How to stop wasting people's courage

How to Stop Wasting People’s Courage

Eliminate courage sinkholes to energize your team.

When you think about inspiring courage at work, what comes to mind?

Encouraging your team to …

  • Speak their truth in meetings?
  • Challenge your thinking?
  • Share new ideas?
  • Question the way we’ve always done it?
  • Find a creative solution to a customer’s problem?
  • Push back on an antiquated rule?
  • Confront a co-worker’s destructive behavior?

You need as many of these business-transforming behaviors as you can get – and for most people, even these seemingly small acts of courage, require real effort.

Until your team is certain that it’s safe to speak up, they’ll worry about rejection or career repercussions. And, that worry makes even small efforts feel big.

So how do you ensure your team has the courageous energy for creative solutions?

First, do everything you can to make speaking up the norm.

Even if you’re the most encouraging boss ever, assume your team members have picked up some scar tissue along the way, that makes safe silence the default.

Next, check carefully for these caustic energy drains.

Where Does Courage Show Up?

In every Courageous Culture keynote and workshop, we ask, “What’s the most courageous act you’ve ever done at work?

Consistently, an alarming number of responses involve overcoming a pretty toxic scene.

  • “A doctor was trying to do an experimental procedure I knew could hurt a child (and was against the parent’s consent), so I blocked the door.”
  • “I challenged a chronically passive-aggressive co-worker.”
  • “My boss was exaggerating the numbers to our leadership team. I held fast to the truth. ”
  • “I stood up to a boss who was trying to bully me.”
  • “I called ethics because I was tired of all the screaming.”
  • “And then,  I got retaliated against for calling ethics.”
  • “They asked me to tell the truth about the CEO’s behavior. I did. And, he was fired.”
  • “My integrity clashed with the executive team’s direction, so I quit.”

Sobering answers, aren’t they?

When people spend their courage reserves just getting past the bad stuff, there’s no energy left for the courage your business needs most—creative problem solving and micro-innovation.

Limited Supply

For most people, innovation takes energy and courage—the courage to be vulnerable, to risk rejection from peers, or invite uncertainty.

Your people can only make that effort a limited number of times before they’re done. The more courage they use to address injustice, toxic leadership, needless politics, or poor decision-making, the less effort they’ll have to spend on what really matters.

If it takes heroic effort to fight against a caustic culture, you won’t get any of the courage you need to serve your customer or build your business.

How to Stop Wasting People’s Courage

You can build a culture that leverages and amplifies every act of courage from every team member. Start with a foundation of safety and clarity:

  1. Don’t tolerate harassment or bullying – from anyone, but especially from anyone in a management or leadership role (even if they’re otherwise rock star performers). If it takes a week’s supply of courage for an employee just to show up for another day, you’re wasting money and talent.
  2. Examine your systems and infrastructure for injustice or unintended consequences that prevent people from focusing on the work that matters most.
  3. Get out and really listen to what your frontline employees are experiencing every day. Ask questions that give them an opportunity to tell you what’s really going on.
  4. Take those comments in your employee surveys seriously. For every employee that spoke up, there’s likely another who blew it off or stayed silent.
  5. Clarify your MITs (Most Important Thing) and make sure every decision and action contributes to those objectives. Check in at every level of the business to ensure that everyone’s got it – and does it. Lack of clarity, chaos, and poor decision-making sap people’s courage. But—when everyone knows where they’re going and how they’ll get there, it energizes the team.

Now on to Changing the Game

Once you’ve addressed these foundational issues, the game is on. Now you can focus on the positive culture shifts that encourage your team to contribute.

You’ve probably been at a conference or meeting where the facilitator asks the audience to share a thought. There is an uncomfortable silence as people think about their answer and weigh the risk of saying something against the safety of staying silent.

Finally, one person raises their hand and offers their thoughts. Soon another follows, then another, and before long there’s a robust conversation.

What happened?

The culture in the room shifted from safe silence to contribution. By the end of the meeting, everyone knew they could trust one another. That their thoughts belonged in the conversation. That there was value to taking part.

You can create that same dynamic in your organization when you make contribution the default.

Imagine a team culture where everyone knows that if there is a perspective that hasn’t been heard, and that it can improve the project or avoid catastrophe, they can count on their colleague to share it. AND, that everyone will listen, consider it with care, and value it as they make decisions.

Because that’s what we do.

Once you build that culture, your people don’t have to spend courage on solving problems, speaking up, or challenging one another’s thinking. It’s just what we do.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Your Turn

We’d love to hear from you:  What is your most courageous act at work? How do you ensure your team’s courage doesn’t go to waste?

Exciting leadership results of trying something new

The Exciting Leadership Results of Trying Something New

When was the last time you tried something new?

Last week I did something that scared me. I did something new to me – that people in 31% of the world’s countries take for granted.

I drove on the left side of the road.

We were speaking at a conference in Dublin and had the opportunity to visit Northern Ireland. To see what we hoped to see, I needed to drive.

That might not sound like a big deal. After all, people drive on both sides of the road every day. But for me it was new, and I worried.

