What Your Team Is Saying Behind Your Back

Have you ever talked about your boss behind your back? If you haven’t complained to at least someone…you’re a saint. Call me. I’m sure you’ve got some wisdom we can share here at LGL.

For the rest of us… you know… right? Just like you’re complaining about that boss who (you might even like a lot of the time) has behaviors you wish they would improve–SOON.  And chances are you haven’t told them.

Here’s the real deal. No matter how wonderful you are, I guarantee you, your team is talking about you (in some way that would surprise you) too.

How do I know this? Well, in addition to all the barrage of stories I hear from the companies I work with, the classroom full of MBA students who attended my Managing Difficult People elective all have one thing in common. Despite the advertised name of the class, guess who 100% are there to talk about? Yup. You guessed it. The inapproachable “jerk” who is their boss. As we dig in, he’s never that bad. #justsaying #letmehelp

That’s the spirit behind Winning Well. No one leads in a soul sucking way on purpose.  David Dye and I are on a mission to help you (and your bosses and your direct reports) lead better.

Sure it’s hard. You and your bosses are sandwiched between all kinds of competing priorities. And it’s tricky to think about how to do it right.

But it can also be made much easier by learning some extremely practical tools and techniques (this is a 2 minute video).

I promise you. A little bit of quality leadership development is worth the investment.

If you haven’t downloaded a FREE chapter of Winning Well, accessed the free toolkit, or taken the free online assessment, click here to get started. 

If you just want to talk for an hour (my dime) about why you’re a Winning Well leader or areas you’re looking to improve please contact my awesome assistant, Beth at beth@letsgrowleaders.com and she will get something scheduled.

I know we can help. And we have a wide range of solutions for every budget, including our newly released Winning Well online course.

How to Achieve the Impossible

IT managers, Lori and Ann, were both shocked when they were given their latest projects. What this new client wanted was really complicated, and their teams were already about to tip over, not to mention the ridiculous time frame the sales team had committed to. “Why don’t they ask us before making these impossible commitments?” “What are they smoking? We can’t possibly do this!” ​ They both knew better than to say what was on their minds. ​​

But now the tough part. Telling their teams.

Feeling the urgency, Lori immediately called her team together for a quick huddle. Her team knew there was trouble by the look on her face, before she even said a word. And then she looked at them sincerely, “Guys, I’m so sorry. We’ve been given an impossible deadline, and I know you’re already working so hard. We’re just going to have to do the best we can. Here are the parameters…”

Ann took her cell phone to the parking lot and vented to her husband. Then she took a walk and cleared her head. She had to figure out a way to do this without crushing the team. Back at her desk, she sent out a quick calendar invite for 8 a.m. the next morning labeled “Launch Project Flying Colors”–no other details.

Intrigued, her team got there a bit earlier than usual to find the conference room filled with colorful helium balloons and streamers, along with blank white easel sheets plastering the walls. She had a medley of upbeat “color” themed songs playing on her iPhone.

“Guys, we’ve been given an exciting challenge and I’m sure we’re going to pass it with flying colors. It’s going to be hard, perhaps the most difficult thing we’ve accomplished, which is why I’ve brought us here to get really creative on the best path forward. Let me outline the parameters we have to work with, and then we’re going to work together to make a game plan.”

How to Galvanize Your Team to Achieve the Impossible

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that hard work is still hard work. But I’ve seen a little bit of galvanizing magic go a long way in sparking creativity and getting folks into a “Yes, we can!” mindset.

To galvanize your team toward achieving the possible…

Make winning feel like a sport.

In sports, nothings more fun than winning when the odds are stacked against you. A game of lay-ups would be a real yawner. Tap into the sporting side of human nature.

Be clear why every role matters.

Watch any Little League game and at some point there will be a kid in the outfield with his finger up his nose. Not so in the major leagues. Be sure everyone on the team has a valuable role and is deeply connected to the vision.

Identify specific skills and behaviors needed for success in every role.

Be sure that every team member knows the behaviors they must exhibit for success.

Align team member’s passions with purpose.

Tap into skills and abilities that may be outside of the person’s day job. Nothing galvanizes people more than being able to do what they love while adding value.

Acknowledge challenges and obstacles, and include the team in finding solutions.

Go ahead, admit that it’s tough. “Heck yeah, those parameters are ridiculous. But we’ve got to find a way to do it. What would we do if we did know how to make this happen?”

Articulate a winning game plan.

Be clear on the actions of who will achieve what by when. Build in natural celebration points along the way.

When you develop a reputation for being a galvanizer, folks will knock down your door to join you the next time. Winning well is fun.

What Makes Leaders Different?

Leaders don’t fail because of skills. Mark Miller, author of The Heart of Leadership, explains that most leadership failures are a matter of heart. I asked Mark for his advice for leaders working to grow other leaders: How do we help aspiring leaders to develop heart-based qualities?

A lot of it comes down to mentoring suggests Mark:

“Listen a lot. Work to understand their goals, aspirations and troubles. Never set the agenda, let it come from them even if it doesn’t feel practical.”

