Be the Leader 52 Tips

52 Tips to Be the Leader You Want Your Boss to Be

Be the Leader You Want Your Boss to Be

You’ve got this. You care, you want results, and as a leader you’re committed to Winning Well. But life gets busy and complicated. Sometimes you just need a quick reminder to get you back on track. Here they are: 52 tips to be the leader you want your boss to be.

1 Remember why you choose to lead: prioritize people and purpose above power, prestige, or pennies.

2 When stuck or overwhelmed: Ask “How can I…?”

3 Solve problems before they occur with clear expectations. Mind the MIT (Most Important Thing)

4 Know your addictions: Are you prone to do it all yourself, people-pleasing, using fear and using people to get things done, or playing games to keep yourself safe?

5 Land in the “And” – It’s not an either/or choice. In every circumstance choose to show up with confidence and humility. Choose to focus on results and relationships.

6 Remember that everyone you lead is a volunteer – even when they’re paid they have a choice about how they show up. You get to influence the choice they make.

7 What matters to them should matter to you.

8 End every meeting by asking: “Who will do what, by when, and how will we know it is done?”

9 Apologize when you screw up, break your word, or hurt someone.

10 When leading peers, be clear whether you’re speaking as their leader or as their colleague.

11 When delegating, create a mutual face-to-face appointment on both calendars where you will receive the project. This ensures delegated tasks don’t fall through the cracks.

12 Hold everyone accountable. It tells your high-performers that you value them. When you let performance or behavior slide, you’re telling everyone you don’t care.

13 Terminating someone for cause is compassion for them and an investment in your team. Be the leader that cares enough to let them go.

14 Connect every “what” to a meaningful “why”.

15 Value people’s time – treat it with respect and expect results from everyone.

16 You can’t lead if you’re always exhausted. Take care of yourself.

17 You’re the drummer of the band. Be the leader who keeps the beat for your team with consistent expectations.

18 You won’t have all the answers and shouldn’t solve problems on your own. Share them with your team. Ask “How can we…?” and let the team take it.

19 Cultivate confidence by asking “What would a confident leader do here?” Then do it.

20 Ask for, and expect the truth. Don’t shoot the messenger.

21 Promote wisely. The most important decision you make is whom you will trust with power and authority.

22 When you don’t agree with a decision, own it anyway. Empower your team by asking “How can we?”

23 Be clear about who owns the decision before you ask for ideas.

24 You can’t ‘do your best’ at everything. Know your MIT (Most Important Thing.)

25 Check for understanding. Don’t ask “Any questions?” and assume they get it.

26 Choose to be effective rather than ‘right.’

27 Things will go wrong – sometimes badly. Don’t blame. Ask, “How can we fix this?”

28 Ask your team “How can I help?” and listen to what they need that only you can provide.

29 When asked for answers, don’t rush to help. First, ask questions that promote critical thinking and problem-solving.

30 Every meeting should achieve results and build relationships.

31 Meetings: invite the least number of people to make the best decision.

32 Meetings: choose only one discussion at a time: Where will we go? or How will we get there?

33 Meetings: begin by clarifying how the decision will be made. Will you make it? Will the team vote? Or by consensus?

34 Learn and leverage your team member’s strengths. Don’t waste time or energy on weaknesses unless it’s limiting the use of their strength.

35 Find superstars by hiring for the strengths displayed by your top performers.

36 When interviewing, avoid hypothetical questions. Ask: “Tell me about a time when…” they demonstrated a key competency.

37 People are different. Value, embrace, and incorporate the strengths in those differences.

38 Ask “How can I help?” when you know things are going well.

39 Release energy with specific, meaningful, and relevant encouragement.

40 Know where your team needs to go. Focus on the steps to get there, not on the obstacles.

41 Put people before projects. The project will end, but the people will still be there. Invest and collaborate.

42 To influence your supervisor, know what keeps their leader up at night.

43 People need to hear you say “You can do this.”

44 Want innovation? Make it safe for people to have ideas that don’t work.

45 Address performance issues by observing the behavior, ask about it, confirm the desired behavior. (See the INSPIRE model for more.)

