How to Motivate Your Team - Not Your Goals

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

Wondering How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals? Hint: Don’t Motivate, Cultivate

Have you ever been given a goal by your supervisors and thought, “Ugh! What are they thinking? My team’s gonna hate this!” If so, you’re not alone. Every manager has to figure how to motivate your team in situations like these.

People don’t like it when they feel goals are ‘shoved down their throats’ – goals that might have been set by people who may not have all the facts and didn’t ask for input.

The good news is that you and your team can still thrive in these situations – there are ways to motivate your team even when you didn’t set the goals.

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

  1. Understand that you don’t actually motivate anyone.
    A person’s motivation always comes from inside them. Your responsibility is to help release that motivation. The first step when you’re wondering how to motivate your team is to remember that you can’t actually motivate anyone. Don’t motivate, cultivate.
  2. Take Responsibility.
    In these situations, the very worst thing you can possibly do is walk into your team meeting and say, “Those clueless jerks gave us these goals and I guess we’re stuck with them.” These kind of statements are leadership suicide. They kill your credibility, disempower you and your team, and make your team wonder who they should be talking to, if not you. Do not shirk this responsibility. Own it.
  3. Be Transparent.
    While you don’t want to act like a victim nor encourage victim-thinking in your team, it is also okay to acknowledge the situation. If the goals are difficult, say so. Remember, the most important currency you have with your team is their trust. If the team is clearly feeling that the situation is unfair or challenging, it is okay to voice those feelings for the team. Eg: “You may be feeling that this is tough or even a little unfair, and I get that.”
  4. Believe In Them.
    Your team needs to hear you voice your belief in what is possible. This is the “vision” work of leadership – picture your team succeeding and let them know their own potential.” Yes, these are difficult goals and I know you haven’t done anything like this before, and I also believe we are up to the challenge. In fact, this will be the most significant achievement we do together.”
  5. Help Them.
    Rather than, “These are your goals, go figure it out and stop your complaining…” Try, “This will be our greatest achievement…and, you won’t be alone. I will be with you each step of the way. I’m committed to helping all of us succeed together.” Note: you MUST back this offer of help with real action or you won’t be asking how to motivate your team, but how to reclaim your lost credibility.
  6. Own the Problem.
    Top-down goals are difficult because people feel disempowered. Motivation drops when they don’t feel they have control over their own fate.Your job as a leader is to restore some of that power. You may not have had input into the goals, but as a team, you can have full ownership over how you will accomplish them. Ask: “How can we solve this problem?”As you settle on specific strategies and tactics, make sure to get people working out of their natural talents and energy wherever possible.When you help the team own the solution, you will have restored some of their power (and their motivation!)
  7. Advocate for Your Team.
    Part of your responsibility as a leader is to advocate for your team, department, or organization. Actively manage up and get as much information about why goals were set the way they were. The more information you can share with your team, the better. Also, take the opportunity to share any facts the decision-makers may not be aware of – be sure to share it in a way that will help them with their needs and goals. Note: you will not always succeed in changing the decision-making, but your credibility with your team and the organization will grow. Your team knows you have their back and, over time, you will gain more opportunity to speak into the goal-setting process.
  8. Do It.
    Whatever strategy your team developed – do it! Become its biggest champion. Remind everyone of their potential, the process, and their input into the decision. Hold yourself and the team accountable for results.
  9. Celebrate.
    When you get it done – make it a big deal! Thank individuals for their efforts. Celebrate the team effort. Fly the flag and let your own supervisors know what the team did and how they did it.

Your Turn

When you’re wondering how to motivate your team, remember that you don’t actually motivate anyone. Cultivate an environment where you honor them and bring out their best.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts on how to motivate your team – especially when you don’t set the goals?

surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?

Jennifer secret to retaining high performers

One Obvious Secret to Retaining High Performers

Recently, I received an incredibly strong message about retaining high performers.

The message came from Jennifer, a former store manager at a national women’s clothing chain. Jennifer is outgoing, incredibly gifted at making customers feel comfortable, and was considered a “high-potential” by her district and regional managers. Within a year, however, she had quit.

A few months later, she ran into her district manager at a coffee shop. As they talked, the district manager expressed surprise that Jennifer had left. “You were one of the most talented, capable, managers we had. You had so much to offer and you left. Do you mind if I ask why?”

Jennifer told me, “It took me a few moments to recover from the shock … the district manager had never shared any of those positives with me. I got a weekly, sometimes daily, breakdown of where I wasn’t good enough – and that was it.”

Jennifer told her former district manager, “I thought I was failing. I’m shocked to hear that I was doing anything right. I wish you had told me I was talented or capable at the time.”

A “Secret” to Retaining High Performers

This shouldn’t be that much of a secret. Sadly, however, it’s not as common as it should be:

Tell them.

Tell them they’re doing well. Be specific about what they’re doing well and why it matters. Build on that foundation with a path forward. How can they continue to grow? What future roles are available for them and what skills will they need to master to thrive in those roles?

Unfortunately, we still run into managers who ask (with a completely straight face) “Why should I have to encourage people for just doing their job?”

That depends … how important is retaining high performers? How much lost talent, energy, and productivity will a lack of encouragement cost you?

Human beings need encouragement. It’s a fact of life. You get more of what you encourage or celebrate and less of what you criticize or ignore. If you want a team that doesn’t need to be encouraged, get a cat. Otherwise, if you’re working with people, they need encouragement.

If you want a team that doesn’t need to be encouraged, get a cat. Otherwise, if you’re working with people, they need encouragement. (Tweet This)

If you’re married, imagine what would happen if, after your wedding, you never said “I love you” or never held hands or kissed the other person. You couldn’t expect your relationship to last very long.

That’s the equivalent of never saying “thank you” or encouraging your team members. Yes, it’s their job in that they’ve made a commitment to your company – just like spouses make a promise to commit to one another. That doesn’t mean you should take that commitment or your team’s work for granted.

3 Keys to Effective Encouragement

Recently, when I shared Jennifer’s story, an audience member asked, “How do I encourage people? I understand the concept, but struggle to do it well.” Effective encouragement requires three things. Try these:

  1. Avoid saying “Great job!” Instead, try something like: “I really appreciate the extra effort you put in on that project last Tuesday. The client loved the work and renewed their account.”
  2. Encourage people in ways that are meaningful to them. The easiest way to find out, is to ask. When you onboard people into your team, ask them, “How do you like to receive recognition for a job well done?”
  3. Make sure your encouragement is related to the work and business outcomes. It demoralizes everyone when you encourage someone for something that actually detracts from the team.

Consistent encouragement doesn’t need to take hours of your time. I often work with managers to create ‘micro-encouragement’ with their team members – small moments where you are specific, meaningful, and relevant in a sentence or two. These consistent micro-encouragements add up to massive influence, productivity, and yes, retaining high performers.

Your Turn

Remember, when it comes to retaining higher performers, you get more of what you encourage and celebrate. Start with encouragement. Everyone needs it in ways that are meaningful to them. (On that note: Thank YOU for investing in your leadership. You’re making a difference for the people you work with.)

Leave us a comment and share: How you make sure to give people the encouragement they need?

What to do when your boss cant focus

What to Do When Your Boss Can’t Focus?

Have you ever had a boss who couldn’t focus? What advice would you have for Scattered?

Dear Karin & David,

What do you do with a boss who makes it impossible to focus? We agree on a direction and three days later he has seventeen new ideas, dumps them on us, and the managers are expected to somehow get their teams organized and performing. We can’t ever finish one project before starting three more. Of course, I’m asking for a friend.

                                                                                                Please help!


Dear Scattered,

We hear you.

It can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you can’t focus. We have worked for, consulted with many, (and even been) leaders whose frequent new ideas leave their people gasping for breath and confused as to where to focus.

The good news is that these leaders can bring many strengths to their jobs and together you can be very effective.

Let’s start by appreciating what your boss is bringing to the relationship. It sounds like your boss is an innovator. These people see the world as a series of opportunities.

They’re energized by possibilities and can create new and exciting ways of doing things. They often think about the big picture, start initiatives noone’s ever thought of, and are the antidote to lethargic “business as usual.” All sorts of ideas excite them and their enthusiasm can be contagious and motivating.

Remember these assets as you consider the challenges: they get distracted, their excitement can be exhausting, and it’s easy for projects to get lost as they pile up.

Next, let’s look at how you can help yourself and your boss to maintain focus.

First, have a conversation to establish the MITs for the year and for the immediate quarter. What is the Most Important Thing you and your team will achieve? We recommend you initiate this conversation so it doesn’t seem like a reaction or negation of your boss’s latest idea.

Next, communicate weekly with your boss about how you are making progress toward the agreed-upon MITs. (We recommend using the MIT Huddle Planner to facilitate these conversations.) This serves two purposes: First, it lets your boss know what you’re doing. Second, it subtly reminds your boss what you both agreed were the Most Important Things you would do.

4 Ways to Help Your Boss Focus

Third, when your boss brings their latest new idea:

  1. Take time to listen. Make the effort to understand why it excites them and why they think it’s a good idea.
  2. Validate their reason for suggesting it by reflecting what you hear. e.g.: “That sounds like a great way to get in front of more customers.” Note that this isn’t a commitment to do it. You’re entering into the conversation by ensuring you’ve understood the reason for their suggestion.
  3. Ask how it aligns with other priorities. e.g.: “I know you’ve asked us to prioritize the new product development and customer retention this quarter. Is this an alternative to those priorities? Would you like resources reassigned this quarter or is this for the future? Which of these initiatives is the Most Important Thing?”When you ask these clarifying questions, your boss will often think about just how much of a priority the new idea should be. Sometimes they’ll say something like “It’s a fun idea, but let’s maintain our current focus for now.” Other times, however, they’ll have a good reason that the new idea ought to be pursued. It may achieve more than an existing initiative or meet a more urgent issue your boss has to respond to.
  4. Check for Understanding. e.g.: “Okay, let me make sure I’ve got it: we’re going to stick with new product development and customer retention as our MITs this quarter. We’ll reconvene in six weeks to look at this idea with an eye to scheduling it for next quarter. Do I have that right?”

After this conversation, continue your weekly communications about the progress you’ve made on your MITs. This cadence of communication and conversation will help everyone think through priorities and shift them with clarity and purpose.

We’ve coached many managers on both sides of these conversations. In our experience, the idea-generating managers may initially be a little frustrated, but they come to value the questions.

In the words of Matt, a CFO who was frustrating his team with weekly new ideas:

“I hated it when my direct reports would ask me ‘How does this idea fit in with our other priorities?’ but after a few times, it helped me to really think it through and keep us focused on what mattered most.”

Let us know how you and ‘your friend’ use these conversations.

Your Question?

We love to hear from you. Send us your real leadership challenges (or ask for a friend!) and we’ll give you real answers.

See Also Forbes: 17 Tips For Dealing With a Disorganized Boss

why your team won't collaborate and what to do about it

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate (and What To Do About It)

“I’m sick of this crap! My team won’t collaborate – why can’t they just figure this out?”

