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?

 

How to Delegate Work

How to Delegate Work – One Secret to Ensure Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumbled and shook my head. For what seemed like the 37th time that week, an assignment I’d delegated had not come back on time.

I was so tired of chasing down unfinished tasks and stressed because the time I spent making sure those things happened was taking me away from other critical tasks.

It wasn’t that my people were unmotivated or incompetent. They were awesome: they loved their work and were good at what they did. Like you, however, they often faced a day full of competing priorities and unexpected crises that had to be handled quickly.

Fortunately, I discovered a solution…

Freakin’ Frustrating

You know you’re supposed to delegate.

You understand that you can’t achieve breakthrough results on your own, that leadership means achieving results through relationships, and that when you delegate, you multiply yourself.

You know all that, but delegation can still be, in the words of one of our clients, “So freakin’ frustrating!”

How often have you delegated something, only to find yourself many weeks later thinking, “Whatever happened to that project?”

It happened to me so many times – until I learned one vital step about how to delegate work effectively.

This one delegation secret changed everything for me and ensured that almost every delegated assignment came back on time and complete.

What would it mean for you if you never had to chase down another unfinished assignment or project? How much time would you save? How much more productive could you be?

How to Delegate Work So Nothing Falls Through the Cracks

Surprisingly, this is a delegation process very few leaders use and yet it is simple and you can use it right away. Before I give you the tool, let’s take a quick look at delegation.

Delegation is the act of sharing responsibility and authority for a task, project, or outcome with another person. This definition is important – you’ll see why in a moment.

Before you delegate, you want to make sure of three things:

  1. The person you delegate to has the information necessary to succeed.
  2. You have time to delegate effectively. If you must train the other person before you can delegate to them, allow time for this.
  3. Finally, the task you want to delegate isn’t part of the work that only you should do. For instance, you don’t want to delegate a performance conversation that your management role requires you to have (believe it or not, we’ve seen people do this.)

Okay, so let’s say you’ve checked off those items. It’s time to delegate: you clearly describe the outcome and set a clear finish line for when the assignment will be completed.

Most leaders do that much, but there is one more critical step and this is what changes everything:

Mutually schedule a time to receive the task.

For example:

If the prototype is due on the last day of the month, make an appointment with the person to meet with you and show you what they’ve done.

If the assignment is to survey customers, prepare their comments, and provide a recommendation, set a specific time on a specific day when you will meet together and they will share what they did.

A specific time. A specific day.

When someone knows they will be sitting down with you at a specific moment in time, the task won’t get buried and forgotten. If there’s a real possibility that they won’t get it done, most people will come talk to you. Then you can provide coaching or help them manage their workload.

When you mutually schedule an appointment to receive the task, you’ve started from a place of active accountability. Most people won’t show up to that meeting empty-handed. (And if they do, it’s time for a serious INPSIRE conversation.)

Yeah But…

When we share this delegation tool, leaders often have two “Yeah, but what about…?” reactions.

The first is “Yeah, but this will take too much time.”

The reality is that it will save you time. A five-minute meeting to receive the task saves you countless hours of wasted time chasing down incomplete work.

The second is “Yeah, but what about longer projects? If you wait until the end to meet, it’s too late.”

That’s true. For longer projects, schedule periodic updates where the person you’ve delegated to will bring you a progress update, an outline, or whatever intermediary step is appropriate. The key is that they bring something to the meeting that shows their progress.

Your Turn

Remember that when you delegate, you’re still responsible: you share responsibility, you don’t give up responsibility. You are still responsible to ensure your team achieves what it is you delegated.

Schedule the follow-up at the same time you delegate the task and you’ll never again waste time chasing down forgotten assignments.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts, questions, and tips to delegate so that nothing falls through the cracks.

5 Top Leadership Articles Week of September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When do you make a change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Mind the MIT

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

 

2. Ditch the Diaper Drama

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

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

3. Channel Challengers 

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

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

4. Own the Ugly 

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

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

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

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

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

6. Put People Before Projects 

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

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

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

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

8. Rock Your Role, One Skill at a Time

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

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

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

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?

