5 Ways Overaligning With Your Boss Can Damage Your Crediblity

5 Ways Over-Aligning With Your Boss Can Damage your Credibility

Building a great relationship with your boss is so important as you work to up your game, get the feedback you need, navigate organizational politics, and grow your influence and impact.

A great boss can also be a remarkable career elixir.

And, like other good things in life, a great boss relationship, taken to extremes, can wreak havoc with your career. I’ve seen otherwise smart and talented people lose credibility by over-aligning with a great boss. Be sure to diversify your relationship investments. Perhaps you’ll recognize these career-derailing missteps.

Great Boss Traps

The Coattail  Rider

On the surface, it feels like the perfect symbiotic relationship. You’re her right-hand guy. You work hard and always achieve results. She gets promoted to a new department, and she brings you over. It’s comforting for her to have a someone familiar she can rely on, and you get a promotion or a new assignment. Win-win, right? Then it happens again, and again. Sweet deal?

Although it’s comfortable and feels like the fast track, beware of riding coattails, particularly into more than one assignment. Your identity will become enveloped within your more powerful, great boss. People will begin to see you as a package deal. If her career derails, so will yours.

Also, the best leadership growth comes from working with a variety of leaders. Although the devil you know feels easy, you’re both limiting the growth you would get from working with a wider variety of leaders. Better to let your relationship morph into a mentoring relationship, or friendship, while you each continue to pursue the next steps of your career.

The Mini-Me

Your great boss is successful, so you work to emulate his every move. You begin dressing more like him and picking up mannerisms. After all, it works for him, why not you? In fact, you may not even notice you’re doing it. Trust me, others do.

No matter how great a leader your great boss is, resist the urge to lead like him. Your best leadership will come when you lead from a place of deep authenticity.   No one wants to follow a copycat.

The Tag Along

Your great boss is looking to develop you and has your best interest at heart, so he brings you along a lot: to the big meetings, to the charity fundraiser…to happy hour. When there’s a company function, there you are right by his side. You always find your way to his table at dinner.

After all, powerful people hang out with other powerful people, right? Be careful. Some such exposure is healthy but over-exposure will burn. Give your peers a chance for the face time. Be deliberate in getting to know other people at those functions. It’s harder, sure, but the widened network will be invaluable.

The Name Dropper

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s tempting to just throw around your bosses name. “Karin said this MUST be done by tomorrow at 5.” Weak leaders hide behind the power of other leaders. Even if your boss is the one asking for something to be done, resist the urge to use that muscle. In the long run, you’ll have much more credibility when you own your asks.

The Good Soldier

Your great boss says “Jump!” You say “How high?” every time. You trust him. Now of course, there’s a time and a place for good soldiering, but real leaders know when to question and put on the brakes. Sure your boss may reward you for your consistent execution of her directives, but she’ll be amazed when you challenge her with innovation and suggest creative, and better alternatives.

Work to build a fantastic relationship with your great boss, but beware of such co-dependencies. What feels easy and comfortable, could damage your career in the long run.

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How to Overcome a Frustarting Setback at Work

How to Overcome a Frustrating Setback at Work

I know it’s painful, but take a minute to consider the most frustrating setback you’ve ever had at work. If you’re like me, you’ve got plenty to choose from. Pick the most gnarly, frustrating one.

Chances are you didn’t “deserve” this thing that happened to you. Tides shifted that you couldn’t have predicted or controlled, but there you were. Frustrated. Sad. Ticked off. Worried. And feeling stuck.

To be perfectly honest, we’re in the midst of a pretty frustrating setback ourselves. In business, setbacks can be contagious.

So I’m writing this for both of us.

Okay, got that “worst of” scene firmly in your mind?

Now let me ask you this question: “And then what happened?”

Nine times out of ten, when I ask this question, the answer goes something like this.

“Well when X happened, I felt like it was the end of the world, but it turns out that closed door led me to what I’m doing today, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

“Losing that job was a blessing in disguise.”

“Losing that contract made us take a really hard look at our business model. We needed to diversify. After that wake-up call our business has quadrupled.”

Sound familiar?

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Facing a Frustrating Setback at Work

The next time an unexpected, frustrating setback happens to you or your team, ask yourself these questions. If you’re a leader with a team full of frustrated eyes looking at you, these questions work great to guide others through as well.