Scott was CEO of an engineering firm that produced communications hardware and software for industries around the globe.

He had worked hard with his board and senior leadership team to settle on their strategic M.I.T. for the next 18 months. They needed to launch a new product to remain competitive in a market they had once led.

He held a company meeting where he made the goal painfully clear to everyone in the room. “We need to get this new product to market by this deadline, or we’re out of business in five years.”

Within six weeks he was exasperated. His people were at war with one another. Several senior VPs were about to quit and the do-or-die deadline was looking like a dream.

We see this frequently: leaders lay out a clear M.I.T. (for more on the Most Important Thing), they check for understanding, and they turn their people loose to get after it.

Before too long, customer service and sales are at each other’s throats. Engineering and marketing are having shouting matches in the halls while finance and human resources won’t talk at all.

When their team won’t collaborate we’ve watched executives get frustrated and shout, “Why can’t you guys figure this out? Just work together and solve the problem!”

Maybe you’re a frontline leader and you’ve worked hard to establish a clear, shared team vision and the M.I.T. initiative for this quarter, but your team ends up squabbling.

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate

When your people can’t unify in pursuit of a common, clearly established goal, the problem is usually that you’ve only established 50% clarity.

You’ve clarified results, but you haven’t clarified relationships – and that is frequently why your team won’t collaborate.

In Scott’s case (and this is VERY common) he had made the new product a priority, but was still evaluating individual departments based on other criteria.

For instance, customer service was evaluated on their ability to retain customers, but at the same time, engineering was all but ignoring response-to-existing-customer requests in favor of getting the new product to market. So customer service naturally saw stubborn engineering as a threat to their bonuses and even employment.

Customer service continually requested that sales lend some of their people to try to save existing accounts. Sales people were being assessed on quotas that were unrelated to the new product’s launch.

In short, everyone was doing what made the most sense for their individual success and was frustrated that their colleagues wouldn’t cooperate.

Scott had defined an overarching goal, but had left the organizational systems and processes untouched.

Those systems and processes were built to achieve different goals.

When his people came to him and asked whether the engineering prioritization of new product over customer retention was okay, he got frustrated. “Why can’t they just figure it out?”

The answer: Because he’d given them conflicting goals.

What To Do About It When Your Team Won’t Collaborate

Real teams succeed or fail together. They have a clear goal and they all have a clear role to play in achieving it.

Effective leaders establish clarity of results and relationships.

Clarity of results is often easier to define:

  • What’s the M.I.T. we must accomplish this year?
  • What are our three most important strategic M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the M.I.T. behaviors we need at the executive, manager, and frontline levels?

Clarity of relationships, however, requires you to address some additional questions:

  • How are roles and handoffs defined and communicated?
  • How do department or individual team member priorities align with M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the most important values, systems, and processes guiding everyone’s behavior?

In Scott’s case, this meant we had to ask and answer some tough questions:

  • Would customer retention goals be lowered or continue at prior levels?
  • Either way, how could these be achieved in ways that aligned with the timely new product launch?
  • How much attention should engineering give to resolving existing customer issues?
  • How would performance bonuses be changed to align with the stated M.I.T. of the new product launch?

Your Turn

If you’ve established a clear M.I.T. but people are siloed, caught in endless arguments, and the team won’t collaborate, take a hard look at the relational clarity and how you can get everyone aligned with the new goal – not just in theory, but in reality.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts: How do you ensure that everyone on your team understands their role in achieving a shared goal?

5 ways leaders can focus when everything is important

5 Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

How do leaders stay focused when everything feels so important?

“Mark, What’s your M.I.T.?”

Mark pushed back from his desk. “That’s a great question. I’ve so much flying at me…” He sighed. “I don’t have a clue.”

Mark’s calendar might look familiar: wall-to-wall meetings, often with two or three appointments competing for the same window of time.

Management means an unending stream of information, problems to solve, decisions to make, fires to put out, constant interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, messaging apps, and that’s not to mention the projects you want to work on to build a better future.

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

The first step to address this overwhelm is to accept the reality that you cannot do everything. I often refer to this as “Infinite need, finite me.” You can’t succeed by doing everything – only by doing what matters most.

Once you’ve made peace with the reality of infinite need, finite me, it’s time to get crystal clear about your M.I.T. or Most Important Thing. In your work, what are the one to three most important strategic objectives you and your team can achieve?

Your ability to Mind the M.I.T. is critical to your success, but what if you don’t know what’s most important?

It’s not always as straightforward as we might hope. In fact, we’ve seen many frontline leaders and middle-level managers in organizations we work with struggle to identify their M.I.T.s.

Five Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

Here are five ways to figure out what’s most important and where you and your team can have the most impact:

1. Ask Your Boss.

When you feel swamped with competing priorities and initiatives, start by asking your supervisor: “What is the most important thing my team can accomplish this year?”

We’ve often sat with befuddled leaders and invited their manager to the conversation. We’ll ask the manager to identify the MITs and they rattle off the top one, two, or three priorities for the next year. They may not have communicated them well, but they knew what they were.

2. Think Two-Levels Above.

If your boss isn’t clear about the MITs, trying thinking up a level. What keeps your boss’s boss awake at night? What are the goals they’ve got to achieve? How does what your team does contribute to these outcomes? You might even try initiating a skip-level meeting in order to align your team with strategic goals. If your boss is amenable, invite them to join you.

3. Ask What Matters Most to Your Customers.

If you can’t get clarity from your managers, the next place to look is at the value you add for your customers. Whether you provide a product or service and whether you do that for external or internal customers, they don’t care about your scorecard. What do they care about? What are the one or two things your customers most need from you? Focus on doing that exceptionally well.

