This isn't helpful advice

This Isn’t Helpful Advice

I want to give you an insightful bit of leadership or management wisdom that will help you navigate the world right now.

But my inbox is overflowing with advice. Most of it is trite. Advice that just isn’t helpful right now.

I don’t want to give you more of that.

So, here’s what I’ve got right now. It may be helpful. Maybe not. But I wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you.

We planted a garden two weeks ago. A bird pulled up a seedling. Squirrels dug up some seeds (we replanted). And late frost claimed a couple more victims. The brussels sprouts stood tall.

Today, the sugar peas sprouted. Life renews.

And a relative’s child has what appears to be COVID-toe. It’s affecting his toes in a bad way. His mom has very high-risk conditions. Despite federal protestations to the contrary, they cannot get testing and so he and his father have moved into another house.

For how long?

We do not know.

The redbuds, last of the blooming trees here in Maryland, are fading after a spectacular spring show juxtaposed against the uncertainty, anxiety, and grief of life turned upside down.

As the blossoms fade, the trees are leafing out, and life renews.

Yesterday we started another long-term leadership development program that was intended to be in-person, and now moved to live-online delivery. And everyone was awesome.

The participants are leaders, working from home, trying to support their teams–all of whom are also working from home for the first time.

I was grateful for these leaders and their sense of humor, their playful razzing of one another, and their desire to be the best leader they can be.

I was grateful for the team of people who make our work possible, quietly attending to products, design, technology, graphics and so much more. Thank you, Shelley and Beth and Amy and Brooke and Phil. I don’t say it often enough.

I am grateful for the wife, partner, co-author and friend I have in Karin. I know you know that she’s awesome, but really, you don’t know just how awesome.

And everyone is different.

Many of the people I’ve talked with recently are stir crazy and tired of being cooped up with the same people all the time. Like me, they miss their friends, family, and the small, but who-knew-how-important everyday interactions we have with other human beings.

Other people tell me that they’ve adapted marvelously well to isolation.

I can’t say that I’m one of them. Every video chat (a small miracle and immense blessing that connects me with people around the world and is a force behind so much of the commerce that continues) also drains me and reminds me of what isn’t.

And then there are my sister and sister-in-law who work in health care and don’t have the privilege to do what is driving so many of us crazy. And yet they both show up with amazing generosity for the world beyond their work and families.

Halfway across the country, last week another loved-one “ugly cried” herself to sleep.

We face a great deal of uncertainty. We still don’t understand this disease. We don’t know exactly how we’re going to move forward.

There are opportunities as so much changes. There are opportunities to address the dysfunctions in the way we do things. To fix the brokenness that makes it far more likely that some will die than others. To mobilize and do what it takes to create a better future.

We don’t know exactly how we’re going to move forward.

But we will.

And we’ll do it with you. With your leadership. Your belief in the people you serve. Your influence to bring people together and build something better.

I saw a firefly two days ago.

It was daytime, but it made me smile to know that soon they’ll be lighting up the night.

How to be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale

How to Be a Better Leader as Your Responsibilities Scale

Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. If you continue to approach your work exactly the same as you did at the last level, you will surely fail. On the other hand, if you abandon all your best characteristics and approaches that won’t work either.  As you work to be a better leader as your responsibilities scale, you want to stay true to your values, leverage your strengths, and be deliberate in finding new ways to serve your larger team.

Sam and Jenny

Take Sam. Sam was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throes of a transition from supervisor to manager. He’ll now lead leaders.

“But it’s scary,” he confided. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”

Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same as his scope increased. He was at risk of losing the very best qualities I respected in him as a leader—particularly his ability to build deep trust and connection that led to loyalty and deep collaboration. People wanted to work for Sam, so he attracted an “A” team.

And then there’s Jenny who had been promoted for her long track record of strategic thinking and strong execution. Her new role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy for taking this team’s performance to the next level?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.

She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving as they had before. But she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to identify a transformational vision and rally the team around it. She was trying to lead like the leader before her.

How to Be a Better Leader as Scope and Scale Increases

If you’ve just been promoted, here are few ideas to keep in mind to ground your leadership and influence.

1. Inventory your strengths and opportunities.

Carefully consider the strengths that helped others see you as the candidate for this increase in scope and scale. You might even ask those who helped you get this role, “What is it about my leadership that made you think I was a good fit for this position?” Then consider how those strengths might work well in this bigger role and make a deliberate plan to leverage those strengths in your leadership.

Also, consider which aspects of the job come less naturally for you and make a plan to get the help you need until you can get up to speed. It’s likely that one of your new direct reports is a rock star in this arena. Have the humility to ask for help.

2. Translate the landscape.

You are in a wonderful position of having a more strategic seat at the table while having fresh memories about what it feels like to not have all that information. Pieces of the puzzle are coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday.

You can also use your new vantage point to help your boss and peers understand how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective.

3. Be visible, approachable AND get out of the way.

As a leader with a broader scope and scale, of course, you want to be visible for your larger team and you want to be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open that employees skip right over their direct manager and come right to you,

Respect your team and their authority. Of course, there are important times for skip level meetings and interventions, but it’s important to respect your direct reports and the work they are trying to do with their team. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.

4. Listen, learn, and be strategic.

Go on a curiosity tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you have the answers, and perhaps can do it better than anyone else. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.

5. Build better leaders.

Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.

6. Respond versus react.

As your scope and scale increases, so does the gravity, quantity, and urgency of your challenges. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool early in the game.

7. Become a Roadblock Buster.

Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. With that said, here are two words of caution. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them. Second, be sure to take a moment to teach your team while you’re busting down those barriers.

Oh, and be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.

8. Invest in your development.

Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Don’t fall into that trap. As your scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly.

Your turn.

What’s your best advice for becoming a better leader as your job gets bigger?

See Also:

5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

Executive Visits: 4 Great Approaches For Influence and Impact

How to Be the Leader Employees Want to See Walk Through the Door

 

welcome to the hope business

Welcome (back) to the Hope Business

Unprecedented. Upside down. Turmoil.

Those are just a few of the more popular words used to describe the profound change we’ve all experienced. But as much as they capture, they leave out.

They leave out the reality for health care leaders who ask their teams to stand beside them, putting their lives at risk while they work with inadequate resources and decide who will die and who has a chance to live.

They can’t describe the feelings of our friends who have lost people to this disease.

Those words don’t address the sadness of leaders who have had to furlough or lay off their teams—or who have lost their own job. (And please don’t use the word “non-essential” to describe these folks whose work we very much need.)

Nor do they describe the overwhelm of leaders who have to figure how to manage suddenly invisible teams, bolster morale, and give everyone the support they need – all while juggling spouses and kids who need the WiFi.

So yes, unprecedented and upside down, but so much more.

The Business at Hand

Two years ago, I wrote about the business every leader undertakes when they agree to lead. I’ve been thinking about those words quite a bit over the past few weeks. Here is an excerpt:

If I could give a one-page orientation manual to every person who takes a management or leadership position, it would say:

You may have taken this job for the money (it’s not going to be enough),

for the power (you don’t actually have power – it’s an illusion),

or for the prestige (no job will make you feel good about yourself).

Maybe you took this job because you care about the people you serve and results you can achieve together. If so, you’re off to a great start.

When your team has hope, you have a chance.

Welcome to leadership—welcome to the hope business.

Why Try?

Leadership is the belief that if we work together, we can have a better tomorrow.

That’s hope. But if you’re like most leaders, no one’s ever told you that you’re in the hope business.

But every day, you ask your team to try, to think, to solve problems. Why? Why should they try?

The only answer is hope.

Because when we work together, we can make things better – better for our customer, better for one another, better for our families.

Welcome Back to the Hope Business

Hope is more important than ever. But hope doesn’t mean you have all the answers.

Hope is having the audacity to take the next step, to do the next thing.

Hope is getting scrappy and fighting for your employees and your customers because you know there’s a tomorrow, even if you can’t quite see it yet.

And sometimes hope is listening to their fears or tears. And sitting with them, believing with them, until they can take their next step and do the next thing.

Welcome back to the hope business.

What is your next step?

You’ve got this.


You might want to read:

How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings

How to Lead a Team That Suddenly Has to Work From Home

How to Lead In The Midst Of Urgent, Rapid Change And Strain

How to Capture What You’re Learning From This Crisis Now

Why Your Team Needs Your Confidence Right Now

How to Build a Better Live Online Leadership Development Program

 

build better direct report relationships

An Easy Way to Improve Your Relationships With Your Direct Reports

Even if you have an open door, and are constantly asking your direct reports how you can improve, chances are your employees are holding back.

Particularly if you’re generally a great boss, they figure “Why complain? It could be so much worse.”

Most employees we talk with have ideas for how their boss could be more supportive. And yet, when we ask them if they’ve had that conversation with their manager, most of the time the answer is “no.”

In fact, when Karin was teaching a leadership course in a top MBA program, she asked her students if they had ideas on how to improve the effectiveness of their relationship with their manager. As you can imagine, every hand in the room shot up with a lot of knowing chuckles.

And then when she asked how many of her students had shared at least one of those insights with their managers, only one student raised her hand.

If these fast-track (not shy) millennials, serious about their success, were holding back, it’s probably a good indicator that others are too.

And, if you’re like most managers we talk with, it goes the other way as well. You know your relationship with your direct reports could be better. Perhaps you’re not getting the support you need in a particular area. Or communication is breaking down in some way. Maybe you need more ideas or for them to challenge your thinking.

But it’s hard to carve out the time to have that conversation, so you settle for “good enough.”

An Easy Way to Open Up the Communication With Your Direct Reports

We use this tool with managers in some of our long-term leadership development programs to open up two-way communication between leaders and their direct reports. We thought it might be helpful for you too. If you give it a try, we’d love to hear how it goes. Drop us a line at info@letsgrowleaders.com.

Why the Tool Works

The tool is designed to reinforce the reciprocal nature of the manager-employee relationship.

It’s not just about what the manager is doing well or could do better, or what the direct report is doing well or could improve.

Both the manager and the employee rate the effectiveness of the relationship on the same dimensions.

The tool is designed to encourage both parties to take responsibility for co-creating the relationship and the results they produce.

How to Use The Tool

  1. Explain why you think this is an important exercise. It’s important that your direct reports feel safe and know that you are genuinely open to the dialogue. If the basic trust is not yet there, work on that first. This is an advanced communication tool that requires a foundation of trust.
  2. Ask your direct reports to complete the quick assessment with as much candor as possible before you meet.
  3. Complete the assessment yourself, based on your relationship with each direct report. (Note, it should be different for each person.)
  4. Schedule a one-on-one meeting with each of your direct reports to discuss and celebrate where your relationship is working well, and identify areas for improvement.
  5. Align on one or two specific actions you both agree to do to improve your relationship.
  6. Schedule the finish. Set up a time in the future (a month or so out is probably best) that you will meet to discuss progress.

You can download the pdf of this tool here.

improve your relationship with your direct reports

 

 

Why your team needs your confidence right now

Why Your Team Needs Your Confidence Right Now

Your confidence is fuel for problem-solving and creativity.

In the past two weeks, we’ve been in several meetings and conversations with leaders responding to rapidly changing coronavirus scenarios. Regardless of the industry, as leaders shared responses and next steps, many of their teams reacted in the same way:

  • But how do we … ?
  • We’ve never had to do this before. Can we really … ?
  • We’ve never done anything like this. What am I supposed to do now?

These moments of rapid change and unprecedented response naturally cause anxiety, doubt, and grief. The old way of doing things is gone—even if only for a month or two. What now? Can we handle this?

In these moments, your team needs your leadership more than ever. Address these moments of rapid change with calm clarity and then focus on answering the doubt.

When it Feels Impossible

In a state correctional facility, Christine faced a challenging problem.

With no prior supervisory experience, as one of a small handful of female staff in a mostly male prison, and with a highly diverse and contentious inmate population, she had been placed in charge of creating a clothing factory. As if those weren’t enough barriers, prior attempts to open a similar factory in other state facilities had failed.

One year later, Christine’s factory was out-producing the prototype operation, had an impeccable safety record, and could run itself without supervision.

I was able to talk with Christine, asking what made such a rapid transition, and seemingly impossible results, possible. Here’s what she said:

It began with my belief in the people. When they came to me, they wanted to tell me about what they had done on the outside—why they were in prison. I cut them off, told them I didn’t really care about who they were last year. ‘This is who we will be in this factory and this is what we’re going to do.’ Most of them didn’t believe it at first, but pretty quickly they responded to someone believing in them.

She described how male inmates would initially object to sewing because they thought it wasn’t something men did.

Christine would walk over to the industrial sewing machines, quietly operate it, produce a garment, return to the men and say, “You’re telling me women can run this industrial machine but you can’t? I don’t believe that. I believe you can.”

Your Confidence in Your Team

I love Christine’s message: “This is who we will be in this factory and this is what we’re going to do.”

Faced with major change and hurdles, your team needs your confidence.

This is the essence of leadership: believing that together we can do more and have a better tomorrow. That’s what it means to be a CBO – a Chief Belief Officer.

Your team needs a CBO right now. Your team needs to hear you say, “You can.”

  • I know this is tough and I know we will find a way through it.
  • I trust this team and believe we can find new answers.
  • Together, we’re going to stay safe and figure out how to deal with these changes.

I know you can.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and tell us: How a leader in your life is or was a C.B.O. for you? How do you communicate your confidence in your team when times are tough?

You might also like to read:

How to Lead in the Midst of Urgent, Rapid Change and Strain

Leading When Life is Out of Control (podcast)

How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted

7 Ways to Lead Well During Times of Uncertainty and Change


online training

how to lead rapid change

How To Lead In The Midst Of Urgent, Rapid Change And Strain

Lead through rapid change with calm clarity.

When he started work that week, “Aaron” didn’t know that he’d be asked to guide his team through a Coronavirus response, but within just a few days the situation was urgent. Major clients were making changes quickly. Like many leaders throughout the world, Aaron found himself having to lead through rapid change.

We happened to be in his office that morning as Aaron brought together his leadership team to communicate the next steps. We watched as he gracefully led his team through the day’s urgent situation. The entire office worked with clarity, focus, and resolve. The same principles Aaron used to lead through rapid change will work for you.

As you and your team respond to the rapidly evolving realities of this problem (or the next one):

1. Over-communicate clear, precise actions.

Aaron’s first message was very clear: “We need to call every client, ask them this question … and give them this information.”

Keep it simple. Check for understanding and be ready to repeat what matters most—frequently. When your people are worried and stressed themselves, communication is more challenging. Even with this seemingly straightforward request, there were several questions.

Aaron patiently and confidently reiterated the task: “A phone call to every client. Voice to voice communication is our MIT (Most Important Thing) here. If we can’t do that, we’ll use email for a backup. But #1, #2, and #3 is a phone call. Ask them this … tell them this …”

Focus on clear, concise communication that leaves no doubt about who will do what and by when.

2. Acknowledge emotion.

Ignoring emotions doesn’t make them go away. In fact, it makes them stronger. When you have to lead through rapid change and stressful circumstances, acknowledge how everyone feels.

Aaron looked at his team and said, “I know this is scary and there are a lot of things we don’t know. We have a plan for today. If anyone needs to talk with me individually, I’m here.”

If you’re not sure, you can also take a moment to ask how everyone is feeling. Acknowledge their emotions e.g. “It’s normal to feel nervous or upset in times like this.”

3. Focus on what you do know and what you can do.

Clarity is the antidote to uncertainty.

You don’t have to know everything. Focus on what you do know, on the next steps, on what needs to happen next, and the process going forward. You may not know what will happen or what decisions will be, but you can be 100% clear about what you know and what you will do next.

4. Communicate your confidence.

One of our favorite parts of this meeting was when Aaron told his team, “I know there’s a lot going on and this is on top of all the other things we’ve normally got to take care of—and I know you’re up to it. If you need help, I’m here.”

Your belief in your people becomes their confidence in themselves.

Next, Aaron shared an analogy that he’d learned from a mentor:

As a leader, you’re like a flight attendant during turbulence. When the plane shakes in the air, everyone looks at that flight attendant. If they’re joking or reading on their phone, everyone relaxes. If they’re upset, everyone panics. Your job today is to be that calm flight attendant for your team.

In talking with Aaron, he had his own concerns, but he modeled this “be the flight attendant” approach beautifully. Your team will take their cue from you.

5. Address concerns.

Aaron then took questions from his team. Some involved the work, some focused on personal concerns, and internal company procedures and response. Where he had information, he shared it. Where plans were being developed, he was clear about the process and that how he would inform everyone when the time came. When concerns were more personal, he met with those team members individually.

When you have to lead through rapid change or stressful circumstances, you often don’t know what you’ll show up to—but as a leader you always choose how you’ll show up. Your team needs you to be clear, calm, focused, and connected.

You don’t know what you’ll show up to, but you choose how you’ll show up.

Your Best Way to Lead Through Rapid Change

We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share your best practice for leading through urgent, rapid change. 


You might also like:

Leading When Life is Out of Control (podcast)

How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted

7 Ways to Lead Well During Times of Uncertainty and Change


how to lead a team that suddently has to work from home

How to Lead a Team That Suddenly Has to Work From Home

This week we’ve received so many calls like this from managers faced with implementing new work from home policies.

“I get the safety issues, I really do. But my team is used to being together in the same office. We collaborate all day long. That’s what makes us so successful. I’m concerned that this work from home policy is going to tank engagement, stifle communication and reduce productivity. What can I do?”

“I love sitting out on the floor with my team. That’s how I know what’s going on. How can I stay connected if everyone is working from home?”

“The timing couldn’t be worse. We’re in the middle of a huge project. How can I ensure my team stays focused when they’re working from home and distracted by fear?”

5 Ways to Keep Your Team Productive and Engaged While They Work From Home

These are all very real and legitimate concerns. Not everyone is cut out to work from home.

And it’s tricky to lead a remote team, particularly if you never have before.

So how do you keep your team focused and engaged when working from home is the only option?

1. Require video for your meetings and one-on-ones.

Your team may resist. Be clear from the beginning this is not optional. Being able to look one another in the eye leads to better listening (body language matters) and prevents multi-tasking.

This human connection is even more vital now that we’re all afraid to shake hands and see every human we interact with as a potential threat to disinfect.

2. Formalize informal communication.

When you’re in an office it’s natural to connect first before jumping into work. “How was your weekend?” When everyone is working remotely, it’s tempting to skip the small talk. Be deliberate about finding ways to communicate at a human level.

Last week, we sat in on a remote team meeting where they started with a virtual chorus of happy birthday. Not the best rendition we’ve ever heard. But, it was a brilliant minute well spent as everyone laughed before jumping into the stressful topic of coronavirus contingency planning.

Here’s a list of meaningful icebreaker conversation starters to keep your team connecting.

3. Over-communicate your most important priorities.

Your team is likely stressed and distracted about their health and the health of the vulnerable people they love, tanking stock prices, and what’s going to happen next. On top of all that, now they have a new routine at work. In times of uncertainty and change, you’ve got to overcommunicate more than you think is necessary.

Mix it up with as many techniques as possible For example, you can start the day with a quick team huddle  (over video of course).  Then follow-up with a recap email. Up your frequency of one-on-one check-ins. And be sure you’re deliberately asking your team for their best thinking for ways to work effectively in this new environment Or look for more creative ways to reinforce key messages such as starting an internal podcast.

4. Encourage people to work together (without you.)

When everyone is remote, it’s easy to become the hub for all communication. Which of course is a huge time suck for you and a missed opportunity for them. Assign people to work on projects together (over video). Encourage brainstorming and best practice sharing (over video). Consider assigning collaborative homework in advance of your team meeting or huddles.

5. Learn the art of great remote meetings.

Take time to establish new norms for your remote meetings. How will you ensure everyone participates? What’s the rule on multi-tasking? See How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings,  for a quick primer you can share with your team.

Just like any other change, a shift to a work-at-home policy will take some adjusting for you and your team. Be sure you’re checking in with your team to see what’s working and what more they need from you and from one another.

See Also:

7 Ways To Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity 

Seth Godin: Stuck at Home

7 mistakes that frustrate your coworkers

7 Big Mistakes that Frustrate Coworkers and Damage Your Brand

Have you ever ticked off your coworkers and didn’t know why?

You didn’t mean to. You’re working hard, moving fast, and advocating for your team. And one day you overhear two coworkers complaining about you in the hallway. Or you catch a peer typing “WTF” under the table in a staff meeting.

Avoid Damaging Your Reputation With Coworkers By Avoiding These 7 Mistakes

Here are seven big mistakes we’ve seen many well-intentioned, hard-working managers (sadly including ourselves) make while working diligently to improve the business—inadvertently ticking off their peers in the process.

1. Over-advocating for Your Team

The Problem:

Of course, advocating for, and defending your team, is generally a good characteristic. People want to know their boss has their backs.

But be careful to keep a realistic and balanced perspective.

Sometimes the best person for that coveted special assignment isn’t YOUR box nine candidate, but THEIR’S.

Sometimes it’s YOUR TEAM that screwed things up NOT THEIRS. And yes, sometimes the bigger bonus needs to go to the guy on the other team who knocked it out of the park—even though your team has been working hard too.

Start Here: 

Yes, advocate for your team. But also take a step back and stay objective.

2. Hoarding Talent

The Problem:

When you’ve spent significant time developing your team, it can be difficult to let them go to another team or department—even if it’s in their best interest, or for the greater good of the organization. After all, who wants to be the farm team for the rest of the company?

Start Here:

Take the long-view. As you become known as a leader who both develops AND supports people’s career growth, you’ll become a magnet for high-potential talent drawn to that kind of support.

3. Unbridled Tenacity

The Problem: 

When you know you’re “right” it can be tough to figure out how to also be effective. When you disagree in front of an audience, particularly if that audience is your boss, even if you’re right, your peers may feel like you’ve thrown them under the bus.

Start Here:

Be willing to lose a battle or two. Stakeholder potentially contentious issues off-line. When conflict arises, pick up the phone instead of shooting off a frustrated email. Resist the urge to work out conflicts in front of others. Resolving coworker conflict is not a spectator sport.

4. Not Spending Enough Time Together

The Problem:

It’s easy to under-invest in coworker relationships. Leaders tend to focus on their team and boss first and hope the peer relationships will evolve naturally. Just like any human interaction, coworker relationships take time and energy to grow properly.

In addition, peer relationships are naturally tricky since you’re often competing in a stack rack, for resources or for senior leader attention.

Start Here:

Make a deliberate investment in the relationship. Take time to understand your coworker’s goals and objectives. Ask them what worries them and how you can help. Break bread. Learn about who they are outside of work. Invest in their success.

5. Not Asking For Help

The Problem:

When you know your coworkers are slammed, you don’t want to ask for help. But if others are reaching out and supporting one another, not asking for help can be perceived as arrogance.

Start Here: 

Take time to understand your coworkers’ strengths and areas of expertise. Ask for their advice or support from time-to-time. Of course, be sure to offer your support in return.

6. Not Acknowledging Their Contribution

The Problem: 

Okay, suppose they did help you. And now you’re getting praise for your great work. But forget to mention their support. And now they’re ticked.

Start Here:

Be gracious in your public gratitude and go out of your way to make a big deal out of the support you’ve received from others— particularly in front of the people that matter most to your peers.

7. Withholding Best Practices

The Problem:

Often high-performers will share if asked but are too busy (or competitive) to do so proactively. Or they don’t share because they don’t want to look braggy. Meanwhile, people are wasting time spinning their wheels because they’re unaware that a coworker has already figured out a better way.

Start Here:

Suggest ways to make it easy and natural for your team to regularly share best practices (here are some ideas on how to do that).

Sometimes when you’re moving fast and working hard, it’s easy to slip off of one of these slippery slopes and damage a peer relationship. It’s never to late invest more deeply for greater influence and impact.

Your turn.

What else would you add? What do you see as the biggest mistakes derailing coworker relationships?

make useless performance feedback helpful

How to Make No-good, Useless Performance Feedback Helpful

Don’t let useless performance feedback sap motivation.

My phone buzzed with a text message from Amena, a young manager. “Just had annual eval – most useless performance feedback ever.”

I’d coached this woman—a hardworking, strategic thinker who passionately cared about the company and its customers. Another text quickly followed the first: “My eval was ‘good’ on everything except where I was ‘very good’ at getting along with people.”

Which was rapidly followed by this:

useless performance feedback text

Have you experienced her frustration? Too often, meaningless platitudes followed by a vague assertion that something you’ve never heard about should have been better are the norm.

Because many managers lack the courage or know-how to give meaningful feedback and help their people grow, they default to no-good, useless performance feedback that isn’t just a waste of time—it’s painful and destructive.

But like you, most leaders don’t intend to give poor feedback or hurt people, so what goes wrong?

Characteristics of Useless Performance Feedback

Three characteristics make performance feedback so destructive. If you can identify and avoid these three problems, you’re on your way to helping your people achieve great results and becoming a leader they can rely on and trust.

Problem #1: One-sided Feedback

People need to hear what they’re doing well. They also need to know where they aren’t getting the job done. Many managers err on one side or the other.

Some managers hang in the land of “great work, love what you’re doing” and never address real performance concerns or tell their people how they can grow. This frustrates people who want to do a good job. Your top performers want to excel, and if you don’t help them, they’ll find a leader who will.

Other managers live in the world of “I’ll encourage you when it’s perfect—and there’s no such thing as perfect.” This one-sided barrage of critical feedback and improvement plans demoralizes people. If nothing they do will ever be good enough, why bother?

Solution: Balance your Ratios

People need encouragement and they need to hear what’s not working. You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, less of what you criticize and ignore. So, address both.

Consistently encourage what’s working. When someone isn’t performing well, talk about it. However, unless your team member has specifically asked for feedback, avoid the dreaded “sandwich method” where you shove something negative between two niceties.

That feels manipulative—or they might focus on your positive comments and ignore what you were really trying to say.

Problem #2: Vague Feedback

Another critical feedback mistake is to speak in vague generalities. Examples include the feedback Amena received that she hadn’t “been very productive in the last three months” as well as statements like:

  • “You’re doing great.”
  • “You rocked it back there.”
  • “You need to step up.”
  • “You’ve got a great/poor attitude.”

Notice that both encouraging and critical feedback can be vague and general. There are a couple of problems with vague feedback. First, the person doesn’t know what they did well (or poorly) so it’s unlikely to reinforce or change behavior.

Second, when you address a general characteristic, like someone’s attitude, you’ve put yourself in an impossible situation. You can’t actually know what their attitude is. Their attitude is an internal set of feelings and thoughts. You’re not seeing an attitude; you’re seeing behaviors that you interpret as a great or poor attitude.

Speaking in vague generalities often results in frustration, misunderstandings, and doesn’t encourage performance.

Solution: Address Specific Behaviors

When you encourage someone, be specific about what they did and why it mattered. Eg: “I really appreciate the extra time you spent solving that client’s problem this morning. I know they’re difficult. You showed so much patience. They called me this afternoon to let me know how much they appreciate the firm and will be renewing their account.”

When you need to share feedback about something that isn’t going well, you can use the INSPIRE Method to plan for and hold the conversation. The N step in INSPIRE stands for “Noticing” a specific behavior.

Be specific. Eg: “I noticed that you came into the meeting fifteen minutes after it started.” Or “I noticed that when your colleagues brought up ideas in this morning’s meeting, you interrupted them with negative comments.”

Where a vague generality leads to defensiveness, a specific observation is the start of a conversation.

Problem #3: Delayed Feedback

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the feedback Amena received is that she didn’t hear about it for months.

Without looking at your calendar, you probably don’t remember what you did three weeks ago, much less three months. When you wait weeks or months to reflect on someone’s performance, you have no chance of changing behavior.

Moreover, as Amena shouted in her text, if it was wrong back then, why didn’t you say something? It’s a fair question. Formal performance evaluations should never contain any surprises.

Solution: Do it Now

Encourage and redirect your people as close as possible to the event you’re reacting to. The more time that goes by, the less meaningful your feedback.

One barrier to quick feedback is unclear or vague expectations. One of the most common problems leaders bring us are team members who aren’t performing to their expectations. We always ask two questions:

1) If we asked the person what success looks like, would they have the same answer you do?

If not, that’s the first conversation to have. Reset expectations and go from there.

(Often, the leader will ask us, “Do I really need to do that? Shouldn’t they just know?” The answer is yes, you do; and no, they won’t. Be clear and eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding.)

2) Have you told them that there’s a problem?

Too often, the answer to this question is version of “No, not really.” It’s magical thinking to believe that someone will spontaneously decide that their behavior isn’t working when all the evidence they have says that everything is fine. Have an INSPIRE conversation that gets results and builds the relationship.

Your Turn

You can transform useless performance feedback into helpful, energizing, and productive conversations when you consistently encourage, correct when needed, address specific behaviors, and share feedback quickly.

We’d love to hear from you, what’s your number one way to prevent no-good, useless performance feedback and have productive conversations that help everyone grow?

See Also: Avoid These Infuriating Phrases When Giving End-Of-Year Feedback

5 Reasons Your Team Just Doesn't Get It

5 Reasons Your Team Just Doesn’t Get It

When your team just doesn’t get it, you’ve got a chance to level up.

It’s a lament we’ve heard from many leaders—usually accompanied by frustrated pacing or a discouraged slouch with their head in their hands: “I don’t know what else to do. My team just doesn’t get it.”

This is one of the most frustrating leadership experiences. You’re working hard, moving fast, and passionate about what you do, but your people seem clueless. They don’t focus on the MITs (Most Important Thing). They seem lackadaisical about the details that matter most, and they don’t seem worried at all about the strategic issues keeping you up at night.

5 Reasons Your Team Just Doesn’t Get It (and what to do about it)

1. They don’t know what you know.

You earned that insight, energy, and wisdom. You know what’s likely to happen because you’ve been there. But your people might not get it because they don’t have your experience or knowledge.

Have you ever tried to describe the taste of an orange to someone who’s never eaten one? It’s challenging. It’s so fundamental that you’ll use it as a baseline for other conversations: “It tastes like an orange, only more bitter.” But someone who’s never tasted an orange won’t get it. You’ve got to start with them tasting an orange and build from there.

If you want your people to be able to think as you do, give them the same information you used to decide. Connect what they do to the strategic reasons for their work. Help them understand how their decisions affect the customers, their team, and themselves.

2. You haven’t said it so they understand it.

We are professional communicators. We speak for a living—and yet, just this week, Karin said to David, “Can you finish one of those sentences? I’m not following you.”

Later that day, David looked at Karin and said, “I understand all the words you just said, but feel like I’m missing something important.” Communication isn’t always easy—even for professionals!

You probably don’t communicate as clearly as you think you do. In fact, we can almost guarantee it.

The words in your head make sense to you, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have the same meaning for another person—if they even hear all of them. Your message winds its way through an obstacle course of competing priorities, distractions, and the filters each person has in their head.

To guarantee that people hear and receive your most critical messages, use 5×5 communication (say it five times, five different ways) and check for understanding (ask people to share what they heard, using their own words).

When you use five different ways of communicating and consistently check for understanding, you will find the communication tools that work most effectively for your people.

3. You hired the wrong person.

There are also times where someone doesn’t get it because their values don’t align with yours or they lack the skills they need to perform well.  One of the most common places this happens is in demanding, stressful jobs. Desperate for bodies, recruiters undersell the challenges and what it takes to thrive in the role.

If you’re regularly hearing exit interviews like “It was way harder than I expected” or “This isn’t what I thought it would be” then it’s time to look at your hiring process.

When a role or culture is demanding, don’t shy away from it. We have both hired for teams that asked more from people than most people would want to give. Don’t hide it; lead with it. Eg: “This role isn’t for most people. It’s demanding and hard. And it will give you an opportunity to make a real difference to our customers, clients, and your career.”

Follow up with behavior-based interview questions that help you identify if your candidates have shown this character, capacity, and values they’ll need to succeed.

4. They get it—and wish you would too.

It’s quite possible that you’re the one who doesn’t get it.

Doug is a senior leader who was frustrated by his team’s performance. He’d done an incredible job training them in the methods and processes that he’d introduced and that had fueled his company’s success over the past twenty years.

The problem was that technology had changed. His customers, and the way they consumed his product, had changed. Doug had been a victim of his own success. His people understood their customer and half-heartedly met Doug’s expectations while trying to fulfill their customer’s expectations.

His team got it. But Doug had to relearn what success looked like and how to lead a team that wanted to succeed but needed to do it differently than Doug had.

5. You don’t ask for what you really want.

Another common cause when your team just doesn’t get it is that your measurements ask for something different from what you really want. People focus on getting a score and forget the game. Common examples include:

  • The target has changed recently, but you haven’t updated your 5×5 communication and measurement strategy. Everyone’s still working toward the old definition of success.
  • People hit their KPIs, but focus on them exclusively and ignore the strategy or experience that the numbers represent.
  • Too many measurements obscure what matters most. Eg: Your customer service checklist has 54 items and people can score well on the rubric without providing a great customer experience.
  • You had a hidden benchmark that you never shared. You likely took this measurement for granted, but then realized that people with different experiences or personalities needed to know it’s important.

The key to solving the measurement problem is to ask clearly for what you want. Help everyone focus on a few meaningful metrics that paint a complete picture of success. Connect those numbers to the strategy and the specific behaviors that make the numbers meaningful.

One way to know that your team gets it is frequently to check for understanding about what truly matters most. Eg “Why do we track these referrals—what does that represent? What should it mean when the numbers are good? What do we do that gets us the numbers we want to see?”

These questions are brief micro-engagements that continually reconnect your people to the strategy and behaviors behind the numbers.

Your Turn

It’s frustrating when your team just doesn’t get it, but it’s also a huge chance to get better and improve your leadership, processes, or communication. We’d love to hear from you: What have you learned when your team just doesn’t get it that made you a better leader?

how to manage a strong but arrogant high-performer

How to Manage a Strong, Arrogant, Slightly Obnoxious High-Performer

When it comes to results—no one can touch him. There’s just one problem. He’s a jerk. How do you manage a strong, arrogant, slightly obnoxious high-performer?

A Profile of a Slighty Obnoxious High Performer

They come in all shapes and forms. “Dan” is charismatic and handsome, plus two espresso shots of attitude.

“Megan” is blonde, with a great purse, an MBA from a top 25, and a sarcastic streak that makes everyone in her wake feel like crap.

“Joe” can out-gun anyone with a spreadsheet at twenty paces, but ignores you if you can’t outwit his wittiness.

“Art” knows more about your business than you. He’s seen it all. But instead of helping others learn, he’s constantly talking about how he’s “just about done” with all the rookies.

You didn’t select them, but here they are on your team. They drive results, with implications.

Your bosses’ boss loves them—after all, they’re at the top of every stack rank report they see. So coaching feels tricky.

What should you do?

Door Number 1:  Ignore the issues. Be grateful for the results. And pray they move on before they do too much damage to the team?

OR

Door Number 2:  Be the brave leader who has the tough conversation, and helps them understand their impact while helping them develop their full potential?

Sadly, I see so many “leaders” grit their teeth, complain to their spouse, and slip quietly through door number 1, praying that the next leader who manages this obnoxious high-performer will have more courage.

Why?

  • “After all, this guy’s clearly high-potential.” (Read that: “I’m worried I’ll work for him someday and don’t want to burn any bridges.”
  • “I’m not sure I’m as smart as him. I’d better shut up and listen.” (Read that: “I’m insecure.”)
  • “Sure, she’s obnoxious, but she gets damn good results, and goodness knows we need that right now.”  (Read that: “Why not? Everyone else does.”)
  • “She’s ticking off all her peers, but … maybe she’ll raise the bar.” (Read that: “Crap, maybe this confident humility stuff is all bunk, time to unsubscribe from LGL.”)

6 Tips for Managing a Slightly Obnoxious High-Performer

What To Do Behind Door #2

If you’re leading for long-term success, head directly to door number 2.

1. Show Concern

Start with acknowledging their competence and impact. Something like, “You’re smart and your results are on fire.  AND I’m deeply concerned that the way you’re showing up is going to derail your career. Would you be open to some exploration around this issue?”

2. Show Her the Data and Get Specific With Examples

If you’re the boss, your opinion will matter a bit, but not if they see you as a temporary stepping stone to tolerate. Offer a 360-degree assessment, or have him do it himself,

Or as author Julie Winkle Giulioni says, ask them to talk to others and bring you a “plateful of feedback.”

The more you can help them understand the specific behaviors that are ticking others off, the easier it will be to get their attention. It’s quite possible they’re so busy working on results, they’ve lost the peripheral vision necessary for positive relationships.

I’ll never forget the time my boss said to me. “Your peer had a great idea in the last meeting. But you just passed right over it to share yours. You’re not the only one with good ideas around here. How hard would it have been to take out a pen and write that down?”  Yikes.  Amen.

3. Offer Help

When you’re passionate and great at what you do, it’s tricky to see how annoying you are. Ask for permission to point it out the next time. Invent a secret signal if needed.

4. Set a Goal

Get them focused on a specific goal of supporting another on the team and advocating for their ideas. Build that into their formal development plan. Even if they are not interested in being a people manager, being difficult to work with is never a good long-term career strategy.

5. Help Them Navigate the Narrative

If their intentions are good, but they’re coming across a bit braggy, tell them about this Harvard research.  Why Managers Should Reveal Their Failures (HBR Ascend),  and help them on their internal re-branding strategy.

6. Consider Making the Tough Choice

It’s easy to get sucked into the trap of thinking you have no choice but to accept the behavior. Be sure you’re looking at the bigger picture and the drain on the productivity and morale of the rest of your team. Are you losing other “A players” (or even solid B players) because they don’t want to work with this person? See also: Why Leaders Should Not Be Afraid to Fire Their Top Performer (Inc.)

Your turn.

What advice do you have for managing an obnoxious high-performer?

3 Most Important Leadership Skills

3 of the Most Important Leadership Skills Your Leaders Hope You Have

Senior leaders share the most important leadership skills to master now.

As we work with senior leaders to build their leadership development programs, the conversation always turns to the most important leadership skills their frontline and middle-level leaders need.

Inevitably, these veteran leaders bring up similar abilities – the skills that differentiate top leaders from their peers. Master these important leadership skills and you’ll build a foundation for success throughout your career.

If you’re responsible for training or building leaders in your organization, how can you ensure that they learn and practice these skills?

The 3 Most Important Leaders Skills

1. Time management

We’ve never met a leader with too much time on their hands. In fact, this is isn’t just a skill that senior leaders identify—every leader we’ve ever met talks about the challenge of prioritizing their overwhelming flood of responsibilities, meetings, and day-to-day crises.

You can’t lead when you’re exhausted or reactively flipping back and forth from one crisis to the next. So how do you master time management?

The first step is to reframe your goal. Most people think of time management as “How can I squeeze more activity into my day?” But more isn’t always the answer. Rather, focus on how you can do what matters most and make the most difference with the time you have.

My mantra is: Infinite need. Finite me. Mind the MIT.

“Infinite need” means that there will always be one more activity you could do. That never ends. You’ll never finish the list. Let go of that desire.

“Finite me” recognizes your limits—limited time, energy, and money.

“Mind the MIT” calls you to focus on what matters most. MIT stands for Most Important Thing. What matters most for your business, your team, and the results you need to achieve? What are the two or three critical activities that will consistently produce those results?

Once you know your MITs, time management is about making room for what matters most. Some of your schedule is outside of your control (though you can have more influence if you can show the RoI), but as a leader, you have several ways to free up time to do the work only you can do.

2. Practice Accountability & Tough Conversations

Recently we spoke with a high performing leader about the best leaders in her life. She was unequivocal: “The best leaders I’ve ever had were the ones who cared about me enough to tell me what I was doing that wasn’t working and then showed me how I could be more effective.”

Your ability to achieve breakthrough results depends on your skill at tough conversations. Most leaders live in the twilight zone of vague conversations that don’t directly address struggling performers because they don’t want to hurt the relationship or lose the person.

If you struggle to have direct conversations, start by recognizing that if you really care about someone and their career, a direct conversation honors them and is compassionate. Then, equip yourself with the tools to do it well.

The I.N.S.P.I.R.E. method will help you prepare for and hold a performance conversation that builds your relationship and achieves results.

3. Work from the Why

In another recent conversation, an executive described her most effective managers: “They understand what matters most to our clients and how our KPIs relate to serving the customer. They get that the KPIs are there to serve the customer.”

This leadership skill has increased in prominence over the past decade. Work from the why starts with a clear grasp of your business, how it serves its customers, and how it operates financially.

Working from the why is about helping your team to understand why you do what you do, connecting everything you ask of your team to a meaningful reason you’re asking it, and then helping team members understand the specific behaviors that lead to successful outcomes.

Working from the why transforms “busy” into game-changing results. The connection to meaning and purpose energizes team members and inspires performance.

What are Your Most Important Leadership Skills?

Leaders consistently list these three as some of the most important leadership skills you can have—but they’re not the only ones we hear. Also, high on the list are communication, connection with your team, and motivating your team.

Leave us a comment and add your thoughts: What is one of the most important leadership skills you hope every leader brings to their team?