How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

Criticism: Gift or Garbage?

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Criticism

1) Be aware of your emotions.

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

2) Look for patterns.

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

3) Ask why.

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

4) Look for causes.

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

5) Be curious.

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

6) Test it.

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

7) Show gratitude.

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

8) Ignore it.

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

9) Respond where you can.

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

10) Move on.

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

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

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

Your Turn:

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


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

how to ensure your business storytelling makes an impact

How to Ensure Your Business Storytelling Makes an Impact

If you’re using business storytelling regularly, how do you assess the impact?

How do you ensure you craft the very best stories that leave your audience not only inspired, but with an inkling of what to do next?

There’s no question, stories are one of the very best ways to send a message your team will remember.

Done right, great business storytelling explains the why behind your asks, reinforces what’s most important, and builds deeper trust.

And yet, done poorly, your team will roll their eyes and brace themselves when they see you coming. “Oh gosh, here comes one of his stories,” is not what you’re going for.

We’re constantly hearing “Bless his heart he means well” stories of likable leaders who waste their team’s time and drive everyone a bit batty with their rambling yarns.

Of course, if you’re the boss they may nod along and laugh politely at the right spots, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily making the impact you hoped for.

If you’re looking to take your business storytelling to the next level do this, not that.

Do This, Not That, For Better Business Storytelling

Do This

Do: Be clear about your message

The difference between business storytelling and a telling great story around the campfire or in your favorite bar comes down to one thing– the point.

Whether your audience is an employee in the passenger’s seat of your car on the way to an event, a small group of direct reports in a team meeting, or a thousand people at a town hall meeting, ask yourself this: “What do I want my audience to think, do or feel as a result of this story?” Be as specific as possible.

Think beyond the obvious feelings of “encouraged” or “motivated.” And consider specific behaviors or key actions you want them to take next.

Do: Pick a Relatable Scene

I can’t tell you how many corporate events we go to where the CEO starts with a story from an unrelatable setting. “When my family of five and I were on a cruise last week, the funniest thing happened…” And all the frontline workers who are struggling to make it through the month, tune out.  They lost that story at hello.

Do: Keep it Tight

It’s tempting to offer every chronological detail and play by play. Don’t. Great stories focus on the emotional truth. Don’t make stuff up, but it’s perfectly okay to condense the details and the characters to build suspense, intrigue, and most importantly reinforce the point.

Do: Give Your Characters Character

Paint a picture of your characters. What did they look like? What did they wear? Why? Give us a glimpse into their fears and motivations. If you’re the main character in your story, give us a look behind the curtain. What were you feeling? Why?

D0: Check for Understanding 

In Winning Well, we emphasize the importance of a solid check for understanding in every communication. At the conclusion of your story, instead of saying, “and the reason I told you that story is…” Try, “Why do you think I share that story?” If they don’t get it, keep refining your story to ensure it conveys your most important message.

Not That

Don’t: Be the Hero of Your Own Story

Even if you are the hero, who else was involved? How can you emphasize their impact? And then I met __________ who had the best idea I’ve heard in a long time…

Don’t: Tell Stories Within the Story

Life is messy. No story happens in a vacuum. But, the most impactful business storytelling happens one story at a time. Do what you can to avoid the detours.

Don’t: Wing it

Great storytellers make it look easy. Like the story just came to them and off they go. The very best storytellers know there is nothing further from the truth. Becoming a great storyteller takes practice. Try out your stories in low-risk contexts, ask for feedback and keep refining.

See also:

HR Storytellers: Karin Hurt

 

 

 

 

 

Town Hall Meetings: 6 Mistakes to Avoid

How to Tell a Great Story: The LGL S.T.O.R.I.E.S. technique for strategic storytelling

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

 

how to ensure your leadership training sticks

6 Ways to Ensure Your Leadership Training Makes You a Better Leader

You’ve invested the time and effort to go to leadership training. So how do you ensure the work you’ve done will make you a better leader? How do you get feedback from your team on what’s working (and what’s not?)

What steps can you take to ensure the leadership training actually improve your leadership?

How to Ensure Your Leadership Training Sticks

Leadership training isn’t about what you learned, it’s about what you do with what you learned.

If you’re just back from training, here are a few tips to ensure your leadership training makes you and your team stronger.

  1. Focus on one behavior change at a time.
    When you learn game-changing leadership techniques, it’s tempting to try everything at once. After all, if these techniques produce results, you owe it to your team to use them. Right? Perhaps. But not all at the same time. Pick one specific behavior or approach your gut tells you will make the biggest impact and integrate it into your leadership approach. Practice it consistently. Tweak it. Make it your own. Ask for feedback. Once you feel confident and competent in that behavior, the timing might be right to add in another technique. Too much change all at once will overwhelm both you and your team.
  2. Find an accountability partner.
    Change is hard, and it can be lonely. It’s much easier to give up when no one’s looking. Find someone you trust who understands what you’ve just learned (someone else in your training class is a great choice.) Share the behavior you’re working on and make a commitment to check in with one another once a week to see how things are going and discuss challenges and brainstorm next steps.
  3. Invite your team on the journey.
    Tell your team what you’ve learned and what you’ve chosen to work on and why. Invite them to notice when it’s working and offer suggestions as to what you can do better. Your team already knows you’re not perfect, and they’ll be delighted to know you’re working on becoming a more effective manager. It’s even okay to show your hand. Share the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model or the 9 What’s Method and work through the process with them. “I’ve just come back from leadership training and I’ve learned a new technique that I think could help. Want to try it?”
  4. Teach what you’ve learned.
    One of the best ways to become a rock star at a skill is to teach it. Consider sharing some of the tools you’ve learned and teach them to others. See where they struggle. Share your stories.
  5. Ask for feedback.
    Make it a point to ask for feedback on the impact your new approach is having on the people you’re leading. Ask open-ended questions about what you can do to improve.
  6. When you screw up, apologize and try again.
    New habits don’t come easy. If you slip back into old behaviors, apologize and try again. Your team knows you’re not perfect. They just want to know you’re trying. Training is important, but what matters most is what you do when you get back to your team. With just a bit of focus, you can ensure the strongest ROI for you and your team.

Other Important Posts For Ensuring Leadership Training ROI

How to Measure the ROI of Leadership Development Programs (SHRM)

How to Build a Better Leadership Development Program

5 Tragic Mistakes That Will Derail Your Action Learning Projects

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

stop the drama - a leaders guide

7 Steps to Stop the Drama – a Leader’s Ultimate Guide

Life is crazy; work doesn’t have to be. Stop the drama and get back to work.

Do you work with a drama addict? Are you desperate to stop the drama and focus on real work?

Maybe you have a boss who thrives on adrenalin-fueled fire drills, loves to shout “stop everything and get everyone in here now!” and who refuses to do the planning necessary to avoid the drama.

Or perhaps it’s your team member who is always in your office, taking up time, worried about how something isn’t working, the latest mistake by a colleague, and who blows every problem out of proportion.

Drama eats your productivity. It consumes your emotional energy and wastes valuable decision-making energy. But when you’re leading people, there will always be some level of drama. It takes many forms, but even the most mellow accountants and engineers can encounter drama.

Effective leaders master the ability to de-escalate drama and redirect people to productive activity. These seven steps are your ultimate guide to stop the drama, build healthy relationships, and achieve breakthrough results.

7 Steps to Stop the Drama

1. Ground Yourself

You won’t be effective if you’re swept up and washed away in the storm of other people’s drama. Anchor yourself. Know what matters most, build connections that keep you centered, steep in the values you want to live, and approach work with a positive “we can solve this” attitude.

At the same time, be prepared for problems. Disruptions are a fact of life. People won’t always do what they’re supposed to. These are not reasons to panic or freak out.

When there are problems, your grounded energy will help your team to maintain their composure and focus on the real MIT (Most Important Thing).

2. Set Clear Expectations

Just as you ensure everyone is on the same page regarding key business outcomes, you want to set expectations around how the team will react to challenges, how they resolve disagreements, and what to do when someone lets you down.

Give your people the tools to have tough conversations with one another. Talk about how the team will respond when (not if) there’s a problem. Rehearse. Practice. Role-play and be ready. You’ll prevent problems from catching fire and blowing up into unproductive drama.

These first two steps help you prepare for drama-situations before they happen. Now let’s look at what to do when the drama happens:

3. Acknowledge Their Feelings / Concern

When someone is fired up, one of the most effective ways to de-escalate the situation is to reflect how they’re feeling. eg: “It sounds like you’re frustrated.”

You’re not telling them how to feel or saying you agree with their interpretation. You’re just them know you understand how they are feeling. Until that strong emotion is acknowledged, you’re unlikely to be able to move forward. Often, this acknowledgment and understanding is all the person needs.

4. Ask Rational Clarifying Questions

After you acknowledge their feeling, your next goal is to get the problem into perspective. Ask straightforward questions that help quantify the real issue.

For example, when someone comes to you wound up because “I’m facing an insurrection! Everyone is fighting the new system and this will never work!” you might ask: “Who is having a hard time?” “What are they finding challenging?”

It’s one thing for the world to be on fire, but it’s another when it’s just Liz in Accounting and Jeff in Marketing who haven’t figure out how to get the data they need.

Push for the specifics that define the real problem (not the emotional problem).

5. Redirect to “How Can We” Questions

Once you’ve got the problem identified, asking a “How can we?” question helps pull the person out of reacting and into problem-solving. The human brain isn’t able to hold onto intense emotion at the same time as holding curiosity.

When you ask “How can we solve this?” you’re also communicating that you care, that you trust them to be able to come up with solutions, and that a solution is possible. That’s a lot of drama-erasing, problem-solving power for one short question.

6. Identify Next Steps

As they come up with solutions, translate those into specific actions that can be taken (the sooner the better). Ideally, these are actions they can take to help solve the issue. Sometimes there will be steps for you to take as well.

Either way, don’t allow the situation to resolve without specific commitments to action.

7. Finish Strong

Schedule a specific time where you and the other person will meet to review the actions both of you have taken, their impact, and what comes next. This is a critical step that prevents this particular dramatic situation from happening again. Don’t waste this conversation. If you do the drama will be back before you know it. Finish strong.

Your Turn

When you use these seven steps, you’ll prevent unnecessary drama. Your team will have the tools to deal with problems productively. For team members with a more drama-loving personality, walking them through steps 3 – 7 will guide them to more productive behaviors.

We’d love to hear from you: what’s your best tip to stop the drama, calm things down, and help everyone focus on moving forward?

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

How to Overcome a Frustarting Setback at Work

How to Overcome a Frustrating Setback at Work

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

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

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

So I’m writing this for both of us.

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

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

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

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

“Losing that job was a blessing in disguise.”

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

1. What am I feeling?

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

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

It’s okay to not be okay for a bit.

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

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

For real?

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

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

2. How have I overcome setbacks before?

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

3. What have I learned?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. How can we? 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

talent development mistakes

Two Leadership Mistakes that Cripple Your Talent Development

You Never Outgrow Your Responsibility for Talent Development

“Why doesn’t anyone care? Don’t they get it? There’s no one I can trust or depend on!” We have heard those frustrated words from more than one senior leader across a range of industries. If you’ve ever heard this or said it yourself, it reveals a severe problem in your talent development and, ultimately, the future of your business.

When a crisis hits or a “move now” opportunity presents itself, you don’t have time for talent development. You’ve got to respond. If your business context is legitimately a series of crises or opportunities with short windows, having the right people equipped with the right skills become even more important.

When leaders struggle with talent development and feel as if there is “no one who cares or is capable,” there are likely two mistakes that are crippling your talent development. The good news is that you can overcome both of these mistakes and help your people grow into the leaders you need.

Mistake #1: Anointing

Germaine had a reputation as a talented general manager. He had recently been hired to lead a major change initiative. When he arrived at the new job, he reported to a senior vice president who was busy with several other high-priority crises.

Germaine spent a day with the SVP and talked a good game. He shared his human-centered leadership strategies, the results he intended to achieve, and how wonderful his new boss was. By the end of the day, the Senior Vice President had decided that Germaine was awesome. “Anything he wants, he gets.”

As weeks went by, the SVP started to hear grumbling from Germaine’s department. He ignored it, thinking “Change is always challenging, they’ll get with it.”

As the months went by, Germaine started removing talented, “ready now” leaders, replacing them with people who would do what they were told without asking questions. His department saw an increase in HR complaints about harassment and several complaints were settled with financial payouts.

Within 18 months, Germaine’s change initiative had stalled. The CEO investigated and discovered that Germaine, who by all prior reports had been a stellar leader, had nearly destroyed the department. He fired Germaine and his SVP and had to rebuild the department and its leadership, from scratch.

This is an example of the first common talent development mistake leaders make: Anointing.

The literal definition of “anointing” is to “ceremonially confer divine or holy office upon a person.”

In business, it happens when a leader sizes up someone and mentally labels them as a “golden child” who can do no wrong. This happens regularly – leaders are busy, they want to think the best of people, or they are vulnerable to someone’s charisma and flattery.

Several problems start as soon as you “anoint” someone:

  • You don’t pay attention – you stop evaluating results objectively and just trust that the right things are happening.
  • You don’t hold them accountable – because you’re not paying attention, you don’t have the information you need to practice healthy accountability.
  • They stop growing – without attention, accountability, or coaching they don’t get the healthy feedback they need in order to grow. Often, they’ll fall back on natural tendencies, which, in Germaine’s case, were fatal to his SVPs career.
  • They get in over their head – due to their great reputation, anointed employees are often given assignments they’re not prepared for. These can be learning opportunities, but only when they’re supported with a scaffold of training and feedback. Without this scaffolding, the employee who knows they got the job on the strength of their reputation goes into overdrive working on their reputation – not the business.

Mistake #2: Staining

Eight weeks into her new job, Patricia’s first meeting with the general manager (who was her boss’s boss) didn’t go well. The GM asked Patricia how things were going and Patricia, an affable and compassionate person, replied with a long description of how she liked her co-workers and how delightful some of the customers were. The GM’s eyes glazed over until she excused herself from the conversation and Patricia went back to work.

Six months later, during a talent review conversation, Patricia’s supervisor recommended her for management training. The GM replied, “I don’t see it. She thinks this is a social club and spends too much time on the phone with customers. She doesn’t get what we do here.”

Patricia’s supervisor tried in vain to persuade her boss of Patricia’s merits. A year later, Patricia transferred to another division in the company and became a very successful leader.

This is an example of the second common talent development mistake: staining.

Staining is when a leader has one or two encounters with an employee and extrapolates from those brief encounters to assess their entire acumen and potential. The person is forever “stained” in their mind.

Several problems result when you stain someone:

  • You don’t give them feedback – because you don’t believe they have potential, you stop giving them the feedback they need.
  • You don’t give them opportunities – the “stain” prevents you from seeing potential so you don’t want to “waste” it on people who you don’t believe will benefit from it.
  • They don’t grow – without opportunities to grow and the feedback they need to improve, “stained” employees often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Deprived of what they need to grow and succeed, they stagnate and fail. (This is especially dangerous because it reinforces your mistaken belief in your ability to assess talent.)

The Antidote to Anointing and Staining for Ongoing Talent Development

In order to fully develop your people and help them become the best version of themselves, you’ve got to have a realistic perspective.

Effective leaders understand that no person is perfectly awesome or perfectly awful. Everyone can grow. (Tweet This)

Your best employee can screw up and your struggling employee can turn the corner and contribute. People are a mix of strengths and it’s your job to draw out those strengths.

confidence competence model

In order to avoid anointing and staining, use a tool like the Confidence – Competence  model to regularly assess your people. Where are they most competent? Where do they lack critical competence? Where are they most confident? Where do they lack confidence?

And, most importantly: what do you need to do to help them grow and take their next step?

Your Turn

Every employee can grow with the right combination of opportunity, accountability, and encouragement. As a leader, you never outgrow your responsibility for talent development.

We’d love to hear from you: Leave us a comment and share your experiences with anointing or staining and how you avoid these mistakes.


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

Overcoming Negativity at Work

A Powerful, Proven Technique for Overcoming Negativity at Work

Your team’s rightfully discouraged and a little stymied. Their negativity is rooted in facts. The truth is, you’re frustrated too. The struggle is real.

So as a leader, how can you stay positive without looking out of touch? How do you harness your team’s frustration to fuel productive solutions?

Try this powerful mind-shifting technique.

A Four-Step Technique For Turning Negativity into Solutions

When doing executive off-sites, we often use this technique immediately following an Own The U.G.L.Y. conversation. 

It always results in reducing negativity and a clearer focus on productive next steps.

1. Acknowledge Reality

It’s okay to share a bit of disappointment. After all, you’re human too. And your team wants to know you get it. Give your team a few minutes to share their feelings too.

“After all our hard work on the proposal, I thought we would get the contract too. I’m surprised we lost this one.”

“This new competitor is a bigger threat than we thought. We need to take them seriously.”

“This spike in attrition is a sign that something is wrong. We need to understand why our most talented employees are leaving.”

2. Reframe the Problem into “How Can We?” Questions

So given that reality, the next question is, how can we make the situation better?

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

Let’s say you’re dealing with the attrition issue. Your “How can we?” brainstorm might look something like this…

“How can we … truly understand why our best employees are leaving?”

“How can we … ensure our compensation package is truly competitive?”

“How can we … build a culture where employees want to stay?”

“How can we … give prospective employees a more realistic view of what it’s like to work here, before they accept the job?”

“How can we … reward loyalty?”

“How can we … build better career paths for our hourly workers?”

3. Vote for Which Questions Get to Root Cause

Next, invite your team members to place a dot next to the “How Can We? questions most likely to lead to effective solutions. Give every person 3 votes and see which questions your team has the most energy in addressing.

4. Work With Your Team to Answer the Top Three “How Can We?” Questions

If you have a large team, you can form three subgroups and give each group a “How can we?” question to answer. This works best if you let team members choose the question they have the most energy around.  If your team is smaller, it also works well to work on the questions as a group, although to maximize creativity you may want to tackle each question in a separate sitting.

Of course, the magic is not in the planning but in the finishing. Be sure you take time to prioritize which actions will make the biggest impact and build a realistic plan to work on the solutions most likely to give you forward momentum.

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

See Also: 10 Ways to Overcome Negativity at Work

Fast Company: How to Manage Anxiety Through Tough Times at Work

We’d love to help. Reach out to us at info@letsgrowleaders.com to learn more about how we can help your team take your performance to the next level. Or book a “How Can We” keynote or workshop for your next event.

leadership tips managing emotions

Frustrated or Focused – Leadership Tips for Managing Emotions

“David, I know I shouldn’t take this personally, but I’m so frustrated and I just want to yell at my team and walk away. I need help managing emotions or I’m going to have a meltdown.”

Amanda is a team leader for an international clothing producer. She loves her work, finds it inspiring, and she cares deeply about her people and the quality work they do. Like many leaders, however, her passion has turned to frustration as she struggles with managing emotions.

Leadership is challenging. Things never go exactly according to plan, disappointments creep up where you don’t expect them, and people can be erratic. Leading means you’ve got to deal with the human element.

If you’re going to succeed over time and achieve breakthrough results that last, you can’t walk around stressed out and frustrated all the time. You’ll break down or you’ll lash out at your team. Either way, your credibility suffers.

6 Steps for Managing Emotions

Recently one of our workshop participants mentioned a manager who said, “I’m here to manage results, not manage emotions.” Frankly, I think that statement is naïve, dangerous, and self-sabotaging. Managing emotions, starting with your own, is a critical leadership skill. Here are six ways to help you stay grounded and manage your emotions:

1. De-personalize issues.

Like many leaders, Amanda was taking her team’s behavior personally. She was basically saying, “How can they do this to me?” But here’s the thing: another person’s behavior is almost never about you. They are living their life, trying to do the best they can with what they have. They didn’t wake up that morning thinking about the best way to anger you.

In short: You are not the center of anyone else’s universe. (Unless you have a dog – then you’re totally the center of their world.) De-personalize the issue by recognizing that this isn’t about you. You need to lead through it, but it’s not about you.

2. Name your feelings.

This is a powerful way to lessen the grip of powerful emotions. When you realize you’re feeling tense, upset, tight, or can’t breathe, take a moment and try to name the feeling. Eg: I’m feeling scared, I’m feeling frustrated, or I’m feeling sad.

Your emotions are there for a reason. They’re like a warning siren calling for attention. When you ignore them or try to push them away, they turn up the volume. Over time, consistently ignoring them can do serious damage. But when you name it, it’s like you’ve acknowledged the warning call by saying “I see you – thanks for alerting me.” Just naming the feeling helps it to move through you and loosen its grip.

3. Apple catching (choose what you allow in.)

Imagine someone tossed an apple to you. You would not catch the apple with your mouth, immediately chew it up, and swallow it. You would catch the apple, inspect it, and then decide if and when you want to eat it.

Feedback is the same way. Don’t automatically internalize every bit of feedback you receive. If a 4-year-old stomped their foot and said “I don’t like you very much” it probably wouldn’t offend you.

But have a 44-year-old colleague say those same words and many people automatically take offense. They swallow that feedback without first evaluating it and whether or not it has something useful for them.

4. Get perspective.

Imagine holding a penny right in front of your eye. It blocks out your entire vision. Even if there is a huge mountain right in front of you, you won’t be able to see it because that small penny is consuming your vision. Move the penny farther away from you – get it back in proper perspective and it no longer blocks your vision.

Leadership problems and frustrations are often similar. You care, you devote so much of yourself to your work, so of course, the problems seem huge. But without perspective, it’s often impossible to find the healthiest solutions.

What helps you restore your perspective? For me, it is nature, sunsets, stars, forests, rivers, and mountains that remind me that this is a small problem in a very large universe. Time with family and friends restores my value of what matters most in life and gives me the energy and reserves to tackle the challenges I’m facing. Moving your body helps – a short walk, run, or bike ride can do wonders and give your mind time to process and work through what you’re feeling.

5. Give yourself room to feel.

You’re a human being and those emotions that have you in their grip are there for a reason. Anger is a sign that something’s wrong. Sadness is an acknowledgment of loss. Fear is a normal feeling when faced with the unknown. It’s okay to have these feelings. You can’t erase them. Rather than ignore them or fight them, acknowledge them and allow yourself a moment to feel. This doesn’t mean you’ll wallow in them or stay stuck.

When that promotion doesn’t happen or your team lets you down, give yourself time – maybe an hour or even a day or two to feel sad. Then move forward. Let the emotion do the work it needs to.

6. Move to “How can I…?”

After you acknowledge your feelings, it’s time to figure out what comes next. One of the best ways to do this is to ask yourself a “How can I?” question. For example, if you didn’t get a promotion, ask “How can I better position myself for the next opportunity?” When your team lets you down, ask “How can I ensure they are able to do what needs to happen the next time?” Maybe you need to clarify what success looks like or have an overdue INSPIRE conversation.

Moving to a “How can I?” question re-empowers you and produces positive energy. Don’t move to this step without first identifying what you’re feeling or you may ask the wrong “How can I?” question.

Your Turn

When you’re feeling more frustrated than focused, remember that your feelings have a job to do. At the same time, if you don’t develop the skills for managing emotions, they can also cripple your leadership. Effective leaders lead themselves first. They acknowledge their own humanity and lead their team through theirs.

Leave us a comment and share: What is your best strategy for managing emotions at work?

PS: If you’re unable to cope with your emotions over time – whether it’s depression, rage, or anxiety, please seek the help of your doctor or a mental health professional. Your mental health is every bit as real a need as your physical health – take care of yourself.


Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

leadership skill no one talks about

The Leadership Skill No One Talks About

The Secret to Transform Your Culture or Results is One Often-Ignored Leadership Skill

“I’m so frustrated.” Martin, the Senior Vice President of a rapidly-growing communication hardware company serving the United States, leaned back in his chair and blew a heavy sigh past his mustache. “I’m hoping you can help me. It’s like there’s some key leadership skill I never learned.”

He continued: “Three of my direct reports are behind on projects I delegated. I walked through our contact center and customer service was a mess even though we invested all that time in training. Our quality initiative is stuck in neutral…it just seems like we can’t seem to get anything done.”

Martin is well versed in leadership and management. He knows the M.I.T. (Most Important Thing), how to set clear shared expectations, how to make sure everyone knows how to succeed, he knows how to reinforce what success looks like, and he knows how to inspire, to celebrate when it goes well, and how to hold everyone accountable when it doesn’t.

He knows all of these fundamental leadership skills.

So what’s the problem? What’s the leadership skill that Martin feels like he’s missing?

The Missing Leadership Skill

As we work with thousands of leaders around the world and watch them start using Winning Well leadership and management strategies, we’ve seen a common theme when it comes to who succeeds over time:

When it comes to changing a culture or transforming results, they don’t just start – they finish.

Sadly, organizations are littered with leaders who start, but never finish:

  • The leader who says the meeting starts at 9, but when someone is late, doesn’t say anything.
  • The manager who declared that a customer call must begin with empathy, confidence, and connection, but he only said it for two weeks and never got back to it.
  • The team leader who facilitates a great meeting, helps the team dig deep to make tough commitments, but doesn’t follow up to see that it happened.
  • The manager who has a brilliant performance coaching conversation with an employee who needs to improve in one key area, but three months later has never reviewed the desired new behavior.
  • The team leader who declares a new era of entrepreneurial teamwork, but then never asks for a single new idea.
  • The manager who delegates a project, but never receives it back.

It doesn’t take many of these failed commitments before your team loses faith in your ability to make change happen, and worse, you lose faith in yourself.

Make Your Choice

When you set an intention and follow through your confidence increases. Your team knows they can believe you, trust you, and rely on you. You credibility builds.

Finishing is a choice. It doesn’t happen by chance. In fact, the chances are it won’t happen at all.

Here’s the deal: life is busy. You’ve got more to do than time to do it. Your plan is going to get interrupted and your interruptions are going to get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen.

Effective leaders consistently choose to finish – but they don’t leave it to chance or a heroic act of willpower.

Make It Automatic

If you have to spend energy trying to remember everything you need to finish you’ll never do it. There’s just too much going on and your brain has limited energy. Just thinking about every open loop can be exhausting.

There’s a better way: schedule the finish.

The moment you set an intention, make an appointment with yourself or with the other person where you will complete the intention or take the next step. The key is when. What moment in time will you follow up, follow through, and finish?

Here are some examples:

  • When you have a performance conversation using the INSPIRE model, the final step (E) is the Enforce step. Schedule a brief meeting to review their desired behavior. Eg: “Sounds good. Let’s meet at 10 next Tuesday to see how this is going and if you have any questions.”
  • When you delegate, schedule a time where the other person will meet with you in person or by video to return the project to you, answer questions, and discuss next steps.
  • When you lead a meeting, conclude the meeting by asking who will do what, by when, and “How will we know?” The final “How will we know?” are scheduled commitments to the team. Eg: “We will all have our data to Linda by Friday at 4 pm. Linda will send us the new process by Wednesday at 3 pm.” Everyone puts the times on their calendar. If Friday 4 pm comes and Linda doesn’t have data from Bob, she calls him. If 3 pm Wednesday comes and they don’t have the process, they call Linda.

The key in all these examples is to make an appointment. There is a difference between a to-do item and scheduled time on your calendar, particularly when that time is scheduled with another person. The likelihood of you both keeping your commitment increases significantly.

For items that don’t naturally fit in a calendar appointment (eg: you’re rolling out a new process to improve on-time delivery and quality), you can still make appointments with yourself to reinforce the initiative (communicate at least five times through five different channels) and to review performance.

When you create an expectation – particularly a new one that is the result of training or a new process – follow through on behavior quickly. When people get the behavior right, celebrate it, acknowledge it, and reinforce that this is what people like us do.

When it doesn’t happen, have quick INSPIRE conversations to redirect people back to the new way of doing things. If there are problems that prevent people from doing what’s needed, solve them quickly and visibly.

(This is the strategy at the core of the Confidence Burst strategy.)

Your Turn

Finishing isn’t flashy, but it’s a leadership skill with a huge payoff.

Martin didn’t need to learn a new strategy or read another book. His only missing leadership skill was to finish what he started.

Finish. Schedule the follow-through. Don’t leave it to chance or your to-do list.

We’d love to hear from you: As a leader, how do you ensure you finish what you start?


leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

the best secret to holding tough conversations

The Very Best Secret to Holding Tough Conversations (with video)

So often when we’re asked to train teams on how to hold tough conversations, we find a deeper underlying issue that must be addressed first.

Has this ever happened to you?

Watch the Stage Version of this Story and Key Insights Here

The Very Best Secret to Holding Tough Conversations

Karin’s story.

I had promised to take pictures of my son, Ben’s, last marching band performance during his senior year of high school. This was a great job for me since I love my son and I hate sitting through an entire football game.

I raced into the parking lot just as the band was coming around the track during halftime, grabbed the camera, threw my high heels in the back seat, and ran down the grassy hill.

Thank goodness the band was just lining up on the far side of the track surrounding the football field. The sun was beginning to set, which I knew would make for perfect lighting.

I set up the tripod right on the fifty-yard line, adjusted the telephoto lens, and got some great shots: the mellophones doing their sideways stunt, some up-close headshots–I even made sure I got some great ones of his love interest crossing right in front of him.

I immediately went home to upload them to Photoshop for fine-tuning before he came home. I even put them into a powerpoint presentation. As soon as Ben walked in the door, I had him sit down for the show.

He watched unenthusiastically as I flipped through the shots.

“Hmmm. That one’s alright. Uh huh. Okay, what else you got?”

I finished the show and Ben asked, “Mom, did you get the guitar?”

“Huh? Benjamin, you play mellophone.”

“Mom, the band moves into a fantastic formation. It looks like a giant electric guitar right in time with the music. Did you get a picture of that?”

“Ughhhhh, no, I didn’t.”

I had completely missed the big picture.

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re working hard. Your team is working hard. You care. You have the tools. You want to do the right thing. And somehow you don’t meet expectations.

The #1 Secret to Tough Conversations: Avoid the Need For Them

What do you think I would have done if Ben had said, “Mom, no matter what, the most important thing is for you to get a picture of the guitar.”

I wouldn’t have been down at the fifty-yard line, with a telephoto lens, I would have been up in the bleachers with the panoramic setting on my phone.

expectations conversationsI would have asked about the timing to ensure I didn’t miss it.

If communication is breaking down, start first by ensuring expectations are clear.

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

Related Posts

How to Communicate Remarkably Clear Performance Expectations

Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact 

The Simplest Way to Set Clear Expectations

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

How Do You Know What Your Team is Thinking?

How to Know What Your Team is Really Thinking

Are you listening to your team
and the stories they tell?

During times of change and uncertainty, your team is desperate for information. They’re looking for the story behind the story. They’re thirsty to listen to anyone who knows what’s REALLY  going on. And in the absence of information, they’ll find their own stories and share them widely.

Most of the time, those stories are 10X worse than the truth you’re afraid to share. 

Yes, get your story together to explain what you’re doing and why. Hold town hall meetings. Conduct great skip level meetings.  Walk around as much as possible, AND don’t overlook the importance of listening to the stories your team members are telling one another.

Simon’s Story

I met Simon, a millennial Austrian engineer on a recent diving trip. He’d quit his well-paying engineering job and was on a 3-month backpacking adventure in South America. Curious about what gives someone the courage to just quit a job with nothing lined up when they return, I asked to hear his story.

Our company got bought by a Canadian-owned multinational company. All they care about is profits and reducing costs. They’ve created all these remote teams without much training or communication and I now work for a German boss who is a complete #@%&@$#.

They cancelled the Christmas Party!

You’re a leadership person, don’t you think that’s a bad sign? And then right after they cancelled the Christmas party, they had a big meeting where they brought us all in to talk about how great it was going to be and all this rah-rah about being one team. They had money for that, but not for the Christmas party?

This company is ruthless. So I quit. I’m going to travel and when I come back, I’m going to find a job for a smaller company that really cares.

I asked him what he would have wanted to hear in that big meeting.

The truth about where we are going. Transparency about the vision and cost-cutting efforts. How and why decisions are being made and how I will be impacted. Is that too much to ask?

In the absence of information, Simon had built his own story of bloodthirsty opportunistic grinches, which of course was validated by the stories of his peers–many of whom are still there looking for more evidence their story is true.

It might be. Or maybe not.

I don’t know about this company or the leadership motives behind their communication strategy. But, I’ve worked with enough senior level teams to know that there is another side of the story.

I asked Simon if he had shared why he had really left.

“No one asked.”

Sarah’s Story

And now what I heard from Sarah, just the other day.

I was brought in to do some “brand ambassador” training. The focus was how to help frontline employees provide extraordinary customer service and represent this premium brand.

The minute I walked into the room, I knew there was no way we could start there. So after some introductions and some fun, I asked, “What’s really scaring you about what’s happening in the company right now?”

Sarah spoke up first:

The only people who care about the customer around here are the people in this room. Ever since the merger (8 years ago) it’s been all downhill and now this new IT system is the final straw. Now we won’t have any choice but to be “corporate.” We’ve lost all ability to do the right thing for our customers.

Now this time, I DID know the other side of the story. I understood how and why the new IT system would improve the customer experience. I’d engaged in hours of discussions about the importance of extraordinary customer service as their key differentiator. In fact, that’s why I had been brought in. The senior team’s number one priority was differentiation around an extraordinary customer experience.

But that story doesn’t matter. Until we understand the story Sarah and her friends were sharing.

“Why do you stay here?” I asked.

George spoke up next, “because these people are like family, but you can bet I’ve stopped wearing my company shirt to the bowling alley. And if someone sees me at the grocery store with it on, I make up a story of winning the shirt in a golf tournament.”

It was only after hearing their very real stories, that we could begin the real work of transforming the customer experience, digging into the AND of personalized service and the value of new systems to take that experience to the next level.

Why the Brain Loves Stories

I know you are working to frame the story you want your team to hear. It’s also so vital to slow down and be really open to hearing the stories they are telling one another.

Paul Zak has done some fantastic research that matters when it comes to your culture and how your team processes change.

The first part of the answer (as to why the brain loves stories) is that as social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts. In the absence of information, your team is more likely to make up a story far worse than even your most difficult bad news.

Do your best to be as much of a story listener as a storyteller.

Hear their stories. Listen well. Share yours. Listen again.

Related Posts

Why to Explain Why Again

Executive Visits: 4 Strategic Approaches for Influence and Impact

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

how to lead a meeting make effective decisions

How to Lead a Meeting and Make Effective Decisions

Lead a Meeting that Gets Results by Clarifying Who Owns the Decision

“This is so stupid—you asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m just going to shut my mouth and do my work.” If you’ve heard this or said it yourself, you’ve experienced a critical mistake many managers make when they lead a meeting: lack of clarity around decision ownership.

If your meetings aren’t working, look at your clarity of decision-making. Fuzzy decision-making leads to frustrating meetings.

People hate feeling ignored. Unfortunately, when you ask for input and appear to ignore it, employees feel frustrated, devalued, and powerless. In contrast, when you are clear about who owns the decision and how it will be made, people will readily contribute, the team can collaborate, and are far more likely to own the outcome. Clear decision-making improves results and relationships.

Four Ways to Make a Decision When You Lead a Meeting

This isn’t difficult, because there are only four ways to make a decision when you lead a meeting:

1. A single person makes the decision.

Typically, this would be the manager or someone she appoints.

In this style of decision-making, you might ask your team for input and let them know that after hearing everyone’s perspective, you will make the decision.

2. A group makes the decision through a vote.

This might be a 50-percent-plus-one majority or a two-thirds majority, but in any case, it’s a decision by vote. With this option, you ask everyone to contribute input, and they know that the decision will be made by a vote at a specific time.

3. A team makes the decision through consensus.

Consensus decision-making is often misunderstood. Consensus decision-making means that the group continues the discussion until everyone can live with a decision. It does not mean everyone got his or her first choice, but that everyone can live with the final decision. Consensus decision-making can take more time and often increases everyone’s ownership of the final decision.

4. Fate decides.

You can flip a coin, roll the dice, draw from a hat, etc. There are times where flipping a coin is the most efficient way to make a decision. When time is of the essence, the stakes are low, and pro-con lists are evenly matched, it’s often good to just pick an option and go. For example, if you have 45 minutes for a team lunch, it doesn’t make any sense to spend 30 minutes discussing options. Narrow it down to a few places, flip a coin, and go.

Each way of deciding has advantages, but what’s most important is to be very clear about who owns the decision.

Start With How

When that frustrated person said, “You asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother!” he was under the impression that the team would decide by vote or consensus when in reality it was the leader’s decision. This type of confusion wastes tons of precious time and energy and sucks the soul from your team.

The next time you lead a meeting, take time before the discussion begins to state how the decision will be made. You get yourself in trouble (not to mention that it’s unfair, disempowering, and quite soulless) if you suggest a vote and then change back to “I’ll decide” when you think the vote won’t go your way.

Before discussion begins, be clear about who owns the decisions. How will this decision be made?

Be specific. For example, you might begin a decision-making session by saying, “Okay, I’d like to spend the next 40 minutes getting everyone’s input, and then I’ll make the decision.”

Or, you might describe the decision to be made and say, “We’re not going to move forward until everyone can live with the decision.”

You might even combine methods and say, “We will discuss this decision for 30 minutes. If we can come to a consensus by then, that would be great. If not, we’ll give it another 15 minutes. After that, if we don’t have consensus, I’ll take a final round of feedback and I’ll choose, or we’ll vote.”

You save yourself grief, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings when everyone knows up front how the decision will be made. You also empower your people to be more influential because when they know who owns the decision, they also know how to share their information. Do they need to persuade the single decision maker, a majority, or the entire team? They can choose their most relevant information and arguments.

Your Turn

Think about the next time you will lead a meeting to make a decision with your team. Who owns the decisions? Is it you, the team through a vote, or the team through consensus? We’d love to hear from you.  What questions or comments do you have about clarifying who owns the decision?

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye