How to succeed with a frustrating boss

How to Succeed with a Frustrating Boss

The ability to influence the people you report to-especially a frustrating boss-is as essential to your leadership success as the ability to influence your own team. Ask yourself these five questions before you try to manage up.

I sat across from Jim, the Executive Vice President, and made my case.

I suggested the company change the way it handled a specific process and made my five-point argument why it was a good idea.

The VP listened, grimaced, and then grinned. “If only it were that easy.”

“But it is that easy,” I challenged, “It’s just a matter of having the will to do it!” (I was young and hadn’t quite learned diplomacy yet.)

Fast-forward thirteen years.

A new team member stood on the other side of my desk—standing in the same place I had once stood, presenting the same case I had made thirteen years earlier.

But this time, she was speaking to me. Now that I was the executive, would things would be different?

Managing Up Starts with Perspective

In nearly every leadership training program we deliver, someone asks “How should I talk to my boss when their behavior is damaging, self-defeating, or just doesn’t work?”

The answer to this question starts with perspective. A frustrating boss’s behavior may look very different from where they sit. Their behavior may look damaging or self-defeating to you, but it’s possible that this is only your interpretation and they have excellent reasons for doing what they do.

The better you understand your boss’s goals, challenges, and how they see the world, the more influence you will have. You don’t want to rush into a conversation without this perspective.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When You Have a Frustrating Boss

When you face a supervisor whose behavior appears to be damaging, self-defeating, or ineffective, the first thing to do is to reflect. Here are five questions to ask that will help you get perspective and be more influential.

1) How serious is the issue?

After you talk with a friend, take a walk, and breathe, is the issue truly significant or just a minor irritation? If it’s not serious, you’re better off to not waste your time, energy, or relationships–even if you are 100% right about the issue.

Save your energy and influence for the topics that truly matter.

2) What’s the lesson for you?

Yes, the lesson for you.

You won’t find a better leadership textbook than the leaders around you—including your frustrating boss.

When Jim told me, “If only it was that easy,” he was giving me a chance to learn about strategic issues and think at a higher level.

After my stubborn insistence that it could work, he was patient and walked me through the world from his view. I didn’t like the more complex viewpoint, but I needed to hear it.

The areas that irritate you the most likely have the most to teach you.

c) What keeps your boss or boss’s boss up at night?

Jim had his own challenges and constraints. Up until that moment, I was unaware of them.

He had Board politics to contend with, budget constraints, obligations to other departments, and changing customer behaviors, just to name a few.

This was an important moment of insight for me. People do what makes sense to them.

What realities do your supervisor and their boss deal with every day? How can you help them meet their goals?

d) What’s my motivation?

Before you talk to your boss, get clear about what your best self really wants. Are you asking for something that’s in the best interest of your team, the organization, and your supervisor?

If not, your motivations will impact your actions and you likely won’t have a chance to get the results you want.

For the best chance of success, focus on how you can build the relationship and achieve results for everyone involved.

e) Should you stay or go?

You cannot change anyone else. I wish I had a fairy-dust suggestion, but the fact is that there are some bad supervisors out there. They do what they do because it’s easy, because it’s what they know, they have different values, or because it works and meets their needs for the time being.

Understand who you’re working with and how they might react.

If they lack integrity, are hostile, insecure, and you need this paycheck to care for your children, you’ll deal with the situation differently than if you have six months of expenses in the bank and your supervisor is reasonable.

We’ve been there. And we encourage you to think this through carefully.

Influencing your own supervisor is possible, but depending on the person, it takes work, time, and a relationship.

And sometimes … they simply won’t change at all. They don’t see enough benefit to go through the pain of changing. In these situations, you’ll have to decide if it makes sense to stay or to leave.

As tough as these choices are, they help clarify the power you have over yourself and the leader you will be.

When It’s Your Turn

As you work with your frustrating boss, remember that you are or will be the source of frustration for someone else. We’re all someone’s knucklehead, after all.

How can you use what you learn from your irritating boss to inform your leadership?

With the young woman who stood on the other side of my desk, presenting the same arguments I had made thirteen years earlier—I tried to do what Jim had done for me. I thanked her for thinking about how we could improve, shared the information she didn’t know, and invited her to think about solutions so we could make it work.

How to Succeed with a Frustrating Boss

Start by asking yourself these five questions:

1. How serious is the issue?
2. What’s the lesson here for me?
3. What keeps my boss (and boss’s boss) up at night?
4. What’s my motivation?
5. Should I stay or go?

5 Communication Mistakes

5 Tragic Communication Mistakes That Sabotage Teamwork

Innocent communication mistakes can leave a lasting impact on your team. Avoid these common communication mistakes that sabotage teamwork and degrade trust.

Have you ever heard yourself muttering these words, only to realize later it was an innocent communication mistake?

“Oh, she didn’t copy me on purpose.”

“He’s withholding information to make my life harder.”

“Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.”

“Why would she put something that important in email?”

“What’s that supposed to mean anyway?”

“Why did she copy my boss?”

5 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork

The real tragedy is, once you realize it was all a big communication mistake, you’ve already been looking out for corroborating evidence that the bad communicator is really a jerk.  And when you’re looking to prove someone’s a bad guy, the “proof” comes in surround sound.

Here are a few common communication mistakes we see consistently screw up teamwork—even in team members trying to get along.

1. Assuming malintent

Sure, some people play games. But not most of us, most of the time.

Don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust.

I (Karin) will never forget the time an executive peer left me off a meeting invite a few months after I had transitioned into a new role. Our departments had some competing priorities and I had “been warned” by my new team about the games she could play.

I was sure it was intentional. I stewed on it for weeks. Finally, after I’d let the fuel from my fabricated fable of her intentions combust into full-on stupidity, I blew a gasket when she asked me to move one of my meetings around so she could attend. As the drama unraveled, it became obvious that the original oversight was just that—an oversight.

We cleared the air and it never happened again. I could have saved both of us a lot of angst by just picking up the phone and asking to be included.

2. Hiding behind email

Email is fast and easy, and tempting—particularly in remote teams. But rarely effective for important communication.

When communicating something mission-critical or controversial, don’t assume”they got the memo,” and your work is done.

The best communication happens five times, five different ways. Email is a great supporting tool but rarely plays well as the lead medium.

3. Not checking for understanding

We are life and business partners. Love one another. Have an incredibly interdependent life and business goals. We TEACH “check for understanding” as a foundational concept you can’t lead without in every leadership program we do.

And you know when we get ourselves in teamwork trouble?  Assuming we know what the other person is thinking. And “acting on” their best interest.

Don’t assume someone is picking up what you’re putting down—check to see what they heard.

4. Failure to write down decisions

We’ve seen so many great teams with excellent communication skills create frustration and destroy trust because they miss this simple step.

High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, and then challenge the decisions some more. All healthy. Once the debate has concluded be sure to summarize the final decisions, along with the next steps and timeline.

With all that discussion, team members each leave with their own memory of what was decided, which may or may not match the recall of other team members.

Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep the team all moving in the same direction.

Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team—trust. Take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating, and to discuss where it’s working best and how it’s breaking down.

5. The wrong CCs

Email “ccs” are a great thing to keep people informed without an obligation to act. AND, the minute you find yourself “cc-ing” to create action, it’s probably a good idea to step back and consider your motives. Sure, sometimes it’s vital to escalate the situation. If you’re escalating for more attention consider doing it more directly. If not, consider bagging the cc.

These are just a few common communication mistakes. If you want to improve communication, why not ask your team what’s driving them crazy?

“What communication mistakes could we do a better job of avoiding?”  “What’s one thing we can do to improve our communication as a team?”

Your turn.

What are the biggest communication mistakes you’ve learned to avoid?

See Also: 15 Communication Mistakes You Might Not Even Know You are Making

how to gain more trust from your team

How To Gain More Trust With Your Team in the New Year

It’s the time of year where many of us are talking about what we want to lose—a few pounds, some bad habits, a toxic relationship. Today, I’m sharing some ways (I’ve learned the hard way) about what you might gain—or regain—after one of the most challenging leadership years in a while. By investing in a few vital (and actually not really that difficult when you think about it) actions, you can gain more trust and connection with your team.

7 Surefire Ways to Gain (or Regain) Trust

Here’s a start which I know (sadly from personal experience) will work well. What would you add?

1. Admit a mistake.

Not just a small one. I’m going to assume you do that every day. Is there a decision you regret? A strategic move that took the team down a rabbit hole? Or perhaps you let your personal stress bleed into your work, and were harsher in that meeting than necessary.

It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

The truth is when you screw up, your team already knows. You will gain more trust and connection by admitting what you regret and helping the team to move past it.

2. Stop doing something stupid.

I’ve yet to work with a company where folks couldn’t list the “stupid” things they are still doing for stupid reasons.

Want to gain more trust from your team? Pick one of those things and figure out how to stop doing it.

Your team will want to kiss you, and you’ll free up more time for them to work on their MITs (Most Important Things).

3. Take a stand.

I bet if I asked you to describe the leaders you most admire, or your favorite boss, we’d only be a few sentences in before you told me a story about them standing up for something that mattered.

You can be that person.

You know that thing you’re not saying because you’re too afraid? If it really matters, figure out a way to say it well.

4. Forgive a grudge.

I know. This is a hard one. But you know who you’ll gain the most credibility with if you can pull this off? You.

There’s huge value in knowing you’re the one that can take the high road and give someone a second chance.

5. Open a door.

The most credible leaders are ones who help people when they have nothing to gain. Building a reputation as a door-opener is a great way to catalyze credibility, not to mention karma.

6. Have a real conversation with your boss.

I was exchanging stories with an old boss the other day about times where we had found ourselves being the only ones having the tough conversations with our bosses. That audacity has served us both well over the years, and has helped me build the muscles I need to now be a successful consultant. If you want to be more influential with your team, work at being more influential with your boss.  Gain credibility by being the one who will own the ugly and work to make it better.

And guess what? If you do it well, your boss will start proactively coming to you asking for advice.

7. Mend fences with your peers.

I get it, this is often the most challenging. After all, it’s not you, it’s them 😉  Maybe that’s true. But your team needs to know you can get things done up, down, AND sideways. If you want your team to trust that you have their best interests at heart, do what you can to put aside the politics and past frustrations and work to foster trust and collaboration with your peers.

Your turn.

What are your favorite ways to gain more trust with your team?

See Also: How to Change Your Mind and Not Lose Their Trust and Support

9 Mistakes that Sabotage Collaboration and Degrade Trust


The most importat leadership question

The Most Important Leadership Question You’ll Ever Ask

When you think about leading a productive team, what’s the first question that comes to mind? How to get the right people on the team? What’s the perfect vision? Or maybe you have questions about training or infrastructure. Of course, these questions are all important, but they’re not the most important leadership question.

If you want to lead energized, motivated teams, the most important leadership question you can ask is about you. Specifically, a question about your motivations.

The question is: “Why do I want to lead?”

Five P’s

There are typically five reasons people choose to lead a team.

They are:

  1. Power
  2. Prestige/Pride
  3. Purse / Pennies / Pesos / Pounds
  4. People
  5. Purpose

Three Problematic Ps

Let’s take a look at the first three of these reasons people choose to lead a team:

Power—they want to tell people what to do.

Prestige or Pride—they feel better about themselves or enjoy the status from the title.

Purse—they take leadership roles for the money.

Leaders who turn into dreaded bad bosses often take on their leadership roles for one or more of these three reasons. Maybe they like having power and want the money that comes with it. Or perhaps their sense of well-being is wrapped up in the title.

This leads to a few problems. First, they won’t inspire your team or energize your team. They don’t care about that stuff for you.

And second, these motivations are motivation black-holes. Power is an illusion—you can’t actually make anyone do anything. It’s always their choice. The prestige fades or becomes self-defeating when you realize there’s always something more prominent. Likewise, someone will always have a nicer house or car (and the money rarely equals the headaches and responsibilities that come with real leadership).

Two Powerful Ps

Leaders accomplish results with and through people. As we say in Winning Well: it’s all about results and relationships. Those are the motivations in the final two Ps, People and Purpose.

People—serving and supporting your team or organization.

Purpose—achieving a specific mission.

The Most Important Leadership Question

To lead a productive, energetic, motivated team, start with your motivations. Be honest with yourself: Do you choose to lead in order to serve your team and accomplish meaningful results?

If you find that power, prestige, and the pull of the purse are your motivators, you will have trouble. People instinctively know when you don’t care about them or don’t care about the mission.

If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at your motivations, can you take some time to reflect on how people and purpose show up in your daily leadership?

The good news is that no matter why you started leading, it’s never too late to choose people and purpose. You can begin by filtering your decisions through two questions:

  • How will this serve the team?
  • How will this help us achieve results?

If the answer to either question is ever “It won’t”… then don’t it.

A Final Thought

We live in the real world and human beings (including us) care about money, roles, and status. People and Purpose don’t mean you eliminate your desire for the others—they just aren’t the main reasons you choose to lead.

As you prioritize people and purpose, you will find those motivations coming to mind more easily and influencing your decisions. You’ll also see your team’s productivity, energy, and motivation improve.

We’d love to hear from you: How do you keep people and purpose at the forefront of your leadership and decision-making?

How to give your team energy they need

How to Give Your Team Energy They Need

Lead like it’s the first time to give your team energy.

Early in my career, I learned a vital leadership lesson about how to give your team energy. I was working with an education nonprofit that supported children who lived in poverty.

During the summer, we would frequently take these students bowling, hiking, or swimming. It was new to them, an inexpensive way to build mentoring relationships, and fun. Or at least, it could be fun if we allowed it to be.

As an adult, the eleventh time you take kids bowling doesn’t have the same novelty. On a steamy Monday morning in late July, a senior leader, Sue, must have seen the malaise creeping into us. She looked each of us in the eye and said, “Never forget that it’s their first time. Honor that experience for them.”

As a leader, you’ve shown up to a team meeting, started a new project, helped a team member over an obstacle. The novelty can wear off.

You’ve been there. Done that. Have the tee-shirt. The scars. Maybe a little cynicism.

How can you recapture that spark and energy?

Find Your Rock Star

Recently I heard comedian Conan O’Brien interview Bruce Springsteen. The Boss, who is known for the incredible energy he and the E-Street Band bring to every performance, talked about his approach to performance. “I want to be on the frontier—on the edges of my own psychological, emotional spiritual frontier. I want to be working there until the day I die.”

That, Springsteen says, is the difference between a professional and a careerist.

As you move forward and live life, he says, your life blossoms and so you can never actually sing the same song twice. You’re always a new and different person.

The interview called to mind the first and only time I saw the band Kansas perform live. They were opening for the band Yes. This was decades after both bands’ heyday.

But you wouldn’t have known it.

Kansas has two or three songs most rock fans know. They’ve probably performed that catalog thousands of times in venues ranging from huge stadiums in the 1970s to tents at state fairs.

When I saw them, it was in a smaller theater where I was standing in the back. And …

They. Brought. It.

To this day it’s one of the most energetic performances I’ve ever seen. The same few songs. “Dust in the Wind”—sang with the passion and perspective of people who have lived and seen life. “Carry on My Wayward Son”—filled with conviction, wisdom, and hope. “Point of Know Return”—carried the passion, challenge of adventure, and even an invitation to leadership.

They gave everything they had, and I’ll never forget it.

What must it be like performing those same few songs over and over across decades?

It was a challenge to me to show up for what matters most with all the energy and passion I can bring. To find what is new and fresh and meaningful.

Give Your Team Energy

Today, where can you give your team energy by showing up like it’s the first time?

  • Reconnect to your why. What’s the deepest meaning and purpose behind your work? Refresh yourself and your team in the “Why?” behind every “What?”
  • Focus on who you serve. You and your team exist to do something for someone. Who are they? How do you help them? Ask your clients, customers, or constituents to share a few words with your team about how the work they do matters.
  • Practice your craft. This is my takeaway from Bruce Springsteen’s conversation: You’re a different person. You are (hopefully) a better leader. The activity might be rote, routine, and even boring, but you’re not. You’re a different person. How does this new you bring their best self to the task and team?
  • Look through the eyes of a new team member. This was Sue’s challenge to us as adult mentors. It’s their first time going bowling. Find that magic. You’ve solved this problem fifty-five times, but your newest person is just learning and the magic of expanding their capacity is waiting for your leadership.

Your Turn

Life will always include some level of the mundane and routine. As a leader, you can give your team energy to meet these challenges.

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your best suggestion to meet the routine or boring aspects of work and energize your team?

How to Be an Even Better Leader

How to Be an Even Better Leader

If you want to be a better leader, get curious about what you might still be able to learn.

We recently had a very senior leader join a live-online leadership training he had hired us to do with his team. Not in a “watch from the sidelines” kind of way as sometimes happens. He was all in.

He actively participated in the breakout conversations and completed his action learning assignments and reported them in the learning lab.

In addition to providing this training for his team, he was curious about what he could do to be a better leader.

In debriefing his experience after the final session, he shared.

This was interesting for me to slow down and really think about HOW I’m leading. I spend so much time on strategic issues, it was helpful to try some new approaches and tools. Ha, I can’t help but think that it might be helpful for my boss to take this class too  😉

4 Approaches to Help You Become an (Even Better) Leader

Once you get to “expert” level, it’s easy to put all your leadership development energy into your team. After all, it’s your job to grow leaders. You want to invest in your team as others have invested in you.

Perfect. There’s no better way to get your team focused on being better leaders than to show that you too are working to be a better leader. Experts are continual students.

Here are a few approaches that can help.

1. Slow down and revisit the fundamentals.

I (Karin) am a decent skier. Most of the time, I can get down the expert slopes without doing too much harm to myself or others.

But the trouble is, my form isn’t always the most efficient, or graceful. AND, I’ve been skiing pretty much the same way for the last decade.

This past week, over Christmas break, I did something I haven’t done in a really long time. In the mornings I watched some really basic Youtube videos which included some skiing drills. And then, I spent part of each day skiing the easy stuff and really paying attention to my form—before I headed back to the blacks.

Shocker—I got better.

What if you took a moment to really think about how you’re approaching the foundational leadership activities that come naturally for you and consider your technique? Look around. Read a new book. Notice what your peers are doing that might be worth a try.

2. Become a Leader Teacher.

One of the best ways to continue to refine your leadership skills is to teach leadership. In many of our long-term leadership programs, we incorporate a “leader as teacher” approach. In addition to more senior leaders participating in the program along with their teams, we prepare them to be “leader teachers” to reinforce the concepts and discuss application in-between sessions in small challenger groups.

There’s no better way to master a new skill than to teach it. And when leaders know they will be facilitating conversations about a new approach, they’re much more likely to try it themselves first so they can speak from first-hand experience.

You can do this on your own too.

Talk with your team about some strategic areas they’re focused on to become better leaders this year. Perhaps it’s getting better at leading virtual meetings. Or building a more robust virtual communication strategy. Stretch yourself to learn some new approaches, teach them to your direct reports, and then schedule some time to debrief how it went and what everyone learned.

3. Avoid S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome.

When you’re a strong leader, and you stumble across a new leadership approach or tool, it’s easy to fall into S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome. (So and So Really Needs This).

You think you know who needs this … my boss, or my peer, or my spouse, and you run off and immediately share it with them.

Of course, when you do that, you miss the opportunity to become a better leader yourself.

There’s no better way to get your team to notice a new approach than to first model it yourself. As you take the journey, then you can invite others to join you.

4. Involve your team in your development.

The start of the year is the perfect time to work on leadership development plans … not just for your team, but for yourself as well.

Start with a courageous question. “This year, one focus I have is working to become a better leader for you and the rest of the team. What’s one specific area you think I can work on that would have the biggest impact?”

Of course, when your team sees you investing time and energy to become a better leader, they’re more likely to make it a priority for themselves as well.

Your turn.

What would you add? What has worked for you to take your leadership to the next level?

Courageous CulturesAnd if you’re looking for an advanced leadership book to read with your team this year, check out Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovator’s Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates (and download the FREE Executive Strategy Guide) to facilitate a “leaders as teachers” conversation with your team.

5 steps to overcome adversity

5 Steps to Overcome Adversity and Thrive in the New Year

Wow-what a year this has been. For many leaders, adversity doesn’t begin to describe the challenges you’ve faced. And – we’ve been so inspired by the ways you have responded and risen to the occasion to overcome adversity.

If 2020 has left you reeling, we want to encourage you with hope.

Recently, I interviewed someone who knows adversity well. Jason Redman is a retired Navy Seal who was shot several times and severely wounded when he and his team found themselves in an ambush. Following that ambush and a business failure, Jason became a student of resiliency and how to overcome adversity.

Whether the pandemic slammed your business or you face some other monumental, unexpected setback, you have to find a way to move beyond anger, guilt, emptiness, or pain. It’s not only possible to overcome adversity, but it’s imperative. In the full interview, Jason shared a five-step REACT process that gives you the tools to accept your circumstance, choose action over inaction, and triumph over adversity.

REACT Method to Overcome Adversity

R: Recognize – that you’re in a crisis.

Name it. It’s too easy to keep pushing or live in denial of the crisis. Stop, and acknowledge reality so that you can deal with it.

E: Evaluate – your assets and position.

What tools do you have in your toolbox to help with this problem? And remember your team here – you don’t need all the answers. Bring your team together and ask the right questions to help them contribute answers.

A: Assess – your option and outcomes.

Pause. Take a beat. With the time you have, breathe and consider your options and the possible consequences of each. Don’t rush to action without this pause.

C: Choose – a direction and communicate it.

When you commit to a course of action and use that 5×5 communication to ensure your team knows the direction, you will boost morale and energy (yours and your team’s).

T: Take action – follow-through.

It’s time to act. Movement builds momentum. You decided with the best information you had available. Get moving!

You can listen to the full interview here:

Take Care

Redman’s REACT process doesn’t mean you should ignore your emotions.

Some of the challenges life gives us are incredibly difficult, and you need to allow your grief, frustration, anger, and sadness to do their work. Maybe at the moment, you use REACT to get through the immediate crisis, but be aware that you will need to take care of your whole self and process the emotions of those challenges.

Do what you need to take care of yourself.

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you: when you’re faced with those unexpected crises, what is your best strategy to overcome adversity, restore your confidence, and build momentum?


How to hold a better performance improvement conversation

How to Hold a Better Performance Improvement Conversation

Has this ever happened to you? You sit down for an earnest performance improvement conversation. Your employee listens intently. She thanks you for the feedback, and promises to try harder.

Things improve for a minute. But a week later, they’re back to all the same behaviors.

You’re frustrated, and with good reason.  You may feel the urge to take it personally or write them off as a lost cause. But don’t lose hope yet.

Try these questions to take your performance improvement conversation to the next level.

Center Your Performance Improvement Conversation Around These Four Questions

First, take a minute to reflect on the feedback and accountability conversations you’ve had so far.  Our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model for accountability conversations (right) can help. You can read more about that in our Fast Company article here.

After that, ask yourself these questions.

INSPIRE meting for tough conversations

1. Clarity: Do they really know what success looks like?

One good conversation about expectations can prevent fourteen “Why didn’t you?” conversations.

Ask them to describe what success looks like in their role, in terms of metrics and specific behaviors.

If you find that you haven’t been clear, here’s how you can reset your expectations.

Be as specific as possible. Avoid generic phrases like: “A positive attitude,” “More customer focus,” and “Be more strategic.”  Translate those into tangible, measurable behaviors.

If this feels hard, imagine you took out your phone and took a video of what successful actions and behaviors look like (of course, don’t actually do this), but you get the idea.

2. Conflicts: Where are they stuck?

Listen closely. It’s easy to discount the “reasons” they can’t improve: overwhelm; competing priorities; mixed messages; frustrating peers; difficult customers …

Some of this may feel like excuses. But, underneath that emotion and deflection, may lay your breakthrough opportunity to help them improve.

And if you can help them find a breakthrough, don’t forget to look for opportunities to see if the rest of the team needs more help in this area too.

3. Confidence: Do they believe they can do it?

Okay, here comes the hard part.

If you don’t think they can get there from here, they will see that lack of confidence a mile away.

First, do a gut check. Are you giving them the benefit of the doubt? Do you believe this is possible? (If not, be sure you’re documenting the situation carefully and involving HR.)

But if you are coming from a place of “Yes you can,” be clear on why. Show them examples of how they’ve done this before. Break down the goals into bite-size behaviors. Start small and be impressed.

4. Conviction: Are they committed to making the change?

If this is the challenge, start by asking questions.

Why do they choose to work here?

What makes “here” feel great?

Connect what you’re asking of her to why it matters to the company and to them.

Holding successful performance improvement conversations takes practice. Consistent focus on these four areas will help you get to the root cause of the issue more quickly.

And of course asking, “What else can I do to be most helpful?” is always important. And then, really listen to what she has to say.

Your turn

What are the most important questions to ask when holding a performance improvement discussion?

How to Help Your Team Bring You Better Ideas

How to Help Your Team Bring You Better Ideas

You don’t just want ideas—you want GOOD ideas. There’s no time for half-baked solutions to trivial problems. But if you stop listening, they’ll stop sharing, and you’ll miss the good ones.

How you respond to incomplete, off-base, or inelegant ideas makes all the difference in whether or not you’ll get the contributions you do need the next time. Several executives, when they heard about our research on Courageous Cultures and FOSU (fear of speaking up), told us “Oh, that’s not our issue. Our problem is these damn millennials can’t stop speaking up. They complain about everything.”

“And do you listen?” we ask.

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

Which begs the question: What happens next after you’re tired and they’re ignored? It’s only a matter of time before they stop trying or find someplace else to work that will listen.

It’s worth the time investment to help your team know a good idea when they see one and to learn how to vet it for viability.

This simple tool works wonders.

4 Questions to Help Your Team Vet Their Ideas

In our research, 40% of the participants said they don’t feel confident to share their ideas and 45% say they haven’t been trained to think critically or solve problems.

If you want better ideas, help your employees know what differentiates a good idea by giving them a few criteria. Tell your team you’re looking for interesting, doable, engaging actions.


Why is this idea interesting? What strategic problem does it solve? How will results improve from this idea (e.g. customer experience, employee retention, efficiency)?

D- Doable

Is this idea something we could actually do? How would we make it happen? What would make it easier or more difficult?

E- Engaging

Who would we need to engage to make this happen? Why should they support it? Where are we most likely to meet resistance?


What are the most important actions needed to try this? How would we start?

See Also: Entrepreneur: Have a Killer Business Idea? Here’s How to Vet It

End-of-year meeting:How to host a great end of year meeting

End-of-Year Meeting: How to Make Yours Remarkable

Are you looking to host an end-of-year meeting? Think past the PowerPoint recap and look for ways to make yours remarkable.

In one way or another, your team has had an incredible year.

Fill in the blank: It was incredibly ________(successful, challenging, stressful, unusual). Maybe you’re remarkably proud of all you accomplished.  Maybe you got thrown a crazy curveball that derailed all your plans.  Or perhaps you just can’t wait for the calendar to turn over and start again.

Your team’s feeling it too. Don’t throw the opportunity to pause and reflect out with the holiday wrappings. Carve out time to talk about what you learned in an end-of-year meeting.

It’s tempting to have a “no one talks about work” luncheon, do the secret Santa thing, and have a few giggles. Or, to jump right into planning for the new year, “after all the past is behind us.” The best meetings build both results and relationships, and an end-of-year meeting done remarkably well sets the stage for thoughtful reflection and a more energized start to the new year.

How to Have a Remarkable End-of-Year Meeting

Make a CAREful plan and have your best end-of-year meeting ever.

C- Celebrate 

Celebrate both results and the human beings who achieved them.  Be sure your team knows the Most Important Things (MIT) they accomplished in terms of both results and building relationships. For example, it’s not just the 28% increase in efficiency, it’s also that they improved the contentious relationship with IT that made the collaboration possible.

If you’re doing formal recognition, resist the urge to just pick the top three by the numbers of a stack rank. Consider HOW the results were achieved. There’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than seeing their boss recognize some bozo who gamed and back-stabbed his way to the top. If there’s any chance your team will be texting one another “WTF” when an award is given, supplement your criteria to include behaviors that matter.


Acknowledge the disappointments. and what you could have done better. Talk about the effort that may not have paid off the way you would have hoped, and celebrate what did.  When we ask our audiences  “What’s one thing you feel underappreciated for at work” the number one answer is always, “The time I spend developing my people.” Acknowledge that too.


Do something to refresh and renew. One year one of my sales managers took his team bird watching in the local park, before digging into their strategic review. Another year I hired a caricature artist to do a composite sketch of the team. Another time, we had a white elephant exchange, but instead of wacky presents, each member of the team brought their favorite business book– people were stealing from one another right and left, and the side effect was a lot of strategic reading and dialogue happening that year. Most years at Verizon, I brought my team to my home for a planning session followed by a dinner celebration. Find some way to refresh and have some fun along with the reflection and planning.


Engage the team. Ask each team member to reflect on their own contributions in terms of results and relationships this year, as well as disappointments.

If you’re holding a small meeting with just your direct reports give them time to share. If you’re hosting a larger event, there are lots of fun ways to engage and capture reflections, from sticky notes and grouping themes; to “best of”/”worst of” reflections on index cards collected at the beginning and sorted into themes; to simple polling texting apps, with results projected immediately on the screen.

Find a way to get your team’s best view of the year into the conversation.

2020-2021 Virtual Meetings Update

If you’re looking to host a 2020 End-of-year meeting or planning a virtual kick-off meeting to start the new year, you won’t want to miss Virtual Kick-off Meeting: Why You Should Have One and How to Make it Great.

And our interview in Authority Magazine: Karin Hurt and David Dye of ‘Let’s Grow Leaders’: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Run a Live Virtual Event

Plan a Fast Start to Your New Year

Operational Excellence RalliesGet your team off to a fast-start.  Learn more about our Let’s Grow Leaders Operational Excellence Rallies. Let us help you and your team have a remarkable fast start to the new year.  We’d love to talk more about how we can custom-design a one or two-day strategic working session with high ROI.

See Also: How to Hold a Motivational Meeting

The Secret to Great Skip Level Meetings

Avoid This Infuriating Phrases in End-oof Year Feedback

4 U.G.L.Y. Conversations to Have With Your Team Before Year-End

How to Be Grateful Even When TImes are Hard

On Being Grateful: An Asking For a Friend Interview with Dan Rockwell

We’re excited to share this special Thanksgiving edition of Asking For a Friend. Karin interviews Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak, about how to be grateful—even during difficult times.

In this episode, we unpack some of Dan’s recent and inspirational writing on gratitude, including the seven impossibilities of gratitude.

The next time you see red, look around for something to be grateful for.

Avoid These Barriers to Grateful

An Excerpt from Dan’s 7 Impossibilities of Gratitude

#1. Worry

You can’t worry and be grateful in the same moment.

Don’t worry about overcoming worry. Just notice and acknowledge benefit or advantage every day.

#2. Complaining

You can’t complain and practice gratitude with the same breath.

Tip: Breathe in deeply and breathe out “thank you” like a silent meditation.

#3. Anger

You can’t be grateful and angry at the same time.

About Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak

Dan Rockwell – Leadership Freak – writes a daily leadership blog that is read on every country on Earth, except the Western Sahara.

Inc Magazine recognizes Dan as a top 50 leadership expert and top 100 leadership speaker. The American Management Association lists Dan as a top 30 leader in business.

Dan was brought up on a dairy farm in Central Maine where he learned to get his chores done. He currently lives in Central Pennsylvania with his high school sweetheart.

Dan expresses his passion for leadership and organizational development by giving presentations and coaching leaders.

See Also:

A Thanksgiving Challenge

How are You Going to Make it Through the 2020 Holidays (Jesse Lyn Stoner)

5 Ways to Show Gratitude to Your Employees (Cindy McGovern)

How leaders can find the fun during the slog

How Leaders Can Find the Fun During the Slog

Find the fun with authenticity, surprise, and variety.

Robert unmuted his microphone, leaned into the camera, and asked in a near-whisper: “How can we find the fun again?”

We were facilitating at the Inc 5000 Vision Conference, helping leaders navigate the challenges of a remote, socially-distanced workforce. Heads nodded. And a sea of sympathetic half-smiles and hopeful eyes filled the Zoom screen.

He continued, “My company culture was built on frequent social gatherings and my people draw energy and encouragement from one another. The fun isn’t window-dressing, it’s an essential part of their productivity–and without it, I worry about our future.”

As the pandemic’s socially distanced slog continues into the winter months in the northern hemisphere, you know how important Roberts’s question is for your team’s morale and productivity.

4 Ways to Find the Fun Despite the Slog

As we’ve talked with leaders around the world who can find the fun, four characteristics emerged.

1. Authenticity and Vulnerability

Vulnerability isn’t ‘fun’ per se, but it’s essential. Starting with “fun” without acknowledging reality feels disconnected or manipulative.

Transparency from leaders and team members about their feelings, acknowledging the reality you and your team face–these build trust and credibility. They also lighten the load just a bit.

And to get real for a moment: the pandemic slog is real. We’re living it. Close family and friends are sick. Friends, family, and clients have lost friends and family. Along with you, we long for the days when we can once again gather safely with loved ones or conduct training and strategic facilitation in person.

Those days will come again, but right now we face the slog. Frankly, it stinks and everyone’s tired of it. And …we can do it.

Over and over again we’ve seen leaders care for their teams, inspire morale, motivation, and breakthrough performance. This is hard; and you’re up for the challenge.

2. Varied and Individualized

In our conversations with leaders who are able to find the fun, a recurring theme is variety. The virtual happy hour was fun the first time, but the tenth one feels obligatory and routine.

How can you mix up your routine remote activities?

Perhaps you could start every team meeting with a different activity? For more social or fun activities, keep it fresh. Many teams have incorporated online games, themed events, and professional development into their mix of recognition and connection.

Another important aspect of variety is individualization. Recognize the differences in your team so you see and connect with people as they are. One CEO shared an effective way to do this in her company: periodically they take half-days for self-directed professional development, followed by brief sharing about what they chose and what they learned.

With everyone choosing their focus and learning, then sharing it with their colleagues, the activity is both individualized, varied every time, and connects team members more closely with one another in areas of passion.

3. Anticipation

An endless horizon stretching ahead forever is discouraging and, on top of pandemic-related anxiety, can lead to significant mental health challenges.

Give people something to look forward to will break up the monotony and energize performance. But don’t schedule everything – leave room for …

4. Surprise and Delight

One of the most powerful ways to find the fun is with the element of surprise and delight. Create moments of the unexpected where people feel genuinely seen and valued.

Recently, a client had a coffee meeting with Karin. He had pastries delivered to our home office ahead of the meeting. It was so unexpected–we rarely have pastries, and it brought so much joy.

Another client ordered a pizza to arrive at her team member’s home just as our meeting was wrapping up. That pizza brought so much joy that he sent us a picture just to celebrate the moment.

Surprise and delight don’t have to be about food. When people show up for a routine meeting, what can you do that would delight them? Make them smile and say “Wow, that was cool!”

You don’t need to rely on surprise and delight every week. If you do, it becomes routine–and the endless horizon returns. But every few weeks, how can you make people smile, feel seen, and do it in a way they aren’t expecting?

Your Turn

The slog is real. But so is your team’s resilience and ability to persevere. You can find the fun and energize your people with a combination of authenticity, variety, anticipation, surprise, and delight.

We’d love to hear from you: As you lead through these challenging circumstances, how are you renewing your team’s energy and morale?