What To Do When You’re Really Stuck

I received this email from subscriber (modified enough for anonymity). Let’s call him Guy.

Would you be up to offer a little free advice to beat down manager? I have been in some type of leadership position for over a decade now. Two years ago I took over as manager of the noted, “ really tough crowd” in our company. A slight understatement, but–I was up for the challenge.

In discussions with my boss, she informed me that I needed to win my team over and that I did not have their respect. I have never had anyone tell me anything like that with either of the previous teams that I oversaw. Dazed and confused, I moved forward.

I have worked beside them and did the same jobs that they were doing, and bought them breakfast or donuts when I held early morning meetings. I’ve taken some of them to lunch to get to know them. I championed for their needs for extra fabric, materials, and machines, and got them the resources they needed.

I have stood before them and asked them to tell me what they needed me to do to work better for them and make their work lives better–very few responses but at least a couple of them offered.

Today I was lambasted by my boss because of one individual who easily gets her feelings hurt when she is required to do more than she believes she should be doing. The epitome of, “ I’ll do what I want to.” Each time I have tried a new approach, and ease into conversations with this individual. I now have all but stopped trying to work with her. I only get in trouble when I do.

So, tell how you would proceed. I am at my wit’s end. I am giving up. It became painfully obvious to me when I began this email seeking advice from an unfamiliar, outside source.

Most of us have hit a wall like that.  We all have times in our careers where we feel stuck, lack confidence, or wonder why no one sees things our way.

If you’ve ever felt even a third of what Guy’s feeling, it’s easy to have similar sentiments like “Maybe I should just give up.”

When it gets that bad, the co-author of our upcoming book, David Dye, and I encourage you to start with three words.

“How Can I…”

With those three words you:

  • Return focus to your own power and ability to act
  • Tap into the energy of your prefrontal cortex–the part of your brain that problem-solves and plans
  • Vastly increase the odds of finding a solution
  • Take responsibility and ownership for the one thing you can control–yourself.

Let’s try some “How can I?” questions with Guy’s scene.

  • How can I better understand this employee’s resistance?
  • How can I get more input and feedback from my team?
  • How can I set clearer expectations?
  • How can I build deeper trust with my boss?

or maybe even…

  • How can I find a job that doesn’t make me so frustrated?

When you ask “How can I?” you might honestly respond with “I don’t know.” That’s okay. Try David’s bonus question,  “What might I do if I did know?”

Now watch what happens. It’s amazing how you can generate ideas when you give yourself permission.

Sometimes you’ll realize that you don’t have the information you need in order to craft solutions. Then the question becomes, “How can I get the information?”

Stuck sucks. But you can and will get through it. Start with the simple question, “How do I?” Then move to an even more powerful question, “How do we?”

Looking to get your team unstuck? Call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.

Lost in Translation: Communication Techniques for Middle Managers

You know your boss cares deeply about customers, employees, and doing the right thing for your business. And you’ve built a passionate team of customer advocates, who want to make a good living and feel good about coming to work every day.

And yet here you are, precariously squashed amidst the intensity of all this passion and good intentions.

At the core, everyone wants similar outcomes…you get it. But the cacophony of misunderstanding and misinterpretation can be deafening.

“Why don’t they understand why this is so important?”

“Why would she do THAT if she really cared about employees?”

“How can they be so out of touch with reality?”

“These executives don’t have a clue how annoyed our customers are about this decision.”

“This is just another sign the frontline is disengaged.”

Chances are no one put “translator” on your job description. But trust me, the managers with the best outcomes are masters of translation.

Great Managers are Translators

The very best managers are leaders with a keen ability translate:

Industry dynamics into pragmatic straight talk

They listen closely to what’s happen with competitors and strategic partners. They’re intrigued by the dynamics, and help their team to better understand their company’s proactive approaches and responses.

Organizational vision into meaningful work

They work hard to understand the big picture and have a keen ability to explain articulate specifically how the work their team is doing makes an impact on customers and to the world.

Executive urgency into tangible action

They don’t let stress roll downhill. They buffer negative executive emotion and translate the meaning into specific behaviors for the team to implement.

Questions into dialogue

They listen carefully to questions from executives, bosses, peers, and direct reports, to understand the deeper concern. They proactively work to bring the right people together to have meaningful conversation.