7 Ways to Lead Friends and Former Peers

Betrayed

Joe stomped into the meeting room, slammed the door shut, and yelled at me, “How could you let this happen?”

He had just been fired by the company president.

I snapped back, “Me?? I’m not the one who didn’t show up and let the team down over and over again!”

He was angry, but I was frustrated and felt betrayed too. I’d put my credibility on the line to help him, but in the end he’d gotten himself fired.

What made it worse: for the last year, we’d been friends.

That all changed when I was given responsibility to lead the team.

Problems When Leading Friends and Former Peers

When we ask a group of new leaders about their biggest problems, this is always one of the most common.

It’s one of the most difficult challenges for most emerging leaders. We’ve even watched experienced leaders stumble when asked to address or lead a team of their peers.

In fact, it’s a Shakespearian dilemma: Prince Hal faces this challenge when he ascends to the throne and becomes King Henry V. His old drinking pals feel ignored and betrayed.

There were several problems that kept me from being an effective leader for my friend. You will likely encounter the same problems as you lead friends and former peers:

1) You want to be liked and accepted

Positional leadership, even when you are an outstanding Winning Well leader, means taking responsibility for decisions that not every agrees with. It means holding people accountable and it means that the group who you naturally want to like and accept you won’t always feel that way.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting other people to think well of you and have a desire to belong – it’s a very normal, human, and healthy value so long as it doesn’t consume you.

However, when you choose to lead, it will come into conflict with other values.

2) Your loyalty to the team and the mission

This is one of those “ANDs” that is so important – your friends may feel you’ve abandoned them, but you haven’t. You’ve added an important loyalty: to the organization, your team, and the mission.

Learning to balance both takes some work, but to your friends who don’t understand this tension, it can feel like betrayal.

3) Inconsistent behavior

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, Prince Hal partied with the best of them – he drank with the renown lush, Falstaff, and nothing about his behavior said “leader.” Then he took the throne and treated his friends as if they were beneath his notice. He ignored them, tried to act “noble,” insulted them.How to lead friends and former peers - prince Hal

The problem was inconsistent behavior. The Prince wasn’t a leader when he hung out with friends. Once he became King and tried to act kingly, his friends were understandably hurt.

4) Unclear expectations

Conflicting and unclear expectations are the most common problem when leading friends and former peers. When you move from a peer role to a positional leadership role, some of your team may expect to get a “pass” on poor behavior, others may expect favors or special treatment, and YOU may be expecting your friends to work especially hard because of your friendship.

All of this leads to massive disappointment when you do hold team members accountable, you won’t do favors that would hurt the team, and your friends don’t show any special effort.

5) Not everyone can handle it

Some people are able to manage the tension between friendship and supervisor. In my experience, however, it is the exception, not the rule.

It takes a great deal of maturity for both people to be able do this.

Seven Ways to Lead Peers and Former Friends

My experience didn’t have to end the way it did. Early in my career, I didn’t know about the problem I’ve just described. The good news is that a few Winning Well leadership practices can help you manage the transition from peer to positional leader:

  1. Lead from where you are, before you’re promoted.

Leading from where you are, without a formal title, will often lead to you being asked to fill titled leadership positions.

It also helps to ease the transition. If your peers all know you as someone who:

  • Sets an example
  • Practices healthy friendship (where you hold one another accountable)
  • Empowers others, and
  • Already balances the mission with your role on the team,

then you won’t surprise them with radically different behavior when you change positions.

However, as a team member, if you are constantly critical of other people and your supervisor, it will be difficult for you to lead when you have a formal leadership role.

  1. Be clear about expectations.

This is the essential step in the transition to leading friends and former peers: have a “no diaper drama” conversation about the transition and your mutual expectations. In this conversation discuss these topics:

  • Your commitments to your team and to the organization.
  • Your management expectations.
  • Your leadership values.
  • Organizational mandates.
  • Ask your peers to be honest about their concerns or expectations of you.
  • Discern if there are where they feel you are being unjust.
  • Be realistic about the times you will have to make decisions that are in the team’s best interest even if it conflicts with what you personally would like.

