How to Be an Even Better Leader

How to Be an Even Better Leader

If you want to be a better leader, get curious about what you might still be able to learn.

We recently had a very senior leader join a live-online leadership training he had hired us to do with his team. Not in a “watch from the sidelines” kind of way as sometimes happens. He was all in.

He actively participated in the breakout conversations and completed his action learning assignments and reported them in the learning lab.

In addition to providing this training for his team, he was curious about what he could do to be a better leader.

In debriefing his experience after the final session, he shared.

This was interesting for me to slow down and really think about HOW I’m leading. I spend so much time on strategic issues, it was helpful to try some new approaches and tools. Ha, I can’t help but think that it might be helpful for my boss to take this class too  😉

4 Approaches to Help You Become an (Even Better) Leader

Once you get to “expert” level, it’s easy to put all your leadership development energy into your team. After all, it’s your job to grow leaders. You want to invest in your team as others have invested in you.

Perfect. There’s no better way to get your team focused on being better leaders than to show that you too are working to be a better leader. Experts are continual students.

Here are a few approaches that can help.

1. Slow down and revisit the fundamentals.

I (Karin) am a decent skier. Most of the time, I can get down the expert slopes without doing too much harm to myself or others.

But the trouble is, my form isn’t always the most efficient, or graceful. AND, I’ve been skiing pretty much the same way for the last decade.

This past week, over Christmas break, I did something I haven’t done in a really long time. In the mornings I watched some really basic Youtube videos which included some skiing drills. And then, I spent part of each day skiing the easy stuff and really paying attention to my form—before I headed back to the blacks.

Shocker—I got better.

What if you took a moment to really think about how you’re approaching the foundational leadership activities that come naturally for you and consider your technique? Look around. Read a new book. Notice what your peers are doing that might be worth a try.

2. Become a Leader Teacher.

One of the best ways to continue to refine your leadership skills is to teach leadership. In many of our long-term leadership programs, we incorporate a “leader as teacher” approach. In addition to more senior leaders participating in the program along with their teams, we prepare them to be “leader teachers” to reinforce the concepts and discuss application in-between sessions in small challenger groups.

There’s no better way to master a new skill than to teach it. And when leaders know they will be facilitating conversations about a new approach, they’re much more likely to try it themselves first so they can speak from first-hand experience.

You can do this on your own too.

Talk with your team about some strategic areas they’re focused on to become better leaders this year. Perhaps it’s getting better at leading virtual meetings. Or building a more robust virtual communication strategy. Stretch yourself to learn some new approaches, teach them to your direct reports, and then schedule some time to debrief how it went and what everyone learned.

3. Avoid S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome.

When you’re a strong leader, and you stumble across a new leadership approach or tool, it’s easy to fall into S.A.S.R.N.T. syndrome. (So and So Really Needs This).

You think you know who needs this … my boss, or my peer, or my spouse, and you run off and immediately share it with them.

Of course, when you do that, you miss the opportunity to become a better leader yourself.

There’s no better way to get your team to notice a new approach than to first model it yourself. As you take the journey, then you can invite others to join you.

4. Involve your team in your development.

The start of the year is the perfect time to work on leadership development plans … not just for your team, but for yourself as well.

Start with a courageous question. “This year, one focus I have is working to become a better leader for you and the rest of the team. What’s one specific area you think I can work on that would have the biggest impact?”

Of course, when your team sees you investing time and energy to become a better leader, they’re more likely to make it a priority for themselves as well.

Your turn.

What would you add? What has worked for you to take your leadership to the next level?

Courageous CulturesAnd if you’re looking for an advanced leadership book to read with your team this year, check out Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovator’s Problem Solvers and Customer Advocates (and download the FREE Executive Strategy Guide) to facilitate a “leaders as teachers” conversation with your team.

The 5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

The 5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

If you’re ready to conduct a succession planning calibration session as part of your overall talent strategy, read this first so you can avoid these five common mistakes.

Succession planning, done well, gives you a brilliant competitive advantage. Poorly executed, at best it’s a waste of time, and can wreak serious havoc on long-term performance.

Here are a few disturbing phrases,  I’ve heard in the last 15 days:

  • “Oh, we’re too small to need a formal process.”
  • “Our business is moving so fast we don’t have time for that.”
  • “We’re baby boomers and we don’t know how” (trust me, I would never have included this one until I heard it TWICE this week from different companies looking for help).
  • And the scariest of all, “We’re a family-owned business so the decision is obvious.”

The 5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

1. Talking People Before Priorities

Before you can decide WHO is in your succession pipeline, be sure you are clear on WHAT you need. Think about the future and the critical competencies that will make that possible. Write them down. Then map your people against those possibilities. Choosing people for tomorrow based exclusively on today’s performance will slow you down.

2. Cloning

What often passes for “executive presence” is actually someone who looks and acts like the rest of you. Be careful. Sure you want poise, effective communication, and a tidy together look. But it may also be true that the quirky creative who marches to a different drum may just who you need to take your strategy to the next level. Too many like minds lead to uninspired strategy.

3. Letting Diversity Trump Common Sense

If you complete your 9 box succession planning grid and it’s all balding white guys with a dry sense of humor in box 9 you clearly have a problem. The question is, what IS that problem? Take a hard look in the mirror for bias and discrimination. Challenge one another to make it right.

Sometimes, it’s another issue. It’s the recruiting and leadership development that is broken. You can’t make someone ready for the next level by talking yourselves into it. Or worse, putting diversity multipliers on executive compensation which incent them to promote the diverse candidate just to hit a target.

The worse thing you can do is pad your “grid” by sliding diverse candidates into blocks where they don’t belong. Sure, identify opportunities for accelerated growth to make up for lost time. But NEVER promote an unqualified person for diversity reasons. You hurt them, your business, and weaken your diversity strategy.

4. False Consensus

You know you have a true box 9, high potential when every head at the table is chiming in with a resounding “Yes!” Not looking the other way when conflict arises.

