Karin’s Leadership Articles

Teachable Moments: Learning to Win Well the Hard Way

by | Oct 4, 2016 | By Karin Hurt, Communication, Winning Well |

When I told “John” what I did for a living, he chuckled. “Oh, I learned how to be a good leader the hard way.” 

Don’t we all. 

It’s often our most klutsy moves that teach us how to Win Well.

John’s Story

Here is “John’s” story. I hope you’ll share yours with our LGL community in the comments below.

I was the VP of well-known hotel chain. We’d been preparing for a month for Bob, our COO’s,  annual visit to our region.  This was our moment to shine. 

I’d staffed that day with our top-notch managers who were all on point to be sure every guest was getting white glove treatment. I’d personally done the rounds to ensure we were prepared. I checked everything from the lightbulbs to the kitchen inventory.  I even had the staff practicing their elevator pitches for any skip level meetings, to ensure they could discuss their results in just the right way.

 I’d left nothing to chance. Or so I thought.

The day of the visit, he asked to walk around unescorted. I wasn’t worried, my staff was ready to show him all our best practices.

You can imagine how shocked I was when he pulled out his Moleskin on the way back to the airport with a long list of problems he’d uncovered. The brakes were squeaking in one of the shuttle vans.  One hotel was consistently running out of shampoo. One manager was having terrible trouble recruiting maid staff. The list went on and on.

Embarrassed, I looked at Bob and asked how he’d possibly uncovered so many issues in such a short period of time.

Bob said matter of factly, “I just asked every employee I met if there was anything they needed to create a better customer experience.  And they told me. Simple as that.”

“When’s the last time YOU asked?”

That was a critical turning point in my leadership journey. 

I’d been so busy working to tell people what needed to be done, I’d completely overlooked the obvious point. They were the ones with the answers. I needed to ask, not tell.

I’ve found that’s the answer to almost every real management challenge. Ask more questions. Listen. And respond. 

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. zafarmanzoor

    Excellent post indeed. Very impressive case study. Last 2 lines are very critical & imp. Talented & committed employees have lot of solutions / ideas. They must be respected and given importance.
    Zafarmanzoor, Sr. Exec, Pakistan.

    • Karin Hurt

      Thanks so very much. I’m always impressed with the creativity and insights that come from asking simple questions.

  2. Mary

    Very good message! Employees are full of great ideas but may not have been asked.

  3. Mahendra

    Yes, we forget to ask the opinion & problems faced by the ground staff. Only at the time of audits we are exposed.

  4. Rosario Moya

    Very true. Although I am not in a leadership position, I often feel like employees get overlooked because of their position. My boss is quick to make assumptions but does not give us the opportunity to comment or make suggestions. Perhaps if they woukd ask and not tell they would realize how important everyone is to the success of the company

    • Karin Hurt

      Rosario, Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry you feel employees often get overlooked. Keep leading well from where you are and concentrate on the impact you can make– creating a culture oasis of Winning Well and rocking your role. Namaste, Karin

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