You want to prevent surprises. Your team needs to know where you are coming from. Don’t let it be a ‘gotcha!’ moment later on.

(Use the Winning Well Expectations Matrix in the free Winning Well Toolkit to help you have these conversations about expectations.)

  1. Clearly identify which role you’re playing.

This is difficult for some people because it takes a greater level of maturity in your thinking and relationships, but is very helpful for avoiding misunderstandings.

When you’re talking with a friend or former peer, clearly identify the role you’re in. Are you speaking as a friend or as their team leader?

For example: “As a friend, I am so sorry. That stinks! How can I help?”

“As the team leader, I can give you tomorrow to take care of your problem and then we will need you back.”

  1. Be clear, not perfect.

Be very clear about expectations, goals, and desired behaviors. You will never be perfect; so don’t try to act as if you are.

Your friends and former peers all know the ‘real’ you, so don’t suddenly try to act as if you’re perfect in ways they know you’re not. It’s fake and your leadership credibility will suffer.

It’s okay to be you. Take responsibility, be as clear as you can, and then:

  1. Apologize as needed.

Leaders often struggle to apologize, but it’s even more pronounced when a former team member is leading the team. Don’t let your insecurity and desire to be liked keep you from owning your junk, apologizing, and moving on.

  1. Weed as needed.

There are times when it just won’t work. For example:

A former peer continued to take advantage of our relationship and, despite my best efforts to clarify expectations and help him correct the behavior, nothing changed.

I had to be clear about the situation: “I want the best for you and I know this is difficult, but if nothing changes this will affect your employment.” He eventually took advantage of a second friend and supervisor and was fired.

You can’t control another person. Your job is to be the best leader you can be and give everyone on the team every opportunity to succeed. When someone isn’t interested in their own success, care enough to move them off your team.

  1. Get a new peer group.

Build relationships with other leaders, find mentors, and get coaching. There is nothing like a group of people who understand the challenges you experience and can share meaningful wisdom.

You can’t get this from your team. Over time, I built my own personal Board of Directors–people outside the company who I could learn from, confide in, and be accountable to.

Your Turn

Leading a team of your friends and former peers can be hugely rewarding, but it’s your responsibility as a leader to set clear expectations and act fairly. Even experienced leaders can benefit from reviewing their relationships to make sure they are healthy.

Leave us a comment and let us know:

How do you maintain healthy relationships with your direct reports or your own leaders?

What other suggestions do you have to help lead friends and former peers?


Creative Commons Photo Credits:

Colors of Fall by regan76 and Birds by barloventomagico

5 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.

Start Here to Inspire Your Team

“David, it’s a mess.” Barb ran her hand through her hair and sighed.

“I’ve been here 20 days and have met with people at every level and every department, asking what it’s going to take to turn things around.”

What a Mess

Barb had been appointed interim CEO by her Board of Directors after two executives in a row had resigned at the Board’s request. Employee retention had dropped to an all-time low in the history of the company, their finances were a wreck, and their institutional reputation was in jeopardy.

“One thing that keeps coming up.” She frowned. “Over and over again, I’ve heard these stories – about how people were told to do things with no explanation, how policies were set and then ignored by executives and those they favored, while everyone else was punished if they didn’t comply, and how no one saw or heard from their leaders apart from all-hands meetings or sudden, secretive disciplinary meetings.”

She shook her head, “These leaders were MIA and there’s no trust left anywhere.”

Can We Go Practice?

This conversation was fresh in my mind when Sebastian, our eleven-year-old budding magician asked if I would take him to a downtown street frequented by tourists so he could practice his magic skills.

If you’ve ever met Sebastian, he’s the epitome of “outgoing.” People frequently use the words “fearless” and “precocious” when talking about him. Nevertheless, when faced by the prospect of approaching strangers on the street (with me observing from a safe distance), he froze.

Stage fright set in. The fear of rejection paralyzed him and this normally outgoing kid turned into a shy wallflower.

I encouraged him to give it another try. I identified some likely prospects who looked like they wanted to be entertained, and I shared how success often is found on the other side of rejection.

 

Nothing worked.

Then he looked it at me and said, “If it’s so easy, you do it.”

Uh oh.

I tried redirecting.

No luck.

I protested, “I didn’t ask to come out here.”

He handed me the cards.

“I’ve already done this, I don’t need the practice.”

He folded his arms and tapped his foot expectantly.

I took the cards and scanned the crowd, searching for a friendly face, while fending off eleven-year-old heckling.

Finally, I found a likely prospect and proceeded to perform one of Sebastian’s tricks for a teenage boy, his mom, and his sister.

Ten minutes later Sebastian had earned a couple of dollars, lots of laughs, and was talking about how fun it was to perform for people.

The Fundamentals of Trust and Inspiration

As we walked home, I asked Sebastian what had changed for him that allowed him to go for it.

“I didn’t think I could do it, but…” he smiled, “when you did it, you showed me it was possible.”

Sebastian and Barb had identified two sides of the same leadership truth: your example sets the tone, builds trust, and makes the impossible possible.

Barb’s discovery of dysfunction was a vivid reminder of the importance of trust.

Can your people look at you and see you doing what you ask of them? Do you embody the “why” behind the “what” you ask of your team? Do you treat people consistently, justly, and transparently?

Most leaders we work with will say that they want to do these things.

They intend to live this way…but.

They get busy. They’ve got so much to do that they don’t take time to lead by example. They assume people will “just get it” or that someone else will make the connection and explain why this is important. Or they get impatient with the process, let their frustration get the best of them, and make poor employment decisions.

Your Turn

As Sebastian reminded me that afternoon as he shuffled his cards: you never outgrow the need to lead by example.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure that you lead by example, even when you’re busy and overwhelmed?

Be the leader you want your boss to be,

David

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.

Jesse Lyn Stoner

How to Get Where You Want to Go (Jesse Lyn Stoner)

Winning Well Connection

I was first introduced to Jesse very early on in my blogging journey, by Dan McCarthy, another well-established and highly respected leadership blogger. She graciously spent time with me to share her journey and insights about how to make the best impact. Since then, we’ve enjoyed collaborating and supporting one another’s work.

 

 

 

 

Winning Well Reflection

Jesse’s admonition to know where you’re going is violated by leaders nearly every day. Effective leaders first answer “Where are we going?” and only then move to “How will we get there?” Avoid the endless circles, wasted time, and frustrated team members with a clear focus on results. Everyone (most of all you!) needs to know the M.I.T.

Jonathan Low

Winning Client's Loyalty: The Power of Relationships (Jonathan Low)

Winning Well Connection

We first met Jonathan when he was introduced as the President of the Global Speaker’s Federation. He struck us then as a statesman and diplomat. A few months later, I (David) enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Jonathan as he traveled through Denver, Colorado. After trusting me to order for the table, our conversation ranged from our professions to our favorite foods, to how we can help those in need. Jonathan is also one of our hosts at the Asia HR Summit and Asian Professional Speakers Singapore Conference. He doesn’t just talk about the power of relationships and building customer loyalty – he lives it. 

 

Click on the image for more information about Jonathan’s book.

Winning Well Reflection

One of the things we love is when we can provide practical tools to help leaders succeed. Jonathan delivers in that vein with some very practical and helpful tools for leaders who are challenged to build relationships. For some people, this comes naturally, but for those who need to be more intentional, his suggestions, particularly scheduled ‘reach out’ time are so helpful.

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Ilja Grzeskowitz

Let's Talk about Change, Baby! How to Dream Big, Act Bold, and Get the Results You Want (Ilja Grzeskowitz)

WINNING WELL CONNECTION

I (David) first met Ilja when we both happened to be visiting Manhattan. He had just released his latest book on change and I was sharing a leadership keynote with a business headquartered in Long Island. On a chilly spring evening, we shared drinks on a roof-top patio overlooking the Empire State building and talked about his favorite places in Germany, changes in the world economy, and leadership. Ilja invited Karin and me to join him in Phoenix, AZ as his guests for the National Speaker’s Association Council of Peers Award for Excellence gala (it’s like the Academy Awards for professional speakers) and we look forward to reconnecting in Singapore where the three of us are presenting at the same conference. As an expert in change and change management, Ilja embodies his message with an energetic, upbeat, and positive response to whatever comes his way.

A while ago, I read an interview with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, where he made a fascinating observation. He said: “Today, mankind produces more information, data and ideas than from the stone age until the year 2003 together.“ And he nailed it with that statement. Because the changes around us are getting more and more intense. Everything changes. Permanently. The economy, the organizational structures in our companies, our very own working space. As a keynote speaker and change coach, I have the privilege of working with a lot of awesome organizations. And it doesn’t matter which industry I look at, whether it’s a big brand or a small company with just a hundred employees. There is one thing they all have in common: The rules have changed and constant change has become the new normal.

Click on the image for more information about Ilja’s book.

The Rules Have Changed

Especially disruptive technologies, the demographic trend and the digitalization are the main reasons that markets change dramatically and the customers are behaving completely different than they used to do just a few years ago. And that means that our ability to deal with this new complexity around us will be the most important factor if we will still be successful in the future or if we become obsolete. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about change for change’s sake, but about change with a purpose. Change with intention. Change to reach your goals, to become more profitable and to grow as a person. In the upcoming years, nothing will be more important, than to adapt to these new circumstances.

Use Your Mindset as Your #1 Asset

What does all that mean to your jobs as a leader? First, you need to quickly adapt to all of the changes going on around you and adjust your own mindset. Even more importantly, you need to lead the changes in your team. Organizations only change when the people change. And it is your job to make sure they do. Not by telling them or giving orders, but by reaching their hearts and leading with your actions. And believe me, I know what I am talking about. In my own career, I started out as the youngest store manager in Germany’s largest department store corporation and overall, I was responsible for ten different stores all over the country. Back then, not only did I have to deal with tough competition, changing markets and the upcoming phenomena of online shopping but also with a huge crisis within the company itself. Locations were shut down, profits were decreasing and thousands of employees were facing the fear of unemployment. During these tough times, I learned the biggest lesson of my life: Change is not what happens around you, but how you deal with it. It is your mindset that makes all the difference. Your attitude. And after all, the culture in your organization. Let me share one of my deepest beliefs with you: A company culture of openness, flexibility, and courage beats every sophisticated business strategy by far. Because there’s one thing you can be sure of: If you are good, your competition will copy everything. They will copy your products, your prices, maybe even your marketing. But they will never be able to copy your culture.

Create a Culture of Change in Your Company

In my book “Think it. Do it. Change it.”, I explained how to develop this special attitude of change. If you know how motivation really works, why the fear of going new ways is actually your best friend, and how to use your own uniqueness to lead the changes in your company, your community and most importantly, in your family, you will be able to make a huge difference. At the end of the day, dealing with change is a mindset. A certain way of thinking, deciding and taking action, that we have to adjust not only once, but on a daily basis. The more you use that special attitude, the sooner you will develop strong habits. And that’s important because changes never happen overnight. They are a process with successes and failures. With ups and downs. You have to work hard to make it happen every single day. Isn’t it true? It’s never the one with the best abilities who wins, but always the one who is well prepared, the one who takes massive action and changes actively. Because under the same circumstances it’s always the attitude, the mindset, the company culture that makes all the difference in the world. So dream big. Act bold. And you will get the results you want.

Winning Well Reflection

We were struck by Ilja’s observations that “organizations only change when people change.” As leaders, it’s all-too-easy to fall into the “they-game”e.g. I’ll lead well … when “they” get their act together… when “they” fix the problem … when “they” give us a better system. But that’s not leadership. Leaders take responsibility and create the change that needs to happen. We love the way Ilja reminds us that “change is a mindset” – you often don’t know what you’ll show up to – but you have 100% control over how you show up.

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