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?
When your team won’t trust you, that’s job number one.
If there’s one realization every leader can take to heart from the pandemic and social-political turmoil gripping the United States right now, it’s that you cannot lead without trust. Civil society requires trust; people must be able to trust those who they entrust to make policy and enforce the laws. When that trust is violated, the results are heart-rending. When people live in fear of authorities because of the color of their skin or can’t trust medical advice and policies because of overt political manipulation, collaboration and progress are impossible.
The same holds true for your business leaders. When your team won’t trust you, results break down, relationships dissolve into suspicion, your A-players leave, and those that remain do the least they can to get by.
In our research for Courageous Cultures, one fact that stood out to us is that when you have a culture of trust, participation, mutual respect, and valuing everyone’s contribution, people don’t need much courage. However, the less trust you have, the more courage it takes for people to show up with solutions and micro-innovations.
The challenge most leaders face is that they feel like they’re trustworthy. We’ve heard it many times:
“I care about my people, I’m doing everything I can, I think I’m leading with integrity, but I don’t understand why the team won’t trust me.”
Frequently, the reason trust breaks down is that the leader focused on one element of trust, but missed one or more important aspects. There are three common problems that erode trust.
As you think about these causes, keep in mind that you might not have been the one who caused the issue. It may have been the leader before you or prior life experience.
3 Reasons Your Team Won’t Trust You
1. They doubt your intentions.
People don’t feel that you care about them. They feel like you’re using them to get results. They’re just a replaceable part in the machinery of your work.
What to do about it:
While some leaders can be callous and view people this way, in our experience, most do not. But, many leaders struggle because their team doubts their intentions. Building this kind of trust starts with self-reflection.
Why do you lead?
Is it for the money? For the prestige? For the power?
If these are the reasons you took the job, you’ll start with a trust deficit. People know when you’re in it for yourself. They’ll also know and trust you when you’re doing it for the purpose and the people.
Once you sort out your motivations and get focused on results and relationships, pay attention to how you communicate. What do your actions say?
When you say you care about the team, can they see you make choices that are uncomfortable for you, but that helps them to be more effective? Some leaders we’ve seen do this best show up for the toughest assignments and inconvenient shifts. Without saying a word, they say, “I’m in this with you.”
When you say you care, does that mean you’ve taken the time to know your team as human beings? What are they struggling with? What matters to them? What energizes them?
2. They doubt your follow-through.
Do what you say you will do—sounds easy, right? But leaders get themselves in trouble with this aspect of trust all the time.
There are several problems here. The first one is a personality issue. Some leaders talk in terms of general intentions or ideas. If this is you, you might say, “That’s an outstanding idea. We can totally do that.” You mean it as an enthusiastic affirmation that it’s a good idea worth exploring.
But what your team heard is, “We’re doing that.”
Now, when you don’t do it, you’ve lost their trust. In their eyes, you’ve become a leader who doesn’t mean what they say.
For other leaders, the road to broken trust is paved with good intentions. If “I meant it when I said it” is a regular mantra for you, you’re probably over-extending and saying “yes” too often.
What to do about it:
Get to know your people and how they understand your words. Be aware of what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. If you’re speaking in terms of intentions and possibilities, make that clear. Eg: “That’s an outstanding idea and I would love to explore it and see if it could work.”
If you’re caught in the trap of saying “yes” too often, start by reframing the issue. You’re saying yes to make people happy, but you actually disappoint them. Saying no is a little pain at the moment, but hurts far less than the disappointment of dashed hopes.
There will always be times when you can’t follow through the way you intended. When this happens, take responsibility and own what happened. When you show up with the confidence to take responsibility and humility to acknowledge that you didn’t meet their expectations, your team will trust you more (as long as it’s not an everyday occurrence).
3. They doubt your capability.
They know that you care and they can count on you to follow through—but can you get it done?
