10 questions managers should ask when their teams won't listen

10 Questions Managers Should Ask When Their Team Won’t Listen

One of the most challenging management experiences you’ll encounter is when it feels like your team won’t listen.

  • You share your vision of the future, what the team’s capable of achieving…and are met with shrugs and silent stares.
  • You share a new process to improve results…and everyone keeps on doing what they’ve always done.
  • You make recommendations grounded in real data…and they are ignored.

Leadership Opportunities

These times when it feels like your team won’t listen are great opportunities to build your influence. You might be tempted to turn to fear, power, and a raised voice to get things done, but I invite you to pause and look at what’s happening before you do.

When you learn from these moments your effectiveness will soar, but if you allow yourself to get so frustrated that you turn to fear or power to get things done, you lose credibility and trust.

Here are 10 questions to ask when you feel like your team won’t listen:

1) What do you want?

Whenever you have leadership challenges, the first thing to examine is your own desire.

There’s a big difference between wanting what’s best for the team and wanting what’s best for you. So what is it you really want?

If the answer is compliance “When I say jump, they better ask ‘how high?’ on the way up” – then you’re never going to have a team that truly listens. They will do things out of fear when they must and ignore you when they can.

However, if what you want for the team to achieve great results together…then keep reading.

2) Are you speaking their language?

Do the actual words you use mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Are you sharing numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed, or do your stories need more data and explanation?

3) Have you listened?

When you don’t hear what people tell you, they naturally think you don’t care, they lose heart, and they’ll stop caring.

Not sure if your team is being heard? Ask a few team members to share with you: “Is there anything you’ve been trying to tell me that I’m just not hearing?”

Be quiet and listen. Thank them for sharing…and respond in time, even if it’s to explain constraints or why you’re taking a different direction. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear.

4) Are you credible?

If your people can say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, well, expect to be ignored.

You build your credibility. You can’t demand it. Can people trust you? Can they rely on you? Take a moment and seriously consider the answer to these questions. If you were on your own team, would you trust you, based only on what you see and experience?

5) Do you know what matters to your people?

If the values you’re promoting conflict with your team’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard. I worked with a CEO who was disappointed that her employees were leaving work when they were scheduled to leave. She wanted people who valued going the extra distance to get things done. Her employees loved their work, but they also valued their family and friends and considered it nearly immoral to sacrifice family relationships for work.

6) Are you ordering people or inviting them?

Look at both the literal words you’re using as well as the attitude behind them.

Do your words and attitude communicate dignity and equal worth? Or do your words and attitude suggest that you’re better than everyone else and they should just do what they’re told?

7) Have you explained why?

Your team’s lack of response may be because they don’t understand the consequences. Why is this important? How does it make a difference to other people? To the bottom line? Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders.

8) Did you check for understanding?

When you share a task and ask “Are there any questions?” you will likely be met with silence.

Don’t assume that silence means they get it. Silence could mean confusion, embarrassment, or that they think they understand.

Rather, ask your team something like: “Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What are the three things we’re doing coming out of this meeting? Why does this matter? When will these be finished? Make sure they received what you thought you communicated.

9) Have you said it often enough?

I have coached many frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive.

So then I ask “When was the last time you shared this task or explained what was supposed to happen?”

Some of the answers I’ve heard include:

  • “At that off-site year before last…”
  • “We were in the hallway six months ago…”
  • “At the company meeting last January…”

If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated.

As hard as it may be for your ego to accept, your team members have other lives. They have constant challenges confronting them every day.

It’s unrealistic to believe that something you said one time, last year, is on everyone’s mind. If it’s important, be the drummer. Keep the beat and consistently communicate the MITs (Most Important Things.)

10) Have you said it in different ways?

People receive information differently. I’m a reader first, audio second, and video third. But many other people get much more from video or other visuals.

As you reinforce the MITs, use different communication techniques.

We recommend 6×3 communication. The idea is to repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, you might use a staff meeting, a video, and one-on-one meetings for your three different channels.

Your Turn

When it feels like your team won’t listen, it is easy to get frustrated and give in to the temptation to yell louder. But effective leaders know that when it seems no one’s listening, there are likely other issues that need to be resolved.