1. What am I feeling?

If you’re anything like me it’s really, really tempting to skip past this phase. After all, leaders are strong. Great entrepreneurs are resilient. Setbacks are par for the course. Suck it up buttercup.

But here’s the deal. You are feeling something, and pretending you’re above all that is BS. You might be fooling everyone else, but deep down you know the truth.

It’s okay to not be okay for a bit.

Name the feeling. Are you frustrated? Resentful? Exhausted? Angry? Sad? Confused? Worried?

The other day David and I were sitting on a Southwest flight and the guys behind us were talking. “I worked for this boss who demanded that every morning when he asked how we were we had to reply ‘excellent.'” Apparently, that proved they had a good attitude and were ready for a strong sales day.

For real?

I’ve never seen the “suck it up” strategy work for motivated teams when something real is going on.  I love this New York Times article on the value of naming your emotions.

So what’s the value of getting people to express what they’re actually feeling, rather than keeping things relentlessly light and bland? The answer is that naming our emotions tends to diffuse their charge and lessen the burden they create. The psychologist Dan Siegel refers to this practice as “name it to tame it.”

2. How have I overcome setbacks before?

As we share in our book Winning Well, the best way to regain confidence is to recall other times you overcame seemingly insurmountable setbacks.

3. What have I learned?

If things are totally outside of your control, the real truth may be “nothing.” But there’s usually something to be gained.  As I said in one of my earliest blog posts:

Resiliency is hardly ever about “returning to the original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched.” Chances are that original form had something to do with current predicament. It’s about gathering up the lessons and energy from the potentially crippling scene, and emerging stronger, wiser… knowing you have the fortitude to recover the next time. There’s always a next time.

Caught up in a merger-related downsizing? Maybe you’ve learned the importance of maintaining your external network before you need it. Project derailed? Maybe you’ve learned you need a better system for reinforcing accountability.

4. Where’s the good news in this story?

I get that this sounds crazy when you’re on the steep decline of the emotional rollercoaster, but I promise you just this last week I had three leaders confide the glimmer of good news they saw in their bad news.

“The timing is terrible to lose these guys headed into our busy season, but the truth is this gives us a real opportunity to upgrade our leadership bench for long-term viability.”

“Losing this deal sucks, but they would have been a very difficult client to work with.”

“This project exposed some system vulnerabilities we didn’t know we had. Better to know so we can get them fixed.”

5. How can we? 

If you missed last week’s post on Overcoming Negativity click here for a very practical technique to shift your mindset to tangible solutions:

So given that reality, the next question is, “How can we make the situation better?”

Invite your team to brainstorm as many “How can we?” questions as possible for the problem at hand.  If you’re short on time, you can even assign this as homework and have team members come with a list of  “How can we?” questions to the next meeting. Gather all the questions on a whiteboard or easel sheets around the room.

The ability to rebound from setbacks and to help your team get through tough times is so vital for long-term success as a leader. If you’re feeling stuck, frustrated, or even a bit ticked off, it’s okay. Take a breath. And then consider your next best question and action.

Your turn. I hope you’ll share your stories of hope and resilience in the comments to encourage others who are feeling frustrated and stuck. And if you’re neck-deep in a setback, I hope our stories will give you confidence and hope.


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

A Practical Guide For Finding a Great Place to Work

A Practical Guide to Finding a Great Place to Work

Don’t Accept that New Job Until You Ask These Important Questions

You’re looking for a great place to work; with people you admire and where jerks don’t survive. A place where you can get results, without losing your soul. 

A great place to work where you can learn and grow; where your work makes an impact.

In this economy, if you’re good, you’ve likely got choices. So how do you decide if this is the right place for you?

How do you figure out if your prospective employer is truly offering a great place to work or a shiny veneer with a foosball table and a clever recruiter?

A Practical Guide for Building Career Security

Whether you’re wrestling with a greener grass dilemma or just starting out, take time to dig a bit deeper and ask yourself these questions.

C- Cause

Do your homework on the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Dig around their website, do a Google search, talk to others who work there—be sure you understand what matters most and how it aligns with who you are. Just because this is a great place to work for someone else, doesn’t mean it is for you.

• Does the mission of this organization light me up?
• Are people here doing work I believe in?
• Is this how I want to be spending my time?

