best leadership insights of 2019

Leaders Share the Best Leadership Insights of 2019: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival!  This month, our contributors share their Best leadership insights of 2019 which we’ve loosely organized in our Winning Well principles of confidence, humility, results, and relationships.

Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors for an amazing year!

For 2020, we will welcome new contributors to join us by contributing articles, videos and podcasts. Each month, we’ll also include a special Asking for a Friend. to highlight new leadership authors. January’s topic is achieving better results in 2020.  Click here to submit links to your content!

Wise Words about Results

Sean GlazeSean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding asks How Do You Create Buy-In and Get People to Go All-In on ANY Team? This is one of the great challenges of teammates who care or team leaders who are struggling to inspire commitment. Follow Sean.


Tony Mastri of Marion Marketing gives us Nine of the Best B2B Marketing Strategies and Examples.  Effective B2B marketing is essential to many businesses, but it’s not always intuitive. This article covers 9 of the best business to business marketing strategies that continue to work in 2019 and beyond. Use these examples to improve your own marketing efforts in the new year!  Follow Tony.


Jesse Lynn StonerJesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership writes How to Create Shared Values that Guide Your Team to Greater Heights. These 7 guidelines will help you create shared team values that create a deeper level of trust, increase collaboration and achieve great results.  Follow Jesse.


Best Leadership Insights on Relationships

S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture provides a Culture Leadership Charge: Work Culture is in the Leader’s Hands. In this short video and post, Chris emphasizes that the prime drivers of work culture are senior leaders – for better or worse. If senior leaders model respect and kindness, their work culture will embrace those qualities. Follow Chris.

 Ed KrowEd Krow of Ed Krow, LLC offers Using Organizational Development to Drive Culture.  Most people use the terms “organizational development” and “human resources” interchangeably. However, there are some notable differences between what an organizational development professional does on a regular basis and what an HR professional does on a regular basis. Follow Ed.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader asks, Is it Ever Justified to Yell? We see business people, sports coaches, and other leaders yell at their teams. Is there ever a context where it’s acceptable? Or is there a better way? Follow Paul.


Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership provides Leadership: Things We Don’t Say Often Enough. We talk a lot, but there are some things we just don’t say often enough. Follow Wally.


Beth BeutlerBeth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited presents It’s Okay: A Powerful Word that Helps You Stay Honest … But that You Must Handle with Care. This one powerful word can help you minimize conflict while staying honest … depending on the tone with which you say it. Follow Beth.

Best Leadership Insights on Confidence

Ann Howell of Howell Leadership Science asks Are You a Shock Absorber or a Shock Amplifier? Emotional stability determines how you react to difficult situations and your effectiveness at work. Follow Ann.


Rachel Blakely-GrayRachel Blakely-Gray of Patriot Software, LLC  gives us 7 Staying Healthy at Work Tips.  Whether it’s flu season or not, staying healthy at work can be difficult for many employers and employees alike. Use the seven tips in this article to help you be more confident about staying healthy in 2020.  Follow Rachel.


Lisa Kohn from Chatsworth Consulting Group provides “I Shouldn’t Get Angry” and Other Myths that Can Negatively Impact Your Leadership and Your Life, a guide to acknowledging – and letting go of – your judgment and radically accepting what’s around and within you, so you can lead – and live – more powerfully. Follow Lisa.


Ken Downer of Rapid Start Leadership provides Change the Game: 7 Ways to Build Teammates Who Can Do More. Like playing a board game, as leaders, we often find ourselves simply accepting the players we have and moving them around the board as best we can. If we’re smart, we can change the game in a way that makes our players far more capable than when we began. Follow Ken.


Great Thoughts on Humility

Laura Schroeder of Working Girl provides Great Leadership Isn’t About You. Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes but they have ONE thing in common. Follow Laura. 



John EadesJohn Eades of Learnloft provides Why Bad Leaders Fall in Love with Their Title. There’s a good chance a title is hurting your ability to effectively lead. A title can be a distraction from the actual responsibility of leadership.  Follow John.


Eileen McDargh of The Energizer shares Raise Your Resiliency through Compassion.  Feeling compassion may go a long way to improving well-being, reducing stress and achieving better academic results, according to a study recently released by researchers from the University of Redlands. Follow Eileen.


David GrossmanDavid Grossman of The Grossman Group offers Trust in the Workplace: 6 Steps to Building Trust with Employees.  A leader’s ability to inspire and motivate employees is based on trust. Here are 6 ways that leaders at all levels can build trust in the workplace.  Follow David.



We are truly grateful to work with such amazing leadership thinkers to produce this Frontline Festival each month. We wish all of our contributors good health and happiness in the New Year.

stretch goals: how to motivate your team

Stretch Goals: How to Motivate and Challenge Your Team

It’s that time of year. All around the world teams are being handed stretch goals that feel more like a delusion than a challenge. If this is happening to you, and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, don’t give up hope.

I’ve felt that sinking “There’s no way to pull this off” feeling more times than I can count—and yet most of the time, the team rallied to the challenge and achieved more than they ever thought possible. You can too. Time to rally the team.

6 Ways to Approach Impossible Stretch Goals

It starts by making big goals feel small and then getting curious about new ways to approach the work.

1. Break down the numbers

I was listening to a Senior Vice President tee-up my keynote to his frontline team.

His math to achieve the stretch goal was brilliant. If they could move the needle 1% on a key performance metric, they would save 2 million dollars! And if they saved that money, it would completely change their margins and enable them to reinvest in some of the additional programs the employees really wanted.

It’s pretty hard to argue that it’s impossible to improve 1%. And he had clearly communicated a compelling “why” that got their attention.

That afternoon, we worked so that every manager left that meeting with specific behavioral commitments to improving their results  (which we collected in an online forum.)

I did a similar math exercise when I was in my sales exec role.

Instead of setting a goal of moving our team from 2% of our revenue coming from small and medium business sales to 20% (which we eventually achieved) we simply asked each sales rep to close one small deal (of at least 5 lines).

We knew it would only take 80% of the team hitting that manageable target to gain real momentum. Five lines sounded quite doable and in a few months, most of the team was there and had gained confidence they could do more.

2. And then stop talking about the numbers

The focus on the number is to make the big goals feel small. AND talking about numbers doesn’t actually build confidence or competence. Once you’ve broken down the goal resist the urge to make your daily conversations about the number—instead focus on consistently performing one or two vital behaviors you know will make an impact.

3. Uncover best practices

Pay close attention to who is knocking the results out of the park and why. Don’t just ask. Get out there and observe them in action. They may not even know why they are successful.

4. Encourage innovative ideas

If it’s really a stretch, it’s unlikely that just executing flawlessly on your current plan is enough. And it’s likely your team has ideas on how to work smarter. In our recent research, 40% of participants said they lacked the confidence to bring forward a new idea, and 67% said the reason they didn’t share their ideas was that no one asked. Be specific about the areas where you could use your team’s best thinking.

Note: See more in our article in Recruiter: Breaking the Safe Silence: Building a Culture Where People Share Their (Good) Ideas

5. Build friendly team competitions

Pair off your team into performance-enhancing diads. The idea is to pick someone who is high-performing in the skill you’re trying to cultivate and one who is struggling. Then you give them a joint target to hit. Any diads that achieve the joint goal win a prize. Since the teams are only competing against their collective target, not one another, encourage the diads to share best practices with one another as well. Everyone wins. Results improve quickly.

6. Change up your weekly one-on-ones

Our clients who regularly use our weekly MIT one-on-one huddle planner (which you can download for free here) tell us it’s made an incredible impact on their ability to hit their targets. It helps keep the team focused on specific behaviors in terms of results and relationships, as well as talking about how the manager can help remove barriers

Your turn: What are your best ideas for helping your team achieve stretch goals?

See Also:

How to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing

Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

Best Kept Secrets: Getting Your Team to Share Best Practices

how to lead when your team is exhausted

How to Lead When Your Team is Exhausted

Most of us get there from time to time. You’re stuck in a season where everything feels urgent. It’s one thing to push yourself, but what do you do when you know your team is exhausted too?

That Moment When Your Team is Exhausted

“I’m so sorry,” Karin whispered before he could even say hello. It was Sunday afternoon, and the third time she called that day. After a long week of crises, the senior team needed more updates  – on top of the heroic efforts the team was doing all weekend to improve the situation.

Her Ops Director, Tim, graciously spoke what they both knew was technically true, “Karin, no worries, this is my job.” But after a long couple of weeks,  she knew he was tired. They all were.

She hated to keep pushing, but Tim was the guy with the answers. She needed him and he knew it. But it was a Sunday and his family needed him too.

Has this ever happened to you? How do you lead well when your team is exhausted?

7 Ways to Lead Well When Your Team is Tired

You can’t possibly lead well from a constant state of urgency.  And if you’re living in a world where chronic urgency is the norm,  something’s wrong. But when the going gets tough, plan your triage.

1. Strategize Failure

Sure, the business needs you to do all the things. But the truth is that not all activities will have the same impact on your results. Help your team understand what matters most. Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission. Make it okay to be less than perfect on some deliverables so they can focus on the behaviors and activities that will have the biggest impact.

2. Visualize the Win

To offer hope, help them visualize what’s on the other side of this stressful mess. Brainstorm creative tactics and alternative approaches to achieving success, including leveraging talents and skills outside their normal job description. Help your team visualize and talk about what it will feel like when they’ve succeeded.

3. Celebrate Progress

When you’re under intense stress, it’s hard to think about finding time for celebration and recognition—after all, every minute not spent working on the work comes at a cost.

And, your team needs to notice you noticing.

Find small ways to celebrate and have a bit of fun along the way. Your team will be more energized and productive when know you care about them and the work they are putting in. It can also be good to plan and communicate a “when we get through this” celebration plan that gives the team something to collectively look forward to.

4. Manage Your Own Stress

If you’re freaking out, your team will too. Stress amplifies as it rolls downhill.

5. Provide a Little Leave

The normal response to overwhelmed is longer hours and fewer breaks. Review their calendars and help them find white space.  Eliminate unnecessary meetings. Stepping back will leave room for creativity and more efficient approaches.

6. Check-in on the Whole Team

Your highest performers won’t complain. They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done. You may not even know they’re tired. Initiate the conversation. Establish regular check-ins to see how everyone’s doing.

7Encourage Collaboration & Sharing of Best Practices

Fast-paced pressure creates silos. Catalyze best practice sharing. Eliminate redundant work. Benchmark how other departments are approaching similar issues. Ask for help from unusual suspects. You’ll get support and it will enhance their development.

And most importantly, if you’re thinking, “yeah exhausted is just a way of life around here,” it might be time for a “How can we?” conversation. “How can we achieve the high-performance we want, without leading a frantic lifestyle and burning out our team?” Or as Basecamp founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say “choose calm over crazy” and find sustainable practices that can run for the long-term.

 Your turn.

What are your best practices for leading when your team is exhausted?

Stop emailing when you should have a meeting

Stop Emailing When You Should Have a Meeting

Have a meeting for more bandwidth and speed.

Recently we were delivering a leadership development program when Annia, a senior leader in the firm, raised her hand and addressed the room: “I’ve noticed that many of us quickly send an email rather than picking up the phone or when we could have a meeting in person. I know I’ve done it too – you just want to get the issue off your list. Maybe I’m old-school here, but it seems to me that we can’t build relationships or solve problems as quickly by email.”

Some younger leaders in the room smiled sheepishly and admitted that they were very comfortable communicating by text, voice message, and email, but that they felt awkward on the phone. Others pointed out the efficiency or need for written communication. As they talked, Annia asked us for our insights about when to have a meeting or use other forms of communication.

The Communications Matrix

Your goal is to choose the form of communication that is most effective and efficient for the content you need to convey or discuss. The communications matrix can help you choose the format that will work best for your needs.

There are two variables to modern communication: time and location. People can communicate at the same time or at different times. Communication can happen at the same location or at different locations.

Let’s take a quick look at the different types of communication that happen based on time and location:

Same Time—Same Place: Traditional face-to-face meeting.

Same Time—Different Places: This includes phone calls and video conferences.

Different time—Different Places: Email, text messages, podcasts, group chats, and recorded videos.

Different time—Same Place:  Posters, signs, and kiosks.

leaders communication matrix

None of these forms of communication is always good or better than others. For example, it would be foolish to hold a meeting reminding everyone to remove their personal items from the refrigerator by Friday afternoon so it can be cleaned. A sign on the refrigerator door is adequate.

To choose the best form of communication, you’ve got to pay attention to content.

The Best Communication to Get the Job Done

When you’re deciding whether to have a meeting, make a call, or send an email—think about the emotions involved, what’s at stake, and the speed with which you need to act. Emotion, speed, and importance require bandwidth (the amount of information that given and received in an amount of time).

As you start in the upper right with posters and kiosks, those are very low-bandwidth forms of communication. It will take a while before everyone sees it (and some never will).

Move down to emails and text messages and the bandwidth increases. Everyone is likely to see the message and (if you’ve established team norms) and take action. Email is best for short amounts of information that don’t require discussion and have little emotion.

Now, move over to the lower left where phone calls and video conferences increase the bandwidth. You can pick up meaning and emotion text doesn’t allow and make decisions more rapidly.

Finally, as you move to the upper left quadrant with face-to-face meetings, you have the maximum bandwidth. The full spectrum of non-verbals, tone, inflection, and human connection allows you to decide more quickly, engage in higher-emotion conversations, and build relationships.

When to Have a Meeting

Effective leaders choose the best form of communication for their purpose. Like Annia recommended, when you want to build a relationship or talk about a difficult subject, use the highest bandwidth form of communication you can. Face-to-face if possible. If that’s not an option, then video chat, and then a phone call. For a quick meeting recap, background information, or question, email is often perfect.

Leaders who haven’t mastered the communication matrix send emails when they should have a meeting and call a meeting when an email would have sufficed. That wastes everyone’s time and frustrates your people.

Look at your content and purpose, then choose the lowest bandwidth form of communication that will get the job done.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share your best suggestion for when to have a meeting vs sending an email.

You might also like:

Three Simple Secrets to Remarkable Meetings

How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meeting

Meetings that Get Results and People Want to Attend (podcast)

Should You Have a Meeting or Send an Email (podcast)



How to get your team to trust you

How to Get Your New Team to Trust You

Helping your new team to trust you takes time.

Do you ever wish your new team would talk to your last team? That would save so much precious time. If you could just get your new team to trust you, you’d get on to making your usual magic. But it’s never as simple as that. If you’re good, you may feel you deserve a better reception from your new team. You may warrant a warm reception, but they don’t know you, the last guy was a jerk (or a superstar), and they’re still recovering.

7 Ways to Get Your New Team to Trust You

1. Don’t Badmouth their Last Manager

If they had a poor leader before you, the more you listen, the worse the stories will sound. Or perhaps they had a superstar whose shoes you need to fill. It might tempt you to trash the guy before you. It may feel good and make you feel like a hero, but you don’t want to go there. Build your credibility on your own merits. No good ever comes from tearing down another person. Besides, you never know the whole story. Listen, reflect the emotions you hear (eg: that sounds like it was frustrating – or awesome), then let it go, and focus on your leadership. And while you’re listening …

2. Go One by One

The best way to get to know a new team is one person at a time. Invest deeply one-on-one. Learn about what they need, what they want, and what they most yearn to give. Get to know each person as a human being.

3. Listen and then Listen More

One powerful listening technique begins as you meet with each team member individually. Ask each person these vision-building questions:

  • At our very best, what do you think this team can achieve?
  • What do we need to do to get there?
  • As the leader of the team, how can I help us get there?

These questions get everyone thinking about the future, not lingering in the past.

4. Share Stories

The team longs for signs you are credible and competent. Share a bit about your leadership track record of results—framing it with stories of what your previous teams could achieve (not what you achieved). You want them thinking about how awesome they can be, not how awesome you are.

5. Get Some Early Wins

Find two or three achievable goals that will help create a sense of momentum. Nothing builds credibility faster than success. Generate some early wins to build confidence.

6. Let them see you

Tell the truth. Be vulnerable. Let them know who you are, what scares you, and what excites you. Show up human. Your new team needs your authenticity.

7. Prove That They Matter

As you get to know them as human beings, meet each person where they are. Help the person who wants exposure to get visibility. Help the one who wants to grow to learn a new skill. Take a bullet or two when things go wrong. Give them the credit when it goes well.

The team needs to know you care about them and their careers at least as much as you care about your own. First impressions matter, for you and for them. Don’t judge their early skeptical behavior, or assume they’re disengaged or don’t care. If they sense your frustration, that will only increase their defensiveness.

Your Turn

Every relationship takes time and getting your new team to trust you is no different. When you invest deeply at the beginning, you’ll build a strong foundation for long-term, breakthrough results.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share your #1 way to help your new team to trust you.

More You Might Like:

10 Questions Your Team is Afraid to Ask

How to Build a Strong Team Vision

How to Encourage Your Team When Results are Disappointing

10 Stories Great Leaders Tell (podcast)

How to build a better boss

How to Build a Better Boss

A better boss starts with a good relationship and great performance.

A listener to a recent episode of my Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast asked a question about how she could tell her leader about the content she’d learned. Her heart was in the right place. She wanted to help – and build a better boss in the process.

It’s a common question that we hear all the time: My boss needs this. How can I help them get it?

My default answer to this question is to use what you’ve learned first. Take the journey and then you can invite others on the journey with you.

Most people don’t respond well to a team member running in and telling them “Hey I just learned this thing and you’re doing it all wrong!” That’s why we encourage every workshop audience to avoid SASRNT syndrome (So and so really needs this) by first using what they’ve learned.

However, there are times where you will have useful insights and wisdom that could truly help your boss to lead more effectively or make their life easier. How do you get an audience and share those items in a way that gives them the best chance for a receptive audience?

Build Your Relationship

As with every aspect of leadership, the better your relationship, the more influence you will have. This isn’t always easy—you may not have direct access. Your personalities may be different. But if you want to influence your boss, it starts with a relationship.

Think about how you want others to view you and treat you with worth and dignity. Start there. Treat your boss with the same worth and dignity you want. Don’t allow yourself to reduce that person to a single word. The key to building a better boss is to start by seeing the valuable human being behind the title and role.

Build Your Credibility

As an executive, I received ideas and feedback from many people throughout the organization. When a high-performer brought an idea, their idea likely got an immediate audience. If you’re struggling with your performance, it’s less likely that you’ll find a receptive ear. That may feel unfair, but it’s how things work. Don’t let your poor performance prevent your input from being heard.

Build a track record of success so that when you say, “Hey, I’ve noticed this area where we can improve our efficiency,” it sounds like a credible idea and not a complaint or excuse for poor performance.

Ask Permission

When you want to bring your boss or colleague an idea that they could interpret as critical, it’s often useful to ask permission. For example:

“I came across this way to make sure we’re all on the same page with our expectations around email communication. I know we’ve been struggling with that as a team, would you be interested in taking a look? If it looks good, I’d be willing to facilitate the conversation at our next meeting.”

When you ask permission like this, you switch from a potential “attack” to become a resource that helps everyone improve.

Asking permission also gives the other person a chance to decide if they’re open for feedback at that moment. They may not be (we all have times where we’re overwhelmed and can hear even the best idea). If they say no, honor it. You might ask if there would be a better time to have the discussion, but if there’s not, it’s time to leave it alone for now.

Detach Yourself  

In my career, this is often the most challenging step. Once you’ve shared the idea, given your feedback, and made the suggestion—emotionally set it down, let it go, and walk away.

Give the other person the freedom to wrestle with what they’ve learned without it becoming a matter of whether they’ll disappoint you. You are not the idea. Your worth doesn’t depend on them seeing the same opportunity you did. They’ve got their own journey and they’re doing the best they can.

I’m not making excuses for them should they consciously choose a path of poor leadership. That’s their responsibility, not yours.

You’ve taken responsibility, found a potentially useful idea, shared it so people could hear it, and offered to help do it. That’s good.

Detach your self-worth and wellbeing from what they do with it. As they do their work, get back to your team. Make sure you’re doing what you’ve asked your boss to do. Lead them well and be the leader you’d want your boss to be.

How do You Build a Better Boss?

Influencing your leader depends on many factors outside of your control. Unfortunately, some people aren’t interested in better performance or personal growth. But if they are, these four steps will help you influence your leader and help them grow.

I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share How do you influence your leader and help build a better boss?

Other Helpful Tools for Managing Up

Three Behaviors That Will Convince Your Boss You’re a Rock Star

How to Talk to Your Boss When You Totally Disagree

How to Get Your Boss Excited About Your New Idea


how to encourage your team when results are disappointing

How to Encourage Your Team When Results are Disappointing

What do you do when everyone gets an “A” for effort, but the results are disappointing? How do you encourage your team while building a recovery plan?

6 Ways to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing

It’s easy to lead when your team is on fire with fantastic results. You’re happy. Your boss is happy. Your team is happy. But even the best leaders face tricky circumstances when, despite great plans, long hours, and hard work, the results aren’t there.

Today we share six ways to encourage your team while you work on your recovery strategy.

1. Acknowledge the Stress

If you’ve got people who really care, failure means big-time stress. Sometimes what your team needs first is a bit of empathy.

Karin remembers one black Friday when she was leading a large retail sales team. She’d been up since 4:00 AM and was driving to as many of her hundred-plus stores as possible to ensure everyone was implementing the plan. They needed a huge day to make their numbers for the quarter. As the hourly text messages came in from their automated reporting system, she could see that despite all the planning and execution they weren’t even close to hitting their forecast.

When the Regional President’s number popped up on her phone (he also was getting the automated texts), she was prepared for an angry rant. Instead, he said,

Karin, pull over the car. I need to talk with you.  I know how stressed you are right now. The results are disappointing. But we had a great plan, and I’m out in the stores too and people are doing the right things. After today is over, we’ll figure out if there’s anything we can do differently next time. But for now, stay safe.  And bring only positive energy into those stores.”

It’s like this reminder from Stell Efti, “Stress just means you give a ____(insert F-bomb here).” If your people do, acknowledge that passion.

2. Take Accountability

When results are disappointing, it’s tempting to look for someone else to blame.

  • “We would sell more if the product line were different.”
  • “Our attrition would be better if our competitor wasn’t paying more.”
  • “My quality results would be higher if I wasn’t assigned to the late shift.”
  • “The employees would be more engaged if this wasn’t a union environment.”

Finger-pointing just wastes emotional energy. Own what you can, and focus on what you can control in the situation.

When Karin’s sales team complained that they needed a different product mix, her favorite response was, “sell the bananas on the truck.” If you have bananas, find the people who need bananas, and meet their needs. Drive to where the banana eaters live. Stop wishing you had mangos. Align your team around what IS in their control, and ask “How can we?” questions.

play the game don't game the score

3. Stay Focused on the Game, Not the Score

When your results are disappointing, it’s tempting to make the conversation about the numbers. But talking about numbers doesn’t change them, behaviors do.

Help your team reflect on the wins. What behaviors ARE working? What best practices move the needle? How can you adapt those best practices to work in other contexts?

Work to identify the critical few behaviors that will have the biggest impact—and have those behaviors at the center of every conversation.

4. Own the U.G.L.Y.

One of our favorite techniques for getting underneath disappointing results is our Own the U.G.L.Y. exercise. Ask 4 simple questions.Own the Ugly

U-What are we underestimating?

G-What’s got to go?

L-Where are we losing?

Y-Where are we missing the yes?

5. Celebrate Progress

When you’re so far away from your goal, it can feel silly to celebrate anything, but that may be exactly what your team needs to regain their mojo. Setting milestone goals and incremental wins can inspire renewed confidence.

6. Keep Perspective

Resilience research shows that people are more likely to recover from a setback if they understand that this problem is just one aspect of their life, not “pervasive.” Meaning, just because you didn’t make your goal doesn’t mean your whole life is a wreck. Help your team keep perspective on what matters most in their lives.

Your turn.

What would you add? What’s your best advice for encouraging your team when results are disappointing?

a big mistake leaders make when answering questions

A Big Mistake Leaders Make When Answering Questions

The wind shifted, the mainsail swung over the boat, and the deck leaned until I found myself staring at water where the horizon used to be. It looked like we were all going to get wet – but I was actually about to receive a leadership lesson in answering questions.

The skipper called out instructions: “David trim the jib … more tension!”

I grabbed the winch handle and began to crank clockwise, hoping to feel tension.


The line moved, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough.

I cranked it the other direction, looked back at Patrick, our skipper, and asked, “Which way should I turn it?”

Patrick’s next words were a powerful leadership moment – but he didn’t answer my question.

At least, not the one I had put into words.

What’s the Real Question?

You might wonder what I was doing controlling tension on the sail when I wasn’t sure how to do it. Hadn’t I been trained?

The answer is yes, but …

I had the privilege of sailing in the San Diego Harbor with several of my colleagues, including our skipper, Patrick Maurer.

Before we left shore Patrick oriented us to the sailboat, explained the vocabulary, gave us instructions and ran us through the roles we could play.  I sat next to the winch that managed tension on the front sail (the jib).

Before we left the dock, he was very clear about how everything operated … especially the winch.

He’d even spelled out the answer to the question I would ask later as the boat leaned precariously: you could turn the winch in either direction.

So I “knew” I could turn it either way–what was it I really wanted to know?

With the boat leaning and seven other passengers counting on me to tighten that line, what I really wanted to know is the same thing your team members often want to know when you’re answering questions:

  • “Am I doing this right?”
  • “Am I going to be okay?”
  • “What do you really want from me?”

Answering Questions

When your team comes to you and asks, “What should I do?” they’re often asking something much deeper. The big mistake leaders make when answering questions is that they answer the immediate question without looking at what’s beneath it.

That’s a mistake because the deeper question reveals an opportunity for your team members to grow. Answer that deeper question and you will build confidence in your people, grow their skills, and free up more of your time.

But if you only answer the question they ask, you can undermine their confidence, keep them dependent on you, and find yourself answering questions all day long with no time for your own work.

Don’t give the answer they want and neglect the answer they need.

If you’re like many leaders, when a team member asks a question for which you know they’ve received training, it can be frustrating.

You might think, “They know this! Why are they wasting my time?”

I would invite you to look a little deeper. In a very short time, you can give them what they need and grow a stronger, more productive team member.

How to Answer the Right Question

When I looked back over my shoulder and asked, “Which way should I turn it?” Patrick calmly, but firmly, answered back, “You can turn it either direction. One way is easier, one way is faster.”

Notice something?

He didn’t answer the question I asked …

I wanted something straightforward: right or left … just tell me!

But he didn’t. Instead, he used a leadership coaching technique called “reducing ambiguity.”

He gave me information that I could use to make my own decision.

(Given that we were tipping over and I was looking down at the water, I chose the ‘faster but harder’ option.)

His words answered my underlying question: “What do you want me to do?” while also giving me the ability to make that decision for myself next time.

From now on, Patrick could spend his time on other aspects of running the sailboat.

And there was something else …

Besides the words he spoke, there was the way he spoke them. Calm. Firm.

His tone answered my other underlying questions: Am I going to be okay? Am I doing this right?

His tone said, “Yes.”

What does your tone say to your team?

Your Turn

When you’re answering questions, spend enough time to figure out what they really need. How do you make sure your team gets answers to their real questions?

You might also like:

9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems on Their Own

The Best Way to Help Employees Have More Confidence

Photos by Craig Price

7 questions to ask yourself to be a better leader

7 Questions to Ask Yourself to Be a Better Leader

To be a better leader, start with you.

When we work with leaders, the first questions we ask usually produce a pause, followed by a thoughtful, “That’s a great question.” If you want to be a better leader, you can use these same questions to examine your motivations and focus your work. Your influence starts with how you lead yourself. Reflecting on your answers to these seven questions will give you a strong foundation to influence others:

1) What do I really want?

When priorities multiply and you’re reactively running around, stop and clarify the M.I.T.  What is the Most Important Thing that you can achieve right now? In the middle of a leadership crisis, nothing provides clarity like this question.

Asking “what do I really want”  helps cut through drama and confusion. What do you want to happen because of your leadership in this situation? Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve been acting from an entirely different set of motivations than what it is you want deep down, where it matters. Many leaders sacrifice influence because they try to be “right” – to prove something, but underneath all that,  what they want is to be effective and accomplish the mission.

2) What are my values and personal mission?

Self-leadership strengthens when you know your own values and understand your purpose—what matters to you, what makes your heart sing when you are most alive. When you work from this energy, it’s naturally attractive to like-minded team members and you motivate almost without knowing it. If you haven’t done this work, it can be worth finding a coach or mentor to help you explore what matters most.

3) Am I choosing problems or trying to avoid problems?

Solving problems is central to meaningful leadership, but many leaders fall into a trap of trying to avoid problems. You don’t get to choose whether you’ll have problems, but often you DO get to choose which set of problems you’ll have. Effective leaders don’t waste time and emotional energy trying to avoid problems. Rather, they put their energy into working on the right set of problems—the ones that get them closer to their vision.

For leaders, it’s not IF problems, but WHICH problems.

For example:

  • Do you want the discomfort of learning how to address poor performance or do you want the discomfort of a team with poor morale and worse results?
  • Do you prefer the pain of changing your strategy or the pain of discovering your team is no longer relevant?

4) Am I willing to pay the cost to be a better leader?

In question #1, you looked at what you really want.

Now it’s time to look at the cost.

When you work to be a better leader and change things, it will include risk, discomfort, being misunderstood, and sacrificing other goals. Are you willing to accept the consequences of pursuing your vision? If not, you can’t possibly expect your team to come along with you.

5) Am I working for my team or myself?

Time to take a hard look in the mirror. No one will truly know the answer to this one but you.

When your decisions are in your heart and your head before you’ve given them a voice, do you filter them through what’s best for you – or best for your team? Are you saying “I”… or “we”?

It’s okay to include your own well-being in your decisions (you are one of the team after all!) But you won’t have influence if your team isn’t at the center of your leadership decisions.

6) How can I achieve the results I want to see?

We love this one because it puts you in the driver’s seat.

When you find yourself frustrated at circumstances, upset that people “just don’t get it”, or discouraged that things didn’t go as you hoped, you’ve got a choice:

Bemoan the unfairness of the universe (which inspires no one) or look at the situation and see where you can take action. Just asking the question completely reframes the situation and can transform a gloomy attitude in seconds.

7) Are my people better off because of their time with me?

This is a critical question if you want to be a better leader and have more influence. When people know that you care about them, that you help them grow, and that they’re more capable, they’ll follow you.

If the answer is yes, keep going. If the answer is no, examine the reasons.

Do you need to improve your skills? Do you need to wrestle with the earlier questions we listed?

Your Turn

We’ve used these 7 questions regularly to help us adjust and refocus when our leadership feels dull or confused.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share: What questions do you use to lead yourself and maintain your influence?

The Best Way to Help Employees Have More Confidence

The Best Way To Help Employees Have More Confidence

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Success Magazine, called 7 Ways to Build Your Employees Confidence. Highlights include:

  • Start with a foundation of deep respect.
  • Be specific about what they are doing well.
  • Give them an opportunity to teach others.
  • Scaffold behaviors as they learn.
  • Celebrate incremental achievements.
  • Encourage them through mistakes and setbacks.
  • And, my favorite, help them to fully prepare.

“Nothing builds confidence more than being the ‘smartest’ guy in the room. The truth is, nine times out of ten, the ‘smartest’ guy in the room is really the most prepared. Let them know that and ensure they do their homework by role playing the scenarios they’re most likely to face. The next time it will be easier.”

These seven ideas are foundational for building confidence. And now, after several years of working with leaders around the world to have more confidence and influence, I realize there’s another vital element to consider: Navigating the tricky “Because I’m a _______” mindset.

Start Here to Build Confidence

We were teaching the  I.N.S.P.I.R.E. model for having tough conversations during a Winning Well program. when “Jana” raised her hand.

“So can you talk about how to use this technique if you are a woman?”

What a fascinating question—particularly since I (a woman) was leading this particular part of the program. I was demonstrating how to give feedback to David (a man).

Our approach teaches managers to help the employee they are coaching to reflect and find their own path to change the behavior that’s reducing their effectiveness. This technique should work as well (if not better) for a woman as for a man.  We’ve been using it for years and have taught many women and men who are using it successfully. The short answer to her question is, “There’s no reason to modify this because you’re a woman. It should work just fine.”

But I also knew her question was more complicated.

What I heard in her question was an unspoken, underlying concern:

“How do I have a tough feedback conversation if I’m not sure I can pull it off?”

My mind immediately raced to all the times I’ve seen managers (more women than men) apologize for the feedback they were about to give.  Or ending their feedback phrases with an intonation that sounds more like a question, “This behavior is unacceptable?” And the myriad of ways people sabotage their influence with pre-apologies, “This is probably a dumb idea.” All behaviors triggered by a lack of confidence which undermines their influence and results.

So here’s where it gets really tricky. It’s certainly possible that Jana is dealing with a complicated circumstance where having a tough conversation is more difficult because she’s a woman. I’ve certainly had times in my career that felt like that.

It’s also quite possible that Jana is telling herself a self-perpetuating story that difficult conversations are always harder because she’s a woman, which diminishes her confidence, and impacts the way she’s showing up. When she shows up unsure, her influence diminishes and reinforces her deeply held belief that it’s harder because she’s a woman. It’s hard to know.

So if you have a Jana on your team, how do you help?

Digging Deeper

Of course, we all need to be on a vigilant lookout for discrimination, micro-aggressions, bullying and other toxic behaviors that hold people back, destroy confidence and diminish their contribution. That crap is real, and it’s hard to know if someone is experiencing it now or has scar tissues from the past. If they tell you those stories, believe them and do everything you can to help them find a healthy way forward.

What also breaks my heart, and is even more frequent, is when people let one or two bad experiences over-shadow all the positive ones and reach the conclusion that they won’t be successful  at something “Because they’re _______ (a woman, a white man, a person of color, fat, short …),” and that lack of confidence makes that story true. I see it all the time.

And many managers back away from this conversation — for fear of aggravating the situation. Or label them “a victim,” and write them off as low-potential. So the employee stays stuck in a tragic story of lost potential.

Questions to Help Build Confidence and See a Broader Picture

The best way I’ve found to help employees who are stuck in a limiting “Because I’m a ____” story, is to ask some provocative open-ended questions framed in the spirit of Appreciatiive Inquiry to help them view the situation more broadly.

For example:

  • Tell me about a time you were really effective at _______ (insert area where they are lacking confidence). What was the circumstance? How did it turn out? What did you notice about yourself in that situation?
  • Awesome. Can you think of another time? And another time?  What do notice about yourself in all of these situations? How can you bring more of that behavior or approach the next time?
  • Who are the ______ (insert the affinity group they think makes this hard, e.g. women) who you see doing this particularly well? What do you notice about their behavior that makes them so successful?
  • Tell me about the next time you think you will have a chance to do ________ (insert area they are lacking confidence)? What would success look like in that interaction? What’s one behavior you could do that would make that success more likely?
  • Now imagine you’ve been successful in that interaction. What do you notice about yourself? How does that feel?

In our current environment, it’s easy to shy away from these conversations—and of course, they can only be held in the context of deep trust. But, it’s a tragedy to avoid them. Please don’t let one or two failed attempts discourage you from trying again. We need more people in the world navigating these conversations well to grow more confident leaders, using their gifts, to make a greater impact.

how to lead for results and stop the zombie apocalypse

How to Lead for Results and Stop the Zombie Apocalypse

Lead for results and keep the zombies at bay…

They’re the phrases that should send a shiver up your spine if you want to lead for results. I’ve heard them from team members in every industry imaginable. You might recognize them:

  • “I’ve just stopped trying.”
  • “Why bother?”
  • “I give up.”
  • “Just go along to get along.”
  • “When someone bothers to tell me what to do, then we’ll worry about it.”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “It doesn’t matter what you do.”
  • “They don’t care, so why should I?”
  • “Everything they say from the stage don’t mean anything for me and my life.”

Walking Dead

Every time I hear one of these, I shudder.

These are the words whispered by the walking dead – maybe they haven’t left your team or company yet, but there’s no life left in them. They’re just shuffling through the day, going through the motions, like zombies.

If you have people in your team or organization talking this way, one of two things has happened:

1) You have discouraged your team by failing to lead.

2) You have a very negative team member who will be discouraging the rest of the team. (And they’re still there because you’ve failed to lead.)

Either way, it’s time for you to lead. Every person wandering around …

thinking that their effort makes no difference …

feeling that no one cares …

feeling frustrated and refusing to take responsibility …

Has quit.

They’re a walking tragedy of vital human life stunted and withering away. (Not to mention tons of lost productivity for the organization.)

Tough Love

If you want to lead for results, I applaud you. We desperately need good leaders.

But leadership means responsibility. If you have disheartened people on your team who have stopped trying, that’s on you. The reasons are usually straightforward:

  • a lack of encouragement or appreciation
  • outright hostility and abuse
  • no vision
  • absurd systems prevent them from being effective
  • no autonomy or ability to make meaningful decisions
  • they don’t trust you or one another

These are a leader’s responsibilities. And if you’re leading, you’re responsible.

Lead for Results

As every reader of Winning Well knows, you can treat people well and lead for results. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together.

When people:

  • are empowered to make meaningful decisions …
  • understand the purpose behind what they’re doing …
  • trust their leadership and their team …
  • feel appreciated for what they do …
  • feel they’re making a difference …
  • are held accountable for their contribution …

They own the outcomes, are energized, proactively solve problems, and personally invest in what they’re doing.

Which team member would you rather have?

Where to Begin?

1) If you are leading a team that shows signs of the zombi-fication, honestly assess your motivations.

Are you leading for results and relationships?

If not, I invite you to start small. Pick one area—perhaps encouragement—and honestly show appreciation. Or maybe start by removing a frustrating system that prevents people from doing their best work.

The point is, don’t change everything all at once. You can’t do it and you’ll frustrate yourself. Start small.

If you’re not sure where to start and you have any team members you can trust to give you honest feedback, ask them. Or do a DIY 360 evaluation and pick just one thing—the most frequently occurring item and address it.

People are remarkably graceful. When they see you work on being effective, your credibility soars.

2) If you are in an organization characterized by the zombies, build a cultural oasis.

Start by encouraging the people you see every day. Recognize others for what they’ve done. Begin talking about what your team might accomplish or where it could be. Look for problems you can solve.

We Need You to Lead for Results

Whatever your formal role, we need you to lead. We need people who dare to dream, who show us the way. We need people who will take risks to solve problems that others refuse to recognize even exist.

We need people who ask the right questions, who challenge our thinking. We need people who inspire us, who motivate us, and who encourage us.

We need leaders.

We need you.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween from Let's Grow Leaders (lead for results and keep the zombies away)

How to Stop Sarcasm at Work

How to Stop the Destructive Power of Sarcasm at Work

An audience member asked us recently, “Can you talk about the danger of sarcasm? Our VP uses it all the time. It ruins presentations, derails meetings, and shuts people down.”

We thought, “We know that guy.” We bet you do too.

Sure, a quick wit used well can energize the team and lighten the load. But a sarcastic remark meant to belittle those who don’t dare fight back diminishes confidence, degrades trust, and leaves folks looking for the nearest escape route.

Why is sarcasm so rampant in the workplace? Why would a manager demean someone they’re trying to “motivate?”

Why Sarcasm is So Dangerous

  1. It creates shame in the target.  People will do almost anything to feel good about themselves. If you shame a person when you have positional power, you have put them in a difficult “fight or flight” position.
  2. You get the opposite of what you want. A very skilled self-aware person might come and talk to you about it, but otherwise, they’ll find another way to “get even”—perhaps they resort to similar “humor” behind your back, undermine you, or reduce their work effort.
  3. You give permission for everyone to do it. Before long, your clever comeback has turned into a caustic workplace where negativity reigns. (At the extreme, this can even cause human resource problems with hostile work environments.)
  4. It doesn’t build anything. You might make someone stop doing something by being sarcastic and shaming them, but you’ll never create a new positive behavior this way.
  5. You limit creativity. Consistent sarcasm creates an atmosphere where no one will try a new idea. The risk of failure and incurring shame is too great.
  6. It drains energy. We do our best work when we’re in “the zone”—feeling competent, challenged, and ready to do our best. Sarcasm and humor at another person’s expense create doubt and negative energy.
  7. It destroys trust.  Your team needs to know you have their best interests at heart. Even if you do, sarcasm makes them wonder.

How to Be Effective and Funny

  1. Start with results: When you’re tempted to use sarcasm, stop and ask yourself what you really want. What results do you look for? Encourage, inspire, teach, coach, show…these are always more effective than sarcasm.
  2. Address issues directly: Never use humor to deal with behavior or performance problems. As we’ve seen, it creates more problems and does nothing to help the situation. Address these issues directly and professionally.
  3. Use humor effectively: Any comedian can tell you that there is always one safe target to make fun of: you. Self-effacing humor displays humility and tells your people that you don’t feel you’re better than they are and that you don’t take yourself too seriously. It builds trust because people know you own your problems and understand your own shortcomings.
  4. Deal with your Own junk: If you’re carrying around hurt or insecurity and regularly mask it with sarcasm or making fun of others, take some time to reflect on what’s going on there—maybe work with a coach. If it’s deep, talk with a counselor.
  5. Clean-up: If you have potentially hurt others in the past, apologize, and make it right.

We love to laugh and we need far more of it—but if you’re a manager or seeking to influence others, avoid sarcasm or making fun of anyone (except yourself) and watch your credibility grow.

See Also: Sarcasm vs. Humor in the Workplace

How Your Leadership Style Could Be Stifling Innovation and Problem Solving (Entrepreneur)