Four words to help you build a more powerful team

4 Words to Help You Build a Powerful Team

One question leads to a powerful team.

“David, I just don’t have time. There’s so much to do that some days I just want to give up!” Lynn was a midlevel manager in a mid-sized healthcare company. She’d sought out coaching because the demands of her job felt unbearable. She needed a powerful team, but that seemed impossible.

Between day-to-day problem solving and her supervisor’s expectations, she’d been working 60-hour weeks, her health was suffering, and she’d reached the end of her rope.

Have you ever felt like Lynn?

As we talked, it became clear that Lynn cared. She was passionate about her people and their patients. But her passion had caused her to take on way too much and fail to build a powerful team.

To course-correct, we started with four words. Lynn began to ask one question regularly: “How can I help?”

Have You Lost Your Mind?

When I was an overwhelmed manager and a mentor first suggested that I ask my team, “How can I help?” I thought she was nuts. I’m sure I looked at her with the same stare of incredulity our clients give us when we make the same suggestion today.

When you can barely keep your head above water, the last thing you feel like doing is to go ask your team how you can help. You’re just asking for more work, right?

Actually, no.

This is a common misconception about what it really means to help your team. As a leader, you are in a unique position to help your team in specific ways that no one else can.

However, this does not mean doing their work for them. What it means is to ensure your team has what they need to be effective, to remove obstacles to success, and to help them develop their own abilities to take responsibility and problem solve.

When you give your team the help they genuinely need, that only you can provide, two things happen. First, they become more productive, and second, you have more time for the work only you can do.

What to Look for to Build a Powerful Team

When you ask your team “How can I help,” listen for three specific areas of need.

1. Equipment and Skills They Need

Early in my leadership career, I had a superstar team member named Sue. She was a fabulous person and a wonderful team member. She was motivated, always thinking about how to improve her work, and an outstanding goal-setter.

One morning, we sat down together for a quarterly meeting. During these meetings with Sue, I often took notes, just trying to keep up, as she covered all her projects, goals, and ideas. She appreciated a sounding board to process her ideas and determine which ones were worth pursuing. After we processed her projects and goals, I stood up to leave and said in passing, “You’ve got a good plan, anything else I can do to help?”

She thought for a minute and said, “I’m not a technology person, but my computer’s a little slow.”

“Why don’t you show me?” I replied.

She walked me over to her computer and turned it on.

Twenty minutes later, it had finally come to life. That computer wasn’t just slow – it was glacial.

How embarrassing! One of my highly productive team members did not have the basic resources she needed to do her job well.

When you ask your team “How can I help?” be on the lookout for areas where they lack the resources that they need to be effective. Also, pay attention to skills and training.

In rapidly changing work environments, it is all too easy to assume people have what they need to do their job. Don’t assume—ask! It’s sad to think about how much time she would have lost and how many opportunities she would have missed if Sue hadn’t got a better computer.

2. Obstacles You Can Remove

The second area to listen for when you ask your team “How can I help?” includes red tape, bureaucratic nonsense, inter-departmental foot-dragging and all the other silly barriers they encounter inside your organization. Work is tough enough without those sorts of things dragging down your team’s productivity.

When your team encounters these obstacles and they’ve done what they can to solve it themselves, it’s time to pick up the phone or go have a visit with the people creating the barrier.

Have a conversation where you judiciously use your position and influence to remove those barriers, cut through red tape, or ask a “How can we?” question to meet the needs of both groups and get things moving.

3. Gaps in Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

The third thing to look for when you ask “How can I help,” are gaps in your team’s ability to solve problems.

Do you do your team’s thinking for them? Wish they would solve problems on their own? Or get so involved with their projects you don’t have time for your own work?

If so, these are signs your team needs to develop their problem-solving skills. Other signals include team members repeatedly making the same errors or frequently saying “I don’t know” when you ask about the next steps.

When you pick up these signals, resist the urge to chastise or jump in and solve the problem. Neither option builds a more powerful team.

Instead, use this opportunity to help them develop their problem solving and critical thinking. Your most effective leadership tools in these situations are coaching questions.

A good question or two can quickly move the conversation back to the employee owning the problem and analyzing potential solutions, but they have to be good questions.

Poor questions place blame and dwell on failure. Eg:

  • Who screwed up?
  • Why did you do that?
  • What were you thinking?

In contrast, healthy questions focus on learning and on the future, to generate ideas and solutions. Eg:

  • What’s your goal?
  • What have you tried?
  • What are your options now?
  • What would happen if you tried that?

Our 9 What’s Business Coaching method is a great way to help your team get on track, strengthen their ability to solve problems, and learn how they think so you can help them work through issues.

For Best Results

“How can I help?” is a powerful tool to help you grow a more powerful team, but you have to use it consistently. If you only ask when something is going wrong, your team will associate those words with a problem.

Be intentional to ask how you can help when you know things are going well. One of the best responses when you ask “How can I help?” is for your team to say, “We’re good—thanks!”

Your Turn

Regularly asking “How can I help?” lets your people know that you care and support them while giving you the insight you need to help them grow and become a more powerful team.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share your favorite questions that help you build a powerful team.

Your might also like:

How to Develop People When You Don’t Have the Time

Two Talent Development Mistakes Leaders Make (podcast episode)

A Better Way to Address Performance Issues

how to lead when your team can't see the obvious

How to Lead When Your Team Can’t See the Obvious

It seems so obvious—until it isn’t.

Bonaire is a desert island in the south Caribbean that’s known for fantastic coral reefs, flamingos, sea salt production, and donkeys. Coral, flamingos, and salt occur naturally in Bonaire. Donkeys—not so much.

In the 1600s Spaniards brought donkeys to the island to haul salt and equipment. Once more modern transportation was available, however, they abandoned the donkeys to their own fate. The donkeys roamed the island, fending for themselves, without oversight or caretakers.

But Bonaire isn’t the most hospitable environment for donkeys. Between the arid climate and increased tourism, many donkeys fell victim to illness and car accidents. They’re also an invasive species and eat any moisture-laden plants they can find.

That brings us to the obvious part of the story: the Donkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary was started in 1993 to care for sick, injured, and orphan donkeys. Volunteers and donations helped care for the several hundred donkeys the sanctuary took in. Here are a couple of sanctuary residents:

team cant see the obvious donkeys

Take care of injured donkeys, get them out of the wild and reduce their impact on the native plants and animals, and reduce donkey-human conflict. Sounds like something everyone can get behind—obviously a good thing, right?

It turns out that not everyone sees it that way. There is a petition (supported by 3000+ people) to maintain Bonaire’s wild donkey population.

They argue that the sanctuary’s practice of sterilizing male donkeys will eventually lead to the extinction of donkeys on the island. And for them, that’s a problem.

After 450 years, even though they’re not indigenous, these wild-donkey supporters view the donkeys as part of their culture and heritage. They also have concerns about humane treatment for donkeys within the sanctuary.

Their bottom line: they want the donkeys to remain wild and for people to treat them well.

Why They Can’t See the Obvious

Has that ever happened to you?

You’ve figured out a great solution to an irritating problem and unveil it, only to find out that—not only do people dislike your solution, but they don’t even see your problem as a problem.

When people can’t see what’s obvious to you, it’s not that they’re obstinate, ignorant, or broken.

People are different. They’ve had different experiences, different values, and different personalities. They’re looking at the world through all of those filters—just like you do.

This is one of the critical roles leaders provide: to bring together the varied perspective, craft a shared picture of what’s possible, and help everyone work toward it. (If it were obvious to everyone, the situation would probably already be resolved, and no leadership needed.)

How to Lead When Your Team Can’t See the Obvious

It’s frustrating when your team doesn’t get it and can’t see what’s obvious to you. But if you run ahead of them and insist on what makes sense to you without discussion, you will eventually lose your team.

Here are a few ways you can lead when your team can’t see the obvious path you see:

Clarify who owns the decision

Before you start the discussion, be clear about who decides. Will you decide? Will the team vote? Or will you work for consensus? This helps everyone know how to engage and think about what they hear.

Present the Problem

Share the challenge from your perspective. Explain why you believe it is a problem. The consequences that you see every day might be invisible to your team. They may not understand why those issues are important. Take the time to present the issue and give people the information they need to see what you see.

Get Their Insights

Find out what is obvious to them. Take time to listen. Specifically, look for the “right” in their perspective. What is it that makes such obvious sense to them that they’ll wonder how you could be so blind?

Land in the And

It’s not always possible, but once you’ve identified the issues obvious to everyone and found the value in different perspectives, look for ways to “land in the and.” Ask a “How can we?” question that combines the major values. Eg “How can we limit harm to the donkeys, protect native vegetation, and continue to experience the 450 years of wild donkey culture?”

When you ask “How can we?” questions that include the obvious elements of different perspectives, you can often find creative solutions that make far more sense and have more support than the limited, but “obvious” approach.

It’s not always possible to craft a solution that meets every need, but when you have the conversations, you help your team to think the way you do, you’re made smarter from the perspectives they bring, and the team is far more likely to own the outcome going forward.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share your best strategy to lead when your team can’t see the obvious problem or solution you see.

How to Prepare Your Successor For Success

How to Prepare Your Successor For Success

The same mentor who jokingly told Karin that if you want people to think you’re a rock star “always follow an idiot” also smiled and said, “and always leave an idiot as your successor.” Not the best advice – but leadership transitions are often rocky.

It’s a terrible feeling to watch hard work unravel and progress backslide when the new guy takes over. You can tell a great leader by what happens after they walk away—that’s when the investment in people and processes really pays off.

So how do you ensure your successor’s success?

7 Ways to Help Your Successor Succeed

Start Before It’s Time to Go

It starts early. Once you’ve decided to move on, it’s too late. Lay the foundation for a remarkable transition from your first month in a new role.

1. Build a Strong, Interdependent Team

Your successor will have the greatest chance of success if the team doesn’t immediately need them to survive the day-to-day.  Give your team opportunities to work together—without you—so they learn to rely on, and leverage, one another’s strengths.

2. Build a Deep Bench

Surround yourself with rock stars. Go find them in other areas of the business and recruit them to your team. Invest substantial time each week working on leadership development. When it comes to succession planning, the big mistake we see consistently is that leaders focus on developing only one protegé. That’s risky. Instead of thinking in terms of “grooming your replacement,” focus on building an entire farm team.

3. Resist the Urge to Develop “Mini Me’s”

It’s like that old Monty Python line, “And now for something completely different.” It is likely that what your team needs most after you leave is not more of you. As you’re doing your succession planning, consider what kind of leader would most challenge the team next and be sure you’re developing diverse talent.

4. Lead with Transparency

The last thing you want your successor to say is, “I had no idea your job was like this.” Share what you can with your team. Help them understand the deeper challenges you face and how you approach them. Expose them to some of the politics and explain how you navigate.

And … As You’re Transitioning To Your New Role

5. Finish Strong

It’s easy to get immediately sucked into your next role and lose focus. While you’re bringing your backfill up to speed, be sure you’re not letting any balls drop that will create early fire drills or unnecessary frustration.

6. Help Them Build Their Network

You know who you rely on to get things done, up, down and sideways. It took time to build that. How can you shorten their networking curve, and introduce them to the key players who will be critical to their success? Be sure they know about any landmines you learned about the hard way.

7. Get Out of the Way

Do everything you can to leave your successor anything they may need in an organized and easy to follow-way. And then, get out-of-the-way. Offer to be available, but stop checking in. Whatever you do, don’t hang around offering commentary to your old team. The new leader needs to make her mark in her way.

Your turn.

What would you add? What are the best ways to ensure your successor’s success?

See Also: Harvard Business Review: Preparing Your Successor For Success

5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

How to lead when your employees don't have to follow

How to Lead When Your Employees Don’t Have to Follow

Leading people who don’t have to follow starts with your mindset.

How do you lead when people don’t have to follow? In a recent long-term leadership development program Karin and I conducted for leaders from around the globe, this was one of the most common questions participants asked.

As work becomes more complex and people develop more specialized knowledge and skills, cross-functional teams, ad-hoc teams, and temporary project teams are increasingly common. You will likely lead people who do not directly report to you. And at times you have to rely on other teams to give you what you need to succeed.

The Truth About People Who Don’t Have to Follow

How long can you hold your breath?

Stick with me here—this will make sense in a moment. In fact, unless it’s dangerous to your health, try it right now: hold your breath as long as you can.

How long did you make it? 30 seconds, one minute?

Before long, you couldn’t help yourself—you just had to breathe. Even if I were to offer you a substantial amount of money if you were to hold your breath longer, at some point you have no choice. Your body will force the issue.

There are very few things in the world that you must do. You must breathe. You must die. Along the way, you must eliminate bodily waste. That’s about it – every other behavior is a choice.

And one of those choices is how you choose to show up to work each day: Will you give it your best or just occupy space and slide by? It’s a choice you make.

The fundamental leadership mindset that will transform your influence is this:  if everything is a choice for you, it’s also a choice for your team whether or not they report to you.

Everyone is a Volunteer

Realistically, it’s not just people on other teams who don’t have to follow you. Even your direct reports don’t have to follow your leadership.

Everyone is a volunteer because you cannot force anyone to do anything.

“Wait a minute, David,” you might say, “if they don’t do their job we can fire them.”

You’re right of course, but that’s their choice. The path to engage teams that choose to give their best begins when you realize that everyone’s a volunteer. They choose:

  • If they will be a part of your team.
  • How they will show up.
  • Whether to participate fully or phone it in.
  • The level of effort they will give.
  • How well they will perform their role.

How to Lead when They Don’t Have to Follow

When you embrace this fundamental truth – that everyone is a volunteer – it will change your leadership forever. Every action from every person on your team becomes a gift.

Every ounce of energy they spend on a project is a gift. Your work as a leader shifts from force to invitation, from control to influence, from fear to gratitude. You won’t lead to wring out the worst, but to bring out the best.

The fundamental leadership truth you cannot ignore is that if it’s a choice for you, it’s also a choice for your team. Everyone is a volunteer.

Here are a few specific tools you can use to lead from the mindset that everyone is a volunteer:

  • Connect the “what” to the “why.” Work without meaning is punishment suitable to prison camps. Make sure your team knows the purpose behind their tasks, the value in the organization’s work, and how their work makes a difference. If the work has no meaning — eliminate it.
  • Ask “How can I help?” Your team needs support and training that only you can provide. Make sure they have the training, equipment, and political support they need to succeed. Don’t do their work for them, but help them grow and expand their ability to problem solve by asking critical thinking questions.
  • Apologize when you screw up. Apologizing doesn’t make you weak. It shows courage, builds your credibility, and models taking responsibility when you drop the ball. That’s what you want from your staff, right?
  • Maintain standards and expectations. Volunteers, more than anyone, need to know that you value their time. When you permit people to underperform without consequence, then you tell everyone who does their best that they are wasting their time.
  • Say “Thank you.” Do you like what your team did? Do they know it? Do you want more of it? Don’t wait to say “Thank you.”

Your Turn

If you think about your own performance, I’ll bet your best efforts were not the result of money or a fear of being fired. We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share How have your leaders brought out the best in you? 

When your boss is on the naughty list

When Your Boss is On the Naughty List

One of our most popular holiday posts is this look at Santa’s poor leadership in the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special. Fortunately, Santa learns how to recognize and encourage talent. But what do you do your boss is the one on the naughty list?

It turns out that even the North Pole’s CEO had a question for Karin about why managers end up on the naughty list:

Insecurity and lack of training can get managers in trouble. But how can you best respond when you have a leader who’s making life challenging for you?

If you haven’t watched Rudolph in a while, you might take another look. Pay close attention to Harvey (the elf who aspires to be a dentist) and his interaction with Bumble, the abominable snow monster of the north.

Bumble is a menacing presence that looms over the North Pole and sends everyone scampering for cover when he looks their way. Sound like some bosses you know?

Let’s follow Harvey’s example as he deals with the fearsome Bumble:

1. Recall their humanity.

Harvey’s commitment to dentistry is so strong that he sees everyone in terms of their teeth. Even a scary monster has dental needs and Harvey’s the one to see them. The same holds true for your leader. They didn’t wake up that morning intent on ruining your day. They’re trying to solve their problems and doing the best they can with what they have.

This isn’t an excuse for poor behavior, harassment, or bullying. The goal here is to see the other person as a human being. They aren’t just a monster – they’re a complete human being with dignity, but who is struggling to succeed. You won’t be able to problem-solve or approach things constructively if you’re seeing them through a single inhuman label.

boss on naughty list

2. Try to identify what’s causing the problem behavior.

Harvey figures out that the Bumble has a sore tooth. People interpreted that pain as anger and hostility. As you work with your boss, what are the behaviors that concern you? Do they constantly wait until the last minute? Do they continually bug you and interrupt you from completing your work? Does their anger or intensity seem out of proportion to the circumstance?

In these situations, there’s probably an underlying concern that, if you can identify, you can address.

(However, if your boss is genuinely abusive, identifying the cause isn’t your job. In these situations, you can still address the behavior directly and then talk with your HR department, and, if the behavior doesn’t resolve, leave the team.)

3. Talk

Harvey has a conversation with the fearsome Bumble – and you can too. In most situations, it’s possible to talk with your boss, even when they’re acting from insecurity, fear, powerlessness, or lack of skill.

Use a gentle INSPIRE conversation. Eg: “Hey, I noticed that you’ve asked for this task three times today and seem to be very stressed about it. I promise I’ll have it completed by the time you gave me, but I’m wondering if there’s something else going on that we need to talk about?”

Often, just drawing attention to the behavior will help lessen its intensity. Other times, you’ll discover that there’s an underlying issue that you might be able to help address.

4. Solve the problem (if possible.)

Harvey pulled the Bumble’s sore tooth. That solution was appropriate and within his skill set and responsibility (as a North Pole elf dentist). The result was a happy Bumble who became an important part of the team.

As you talk and uncover more information, look for ways that you can solve the problem. When David had a boss who was frequently overwhelmed and frustrated, he would look him in the eye and say “I’ve got this. You’ll have what you need by 5 pm.” His boss just needed to know that a couple of the thousand issues he faced were under control.

You can’t solve your boss’s insecurity or lack of training for them; that’s not your job. But you can take responsibility and solve work-related issues in a way that gives them confidence. You can also augment their communication challenges by leading with a Check for Understanding, INSPIRE conversations, and even 9 What’s Coaching when it’s appropriate.

Your Turn

When your boss is on the naughty list, frustrating you, and starts to feel like a fearsome monster, it’s time to take a step back, get perspective, and look at the underlying issues. How can you see your boss as a human being and be part of the solution?

Leave us a comment and share your best suggestion for dealing with a boss who’s on the naughty list.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Let’s Grow Leaders!

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?