46 Foster collaboration and end needless bickering by establishing clear expectations, priorities, and how everyone interacts to achieve these results.

47 Play the game, don’t game the score. What are the key behaviors that drive results. Your customer doesn’t care what you get on your internal scorecard.

48 A blunt axe can’t cut down a tree. Invest in your skills and health.

49 It’s not about you – people’s behavior is about them. Help things make sense to them.

50 Remote and virtual teams are still people. Treat them as such.

51 Use performance reviews to develop strengths and limit liabilities. Everything else is a waste of time.

52 Grow your leadership and impact by connecting to your team, to a community outside your job, and to mentors.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you. What would one vital leadership tip you add to help others be the leader they want their boss to be?

collaboration - can we trust you

Collaboration – Can We Really Trust You?

It’s easy to talk about collaboration. It’s much harder to do it.

After visiting one of our clients in Guatemala City, Karin, Sebastian, and I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala where my daughter owns a clothing design business. She took us to Hobbitengango, a Tolkein-inspired Hobbit-like village set in the mountains overlooking a beautiful Guatemalan valley whose motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”collaboration - building trust

There, we met Dan, one of the visionaries and architects behind the solar and wind-powered village (where you can stay overnight in a Hobbit house and enjoy fantastic food.) Dan is passionate about Guatemala’s natural resources. He works to fight deforestation, regrow Guatemala’s forests, and clean up trash in the countryside.

He shared some of the challenges he encountered creating what has become a popular tourist destination.

When he started out, Dan encountered a man who was illegally harvesting lumber. He called the authorities. They caught the man and asked if Dan wanted to press charges.

Instead, Dan offered the man a job: planting trees.

“He needed to make a living and support his family. He can’t do that from jail,” Dan said. “Now he’s able to provide and he’s repairing some of the damage he did to the forest.”

Dan shared another incident where a car drove off the road and into a neighboring farmer’s field where it did a lot of damage. As soon as he heard about the damage, Dan went to see what had happened.

When he arrived at the field, a woman “rushed out of her house, waving a machete, and yelling, saying I destroyed her fields and don’t care about anyone.”

Dan explained that another motorist had caused the damage. He had also already called his soil construction expert to repair her field. In addition, he would build a fence for her property at his expense to prevent future problems.

“She seemed surprised that I didn’t fight back, that I didn’t want to argue.”

Dan smiled, then said, “Why make enemies when you can make friends?”

Why make enemies when you can make friends?

Land in the And

We meet many leaders who talk about the value of collaboration, who want their people working together, and who get frustrated when their colleagues won’t cooperate (which often means “why won’t you see things my way?”)

It caught our attention is that, as a leader, Dan wasn’t just “being nice” in building the relationships with his neighbor and the illegal logger. He was focused on achieving his business results: reversing damage to the forest and building a viable visitor attraction. He does it by building collaborative, results-focused relationships.

This is the heart of Winning Well: your ability to “land in the and” – to focus on both results and relationships, to show up with confidence and humility.

Collaboration – Can We Trust You?

Real collaboration isn’t easy because it requires you to put people before projects and truly invest in the other person’s success. How can you help your colleague achieve their results while they help you with yours?

If you’re in a cutthroat work environment and true collaboration is rare, this might feel incredibly vulnerable and perhaps even naïve.

In these situations, don’t sacrifice your project for the sake of building collaboration. Find small ways to invest in other people, to build trust, and create mutual wins. If someone is toxic and destructive, focus your energy with others.

It will take time.

Dan gained a great team member when he offered the illegal logger a job. His relationship with the farmer, however, didn’t turn into a collaborative success. He greets her and she nods. “But,” says Dan, “She’s not an enemy.”

Your Turn

Collaboration requires trust and investment in other’s success. Leave us a comment and share: How do you build collaborative results-focused relationships at work?

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?

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?

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?

