the suprising reason emerging leaders stop emerging

The Surprising Reason Emerging Leaders Stop Emerging

I met a fellow keynote speaker at a conference where we both presenting. She was a seasoned entrepreneur who had built a successful business from scratch, so what she had to share with me was surprising.

Karin, I’m so intrigued by this research you’re doing on FOSU (fear of speaking up) and the downstream consequences for employees and organizations. The truth is I’m one of those people. I had such a bad experience when I was 23, that I would never offer my opinion at work again.

I was just out of college and so eager to make an impact in my new role. I had tons of ideas and was always looking for ways to make things better. So I offered my opinion on EVERYTHING. Which as it turns out, was exhausting to everyone around me. I got fired and was completely devastated. After all, my heart was in the right place. I was gung ho. But, the truth is, I was commited but clumsy.

Once I got back on my feet in a new job, I kept my head down, my mouth shut, and just did my job. I had this FOSU thing you talk about in a big way. And I was misearable.

It’s why I eventually had to go start my own business. I knew I would never speak up to an employer again.

Please feel free to share my story.

I hope it can help leaders understand the long-term damage they can do to emerging leaders who may have good ideas, but just haven’t learned the skills to position them well. Also leaders need to understand how easy it is to lose high-potential talent when you scare them into suppressing their best thinking instead of teaching them the skills they need to get their point across.

I thought back to one of my own early-career, well-intended, clumsy moves. I was an inexperienced HR manager attending a meeting on employee engagement where I told a room full of VPs, all with at least a decade more experience than me, that they were completely wrong. But in contrast to my new friend’s experience, here’s what the SVP took me aside and said next.

Karin, You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs that all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers, and in front of their boss! You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix this problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

I took her up on her offer, and she became an amazing mentor.

The Cost of Ignoring Your Emerging Leader’s Ideas

When I tell some executives about our FOSU research, sometimes they laugh. “Oh, that’s not OUR issue. Our problem is these damn millennials can’t stop speaking up. They complain about everything.”

“And do you listen?” I ask.

“Some of the time, but after a while you can only take so much.”

Which begs the question. And then what happens? After you’re tired and they’re ignored?

I imagine it’s only a matter of time until they stop trying, or leave.

If you want to create better ideas positioned well, it’s worth the investment to teach them well.

4 Ways to Help Your Emerging Leaders Articulate Their Ideas

1. Give them perspective.

When leaders come to us wishing their team was more strategic or are frustrated that their employees are all fired up about some small issue that’s not so important in the grand scheme of things, what we often find is a gap in strategic communication. For employees to position their ideas well, they need context. Be sure you’re articulating the “why” behind strategic business initiatives.

2. Provide candid feedback about how their behavior is holding them back.

One problem with over-generalizing about “this millennial problem,” we so often hear about– the feeling that these emerging leaders want everything right now and feel entitled to say whatever is on their minds–is that managers are often afraid to address the issue because they see it as a generation problem, not an individual needing guidance, training, and support. And so, these emerging leaders don’t get the feedback they need and the behavior continues.

They don’t hear that saying the same thing in a different way would be 1000 times more impactful. No one tells them why jumping over their boss to bring an issue to the senior leader without context is a problem.

Here’s the truth. I was a clumsy emerging leader. So was the keynote speaker who got fired from her first job for speaking up. I imagine you were or are one too.

Care enough to have the tough conversation.

3. Build problem solving competencies.

“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is the fastest way to get your team to stop bringing you problems. Work to build problem-solving competencies on your team. Try this simple 9 Whats Coaching Model technique as a start.

4. Teach them the power of stakeholders.

In our emerging leader training programs, we teach the V.O.I.C.E. technique for positioning ideas which includes understanding and involving stakeholders and other key influencers.

We don’t just need more people speaking up, we need to help our emerging leaders speak up in a way that can be heard so their ideas can add the most value. It’s worth slowing down and giving our new managers the skills and encouragement they need to do that well.

Your turn. 

How do you help your emerging leaders better position their ideas?