What to do about it:
This is where your competence, knowledge, and skill come in. Do you understand the issue well enough to take action? Do you know how to navigate your organization’s politics and stakeholders to get things done? Are you able to hold the team accountable for commitments? (And if you tolerate any pattern of abuse, harassment, or discrimination, forget about anything else until you fix that.)
If you struggle with credibility, consider limiting your new commitments and focus on developing the skills to get the results you need. This is where a mentor, coach, or training can help you.
When you’re new to a role, don’t hide your ignorance. Rely on your team to share their expertise and help you learn everything you need to know.
One More Thought When Your Team Won’t Trust You
We talked with a manager in a recent live-remote workshop who had made a mistake a year ago. He’d done everything he could to make it right for his team. Even so, one of his team members continued to bring up the manager’s year-old mistake, using it as an excuse for their poor performance.
In these situations, when you’ve done everything you can, and you’ve still got one person who doesn’t trust you, it’s time for a direct conversation about the problem. Trust goes two ways. You’ve owned what happened and done everything you could to make it right, now you need to be able to trust that they’re going to do what they need to do. It’s okay to ask if they can do that. If they can’t, it’s time to find a new place for them.
Remember, when your team won’t trust you, it’s always your problem—even if you inherited the mess and didn’t do anything to cause it. You can’t change what happened to your team before, but you can earn their trust now.
Micro-innovations, problem-solving, and customer service all begin with trust. When you match competence with caring and commitment, you’ll earn your team’s trust and they’ll be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt when things don’t make sense.
We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share your thoughts about what happens when your team won’t trust you and how you rebuild the trust.
At this moment of unprecedented change and strain, with double-digit unemployment and everyone on a fast-pivot to do the best they can, with what they have, from where they are, resiliency has become a vital, universal conversation.
So this month we’ve invited our Frontline Festival contributors to share their thoughts about resiliency and change. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors.
Planting Seeds: Sage Wisdom From Eileen McDargh
This month, we welcomed Eileen McDargh, author of Resiliency GPS, to Asking for a Friend where she answers the question, How do I show up resilient as a leader?
We loved Eileen’s perspective on “planting seeds.” We just don’t know if all the seeds we are planting will work. It’s the planting that’s important.
And as Eileen shared, it’s important to address resiliency in yourself AND in your business/team. Thank you to the following leaders who help us unpack this further.
Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimitedoffers7 Questions for Your Home Workspace. The location of our daily work has changed to “home” for many. This free PDF worksheet helps you give some thought to your current work environment and consider changes that will help you be more motivated, resilient, and productive in a different workspace. Follow Beth.
Eileen McDargh of The Resiliency Group provides Small Gestures Help People Smile—a Resiliency Boost. During these dark days, every smile or tender gesture you can inspire is more meaningful than ever. Many of us work hard to be strong and committed to surviving but sometimes we forget that we need to help others build their resiliency skills. I hope the inspiring stories will help you find a way to light up someone’s day. Follow Eileen.
David Grossman of The Grossman Group shares 8 Strategies to Lead and Engage Employees Through COVID-19. There are concrete actions all leaders can take to make this time of uncertainty and change a defining moment for their business; one that helps bring employees together in the best possible ways. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together 8 strategies that work for leaders to lead and engage employees during COVID-19 (along with 2 free guides to help.) Follow David.
Jon Verbeck of Verbeck Associates CFO Services provides The 13-Week Cash Flow Forecast and reminds us that one thing that does NOT change in a crisis is the need to have a solid handle on our financial picture. The cash flow forecast tool is one of the most important things you’ll need to stay on top of this critical information and keep your business resilient. Follow Jon.
Laura Schroeder of Working Girl shares: With so many teams working at home, keeping people engaged and connected is a top priority but it’s also a challenge. Online conferencing and collaboration tools are helping us keep the lights on, but rising evidence suggests ubiquitous online interactions have a concerning psychological downside. Looking into the not so distant future, how can organizations create a more resilient and human-centric workplace? Follow Laura.
Won’t You Join Us?
Are you a leadership writer? We’d love to have you join us with your articles, videos, podcast episodes, or simply your best thinking on the topic (even if you don’t have additional content to link.) Our topic for June is courage. Click here to submit your thoughts and content!
Connection is key to help your team manage change.
When you have a clear picture of where you want to go but your team won’t come along as quickly as you want, it can feel like you’re trying to pull a car out of the mud—it’s stuck and everyone’s spinning their wheels. Pull too hard or too fast and you risk a disaster like this:
The internet is full of towing failures like this one. There are a couple of common mistakes that plague well-meaning people trying to tow a friend’s car out of trouble—and these same mistakes can prevent you from helping your team manage change.
Help Your Team Manage Change by Avoiding These 3 Mistakes
Mistake #1: Poor Connection
A good tow depends on a solid connection between the two vehicles. For example, don’t hook your tow cable to the bumper of either vehicle. This is a weak connection. In many of those towing fails, they didn’t attach their cable to the car’s frame, and when they pulled, they tore the car apart.
Just as you want to connect a tow cable to a car’s frame, as a leader, your influence depends on the strength of your connection to your people. Share the meaning and purpose of the work. Know what your people value, and connect those values to their daily tasks.
The most meaningful connections you make are with shared values and clear reasons why activities must happen. Without these connections, you’ve probably asked your team to do something that makes no sense to them (with little chance of success).
You also strengthen your connection to your people when you include their wisdom and perspective in decision-making. Ask what they think the team is capable of, why they do what they do, and how they would improve the results they produce.
Mistake #2: Rapid Direction Change
When you tow, you don’t want to pull the car sideways or you could rip off a tire or an entire axle. Instead, start by pulling the vehicle in the direction it was going or else directly opposite that direction. This minimizes stress on the car and gets the wheels rolling.
Similarly, with your team, you have to know their current capacity, training, and priorities. If you ask something of them they don’t know how to do, or that their current workload can’t accommodate, or something that conflicts with their current priorities, you’ll end up frustrated.
We’ve worked with many User managers who respond to this scenario by pulling harder (they yell, belittle their people, and get upset). This is the equivalent of pulling at the wrong angle and tearing the axle off the car. At best, your people lose respect for you. At worse, they rebel, quit, or sabotage success.
When you need to get your team going a different direction, start by examining the capacity, training, and priorities. What can you remove from their plate? What training can you get for them? How can you help re-prioritize and get them rolling in the new direction? Even a day or two spent in making these adjustments can help your team manage change and transform faster.
Mistake #3: Moving too Fast
When you tow a vehicle, you don’t want to slam on the accelerator. When the road is muddy and you accelerate too quickly, your tires will spin and dig into the mud. When the road is dry and you accelerate too fast, you’ll damage one vehicle or else snap the tow cable.
As a manager, you have a clear picture of where you’re going and what needs to happen to get there. It’s obvious to you. But what’s obvious to you won’t be obvious to your people without significant communication—particularly in times of crisis and change.
We’ve worked with countless frustrated managers who told their team about a change in procedure once, six months ago and are now angry that their team isn’t implementing the change. To pull gently and build momentum, you’ve got to frequently communicate what’s happening, why it’s happening, and the specific tasks each person is responsible for, and then check for understanding. At the end of the discussions, ask team members to share what they understand the expectations to be.
Slow down just a little, and help your people build momentum in the new direction.
The towing metaphor has its limits. In fact, the better connection you build with your team, the more you help them to self-manage and prioritize what matters most, the more rapidly your team can manage change and respond to sudden shifts.
We’ve been so impressed by the leadership and rapid changes we’ve seen many teams make in response to this crisis and we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share What is your #1 way to help your team manage change quickly and respond to rapidly shifting circumstances?
I was sitting in the car outside our house, waiting for our son to join me on a trip to the grocery store.
After waiting for a while, I called his cell phone. “Are you coming?”
“Where are you?” he asked.
“In the car, waiting for you,” I said. “Where are YOU?”
“I’m at the desk,” he replied. “I thought we’re working on our creative writing project?”
We’d both been in the same conversation, but somehow, each of us had come away with two very different understandings of what was happening.
I thought we were going shopping. Our son thought we were working on a creative writing project.
How could we have interpreted the same words so differently?
What Causes Those Frustrating Misunderstandings
Communication is a funny thing. You’re never as clear as you think you are because several problems get in the way.
Your words make sense to you, but those words can mean something entirely different to another person. You each bring a lifetime of experiences and interpretations to every conversation. Those filters color our understanding – and cause a host of frustrating misunderstandings.
For example, take something as simple as “Let’s take out the trash.” Depending on your team’s experience and interpretation, they could hear:
I will take out the trash.
You will take out the trash.
We’re both going to take out the trash.
We’re showing that we’re all in this together.
We’re doing work that’s beneath us.
No work is beneath anyone.
We can’t afford a cleaning service.
We’re scrappy and efficient.
You don’t value the important work I could be doing instead of taking out the trash.
We’ll take the trash to the front door.
We’ll take the trash to the dumpster.
And that’s assuming they heard your words correctly. You can imagine how comedies would have someone hear “Let’s check out that rash.”
It turns out that when I said, “Let’s go shop” what our son heard was, “Let’s chop.” Which he interpreted to mean “chop-chop” as in, “Let’s get to it.” Since creative writing had been on his mind, he filtered the encouragement to action through the lens of what had his attention.
In organizations and teams, these kinds of misunderstandings aren’t so funny. They cause endless frustration, headaches, lost productivity, and aggravation.
Close the Loop
Effective leaders work hard to remove the chance of misunderstanding. You do this by the example you set, by understanding who you’re talking to, connecting what to why, and checking for understanding.
It’s leadership 101—lead by example. But it’s more than a trust-building boost to your credibility. Your example clarifies your words and helps everyone understand exactly what you mean.
Understand Who You’re Talking To
Get to know your people and you can tailor your communication to reach mutual understanding quickly. For example, if you have a detail-minded person who takes things literally, understanding that will help you avoid theoretical language. They need to know what, specifically, needs to happen.
There are two ways to check for understanding: actions and emotions.
Check for Understanding #1:
The action-focused check for understanding ensures a mutually shared understanding of the activity. It looks like this:
“Let’s do a quick check for understanding—what are we doing after lunch?” “Yes—we’re all taking out the trash.” “And why are we taking it out?” “No, it’s not because we’ve done anything wrong—it’s because we’ve got another group in here after us and it’s going to smell awful if we leave it in the trash—and that’s what we’d want them to do for us.”
Check for Understanding #2:
The emotion-focused check for understanding gives your team a chance to process what’s happening and surfaces any issues that might arise. It looks like this:
Leader: “Great meeting. I’m super excited about this strategy. Before we end, I’d like to ask, how is everyone feeling?”
Team member 1: “Well, I’m excited about it too, but I’m also worried about how we will do this considering our other priorities?”
Team member 2: “I’m feeling overwhelmed. These are wonderful ideas and I really want to do them, but I don’t know where to begin.”
Once you know these issues exist, you can help your team move through them, adjust expectations, or remove roadblocks.
In remote work settings, closing the loop and ensuring shared understanding is even more important when we don’t have the visual cues and reinforcement we’re used. As you implement long-term crisis-related health and safety plans, these four steps will help avoid frustrating misunderstandings and keep everyone healthy and safe.
We’d love to hear from you: What are some of your best techniques to ensure you and your team communicate clearly with one another?
I want to give you an insightful bit of leadership or management wisdom that will help you navigate the world right now.
But my inbox is overflowing with advice. Most of it is trite. Advice that just isn’t helpful right now.
I don’t want to give you more of that.
So, here’s what I’ve got right now. It may be helpful. Maybe not. But I wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you.
We planted a garden two weeks ago. A bird pulled up a seedling. Squirrels dug up some seeds (we replanted). And late frost claimed a couple more victims. The brussels sprouts stood tall.
Today, the sugar peas sprouted. Life renews.
And a relative’s child has what appears to be COVID-toe. It’s affecting his toes in a bad way. His mom has very high-risk conditions. Despite federal protestations to the contrary, they cannot get testing and so he and his father have moved into another house.
For how long?
We do not know.
The redbuds, last of the blooming trees here in Maryland, are fading after a spectacular spring show juxtaposed against the uncertainty, anxiety, and grief of life turned upside down.
As the blossoms fade, the trees are leafing out, and life renews.
The participants are leaders, working from home, trying to support their teams–all of whom are also working from home for the first time.
I was grateful for these leaders and their sense of humor, their playful razzing of one another, and their desire to be the best leader they can be.
I was grateful for the team of people who make our work possible, quietly attending to products, design, technology, graphics and so much more. Thank you, Shelley and Beth and Amy and Brooke and Phil. I don’t say it often enough.
I am grateful for the wife, partner, co-author and friend I have in Karin. I know you know that she’s awesome, but really, you don’t know just how awesome.
And everyone is different.
Many of the people I’ve talked with recently are stir crazy and tired of being cooped up with the same people all the time. Like me, they miss their friends, family, and the small, but who-knew-how-important everyday interactions we have with other human beings.
Other people tell me that they’ve adapted marvelously well to isolation.
I can’t say that I’m one of them. Every video chat (a small miracle and immense blessing that connects me with people around the world and is a force behind so much of the commerce that continues) also drains me and reminds me of what isn’t.
And then there are my sister and sister-in-law who work in health care and don’t have the privilege to do what is driving so many of us crazy. And yet they both show up with amazing generosity for the world beyond their work and families.
Halfway across the country, last week another loved-one “ugly cried” herself to sleep.
We face a great deal of uncertainty. We still don’t understand this disease. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to move forward.
There are opportunities as so much changes. There are opportunities to address the dysfunctions in the way we do things. To fix the brokenness that makes it far more likely that some will die than others. To mobilize and do what it takes to create a better future.
We don’t know exactly how we’re going to move forward.
But we will.
And we’ll do it with you. With your leadership. Your belief in the people you serve. Your influence to bring people together and build something better.
I saw a firefly two days ago.
It was daytime, but it made me smile to know that soon they’ll be lighting up the night.
Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. If you continue to approach your work exactly the same as you did at the last level, you will surely fail. On the other hand, if you abandon all your best characteristics and approaches that won’t work either. As you work to be a better leader as your responsibilities scale, you want to stay true to your values, leverage your strengths, and be deliberate in finding new ways to serve your larger team.
Sam and Jenny
Take Sam. Sam was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throes of a transition from supervisor to manager. He’ll now lead leaders.
“But it’s scary,” he confided. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”
Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same as his scope increased. He was at risk of losing the very best qualities I respected in him as a leader—particularly his ability to build deep trust and connection that led to loyalty and deep collaboration. People wanted to work for Sam, so he attracted an “A” team.
And then there’s Jenny who had been promoted for her long track record of strategic thinking and strong execution. Her new role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy for taking this team’s performance to the next level?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.
She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving as they had before. But she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to identify a transformational vision and rally the team around it. She was trying to lead like the leader before her.
How to Be a Better Leader as Scope and Scale Increases
If you’ve just been promoted, here are few ideas to keep in mind to ground your leadership and influence.
1. Inventory your strengths and opportunities.
Carefully consider the strengths that helped others see you as the candidate for this increase in scope and scale. You might even ask those who helped you get this role, “What is it about my leadership that made you think I was a good fit for this position?” Then consider how those strengths might work well in this bigger role and make a deliberate plan to leverage those strengths in your leadership.
Also, consider which aspects of the job come less naturally for you and make a plan to get the help you need until you can get up to speed. It’s likely that one of your new direct reports is a rock star in this arena. Have the humility to ask for help.
2. Translate the landscape.
You are in a wonderful position of having a more strategic seat at the table while having fresh memories about what it feels like to not have all that information. Pieces of the puzzle are coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday.
You can also use your new vantage point to help your boss and peers understand how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective.
3. Be visible, approachable AND get out of the way.
As a leader with a broader scope and scale, of course, you want to be visible for your larger team and you want to be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open that employees skip right over their direct manager and come right to you,
Respect your team and their authority. Of course, there are important times for skip level meetings and interventions, but it’s important to respect your direct reports and the work they are trying to do with their team. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.
4. Listen, learn, and be strategic.
Go on a curiosity tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you have the answers, and perhaps can do it better than anyone else. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.
5. Build better leaders.
Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.
6. Respond versus react.
As your scope and scale increases, so does the gravity, quantity, and urgency of your challenges. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool early in the game.
7. Become a Roadblock Buster.
Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. With that said, here are two words of caution. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them. Second, be sure to take a moment to teach your team while you’re busting down those barriers.
Oh, and be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.
8. Invest in your development.
Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Don’t fall into that trap. As your scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly.
What’s your best advice for becoming a better leader as your job gets bigger?
Those are just a few of the more popular words used to describe the profound change we’ve all experienced. But as much as they capture, they leave out.
They leave out the reality for health care leaders who ask their teams to stand beside them, putting their lives at risk while they work with inadequate resources and decide who will die and who has a chance to live.
They can’t describe the feelings of our friends who have lost people to this disease.
Those words don’t address the sadness of leaders who have had to furlough or lay off their teams—or who have lost their own job. (And please don’t use the word “non-essential” to describe these folks whose work we very much need.)
Nor do they describe the overwhelm of leaders who have to figure how to manage suddenly invisible teams, bolster morale, and give everyone the support they need – all while juggling spouses and kids who need the WiFi.
So yes, unprecedented and upside down, but so much more.
The Business at Hand
Two years ago, I wrote about the business every leader undertakes when they agree to lead. I’ve been thinking about those words quite a bit over the past few weeks. Here is an excerpt:
If I could give a one-page orientation manual to every person who takes a management or leadership position, it would say:
You may have taken this job for the money (it’s not going to be enough),
for the power (you don’t actually have power – it’s an illusion),
or for the prestige (no job will make you feel good about yourself).
Maybe you took this job because you care about the people you serve and results you can achieve together. If so, you’re off to a great start.
When your team has hope, you have a chance.
Welcome to leadership—welcome to the hope business.
Leadership is the belief that if we work together, we can have a better tomorrow.
That’s hope. But if you’re like most leaders, no one’s ever told you that you’re in the hope business.
But every day, you ask your team to try, to think, to solve problems. Why? Why should they try?
The only answer is hope.
Because when we work together, we can make things better – better for our customer, better for one another, better for our families.
Welcome Back to the Hope Business
Hope is more important than ever. But hope doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
Hope is having the audacity to take the next step, to do the next thing.
Hope is getting scrappy and fighting for your employees and your customers because you know there’s a tomorrow, even if you can’t quite see it yet.
And sometimes hope is listening to their fears or tears. And sitting with them, believing with them, until they can take their next step and do the next thing.
Even if you have an open door, and are constantly asking your direct reports how you can improve, chances are your employees are holding back.
Particularly if you’re generally a great boss, they figure “Why complain? It could be so much worse.”
Most employees we talk with have ideas for how their boss could be more supportive. And yet, when we ask them if they’ve had that conversation with their manager, most of the time the answer is “no.”
In fact, when Karin was teaching a leadership course in a top MBA program, she asked her students if they had ideas on how to improve the effectiveness of their relationship with their manager. As you can imagine, every hand in the room shot up with a lot of knowing chuckles.
And then when she asked how many of her students had shared at least one of those insights with their managers, only one student raised her hand.
If these fast-track (not shy) millennials, serious about their success, were holding back, it’s probably a good indicator that others are too.
And, if you’re like most managers we talk with, it goes the other way as well. You know your relationship with your direct reports could be better. Perhaps you’re not getting the support you need in a particular area. Or communication is breaking down in some way. Maybe you need more ideas or for them to challenge your thinking.
But it’s hard to carve out the time to have that conversation, so you settle for “good enough.”
An Easy Way to Open Up the Communication With Your Direct Reports
We use this tool with managers in some of our long-term leadership development programs to open up two-way communication between leaders and their direct reports. We thought it might be helpful for you too. If you give it a try, we’d love to hear how it goes. Drop us a line at email@example.com.
Why the Tool Works
The tool is designed to reinforce the reciprocal nature of the manager-employee relationship.
It’s not just about what the manager is doing well or could do better, or what the direct report is doing well or could improve.
Both the manager and the employee rate the effectiveness of the relationship on the same dimensions.
The tool is designed to encourage both parties to take responsibility for co-creating the relationship and the results they produce.
How to Use The Tool
Explain why you think this is an important exercise. It’s important that your direct reports feel safe and know that you are genuinely open to the dialogue. If the basic trust is not yet there, work on that first. This is an advanced communication tool that requires a foundation of trust.
Ask your direct reports to complete the quick assessment with as much candor as possible before you meet.
Complete the assessment yourself, based on your relationship with each direct report. (Note, it should be different for each person.)
Schedule a one-on-one meeting with each of your direct reports to discuss and celebrate where your relationship is working well, and identify areas for improvement.
Align on one or two specific actions you both agree to do to improve your relationship.
Schedule the finish. Set up a time in the future (a month or so out is probably best) that you will meet to discuss progress.
Your confidence is fuel for problem-solving and creativity.
In the past two weeks, we’ve been in several meetings and conversations with leaders responding to rapidly changing coronavirus scenarios. Regardless of the industry, as leaders shared responses and next steps, many of their teams reacted in the same way:
But how do we … ?
We’ve never had to do this before. Can we really … ?
We’ve never done anything like this. What am I supposed to do now?
These moments of rapid change and unprecedented response naturally cause anxiety, doubt, and grief. The old way of doing things is gone—even if only for a month or two. What now? Can we handle this?
In these moments, your team needs your leadership more than ever. Address these moments of rapid change with calm clarity and then focus on answering the doubt.
When it Feels Impossible
In a state correctional facility, Christine faced a challenging problem.
With no prior supervisory experience, as one of a small handful of female staff in a mostly male prison, and with a highly diverse and contentious inmate population, she had been placed in charge of creating a clothing factory. As if those weren’t enough barriers, prior attempts to open a similar factory in other state facilities had failed.
One year later, Christine’s factory was out-producing the prototype operation, had an impeccable safety record, and could run itself without supervision.
I was able to talk with Christine, asking what made such a rapid transition, and seemingly impossible results, possible. Here’s what she said:
It began with my belief in the people. When they came to me, they wanted to tell me about what they had done on the outside—why they were in prison. I cut them off, told them I didn’t really care about who they were last year. ‘This is who we will be in this factory and this is what we’re going to do.’ Most of them didn’t believe it at first, but pretty quickly they responded to someone believing in them.
She described how male inmates would initially object to sewing because they thought it wasn’t something men did.
Christine would walk over to the industrial sewing machines, quietly operate it, produce a garment, return to the men and say, “You’re telling me women can run this industrial machine but you can’t? I don’t believe that. I believe you can.”
Your Confidence in Your Team
I love Christine’s message: “This is who we will be in this factory and this is what we’re going to do.”
Faced with major change and hurdles, your team needs your confidence.
This is the essence of leadership: believing that together we can do more and have a better tomorrow. That’s what it means to be a CBO – a Chief Belief Officer.
Your team needs a CBO right now. Your team needs to hear you say, “You can.”
I know this is tough and I know we will find a way through it.
I trust this team and believe we can find new answers.
Together, we’re going to stay safe and figure out how to deal with these changes.
I know you can.
Leave us a comment and tell us: How a leader in your life is or was a C.B.O. for you? How do you communicate your confidence in your team when times are tough?
When he started work that week, “Aaron” didn’t know that he’d be asked to guide his team through a Coronavirus response, but within just a few days the situation was urgent. Major clients were making changes quickly. Like many leaders throughout the world, Aaron found himself having to lead through rapid change.
We happened to be in his office that morning as Aaron brought together his leadership team to communicate the next steps. We watched as he gracefully led his team through the day’s urgent situation. The entire office worked with clarity, focus, and resolve. The same principles Aaron used to lead through rapid change will work for you.
As you and your team respond to the rapidly evolving realities of this problem (or the next one):
1. Over-communicate clear, precise actions.
Aaron’s first message was very clear: “We need to call every client, ask them this question … and give them this information.”
Keep it simple. Check for understanding and be ready to repeat what matters most—frequently. When your people are worried and stressed themselves, communication is more challenging. Even with this seemingly straightforward request, there were several questions.
Aaron patiently and confidently reiterated the task: “A phone call to every client. Voice to voice communication is our MIT (Most Important Thing) here. If we can’t do that, we’ll use email for a backup. But #1, #2, and #3 is a phone call. Ask them this … tell them this …”
Focus on clear, concise communication that leaves no doubt about who will do what and by when.
2. Acknowledge emotion.
Ignoring emotions doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it makes them stronger. When you have to lead through rapid change and stressful circumstances, acknowledge how everyone feels.
Aaron looked at his team and said, “I know this is scary and there are a lot of things we don’t know. We have a plan for today. If anyone needs to talk with me individually, I’m here.”
If you’re not sure, you can also take a moment to ask how everyone is feeling. Acknowledge their emotions e.g. “It’s normal to feel nervous or upset in times like this.”
3. Focus on what you do know and what you can do.
Clarity is the antidote to uncertainty.
You don’t have to know everything. Focus on what you do know, on the next steps, on what needs to happen next, and the process going forward. You may not know what will happen or what decisions will be, but you can be 100% clear about what you know and what you will do next.
4. Communicate your confidence.
One of our favorite parts of this meeting was when Aaron told his team, “I know there’s a lot going on and this is on top of all the other things we’ve normally got to take care of—and I know you’re up to it. If you need help, I’m here.”
Your belief in your people becomes their confidence in themselves.
Next, Aaron shared an analogy that he’d learned from a mentor:
As a leader, you’re like a flight attendant during turbulence. When the plane shakes in the air, everyone looks at that flight attendant. If they’re joking or reading on their phone, everyone relaxes. If they’re upset, everyone panics. Your job today is to be that calm flight attendant for your team.
In talking with Aaron, he had his own concerns, but he modeled this “be the flight attendant” approach beautifully. Your team will take their cue from you.
5. Address concerns.
Aaron then took questions from his team. Some involved the work, some focused on personal concerns, and internal company procedures and response. Where he had information, he shared it. Where plans were being developed, he was clear about the process and that how he would inform everyone when the time came. When concerns were more personal, he met with those team members individually.
When you have to lead through rapid change or stressful circumstances, you often don’t know what you’ll show up to—but as a leader you always choose how you’ll show up. Your team needs you to be clear, calm, focused, and connected.
You don’t know what you’ll show up to, but you choose how you’ll show up.
Your Best Way to Lead Through Rapid Change
We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share your best practice for leading through urgent, rapid change.