. Here are 8 ways to get you started.

  1. Identify one fear to overcome.
    We’ve all got them–the one area of our life that would improve if only we weren’t too scared. How would your career (and life) improve if this were the year you got past it? Start by writing it down. This year I’ll have the courage to _______. Then tell someone about your plan. The best way to build real confidence is to succeed at something that scares you.
  2. Take an honest inventory of what’s working and where you’re stuck.
    What were the three behaviors that most helped your career and your professional brand in 2015? Which three behaviors got in the way? What, specifically, can you do to continue more of the beneficial behaviors and reduce (or eliminate) the non-productive or career damaging ones?
  3. Update your LinkedIn profile.
    Yes, you should. I’m working with a company now that recently announced an 8000 person reduction. Many of those folks now scrambling to build the next phase of their career have admitted that they hadn’t really worried about their LinkedIn profile before. Here are some hints to get you started.
  4. Identify your big win.
    You have lots of goals and objectives to achieve this year, I get that. But it’s worth identifying the one area where you’re going to absolutely turn heads. What will you achieve this year that will be worth a champagne toast and others swarming to you to learn your secrets?  What can you and your team achieve that will really change the game? If you manage people, this is a great conversation to have in one of your first meetings of the year.
  5. Clear out the clutter.
    A Gartner survey found that an average employee can spend up to $4800 just looking for stuff. Now before any of my awesome administrative assistants who’ve supported me over the years start leaving pithy comments, let me admit I’m terrible at this. So, instead of telling you how…. here’s a nice resource on the topic.
  6. Build a networking plan.
    Make a list of people you would like to know better, and identify one way you can help them or make their job easier. I’m also a big believer in “just because” networking. Imagine the possibilities if you took a deliberate approach to getting to know a bit more about the folks you encounter as you go through your day (on the plane, at the gym, in that class you’re taking). There’s awesome power in the strength of weak ties.
  7. Make your reading list.
    A study from the University of Sussex found that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce your stress levels by 68%.  Most CEOs I know read (including me) read at least four books a month.  Of course I recommend Winning Well for April (learn why here). Inc also has an interesting list of books recommended by high-profile CEOs.
  8. Get feedback
    Whether you use a simple DIY approach to 360 development or invest a little more in a formal process like the one included in my online course, Results that Last, the best way to improve is to truly understand the perceptions of others. 360s can help you identify small behavior changes that can go a long way in building trust and improving communications.

You have the power to make 2016 remarkable.

5 Creative Ways To Make Your Resume Stand Out

You’re no ordinary candidate, so why settle for a yawner of a resume? Long gone are the days of fancy creamy vanilla paper as the go-to standard. Most resumes are emailed and viewed online. So ditch the old-school approach and leverage the latest technology to make your resume pop.

5 Ways to Make Your Resume Pop

1. Name Your Brand

Begin with few word branding statement that describes your unique brand. Define what makes you stand out as the go-to candidate. Sally Hogshead has a great TED Talk on how to be “fascinating” in a few words or less. If you want a more in-depth view, her book “How the World Sees You” is also a great resource.

2. Create an Infographic

There are few hot new FREE sites (some still in beta) that enable you to import your LinkedIn profile to create info-graphics and visual maps of your experiences and timelines. Visualize.me is super easy (I created my profile in about 20 minutes). I had to laugh, you can even get your “resume” printed on a tee-shirt (heck, you never know when that may be just the right gimic). To get uber-fancy you can use ResumeUp for a really robust infographic. To do it well takes a bit more of a time investment, but if I were in the job market I would go this route. Their online stuff is all free, but if you want to print it, you pay a nominal fee. If you want to use traditional infographic tools, this post gives some great advice on what to include.

3. Make Your LinkedIn Profile Sizzle

LinkedIn is still the first place most recruiters go. The good news is the sites come a long way in the last year. You can now upload video, podcasts, images and other examples of your work. I’ve taken advantage of a lot of this (all with their free service), if it helps as an example, click here.

4. Use Power Words

If all this sounds too sexy, and you want to stay old-school, at least use some power words to strengthen the pull. Jennifer Miller introduced me to this GREAT infographic from ZipRecruiter. They analyzed 3 million resumes and correlated them with managers ratings of “5 star.” Power words include: “experience”, “management,” “project.” Weak words such as “me” “myself” “need” “hard” and “learn” should be avoided.

5. Focus on RESULTS not actions

Whatever you do, don’t just have a list of jobs you’ve done. You wouldn’t believe how many resumes I see that still suffer from this number one no no. For more see 5 Questions Your Resume Must Answer and 15 Things You Should Never Put In a Cover Letter Cover Letter 

5 Reasons I Quit My Day Job to Pursue My Dream

Yup, I really did quit my day job to purse my dream full time. No, this is not an April Fools joke. Although last year’s was fun in case you missed it. I will spend my days helping companies eliminate destructive, energy-sucking leadership practices and instead grow confident, competent and creative leaders at every level.

I’ve been engrossed in a 45 day transition to ensure my team doesn’t miss a beat. The true sign of leadership is what happens when the leader walks away. Although the “walking away” part is heartbreaking, the running toward is exhilarating. I will miss my magical team.

As news has spread through my teams at work and with the external strategic companies with whom I partner, nearly everyone has had a similar reaction curve.

  1. Shock – Are you kidding, no one walks away from a great gig like that. What about those long-term incentives you’re leaving on the table?
  2. Sadness – I’m blessed to have built deep connections with so many people whom I care about deeply. We will really miss one another and the outcomes of our collaboration.
  3. Stirring – Wow, look at your eyes when you talk about this. You really are following your calling. I know this your true passion. Good for you.
  4. Support – How can I best help you?

Thank you to all who have been on this curve with me through the last few weeks.

Building Momentum: From Dreaming to Doing

I’d like to say that the last few years of writing and speaking were all a deliberate strategic building towards this moment. But the truth is, I felt the pull and stayed open to possibilities. The exhilaration of the momentum became too hard to resist. I began waking up early and rushing to the computer to see what my email would bring. I felt alive and full of meaning with the growing connections of kindred spirits and leaders needing support.

A less than belligerent commitment is a curse.
~ Eric Maisal<?div>

The long hours and travel to do my leadership role well and the time needed to serve the LGL pursuits became too much to sustain. I had to choose. It was time to do what I felt most called to do. And so I offer some of the behind the scenes decisions that helped turned the dream into reality.

  1. Building A Financial Foundation – When I was in my late twenties with a small baby and a big mortgage, my husband lost his job. My salary could not cover the mortage payment, let alone the other expenses, and our entire savings had gone to the down payment. We ate a lot of noodles. That early experience taught me to never let my lifestyle outgrow my savings. I vowed to save enough that my bags could be “packed,” and not be overly dependent on any company. I shared this philosophy anonymously on Greg Marcus’, Idol Buster blog, in my 2012 post, Bags Packed & Ready To Lead.
  2. Building Genuine Relationships – The most exhilarating part of this journey has been the amazing kindred spirits I’ve met along the way. I have strong leadership values which sometimes leave me swimming upstream. It’s been awesome to connect with other schools of like-minded fish fighting the same battle.
  3. Building On The Basics – For the last 3 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some amazing human beings in other companies as I’ve led our Strategic Partnership Channel. For the first time, more of my time was spent thinking about other companies and the leaders inside them, than at my own company, and it was FUN!  With an incubator of over 25 call centers and 10,000 human beings, I can now absolutely prove that the centers that are led with fear and pressure can’t sustain results, and some have collapsed.  But when leaders empowere their people, built great cultures, and lead with transparency, the results all trend upward, the scorecards become balanced, and employees care about their work. Great frontline leaders and the systems to support them is the foundation of real success. I’m humbled to have been a part of some amazing turnarounds. I feel called to share these gifts more broadly.
  4. Building Bridges – Read any book on graceful exits and they’ll tell you not to “burn bridges.” What this experience has taught me that the real secret is to build and care for strong bridges throughout your career. Help as many people as you can. Treat everyone you meet with deep respect. Care about the whole person and their scene. I’ve been amazed at how people are surfacing from every stage in my career with offers of help and support. “Let me introduce you to…”, “I can help you build your business plan…”, “My wife and I would be delighted to take vacation and come sell books in the back of your conference.”  Cheerleaders are everywhere with open arms.
  5. Building Confidence – It’s never going to feel like exactly the right time. If I wanted to have been talked out of this, there were plenty offering to do that. The “have you thought about” and “what if” questions could easily have scared me back to security. I finally realized that the real risk would be to not offer the world what I now feel I must give.
We must be willing to be shaken up, to submit ourselves to the dark blossomings of chaos, in order to reap the blessings of growth.
~ -Gregg Levoy, Callings<?div>

Amen. Thank you to my wonderful LGL community who have been a large part of this journey so far. Game on. Stay tuned for more updates on what’s next in the coming weeks. Namaste.

5 Reasons Your Great Boss Is Hurting Your Career

Like other good things in life, a great boss relationship, taken to extremes, can wreak havoc with your career. I’ve seen otherwise smart and talented people lose credibility by over-aligning with a great boss. Be sure to diversify your relationship investments. Perhaps you’ll recognize these career-derailing characters. Avoid these common traps.

Great Boss Traps

The Coat Tail Rider

On the surface it feels like the perfect symbiotic relationship. You’re her right hand guy. You work hard and always achieve results. She gets promoted to a new department, and she brings you over. It’s comforting for her to have a someone familiar she can rely on, and you get a promotion, or a new assignment. Win-win, right? Then it happens again, and again. Sweet deal?

Although it’s comfortable and feels like the fast track, beware of riding coat tails, particularly into more than one assignment. Your identity will become enveloped within your more powerful, great boss. People will begin to see you as a package deal. If her career derails, so will yours.

Also, the best leadership growth comes from working with a variety of leaders. Although the devil you know feels easy, you’re both limiting the growth you would get from working with a wider variety of leaders. Better to let your relationship morph into a mentoring relationship, or friendship, while you each continue to pursue the next steps of your career.

The Mini Me

Your great boss is successful, so you work to emulate his every move. You begin dressing more like him and picking up mannerisms. After all, it works for him, why not you? In fact, you may not even notice you’re doing it. Trust me, others do.

No matter how great a leader your great boss is, resist the urge to lead like him. Your best leadership will come when you lead from a place of deep authenticity.   No one wants to follow a copy-cat.

The Tag Along

Your great boss is looking to develop you, and has your best interest at heart, so he brings you along a lot: to the big meetings, to the charity fundraiser… to happy hour. When there’s a company function, there you are right by his side. You always find your way to his table at dinner.

After all, powerful people hang out with other powerful people, right? Be careful. Some such exposure is healthy but over-exposure will burn. Give your peers a chance for the face time. Be deliberate in getting to know other people at those functions. It’s harder, sure, but the widened network will be invaluable.

The Name Dropper

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s tempting to just throw around your bosses name. “Karin said this MUST be done by tomorrow at 5.” Weak leaders hide behind the power of other leaders. Even if your boss is the one asking for something to be done, resist the urge to use that muscle. In the long run you’ll have much more credibility when you own your asks.

The Good Soldier

Your great boss says jump, you say how high… every time. You trust him. Now of course, there’s a time and a place for good soldiering, but real leaders know when to question and put on the brakes. Sure your boss may reward you for your consistent execution of her directives, but she’ll be amazed when you challenge her with innovation and suggest creative, and better alternatives.

Work to build a fantastic relationship with your great boss, but beware of such co-dependencies. What feels easy and comfortable, could damage your career in the long run.