A- Admiration

Do what you can to find out a bit about the people who work here. Ask open-ended questions during the interview process to learn more about their motivations and leadership styles. Then ask yourself:

• Are these my people?
• Are there leaders here who I admire—people I could learn from and perhaps even emulate?
• How did they treat me in the interview? How did they treat their assistant? How did they show up when they ran into others walking down the hall?

R- Rigor

Do what you can to see how work gets done. Ask to talk to some people doing similar roles. It won’t feel like a great place to work if you can’t get anything done.

• Do they have the tools they need for success?
• Is there a culture of accountability and collaboration?
• What gets in the way and slows them down?

E- Energy

As you look around, tune into the energy level. Most great places to work have a vibrant feel.

• Do people seem engaged and excited about what they’re up to?
• Are the breakrooms filled with lonely people staring into microwaved Tupperware with little connection, or are they smiling and engaged in upbeat conversation?
• Start in the parking lot. What would it feel like to walk through those doors every day?

E- Expansion

Think past job security to career security. A great place to work will leave you better than they found you.

• How will you grow professionally and personally from working here?
• What new skills will you acquire?
• Will there be opportunities for lateral moves and special projects?
• What is the typical career path for someone in this role?

R- Risk Taking

This may be the hardest to tap into, but it’s worth trying. If you get a chance, do a bit of job shadowing or at least talk to people in the role you will be taking on.

• Is this a culture full of FOSU (fear of speaking up) or do people feel like they can tell the truth—up, down and sideways?
• What happens if you make a mistake around here?
• Are innovation and new ideas encouraged?

If you’re looking for a great place to work, it’s worthwhile to take the time to go a level deeper to learn as much as you can about what you’re getting into.

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

action learning

5 Tragic Mistakes that Will Derail Your Action Learning Projects

Done well, action learning projects, where groups work together to address real business problems, can provide an immediate ROI that more than pays for your training investment.

But let’s face it. Sometimes they can also be a colossal, frustrating waste of time.

What makes the difference?

Done well, action learning projects are great because:

  • You hear new ideas from fresh perspectives.
  • Real work gets done.
  • Learning is contextual.
  • It doesn’t feel like training.
  • Participants must manage through complex situations and team dynamics.
  • It’s a terrific opportunity to showcase talent to the executive team.
  • They provide a safe testing ground for high-potential talent.

And, yet, poorly executed, action learning projects waste time and frustrate everyone involved.

So how do you ensure your action learning projects are worth the time?

Avoid these five common mistakes.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing Action Learning Projects

1. Floundering: “Crap, how were we supposed to know that?” 

Participants get REALLY excited about their project and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen. But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics or bigger strategic picture.

They don’t have access to the right people or all the information, and when they go to present their findings, they’re met with a scowl, “Didn’t you consider…?” “Why didn’t you talk to…” “Don’t you know so and so has already been working on this for three years?”

You’ve now had your high-potential employees spinning their wheels, killing themselves on top of their day job, and all this time they’ve been climbing rocky terrain in an unfamiliar land.

Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the learning but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.

2. Fuzzy Guidelines: “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?”

Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.

You want the best ROI on these projects and most strategic thinking. The companies we work with who do this best, spend solid time up front defining the projects and thinking through what’s in scope and communicating any resource constraints.

If you want your team to think more strategically, giving them as much context as possible to think strategically.

3. The Wrong Players: “We thought this guy was high-potential?”

Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives.

Not all exposure is good exposure.

Be sure you pick the right talent who are ready for this experience.

Yes, stretch, but don’t send them into the deep end the first day they learn to swim. We’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.

4. Lack of Boss Support: “Yeah, no… I need you focused here.”

Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job.

But it’s important for supervisors to understand the investment necessary in such programs.

If they consistently get in the way of participants attending meetings or doing their fair share, the high-potential participant can become very stressed worrying about balancing their relationship with their boss and preserving their reputation with their action learning team.

5. Failure to Execute: “Well, it seemed like such a good idea…”

Typically action learning programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation.

Be sure to secure the appropriate commitments. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your action learning program will lose all credibility.

Done well, it’s hard to top action learning for leadership development. Be sure your design is well-thought through.

Your Turn

We would love to hear your experiences. Leave us a comment and share: what leads to a breakthrough (or even successful) action learning project, and what gets in the way?

See Also:

Critical Thinking: 5 Ways to Increase Your Team’s Capacity to Think

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Your Leadership Training Sticks

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

5 Questions to Ask Before Launching a Leadership Development Program

How To Build a Better Leadership Development Program

Don’t launch a leadership development program until you ask yourself these important questions.

If you’ve been a manager for more than a minute, chances are you’ve gone to a lousy leadership development program.

We’ll pause here to let you vent your frustrations. It was terrible because___________ .

We get it. Been there ourselves. Got the certificate.

And, if you’re a manager of managers, we imagine you’ve experienced the challenge of sacrificing “productive time” to send your managers to a leadership development program, only to find yourself scratching your head about what they learned and how they will apply it.

As soon as people find out we’re in the leadership development game, the stories fly. And if we get our friends into their second beer, the stories can be tragically comical.

Of course, it’s not always that way.

We truly hope you’ve had the opposite experience. That you’ve attended a game-changing leadership training that gave you useful skills to achieve breakthrough results and gain more influence. That kind of program is priceless.

What Makes the Difference Between Game Changing and Frustrating?

When we talk to managers who’ve attended a great leadership development program, this is what we hear.

  • A great leadership program is a process, not an event.
  • A great leadership program is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.
  • A great leadership program inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.
  • A great leadership program creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.

So how do ensure that’s what you’re getting?

Ask These 5 Questions Before Launching a Leadership Development Program

  1. What do I want to be different as a result of this program?
    Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
  2. How will we include the participant’s managers?
    Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. Ask for an executive briefing session before the program begins so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application. Be sure you have the commitment from participant’s managers to provide them the time needed to fully participate in the program.
  3. How will managers apply what they’ve learned with their teams?
    It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Does this program include a process for re-entry? Will you managers be equipped to communicate what they’ve learned and to transfer their knowledge? (e.g. if they come back fired up about accountability, how do they do they begin holding people accountable if they never have before?)
  4. How will we build sustained learning over time?
    You can’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. How will this program provide daily and weekly reinforcement of key behaviors? How will we know what’s working and where managers are struggling?
  5. How will this program stir up new ideas and critical thinking to improve the business?
    Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Will the program leave them feeling empowered and excited to execute, or frustrated about great ideas that “will never happen around here”? Work with a leadership development partner who understands your culture and how things get done. The best leadership programs don’t just teach skills, they provide opportunities for application to improve the business.

Your turn.

We would love to hear from you. What additional questions would you add for leaders considering building a new leadership development program?

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5 Behaviors That Will Turn Your HR Team Into Your Biggest Fan

5 Vital Behaviors That Will Impress Your HR Team (with Video)

What does your HR team say about you? Does it matter?

As we engage in our long-term leadership development programs, we inevitably spend time talking to the HR team about who’s in the program, why, and how we can best help. For better or worse, we hear what they’re thinking about you. Their hopes and dreams for what you can become, and of course, their concerns.

It’s been fascinating to experience the consistency of HR thinking across industries and geographies. Whether they are in Singapore, San Juan, or Kentucky, it’s the same behaviors that drive the HR VP nuts.

And of course, their impression can influence your career. Most senior leaders have one trusted member of their HR team on speed dial–not because they HAVE to, but because they WANT to. In my time at Verizon, I’ve been on both sides of that call.

There’s no better ditch the Diaper Genie™ conversation than what happens with an exec and their trusted HR strategic partner on a talent issue.

Here are 5 Behaviors That Will Impress Your HR Team

If you’re looking to get to the next level, or even to survive tomorrow, it’s helpful to have your HR team in your corner, cheering you on. In addition to being a rock star in your day job, Here are five behaviors that can help enhance their impression of you as a high-potential employee worth extra investment and support.

  1. Be Coachable (#1 By a landslide)
    Be open to feedback, from up down and sideways. Really listen to what you hear. And show how you are integrating the feedback into real behaviors to improve. HR hears “Yup I got it” all the time, and then watch employees slip back into old behaviors. Show them you’re hearing the feedback by acting on it.
  2. Tell the Truth
    Nothing frustrates a good HR person more than half-truths. If you want them to be straight with you, be straight with them.
  3. Treat others with Deep Respect (Including Your HR team)
    This seems so obvious…and yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a “high-potential” manager talk down to their HR team as if their role was somehow less important than a field assignment.
  4. Work Hard
    “He’s smart but lazy.” “She’s great at managing up, but doesn’t actually get much done.” “Yeah, you know that Gamer you talk about in Winning Well? That’s John.” Not the recommendation any of us are going for.
  5. Be Open to Try New Things
    Your HR team is looking to build a strong bench of talent for the long-term good of the company. They need utility players who they can count on to turn-around just about any sticky situation. HR loves the employees who are willing to take on a new challenge or make an unexpected lateral move.

Your HR team can be an invaluable resource to help you navigate your career and to get the feedback you need to grow and develop. It’s work the effort to invest in these important relationships and to ask for, and act on their feedback.

See also 5 Secrets of a Utility Player

how do I convince my manager I'm professional

How Do I Convince My Manager I’m a Professional?

“Why does my manager care if I go directly to his boss with an idea? Good ideas are good ideas, right?”

“Customers don’t need all that formality. They’re chill. Why can’t I just show up and give them an update?”

“When the CEO ran into me in the hallway and asked “What’s going on?” I told him. Now my manager is “coaching” me to be more strategic in what I choose to share.

“I can’t help it if I get fired up, it means I care!”

“WTF I’m killing myself here, and now my boss tells me I’m not ready for the next level until I have better ‘executive presence.’ ”

Great results are more than half the battle. But professionalism matters too. Every day, I hear from high-performers frustrated that their results do not seem to be enough for their boss.  The tragedy is, it’s likely small stuff that’s distracting you both from what matters most.

Six Ways to Convince Your Manager You’re a Professional

Here are six easy(ish) ways to show up more professionally.

1. Get a Grip on Your Emotions

You’re fired up. You’re angry. You can’t believe Joe missed the deadline, or Cindy talked to a customer that way… again.  YES! That means you care. YES! that means you know what must be done.  But even if you see executives flying off the handle, it doesn’t mean you should too. Keep the passion, lose the drama.  Take a step back to breathe and consider the most effective words and tone before communicating.

2. Focus on What Matters Most

When you try to do everything, it’s hard to do the most important things well. If you want to be taken more seriously, pick a few strategic priorities that will make the biggest impact and build a strong plan to execute elegantly on those things first. Be sure that you spend time every day working on those priorities.

3. Build Some White Space Into Your Calendar

When you over-book your calendar, you’re more likely to find yourself racing late into meetings, disheveled and under-prepared. Try leaving yourself a few minutes between appointments so you have time to gather your thoughts, connect with key stakeholders before the meeting starts, and consider how you can bring the most value to the table. A little white space will also help you resist the urge to multi-task with your phone under the table while “no one is looking.” (BTW–someone is always looking.)

4. Streamline Your Communication

Before speaking, consider your audience. When the CEO “casually” asks, “How’s it going?” be ready to tell her something substantial. When your boss asks for an update, don’t come in spewing all the details; bring a bulleted list of what you’ve done and what you need. Our free MIT huddle planner works well for this. Consider who you’re speaking to and how your communication can serve them well.

5. Develop Upwards Empathy

Before you write your boss off as a witch, consider the pressure she’s under and how you can help. Professionalism requires perspective.

6.  Stop Talking Trash

You don’t have to convince me, I’m sure you’ve got some peers that would be better off being “promoted to customer.” AND, nobody likes a whiner. Take the high road at work when it comes to talking ABOUT folks. It’s not as fun, but much more classy.

Your turn. What’s your best advice for managers looking to show up more professionally?

See also: our Fast Company Article– 10 Common Excuses That Silently Damage Manager’s Careers.

Leadership Retreat Idea: Speed Mentoring to Build Trust and Connection

Leadership Retreat Idea: Speed Mentoring To Build Trust and Connection

Are you looking for a meaningful activity to build trust and connection at your next leadership retreat? Do you have high-potential employees who need greater exposure? This easy-to-facilitate exercise can go a long way in jump-starting connection and conversation.

An Easy Leadership Retreat Idea: Speed Mentoring

The larger and more spread out my team became in my executive roles at Verizon, the more I valued the time to get my managers off-site for a quick leadership retreat—even if it was just a day at the Holiday Inn down the street. A leadership retreat provides a great opportunity to align on your team vision, and to have the UGLY conversations that matter so much, but are hard to have in the midst of the day-to-day fray.

Although the exercises I linked to above were staples in my leadership retreat bag of tricks, the one I’m sharing with you today is arguably one of my favorites for deepening relationships.

This was a variation on my “bring-a-friend” staff meetings, where each of my direct reports would bring a “friend,” ( a high-potential employee) from their team to join our staff meeting, to give them exposure to the strategic thinking and decision making processes that happened at the executive level.

In this case, we brought our next tier of succession planning candidates in to join my executive team and me for the afternoon of our retreat to hold “speed mentoring sessions.”

The Design

We set up small tables around the room, and each of the leaders manned a station and the mentees flowed through spending 10 minutes at each station. The mentees controlled the conversations, and each took on a different flavor.

Although none of us had any experience with “speed dating” we were intrigued by the concept of short, focused interactions to look for areas of common interest.

Each participant was asked to come prepared with any ideas and questions they had for the leaders on the team. The “mentees-for-the-day” were in complete control of the conversations and could use the time however they wished.

The Questions

I was intrigued at how deep the conversations went in just 10 minutes. Each mentee took a different approach. Nearly all conversations sparked a dialogue that continued way past the leadership retreat.

Here a few they came up with:

  • “What’s my ‘brand’ with you?”
  • Why wouldn’t you promote me?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
  • What makes you fail?
  • What are you working on developmentally?
  • Did you ever take a job that was a bad fit? What did you do?
  • What characteristics are you looking for in a leader?
  • How do you think I am doing?
  • Just what makes you so passionate about leadership development?

The Feedback

The feedback we received was amazing. I was worried that the time was too short, or that the feedback from so many people in a short time frame would be overwhelming. Participants agreed that it was “intense” but would do it again with exactly t same design.

  • “It was helpful to see the patterns and consistency in the feedback.”
  • “I could tell everyone was being really candid and had my best interest at heart.”
  • “I liked that we could control the questions and decide where we wanted to take the conversation with each person.”
  • “It was great to see so many different perspectives on the same question.”

The conversations continued later that day, on a break or walking to dinner. Can you mentor in 10 minutes? Of course not. Can you spark a connection worth exploring further? You sure can.

I’d love to hear your best practices for your leadership retreats and leadership training. Drop me a line at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com or comment here.

You can also check out our FREE book group facilitator’s guide to our book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results– Without Losing Your Soul.  (Lots of our clients use Winning Well as pre-reading for their leadership retreat.)

imposter sydrome: 8 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt

Imposter Syndrome: 4 Ways to Defeat Self-Doubt

Do you ever feel like you’re just a bit under-qualified for your current role? Are you constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop? Do you lie awake at night, thinking of ways to cover up your weaknesses so no one will notice? If so, you’re not alone. The Imposter Syndrome is real — and most of us get there more than we’d like to admit.

I know I do.

I felt the sting of imposter syndrome just as my speaking career was gaining traction. A speaking bureau called to book a keynote.

“They want you to talk about trust and communication.”

“Perfect. Who’s the audience.”

“The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.”

My mind whirled into a frenetic imposter syndrome spiral.

“Oh, crap. I wonder if they know I’ve been divorced? What credibility do I have on trust and communication? Do I tell the bureau? Do I tell the client? This will never work. I’m just like the people THEY’RE trying to help. Who am I to teach them?”

I called my best friend, who did exactly what best friends are supposed to do in such circumstances. She laughed. “Are you kidding me? This is EXACTLY why you’re qualified to speak to them. Go tell them your story.”

And I did. And we went on a remarkable journey together.

Sometimes what scares us the most about ourselves, the parts that we wish we could hide away so no one could see, are actually an ironic source of strength and human connection.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Impostor syndrome describes that feeling of strong self-doubt that you’re a fake, that your success is due more to luck or your ability to fool people than it is due to your work, and it often comes along with the fear of being found out.

If you let it, impostor syndrome will tie you in knots, ruin your confidence, and undermine your ability to lead your people and achieve your goals—not to mention screw up your life in many other ways.

The brutal truth is that you can’t be the leader you need to be when you’re tied up in knots like that. You’ll try to overcompensate, or you’ll stay silent when you should speak. Either one will kill your credibility and end your influence. There are several tools you can use to overcome this self-sabotage. Here are just a few:

Honor Your Past and Your Present

A mentor shared “It’s a good thing to remember where you come from, but it’s a foolish thing to think you’re still there.”

His point is that your experiences in childhood and earlier life can serve you, help you make good decisions, give you an appreciation for people from all walks of life, and keep you from being judgmental. It would be foolish to leave that treasure behind. But, it would be equally foolhardy not to acknowledge today’s circumstances. That’s intellectually dishonest and dishonors the people who have put their trust in you today.

