5 Ways to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level

There’s no question, the downside of a good economy is that it’s harder to retain your best talent. The challenging underperformers stick around, while your rock stars are suddenly the hottest ticket on LinkedIn. If you’re like most executives we talk to, you’re looking to build a more comprehensive retention strategy.

5 Ways to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level

Finding great talent and building a Winning Well culture are table stakes, but what else can you do to retain your top talent?

1. Expand Your Approach to Exit Interviews

Do you know who is leaving and why? Do you have a solid exit interview process in place? If not, it’s worth the energy to build it. Sure you want the data, but the exit interview itself is a cultural intervention.

Imagine that Joe gets a new gig. Joe’s peers all know Joe is frustrated with his boss and they’re struggling with their managers too.  They ask Joe, “Did they EVEN ASK  you why you’re leaving?” And he says, “Nope, they DIDN’T BOTHER to ask. They don’t care.”

Now Joe has left and his friends are wondering if they should too (oh yeah, and Joe gets a bonus at his new gig for referrals.)

It’s worthwhile looking from the other perspective too.

When I revamped the exit interview process at Verizon, I also added an additional question back to their immediate manager: “Would you have preferred to retain this employee?” We correlated their manager’s answer to the employee’s last performance rating and included these two pieces of information along with the exit interview.

We then reported out to the senior team on “good attrition” and “bad attrition.” This strategy isn’t foolproof, clearly, as some gamer managers might make excuses for losing an A player, (eg: “He was a troublemaker.”) But a strategic HR partner can see the patterns. We found that these simple additions helped us hone in our real retention issues, and gave our best managers the cover they needed to deal with long-term performance issues without being hassled about their retention rate. They were rewarded for building a team of Winning Well players who focused on results and relationships.

2. Pay Fair Market Value (So Obvious, Often Overlooked)

I recently received a call from a millennial who loved her job and was getting great feedback about her performance, but was really frustrated by her pay. “All my colleagues tell me that the only way to get a raise around here is to get another job offer and bring it to them–then they’ll match it. That strategy has worked well for several of them. So, I’ve joined several networking groups and am determined to get another job offer so I can get the raise. Of course, who knows? I might even find a better job along the way.”

It’s your job to know their market value, not to send employees shopping.  If budgets are that tight, consider right-sizing so you can pay your team fairly. I’d always rather have a team of 8 highly-motivated rock-stars than 10 that I settled on because I couldn’t afford to attract the right talent – and who are looking around for a better opportunity.

3. Re-Recruit Your A Players

Particularly during times of stress and change, it’s so important for your A players to know how valuable they are. Tell them specifically why you value them and the contribution they make. I remember at one point in my work at Verizon, I was frustrated by my lack of career movement. A merger came along and the prospects for future growth didn’t look good, so I started looking outside and was becoming intrigued by what I saw. One senior leader I supported wrote a quick note to my boss’s boss (copying me) and said, “I hope you realize what a gem you have.” and he responded, copying me “Yes, I do, and I see a bright future for her here.” It opened the door for me to initiate a “Where is this going?” conversation. He encouraged me to be patient. I was. It was worth it.

See Also: 7 Things Your Hight Performers Want to Hear You Say

4. Build A Culture of Accountability

You know what your team wants more than a Foosball table and mimosas on Monday afternoon, right? They want clear direction, and a boss and team they can count on to perform consistently every day. I promise. A Players want to work on A teams. If your A players go home frustrated every day because they work on a team of slackers, they will start looking around for a place with other people who get it.

5. Listen

Just today, I had a manager confide in me:

“My compensation is tied to the performance of my peer team. Results are not good. I’ve transferred in from another division and I know some easy ways we can make this better. I’ve talked to my boss and she gives me lip service saying she’ll give me an opportunity to share at a future team meeting. And it doesn’t happen. She’s not listening. I’ve got a young family to support. If no one will even listen to my ideas (which I know work!) why should I stay?”

Human beings want to be heard. Do your managers have the skills and tools to hear them?

See Also Why Bother Speaking Up: It Won’t Help (and other destructive thinking)

If you’re struggling to retain your best talent, dig a level deeper to find out what’s really going on.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: What are the most important elements of your retention strategy?

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

5 Ways to Gain More Influence and Impact

5 Ways to Gain More Influence and Impact

Jessica approached me after my keynote last week. “My boss is about to make a REALLY big mistake and I don’t think I have the influence to stop it. What can I do?”