The Fastest Way To Better Results

It happens on teams, it happens in training classes, it happens on dates. A rush to achieve without connection will backfire. It’s tempting to rush in, get started and get stuff done. Sure the out-of-the gate progress feels great at beginning, but if you don’t take time to create genuine connections and build relationships, somewhere down the line you’re going to derail.

Shelly’s Story

Shelly (not her real name) was completely frustrated with her team’s call center results. She’d brought in extra training, introduced a clever incentive program, stack ranked and managed the outliers, implemented every best practice she could find, and even invited her boss in for a quick motivational talk.

Nothing worked.The team’s results still sucked.

“What can you tell me about the folks on your team?” I asked. Her response was filled with “attitude problems,” “absence issues,” and a smattering of stats.

I tried again, “what can you tell me about the human beings on your team? Are they married? Do they have kids? What do they do for fun? What do they enjoy most on the weekends? What did they do last weekend?”

I got a bit of a blank stare, and then “With results like these, I don’t have time to ask about all that. Plus, this is business, it’s not personal.”

“Which team leader is knocking it out of the park?” I asked. “Joe” (also not his real name). “Please go talk to Joe again. But this time, don’t ask him about best practices, ask him how he connects with his team.”

She came back with a laundry list: meeting each employee at the door as they came in; spending the first 2 hours of his day doing nothing but sitting side by side with his call center reps; starting each one-on-one talking about something personal; birthday cards; following up on “no big deal” stuff like how their kid did in the soccer game last week. She tried it. Yup, you guessed the outcome.

Business is always personal.

If you could use a starting point for connecting your team, you’re welcome to use this free worksheet (connectionsworksheet) I wouldn’t suggest pulling it out in front of your team members, but it can serve as a great trigger to remind you what to ask about and to jog your memory to inspire more meaningful connections.  If you give it a try, please drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

why team leaders tolerate poor performance

5 Sad Reasons Team Leaders Tolerate Poor Performance

Letting slackers slide reduces your credibility, causes your best performers to bolt, and leaves the rest of the team wondering why they bother. No one wants to mire in their own mediocrity. And high-performers hate nothing more than watching their poor-performing teammates drag down results. Tolerating poor performance creates a morale death spiral that takes Herculean force to reverse.

Of course there’s also the over-the-cube talk about the two slackers– the poor performing guy and you. The more you allow the poor performance to go on, the more the rest of the team will shrug their shoulders and join the poor performance bandwagon. Now the death spiral is accelerating with centripetal force, squandering time and draining vital energy from your team.

The sad truth is that every day, team leaders around the world turn their heads and let the poor performance continue.

Don’t fall into these traps.

Why Team Leaders Tolerate Poor Performance

I’m going to start with the benefit of the doubt: that you (or the team leader you’re trying to help) cares, and is not a performance problem. If that’s not the case, same rules apply, one level up.

Beyond that, here’s a gut check for why you’re allowing poor performance to continue.

    1. Guilt- You worry you haven’t done enough to develop to support, develop, encourage, and build confidence, empower, or recognize. If that’s truly the case, you’re right. You’ve got more work to do. Get going. BUT, if you have invested and invested again and it’s still not working it’s time to face that this job may not be the right fit. Stop feeling guilty. You need to do what’s right for the greater good of the company and the team
    2. Morale – I’ve seen so many team leaders so worried about building great morale, that they actually destroy it. If everything everyone does is just great then the folks who are really giving their all wonder why they do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the rest of the team thank me for addressing poor performance. Of course such things are private, but trust me, your team is more astute than you may think.
    3. Saving Face – You hired the guy. Perhaps you even convinced you boss that he was the one. If you’ve done everything you can to make it work, and it still isn’t, it’s far better to admit you were wrong, learn from your experience and move on. Don’t magnify one poor decision with another.
    4. Confidence – You’re scared. You’re not sure how to approach the situation. Get some help. There’s nothing harder for a leader to do than to address poor performance, or remove someone from the team. It never is easy, but it does get easier. Practice your conversation with a peer or mentor. Plan the conversation and anticipate responses. You can do this.
    5. Lack of Alternatives – I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me for an internal reference for a poor performer they are about to hire, and after I share the issues and concerns, they hire them any way. I actually had one guy say recently, ‘well, Karin you have a very high standards, I’m not sure that’s realistic. The funny part is that I had back-filled this guy with someone who was running circles around his predecessor. Hire slow. The great ones are out there and deserve a chance.

