stop remote work from stealing your life

How to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Your Life

Awareness and intention will help stop remote work from stealing your life.

It’s not your imagination: if the pandemic shifted your job to working from home, odds are, you’re working longer hours. For many of the leaders we’ve spoken with over the past months, WFH arrangements are sapping their energy and their team’s morale and mental health. To lead your team through these challenges, it’s vital that you stop remote work from stealing your life.

One of the best parts of working with so many business leaders around the world is seeing the concern and creativity of leaders to help their teams during the pandemic. There is no magic wand that will solve every challenge, but you can stop remote work from stealing your life by incorporating some combination of these approaches.

Six Practices to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Away Your Best Self

Tap into the Power of Ritual

You’ve likely heard of Parksinson’s Law: that work expands to fit the time allotted for it. That’s a big problem when time seems unlimited.

One way to stop remote work from stealing your life is to clearly define the time in which it must happen. If you know you can’t work before or after a certain time, you’ll write that email in half the time, shorten or eliminate meetings, and spend less time on social media.

Without that clear definition, it’s easy to start work while you’re blearily reading emails in bed while waking up, keep on working through breakfast, and stumble into the evening without ever having stopped.

That’s a poor way to live (nor is it a good way to be a productive team member).

Tap into the power of rituals to create a “container” for your work. Writers are famous for rituals they use to define their work. Victor Hugo would take off his clothes to write and put them on again once he was done (not recommended for those Zoom calls!)

One IT manager we spoke with said his powerful work-from-home ritual was simply to pack his lunch. He’d eat breakfast with his family, prepare his lunch, put it in a cooler bag, and then take it with him the 15 feet to his desk. That would signal the start of the workday.

Perhaps you light a candle to start and blow it out during breaks, lunch, or at the end of the day. Others set a timer. Find a ritual that tells your body and mind when it’s working and when it’s not.

Shift Out of Crisis Mode

Another factor that has contributed to the expansion of remote work is the feeling of crisis. As the virus first spread and shelter-in-place orders went out, most businesses and teams faced legitimate crises.

  • How will we maintain enough cash?
  • Will we survive this?
  • How can we get everyone working from home quickly enough?
  • How do we keep our people safe?
  • Will I keep my job?

A crisis energizes people. It provides clarity, focus, and adrenalin. It disrupts inertia and sparks innovation. Everyone rallies together and you can achieve amazing results. Some leaders love crisis-productivity so much that they manufacture drama and drive everyone nuts with constant fire drills.

But the power of crisis is limited. You can’t maintain that energy, focus, and adrenalin forever. It’s like sprinting. You sprint 400 meters. You can’t sprint a marathon.

Shifting out of crisis mode is difficult when the initial crisis isn’t over. The pandemic is a slow-moving economic and social crisis that isn’t over in a week, a month, or possibly even a year.

To stop remote work from stealing your life, shift out of crisis mode. Sometimes deep breathing, meditation, prayer, time in nature, or conversation with good friends are enough to make this shift.

A ceremony can also help. Declare the crisis of initial response “completed” and define the next stage, including the level of energy, effort, and overall health you expect of yourself and your team.

Still struggling to shift back to a gear you can maintain? Make two lists: what you can control and what’s outside of your control. Highlight your M.I.T.s (Most Important Things) on the first list. Release the second list (burn it, flush it, shred it, or delete it) and release yourself from having to work on the things you can’t control.

Find your focus on specific actions you can take toward the M.I.T.s where you can make a difference.

If, after these practices, you’re still finding it difficult to shift down, a conversation with a mental health professional can help.

Practice Mini-Experiments

One fun way to maintain your sense of life, build culture, and personal/professional development is a technique Karin learned from Susie, an executive whose company cultivated the technique of personal mini-experiments.

In short, you choose a behavior you want to try out. The criteria are that it has to be easy to do—and it has to scare you or make you uncomfortable. You commit to practice the new behavior for two to four weeks and see what happens.

For example: Susie described how she had a tendency to over-prepare for meetings. So her mini-experiment was to limit her preparation time to one hour. She worried that she would be under-prepared, but she discovered she did as well as ever–and now she had reclaimed many hours.

As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve heard leaders share their own mini-experiments:

  • Giving themselves permission to put down their phone and have lunch with their family for 30-45 minutes.
  • Starting a garden.
  • Waking up 30 minutes earlier for exercise, reflection, or to try a hobby.
  • Saying no to opportunities.

Enjoy a Hobby

Your mini-experiment might take the form of a hobby. One way to keep remote work from stealing your life is to have somewhere else to focus. David, who already enjoyed baking bread, used our extended time at home to join the ranks of sourdough bakers. It refreshes him and keeps him going between long days of leadership development.

Bread might not be your thing, but what might you do that would be fun and absorb some of your attention?

stop remote work from stealing your life

Make Team Agreements

One of the powerful tools we’ve seen many leaders use is to establish team norms of shared expectations about how they will work together. Examples include:

  • An international team that decided they will not schedule meetings after 7 pm for any participant. This forces them to be efficient with the time they have.
  • Other teams that have declared no-meetings-days such as Wednesdays or Fridays.
  • A commitment to always leave 15 or 30 minutes between online meetings.
  • Clarifying what communications tools to use for specific content. What can wait, and what needs to be discussed promptly? What should be an IM, an email, a phone call, and what must be a video meeting?

These discussions and commitments help everyone use their time more effectively.

Use the Flexibility

Working from home gives us opportunities. Where can you use the flexibility to restore your energy and relationships? Can you take an exercise break mid-morning? Can you meet your partner, child, or neighbor for a 15-minute break? Perhaps a walking meeting?

We talked with a team leader whose team all leave their work-from-home desks and walk while they meet by phone for 30 minutes.

Your Turn

For many, working from home during the pandemic is more difficult than traditional remote work. The challenges of family members unloading the dishwasher while you’re on a call, ad hoc workspace, concerns about illness, and social isolation add extra layers of complexity and stress.

If you’re working remotely, in order to lead your team and help them maintain their health and productivity, it’s vital that you stop remote work from stealing your best self. Energy, confidence, and empathy are hard to find when you’re strung out and exhausted from unending work.

We would love to hear from you. What techniques have you and your team used to stop remote work from stealing your life? Leave us a comment and tell us what’s working for you!

See Also:

What Your Employees Are Yearning For in a Remote One-on-One

How to lead when your employees don't have to follow

How to Lead When Your Employees Don’t Have to Follow

Leading people who don’t have to follow starts with your mindset.

How do you lead when people don’t have to follow? In a recent long-term leadership development program Karin and I conducted for leaders from around the globe, this was one of the most common questions participants asked.

As work becomes more complex and people develop more specialized knowledge and skills, cross-functional teams, ad-hoc teams, and temporary project teams are increasingly common. You will likely lead people who do not directly report to you. And at times you have to rely on other teams to give you what you need to succeed.

The Truth About People Who Don’t Have to Follow

How long can you hold your breath?

Stick with me here—this will make sense in a moment. In fact, unless it’s dangerous to your health, try it right now: hold your breath as long as you can.

How long did you make it? 30 seconds, one minute?

Before long, you couldn’t help yourself—you just had to breathe. Even if I were to offer you a substantial amount of money if you were to hold your breath longer, at some point you have no choice. Your body will force the issue.

There are very few things in the world that you must do. You must breathe. You must die. Along the way, you must eliminate bodily waste. That’s about it – every other behavior is a choice.

And one of those choices is how you choose to show up to work each day: Will you give it your best or just occupy space and slide by? It’s a choice you make.

The fundamental leadership mindset that will transform your influence is this:  if everything is a choice for you, it’s also a choice for your team whether or not they report to you.

Everyone is a Volunteer

Realistically, it’s not just people on other teams who don’t have to follow you. Even your direct reports don’t have to follow your leadership.

Everyone is a volunteer because you cannot force anyone to do anything.

“Wait a minute, David,” you might say, “if they don’t do their job we can fire them.”

You’re right of course, but that’s their choice. The path to engage teams that choose to give their best begins when you realize that everyone’s a volunteer. They choose:

  • If they will be a part of your team.
  • How they will show up.
  • Whether to participate fully or phone it in.
  • The level of effort they will give.
  • How well they will perform their role.

How to Lead when They Don’t Have to Follow

When you embrace this fundamental truth – that everyone is a volunteer – it will change your leadership forever. Every action from every person on your team becomes a gift.

Every ounce of energy they spend on a project is a gift. Your work as a leader shifts from force to invitation, from control to influence, from fear to gratitude. You won’t lead to wring out the worst, but to bring out the best.

The fundamental leadership truth you cannot ignore is that if it’s a choice for you, it’s also a choice for your team. Everyone is a volunteer.

Here are a few specific tools you can use to lead from the mindset that everyone is a volunteer:

  • Connect the “what” to the “why.” Work without meaning is punishment suitable to prison camps. Make sure your team knows the purpose behind their tasks, the value in the organization’s work, and how their work makes a difference. If the work has no meaning — eliminate it.
  • Ask “How can I help?” Your team needs support and training that only you can provide. Make sure they have the training, equipment, and political support they need to succeed. Don’t do their work for them, but help them grow and expand their ability to problem solve by asking critical thinking questions.
  • Apologize when you screw up. Apologizing doesn’t make you weak. It shows courage, builds your credibility, and models taking responsibility when you drop the ball. That’s what you want from your staff, right?
  • Maintain standards and expectations. Volunteers, more than anyone, need to know that you value their time. When you permit people to underperform without consequence, then you tell everyone who does their best that they are wasting their time.
  • Say “Thank you.” Do you like what your team did? Do they know it? Do you want more of it? Don’t wait to say “Thank you.”

Your Turn

If you think about your own performance, I’ll bet your best efforts were not the result of money or a fear of being fired. We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share How have your leaders brought out the best in you? 

How to get your team to trust you

How to Get Your New Team to Trust You

Helping your new team to trust you takes time.

Do you ever wish your new team would talk to your last team? That would save so much precious time. If you could just get your new team to trust you, you’d get on to making your usual magic. But it’s never as simple as that. If you’re good, you may feel you deserve a better reception from your new team. You may warrant a warm reception, but they don’t know you, the last guy was a jerk (or a superstar), and they’re still recovering.

7 Ways to Get Your New Team to Trust You

1. Don’t Badmouth their Last Manager

If they had a poor leader before you, the more you listen, the worse the stories will sound. Or perhaps they had a superstar whose shoes you need to fill. It might tempt you to trash the guy before you. It may feel good and make you feel like a hero, but you don’t want to go there. Build your credibility on your own merits. No good ever comes from tearing down another person. Besides, you never know the whole story. Listen, reflect the emotions you hear (eg: that sounds like it was frustrating – or awesome), then let it go, and focus on your leadership. And while you’re listening …

2. Go One by One

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, what they want, and what they most yearn to give. Get to know each person as a human being.

3. Listen and then Listen More

One powerful listening technique begins as you meet with each team member individually. Ask each person these vision-building questions:

  • At our very best, what do you think this team can achieve?
  • What do we need to do to get there?
  • As the leader of the team, how can I help us get there?

These questions get everyone thinking about the future, not lingering in the past.

4. Share Stories

The team longs for signs you are credible and competent. Share a bit about your leadership track record of results—framing it with stories of what your previous teams could achieve (not what you achieved). You want them thinking about how awesome they can be, not how awesome you are.

5. Get Some Early Wins

Find two or three achievable goals that will help create a sense of momentum. Nothing builds credibility faster than success. Generate some early wins to build confidence.

6. Let them see you

Tell the truth. Be vulnerable. Let them know who you are, what scares you, and what excites you. Show up human. Your new team needs your authenticity.

7. Prove That They Matter

As you get to know them as human beings, meet each person where they are. Help the person who wants exposure to get visibility. Help the one who wants to grow to learn a new skill. Take a bullet or two when things go wrong. Give them the credit when it goes well.

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 defensiveness.

Your Turn

Every relationship takes time and getting your new team to trust you is no different. When you invest deeply at the beginning, you’ll build a strong foundation for long-term, breakthrough results.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share your #1 way to help your new team to trust you.

More You Might Like:

10 Questions Your Team is Afraid to Ask

How to Build a Strong Team Vision

How to Encourage Your Team When Results are Disappointing

10 Stories Great Leaders Tell (podcast)

11 inspiring leadership secrets from bonsai

11 Inspiring Leadership Secrets from Bonsai

A mature bonsai tree commands attention. With a single tree, a master evokes an entire landscape and tells a story of power, perseverance, struggle, or abundance. As I’ve studied bonsai, I realized there are many leadership secrets available for leaders who want to help their people and teams to grow.

Inspiring Leadership Secrets

To accomplish this elegant combination of grace and strength, great bonsai practitioners must be both gifted horticulturists and artists. In the same way, leading people entails both vision and cultivation. Here are eleven inspiring leadership secrets from the art of bonsai:

1. Focus on strength and directing energy, not fixing weakness

In bonsai, the artist looks for a tree’s strengths. What is unique and special?  What can they showcase?

Similarly, effective leaders look for strengths and build on those. Know of weaknesses to manage them and keep them from hindering strength, but focus on ability – in people, in yourself, and in your team.

Focusing on weaknesses builds nothing. Strengths produce results. What abilities, talents, and energy do your people bring to your team?

2. Growth requires patience

A fully developed bonsai can take decades to reach perfection. You collect material, let it rest and grow out for two or three years, prune and shape, then wait some more.

One of my very favorite trees is on display at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. It is a Japanese pine that’s almost 400 years old! It’s an awe-inspiring sight, made all the more so by the fact that this tree survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

patience inspiring leadership secrets

Nearly 400 years old, atomic bombing survivor

There are no shortcuts to produce growth. Nothing less than four centuries make that tree what it is.

But sometimes we force ourselves and our teams out of season. We push when we should rest. Or rest when we should study. Or move when we should question. Or question when it’s time to act.

To be effective, how can you be aware of your own seasons and your team’s season? You can use the competence-confidence model to give people what they need at this moment.

3. Treat individuals as individuals

A skilled bonsai artist knows that you cannot prune a trident maple at the same time of year as a juniper. Not all trees are the same.

People are also unique. Different people should be treated differently. What motivates one person may terrify or humiliate another.

How can you better understand the people you lead and learn how to maximize each person’s potential?

4. Healthy conditions produce growth

You cannot force a tree to grow. Rather, you provide the right nutrients, fresh air, sunlight, water, and soil and the tree will naturally grow. That’s what trees do.

People and organizations are much the same. Healthy organizations have healthy cultures and in healthy cultures, healthy people accomplish great things.

If your people aren’t growing and producing what you believe they’re capable of, examine your culture and systems. What can you do to help?

5. Appearances don’t tell the whole story

With certain trees, there are times of the year when you might swear the thing is dead. Some of the greatest abstract juniper trees have vast amounts of dead wood. A tree (and a person’s) potential is not just what you see.

look for life - inspiring leadership secrets

In a tree, you look for life in the roots, in the channels that carry sap to the branches. In a person, you look for character. For integrity. For the desire to learn and willingness to try.

And when those are there, you:

6. Nourish or encourage what you want more of

A bonsai master knows which of three buds on the tip of a branch will be strong and best serve the tree. That bud is encouraged. If other buds would steal energy, they are removed.

You cannot wave a magic wand in bonsai or in leadership and have the right branch, team, or skills spring into existence. These things must be grown. If you want:

  • More creativity, encourage it and remove barriers to healthy risk.
  • More ownership, nourish responsibility and remove impediments to implementing ideas.
  • To strengthen customer relationships, remove policies that prevent people from serving.

7. Pruning is beneficial

Sometimes a bonsai master will remove a branch or an entire limb for the health of the tree or so it can realize its full potential.

In your organization, do you regularly ask what we need to stop doing?

What methods, products, or services are no longer beneficial or serve the mission? You have limited time, money, and people. Set aside activities that do not serve your team or the mission. You can use the Own the U.G.L.Y. method to facilitate these conversations with your team.

8. Every part needs light to thrive

When caring for a tree, masters give great attention to ensure that every set of leaves or needles receives the light it needs. Without this care, interior leaves weaken then wither and die.

In organizations, we can shade out essential people who make a difference every day but aren’t the glamorous ‘face’ of the organization.

Do you treat your cleaning staff with the same dignity as your executives? Do you show appreciation to everyone in the organization for their contribution to the mission?

9. Make mistakes to grow

“Killing trees is the tuition you pay for learning bonsai.” – John Naka

No one enjoys making mistakes, but they are the price of knowledge. How can you create a safe environment for your team to make mistakes and learn what to do next time?

10. You cannot change the core

When selecting a tree, the bonsai master knows that some qualities of the tree cannot change. The general shape and strength of the trunk, the position of key limbs, the way the roots spread into the ground … these things are core to the tree and you cannot change them later.

Likewise, one of the most important leadership secrets to know is that you can’t change people. No matter how hard you work at it, forcing a gregarious people-person to work in isolation all day will end in failure.

Find people with a passion for the mission and the skills their work requires.

11. Nothing is perfect

Inspiring bonsai often tell a story. A tale of a lifetime fighting salt-laden storms blowing in from sea … or the struggle to survive hostile conditions in a rock cleft far above treeline.

These stories and a bonsai’s grace often result from the tree’s imperfections. The masters incorporate dead wood, twisted branches, and even wounds into the design to reveal the essence of the tree. They specifically select the best viewing – you don’t view most trees from every angle.