A succession planning conversation without conflict is useless. The very best talent reviews involve robust discussion and lively debate which leads to important next steps (e.g. “You’ve got to know my guy better;” “She needs a stretch assignment.”)

If you start playing games like “I’ll vote for your manager if you vote for mine, the business loses.

5. Ignoring the Plan

The worst succession planning sin of all is going through the motions, and then reverting to the old patterns “just this time” when it comes to promotion. No one will take your succession process seriously the next time.

Don’t short change your talent strategy. The right people, at the right place, at the right time, will change the game. Be sure you’re prepared.

If you’re struggling with succession planning, I can help. I’ve facilitated hundreds of succession planning discussions over the years from the executive level, through merger integration, and at the frontline. Succession planning is worth doing well. Please give me a call for a free consultation, 443-750-1249.

See Also: How to Navigate Yet Another Office Shake Up (Wall Street Journal)

7 Big Rules For a Successful Talent Review



How to Prepare Your Successor For Success

How to Prepare Your Successor For Success

The same mentor who jokingly told Karin that if you want people to think you’re a rock star “always follow an idiot” also smiled and said, “and always leave an idiot as your successor.” Not the best advice – but leadership transitions are often rocky.

It’s a terrible feeling to watch hard work unravel and progress backslide when the new guy takes over. You can tell a great leader by what happens after they walk away—that’s when the investment in people and processes really pays off.

So how do you ensure your successor’s success?

7 Ways to Help Your Successor Succeed

Start Before It’s Time to Go

It starts early. Once you’ve decided to move on, it’s too late. Lay the foundation for a remarkable transition from your first month in a new role.

1. Build a Strong, Interdependent Team

Your successor will have the greatest chance of success if the team doesn’t immediately need them to survive the day-to-day.  Give your team opportunities to work together—without you—so they learn to rely on, and leverage, one another’s strengths.

2. Build a Deep Bench

Surround yourself with rock stars. Go find them in other areas of the business and recruit them to your team. Invest substantial time each week working on leadership development. When it comes to succession planning, the big mistake we see consistently is that leaders focus on developing only one protegé. That’s risky. Instead of thinking in terms of “grooming your replacement,” focus on building an entire farm team.

3. Resist the Urge to Develop “Mini Me’s”

It’s like that old Monty Python line, “And now for something completely different.” It is likely that what your team needs most after you leave is not more of you. As you’re doing your succession planning, consider what kind of leader would most challenge the team next and be sure you’re developing diverse talent.

4. Lead with Transparency

The last thing you want your successor to say is, “I had no idea your job was like this.” Share what you can with your team. Help them understand the deeper challenges you face and how you approach them. Expose them to some of the politics and explain how you navigate.

And … As You’re Transitioning To Your New Role

5. Finish Strong

It’s easy to get immediately sucked into your next role and lose focus. While you’re bringing your backfill up to speed, be sure you’re not letting any balls drop that will create early fire drills or unnecessary frustration.

6. Help Them Build Their Network

You know who you rely on to get things done, up, down and sideways. It took time to build that. How can you shorten their networking curve, and introduce them to the key players who will be critical to their success? Be sure they know about any landmines you learned about the hard way.

7. Get Out of the Way

Do everything you can to leave your successor anything they may need in an organized and easy to follow-way. And then, get out-of-the-way. Offer to be available, but stop checking in. Whatever you do, don’t hang around offering commentary to your old team. The new leader needs to make her mark in her way.

Your turn.

What would you add? What are the best ways to ensure your successor’s success?

See Also: Harvard Business Review: Preparing Your Successor For Success

5 Biggest Succession Planning Mistakes

How to Start the New Decade in Deeper Conversations

How to Start the New Decade in Deeper Conversations

As we start a new decade, what if you took a minute to have some deeper conversations with your team? In addition to your kick-off meetings and goal setting sessions, what if you also paused to have a deeper conversation to build trust and connection, and inspire one another to something bigger?

I’ve designed this conversation starter to help you go a level deeper with your team.

Ways to Use This Tool

  • Ask each team member to complete one section of their choice to start your deeper conversations. Note: Giving them a choice enables them to pick the conversation they are most inspired (and feel confident) to have.
  • Complete one of the sections yourself as well and be prepared to discuss (your team needs to know you’re willing to be vulnerable too).
  • Have a mutual exchange of sharing your responses in your one-on-one developmental discussions or as part of a teambuilder or staff meeting.

Deeper Conversations to Help Your Team B.E.C.O.M.E. More in the New Decade

Have each person pick one section (e.g. Boldness, Openness, or More) and answer the questions before coming to your one-on-one or team session. This will work best if people have had a chance to think through rather than feeling put on the spot. Of course, now that you get the gist, feel free to modify and make up your own questions. If you do, I’d love to hear them.

B- Boldness: Moving Courageously
  • What could you accomplish this year if you had unlimited resources? How can you accomplish something similar under your current constraints?
  • Where (and with whom) are you playing it safe? What is that costing you?
  • What dreams are you saving for later? Why?
E- Energy: Igniting Passion
  • When, where, and with whom do you feel most alive?
  • Which aspects of your work exhaust you?
  • What will you do to renew your energy this year?
C- Callings: Connecting to Bigger
  • What work would you pursue, even if you weren’t paid?
  • Who most inspires your professional life? How can you attract more people with those qualities?
  • Which of your gifts lie dormant in your current role?
O-Openness: Staying Open to Possibilities
  • What possibilities are you ignoring?
  • How and where will you find creative inspiration?
  • How will you invite input and feedback?
M-More: Seeing Bigger, Broader, and Giving More
  • How will 2020 be categorically different from last year?
  • For what do you most want to be known?
  • What new contribution are you meant to offer?
E-Execution:  Envisioning Breakthrough Success
  • What could you do to make this the best year of your career?
  • Who else can engage to support you?
  • What could get in the way of success?