Employee angst into reasonable requests

They empathize with the stress and concerns of their team. They help employees frame their needs so they can be heard and addressed to get the resources and support they need.

Great middle managers take time to learn the languages of those around them, and listen well to hear the truths from multiple perspectives. Translating well saves time and is a vital step toward achieving breakthrough results.

A Powerful Way to Gain the Trust of Your Team

building trustThe Senior Vice President stood in front of my all hands meeting of 300 and said, “I was wrong.” I’ve never heard a group that size sit in such silence. I’m not even sure we were breathing.

You see, she had been a naysayer. She knew the mission our team had been given was necessary, but she didn’t believe it could be done. This stung twice as hard because she’d been a mentor of mine for years. In some ways the mission to prove her wrong by accomplishing “the impossible” became quite personal.

And we had.

She could have chosen lots of other words to open up her talk. Words that would have saved face, but none that could have given her more credibility. “I was wrong, I didn’t think it could be done. You did it. Congratulations, and thank you.”

5 Ways to Admit You’re Wrong

The ability to admit you’re wrong is the ultimate sign of confident humility. It takes guts to admit you’ve made a mistake. More importantly, being vulnerable enough to admit you’re wrong makes it safe for others to do so too. Imagine a world where more people were that honest with themselves and others.

Quite frankly, many leaders screw this up. They reinvent history to justify their actions (another wrong.) No matter how you spin it two wrongs don’t make a right.

Next time you screw up, follow these tips.

1. Be straightforward

The power of her statement was that it was so blunt. “I was wrong.” She could have said something much softer with less impact, “You did a solid job,” would have been easier on her ego.

2. Explain why

Share what you’ve learned or would do differently. Articulating the lesson helps everyone learn.

3. Take accountability

Don’t be a blamer. “I was wrong, but Joe gave me bad information” or “I was wrong, but my boss had me distracted with other things” is basically saying, “Even if I am wrong, it doesn’t count.”

4. Apologize if needed

In this case there was no apology necessary, she was a leader with an opinion doing her job by expressing it. In fact, I’ll admit that her skepticism fired us up. It’s quite possible in some wacky way working to prove her wrong helped us win. But, if being wrong hurt someone, “I’m wrong,” coupled with “I’m sorry,” can go even further.

4.Follow-through

Of course the most sincere way to apologize is to not do it again. I have a friend who cheated on his wife. He admitted he was wrong, apologized, owned it… and then did it again. She left him. Those words only worked once.

Bot Syndrome

The Bot Syndrome: 5 Symptoms Which Indicate Your Employee Feels Like a Bot

“The other day, a customer tweeted at me, ‘Are you a bot?’ At first I was really offended and wanted to tweet back ‘I AM NOT A BOT!’ But when I thought about it some more, I got kind-of sad. I realized that by following the scripts and all the rules, I sounded very robotic. That’s not what our customers want or need. They come to social media because they want some upbeat and friendly interaction. I could provide better service if they gave us a bit more freedom to do what we know is right.’”

– Customer Service Social Media Rep

It’s not just social media reps who feel that way. It happens across industries at all levels. I’ve met VPs whose fear has caused a dangerous bot-like trance. Bots leading bots is no way to change the game.

Sadly, it starts with good intentions: an effort to get everyone on the same page; a PR team who wants to ensure all employees share the same story; or efficiency studies that show the “right way” to do things saves much more time. I once had a boss tell me, “Karin, the truth is in that role, I want to take all the thinking out of it, make it as simple as possible so they can just execute efficiently.”

Sometimes your employees will tell you. But often, they just subtly lose their passion for your work and find meaning elsewhere.

5 Signs Your Employee Feels Like a Bot

1. They stop asking important questions.

The “Why?” “What’s next?” and “What if?” questions disappear.

2. But… they don’t make a move without asking obvious questions.

They need approval for everything, even if it means keeping a customer waiting. Most of your answers are “of course.”

3. They “follow the rules” even when they don’t make sense.

Of course they should have made an exception for the customer whose son just died. But the guidebook didn’t say, so they stuck by the rules. It’s impossible to predict and script every scenario. If an employee can’t function outside the playbook, check for bot-building policies.