Leadership isn’t about perfection. It’s about improving the condition of your team and accomplishing the mission. Just as there is no ideal tree, neither is there one ideal person.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly answered complaints about General Grant’s heavy drinking by telling the complaining party to find out what Grant was drinking and to send his other commanders a case.

Your Turn

As in bonsai, effective leaders look for strengths, manage imperfections, and aim for magnificent results. We’d love to hear from you – Leave us a comment and share: What is one of the most important leadership secrets you’ve learned from an unusual source?

Hidden leadership problem with passion

The Hidden Leadership Problem with Passion

One problem with passion is that it’s no substitute for good leadership.

Passion is good. You want team members who love their work and serve their customers with passion. We are big believers in the power of purpose. Connecting what you’ve asked to why it matters is a powerful source of motivation. However, there is a problem with passion that can erode your influence, your team, and entire companies.

Recently, Amnesty International was in the news for what might seem like a strange reason. The human rights organization lost five members of their leadership team following a report revealing a toxic workplace culture.

How does an organization with such a noble purpose as fighting human rights abuses around the world end up with a “toxic culture of secrecy and mistrust?”

It might seem strange, but it’s actually more common than you might think – and it’s not limited to charitable organizations. You can easily find yourself in the same situation if you fall into the Passion Pit.

The Problem with Passion

The Passion Pit is the name I gave to the strange contradiction of organizations that do good work but have poor culture – cultures that are caustic, toxic, and abusive.

You might think that for an organization like Amnesty International, the negative culture, burnout, and employee anxiety would result from the difficult work they do. Observing human rights abuses like torture would be emotionally draining and take a toll on anyone.

But that’s not the problem. According to the report:

“The stress, burnout, anxiety, depression … were more often reported to stem from their working conditions–challenging managers, mistreatment by colleagues, bullying–than from stressful tasks such as interviewing survivors of violence and torture.”

I’ve watched this same dynamic happen before. I’ve lived it as an employee and I’ve witnessed it as a leadership trainer and consultant.

The Passion Pit happens when leaders use people’s passion and commitment as a substitute for sound leadership and management.

If They Really Cared, They Would …

I was working with the CEO of a regional service organization who did amazing work but was having a horrible time keeping employees.

As I reviewed my initial findings with her, she said something that stopped me cold. Rather than address the organizational dysfunctions, the clearly abusive and bullying managers, and the lack of clarity that frustrated employees, she said, “If people really cared about what we’re doing there, they’d get it done.”

That’s the Passion Pit.

This CEO was sincere. She believed in their work, but she was blind to their leadership and management problems (and her contribution to them).

Her perspective was so twisted that she interpreted people’s behavior only as a sign of their commitment–not as the healthy indicator of major issues it was.

Diagnose Your Passion Pit

When you say, “If they really cared about what we’re doing here, they would …” carefully examine what comes next. If your next words would be something like:

  • “tolerate that abusive or dehumanizing person …”
  • “sacrifice their health or family …”
  • “stop asking for clarity or priorities and just work harder …”

I invite you to consider that the person isn’t the problem. Passion isn’t the problem. These are powerful signs that your culture, processes, and leaders need help.

You’re asking people to swim against a powerful current. People can’t fight the culture every day just to do their basic work.

Solving the Problem with Passion

You’re a motivated leader and you care. (You wouldn’t have read this far if that wasn’t true.)

If you suspect that the Passion Pit is at work in your team, one direct way to solve it is to change your language from “If they really cared, they would …” to “If we really care about our people successfully serving our customer, we would …”

Here are some places to start: “If we really care about our people successfully serving our customer, we would …”

As you implement these steps, you’re on your way to building a culture that supports and energizes your people. You’ll release their natural motivation and you’ll make it easier, not harder, to the work that really matters.

Your Turn

When the work is important, it’s easy to fall into the Passion Pit – that’s the problem with passion.

This is a short list to get you started. Leave us a comment and share one way you complete the sentence: “If I really care about my people successfully serving our customer, I will …”

How to lead a team on different schedules

How to Lead a Team on Different Schedules

How do you build a high-performing, cohesive team when people are working on different schedules? Clarity is even more important as you get everyone working toward the same goals and it takes extra effort to build relationships with little face-time.

Here are tips that can help.

7 Ways to Effectively Lead a Team on Different Schedules

1. Show Up to Help When They Least Expect It

When Karin first started her retail sales exec role, one of the best pieces of advice she received from her predecessor was “Show up in the stores during the times you would most rather be at home.” The logic being, the employees working those shifts would ALSO rather be at home. When you show up on a Sunday at 11 am, or Friday night at 8 pm you gain credibility and build trust with the team.

2. Spread Out Your Talent

When schedules are chosen by seniority or performance, the least desirable shifts often fill with lower-performers who can drag one another down. Find creative ways to recruit great talent for your tricky shifts to raise the bar. If this is a challenge, look to non-traditional segments of the workforce, offer part-time work, or pay differentials to help you ensure you have high-performers on every shift.

3. Clearly Define Success

You can’t have a high-performing team without a clear definition of what success looks like.  When people are working different schedules it’s even more important to over-communicate what winning means.

Spread out your 5 x 5 communications (five times, five different ways) and checks for understanding to cross all shifts.

4. Schedule Team Huddles on the Overlap

Nothing beats face to face communication now and then. Schedule at least a brief overlap of shifts and make the handoff with a well-structured team huddle. From time to time, increase the overlap for a more strategic staff meeting.

5. Build Community Through Social Media

One of the biggest complaints we hear from team members working different schedules is that they miss being part of a cohesive team. This is challenging when team members feel isolated on an overnight shift. How can you create a virtual watercooler? A private Facebook page can be a great way for team members on different schedules to get to know one another as people and to have fun.

6. Share Ideas Through Asynchronous Brainstorming

One of the biggest challenges of leading a team on different schedules is that it’s hard to pull people together for a quick brainstorm. With just a little extra effort you can tap into the power of asynchronous brainstorming.

It can be as simple as a few easel sheets hanging in a designated place with a question of the week that employees respond to at the beginning of their shift. Technology can really help. Some of our clients like to leverage our learning lab technology to ask and collect answers to strategic questions via text, or to conduct a quick poll to gather input.

7. Spread out the Recognition

In pretty much every focus group we’ve done on a night shift, we’ve heard this common complaint, “We just don’t get enough recognition.” Sometimes this is because performance is just not as good (see number 2), but mostly it’s the out-of-sight-out-of-mind dynamic. Be sure you’re around enough to notice the good happening on all the schedules. Recognize it.

Having your team work on different schedules is tricky, but not impossible. Communicate more than feels necessary, show up when you can, and stay curious about how you can best help.

Your turn:

What are our ideas to make it easier to lead teams on different schedules?

See Also:

How Teams Can Be Productive When Everyone’s On Different Schedules

how to develop people when you dont have time

How to Develop People When You Don’t Have Time

You can’t afford not to develop people – but it doesn’t require hours.

Katrina paced back and forth as she described her problems with customer service and employee retention. “I can’t improve either one, but I don’t have time to develop people.”

“I know I should, but it’s a constant crisis. We’re backed up, missing deadlines left and right, and any time I take for development conversations is costing me on our KPIs.”

Ticking Away

You’ll never have enough time. It’s a fact of life – you can’t do everything. I’ve never met a manager who has extra time. It will never happen. The number of things you could do today will always exceed the time you have available to do them.

Mistaken Thinking

Even so, developing people tops the list of your leadership responsibilities. When leaders claim they don’t have time to develop people, it usually means they’ve misunderstood their responsibility. Here are common errors in thinking:

  • I’ve got to take care of the customer now so I can’t take care of the employee.

These aren’t mutually exclusive. Take care of the customer with your team member – not instead of your team member. Investing in your people will help them take care of future situations without your direct help, giving you more time.

  • HR can handle staff development.

This is a common mistake. Your Human Resource team can support you and your team, make training available, and coordinate grow opportunities, but as a leader, you are the only one who can help your people to grow right now, where they are. There’s no substitute for your leadership and you can’t outsource your team’s growth to someone who isn’t a direct part of their journey.

  • Developing people takes too long.

Many well-intentioned leaders make this mistake. You might feel like you need an hour to have a deep coaching conversation, but you don’t. You may want to take a couple of non-existent hours to put your thoughts together in a rousing motivational speech that will fuel your team’s performance.

But that’s not how the real world works.

Winning teams aren’t built by a stirring halftime speech; they’re built one micro-engagement at a time.

The Secret to Developing People When You Don’t Have Time

It’s true. Your time is limited. So you’ve got to be laser-focused and make the most of every opportunity. It’s amazing what you can achieve in 30 seconds or less when you’re prepared. This is the secret of micro-engagement – consistent short development wins every time.

Start by knowing what your people need. Use the Confidence-Competence Model to identify who needs encouragement, coaching, more challenge, or training. Don’t waste your time or their attention encouraging someone who needs a challenge or coaching someone who needs encouragement.

confidence competence model

Once you know what they need, be on the lookout for a chance to share it. Keep it short, keep it focused – that’s the magic of micro-engagement.

When time is tight, encouraging and challenging competent employees are often the first behaviors managers abandon. You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, so take the time to do it. You always have 10 seconds to look someone in the eyes and tell them they did well.

Encouragement:

“You had fantastic empathy and patience with that customer. I know it’s not easy when we’re this busy, and you did a great job. Well done.”

“I appreciate the dissenting perspectives you shared – that keeps us thinking and makes sure we don’t make dumb mistakes.”

Challenge:

“You did a masterful job bringing that project in on time. Would you be willing to start our next team meeting with a five-minute overview of how you did it? Some of the newer team members could really benefit from your wisdom.”

Coaching:

“I noticed that you didn’t follow the client’s request on the design specification. What’s going on there?” Assuming it’s not a justified reason: “Okay, rework it to spec and bring it to me by four this afternoon, please.”

Training:

“Can I show you a faster way to find that information and solve that problem?”

Your Turn

Effective development conversations happen in the work, not apart from it. Don’t wait for the next retreat, offsite, or performance review to give your people the development feedback they desperately need. Help them grow through the daily interaction you already have.

You don’t have time not to.

Please leave us a comment and share how your favorite way to invest in your people when time is tight.


90 days to transform your team, your leadership, and your results. We’ve got seats available for ACCELERATE 2019. Make this year your best year ever – without leaving your office.

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3 problems with open door policy

3 Problems with Your Open Door Policy and What To Do Instead

An open door policy doesn’t get you what you need to lead.

The intent behind your open door policy is good: a door that is figuratively always open to encourage transparency, open lines of communication, a standing invitation for your employees to bring you issues that affect them or their work.

The intent is good, but the reality is more complicated. In fact, your open door policy may be causing your team more harm than good and limiting your leadership.

3 Problems With Your Open Door Policy 

1. Your Door is Literally Always Open.

An open door policy doesn’t mean you are constantly interruptible. Constant interruption prevents you from thinking deeply and serving your team in the ways only you can. If you allow a constant barrage of “Gotta minute?” to obliterate your day, you won’t be able to lead your team anywhere.

An open door policy doesn’t mean your door (if you have one) is literally open all the time. We helped one senior leader overcome this challenge by defining 90 minutes of deep-think time in the morning and again in the afternoon where everyone committed not to interrupt anyone else unless it was an emergency.

That may not work in your setting, but the principle is important. How can you give yourself and your team the space to focus?

2. You Don’t Get All the Information You Need.

Your people know things you need to know. They can spot problems before they spin out of control. They know what irritates your customers. They’ve already created micro-innovations to be more productive and better serve your customers. They’re your greatest asset – but only if you hear what they have to say.

Problem-solving innovation isn’t going to walk through your open door. [Tweet This]

Most of the information that will walk through your open door are complaints. There’s nothing wrong with this necessarily. You need to be aware of problems – especially those that create a hostile workplace.

An open door policy isn’t enough. Occasionally, you’ll have someone walk through your open door with a great idea. I’ve had it happen. But most of the great ideas will stay locked in your employees’ minds.

To get the information you need to make the best decisions, you’ve got to intentionally go ask for it. Most employees are busy doing their jobs. They may not even realize they have experience or wisdom worth sharing. If they do have insights, they may believe you’re not interested in hearing them, no matter how many times you talk about your open door policy.

Take the initiative and seek out the information you need. Regularly ask your team how things are going, how you can help them to do their job more effectively or serve the customer, or what’s getting in their way. Ask them to teach you how they do their work.

3. You’re Not Strategic.

The final leadership problem with an open door policy is that it puts you in a reactive mode. You’re not thinking strategically about what will move your team or the business forward. You’re waiting and responding to the issues that come to you.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t respond to problems that people bring to you. Rather, if you’re leading strategically and moving things forward, you are more likely to have surfaced and solved these issues long before they surface as complaints or distractions.

Most employees aren’t asked to think strategically in their normal work, so the problems they bring you won’t be strategic either. To help your team think strategically, give them the information they need to make strategic decisions. Help them understand how the business makes money and impact and how they’re work contributes to the bigger picture. Facilitate Own the UGLY discussions to help find the game-changing opportunities and challenges long before they would walk through your open door.