Other Resources to Have Deeper Conversations With Your Team

4 U.G.L.Y. Conversations to Have With Your Team Before Year End

7 Icebreaker Questions to Melt Frustration and Build Trust

4 Workplace Resolutions Your Team Can Make

9 Creative Ways to Develop Your Managers

9 Creative Ways to Develop Your Managers

You’ve done your talent assessment work, completed the nine-box grid, and now it’s time to create specific plans to develop your managers. You’ll want to ensure everyone has a solid foundation of leadership training, and consider cross-functional moves, but what other developmental activities can you include?

Beyond Training: Other Creative Ways to Develop Your Managers

Our clients often ask us to help them take their developmental plans to the next level, so we’ve thought you might also find this helpful. Here are a few of our favorites.  We would love to hear your ideas as well.

What are some of your most creative (or low cost) ways to reinforce and supplement your formal management training?

Activities to Increase Self-Awareness

1. DIY (Do It Yourself) 360 (feedback, peer relationships)

Formal 360 feedback assessments are a GREAT way to get structured, anonymous feedback. We’re big fans. But the truth is, what makes these tools valuable is always the conversation that follows. If a formal 360 feedback tool is not available or practical, you can achieve similar results by helping them conduct a DIY 360 (for step by step instructions click here).

2. Field Trips (teamwork and collaboration)

There’s a reason every elementary school takes a trip to the zoo. You can read about giraffes all you want, but until you have one bend down and lick your face, it’s hard to understand just how hard it is to go through life with a neck like that. Help them arrange a visit to meet with their peers in the other department or shadow them to learn more about their roles. It’s always amazing to see how quickly such visits increase understanding and trust.

Team-Based Development Activities

Some of the best development activities are done as a team, where everyone is learning from and with each other while working on real work.

3. “Shark Tank” Type Competitions (fostering innovation and problem solving)

If your employees struggle with innovation and problem solving, you can use our I.D.E.A.S. framework to help them vet their ideas and bring you one that is Interesting (solving a relevant strategic problem), Doable (something they could actually pull off), Engaging (an idea others would find worthwhile) as well as defining the key Actions required to make it happen. This exercise can be done with an individual, but it’s even more fun and impactful to do as a team where everyone brings their best idea to pitch, and you facilitate a Shark Tank type competition as the team hears, discusses and votes on one another’s ideas.

4. Action Learning Projects (strategic thinking, planning, communication, executive presence)

When done well, action learning projects are an incredible way to learn while working on improving the business, as well as give your managers exposure to the executive team. You provide a small group of managers with a business challenge, success criteria, and a sponsor. They work together to complete the project and then present their outcomes to members of your executive team. Just be sure to avoid these common mistakes.

Development You Can Do as Part of a Team Meeting

5. “Bring a Friend” staff meetings (strategic thinking, executive presence)

Pick a staff meeting each quarter where your direct reports can bring one of their high-potential employees. Run the meeting as you normally would so they can see behind the curtain and learn what your team talks about and how you make decisions. It’s a great way to help employees see how the work they’re doing fits into the bigger picture.

6. Mini-Mastermind (problem-solving, communication)

Have every team member bring a strategic business challenge they’re wrestling with and pitch it to the group for ideas. Everyone shares their challenge and explain why it’s hard, what they’ve tried, and where they need some ideas. Once they’ve explained the challenge, other members of the team ask additional probing questions and share their best ideas. Besides the business improvement ideas, it also helps to break down the problem-solving process by helping the team consider success criteria and looking for innovative approaches to persistent problems. You learn more about how to conduct a team mastermind here.

7. Book Groups

Read a leadership book as a team. Many teams have been doing that with Winning Well, so we built this book group facilitator’s guide to help.

Activities to Grow Professionally

8. Authoring a LinkedIn Article (critical thinking, influence)

Encourage your employee to come up with a teachable point of view on LinkedIn and write an article. This is a great way to help your employee think critically and to work on building their professional brand. Note: Some companies have PR guidelines around this, but most companies are fine with employees posting their thoughts about leadership or industry expertise if they stay away from using the company name or proprietary information.

9. Speaking at an Industry Conference (critical thinking, communication, building a network)

There are so many benefits to preparing for and delivering a breakout session at an industry conference—the research, the delivery prep, the presentation, feedback, and of course the benchmarking and other benefits of attending the conference itself.

Your turn: What are your favorite ways to develop your managers?

See Also: How the Wrong People Get Promoted and How to Change it (Fast Company)

DOWNLOAD A FREE PDF of these ideas here.

how to prepare for a better development discussion

How to Prepare for a Better Development Discussion (Free Tool)

Development discussions always go better when your employee comes prepared to engage in conversation. We’ve designed this guide to help your team members think more deeply about their development goals and key actions. Give it to them in advance and ask them to bring it with them to ground your development discussion.

You can download the PDF here.

Use this Development Discussion Planner to help your employees prepare

Ask your employee to reflect on both their current and desired future roles and answer the following questions.

What strengths would you like to leverage and grow?

Leveraging strengths is a great way to start the discussion. How can you test and build upon these strengths across a variety of contexts? Once the discussion moves to action planning, think about ways you can pair up your team members to help one another.

In what strategic relationships would you like to invest?

Often the most important work to get ready for the next level or a strategic lateral move involves building more influential relationships. Encourage your employees to think about where they need to invest in relationships for their current role, as well as future roles. Who can help champion, sponsor, prepare for, and give them a taste of their desired future?

What challenges are you looking to overcome?

This is an important calibration point. You want to know if they know what’s holding them back. Much better to start with their perspective before adding yours.

What skills would you like to learn or improve?

Our training clients often tell us that they are often surprised by the answer to this question. Giving your employee some time to think about this in advance will lead to a meatier list.

What support do you need?

Ask your employee to come with a specific “ask.” This helps overcome the two most frequent answers to this question, “I don’t know” and “I haven’t thought about it.”

Your turn. What questions would you add?

See Also:

How to Get Employees Jazzed About Their Professional Development (Fast Company)

Frontline Festival: Best of 2018 Edition

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival!  This month we are celebrating each blogger’s favorite post of the year  (as identified by them). It’s always so much fun to see what emerges as the very best, and which topics rise to the top, after all the consistent writing of these amazing thought leaders. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

What’s Next For the Frontline Festival in 2019

The January 2019 Frontline Festival will be about setting your team up for an amazing year. We have an open call for exceptional blog posts, podcasts, and videos that will help set managers up for success in 2019 (e.g. goal setting, employee development, strategic planning, visioning). New contributors welcome. Send us your submissions here!

Beginnings and Endings

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited reminds us that Sometimes Helping People Means Letting GoHave you ever had to say “goodbye” to a client, customer or great job? Beth reminds us that stepping away isn’t always a bad thing. Follow Beth.

Rachel Blakely-Gray of Patriot Software, LLC gives us Five Ways to Improve New Employee Onboarding. A poor onboarding process can essentially push employees out the door and into another company’s arms. Learn how to improve onboarding at your small business to help you hang onto top talent.  Follow Rachel.

project managers enjoy keynote speaker

Building Great Cultures

Leadership is the capacity to transform vision into reality. ~Warren Bennis

Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture gives us a Culture Leadership Charge Video: We the People. Civility is in short supply in our world today. Chris believes that the US has strayed far from the foundations as a republic. In this post and 3-minute video episode, Chris specifies three ways we each can boost integrity, inclusion, and service to others, every day in our homes, communities, and workplaces. Follow Chris.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference offers “Stick It to the Man” – the Danger of Bystanders. “Stick it to the man” was an expression of protest against too much power or wrongdoing. Today, it’s become a meaningless chant for bystanders. Now is the time to encourage upstanders!  Follow Jon.

Employee Engagement

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words but in attitudes and actions”. ~ Harold S. Geneen

Peer Conflict: Questions For CollaborationValerie Chua of Manila Recruitment shares Understanding Why Employees Leave: 10 Turnover Statistics You Need to Know. High employee turnover rates never mean well for a company. It’s a glaring sign that something could be wrong with some aspects in your business. Here are the vital statistics you should know regarding why your employee hands in their termination notice, as well as tips for employee retention. Follow Valerie

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting gives us Beyond Rapport: How to Increase Engagement with Coaching Clients.  This was the most visited post on Nate’s blog in 2018. Connect with and engage coaching clients at a deeper level by adapting your communication and motivational strategies to fit their personality. Follow Nate.

Developing and Supporting Your Team

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. ~ Harvey S. Firestone

Chip Bell of Chip Bell Group gives us How to Lead Middle Aged Minnesotans with a Swedish Accent. Chip observes, “We are experiencing a siege of prescriptive approaches on how to lead people who are (fill in the blank with your favorite typecast.) My personal favorite is middle-aged Minnesotans with a Swedish accent.  We could add to this group “introverted amiables with ISFJ Myers-Briggs scores!!” “All generalizations are false,” said Mark Twain, “including this one!” Follow Chip.

Ronni Hendel of InsightOut Leadership provides The Habit of Curiosity. Curiosity is so much more than a personal attribute. It’s a practice to develop, a skill to hone and a mindset to adopt—a habit. In this post, she explores both the importance of curiosity for leaders and ways to bolster one’s curiosity. Follow Ronni.

Ed Krow of Ed Krow, LLC shares What My Daughter’s Golf Tournament Has to Do with Performance Management. This was one of the most-commented-on posts for Ed this year–people related to the simple leadership message it contains. Follow Ed.

Paul LaRue of The UPwards Leader asks, Do You Know the Temperature of Your People? Temperature checks can be great, informal ways to have a dialogue with your people and get their views on your culture and what’s working, or not. Follow Paul.

Eileen McDargh of The Energizer shares The Care and Feeding of Virtual Teams.  The good news about technology is that teams can be spread throughout the world, offering a rich background for global enterprises. The difficult news is that time zones and the absence of visual interaction can cause teams to stumble or even fail to start at all.  Follow Eileen.


Sebastian Hurt shares one of our signature Winning Well concepts, the art of ditching the diaper genie when having tough conversations.

Ken Downer of Rapid Start Leadership provides The Power of Asking Questions: 7 Ways Questions are More Powerful than Answers. In our desire to prove our competence we often find ourselves in a hurry to provide good answers. But as leaders, there are at least seven reasons why asking good questions is really the smarter move. Follow Ken.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group gives us The Art of Active Listening. The concept might seem simple, but active listening – that is, fully concentrating on what’s being said – takes work and practice. The results can make a significant difference in the quality of relationships, followership and overall results. Sharpen your listening ears with these 5 steps and then take our free listening quiz… the results just may surprise you. Follow David.

Cheri Torres of Conversations Worth Having reminds us about Restoring Civility. What if each of us chose to stop engaging in these debates and word matches? What if instead we chose to shift the conversation, inviting civility simply by asking questions that demonstrate care and respect while creating a positive tone and direction for the interaction? Here are a few suggestions for how you might use questions to shift a conversation. Follow Cheri.

Leadership Development & Self Reflection

Julie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds gives us Learn-Gevity: Enhancing Your Ability to Learn, Perform and Succeed Over Time. 2019 will likely be more dynamic, chaotic and uncertain than 2018. As a result, building the sustainable capacity to continuously learn, grow and remain relevant only becomes more important. Here are seven strategies for making it happen. Follow Julie.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership asks, Why are There So Many Bad Bosses? There are lots of bad bosses out there, way too many. But it may not be their fault.  Follow Wally.

Lisa Kohn from Chatsworth Consulting Group gives us Vulnerability is Not a Dirty Word, It’s a Leadership Skill.  Lisa questions the myth that we need to always be strong and infallible and offers reasons why vulnerability is actually an important part of being human and of leading well. Follow Lisa.

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates tells us When to NOT Trust Your Gut.  Shelley’s example of a helicopter pilot is a great reminder of the times when it’s best NOT to go with your gut. Follow Shelley.

Business Fundamentals

Employee engagement - play the game don't game the scoreErica Marois of UBM challenges us with Want to Improve Quality? Ditch the Score from Your Scorecards.  Scorecards are a standard component of most quality management programs. Learn more about NFCU’s unique approach in this interview with Kristy Powers (aka K-POW), their manager of COO Quality Service.  Follow Erica.

Tony Mastri of Marion Marketing gives us How to Choose an SEO Company for Your Business. Marketing has become more technical than ever before, and it can be difficult for businesses to properly vet marketing agencies and SEO companies. This well-received guide includes items to look for (and others to avoid) while choosing an SEO company for your business. Follow Tony.

Jon Verbeck of reminds us that Business Leaders Must Understand the Basics of Financial Statements.  “I’m not an accountant” or “I’m not a numbers person” is not an excuse for a leader not to understand the basics of important financial documents.  Follow Jon.

Thank you!

We are so delighted to work with so many amazing leadership experts each month to produce our Frontline Festival. Thank you for an amazing 2018 and we look forward to more collaboration in the coming year.

talent development mistakes

Two Leadership Mistakes that Cripple Your Talent Development

You Never Outgrow Your Responsibility for Talent Development

“Why doesn’t anyone care? Don’t they get it? There’s no one I can trust or depend on!” We have heard those frustrated words from more than one senior leader across a range of industries. If you’ve ever heard this or said it yourself, it reveals a severe problem in your talent development and, ultimately, the future of your business.

When a crisis hits or a “move now” opportunity presents itself, you don’t have time for talent development. You’ve got to respond. If your business context is legitimately a series of crises or opportunities with short windows, having the right people equipped with the right skills become even more important.

When leaders struggle with talent development and feel as if there is “no one who cares or is capable,” there are likely two mistakes that are crippling your talent development. The good news is that you can overcome both of these mistakes and help your people grow into the leaders you need.

Mistake #1: Anointing

Germaine had a reputation as a talented general manager. He had recently been hired to lead a major change initiative. When he arrived at the new job, he reported to a senior vice president who was busy with several other high-priority crises.

Germaine spent a day with the SVP and talked a good game. He shared his human-centered leadership strategies, the results he intended to achieve, and how wonderful his new boss was. By the end of the day, the Senior Vice President had decided that Germaine was awesome. “Anything he wants, he gets.”

As weeks went by, the SVP started to hear grumbling from Germaine’s department. He ignored it, thinking “Change is always challenging, they’ll get with it.”

As the months went by, Germaine started removing talented, “ready now” leaders, replacing them with people who would do what they were told without asking questions. His department saw an increase in HR complaints about harassment and several complaints were settled with financial payouts.

Within 18 months, Germaine’s change initiative had stalled. The CEO investigated and discovered that Germaine, who by all prior reports had been a stellar leader, had nearly destroyed the department. He fired Germaine and his SVP and had to rebuild the department and its leadership, from scratch.

This is an example of the first common talent development mistake leaders make: Anointing.

The literal definition of “anointing” is to “ceremonially confer divine or holy office upon a person.”

In business, it happens when a leader sizes up someone and mentally labels them as a “golden child” who can do no wrong. This happens regularly – leaders are busy, they want to think the best of people, or they are vulnerable to someone’s charisma and flattery.

Several problems start as soon as you “anoint” someone:

  • You don’t pay attention – you stop evaluating results objectively and just trust that the right things are happening.
  • You don’t hold them accountable – because you’re not paying attention, you don’t have the information you need to practice healthy accountability.
  • They stop growing – without attention, accountability, or coaching they don’t get the healthy feedback they need in order to grow. Often, they’ll fall back on natural tendencies, which, in Germaine’s case, were fatal to his SVPs career.
  • They get in over their head – due to their great reputation, anointed employees are often given assignments they’re not prepared for. These can be learning opportunities, but only when they’re supported with a scaffold of training and feedback. Without this scaffolding, the employee who knows they got the job on the strength of their reputation goes into overdrive working on their reputation – not the business.

Mistake #2: Staining

Eight weeks into her new job, Patricia’s first meeting with the general manager (who was her boss’s boss) didn’t go well. The GM asked Patricia how things were going and Patricia, an affable and compassionate person, replied with a long description of how she liked her co-workers and how delightful some of the customers were. The GM’s eyes glazed over until she excused herself from the conversation and Patricia went back to work.

Six months later, during a talent review conversation, Patricia’s supervisor recommended her for management training. The GM replied, “I don’t see it. She thinks this is a social club and spends too much time on the phone with customers. She doesn’t get what we do here.”

Patricia’s supervisor tried in vain to persuade her boss of Patricia’s merits. A year later, Patricia transferred to another division in the company and became a very successful leader.

This is an example of the second common talent development mistake: staining.

Staining is when a leader has one or two encounters with an employee and extrapolates from those brief encounters to assess their entire acumen and potential. The person is forever “stained” in their mind.

Several problems result when you stain someone:

  • You don’t give them feedback – because you don’t believe they have potential, you stop giving them the feedback they need.
  • You don’t give them opportunities – the “stain” prevents you from seeing potential so you don’t want to “waste” it on people who you don’t believe will benefit from it.
  • They don’t grow – without opportunities to grow and the feedback they need to improve, “stained” employees often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Deprived of what they need to grow and succeed, they stagnate and fail. (This is especially dangerous because it reinforces your mistaken belief in your ability to assess talent.)

The Antidote to Anointing and Staining for Ongoing Talent Development

In order to fully develop your people and help them become the best version of themselves, you’ve got to have a realistic perspective.

Effective leaders understand that no person is perfectly awesome or perfectly awful. Everyone can grow. (Tweet This)

Your best employee can screw up and your struggling employee can turn the corner and contribute. People are a mix of strengths and it’s your job to draw out those strengths.

confidence competence model

In order to avoid anointing and staining, use a tool like the Confidence – Competence  model to regularly assess your people. Where are they most competent? Where do they lack critical competence? Where are they most confident? Where do they lack confidence?

And, most importantly: what do you need to do to help them grow and take their next step?

Your Turn

Every employee can grow with the right combination of opportunity, accountability, and encouragement. As a leader, you never outgrow your responsibility for talent development.

We’d love to hear from you: Leave us a comment and share your experiences with anointing or staining and how you avoid these mistakes.

Innovative Leadership Training Leadership Development

action learning

5 Tragic Mistakes that Will Derail Your Action Learning Projects

Done well, action learning projects, where groups work together to address real business problems, can provide an immediate ROI that more than pays for your training investment.

But let’s face it. Sometimes they can also be a colossal, frustrating waste of time.

What makes the difference?

Done well, action learning projects are great because:

  • You hear new ideas from fresh perspectives.
  • Real work gets done.
  • Learning is contextual.
  • It doesn’t feel like training.
  • Participants must manage through complex situations and team dynamics.
  • It’s a terrific opportunity to showcase talent to the executive team.
  • They provide a safe testing ground for high-potential talent.

And, yet, poorly executed, action learning projects waste time and frustrate everyone involved.

So how do you ensure your action learning projects are worth the time?

Avoid these five common mistakes.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing Action Learning Projects

1. Floundering: “Crap, how were we supposed to know that?” 

Participants get REALLY excited about their project and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen. But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics or bigger strategic picture.

They don’t have access to the right people or all the information, and when they go to present their findings, they’re met with a scowl, “Didn’t you consider…?” “Why didn’t you talk to…” “Don’t you know so and so has already been working on this for three years?”

You’ve now had your high-potential employees spinning their wheels, killing themselves on top of their day job, and all this time they’ve been climbing rocky terrain in an unfamiliar land.

Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the learning but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.

2. Fuzzy Guidelines: “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?”

Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.

You want the best ROI on these projects and most strategic thinking. The companies we work with who do this best, spend solid time up front defining the projects and thinking through what’s in scope and communicating any resource constraints.

If you want your team to think more strategically, giving them as much context as possible to think strategically.

3. The Wrong Players: “We thought this guy was high-potential?”

Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives.

Not all exposure is good exposure.

Be sure you pick the right talent who are ready for this experience.

Yes, stretch, but don’t send them into the deep end the first day they learn to swim. We’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.

4. Lack of Boss Support: “Yeah, no… I need you focused here.”

Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job.

But it’s important for supervisors to understand the investment necessary in such programs.

If they consistently get in the way of participants attending meetings or doing their fair share, the high-potential participant can become very stressed worrying about balancing their relationship with their boss and preserving their reputation with their action learning team.

5. Failure to Execute: “Well, it seemed like such a good idea…”

Typically action learning programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation.

Be sure to secure the appropriate commitments. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your action learning program will lose all credibility.

Done well, it’s hard to top action learning for leadership development. Be sure your design is well-thought through.

Your Turn

We would love to hear your experiences. Leave us a comment and share: what leads to a breakthrough (or even successful) action learning project, and what gets in the way?

See Also:

Critical Thinking: 5 Ways to Increase Your Team’s Capacity to Think

5 Powerful Ways to Ensure Your Leadership Training Sticks


5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Action Learning Project


the most seductive leadership mistake

How to Avoid the Most Seductive Leadership Mistake

This leadership mistake is seductive–we know because we’ve been there. It feels good. It feels logical. And it’s the fastest way to stunt your growth as a leader.

Have you ever sat in a leadership meeting or training and thought, “Oh, it’s so good they’re finally talking about ________. So and So (insert your favorite under-performing manager’s name here) needs to hear this.”

We hear that all the time.

  • “Karin and David, these tools are great! I just wish my boss was here to hear your message. She really needs your Winning Well tools to be effective.”
  • Or “Are you going to do this training with the IT department? They could use a bit of confident humility (and by that I mean humility).”
  • Or “You know who makes that leadership mistake all the time? Our CEO.”

We heard it just the other day. We had been part of an all-day leadership offsite. The executive had delivered some tough messages and then brought in several keynote speakers to provide inspiration and tools to help.

She texted us the next day.

“I’m SO frustated. I’m seeing a lot of signs that ‘This message must not have been for me and my team.’ “

The SASRNT Syndrome

One of the perks of being authors is that we get to make up our own syndromes. We call this behavior the SASRNT syndrome, which stands for So And So Really Needs This. It’s often easier to address another’s leadership than to work on your own.

SASRNT syndrome happens when you hear an important message, or learn a new leadership tool, or technique and you think, “Oh you know who needs this? My boss, my colleague, my spouse.” And you run off and encourage them to implement the new idea, before trying it yourself.

Of course that other person – your boss, your colleague, your spouse – may need what you want to share, but think about how you would react if the roles were reversed.

Your employee comes to you and says: “Hey team leader, I think you’d be a much better team leader if only you’d read this book or attend that seminar.” How would you react? Honestly?

If you’re like most people, you’d immediately be on the defensive. None of us like being told we’re not good enough. We resist whenever we feel we’re being sold, even if it is something that would help us.

How to Avoid This Leadership Mistake

We get it. There are tons of poor business leaders out there. The statistics are hard to argue and we see it all the time.

The company we were working with at the offsite had a lot of smart people working very hard and they also have some new challenges that require new perspectives, thinking, and tools.

The minute we start thinking of who else needs the messages, the tools, and the techniques we’re hearing about, we miss an opportunity to grow.

Because at the end of the day, the person you’re in the best position to influence is you.


The most powerful approach is to apply what you’ve learned and to cultivate a pocket of influence and excellence around you.

When your managers treat you poorly, treat your people well. Where your managers tolerate mediocrity, act with and expect excellence. Where they act like victims, empower yourself and your team.

Have compassion for them and for your people. They may not know what you know, but they’re doing what they can. In time, they may even ask you for help.

Lead first, where you are, with what you have. Keep growing. Then invite others to join you on the journey.

You can read more on building pockets of excellence in our book Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul.

surprising reason nonprofit struggles to grow

One Surprising Reason Your Nonprofit Struggles to Grow

I regularly speak with nonprofit leaders who wonder why their nonprofit struggles to grow. They have a great theory of change, clear intended impact, enthusiastic donors, but … something is wrong.

Here are a few quotes from some of these leaders. I’ve disguised their identities. Let’s see if you can spot the problem:

“We didn’t hire our staff to be leaders, we hired them because they’re good with clients.” –Human Service Nonprofit Founder

“We’re a family. We don’t want to become corporate with managers and all that.” –Healthcare Nonprofit President

“The last time we did leadership development? Oh, I should do some of that, shouldn’t I? Anyhow, I’m frustrated that people aren’t committed to our work. What do you think is wrong with them?” –Education Nonprofit CEO

It’s a little obvious, isn’t it?

In my experience, the number one reason an otherwise healthy nonprofit struggles to grow is the failure to develop leaders.

Insidious Consequences

Would you be surprised to learn that employee engagement in nonprofit organizations is among the lowest in any sector?

At first, this might seem like a contradiction. After all, we know that connection of work to meaning and purpose is one of the big drivers of energized, motivated employees. Shouldn’t there be a lot of meaning and purpose in charitable organizations?

Of course, there is. But when that passion for the cause is used to justify poor leadership or governance, it creates dangerous pitfalls for culture, leadership, employee retention, and financial resources.

With healthy leadership at every level, your charitable nonprofit can be some of the most fulfilling, productive work you’ll ever do. Without that leadership, however, it can feel like a treadmill of futility and growth is all but impossible.

How to Build Leaders and Get Ready to Grow

Your mission matters. Your people are working hard. Your donors deserve the best impact for every dollar they contribute. Build the leaders you need at every level of your nonprofit to be the best steward of the time, talent, and money you received.

“Every person that gives their life for a cause deserves a competent, diligent leader who invests in their development. It’s time for nonprofits to step up to the challenge of developing healthy organizational cultures. Real human lives are in the balance.”  – John Oliver, Chief Program Officer, National Education Nonprofit

If you’ve got a clear mission, an articulate theory of change, and motivated donors, but your nonprofit struggles to grow, here are five steps you can take to build the leadership you need to get to the next level.

  1. Train Every Leader. No Excuses. No Exceptions.

Don’t give anyone responsibility for people without fundamental leadership and management training.

You would never entrust your life to an untrained surgeon – why would you entrust your most important resources, your people, time and money, to an untrained manager? (Tweet This)

No excuses.

If you’re a smaller organization, you can start internally. Create a leadership development circle (you can download the free Winning Well Facilitator’s Guide to get you started). If you’re a growing organization, consider bringing in experts to help you create a common leadership language, use consistent, practical management skills, and create a performance-oriented, people-centered culture in your organization.

  1. Expect Performance.

As you invest in leaders and equip them with the skills they need to be effective with people, expect them to excel in their leadership responsibilities. Clarify the MITs (Most Important Thing) and ensure you’re both on the same page about what successful performance looks like. Celebrate success and hold one another accountable when performance drops.

I’ve watched too many nonprofit take a few hours with a volunteer trainer to share some leadership tools and then never mention the tools and training again. Don’t undermine your training. Evaluate your leaders based on how well they’re achieving results and building healthy relationships. (Use our Winning Well MIT Huddle Planner to help you and your leaders stay focused.)

  1. Measure What Matters.

Don’t lose yourself in the metrics maze and focus on meaningless measurements. If this year’s 75% functional program expense allows you to double your impact next year, great! Help your Board and donors understand how they’ll have more to celebrate.

Rigorous performance evaluation is a hallmark of effective nonprofits. Every investment you make should have a clear path to increased mission impact. As you invest in your leaders, demonstrate the value: reduced attrition, improved talent recruiting, improved efficiency with donor dollars, greater impact on your clients and cause, and a “next-one-up” succession plan that guarantees effective work long into the future.

  1. Boards, Get Serious.

Boards have an important role to play by setting clear expectations regarding leadership development and regularly reviewing these processes to ensure it is happening. Hold your executive staff accountable for developing their talent and ensuring the organization’s current and future success.

  1. Donors Make a Difference.

Educate your donors about why they should invest their money in organizations that build leaders at every level rather than with those who don’t.

As a donor, when you contribute to charitable organizations, look at their management team and leadership development. Ask questions about how the organization trains leaders at every level to be effective at achieving results and building relationships.

Your Turn

My favorite leadership development is with people who commit to making the world a better place. Whether you’re a part of a for-profit, nonprofit, or public organization, there is an energy, joy, and passion for performance in those teams that’s infectious.

If that’s not your team; if your mission and people are as important as you say they are; if you have the fundamentals covered but your nonprofit struggles to grow, then it’s time to invest in your leaders.

I’ve built these teams as a nonprofit leader and consulted with many leaders who have done the same – even with limited budgets. It’s not about money; it’s about mindset.

How do you ensure leaders at every level receive the training and skills they need to succeed?

5 Top Leadership Articles 09-04-2017

5 Top Leadership Articles for the Week of September 4, 2017

Each week I read a number of leadership articles from various online resources and share them across social media. Here are the five leadership articles readers found most valuable last week. I have added my comment about each article and would like to hear what you think, too.

On Being a Bad Manager by Jason Fried at Signal v Noise

A fellow I admire just asked me why it’s so easy to be a bad manager. G**damn, that’s a fantastic question. I made some bonehead moves myself yesterday, so I’m in the perfect position to answer this one.

Because I didn’t want to overthink my answer, I told him I’d write something up this afternoon and send him a link.

Here goes, stream of consciousness, unedited, and quick…

My Comment: This question has haunted me for many years. My version goes something like this: “We’ve been working together and leading one another for thousands of years. Why is there still so much bad management?”

Fried answers this succinctly: “We’re bad at most things by default.”

In other words: you have to learn how to lead effectively. Winning Well doesn’t just happen. If you want to be a great manager and effective leader, you’ve got to master specific skills. And yet…half or more of managers are placed in those roles, but receive no training in how to lead. No wonder it’s easy to be bad.

Fried digs a little deeper as well, noting that it takes time and practice to get good at something, but most managers don’t even start practicing until they’re actually in the role. (Imagine a pro athlete starting to practice their game once they’ve been put on the playing field.) We fall prey to common assumptions about people that just aren’t true and we often focus on doing the wrong things because they’re known and comfortable.

Note: this is a raw stream-of-conscious article and includes profanity.

Irresistible Is Rarely Easy or Rational by Seth Godin

There’s often a line out the door.

It’s not surprising. The ice cream is really good, the portions are enormous, and a waffle cone costs less than three Canadian dollars. And it’s served with a smile, almost a grin.

It’s irresistible.

Of course, once you finish the cone, you’ll stroll around, hang out by the water and maybe start to make plans about where to spend a week on next year’s vacation.

The Opinicon, a lovely little resort near Ottawa, could charge a lot more for an ice cream cone. A team of MBAs doing a market analysis and a P&L would probably pin the value at about $8. That’s where the ROI would be at its peak.

But they’re not in the business of selling ice cream cones. The ice cream cones are a symbol, a beacon, a chance to engage…

My Comment: Recently we worked with a team of leaders who do sophisticated analysis and planning. They had an incredible amount of data in their spreadsheets – but they didn’t have all the data. They were missing some of the intangibles, the effect on people, and how the numbers would be received and translated. Most of all, they hadn’t taken into account the critical factor Godin gets at in this article: desire. Why will people want what you offer?

I love a good spreadsheet and to keep things organized, but as Godin says: “If you run everything through a spreadsheet, you might end up with a rational plan, but the rational plan isn’t what creates energy or magic or memories.”

How can you make your team’s work irresistible?

Think Positively of Others by John Baldoni at SmartBrief

What’s the secret to a long-term relationship?

“Overlooking the negative and focusing on the positive,” says Helen Fisher, a best-selling author on relationships and a fellow at the Kinsey Institute.

Speaking on “The Diane Rehm Show,” Fisher says that brain scans of couples averaging 20 years revealed the parts of the brain that were active were those linked to empathy, self-control, and an ability to overlook negative, that is, “positive illusions.”

Maintaining “positive illusions” is an outlook that leaders can employ…

My Comment: In our leadership workshops I often share the principles that “you always make sense to you” and that “you are not the center of anyone else’s universe but yours.” When you keep these concepts in mind as you work with your people, it helps you maintain perspective and not get as easily upset when people don’t behave the way you would have expected.

Baldoni’s invitation to focus on the positive intentions can be extended to the assets that each employee brings to your team. Unless it’s negatively impacting the work or the team, don’t worry about the areas where they’re not as strong. Focus on what makes them excellent and on their contribution to the work and team. You’ll find what you look for – and, quite often, your expectations, perceptions, and positive outlook become reality.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore destructive or irresponsible behaviors. When those threaten an individual or team’s performance, you absolutely need to ditch the diaper drama and have the conversation.

What are the Best Employee Perks? 4 Questions to Ask First by Annamarie Mann at Gallup

Earlier this year, online craft marketplace Etsy came under public scrutiny after new investors balked at the long list of lavish perks offered at its Brooklyn headquarters.

Along with a community loom and crafting classes, the company had also renovated its office for $40 million, which included adding irrigated walls to grow plants, according to Quartz. Though these perks reinforce the cultural values of the organization, investors questioned if they distracted workers from achieving overall business success and outcomes….

But as companies begin to consider how they try to win over employees, it’s critical that they avoid racing after trends that may initially attract workers, but will ultimately fail to retain them. After all, these perks may be alluring at first, but companies need to make sure they’re not overlooking the fundamental benefits and perks for which most job seekers are actually looking.

My Comment: I once worked at a company that put in a gym with much fanfare. It sat unused, however, because the president thought anyone who tried to workout, even during their breaks or lunch could have been more productive.

When it comes to employee perks, I use the metaphor of frosting a cake. If you haven’t baked a good cake, you can’t decorate it. If you try to slap some frosting (perks) on a half-baked cake (poor employee experience), you end up with a mess.

Too many leaders try to solve morale problems with perks. People are never upset because there isn’t a ping pong table or weight set at work. They’re upset because of core issues: perhaps a systemic injustice, they’re no appreciated, or irrational competing priorities make success impossible. When you have these issues causing problems, don’t introduce perks – they’re insulting. Fix the issues.

Once you have a healthy core, then use the questions in Mann’s article to help you identify which perks make the most sense for your organization.

The Wrong Side of Right by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street

One big mistake I see people make over and over is focusing on proving themselves right, instead of focusing on achieving the best outcome.

People who are working to prove themselves right will work hard finding evidence for why they’re right. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to disagree with someone who has another idea. Everything becomes about their being right.

These otherwise well-intentioned people are making the same costly mistake that I did…

My Comment: This is one of the most important life lessons that some people never learn. My way of asking it is: “Do you want to be effective or do you want to be ‘right’?” The insistence on your own rightness (whether you are objectively right or not) does little to help you influence other people, get buy-in, and move people to action.

For leaders insisting on credit for yourself, or being right at the expense of others being wrong, or what you did vs what happened are certain to keep you from being effective. Focus instead on the outcomes. What do you want to have happen? Do you want to prove you had an idea first or do you want the team to implement and exceed expectations because they owned the idea themselves?

There’s a saying I learned as a child that may serve you as it has served me: “Someone convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.”

In every situation, ask: “What does success look like?” Follow up by asking yourself what you can do to achieve that success. Rarely will the answer be “prove to everyone that I was right.”

Your Turn

What thoughts do these articles bring to mind? Do you see something differently than the author? Did you have a favorite leadership article this week? Leave us a comment and let’s hear from you.