Peer's Team is Struggling

How Do I Help When My Peer’s Team is Struggling?

Resist the Urge to Intervene When  a Peer’s Team is Struggling

Have you ever watched another team struggle? It’s a challenge most leaders face at some point in their career. You’re not perfect, but you lead well and people come together to produce great results. But then you look over and see that your peer’s team is struggling.

Maybe they’ve been talking to your team and your people tell you about the problems. Or the other team members tell you how they’d love a chance to work with you. Perhaps you rely on them for your team’s work, but their performance is subpar. Maybe you witnessed their dysfunction firsthand. Or someone on another team asks you for advice on how to deal with a difficult situation.

No matter how you became aware that your peer’s team is struggling, you might be tempted to rush in and intervene.

Be careful.

Don’t Make It Worse

This is one of those times where your good intentions can cause big problems.

Let’s start with common mistakes you want to avoid. Don’t:

  • Rush in and tell the other team what they need to do.
  • Tell the other team members that their leader is wrong or leading poorly.
  • Offer the other leader a bunch of solutions to all the problems you’ve identified.

I’ve seen leaders commit these mistakes (and did some myself early in my career). Each of these behaviors will make the situation worse.

Imagine another leader telling your team how you’re leading poorly or telling you everything you’re doing wrong and how to fix it. Bad idea, right?

How to Help When Your Peer’s Team is Struggling

The first step in trying to help a peer leader who might be struggling is to recognize your limitations. You have two important limits in this situation. You don’t have all the information and they may not want your help.

This is a time for confidence and humility. Match your confident desire to help with the humility that you don’t know everything that’s happening in the other team.

Let’s look at how to do this in the two most common scenarios where your peer’s team is struggling.

Scenario #1: You’ve Seen the Problem Yourself

If you’ve observed the problems and you’re talking with the team’s leader, use the first steps of the INSPIRE conversation to alert them to the situation. When you reach the “Probe” stage of the conversation, ask if they want your help.

I – Initiate:  Hey, do you have a minute? I was working with your team the other day and observed something I thought you’d want to know.

N – Notice: I noticed that they were [describe the concerning behavior]. Eg: “I noticed they were using the old process to…” Or “I noticed that they were arguing about the right way to…”

S – Support: Share your specific examples. Eg: “Joe and Sheila said they didn’t know there was a new process.” Or “Liz and Charles were telling Estaban and Bryan that they should use the…and they didn’t seem to be on the same page.”

P – Probe: “I figured you’d want to know. How can I help?”

If you have a good relationship and your colleague trusts you, they may divulge their struggle. They might say something like “This is so frustrating. I’ve told everyone about the new process three times.”

I – Invite: It is important in this moment to get their permission – their invitation, to share ideas. Resist the urge to rush in with all your solutions. You might say something like: “I’ve been there. That same problem used to frustrate me. I’ve got a couple ideas that have worked pretty well. Would that be helpful?”

If they say “yes,” go ahead and share your thoughts. Remember to share them as possible solutions. They may or may not work, depending on your peer’s specific situation.

If they say “no,” this is a critical moment for your relationship. When they say “no,” respect their no.

People say no for many reasons. They’re not ready. He may feel overwhelmed. She might not trust your motives. They may not want to do the work.

Regardless of the reason why, when someone says they don’t want to hear your solutions, respect their desire. It builds trust. You might say something like, “Okay. If I can be helpful, just let me know.”

R – Review: As the conversation concludes, do a quick check for understanding. Eg: “So you’re going to try that 5×5 communication technique and I’ll send you the templates I developed by the end of the day. Does that work for you?”

If they turned down your offer to help, your check for understanding might look like this: “I want to make sure we’re on the same page. My understanding is that our teams are supposed to do the new process this way. Is that how you understand it?”

E – Enforce: In performance management conversations, this is where you would schedule a follow-up meeting to check on the new behavior. In a conversation with a colleague, however, you might use it as a way to support them. “If you’d like, I’d be happy to hear a test-run of your presentation or take a look at that 5×5 when you’ve put it together.”

If your colleague turned down your offer to help and there is disagreement about the expectations, you can use this step to schedule a follow-up discussion. “It sounds like we’ve got our teams working toward different goals (or using different processes). My understanding was that we’re all using the process. Let’s talk with the leadership team (or our supervisor) on Friday and clarify what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Scenario #2: Their Team Member Tells You It’s Bad

When another team member tells you that their team is struggling, resist the urge to intervene.

Once again, you don’t know all the facts. Also, when you get involved, you prevent the employee from learning how to solve their own problem and you’re wasting your productive time in someone else’s drama.

(The exception is when there’s a potential ethical violation, a clear breach of fundamental policy, sexual harassment, danger to employees or the company – in these situations you would report the conversation to the right person.)