She continued:

My boss says we need to eliminate my team due to cost reasons. But that’s a terrible mistake! It’s not so much the people I worry about. They’re highly qualified and will find other roles in our organization. It’s that the work we do actually saves the company money, not to mention how much we enhance the customer experience. I care so deeply about this organization, and I want my boss to be successful too. He doesn’t see it.

The truth is, I don’t think he has any idea all the gaps we fill. But I feel like when I’m advocating for this, it looks like I’m just trying to save my team. The organization is really going to suffer if we go down this path.

How do I get my boss to hear me? How can I influence him to do the right thing?

Of course, after a ten-minute conversation,  I can’t claim to understand all the financial and other nuances of this decision. But as she continued, I WAS convinced she had a solid argument worth hearing out.

I asked:

What if you approached your boss exactly like you just spoke to me? Come from a place of deep concern for the bigger picture. Acknowledge the need for financial savings AND paint the picture of a future where your team is not in place? Is it possible to outline the downstream financial consequences of both scenarios?

She smiled. “Yup. I can do that. And I think it’s worth a try.”

Of course, it’s worth a try.

What’s worth a try for you? And where are you holding back?

What truth would you share if you only felt you had more influence?

5 Ways to Up Your Influence and Accomplish More

If you’re not having the influence you desire, start here.

1- Meet Them on the Path They’re Already On

Jessica’s boss had a clear MIT (Most Important Thing) on his mind–to drive costs out of the business. Jessica needed to meet him on the path he was on. If Jessica tried to take her boss down the “let’s improve the customer experience path” while he was racing down the “cost savings road”, she would likely be ignored. She had a solid argument that eliminating her team would cost more money in the long-run. She should lead with that. The customer experience point is influence gravy.

You will have more influence when the people you’re trying to convince know that you “get it,” with “it” being whatever it is they most care about.

2. Ask Great Questions

This HBR article explains why.

Questions give you the chance to hear what the other person is thinking, giving you more opportunity to accurately determine his or her influencing style. By really listening to the person’s response, you will know whether you can move on to your next point, or if you need to back up and readdress something in a way that helps the other person see your perspective and brings him or her closer to your position. According to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, when people feel listened to by those trying to influence them, their liking of, commitment to, and trust in the influencer increases — all of which strengthen your influencing capability in the situation and overall.

3. Echo Back the Smart Words They Say

Great listening is more than half the influence formula. If you’re trying to influence someone, start by listening deeply and reflecting back what you hear. People will listen when they know they’ve been heard.

4. Build Trust By Being a Truth Teller 

Do you have someone in your life you can always count on to tell you the truth? Be that guy for others. Trust breeds influence. I love this point in the Inc.’s article 7 Way to Build Influence in the Workplace, 

If you want a healthy and influential working relationship, you’re going to have to cultivate trust. The easiest way to do that is to be open and honest, no matter what. State your opinions, disclose your apprehensions, and don’t keep secrets. It’s as simple as that.

5. Rock Your Role

Although competence does not necessarily lead to influence, it’s a necessary place to start. Results buy freedom, and they also build influence. You can never go wrong by being the guy everyone can count on to hit it out of the park.

See Also:

The Winning Well Leadership ModelGlowstone Peak Available Now (quick video overview)

Why Bother Speaking Up (our very popular post on FOSU– Fear of Speaking Up)

The V.O.I.C.E. Approach to getting your voice heard.

How to P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E. your boss

And if you’re looking to help your children think more about courage, influence, and hope, check out our new children’s book, Glowstone Peak.

what no one tells you about leadership

What No One Tells You About Leadership

Welcome to the Hope Business

If I could give a one-page orientation manual to every person who takes a management or leadership position, at the top of the page it would say:

You may have taken this job for the money (it’s not going to be enough),

for the power (you don’t actually have power – it’s an illusion),

or for the prestige (no job will make you feel good about yourself).

Maybe you took this job because you care about the people you serve and results your can achieve together. If so, you’re off to a great start.

Welcome to the hope business.

When your team has hope, you have a chance. Hope means they believe in you. They trust you and one another. You are credible and you have a strategy they believe can succeed.

Everything you do from now on will build or erode hope.

I know you can do this.

Welcome to the hope business.

Welcome to leadership!

