I’m listening carefully to everything you’ve said. I’m taking notes. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve read some good books too …
And it’s very clear to me that I’m not leading like I should. I need to change my leadership approach.
I need to do better.
But how do I do that NOW?
How do I start leading differently without confusing my team or losing credibility as their leader?
Okay. First of all YES!
Let’s just stop right here and celebrate.
It takes real humility to admit you can do better.
AND to want to figure out how.
AND to be concerned about how your team will respond.
That’s a trifecta of great signs that this new CEO is going to do just fine.
If you’re reading this, a big YES! to you too.
I’m glad you know you can do better and are interested in honing your leadership approach.
So let’s talk about how to bring your team along with you.
Upgrade Your Leadership Approach Without Freaking Out Your Team
If you suddenly change your leadership approach, your team will likely have three questions:
And, will it last?
You can reduce this kind of angst with a bit of transparency.
1. Share What You’re Working On
Here’s the truth. If you’ve been leading poorly, your team already knows. So, don’t be afraid to share what you’ve learned.
“I really care about you and this team and I want to be the best leader I can be. I’ve been investing in my leadership development and I’m going to be trying some new approaches to serve you and the team better.”
Or, “I just attended this great leadership program (or read this book), and I’ve been learning a lot. I realize I have some areas in which I can improve.”
2. Get Specific
It helps if you can be as specific as possible about what you’re looking to do differently.
“I’m working on my leadership” will likely be met with an eye roll and a “let’s just wait and see” attitude.
But, it helps if you say, “I’ve learned some great techniques for holding remote one-on-ones and I going to try them this week.” Or, I’ve realized I need to get a better grip on my emotions during times of stress, so I’m really going to work on that.”
3. Invite Them on the Journey
And finally, ask for their help. “I’d love to get your feedback on how this is ________ is working for you. Let’s give it a month, and I’ll circle back for your thoughts on what’s working and what else I can do to continue to improve.”
NOTE: If you’ve attended a course, read a book, or have a long list of things to do better, pick one or two to start. Any more than that will be overwhelming to both you and your team.
Promote leaders who show their commitment to relationships and results.
One of the most important leadership decisions you’ll ever make is the choice to promote someone into a leadership role. Who you promote into leadership sends a powerful message of what matters most in your organization. Promote leaders aligned with your culture and you’ll build momentum. Get this wrong, and you undo all the good you’ve done.
It’s sobering to consider: all of your values, everything your company stands for, the major day-to-day experience of the organization – all of it …
… is experienced by an employee through their immediate supervisor.
And, the data continue to suggest that for the vast majority of employees, that experience is not a good one.
Promote Leaders with Culture-Building Motivation
The first place to focus your attention is motivation: why does the person you’re considering promoting want to lead?
There are five common reasons people seek out promotions to management and leadership roles. We call these the 5 Ps of Leadership Motivation. Here are the first three:
Power—the perception of control
Paycheck—the financial incentives
Pride—the prestige they feel that comes with a title
There is nothing inherently wrong with these motivations. They’re human nature.
The challenge is that people who want to lead primarily for these three reasons won’t succeed.
The desires for power, more money, or prestige are selfish motivations. They’re about the person, not their team or the work. A leader who shows up every day to fulfill those motivations won’t have influence with their people.
People who take leadership roles for these reasons often experience frustration. The power is an illusion, the increased pay rarely feels worth the additional responsibilities, and the prestige of a title isn’t a lasting source of self-esteem. They can’t provide the hope their people need.
These managers either decide it’s not for them, or they go after the next promotion, thinking “this will be the one.”
The final two motivations are different:
Purpose—the reason for the work, the results the team exists to achieve
People—supporting, developing, and bringing people together as a team
Leaders who focus on Purpose or People naturally have more influence. They connect to their team and help everyone achieve more than they could individually. People are better off for having worked with these leaders.
Promote Leaders who Show Ability
After motivation, the next step is to make sure they have the core competencies to succeed in the role. Look for people with the ability to:
Do their core work with credibility and competence
Influence others without relying on formal authority
Finding Candidates with the Motivation and Ability to Lead Well
As with any position, the best candidates are those who already demonstrate core competencies. You can look for high potential leaders in action learning projects, interdepartmental teams, committees, ad hoc projects, interim-assignments when a supervisor is absent, and employee-sponsored initiatives.
These opportunities can reveal leadership motivations while giving growing leaders a chance to practice influence without a formal title. You can also observe how they use the limited authority that these roles afford. Can they be trusted with power? Do they focus on the purpose and build relationships?
Leadership development programs also provide a great chance to see who is serious about the opportunity to lead. If you’re using a 9-box succession planning strategy, you can include these motivations and abilities in your calibration discussions.
Finally, an excellent litmus test is: “Would I want my child working for this person?”
When you promote leaders you either build or bust your culture. We’d love to hear from you: How do you ensure you develop and promote leaders who build a positive culture?
A clash in priorities is an opportunity for more strategic leadership.
We were discussing how to keep your team focused on what matters most when Nicolle, a team leader in a global communications business, asked, “What can I do when there’s a clash in priorities between my team and another department we must work with?”
This is a common question we hear from leaders at every level. When you find a clash in priorities, it’s easy to back off, become a victim, and make excuses—and many managers do just that.
But effective leaders navigate these conflicts—and build their careers and influence in the process. Master these strategies and you’ll become known for bringing people together to get results.
Navigate Your Narrative
The first step when you confront conflicting priorities is to get your story straight. No one woke up that morning with the goal of driving you crazy. Often, they’re not even aware there is a conflict. So, start by getting rid of any victim thinking and then tap into your power.
You’ve identified a conflict—and an opportunity to help everyone be more productive.
When you find a clash in priorities, it helps to understand the problem. What, exactly is going on?
Let’s say another team isn’t prioritizing the work you rely on in order to achieve your goals. Start by having a conversation with your peer. For example: “I’ve noticed that the last three requests we submitted each came back in three weeks. We’re under the impression that these would be turned around in one week. I’m curious how it looks on your end?”
When you have these conversations, you’ll find many different causes. Occasionally, you might be working with an underperforming team, but most of the time, there’s a conflicting priority. They’ve moved your needs down the list because there’s something else going on.
As you have these curiosity conversations, try to listen and check for understanding about what you heard without getting defensive. For example, “So it sounds like you’ve had some people out sick and you’re getting pressure to deliver that product revision? Do I have that right?”
Your goal with the curiosity conversation is to create clarity about the nature of the conflict. When the other person confirms your understanding of their situation, you can share your perspective.
For example, “My understanding is the project we’re working on together is supposed to deliver at the same time as the product revision. Do you understand it the same way?”
If they agree, then you can move to the next step. If they don’t understand the priorities the same way you do – that’s a good thing. You’ve created clarity: you’re each working from a different definition of success. Now that you know that, you can do something about it.
This happens all the time and savvy leaders are good at diagnosing these conflicts.
To create additional clarity, a common next step is to invite your peer to a conversation with your supervisor to get more clear priorities. When the three of you meet, you can quickly recap the clarity you’ve established and then ask for help understanding what matters most. For example:
“My team’s been having trouble meeting our milestones on this project because our data requests are taking longer than expected. When we talked about it, it became clear that we’re working from different priorities. I’m under the impression that both projects should be delivered at the same time, but her understanding is that her team needs to get that one done faster. We’d like to get some clarity on the timelines and priorities.”
Don’t treat these conversations as a chance to blame or excuse poor performance. It’s an objective statement of facts, the nature of the conflicting or unclear priorities, and a request for their perspective and help with clarity.
When you approach it this way, your leaders will often realize that they unintentionally created conflicting priorities and consequent conflict between teams. A quick conversation can clear it up and get everyone working from the same definition of success.
And yes, when that other team was truly underperforming, these conversations have a way of resolving that quickly.
Ask: How Can We …?
In some situations, the conflict results from multiple conflicting priorities from many leaders. Other times, there is no leadership guidance and you, your peers, or even vendor partners, must navigate the conflict yourselves.
This is an opportunity to ask a good “How can we…?” question. Eg: “How do you think we might meet both of our timelines? Is there a way I can help you? How can we help each other?”
Asking “How can we…” focuses everyone on possible solutions rather than getting paralyzed by the problem.
Schedule the Finish
Whether you got more clarity from your boss or worked out a mutual agreement with your peer, don’t leave the results to chance. Schedule the finish: as the agreement is made, schedule a time in a week or two where you will meet for 5 or 10 minutes to review the commitments you made and explore any new problems that might arise.
Conflicting priorities are a fact of life. Growing businesses naturally have tensions and they only become problems when they’re not addressed. When there’s a clash in priorities, it’s a fantastic opportunity for you to lead and make a more strategic impact.
We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment and share your best strategy for resolving conflicting priorities.
“But first, we have to see if …” (and all we head into another hopeful holding pattern).”
And your contingencies depend on THEIR contingencies. And the vortex of chaotic times continues.
How to Ensure You Show Up as a Better Leader During Chaotic Times
You just don’t know what you’re going to show up to tomorrow.
But you do have a very important choice: How you show up.
One of the best ways to become a better leader is to DECIDE how you want to show up.
No matter what.
Regardless of what happens next.
To lead from your own playbook.
You can’t always choose WHAT you show up to,
but you can always choose HOW you show up.
When Karin was teaching in the MBA program at the University of Maryland, one of her favorite assignments was helping her students articulate their values and operating principles by building their “leadership credo”(click here for a step-by-step guide to this activity which you can easily adapt for a Zoom team-builder).
We take a similar approach in our long-term leadership programs by helping leaders build their personalized leadership playbook. They reflect on and articulate their leadership values, operating principles, and what they want to be known for—their leadership legacy.
We then take the conversation a step deeper as we talk about scenarios that make it challenging to show up as this best version of themselves. And how they can help one another overcome those challenges.
Then, when the chaos ensues, we encourage leaders to pause and control what they can control: how they show up. Because they’ve got the playbook.
Your Personalized Leadership Playbook
And so we share this tool with you, to help you (and your team) build your own leadership playbook for thriving during chaotic times. Let us know how it goes. We’d love to have you share your aspirational leadership legacy with us in the comments. Feel free to use this playbook with your team. You can download the PDF here.
What’s your aspirational leadership legacy. For what do you want to be remembered as a leader?
You’re working hard and want to win. So do your co-workers. You think, “we’re all on the same team, so why does everything we do seem to sabotage collaboration?”
Ironically, it’s usually the well-meaning, high-achievers that inadvertently sabotage collaboration.
When you’re that focused on winning, it’s tough to remember that the competition isn’t in the guy in the left Zoom window, it’s mediocrity.
If you’re a manager of rock star managers who are all driving one another crazy, start by ensuring you have truly interdependent goals, and eliminating stack ranks that pit peers against one another.
Much of the time when collaboration breaks down, it’s because everyone is playing the game they’ve been told to win—which actually is a zero-sum game. If your structure says I have to lose for you to win, don’t expect your high-performers to collaborate.
Beyond that, we’ve found the next best way to jump-start collaboration is to make it safe to talk about what’s sabotaging it and what to do instead.
9 Mistakes that Sabotage Collaboration
So if you’re struggling with your peers, or have a team of managers who like one another well enough, but are competing instead of collaborating, try addressing these common mistakes that sabotage collaboration.
See what resonates and talk about a path forward.
It might surprise you how quickly people fess up, “Oh, that’s me. I’m definitely the guy with unbridled tenacity.”
1. Thinking Your View is THE View
When everyone is heads-down focused on getting things done, it’s easy to see lose sight of other people’s perspectives.
We see it all the time. HR sees compliance training as the most important thing—with lots of good reasons. Sales thinks HR has lost their mind to even consider doing training at a time like this. Customer service needs sales to stop making promises they can’t deliver on.
Everyone’s right, everyone’s frustrated, and everyone’s finding it hard to accomplish their most important priorities.
2. Over-advocating for the Home Team
Of course, advocating for, and defending your team, is generally a good characteristic. Your team wants to know you have their backs. It’s also important to keep a realistic and balanced perspective.
Sometimes the best person for that coveted special assignment isn’t your box nine candidate. Sometimes it’s YOUR team that screwed things up and the best next step is to apologize, not defend. And yes, sometimes the bigger bonus needs to go to the guy on the other team who knocked it out of the park—even though your team has been working hard too.
3. Hoarding Talent
When you’ve spent significant time developing your team, it can be difficult to let them go to another team or department—even if it’s in their best interest, or for the greater good of the organization. After all, who wants to be the farm team for the rest of the company? But when you keep talent to yourself, you limit opportunities for your people—and overall performance suffers.
How can we encourage more collaboration for talent development and staffing?
4. Shutting Down Ideas
In our Courageous Cultures research, 67% of the respondents operated under the notion that “this is the way we’ve always done it.” And those same managers just as likely to shut down ideas from a peer.
5. Unbridled Tenacity
When you know you’re “right,” it can be tough to figure out how to also be effective. When you disagree in front of an audience, particularly if that audience is your boss, even if you’re right, your peers may feel like you’ve thrown them under the bus.
6. Not Spending Enough Time Together
It’s easy to under-invest in coworker relationships. Leaders tend to focus on their team and boss first and hope the peer relationships will evolve naturally. Just like any human interaction, coworker relationships take time and energy to grow properly. In addition, peer relationships are naturally tricky since you’re often competing in a stack rack, for resources or for senior leader attention.
7. Not Asking For Help
When you know your coworkers are slammed, it’s hard to ask for help. But if no one asks, how do you know how to be most helpful?
8. Not Acknowledging One Another’s Contribution
Okay, suppose they did help you. And now you’re getting praise for your great work, but forget to mention their support. Now they’re ticked off.
9. Withholding Best Practices
Often high-performers will share ideas and best practices when you ask for them, but are too busy (or competitive) to do so proactively.
Or they don’t share because they don’t want to look braggy. Meanwhile, people are wasting time spinning their wheels because they’re unaware that a coworker has already figured it out.
Talking about these common problems that sabotage collaboration (even in the abstract) can help you find a better path forward to better teamwork to take everyone’s performance to the next level.
Make Training Work by Involving Leaders at Every Level
Do you get frustrated with training that wastes time and money, but doesn’t change behavior? Yeah, us too. Your leadership development (or any type of training) should be practical, focused on your business, and get results. But how do you make training work and achieve a good return on your investment?
3 Common Training Mistakes
We’ve worked with organizations around the world and have seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to high-ROI training programs. When it doesn’t work, you’ll often encounter one of these critical mistakes.
1. Lack of Executive Sponsorship
This is one of the most common problems with training initiatives. A well-intentioned executive asks their OD or HR team to find or provide training for a particular issue. But then the executive doesn’t engage with the training, doesn’t model it, and soon concludes that it was bad training – or worse, that all training is a waste of money.
The poor results were entirely predictable. Everyone watches what senior leaders actually do. This is the core of your culture. Telling everyone it’s important, but then ignoring it, is a guaranteed path to wasted time and money.
2. Outsourcing Training to HR
We have worked with incredible human resource professionals who ensure that their people are equipped to do transformative work. But no matter how exceptional your team might be, you can’t outsource training to HR and expect it to stick.
Your HR team isn’t in the meeting with clients, following up on the new procedure, or watching your leaders coach in a one-on-one. They can ensure that skills are taught, but that’s only the beginning. Observation and accountability for how and when people use those skills are critical to make training stick.
3. Using Training to Address Broken Systems
Another common problem that sabotages training before it begins is using training as a fix-all for other problems. A common example is when two department leaders have competing KPIs that affect their team’s compensation. Conflict is guaranteed as each department’s leadership team squares off to defend their people and paycheck.
Frustrated executives complain that their people can’t get along and need training.
But no amount of communication training will fix the broken system. The leaders might get the message that senior leadership doesn’t appreciate their conflict and they might even keep quiet for a bit, but the underlying dysfunction is still there. It’s just a matter of time before it erupts again.
Include Leaders to Make Training Work
One solution to make training work and address all three of these common training mistakes is to incorporate leaders at every level as teachers and sponsors of your training initiatives.
This doesn’t mean that every team leader must literally teach a unit (though in some cases, that might be a great idea.) Rather, the principle of leaders as teachers means that:
Every leader models, reinforces, and helps trainees succeed with the training. This is critical for the success of every training program. Participants need to hear their leaders say “This is important. Here’s why this matters and how it works.” Then trainees need to see those words lived out in leaders’ daily actions. This is the most critical aspect of leaders as teachers. To go further and ensure success, the leaders as teachers principle also means that:
The training program has an appropriate level leadership sponsor who commits to partnering with your OD / HR team or external partner to develop the content.
The sponsor either attends the training or, if already versed, commits to modeling key behaviors and reinforcing through their 5×5 communication.
Sponsors look for, highlight, and celebrate successful implementation of trained behaviors (you get more of what you encourage and celebrate!)
And, they consistently follow up with trainees on what they’re learning and how they’re using it.
Leaders facilitate learning discussions. Your leaders may not have the skills to teach or train effectively, but they can facilitate discussions, ask participants about their experiences, how they’re using what they’ve learned, and share their own insights about how to make it work in daily practice.
Leaders celebrate success and hold their team accountable for lack of follow-through.
When training lasts and becomes a sustaining part of the culture, leaders at every level invariably embrace, use, and expect others to use the learning.
We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share how you incorporate leaders to make training work in your organization.
For more information about our leadership development programs and how we work with leaders as teachers, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 443.750.1249.
The other day, “Joe” reached out with a genuine dilemma. Throughout this crisis, he’s encouraged his supervisors to be compassionate. Because, like you, he knows that everyone is dealing with their own set of challenging circumstances.
Like you, he’s focused on doing the right thing for the human beings on the team. Which, of course, means an extra dose of flexibility.
This compassionate, flexible approach worked great—at first. But, now, half a year into this work-at-home reality, with no end in sight, people are complaining about consistency.
And frankly, a few folks are taking advantage of the loosened expectations. The results could be better. The supervisors who try to reign things in look like the bad guys. Frustration abounds.
How to Calibrate Compassionate Consistency
So what should Joe (and you) do? How do you reset expectations without being a jerk? How do you create compassionate consistency within and across teams?
It starts with setting parameters and calibrating with specific examples.
We find it helpful to think about decisions in three buckets: hard lines, soft lines, and your lines.
These are areas where employees don’t have much discretion. Think compliance, ethics issues, or even brand standards. Your people can’t bend a rule like that without coming to you.
And, you’re not likely to budge either. Being really clear about your hard line parameters saves time and frustration—for everyone.
Soft lines are decisions that have more discretion. People are free to make the call, within certain boundaries. This is where calibration is vital.
For example, suppose you will bend your attendance policy, giving people an extra chance for extraordinary family circumstances during this time. What does that actually mean? It’s likely that your managers will have different interpretations of what constitutes “extraordinary.”
Start by identifying what decisions fall into your “soft lines” bucket, and then play with some imaginary “what if” scenarios, and help the team collaborate and discuss what they would do. It’s far easier (and way less emotional) to calibrate on what compassion looks like in “pretend” situations. And, having already had a similar discussion makes it easier when the time comes to make the tough call.
And if there are areas where your team truly has discretion, be very clear about what those are. For example, if you only need people in “the office” (working synchronously) during certain hours, say so. And give them the flexibility to manage the rest of their schedule around their life. Or, perhaps you’re requiring every manager to hold a weekly one-on-one with each member of their team, but exactly what that looks like is up to them.
It’s surprising how often people feel overly constrained in areas where they actually have discretion.
The antidote to uncertainty is clarity. The more clear you can be about who owns the decision, and calibrate on what a compassionate response actually looks like, the easier it will be for your managers to make the right, and more consistent, call.
Do you know where you stand with your boss? Do you have a good sense of what your peers really think about you? Has it been a minute since your last formal 360 feedback review? Or, is a 360 Feedback something you’ve heard about, but your company hasn’t quite gotten there yet?
You don’t have to wait for HR. You can build your own Do It Yourself (DIY) 360 Feedback Process to get the feedback you crave.
We often include DIY 360 Feedback in our long-term leadership development programs. Participants frequently tell us they like this approach even better than a fancy on-line tool because it pushes them to have much-needed, real-deal, one-on-one conversations with their boss, peers, and direct reports.
The upside (or downside), depending on your perspective, is that it’s not anonymous.
But if you start with a foundation of trust, really listen, and respond well, you will not only get the feedback you need but also build a foundation for future dialogue.
Start Here To Get The 360 Feedback You Crave
At the end of this article, we’ve included instructions for a DIY (Do It Yourself 360 Feedback) that we use in our programs. But before you go there, here are a few simple foundations to consider.
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?”
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.
If you ask for input, take the 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. Start from a place of deep caring with their best interest at heart. If you want more truth-tellers, be a truth-teller.
Your Leadership Promise Might Not Be What You Think
In the age of Twitter and Instagram, you hear so many people talk about “authenticity” – but what does that actually mean for you as a leader? It’s probably not awkward social media posts. Recently I interviewed master-performer, emcee, and keynote speaker, Jason Hewlett, about authenticity. For Jason, authenticity is all about keeping your leadership promise.
Your promise is what makes you uniquely you. Here’s one example:
Maybe you don’t sing – it’s not my thing (though Karin Hurt does), but you definitely have a unique set of characteristics, talents, and values that make you the leader you are when you’re at your best.
For me, it’s teaching. My promise, the part of me that is so authentically me, is that I will invest in people and help them become the best version of themselves. It’s why I do the work I do. When I don’t live up to that best part of myself, I don’t lead well.
Teaching is my leadership promise; what’s yours?
One way Jason suggests you can identify your leadership promise is to think about who you promised yourself you would be when you were early in life. Are there areas where you’ve let that authentic-you hide? If so, it’s a great place to look for your leadership promise.
When you’re wondering how to show up authentically as a leader, think about the commitment you’ve made to your team. You might have made it years ago. Maybe you’ve never said it aloud. Regardless, that’s the authentic you. Own it and you’ll have more influence with your team and positive impact in the world.
Check out Jason’s interview – he’s an incredible example of what it means to keep your promise. Then, I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment and share with us: What is your authentic promise to your team?
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.
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?
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.
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!
What do you want your boss (or another stakeholder) to think, do, or say as a result of your conversation? One of the things I often noticed in my executive roles at Verizon is that employees would often come to me with ideas, but wouldn’t have “an ask.”
“And here’s how you can help” or “Here’s the support I need from you” makes it easy for your boss to respond.
Before you go into the conversation, write down your top three ideas. Once the conversation gets going it’s so easy to forget your main strategic points. This will prevent the frustration of leaving the room and thinking, “AGGHHH I forgot to share one of my best selling points for this idea!”
Make sure you’ve done your homework. Find supporting evidence as to why your solution is important and doable. Consider the counter-arguments. Look for data and evidence that support your great solution. Find examples of where your solution is working elsewhere.
Engage other people who also think you have a great solution. Why would Joe in Finance support your idea? How about Laura in IT? Ask for their input to help sharpen your argument and build a stronger case. Sometimes hearing an idea from multiple perspectives is exactly what’s needed to get people’s attention.
What’s your best advice for helping employees position their best ideas and solutions?
I served in Afghanistan. One day we were driving through the desert in two Humvees. I was a passenger in the lead vehicle, and the other was close behind when I noticed that our driver was driving very fast and it didn’t feel right. I was getting more and more nervous. You see, I’ve been trained. I knew how dangerous this was. But I didn’t want to be seen as a backseat driver, so I kept the feedback to myself. Finally, I took out my GPS and tracked our speed. We were going seventy-five miles an hour on those damaged streets! It was too fast for the conditions, but I still didn’t say anything. Then, my buddy looked back and we realized that the second Humvee was no longer behind us.
We turned back, and sure enough, it had 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.
Then he continued.
The stuff (building a courageous culture where people speak up) we’re talking about today is real. The concern you’re sitting on might not be life or death, but it matters. We need to care enough to tell one another the truth—and we don’t always do that. We have to figure out how to do this well. Today is an important start. I look forward to hearing your ideas.
George was off to a powerful start with a clear message: “Your concern matters. We need to care enough to speak the truth.”
That’s clarity about the culture you are working to create.
Hopefully, you don’t have a story like George. Thank goodness, we don’t either.
But you do have stories that matter, and your team needs to hear them.
4 Questions About Culture Change Your Team Wants You to Answer
When you start talking about building a more courageous culture, most employees will have four big questions on their minds:
1. What do you actually mean?
They want to know how this will look in their day-to-day world. Whether you hear this question or not, these are the thoughts people have as they wonder exactly what you’re talking about:
“When you say you want us to be Customer Advocates, can you give me some real examples?”
How will I know what’s safe and when I’ve gone too far?
When you tell me you want my innovative ideas—what kinds of ideas? How do I ensure I’m not wasting time on ideas that don’t matter or won’t get funded? What kinds of problems should we focus on solving?
And, oh by the way, are you sure my boss is on board? Because he’s the most risk-averse micromanager I’ve ever worked for. What are you going to do about people like him?
And if you really want me to be courageous, how do I speak up when everything you’ve laid out here isn’t working—how do I do that without being labeled as negative?
2. Why does it matter?
For many employees, this will all sound like a lot of extra work, so they need to understand why the culture you described is better—for everyone. Be sure what you are describing is true.
We once heard an executive tell his team he needed their best thinking “because we’re in the fight of our lives,” meaning a competitor was breathing down their necks and the company’s stock price was in jeopardy.
We happened to know that several people in that room really were in a “fight of their lives” with a sick family member, a kid on drugs, an aging parent for whom they had to make tough choices, and other major life challenges. His tone-deaf remark was lost on them, as they nodded politely and went back to doing their work the way they had always done it—his “why” had backfired.
3. Can I trust you?
Your team won’t be able to hear anything you say about courage and innovation without first watching what you do—very closely— to see if what you do matches up with what you’ve said. They also want to see if you pay attention to what others do.
4. What is expected of me?
The only way to shift culture is to change behaviors.
As you know from any shift you’ve made in your own life, it comes down to one behavior at a time. You can decide you want to be an Ironman triathlete, but if you’ve never run a 5K, you start by lacing up your shoes and going for a short run. If on your first weekend, you tried to take swimming lessons to improve your stroke, weight training to build endurance, and ride your bike over Vail Pass, you’d end up discouraged, sore, and not much fun to be around.
Unless you are in the wonderful, unique position of building a culture from scratch, as in a few of the fast-growing start-ups we’ve had a chance to work with, there’s probably no reason to announce “We’re building a Courageous Culture!” We encourage you to read this book with your team and visualize what success looks like. We’ll give you a way to do that in the First Tracks section at the close of each chapter. Then, pick one set of behaviors and work on those first. What would make the biggest difference for your organization—more problem solving, more innovative ideas, or having your team more focused on advocating for the customers?
George picked one place to start. “We need to care enough to tell one another the truth.” Sure, he wanted great ideas, for teams to share best practices across geographies, and more strategic problem solving, but he knew that for his team, what came first was the courage to speak up when something isn’t right.
What questions do you find coming up as you work to build positive culture change?
What are your best practices to help your team navigate the narrative?