How to help all your people contribute great ideas

How to Help All Your People Contribute Great Ideas

Don’t Let Assumptions Limit People Who Can Contribute Great Ideas

“I’m looking at my people and I just don’t think they can get there from here.” Vivian was a gung-ho CEO exploring what it would take to build a more Courageous Culture (click to download your free white paper). She loved the idea of eliminating FOSU (fear of speaking up) and encouraging more micro-innovation and problem-solving, but as she mentally inventoried her team, she was concerned that not everyone could contribute great ideas and engage energetically.

Problem-solving and innovation certainly come easier for some than others, but it’s easy to make assumptions and miss people’s energy and potential. There are quieter voices you can amplify and embryonic ideas to nurture. The key is to give them the leadership they need to become effective team members.

How to Help Everyone Contribute Their Great Ideas

As you learn how different people are wired and what energizes them, you can meet them where they are to draw greatness from them. Let’s look at several types of people that present a challenge for leaders who want to build courageous cultures.

Silent Wounded

They don’t trust you—and with good reason. It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s the three managers who came before you who abused their trust, told them they weren’t hired to think, stole their idea, and then took credit for it. Now you have the same title and, fairly or not, all the negative baggage that comes with it.

Your job is to rebuild their trust. This will take time, but once you’ve built that trust, these team members are often very loyal. Start small. Ask a courageous question and receive the answers graciously and with gratitude. Build up to deeper questions and focus on responding well. Celebrate people, generously give credit, then ask for more problem solving and ideas to better serve your customers.

Silent Ponderous

To draw out the great value silent ponderous people can contribute, start by giving them time to think. For some meetings, this means giving them the main topic a day or two in advance and asking them to think about it. In some settings having everyone write their ideas first will give them time to process.

Another strategy is to clarify that you’re not asking for a 100% accurate answer. When you ask them for their best thinking at the moment or a range of ideas, it gives them permission to explore, rather than commit to something they haven’t thought through yet.

Just Do What I Sayers or Let Me Do My Thingers

You may have team members who are certain of their direction and methods. They’re often successful and just want people to line up behind them and do what they’re told.

When you talk with people in this group, it can help to frame the conversation in terms of their goals. If they want to have more responsibility or more influence, those are easy opportunities to talk about the people-skills they need to practice and demonstrate.

If they want to improve their outcomes, they’ll need people and their ideas. Two points you can emphasize in these conversations are: 1) What success looks like in this organization—is everyone thinking and contributing? 2) You care about their career and want them to succeed–and that’s why you’re having this conversation.

Just Tell Me What to Doers

There are a couple of types of people who consistently just want to be told what to do. The first group is the silent wounded described above. They have a “You won’t fool me again” mantra. As with other silent wounded, take time to rebuild trust with small steps that prove you mean what you say.

The second group of people who want you to “Just tell me what to do” are doing what they know has made them successful in the past. Through much of school and in many organizations, you can get along quite well by just following instructions. The challenge for these people is the same as for organizations everywhere: the world is changing and computers are far more efficient at being told what to do.

First, have a discussion about the changing nature of work and what it will take for your business to thrive. Next, reframe what success looks like for their role. In effect, you are still answering their need to “be told what to do” but in a way that asks them to consider the opportunities and problems facing the organization. Finally, equip them with the ability to contribute great ideas.

Idea Grenadiers

Some people are idea-machines–their brain works overtime to see the possibilities in every situation. Nearly every team is better off with someone who can creatively look at what’s happening and see opportunities to improve or transform. The challenge comes when the idea-person tosses all their ideas in your lap, wants you to do them, but won’t do the work. These are the idea-grenadiers—tossing their ideas like grenades and then running the other direction.

When you’re working with someone like this, it helps to have a direct conversation that calls them back to what matters most and asks them to engage. For example:

“I’ve noticed that in the past month you come to me with four different ideas about how we should improve security, revamp the training program, change our workforce management, and reorganize product management. There is merit in your ideas—and we can’t pursue all of them right now. Which of them do you think would help achieve our #1 strategic priority? Is that a project you’d be willing to help with?”

Schmoozers

Most organizations have a schmoozer—everyone likes them and they talk a great game, but when it comes time to get things done, somehow, they never implement that plan that sounded so amazing when they presented it.

The challenge is that they undermine trust. Ideas they share lack credibility and they’re less likely to be entrusted with good ideas because they won’t implement them.

The best strategy with schmoozers is to ignore the charm and focus on the results. Healthy accountability conversations that help them raise their game will help restore their credibility. When you talk with them, be ready for an elegantly worded explanation for why they didn’t get it done. If it happens again, you need to escalate the conversation.

For example: “This is the third time we’ve had this conversation. Your credibility is at stake. What you said sounded wonderful, but if you can’t implement it, your team can’t rely on you and neither can I. What can we do to get this on track and completed?”

Oxygen Suckers

The final challenging type is the person who sucks all the air out of the room. They often talk so much, so loud, or so vehemently that others don’t contribute. Oxygen suckers can spark drama that derails a healthy conversation and wastes time on tangents. Oxygen suckers often lack self-awareness and don’t recognize how their behavior affects others. It’s up to you to facilitate in a way that allows everyone to contribute great ideas.

To help your oxygen suckers, start with a direct conversation. Privately explain that you will run meetings differently and that your goal is to make sure everyone takes part equitably. Be specific about how you’ll do this. For example: “In some cases, I will time people’s comments to ensure everyone has time to speak. I may ask you to speak after I’ve asked some quieter team members for their perspective.”

With these challenging types, your approach and the conversations give them a chance to take part. Some people will choose not to—and that’s okay.

If someone tells you they can’t perform at the needed level or they don’t want to adjust their style, thank them for their honesty, honor their choice, and help them with their exit strategy. Either way, you’ve energized your team to contribute great ideas and are on your way to a courageous culture.

Your turn. What’s your best strategy for encouraging your team members to contribute their best ideas?

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.

Why Have We Stopped Talking About Diversity At Work?

I’ll never forget attending a leadership development program at a fancy hotel in the early 1990s. The main topic was diversity. John, my well-dressed, articulate, black peer, came back from the coffee break with tears in his eyes, saying he was standing outside getting some fresh air, when some guy handed him his keys thinking he was the valet.

He looked right at me, and said, “Karin there is no way on God’s earth this will ever happen to you.”

It’s 20 years later. I’ve gotten a lot of fresh air just outside of hotel lobbies.

It hasn’t.

We clearly needed that diversity program. John’s experience was raw and real. Talking about unconscious bias wasn’t comfortable, but I know it shaped my perspective as a leader and as a human being.

Perhaps you remember the “diversity” era.

If I were running LGL in the 1990s, I’m quite sure “diversity” would be all over my website.

I just did a search. “Diversity” is nowhere to be found.

Is diversity handled?

Sure, we have the occasional debate about where our transgender colleague should go to the bathroom, but diversity has stopped being top on our list of people issues.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, it’s better.  Thank goodness. Many companies turned those strategies into polices. Blatant discrimination is less rampant. Ratios continue to improve. It’s better, no doubt.

At the same time, in Baltimore where I live, the city imploded this year with racial riots over injustice. That can’t be happening on the outside of our businesses without impacting our insides. These issues are touching humans inside all of our organizations.

No one forgets their concern about how black lives matter just because they’re driving to work… and yet sometimes this conversation gets stifled when folks pull into your parking lot.

Am I advocating for a return to the Diversity strategy rhetoric? No. Do I want you to hire me to help you build your diversity strategy? No.

Do I think we need to continue to have real dialogue about diversity, inclusion, and the mess we’re still in as a Nation? Yes. At work? Yes. Even if it’s uncomfortable? Yes, yes. Uncomfortable leads to progress.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I encourage each one of us to consider how we can best re-open the conversation.

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

So here we are. It’s up to us. How will we continue the conversation?

The Surprising Way To Expand Your Range

I’ve always found great joy in singing, and was voted “most likely to spontaneously burst into song” in high school.

From grade school through college, I sang in every choir available, always as an alto. My voice was so low, in a pinch, I would help out the tenors. Each time I had a new director, I would announce, “I’m an alto, I don’t sing above a third space C. I’m solid with a tight harmony, so no one argued.

I would have loved to sing higher, but accepted the range I was given. Shortly after college graduation, my friends Jeff and Catherine asked me to sing at their wedding. The music was tricky, so I used my first real paycheck to hire a voice teacher from Peabody to help me prepare. I approached my voice teacher, Laura, as I had every music teacher since Ms. Elsie, my church junior choir director. “I’m an alto…”Continue reading

Inclusion And Engagement: LGL On Webtalk Radio

To access the podcast, click on the title above or go to: Web Talk Radio. Delighted to chat with Al Gonzalez on “Leading Beyond The Status Quo”. We explore the intersection of inclusion and employee engagement. Fun to share stories.

Summary

Did you know that 71% of all workers in the US are disengaged? While many diversity efforts are providing visual evidence of success, the number of disengaged employees in the workplace remains at a very high level. Why is this Because we have a lot of work to do in the area of inclusion.

This week we are joined by Karin Hurt, an expert in the area of employee engagement and author of the award winning blog Let’s Grow Leaders. Join us as we continue our exploration of Inclusion by exploring its critical relationship and relevance to Employee Engagement.

Are You Developing Your Team's Mutant Powers?

In some organizations its standard practice to “groom” leaders to adapt to corporate norms. We teach future leaders to speak so they can be heard. We encourage rising stars to capture their ideas just right in the perfect Powerpoint template. We teach them when, where, and with whom to share their ideas. I work hard to develop these skills on my team (and in fact am writing about how to “speak to be heard” tomorrow). The corporate world does not have much appetite for “mutant” gifts.

Is there a cost to such conformity? Those with more quirky personalities and styles seldom rise to the top in favor of those who look better in a gray suit. Does all the time spent on fitting in and honing the standard leadership skills, distract us from developing the unique and more edgy gifts that could lead to creative breakthroughs?

Mutants and Leadership?

“If you are using half of your power of concentration to look normal, than you are only half paying attention to everything else you are doing.”
~Magneto (a powerful mutant)

This weekend my son, Sebastian approached me excitedly, “Mom, you’ve got to see this movie. I think it has something to do with leadership.” My mind quickly raced through all the possible movies he could be considering. I was excited to spend that brisk Saturday afternoon snuggled up watching a movie and talking about leadership. And then he revealed his selection.“X-Men: First Class.” I groaned, but settled in. Sometimes you have to meet growing leaders where they are.

It’s not a “must see,” so if you missed it, I’ll save you some time. The world is full of interesting “genetic mutants” with amazing, yet underdeveloped powers (telepathy, teleportation, shape shifting). These mutants work to disguise their mutant powers, working to fit in, to “feel normal.” When under stress, the mutant powers overtake their ability to control them and they come out in awkward in dangerous ways. Until, one day, they find each other and a fellow mutant serves as their mentor helping them to not only to reveal and embrace their gifts, but to refine them.

“Mutant” Gifts

  • What unique gifts are hidden on your team?
  • Do these “mutant” gifts come out in clumsy ways?
  • What if you could help them to refine these special powers?
  • What are we missing by honing the more commonly accepted talents?
  • How much of own developmental energy is spent on “looking normal” versus becoming exceptional?

Are You Developing Your Team’s Mutant Powers?

In some organizations its standard practice to “groom” leaders to adapt to corporate norms. We teach future leaders to speak so they can be heard. We encourage rising stars to capture their ideas just right in the perfect Powerpoint template. We teach them when, where, and with whom to share their ideas. I work hard to develop these skills on my team (and in fact am writing about how to “speak to be heard” tomorrow). The corporate world does not have much appetite for “mutant” gifts.

Is there a cost to such conformity? Those with more quirky personalities and styles seldom rise to the top in favor of those who look better in a gray suit. Does all the time spent on fitting in and honing the standard leadership skills, distract us from developing the unique and more edgy gifts that could lead to creative breakthroughs?

Mutants and Leadership?

“If you are using half of your power of concentration to look normal, than you are only half paying attention to everything else you are doing.”
~Magneto (a powerful mutant)

This weekend my son, Sebastian approached me excitedly, “Mom, you’ve got to see this movie. I think it has something to do with leadership.” My mind quickly raced through all the possible movies he could be considering. I was excited to spend that brisk Saturday afternoon snuggled up watching a movie and talking about leadership. And then he revealed his selection.“X-Men: First Class.” I groaned, but settled in. Sometimes you have to meet growing leaders where they are.

It’s not a “must see,” so if you missed it, I’ll save you some time. The world is full of interesting “genetic mutants” with amazing, yet underdeveloped powers (telepathy, teleportation, shape shifting). These mutants work to disguise their mutant powers, working to fit in, to “feel normal.” When under stress, the mutant powers overtake their ability to control them and they come out in awkward in dangerous ways. Until, one day, they find each other and a fellow mutant serves as their mentor helping them to not only to reveal and embrace their gifts, but to refine them.

“Mutant” Gifts

  • What unique gifts are hidden on your team?
  • Do these “mutant” gifts come out in clumsy ways?
  • What if you could help them to refine these special powers?
  • What are we missing by honing the more commonly accepted talents?
  • How much of own developmental energy is spent on “looking normal” versus becoming exceptional?

Disclosure in Leadership? The Benefits and Risks of Showing Up Real

If you are like most leaders, you are concerned about your image and your brand. You want to show up strong, confident, and worthy of being followed. But what happens when you’re not feeling strong? What happens when life throws you curve balls to juggle on top of your leadership? What’s the risk of disclosure? What’s the risk of keeping things hidden? In full disclosure, I share a story of disclosure and how keeping things buried can backfire or not.

A Story of Non-Disclosure

I had just been promoted to my first big leadership position in HR, concurrent with a significant merger. All the players were new, I had a new boss, a new team, and new senior leaders to impress. Because life sometimes works out messy, I also was going through a divorce and trying to pick up the pieces in a new life, in a new home, as a single mom. The job required substantial travel to Manhattan and I lived in Baltimore.

One of first tasks in my new role was to build a Diversity strategy. We gathered a fantastic team representing each business unit, and were making great progress creating strategy and programs. I felt great about the relationship I had with this team and the work we were doing was vital.

And then this happened.

One day a women from my Diversity Council burst into my office, pointed her finger at me and yelled, “you are a fraud!” I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about and I was deeply hurt by the remark from this trusted teammate. She went on “I came by your office yesterday when you weren’t here and saw the pictures. They are all of you and your son–no Dad. You lead all these meetings where we work on programs to make it easier for single moms and NOT ONE TIME do you mention that you are one. What else aren’t you sharing?”

Yikes.

The truth is, I had been very deliberate about keeping that hidden. Even my new boss did not know what I was going through. I had heard enough discussion about the concept of “single moms” needing extra care and support so they could come to work on time and not call out sick when their kids were sick. I thought, I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of single mom, I’m an executive. I’d better just keep all this to myself. Oh really?

I began checking around with some other folks on the council. One gay man said, “Karin, you work so hard to get to know us as people and we love that. But, we are starting to wonder about you. You know all about us, but we know nothing about you.”

Clearly, my lack of disclosure had backfired.

Or had it?

Would I have been promoted in the midst of a merger with all new players if my new lifestyle had been part of the conversation? Or, would someone wonder if the “timing was just not right” and the “position really needed to be in NY.”

I will never know.

Footnote: Althought that was a lifetime ago, and I am now happily married with 2 children, I learned a great deal from that experience. I now chose to lead with more transparency.

What’s the right amount of disclosure? What’s the right balance of protecting your brand and being authentic.

What disclosure is good exposure?

This week, I address the issue of trust and authenticity from various angles.. I hope you will tune in to join the conversation.