Your Turn

Your open door policy can be a foundation for trust, transparency, and communication, but there’s a danger if you let it make you passive and reactive. Leave us a comment and share How do you maintain a strategic focus for your team and solve problems before they become bigger problems?

what no one tells you about leadership

What No One Tells You About Leadership

Welcome to the Hope Business

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the hope business.

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

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

I know you can do this.

Welcome to the hope business.

Welcome to leadership!

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

Hope is your most important leadership responsibility.

Why Try?

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

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

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

The only answer is hope.

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

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

When It’s Tough

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

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

Your TurnSelvia, leadership, and hope

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

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

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

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

How to Motivate Your Team - Not Your Goals

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

Wondering How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals? Hint: Don’t Motivate, Cultivate

Have you ever been given a goal by your supervisors and thought, “Ugh! What are they thinking? My team’s gonna hate this!” If so, you’re not alone. Every manager has to figure how to motivate your team in situations like these.

People don’t like it when they feel goals are ‘shoved down their throats’ – goals that might have been set by people who may not have all the facts and didn’t ask for input.

The good news is that you and your team can still thrive in these situations – there are ways to motivate your team even when you didn’t set the goals.

How to Motivate Your Team When You Don’t Set the Goals

  1. Understand that you don’t actually motivate anyone.
    A person’s motivation always comes from inside them. Your responsibility is to help release that motivation. The first step when you’re wondering how to motivate your team is to remember that you can’t actually motivate anyone. Don’t motivate, cultivate.
  2. Take Responsibility.
    In these situations, the very worst thing you can possibly do is walk into your team meeting and say, “Those clueless jerks gave us these goals and I guess we’re stuck with them.” These kind of statements are leadership suicide. They kill your credibility, disempower you and your team, and make your team wonder who they should be talking to, if not you. Do not shirk this responsibility. Own it.
  3. Be Transparent.
    While you don’t want to act like a victim nor encourage victim-thinking in your team, it is also okay to acknowledge the situation. If the goals are difficult, say so. Remember, the most important currency you have with your team is their trust. If the team is clearly feeling that the situation is unfair or challenging, it is okay to voice those feelings for the team. Eg: “You may be feeling that this is tough or even a little unfair, and I get that.”
  4. Believe In Them.
    Your team needs to hear you voice your belief in what is possible. This is the “vision” work of leadership – picture your team succeeding and let them know their own potential.” Yes, these are difficult goals and I know you haven’t done anything like this before, and I also believe we are up to the challenge. In fact, this will be the most significant achievement we do together.”
  5. Help Them.
    Rather than, “These are your goals, go figure it out and stop your complaining…” Try, “This will be our greatest achievement…and, you won’t be alone. I will be with you each step of the way. I’m committed to helping all of us succeed together.” Note: you MUST back this offer of help with real action or you won’t be asking how to motivate your team, but how to reclaim your lost credibility.
  6. Own the Problem.
    Top-down goals are difficult because people feel disempowered. Motivation drops when they don’t feel they have control over their own fate.Your job as a leader is to restore some of that power. You may not have had input into the goals, but as a team, you can have full ownership over how you will accomplish them. Ask: “How can we solve this problem?”As you settle on specific strategies and tactics, make sure to get people working out of their natural talents and energy wherever possible.When you help the team own the solution, you will have restored some of their power (and their motivation!)
  7. Advocate for Your Team.
    Part of your responsibility as a leader is to advocate for your team, department, or organization. Actively manage up and get as much information about why goals were set the way they were. The more information you can share with your team, the better. Also, take the opportunity to share any facts the decision-makers may not be aware of – be sure to share it in a way that will help them with their needs and goals. Note: you will not always succeed in changing the decision-making, but your credibility with your team and the organization will grow. Your team knows you have their back and, over time, you will gain more opportunity to speak into the goal-setting process.
  8. Do It.
    Whatever strategy your team developed – do it! Become its biggest champion. Remind everyone of their potential, the process, and their input into the decision. Hold yourself and the team accountable for results.
  9. Celebrate.
    When you get it done – make it a big deal! Thank individuals for their efforts. Celebrate the team effort. Fly the flag and let your own supervisors know what the team did and how they did it.

Your Turn

When you’re wondering how to motivate your team, remember that you don’t actually motivate anyone. Cultivate an environment where you honor them and bring out their best.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts on how to motivate your team – especially when you don’t set the goals?

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?