4. Meetings are lifeless.

Your meetings look like a scene from an old zombie movie. It’s like pulling teeth to get everyone to talk. You feel like a cheerleader in an empty stadium.

5. Even well-thought out recognition, compensation, and employee engagement programs don’t make a dent.

If employees could double their hourly wage if they just “embraced the program” you first need a shift from bot gear, before any incentive overlay will work.

The guy I worked for was wrong. Because I’m not a bot, I ignored that advice, and results improved. You can’t grow a bot. You can’t motivate a bot. Bots will never deliver a best in class customer experience.

Bonus

After publishing this article, I was asked to share it in Malaysia for Leaderonomics. The fun part about that is they created an amazing PDF with other great thoughts on building your social media strategy.

 

 

5 Ways to Help a Decision Maker Decide

My client, Laura, had invited me in to observe the spectacle. I watched as she carefully articulated her research findings and presented her “no brainer” suggestions to Mark. Each time Laura’s ideas were met with a similar response, “Thanks so much,” followed by a bogus reason of why the idea wouldn’t work.

The conversation was the equivalent of Laura saying, “I’d like to give you 100 bucks. No strings attached. I just found a way to save the money and I’d like to give it to you.”

And Mark saying, “Well, thanks for making the effort, but I’ll have to think about that for a while, talk to some other folks and see what they think, and then get back to you.”

Mark was clearly afraid to make a decision, even if it was obviously a good one.

Perhaps you’re dealing with Mark or his doppelgänger. If so, here are a few ideas that can help

5 Ways to Help a Decision Maker Decide

1. Ask More Questions

If you’re met with resistance, stop selling and start asking questions to understand why.

  • How do you think this change would impact the customer experience?
  • Have you ever tried anything like this before? How did it go?
  • What’s driving your hesitation?
  • Who else needs to be involved in such decisions?
  • What do you think would happen if we implemented this approach?
2. Provide a Clear Path Forward

When presenting an idea to a guy like Mark, don’t just talk conceptually. Be crystal clear on what your idea would take to implement: specifically who would need to do what by when.

Folks like Mark are often afraid of change because it just sounds like too much work. Show how moving forward with your plan is easier than sticking with the status quo.

3. Make it Reversible

One of the biggest reasons for decision paralysis is that it feels so permanent. Find a way to let them taste the impact of the decision in a way that can be easily reversed. Got a new process? Try it with one team. Worried about the customer experience? Try your idea out with a small subset of customers and carefully monitor the experience. It’s a lot easier to sell-in a pilot, than to convince a risk-adverse decision maker to make a “permanent” change.

4. Include Others

If Mark suggests a need to socialize the idea with others, offer to tag along. Chances are if he’s afraid to make a decision, he’s equally afraid of expressing his opinion to his boss or other stakeholders.

Offer to support him with an enthusiastic, “Awesome, I’d love to join a quick call to help you socialize the idea.”

5. Don’t Give Up

It’s true that it’s hard helping some people. But stay humble. This isn’t about you or your Mark, it’s about doing the right thing. There’s nothing more convincing than someone passionate about doing the right things for the right reasons.

Give Mark a chance to sleep on it, and give it another go.

stage fright

How to Overcome Stage Fright

I was deeply worried that my Dad was right, there would be no way I could hold it together to sing at my Mom’s funeral. I envisioned myself as a weepy mess at the front of the church. But for me, singing is a prayer, and after the hundreds of concerts my parents attended to support me over the years, not singing felt wrong. I’m normally not a stage fright kind of girl. I always love a good microphone. But fear was showing up in all its glory, and I almost gave in.

Then I realized that this fear was a gift. I needed to be humbled by stage fright, to better serve my clients and students who ask me for advice on how to overcome theirs.

4 Ways to Overcome Stage Fright

Here’s what worked for me. I hope it can help you.

1.Remember WHY you have the mic

If you’ve got a mic in your hand, I’m going to assume you’ve got something important to offer. Remember that stage fright is about you, not your message. Fear is not humility. Connecting with your message and remembering your purpose takes your ego (and the fear that’s trying to protect it) out of the equation.

2. Find some scaffolding

My scaffoldiing came in the form of people. My first text was to my cousin Katie, a professional folk singer and one of the happiest people I know.  Now we had a duet. Mary is a rock star on piano, so I knew if we got into trouble she’d just keep playing.  When Al, who I hadn’t sung with since my wedding, showed up at the funeral home, we added one final touch to the scaffolding for the next morning–guitar.

For you the scaffolding may be a clever prop, slides that prompt you through the tough parts, or a podium to put a barrier between you and the audience. Find what will make you feel more secure.

3. Practice until it “gets into your body.”

Award winning speaker and coach, Patricia Fripp, advises speakers to practice a speech until it “gets into your body.” She rehearses on a treadmill, so I decided to take my song for a walk in the woods. I got a few strange looks when I stumbled upon a fellow hiker, but what the heck.

4. Visualize success

As corny as it sounds, that morning I spent some quiet time picturing myself in front of the familiar terrain of the church I grew up in. The stained glass, green carpet, and the harmony that needed to surface.

Here’s a 30 second glimpse of the outcome.

Need help with communication, leadership development, or a funeral singer (just kidding), give me a call 443-750-1249.

When fear leads to deception

When Fear Leads to Self Deception

On the grand scheme of deception I suppose this ranks low on the Richter scale. But early tremors are deceiving, and reveal important indicators of our fault lines.

The Backstory

Sebastian (for those just tuning in, my youngest son, age 9) came out of the womb running. The son of two marathon runners and triathletes, he was tousled in the womb and spent hours sleeping and giggling in the baby jogger, so much so that we needed a new set of tires.

So when he came in second as a kindergartener on the “most laps around the school in an hour walk-a-thon,” we thought of the small pond and kept encouraging humility. The next few years he continued to improve his lap count and eventually won.

Which brings us to this morning (3rd grade), the dawn of the annual event, when Sebastian announced, “I’m not going to run this year, it’s important that I just walk with my friend Sammy, we have a lot to talk about.”

Now, it’s ABSOLUTELY true that Seb and Sam, best friends like brothers, have lots to talk about.

Both of their grandmothers are dying and they have both been actively involved in one another’s scenes. Their grown-up conversations in the back seat of my car trump the sincerity of most grown-ups I know.

They have also lived like brothers in one another’s homes, accelerated by our need for collaborative child-care during both our scenes. They talk day and late into the night.

So yes, I buy it. And I don’t.

Glad To Have a Why-er in the House

As luck would have it Uncle Luke was spending the night, visiting from Seattle on a business trip. I quickly called in the breakfast-time reinforcements.

He asked a few “Why” questions, and before we knew it, we heard of the new contender, ironically also called Luke, who was the sure bet to win.

The Bigger Conversation

When Sebastian admitted his Luke-fear, the real conversation began.

He didn’t want to risk his legacy of the kindergarten wonder… easier to be the cool guy who no longer cares.

He was getting ready to be a one-hit wonder.

At 9.

The Race

He ran the race. Luke came in first. Both won.

For You and Me

It’s so easy to revel in our wins and declare victory.

Are you stuck at your best year?

What’s possible next if you don’t care if that reputation is destroyed?

Why not blow it up for something bigger that will really change the game?

5 Leadership Priorities During Times of Crises #BaltimoreRiots

“It was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded,” Michael Fletcher explains in his excellent Washington Post article digging a level deeper into the rioting and destruction in Baltimore this week.

He stated,  “Baltimore is not Ferguson and its primary problems are not racial.”

There’s a huge economic divide that has been eating away the infrastructure of our city for years.

The city has changed dramatically in my lifetime. The once safe-feeling row house neighborhood where my father grew up now faces many of the economic issues underlying the protests.

What Baltimore needs next is strong leadership.

In yesterday’s post, I asked the LGL community to offer their insights on what must happen next in Baltimore. The response was tremendous. I look forward to continue to collect your comments to take forward to Baltimore leadership to instigate change.

5 Leadership Priorities Baltimore Must Address

The main idea was that the problem is aggravated by a lack of shared vision of what must happen next, and an unwillingness of leaders on both sides of the issues to take a united stand, roll-up their sleeves and send a clear message on a path forward.

1. A Unified Leadership Front

We’ve got glimpses–gang members from rival gangs working together, 100 church leaders marching arm in arm through the burning rubble asking protesters to stop the violence, and Orioles COO, John Angelos tweeting about decades of inequities underlying the eruption of violence.  But it’s not enough.

We need elected officials, fire chiefs, gang leaders, church leaders, student leaders, COOs, and celebrated athletes coming together to say “STOP: THIS IS OUR CITY AND WE CAN’T DESTROY IT!” along with a clear commitment to get in a room and work it through in a collaborative way.

2. A Deep and Candid Conversation on the Issues

Violent demonstrations such as this happen when people feel their voice isn’t being heard.

We need to follow the lead of other cities like Chicago who have engaged collaborative conversation through appreciative inquiry and structured conversations.

I’ve been disappointed at how many key leaders have been told “not to comment.”

I was even asked, “Are you sure you want to get involved in this? Is it good for your brand?”

My brand is authenticity, and leading with confident humility. If not on important issues like this, when?

Leadership that matters will always annoy someone.

Honestly, what has surprised me most is all the emails coming in in lieu of comments. Folks who have something important to say, but somehow only want to say it to me.

3. Swift Action

Leaders need to take swift and bold action to make some crucial decisions.

I don’t pretend to understand why the mayor vetoed the body camera bill last year, and what was different about her proposal this February that is still swirling. I do know that quick action in this arena would be a sincere step toward additional transparency.

4. A Clear Path Forward

Citizens are looking for guidance on what to do. Thousands came to Baltimore to support the clean up efforts, because someone organized it. Many churches in our area (including my own) are holding special services and prayer vigils. We could get these concerned citizens to “pray with their feet” if we just told them how, and offered scaffolding that made it feel safe.positive baltimore

What we need is a place where the anger, heartache, love, and hope can be put to good use. Outside of the broken souls who ransacked stores and scrambled through the streets last night with as much booze and stolen goods as they could carry, I don’t imagine anyone turned on the news last night and said. “Good. Let it burn!” I even saw a young man, who claimed to be Crips leader quoted as saying, “This is our neighborhood, but we can’t control it now…”

But where do you start? How can you help? I’m a middle class white-guy, born in Baltimore, but raised in the suburbs. I love the city and like to consider myself from there, but I can’t claimed to have lived it. I’ve been a spectator at best. What should I be doing? Should I grab a shovel and start scooping out the ashes of CVS and the dozens of mom and pop shops that may never recover? Maybe. Should I stand with the non-violent protesters on Eutaw Street? I probably should have done that two days ago, but I don’t know that that would have helped and the truth is we don’t know exactly what happened to Freddie Gray. It’s an injustice to be sure, but a vague one that presents little course of action other than outrage. So, most of us do nothing. We shake our head at the news and then move on with our day.

I suppose what I would say to our leaders is that the outrage, the sadness, and the concern are wasted resources. There are many who will help if given clear direction. Tell us what to do and where we’re needed. Clear a path to the greater good and build a better city than the one we had. It’s not about one night or one issue. It’s about creating an environment where last night is impossible.

5. Admitting Mistakes for Proactive Action in Other Cities

It’s hard to know what to say and do in such scenes.  God only knows I’ve said some stupid things under fire. The mayor’s “room to destroy” comment is distracting the media from the real issue. She can make this go away by saying, “Yup, poor word choice. I am sorry. What I really meant was_____.”

Here’s what one concerned LGL tribe member shared:

From an outsider’s perspective (though, an outsider that experienced something similar during Hurricane Katrina) it seems that a simple conversation between community leaders could not only resolve this, but also serve as a model for communities dealing with similar issues across the US and even the world. I think Baltimore would be smart to capitalize on the opportunity to help the world take a big step forward.

Our worst times in history are aggravated or improved by the leadership response. My hope for Baltimore is that we will have more leaders leading with confident humility, setting egos and agendas aside and rebuilding our city to be so much better than before that no lives, property or effort was wasted.

*Pics shared with me by Civic Works Baltimore a non-profit strengthening Baltimore’s communities through education, skills development, and community service.

I was delighted to share a bit of discussion on Canada Talks Radio last night. You can hear the audio here., as well as an interview with Matt Tenney in the Huffington Post. 

Riots in Baltimore: Why I Need You to Help Me Write My Next Post

I don’t usually write on Tuesdays, but it would be irresponsible to not write in the midst of the chaos brewing in my hometown, Baltimore. For my international viewers, Baltimore has joined the cities featured on CNN and the morning shows due to their looting and protest-related violence as a response to the Freddie Gray tragedy.

As I write this, the sun hasn’t even set. We’re all deeply worried about what will manifest overnight. I’ve lived in the Baltimore area my whole life. I have great childhood memories of sitting with my grandpa with the radio on listening to the Orioles game and the cheers from Memorial Stadium (precursor to Camden Yards) coming across their backyard.

I watched our Inner Harbor go from a place you feared, to “opening day” at Harbor Place with my uncles and feeling like we were in Disneyland.

And tonight we watch our city being torn apart by divergent opinion. The issues are real. People are getting hurt. Those sticking up for what they believe on both sides are suffering. Those working to express their concerns calmly are being overshadowed by violence. As the wife of a firefighter and a good friend of several police officers who I know are deeply commited to ensuring everyone is treated fairly, I worry extra hard about those working to keep the peace.

There are good guys on both sides hurting, expressing, risking.

If there was ever a need for leadership in Baltimore this is it.

What would you do next if you were in charge?

Even if you’ve never commented before, please lean in.

My next post will work to gather your important ideas into themes.

Namaste.

how to ensure your voice is heard

The VOICE Approach: 5 Ways to Ensure Your Voice is Heard

In the Q&A after my keynote the other day, a woman (ironically after refusing to use the roving microphone) asked, “You know that part where you talk about Professor Lupin and facing your fears? What if your biggest fear is that your voice  won’t be heard… how do you make that feel ridiculous?”

We chatted for a moment about really considering what “the worst thing that could happen” was in this scenario. And what would happen if she didn’t speak up at all, which would ensure her fear had come true.  And then she said. “But what if they use the same idea when someone else says it?”

I then I understood that her question was less about fear and more of a “How do I?” question (see also David Dye’s “Leaders Are You Answering the Wrong Question?”).

Eager eyes awaited my response. Apparently, she wasn’t the only one facing that challenge.

5 Ways to Ensure Your Voice is Heard:  The VOICE approach

First, when someone offers you a mic, take it. If someone else has to repeat what you say, you’ve already lost some impact. Sometimes the mic is metaphorical (like pulling your chair up to the table if you’re sitting on the sidelines). Here are a few other additional tips.

VVisualize

Visualize what you are going to say and how you’re going to say it. Include it all–the eye contact, the sitting up tall with an open stance, strong projection and confident tone. Visualize their receptive response. It’s much easier to feel confident when you’ve practiced.

O- Organize 

Organize your thoughts in advance. Make an outline if needed. Consider the key points that will support your point of view. Know your opening sentence, so you won’t be tempted to start with a pre-apology (e.g. “This may be a bad idea, but…”)

I- Inquire

If possible do your homework in advance and be aware of other’s opinions on the topic. If you can, do some stakeholdering in advance, so you know there will be some nodding heads when you being to share your ideas. If you’re responding spontaneously, then ask for feedback. (e.g. “How do you think this idea could impact our project?”)

C- Consider

Listen carefully to the opinions and ideas of others. Thank them and respond appropriately, building on and integrating their ideas if possible. If you know the objections, it can be helpful if you’re the one who brings them up first. “Now you may be thinking ______ (insert objection here) and then address it.

E- Energize

Stay energetic in your delivery. It’s hard to ignore someone is genuinely passionate about their point of view.

Most important, be sure you believe what you have to say. If you’re unsure, your audience will be equally skeptical.

Leadership credo Spring 2015

The Power of a Change of Venue

It’s tricky for all of us. I’m teaching the only leadership course these accounting students will take as part of their masters programs. The class runs from 5-10 PM after most have worked all day in their internships, and we’re crammed into a room too small for the big moving around that is critical under such conditions.

All but a handful are on visas from China. This is their final semester, and most who are not finding a job, face a fast-ticking clock that matters.

A good number name public speaking as their greatest fear, and of course it’s a leadership class, and it’s me, and it’s five hours…everybody needs to talk.

Which brings us to tonight, where each student was asked to present their leadership credo (if you want to try this click here, or heck, let me come help you 😉

Now, this is a Karin Hurt classic. It never fails. Until tonight, or so I thought.

The Power of a Change of Venue

It was time to present the credos–the student’s “This I believe” on leadership. Each student sat straight up in their seats. I could see glimpses, so I was optimistic of effort, but nearly everyone had their credo turned face down on the desk.  I invited volunteers to share their credo. I was met with crickets. Then two brave souls came forth with rock star quality presentations— followed by (you guessed it)–more crickets. The class looked at me with big, longing eyes waiting for me to move on. I offered a prize for the creativity folks most admired–not helpful.

Perhaps it was the tenacity to not let this fail, or the panic I felt realizing that this exercise should fill an hour and “We can’t be done in two minutes!”–but, I regrouped.

“I can see you’ve got great stuff by the glimpses I caught as you entered the room. I also see most of you don’t feel comfortable sharing in a crowd.

Let’s go into the hallway.” 45 students formed two circles and I quickly arranged a “speed dating” kind of sharing.

The energy level went up about 10 times, and I quickly realized my previously shy students had something important to say.

One minute in, it was clear, we were disturbing the surrounding classes.

I interrupted. “That’s the spirit! But, now ironically, we’re too loud.” Would anyone object to going outside? (It was sunny but a bit chilly.)

And off we went. You would have thought I had started serving cocktails. Bystanders  were staring as they walked by to see what we were up to.

They shared and admired and celebrated their leadership teachable point of views.

As we returned inside, I shared my “teachable moment.”

“My leadership was failing. I tried to get you to follow and you refused. I had to take a step back and regroup and change the approach (and in this case the venue). If no one’s following, blaming it on your followers may feel good, but it won’t work. If you’re really blowing it, step back and try again.”

And then the magic happened. The class selected one of their quietest members as their “winner” for creativity and content. And then, classmates who had never participated started sharing their credos. The rest of the evening went a whole lot quicker. Ahhh the remarkable power of #confidenthumility.

3 Ways to Avoid the Slippery Slope of Inconsistency

Kendra is late because she was at the hospital with her sick child and barely got home to take a shower… got it. Every now and then managers must make exceptions, no doubt. But now, John is late too, and you feel bad saying something to him, since you just let Kendra off the hook. Before you know it, late is the new black… to work, to meetings, and the envelope is being pushed in other arenas as well.

Or, you’re a Sales Director implementing a new customer information system. Your rock star, Janice, refuses to use it, and you figure it’s no big deal. You don’t want to push her buttons, and she’s got a system that works, so you leave her alone about the requirement. The challenge is everyone wants to be like her (particularly the new guys who need the system the most). Pretty soon, no one’s using the investment and all the incremental sales you baked into the business case are a pipe dream.

3 Ways to Avoid the Slippery Slope of Inconsistency

When people REALLY need an exception, they need an exception. But, most of the time they yearn for consistency. Here are three ways to show up as a human and stay true to your vision.

Explain Your Leadership Viewpoint

Try something like this: “I believe in situational leadership and doing the right thing for people in trying situations. I can’t always disclose WHY I’m chosing to make an exception, but please know that if I do, there’s a private matter at hand that we’re working through. Other than that, I’ll be working to be as consistent as possible. I trust that you will understand that so I can maintain the same flexibility when you have an extreme situation. In order to make this work, I need everyone staying true to our game plan.”

Know Consistency is Valued

In every company I work with I hear a consistent theme in focus groups:  “I wish our managers had tougher and more consistent standards. We’d be so much better if they consistently reinforced the requirements.” I hear that 10 times more than “My manager is too hard on us.”

Chances are everyone is rooting for you to take a stand.  Be human, but often the most fair and reasonable answer is to say “No” to deviant behavior.

Invite Your “A Players” to Be Role Models Not Exceptions

Your “A Players” feel they deserve special treatment. Give it to them. Invite them to help you solve the bigger problem, not stay on the outskirts. If you doubt this can be done, call me. The biggest turnarounds have always involved getting the prima donnas to help for the greater good.

Once your team is headed down a slippery slope, it’s darn impossible to get them moving uphill. Your team is yearning for leadership, parameters and consistency, with the occassional human exception. Approach these situations with the confidence that your vision is important, and the humility to know when their situation warrants an exception.

Do you need help preparing for an important turnaround? Call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.