If you feel like your team won’t listen, ask yourself these ten questions…and listen to your answers.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure you’ve been heard when communicating with your team?

 

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.

5 Top Leadership Articles 09-04-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 4, 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.

On Being a Bad Manager by Jason Fried at Signal v Noise

A fellow I admire just asked me why it’s so easy to be a bad manager. G**damn, that’s a fantastic question. I made some bonehead moves myself yesterday, so I’m in the perfect position to answer this one.

Because I didn’t want to overthink my answer, I told him I’d write something up this afternoon and send him a link.

Here goes, stream of consciousness, unedited, and quick…

My Comment: This question has haunted me for many years. My version goes something like this: “We’ve been working together and leading one another for thousands of years. Why is there still so much bad management?”

Fried answers this succinctly: “We’re bad at most things by default.”

In other words: you have to learn how to lead effectively. Winning Well doesn’t just happen. If you want to be a great manager and effective leader, you’ve got to master specific skills. And yet…half or more of managers are placed in those roles, but receive no training in how to lead. No wonder it’s easy to be bad.

Fried digs a little deeper as well, noting that it takes time and practice to get good at something, but most managers don’t even start practicing until they’re actually in the role. (Imagine a pro athlete starting to practice their game once they’ve been put on the playing field.) We fall prey to common assumptions about people that just aren’t true and we often focus on doing the wrong things because they’re known and comfortable.

Note: this is a raw stream-of-conscious article and includes profanity.

Irresistible Is Rarely Easy or Rational by Seth Godin

There’s often a line out the door.

It’s not surprising. The ice cream is really good, the portions are enormous, and a waffle cone costs less than three Canadian dollars. And it’s served with a smile, almost a grin.

It’s irresistible.

Of course, once you finish the cone, you’ll stroll around, hang out by the water and maybe start to make plans about where to spend a week on next year’s vacation.

The Opinicon, a lovely little resort near Ottawa, could charge a lot more for an ice cream cone. A team of MBAs doing a market analysis and a P&L would probably pin the value at about $8. That’s where the ROI would be at its peak.

But they’re not in the business of selling ice cream cones. The ice cream cones are a symbol, a beacon, a chance to engage…

My Comment: Recently we worked with a team of leaders who do sophisticated analysis and planning. They had an incredible amount of data in their spreadsheets – but they didn’t have all the data. They were missing some of the intangibles, the effect on people, and how the numbers would be received and translated. Most of all, they hadn’t taken into account the critical factor Godin gets at in this article: desire. Why will people want what you offer?

I love a good spreadsheet and to keep things organized, but as Godin says: “If you run everything through a spreadsheet, you might end up with a rational plan, but the rational plan isn’t what creates energy or magic or memories.”

How can you make your team’s work irresistible?

Think Positively of Others by John Baldoni at SmartBrief

What’s the secret to a long-term relationship?

“Overlooking the negative and focusing on the positive,” says Helen Fisher, a best-selling author on relationships and a fellow at the Kinsey Institute.

Speaking on “The Diane Rehm Show,” Fisher says that brain scans of couples averaging 20 years revealed the parts of the brain that were active were those linked to empathy, self-control, and an ability to overlook negative, that is, “positive illusions.”

Maintaining “positive illusions” is an outlook that leaders can employ…

My Comment: In our leadership workshops I often share the principles that “you always make sense to you” and that “you are not the center of anyone else’s universe but yours.” When you keep these concepts in mind as you work with your people, it helps you maintain perspective and not get as easily upset when people don’t behave the way you would have expected.

Baldoni’s invitation to focus on the positive intentions can be extended to the assets that each employee brings to your team. Unless it’s negatively impacting the work or the team, don’t worry about the areas where they’re not as strong. Focus on what makes them excellent and on their contribution to the work and team. You’ll find what you look for – and, quite often, your expectations, perceptions, and positive outlook become reality.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore destructive or irresponsible behaviors. When those threaten an individual or team’s performance, you absolutely need to ditch the diaper drama and have the conversation.

What are the Best Employee Perks? 4 Questions to Ask First by Annamarie Mann at Gallup

Earlier this year, online craft marketplace Etsy came under public scrutiny after new investors balked at the long list of lavish perks offered at its Brooklyn headquarters.

