Karin’s Leadership Articles

My heart sunk as I heard all Kathy had done attempting to fix the scene. Actually, despite the reason for her call, the “scene” was progressing remarkably. They’d come so far in such a short time: a clear vision for 2015; a strong action plan on the biggest rock; a shared leadership model for execution; and Kathy had stepped up to lead her peers in coordinating the action plan. When they presented the plan to the CEO he remarked that the plan was “gold,” all they need now was execution.

She had tasted the beautiful, supported cocktail of pressure coupled with opportunity, and was ready to change the game.

But the call wasn’t about all that. It was about her stuckness.

“Everyone’s on board. But one of my peers hates it.”

She went through everything she had tried to get him engaged.

Connection. Listening. Disclosure. Listening. Questions. Vulnerability. Inclusion. Sharing Credit.

Nothing worked.

Her conclusion.

“This means I’m failing as a leader.”

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: How many times have you drawn that same conclusion? P.S. Yes, start with humility and do everything you can. But sometimes, it’s not about you. Ironically, being sure it’s about you, is not humility.

Careful to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, I asked her to repeat exactly what she’d said. This time she added, “I know I’m not always like this, but I this time, I’m sure. I was really nice. I promise.”

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: This could be part of the issue. Folks have memory of our past behavior, even as we’re looking to grow. 

She shared the connection she’d made with others. The engagement. The helping people get past “I’m not sure.”

She was nailing it.

EDITORIAL TIMEOUT: Yikes, maybe I was failing. I was out of provocative questions, and even worse, advice.

And then I went where I usually don’t.

“Can you succeed without him?”

“Yes,” she replied, “But it won’t be as much fun.”

That’s the spirit. She had the big picture.

“I understand. Does the business need this? Is everyone else all in? ”

Reinforcing the obvious.

“Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Sadly, my best advice, “Do everything you can to keep trying. Stay confident in your vision, humble in your approach. But at the end of the day. Keep moving the project forward.”

“Oh yeah, and be sure your boss is in the loop.”

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Alli Polin

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with a client recently who is the lead on a project involving people from multiple companies. One of the others on the team is actively working against him (or so it would seem). It’s really not fun at all, but it is not a good excuse for stopping or losing confidence in the plan. I left him with a questions between our sessions: “Why are you letting this person determine your success or failure? Who do you want to be in this situation? How do you want to be remembered?” We’ll see where that leads him next…

    Confident humility is essential in messy situations like the one you described. Sometimes (although not all the time) the loudest naysayer and the one who appears to hate you the most really just wants to feel like they’re in the mix and valued.

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Thanks as always for sharing your story. I love that question, “Why are you letting this person determine your success or failure?” Excellent. I’m with you about wanting to be part of the mix…deep down, I think that’s a big part of this scene… but she’s certainly worked from that approach quite a bit.

  2. Chris

    I’ve had a teammate like this for over 15 years. I was promoted 8 years ago to be this person’s boss and spent my first year as a leader second guessing myself and trying to get this person on-bored. Ultimately through discussions with peers and mentors, I was given similar advice “just move forward and don’t worry about that person”. This person is actually a strong contributor, but obstructionist and negative about everything. Some suggested just firing him, but that felt far too strong. The other reality for me was that this person forced me to practice ‘a humble approach’ and not become full of myself.

    In the end, I was promoted again, and was able to put another manager between me and the person who was so difficult. He is doing much better with the new manager, and perhaps our personalities were just incompatible.

    • Karin Hurt

      Chris, Thanks so much for your transparency in sharing your story. It’s even more tricky when they’re a direct report. We can learn a lot about ourselves from the difficult people we work with. Sounds like you took an approach of confident humiilty and did just that.

  3. Steve Borek

    I recently had a similar experience with a group I was leading. Everyone loved the program except one person.

    My conclusion? I wasn’t singing their music.

    As long as you’ve done everything possible, don’t take it personally.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, You raise a good point, after doing all we can, it’s important to not take it personally.

  4. Nikki Heise

    Thanks for sharing this story. I am sure you have asked your client this, but has she told the difficult person that without his support it won’t be as much fun? I would have a hard time resisting that kind of invitation and it may help with the feeling of inclusion that Alli mentioned as well.

    • Karin Hurt

      Nikki, Thanks so much. You know he did! I was surprised that that question didn’t help break through.

  5. Terri Klass

    I have a similar situation with a team I have been partnering with for many years. There is one woman on the team who has an edge that always brings me down. She will seem supportive in the beginning and then becomes mean spirited. As you shared in your story, Karin, the show must go on, even if it doesn’t feel perfect. Above all, we must remain professional and calm. When this woman reaches out to me, I respond promptly, but clearly on my expectations. That way, I empower myself to lead confidently and with respect.

    Thanks Karin for your great stories!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Great example! Thank you. You offer a good reminder that HOW we continue to respond makes a real difference.

  6. LaRae Quy

    I loved this one, Karin, and you bring up such an important point about “memory.”

    Our memories of our past behavior can be highly inaccurate because our brain organizes information in ways that makes sense to it. As a result, if we have self-limiting beliefs about ourselves, our brain only stores information from our memory that confirms that belief.

    Conversely, if we’re full of hubris and lack humility, our brain only stores information from our memory or past events that confirms our success.

    In both cases, our memory may be false and mis-leading! It’s always important to revisit old memories, of both failure and success, to be sure we’ve got an accurate picture of performance…

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, Thanks so much for extending the conversation about memory. GREAT add.

  7. Woody Till

    Karen, Great article. But by only reading the excerpts and not reading the full story we may be doing ourselves a disservice. In my humble opinion every team needs a “Nay” sayer. This balances the Pollyannaish tendanceies in teams. For all we know this person might have been leary of the direction or the appraoch and was not given the latitude to explain or express his views. Or maybe this person doesn’t “Get it” and is too proud to let you know he doesn’t. A negative person on the team is not a bad thing. Like drag on an aircarft that helps the plane fly. the negative person gives us pause to consider alternatives to our plan. Listening to his concerns could just make the team stronger. Sometimes putting the negative person in charge of a particular aspect of the plan can get them involved.

    • Karin Hurt

      Woody, I’m totally with you under normal circumstances, but something extra wacky was going on here. I do believe naysayers have much to offer. This case was more of a heals dug in, ears shut, situation. I’m sure there’s always more that can be done and it’s worth a try. I know that in some cases, you just can’t get everyone there, no matter how hard you try.

  8. Lisa Hamaker

    This is a great example of how it’s our human nature to focus on the negative. Kathy has worked hard and everyone else is on board–yet she is focused on the one person who is not. To me it’s a great reason to keep doing my mindfulness practices like meditation, exercise, and reading this blog–so I can stay centered in myself and have the larger picture in mind with less judgement.

    I also like the comments about it being okay to have a naysayer. Unless the person is undermining the project, dissenting views can be healthy to the success of the project and personal growth of the team. Respect is needed, but not agreement at all times.

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks, Lisa, you raise an excellent point about mindfulness practices! Yes!

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