4. Ask What Matters Most to You and Your Team.

If you’re still struggling for clarity, imagine a day six months or a year into the future where you and your team are congratulating one another for having done your very best. What did you achieve? What made you most proud? How do you know you did your very best?

5. Look for the Leverage.

Often, there is one action you can take or one result you can produce that will have a profound effect on everything else. What is that one point of leverage that, if you did it successfully, would change the game for you, your team, and your organization?

Your Turn

When everything’s important, you blunt your impact. When you take time to figure out your one, two, or three strategic M.I.T.s, then relentlessly focus on them every day you’ll energize your team and results can soar.

Today, Mark has his three M.I.T.s written on a whiteboard in his office. He reviews them every day and discusses them with everyone he talks to. The team focuses on the specific behaviors that will help them achieve their M.I.T.s.

Leave us a comment and let us know: When everything feels important, how do you choose what is actually the Most Important Thing?

How to make real change happen when you're not ceo

How to Make Real Change Happen When You’re Not CEO

Let’s Grow Leaders Q&A

In a recent post we invited you to send us your biggest leadership challenge. We received a great question from a healthcare leader in the United Kingdom. It’s a question we hear all the time from audience members and workshop participants around the world about how to make real change happen when you’re not in charge.

(Please, continue to send in your questions and leadership challenges – yours may be the next one featured here).

Dear Karin & David:

I’m an innovation team leader in healthcare and we’re tasked with delivering a new model of care. It has met with some resistance – change is quite challenging in some parts of our industry and I don’t have the power to enforce these changes. How do you challenge and convert mindsets to change? How do you change cultural norms? How do you make real change happen when you’re not the CEO?

Dear Healthcare Leader:

Creating change from within an organization is often challenging.

It can be frustrating when the benefit of a new way seems so obvious to you, but is not obvious to others. Most human beings are “wired” to keep doing what they did yesterday because it costs less energy and is safe (after all, what they did yesterday got them safely to today, so why change?).

You ask two questions. I will take them in reverse order:

How do you change culture norms?

The short answer here is often: slowly.

Particularly if you’re not leading the entire organization.

Both Karin and I have made significant changes in internal cultures, but the work starts with the culture you build within your own team.

When people who interact with your innovation team come out of those interactions saying “Wow – that is an awesome group of people doing amazing work. I want to be treated like that, treat others like that, achieve results like that, and be a part of something fantastic!” – then your culture will start to spread.

We call this a “cultural oasis.” You create a culture within the team for which you are responsible. You may have to coach them to remain positive and to stay focused on results and relationships when others in the organization don’t understand them or minimize their work.

Summary: Changing a culture from the inside takes time and starts with the culture you create within your team.

How do you challenge and covert mindsets to change?

From your description, it sounds like you’re hoping others will accept the changes your innovation team is proposing. If that is your goal, I invite you to think differently about “challenging and converting” mindsets. People almost never change their mind because they were challenged.

The good news is that there are several ways you can make it more likely for change to be adopted:

  1. Answer the Question

When we’re asked to change, every human being has one overriding question: “Why should I?”

So answer their question. Before proposing a specific change, take the time to connect-the-dots: What about the current situation isn’t working? How will this change improve their life? Their patients’ lives?

When people buy-in to the “why” moving on to the “what” is much easier.

Know your audience here: one person might care more about that data and research while another is more concerned about the institution’s reputation and a third might be more focused on how changes will affect people.

  1. Make Them Partners

People don’t argue with their own input.

After you’ve shared the problem you hope to solve or the results you want to achieve, ask your peers for their ideas about how to make it work. Acknowledge the limitations and competing priorities they face. Ask “How do you think we can do this AND meet your objectives? What might that look like?”

As they share, find ways to incorporate their ideas. Now you’re all implementing a shared solution, not just something you’ve put on them.

  1. Demonstrate Success

Related to connecting what-to-why: Can you pilot the change in one area to demonstrate how desirable it would be for others? Can you find people in that test-case who can be ambassadors for the change with their colleagues and talk about what it’s doing for them and their patients?

  1. Leverage Leaders

Lateral change is easier to accomplish if your supervisor is supportive and reinforces the message. You may have to ask for exactly what you need. e.g.: “I’m hearing regularly from colleagues that these other initiatives are higher priority. Can you clarify for all of us the order of implementation?”

If your supervisor isn’t supportive, take the time to connect your initiative to their goals. What keeps them up at night? What goals do they need to achieve to be successful? Demonstrate how your changes will help them achieve their goals. Then enlist their aid with colleagues.

Here is an article that discusses these conversations with your supervisor or colleagues in more depth: PERSUADE Model

  1. Make Real Change Happen More Easily

People often resist change because they don’t know how to do it. We are more likely to adopt small behaviors than large ones. To make real change happen, ask yourself: Is there a way to focus on one or two fundamental behaviors and then build from there?

  1. Make It the Norm

The brain takes two shortcuts to figure out what to do: the environment and what other people are doing. What in your physical environment can make the change the default action? Consistently keep the new way of doing things in front of people. Tell the stories about how different people are implementing. They should see it every day so that it becomes the assumed “this is how we do things.”

  1. Share the Score

Find a meaningful way to publicly track progress. It may be a scorecard, a weekly video, or stories from patients. When people look at a score that tells them they’re 70% successful, but their colleagues are 92% successful, they often work to close the gap.

  1. Celebrate Success

Acknowledge people who are doing it well, tell the stories of how it’s working for colleagues and patients. Be specific about what people are doing and why it is important. Celebrate in ways that are meaningful to the people you’re acknowledging. This can help win over some of the reluctant people.

Those are a few thoughts to get you started. If I were in your shoes I would start with a conversation with my supervisor about goals and how these changes are supported.

Remember: it takes time to to make real change happen from within an organization. It is also a fantastic way to build your leadership, influence, and credibility.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share: How do you create meaningful change with your peers and colleagues?

(And don’t forget – we’d love to hear your biggest leadership challenge!)

Creative Commons Photo by Mattanalogue

5 Top Leadership Articles Week of 12-11-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of December 11, 2017

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

When Leadership Demotivates Employees by Mary Kelly, PhD. US Navy Ret.

I was part of an organization that loved conducting employee surveys. As an economist and leadership author, I love data that yields results. However, surveys need to be properly conducted, or the intention can backfire.

The leaders dutifully distributed survey after survey about work conditions, corporate culture, and ways to improve the workplace.

The problem was that the senior leadership didn’t share the information collected, nor what they planned to do with it. It was simply busy work for the sake of appearing to do something that looked like leadership, but clearly was not.

As employees realized that they were spending time on surveys that didn’t matter, their attitudes shifted. Employees felt that their time, their inputs, and their jobs didn’t matter. Worse, it was rumored that the survey was actually intended to pinpoint unhappy employees to get rid of them.

My Comment: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen scenarios like this play out with employee morale taking a nose dive, leaders frustrated, and at a huge waste of time, money, and energy.

If you’re going to gather information of any kind, whether through a survey or just asking for feedback, it is critical that you plan and commit to responding before you get the information. Don’t ask questions you’re not prepared to address. Asking a question and then ignoring the answers makes you look craven or manipulative. In contrast, when you Channel Challengers and productively respond to feedback, your credibility soars.

How Leaders and Their Teams Can Stop Executive Hubris by Jonathan Mackey and Sharon Toye

If an organization has just one or two people whose power has gone to their head, it can demoralize subordinates, cause valuable talent to flee, disempower teams, and lead to foolhardy strategies. Whether you are a board member, a CEO, a senior executive, a high-potential employee on the rise, or an HR leader concerned about culture, you need to understand how such hubris works so you can head off its destructive effects on careers and on your company.

My Comment: This is an excellent article to help you address excessive confidence in both executives and to prevent it from happening to you. As the authors point out, this hubris is often acquired over time as leaders encounter fewer peers and people who will tell them the truth. You can counter these influences with intentional strategies to leverage doubt in decision-making, Own the UGLY, and Channel Challengers.

10 Questions to Ask Your Employees Every Quarter by Michael McKinney

Most leaders (the less than great ones) can become afraid of learning their employees’ true feelings towards the company and its overall structure. In turn, they shy away from even initiating such conversations and asking the important questions.

Strong leaders, on the other hand, happily ask these questions with an eye on making things better for their team. When everyone is heard and acknowledged, only then can a leader make the right decisions and give each employee what he or she needs. If you don’t ask, who will?

My Comment: WOW – there is definitely a theme this week – three articles in a row focused on getting feedback from your employees. McKinney’s questions will help you assess your team’s health and how the individual employee is doing. In order to make questions like these to work, you’ll need to have built relationships with your people (so it feels like a conversation, not an interrogation). In addition, be sure not to react or punish people for the feedback they share.

Are You a Micromanager or a Macromanager? By Julie Giulioni

Micromanager. It’s one of the least flattering labels one can be tagged with in business today. It connotes an unproductive level of involvement in the work and work products, excessive need for control, nit-pickiness, attention to unnecessary details and a generally unpleasant overall workplace experience. Nobody wants to be a called a micromanager.

Question: But, what’s the alternative?

Answer: Become a macromanager!

My Comment: There are some great suggestions in this one to help you get out of the weeds, stop micromanaging, and focus on what matters most. One of the things I appreciate here is Julie’s acknowledgement that many managers micromanage because it’s all that they know. They know how to do the work. They know the individual contributor role very well. It’s uncomfortable to learn a new set of skills and to view the world differently – from the view of a macromanager. One additional way to avoid micromanaging is to focus on how you delegate. Focus on the outcome. Don’t delegate the “how”; delegate the “what”, be clear about the finish line, and schedule a mutual appointment to receive the project back from your team member.

The 8 Best Interview Questions You Could Ever Ask by Jim Haudan

I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my career for all kinds of positions and from many backgrounds. Most people have favorite interview questions to ask and some believe certain questions can quickly reveal what they need to know about a candidate’s cultural and positional fit.

The leaders with the greatest success in hiring the right talent often like to point to the exact questions that made it clear that a candidate would or wouldn’t work. I’ve made it a hobby to consider the questions that really made me think and to experiment with the ones that make it hard for interviewees to prep for, as those are the ones that reveal the most.

I often ask people from different walks of life about their “go to” interview questions and why are they so important. Here’s what I’ve collected.

My Comment: I’m a fan of behavior-based interviewing. If you only have 20 minutes with a candidate, start there. This is an interesting list of interview questions for the times when you want to go deeper. Most of them provoke thinking and may give you insights into a candidate. They may be most useful when you’re looking at a deeper partnership with someone. Some of these questions, however, I’d have to see in practice before I would recommend them. In particular, #3 is absolutely not mutually exclusive and I’m curious what is behind this one.

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.

6 Ways to Get the Information You Need to Make the Best Decision

6 Ways to Get the Information You Need to Make the Best Decisions

Mark stared at the floor, his jaw clenched in frustration. He wanted to make the best decisions, but…

I was sitting with a leader who had just crashed and burned. He’d made a decision that had cost him his reputation and maybe his job.

He looked up at me and with a quiet whisper, Mark asked, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

The sad part was that it didn’t have to happen this way. People in his organization knew it wasn’t a good call. He had everything available to ensure that he made the best decisions…

But he never heard their feedback.

He was known for an explosive temper, for belittling and shaming people who saw things differently than he did, and he only ever asked people to validate what he thought.

In short, he never knew how to Channel Challengers.

Many people in positions of power often sabotage themselves and create environments where no one will tell them the truth – often difficult truths about themselves.

If you want to achieve breakthrough results, however, you’ve got to make the best decisions possible. To do that you need to have as much relevant information as possible.

6 Ways to Get the Information You Need to Make the Best Decisions

Here are six ways to Channel Challengers and ensure you have the truth and get the feedback you need to make the best decisions:

  1. Ask for the Truth

Regularly encourage dialog in your team. Ask people to teach you one thing you didn’t know. Become a person known for caring what’s really going on. Does what you hear match what you see?

  1. Say Thank You

When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank the person for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.

  1. Respond

If you ask for input, take time to respond. Even if the ideas aren’t actionable, when you acknowledge that the ideas were heard and considered, you increase the likelihood of hearing more in the future.

  1. Never Ever Shoot the Messenger

If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, bite your lip. If you attack them, they won’t bring you another concern.

  1. Find Your Truth-Tellers

There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.

  1. Look In the Mirror

If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to look in the mirror and examine how you are interacting with others. I would bet you are not doing one or more of the first four items on this list.

If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.

Your Turn

It may take time, but if you consistently Channel Challengers by asking for the truth, showing gratitude for input, and responding to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure you hear the truth from your team and colleagues?

5 Top Leadership Articles 11-27-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of November 27, 2017

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

The 5 Things Mediocre Managers Forget (But Inspirational Leaders Never Do) by Chad Perry

Most of my career has been in leadership roles — and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I mean, a lot of mistakes. More than I can count.

I’ve learned about leadership the hard way. I’ve learned the most about leading by doing it the wrong way.

I can still remember when I first hit the management track. My very first thought? “Finally, I don’t have to be ‘on’ all day!”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

So with that in mind, here are some things I once forgot, and I’m sure others have too at some point in their careers.

My Comment: This is one of those rare articles that has made two appearances in the Top 5 – and with good reason. I once read a fable that said the “curse of our humanity is that we forget.” Those words stuck with me and they will certainly resonate as you read Perry’s article. I’ve watched so many fantastic team members enter management roles and forget the very things Perry mentions. I know I’ve done it too. How can you prevent yourself from forgetting: What it’s like to follow? That you can be wrong? And more…

The Importance of Surrounding Yourself with the Right People by Lewis Howes

“Surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it in yourself.” Edmund Lee

I’ve got another epic custom track from Fearless Motivation for you today. This one is on a topic that I really believe in.

We are so influenced by the people we surround ourselves with. It’s nearly impossible to rise to your own personal greatness if you aren’t surrounding yourself with people who are doing the same.

My Comment: Look back at motivational speakers through the centuries and you will find a common thread: surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do and who are like the person you want to become. This isn’t empty hype. Your brain takes shortcuts to keep you safe and healthy with the minimum amount of effort. One of the big shortcuts it takes is to look at the people around you. What are they doing? If you do that too, you’re likely to be okay. Peer pressure is a real phenomenon that you can use to propel yourself.

13 Amazing Travel Gift Ideas for Entrepreneurs Who Never Stop by Rose Leadem at Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs aren’t known for their fondness for sitting around. We’re always on the go! And while traveling around the country, or world, can be fun and exciting, it’s also exhausting and sometimes even a little stressful. Getting enough sleep, staying healthy, being organized — these are only a small number of the obstacles of constant travel. Luckily, there are tons of products available today to make traveling smooth and stress-free. Here are a few of our faves for you nomadic types.

My Comment: First, I was surprised at how popular this article was. I guess many of you have entrepreneurs in your life and the holidays are approaching. Karin and I totally fit the description of “on-the-go entrepreneur” – I spoke in seven countries last year and had several ten-day stretches that included eight airplanes. That said, #6 is cool and #7 is intriguing.

5 Tips for Measuring Employee Engagement by Saige Driver at Business News Daily

Every employer has heard the words “employee engagement,” but do most executives truly understand what it means? More importantly, do they know how to measure it?

Employee engagement is important because involved employees are typically more productive, have more energy and are more creative.

“Engaged employees are passionate about what they do,” said David Almeda, chief people officer at Kronos Incorporated. “Highly engaged employees build better products and take better care of customers because they want to, not because they are told to.”

My Comment: I invite you to approach this article with caution. Measuring employee engagement is useful, but can also be very destructive. The worst thing you can do is survey your people and then either ignore what they said or, as I’ve seen happen, punish them for their answers. Another poor practice I’ve seen: executives don’t realize the extent of Gamer manager behaviors and managers bribe or pressure their people to answer differently than they might.

If you want inspired, energized employees who give discretionary effort, be prepared to do the work. The survey is just a measurement to let you know where you’re starting. Before measuring, commit to the work of fixing your broken systems, of developing your leaders, and addressing cultural issues that undermine trust and collaboration.

Lessons I Learned from Adversity by Shubha Apte

With the hectic pace of today’s world, we easily get caught up in the busyness of life.

We are forever stressed, overwhelmed, and running errands, attending to work, rushing to office, stuck in traffic jams. Our mind is swirling with thoughts, and we have no control over it. We do not even think to press the pause button and listen to the body whispers.

The bones creak, joints are screaming for attention, but we don’t care. There is a lot of work to get done and many mountains to climb. The to-do list never ends and goals remain goals forever.

My Comment: Apte has some important reminders for us in this piece. Your leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of yourself so you’re able to go the full distance. Reflect and know what matters most. Filter the noise. Always pertinent.

Your Turn

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

5 Top Leadership Articles for the week of November 6, 2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of November 6, 2017

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

How to Handle Tough Performance Conversations by Wally Bock

For a couple of decades, I began every supervisory skills class by asking the participants what they wanted to learn most. “How to talk to team members about behavior and performance” was always at the top of the list. Here’s what you need to know if you want to do that part of your job well.

My Comment: This issue continues to be both one of the most sought-after leadership development skills as well as the hallmark of effective teams and organizations that succeed in their work. Bock does a great job laying out important aspects including the vital need to build a relationship with your team members long before you’ve got to have a tough performance conversation. I’d also call attention to what he calls “the really hard part:” being quiet. As we’ve shared the Winning Well INSPIRE model for holding coaching and accountability conversations, many organizations are reporting back that when they ask what’s going on and invite the other party to come up with solutions – and then be quiet – they are seeing tremendous results. The people involved come up with better solutions that they own and then implement.

The Secret to Employee Engagement Isn’t About Your Employees by Ryan Westwood

Creating a healthy company culture is my passion. It began with the development of my first technology company, PC Care Support, and it has continued throughout my work with Simplus. As I study the online performance reviews of competing businesses, I have noticed something interesting: while companies offer incredible benefits like personal budgets for employee development training, free doughnuts, and gym passes, the reviews for some of these companies are poor.

Studies show that companies spend about $270 million per year on employee engagement strategies. “But approximately 63 percent of U.S. employees aren’t fully engaged in their work,” says Forbes writer William Craig. Here’s what I’ve found: If you want a great culture and true employee engagement, provide benefits that positively impact not just your employees but, more importantly, those whom they love.

My Comment: No work perk will ever overcome poor leadership or a bad culture. If you really want good employee engagement, build a clear strategy that helps them to win, generate ongoing wins, and cultivate awesome leadership at every level. Westwood’s suggestions are strong ways to focus your benefits – his suggestions communicate to your employees that you see them as a human being, that you are aware they have a life beyond the workplace, and that you care about those things. That said, even those types of perks will only be valued when they’re offered from a foundation of good leadership and a positive workplace culture. Otherwise, great benefits can’t help engage people with their work.

Speaking of Leadership: Speak Your Words by Scott Mabry

That moment you realize that the words coming out of your mouth belong to someone else.

I remember one of those moments. I sat across a table from the new CEO. Just the two of us. His question felt like a fist to my stomach.

“What do you think about the new team?”

To be honest I don’t even remember all the details of the conversation. I just remember I didn’t speak the truth. Oh, I tried to toss out a few subtle hints but in the end, I bailed and told him what I thought he wanted to hear. I spoke his words, not mine.

This was mostly because I didn’t trust him. Many of new the team members were people he had handpicked and that worked with him at his prior companies. To say anything critical seemed dangerous.

My Comment: I think we’ve all been there. Perhaps because you were scared. Or you didn’t yet know what you thought. Or perhaps you were trying to manipulate the situation. Regardless, you can’t lead without owning your voice and having the confidence and skill to speak your truth. Speak the truth compassionately. It doesn’t always mean you’ll get your way, but your confidence and influence will grow, as will others’ respect for you.

The #1 Killer of Change by John Thurlbeck at Lead Change Group.

I recently had a great catch up with my younger brother and youngest sister over a meal in their favorite local restaurant. Our conversation was free-ranging, covering a multiplicity of subjects.

However, a part of that conversation with my brother struck the deepest chords and prompted my thoughts in this post.

He works for a large national, not-for-profit organization in the UK, and it is mired in yet another major restructuring process, driven, as ever, by dwindling funding. The current process has been on-going for months.

My brother has worked for this organization for many years, and it appears to me that ‘change’ for this organization is an ever-present, as it strives to find the ‘best’ solution to delivering on its agenda. However, the current change process must be at least the fifth or sixth such process in about the past eight or so years.

Why so much change with so little apparent effect?

My Comment: Early in my career I would watch, amazed, as people I knew to be decent human beings, who were fairly self-aware and understood on-the-ground realities, would get into leadership roles and seem to change into unaware user managers. As I share in Winning Well, I’ve also had employees come and point out to me that I had undergone the same transformation and was not acting in line with my own values. What happens that causes these changes?

There are several reasons, but among them is the issue Thurlbeck brings up: groupthink. It’s a failure of all members to think critically and independently analyze an issue. It’s human nature to think that ‘enough of us can’t be wrong,’ but it happens all the time. We invite you to Channel Challengers – to find your truth-tellers and intentionally introduce different opinions. To consciously ask yourselves to “Own the UGLY” and explore the silent places that may be eroding your effectiveness or the opportunities that are right in front of you, but invisible until you seek them out.

Practical Tips to Practice Empathy by Shubha Apte

I recently read the book Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella.

What stuck with me is the episode he narrates about a question that he was asked while interviewing with Microsoft.

Here is what the story says…

Satya Nadella was asked this question when he wanted to be part of Microsoft.

“Imagine you see a baby laying in the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?” he asked.

“You call 911,” I replied without much forethought.

Richard walked me out of his office, put his arm around me, and said, “You need some empathy, man. If a baby is laying on a street crying, pick up the baby.”

