10 Incapacitating Leadership Mistakes You Make When Youre Scared

10 Incapacitating Leadership Mistakes You Make When You’re Scared

“This guy opened his door and hit your car!” Sebastian, our 12-year-old, announced as Karin and I returned to the car, our arms full of office supplies. He pointed out a small scratch on the door. We laughed about it and how the guy was surprised to find someone in the car he’d just scratched.

The thing is, I don’t mind a few scratches on my car. You can’t speed something down the road at 60 miles per hour, expose it to rain and road debris and expect it to emerge unscathed.

If you’re scared of scratching your car, you’ll never leave the garage. The only way to keep a car in ‘showroom’ condition is to leave it there.

Your Leadership Showroom

Fear is part of the leadership experience. You may fear ruining relationships, damaging your reputation, or even losing your job. When you lead, you’ll probably have anxiety and fear as you face the unknown and take risks to move your team and organization forward.

It’s normal to have these fears.

But if you don’t learn how to manage the fears that come with leadership, you’ll stay in “the showroom.”

10 Incapacitating Leadership Mistakes You Make When You’re Scared

Unmanaged fear incapacitates you and leads to a range of leadership mistakes. These insidious mistakes are dangerous because they can feel rational.

  1. You don’t deal with the very thing that needs attention.

You know that feeling of unease that creeps up and prompts you to procrastinate or avoid doing something?

Listen to it.

But instead of doing what it says (avoiding the problem), use it as an alarm calling for your attention. The thing you feel like avoiding is exactly what should have your full attention. Dive in and get it done.

  1. You lose credibility.

Even if you don’t tell them what’s going on, your team will figure it out. When you’re paralyzed with fear, your leadership credibility slowly erodes.

  1. You feel like you’re all alone.

When you’re scared, you forget your team. This one is particularly brutal because it cuts you off from one of your greatest strengths. Your team is smart and by working together you can figure it out and get it done…but not if fear isolates you. When you’re alone or isolated, things grow out of proportion.

Reconnect with your team to get a healthy perspective and engage many more minds in solving the problem.

  1. You react and create chaos.

Have you ever had a squirrel get inside your house? They are scared and panicked. Every little noise or motion sends them scampering back and forth, climbing up the walls, knocking over everything. It’s chaos!

When you’re scared, you can do the same thing and leave your people frustrated and confused about their M.I.T.s (Most Important Thing) and expectations.

  1. You give up your ability to create the future.

When you’re motivated by fear, you stop building a positive future as you try to just avoid problems. You can’t inspire your team with a message of “Let’s try not to fail…”

Instead, examine and prepare for the actual (not imagined) consequences.

Your mind can play tricks on you and grow imagined problems to epic proportions. This is why listening to your fear is important. What is it you’re scared of? What would actually happen if that came to pass? What would you do then?

If you can find people who have been in the same situations and learn what they did, that’s even better. The point is to reduce the imagined problem to real-life, know you can handle it, and build a positive future together.

  1. You clamp down on information.

In the absence of information, people fill in the blanks with all sorts of pathological nonsense.

And yet, when you’re afraid, you often stop the flow of information (because you worry about communicating the wrong thing or aren’t sure who you can trust). This feeds into the isolation that cuts you off from the very people that can help you.

  1. You avoid risks and end personal growth.

When you worry too much about making mistakes, you don’t take risks. When you don’t take healthy risks, you stop learning new things…and you stop learning altogether. Leaders who don’t grow lose credibility.

Perfectionists and high achievers sometimes let fear paralyze them because they fear making a mistake. But even engineers launching a satellite into space know the margin of error within which they can operate.

Mistakes are a good thing. They mean you’re trying something new and stretching. Use them well.

  1. You won’t apologize, own, and correct mistakes.

When you’re frightened of being seen as a failure, you might not own up to it and apologize. Effective leaders have the humility to “Own the UGLY,” admit their vulnerabilities, and take responsibility for their mistakes.

  1. You become a victim.

Sustained fear erodes your ability to act. That’s the definition of a victim – “This happened and there’s nothing I can do.”

When fear leads to victimhood, one of the best antidotes is to re-empower your self. Do this by asking two simple questions:

What are the results I want to achieve?

What can I do to accomplish those results?

  1. You inspire fear in others.

This is the worst mistake of all because leaders recreate themselves.

Your team is learning from you. If you stay in fear-mode, it won’t be long before your team acts the same way and now you’ve multiplied the mistakes on this list across your entire team.

When you see your team afraid to make mistakes, over-reacting, and unable to build a positive future, it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror and see if they’re feeding off your fear.

Your Turn

Don’t let fear keep you in the showroom. We need you out there, making a difference. You’ll get a few scratches along the way – and that’s okay.

Overcoming your leadership fears takes time and practice. As you practice, you’ll find the situations that caused you two weeks of anxiety will only give you two hours of serious thought.

People with an extreme fear of spiders don’t overcome it by diving into a tank of spiders. They begin by reading about them, by spending time near them in a safe environment and work up to maybe even hold one.

What is the easiest step you can take? Is it to share your concerns with your team? Is it looking for someone who’s been in the same situation? Is it to write down the situation you need to address and plan for likely outcomes?

Leave us a comment and share: How do you manage your leadership fears, stay healthy, and keep your people moving forward?

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 Sept 11, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 11, 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.

How to Be Tough When You Prefer Being Kind by Dan Rockwell

Stress increases when leaders can’t bring kind and tough together.

Kind without tough makes you a pushover.

Tough without kind makes you a jerk.

My Comment: Stress increases, yes – and both results and relationships suffer when you don’t combine kind and tough. Without a disciplined focus on results, people lose focus, infighting increases, and your top performers go somewhere where their performance is appreciated. Without healthy relationships, trust suffers, people burnout, they do the least they can to get by, and inefficiency prevails because people don’t come together to solve mutual problems.

Leaders who combine their focus on achieving breakthrough results with a focus on healthy professional relationships with the people they lead give themselves the best chance to achieve transformational results that last.

Employee Engagement: What Story Does the Data Tell Leadership? By Martie Moore

The first time I used the words “resilience” and “engagement” was with my leadership team at the time. I asked, “What can we do to advance engagement and help people to be more resilient?”

Suddenly, everyone around the table had important emails to read on their phone. In essence, this immediate phone reading signaled an uncomfortable discussion — and their avoidance level.

My Comment: While this article was written for leaders in the long-term care industry, the issues it identifies are typical of the reality faced by leaders across industries: constant connectivity, acute margin pressures, increased pace of change, and uncertain futures are challenges you can probably relate to. This article is the beginning of a series that will look at experience, science, and practical action can take for themselves and the people they serve. It looks promising.

Leading in large organizations is tough. It’s easy for people to lose their identity and humanity as decisions are made by spreadsheet. And yet, almost paradoxically, more humanity, more focus on relationships and results, improves that bottom line. It takes courage along with the specific management and leadership skills we share in Winning Well to meet this challenge and succeed.

A Leader’s Job Is Never Done by Jane Perdue

Given that our state was in the path of totality for the August 2017 solar eclipse, people in our neighborhood gathered to watch. The closer we were to the time of totality, the larger the crowd became.

Within five minutes of the awe-inspiring ninety seconds of darkness and coolness, the crowd had largely dispersed.

The lost interest and crowd thinning-out triggered thoughts in my mind of how we tend to think about many things, including leadership, mostly in terms of their headline-making moments.

My Comment: When I was young, a mentor would often share his perspective that you can’t be a hero in the big moments if you’re not a hero in the small ones. Perdue takes a look at many of the ways that leaders build their credibility, influence, and trust in some of the more mundane, less headline-worthy, common moments that you face throughout your day, week, and career. You’re constantly becoming who you will be tomorrow. With each of these moments, you choose who that will be.

How Can You Make Yourself Invincible at Work? by Wendy Marx

Quick question: How valuable are you at work? Hint: It has little to do with your place on an organizational chart.

The new truth is that grabbing a high rung in an organization’s hierarchy isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re indispensable.

What clinches your value at work is what’s known as informal power — the ability to influence people and overcome resistance where you lack authority. It means being able to get someone to do your bidding where you have no formal authority.