Remember that, “You’re always too something for someone.”

These wise words come from 1999 world champion of public speaking and motivational speaker Craig Valentine. “You’re always too something for someone” gets at the absurdity of it all because once you start looking for inadequacy, you’ll always find a reason you don’t belong.

Laugh at Your Doubts

When my friend first started to laugh, I was hurt. How could she laugh at my pain and confusion? But I soon realized the irony of the situation was classically funny. And in truth lies humor, and in humor, connection. It’s hard to judge yourself when you’re laughing at the ruins.

Leverage Your People

One of the most effective tools for dealing with impostor syndrome is simply to focus on the team you serve. They don’t really care where you came from, how you got here, whether you have a big house, small car, good hair, bad hair, or anything else. What they do care about is how you can help them succeed today. It’s nearly impossible to trip over your own insecurities when you focus on serving others.

You are not an imposter. You are you. And we need you. What would happen if you could ditch the fear? Take the risk? Tell the truth? And win well?

5 Secrets of Utility Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Indispensable Utility Player Competencies

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

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

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

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

leadership competencies: how to hold a great interview

How to Interview For Winning Leadership Competencies

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

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

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

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

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

Winning Well Leadership Interview Guide


how to help your middle managers find their sweet spot

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

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

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

play the game don't game the score

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

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

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


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

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

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

trust the trenches

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

How do you help your team recover from setbacks?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other innovative interview questions that help uncover leadership competencies

Inc. 9 Interview Questions You Need to Be Asking

LinkedIn: Hiring For Trust: 9 Interview Questions

Fast Company: 7 Interview Questions for Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Your Turn

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

Leadership Training ROI Karin Hurt and David Dye

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Leadership Training Sticks

You’ve invested in leadership training. Now how do you ensure the ROI?

“Don’t bother me with this crap. I don’t believe in leadership training. It’s a complete waste of time. It’s nothing against you as the new Training Director. I get that I have to work with you in some way. If you MUST talk training, please work through Joe (one of my directors), he’s the most touchy-feely of my direct reports, I’m sure he’ll be nice to you.”

Yikes. Those were the words I heard from Beth, one of the Presidents I was asked to support, in my new role as training director at Verizon.

The truth is, I appreciated her candor. She’s not alone. A lot of senior leaders are skeptical of training ROI.

“You want me to take my people out of the field, where they could be serving customers and bringing in new business for theory and games? No thank you.”

And I get it. No one wants that kind of training. I’ve certainly been to my fair share of flavor-of-the-month training, and have my own bookshelf of binders full of good ideas, not implemented.

I’ve also attended great training that helped me change the game.

I imagine you have too. What makes the difference?

5 Ways to Make Leadership Training Stick and Increase ROI

Training is only valuable when it leads to sustained behavior change and improved business results.

Great leadership training is a process, not an event.

Great leadership training is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.

Great leadership training inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.

Great leadership training creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.

I’m grateful for Beth’s challenge in the first few weeks of a job that what was to become a formative role, both in my Verizon career and now, running my own leadership development company.

I was sure that Beth couldn’t hate training that truly made her people and results stronger. She just hated bad training. Who doesn’t? (P.S. Beth later promoted me into my most significant operations role at Verizon where I reported directly to her).

Here are 5 ways to ensure a stronger ROI and to make training stick:

  1. Design the training on business outcomes.
    Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
  2. Build programs that include the participant’s manager.
    Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. We love to do an executive briefing session before our programs so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application.
  3. Include teams in implementation.
    It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Be sure your managers know how to talk with their teams about what they are doing differently and why. The best leadership training has an ROI that cascades beyond the manager being trained.
  4. Deliver training in digestible learning over time.
    You can’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. We love to leverage new technology that incorporates simple micro-learning push-technology to learners’ phones via text message between sessions to inspire and reinforce real-world application.
  5. Welcome new ideas, insights, and help them take the next step
    Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Listen to their insights and find ways say “Yes” to what might happen next. When they come back with ideas to improve the business, listen. If it’s something you’ve tried before, invite them to the next step. Rather than “We tried that, it doesn’t work” you might try: “In the past when we’ve tried that, we ran into an issue with X. I’d love for you to think about how we might overcome that and implement your idea.”

Your Turn

How do you ensure your leadership training create real behavior change and lasting results?leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye