Don’t Let Limited Perspective Destroy Your Team

Don’t Let Limited Perspective Destroy Your Team

Limited perspective traps leaders and drives apart teams.

Recently, I’ve watched an organization of passionate and caring people disintegrate. The limited perspective of leaders and team members has frustrated communication and problem-solving. They’ve devolved into camps of us vs. them. It can happen to any team if you don’t pay attention to how you see the world.

When the World Changes

I grew up in southwest Denver.

Late in the day, as the sun settled toward the mountains west of the city, I loved to see downtown Denver highlighted in the evening light. My favorite version of this view happened after a summer thunderstorm. The crenelated gray, black, and white skyline glowed with hope against the dark purple clouds that had taken their wrath out to the plains.

When I was twelve years old, my friend’s mother invited us to volunteer with her at a shelter for mothers who had escaped abusive relationships. We had to make solemn promises not to reveal the shelter’s location. It was easy for me to promise, because I had no idea where it was.

We drove to the shelter on a cold December morning. We rode in the back of a pickup truck, laying down as flat as we could to stay out of the bitter wind.

When we arrived, I sat up. And the world shifted.

My skyline, the familiar arrangement of glass and steel, had been put into a cloth bag, shaken, and poured out. This was not my downtown.

We were northeast of the city center, directly opposite of where I’d grown up.

The world swayed, but then I was struck by another thought: there were children who grew up in this neighborhood. These alien buildings that disturbed me were their familiar anchor.

I’ve relived that moment hundreds of times as my known world expands. There is always another point of view beyond my limited perspective. And as strange, unsettling, and foreign as it may seem—it is all the normal another person has ever known.

Leading Through Limited Perspective

Have you ever had your perspective shift like that? Has new information, a new experience, or a new person made you look at the world differently?

I hope so. Being able to see the world differently is a vital leadership skill.

Whether it’s the empathy to see how a new system feels to your customers or employees or the ability to ask “What if?” and view your opportunities in a different way, moving beyond your limited perspective will help you have more influence and think more strategically.

The leaders in the organization I mentioned have struggled with a changing world. Both groups deeply believe in the organization’s purpose and values. The challenge is that over time, people have started to interpret those values through a narrowing set of experiences.

As concerned team members raised issues, they were told “There is no problem”—because, seen through leaders’ limited perspective, there truly wasn’t a problem. The organization’s environment changed, but their leaders didn’t change with it – and now they’re bleeding talent.

When you lose your ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, you get stuck being “right,” but you’re not effective.

How to Not Let Limited Perspective Trap You

None of us are immune to this trap. Staying connected to the people you lead and maintaining a flexible and curious worldview takes work. Here are a few ways to keep yourself from getting stuck.

Listen for their truth—when a team member shares a concern, search for their truth. Not the Truth, but their truth. How are they feeling? What are they seeing? They’re not making it up. What is there for you to learn or keep in mind?

Get curious—when something doesn’t make sense, resist the urge to discount it. Instead, create some space to ask questions. If nothing else, you can say, “Tell me more …” and see what insights emerge.

Focus on what’s right, not who’s right—my friend Bob Tipton wrote a great book on this topic. When you change your perspective from defining who is right or wrong to figuring out what will be healthy and helpful for everyone, you’re on your way to a bigger perspective and greater influence.

Practice being uncomfortable—new perspectives are unsettling. It is strange and troubling to discover that the way you’ve seen things wasn’t entirely accurate. But since that’s where the breakthroughs happen, it’s worth getting used to it. You can practice in small and fun ways. Try something new every week. Ask someone to explain a hobby or passion you don’t understand. Travel – even if it’s just to the next city. Go as far as your resources allow and let it change your perspective.

Ask “What’s next?”—Strategic leaders don’t just focus on the change that happened yesterday. They’re looking ahead at the change that’s coming and intentionally shifting their approach. What has changed and will change in your environment? For your people? For your customers or clients?

Share information  – This one helps you and your team. When your team’s perspective is limited, share more information. Give them the data they need to make more informed decisions. When you do, they are better able to craft solutions that weren’t available to you.

Your Turn

It’s easy to get trapped by a limited perspective that alienates you from your team, but you don’t have to let it happen. Leave a comment and share your best strategy to stay nimble and maintain a flexible perspective.

5 Reasons Your Employees Ignore Your Coaching

5 Reasons Your Employees Ignore Your Coaching

Have you ever had (what you thought was) a great coaching conversation—your employee seems to get it—but fifteen minutes later they’re back to their old habits?

So you give them more coaching, this time “louder” either literally, or through progressive discipline. But even so, nothing changes.

What’s going on?

Most employees don’t come to work hoping to screw up.

They want to improve. So why does so much coaching fall on deaf ears?

5 Reasons Your Coaching Falls on Deaf Ears

When we ask employees in our training programs why it’s hard to hear their manager’s feedback, here’s what they tell us.

1. “I’m overwhelmed.”

“I’m trying to do better, I really am. But it’s all just too much. Every time we meet, he’s giving me something else to work on. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get it right, so I just ignore him and do the best I can.”

If you want real change, focus on one behavior at a time.

2. “I’m watching how it REALLY works around here.”

“My boss keeps telling me my customer courtesy credits are too high—that I’m costing the business too much money. So I stopped giving credits. But when my customers get mad, they escalate to my supervisor.  And guess, what? She ALWAYS gives them the credit! She’s the hero, and the credit goes against my numbers and I still end up on progressive action. I can’t win. So now I’m back to giving them the credit.”

If you want your employees to hear your coaching, be sure you’re following your own standards.

If there are reasons you make exceptions, be sure you clearly differentiate and explain the thought process, so they can follow consistent parameters.

3. “I don’t know how.”

“My manager says I need to be more strategic. That sounds awesome. I’m all for that. But what does that mean? How do I do that?”

Be sure your coaching is specific and actionable. Explain what success looks like in terms of behaviors.

4. “I disagree.”

“My supervisor keeps asking me to do this, but I just don’t think it’s right. It will have a negative impact on MY customers. I’ve tried to explain my concerns, but she just keeps citing policy, and that this decision is ‘above my pay grade.'”

Sure, we all have to implement policies we may not agree with, the important factor here is to really listen to the concerns and explain why. 

AND to help challenge the status quo when it doesn’t make sense. 

5. “I’m confused.”

“I’m not really sure what’s important, because everything seems to be. I feel like I’m being pulled in a million directions.”

Help your employees sort through the noise and stay focused on what matters most.

Coaching is an art. If you’re not getting the results you want, talk to your employee. “I’ve noticed, that even though we’ve talked about this before, you’re continuing to ______ (insert behavior here.) I really care about you and want you to be successful. What’s going on? Why do you think this is still happening?”

And really listen to their response.

A Few More Articles to Help Your Coaching and Performance Feedback

Fast Company: This 7 Step Guide For Dishing Out Feedback is Completely Idiot-Proof

What Do I Do if They Cry?

Pushover No More: It’s Never Too Late to Start Practicing Team Accountability

Are You Making This Tragic Accountability Mistake?

Are You Making This Tragic Accountability Mistake?

Have you ever noticed that lack of accountability is contagious?

If you know your boss is paying close attention to your results (and how you achieve them), you’re more likely to be absolutely certain that your team is doing the right thing, at the right time. Of course, the inverse is also true. If your boss ISN’T paying attention, it’s far easier to look the other way when your team drops the ball.

Which means one overwhelmed, lazy or scared manager letting slackers slide can create a cascading effect of lost accountability.

The Multiplier Impact of Poor Accountability – One Afternoon in a Mountain Town

I was delighted to find the grocery store in the mountain town we were visiting had a new surprise— kombucha on tap! Since kombucha is my go-to book writing beverage, I bought the reusable growler and smiled as I filled it with frothy goodness.

But the next week, when I came back for a refill, all I heard were sloppy squirts of messy air. The kombucha tap had run dry.

Trying to be helpful, I went to the folks working the deli counter (immediately adjacent to the empty kombucha dispenser.)

“I’m not sure if you know this, but the kombucha dispenser seems to be empty.”

“Lady, that’s not my job. You should go find a manager somewhere to tell that to.”

Whoa. Really?  “Ummm, do you think YOU could find a manager and let them know?”

“That’s not my job.”

Oh boy. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. It’s hard to teach accountability and leadership as frequently as I do, and just let a scene like this go.

So I went and found an Assistant Manager and explained the employee’s response—at this point kombucha was not the issue.

“Oh yeah. That’s bad. But I can’t do anything about it. You’ll need to tell the manager.”

Yeah, I’m starting to get the picture.

I’ll give her this much, she sent the manager to find me as I continued to shop.

So I explained what I do for a living and why I care.

“I hear you,” he said, “But there is nothing I can do about it. It’s these damn millennials. They just don’t care. There’s nothing I can do. Do you have any suggestions?”

Well, of course, I do. I have a whole book of suggestions.

A Quick Winning Well Training in the Frozen Food Aisle

So I shared a few fundamentals, right there in the frozen food section—while a bag of frozen edamame was melting in my hands.

He listened intently.

And then he just shook his head.

“That all sounds great, and I’m sure it works at other companies. It just won’t work here.”


“Store managers have no power here anymore. It used to be you could run your store and make a difference. Now everything is run from corporate and HR doesn’t let us hold people accountable.”

Hmmmm, I wondered about that one. I’d love to hear the other side of that story.

“But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Let me go over there right now and talk to that employee, using the technique you shared.”

“Great,” I said.

And then I watched him walk off in the opposite direction from the deli counter, still holding my empty growler.

See Also

Your turn. What advice do you have for preventing a lack of accountability from being contagious?

how managers can reclaim their lost soul

How Managers Can Reclaim Their Lost Soul

In a recent leadership development program, we talked about “manager soul loss” – the isolation, bitterness, and despair that seeps into many leaders’ hearts. We share the stages of soul loss and symptoms to look out for to help leaders identify and prevent them before they set in.

After the program, we received a heartfelt note from one participant. Cheryl asked: “What can be done for a leader who is already experiencing symptoms of Lost Soul?”

Maybe you’ve been there and can relate to her question. Or perhaps you resonate with this guy:

We’ve been there. Both of us can think of times where we felt as if we were losing our leadership soul. That’s one reason we wrote Winning Well, why we share our blog, and podcast. We know you can achieve breakthrough results and do it without sacrificing your humanity.

Cheryl—this one’s for you (and everyone who has felt your leadership soul drifting away.)

The Road Back from Losing Your Soul

No matter what circumstances have caused you to feel the isolation, bitterness, or burnout, the road back starts with your “why.”

Why do you do what you do? Where are you helping people? Making a difference? Improving things for others?

Reconnecting with your “why” is the fuel for your leadership and management. It helps keep normal daily work irritations in perspective. (And if you look for your “why” and can’t find it – and really don’t like the work you do, then it may be time to find another option.)

When you reclaim your “why,” you reclaim your perspective and ground yourself in what matters most to you. That’s the foundation to move to the next question.

What’s Happening?

Often, when you feel like you’re losing your soul, it’s for one of three reasons:

  1. You’ve lost your perspective
  2. You feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to succeed in a specific situation
  3. Or your values are in conflict.

What’s happening with you? Take a look at where your biggest frustrations. What are your feelings responding to? Here are a few examples:

  • Is it because you feel like your people aren’t listening to you?
  • Do you find yourself treating people in ways you know in your heart aren’t healthy?
  • Are you working in a tough situation where your supervisor is demanding and you’re not sure you can get the performance they expect?
  • Are you dealing with a toxic culture or find your values in conflict with your leader or approach to the work?

What is it for you?

Solutions for Losing Your Soul

Once you’ve identified the source of your frustration, you can use specific tools to help you reclaim your confidence and your soul.

For example, if you feel that people aren’t listening, you can rebuild your credibility with clarity about the team’s MIT, the specific behaviors everyone needs to do perform to succeed, and then have INSPIRE accountability conversations for those that don’t get there right away.

Or, let’s say you don’t like the way you’re treating people. Using the Confidence-Competence model, you can more readily identify where each person is and what conversation they need to grow. Do they need coaching? Maybe help to develop their own problem-solving and critical thinking skills? If you haven’t been as encouraging as you’d like, tap into this encouragement model to give relevant, meaningful recognition.

Need help to talk with your supervisor and figuring out how to achieve the results you need to get? Or to resolve a conflict in values? You can use a PERSUADE conversation—or even another INSPIRE conversation to create dialogue and talk about your concerns. (And sometimes, it’s healthy to acknowledge that your values aren’t the same as the organization’s or leader’s values and it’s time to find better values fit elsewhere.)

Finally, one more option to explore is that you may not enjoy or want to lead or manage people. Maybe you did in the past, but not anymore. That’s okay—this work isn’t for everyone. And it’s better for you, your team, and the organization if you know it sooner rather than later and take steps to move to a different role.

Your Turn

These are just a few examples of how you can start to reclaim your soul. Reclaim your sense of purpose, identify the specific challenges you face, and equip yourself with the leadership tools you need to move through them. How can you start to do things differently to rebuild your confidence and belief in yourself?

We’d love to hear from you: leave a comment and share your best advice for leaders who feel like they are losing their soul.

How to talk with your boss when youdisagree

How to Talk With Your Boss When You Totally Disagree

Talk with your boss when you disagree—you might be surprised at the results.

I was seething. The CEO had just asked my team to do something that I felt lacked integrity, was unprincipled, manipulative, and put our clients in a bad position. On top of all that, it involved an external stakeholder with whom I had my own separate relationship. There was no way I could face my friend in this circumstance. But how do you talk with your boss when you radically disagree?

He was the CEO, and I was a team leader. What could I do?

When we lead workshops to help leaders lead courageous cultures and have tough conversations at work, the question of how to talk with your boss always comes up.

Why It’s So Hard to Talk with Your Boss

On paper it shouldn’t be that tough—just have a conversation and share your concerns. But if you’re like most people, talking to an executive, senior leader, or board member feels daunting.

Most of the time, when you fear to talk with your boss about an issue where you disagree, it’s because of the power they have over your employment. Self-preservation kicks in and you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that paycheck. That’s normal for most people.

The problem is, when you don’t speak up, you’re not advocating for your people and it limits your influence and reputation as a strategic thinker. Speaking up can be a career-building move when you do it well.

The good news is that with a few tools and a little practice, you can address both concerns and have meaningful conversations with leaders at every level of your organization.

Talk to Yourself First

As upset as you might be, don’t charge into your boss’s office and unload your righteous anger. That may feel good for a moment, but that’s a career-limiting move.

The first conversation is one you have with yourself.

Come back to the Winning Well model: start with your own confidence and humility—confidence to stand up for what matters and humility to recognize you don’t know what you don’t know (and you’re not as perfect a leader as you might feel). Focus on results and relationships. How can you approach the conversation to build the relationship and achieve meaningful results?

For me, it begins with reminding myself that the person I’m upset with didn’t wake up intending to ruin my day. They’re doing what makes sense to them.

My CEO had his reasons for the way he had approached the situation. I didn’t like what I saw and believed it was wrong, but I knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t trying to be evil. Reminding yourself that there’s always another side to the conversation and that you don’t have all the information helps to lessen the grip of strong emotions.

Do Your Homework Before You Talk with Your Boss

What strategic objectives are at play? What data do you need to bring to the conversation? Learn as much as you can about the issue. You’re not complaining—you’re making a reasoned business case why your boss should consider another course of action.

Time to Talk with Your Boss

Create space for the conversation. If you have access to the person, schedule it. Catching them for three minutes in a hallway while overcoming interruptions and distractions doesn’t give you the best chance to talk.

To start the conversation, be direct and respectful. One of the most powerful openings you can use is to frame your concerns in terms of outcomes you know they value.

For instance, when I approached my CEO, I knew that he prized the organization’s reputation in the community. To start the conversation, I thanked him for the meeting and said, “I am concerned that we aren’t putting our best foot forward regarding the event next month.”

When you’re able to start the conversation about a topic that matters to them, you have a greater chance to be heard. Often, the other party will follow up with a question—after all, you’ve let them know that something they care about is at stake. That question allows you to share what’s on your mind.

This approach also helps you overcome the most common fear about how to talk to your boss when you disagree. By putting the discussion in terms of something they value, you are approaching them as a strategic partner, not as a complainer or antagonist. Even if they don’t agree with your perspective, they know you were trying to help.

Time to Listen

As you finish sharing your concerns, invite them into the conversation. It takes humility to acknowledge that—as right as you may feel—you don’t have all the information and you don’t know their perspective.

For example: “Those are my concerns. I’ve got some thoughts about how we can do this differently, but I’m curious about how the situation looks from your perspective and what I might not see.”

As they share, actively listen. Try to reflect what you’re hearing in your own words. Eg: “So our number one goal is to acquire new customers before our competitor launches their product, even if we need to temporarily reduce our response times to existing customers? Do I understand that correctly?”

From there, you may propose solutions that meet both of your goals.

When I spoke with my CEO, I was young and didn’t know how to do this. He was the one that brought it up. He said, “I hear what you’re saying and, although I don’t see the ethical concerns the same way you do, I also don’t want us to do anything that violates your ethics. How can we do this event in a way that achieves the purpose and that you would feel good about?”

It’s a smart question. You’ll often find the best solutions in answer to “How can we do A and B” when A and B seem to be mutually exclusive. When he asked this question, I came up with a way to meet his goals and satisfy my values.

Results and Relationship—but Not Always In That Order

Let’s be real: just because you approach the conversation this way, it doesn’t mean you will get the change you want.

You may get some, you may get all, or you may get nothing. Regardless, you’ve built a relationship that will help you be more influential—and you’ve learned more about your business from a senior leader’s viewpoint. That can inform your work, your decisions, and future conversations.

It’s also possible that you’ll discover a massive clash in values: an irresolvable difference that you just can’t be part of.


It may not be comfortable, but it’s better to know. Now you can make a conscious decision about your future—whether you’d be better off in a different role, different department, or a different company. Either way, you’ve come out ahead because you had the conversation.

And it might surprise you at how much influence you have when you take the time to have the conversation.

Your Turn

When you can have a healthy talk with your boss about areas of disagreement, you build your influence, clarify values, and become a more valuable strategic partner.

Leave us a comment and share: What’s your number one strategy to talk with your boss when you totally disagree? (We’d also love to hear a great story about a time you had the conversation and the results.)

Best Practices in Leadership

Best Practices in Leadership and Productivity: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival!  This month, our contributors share their best practices in leadership and productivity. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

The August Frontline Festival will be about leading remote or non-traditional teams.  We’ve expanded the Frontline Festival to include other formats such as podcasts and artwork and are always looking for new thought leaders to join the party. We’re always on the lookout for new ideas and best practices, Won’t you join us?  Send us your submissions here!

Best Practices in Leadership

Julie Winkle GiulioniJulie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds asks, What’s Your Disposition Toward Development? The ultimate leadership hack involves developing your people. Cultivating the mindset and skillset to make that happen supports individuals growth and organizational results. Follow Julie.


S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture provides us The Leader’s Most Powerful Tool, a three-minute video on the most powerful tool a leader has – expressing gratitude!  Follow Chris.


Robyn McLeodRobyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog provides, Change May Be Good, but is Your Organization Ready for it? Change readiness is the prelude to change management and it can spell the difference between successful change and failed change. Adopting best practices such as devoting time and resources to establishing a clear vision and strategies, opening and prioritizing robust communication channels, employing change management tools and principles, and aligning leaders around a shared commitment and messaging will get your organization ready to successfully plan and implement change. Follow Robyn.

John Stoker of DialogueWORKS gives us Six Questions You Should Never Ask.  (a contribution to Careers In Government.) Leaders have a real opportunity to make a difference through the questions they ask. Taking the time to be deliberate with their questions can pay huge dividends. Here are some tips to help you do just that. Follow Jon.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader provides Easy Ways for Everyone to be a Better Leader. No matter how long you’ve been a leader, certain basic principles can help you improve. Here they are and how to implement them.  Follow Paul.


John HunterJohn Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement gives us How to Successfully Lead Change Efforts.  Leading change efforts requires paying attention to the existing conditions: the culture, the motivation to adopt this change and/or the motivation to resist it, the history of change where the change is being attempted and the reasons the change is desired (by at least you and hopefully others.) Then you will need to build a case for the change and manage the process. Follow John.

David GrossmanDavid Grossman of The Grossman Group shares Leaders: Stop the “Slide Shuffle” and “Overdone Outlines” for Your Next Presentation. You have another presentation and you begin preparing by pulling slides together from various presentations you’ve given. If they worked before, they can work again, you think. A scrambled or rambling presentation is often the result. Here’s a strategic approach to creating an effective presentation.  Follow David.

Kairn Hurt and Charles Fred

Karin interviews Charles Fred, Author of the 24 Hour Rule and 2019 ATD chair, on how leader’s stress impacts productivity in organizations and what to do about it.

There’s a great conversation happening on LinkedIn about this. We’d love to have you join us and offer your perspective,  Click here to add your thoughts 



Best Practices in Productivity

Maria Tanski of Patriot Software gives us 8 Ultimate Time-Saving Tips for Small Businesses. To help boost productivity in your business, you need to learn how to cut down on time suckers. Use these eight time-saving strategies to save time and get back to your business. Follow Maria.


Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership gives us Productivity and Me, what he’s learned from a half-century of trying to be more productive.  Follow Wally.



Shelley RowShelley Row of Shelley Row Associates gives us Four Tips for Vacationing without Worry.  Do you worry about leaving town for vacation or a conference? These tips from Shelley’s two-week trip without a computer or checking email show how you can lead and be productive even when you take some extended time away from your business. Follow Shelley.


Beth BeutlerBeth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited asks, What Can You Unsubscribe From? Some Questions to Help You Target the Emails to DitchMost leaders have a never-ending flow of email which can become a diversion and distraction from the important work at hand. Use this simple method to declutter that inbox for the more important messages. Follow Beth.

And additional time-saving tips …

Julie Winkle Giulioni suggests we start with a sloppy copy! It’s easy to procrastinate on the important tasks out of a desire for perfection. So, short-circuit that by setting out to do an 80% job. It takes the pressure off, establishes some momentum, and frequently yields something that’s pretty darn good in the process.

Chris Edmonds saves time by tracking commitments & to-dos with Nozbe.  It is a simple, clear, and available system that saves countless hours (and worry)!

John Stoker finds it helpful to take more time to plan before he executes.

Wally Bock finds it helpful to set up his work for the next day, before quitting for the day.

Beth Beutler keeps her to-do lists consolidated into two main apps, depending on their environment-of-use. Outlook is used for recurring tasks that are mostly completed at her home office, and Asana handles tasks and projects that she can work on in any location.

Want to Play?

Do you have a topic you would like to see covered in a future Frontline Festival? Please leave a comment with your ideas,

Are you a blogger, vlogger or podcaster? We would love to have you join us. Click here to learn more about submitting to the next Frontline Festival,

11 inspiring leadership secrets from bonsai

11 Inspiring Leadership Secrets from Bonsai

A mature bonsai tree commands attention. With a single tree, a master evokes an entire landscape and tells a story of power, perseverance, struggle, or abundance. As I’ve studied bonsai, I realized there are many leadership secrets available for leaders who want to help their people and teams to grow.

Inspiring Leadership Secrets

To accomplish this elegant combination of grace and strength, great bonsai practitioners must be both gifted horticulturists and artists. In the same way, leading people entails both vision and cultivation. Here are eleven inspiring leadership secrets from the art of bonsai:

1. Focus on strength and directing energy, not fixing weakness

In bonsai, the artist looks for a tree’s strengths. What is unique and special?  What can they showcase?

Similarly, effective leaders look for strengths and build on those. Know of weaknesses to manage them and keep them from hindering strength, but focus on ability – in people, in yourself, and in your team.

Focusing on weaknesses builds nothing. Strengths produce results. What abilities, talents, and energy do your people bring to your team?

2. Growth requires patience

A fully developed bonsai can take decades to reach perfection. You collect material, let it rest and grow out for two or three years, prune and shape, then wait some more.

One of my very favorite trees is on display at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. It is a Japanese pine that’s almost 400 years old! It’s an awe-inspiring sight, made all the more so by the fact that this tree survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

patience inspiring leadership secrets

Nearly 400 years old, atomic bombing survivor

There are no shortcuts to produce growth. Nothing less than four centuries make that tree what it is.

But sometimes we force ourselves and our teams out of season. We push when we should rest. Or rest when we should study. Or move when we should question. Or question when it’s time to act.

To be effective, how can you be aware of your own seasons and your team’s season? You can use the competence-confidence model to give people what they need at this moment.

3. Treat individuals as individuals

A skilled bonsai artist knows that you cannot prune a trident maple at the same time of year as a juniper. Not all trees are the same.

People are also unique. Different people should be treated differently. What motivates one person may terrify or humiliate another.

How can you better understand the people you lead and learn how to maximize each person’s potential?

4. Healthy conditions produce growth

You cannot force a tree to grow. Rather, you provide the right nutrients, fresh air, sunlight, water, and soil and the tree will naturally grow. That’s what trees do.

People and organizations are much the same. Healthy organizations have healthy cultures and in healthy cultures, healthy people accomplish great things.

If your people aren’t growing and producing what you believe they’re capable of, examine your culture and systems. What can you do to help?

5. Appearances don’t tell the whole story

With certain trees, there are times of the year when you might swear the thing is dead. Some of the greatest abstract juniper trees have vast amounts of dead wood. A tree (and a person’s) potential is not just what you see.

look for life - inspiring leadership secrets

In a tree, you look for life in the roots, in the channels that carry sap to the branches. In a person, you look for character. For integrity. For the desire to learn and willingness to try.

And when those are there, you:

6. Nourish or encourage what you want more of

A bonsai master knows which of three buds on the tip of a branch will be strong and best serve the tree. That bud is encouraged. If other buds would steal energy, they are removed.

You cannot wave a magic wand in bonsai or in leadership and have the right branch, team, or skills spring into existence. These things must be grown. If you want:

  • More creativity, encourage it and remove barriers to healthy risk.
  • More ownership, nourish responsibility and remove impediments to implementing ideas.
  • To strengthen customer relationships, remove policies that prevent people from serving.

7. Pruning is beneficial

Sometimes a bonsai master will remove a branch or an entire limb for the health of the tree or so it can realize its full potential.

In your organization, do you regularly ask what we need to stop doing?

What methods, products, or services are no longer beneficial or serve the mission? You have limited time, money, and people. Set aside activities that do not serve your team or the mission. You can use the Own the U.G.L.Y. method to facilitate these conversations with your team.

8. Every part needs light to thrive

When caring for a tree, masters give great attention to ensure that every set of leaves or needles receives the light it needs. Without this care, interior leaves weaken then wither and die.

In organizations, we can shade out essential people who make a difference every day but aren’t the glamorous ‘face’ of the organization.

Do you treat your cleaning staff with the same dignity as your executives? Do you show appreciation to everyone in the organization for their contribution to the mission?

9. Make mistakes to grow

“Killing trees is the tuition you pay for learning bonsai.” – John Naka

No one enjoys making mistakes, but they are the price of knowledge. How can you create a safe environment for your team to make mistakes and learn what to do next time?

10. You cannot change the core

When selecting a tree, the bonsai master knows that some qualities of the tree cannot change. The general shape and strength of the trunk, the position of key limbs, the way the roots spread into the ground … these things are core to the tree and you cannot change them later.

Likewise, one of the most important leadership secrets to know is that you can’t change people. No matter how hard you work at it, forcing a gregarious people-person to work in isolation all day will end in failure.

Find people with a passion for the mission and the skills their work requires.

11. Nothing is perfect

Inspiring bonsai often tell a story. A tale of a lifetime fighting salt-laden storms blowing in from sea … or the struggle to survive hostile conditions in a rock cleft far above treeline.

These stories and a bonsai’s grace often result from the tree’s imperfections. The masters incorporate dead wood, twisted branches, and even wounds into the design to reveal the essence of the tree. They specifically select the best viewing – you don’t view most trees from every angle.

Leadership isn’t about perfection. It’s about improving the condition of your team and accomplishing the mission. Just as there is no ideal tree, neither is there one ideal person.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly answered complaints about General Grant’s heavy drinking by telling the complaining party to find out what Grant was drinking and to send his other commanders a case.

Your Turn

As in bonsai, effective leaders look for strengths, manage imperfections, and aim for magnificent results. We’d love to hear from you – Leave us a comment and share: What is one of the most important leadership secrets you’ve learned from an unusual source?

Developing Ownership and Commitment: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival!  This month, our contributors share their thoughts about developing ownership and commitment (and a few shared things they were most proud of.)  Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

The July Frontline Festival will be about best practices in leadership and productivity hacks.   We’ve expanded the Frontline Festival to include other formats such as podcasts and artwork and are always looking for new thought leaders to join the party. Won’t you join us?  Send us your submissions here!

Now, on to the June festival where we learn to Develop ownership and commitment through shared values, vision and mission, by building a culture of respect, growth and service, with clear communication, expectations and accountability.

Develop Ownership and Commitment

… through Shared Values, Vision, and Mission

Eileen McDargh of The Energizer gives us Three Ways to Develop Ownership. Learn why Joe Tye and Eileen McDargh believe that organizations are built around people who have a shared sense of values and mission. This is not something that can be mandated by a mission statement. Follow Eileen.


Rachel Blakely-GrayRachel Blakely-Gray of Patriot Software, LLC offers Sparking Commitment in the Workplace Boils Down to this One Thing.  The majority of employees aren’t committed to their work. If you want commitment in the workplace, inspire your employees to take ownership of their work with these five tips.  Follow Rachel.


Julie Winkle GiulioniJulie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds provides Vision: It’s a Verb.  Visioning ensures the level of buy-in and ownership required for sustainable attention, effort, commitment and results…. when leaders do it with their teams. Follow Julie.

Julie is most proud of her family.

From my very first day as an entrepreneur, I’ve felt the only mission worth pursuing in business is to make people’s lives better. ~ Richard Branson

… by Building a Culture of Respect, Growth and Service

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership gives us What You Can Do to Help Engagement Grow.  Engagement is more like a plant than it is like a building. It grows, you don’t build it. The best way to help it grow is to create an environment where growth can happen. If you’re responsible for the performance of a group, you’re the gardener. Here are some things you can do to help engagement grow. Follow Wally.


 Dr. Artika Tyner of Planting People Growing Justice Leadership gives us Students Learning About Making a Difference. She says, “I am most proud of our team’s commitment to service in the community. Together, we shared the message of Planting People Growing Justice with thousands of people across the world. We hosted book giveaways, promoted literacy and fostered leadership development. Together, we are planting seeds of social change.” Follow Artika.


S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture gives us a (vide0) Culture Leadership Charge: Insights into a Healthy Work Culture. Chris enjoyed a wonderful “behind the scenes” look recently at a popular food store – Trader Joe’s. He shares the employee’s reasons for their joyful commitment to their jobs.  Follow Chris.


Ken Downer of Rapid Start Leadership provides Transformational Leadership: 5 Steps to a Brighter Future with Your Team.  In this post about developing a sense of ownership on the team, Ken unravels the meaning of a quote from a surprising source and shares five ways to build commitment in ways that strengthen bonds and increase productivity.  Follow Ken.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.  ~ Bryant H. McGill

… with Clear Communication, Expectations and Accountability

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting  asks, Who is Responsible?  What is your default setting when you discover something didn’t happen as you expected, or something happened that you didn’t expect? What could you gain by re-setting your default? Follow Nate.

Nate is most proud of The Compassion Mindset – just launched at ATD in DC.


Robyn McLeodRobyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog gives us The True Meaning of Accountability.  As a leader, you have to create an environment that fosters accountability and you have to be accountable yourself if you want people to be accountable. Doing the right things to foster accountability and reward those who demonstrate the best in personal accountability will reap tremendous rewards for your organization. Follow Robyn.


Shelley RowShelley Row of Shelley Row Associates provides Proactive Communication: Easy Ways to Create Certainty.  From a personal experience she shares where she experienced vendors who were committed to excellence, Shelley helps us see how simple steps in communication can bring a sense of certainty to your employees, clients or customers and make you stand out in your field. Follow Shelley.


David GrossmanDavid Grossman of The Grossman Group provides Leaders and Communicators: We Often Get in Our Own Way. It’s a habit that’s easy to fall into – focusing on a communication opportunity from a tactical perspective. What we’re really doing is making a choice to not be as effective as we can be, and to waste valuable time and energy. There’s a better way.  Follow David.

The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.  ~ James Cash Penney


what no one tells you about leading

What No One Tells You About Leading But You Desperately Need to Know

Leading is tough enough without ignoring these critical truths.

“I wish someone would have told me some of this before I started leading. Life would have been so much easier. I bet my team wishes I knew it too.”

We hear this sentiment after almost every leadership workshop or keynote speech we deliver. And we get it – we wish we had access to all these leadership tools and strategies earlier in our careers. That’s why we built them, and are so passionate about sharing.

But you know as well as we do, leading well isn’t JUST about mastering tools and techniques. It’s a mindset.

So today we bring you six leadership realities we wish we learned sooner.

6 Leadership Realities  to Ground Your Leadership

1. Everyone is a volunteer.

Control is an illusion. You don’t control anyone or anything except for yourself. Everyone you work with chooses what they’ll do and how they’ll do it. Yes, your team is paid and if they choose not to perform at a certain level, they can lose their job – but that’s still their choice.

When you remember everyone is a volunteer you know that the effort you want your people to give is their choice. Sure, you get to influence that choice. When you recognize that everyone chooses what they do, it transforms their work into a gift, and that changes everything.

2. You’re in the hope business.

This is one of the most neglected truths about leading a team. Leadership is the belief that if we work together we can have a better tomorrow. Together we can do more, be more, and add more value to the world.

That’s a big deal.  It might be the biggest deal of all.

And some of the time your team will be stressed and discouraged, your job is to help them find the hope.

Without hope, you’re done. When your team has hope, you have a chance.

3. Change isn’t a choice.

When you’re leading you’ll never have it handled.

There are moments of dazzling teamwork where everyone aligns and you achieve more than you ever thought possible. But next week, one of those team members moves away or technology changes or your competitor does something different that you can’t ignore. Now you’re working hard again to create the next future.

Leadership is a journey where are no final destinations. At some point, you will leave your team – hopefully, in the capable hands of leaders whom you’ve invested in and developed. In the meantime, whatever you did last week opened the door for the new challenges and change you will face this week.

4. Effective or 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 achieve results and build relationships.

For example:

“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. If it’s important, communicate it multiple times in multiple ways.

“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, not just a cog in a machine.

“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 we’re sure you did a thorough analysis, but if you want your team to be committed to the idea, their voices need to be heard. Besides, you might be surprised by someone else’s perspective.

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

5. Harder isn’t smarter.

“Work smarter, not harder” is a cliché for a reason. More effort isn’t always the answer. Twelve hour days filled with back-to-back meetings may feel busy, but they’re not healthy, strategic, or ultimately productive.

When you’re leading, creating time to think and get perspective will often be far more valuable than pouring in a few more minutes of sweat equity. Once you’ve got motivated people and clear shared expectations, the changes that will do the most good often aren’t more effort, but better systems.

6. You are not alone.

Too many leaders suffer in lonely silence. You don’t have to. In fact, leading by yourself will limit your career and influence.

Effective leaders connect with people. Connect with your colleagues and invest in one another’s success. Connect with your team and they’ll make you better. Connect with mentors or coaches to grow. Connect with a community of leaders for support and encouragement.

Your Turn

When you build on a strong foundation, leading is more rewarding and you’re more effective. Leave us a comment and share a foundational truth or mindset that has served you well.

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

How to Lead When There's Not Enough Time

How to Lead When There’s Not Enough Time

When There’s Not Enough Time Your Leadership Is More Important Than Ever

Sheila raised her hand and asked for the microphone. We were near the end of a powerful leadership development program where the participants had worked hard on culture-transformation. She took a deep breath and said, “I love everything we’ve received today. But realistically, there’s not enough time. My manager doesn’t care about this stuff – so I don’t know what to do.”

Specifically, Sheila was struggling with how to spend 10 minutes each week with each team member to support them, ensure they had what they needed to succeed, and maintain goal alignment.

Can you relate? Sheila isn’t alone. Over the past few months, we’ve heard many managers say, “I want to, but there’s not enough time.”

Let’s be real: many managers receive responsibility for their teams on top of their job responsibilities. Nothing goes away. They’re leading AND doing their old job.

This isn’t ideal, but it happens. If this is your scene, the good news is that you can still lead well.

Four Steps to Take When There’s Not Enough Time

Leading when time is tight requires you to make choices about how you approach your work. With a few shifts in your mindset, you can significantly improve the quality of your leadership.

1. Redefine Success

Leading when there’s not enough time begins with reframing your job.

As a leader, your number one job isn’t to “get the job done” yourself. It’s to get the job done well, through the team. When you take on too much because “everyone else is busy too” the work gets done, but you’re not tapping into the diversity of strengths or helping your team to grow.

We’ve heard the objections, “But Karin and David, my boss doesn’t see it that way. I’ve got to do the job they want. And no one does it better than me.”

Yes, you need to achieve the results you’re accountable for. But if you’re always the best person for the job, you’re in trouble. It’s not an either/or choice. It’s a matter of you choosing how you will get results.

No one makes that choice for you. It’s up to you.

2. Commit to Leadership (Even in a Crisis)

There is an insightful scene in the original Men In Black movie where Jay (Will Smith) tries to shoot an alien in plain sight of civilians. Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) confronts him and emphasizes the need to stay focused on what matters most:

Kay: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!

Jay: We don’t got time for this cover-up bull-. Look, I don’t know if you forgot, but there’s an Arquillian Battle…

Kay: There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Korilian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable planet. The only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they “do not know about it!”

There will always be a new crisis, another change of the strategic objective, and thirty-seven other tasks you could do today. If you want an excuse to not lead, they are plentiful.

As with the Men in Black, “the only way” it works is to stay focused on what matters most. Treat those urgent moments as opportunities to lead.

3. Recognize the Time You Have

You’re right. You don’t have time to do everything you’d like to do (and that will always be true). But that’s not the question.

The real question is: What is the most important leadership action you need to do next?

Maybe you need to focus on developing your people. Or you want to get everyone organized around key strategic outcomes. Maybe there is a new initiative you haven’t implemented well and need to improve.

You may not have time for everything, but you have time for that. And, sometimes you may need to get creative.

When Karin was in her sales executive role with fourteen remote direct reports, she would often get up early and do a bit of yoga to ground herself for the day. During the last half hour, she would concentrate for a minute or two on each of her direct reports to consider what they needed most and how she might help. She would prioritize her thoughts and make touch-base calls on her drive time between stores.

When you focus on the one leadership behavior that will make the most difference, it’s amazing what you can achieve in a small amount of time. You can help people grow through short exchanges (and it’s often more effective than a long conversation).

4. Choose Progress Over Perfect

Three minutes spent with a team member or a ten-minute huddle with your team may not feel like the comprehensive work you want to do, but we promise: it works.

Small moments of daily progress lead to significant results. Don’t allow your desire for perfection to keep you from doing what you can do today.

If you don’t see how you might meet with each team member for 10 minutes each week, then try meeting with half of them this week and the other half next week. Still too much to ask? How about one person each day for 10 minutes?

Unless you’re in the middle of a rare conflagration, you can find 10 minutes today. That’s all it takes.

Your Turn

Ultimately, leading when you don’t have enough time is a choice. It’s a choice to recognize that you influence your team with everything you do.

Leave us a comment and share your best practice for being a healthy leader – even when time is tight.

Hidden leadership problem with passion

The Hidden Leadership Problem with Passion

One problem with passion is that it’s no substitute for good leadership.

Passion is good. You want team members who love their work and serve their customers with passion. We are big believers in the power of purpose. Connecting what you’ve asked to why it matters is a powerful source of motivation. However, there is a problem with passion that can erode your influence, your team, and entire companies.

Recently, Amnesty International was in the news for what might seem like a strange reason. The human rights organization lost five members of their leadership team following a report revealing a toxic workplace culture.

How does an organization with such a noble purpose as fighting human rights abuses around the world end up with a “toxic culture of secrecy and mistrust?”

It might seem strange, but it’s actually more common than you might think – and it’s not limited to charitable organizations. You can easily find yourself in the same situation if you fall into the Passion Pit.

The Problem with Passion

The Passion Pit is the name I gave to the strange contradiction of organizations that do good work but have poor culture – cultures that are caustic, toxic, and abusive.

You might think that for an organization like Amnesty International, the negative culture, burnout, and employee anxiety would result from the difficult work they do. Observing human rights abuses like torture would be emotionally draining and take a toll on anyone.

But that’s not the problem. According to the report:

“The stress, burnout, anxiety, depression … were more often reported to stem from their working conditions–challenging managers, mistreatment by colleagues, bullying–than from stressful tasks such as interviewing survivors of violence and torture.”

I’ve watched this same dynamic happen before. I’ve lived it as an employee and I’ve witnessed it as a leadership trainer and consultant.

The Passion Pit happens when leaders use people’s passion and commitment as a substitute for sound leadership and management.

If They Really Cared, They Would …

I was working with the CEO of a regional service organization who did amazing work but was having a horrible time keeping employees.

As I reviewed my initial findings with her, she said something that stopped me cold. Rather than address the organizational dysfunctions, the clearly abusive and bullying managers, and the lack of clarity that frustrated employees, she said, “If people really cared about what we’re doing there, they’d get it done.”

That’s the Passion Pit.

This CEO was sincere. She believed in their work, but she was blind to their leadership and management problems (and her contribution to them).

Her perspective was so twisted that she interpreted people’s behavior only as a sign of their commitment–not as the healthy indicator of major issues it was.

Diagnose Your Passion Pit

When you say, “If they really cared about what we’re doing here, they would …” carefully examine what comes next. If your next words would be something like:

  • “tolerate that abusive or dehumanizing person …”
  • “sacrifice their health or family …”
  • “stop asking for clarity or priorities and just work harder …”

I invite you to consider that the person isn’t the problem. Passion isn’t the problem. These are powerful signs that your culture, processes, and leaders need help.

You’re asking people to swim against a powerful current. People can’t fight the culture every day just to do their basic work.

Solving the Problem with Passion

You’re a motivated leader and you care. (You wouldn’t have read this far if that wasn’t true.)

If you suspect that the Passion Pit is at work in your team, one direct way to solve it is to change your language from “If they really cared, they would …” to “If we really care about our people successfully serving our customer, we would …”

Here are some places to start: “If we really care about our people successfully serving our customer, we would …”

As you implement these steps, you’re on your way to building a culture that supports and energizes your people. You’ll release their natural motivation and you’ll make it easier, not harder, to the work that really matters.

Your Turn

When the work is important, it’s easy to fall into the Passion Pit – that’s the problem with passion.

This is a short list to get you started. Leave us a comment and share one way you complete the sentence: “If I really care about my people successfully serving our customer, I will …”

5 Reasons Not to Act Like a Jerk When an Employee Resigns

5 Reasons Not to Be a Jerk When an Employee Resigns

How you treat your employees on the way out the door may have more impact than you think.

What do you do when an employee resigns?

I’m not sure exactly why this is a thing, or if it’s getting worse in a tight economy. But lately, my phone has been lighting up with stories of managers acting like jerks when an employee resigns.

Here’s what I heard from Joe, just yesterday.

I’ve been working here for almost two decades.  I just got my MBA (which I paid for, not the company). When I gave my notice, my boss was so ticked off he wouldn’t accept my resignation (I’d have to go tell his boss). I told him it had nothing to do with him or the company, and that I’ve loved working here. I’m not leaving for a competitor (I would never do that), I gave them a months notice so I could train my replacement. I really care deeply about everything I’ve built here. I’m just ready for something bigger that they can’t offer.

So I had to go to his boss to resign, and he was a jerk about it too. Now no one is talking to me, and treating me like I’m invisible. It’s devastating to me after all I’ve done for this company. I know one thing for sure, I made the right decision. No one really cares about me here.

And, this one really broke my heart, because he didn’t quit, he was RIFed.

I’ve been here ten years, and am consistently the top ranked sales manager. My boss and I got called into headquarters for back-to-back meetings with his boss to tell us we had no jobs. My bosses boss told us,  “I’m taking the department in a new direction, but I haven’t quite figured it out exactly. We just don’t need you.”

Not one ounce of recognition of my contributions, including the last huge sale I had just landed.  No “Thank you for all you’ve done.”  No, “We will miss you. It’s been awesome working with you.” No “Let me know how I can help.” Nothing.

Just “Give me your ID and we’ve already locked you out of our systems.”

I can understand the need for a change, that’s not the issue. But after all the long hours, the sacrifices my family has made for all the travel, not to mention the extraodinary revenue I’ve brought in, why don’t they see me as a human being with feelings?

Why Do Some Managers Act Like Jerks When an Employee Resigns (or is let go)?

Here’s what I’m finding as I dig deeper. Some managers feel personally hurt and betrayed, so they turn the tables right back and inflict some hurt of their own. Or they’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of the extra work of having to backfill the position. Or panicking about all the work that will pile up while they’re looking.

In the case of the RIF, they might feel bad and just move as fast as they can to avoid guilt or conflict. Some managers worry if they say “Thank you” for the contribution they’ll open themselves up for a lawsuit.

Or, let’s face it, it could be they are just a jerk.

5 Reasons Being a Jerk to An Exiting Employee is Bad For Business

1. Karma

Seriously. Life is hard enough. Do you want more trust and connection in your life? Treat people with respect and compassion.

2. Their Co-Workers are Watching

“Did you see the way they treated him? If it could happen to her it could happen to me.”  “No one really cares about us. They’re ruthless.”  Trust me, every time there is a restructure at my former employer my phone rings off the hook, with people saying those exact words. The fastest way to trash employee engagement is to forget you are dealing with feeling human beings.

3. Your Brand (for Prospective Employees AND Customers)

When people feel hurt and betrayed, they don’t just tell their therapist. They tell anyone who will listen. On Facebook and LinkedIn. On Glassdoor. At their son’s baseball game. At church during coffee hour and on the prayer tree. Before you know it you’ve done more damage to your company’s brand than any cheerful recruiter or zippy advertising campaign can overcome.

With just a little effort to say think you, and connect at a human level, your departing employee remains a brand ambassador and is more likely to share all the fond memories of working there with their family and friends—”I’m going to miss that place.”

4. Rocky Transitions

In the first example, Joe is in the process of training his replacement. Do you think his heart is in it? Once an employee resigns, all you’ve got left to hope for is a discretionary effort for a smooth transition. If you want your employee to care about the transition after he resigns, show him you care about him.

5. They’ll Never Consider Coming Back

Most companies have ditched their outdated “loyalty” policies of never rehiring someone who quits. In a high-turnover, gig economy, that high-performer you just kicked in the butt on the way out the door, may have exactly the skills you need in a future project.

The sage employment advice to not burn bridges goes both ways.

If you make people feel like they’re dispensable, the damage runs far and deep. A little gratitude, empathy and celebration can go a long way.

Your turn.

What would you add?

See Also:

How To Build Great Culture in a High-Turnover World

How to Take Your Retention Strategy to the Next Level (Training Magazine)