I’d be driving a standard transmission on the opposite side of the road. I’d sit in the right seat. I’d work the gearshift with my left hand rather than my right.

I worried that thirty years of hard-wired instincts of where to look, how to react, and what to do would be exactly wrong and I’d cause an accident. My life, my family’s lives, and the lives of the other people on the road were at stake.

I worried, but I’m so glad I did it.

Northern Ireland trying something new

Leadership is Something New

New doesn’t come easily. It takes effort.

Your brain prefers inertia–if what you did yesterday was good enough, why spend the energy to change?

When someone brings together a group of people and helps them do something new together—something that has a chance to create better results—we call that “leadership.”

To lead your team to something new, you’ve got to go there first. And when you do, amazing things happen.

The Exciting Leadership Results of Trying Something New

1. You build your courage.

My adrenalin spiked as we approached the first traffic circle. It was rush hour and everything felt wrong. By the one hundredth traffic circle, I was still alert, but trepidation had become the confidence I could do it. And now, driving in 1/3 of the world’s countries is available to me if I need it.

When you try something new, there are risks. Your boss might not like your idea. Your team member might not respond well (or may even quit) when you address their poor behavior for the first time.

It’s okay. You’ll make mistakes. I did–Karin can tell you about the wrong lanes and clipped curbs.

You’ll learn from the mistakes, you’ll grow, and you’ll know you can do it–because you already have.

2. You build your team’s courage.

Your team is watching you.

Do you have the courage to try something new? To advocate for them? To share new ideas? To confront injustice?

Before you can ask your team for the courage to try something new, to hold one another accountable, to speak up, share ideas, or call attention to a problem, they’ve got to see it from you.

3. New gets easier the more you do it.

Trying something new is a muscle. Work the muscle and it gets stronger.

You get accustomed to the discomfort your brain and body experience when forced out of their comfort zone.

The less time you spend in a rut, the less likely you are to get stuck in it.

4. Creativity gets easier.

Breakthrough creativity is often a connection between two different ideas that no one had ever connected before.

Trying something new gives you new perspectives.

I saw things differently on the left side of the road and I also saw different things.

As you grow your perspective and experience, you give your brain more opportunities to build new connections.

5. What was hard before gets easier.

Our son is a juggler. He’s been juggling three balls, three clubs, and three knives, but recently decided to try juggling four balls.

He took several weeks of work to do it. Once he could juggle four, he went back to three balls and found he could readily perform tricks that were hard or impossible before.

You can take advantage of this effect at work with a new strategy, a new assignment, a new professional association, a new coach, or maybe a lateral move that’s outside of your current comfort zone.

But here’s a secret – you can get these benefits even if the new thing you try isn’t at work. Dance lessons, sky-diving, cooking classes, a new sport or hobby–do something you haven’t done before and help every aspect of your life.

Juggling something new

How to Get Started with Something New

If starting something new doesn’t come easily for you, you’re not alone. We’ve met senior leaders who were reluctant to speak up for the first time or take a chance on something new when they’d had success with the tried and true.

To get started:

Learn What You Can

What people can do; you can do.

There’s no substitute for real experience, but you can shorten the learning curve. I found a good website about how to drive on the opposite side of the road and picked up some tips that helped.

Find Your Team

New is easier with a team. Karin was an ace lookout, helping me stay in the proper lane, calling out hazards, and encouraging me through stretches of big-city rush hour.

Who can go on the journey with you? Maybe you can’t have a partner in the specific activity, but can you connect with a colleague who is also growing and mastering something new? Connect regularly, share your experiences, and encourage one another.

To Level Up Fast–Do What Scares You Most

This is the advanced level for leaders who want to grow quickly. Pick the work-related behavior that makes you most uncomfortable.

Maybe you’re reluctant to have that accountability conversation with a high-performer because you don’t want to lose her. Perhaps you’ve shied away from sharing that new strategy your team suggested, or from sales or presentations, or asking for full-circle feedback on your performance.

Pick one behavior and do a confidence burst / mini-experiment and try the new behavior for a limited time. Watch what happens to your learning, your confidence, and your creativity.

Your Turn

Leave us a comment and share either the latest new thing you’ve tried or your best idea to help others stay fresh, build their courage, and cultivate creativity by trying something new.

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.

6 Reasons Your Staff is Keeping You in the Dark

6 Reasons Your Staff Keeps You in the Dark

Do you ever feel like your staff keeps you in the dark?

Do you ever wonder if they’re going out of their way to keep you out of their way?

That seems ridiculous. AND, it’s entirely possible.

Here’s the scary part if you’re looking to build a courageous, truth-telling culture. The higher your name is on the org chart, the more likely this is happening to you.

(As we write this, we’re envisioning our favorite direct reports Facebook messaging one another “Should we tell them we did that to them too?”) This “keeping you in the dark” thing happens to most leaders from time to time—even the best-intentioned.

When the pressure for performance is high, your team really cares, and they’re not getting the support they need—they may be tempted to work around you.

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves.

To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

6 Reasons Your Staff Keeps You in the Dark (and What to do Instead)

  1. Rush To Fix It – Did you ever have a boss that tries to fix every problem themselves, without fully understanding the subtleties of the scene? It can wreak havoc, right?  Keep in mind that your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating a concern may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Calling the supplier directly may derail negotiations. Instead, ask how you can best help. Our 9 What’s Problem Solving model is a great process for helping your staff think more critically and solve problems on their own. Solve Problems - 9 Questions to Help Your Team
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. If you want them to be more transparent, be more transparent. We’ve seen managers who simultaneously encourage their team to bring them issues AND coach them not to breathe a word to their boss.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. And after all, if you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Work to help your team recover from setbacks and mistakes. Sharing some stories of your own mistakes and poor choices can help too. Empowering them with the D.A.R.N. method for delivering bad news can also make a big difference.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue.  Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm what needs to happen next AND what needs to move down on their list to make room for that. We’ve seen too many managers leaving their boss’ office cursing under their breath regretting bringing the whole thing up.
  6. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy for them to share. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

You get more of what you recognize and appreciate. If you want courageous transparency, thank your team for shedding a little light on what you really need to know.

Your turn.

What are your best practices to encourage your team to tell you the truth?

the suprising reason emerging leaders stop emerging

The Surprising Reason Emerging Leaders Stop Emerging

I met a fellow keynote speaker at a conference where we both presenting. She was a seasoned entrepreneur who had built a successful business from scratch, so what she had to share with me was surprising.

Karin, I’m so intrigued by this research you’re doing on FOSU (fear of speaking up) and the downstream consequences for employees and organizations. The truth is I’m one of those people. I had such a bad experience when I was 23, that I would never offer my opinion at work again.

I was just out of college and so eager to make an impact in my new role. I had tons of ideas and was always looking for ways to make things better. So I offered my opinion on EVERYTHING. Which as it turns out, was exhausting to everyone around me. I got fired and was completely devastated. After all, my heart was in the right place. I was gung ho. But, the truth is, I was commited but clumsy.

Once I got back on my feet in a new job, I kept my head down, my mouth shut, and just did my job. I had this FOSU thing you talk about in a big way. And I was misearable.

It’s why I eventually had to go start my own business. I knew I would never speak up to an employer again.

Please feel free to share my story.

I hope it can help leaders understand the long-term damage they can do to emerging leaders who may have good ideas, but just haven’t learned the skills to position them well. Also leaders need to understand how easy it is to lose high-potential talent when you scare them into suppressing their best thinking instead of teaching them the skills they need to get their point across.

I thought back to one of my own early-career, well-intended, clumsy moves. I was an inexperienced HR manager attending a meeting on employee engagement where I told a room full of VPs, all with at least a decade more experience than me, that they were completely wrong. But in contrast to my new friend’s experience, here’s what the SVP took me aside and said next.

Karin, You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs that all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers, and in front of their boss! You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix this problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

I took her up on her offer, and she became an amazing mentor.

The Cost of Ignoring Your Emerging Leader’s Ideas

When I tell some executives about our FOSU research, sometimes they laugh. “Oh, that’s not OUR issue. Our problem is these damn millennials can’t stop speaking up. They complain about everything.”

“And do you listen?” I ask.

“Some of the time, but after a while you can only take so much.”

Which begs the question. And then what happens? After you’re tired and they’re ignored?

I imagine it’s only a matter of time until they stop trying, or leave.

If you want to create better ideas positioned well, it’s worth the investment to teach them well.

4 Ways to Help Your Emerging Leaders Articulate Their Ideas

1. Give them perspective.

When leaders come to us wishing their team was more strategic or are frustrated that their employees are all fired up about some small issue that’s not so important in the grand scheme of things, what we often find is a gap in strategic communication. For employees to position their ideas well, they need context. Be sure you’re articulating the “why” behind strategic business initiatives.

2. Provide candid feedback about how their behavior is holding them back.

One problem with over-generalizing about “this millennial problem,” we so often hear about– the feeling that these emerging leaders want everything right now and feel entitled to say whatever is on their minds–is that managers are often afraid to address the issue because they see it as a generation problem, not an individual needing guidance, training, and support. And so, these emerging leaders don’t get the feedback they need and the behavior continues.

They don’t hear that saying the same thing in a different way would be 1000 times more impactful. No one tells them why jumping over their boss to bring an issue to the senior leader without context is a problem.

Here’s the truth. I was a clumsy emerging leader. So was the keynote speaker who got fired from her first job for speaking up. I imagine you were or are one too.

Care enough to have the tough conversation.

3. Build problem solving competencies.

“Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is the fastest way to get your team to stop bringing you problems. Work to build problem-solving competencies on your team. Try this simple 9 Whats Coaching Model technique as a start.

4. Teach them the power of stakeholders.

In our emerging leader training programs, we teach the V.O.I.C.E. technique for positioning ideas which includes understanding and involving stakeholders and other key influencers.

We don’t just need more people speaking up, we need to help our emerging leaders speak up in a way that can be heard so their ideas can add the most value. It’s worth slowing down and giving our new managers the skills and encouragement they need to do that well.

Your turn. 

How do you help your emerging leaders better position their ideas?

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