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.

Learm more about Bruce here.

7 Ways to Build Trust When Your New Team is Skeptical

You’ve got a long track record of leading well. You just wish your new team would talk to your last team. That would save a heck of a lot of precious time. If they would just trust you, you could get on to making your usual magic. But it’s never as simple as that. If you’re good, at this stage of the game you may feel you deserve a better reception from your new team. You may, but they’re still skeptical. The last guy was a jerk and the scars are still oozing.

7 Ways to Build Trust with a Skeptical Team

1.  Don’t Trash the Last Guy

The more you listen, the worse the stories will sound. It’s tempting to react and trash the guy before. It may feel cathartic, and it may even feel like you’re part of the solution. Don’t go there. Build your credibility on your own merits. No good ever comes from tearing other people down. Besides, you never know the whole story. Tell the stories at dinner to your spouse and (if they’re not too dirty) to your kids. Then let it go.

2.  Listen, and then Listen Some More

Hear the frustration and understand the root cause. Get to know the team as human beings. But be careful. Watch your facial expressions. See #1.  Seek to understand, but resist the urge to judge.

3.  Break it Down

The best way to get to know a new team is one person at a time. Invest deeply one-on-one. Learn about what they need, want, and yearn most to give. Here’s a tool that can help.

4. Share Stories

The team is yearning for signs that you are credible and competent. Share a bit about your leadership track record of results–framing it in the context of stories of what your previous teams were able to achieve (not what YOU achieved).

5. Find some Early Wins

Pick some important low-hanging fruit, and help the team achieve an early win. Nothing builds credibility faster than success.

6. Let them in

Tell the truth. Be a bit vulnerable. Let them know who you are and what scares you. Show up human.  This post can help.

7. Prove They Matter

Show them you’ve got their backs. Take a bullet or two. Give them the credit. The team needs to know you care about them and their careers at least as much as you care about your own. First impressions matter, for you and for them. Don’t judge their early skeptical behavior, or assume they’re disengaged or don’t care. If they sense your frustration, that will only increase their defensive stance. Investing deeply at the beginning will create the strong foundation you need for long-term, breakthrough results.

6 Simple Ways to Answer Tough Questions

Joe’s a bright guy and his idea was solid. His data seemed right intuitively, but we had a few questions.

My peer started with a softball. Joe responded with a stutter, swing, and a miss. He made the cardinal sin of answering tough questions– he made stuff up.

He wasn’t exactly sure of the answer, and he took a chance that we were dumber than he was on the topic. Never underestimate your audience. Nothing fires up execs more than a big load of crap.

No more softballs, now the tough fast balls were flying. I sensed he knew the answers, but was flustered and taken off guard. He couldn’t make the right data synch with the first baloney. I ended the meeting early out of a mixed sentiment of disappointment, anger, and pity. It took a while to recover.  In fact for Joe, that story’s not over.

If you’re taking risks and proposing game-changing ideas, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you change the world enough to attract the media, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you’re leading through turbulent times, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

If you’re doing work that matters, you’re going to get asked tough questions.

How will you respond?

6 Simple Ways to Answer Tough Questions

    1. Tell The Truth.  Never, ever make stuff up. Forget the spin. If you don’t know, say so, and offer to get right back to them.  If you can’t disclose everything say so, or explain that part of the strategy is still evolving.
    2. Anticipate and Prepare. The very best way to answer tough questions is to make them less tough. Anticipate the questions you will be asked and put them into categories. Do your homework and get as smart as you can on the topics you will most likely be asked. Dry run your presentation with a few friendlies and ask for their toughest questions. Pre-empt a few of these tough questions by saying, “Now, if I were you I would be wondering…” Instant credibility win.
    3. Pause. The silence that feels awkward to you goes more quickly for them. Your audience will just sense that you’re listening well. Better to have a moment of pause with a good answer, than a quick moment of stupidity.
    4. Repeat the Question. Sometimes the questions are tough because they’re long, convoluted or unclear. Try to summarize the question back in the simplest terms. It will show you are listening, you’ve got them, and give you a moment to prepare.
    5. Don’t Repeat Yourself. Sometimes tough questioners are setting a trap. Just say, “I believe I answered that before” with a quick summary response.
    6. Keep Your Cool. Some tough questions are really needling questions to get you riled up. Take the high road and keep your cool. Your best answer will never be given from the Amygdala brain. Breathe.

Telling the truth and answering the tough questions will go a long way in building your reputation as a confident, humble and trusted leader.

Web Bonus Post

I had some fun this week answering one of my most frequently asked questions:  How do I convince my boss I’m ready for a promotion? as part of a guest post carnival sponsored by WebHosting Buzz

7 Steps to Convince Your Boss To Promote You

How To Lead With Guts (and Have Their Backs)

More than anything, your team wants to know you have their backs. They want to know they matter–to you–not just to the company. They want to believe you’d walk through fire for them and to take the proverbial bullet coming from above.  Of course you would, but do they know it?

A Short Story on Having Guts and Backs

We all cringed when this particular leader, let’s call him “Simon,” would walk into the store and start interacting with customers. After all, we had strict guidelines about what we could and could not do. Retail is always a balancing act of providing great customer service and not giving away the store.

He’d get to chatting with a customer and right in front the employees who were on performance plans for too much discounting, would do something over the top to delight a customer. On the surface, a noble gesture. It sends a true message that customers come first, a deeply seeded value for all.

But the truth is that guy’s story was the same as ten others who just walked through the door that day, and consistency is key. If we should do THAT each time, the training and metrics must change. Everyone wished they had the same latitude to help that customer. We coached the leader on the downstream impact, but didn’t notice a change. It became harder to talk about balanced scorecards.

5 Ways Your Team Knows You Have Their Backs

1. Live By the Same Standards

Your team wants to know you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of them. They want consistent parameters to guide their decisions, and to know that you will have their back when they follow them. Follow the same rules you ask of them. If you make exceptions, allow such exceptions to become the norm.

2. Take Some Bullets

Joe screwed up. But Joe’s a good guy. And quite frankly, you should have been paying closer attention. It’s easy to blame Joe. Take the hit. Joe and everyone else will respect you.

3. Put Your Team Ahead of Your Boss Every Now and Then

Your bosses’ calls always appear urgent. Sometimes they are, sometimes it can wait. If you’re in the middle of a meeting with your team, or an important one-on-one, tell your boss what you’re up to and ask if it’s urgent or can wait a few minutes. Deep respect all around will likely follow.

4. Distinguish the Urgent

Face it, stuff rolling down-hill almost always feels like a fire drill. Be the buffer. Know what really matters and nail it. Be the best at what matters most, and you win some cushion to be a bit slower on the noise. In the meantime, your team gets that you get it, and will work even harder on what matters most.

5. Fight Misperceptions

Nothing makes me sadder than watching managers who believe in a cause or a guy completely reverse their point of view when someone above has a different opinion. The truth is, those perceptions are often based on one or two limited encounters. If you believe in something or someone and the jury’s still out, look for ways to reverse the findings. Don’t go along and destroy the vision or someone’s career to protect your own. Teams will follow a leader who has their backs. Every time. Be THAT guy and your career will follow.

How Not to Screw Up When You've Been Screwed Over

When I heard his story, I wanted to scream with him and for him. But screaming at water under the bridge just brings more rapids. I paused for what was an uncomfortably long time. Then, I whispered, “I know this hurts. But you have to stop. Kick and scream and get it all out, and then take a deep breath and take off on the high road.”

It’s true that John didn’t deserve this. Passionately devoted to the company mission, he’d invested years of hard work and extra hours. His team teased that he bled the company colors. There’s no other way to say this. He’d been screwed. The details don’t matter. You can fill them in with your own history or imagination.  What matters now is what he does next.

5 Ways to Respond When You’ve Been Screwed Over

The truth is everyone is watching your reaction. Chances are most folks know that what just happened wasn’t fair.  Handling this disappointment elegantly will foster deep respect.

1. Stop Talking

Not to everybody–but chose your words and your audiences carefully. Your angry words will travel faster and farther than you ever thought possible.

2. Don’t Be a Blamer

Accusations make terrible leadership apparel.

3. Don’t Give Up

If you fold your tent, the bad guys really win. Stay committed to the cause and to your career.

4.  Channel Your Energy to Create Something Extraordinary

You’re fired up. Use that powerful emotional energy to fuel your creativity and your next stand-out move.

5. Let Your Anger Inform Your Leadership

When the time is right, step back and assess what really happened here. Make a vow to yourself to never screw over anyone in the way you’ve been screwed.

This is more than lemons and lemonade. Your team is watching. Your brand is at stake. Respond as the leader you are.

How Not to Screw Up When You’ve Been Screwed Over

When I heard his story, I wanted to scream with him and for him. But screaming at water under the bridge just brings more rapids. I paused for what was an uncomfortably long time. Then, I whispered, “I know this hurts. But you have to stop. Kick and scream and get it all out, and then take a deep breath and take off on the high road.”

It’s true that John didn’t deserve this. Passionately devoted to the company mission, he’d invested years of hard work and extra hours. His team teased that he bled the company colors. There’s no other way to say this. He’d been screwed. The details don’t matter. You can fill them in with your own history or imagination.  What matters now is what he does next.

5 Ways to Respond When You’ve Been Screwed Over

The truth is everyone is watching your reaction. Chances are most folks know that what just happened wasn’t fair.  Handling this disappointment elegantly will foster deep respect.

1. Stop Talking

Not to everybody–but chose your words and your audiences carefully. Your angry words will travel faster and farther than you ever thought possible.

2. Don’t Be a Blamer

Accusations make terrible leadership apparel.

3. Don’t Give Up

If you fold your tent, the bad guys really win. Stay committed to the cause and to your career.

4.  Channel Your Energy to Create Something Extraordinary

You’re fired up. Use that powerful emotional energy to fuel your creativity and your next stand-out move.

5. Let Your Anger Inform Your Leadership

When the time is right, step back and assess what really happened here. Make a vow to yourself to never screw over anyone in the way you’ve been screwed.

This is more than lemons and lemonade. Your team is watching. Your brand is at stake. Respond as the leader you are.

Great 360 Degree Feedback Tools

A 360 Feedback Tool You Can Do Yourself

Chances are, unless you ask, most people won’t tell. People are holding back their best thinking on how you can improve.

In fact, research consistently shows that people rate themselves higher than others do. When it comes to self-assessment, our confidence seems to out-weigh our humility.

This is partly because we know our own context, and therefore give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.

“Sure, I slacked off a bit on that project, but, I’m only human for Pete’s sake. It’s back to school time, my husband’s out-of-town, it’s just a lot.”

We know we are human and that we’re doing the best we can, so we give ourselves some extra credit. We don’t expect others to know or care, but we know in our hearts we deserve a break.

I’ve witnessed this first hand with my MBA students. When I asked them to self-assess where they feel they ranked in terms of class participation, 100% rated themselves in the top 30%. That’s some crazy math– particularly for accountants.

When I asked the students to rate themselves and their teammates on their contribution to their team project, a similar pattern emerged. The students whom the teams identified as someone “they would not want to work with again,” didn’t view themselves that way at all. Instead they rated everyone on the team as having contributed equally. The most fascinating part was that although the team’s evaluations of their peers were often quite harsh, they were quite deliberate in ensuring their team didn’t hear the feedback from them. The harshest criticism came in sealed envelopes.

Of course in these circumstances, I asked the obvious question. “Did you tell her how you feel about her contribution?”  Number one answer. “No. She didn’t ask.” And so the cycle continues into the next semester, and will likely follow them into the workplace.

These students are not unique. Don’t ask, don’t tell is alive and well when it comes to peer feedback.

If you want to know how you’re really doing, you need to ask.

Don’t Wait

Sure formal 360 tools are a GREAT way to get structured, anonymous feedback. I’ve learned a great deal from them over the years, and helped leaders at all levels do the same. But the truth is, what makes these tools valuable is always the conversation that follows. If a formal 360 is not available or not practical in your organization, you can achieve similar results through your own listening tour.

Rachel’s Story

“Rachel” came to me frustrated by the feedback she’d been getting from her boss. She felt completely misunderstood. When I asked her what others in the organization thought, she admitted she hadn’t asked.

We identified 3 simple questions she would ask her boss, her peers, and her direct reports.  She went off an a 2 week listening tour. When we met again to discuss the themes, she had learned a great deal. Most importantly she had made the strategic shift from, “my boss is a jerk,” to maybe there are some things I could be doing differently. She made the changes, and life got better– for everyone.

The Listening Tour Approach

1. Get Your Head Right

Don’t do this unless you’re ready to listen with an open-mind

Absolutely don’t do this to prove someone wrong– people will smell that coming from a mile away

2. Identify Areas of Interest

  • Focus on a few key areas
  • Keep it short, simple, and exploratory

3. Craft a Few Open-Ended Questions

  • What could I do to be more effective in our meetings?
  • How could I have a more strategic impact on our results?
  • What about my communication style gets in the way?
  • What do you think are my biggest strengths?
  • If you could identify one area for me to work on this year, what would that be?

4. Identify People to Ask for Feedback 

  • Include people up down and sideways.
  • Don’t stack the deck with all friendlies or known detractors– work to get a balanced perspective.
  • Approach them one on one, and explain why you’re doing this
  • Explain that you’re really looking for candid feedback and that you’ll be happy to circle back with themes and key actions.
  • Thank them

5. Identify themes and key actions

  • Look for cross-cutting feedback
  • A coach or mentor can be very helpful in this regard
  • Circle back with stakeholders

Or Start with a “Survey”

I’m a big proponent to the listening tour approach. Nothing beats eye-ball to eye-ball conversation. But if you think you won’t get the truth, or you truly feel uncomfortable, you can start by using a free survey tool like Survey Monkey to quickly distribute the survey and ask for themes. I would go with a few open-ended questions rather than ratings. Ratings without comments will just leave you scratching your head at best, or ticking you off at worst.

Process matters less than substance. Ask and you shall receive. If you want feedback, start with a simple question. How can I add more value?

Confident Humility: The Conversation Continues

Today I bring you a guest post from LGL Tribe member, David Tumbarello. I often find his comments could be a post in themselves. His views on confident humility are so rich, I invited him to share more deeply. Thanks to LGL Tribe member, Joy Guthrie for the art.

Confident Humility: The Conversation Continues

My hope in writing this guest blog today is to respond to Karin Hurt’s post about Humility and Leadership.

I sat in the library yesterday, coaching a small herd of children in the art of writing well.  After a shared warm-up activity and a rush of excitement, they returned to their seats with clipboards, paper, pencils, and electric conversation in the air.  During the warm-up, we created a brainstorming tree that was taped to the ground, a play on the “choose your own story adventure” stories that are popular with kids.  I sat on the table and took out my camera phone and snapped a picture of one of the girls on the ground.  She was hard at work and I wanted to capture the moment, with the student, the notes, and the brain-work going on.

I thought about this picture earlier today.  If I share the photo, I thought, would I be boasting about what I can accomplish as a writing coach?  Or is it impossible for me to share the event and not say “Look at me”?

I work on projects during the day.  My digital signature says “Project Manager”.  I think about the work I do and what is required to get ahead.  While I aspire to achieve more in my career, I also aspire to be humble.  Is there a humble way I can take a picture of a project and showcase my work?

The answer is that as a humble leader, I need to point more at the project and less at myself.  Being humble as a leader is similar to the fundamental tenant of project management – put emphasis on the process and the team.  Most of the time, if a product fails to meet specifications, it is not the fault of an individual but of the process.  Similarly, if I want to show off accomplishments to my supervisor, during a review for example, I can say, “Look at the project before & look at the project after.  Here’s how I contributed.”  Hold up the process and the team.

A humble leader can also be assertive in the job interview.  The interview advice books say we should support our stories with statistics. In Thomas Taylor’s recent post on 3 Things You Must Say At Every Job Interview, he reminds his readers to use numbers – but not too many! – to emphasize accomplishments. In the interview, you might say, “I helped increase revenue by 14% and quality by 24%”.  While the numbers may be true, how can you assert yourself with humility?

This is the humility dilemma: if we don’t showcase our accomplishments, someone else will showcase theirs.  They will get the job.  They will get ahead.

To respond to this dilemma, I offer a few keys to humility.

4 Keys to Humility

1.  You are enough. I think that humility is one of the fundamental leadership qualities.  It is a presence.  It is knowing that you are enough.  You are wise enough, smart enough, loved enough, strong enough, quick enough, energetic enough.  You are all these things without outside validation

2.  Be honest. Do not simply practice being honest, be honest in all you do, with everyone you meet, and with yourself. I’ll say it again – be honest. Are you ready for a challenge?  Be honest and be consistent with who you are.  Yes, it might be a challenge to run a 3:10 marathon.  Maybe you can’t do it.  So be honest.  But if you can come within a few minutes and you want to break that barrier, use constructive words, “It will be a challenge, but I can.”  That’s an honest affirmation.

3. Emphasize the process and the team. Instead of “I accomplished” say “We accomplished.”  If you are looking for new work, I expect you to write a convincing resume and to interview with confidence.  I expect you to show you are better than the competition.  Assert yourself by saying, “I led.  I delegated.  I mentored.  I helped reduce waste.  My program increased customer satisfaction.”  Showcase your accomplishments, but continually hold up the process and the team.

4.  Finally, give.  This is the fundamental message of most major religions.  Give.  I don’t like the cliché “Giving is its own reward.”  Remove the cliche & you’re left with “Give.”  Why should you give?  It is about character.  Your career and your life, they are not about you – they are about what you contribute.  Do you see the difference?  Life is not about lifting myself up.  Life is about lifting up others.  Smile.  Open doors.  Share eye contact.  Leave loose change.  When you give, you extend a web of humility.

When we do these things, we are practicing humility.  As I finish writing this, I wonder, “Am I the right person to be writing a guest post on humility?”  If you ask yourself similar questions while excelling in your career, you are practicing humility and probably doing something very, very right.

Confidence Competence Model

7 Ways to Build Confidence in Your Employees

You see her talent and potential. She’s not convinced. She has great ideas, but seldom shares. She could be contributing so much more, you know it. But for reasons you don’t understand, she’s not ready. It’s crushing you to see her shying away from possibilities. But building confidence is complicated. You’re not a psychologist and this stuff can get messy.

Yes, building confidence takes time and energy. Trust me, it’s worth it. Turning around confidence will rank high on your personal lifetime leadership achievement awards. No one will call it out, but you’ll know, and so will they. You may find out years later. Building confidence creates long-term impact for the employee, for the team, and for your company.

Game on.

7 Ways to Build Confidence in Your Employee

1. Treat her with deep respect.

She can’t feel like a project. No Henry Higgins stuff here.  Have her at “hello” by treating her as the rock star you know she is capable of becoming.

2. Be specific about what’s right

“You’ve got potential” will fall on deaf ears to someone who doesn’t buy it. Be as clear as possible with examples when giving praise. “When you said X, did you see the conversation change? You are making a difference.”

3. Have her teach what she knows best

Find her gifts and have her share. Start one-on-one, then evolve to bigger gigs. Nothing instills confidence more than teaching.

4. Help her prepare

Nothing builds confidence more than being the “smartest” guy in the room. 9 times out of 10, the “smartest” guy in the room, is really the most prepared. Help her do her homework and role play the scenarios she’s most likely to face. The next time, it will be easier.

5. Celebrate incremental improvements

I’m a HUGE believer in Confidence Bursts. Try this and let me know how it goes.

6. Scaffold her achievements

Give her more than she thinks she can do, but don’t leave her hanging. Scaffold her well with mentors and advice, which will help her win, without interference.

7. Encourage through mistakes

If she lacks confidence, even the smallest mistake will affirm her feelings of inadequacy. Help her learn from mistakes, but also reassure her that mistakes are all part of learning. Try your best to not freak out.

Confidence leads to creativity, productivity, excellence, and engagement. Invest deeply. It matters.

See Also: 5 Ways To Build Service Rep Confidence

10 Questions Your Team Is Afraid to Ask

Your team has questions they’re afraid to ask. They’ve got limited information, but they figure if you wanted to tell them you would. They worry that raising the issue will look like insubordination, or somehow make them look less in your eyes. Maybe you can share, maybe you can’t. But that doesn’t make the questions go away. There is value in anticipating the questions that may be on people’s minds and to start the conversation. I’ve been asking around for input into one simple question “What question would you most like to ask your leadership (but are afraid to).”I’ve also been asking a similar question of the leaderhip consultants and coaches I hang around, “What questions do you think employees are most afraid to ask their leaders?” Here are the top 10. Please add yours.

10 Questions Your Teams Afraid to Ask

  1. Why are we doing it this way?
  2. How’s our company really doing?
  3. Why didn’t you ask us?
  4. Why is _____________ not dealt with?
  5. If I speak up, will it hurt my brand?
  6. Do you think I’m ready for a promotion?
  7. Why is there so much turnover ?
  8. How can we get past this feeling of constant crises?
  9. Is this really as urgent as you’re making it out to be?
  10.  ________________________ (what’s your #10?)

Conversation Starters

If you want your team to ask more of their scary questions, here are a few ways you can start the conversation.

  • If I were you, I might be wondering…
  • The last time something like this happened I had a lot of questions such as __________
  • I just read this blog post about questions your team’s afraid to ask, and it made me wonder, what questions do you have that I might be able to answer 😉

Ignoring the tough questions, doesn’t make them go away. In fact, your team is likely asking the questions, to themselves and to one another. Tackling the tough conversations head on will go a long way in building trust and respect on your team.

How To Build a Leadership Credo

Too many leaders run through their days without taking time to consider how and why they lead as they do. Days become months and months become years. Pressures, grooming, and politics all create counter-pressures to authenticity. Articulating what you value, helps you to stay true to what you believe. Every year, I take time out to work on my leadership credo. For the first time this week, I formalized the process and shared it with a group of leaders representing over 10 countries and a cross-section of industries.Today, I share the easy-to-implement process along with video highlights (click here to see).

How to Build a Leadership Credo

1. Set up

This exercise pairs well with a discussion on leadership authenticity.

2. Creation

Encourage participants to use a combination of words, pictures, and any other creative sparks to articulate their credo (can be done as a “homework” assignment).  Encourage participants to be as creative as they possible and to limit their work to one page (the definition of a page may vary based on the medium). Each credo should include the following components:

  • Core leadership values (e.g. integrity, transparency)
  • Operating principles (e.g. develop strong peer relationships)
  • Desired outcomes (“As a result of my leadership this year_______”)

3. Gallery Walk

Provide each participant with 6 dot stickers for “voting” (3 yellow and 3 blue). Have each team member walk around the room and share their credos with one another. Give them enough time and space to really listen to one another’s point of view and to identify similarities and differences. When they are struck by the message or creativity of a particular credo, they can recognize their colleague with a yellow dot for depth of thinking or a blue dot for creativity. You can reward the most dots in several creative ways.

4. Discussion

Debrief the themes and process with the group. For highlights of the themes and for examples of the creative credos watch the video summary. Let’s have some Monday fun. Share the most important aspects of your leadership credo.

 

6 Reasons Your Team Yearns For Authenticity

If you bring all of who you are to the leadership table, some people will hate your style. In fact, it’s likely that a few “important” people will not “like” you. Authenticity is intimidating, and scares those with the most to hide. Far easier to lead like everyone else and be groomed to fit a mold.

Similarly, letting people see who you are and hear what you really mean makes you vulnerable. Rejection of your idea stings. Rejection of some company line you’ve practiced and perfected feels much less personal.

But easy leadership doesn’t change the game.

If you won’t bring every ounce of who you are and what you have to give to your leadership, your team will know. And, they’ll follow your lead.

Your team will hold back who they are and what they have most to give. The cycle continues.

Your team needs you to be you. They yearn to experience the rare game-changing results that happen in a genuine environment of candor, deep respect, and trust.

The world’s future depends on growing more leaders with the confidence to audaciously bring all their gifts and ideas to the table.

6 Reasons Your Team Yearns for Authenticity

1. They’ve been screwed before

Oh, they have stories. Trust me. I hear them. Assume somewhere along the line they’ve felt betrayed. Even if it’s not at your company or even under your watch, once upon a time a leader has lied to them. Guards are up. They need a good guy to restore their trust in leadership. They need reassurance in action, not words.They’re not going to tell you the truth until they’re perfectly sure you’ve been doing the same… over and over.

Your team also desperately wants to know that the good guys can (and do) win. There’s no better gift you can give your team than leading from who you are toward head turning results.

2. You’re wasting YOUR energy

Keeping up appearances is an energy-sucking, never-ending vacuum of misery. Trying to lead like someone else, or spin the truth, will wear you down and make you cranky. When leaders spend time working to show up differently than who they are, to win the game and keep up a facade, they waste precious energy that could be invested in creating breakthrough vision, developing people, and working on the work.

3. You’re  wasting THEIR energy

If your team senses you’re playing a game, they’ll spend a lot of time working to figure out the rules. In fact, if you’ve got surface success, they’ll be taking notes to learn to play it too. All that contagious facade building pulls hearts and mind from the important mission at hand.

4.  You’re their lifeline

Particularly in a big organization, the immediate leader makes all the difference. You can’t outsource leadership, not even to your boss, or to HR. They want to hear the story from you, and they want to know you’re not reading talk-points crafted from someone else. If they can’t trust you to be genuine where will they turn? That answer may be really dangerous.

5. They want to be like you- maybe

Some folks on your team have serious aspirations to move up in the scene. But they don’t want to lose their souls in the process. They’re watching you to see how you handle the pressure. Do you stay true to who you are, or are you being groomed to be “just like THEM.”

6. They have important news to share

They’ve got ideas and solutions, but your team wants to ensure they’ll have a receptive audience. If you’re afraid to share with them, they’ll be reluctant to share with you.