Usually, the most productive conversation you can have is to listen with empathy and, if the team member wants help, to coach them on how to address the situation.

Start with reflective empathy. For example: “It sounds like that’s really frustrating.”

Next, you might use the 9 What’s coaching model to help them think through a productive response to the situation. If they don’t know how to talk with their leader about an issue and they are open to help, you could teach them how to share INSPIRE-style feedback with their supervisor.

For example, when they talk to their supervisor, they might say, “I noticed that we’re not using the new procedure we discussed at the town hall and I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Can you help me clarify what success looks like here?”

When you help the employee develop the skills to address the situation directly, they will grow and it also gives the team leader a chance to improve.

Your Turn

When your peer’s team is struggling, you may be tempted to intervene, but that is usually not a productive choice. Instead, ask your colleague for permission to help, respect their answer, and mentor receptive team members on how to advocate for themselves.

Leave us a comment and share your best recommendation or experience when you see that a peer’s team is struggling.

how to respond when you can't use an idea

How to Respond When You Can’t Use an Idea

When You Can’t Use an Idea, Pivot to Get More Ideas

“I need people to think.” Mattias, the CEO of a mid-sized human service provider, leaned back in his chair and sighed. “They have all kinds of ideas that just don’t work. The market’s changing and it’s like no one gets it. I hear you, I should listen, but what do I do when I can’t use an idea?”

Have you ever been in Mattias’s shoes? Your team has all kinds of ideas, but they’re ill-informed, off-target, or are just bad (it’s okay–just between us, we know it may have been a bad idea.)

The problem when you can’t use an idea because it’s bad or won’t work is that it’s often the first idea someone has. If you respond poorly to the idea you can’t use, you won’t get the ideas you can use.

This was Mattias’s problem. When people brought him an imperfect idea, he would get frustrated, tell them why it wouldn’t work and shoo them out of his office. They never came back.

Six Ways to Respond When You Can’t Use An Idea

1. Say Thank You

You get more of what you encourage and celebrate, less of what you criticize or ignore. If you want people thinking more deeply, thank them for it (even if it’s not quite as deep as you would have liked.)

Eg: “Thank you for taking the time to think about what would create a better experience for our customer. I really appreciate you putting your thoughts together and thinking deeply about this.”

2. Explain What Happened

Share the process. If you were able to trial their idea, focus-group it, or do anything with it, let them know what happened. What problems did it run into? Were there competing priorities? Did the solution break down or prove impractical during testing? Take a few seconds to respond and close the loop. It will energize the person who shared their idea–even if you couldn’t use it.

3. Clarify Your Focus

When you consistently get ideas that are off target or don’t support strategic priorities, it’s a sure sign that you haven’t communicated those priorities clearly. Clarify the answers to these questions:

  • What matters most right now?
  • What ideas will help most?
  • What will good ideas achieve when you put them to work?

Eg: “Our priority for the next quarter is to achieve 100% on-time delivery. We need ideas about how we speed up our QA process without compromising quality along with suggestions to decrease order assignment times.”

Use 5×5 communication when it’s important – share key messages five times, five different ways.

4. Ask How It Works

If you’ve shared the focus, checked for understanding, and someone brings you an idea that seems way off target, resist the urge to chastise them. Instead, use it as an opportunity for a micro-coaching session. Ask them how their idea will help achieve the goal. Taking a moment to be curious can help uncover great ideas or help a team member understand what a great idea looks like.

Eg: “Thanks for thinking about this with us. Can you walk me through how your idea would help us achieve 100% on-time delivery?”

You’ll get different answers to this question. Some will say, “Oh, I hadn’t really thought it through.” In which case you can reply “I’d love to get your thoughts one you’ve had a chance to think it through.”

At other times, they might surprise you with a linkage or explanation that you didn’t see.

5. Share Information

When you can’t use an idea, the problem might be that the person doesn’t have enough information to make a good suggestion. What information can you add that will help them think more deeply about the issue?

Do they need budget data or to better understand how their work fits into the bigger picture? Maybe they need comparative data from other departments or process.

Give them the information they need to think more strategically.

6. Invite More Ideas

Once you’ve clarified the focus and given them more information, invite them to keep thinking and to share what they come up with.

Eg: “Thanks for thinking about this with us. We tried a similar idea last year and ran into a problem – the QA team wasn’t learning about projects with enough lead time. If you have thoughts about a way to implement your suggestion and solve the lead time issue, I’d love to hear what you come up with.”

Your Turn

When you get an idea you can’t use, it’s an opportunity to help people think more deeply and to get even better thoughts. Leave a comment and share your best suggestion for how to respond when you get an idea you can’t use.


Courageous Cultures survey

how leaders get more solutions from their teams

How Leaders Can Get More Solutions from Their Team

Invest twenty seconds to get more solutions and ideas.

Recently, I donated blood through the Red Cross. What happened next is a great example of how you can get more solutions, ideas, and critical thinking from your team members.

Four weeks after donating, I received the following email:

get more solutions

The email told me specifically where my donation went, reminded me of the impact it would have, and invited me to donate again. Wow – what fantastic follow up! I felt good knowing what had happened to my donation.

I saw the same follow up when I ordered flowers for Karin. The florist sent me a message to confirm my purchase, another message when the flowers left the store, and a final message telling me they had delivered the flowers. The real-time clarity and knowledge of exactly what was happening with those roses impressed me.

Why You Don’t Get More Solutions

We’re on a mission to help leaders build courageous cultures where innovation and problem-solving thrive.

As we talk with leaders and teams around the world, we hear two big reasons that employees don’t share more solutions to problems that directly affect customers, profitability, and even employee experience:

  1. No one asked me.
  2. Nothing happens when I share.

The first problem is easy to fix: start asking and get the information you need to make the best decisions.

The second problem takes a little more work and intention. When people share ideas and solutions, your response has a huge effect on whether they’ll continue.

If you don’t respond, people will stop sharing.

There’s nothing wrong with them – it’s disheartening to share your feedback, your solutions, and your best thinking only to feel ignored.

“But wait!” you say, “we’re not ignoring the feedback, in fact, we just implemented an employee suggestion that’s saving everyone time and making customers happier.”

Excellent! Do they and their colleagues know how you used their idea? Often, it’s not that you ignored the employee; it’s that they feel ignored because you didn’t respond.

What about these situations?

  • Jana makes a great suggestion, but it can’t be implemented right now because of competing strategic priorities.
  • Mark submits the same unworkable solution that five other people have also recommended.
  • Shantel proposes an idea that, unknown to her, got a trial run last year, but ran into obstacles and was abandoned.

Leaders often fail to respond to team members in these scenarios. As a result, the employees give up and stop sharing because “no one cares and nothing happens.”

7 Ways to Respond and Encourage More Solutions

Think about your healthy response in light of the Red Cross or florist updates. The Red Cross didn’t just send me a generic “your donation made a difference,” rather, they told me the specific hospital where they sent it. Keep your team member informed, connected, and ultimately glad she took the time to submit her idea.

Here are several ways you can respond to employees, build momentum, and encourage your team to continue sharing solutions even when you can’t implement their idea.

  1. Say “thank you.” Self-explanatory and always relevant. When someone takes the time to think about how things could be better, let them know you appreciate it.
  2. Share the process. Let them know what comes next and the relevant time frame. If it will take six months before you consider these ideas because of other strategic priorities, say so and explain the other priorities (your employee may surprise you with an idea that achieves those objectives).
  3. Tell them what happened. If you abandoned the idea, let them know. If you implemented the idea, let them know. If you referred it for testing, let them know.
  4. Provide more information. For ideas that you abandoned, share the additional information they didn’t know. Was there a budget constraint? An obstacle with another strategic aim? A conflict with another service or the needs of another department? Share this information with your team member. If you have a scattered employee who continually comes up with ideas that aren’t strategically relevant, let them know what would be helpful.
  5. Invite more solutions. Once you’ve shared why you didn’t implement an idea, encourage them to think through the problem with the additional information you’ve supplied and to let you know when they’ve got another thought about how to solve it. Not everyone will choose to think more deeply, but some will. Rather than people shutting down because they feel ignored, you will engage a powerful team of parallel processors all thinking about the problem from different angles.
  6. Involve them in trials or implementation. If possible, engage your team member in testing the idea on a small scale. Ask them to test the positive effects, costs, and unforeseen consequences. They experience they gain will inform their next ideas – and they know you took their idea seriously.
  7. Celebrate solutions. Regularly call attention to and celebrate the contribution of employees who share new ideas and solutions – even when those solutions don’t work. You get more of what you celebrate and encourage. Don’t just celebrate the ideas that work; celebrate the act of sharing thoughtful ideas and solutions. You’ll get more solutions and some of those will work.

Your Turn

You may not have a fully automated system to track your employee’s idea and communicate with them as it moves through the consideration, testing and implementation process (what if you did?), but you can still provide the feedback they need. In that moment, it doesn’t take over twenty seconds to say “thank you” and share next steps. Then another twenty seconds to let them know what happened. You’ll get more solutions when you respond to the ones you already have.

Leave us a comment and share how you respond to great ideas and the ideas you can’t use.

what to do when job outgrows employee

What To Do When the Job Outgrows Your Employee

Your team needs your leadership during rapid growth.

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

Here is her question with some more detail:

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

Steps to Take When the Job Outgrows the Employee

  1.  Start with Confident Humility

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

  1. Share That You Care

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

  1. Clarify What Success Looks Like

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

  1. Invite Their Perspective

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

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

  1. Prepare a Plan

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

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

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

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

Your Turn

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

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

Do you treat team communication like pornography?

Are You Treating Team Communication Like Pornography?

Unclear expectations for team communication kill productivity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Communication Frustrations

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

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

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

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

Ten Minutes of Clarity, Weeks of Productivity

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

Here are a few examples of team communication expectations:

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

Your Turn

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

how to lead different and diverse people

How to Lead Different and Diverse People

Achieve More When you Lead Different and Diverse People

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

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

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

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

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

People are Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Leadership Challenge of Differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Ways to Lead Different and Diverse People

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

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

Your Turn

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

5 poor leadership practices

5 Poor Leadership Practices You Need to Stop

These poor leadership practices are common but limit your influence.

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

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

#1 – Relying on Your Open-Door Policy

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

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

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

#2 – Using Sandwich Feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#4 – Isolating Yourself

Has someone ever told you that leadership is lonely?

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

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

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

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

#5 – Motivating Your Team

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

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

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

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

Your Turn

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

danger when leader is always right

The Danger When a Leader is Always Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does It Work?

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

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

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

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

Of course, she was “right.”

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

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

The Perils When a Leader is Always Right

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

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

No surprise – it didn’t work.

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

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

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

Now that was effective!

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

Influence requires more than being “right.”

The Antidote to Being Right

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

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

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

Here are a few examples:

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

Your Turn

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

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

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

3 Ways to be a more productive leader

3 Ways to Be a More Productive Leader

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

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

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

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

Two Mindsets to Be a More Productive Leader

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

There’s So Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve Got Serious Limits

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it. One.

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

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

So how do you choose what to do?

Mind the M.I.T.Mind the MIT

There are many sophisticated systems to answer this question.

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

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

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

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

Simple? Yes.

Easy? Not always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infinite Need.

Finite Me.

Focus On the MIT.

Your Turn

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

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

the best way to prepare for a successful 2019

The Best Way to Prepare for a Successful 2019

How will you prepare for a successful 2019?

It’s tricky, right?

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

Or do you?

I’ve got some predictions…

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

A Powerful Exercise to Set Yourself Up for a Successful 2019

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

You can also try this.

Close your eyes.

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

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

Dear Karin,

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

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

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

Your turn

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

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

2018 Best Leadership Articles

Best Leadership Articles of 2018 (based on your votes)

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

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

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

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

Motivate Your Team Stop Treating Them Like Family

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

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

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

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

#2 The Leadership Skill No One Talks About

As we work with thousands of leaders around the world and watch them start using Winning Well leadership and management strategies, we’ve seen a common theme with who succeeds over time.

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

Here’s the deal: life is busy. You’ve got more to do than time to do it. Your plan is going to get interrupted and your interruptions are going to get interrupted. If you don’t have an intentional, focused way to finish what you start, it won’t happen.

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

#3 What Do I Do if They Cry?

What do I do if they cry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hear what you’re saying about getting the feedback you need to make good decisions. I get it – I really do. But my problem isn’t getting enough feedback. I get too much. Everybody has an opinion and sometimes the criticism is overwhelming.”

Too often, leaders take criticism or negative feedback and either ignore it (at the cost of their credibility) or overreact to it and paralyze themselves. Critical feedback can be a gift, but it’s how you use that gift that makes the difference.

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

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

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

I know I do.

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

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

#7 How to Lead a Meeting and Make Effective Decisions

how to lead a meeting make effective decisions“This is so stupid—you asked for my opinion and then ignored it. I don’t know why I even bother! From now on, I’m just going to shut my mouth and do my work.” If you’ve heard this or said it yourself, you’ve experienced a critical mistake many managers make when they lead a meeting: lack of clarity around decision ownership.

If your meetings aren’t working, look at your clarity of decision-making. Fuzzy decision-making leads to frustrating meetings.

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

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

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

#1 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Best Leadership Articles Published in Other Spaces

Karin Hurt and David Dye on entrepenuer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Turn

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

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

Update: And here are the best leadership articles of 2019 (according to your votes)

Manage your emotions when you make leadership decisions

How to Manage Your Emotions When You Make Leadership Decisions

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

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

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

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

I know I have.

Manage Your Emotions – Don’t Eliminate Them

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

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

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

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

When that happens, it’s often because:

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

or

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

How to Manage Your Emotions With Perspective

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

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

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

Frame Your Problems

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

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

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

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

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

Connect to What Matters Most

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

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

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

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

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

Your Turn

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

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