It is interesting how a CEO of a large company like Microsoft talks about empathy and its importance.

Empathy is considered the most important skill to have in the corporate world. People at all levels in the corporate hierarchy need to have this skill. With so much technological disruptions taking place in the digital global world, the human quality, Empathy becomes crucial.

My Comment: There is all-too-human tendency to reduce people from full human beings deserving of dignity and respect to their function. They go from being “Susan”, who has two kids, an ailing mom, and loves Italian food, and “Chase”, who is engaged, flies drones on the weekends, and wants to make a difference in the world to being “the reps.”

When we reduce people from their humanity to their role, we lose the connection we need to be effective leaders. The antidote to this reduction is empathy. Connect, pay attention, reflect what you hear. It only takes a few moments to cultivate that connection and restore someone’s humanity.

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.

Bad advice don't bring a problem without a solution

One Awful (but Common) Leadership Practice and What To Do Instead

“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.”

It’s nearly a leadership cliché:

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of a harried manager barking these words at you. You may even have said them yourself.

I’ve delivered many keynote programs and workshops where frontline leaders in the audience approach me afterward and proudly announce how they are in the habit of telling their people not to bring a problem without a solution.

Some of them even mean well. They believe that they’re helping their people. Others just want people and their problems to go away. They’re usually surprised at my response:

Please stop.

Unintended Consequences

Here’s the thing, if you’re in a leadership role, yes, your executives can fairly expect you to think things through and bring solutions (particularly when you’ve got bad news – see the D.A.R.N. Method). You’ve got the experience and responsibility to be able to own your problems and look for answers.

However, your employees are a different audience. Telling employees not to bring a problem without a solution is careless and lazy.

They may not know how to problem solve. They may lack critical thinking skills. They may not have the training or information they need to arrive at reasonable solutions.

The problem with telling people “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is that when they don’t know how to come up with solutions, you’ve essentially just told them, “Don’t bring me a problem.”

Now you’ve got people mucking about with problems they can’t solve and that they won’t bring to you. The problems fester, productivity and service decline, and everyone is frustrated.

There’s a better way.

Help Employees Learn to Think Critically and Solve Problems

The answer is definitely not to play the hero and jump in with answers, nor is it the old-school “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution!” The immediate problems might get solved and work continues, but next time an issue comes up, your team still can’t figure it out for themselves and, worse, you’ve now taught them that if things get difficult, you’ll just figure it out for them.

Yes, you’re the hero, but say goodbye to your own productivity!

What they really need from you in these moments are your questions: the kind of questions that focus on learning and the future. Questions that generate ideas and solutions.

Examples include:

  • What is your goal?
  • What did you try?
  • What happened?
  • Do you need a specific skill or tool to be able to solve this?
  • What would you do next time?
  • What do you think will happen when you try that?
  • What will you do?
  • Super-bonus question – keep reading to learn this powerful tool!

Assuming that your staff have the basic skills, training, and materials they need to do their jobs, this conversation doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes. For a complex project, it might take the time required to drink a cup of coffee, but it shouldn’t take much longer than that.

Now, you might be wondering what to do if the person replies to one of your questions with, “I don’t know.”

Don’t despair – it’s time to use the super-bonus question. When a team member says, “I don’t know,” most managers will then jump in and supply the answer, but not you. There’s a better way.

“I don’t know” can mean many things. Rarely does it mean the person has zero thoughts about the issue.

More often, “I don’t know” translates to:

  • “I’m uncertain.”
  • “I don’t want to commit before I know where you stand.”
  • “I haven’t thought about it yet.”
  • “I don’t want to think about it.”
  • “Will you please just tell me what to do?”
  • “I’m scared about getting it wrong.”

Your job as a leader is to continue the dialogue – to ease the person through their anxiety and train their brain to engage. This is where the super-bonus question comes in.

With one question you can re-engage them in the conversation and move through “I don’t know” to productivity.

When someone says, “I don’t know,” your super-bonus question is: “What might you do if you did know?”

Before you judge this tool, try it.

Try it with your children, with your co-workers, or with the person next to you in a coffee shop. In any conversation where someone says, “I don’t know,” respond with a gentle, “What might you do if you did know?” and watch what happens.

It’s like magic.

The person who was stymied two seconds ago will start to share ideas (often good ones) brainstorm solutions, and move on as if they were never stuck. It’s amazing and hard to believe until you try it.

The super-bonus question works because it addresses the source of the person’s “I don’t know.” If they were anxious or fearful, it takes the pressure off by creating a hypothetical situation: “If you did know…” Now they don’t have to be certain or look for your approval and they become free to share whatever they might have been thinking.

If they hadn’t thought about the issue or didn’t want to think about it, you’ve lowered the perceived amount of thought-energy they must expend. You’re not asking for a thesis on the subject, just a conversational “What might you do…”

Our brains can do amazing work when we remove the emotional blocks. When you do this for your team, you train their brain to engage, to push through their ordinary blocks, and increase their performance. Ultimately, they will be able to have these conversations with themselves and will only need to bring the very serious issues to you.

You’ll know you’re succeeding in asking healthy questions when a team member tells you: “I had a problem. I was going to come and talk it over with you, but then I thought, you’re just going to ask me all these questions. So I asked myself all the questions instead and I figured it out.”

Celebrate those moments and encourage them to start asking those questions of the people around them. You’ve just increased your team’s capacity for problem-solving, freed up time to focus on your work, and…you’ve built a leader!

Your Turn

Before you bark “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution,” remember that when a team member has trouble thinking through a problem, good questions are your best solution.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills in your team?