If you’re like most leaders, no one has ever told you’re in the hope business. That this is the most important thing you can give your team. That without it, you are finished before you ever get going.

Hope is your most important leadership responsibility.

Why Try?

Leadership is the belief that if we work together we can have a better tomorrow.

That’s hope. But if you’re like most leaders, no one’s ever told you that you’re in the hope business.

But every day you ask your team to try, to think, to solve problems. Why? Why should they try?

The only answer is hope.

Hope isn’t a strategy – but it’s a damn good fuel. [Tweet This]

Because when we work together we can make things better – better for our customer, better for one another, better for our families.

When It’s Tough

You might be wondering how to lead with hope when circumstances are challenging. Perhaps a market shift means you have to close some elements of the business that aren’t relevant and regroup to face a changing environment. What does hope look like in that scenario?

Hope is the message that together you’ll get through it. Hope is the gracefulness with which you make the changes. Hope is the way you call your team to their personal best. The belief and practice that no matter what happens, each of you will be better for the way you choose to lead through it.

Your TurnSelvia, leadership, and hope

One of the reasons we wrote Glowstone Peak was to inspire children (and the adults who love them) with the power of hope. As Selvia realized, “Nothing gets better if I stay here. So she started walking.” That’s hope – and the courage to try.

We hope you’ll share the story with the children in your life.

Now, we’d love to hear from you: What role does hope play in your leadership? How do you lead with hope – especially when times are challenging?

The art of the tough conversation

The Art of the Tough Conversation: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival on the art of the tough conversation. We asked thought leaders from around the world to share their very best post on this topic.

Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

Next month’s Frontline Festival is a special edition celebrating our new book for kids, Glowstone Peak. We welcome contributions related to courage (in conflict or in other situations), influence, and hope. You also have a special opportunity to submit a 30-second video offering advice to children. We’ll create a montage on these themes!

New contributors are always welcome. Submit your relevant blog posts and videos here!

The Art of the Tough Conversation

ditch the diaper drama #WinningWellSophie Blumenthal of Resume Library provides How to Decline a Job Offer.  This piece elaborates on the process of declining a job offer, which can be an awkward conversation. It offers tips and advice to ensure the conversation can be an easy and positive interaction.  Follow Sophie.

Ronni Hendel of InsightOut Leadership gives us “Strong opinions, lightly held,” a shorthand for a way of approaching difficult conversations that open up the possibility of both advocating and inquiring–of being both committed and open.  This is a critical tool in our “difficult conversations” toolkit. Follow Ronni.

Molly Page of Thin Difference offers Improvise Our Way to Common Ground.  Would the world be a better place if we all used a little more, “Yes, and…” in our conversations? Perhaps. Looking to improv techniques can be a great way to navigate a tough conversation and find common ground. Follow Molly.

Silence is one of the great arts of conversation. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Rachel Blakely-Gray of Patriot Software, LLC  provides Five Tips for Handling Difficult Conversations at Work Like a Pro.  Difficult conversations are bound to come up in business. Use these tips to master the art of the tough conversation and remain professional, graceful, and respectful during the talk.  Follow Rachel.

LaRae Quy of LaRaeQuy.com gives us Four FBI Tips on How to Handle Awkward Conversations.  When discussions go to hell in a hand basket, they quickly turn into a fight. Psychologists say that our brain is wired for war; our point of view has been attacked if we disagree with someone. Follow LaRae.

Lisa Kohn from Chatsworth Consulting Group provides, How to Handle the Elephant in the Middle of the Living Room.  She shares ways to help your team coax out and address the “inconvenient truths” that can get in the way of successful – and enjoyable – relationships, projects, and business outcomes.  Follow Lisa.

A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen wrote, The Power of Simply Saying What You Mean. It can be difficult to start a conversation if the topic is tense, controversial, or otherwise difficult to bring up. Sometimes getting started is as simple as “tell me more about that.”  Follow Paula.

Julie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds offers An Argument for Conflict.  What Julie refers to as ‘dysfunctional politeness’ costs organizations dearly in terms of dollars, but it also takes an enormous human toll; disappointment, mistrust, frustration, and disengagement. What’s needed instead is constructive conflict. This post offers three steps for cultivating it. Follow Julie.

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates gives us The Facts Speak for Themselves. Do They? In this post Shelley shares about the sometimes-tough conversations we have to persuade people toward a particular option. Follow these tips for more success.  Follow Shelley.

Effective Communication Karin Hurt and David Dye

The Winning Well I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model for tough conversations.

The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation – or a relationship. – Deborah Tannen

David Grossman of The Grossman Group provides Leadership Communication: Six Steps to Handling Tough Conversations.  It’s a given; having tough conversations and communicating difficult topics is part of a leader’s job. Just like you plan for contingencies in your business, planning how you will communicate difficult messages can improve the ultimate outcome. Think through and prepare your approach in advance with these six steps.  Follow David.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader gives us How to Talk about the Elephant in the Room. The most difficult conversations are the topics no one wants to broach due to fear or convenience. Here’s how to break through to talk about it before it wrecks your organization.  Follow Paul.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership provides Three Secrets of Better Performance Conversations. Here are three ways you can take a lot of the discomfort out of performance conversations and make them more effective.  Follow Wally.

There is no conversation more boring than the one where everybody agrees. – Michel de Montaigne

Ken Downer of Rapid Start Leadership provides Seeking Discomfort: 7 Ways to Embrace Uncomfortable  Often we find ourselves compelled to give critical feedback to others, but what about receiving it? If we are to grow personally and lead well, we need to seek out feedback that may not be easy to hear.  Feedback Follow Ken.

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting offers Balance vs. Agility.  Balance is a great goal, but it’s not the end goal. Why? Because change is the constant. Balance is about homeostasis, and homeostasis is fleeting. Follow Nate.

Jackie Stavros of Lawrence Technological University offers How Do Your Conversations Feel?  Conversations are a crucial part of everything we do. How do we turn a tough conversation to a conversation worth having? Conversations worth having uses Appreciative Inquiry to fuel productive and meaningful change that creates an environment that works for all! Follow Jackie.

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited provides How to Communicate with Non-Responsive People.  Sometimes the tough part of a conversation is actually getting it started if the person you are trying to reach tends not to be responsive. Here are some tips.  Follow Beth.

Your Turn.

Please feel free to share your favorite links to tough conversation advice in the comments below.

Courage: 5 Ways to Show Up Stronger

Courage: 5 Ways to Show Up Stronger (Even When You’re Scared)

Have you ever wanted to take a stand, but kept quiet? Have you had a moment of bravery you found hard to explain? Where does courage come from?

A Courageous Guest Post from Selvia of Glowstone Peak

Karin and David asked me to share some of my thoughts on courage for you grown-ups; which quite frankly scares me more than talking to any Gnobuck. You see, I’m only 40, which is quite a kid in our Nuin years. I mean even you humans know that 40 is the new 20.

I don’t have any of this figured out. And I’m terrified of what you might think. Karin says you humans call that the Imposter Syndrome.

But let’s be real. I’ve seen how humans talk to one another on social media. Yikes.  Gnobucks may breathe fire, but at least you can see it coming.

Our story of the recent happenings at Glowstone Peak seems to be helping kids find courage. So,  If I can help even one grown-up be braver, I’m willing to give it a go, So here’s my best advice on courage for grown-ups.

One Nuin’s Thoughts on Courage For Grown Ups

First, I searched the internet for some of the best human thinking on courage.

This guy, Teddy seems to get it:

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” -Theodore Roosevelt

And there’s some terrific research in this fantastic HRB article on Courage.  My favorite insight:

“Learning to take an intelligent gamble requires an understanding of what I call the “courage calculation:” a method of making success more likely while avoiding rash, unproductive, or irrational behavior. Six discrete processes make up the courage calculation: setting primary and secondary goals; determining the importance of achieving them; tipping the power balance in your favor; weighing risks against benefits; selecting the proper time for action; and developing contingency plans.”

And then David let me come over and watch a bit of Game of Thrones. You gotta love Bran and his Dad. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

And Inc. has a cool  list of ideas of how you can “put fear in its place.”

Okay. Enough stalling. My turn.

Courage on Glowstone Peak

5 Ways to Be More Courageous


  1. Listen to Your Heart
    I didn’t set out to be brave, brave just happened to me. The best courage comes from caring deeply.
  2. Stay Open to Surprising Support
    Taking your first brave step can be remarkably lonely. The people who you thought were on your side might be too scared to help. That doesn’t mean you are in it alone.  Karin and David have both told me how this happened to them. Keep looking and stay open. There might just be a helpful gnome around the corner, building his courage too.
  3. Choose Your Timing
    There’s a big difference between brave and brash. Think well about the best time to make your bold moves. Go slow to go fast. And do your homework.
  4. Stay Focused on the Bigger Mission
    I knew what needed to be done–we needed to restore the glowstone.  That goal became more important than politics, dark forests, or even dragons. There is real courage to be found in a compelling mission. What’s yours?
  5. Use your V.O.I.C.E. 
    Karin and David teach this practical persuasion technique. I’ve got to say for human-thinking, it’s not half bad. Check it out if you’re looking for ways to take a courageous stand and have more influence and impact. It might have saved me some time getting those pixies on board.

To learn more about my story, visit Glowstone Peak 

Your Turn: I’d love to hear your stories of courage and inclusion.

AVAILABLE NOW: GLOWSTONE PEAK: A Story of Courage, Influence and Hope

Glowstone Peak: A Children's Leadership Book

See also:

Why bother Speaking Up (and other destructive thinking)

19 Questions to Grow Confidence in Children

Developing Leadership Skills in Children:  11 Ways to Grow Leadership Skills in Children

Children’s Books on Leadership: Questions to Inspire Young Thinking

The Power of Observation: Better MBWA

The Power of Observation: 6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

I just got off the phone with a frustrated CEO, who was fired up after a half day of observation in one of his call centers.

“Karin, Why don’t these managers GET IT?

I just left a visit to one of our call centers and within an hour, I’ve seen more than a dozen urgent and easy things to address that really matter. I’ve been encouraging managers and team leaders to be out on the floor. So they’re there. They’re theoretically doing the observation I’ve asked.  But I don’t think they know what to do!

They are standing right next to the issues I see, and they don’t see them! When I ask them for what patterns they’re noticing they offer to pull a report. How about the patterns they heard on the calls today in their observation?!! When I ask how the calls are going, they tell me “they’re good.” What does that mean? Can’t they hear what I hear? No one has a pen in their hands… I’m so frustrated. Isn’t this common sense?

How do I make them see that getting out of their offices is not enough? It’s what they do with that time.”

Does this sound familiar? This “Why can’t they see it?” feeling is the worst. And surprisingly hard to teach. But it is possible.

Observation Matters: Really Practical Ways to Ensure Your Presence Makes an Impact

After a few weeks in the role Verizon Sales exec., it became clear that there was a real difference between spending time in the stores and EFFECTIVELY spending time in the stores–observing what’s going on, learning, and being truly helpful to the team.

Some District Managers really understood the power of careful observation and used that in their helping. And for others, it was an art that needed to be taught. There were a few DMs who could be in a troubled store all day and completely miss the glaring issues– and of course, ignoring the obvious problems is far from helpful, it’s destructive.

If you’re looking to help your managers and supervisors be more observant and helpful, try working with them on this list of six ways to show up helpful.

6 Ways to Show Up Helpful

1. Start with connection.

Winning Well managers balance results AND relationships. You can’t show up helpful if your employees think you’re there to play a game of “Gotcha.”

Connect first with something personal. And then ask about what they’re most proud of and where they’re struggling. It’s amazing what you’ll hear if you just ask, “What do you need to better serve our customers?”

2. Think like a customer.

Observe what the customer is experiencing.

When I would do my store visits at Verizon, we would start in the parking lot. What does the customer see when they first walk up? Is there trash on the sidewalk? Are the windows clean? Are the signs hung correctly? Are all the light bulbs working?

Observe the customer interactions. If you can see the customers, do they seem relaxed and confident, or agitated? If you’re walking around the call center floor, are you hearing empathy from your reps? Are they providing clear and accurate information? Are they going out of their way to create a positive experience?

If you’re doing a ride-along observation on a repair truck, are you showing up during the committed time frame? Have we left the customers home cleaner than we found it? Have interactions been polite and friendly? Does the customer know how much we care?

3. Pay attention to the MITs (Most Important Things.)

Focus your observations on the most important things and work on them one or two at a time. As you’re walking around notice how employees are spending their time. Are they focused on the Most Important Things (MITs?)

If they’re not, get curious. Do they understand the behaviors that are critical to success?  If not, it’s time to revisit expectations. Are they clear on what behaviors will lead to success? Have you connected what you’re asking them to do, to why you’re asking them to do it?