If you’ve got a struggling performer on your team, do all you can to help. And if It’s time to let them move on, help them to do that gracefully.

5 Reasons Your Great Idea Isn’t Working

When you’re running full speed ahead with a great idea, be sure to look back over your shoulder to see who’s with you.

A Great Idea

My staff team had a great idea. They were buzzing with excitement. We needed some fun recognition to inspire call center reps to provide great customer service.

“Let’s give the reps a lanyard like in Disney world. You know the kind where you collect pins. The employees can use the lanyard to carry their ID and access badge, and then they can earn pins each time they do something extraordinary. We can have a contest to design the pins.”

The presenter (a big Disney fan) could hardly contain her excitement about their great idea. After all reps love contests, and this one had bling. What a great way to reinforce our new priorities. We needed to act fast, so lanyards were ordered and pins designed. There were about 9000 folks to buy for. Anything x 9000 is not cheap. But it would be worth it.

The staff team held a conference call to roll out the plan. Boxes of lanyards and pins shipped to call centers across the country. Game on.

Fast forward 3 months later, I’m on a tour of the call centers, not a lanyard in site. “Oh, I think we have them somewhere.” That somewhere was most often in a storage closet underneath the Halloween decorations. What went wrong?

5 Reasons Your Great Idea Isn’t Working

  1. Lack Of Field Testing – “I’m from staff, I’m here to help” is a phrase that makes field leaders cringe. I’m allowed to say that since I’ve spent much time on both sides of that imaginary line. Always get the folks who you’re trying to help to kick the tires early in the game. A small pilot goes a long way. Test the concept, but also the logistics. In this case the lanyards didn’t fit with every centers badge. Programs developed in a vacuum suck the potential out of potentially great ideas.
  2. They’ve Seen This Movie before – Your new idea may feel like old news to veterans in the field. Check for scar tissue and past experiences. Ask what’s worked well (and not so well) with similar programs in the past. Talk about what’s different this time. Whatever you do don’t say: “this is not just another flavor of the month”. If you have to say that, it probably is. Reconsider.
  3. It’s Lost In The Sauce – Know what other priorities and programs are competing for attention. Support programs work best when they’re supportive of the priorities at hand (shocking, I know). If your idea feels like one more thing do on top of an already stressful job, it’s not going to get attention.
  4. Lack Of Leadership Support – If your middle managers and front-line leaders are not passionate about your idea, I’d bet my paycheck it won’t work. A great idea without excellent execution is useless. Be sure the folks you need to make your great idea happen are overwhelmed by the value. It may take a minute to get there go slow to go fast.
  5. Lack Of Clarity – Most plans feel straightforward when you’re sitting around a conference table at headquarters. Remember it’s 100 times noisier where that idea is headed. Be sure everyone knows what you expect them to do and vet all questions. Sure leave room for creativity, but leave nothing to chance. Explain what needs to be done 3 times, 3 different ways, and then check for understanding.

5 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Productive

I texted my colleague: “do you think we both need to attend the 3pm meeting?” He quickly shot back: “Karin, I don’t think anyone needs to go to that meeting. Don’t worry, I’ll represent both of us.”

And there we were two executives, not speaking up in the spirit of being politically correct, and covering for one another to minimize the pain. After all, we had real work to do.

Sometimes, apparently, I’m also the instigator of such meetings. I attended a meeting the other day and every person in the room was on their iPad working except the speaker and I. I stopped the meeting and questioned what appeared to be very rude behavior.

