5 Reasons Teams Lose Confidence

Great leaders help teams visualize a winning future. They arm their team with the courage and audacity to remove roadblocks and galvanize people toward “impossible” feats.

Take John. John had been in tough situations before, but this time the cocktail of challenges was just too much. He needed more time, more resources, better systems, and the uncertainty of the restructure was distracting to everyone, including him. He confided, “I don’t think we can do this.”

I was sure he was right. Not because of the systems or the resources, or even the organizational chaos. But, if the leader lacks confidence, the team knows. It’s nearly impossible for a team to win when their leader loses faith.

5 Reasons Teams Lose Confidence

1.  A Doubting Leader

When the leader loses faith in their teams ability to perform–with these players, in these conditions, on this field–the team will sense it. Even if the words are encouraging, the underlying emotions speak louder. If you’re not sure you can win, find a way to get your own head there, or let someone else call the shots for a while. If you don’t believe it can be done, neither will they.

2. Under-Preparation

The team is tired, so the leader backs off on the training and preparation. They cut the team some slack when it comes to additional research or practice. The team feels initial relief, and thinks the coach is “nice,” but on game-day doubts they’re truly ready.

3. Discounted Wins

The team has wins, but every time the leader discounts it or fails to understand it. Success without understanding is hard to replicate.

4. Over-Direction

The leader is at the center of every move: calling the shots, holding a huddle, directing the moves. Teams feel lucky to have the leader, but question their own contribution to the matter.

5. Reliance on a Star Player

Players get hurt, move on, become hard to deal with. It’s dangerous when a team begins to attribute success to just one guy (or gal). The most confident teams believe in the team and its synergies. If the team starts to bet against themselves when one player is injured (or obnoxious), you’ve begun a downward spiral.

Great leaders build confident teams, who believe in the vision, the process and one another.

5 Ways to Encourage Your Team Toward “Yes You Can”

28 eyes looked at me skeptically. They were convinced the task I had outlined for their strategy session was beyond their reach. “Just too hard,” they explained. “I’m not that creative,” said another.

No time for second guessing. Sure this exercise had worked in other contexts, but I had never worked in this industry before. What if they were right? “Shut up,” I told my inner voice, rudely. Sometimes you’ve just got to be direct with that sucker or he’ll get the best of you.

On the outside, I was equally direct, but kinder. “Of course you can do this! I’ve never seen this approach fail (true statement). You’ve totally got this. Now let’s talk about where you’re stuck.”

Still skeptical, a few pairs of eyes softened. I could see the beam of possibility shining through.

I knew I needed to diffuse the scene, 14 doubters against one was too much. “When I get stuck like this, I often find it useful to take a walk,” I offered.  “If anyone wants to take a lap around this beautiful hotel to think, that’s just fine. If you’re ready to bounce your ideas off someone else it may be helpful to talk it through with your colleague. And, I’m going to be over here and would love to talk through this with anyone one-0n-one.”

A few took a walk.  Others paired up. I held a few consultations, where we explored what they were most afraid of.

When we regrouped, they nailed it. Not just in a hammer and nail sort of way. They nailed it with all the impact of an electric nail gun. In fact, that session was one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen.

5 Ways To Encourage Your Team Toward “Yes You Can”

1. Be Audaciously Confident

Be confident in the mission. Be confident in the team. Be confident in the power of discomfort. Don’t articulate your own self-doubt– that’s not humble, it’s destructive.

2. Divide and Encourage

It’s easier to stay stuck when you’re surrounded by stuckness. Chances are everyone’s not stuck in the same place or for the same reasons. Find a way to separate the naysayers.

3. Build on Past Success

Ask your team member to recall a time they’ve been successful in a similar situation. Start from a confident place. “I’m sure you’ve done well in similar situations in the past. Can you tell me about a time… what did you do… what made it successful?”

4. Scaffold

Be available. Ask provocative questions that lead them to success.

5. Help Them Identify What Scares Them

“What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” I asked one woman.

“I might get emotional,” she confided.

“Okay that’s understandable,” I said matter-of-factly, and continued. “Emotional in a bit verklempt type of choking up or a full on wailing and gnashing of teeth?”

She laughed, “Nah, it’ won’t be that bad.”

“We can handle that…”

She shared her story with the team. She wasn’t the one who cried. Message received.

Teams need encouragement to take little risks that feel big.

Little risks lead to brave steps which lead to bold work which lead to breakthrough results.

Encourage them. Please.

The world needs more brave doers.

How to Have a Difficult Conversation

When I ask leaders why they’re not telling people what they need to know, the most consistent response I get is “She or he didn’t ask.”

Quite frankly that’s a cop-out.

Yeah sure–ideally everyone would be ASKING for feedback.

If you’re not asking, start asking now. It may be the only thing standing between you and the truth.

But, if you’re the one not giving feedback, think again before holding back.

Your Team Needs You to Tell Them the Truth

You team needs to hear what you don’t want to say. The difficult conversations are almost always often the most important.

“You’re consistently not getting promoted because….”

“When you start an email that way…”

“If you bathed more…”

“Wearing those Google glasses all day long (including at the elegant dinner party) isn’t helping your brand…”

Confident, humble leaders have difficult conversations because…

  • they care so deeply
  • they want people to grow
  • they know it’s not about them
  • they care more about helping than protecting themselves.

Lessons From The Discomfort Zone

I spoke with Marcia Reynold’s about her new book, The Discomfort Zone:  How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs and asked her for her best advice for leaders having difficult conversations with the people they lead. Here are a few of her tips.

  • Step back and consider, “What does this person really need from me?”
  • Know that your job is not to just develop skills, but develop minds. Ask difficult questions that really make them think.
  • Know that this will be uncomfortable and that there may be an initial negative reaction. That doesn’t mean you aren’t helping, or they won’t be grateful later.
  • If they get emotional, be quiet. Let them experience and breathe through that emotion. Know that’s all part of the process.
  • If you’re trying to help someone get unstuck, ask
    • What’s the worse thing that can happen if you do ____?
    • What’ s the likelihood that could happen?
    • How is that worse than what’s happening now?

She adds, “For true shifts in thinking and behavior to occur, you must be willing to challenge a person’s beliefs, interrupt his patterns, and short-circuit the conviction to his logic even when it feels uncomfortable.  This is a Discomfort Zone conversation.”

4 Reasons Underdogs Will Rule the World

The playing field was clearly uneven, but the “visiting team” had chosen to come and play by our rules: An underdog team at its finest. I was teaching executive presence and communication to MBA students, 30% for whom English is their second language. The final assignment was TEDdy talks, 5 minute speeches in the style of TED.

I knew the assignment was stacked in favor of the American students. I was sure I’d have to give them the benefit of the doubt in grading. Not so. After the talks, I asked the students to rate “best in class.”

On both days the international students won by a landslide. My non-English speaking students out-performed the Americans in their own tongue. Why?

A Few Theories

They Didn’t Expect a Handicap:  There were no office appointments asking me to understand their plight. They just got in there and worked it.

They Were Deeply Committed: This course was an elective. They could have easily spared themselves the agony, but they wanted to improve.

They Welcomed Feedback: Throughout the course I had been worried that their accent would make it hard for their English speaking audience to understand. We worked on pacing, pauses and in some cases volume. They nailed it.

They Embraced Vulnerability: Each of these students grounded their speeches in their own vulnerability. They told THEIR stories with a passion that drew us in.

They Worked Hard: They embraced their disadvantage, and incorporated the tools and techniques we discussed in class. They clearly had practiced, again and again. There was no winging it involved.

Sometimes confidence is over-rated. Swimming upstream takes more work. Hard work produces results.

Beware of the side-effects of your own confidence. A humble underdog may be nipping at your heels.

Because You Know Better

I was pretty shocked by the reports of how Laura had acted in that impromptu encounter.  Clearly I had to address the “rude and snarky attitude” but first I had to understand it. “Can you tell me what happened?” I asked, praying for an explanation.

And there it was in all the glory– the rest of the story. Snarky didn’t come out of nowhere. Stupid behavior seldom does. More often one misstep triggers another and the dance begins. Unproductive at best. But even more tricky if when the music stops you’re the one caught singing off-beat.

And so I told her my story straight off the “Karin Hurt’s worst leadership moments” highlights reel (you can stop now, it’s not searchable on YouTube).

It was after a long day, long month, long quarter. We were both were tired. Trust was low between our departments– and competition was high–a terrible cocktail. And then her ugliness hit me right in my weak spot. I was convinced she was discriminating against one of my top guys. Perhaps she was, perhaps she wasn’t (he’s later proved himself as rock star… just saying).

What I do know for sure is that my rage had me operating out of the wrong side of my brain. I listened to the spewing stupidity and responded completely unelegantly and threw in a bad word (okay, maybe two)– right in front of HR. Poor choice. The aftermath was ugly.

When debriefing the situation with a close colleague, he told me a story that has stayed with me for years.

“Karin, when I was little, I was one of the few minorities in a primarily white school. I was picked on (they’d probably call that bullying now). These kids would rile me up to the point that I would feel like I had to defend myself, and I’d end up being the one sitting in the principal’s office. Because– I threw the first punch. You lose all ability to defend your position when you’re the guy with blood on your hands.”

Yup. No matter what was right or what was wrong, I was the screamer with the bad words.

It’s easy to justify our less than elegant leadership behavior (to ourselves) because someone else “started it.”

Always remember their behavior is entirely beside the point.

Lead elegantly, and the turkeys will lose their steam.

5 Ways Success is Holding You Back

So much is written about learning from failure, but much less of failing from success.

This weekend, I had the extraordinary opportunity to speak and attend the National Speakers Association’s Business Accelerator Lab. It was inspiring to get to know Nido Quebein, President of High Point University, along with his concept of Productive Failures and Unproductive Success. Success can slow us down in other areas as well.

5 Ways Success is Holding You Back

“Success doesn’t come to you; you must go to it. The trail is well-traveled and well-marked. If you want to walk it, you can.” -Nido Quebein

1. You Don’t Take the Time to Understand It

It’s easy to celebrate and move on, instead of taking the time to truly dissect the specific elements that led to that success. Nido explains that success is often wasted, when we miss the opportunity to learn from it. When you succeed at something big,  was it due to the market, the price, the positioning, the long hours, the social media campaign, the right leadership, the right employees? If you don’t slow down to truly understand what worked, you’re much less likely to succeed in the next endeavor. Failure is much more likely to give us the pause needed to think, regroup, and improve.

2. You Believe Your Own PR

I see this happen with leaders at all levels. People sing their praises and they start humming along. Of course your leadership bio makes you sound like a rock star. Never forget that it’s only one side of the story.

3. You Stop Asking for Feedback

When the fist bumps are flying it’s easy to get caught up in the glory. Make it easy for people to share their insights. First say “Thank you,” and then ask for specifics. “Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed my presentation. What part of it resonated the most? Which parts do you think I should change?” “I’m glad you like the idea, but all ideas can be improved. What am I not considering here? Where are the holes?”

4. You Over-Emphasize Your Own Contribution

I’m amazed at how many leaders have the audacity to attribute the team’s success to their leadership. Hopefully, you had something to do with it. But you’d better figure out what everyone did behind the scenes to make it happen, including your peers. Overlooking their specific contribution will make them less likely to follow you as enthusiastically the next time. And, if you don’t know just what they did, you won’t know what to do again.

5. You Lose Ambition

Don’t get distracted by your one-hit wonder. It’s easy to think you can never top your last big success. Many don’t. Others do. Remain confident that there’s more success where that came from and go for it. Elizabeth Gilbert wrestles with this challenge in her TED talk:  Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating.

Learn to maximize the power of sucessful success and your world will change exponentially.

5 Ways Naming Things Will Make You a Better Leader

The world goes nuts when someone finds a simple name for that universal feeling that makes you think more deeply about your leadership:  Who Moved My Cheese, Flow, fill in your favorite blank ________. You don’t need to wait for someone else to name it. Chances are you and your team can go a long way in naming your _______(fill in your favorite blank here, e.g. challenge, knee jerk response, team dysfunction). When you get stuck give your “stuckness” a name. When you are angry, name it. When you’ve got a cool project, name it something inspiring.

Leadership vision, challenge and hard work all become simplified in the naming process.

5 Ways to Use Naming in Your Leadership

1. Name Your Role

Consider asking your team to each pick a poignant name for their current role (and for a twist, have them add their desired role). I recently tested out the concept. Here’s what bubbled up.

  • Chief Difference Maker
  • Transformation Specialist
  • Mind Reader
  • Provocateur (I know this chick, trust me, this is not dirty)
  • Savior of Relationships
  • Stud Service Specialist (I realize this too could be taken in a different way. Trust me, his intentions are pure 😉

I’m quite sure there were also self-censored sarcastic names that are staying on hearts and minds. There’s power in naming the truth. If you can’t possibly think of a good name for your current role, that’s data.

2. Name Your Challenge

Give a creative name to your biggest business challenge. The process of finding a name will help you get to root cause and brings some levity to the scene. Operation______.

3. Name Your Anger

What’s really ticking you off? Name that frustration. Naming your anger helps you sift through the source.

4. Name Your Trigger Response

This one can get personal, but can be vital in an intrapersonal or team building context. Where do you go when you’re stressed? Being able to name the patterns makes them easier to recognize. If you can get your team talking about them, it’s easier for them to give feedback in a safe way when they see the response in play (perhaps start with yours). By giving your response a name you give the team permission to talk about it and help you grow.

5. Name Your Greatest Hope

What does your team want most… as individuals and as a team? Naming your dream simplifies the vision.

A Better Way to START your SMART GOAL process

If you’re really stuck in the creative process, your heart is telling you something. Listen to it. I did, and found myself backward mapping my entrepreneurial journey and found the START before SMART goal process.

The Start of START

I was recently asked to give a workshop for the National Speakers Association on SMART goals to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses. This is an important audience whom I care about deeply and wanted to help. But as I went to craft the talk, I found myself just staring at my computer, hopping on Twitter, and finally finding time to take that run… as Steven Pressfield would say, I was deep into the resistance phase of the creativity process.

Sure I could talk SMART goals–almost every leadership development person can. And possibly, this would not feel as old news to this crowd as it did to me, but I wasn’t certain. More awkwardly, the truth is that I can’t attribute any of my early success to S.M.A.R.T. goals.  I really resisted all the advice that well-meaning supporters gave me as I launched my business. “Set a specific revenue goal and break down which markets your income will come from.” “Set a measurable goal for the number of subscribers you’ll have by when.” “Identify a concrete strategy to monetize your blog.” “Contact 20 people a week and ask for the business.”

The truth is, my heart wasn’t ready for SMART goals at that stage of the game.

For me there needed to be a period of focused, deliberate, intense, long hours of what can no better be described as “mucking about.”

I needed to write, to speak, to explore, to connect, to knock on doors, to have doors open, to have doors close, to love, to get ticked off, to learn, to get rejected, to get accepted, to get supported, to support, to get burned, to invest wisely, to waste some dough… mostly to figure out who I really was as this new brand and what my unique contribution could be to the world.

I worked really hard.  But, I’ll admit, I didn’t write down a single goal.

I kept assuring my husband I was planting bulbs. Thank goodness he believed me.

And one by one the bulbs began to blossom and bloom in the most unusual places. I stayed open and the seeds began to spread.

And so today, I share with you an alternative to jumping right into your SMART goal planning: S.T.A.R.T. before S.M.A.R.T.

The S.T.A.R.T. Before S.M.A.R.T. Goals Process

1. S-  Sankalpa: Based in the yogic tradition well outlined in Rod Stryker’s latest book, spend the reflective time needed to truly identify what you most want.

Ask yourself:  What results would truly fill my heart’s desire?

2. T- Transformation: Identify who or what will be transformed as a result of your efforts.

Ask yourself:  What does success look like?

 3. A- Authenticity: Identify your values, operating principles and define your brand.

Ask yourself: What do I most value?

4. R- Relationships: Invest in building deep relationships based on trust and mutual support. Be deliberate with whom you spend your time.

Ask yourself: How will I enrich my relationships?

5. T- Timing: Prioritize your time. Develop a renewal strategy.

Ask yourself: How must I invest my time?

S.M.A.R.T. goals are vital. Everyone needs them. But sometimes it’s useful to head back to the beginning and S.T.A.R.T. Before S.M.A.R.T.

How to Give So They Will Receive

As the old adage goes, it’s better to give than to receive. And, the best networking advice I’ve ever given (or received) is to give first and then give some more. With all that giving going on, it’s also important to know how and when it’s time to receive.

I recently asked a group of managers, “Is it more difficult for you to give or to receive?” and “What percentage of your time is spent giving versus receiving?” The overwhelming consensus was that it’s harder to receive than to give, and most felt that they give far more than they receive.

“RECEIVING–until recently I was very uncomfortable asking for help and letting others see my vulnerabilities.”

“Probably it is more difficult to receive. Sometimes I expect that a person would do something for me since I would do the same thing for him/her if asked, but often it does not happen.”

“At work, I always feel the need to prove myself so I always give, give give (85% give, 15% receive).”

“When someone does something nice for me, I feel like I need to immediately pay back that debt and feel uncomfortable when I have received more than I have given.”

Part of the gift of giving is to give in a way that supports receiving.

4 Ways to Give So They Will Receive

1. Give and Forget

In 20 Ways to Give Without Expectations, Lori Deschene lists great examples of how to give help and support with no expectations in return. Such self-less giving can go a long way in opening hearts to receiving.

2. Model it

“Giving opens the way for receiving.” -Florence Scovel Shinn

If you’re an over-giver, lead by example. Be willing to ask for and receive support.

3. Respond Enthusiastically

If someone asks for help, know that it’s likely not easy for them to do so. Say “yes” or “no,” but don’t say “yes” after listing the litany of reasons why it’s hard for you. That just adds to the guilt. Words such as “I’d be honored,” “Happy to,” or “Sure, glad I can support you” don’t make the task you’re doing any more difficult.

4. Ask What Will Be Most Helpful

Just jumping in and giving can be a waste of time at best and potentially do more harm than good. Ask what you can give that will be most helpful.

The truth is the world functions best when we know how to (and are willing to) both give and receive. Where can you be giving or receiving more?

Managing the Strong, Arrogant, Obnoxious Type

They come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s talk dark and handsome, with an extra dose of charisma, and two espresso shots of attitude. Or blonde, with a great purse, an MBA from a top 25, and a sarcastic streak that makes everyone in her wake feel like crap. Or the balding dude from finance who can out-gun anyone with a spreadsheet at twenty paces, who won’t even hear your argument for more funding unless you can outwit his wittiness. Or, the been-there-done-that guy who’s “just about done” with all the rookies.

You didn’t select them, but here they are on your team. They’re annoying everyone, but driving results– with implications.  They’re on the fast track, so coaching feels tricky. But deep in your heart you know they’ve got career stalling flaws. What next?

Door Number 1:  Ignore the issues, leverage the strengths, and pray they move on soon.


Door Number 2:  Be the brave leader who has the tough conversation which changes the game, and helps them truly realize their potential.

Sadly, I see so many “leaders” grit their teeth, complain to their spouse, and slip quietly through door number 1, praying the “right” people notice and the “wrong” people (meaning the truly high potential) miss your oversight this time. And that the next leader who manages this guy will have more courage.


  • “After all, this guy’s clearly high-potential.” (Read that: “I’m worried I’ll work for him some day and don’t want to burn any bridges.”
  • “I’m not sure I’m as smart as him. I’d better shut up and listen.” (Read that: “I’m insecure.”)
  • “Sure, she’s obnoxious, but she gets damn good results, and goodness knows we need that right now.”  (Read that: “Why not? Everyone else does.”)
  • “Sure she’s ticking off all her peers, but… maybe she’ll raise the bar.” (Read that: “Crap, maybe this confident humility stuff is all bunk, time to unsubscribe from LGL.”)

How to Address Arrogance:  What To Do Behind Door #2

If you want to change the game, you’ve got to deal with door number 2.

1. Show Concern

Start with. “You’re smart, creative, and highly productive.  But I’m deeply concerned that the way you’re showing up is going to derail your career. Would you be open to some exploration around this issue?”

2. Show Her the Data

If you’re the boss, your opinion will matter a bit, but not if they see you as a temporary stepping stone to tolerate. Do a 360 degree assessment. Have him do it himself, or there are some inexpensive ways to administer a more confidential customized survey (not formally endorsing, but stumbled upon and thought it was cool.)

She’s going to need to hear about specific incidences. I’ll never forget the time my boss said to me. “Your peer had a great idea in the last meeting. How hard would it have been to take out a pen and write that down?”  Yikes.  Amen.

3. Offer Help

When you’re passionate and great at what you do, it’s tricky to see how annoying you are. Ask for permission to point it out the next time. Invent a secret signal if needed.

4. Set A Goal

Get her focused on promoting an idea or person beyond herself. Teach her techniques to get folks to truly listen, even when they don’t want to hear. If she’s really high-potential, she’ll read between the lines and get the sub-text.

strategic thinking: how to help your managers see the bigger picture

How to Help Managers Become More Strategic

Are you looking to help your team be more strategic? Are you frustrated because they just don’t get it? You’re not alone. The good news, is it’s a skill that can be taught and nurtured. Chances are most folks have a larger capacity for strategic thinking than their managers give them credit for.

John’s Story

John’s frustration had turned to exacerbation.  He’d done everything he could to position himself for the next promotion. His results were amazing. He’d taken on several cross-functional projects and nailed those, too. He was delegating more and growing the competence of his team. He’d become far more open to feedback and had truly become a team player, even navigating the tricky inter-departmental dynamics. This time, the “I’m sorry, we’ve given the position to someone else” call ended with “We’re concerned about your ability to be strategic.” When he probed deeper for specifics, he didn’t get much of an answer.

John’s not alone. I’ve seen some great talent hit a wall with this “competency deficit.”

There’s no doubt that strategic thinking is vital. There’s strong evidence to support that strategic thinking is one of the most important executive competencies.  In a recent HBR article,  Robert Kabacoff shares his research of 60,000 managers in 40 countries.

We found that a strategic approach to leadership was, on average, 10 times more important to the perception of effectiveness than other behaviors studied. It was twice as important as communication (the second most important behavior) and almost 50 times more important than hands-on tactical behaviors. (This doesn’t mean that tactical behaviors aren’t important, but they don’t differentiate the highly effective leaders from everyone else.)

But it’s a mistake to view strategic thinking like handedness–you’re either born a lefty or a righty, and it’s really tough to change. Managers can learn to be more strategic through understanding, exposure and challenge. Resist the urge to label and box your talent and move on. Instead invest in your highly talented managers and teach them the art of strategy. It’s a win-win. The more people you have thinking strategically, even at the frontlines, the more innovative and dynamic your company will be.

How Help a Manager Become More Strategic

1. Define It

Help them visualize what you’re talking about. An easy to articulate definition comes from the Lominger Institute:

Can think and talk strategy with the best; intrigued and challenged by the complexity of the future; likes to run multiple “what if” scenarios; very broad perspective; counsels others on strategic issues; can juggle a lot of mental balls; isn’t afraid to engage in wild speculations about the future; can bring several unrelated streams of information together to form a compelling vision; good at meaning making; produces distinctive and winning strategies.

And then customize the definition for your industry.

For example, being able to think strategically in the high-tech industry involves a nuanced understanding of strategy topics such as network effects, platforms, and standards. In the utilities sector, it involves mastery of the economic implications of (and room for strategic maneuvers afforded by) the regulatory regime. In mining, leaders must understand the strategic implications of cost curves, game theory, and real-options valuation; further, they must know and be sensitive to the stakeholders in their regulatory and societal environment, many of whom can directly influence their opportunities to create value. Becoming More Strategic:  3 Tips for Any Executives

2. Provide Opportunities For Broad Exposure

It’s frustrating when I hear executives complaining about the lack of strategic thinkers in their organization, and yet they hold all the long-term vision close to the vest. Strategic thinking requires context. Do whatever you can to explain not only the vision and the direction but why those decisions are being made. A side effect that goes beyond more future leaders: stronger engagement and better decision-making down the line.

One of my favorite developmental activities is “bring a friend staff meetings,” where my direct reports could bring one high-potential manager to the table to experience the thought process. If your meetings are strategic, this is a real eye-opener. Oh yeah, and be sure to give the “friends” a few strategic action items for follow-up.

3. Move Them Around

Move your people around, particularly from line to staff and back.  Sure, many high-potential folks hate lateral moves. It feels slow. Share the wisdom of going slow to go fast. Nothing beats building strategic mindset more than looking at the problem from multiple perspectives. Don’t limit it to the hi-po crowd, you may be amazed at what blossoms in a different role.

4. Think Out Loud

It’s easy, and perhaps even tempting, to take all the input, make the decision, look wise, and move on. That doesn’t build strategic thinkers. Slow down enough to explain your thought process as you make decisions. Use each major decision to catalyze strategic confidence and competence.

You can help your managers to be more strategic. We can help. Click here to learn more about our leadership training programs.

Who's Influencing Your Leadership?

Pleased to welcome this guest post from Bruce Harpham.

In the world of music, composers and performers are influenced by each other every day. I was recently reminded of this tendency when I enjoyed a performance by pianist Richard Rubin. He showed how Andrew Lloyd Weber, the Broadway composer behind The Phantom of the Opera and other works, liberally borrowed from musical works. In some cases, it is clear who influenced Weber’s work.

Scientists are also heavily influenced by their peers. Ground-breaking scientist Isaac Newton observed, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” That is a powerful idea for all leaders to consider. However independent minded you are, others influence your leadership approach.

Choose your leadership influences carefully.

The Rule of Five: Understanding Your Influences

If you take pride in your independence, this section may be hard. As a leader, you are constantly influenced by those you lead, fellow executives and others. Influences are inescapable.

In our complex world, it is challenging to imagine all the influences that impact you. The country you live in, your education, your age, and your leisure pursuits are some of the influences that leave lasting traces.

The most important influence on your leadership is the people all around you. Answering the question “Which five people do I spend the most time with?” is the easiest way to understand your influences. Don’t worry if you don’t like the answer! That discontent gives you the fuel to make a change.

Tip: Start small by changing your focus. Use the final section of this article to find one new person to provide positive leadership influence.

Growth Is Not Automatic: Harness Helpful Influences To Grow

John C. Maxwell’s excellent book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth emphasizes the importance of growth. Maxwell points out that growth happens naturally in childhood. In adulthood, growth is not automatic (except around the waistline!)

You may grow occasionally when a new obstacle comes your way. Accidental growth is not reliable. Would you buy a car that only worked “on occasion?” Not if you valued your time. In order to grow your skills to reach new goals, you must grow intentionally.

With the right influences, greater growth will come fast and furious. Mentors, coaches, sponsors and others can bring new perspectives, questions and resources.

With the wrong influences, your leadership will never grow. Even worse, the constant doubts and negativity will undermine whatever leadership qualities you have.

Accessing New Influences

By this point, you’re convinced about the importance of influence. Even more, you understand that the right influence can push you toward your goals. Read on for ideas to cultivate positive influences.

Books (Hint: Go Beyond The Business Section!)

For years, I have accessed new influences, ideas and opportunities through books. I often find myself browsing through the business section at my bookstore. For growing leaders, that is only the beginning. I also strongly encourage you to read widely – consider Ryan Holiday’s recommendations for Moral Biographies for example.

Here are two book suggestions to bring new influences into your leadership thinking.

  • Tribes by Seth Godin

Godin is best known for his expertise in marketing and the Internet. Tribes is Godin’s contribution to leadership. He points out that today’s tool makes it easier to build a tribe of followers behind your ideas. The only barrier is you. Do you have the skills and commitment to lead?

  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.

Known to many for his studies in electricity, Franklin has much to teach us. Franklin regularly changed his occupation: from entrepreneur publisher, to diplomat and American statesman. For those interested in personal development, I also encourage you to read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography – Franklin’s desire to better himself through self-education, study and moral discipline is well worth studying.

Consulting and Coaching

Once upon a time, accessing consulting was out of reach for most people. That is starting to change. Today, you can hire coaches and consultants for reasonable rates. For less than $500 using a website like Clarity FM, you can obtain helpful, customized recommendations to help you reach your goals.
For the best results, prepare and send out a written agenda for your first meeting. Bring several written questions that you can reference. Now is not the time for an unfocused conversation. For the best results, I recommend bringing a paper notebook (I prefer Moleskine notebooks for their durability and easy-to-handle size) and pen rather than an electronic device.

Follow these seven steps to get the most out of your time working with a coach. I recommend having at least two coaching sessions, with an interval of one to four weeks in between.

  1. Decide on a single goal to pursue, preferably with a clear measure (e.g. “to sell 1,000 copies of my book” or “to land my first executive management role in the financial industry”).
  2. Study your coach’s materials before you contact them. (e.g. visit the person’s website and read multiple articles. If they strike you as promising, I suggest buying and reading one of their books next). Take notes as you study their material. If they cannot clearly communicate their abilities, I suggest you move on.  Tip: Search for coaches and consultants on Google by searching for “keyword coach” or “keyword consultant” (e.g. “project management consultant” or “productivity coach”)
  3. Based on steps 1 and 2, decide whether this coach can help you in your current quest. If yes, continue to the next step. Otherwise, return to step two to review another person.
  4. Prepare for your first meeting with the coach. Complete any forms or questionnaires. Make a list of your goals and questions in writing.
  5. Attend the first meeting with your coach. State your goals clearly and ask for specific homework – vague suggestions such as “work harder” need to be refined and made specific (e.g. improve your ability to give feedback to staff).
  6. Work on your homework from the first session. Make notes on what you achieve and what you want to discuss next time.
  7. Attend the second meeting with your coach. Review your first meeting, homework completed and discuss your next challenge.

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