One of the biggest mistakes I see managers make when they’re riding along or doing floor support is focusing on too many priorities at the same time.

If you tell someone: “Your desk is messy; you forgot to use an empathy statement; you didn’t mention the new promotion, and by the way, your handle time for that phone call was 15 seconds too long,” they’re not likely to retain much.

4. Look for patterns.

It’s easy to overreact when you see one employee with wrong information or a bad habit. I’ve seen many managers react with an emergency meeting because of one bad actor, and everyone is wondering why their manager is wasting time talking about something everyone already knows.

Of course, it can go in the other direction too. If you uncover a few employees struggling with the same issue, it’s worth keeping your eyes open to see who else needs help. The next obvious question any manager would think is, “Where else is this an issue?”

5. Connect work to outcomes.

In my Verizon days, I would never leave a store visit without spending time with the store manager in front of his “Big Board” (a white board that was to be updated daily with metrics in the back of the store for all the team to see).  We would talk about the customer experience and what they were doing to make it better. Nothing was more frustrating  than to see outdated metrics. “Oh wait, it’s better now!” The manager would say as they erased the numbers and put up new ones. “So how would your team know that?”

In your observations, it’s helpful to ensure the team has an easy, updated, way to know where they stand.

See more on developing critical thinking in your team.

6. Celebrate small wins.

When doing observations, it’s easy to focus exclusively on what’s going wrong and what needs to be improved. It’s so important to also notice what’s going well. Making a big deal out of small wins can go a long way in pointing out the behaviors that will lead to success. We get more of what we celebrate and reward, and less of what we ignore.

Your turn.  What are your best practices for effective observations and showing up helpful?

See Also: The Secret to Managing Up: The Green Jacket Effect (with Video)

When MBWA become OCHTC Oh crap here they come).

speaking up... does it work

Why Bother Speaking Up? It Won’t Help (and other Destructive Thinking)

Have you ever heard yourself saying those words?

“Why bother speaking up, it won’t do any good?” Or

“I’ve tried speaking up in the past, and no one cared.” Or

“Speaking up isn’t valued around here, I’ll just keep my head down and do my job.”

I hear you. It’s easy to let past experiences jade us into losing our voice.  It’s tempting to let our assumptions take over and persuade us that we already know the response. After all, we’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well. And so the troublesome issue continues which validates our thinking: the other guy is a jerk who won’t listen.

Trust erodes further. So we speak up even less. Further convincing ourselves that it wouldn’t do any good.

Overcoming FOSU (Fear of Speaking Up)

I was facilitating a 2-day training on conflict and collaboration with an interesting mix of scientists and administrators.  About halfway through the program, Hope, a female administrator who is also a woman of color spoke up.

“I hear you. And I believe all these techniques will work for someone like Peter (a white male scientist with credentials and position power whose large stature made him hard to ignore), but they would never work for me.”

She’d ditched the diaper drama and apparently said exactly what everyone in the room had on their mind. We talked at length about her (and other participant’s) experiences–which were sad and compelling and real. Some of these stories had happened over a decade ago, with a peer or boss that was no longer around. And yet the fear of speaking up today was palpable. There was a whole lot of not speaking up going on, in a culture that desperately needed the truth.

There’s no question in my mind that results suffered, projects took longer and the science was jeopardized due to this FOSU (fear of speaking up).

Hope had spoken up to start a conversation. Game on.

And then Peter raised his hand.

“I hear you. I really do. I’ve got two stories of my own to share.

I also had been told several times by my boss to keep quiet, and not rock the boat. But I saw several errors that I knew would impact the timeline of our project once they were discovered. I took them to my boss who told me under no circumstance was I to say what was going on.

When the project got in trouble several months later, the department head, Joe, got involved and asked why I didn’t say anything. I told him I had. He coached me and said that at times like this, it’s so important to put the project ahead of self-protection. Joe reminded me of what was at stake.  And told me I can always come to him as needed. Which I do from time to time–only when absolutely necessary.

I still respect the chain of command most of the time.

My boss hates it when I go to Joe. But, I know have to do the right thing.

Then one day we were in a meeting with Joe. He told us how frustrated he was that people don’t speak up. And then he said, ‘Peter’s the only one.’ When he asked why, everyone just looked at him without saying a word.

Then my boss took me aside and said, ‘See, Joe wants you to stop speaking up! Now stop it!’ I was like, ‘What? Were we in the same meeting? And I insisted that we have a three- way conversation with Joe to check for understanding.

Joe was unequivocal. ‘I want Peter and everyone on this team to speak up. That’s the only way we will know what’s ever going on.'”

Okay, I thought, we’re making real progress in this discussion. But, the truth is, it’s still easier for a guy like Peter to pull this off.  And then he began his second story.

“About a year ago, I had a peer come to me and tell me she thought I was a bully. I was shocked. I was hurt. I don’t see myself as a bully. I asked why. It came down to the fact that I was holding people accountable, and that was uncomfortable and I knew I couldn’t change that. But I also knew that accountability is one thing, bullying is another.

So I went to some of my other peers. And several of them said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re a bully sometimes.’

And I knew I needed to change. I dug deeper on how my behavior was being perceived. I started listening more. I entered rooms more gently. I watched my tone and manner. No work I’ve ever done on my leadership has made a bigger impact on my influence. I’m still holding people accountable, but I’m watching my style. It’s easier for all of us.

Can you imagine if that woman had FOSU? I’d still be frustrating her and everyone else. She did all of us a favor by speaking up.

I understand the culture we’re in, but I’ve got to tell you. People don’t speak up enough. We have to talk about this stuff in order for the culture to change.

How can we do that better?'”

Your Turn: How Can We?

And so I turn that question back to you. This is hard, no doubt. But how do we encourage more people to use speak up and find their voice? I’d love to hear your stories of overcoming FOSU and the difference it made.

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

the most seductive leadership mistake

How to Avoid the Most Seductive Leadership Mistake

This leadership mistake is seductive–we know because we’ve been there. It feels good. It feels logical. And it’s the fastest way to stunt your growth as a leader.

Have you ever sat in a leadership meeting or training and thought, “Oh, it’s so good they’re finally talking about ________. So and So (insert your favorite under-performing manager’s name here) needs to hear this.”

We hear that all the time.

  • “Karin and David, these tools are great! I just wish my boss was here to hear your message. She really needs your Winning Well tools to be effective.”
  • Or “Are you going to do this training with the IT department? They could use a bit of confident humility (and by that I mean humility).”
  • Or “You know who makes that leadership mistake all the time? Our CEO.”

We heard it just the other day. We had been part of an all-day leadership offsite. The executive had delivered some tough messages and then brought in several keynote speakers to provide inspiration and tools to help.

She texted us the next day.

“I’m SO frustated. I’m seeing a lot of signs that ‘This message must not have been for me and my team.’ “

The SASRNT Syndrome

One of the perks of being authors is that we get to make up our own syndromes. We call this behavior the SASRNT syndrome, which stands for So And So Really Needs This. It’s often easier to address another’s leadership than to work on your own.

SASRNT syndrome happens when you hear an important message, or learn a new leadership tool, or technique and you think, “Oh you know who needs this? My boss, my colleague, my spouse.” And you run off and encourage them to implement the new idea, before trying it yourself.

Of course that other person – your boss, your colleague, your spouse – may need what you want to share, but think about how you would react if the roles were reversed.

Your employee comes to you and says: “Hey team leader, I think you’d be a much better team leader if only you’d read this book or attend that seminar.” How would you react? Honestly?

If you’re like most people, you’d immediately be on the defensive. None of us like being told we’re not good enough. We resist whenever we feel we’re being sold, even if it is something that would help us.

How to Avoid This Leadership Mistake

We get it. There are tons of poor business leaders out there. The statistics are hard to argue and we see it all the time.

The company we were working with at the offsite had a lot of smart people working very hard and they also have some new challenges that require new perspectives, thinking, and tools.

The minute we start thinking of who else needs the messages, the tools, and the techniques we’re hearing about, we miss an opportunity to grow.

Because at the end of the day, the person you’re in the best position to influence is you.


The most powerful approach is to apply what you’ve learned and to cultivate a pocket of influence and excellence around you.

When your managers treat you poorly, treat your people well. Where your managers tolerate mediocrity, act with and expect excellence. Where they act like victims, empower yourself and your team.

Have compassion for them and for your people. They may not know what you know, but they’re doing what they can. In time, they may even ask you for help.

Lead first, where you are, with what you have. Keep growing. Then invite others to join you on the journey.

You can read more on building pockets of excellence in our book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul.