How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

Criticism: Gift or Garbage?

“David, I hear what you’re saying about getting the feedback you need to make good decisions. I get it – I really do. But my problem isn’t getting enough feedback. I get too much. Everybody has an opinion and sometimes the criticism is overwhelming.”

I’d just finished delivering a keynote for a group of senior leaders and their managers. Elise had waited until her team headed downstairs to happy hour and appetizers, then came up to ask me a question.

She continued: “If I ignore it, they think I don’t care, but I can’t possibly make everyone happy and I know that’s not my job. I feel stuck.”

Too often, leaders take criticism or negative feedback and either ignore it (at the cost of their credibility) or overreact to it and paralyze themselves.

Critical feedback can be a gift, but it’s how you use that gift that makes the difference.

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Criticism

1) Be aware of your emotions.

Critical feedback is never pleasant, but it doesn’t have to ruin your day. You’re responsible for your emotions. Manage your emotions, get perspective, and then consider the value (or lack of it) in what you heard. Remember that if you’re moving things forward and making a difference, you will tick people off, and they may be critical of you for all the right reasons.

2) Look for patterns.

If one person says it, file it. If two people say it, pay attention. If three or more people have the same feedback, it’s time to take it seriously. The pattern doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong – it could be that or could be that there’s some additional information they need, or that you need to clarify who owns a decision, or clarify the MIT.

3) Ask why.

Some feedback is given only for the benefit of the critic. They enjoy feeling superior to others by cutting them down. If you suspect you’re receiving this kind of criticism, ask them why they’re sharing. When they respond defensively, it’s usually a sign their feedback was more about them than it was for genuinely helping you.

4) Look for causes.

People often complain about symptoms. They may not recognize or even be aware of the underlying causes. Look beneath the criticism for a valid cause – something that would be worth paying attention to.

5) Be curious.

Listen with the intent of hearing and allowing truth to influence you. Even if the person’s feedback doesn’t apply in the way they intended, the fact that you listened and valued what they had to say builds your credibility and influence.

6) Test it.

If you suspect there is a valuable perspective in what you’ve heard, check in with your truth-tellers, mentors, and coach. Let them know what you’ve heard and that you’d like their honest perspective.

7) Show gratitude.

If someone shares a difficult truth with you, thank them. They’ve done you a favor. Caring truth-tellers are rare. Cherish them.

8) Ignore it.

Imagine what a mess it would be if authors, movie directors, and restaurant managers tried to react to every critical review they receive. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone (and some people don’t want to be satisfied – they just criticize to be noticed.)

9) Respond where you can.

When it makes sense, it’s consistent with your values, and in line with your mission, be clear about how you are responding to the feedback you receive. And if something prevents you from responding, be clear about that too.

10) Move on.

You’re not perfect. You’re not going to be. Learn and apply what you can, then move on.

When it comes to dealing with criticism, one of my favorite quotes comes from Abraham Lincoln:

“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Your Turn:

Leave us a comment and share: How do you get the most out of criticism without letting it paralyze you? 


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

leadership tips managing emotions

Frustrated or Focused – Leadership Tips for Managing Emotions

“David, I know I shouldn’t take this personally, but I’m so frustrated and I just want to yell at my team and walk away. I need help managing emotions or I’m going to have a meltdown.”

Amanda is a team leader for an international clothing producer. She loves her work, finds it inspiring, and she cares deeply about her people and the quality work they do. Like many leaders, however, her passion has turned to frustration as she struggles with managing emotions.

Leadership is challenging. Things never go exactly according to plan, disappointments creep up where you don’t expect them, and people can be erratic. Leading means you’ve got to deal with the human element.

If you’re going to succeed over time and achieve breakthrough results that last, you can’t walk around stressed out and frustrated all the time. You’ll break down or you’ll lash out at your team. Either way, your credibility suffers.

6 Steps for Managing Emotions

Recently one of our workshop participants mentioned a manager who said, “I’m here to manage results, not manage emotions.” Frankly, I think that statement is naïve, dangerous, and self-sabotaging. Managing emotions, starting with your own, is a critical leadership skill. Here are six ways to help you stay grounded and manage your emotions:

1. De-personalize issues.

Like many leaders, Amanda was taking her team’s behavior personally. She was basically saying, “How can they do this to me?” But here’s the thing: another person’s behavior is almost never about you. They are living their life, trying to do the best they can with what they have. They didn’t wake up that morning thinking about the best way to anger you.