Along with a community loom and crafting classes, the company had also renovated its office for $40 million, which included adding irrigated walls to grow plants, according to Quartz. Though these perks reinforce the cultural values of the organization, investors questioned if they distracted workers from achieving overall business success and outcomes….

But as companies begin to consider how they try to win over employees, it’s critical that they avoid racing after trends that may initially attract workers, but will ultimately fail to retain them. After all, these perks may be alluring at first, but companies need to make sure they’re not overlooking the fundamental benefits and perks for which most job seekers are actually looking.

My Comment: I once worked at a company that put in a gym with much fanfare. It sat unused, however, because the president thought anyone who tried to workout, even during their breaks or lunch could have been more productive.

When it comes to employee perks, I use the metaphor of frosting a cake. If you haven’t baked a good cake, you can’t decorate it. If you try to slap some frosting (perks) on a half-baked cake (poor employee experience), you end up with a mess.

Too many leaders try to solve morale problems with perks. People are never upset because there isn’t a ping pong table or weight set at work. They’re upset because of core issues: perhaps a systemic injustice, they’re no appreciated, or irrational competing priorities make success impossible. When you have these issues causing problems, don’t introduce perks – they’re insulting. Fix the issues.

Once you have a healthy core, then use the questions in Mann’s article to help you identify which perks make the most sense for your organization.

The Wrong Side of Right by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street

One big mistake I see people make over and over is focusing on proving themselves right, instead of focusing on achieving the best outcome.

People who are working to prove themselves right will work hard finding evidence for why they’re right. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to disagree with someone who has another idea. Everything becomes about their being right.

These otherwise well-intentioned people are making the same costly mistake that I did…

My Comment: This is one of the most important life lessons that some people never learn. My way of asking it is: “Do you want to be effective or do you want to be ‘right’?” The insistence on your own rightness (whether you are objectively right or not) does little to help you influence other people, get buy-in, and move people to action.

For leaders insisting on credit for yourself, or being right at the expense of others being wrong, or what you did vs what happened are certain to keep you from being effective. Focus instead on the outcomes. What do you want to have happen? Do you want to prove you had an idea first or do you want the team to implement and exceed expectations because they owned the idea themselves?

There’s a saying I learned as a child that may serve you as it has served me: “Someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”

In every situation, ask: “What does success look like?” Follow up by asking yourself what you can do to achieve that success. Rarely will the answer be “prove to everyone that I was right.”

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.

5 Surprising Reasons Your Ideas Aren't Being Heard

Have you ever felt this way? You’ve got great ideas. You care deeply. AND you’re frustrated. Why is no one picking up what you’re putting down? Don’t give up. Take a careful look at your idea in the context of your other behaviors and interaction with the team.

Five Surprising Reasons Your Ideas Aren’t Being Heard

1. You’re Under-Invested

If you want your idea to gain traction–start with talking about what you’re doing to help.

“Here’s what I’ve already done to get us started.”

“Here are five ways I can help.”

“Here are some additional resources I can contribute.”

2. You’ve got a Track Record of Great Ideas–For Everyone Else

You’re all ideas–no action. No one wants to listen to the guy creating a lot of extra work for THEM to implement. Build a strong reputation of contributing to other people’s ideas first.

3. You’re Apologizing For Your Idea

Sounds crazy, right? And yet it happens all the time. “This is probably a dumb idea…” “I’m sorry but…”

4. You’re Too Gung Ho

What? Did Karin Hurt the “gung ho” queen just say that? Why, yes I did. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by being overly emotional or so passionate people wonder what you put in your oatmeal that morning.

5. You’ve Under-Invested in Peer Relationships

Boy did I have to learn this one the hard way. In my early career, I had a few ideas that I know were just brilliant die on the vine. How do I know they were good? A few years later when I’d built strong trusting relationships sideways, I tried something almost identical again, and people were lining up to help. If you want folks to come along, work hard to get along. Invest in prioritizing your peers and the next time you look around there will be more people by your side ready to listen.

Of course, the side benefit here is that if the whole gang’s all in, your boss will be much more eager to listen.

Your ideas matter–positioning them takes practice, but it’s worth it.

Cathy Fyock

The World Needs Your Story (Cathy Fyock)

Winning Well Connection Reflection

We first met Cathy when she attended our workshop on how to co-author a book. Cathy is an amazing storyteller and story listener– and we enjoyed working with her audience to share our story in a recent webinar. Cathy lights up the room with her enthusiastic approach and warm spirit.

Why are stories so powerful?

I’ll answer that question by telling a story. In this tale we meet a student who is being taught by his teacher through stories. One day the student asks, “Teacher, why do you always instruct about truth by telling stories?”

Click the image for more information about Cathy’s book.

The teacher thinks for a moment, then replies, “Bring me water.”

The student finds a large brass bowl, fills it with water, and brings it to the teacher. “Here, teacher, is your water.”

To which the teacher responds: “Why do you bring me a brass bowl when all I asked for is water?”

And that’s how it is with storytelling. The story is the conveyance for truth. It helps us remember what is important, what is vital. Our stories hold life lessons.

So, why don’t YOU tell your stories? Why aren’t you speaking, training, and writing?

Many of you are doing amazing things. You are helping your organizations develop new products and services. You grow workers into leaders. You develop cultures that foster innovation. And you are touching the lives of your employees each day in meaningful ways.

So why don’t you tell your stories? Why isn’t the world benefiting from your wisdom and insights?

There is a wonderful story about Gandhi that applies here. As Gandhi was boarding a train that was leaving the station, his sandal fell off. Unable to rescue the sandal, he dropped the sandal from the other foot. When asked why, he said, “Now, the poor man who finds the first shoe will be able to have a use for the pair.”

By doing good work in your organization, you have dropped one shoe. By solving organizational challenges, you have dropped a shoe. By making teams more cohesive and by enabling change, you have dropped a single shoe. But now you must drop the other shoe. You must tell your story, you must share your truth—through writing, speaking, and training—so that others can use your wisdom and knowledge.

Does anybody want to read my story?

Some of you may still be hesitant about telling your story. I was meeting with a potential client who wanted to write her book, and toward the end of our conversation she turned to me and asked, “But does anybody really want to read my story?”

I responded, “Yes! Yes!” Why did I feel so convinced that her story was needed? I thought a lot about that, and I decided that I needed to write a blog about it. The result was “Cathy’s Credo” which I communicate on my website and is a tool I share with all my clients and audiences. And I’d like to share a shortened version of it with you here:

Remember, you were created with a purpose, and when you tell your stories you allow others to bear witness to the purpose of your life. Your stories are gifts to others: the gifts of joy, encouragement, insight, understanding, hope. Telling your story is holy work. You know, the world needs your story. We have not solved all the leadership problems in our world. We don’t have all the answers to how we create a better world.

Finally, I’d like to share my Writers’ Pledge with you. I developed this at the suggestion of one of my clients who has developed her own pledge. Here’s what mine says:

I pledge that I will use my power to make today a fantastic day. I will block writing time on my calendar, and I will honor that time commitment and hold it as sacred, creative time.

I pledge that I will not allow my negative voice to guide my thinking or stop my creative process. I will surround myself with people who love me and support my writing.

I pledge to tell my story—to share my experiences—with authenticity and without apology. I know that in telling my story I can provide others with the gifts of hope, wisdom, and joy.

I pledge that I will continue to work so that I gain clarity and focus for my readers, audiences, and clients so that I can continue to make the world a better place, one word at a time.

I believe that each of us can continue to make the world a better place, one word at a time. The world needs your story.

Tell your story.

Winning Well Reflection

One of the most effective ways to build a connection with your people and to help them understand what winning well looks like in your team and organization is through strategic story-telling. Cathy’s encouragement to share your stories will help you build trust, connection, and credibility as people see and feel what success looks like.

Justin Maust

Refuse to be Offended (Justin Maust)

Winning Well Connection

Justin and I were introduced to one another through a common connection who just knew we needed to know one another based on our values-based approach to leadership. One thing led to another, and in a few weeks, I’m delighted to be keynoting at his  Lead USA event in South Bend, Indiana and simulcast (learn more about the event here).

I’m impressed by Justin’s confident humility–executing on an impressive vision for a rock-star event that grows each year, along with the humility to find new ways to serve.

One simple tactic to give your team an edge.

Sometimes a leader needs to be the hammer. You strike a nail to put it in its proper place so that it can hold a structure together for decades. Other times you need to be the nail. Allow the hammer to strike you so that you can effectively support the structure. It’s impossible for the hammer to hold the structure together alone…the nail is his only hope. It’s also impossible for the nail to have any real impact or value to the home without being struck. Bad hammers ruin good nails. Bad nails get bent over the smallest swings.

Refuse to be offended today. Great leaders must strike the issues that disrupt progress and great team members need to be mature enough to receive the strike. When nails leave their place, the house falls apart. When hammers refuse to swing, nothing gets built. A bent nail eventually gets thrown away. A hammer that refuses to be swung is simply a paperweight.

The Brutal Truth

Taking offense or not taking offense is a choice. Each time a comment is directed at you or each time someone sends an email…you have a choice. We forget that fact. Offense is a choice. It’s a decision to allow yourself to become angry, bitter, resentful, hateful, etc.

What does it mean to take offense? You allowed another human being to get underneath your skin.

Here are the synonyms of the word “offense”:  annoyance, anger, resentment, indignation, irritation, exasperation, wrath, displeasure, animosity, vexation, ill feelings, disgruntlement, rage.

The problem with taking offense is that we think it will make us feel better about the situation. Or that being offended allows us to get back at that person. But the simple truth is this: We are the ones that are harboring all this negative energy.  It’s bottled inside of you. When you allow yourself to become offended, you begin to let anger, resentment, wrath, animosity, indignation to live inside your body. Carry “OFFENSE” inside you long enough and you are sure to show some physical & emotional symptoms due to the stress and pressure that it brings.

The Antidote to Being Offended

When you are offended, you are thinking and focusing on yourself.  When you are offended, you feel as though someone is attacking you personally and it’s easy to let your emotions take over.  The root of offense is PRIDE.  Offense happens because you are thinking too highly of yourself. The ROOT problem of getting OFFENDED by others or being OFFENSIVE to others is PRIDE.

Humility is the antidote that will cure your disease of pride.  In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about the Level 5 Executive.  Extreme Humility is one of the two character traits of leaders that take their companies from Good to GREAT.  Pat Lencioni writes about humility in his book, The Ideal Team Player.  He says there are three virtues that create the best team members:  Humble, Hungry and Smart.  Out of the three, he says that being HUMBLE is the most important virtue of the three.  Proverbial wisdom even tells you that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Pride kills team chemistry.  Pride creates silos.  Pride is what causes leaders to think too highly of themselves.  Humility changes your perspective.  Humility causes your focus to go from ME to WE…..from “WHAT DO I THINK IS THE RIGHT STEP?” to “WHAT DO WE THINK IS THE RIGHT STEP?” from “WHAT DECISION WILL MAKE ME LOOK GOOD?” to “WHAT DECISION WILL MAKE US ACHIEVE OUR GOAL?”

A simple “Google” search definition of humility:  A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.  As you practice the virtue of humility, you will become less and less offended by others and more and more concerned about helping others and your team succeed.  While this may not be a quick fix, humility allows you and your team to build a dynamic culture that will improve your team’s level of trust, transparency, and ability to solve complicated problems with others.

TAKE ACTION TODAY:

  • What can you do to live and lead with more humility at work and at home?
  • What relationships are at risk due to bitterness and offense?
  • What specific actions using humility can rebuild these key relationships?

Refuse to be offended by choosing to live with humility each day.

Winning Well Reflection

In Winning Well workshops, as leaders lower their guard and begin to discuss the real issues they face every day, one that inevitably comes up is what to do with people who get angry, upset, or offended when you truly haven’t done anything inappropriate. We appreciate Justin’s answer here:  humility. We frequently invite leaders to remember that you are not the center of anyone else’s universe. People’s behavior is generally about them, not about you. The exception, of course, is when you have treated someone inappropriately, broken your word, or hurt someone. Having the humility to own your behavior and apologize is just as important to build trust and enhance your relationships.

6 Simple Ways to Answer Tough Questions

Joe’s a bright guy and his idea was solid. His data seemed right intuitively, but we had a few questions.

My peer started with a softball. Joe responded with a stutter, swing, and a miss. He made the cardinal sin of answering tough questions– he made stuff up.

He wasn’t exactly sure of the answer, and he took a chance that we were dumber than he was on the topic. Never underestimate your audience. Nothing fires up execs more than a big load of crap.

No more softballs, now the tough fast balls were flying. I sensed he knew the answers, but was flustered and taken off guard. He couldn’t make the right data synch with the first baloney. I ended the meeting early out of a mixed sentiment of disappointment, anger, and pity. It took a while to recover.  In fact for Joe, that story’s not over.

If you’re taking risks and proposing game-changing ideas, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you change the world enough to attract the media, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you’re leading through turbulent times, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you’re doing work that matters, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

How will you respond?

6 Simple Ways to Answer Tough Questions

    1. Tell The Truth.  Never, ever make stuff up. Forget the spin. If you don’t know, say so, and offer to get right back to them.  If you can’t disclose everything say so, or explain that part of the strategy is still evolving.
    2. Anticipate and Prepare. The very best way to answer tough questions is to make them less tough. Anticipate the questions you will be asked and put them into categories. Do your homework and get as smart as you can on the topics you will most likely be asked. Dry run your presentation with a few friendlies and ask for their toughest questions. Pre-empt a few of these tough questions by saying, “Now, if I were you I would be wondering…” Instant credibility win.
    3. Pause. The silence that feels awkward to you goes more quickly for them. Your audience will just sense that you’re listening well. Better to have a moment of pause with a good answer, than a quick moment of stupidity.
    4. Repeat the Question. Sometimes the questions are tough because they’re long, convoluted or unclear. Try to summarize the question back in the simplest terms. It will show you are listening, you’ve got them, and give you a moment to prepare.
    5. Don’t Repeat Yourself. Sometimes tough questioners are setting a trap. Just say, “I believe I answered that before” with a quick summary response.
    6. Keep Your Cool. Some tough questions are really needling questions to get you riled up. Take the high road and keep your cool. Your best answer will never be given from the Amygdala brain. Breathe.

Telling the truth and answering the tough questions will go a long way in building your reputation as a confident, humble and trusted leader.

Web Bonus Post

I had some fun this week answering one of my most frequently asked questions:  How do I convince my boss I’m ready for a promotion? as part of a guest post carnival sponsored by WebHosting Buzz

7 Steps to Convince Your Boss To Promote You

6 Reasons Your Team Yearns For Authenticity

If you bring all of who you are to the leadership table, some people will hate your style. In fact, it’s likely that a few “important” people will not “like” you. Authenticity is intimidating, and scares those with the most to hide. Far easier to lead like everyone else and be groomed to fit a mold.

Similarly, letting people see who you are and hear what you really mean makes you vulnerable. Rejection of your idea stings. Rejection of some company line you’ve practiced and perfected feels much less personal.

But easy leadership doesn’t change the game.

If you won’t bring every ounce of who you are and what you have to give to your leadership, your team will know. And, they’ll follow your lead.

Your team will hold back who they are and what they have most to give. The cycle continues.

Your team needs you to be you. They yearn to experience the rare game-changing results that happen in a genuine environment of candor, deep respect, and trust.

The world’s future depends on growing more leaders with the confidence to audaciously bring all their gifts and ideas to the table.

6 Reasons Your Team Yearns for Authenticity

1. They’ve been screwed before

Oh, they have stories. Trust me. I hear them. Assume somewhere along the line they’ve felt betrayed. Even if it’s not at your company or even under your watch, once upon a time a leader has lied to them. Guards are up. They need a good guy to restore their trust in leadership. They need reassurance in action, not words.They’re not going to tell you the truth until they’re perfectly sure you’ve been doing the same… over and over.

Your team also desperately wants to know that the good guys can (and do) win. There’s no better gift you can give your team than leading from who you are toward head turning results.

2. You’re wasting YOUR energy

Keeping up appearances is an energy-sucking, never-ending vacuum of misery. Trying to lead like someone else, or spin the truth, will wear you down and make you cranky. When leaders spend time working to show up differently than who they are, to win the game and keep up a facade, they waste precious energy that could be invested in creating breakthrough vision, developing people, and working on the work.

3. You’re  wasting THEIR energy

If your team senses you’re playing a game, they’ll spend a lot of time working to figure out the rules. In fact, if you’ve got surface success, they’ll be taking notes to learn to play it too. All that contagious facade building pulls hearts and mind from the important mission at hand.

4.  You’re their lifeline

Particularly in a big organization, the immediate leader makes all the difference. You can’t outsource leadership, not even to your boss, or to HR. They want to hear the story from you, and they want to know you’re not reading talk-points crafted from someone else. If they can’t trust you to be genuine where will they turn? That answer may be really dangerous.

5. They want to be like you- maybe

Some folks on your team have serious aspirations to move up in the scene. But they don’t want to lose their souls in the process. They’re watching you to see how you handle the pressure. Do you stay true to who you are, or are you being groomed to be “just like THEM.”

6. They have important news to share

They’ve got ideas and solutions, but your team wants to ensure they’ll have a receptive audience. If you’re afraid to share with them, they’ll be reluctant to share with you.

left with text wrap

The Insiders Guide to Communicating the Big Picture

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

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

Symptoms that Your Team Doesn’t Get the Big Picture

Kelly’s Story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Team Leaders Forget to Connect the Dots

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

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

3 Ways To Communicate the Big Picture with Ease

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

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

Note:

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

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

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

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

improved communication

You Lost Me at Hello: Practical Tips for Better Communication

You’ve done important work, and you’re trying to get the team to understand your point. But before you get to page 3, John’s flipping to the back of the deck, Carol’s obviously distracted by her text messages, and you’d swear you saw a glimpse of Words With Friends on Tracy’s iPad. It’s true, that’s rude. What’s equally true is that this scene is calling for better communication.

I spoke with Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a bigger Impact by Saying Less. His book offers great advice and tools for everything from presentations to sales pitches to small talk. I asked him for some advice for some of the more difficult communication situations.

Better Communication:  Q &A with Joseph McCormack

Q- What do you do when you’re presenting and you notice visible distractions like jumping ahead or multi-tasking?
A- First don’t let it happen. Plan better.  But to bring them back, speak in headlines. People fidget because they’re confused. Use stories to draw them back in. When speakers tell stories, they automatically relax. That comfort, along with the story, makes a connection that draws-in attention.

Q-What if you work in a Powerpoint and bullet-point addicted culture?  How can you incorporate some of these ideas and still fit in with the culture?
A- Be prepared to give the entire presentation in 3 minutes if something happened to your slides. Then start with that executive summary. Now they have a map to follow as you give the rest of your presentation. Also, there’s a free online tool called Haikudeck which helps you great visual presentations (I checked it out.  Love it!)

Q- You advocate the use of stories, but don’t stories take longer than sticking to the facts?
A- You’ve really got to practice, so you can get down to the essential elements of the story. Don’t tell the 5 minute version.Get the details that drill down to the core and enhance the meaning.

Q-What suggestions do you have for leaders giving tough feedback or messages to their teams?
A- Think about what you’re really trying to say, and say THAT as early as possible  Don’t extend the pain. Give bad news upfront and then the explanation.

Bonus Tip:

When you’re done with a phone call, look at the elapsed time before you hit end. Then ask yourself if what you accomplished was worth the investment.

For more information about Brief and to watch videos click here.

13 Stupid Sentences That Will Derail Your Career

I wish HR would teach a course on the really stupid sentences people say at work. Oh, I’m not talking about he obvious stupidity: “you look hot in that dress” or “hey baby”. There’s training and rules for that. But there’s no code of conduct to protect against the stupid, dis-empowering words I often hear up, down and sideways.

Before writing this post, I decided to do an informal stupid sentence poll through social media. The responses fell into two big categories: Stupid sentences that deny accountability and stupid sentences that prove you are clueless. I’ll start; you add to the lists.

Stupid Sentences That Deny Accountability

  1. That’s Not My Job (#1 by a landslide) – Although we all know this, someone is still out there saying it. Stop it, it’s stupid. Instead, help all you can.
  2. That Decision’s Above My Pay Grade – The really wacky part of this one, is that I hear it most often at the higher levels of the business. Please, please don’t say this. And whatever you do, don’t say it to someone at a lower pay grade than you. They count on you to advocate for what’s right, not shrug your shoulders and roll over.
  3. I Wasn’t Aware – This one is commonly used to throw someone else under the bus. Trust me, you look like an idiot. “Let me find out more”, “I’m digging in”, and “I’m here to help” are all acceptable replacement statements.
  4. My Team really Screwed This Up – No one really says this do they? From my experience and the poll, yes. Sometimes out loud; sometimes by just being silent. Own your team’s mistakes and help them fix them and learn. There’s no better way to gain credibility up and down the chain.
  5. I Can Always Get Another Job At Twice The Pay Some Place Else – Okay, if that’s really true, and you’re disgruntled with the rest of the scene to say that out loud. Just saying. Be careful.
  6. I Just Don’t Have Enough Time To Do That – If it’s not a priority say that. If it’s important discuss what else could move.
  7. It’s Not My Fault, It’s The Other Department’s Mistake – Let’s assume that’s true. Taking the high-road would look like ________________? Who and how would that help?
  8. Stupid Sentences That Prove You’re Clueless

  9. That’s A Stupid Question – As much as I want to throw up every time someone says there are no stupid questions, the truth is leaders keep saying that because other leaders are out there making people feel stupid. Stop it.
  10. What’s Wrong With Them – If your team’s not performing, the problem starts with you, not them. Could be selection, systems, rules, leadership. Figure it out, reverse the direction of your finger-pointing.
  11. That’ll Never Work – If I had a nickel for every time my team proved me wrong or I proved someone wrong, the truth is that just because it didn’t work in the past doesn’t mean it won’t work now. Put away old biases and really listen. Consider a pilot or some other form of toe-dipping. Most importantly, be a receptive and encouraging leader.
  12. That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It – We get that. Now be a leader.
  13. The Employees Need To Realize They Are Lucky To Have Jobs In This Economy – Okay, so grateful (and without choices) that they _____________. I know you’re not saying these things, but research has shown many someones are.

Thanks to the folks at Lead Change and Twitter for weighing in.

In Other News…

bookcoverI was delighted to have been interviewed about my new book, Overcoming An Imperfect Boss on the powerful podcast: The Business of People In Leadership. Amazed at the stories he got out of me including my most embarrassing leadership moment. Click here to hear the podcast.

Want to know more about the book? Click here to download a sample chapter.

Already read it? I would love to see your review on Amazon.

Saying It With Soul #meanit

As part of our Mean It Madness Month I invited Kathryn Cramer to share her approach to speaking with authenticity. Say it with soul.

A Guest Post from Dr. Kathy Cramer

Saying it with soul is about meaning what you say—and saying something meaningful. It’s about putting yourself and your message on the line. It is about showing your skin in the game.

This can be a tall order for leaders, even when the core of their message is something positive. But why?

It Exposes Your Vulnerability – Whenever you communicate what something means to you, you are revealing something important about yourself. You, not your words, are the message. Soul is something you already have—it is your values and beliefs, your character, your mighty cause, your unique, authentic leadership presence in the world. Communicating with soul is a matter of revealing and demonstrating what you already have.

A Sense Of False Modesty – We are socialized not to brag and to view ego as a turn-off. But authentic humility is also about having the confidence to own and express the best of who we are.

You Think That Nobody Cares – Often leaders think their teams are not concerned with what the leaders think is important; people only care about their own well-being. That statement is true. People do care most about their own well-being, but that is why they need to know that their leaders have personal skin in the game. If you are genuinely committed and personally invested in a cause, then it lowers the bar for your team to get on board. People have a built-in Geiger counter as to whether leaders are being true to what they value, and showing your skin in the game creates authenticity over time.

An Exercise

The more aware you are of when you are perceived by others as sincere and authentic, the more intentional you can be about demonstrating those qualities. The following feedback exercise from Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do helps increase your awareness of these occasions by seeking feedback from trusted members of your circle.

Identify five people who have regular contact with you. Ask each person to answer the following questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when you felt like I was speaking sincerely and authentically?
  2. What was I talking about?
  3. How could you tell I was being sincere?

The patterns from this sincerity feedback process may surprise you. For instance, one sales executive who prided himself on his self-confidence found out, to his surprise, that it was when he opened up about his struggles that people saw him as most sincere and authentic. His respondents recommended that he reveal his critical thinking process when trying to sell to a potential customer.

For this sales leader, all he needed was the feedback about letting people into his thought process. There was no new skill he needed to develop; it was simply a matter of being more open and transparent. That is precisely what saying it with soul is all about.