Today you can’t lead simply by virtue of your title.

My Comment: While I’m not a fan of the notion of “getting someone to do your bidding” (it smacks of manipulation and a USER approach to leadership) Marx is right on with regard the role of influence. I won’t promote someone to a formal leadership position until they’ve demonstrated that they can get things done without that formal power. Power gives you the ability to deliver an “or else,” but that only gets a person’s minimum effort. Effective leaders cultivate an environment that releases a person’s strengths, talents, and skills toward the mission and the work.

Marx provides a good exercise you can use to assess how much value you are adding to the people around you and how you can address it if it’s out of balance.

Optimized or Maximized? By Seth Godin

I once drove home from college at 100 miles an hour. It saved two hours. My old car barely made it, and I was hardly able to speak once I peeled myself out of the car.

That was maximum speed, but it wasn’t optimum.

Systems have an optimum level of performance. It’s the output that permits the elements (including the humans) to do their best work, to persist at it, to avoid disasters, bad decisions and burnout.

One definition of maximization is: A short-term output level of high stress, where parts degrade but short-term performance is high.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…

That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

My Comment: I loved this article. It gets at the heart of why so many managers can turn into jerks, even if they’re not naturally inclined that way. We call it “trickle down intimidation.” In the interest of short term “maximization,” leaders who lack any other tools turn to fear, power, and control to get things done. And it works, at least minimally. As I said in my comments on the second article this week: it takes courage and leadership skills to choose a different path. To, as Godin says, optimize your leadership, your team, and your company for the long run rather than fleeting and costly short-term gain. It takes courage and practice, but you can do it.

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite?

5 Subtle Ways Leaders Lose Credibility

Credibility is hard to establish and easy to lose. The sad truth is I’ve seen really good leaders lose the confidence and credibility of their teams by making well-intentioned and innocent mistakes. I’m not talking about the big stuff like lack of follow-through or breaking commitments, but the subtle shifts that undermine all the trust you’re working to build. Don’t fall into these traps.

  1. Word Choice – Leaders use dramatic words to create a vision and gain attention. That’s good. I’m all for colorful language and exciting words. But leaders lose credibility when the words in play are too big or small for the situation at hand. I once worked with a leader whose rally cry of the year was, “we’re in the fight of our lives.” Now, it’s true the competition was fierce, and we needed every brain, heart and hand actively engaged in the struggle. The trouble was many in her audience were literally in the fight of their lives in one way or another: the second bone marrow transplant, a dying sister, a son still in Iraq. I could see these dedicated leaders squirm when she said these words. Sure they knew what she was trying to say, but the words did not inspire the cause. It works the other way too. Words can be too small. If it’s time to be impressed, be impressed. Don’t say, a project was okay when you should have said Wow! 
  2. Too Close, Yet So Far Away – Leaders don’t necessarily need to be able to do the job of the people on their team, but they do need to understand it. I was talking to a sales VP the other day who was in the long-term relationship sales game. He said his boss was asking him to call his prospects every day to follow-up. Having had this VP sell to me in the past, I can’t imagine a worse approach. Our relationship worked because of deep trust and long-term commitment, nagging would have been an immediate turn-off.
  3. Out of Touch -A close cousin to #2, leaders lose credibility when they can’t relate to the personal circumstances of their teams. The other day, I heard a customer service VP on stage talking to a team of call center reps trying to inspire great customer service. She shared, “if you’ve ever been on a Disney Cruise, that’s the kind of service I need you to provide.” These reps were worried about putting food on the table and gas in the car. The sentiment was spot on, but she needed another example.
  4. All About Me– Leaders often take on a celebrity status. People will ask lots of questions about their background, career path, advice. It’s great to share. But leaders lose credibility when they talk about themselves without turning the tables and taking a genuine interest in others. Listen more than you talk. Ask provocative questions. Get to know their background, hopes and dreams. Provide opportunities for others to share.
  5. Strategic Ambiguity – Some strategy and information is secret. If you can’t share, say that. But masking the truth with spin, far-fetched positioning, and other bologna will diminish your credibility fast. People will see through it and wonder what else, you’re not saying.