As I soon uncovered, the rest of the participants had held a dry run of the meeting the day before I arrived in town. Since I was the boss they wanted to practice. This entire meeting had turned into a read-out for me. Those meetings should have been consolidated, or the second meeting should have been cancelled: “Karin, we’ve got this.” Or at least become a one-on-one.

They did have this and didn’t need me. Pre-meetings are often a sign of wasted time. Invest in knowing how much your team is preparing to meet with you. Even if you think you’re low maintenance.

Despite my best efforts to change-up the meetings under my influence, I sometimes succumb, keep my mouth shut, and attend my fair share of time-wasters. That’s why when I received this note from a subscriber, I promised to write a blog response and schedule it up next.

I’ll offer my best thinking and hand it over to the LGL village for additional suggestions:

“I just read your recent post, 5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Teamwork, and was personally touched when you started talking about misuse of staff meetings. It seems all I do is have read-out staff meetings and my staff hates them. But, I like it because the team is together as a whole and they learn what each other is working on and it does stimulate great conversation. However, they still hate them and, honestly, I hate them too. I would love to hear your perspective on how to have high-energy staff meetings. What are my alternatives? What can I do to achieve my goal of getting my 12 member team together weekly but not be a boring mess?

Make Your Meetings More Productive

  1. Cancel The Meeting & Create White Space – Pick one afternoon a week or a month that no one can talk to each other. Or take a regularly scheduled meeting, and just cancel it. See what happens over time. See how work gets done. See Jason Fried’s TED Talk: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.
  2. Make Each Meeting Unique – Even if you hold a regular weekly meeting, have a clearly defined purpose for each meeting that you articulate in advance. For example, by the end of this meeting we will:
    • identify the most important pages for our website
    • review our declining customer service trends and brainstorm 3 key actions to take this month
    • identify the theme and breakouts for our next symposium

    If your answer is read-out on results and progress on action plans cancel the meeting, and find another way.

  3. Ins-and-outs – Decide who needs to be there for which part of the meeting and then design the agenda accordingly. My weekly staff meetings always have a narrowing effect. We started with the larger group and narrowed as the topics move along. I make it clear that this is not to exclude, but a time-saving exercise.
  4. Stand-up Or Walk Among Yourselves – I’ll admit, when results go down, I intervene more. I’m a big believer in the stand-up huddle. Almost like a time-out check in for the day (or week). I think a big problem with meetings as we see them as sit on your butt occasions. Some of the best meetings start with “got a sec?” Try to emulate that feeling as much as possible. As Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk: Fresh Air Drives Fresh Thinking.
  5. Make them think – I love the idea of Idea Tickets from Michael Michalko: “In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.”

PS: Tune in on Monday and we’ll talk about the most challenging kind of meetings: skip level meetings.

Focus On The Fundamentals

I walked into the call center training room and the team was all working on the call center equivalent of a basketball “3 pointer”. Even the rookies. Figurative basket balls were bouncing off the rim and the walls and one another. Every now and then one would go in, and the coach would go wild, “see YOU CAN do this woot woot!!!”

They were all concentrating on our hardest call type, the one that’s getting all the executive attention. Clearly they had heard my message loud and clear. Everyone was breaking a sweat. Bless their hearts, the stress grew more intense with each missed shot. Sadly, their efforts didn’t show in their results. In fact, not only were they not shooting 3 pointers, they were missing the lay-ups.

“I wasn’t real quick, and I wasn’t real strong. Some guys will just take off and it’s like, whoa. So I beat them with my mind and my fundamentals.”
~ Larry Bird

In the next room the coach was calmly talking fundamentals. He had a few in the corner practicing their 3 pointers and coaching one another, but the rest were focused on the basics: sounding friendly and empathetic; really listening to the customer; using their tools. Sure, they talked about what to do when you must shoot from the outside, but that wasn’t the focus, until they were ready. Here’s the crazy part, not only was this team out executing the first group in all metrics, they were nailing more 3 pointers.

Why We Ignore the Fundamentals

As leaders it’s easy to assume our team is ready for more. In fact, over-all results can be deceiving. We see trends improving, and we start teaching Harlem Globe Trotter stunts. It could be just a few superstars influencing the trend.

Plus, fundamentals are boring. Your team is tired of practicing, “one more role play and I’m going to barf.”

And then there’s the pressure from folks like me. “Come-on, the other centers nailing 3 pointers why not you?” Great leaders tell overly zealous leaders to chill down, and focus on the fundamentals.

 How to Nail the Fundamentals

  1. Know what skills matter: First figure out what fundamentals are really driving your performance
  2. Don’t assume winning means they’ve got it: Congratulate the win, and dig deeper into each skill
  3. Encourage teamwork: Find ways for the team to help one another, pair them up for skills drills
  4. Understand each player’s performance: Customize a development plan for each team member
  5. Teach in confidence bursts: Build confidence through the small wins
  6. Constantly refresh: Develop a regular cadence of back-to-basics practice
  7. Don’t grow too fast: Be sure you have a critical mass nailing the fundamentals before you rapidly grow the team

Transferable Skills: Yes,You’re Qualified

You want to try something new, but it’s scary. Transferable skills sound great in theory, but when it’s a major career change, it’s hard to know.

A Story of Transferable Skills

Joseph Henley was a rock star customer service consultant on my team. As we met to talk career, his passion for International relations was palpable. As I listened to his story, I knew there was only one thing to say:

“Joseph, I’m hearing your heart calling you elsewhere. I will help you broaden your experience and build your skills. But as much as I would hate to lose you, what I’d hate more is for you to not follow your dreams.”

He followed his heart, sold his belongings, and moved overseas. Yesterday, he wrote me a follow-up note. He noticed what mattered to him and found a way to leverage his transferable skills. Here’s his story.

Transferable Skills & Transformation: A Guest Post From Joseph Henley

I was eating lunch at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). My friends from Pakistan, Ethiopia, Thailand and I were discussing the protests in the streets outside the compound. The anti-government anger is seething and there is talk of a coup. The conversation tilts toward a discussion of whether the dictators throughout the world are good or evil? Though oft decried as evil, they can also bring stability to economies, order, civil services, and education.

It seems impossible that just a few months earlier I was at my desk drafting proposals for team meetings and rushing to conference calls. The world of business seems so far away from the new realities of International relations.

But was it really?

While building my career in the domestic business arena I heard many people discuss the benefit of transferable skills. Find them, nurture them and respect them. Though I have left the world of business, I now see clearly the vital importance of such inconspicuous, transferable skills.

I am grateful to have had leaders who helped me discover and build on these strengths: Notice your gifts, they’ll play well in unlikely contexts.

Soft Power/Influence – As I spend more time immersing myself in this new arena of International Relations, Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, I am reminded ever more of what the power of influence really is. Often times in a bilateral or multilateral relationship one has to tread lightly to not offend or potentially eliminate valuable global relationships, and find just the right words when there is no dotted line of direct authority.

This related so clearly to my interoffice experiences. Many times I found myself in informal arenas of influence over water cooler conversations, asides in meetings, or elevator speeches with the powers that be. This skill is uniquely relevant to my new future pursuits.

Embracing Change – Every day in business I heard about “embracing change.” We were constantly changing our approach to ensure great customer satisfaction coupled with other business results.  In my studies, I’m on the move, traveling to a new location every two months. This provides a constant refresh on my professors available for assistance and advice and new libraries or school policies to learn. For example in Vienna, Austria I had full writing center staff, library assistants, computer lab assistants plus admins for each professor giving me pretty liberal access to the help when I needed it, but here in Bangkok Thailand, my campus consists of three rooms. The ‘library’ is a bookshelf, and the ‘computer lab’ is two desktops.

This pattern of change would be difficult to adjust to but I feel my time in the world of business ’embracing change’ on a daily helps me face this with vigor.