In short: You are not the center of anyone else’s universe. (Unless you have a dog – then you’re totally the center of their world.) De-personalize the issue by recognizing that this isn’t about you. You need to lead through it, but it’s not about you.

2. Name your feelings.

This is a powerful way to lessen the grip of powerful emotions. When you realize you’re feeling tense, upset, tight, or can’t breathe, take a moment and try to name the feeling. Eg: I’m feeling scared, I’m feeling frustrated, or I’m feeling sad.

Your emotions are there for a reason. They’re like a warning siren calling for attention. When you ignore them or try to push them away, they turn up the volume. Over time, consistently ignoring them can do serious damage. But when you name it, it’s like you’ve acknowledged the warning call by saying “I see you – thanks for alerting me.” Just naming the feeling helps it to move through you and loosen its grip.

3. Apple catching (choose what you allow in.)

Imagine someone tossed an apple to you. You would not catch the apple with your mouth, immediately chew it up, and swallow it. You would catch the apple, inspect it, and then decide if and when you want to eat it.

Feedback is the same way. Don’t automatically internalize every bit of feedback you receive. If a 4-year-old stomped their foot and said “I don’t like you very much” it probably wouldn’t offend you.

But have a 44-year-old colleague say those same words and many people automatically take offense. They swallow that feedback without first evaluating it and whether or not it has something useful for them.

4. Get perspective.

Imagine holding a penny right in front of your eye. It blocks out your entire vision. Even if there is a huge mountain right in front of you, you won’t be able to see it because that small penny is consuming your vision. Move the penny farther away from you – get it back in proper perspective and it no longer blocks your vision.

Leadership problems and frustrations are often similar. You care, you devote so much of yourself to your work, so of course, the problems seem huge. But without perspective, it’s often impossible to find the healthiest solutions.

What helps you restore your perspective? For me, it is nature, sunsets, stars, forests, rivers, and mountains that remind me that this is a small problem in a very large universe. Time with family and friends restores my value of what matters most in life and gives me the energy and reserves to tackle the challenges I’m facing. Moving your body helps – a short walk, run, or bike ride can do wonders and give your mind time to process and work through what you’re feeling.

5. Give yourself room to feel.

You’re a human being and those emotions that have you in their grip are there for a reason. Anger is a sign that something’s wrong. Sadness is an acknowledgment of loss. Fear is a normal feeling when faced with the unknown. It’s okay to have these feelings. You can’t erase them. Rather than ignore them or fight them, acknowledge them and allow yourself a moment to feel. This doesn’t mean you’ll wallow in them or stay stuck.

When that promotion doesn’t happen or your team lets you down, give yourself time – maybe an hour or even a day or two to feel sad. Then move forward. Let the emotion do the work it needs to.

6. Move to “How can I…?”

After you acknowledge your feelings, it’s time to figure out what comes next. One of the best ways to do this is to ask yourself a “How can I?” question. For example, if you didn’t get a promotion, ask “How can I better position myself for the next opportunity?” When your team lets you down, ask “How can I ensure they are able to do what needs to happen the next time?” Maybe you need to clarify what success looks like or have an overdue INSPIRE conversation.

Moving to a “How can I?” question re-empowers you and produces positive energy. Don’t move to this step without first identifying what you’re feeling or you may ask the wrong “How can I?” question.

Your Turn

When you’re feeling more frustrated than focused, remember that your feelings have a job to do. At the same time, if you don’t develop the skills for managing emotions, they can also cripple your leadership. Effective leaders lead themselves first. They acknowledge their own humanity and lead their team through theirs.

Leave us a comment and share: What is your best strategy for managing emotions at work?

PS: If you’re unable to cope with your emotions over time – whether it’s depression, rage, or anxiety, please seek the help of your doctor or a mental health professional. Your mental health is every bit as real a need as your physical health – take care of yourself.


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

leadership skill no one talks about

The Leadership Skill No One Talks About

The Secret to Transform Your Culture or Results is One Often-Ignored Leadership Skill

“I’m so frustrated.” Martin, the Senior Vice President of a rapidly-growing communication hardware company serving the United States, leaned back in his chair and blew a heavy sigh past his mustache. “I’m hoping you can help me. It’s like there’s some key leadership skill I never learned.”

He continued: “Three of my direct reports are behind on projects I delegated. I walked through our contact center and customer service was a mess even though we invested all that time in training. Our quality initiative is stuck in neutral…it just seems like we can’t seem to get anything done.”

Martin is well versed in leadership and management. He knows the M.I.T. (Most Important Thing), how to set clear shared expectations, how to make sure everyone knows how to succeed, he knows how to reinforce what success looks like, and he knows how to inspire, to celebrate when it goes well, and how to hold everyone accountable when it doesn’t.

He knows all of these fundamental leadership skills.

So what’s the problem? What’s the leadership skill that Martin feels like he’s missing?

The Missing Leadership Skill

As we work with thousands of leaders around the world and watch them start using Winning Well leadership and management strategies, we’ve seen a common theme when it comes to who succeeds over time:

When it comes to changing a culture or transforming results, they don’t just start – they finish.

Sadly, organizations are littered with leaders who start, but never finish:

  • The leader who says the meeting starts at 9, but when someone is late, doesn’t say anything.
  • The manager who declared that a customer call must begin with empathy, confidence, and connection, but he only said it for two weeks and never got back to it.
  • The team leader who facilitates a great meeting, helps the team dig deep to make tough commitments, but doesn’t follow up to see that it happened.
  • The manager who has a brilliant performance coaching conversation with an employee who needs to improve in one key area, but three months later has never reviewed the desired new behavior.
  • The team leader who declares a new era of entrepreneurial teamwork, but then never asks for a single new idea.
  • The manager who delegates a project, but never receives it back.

It doesn’t take many of these failed commitments before your team loses faith in your ability to make change happen, and worse, you lose faith in yourself.

Make Your Choice

When you set an intention and follow through your confidence increases. Your team knows they can believe you, trust you, and rely on you. You credibility builds.

Finishing is a choice. It doesn’t happen by chance. In fact, the chances are it won’t happen at all.

Here’s the deal: life is busy. You’ve got more to do than time to do it. Your plan is going to get interrupted and your interruptions are going to get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen.

Effective leaders consistently choose to finish – but they don’t leave it to chance or a heroic act of willpower.

Make It Automatic

If you have to spend energy trying to remember everything you need to finish you’ll never do it. There’s just too much going on and your brain has limited energy. Just thinking about every open loop can be exhausting.

There’s a better way: schedule the finish.

The moment you set an intention, make an appointment with yourself or with the other person where you will complete the intention or take the next step. The key is when. What moment in time will you follow up, follow through, and finish?

Here are some examples:

  • When you have a performance conversation using the INSPIRE model, the final step (E) is the Enforce step. Schedule a brief meeting to review their desired behavior. Eg: “Sounds good. Let’s meet at 10 next Tuesday to see how this is going and if you have any questions.”
  • When you delegate, schedule a time where the other person will meet with you in person or by video to return the project to you, answer questions, and discuss next steps.
  • When you lead a meeting, conclude the meeting by asking who will do what, by when, and “How will we know?” The final “How will we know?” are scheduled commitments to the team. Eg: “We will all have our data to Linda by Friday at 4 pm. Linda will send us the new process by Wednesday at 3 pm.” Everyone puts the times on their calendar. If Friday 4 pm comes and Linda doesn’t have data from Bob, she calls him. If 3 pm Wednesday comes and they don’t have the process, they call Linda.

The key in all these examples is to make an appointment. There is a difference between a to-do item and scheduled time on your calendar, particularly when that time is scheduled with another person. The likelihood of you both keeping your commitment increases significantly.

For items that don’t naturally fit in a calendar appointment (eg: you’re rolling out a new process to improve on-time delivery and quality), you can still make appointments with yourself to reinforce the initiative (communicate at least five times through five different channels) and to review performance.

When you create an expectation – particularly a new one that is the result of training or a new process – follow through on behavior quickly. When people get the behavior right, celebrate it, acknowledge it, and reinforce that this is what people like us do.

When it doesn’t happen, have quick INSPIRE conversations to redirect people back to the new way of doing things. If there are problems that prevent people from doing what’s needed, solve them quickly and visibly.

(This is the strategy at the core of the Confidence Burst strategy.)

Your Turn

Finishing isn’t flashy, but it’s a leadership skill with a huge payoff.

Martin didn’t need to learn a new strategy or read another book. His only missing leadership skill was to finish what he started.

Finish. Schedule the follow-through. Don’t leave it to chance or your to-do list.

We’d love to hear from you: As a leader, how do you ensure you finish what you start?


leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

Forced Ratings - Awful Problems and What Leaders Do Instead

Forced Ratings – Awful Problems and What Leaders Do Instead

Forced Ratings Cause More Problems Than They Fix

Recently we were working with senior leaders in a global company who faced a challenging morale problem. They hired talented capable people who were producing good work – but their talent was leaving. Leaders at every level were frustrated at the forced ratings performance management system.

Tracie, the Senior Vice President of Product Management, summarized the problem: “We’re wasting time and energy competing against each other. I’ve got good people on my team and I’d keep every one of them, but I have to rate everyone on a bell curve – so someone gets told they’re not doing a good job even when they are. No wonder they leave.”

It goes by many names: forced rating, stack ranking, and bell curves. You rate people’s performance by comparing them to one another. Those who finish lowest in the ratings are put on performance improvement plans, aren’t recognized for their performance or are even told to leave.

These systems are appealing because it seems like the formula (keep your top performers, replace the low) will ratchet up performance as everyone competes to be at the top of the ratings.

Problems That Prevent Performance

In practice, however, these forced ratings systems run into real-world challenges. There are several problems with stack ranks and bell curve rating systems:

  • You create contradictions as you hire great employees, but then tell a segment of them that they’re not great after all.
  • You create internal competition rather than outward competition.
  • You create strong incentives to game the score rather than play the real game of serving your customer.
  • You’re asking people for their least-best effort (what they have to do to stay alive) rather than their true best.
  • Leaders don’t learn how to lead and manage for sustainable results.
  • Managers aren’t allowed to reward genuine performance when talented performers end up on the low end of the rank.

Forced rating systems are helpful when a leader needs to jumpstart a large organization that’s caught in a morass of sloth, no accountability, and poor execution at every level. A quick ranking to identify truly poor performance and remove it from the organization sends a message that things are changing.

In essence, forced rankings are used to compensate for poor leadership. Successful frontline and middle-level leaders frequently succeed despite, not because of, forced ranking systems. These systems become another barrier they have to overcome on the way to sustained results.

Forced ratings are an attempt to compensate for poor leadership.

For the long-term, however, the answer to sustained transformational results isn’t forced rankings. If the problem is poor leadership, it should be fairly obvious: fix the problem.

Motivate Your Team: The Alternative to Forced Ratings

If you’re struggling to reboot the leadership in your organization, or if you’re a team leader who wants to transform and sustain breakthrough results, start here:

  • Hire fantastic people.  Identify the competencies your top performers share in common and interview for those traits.
  • Cultivate and create systems that help top performers to excel. What is the number one frustration that prevents your team from excelling? What can you do to remove it or lessen its disruptive impact?
  • Align compensation with what you really want. If you need a team to perform at an objective level of excellence, compensate them for that performance. Don’t turn the team against itself with artificial comparisons that don’t benefit the work that’s done for your customers.
  • Invest in your leaders and managers – formally or informally, with budget or without the budget. No excuses. Give your managers and leaders the tools they need to succeed. If you need a place to begin, check out the free Let’s Grow Leaders Facilitator’s Guide that accompanies Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul.
  • At a minimum, equip and expect yourself and your managers and leaders to:
    • Set clear, shared, mutually understood expectations that include purpose & meaning and the MIT behaviors that lead to success.
    • Train and equip their people to perform well.
    • Hold themselves and their people accountable.
    • Help team members to grow with training, coaching, encouragement, and challenge for high performers.
    • Celebrate success.
    • Hold leaders accountable for their results and how they achieve them. I often see senior leaders talk about how they expect their team leaders to perform, but they never actually reinforce the behaviors or hold their direct reports accountable.

Your Turn

Remember, you can’t replace the work of a human leader with a formula. Invest in your leaders and hold them accountable for leading.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts about forced ranking systems or your #1 tip to make them unnecessary.

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

Remote Leadership

Remote Leaders: How to Use the Right Tool at the Right Time

Why Richness and Scope Matter to Long-Distance Leaders

With the ever-increasing role of remote workers, we’re pleased to bring you a guest post from Wayne Turmel, co-author of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

Technology is critical to leading a long-distance team. Email, meeting tools, network and file access—our jobs would be impossible (or at least really difficult) without it. But nearly as important as knowing which tools to use, is being confident you’re using the right tool for the right job.

In The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel offer a simple guide to choosing the appropriate technology. Based on research from Bettina Büechel, it suggests finding the balance between richness and scope.

Richness is the wealth of communication cues at work to ensure understanding in any communication. A face-to-face, in-person conversation is a good example. Not only can you see and hear in real time, but you’re seeing the visual cues on the person’s face, their body language, the tone of their voice, and they can do the same. There’s a really good chance you’re communicating clearly AND being understood, with plenty of time to adjust your message if needed. The problem is that we can’t go person to person on our team… and not all messages require that level of understanding.

Scope is the opposite. Email is a great example. You can get the same message in the same way over time and distance very quickly and efficiently. The good news is that hundreds of people can receive identical messages. Of course, it lacks richness—it may be misunderstood or action might not be taken, and you have no way of knowing if that’s happening until it’s too late.

Remote Leaders Richness vs. Scope by Wayne TurmelNeither richness or scope are good or bad on their own. The question is, “Are we using the right tool at the right time?” For example, if a leader knows they should have a difficult conversation with someone (the richer the better when addressing a performance issue, for example) it might be more convenient and far less stressful to just send an email or a voicemail after hours. True, the message was communicated, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as it could be. This should call for a richer conversation; in-person if possible. If not, you might want to use voice and webcam in a quiet place, rather than simply make a crackly cell phone call from an airport departure lounge.

As The Long-Distance Leader makes clear, this is fairly obvious if one takes the time to think about it, but how many of us take that precious time? We’re often too busy to stop and give mindful attention to the tools we use. We often do what’s seemingly quicker—even if it might be less effective in the long run—or use the tools we’re most comfortable with. An example of this is not taking advantage of the innate richness of a webcam conversation because we’re not comfortable seeing ourselves on camera. Instead, we settle for a voice conversation that doesn’t allow for visual cues to judge whether the other person is really understanding or buying into the discussion.

This is just one of the models Eikenberry and Turmel use to demonstrate the simple but not always easy or obvious ways to address the challenges of leading people, projects or teams from a distance. You can learn more in The Long Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder (along with Kevin)  of The Remote Leadership Institute and the author of many books, including ATD’s 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations.


Wayne-Turmel Long Distance Leader

Wayne and Kevin Eikenberry have co-authored the definitive guide for remote leaders, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

5 Secrets of Utility Player

6 Secrets of a Utility Player: How to Hire For Indispensable

It’s easy to hire for rock stars—the folks with the exact niche skills you need in the marketplace. But don’t underestimate the value of a true utility player for long-term success.

How (and Why) to Find, Hire (and Promote) a Utility Player

My boss came back from the succession planning discussion with the executive team. “Oh, it’s all good, you’re a utility player.” As a young Gen Xer, I didn’t love the sound of that. Utility player sounds so, well, utilitarian (practical, functional, serviceable). I was young in my career, I wanted to be seen as an up-and-coming rock star, not an easily tradeable unsung hero.

Six months later there was a massive reorganization and a layoff. My hands shook as my boss handed me the new org chart. Our entire department was missing. And then he smiled. “I have two words for you: utility player. You’re fine. Here’s what’s next (a promotion).”

I get it now. Utility players provide you with the flexibility to embrace change fast without a ruckus. It’s why Inc. recommends that startups hire the utility player first.  

Makes sense. I’ve had several new start-up clients call for help because their original team of founders/specialists just didn’t have the skills to lead as they scaled.

6 Indispensable Utility Player Competencies

Of course, you’ve got to hire specialists for certain roles. But when hiring leaders, don’t underestimate the flexibility you’ll get from a few of these key skills.

  1. They love the Game (and by the game, I mean your business.)
    They understand and are energized by the big picture vision. They’re gung-ho and ready to go with the twists and turns. They don’t play games to get ahead. They stay focused on the bigger mission.
  2. They Build Strong, Trusting  Relationships (up, down and sideways)
    Rock stars sometimes alienate their boss and peers and REALLY tick off their direct reports.  Utility players know that other human beings are their lifeline to success. They’re inclusive. They invest in a wide network of go-to relationships up, down and sideways.
  3. They are Curious, Eager Learners
    They don’t know it all, but they sure try to learn as much as they can. They embrace new situations with curiosity and confident humility as they work to understand what’s really happening and how they can help.
  4. They Work Hard
    They dig in harder and longer than most. They care about quality and doing it right.
  5. They’re Resilient
    Although they’re attached and really care about their current mission, when the direction shifts they can cope with that too (okay, they might go into the bathroom and scream first- give them a minute and they’ll come around.)
  6. They Tell the Truth
    They’re willing to have the tough conversations that make the business and the people better. They ditch the Diaper Genie™ and own the U.G.L.Y. in a way that builds trust and maintains relationships.

Your turn. What have you found to be the most indispensable competencies of utility players?

You may also enjoy our recent post: Interviewing: How to Hire For Winning Well Competencies (interview questions to help you hire the best)

leadership competencies: how to hold a great interview

How to Interview For Winning Leadership Competencies

You’re working hard to build a Winning Well culture. You’ve identified your MIT leadership competencies and are working to cultivate and encourage the right behaviors. How you staff your key leadership roles matters more now than ever.

How will you identify the very best candidates for reinforcing your Winning Well culture?  How will you identify the candidates who really exhibit Winning Well leadership competencies, versus those who just talk a good game?

Be sure you’re asking strategic questions that require candidates to share how they’ve actually demonstrated the leadership competencies you’re selecting for.

Here a few strategic, behavior-based interview questions based on eight key behaviors we build in our Winning Well training programs. and keynote speeches.

We encourage you to weave a few of them into your next interview.

Winning Well Leadership Interview Guide

RESULTS

how to help your middle managers find their sweet spot

Tell me about a time when you had way too much to do—how did you decide what was most important? How did you prioritize? What was the outcome?

Describe three ways you work to communicate and reinforce expectations on your team.

Tell me about at a time you helped turn around a serious performance issue. What was your approach? What was the outcome?

play the game don't game the score

What metrics do you use to measure your success in your current role? How do you keep your team focused on achieving those outcomes?

What do you see as the most critical behaviors in this new position? How would you go about reinforcing them?

Can you tell me about a time a supervisor wanted you to focus on something you knew wasn’t a priority for your customer, your team, or the company? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

RELATIONSHIPS

Describe the best team you ever worked on. What was your role in making it a success?

When you are working on a strategic project in your current job, how do you go about identifying the relevant stakeholders? How do you get them involved?

Can you tell me about a time you joined a new team and how you built trust with your new teammates?

trust the trenches

Tell me about a project where you successfully delegated some important tasks. How did you decide what to delegate and to whom?

How do you help your team recover from setbacks?

Can you share a time where one of your team members had a new perspective and how you were able to incorporate it into your work?

CONFIDENCE

what makes you a rock star in your role? What makes you a rock star in your current role? How would you leverage those strengths in this new position?

Tell me about a time you had to make a tough decision with limited information. What was the situation? How did you approach it?

What are your favorite techniques for building confidence and competence in your team members?

ditch the diaper drama #WinningWellTell me about a time you had a really tough conversation with an employee. How did you approach it? What was the outcome?

Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and you how implemented it.  What was the situation? Who was involved? What did you do? What was the outcome?

Can you share a time when you seriously disagreed with your boss and were convinced you were right? How did you address it? What was the outcome?

HUMILITY

Own the UglyWhat’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made at work? How did you recover?

Describe a time a project you were leading did not turn out as you had hoped.  What was the situation? Who was involved? What did you do? What was the outcome?

What is the most difficult apology you’ve ever had to make at work? What made it challenging? How did you do it?

What tools and techniques do you use to get feedback from your team?

How would you describe your conflict style? Tell me about a time that you had a significant conflict at work where that style served you well. Tell me about a time when that style got in the way.

Who are your most important stakeholders in your current role? How do you go about getting feedback from them?

Some other innovative interview questions that help uncover leadership competencies

Inc. 9 Interview Questions You Need to Be Asking

LinkedIn: Hiring For Trust: 9 Interview Questions

Fast Company: 7 Interview Questions for Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Your Turn

What are some of your favorite interview questions to ensure you have leaders that are committed to Winning Well?

surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?