You’re working too hard to build credibility with your team and organization to throw it away with a sloppy mistake. Pay attention to these potential derailers. Get others involved, sometimes they’re too subtle to see from where you sit.

2 Ways to Instantly Lose Credibility with Your New Team

You’ve got a new job, a new team, or a new project. Credibility is vital, but people are skeptical. Questioning eyes wonder, “who is this guy?” “why him?” “seriously?” Their looks intimidate. And you wonder, “why me?” “What are they thinking?” “yikes, they look pretty smart.” And the downward spiral begins.

Here’s where it gets ugly.

Two credibility-crushing responses to that queasy feeling

1. Talk too much

It’s tempting. It’s common. Don’t do it.

Why you’ll want to…

  • To release nervous energy
    Share the space. They’re nervous too. Get the room talking. It will be more productive and relax everyone.
  • To prove you’re qualified
    No one wants your resume. Show them through your actions. The ones who care most about your background have already have done their homework. Let them ask if they’re curious.
  • To sound smart
    Don’t start with the answers. Trust me, you don’t know them. 

2. Talk too little

Shutting up doesn’t work either.

Why you’ll want to…

  • To be a servant leader
    Your heart’s in the right place. Great start. Servant leaders are confident and inspire confidence. Inspire then with vision.  Share your leadership philosophy. Ask them what they need.
  • So you don’t say something stupid
    Just watch out for #1. Saying nothing sounds stupid too. Ask inspired and provocative questions.
  • You’re just “taking it all in”
    Take it in, but show signs of life. Ask questions to learn more. Take it in with an energetic presence.

To Tell The Truth: The Problem with "Positioning"

Framing.

Positioning.

WIFM (them).

Spin.

If you are a leader, you have sat in one of these meetings. How do we explain this to them... in a way they can hear, understand, and feel good about?

How you position a change matters. A lot.

And yet,

If you find yourself in meeting after meeting, working to wordsmith the change to better “position” what is happening, I encourage you to ask one question.

“What if we told them the truth?”

  • … overtime is too high, we must increase productivity
  • … the stock price is stagnant, we will all benefit from better financials
  • …we need to ensure everyone is contributing
  • … this new automation will be more efficient
  • ???

Grown-ups want the truth. Not spin. The truth is most people will respect you far more for telling them the truth than any elegant positioning you can concoct.

When people feel respected, they will respond.

When people feel respected they will join.

 When people feel respected they will try.

On the other hand.

Unfiltered truth shared in an uncaring way creates unproductive havoc.

What If You Start With the Truth?

And then consider…

  • What are the best and worst parts of this change?
  • Who will this impact in what ways?
  • What questions will be most relevant to whom?
  • What additional information should I have available?
  • What other questions will they ask?
  • ???

I have never regretted erring on the side of the truth even when it was scary. Even if the awkward truth creates short-term anxiety, communicated well, the credibility you establish is worth the risk.
 

To Tell The Truth: The Problem with “Positioning”

Framing.

Positioning.

WIFM (them).

Spin.

If you are a leader, you have sat in one of these meetings. How do we explain this to them... in a way they can hear, understand, and feel good about?

How you position a change matters. A lot.

And yet,

If you find yourself in meeting after meeting, working to wordsmith the change to better “position” what is happening, I encourage you to ask one question.

“What if we told them the truth?”

  • … overtime is too high, we must increase productivity
  • … the stock price is stagnant, we will all benefit from better financials
  • …we need to ensure everyone is contributing
  • … this new automation will be more efficient
  • ???

Grown-ups want the truth. Not spin. The truth is most people will respect you far more for telling them the truth than any elegant positioning you can concoct.

When people feel respected, they will respond.

When people feel respected they will join.

 When people feel respected they will try.

On the other hand.

Unfiltered truth shared in an uncaring way creates unproductive havoc.

What If You Start With the Truth?

And then consider…

  • What are the best and worst parts of this change?
  • Who will this impact in what ways?
  • What questions will be most relevant to whom?
  • What additional information should I have available?
  • What other questions will they ask?
  • ???

I have never regretted erring on the side of the truth even when it was scary. Even if the awkward truth creates short-term anxiety, communicated well, the credibility you establish is worth the risk.