Goals & Results – While I thought I might be leaving the roles of numbers and results behind me I soon found that more than anything this key critical element of business is needed constantly. The goals I have set upon completion of this program, but will be tangibly affected by the amount of effort I put into positive networking, experience gathering and knowledge building.

My ROI is the impact on my future.

The tour is over, and though the dictator debate is quieted for now, I know there will be many more to come. I move with my group, turning in our visitor badges, relinquishing our rights to be on International property. The world of business does not seem so far behind me in my new world of international relations and preparation for diplomacy. In fact, I smile as I note that there will be many more transferable skills to discover in the days to come.

Transferable Skills: Yes,You're Qualified

You want to try something new, but it’s scary. Transferable skills sound great in theory, but when it’s a major career change, it’s hard to know.

A Story of Transferable Skills

Joseph Henley was a rock star customer service consultant on my team. As we met to talk career, his passion for International relations was palpable. As I listened to his story, I knew there was only one thing to say:

“Joseph, I’m hearing your heart calling you elsewhere. I will help you broaden your experience and build your skills. But as much as I would hate to lose you, what I’d hate more is for you to not follow your dreams.”

He followed his heart, sold his belongings, and moved overseas. Yesterday, he wrote me a follow-up note. He noticed what mattered to him and found a way to leverage his transferable skills. Here’s his story.

Transferable Skills & Transformation: A Guest Post From Joseph Henley

I was eating lunch at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). My friends from Pakistan, Ethiopia, Thailand and I were discussing the protests in the streets outside the compound. The anti-government anger is seething and there is talk of a coup. The conversation tilts toward a discussion of whether the dictators throughout the world are good or evil? Though oft decried as evil, they can also bring stability to economies, order, civil services, and education.

It seems impossible that just a few months earlier I was at my desk drafting proposals for team meetings and rushing to conference calls. The world of business seems so far away from the new realities of International relations.

But was it really?

While building my career in the domestic business arena I heard many people discuss the benefit of transferable skills. Find them, nurture them and respect them. Though I have left the world of business, I now see clearly the vital importance of such inconspicuous, transferable skills.

I am grateful to have had leaders who helped me discover and build on these strengths: Notice your gifts, they’ll play well in unlikely contexts.

Soft Power/Influence – As I spend more time immersing myself in this new arena of International Relations, Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, I am reminded ever more of what the power of influence really is. Often times in a bilateral or multilateral relationship one has to tread lightly to not offend or potentially eliminate valuable global relationships, and find just the right words when there is no dotted line of direct authority.

This related so clearly to my interoffice experiences. Many times I found myself in informal arenas of influence over water cooler conversations, asides in meetings, or elevator speeches with the powers that be. This skill is uniquely relevant to my new future pursuits.

Embracing Change – Every day in business I heard about “embracing change.” We were constantly changing our approach to ensure great customer satisfaction coupled with other business results.  In my studies, I’m on the move, traveling to a new location every two months. This provides a constant refresh on my professors available for assistance and advice and new libraries or school policies to learn. For example in Vienna, Austria I had full writing center staff, library assistants, computer lab assistants plus admins for each professor giving me pretty liberal access to the help when I needed it, but here in Bangkok Thailand, my campus consists of three rooms. The ‘library’ is a bookshelf, and the ‘computer lab’ is two desktops.

This pattern of change would be difficult to adjust to but I feel my time in the world of business ’embracing change’ on a daily helps me face this with vigor.

Goals & Results – While I thought I might be leaving the roles of numbers and results behind me I soon found that more than anything this key critical element of business is needed constantly. The goals I have set upon completion of this program, but will be tangibly affected by the amount of effort I put into positive networking, experience gathering and knowledge building.

My ROI is the impact on my future.

The tour is over, and though the dictator debate is quieted for now, I know there will be many more to come. I move with my group, turning in our visitor badges, relinquishing our rights to be on International property. The world of business does not seem so far behind me in my new world of international relations and preparation for diplomacy. In fact, I smile as I note that there will be many more transferable skills to discover in the days to come.