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

How do I Get the Feedback I Crave?

How Do I Get the Feedback I Crave?

Do you crave genuine feedback from your boss about where you stand and what’s getting in the way? How about your peers? If you knew a peer really had your best interest at heart, would you want to hear her feedback, even if it stung?

You’re not alone. Most managers we talk with share that one of their biggest frustrations is not getting the feedback they crave.

One of the biggest places FOSU (fear of speaking up) rears its ugly head is when it comes to giving feedback. After all, if we say nothing, no one gets hurt. Or do they?

The Danger of Not Sharing Feedback

We were leading a Winning Well executive development offsite which began with a leadership panel.  “Steve” shared this heart-wrenching story.

I was serving in Iraq. We were headed cross the desert in two hummers. I was in the one leading the way, and the other was close behind.

I noticed that our driver was really driving fast and it didn’t feel right. I was getting more and more nervous. I knew how dangerous this was. But I didn’t want to be a backseat driver, so I kept the feedback to myself. Finally I took out my GPS and tracked our speed. We were going 75 miles an hour on those damaged streets! I still didn’t say anything.

Then my buddy looked back and we realized that the other hummer was no longer behind us. We turned back, and sure enough is flipped.

We lost a man that day.

I’m haunted by the fact that I could have saved his life, if I had just spoken up.

Of course, most situations are not this extreme. But how many times have you watched someone damage their credibility, slow down a project, or destroy team trust because you were afraid to give feedback?

How many times do you think others held back from sharing important feedback with you because they were scared?

How Do I Get Better Feedback?

What to do when your boss cant focusIn this same meeting, we did a quick “Asking For a Friend” hot seat, where participants anonymously wrote down their leadership questions and gave our best spontaneous point of view to address as many as possible.

And in this room of seasoned leaders, in a culture which prides itself on genuinely caring about customers and employees, the most frequently asked question was about how to get and receive genuine feedback.

“How do you get your boss to give you better feedback?”

“How to improve your performance if you’re not getting specific feedback?”

“What if you are only hearing about negative perceptions from others (not your boss)?”

“How do I get my boss to tell me where I stand?”

“How do I get more meaningful feedback from my peers?”

“I really care about my boss, how do I help him see the behaviors that are holding him back?”

“How do I share accountability feedback more effectively with a peer?”

And here’s the thing, every one of their bosses and peers was in that room. The room was full of people craving feedback, and wishing they could help others to improve. They were sitting silent because of FOSU.

Do you think this could be happening where you work too?

If you’re craving feedback, here’s a way to get some more.

7 Ways to Get the Feedback You Crave

1. Ask for the Truth

Set up some time with your boss and peers to really ask for feedback. Avoid the generic, “Do you have any feedback for me?” Or letting them off the hook, by accepting “You’re doing everything just right.”

Ask questions about areas you’re specifically looking to improve.

“What specifically do you think I could do to run our project meetings more effectively and efficiently?”

“I’ve been under a great deal of stress recently, and worry that I might be rubbing some people the wrong way. Is there anything I can do to improve the way I’ve been communicating with you?”

“If you had one piece of advice that could really help me take our team’s performance to the next level, what would that be?”

A great way to do this is through a Do It Yourself 360 Feedback Assessment. Click here to learn how. 

2. Say Thank You

When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank the person for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.

3. Respond

If you ask for input, take time to respond. Even if the ideas aren’t actionable, when you acknowledge that the ideas were heard and considered, you increase the likelihood of hearing more in the future.

4. Never Ever Shoot the Messenger

If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, keep your cool. If you attack them, they won’t bring you another concern.

5. Find Your Truth-Tellers

There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.

6. Check Your Behavior

If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to examine how you are interacting with others. Be sure your paying attention to the items on this list.

If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.

7. Model It

The best way to get people to tell you the truth is to build a reputation as someone who tells other people the truth–from a place of deep caring with their best interest at heart. If you want more truth tellers, be a truth teller.

Your Turn

It may take time, but if you consistently channel challengers by asking for the truth, showing gratitude for input, and responding to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.

Want to learn more about FOSU, and how to Overcome it?

Check out these articles.

Entrepreneur: How Your Leadership Style May Be Stifling Innovation and Problem Solving in Your Company

Ragan: 5 Ways to Get Your Team to Tell You the Truth

Photo credit by Ricardo Lago

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

Done well, an icebreaker can be valuable & strategic.

If the word “icebreaker” conjures up images of toothpicks and marshmallows and other fluffy activities that feel like a waste of time, you’re not alone.

We’re not huge fans of icebreaking without meaning.

But before you throw your ice out with the ice water, consider this. What if you began your team meeting with one strategic question to get your team talking about a topic that really mattered? After all, great meetings accomplish more than the task at hand, they make the team stronger.

Why not give it a try? Pick one question and send it out in advance with your meeting agenda so your introverts have a minute to think. And then open your next meeting with a bit of connected discussion on that topic. You’ll get the team talking about ways to make the team stronger, and as a bonus, you might be surprised how much more smoothly and efficiently the rest of the meeting goes.

Here are few to get you started.

7 Icebreaker Questions to Start Your Meeting

What one strength do you bring to the team that you wish others would truly see and appreciate?

Why it’s important: Whenever we ask this icebreaker question in one of our training programs, there’s always a lot of emotion behind the answer. People want to be seen for their gifts and the contributions they bring to the team. And almost everyone feels overlooked about something. By asking this question, you give people an opportunity to share something they are proud of. And of course, most of the time, the rest of the team will chime in with some affirmation, “Oh YOU ARE really good at that! Thank you.”

What is the most important thing you are working on this quarter? How can we support your success in this arena?

Why it’s important: Getting your team talking about their MITs is one of the best ways to build alignment and support. This question is particularly useful in teams where there are conflicting priorities. Often team members are reluctant to ask for help because they know “everyone is busy.” Try carving out a little space for teams to ask for the support they need, and watch how quickly people jump in with ideas of how they can help. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that can save a lot of time and get the team working better together.

Who went out of their way to help you this week? What did they do and why was it so helpful?

Why it’s important: There’s a 2-for-1 benefit on this icebreaker. Of course, it’s always good to give people an opportunity to say “thank you.” And, if you send this out in the agenda the week before, no one wants to be the guy at the meeting that’s not mentioned. Chances are the team will be a little extra focused on supporting one another that week. It will feel good to be recognized for it, AND you get more of what you recognize and celebrate, so the cycle continues.

How do you like to be recognized when you do something notable?

Why it’s important: The best recognition is specific, timely and most importantly, meaningful to the receiver. The best way to know how people like to be recognized is to ask. When you ask in front of the team, you give everyone a chance to hear and reinforce the point that celebrating success is everyone’s job and that different people receive encouragement in different ways.

What’s one aspect of your job that really frustrates you. What’s one idea you have for making that easier?

Why it’s important: This is a great way to get your team to eliminate FOSU and shift to a “How can we?” mindset. Everyone’s frustrated about something. Healthy teams talk about what’s not working and work together to find solutions.

What’s your very best idea (or best practice) for improving the customer experience (can also include internal customers)?

Why it’s important: In almost any team we ever work with, there are FANTASTIC best practices taking place and GREAT ideas, that people are just moving too fast to share. If you want your team to share best practices and share their ideas, ask.

BONUS: Click here for more ideas on uncovering your team’s best practices.

What’s one area where you would like more feedback from this team?

Why it’s important: It’s really hard to give your peers unsolicited feedback, and most people don’t. But if you invite people to ask, then the door is open, and team members are more likely to share.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share: What ideas do you have for great icebreaker questions to melt frustration and build trust?


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

Criticism: Gift or Garbage?

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Criticism

1) Be aware of your emotions.

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

2) Look for patterns.

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

3) Ask why.

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

4) Look for causes.

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

5) Be curious.

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

6) Test it.

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

7) Show gratitude.

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

8) Ignore it.

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

9) Respond where you can.

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

10) Move on.

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

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

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

Your Turn:

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

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development