5 Ways To Build Career Resiliency

Bad things happen to good people. Karma doesn’t always show up in time. Even good people may find that the knife in their back sports their own fingerprints. Even the most well-intentioned leaders do stupid stunts from time to time. My time in HR gave me a front row seat to such tragedies. It’s not a matter of if you’ll need career resiliency. It’s when.

Sometimes I could help. Many times, even the most energetic HR fairy dust couldn’t save them. The best I could offer suffering souls during these times was resiliency support.

If all’s well in your world, amen. Please contribute to this community by sharing your own lessons and stories. Brilliant recovery stories strengthen anguished adversity.

5 Ways to Build Career Resiliency

Resiliency is hardly ever about “returning to the original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” Chances are that original form had something to do with current predicament. It’s about gathering up the lessons and energy from the potentially crippling scene, and emerging stronger, wiser… knowing you have the fortitude to recover the next time. There’s always a next time.

Narration

Your career is a story. Tragic events by nature scream “ending.” Rewrite them as the critical turning point… just before everything got better. Become the author of your own story. _________ happened. That sucked. But then _________. If _______ hadn’t happened I would never have ___________. Spend time considering the possibilities for the next chapter.

Interpretation

Okay, allow yourself to grieve, throw things, and yell at your mirror for a few minutes. Then work on interpretation. Why did this happen? Grab the lessons with eager fists. Hit yourself in the head with them if that feels better. Then try alternative views… “On the other hand, this is great news because____________. Generate as many answers to that question as you can. Put an asterisks next to the ones you most believe.

Navigation

When the wind is at your back, there’s little need or energy to adjust the compass. Don’t waste this scarce opportunity to let the sails flap for a while and consider your best direction.

Diversification

The natural scramble is to look for more of the same: a similar role, or industry. Consider all your gifts. Diversity builds future resiliency. Look for opportunities to pivot toward a role that will strengthen and stretch.

Preparation

Assume you’ll land on your feet and get ready for next time. You’ll face tricky situations again. Take some time to write down your key learnings. Build your network (by giving first). Save some money once you’re able.  Having some cash in the bank is the best way to reduce frenetic grasping and slow down for better options.

Your turn.  Share your ideas, advice and stories on resiliency.

You Know You’re A High-Maintenance Leader When…

She doesn’t think she’s high-maintenance. After all, she’s just trying to do her job. In the meantime, eyes roll, stories are shared, the team loses productive time catering to her needs.

“You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”
~ Harry (When Harry Met Sally)

It’s not all her fault, “that’s the way she likes it” has morphed into “that’s how she must have it.” It works, so she continues to let them cater. 

The team doesn’t seem to mind: “oh it’s no big deal”, “Of course I understand”, “You have so much on your plate”. And more requirements get added to the list. We’ve all got a bit of high-maintenance within us.

High Maintenance Leaders

  • don’t mean to be
  • “pose” just in case someone wants to take a picture
  • work to be “liked” above all else
  • have a different focus goal for every day of the year
  • distribute every leadership book they read as “personal development” assignments
  • relentlessly pester the team about how they can help you succeed.
  • have a motivational saying for every situation
  • won’t take “no” for an answer, even when “no” IS the answer.
  • demand the team provide alternatives with justification, but have no intent to accept any solution different from their own
  • never hear the truth
  • have food brought to them on a regular basis.
  • demand fancy updates and complicated Powerpoints, even when their team is slammed with work
  • triple book their calendar, as a line forms outside their office
  • want the Powerpoints to match their eyes (true story)
  • ________?

Lower Your Maintenance Threshold

Check for signs of high-maintenance in your leadership. Determine what your teams think you “need” and why. If it feels high-maintenance, it is.

  • Start with helpful. Make your team’s job easier.
  • Talk about what you really need and why.
  • Ask what else they think you need. Scratch a bunch off their list.
  • Resist the urge to cater to ridiculous needs for those above. Your team is watching, and think you want such treatment too.
  • Find ways to meet your “maintenance needs” outside of work (hire folks to help.)

A special thanks to the Lead Change, with a special shout-out to John E. Smith, and Harvard Business Review communities for jump-starting this conversation.

You Know You're A High-Maintenance Leader When…

She doesn’t think she’s high-maintenance. After all, she’s just trying to do her job. In the meantime, eyes roll, stories are shared, the team loses productive time catering to her needs.

“You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.”
~ Harry (When Harry Met Sally)

It’s not all her fault, “that’s the way she likes it” has morphed into “that’s how she must have it.” It works, so she continues to let them cater. 

The team doesn’t seem to mind: “oh it’s no big deal”, “Of course I understand”, “You have so much on your plate”. And more requirements get added to the list. We’ve all got a bit of high-maintenance within us.

High Maintenance Leaders

  • don’t mean to be
  • “pose” just in case someone wants to take a picture
  • work to be “liked” above all else
  • have a different focus goal for every day of the year
  • distribute every leadership book they read as “personal development” assignments
  • relentlessly pester the team about how they can help you succeed.
  • have a motivational saying for every situation
  • won’t take “no” for an answer, even when “no” IS the answer.
  • demand the team provide alternatives with justification, but have no intent to accept any solution different from their own
  • never hear the truth
  • have food brought to them on a regular basis.
  • demand fancy updates and complicated Powerpoints, even when their team is slammed with work
  • triple book their calendar, as a line forms outside their office
  • want the Powerpoints to match their eyes (true story)
  • ________?

Lower Your Maintenance Threshold

Check for signs of high-maintenance in your leadership. Determine what your teams think you “need” and why. If it feels high-maintenance, it is.

  • Start with helpful. Make your team’s job easier.
  • Talk about what you really need and why.
  • Ask what else they think you need. Scratch a bunch off their list.
  • Resist the urge to cater to ridiculous needs for those above. Your team is watching, and think you want such treatment too.
  • Find ways to meet your “maintenance needs” outside of work (hire folks to help.)

A special thanks to the Lead Change, with a special shout-out to John E. Smith, and Harvard Business Review communities for jump-starting this conversation.

Ready To Be Promoted?

He thinks he’s ready to be promoted. You don’t. You don’t want to crush his spirits, but he’s not listening. He blames you, the system, politics, and that crazy project you gave him last year. He’s a strong performer and a vital member of your team. You know he’ll get there, but only if he listens.

Tell the truth without crushing his soul.

7 Ways to Get Him to Listen

  1. Understand His Perspective – Uncover the source of his inflated perceptions. It’s likely that his strong performance is a factor. Perhaps he’s been told all along that he was on the fast track, and he’s been paying his “dues” through special assignments and maybe even relocation. Get him to share his perspective and offer yours.
  2. Compassionate Straight Talk – Share your point of view and offer support. “You’re not ready now, and here’s why. If you really want this, and are willing to listen and work hard, I’m all in to help.”
  3. Shadowing – Have him hang out with you for a day or two. Don’t hold back. Expose him to the political pressures, the late-night fire drills, the tough decisions. Every time I’ve done that I’ve heard, “I had no idea.” and sometimes, “I don’t want your job.”
  4. Skip Level Meeting – Encourage him to meet with your boss. Have her share what she looks for when hiring at your level. Ask her to share her perceptions on his strengths, and his developmental opportunities.
  5. Stories – Share your own career story. Be open about your disappointments. Help him take the long view.
  6. Expand His Scope – Most promotions involve a substantial increase in scope and scale. Find ways to increase challenge and expose him to broader pressures in his current role.
  7. Tangible Actions – It’s likely he’s heard the feedback before, but it didn’t feel actionable. No one knows what to do with “you lack political savvy.” Much better to say, “let’s work on building 5 new trusted connections in the next 6 months.” Nurturing self-awareness is a gift. Help others to see themselves as others see them. Help them grow into their powerful potential.