stop the drama - a leaders guide

7 Steps to Stop the Drama – a Leader’s Ultimate Guide

Life is crazy; work doesn’t have to be. Stop the drama and get back to work.

Do you work with a drama addict? Are you desperate to stop the drama and focus on real work?

Maybe you have a boss who thrives on adrenalin-fueled fire drills, loves to shout “stop everything and get everyone in here now!” and who refuses to do the planning necessary to avoid the drama.

Or perhaps it’s your team member who is always in your office, taking up time, worried about how something isn’t working, the latest mistake by a colleague, and who blows every problem out of proportion.

Drama eats your productivity. It consumes your emotional energy and wastes valuable decision-making energy. But when you’re leading people, there will always be some level of drama. It takes many forms, but even the most mellow accountants and engineers can encounter drama.

Effective leaders master the ability to de-escalate drama and redirect people to productive activity. These seven steps are your ultimate guide to stop the drama, build healthy relationships, and achieve breakthrough results.

7 Steps to Stop the Drama

1. Ground Yourself

You won’t be effective if you’re swept up and washed away in the storm of other people’s drama. Anchor yourself. Know what matters most, build connections that keep you centered, steep in the values you want to live, and approach work with a positive “we can solve this” attitude.

At the same time, be prepared for problems. Disruptions are a fact of life. People won’t always do what they’re supposed to. These are not reasons to panic or freak out.

When there are problems, your grounded energy will help your team to maintain their composure and focus on the real MIT (Most Important Thing).

2. Set Clear Expectations

Just as you ensure everyone is on the same page regarding key business outcomes, you want to set expectations around how the team will react to challenges, how they resolve disagreements, and what to do when someone lets you down.

Give your people the tools to have tough conversations with one another. Talk about how the team will respond when (not if) there’s a problem. Rehearse. Practice. Role-play and be ready. You’ll prevent problems from catching fire and blowing up into unproductive drama.

These first two steps help you prepare for drama-situations before they happen. Now let’s look at what to do when the drama happens:

3. Acknowledge Their Feelings / Concern

When someone is fired up, one of the most effective ways to de-escalate the situation is to reflect how they’re feeling. eg: “It sounds like you’re frustrated.”

You’re not telling them how to feel or saying you agree with their interpretation. You’re just them know you understand how they are feeling. Until that strong emotion is acknowledged, you’re unlikely to be able to move forward. Often, this acknowledgment and understanding is all the person needs.

4. Ask Rational Clarifying Questions

After you acknowledge their feeling, your next goal is to get the problem into perspective. Ask straightforward questions that help quantify the real issue.

For example, when someone comes to you wound up because “I’m facing an insurrection! Everyone is fighting the new system and this will never work!” you might ask: “Who is having a hard time?” “What are they finding challenging?”

It’s one thing for the world to be on fire, but it’s another when it’s just Liz in Accounting and Jeff in Marketing who haven’t figure out how to get the data they need.

Push for the specifics that define the real problem (not the emotional problem).

5. Redirect to “How Can We” Questions

Once you’ve got the problem identified, asking a “How can we?” question helps pull the person out of reacting and into problem-solving. The human brain isn’t able to hold onto intense emotion at the same time as holding curiosity.

When you ask “How can we solve this?” you’re also communicating that you care, that you trust them to be able to come up with solutions, and that a solution is possible. That’s a lot of drama-erasing, problem-solving power for one short question.

6. Identify Next Steps

As they come up with solutions, translate those into specific actions that can be taken (the sooner the better). Ideally, these are actions they can take to help solve the issue. Sometimes there will be steps for you to take as well.

Either way, don’t allow the situation to resolve without specific commitments to action.

7. Finish Strong

Schedule a specific time where you and the other person will meet to review the actions both of you have taken, their impact, and what comes next. This is a critical step that prevents this particular dramatic situation from happening again. Don’t waste this conversation. If you do the drama will be back before you know it. Finish strong.

Your Turn

When you use these seven steps, you’ll prevent unnecessary drama. Your team will have the tools to deal with problems productively. For team members with a more drama-loving personality, walking them through steps 3 – 7 will guide them to more productive behaviors.

We’d love to hear from you: what’s your best tip to stop the drama, calm things down, and help everyone focus on moving forward?

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

Motivate Your Team Stop Treating Them Like Family

How to Motivate Your Team – Stop Treating Them Like Family

Thinking they’re a family doesn’t motivate your team.

You’ve probably heard leaders say it and you might have even said it yourself when you were hoping to motivate your team.

“I treat my team like family” or “We’re one big family here at XYZ Corp.”

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.

1. You don’t know what “family” means.

Each team member will interpret “family” differently depending on their past. For some, the definition of family is “that safe place where you are always accepted no matter how badly you’ve screwed up.”

For another team member, the family might mean a dysfunctional, tense situation that they left as soon as they could.

For another team member, family means they just wait for their parent to tell them what to do and they don’t have to think for themselves.

As soon as you use a word like “family” you’ve lost a shared, mutually understood set of expectations about what success looks like.

2. You’re not a family.

When it comes to motivating your team, one of the biggest problems “family” language creates is the obvious one: you’re not a family. One big difference that I’ve seen create problems for many businesses is the idea that you can’t fire a brother or sister for poor performance.

I’ve listened to sad employees receive a letter of separation and tearfully tell their manager, “But we’re supposed to be a family. This isn’t right.” And they believe it, and they’ve been allowed to believe it, because the manager so frequently spoke in terms of family.

Teams exist to achieve a shared goal, whether it’s to serve your customer, create change in the world, or solve a significant problem. When your behavior doesn’t align with that goal, you can and should be removed from the team. Families may or may not share a common goal, and rarely does poor behavior get you removed from a family.

3. You make growth difficult.

Small teams and businesses will often speak of themselves as a family. It’s natural–the constant time spent with your team, high pressure, the informal meetings, and lack of structure that often come with small organizations can feel very family-like.

However, this mindset makes it very challenging to motivate your team when you want to grow. Team members who enjoyed the casual environment and lack of structure start to complain when you introduce role clarity, define MITs, and increase accountability.

This is where you hear things like, “We used to be a family, but now we’re becoming so…corporate!” Corporate is said as if it were a poisonous snake (and, to be fair, if their experience of corporate has been to be treated like a number, not a person, it may have been poisonous.)

How to Motivate Your Team When They Talk About Family

When you hear your team talking about being a family (or if you’ve used this language yourself), I invite you to Ditch the Diaper Drama with your team and have a straightforward conversation. You might start with:

“I’ve heard us talk about being a family and I’ve said it as well. I want to talk about that. Family can mean different things to different people and I’d like for us to make sure we are on the same page and understand one another.”

In this conversation, you want to reinforce that you are a team (or organization) focused on both results and relationships. Clarify the MITs and What Success Looks Like. You might use the Expectations Matrix to facilitate a conversation and identify gaps in expectations.

Clarify your culture (How people like us act) with regard to how you will treat one another with respect, compassion, and hold one another accountable. If growth is in your future, talk about how it will require more role clarity and more structure, and how treating one another with respect, compassion, and holding each other accountable should never change.

Your Turn

Remember that “family” can mean something very different from what you intend and create bad misunderstandings for your team. To motivate your team, take the time to clarify shared expectations about your purpose and the ways in which you will respect and care for one another.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share your thoughts about what it means for a business team to be “like family.”

leadership development Karin Hurt and David Dye

What to do when your boss cant focus

What to Do When Your Boss Can’t Focus?

Have you ever had a boss who couldn’t focus? What advice would you have for Scattered?

Dear Karin & David,

What do you do with a boss who makes it impossible to focus? We agree on a direction and three days later he has seventeen new ideas, dumps them on us, and the managers are expected to somehow get their teams organized and performing. We can’t ever finish one project before starting three more. Of course, I’m asking for a friend.

                                                                                                Please help!

                                                                                                -Scattered

Dear Scattered,

We hear you.

It can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you can’t focus. We have worked for, consulted with many, (and even been) leaders whose frequent new ideas leave their people gasping for breath and confused as to where to focus.

The good news is that these leaders can bring many strengths to their jobs and together you can be very effective.

Let’s start by appreciating what your boss is bringing to the relationship. It sounds like your boss is an innovator. These people see the world as a series of opportunities.

They’re energized by possibilities and can create new and exciting ways of doing things. They often think about the big picture, start initiatives noone’s ever thought of, and are the antidote to lethargic “business as usual.” All sorts of ideas excite them and their enthusiasm can be contagious and motivating.

Remember these assets as you consider the challenges: they get distracted, their excitement can be exhausting, and it’s easy for projects to get lost as they pile up.

Next, let’s look at how you can help yourself and your boss to maintain focus.

First, have a conversation to establish the MITs for the year and for the immediate quarter. What is the Most Important Thing you and your team will achieve? We recommend you initiate this conversation so it doesn’t seem like a reaction or negation of your boss’s latest idea.

Next, communicate weekly with your boss about how you are making progress toward the agreed-upon MITs. (We recommend using the MIT Huddle Planner to facilitate these conversations.) This serves two purposes: First, it lets your boss know what you’re doing. Second, it subtly reminds your boss what you both agreed were the Most Important Things you would do.

4 Ways to Help Your Boss Focus

Third, when your boss brings their latest new idea:

  1. Take time to listen. Make the effort to understand why it excites them and why they think it’s a good idea.
  2. Validate their reason for suggesting it by reflecting what you hear. e.g.: “That sounds like a great way to get in front of more customers.” Note that this isn’t a commitment to do it. You’re entering into the conversation by ensuring you’ve understood the reason for their suggestion.
  3. Ask how it aligns with other priorities. e.g.: “I know you’ve asked us to prioritize the new product development and customer retention this quarter. Is this an alternative to those priorities? Would you like resources reassigned this quarter or is this for the future? Which of these initiatives is the Most Important Thing?”When you ask these clarifying questions, your boss will often think about just how much of a priority the new idea should be. Sometimes they’ll say something like “It’s a fun idea, but let’s maintain our current focus for now.” Other times, however, they’ll have a good reason that the new idea ought to be pursued. It may achieve more than an existing initiative or meet a more urgent issue your boss has to respond to.
  4. Check for Understanding. e.g.: “Okay, let me make sure I’ve got it: we’re going to stick with new product development and customer retention as our MITs this quarter. We’ll reconvene in six weeks to look at this idea with an eye to scheduling it for next quarter. Do I have that right?”

After this conversation, continue your weekly communications about the progress you’ve made on your MITs. This cadence of communication and conversation will help everyone think through priorities and shift them with clarity and purpose.

We’ve coached many managers on both sides of these conversations. In our experience, the idea-generating managers may initially be a little frustrated, but they come to value the questions.

In the words of Matt, a CFO who was frustrating his team with weekly new ideas:

“I hated it when my direct reports would ask me ‘How does this idea fit in with our other priorities?’ but after a few times, it helped me to really think it through and keep us focused on what mattered most.”

Let us know how you and ‘your friend’ use these conversations.

Your Question?

We love to hear from you. Send us your real leadership challenges (or ask for a friend!) and we’ll give you real answers.

See Also Forbes: 17 Tips For Dealing With a Disorganized Boss

why your team won't collaborate and what to do about it

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate (and What To Do About It)

“I’m sick of this crap! My team won’t collaborate – why can’t they just figure this out?”

Scott was CEO of an engineering firm that produced communications hardware and software for industries around the globe.

He had worked hard with his board and senior leadership team to settle on their strategic M.I.T. for the next 18 months. They needed to launch a new product to remain competitive in a market they had once led.

He held a company meeting where he made the goal painfully clear to everyone in the room. “We need to get this new product to market by this deadline, or we’re out of business in five years.”

Within six weeks he was exasperated. His people were at war with one another. Several senior VPs were about to quit and the do-or-die deadline was looking like a dream.

We see this frequently: leaders lay out a clear M.I.T. (for more on the Most Important Thing), they check for understanding, and they turn their people loose to get after it.

Before too long, customer service and sales are at each other’s throats. Engineering and marketing are having shouting matches in the halls while finance and human resources won’t talk at all.

When their team won’t collaborate we’ve watched executives get frustrated and shout, “Why can’t you guys figure this out? Just work together and solve the problem!”

Maybe you’re a frontline leader and you’ve worked hard to establish a clear, shared team vision and the M.I.T. initiative for this quarter, but your team ends up squabbling.

Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate

When your people can’t unify in pursuit of a common, clearly established goal, the problem is usually that you’ve only established 50% clarity.

You’ve clarified results, but you haven’t clarified relationships – and that is frequently why your team won’t collaborate.

In Scott’s case (and this is VERY common) he had made the new product a priority, but was still evaluating individual departments based on other criteria.

For instance, customer service was evaluated on their ability to retain customers, but at the same time, engineering was all but ignoring response-to-existing-customer requests in favor of getting the new product to market. So customer service naturally saw stubborn engineering as a threat to their bonuses and even employment.

Customer service continually requested that sales lend some of their people to try to save existing accounts. Sales people were being assessed on quotas that were unrelated to the new product’s launch.

In short, everyone was doing what made the most sense for their individual success and was frustrated that their colleagues wouldn’t cooperate.

Scott had defined an overarching goal, but had left the organizational systems and processes untouched.

Those systems and processes were built to achieve different goals.

When his people came to him and asked whether the engineering prioritization of new product over customer retention was okay, he got frustrated. “Why can’t they just figure it out?”

The answer: Because he’d given them conflicting goals.

What To Do About It When Your Team Won’t Collaborate

Real teams succeed or fail together. They have a clear goal and they all have a clear role to play in achieving it.

Effective leaders establish clarity of results and relationships.

Clarity of results is often easier to define:

  • What’s the M.I.T. we must accomplish this year?
  • What are our three most important strategic M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the M.I.T. behaviors we need at the executive, manager, and frontline levels?

Clarity of relationships, however, requires you to address some additional questions:

  • How are roles and handoffs defined and communicated?
  • How do department or individual team member priorities align with M.I.T. initiatives?
  • What are the most important values, systems, and processes guiding everyone’s behavior?

In Scott’s case, this meant we had to ask and answer some tough questions:

  • Would customer retention goals be lowered or continue at prior levels?
  • Either way, how could these be achieved in ways that aligned with the timely new product launch?
  • How much attention should engineering give to resolving existing customer issues?
  • How would performance bonuses be changed to align with the stated M.I.T. of the new product launch?

Your Turn

If you’ve established a clear M.I.T. but people are siloed, caught in endless arguments, and the team won’t collaborate, take a hard look at the relational clarity and how you can get everyone aligned with the new goal – not just in theory, but in reality.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts: How do you ensure that everyone on your team understands their role in achieving a shared goal?

Mind the MIT

5 Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

How do leaders stay focused when everything feels so important?

“Mark, What’s your M.I.T.?”

Mark pushed back from his desk. “That’s a great question. I’ve so much flying at me…” He sighed. “I don’t have a clue.”

Mark’s calendar might look familiar: wall-to-wall meetings, often with two or three appointments competing for the same window of time.

Management means an unending stream of information, problems to solve, decisions to make, fires to put out, constant interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, messaging apps, and that’s not to mention the projects you want to work on to build a better future.

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

The first step to address this overwhelm is to accept the reality that you cannot do everything. I often refer to this as “Infinite need, finite me.” You can’t succeed by doing everything – only by doing what matters most.

Once you’ve made peace with the reality of infinite need, finite me, it’s time to get crystal clear about your M.I.T. or Most Important Thing. In your work, what are the one to three most important strategic objectives you and your team can achieve?

Your ability to Mind the M.I.T. is critical to your success, but what if you don’t know what’s most important?

It’s not always as straightforward as we might hope. In fact, we’ve seen many frontline leaders and middle-level managers in organizations we work with struggle to identify their M.I.T.s.

Five Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important

Here are five ways to figure out what’s most important and where you and your team can have the most impact:

1. Ask Your Boss.

When you feel swamped with competing priorities and initiatives, start by asking your supervisor: “What is the most important thing my team can accomplish this year?”

We’ve often sat with befuddled leaders and invited their manager to the conversation. We’ll ask the manager to identify the MITs and they rattle off the top one, two, or three priorities for the next year. They may not have communicated them well, but they knew what they were.

2. Think Two-Levels Above.

If your boss isn’t clear about the MITs, trying thinking up a level. What keeps your boss’s boss awake at night? What are the goals they’ve got to achieve? How does what your team does contribute to these outcomes? You might even try initiating a skip-level meeting in order to align your team with strategic goals. If your boss is amenable, invite them to join you.

3. Ask What Matters Most to Your Customers.

If you can’t get clarity from your managers, the next place to look is at the value you add for your customers. Whether you provide a product or service and whether you do that for external or internal customers, they don’t care about your scorecard. What do they care about? What are the one or two things your customers most need from you? Focus on doing that exceptionally well.

4. Ask What Matters Most to You and Your Team.

If you’re still struggling for clarity, imagine a day six months or a year into the future where you and your team are congratulating one another for having done your very best. What did you achieve? What made you most proud? How do you know you did your very best?

5. Look for the Leverage.

Often, there is one action you can take or one result you can produce that will have a profound effect on everything else. What is that one point of leverage that, if you did it successfully, would change the game for you, your team, and your organization?

Your Turn

When everything’s important, you blunt your impact. When you take time to figure out your one, two, or three strategic M.I.T.s, then relentlessly focus on them every day you’ll energize your team and results can soar.

Today, Mark has his three M.I.T.s written on a whiteboard in his office. He reviews them every day and discusses them with everyone he talks to. The team focuses on the specific behaviors that will help them achieve their M.I.T.s.

Leave us a comment and let us know: When everything feels important, how do you choose what is actually the Most Important Thing?

The Most Important One: Tolstoy and Covey on Focus

One of my son’s favorite books is The Three Questions (Based on a Story by Leo Tolstoy).

The story takes a child-friendly adventure through Tolstoy’s famous questions:

Who is the most important one?

What is the right thing to do?

When is the best time to do things?

The main idea– give all of your attention to the present scene and players, and do everything you can to contribute.

The most important one, is the one you are with… and the right thing to do, is what he most needs…. and the best time to do it is now.

“The most necessary man is he with whom you are.”
~Leo Tolstoy

I have been struck by how much these questions resonate with Seb (age 6). When it is just the 2 of us playing or talking, he will stop the action and ask with a big smile, “who is the most important one?” Or, when he wants to do something fun he will remind me, “when is the best time to do things?”

People need undivided attention. They want to be listened to, and really heard. They need to know that they are the most important one– at least in that moment. This is at the core of my values as a leader, and at the same time, it is a constant struggle to put into practice. I don’t have this handled.

It is easy to think we are doing it all– that we’re handling the juggling act with grace, and that were giving folks what they need. There is so much that is urgent, and coming in through so many channels. I am constantly picking up the phone, while on a conference call, and have text messages beeping in. And yet, I try to convince myself that I am “listening” to all 4 conversations: the conference call, the new caller, the urgent texter, and the conflicted conversations in my brain. I am not fooling any of us.

If you are a newer leader who has not yet stumbled on the classic work of Stephen Covey, the great leadership writer, whose life we celebrate this week, I would start there. Covey’s First Things First, has some solid principles that still guide my work today, and is amongst my most frequently gifted books. I also find value in outside practices that help me to clear my brain and let me approach the tougher situations with a bit more clarity: prayer, yoga, and exercise seem to work for me. Many also find deep power in meditation.

Is the “most important one” always the one you are with? Of course not. Sometimes, you must switch gears. But, it is an awfully good place to start.