He also shares the most important characteristic is encouraging them to think about others first. “Until they’ve mastered that, none of the other important leadership characteristics can be fully developed.”

The Heart of Leadership is an easy-to-read story of a growing leader, supported by mentors and insights along the way. He explores what makes leaders “different” than other good people with integrity and other strong characteristics. He talks about leaders having HEART.


H – Hunger for Wisdom (leaders are on a constant quest to know more)

E – Expect the Best (leaders are optimistic, and have high expectations of themselves and others)

A – Accept Responsibility (leaders own the result of their team’s actions)

R – Respond with Courage (leaders say, do, and act with integrity, even when it’s difficult)

T – Think Others First (leaders serve others, and put other’s needs first)

“Most men and women who struggle with leadership have issues of the heart.” Help leaders dig deeper and explore those areas.

What Do You Think Makes Leaders Different?

And now for some LGL community fun. Mark has generously given me 20 copies of the Heart of Leadership to share with the LGL Community. I’ll send a free copy to the first 20 commenters who share their perspective.

What Makes Leaders Different?

You can read the first chapter for free by clicking here. You can also find the Heart of Leadership on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere.

Growing Leaders Salute:Interview with Dan McCarthy

As my regular readers know, on Saturdays I do a “Salutation,” about something warm and positive going on in the world. As I am meeting kindred spirits through my writing and leadership, I realized that some of the warmest stuff happening is coming from the people passionate about growing leaders. And so, I am expanding my normal Saturday gig to include a “Growing Leaders Salute:” interviews with great leaders dedicated to growing great leaders. Thanks, Dan McCarthy for being my first honoree.

Q: You have an interesting background both working within companies and with companies as a consultant as well as interacting with leaders through your blog. How do you feel these varied experiences have informed your leadership philosophy?

A: While I enjoy writing, I wouldn’t have anything to write about if it wasn’t for the work I’ve done inside companies, working with real managers, as well as my own experience as a manager. Writing about these experiences helps me get clearer on who I am and what I stand for.

Blogging has enabled me to widen my reach, but just as importantly, it forces me to stay current and continuously learn, by interacting with readers and networking with other leadership bloggers like you.

Q: Why do you write? What inspired you to write a book?

A: I’m lucky in that my work gives me a sense of purpose. I help to develop great leaders, and great leaders have the ability to have an extraordinary impact on their employees, their employee’s families, their organizations, and their communities. I feel a great sense of responsibility – I take it seriously – and I also get a great amount of personal satisfaction.

Deciding to write a blog – and then a book – was again an extension of that purpose. With a company, I might be able to reach and impact a few hundred leaders and aspiring leaders – maybe up to 1000 indirectly? But with writing, I have the potential to touch millions.

Q: Who have been your most significant mentors? How have they influenced you?

A: I’ve been fortunate to have had good, supportive managers. I’ve learned a little bit from each one of them. There’s not one that stands out more than the rest. Actually, I’ve only had maybe 1-2 bad managers, and as flawed as they were, I still learned a lot from them.

Q: You have worked with so many leadership compentency models over the years, acrosss a variety of industries. In your mind what are the top 3 leadership competencies
Hmmm, hard to say, it’s all so dependent on the organization. But if I had to pick 3, they might be leading change, leadership presence (which would include authenticity), and listening.

Q: What is the most important advice you would give to new leaders?

A: Ah, what a timely question! I just wrote a post that’s scheduled to appear on the 9/27 SmartBrief on Leadership, and then in my own blog on 10/1, called “25 Tips for Managing Your First Direct Reports”. I know 25 sounds like a lot, but I could have written another 25! But if I had to pick one, it would be Embrace your role as a LEADER.

This one’s not as obvious as it sounds. I managed employees for over 20 years before the light went on for me and I realized what an extraordinary and rewarding responsibility leadership could be. Don’t take it lightly.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you see leaders make when developing others?

A: Well, if you asked me “what’s the biggest mistakes managers make”, I’d say it’s that they don’t develop their employees – and that’s too bad. But let’s assume we’re talking about leaders – those managers that have the best intentions but like all of us, stub their toes now and then. I’d say it’s feeling like they have to have all of the answers, instead of seeing their role as asking great questions. Giving advice is easy – but when you do, you’re missing out on a chance to develop. Asking the right questions gets employees to see things from a different perspective, and come up with their own answers.

Q: What makes you “skip to work?” (feel fully engaged, energized and ready go?)

A: Coffee. Lots and lots of good, strong coffee. (-:

Q: In your book you list “The 10 Greatest Management Theories, Models, or Methods.” How would you articulate your leadership philosophy? What is most important to you?

A: I wrote a post about this in 2008. In fact, everyone should take the time to write down their leadership values, rules, philosophy, etc.

As I look back at it, I think I’m still following each of these rules:

Dan’s McCarthy’s Leadership Rules:

  1. I fully appreciate and embrace the awesome responsible that comes with being a leader and never take it lightly. I’m responsible for the success of the unit I lead, and contribute to the success of my company. I have a huge impact on the success and lives of my employees. I also have an indirect impact on the community in which I’m a part of, and that my employees are a part of. So if I screw up, it’s not just me that impacted, I’m messing with the lives of others that are depending on me.
  2.  As a leader, I hold myself accountable to the highest standards of behavior. When making a decision, I ask myself “would I be comfortable with the details of this decision plastered all over the Wall Street Journal or company intranet?” I look at myself as a role model, for my team and others. If there’s even the slightest chance of offending someone, then I keep it to myself. If I see a wrong, I’ll speak up. I won’t “let my hair down” after hours or off-site – as a leader, there is no “on” and “off” switch.
  3.  One of the most important things I’m responsible for is the development and growth of my employees. It’s up to me to make sure they are engaged in meaningful and challenging work that helps them stretch and grow. And in order to help develop others, I need to development myself.
  4.  I’m responsible for creating a team of “A” players. My goal is to hire, retain, and promote only the best. If someone is a C player, my job to is turn them into an A player or help them find another role where they have a better chance to be an A player. I will hold my team accountable to the highest standards or performance and behavior, and offer no apologies for expecting my team to work harder and behave more professionally than other teams around us.
  5.  It’s my job as a leader to ensure my organization’s work is strategic. That is, all of our goals and activities need to be aligned with the overall goals and mission of the larger organization. I owe it to my organization and to every member of my team to ensure our work is meaningful, and will have little tolerance for non-value added work.
  6. Any organization I lead will always have a strategy and goals. Any individual I lead will always have a set of objectives and a development plan.
  7.  I understand and embrace the importance of team meetings and individual 1 on 1s. These meetings are not a nuisance or distraction – they are the day-to-day manifestation of leadership.
  8. I need to be an advocate for my peers and my manager. Their success needs to be as important as my own success. I’m responsible for their development too.
  9. I should be positive and optimistic – about my company, our products and services, our clients, our goals, other departments, etc. I’ll challenge when appropriate, but it will always be with the intention of constructive improvement. Humor is OK – cynicism and sarcasm are not.
  10. As a part of a leadership team, it’s up to all of us to challenge, debate, and speak up when we disagree. But when we leave we leave the room, I’ll respect the final decision, publicly support it, and do all I can to help successfully implement it.
  11. My employees are bright, capable, responsible adults and I need to treat them that way. I am not all-knowing or blessed with superior judgment because of my title. I don’t need to be aware of all details, be involved in all decisions, or dictate how they do their work. Treating employees like children and micromanaging is the ultimate form of disrespect and poor leadership.
  12.  I’m still working on this one – but I need to listen and ask questions, and be open to possibilities. Listening as a leader means fighting the natural urge to evaluate and react, vs. listening to truly understand another’s worldview and consider the possibilities. (Then I can evaluate and react)

Q: What advice other advice do you have?

A: To me, the most rewarding aspect of leadership is developing others. At the end of the day, other than a maybe a handful of individuals like Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, few will remember your business accomplishments. But – we all have the ability to help our employees achieve their goals, to help them grow, and to help them reach their full potential. Those are the leaders that will always be remembered.

I’ve been to enough retirement parties, and when the great leaders are celebrated, those are the kind of things they are remembered for, not their business accomplishments.

So what do you want to be remembered for as a leader? What would you like to hear people who you managed saying about you? Now, start doing those things today and tomorrow!

Leadership Magic: Key Actions That Inspire Results

“What’s your leadership magic?”

That’s my favorite question to ask really successful front line leaders. Clearly something is working for these folks, and I am always thirsty to understand just what.

If you are a leader growing leaders, it’s a great question to ask. I guarantee it will immediately bring out sparkles in eyes, great stories, and inspiring conversation.

It might also be worth asking yourself about your own leadership magic.

Across companies and contexts, the lists that come from these interactions are remarkably consistent.

And so, I offer the magic secret shared with me in conference rooms, recognition events, cars, and coffee bars from the best leadership magicians I have met across the country.

Leadership Magic Playbook

Begin well

  • Start each day with energy and enthusiasm
  • Connect with each person at the beginning of their shift–to inspire and check for distractions
  • Ensure each person has clear goals and a plan for the day

Know Your Craft

  • Understand the business and the work your team does
  • Get in and role-model the work from time to time (get on the phones, make the sale)
  • Be a teacher of specific best practices

Conjure up Confidence

  • Spend more time celebrating what is working than discussing what is not
  • Talk about what scares them
  • Help them master one skill at a time
  • Have them teach someone else

Make a Connection

  • Be really available
  • Be even more available– stay out of your office
  • Get to know your people as people
  • Understand what motivates them and individualize your approach
  • Learn about their families and what they like to do outside of work
  • Help them with their career goals

Razzle Dazzle Em

  • Make a fool of yourself (wear a costume, sing a song, have contests with you as a prize pie in the face, dunking booths, washing cars)
  • Encourage them to be silly too help them giggle
  • Create friendly and fun competitions with other teams
  • Talk smack

No Slight of Hand– Create Trust

  • Always do what you say you will
  • Tell the truth
  • Let people know where they stand
  • Help them understand the business