what to do when job outgrows employee

What To Do When the Job Outgrows Your Employee

Your team needs your leadership during rapid growth.

Recently, we received a great question from a manager who had taken part in a Winning Well Leadership Intensive. Her question is one you’ll face in your career – especially if you work in a fast-growing company:  What do you do when the job outgrows the employee?

Here is her question with some more detail:

I have a team member who is very experienced and does their job well. But the job is evolving—going from a highly technical, responsive role, to a more proactive, management role. I don’t think they will be able to grow into the new job requirements. The thing is, they’re a valuable member of our team, and there’s lots of other work to do on our team. It will be difficult to transition them without making them feel like they’re getting demoted (which they’re not).

Steps to Take When the Job Outgrows the Employee

  1.  Start with Confident Humility

To help navigate your own emotions, remember that when the job outgrows a person, you aren’t “doing this” to your employee. Life has happened and circumstances have changed. You are trying to help your employee and the team navigate the change in a way that helps everyone to succeed. They need you to lead.

  1. Share That You Care

Be sure your team member knows you care about them, their career, and that you want them to be successful now and in the future. It’s so important that they know you really value them (which you do, or you wouldn’t be thinking through this so carefully).

  1. Clarify What Success Looks Like

Change often happens incrementally and it’s hard to see from moment to moment. It’s important that you ditch the diaper drama and have an honest discussion about how things are changing and why.  Write a new job description based on the evolved role. Be clear and specific that the “old” role will no longer exist and about what the “new” position will require. Be up front that the evolved position requires different competencies and behaviors from the previous role. (Talking about them in these terms of “new” vs “old” helps to clarify the options going forward.)

  1. Invite Their Perspective

Don’t assume the other person’s response. They may surprise you. Someone who looks like they could succeed in the new role may not want to go there. An employee who you suspect can’t do the new role may be interested and self-aware enough to acknowledge where they need to grow.

If they are interested in the evolved role and you have concerns about their ability to succeed, share them. Do you have specific observations you’ve noticed (and have you spoken with them about it before)? Reinforce what it will take to succeed and ask if that’s what they want to do.

  1. Prepare a Plan

Recognize that the growth and change are happening to your employee, to you, and to the rest of the team. How will you help the employee transition—either to the new role or a different one?

The employee may want to try the new role. If so, create a clear plan for the skills they need to master and the behaviors they need to show. Be specific about what support they can and cannot expect along with the time frame.

If they aren’t interested, how will you help them move to a role that is better suited for them? If they need to move to a different role, they’ll likely have concerns about their future if it feels like moving backward. Consider asking about areas where they want to develop and help build a plan for their continued growth. Is there any ability to put some challenging work into the new gig that really leverages their strengths?

Whatever plan you create, be sure to implement it and follow through. Finishing strong is vital to help your employee feel confident.

Your Turn

Growth can challenge leaders and their teams; it gives you an excellent opportunity to help your team members continue to grow and expand your own capacity. When the job outgrows the employee, stay grounded in your concern for doing what’s important for the team AND your concern for the employee. Let both shine through and you’ll do well.

Leave us a comment and share your best strategy for helping an employee when the job outgrows their current responsibilities.

Do you treat team communication like pornography?

Are You Treating Team Communication Like Pornography?

Unclear expectations for team communication kill productivity.

When we work with leaders to help them build more effective organizations, we do a quick assessment of their team communication. Let’s check in on your team: How would you answer the following two questions?

  • Do we have clear, shared expectations regarding timely responses to emails, voice messages, and texts?
  • Do we respond to emails, calls, and texts in a timely manner?

If you’re like most leaders, your answers are “no” and “sort of” as in:

  • “No, we don’t really have shared expectations regarding timely responses.”
  • “We sort of respond in a timely manner – mostly to texts, but not as much with emails and calls.”

The problem is obvious: how can you get back to people in a timely manner if no one agrees what that means?

It’s like the famous definition of pornography US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used: “I know it when I see it.”

Team Communication Frustrations

The problem with using an “I know it when I see it” standard for your timely team communication is that people have widely varying expectations for “timely.”

For example, Mary expects someone to return emails within four hours while Joe believes 24 hours is responsive. Now Mary is frustrated and feels disrespected, Joe missed an opportunity for a colleague to see and value his work, and the work languishes.

Another common example is instant messaging. Shantel closes the chat app to finish a project and meet a deadline. In the meantime, her colleagues discuss a project and choose a new solution without her input. When Shantel asks them why they didn’t consult her, they say, “It was all on the thread, we thought you’d chime in if you had anything.”

You can avoid this wasted emotional energy and lost productivity when you help your team or organization create shared expectations for team communication.

Ten Minutes of Clarity, Weeks of Productivity

There is no perfect set of communication expectations. What will make the most sense for your team and the work you do? It usually only takes ten minutes to discuss and establish shared communication expectations.

Here are a few examples of team communication expectations:

  • We will reply to texts at the next available opportunity, but not between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am.
  • If the phone rings after 8:00 pm it is an emergency and we need to take the call.
  • We will read and reply to emails within 24 hours.
  • If an email requires a response, note that and the timeframe in the subject line.
  • We will check and return voicemail once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
  • We exchange information with chat and project software. We will save decisions for voice conversations.
  • We do not respond to email or texts sent after 7:00 pm or before 7:00 am unless flagged as an emergency.

Your Turn

Clear shared communication expectations allow your team to focus, eliminate misunderstandings, and raise morale. Leave us a comment and share a best practice for communication at work.

how to lead different and diverse people

How to Lead Different and Diverse People

Achieve More When you Lead Different and Diverse People

You know that the ability to lead different and diverse people to come together and blend their talents is key to achieving breakthrough results. But if you’re like most leaders we work with, we imagine you’re still a bit caught off guard and surprised from time to time about just how different (and frustrating) these differences can be.

Learning to understand our own differences and how they impact those we are seeking to lead has been a critical part of our leadership journey.

As a young introvert, it flabbergasted David when he first learned that many people talk to figure out what they think. In a leadership training class one time he asked the facilitator, “You mean extroverts say things they don’t mean?”

Early in her career, Karin, a high-energy extrovert had a leadership mentor explain that her enthusiasm for her own ideas sometimes made teammates reluctant to speak up and share their concerns. She had to learn to slow down and ask strategic questions to give people time to process and catch up with her thinking. 

The struggle is real. In our work as business and life partners,  it often amazes us at how differently we interpret the same situation—and we teach this stuff!

People are Different

You may know it intellectually, but do people’s differences play a core role in your leadership? Do you lead different and diverse people differently?

People have different motivations than you. They process information differently than you do. Some want to compete, some want to get along. Some want to talk, some want you to leave them alone to do their work.

They have more or less urgency than you…more or less attention to detail…more or less focus on people or tasks or process or outcomes…they have different backgrounds. Something you find easy, they may have struggled with all their life just to get by.

Some people need to explain, some people don’t want an explanation. Some people trust authority; some trust no one – especially authority. Some like public recognition; others prefer a quiet “thank you.”

And those are just a few of the many, many ways people are different.

Your success as a leader depends on your ability to lead different and diverse people – to bring all these differences together to achieve results.

The Leadership Challenge of Differences

Unfortunately, people’s differences trip up many leaders. Over the years, we’ve seen so many leaders (and we’ve done it too) become exasperated when a team member doesn’t do what they expect.

When you dig deeper, you find out that the leader expected the team member would act just like the leader would in the same situation.

This creates many conflicts and expectation violations. Here are a few examples:

  • Mary gives the team the freedom she craves from her own manager, but it confuses her team full of people who prefer more daily attention, and they feel like Mary doesn’t care about them.
  • Joe methodically adds the new project his manager gave him to the bottom of his to-do list. But he frustrates his manager who thought Joe would intuitively understand that this project trumps everything and needs to be done right away.
  • Mike comes to a staff meeting prepared to take part, arrives early, sits in front, and his teammate, Jill, thinks he’s angry because he didn’t talk engage or talk with anyone while the meeting was getting ready to start.
  • Laura, a database manager, works long hours to ensure the data is accurate and then quits when the Kathy, her team leader, ignores her data in favor of political relationships.

At their core, all these relationship breakdowns happened because the leader didn’t understand that people are different.

Effective leaders understand that people are different and lead to draw the best out of each person.

Five Ways to Lead Different and Diverse People

Here are a few solutions for the challenges presented by our diversity.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the basics of human diversity. There are many tools to help you do this. The specific tool is not as important as the fundamental understanding that people are different and that these differences can all add value.
  1. Value the differences. No one wants to be tolerated. Every person on your team needs to be valued for the meaningful contribution they make. Intentionally seek out different perspectives, backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking. Get all the feedback you need to make the best decisions.
  1. Give people what they need to be effective. This doesn’t mean that you enable poor performance. Rather, learn how your people are wired, what energizes them, and meet them where they are to draw greatness from them.
  1. Provide clarity. Mind the MIT (the Most Important Thing), clarify the decision, who owns the decision, and the specific behaviors that lead to success. Clarify the relationships and interactions different roles will play as everyone works together. Use the Expectations Matrix to align the team’s expectations of one another – and of you. The clearer you can be, the more you pull everyone’s diverse talents and strengths together to achieve results.
  1. Understand the ways people are the same. For example, everyone wants a leader they can trust. Everyone benefits when you link activity to meaning and purpose. Everyone wants appreciation (though they may receive it in different ways). Also, most people enjoy a sense of control and self-determination. (Though again, the amount varies.)

Your Turn

Remember, leadership is a relationship. The more you recognize, appreciate, and bring different strengths together, the more you’ll achieve. Leave us a comment and share your best example of a leader who brilliantly showed how to lead different and diverse people.

5 poor leadership practices

5 Poor Leadership Practices You Need to Stop

These poor leadership practices are common but limit your influence.

You’re working hard to be a great leader. You focus on results and relationships. You try to show up with confidence and humility. But despite your effort, you’re still struggling. Could one of these poor leadership practices be causing you problems?

Every one of these five behaviors is something a well-meaning leader or manager told me. They were passing on the wisdom they picked up on their journey. But just because it’s conventional wisdom, doesn’t mean it works. Here are five of the most common poor leadership practices that aren’t serving you.

#1 – Relying on Your Open-Door Policy

Have you ever met a manager who doesn’t have an open-door policy? I haven’t either. Not only have they become so common as to be a meaningless cliché, but open-door policies also can sabotage your leadership.

You need to know what’s happening in your team, department, or organization. You can’t wait for that knowledge to walk through your door. Most people won’t bring you strategic problems or ideas. They’ve known too many other people who were punished for speaking their truth. Go ask for the information you need. Don’t use your open-door policy as an excuse for not knowing what you need to know.

What walks through your open door is usually a constant stream of interruptions. Schedule time to be available for your team for non-emergencies. Help yourself and everyone to focus on thoughtful work the rest of the time.

#2 – Using Sandwich Feedback

Sandwich feedback has been taught for decades as a way to deliver tough feedback. You’ve got something a team member needs to hear so you “sandwich” it between two compliments or positive feedback.

Eg: “I appreciate how you treat our customers. You missed the team meeting this morning and wasted everyone’s time. Thanks for organizing the company picnic.”

That’s an awful way to give any feedback. The positive feedback is undermined by the real reason for the conversation. The performance feedback is lost or ignored. Both outcomes erode your relationships and influence.

People need to hear what they’re doing well and they need to know when their behavior isn’t working. You need to deliver both, but not necessarily at the same time.

Encourage with specific, meaningful, and relevant feedback. Deliver performance feedback by ditching the diaper drama and using the INSPIRE model.

Note: sandwich feedback IS useful when someone comes and asks for feedback. In that instance, “Here’s what’s working, here’s where you can be more effective, and here’s what I appreciate” can be powerful.

#3 – Telling People “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.”

This is another management cliché–and with good reason. When you’re besieged with ideas, a quick way to filter out complaints from strategic thinking is to look for a proposed solution.

The problem with telling employees not to bring you a problem without a solution is that they may not know how to come up with a solution. At least not yet. Now they’re not bringing you problems (and if you’re relying on your open door to learn about them, you’re doubly ignorant.)

You can help your team members develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills with a quick coaching conversation. Once you’ve helped them develop the skills, then you can safely ask them to bring solutions.

#4 – Isolating Yourself

Has someone ever told you that leadership is lonely?

It’s one of the earliest leadership messages I ever heard. I get it.

When you lead, you choose problems that people who don’t lead won’t understand. You can’t confide in your team the way you would when you were when you were their peer.

Leadership may occasionally feel lonely, but you don’t have to be alone.

When you isolate yourself you cut yourself off from encouragement, support, new ideas, and solutions – all of which you need to lead well. Connect with other leaders, with your team, and with a coach or mentors.

#5 – Motivating Your Team

You can’t motivate another person. Trying to motivate your team is one of the most common poor leadership practices.

A person’s motivation comes from them, not from you. Sometimes, your attempt to motivate someone else will even backfire because your source of motivation differs from theirs.

For example, let’s say you have a database administrator who loves getting the data right because it fulfills her sense of order and she knows how you can use it to solve strategic problems. If you try to motivate her by telling her how important it is to look good for the Board meeting, at best she feels unappreciated and at worst, you’ve insulted her work.

You can’t motivate, but you can cultivate. Create an environment that releases your team member’s talent, energy, and internal motivation.

Your Turn

What do you think? Leave us a comment about one of these poor leadership practices or another one you’d love to never see again.

danger when leader is always right

The Danger When a Leader is Always Right

When a leader is always right, they’re not effective.

If you had been with me early in my career, you would have seen my growing frustration. My first job out of grad school was teaching and I had a class of students who consistently:

  • came to class
  • participated and engaged with the material
  • worked to learn the subject matter

However, when it came time to display their knowledge, they struggled to do better than F or D level work.

My team and I labored over our review sessions, making sure we were not missing any content. Nevertheless, the class as a whole did not improve.

Concerned about my effectiveness as a teacher, I began experimenting with different instructional and review methods.

With one of them, student performance improved overnight – from Fs and Ds to Bs and even a few As!

Does It Work?

As it turned out, this group of students learned better through the act of guided writing than any other technique.

The students did not know it themselves, and my team and I only learned it through trial and error.

What I remember most about this incident was the response of another teacher. When I shared my discovery with her, she said:

  • She was covering the necessary material.
  • Her instructional methods were perfectly sound.
  • Students should take responsibility for their own learning.
  • She saw no reason to change.

Of course, she was “right.”

“Right” in so far as yes, her instructional methods were good, and yes, students ultimately should take responsibility for their own learning.

What bothered me, however, is that she was consciously choosing being “right” over being effective. What we’d been doing did not work. Why on earth would we keep doing it?

The Perils When a Leader is Always Right

One problem when a leader is always right is that they lose their influence.

I never did succeed in persuading my colleague to change her teaching methods. I was young and I made the same mistake she did with the students. I dug in, confident in my “rightness” and continued to point out how she was wrong.

No surprise – it didn’t work.

Convincing someone that you’re right and they’re wrong almost never changes their behavior. People are stubborn and we cling to our misconceptions, just because they’re ours.

One time I stubbornly argued with the cashier at an airport’s Chinese takeout counter because they wouldn’t give me extra vegetables. I was willing to pay for them, but they insisted it couldn’t be done (despite having done it before).

Fortunately, Karin was there and was able to talk some sense. “David, you’re right – and we’re going miss our flight. Just order a vegetable dish and mix them.”

Now that was effective!

Another danger when a leader is always right is that you don’t get what you need from your team. When you’re always right (or just act like you are) your team will quickly stop sharing ideas and sink into minimal performance.

Influence requires more than being “right.”

The Antidote to Being Right

As a leader, your goal is to achieve results. Maybe you want to increase revenue, grow your team’s capacity, or change the world.

It’s vital that you keep those goals in front of you and regularly ask yourself what it is you really want. Asking what you really want is the antidote to always being right.

Many new leaders (and more than a few experienced leaders!) get stuck because they cannot see past their own “rightness” and do the things that will help them be effective and achieve results.

Here are a few examples:

  1. “Why should I have to tell them again? I said it once.”
    Yes, you did – three months ago. People have many priorities competing for their attention and important items often need multiple repetitions in multiple forums.
  2. “Why should I encourage/thank them? They’re just doing their job.”
    Yes, they are. Yet people are more engaged when they feel appreciated and are seen as a human being and not just a cog in a machine.
  3. “Why should I hear opposing viewpoints? I’m an expert in this subject and I’ve looked at all the options.”
    Yes, you are and I’m sure you did a thorough analysis, but if you want to make the best decision and have your team to be committed to the idea, their voices need to be heard. Besides, you might be surprised by someone else’s perspective.

Your Turn

It takes courage and humility to look honestly at what you’re doing and ruthlessly assess whether or not it’s working. And it’s something the best leaders do regularly.

If you want to achieve results and have more influence, look for places where you’ve clung to being “right.” Then let it go…and choose to be effective.

Leave a comment and share your best practice to keep from getting stuck in being “right.”

3 Ways to be a more productive leader

3 Ways to Be a More Productive Leader

To be more productive, embrace the secret of every time management system.

You want to be a productive leader, but your to-do list has more tasks, projects, and goals than you can possibly achieve.

The never-ending list can feel overwhelming. Leadership means a continual stream of information, problems, decisions, interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, apps—and that doesn’t include the strategic investments in people and projects that will help you build a better future.

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

Two Mindsets to Be a More Productive Leader

There are two mental shifts that will help you end the overwhelm and achieve the results you want.

There’s So Much

It’s not your imagination. There really is more on that list than you can possibly get done.

What do you do with that reality? Does it stress you and paralyze you?

If so, the problem isn’t with your list. It’s with your perspective.

Here’s the reality productive leaders embrace: there is always more to do than you can do. It’s a fact of life.

Right now you could check in with your boss, answer your emails, build a spreadsheet, talk to an underperforming team member, make a to-do list, help your child with her homework, work on your most strategic project, listen carefully to a peer, call a customer, hold a developmental conversation with a mentee, take a luxurious bath, go to yoga, read this article, call a dear friend, check your social media, adopt a cat, clean out the stale food from your refrigerator, and a thousand other tasks.

The list is endless. It always is and it always will be.

When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, the difference is that you’re more aware of your choices. When you’re relaxed on a beach, there are still a thousand other things you could do with that moment – you’re just not thinking about them.

To turn the problem into power, embrace the fact that you can’t possibly do everything.

You never could and you never will. The list is always infinite.

When you surrender the unrealistic hope that the list will somehow go away and acknowledge that it is always there, always has been, and always will be, it frees you to focus.

You’ve Got Serious Limits

Our son loves to multitask. He’ll watch a YouTube documentary while trying to clean his room. Inevitably, one of these tasks wins (and it’s usually not the room.)

The problem is that multitasking is a myth. He’s shifting his attention back and forth between each activity (or not shifting it at all).

It’s another tough reality for most of us to accept: in addition to the fact that there will always be an infinite list, there’s a very limited amount of you to go around.

The second mindset shift that will help you be a more productive leader is that you can only do one thing at a time.

From that long list, you get to choose one task.

That’s it. One.

Finish that one. Or move it forward as much as you can, then move to the next.

This is the secret of every time management and productivity system: There’s always more than you can do and that you can only do one thing at a time.

So how do you choose what to do?

Mind the M.I.T.Mind the MIT

There are many sophisticated systems to answer this question.

We prefer to keep it straightforward:  What’s your M.I.T. (Most Important Thing)?

  • What is the most important strategic outcome your team will achieve this year?
  • Today, what is the most important thing you will do?
  • What are the two or three critical behaviors that will produce the best outcomes for you and your team?

As a productive leader, your M.I.T. often shifts from day to day. Today, it may be to clarify your strategy for the year. Tomorrow, it may be to address an underperforming team member. The next day, your M.I.T. may be a coaching conversation or working with a colleague and your boss to get alignment on their M.I.T. It may be to ensure you finish what you’ve started.

Mind the M.I.T. means that you know what’s most important and do it first, if at all possible. Do it before the inevitable rush of interruptions, problems, and fire drills.

Simple? Yes.

Easy? Not always.

It takes courage to say no. It also takes courage to uncover your M.I.T. when it’s not clear.

It takes humility to accept your limitations and choose excellence somewhere over presence everywhere.

It takes self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge that today’s M.I.T. might be a walk in the woods or time with loved ones.

It takes determination to ignore what’s easy and do what matters most.

When you focus on your daily M.I.T., help your team understand the strategic M.I.T., and know their daily M.I.T. behaviors, you will unleash your team’s energy and transform your results.

To help him be a more productive leader, one Winning Well reader told us that he posted these words from the book on his office wall so he can see them every day:

Infinite Need.

Finite Me.

Focus On the MIT.

Your Turn

To be a more productive leader, embrace the infinite need, remember that you can only do one thing at a time, and focus on the behaviors that will make the most difference for you, your team, and the results you want to achieve.

Leave us a comment and share: What is your best secret to maintaining your focus and productivity?

the best way to prepare for a successful 2019

The Best Way to Prepare for a Successful 2019

How will you prepare for a successful 2019?

It’s tricky, right?

Because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.

Or do you?

I’ve got some predictions…

The truth is, you can’t always choose what you show up to, but you can always choose how you show up.

A Powerful Exercise to Set Yourself Up for a Successful 2019

One of the very best ways to set yourself up for a successful 2019 is to take a minute. Stop and really think about what your team needs from you at a deeper level. Of course, if you haven’t done so in a while, ask. A Do It Yourself 360 is always a powerful choice.

You can also try this.

Close your eyes.

Take a minute to imagine each member of your team, one at a time. If they were totally honest with you, what would they say they need?

I did this exercise back in 2012 when I was still in my executive role at Verizon (and during the first year of my blog). Here’s what I said in that letter to myself*.

Dear Karin,

Here are the things we need most from you as a leader.

  • Establish a trusted place at the table–the more credibility you have at the senior levels, the more you can advocate for what we need to accomplish.
  • Say the tough things that need to be said. Nudge us to do that too.
  • Be transparent about what is going on. Trust us with the real story.
  • Help us understand how you think and process. Let us in your head.
  • Build a strong and diverse team. Let us hash out our differences without getting involved.
  • Care deeply about our careers and help us to grow. Continue to support us after you have moved to the next role.
  • Encourage us to take risks. Be gentle when we fail.
  • Tell us when you screw up. Maybe we can avoid the same landmines.
  • Give us direct and candid feedback—but sugarcoat it a bit more than you sometimes do).
  • Come to the field with us, roll up your sleeves and get involved. That’s how you will learn.
  • But, don’t get too involved. We’ve got this.
  • Let us use your energy strategically, in recognition and in large events.
  • Role model work-life balance. Be interested in, and support us in our outside lives

*excerpt from my 2012 post: I’m going to sit right down and write myself a letter.

Your turn

As you set yourself up for a successful 2019, I encourage you to sit right down and write yourself a letter too.

And for bonus fun and collaboration share a few points from your letter to yourself in the comments below.

2018 Best Leadership Articles

Best Leadership Articles of 2018 (based on your votes)

Welcome to our annual best-of, round-up of your favorite posts on Let’s Grow Leaders. Here is a look at the best leadership articles of 2018 (as determined by your reading and sharing).  (Click on the headline to view the article)

Thank you for joining hundreds of thousands of readers from around the world who, like you, are committed to leading well – to achieving breakthrough results, without losing your soul. We’re curious what you would consider the best leadership articles you read this year (either here or somewhere else)?

Please the links to your favorite leadership articles in the comments so others can leverage the resource.

#1 How to Motivate Your Team – Stop Treating Them Like Family

Motivate Your Team Stop Treating Them Like Family

It feels like a nice thing to say. You want them to know you care about them as people; that everyone cares about each other; and we may fight at times, but we always come back together.

We are all about genuine caring and connection. Winning Well leaders focus on both results and relationships.

However, there are three problems with comparing your team or company to a family and they can badly undermine your leadership and your team’s effectiveness.

We heard from many of you that this was a helpful way to reframe your desire to build great relationships – but not in a way that does more harm than good. 

#2 The Leadership Skill No One Talks About

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 with who succeeds over time.

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

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.

We’ve worked with so many passionate, caring leaders who struggle to translate their great intentions into real-world results. The missing ingredient is almost always some aspect of “finishing” – the extra effort to ensure that the next steps are taken and that everyone keeps their commitment to one another.

#3 What Do I Do if They Cry?

What do I do if they cry

Let’s be real. No one likes to hear what they’re doing wrong, particularly if they know you are right. Giving feedback is tough. Hearing tough feedback is even tougher. What do you do if they cry?

Some emotion is normal and healthy, but when someone regularly cries when receiving feedback (or regularly has extreme angry outbursts) it is often a defense mechanism.

Judging by the comments, this was our most controversial article of the year. We heard from many readers who were concerned that we were against crying. We’re not – crying is a healthy emotional response. We want to help leaders with productive responses when crying becomes unhealthy. Check out the comments and add your thoughts.

#4 How to Start Team Accountability When You Never Have Before

Sarah, a middle-level manager, came up to talk to us, looking nervous. “I’ve been a pleaser manager my entire career, but I hear what you’re saying. It’s time for team accountability, but I don’t know what to do next. Where do I begin?”

What a great question, and one we hear frequently. If you’ve allowed your team to slide and have chosen being liked at the expense of achieving results, you’re not alone. The good news is that when you recognize the need to practice team accountability, you can start with a few achievable steps.

This is another article we wrote in response to a concern we’ve heard from many leaders in addition to Sarah. It’s never too late to be a better leader!

How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism#5 How Leaders Can Get the Most from Criticism

“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.”

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.

This year we had several articles in major publications that dealt with the phenomenon of FOSU or Fear of Speaking Up. As we’ve spoken about it as well, readers and audiences have questioned us about the over-sharers and constant critics. If you’ve got one in your life, this article will help.

#6 Imposter Syndrome: 4 Ways to Defeat Self-Doubt

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

I know I do.

I felt the sting of imposter syndrome just as my speaking career was gaining traction.

If you ever feel like “everyone’s going to find out the truth,” we’ve got a secret for you: most leaders feel that way. The ones that don’t could probably use a little more humility. Imposter syndrome doesn’t have to paralyze your leadership and this article will help.

#7 How to Lead a Meeting and Make Effective Decisions

how to lead a meeting make effective decisions“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.

We’ve seen quite a few meetings that bog down and turn into colossal wastes of time. One of the biggest reasons this happens is because no one knows who owns the decision. Clear that up and you’ll be amazed how much more efficient and productive your meetings will be.

More of Your Favorites: 3 Leadership Articles That Continue to Grow in Popularity

Rounding out the top best leadership articles this year are three classics from years past which continue to inspire:

#1 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

Done well, skip level meetings can inspire, engage, motivate and inform the skipper, skipee, and even the skipped. On the other hand, poorly run skip level meetings inadvertently bring on diaper genie feedback and diminish trust. There’s the ever-present worry that someone would tell me something that their boss’s, boss’s, boss didn’t want me to know. And yet, I wanted to know it, so we could help. Tricky…

Year after year, this article continues to be one of the most read. Your ability to lead through multiple levels has a huge impact on your influence and effectiveness. See why this continues to be a favorite around the world.

#2 Children’s Books on Leadership – Questions to Inspire Young Thinking

Which children’s books are the most helpful in teaching leadership to kids? I posed this question in my online leadership communities, as well as to parents, and a children’s librarian. The suggestions came pouring in. So many of us have fond memories of reading as a child and of reading with our own children.

Thank you to all who shared your stories of the stories you love and the meanings they hold.

One highlight of our year was the release of Glowstone Peakour leadership-themed children’s book. This is another perennial favorite that helps you develop leadership in children through the power of fantastic stories.

#3 Recognition Power Words: The Phrases That Mean The Most

Twice this year someone has told me “I am proud of you.” Both times, I was surprised to find myself really choked up. My reaction was so strong that I got to thinking about why. I wanted to understand what it was about THIS recognition that made an impact, so I could do a better job of giving THAT kind of recognition to others.

There is something about being recognized at just the right time, by just the right person, with just the right words. When done well, those words can stay with us forever.

Encouragement never goes out of style. If you’ve been looking for more ways and words to encourage your team, start here.

Our Best Leadership Articles Published in Other Spaces

Karin Hurt and David Dye on entrepenuer

How your leadership Style Could Be Stifling Innovation and Problem-Solving in Your Company– Entrepreneur

Why “FOSU,” fear of speaking up, is stifling startups

FOSU is the complicated dynamic of leaders not asking for real ideas or feedback (or asking in ways that induce apathy or fear), or ignoring suggestions that cause employees to keep their heads down and play it safe.

If you’ve worked in a larger company, you’ve likely seen FOSU rear its ugly head. But, why is it happening to your company now?

This is just the beginning of our work around courageous cultures and eliminating FOSU. We’re neck-deep in an extensive research project with the University of North Colorado as we lay the foundation for our next book. More soon.

HR Storytellers: Karin Hurt discusses workplace diversity, single motherhood, and why being who you are at work matters.  (SHRM video)

Karin shares one of her signature keynote stories with SHRM HR Storytellers. This was fun as the interview took place unexpectedly a few minutes after she left the stage keynoting the SHRM Volunteer Leaders Summit.

discovering methods of giving tough feedbackDiscovering the Methods of Giving Tough Feedback and Having it Accepted- HR Florida Magazine

“Delivering tough feedback is fun,” said no one ever. No one wakes up thinking, “You know what I’m really looking forward to today? Talking to John about how his dysfunctional behaviors are impacting the team.”

We avoid the tough conversations because we’re scared, or we rely on outdated models like the “sandwich technique.” We like to call this, “diaper genie” feedback because it is when stinky issues are covered up in self-protecting layers of spin, avoidance, and nice words that let the real issues fester.

Here’s the question: If you knew your manager really cared about you and wanted you to be successful, would you want to hear her perspective? Would you want her to tell you the truth—even if it was difficult to hear? When we ask this question across organizations to managers around the world, we find the answer is an overwhelming, “yes!” Yet, in those same organizations, we consistently find managers avoiding important performance conversations, either because they’re afraid or don’t know how to have them.

In this article, we share our I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method for having tough conversations. This topic continues to be one our most popular keynote and training programs. 

Your Turn

As you reflect over the past year, What has been the most valuable leadership tool or strategy you’ve learned and implemented? What difference has it made?

What are the best leadership articles you read this year (on LGL or anywhere, please share the link in the comments below to expand this resource.

Manage your emotions when you make leadership decisions

How to Manage Your Emotions When You Make Leadership Decisions

Do you struggle to manage your emotions? You’re not alone.

We were speaking to an international gathering of leaders from across Europe when a young man approached the microphone and asked: “How, as a leader, do you keep your personal feelings from clouding your decision making?”

It’s a brave question because it’s vulnerable. He recognized the power of his emotions and their power to limit his leadership.

Can you relate? Have you ever made a poor leadership decision because you were scared? Worried what people would think? Didn’t want to be embarrassed?

I know I have.

Manage Your Emotions – Don’t Eliminate Them

Let’s be real: you can’t separate your personal feelings from your decision-making – nor should you.

For example, compassion is a personal feeling and I hope that you always lead and make decisions with compassion for your team and your customers.

We need leaders to do the work machines can’t do. That includes human decisions that account for more than what’s on the spreadsheet. Please, don’t lose your humanity.

That said, your feelings can also prevent you from making healthy leadership decisions.

When that happens, it’s often because:

A) You’re hurt (eg: an employee disrespected you and your first impulse is to act from anger)


B) You’re trying to avoid pain (eg: the pain of embarrassment or rejection).

How to Manage Your Emotions With Perspective

In the first scenario, when you’re hurt by a disrespectful employee, the key to manage your emotions is to understand that it’s not about you. They likely did not wake up that morning wondering “How can I really hurt my boss today?”

It’s more likely that they are insecure, in a poor fit, or there is some other reason that caused the behavior. You may not know why they did what they did, but when you take a moment to de-personalize their behavior and remember that it’s not about you, that they’re dealing with their own reality, it will help calm your flight or fight emotions.

Then you can focus on your job: to help get them back on track – or into a better fit.

Frame Your Problems

In the second scenario, where you’re facing pain like the risk of embarrassment or rejection, there are two techniques that can help you get perspective.

First, ask yourself which set of problems you want to have. There’s no problem-free scenario. Leadership is a conscious choice to embrace problems and to solve them.

Leadership: It’s not IF problems, but WHICH problems.

When you remind yourself that you have a choice, you prevent victim thinking from setting in. eg: “Do I want the problem of being disliked (that comes with removing a poor performer) or do I want the problem of a team performing poorly (that comes with allowing a poor performer to stay)?

You’re not a victim. You have a choice to make. Framing your choices gives you power and you’re less likely to want to hide from the pain.

Connect to What Matters Most

The second way to face emotional pain is to reconnect with your leadership values.

Eg: “I want the team to grow and succeed” or “I value results and relationships.”

Then ask a “How can I…” question to get you aligned with what you value.

Eg: “How can I do what is in the best interest of the team?” or “How can I focus on results and relationships in this situation?”

Asking a good “How can I…” question re-engages the thinking part of your brain and relaxes the powerful emotions that can push you in a different direction.

Your Turn

Effective leaders channel their emotions into healthy relationships with their team while putting aside their limited self-interests in favor of what will be best for the team in the long run.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts or best technique to prevent emotions from limiting your leadership.

Power Corrupts Avoid Losing Your Leadership Soul

Power Corrupts – How to Avoid Losing Your Leadership Soul

Power Corrupts, But Does It Have to Corrupt You?

It was a heartfelt question. A young manager approached us after a Winning Well workshop and asked, “I’m not sure I want to be a leader. I keep seeing people get promoted – they were good people – but then they get into higher positions and they turn into jerks. It’s like the power goes to their head. Do you have any advice on how to not let that happen?”

We love this question. It gets to the heart of what we mean by confident humility.

We’re not talking about the senior leader who has to make tough business decisions that may not yet be understood. And we’re not talking about the manager who sets clear expectations, holds people accountable and has the necessary tough conversations to help their people grow. (We frequently hear of people being accused of being jerks when people don’t like the message.)

What we’re talking about are the all-too-common situations like a manager who treats people poorly because their position lets them get away with it. Or the Vice President who demands unethical behavior and cultivates a FOSU culture (fear of speaking up.) Or the Director who uses sarcasm and shame to “motivate” performance.

There’s a reason for the cliché that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Healthy Leaders

There are several steps you can take to guard yourself against the perils of power.

1) Plan for the End

Are you familiar with how George Washington did this? After serving two terms as the first President of the United States, President Washington did something revolutionary. He voluntarily gave up power by refusing to run for a third term.

In that era, it was a massively different way to view power – as a temporary trust to be used on behalf of others and then passed on. His example set a precedent for US Presidents. (The two-term limit wasn’t made law until 1951.)

You can do the same thing.

Plan for your exit and your successor, even if it’s your own business. A true sign of great leadership is what happens after the leader walks away. Invest in developing the people and the processes that will ensure progress, especially after you are gone. (And “leaving” your current position may mean taking a new one with greater responsibility.)

2) Clarify Your Values

Get very clear about your values. Write them down. This is good work to do with a coach. What matters most to you? What values do you need to live with integrity every day to have a successful life? After you get incredibly clear about these values, you can measure yourself against them each week.

3) Build a Board

In healthy companies, the Board of Directors serves as accountability for the CEO. You can also build a personal board of directors. These are three to five people in your life who will hold you accountable, with whom you can speak confidentially, and who care about your success. Give them permission to challenge your thinking and especially to call you out on integrity lapses or abuses of power.

We have benefitted from this collection of mentors, sponsors, mastermind groups, and colleagues who do this for us. We can test ideas and strategies with them: eg “Does this feel in alignment to my values? What problems do you see? What am I not thinking about that I need to?”

4) Channel Challengers

Your team can be an incredible source of accountability and help you lead in alignment with your values. We have both had team members tell us, “You’re not leading like yourself anymore. What’s going on?”

This level of trust isn’t built overnight. You earn your team’s trust with how you invite (not just wait for) feedback and how you react when you receive it.

Your Turn

It’s easy to lose your perspective and become the power corrupts cliche – but it doesn’t have to happen. When you invest in your people, reflect on your values, and invite people to hold you accountable, you’ll stay centered in confident humility and build lasting influence.

Leave us a comment and share how you’ve seen leaders avoid letting power corrupt their leadership?


how to develop people when you dont have time

How to Develop People When You Don’t Have Time

You can’t afford not to develop people – but it doesn’t require hours.

Katrina paced back and forth as she described her problems with customer service and employee retention. “I can’t improve either one, but I don’t have time to develop people.”

“I know I should, but it’s a constant crisis. We’re backed up, missing deadlines left and right, and any time I take for development conversations is costing me on our KPIs.”

Ticking Away

You’ll never have enough time. It’s a fact of life – you can’t do everything. I’ve never met a manager who has extra time. It will never happen. The number of things you could do today will always exceed the time you have available to do them.

Mistaken Thinking

Even so, developing people tops the list of your leadership responsibilities. When leaders claim they don’t have time to develop people, it usually means they’ve misunderstood their responsibility. Here are common errors in thinking:

  • I’ve got to take care of the customer now so I can’t take care of the employee.

These aren’t mutually exclusive. Take care of the customer with your team member – not instead of your team member. Investing in your people will help them take care of future situations without your direct help, giving you more time.

  • HR can handle staff development.

This is a common mistake. Your Human Resource team can support you and your team, make training available, and coordinate grow opportunities, but as a leader, you are the only one who can help your people to grow right now, where they are. There’s no substitute for your leadership and you can’t outsource your team’s growth to someone who isn’t a direct part of their journey.

  • Developing people takes too long.

Many well-intentioned leaders make this mistake. You might feel like you need an hour to have a deep coaching conversation, but you don’t. You may want to take a couple of non-existent hours to put your thoughts together in a rousing motivational speech that will fuel your team’s performance.

But that’s not how the real world works.

Winning teams aren’t built by a stirring halftime speech; they’re built one micro-engagement at a time.

The Secret to Developing People When You Don’t Have Time

It’s true. Your time is limited. So you’ve got to be laser-focused and make the most of every opportunity. It’s amazing what you can achieve in 30 seconds or less when you’re prepared. This is the secret of micro-engagement – consistent short development wins every time.

Start by knowing what your people need. Use the Confidence-Competence Model to identify who needs encouragement, coaching, more challenge, or training. Don’t waste your time or their attention encouraging someone who needs a challenge or coaching someone who needs encouragement.

confidence competence model

Once you know what they need, be on the lookout for a chance to share it. Keep it short, keep it focused – that’s the magic of micro-engagement.

When time is tight, encouraging and challenging competent employees are often the first behaviors managers abandon. You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, so take the time to do it. You always have 10 seconds to look someone in the eyes and tell them they did well.


“You had fantastic empathy and patience with that customer. I know it’s not easy when we’re this busy, and you did a great job. Well done.”

“I appreciate the dissenting perspectives you shared – that keeps us thinking and makes sure we don’t make dumb mistakes.”


“You did a masterful job bringing that project in on time. Would you be willing to start our next team meeting with a five-minute overview of how you did it? Some of the newer team members could really benefit from your wisdom.”


“I noticed that you didn’t follow the client’s request on the design specification. What’s going on there?” Assuming it’s not a justified reason: “Okay, rework it to spec and bring it to me by four this afternoon, please.”


“Can I show you a faster way to find that information and solve that problem?”

Your Turn

Effective development conversations happen in the work, not apart from it. Don’t wait for the next retreat, offsite, or performance review to give your people the development feedback they desperately need. Help them grow through the daily interaction you already have.

You don’t have time not to.

Please leave us a comment and share how your favorite way to invest in your people when time is tight.

90 days to transform your team, your leadership, and your results. We’ve got seats available for ACCELERATE 2019. Make this year your best year ever – without leaving your office.

Lets Grow Leaders Accelerate 2019

What do I do if they cry

What Do I Do if They Cry?

Let’s be real. No one likes to hear what they’re doing wrong, particularly if they know you are right. Giving feedback is tough. Hearing tough feedback is even tougher. What do you do if they cry?

We hear this “What do I do if they cry?” question every time we teach the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model in our tough conversations training. And we’ve had hundreds of managers confide that they’ve avoided giving needed feedback because the employee is a cryer.

Of course, if you avoid giving feedback because you can’t stand the drama, you’re making the problem worse. The behavior you need to change continues AND you’ve rewarded the crying behavior.

Some emotion is normal, but when someone regularly cries when receiving feedback (or regularly has extreme angry outbursts) it is often a defense mechanism. The unconscious reasoning goes something like this: “If I want my boss to leave me alone, I’ve just got to get a little emotional.”

What To Do if They Cry

We’re going to assume they’re not crying because you’re a jerk–that you’ve delivered the feedback carefully and are coming from a place of genuine concern to help the employee improve.

If your well-intentioned, well-delivered feedback still brings on the tears here are a few tips.Effective Communication Karin Hurt and David Dye

  1. Hand them a tissue and wait.
    It’s so tempting to keep talking or abort the conversation once the tears start. But here’s the deal: either one of those will limit the other person’s growth. It’s unlikely they’re going to hear anything you’re saying when they’re that worked up. Show some empathy and give them a minute to gather themselves. If they’re still struggling to get their emotions under control, you might suggest regrouping later in the day. Either way, you want to maintain a calm neutral demeanor. Crocodile tears will dry up quickly when you do.
  2. Use the I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model to notice the behavior  (a quick example)
    I (Initiate)- “I really care about you and your career and want you to be successful”
    N (Notice)- “I’ve Noticed you get emotional whenever we have a feedback discussion.”
    S (Support) “For example, in our last one-on-one you cried, and now you’re getting upset again.”
    P (Probe) “What’s going on?” (linger here)
    I (Invite) “What do you think you could do to be able to engage in these conversations in a more productive way?”
    R (Review) “Oh, I think that’s a great idea”
    E (Enforce) “So let’s debrief our next feedback conversation next week and talk about how those new strategies went.”
  3. Keep your cool.
    Emotions can be contagious. As a leader, it’s important that you keep the conversation in perspective. You’re giving them feedback because you care and want to help. Their reaction is not about you. Don’t take it personally. Calm, neutral, and curious is your mantra.
  4. Check for understanding.
    When people are in an emotional state it’s more important than ever to ensure they’ve heard you. Once they’ve calmed down ask them to recap what they’ve heard and what they’re committing to do differently (Review), and set up a time to connect again to assess progress (Enforce).

Your turn.

What is your best advice for dealing with a frequent cryer at work?