Conflict: Dealing with Difficult People and How to Have the Conversation You Are Avoiding


In the back of your mind, there is the conversation you have been avoiding. Mostly it’s because it is going to be uncomfortable to share what you want to communicate.  Uncomfortable for you.  For them.  You want things to get better on their own, so you avoid the conversation. But it is lingering there, in the back of your mind.


Your silence changes nothing except:

1.       your frustration level, which increases, and

2.      the quality of the relationship you have with that person, which decreases.


But how do you have a difficult conversation?

Here’s how:

1.       Be curious.  Wonder what the world looks like from their point of view.  Ask about their life. Learn about their perspective. Discover how they view the situation.

Ø  Come to a difficult conversation with a solid set of well, thought out curious questions.


2.       State the factsJust the facts.  What exactly is happening? Erase your interpretations and the hidden meanings you are ascribing to the facts. Allow just the facts.  Getting a handle on the objective reality, and then take a good look at your own “meaning making machine”.

Ø  Distill the situation down to clear, simple facts. What are the simple facts? Be specific.


3.       Illuminate your interpretations.  Then let them go.  Take a good hard look at what the stories your meaning making machine has created.  Delete these narratives.

Ø  Erase the meaning you’ve created. Get ready to be open and ask the other person what the facts mean to them. (Notice that we are back to being curious.)


4.       Clarify your request.  Know what behavior it is you would like to ask for going forward.

Armed with your curiosity and just the facts, aware of your own meaning making machine (that imagination of ours!) go have your conversation. 

ü  What questions can you ask to find out what their experience is? 

ü  How can you demonstrate both curiosity and compassion during the conversation?

ü  Once you have their version of reality, and yours, on the table, check your request. 

o   If it still applies, make your request.

o   If you want to amend the request, do so and then make your request.

o    If you now have a new understanding and need to make no request, simply share that.  (“This conversation really helped me.  I thought I was going to ask you ___________, but now I realize that is not necessary.  Thank you.”)

Practicing these conversations when the issues are small and seem minor accomplishes 2 things:

1.      Issues stay small.

2.      You have a lot more practice with these kinds of talks.  It’s easier and feels more natural to do. Then, when you need to have a higher stakes conversation you have more practice, which will help you have a better outcome when it matters most.

Enjoy the conversation!



The 3 Critical Buy-In Questions to Ask When Leading Change


 I recently hosted a gathering of CEO’s for a peer problem-solving session. A theme quickly emerged as each of these organizational leaders brought their issues forward to the group: change leadership.

At the heart of each of their situations was the question: “How can I navigate this change successfully?” In every case, thoughtful intention to how changes were introduced, implemented and evaluated was essential. These leaders cared about the success of their change process as much as the change itself. This type of careful attention is the key to their success as leaders.

Whether your change is significant or small, here are some simple questions to ask to ensure your change is successful:

1.      Why?

You will get resistance from your team if they do not understand why. So often in my coaching sessions I heard people express confusion about changes the organization is implementing:

“Why is this change important?”

“How does it connect to our mission and purpose?”

“What business aspiration does it help us achieve?”

Why? They want to know the answer, and they want that answer to make sense. I find that people do not have to agree with the change to move forward. They have to understand the rationale. That understanding greatly diminishes their resistance. Tell them why.

2.      What?

Communication is key to helping people understand change. What is the change exactly? What opportunity does the change respond to? What will change and what will stay the same? This last question, what will change and what will stay the same, is an essential question to answer if the impending change is significant. Reminding people of what isn’t changing eases anxiety, and allows people to maintain some equilibrium through change.  

3.      How?

Logistics matter to people. Not everyone needs great details, but some concept of the process involved in an upcoming change gives people confidence as they move forward. How will the change be undertaken? When will the change take place? Who is involved in initiating and executing this change? How will we check in to be sure the change is going as planned?

When people know the Why? What? and How? of change it is much easier for them to adapt and adopt the new-normal. When people don’t know or understand Why, there is resistance. When they don’t know or understand What, there is confusion. When they don’t know or understand How there is error in implementation.

As you plan for change, take the time to answer these 3 questions:

Why?                    What?                  How?

And then spot-check your communication: ask some of your key stakeholders if they can tell you why the change is important, what they understand the change to be, and how they see the change getting executed.

This last step will help you course correct your communication, and you will get some lessons-learned that you can apply next time. And there will be a next time. The one constant, after all, is change!



Have you ever started a new role, project, or job and your leader says, “Thanks for being here.  I am sure you are going to do great!  Now, go get some results.”?   I do an exercise with my clients called Blindfolded Darts that sounds a lot like this.  In essence, I put a blindfold on them, give them darts, and say go get some results.  There is a dartboard in the room and peers to give them feedback.  What do you think happens? 

Often, the blindfolded person stands there and waits for more instruction while getting frustrated.  Sometimes, they throw darts blindly, which is a scary thing.  The feedback they receive is non-specific like booing, cheering, or good-job/bad-job. The blindfolded person gets frustrated, confused, and loses their motivation.

Does this sound like your workplace?  I find that leaders are so busy that they do this to their employees.  They have good intentions of setting clear expectations, explaining the results that are needed, and providing feedback.  However, the reality is that leaders are moving targets who often feel they only have time to give non-specific feedback like “good job” or “you need to do better”.  Furthermore, they have to cancel a lot of 1:1s and the employee is left blindfolded, trying to figure out what their leader really wants.

Three Reasons We Need Clear Expectations

·       It is hard to hit the bull’s-eye without a clear understanding of the purpose, tools to do the job, and goal and metrics to measure performance.

·       Employees want to innovate and do the work without a lot of guidance from you.  However, with unclear expectations, they do not know the resources available to them and do not understand how much of the project they can own.  Thus, they often end up waiting for guidance which could be viewed as resistance.  Often this resistance is just a lack of clarity.

·       Employees are self-motivated and can do great work without you but, if the expectations are unclear, then they are going to be knocking on your door asking for a lot of guidance.  Now you have a time management challenge that could have been avoided.

How do we get better at this?

·       Take time to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.)

·       Ask your employees what they need from you to be successful.

·       Be open to employee ideas, offer your suggestions, and set up a follow-up plan to offer feedback, encouragement, and recognition.

If you are able to follow these ideas, you should have a motivated and engaged employee that is capable to hitting the bull’s-eye consistently!

Executive Wanted! Retaining a Great Culture


The economy is rolling along with record high employment and record low unemployment. Along with growth comes the need for experienced leadership.

It is interesting that these areas were list as part of the core responsibilities:

a) Developing Culture,
b) Developing Talent and
c) Developing and Executing Strategy! 

As an onboarding coach, I have seen goals for growth rates that have not been present for many years. With so many getting after it at this pace, it becomes easier for leaders to lose focus on maintaining a winning Culture and letting it slide.

Be on the lookout for these warning signs and symptoms that your Culture may be sliding:

·        Executives becoming overly focused on their personal ‘to do’ list

·        Staff frustration over communication systems that don’t integrate

·        Staff frustration over lack of leadership influence for making things happen that
are important to the winning Culture.

Now is not the time to be tuning out things important to the workplace Culture. Check with HR for exit interviews. Revisit the most recent employee engagement data. Conduct your own anecdotal; executive engagement update by walking around. Don’t lose the positive things that differentiate your organization from just another place to work in an economy thirsty for people.

I think it’s a good time for revisiting the adage “Culture beats Strategy Every Time.”

How is your organization doing in these areas?

1.     Are star employees leaving for a better opportunity?

2.     Have High Potentials or succession candidates been adequately attended to?

3.    Are your people clear about goal, do they align with efforts, vision and strategic plan?

4.     What synergies between people, processes, and strategies can you name?

5.     What do we need to be doing differently?


The text below is excerpted from an actual Executive Want ad.


Executive Wanted!

Schedule: Full-time Job Type: Executive

Develops Culture by:

  • Developing an organizational culture that leads to ongoing excellence and effective growth of the business while maintaining the highest integrity.

  • Creating a staff-friendly culture that attracts and retains great employees.

  • Promoting an environment where employees are engaged and perform at a high level.

  • Providing for the highest level of customer experience and ensures senior team alignment around that experience.

  • Modeling and driving a culture of accountability and discipline to attain and sustain out-performance in quality, service excellence, and earnings.


Develops Talent by:

  • Building a competitively superior organization through attracting, developing, and retaining talent to ensure that people with the right skills and motivations are in the right place at the right time to meet business needs.

Develops and Executes Strategy by:

  • Developing a long-range course of action or set of goals to ensure successful realization of the organization’s vision.

  • Ensuring the development of clear goals that align a unit’s efforts with the organization’s vision and strategic plan.

  • Ensuring synergies between people, processes, and strategies to drive execution of business objectives.

  • Building and driving sustained revenue growth.

  • Building strategic alliances both inside and outside the organization to create business opportunities and execute business strategies.

I hope you have some new insights about your organization and the importance of maintaining a winning Culture Good luck and let me know if you need any help!

Lee Hubert is a Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer and founder of iTrainManagerforSuccess affiliate of Voltage Leadership, with over 20 years of experience in human resources development in healthcare, technology, financial and energy sectors. 

The Case for Decency


Leaders, what stories are you telling and retelling?  What values and visions do those stories communicate to the people you are leading?  Stories give us a sense of common purpose – they infuse our work with meaning, and give us something more – commitment to shared values, hope for a brighter future, and the passion of a common purpose.

This summer I had the opportunity to travel with my family to West Virginia to visit the Cass Railroad, and, on that trip, I was fortunate to come across a truly great man.  It is not every day that one gets to meet a truly decent person, but let me tell you about Josh and the makings of a decent man and a great leader. 

Josh was the conductor and brakeman on our day-long steam train excursion.  Over the course of our five-hour trip he regaled us with stories about the Cass Railroad, the logging camp and company that had provided work to his great-grandfather and economic infrastructure to the region through the early part of the last century.  He taught us about the local ecosystems and the changes to landscape and climate brought about by the logging of the old grove forests in WVA.  I learned about his great-grandfather as the camp cook in Cass, and how he’d get up every morning at 3:00am to prepare breakfast for all the men.  Then, as they began to eat their breakfasts, he would turn his attention to their lunches, take a short rest, and began dinner preparations.  All the while his wife was back with the family tending their 10 children and their 1000-acre farm!

What I appreciated about the way Josh approached his work was how he told his stories.  They were true stories that he infused with lessons learned, and embedded within the stories he shared was a moral code.  Over the course of our five-hour ride he was transmitting a set of values to his passengers:

Family matters.  Josh wants to live in such a way that his family might be proud enough of how he lived to tell stories about his life to future generations – the way he was telling his great-grandparents' stories to us.

Hard work matters.  It should be rewarded with fair pay and safe working conditions.  The men who worked these logging camps worked hard, but most of their money went back to the company for rent and the goods purchased at the company store.  Traveling out of the camp required transport on company rails.  How do we treat workers who sacrifice so much and work so hard, living apart from family and undertaking backbreaking labor?  Workers who do difficult, dangerous work should be well cared for and given safe tools, and an appropriately safe working environment.

The environment matters.  It is fragile and we should be mindful of our ecosystems.  Think about the consequences of your industry on the land and environment. The rush to log the mountains of WVA dramatically changed the climate of the state.  With ancient trees the forest floor used to remain dark, wild, and frosty permanently shaded by the towering trees.  When they were logged, heat and lightening ignited fires across the region, burning the mountains across the state with wildfires that burned continually for years.  What are the consequences of the emerging industries today?  Are we, as leaders, thinking through the side effects of our rush to bring new tools to market?  Are we thinking through the side effects of the ways we are using our natural resources today?

Diversity matters.  We need each other.  Diversity is strength.  My favorite story was the one he told about the diversity of the loggers who lived in the camps – immigrants from all over the world.   Italians, Swedes, Ukrainians, Jews, Russians, Africans, Latinos were all working together, speaking many languages and learning from each other to bring lumber for our country’s burgeoning cities, industries, and railroads.  At the turn of the last century these people were living together, making friendships across their different languages, cultures and faiths.  Long before such relationships were common or even legal in the rest of the country, there was no segregation in the camps.  These people were a team.  Josh concluded, “If they could figure it out on the top of this mountain in 1910, surly we can find a way to be together today.”  A story with a moral for our times.

Every day, up and down the mountain, Josh tells his stories, communicating a set of values that he hopes will equip his passengers to live a little bit of those values once they leave.

In my work with Senior Leaders, I help them shape the stories they tell about their business – where they have been and where they are going, what impact they want to have on the future, and why that matters.  In the companies where those stories are told and retold, people who join the business join those stories in the same way the youngest generation is born into a family’s story.  From time to time those stories are reshaped to help people move forward in a new direction.

What are the stories that will move your people into the future with a passion born of purpose?  This is vision casting – your story about your imagined future.  What stories do you tell to support the values, great work, and good behavior you find in your teams?  Decency should be celebrated!  It gives rise to a culture of trust, and a people who hope and believe that what they do will matter.  People thrive when they are treated well.  And decent people treat people well.




How to Focus Teams for Success


I am spending a lot of time working with technical/scientific type client teams across the USA. Like all businesses in this robust economy, their pace has quickened and they are all moving quickly. In this fast-paced environment, it is easier to lose focus on the big things needed to ensure success. It may become easier to be distracted by things that seem important in the moment,but in reality, don’t contribute much towards the bigger picture or make real progress towards goals.

I wanted to share an excellent tool that quickly focusses (or re-focusses) teams on the
big things needed for success.

We get them out of their routine, off-site and drill down on how they define success for their
teams as they contribute to the organization’s success. This is done for the near term
(the current calendar /fiscal year) and the longer term (the coming year.)

Here is what we drill down on:

1) If we fast forward to the end this year, (or next year – you pick time) and look back,
tell me what must have happened in order for us to call it a successful year?

These may resemble new initiatives started or completed, revenue streams supported,
or results as measured by metrics achieved. In other words, how do they define success?

2) As we look back, verbalize which barriers were removed that had an immediate or significant impact on the success of the team?

These will usually be examples such as, removal of bottlenecks - needless bureaucracy, lack of formalized roles and responsibilities, under-utilization of delegation and disparate competing cultures within the organization.

3) As we look back, how were we seen by the enterprise and how do we want / need to be seen in order to be successful?

This is the internal marketing plan to the greater enterprise to position the team as a reliable
and trusted business partner. It may also entail changing the internal brand, i.e. the way the team’s function is perceived and internally marketed to the organization.

If the year is flying by and you wonder, “Why haven’t we made a bigger dent in our most
important initiatives this year?” try answering these success focus questions above and
then allocate time towards the things that spell SUCCESS!

Lee Hubert is a Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer and founder of iTrainManagerforSuccess affiliate of Voltage Leadership, with over 20 years of experience in human resources development in healthcare, technology, financial and energy sectors. 

Are You Ready? Here Comes Gen Z!

Generation Z.png

Well, you are finally getting used to the Millennials (1981-1995) and now the oldest members of Generation Z (1996-present) have started to enter the workplace. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers (1946-1964) are retiring in droves—some estimate 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each and every day. What should you expect from Generation Z and what are the implications for your organization?

This new generation are also called the Digital Natives. I can attest to this at my house. My 4 kids range in age from 12-19 so they are all Gen Z. While the older kids (19 and 17) were growing up, we really tried to monitor the amount of screen time they spent on each day. By the time the youngest (12) entered kindergarten, he was expected to do his work on computers, I-pads, etc. Even if we had wanted to stop him from being on a screen, he was required to do homework on the computer. Thus, this generation will be the most technological savvy generation to enter the workplace. However, we will also talk about what this means for communication in a moment…I see you Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers rolling your eyes already!

I would recommend a Deloitte article called Generation Z Enters the Workforce by Carolyn O’BoyleJosefin Atack, and Kelly Monahan.

Here some highlights for you to consider about this new generation—

·       Job security will be more important (many grew up in the shadow of the financial crisis)

·       Greater loyalty (see first bullet)

·       They prefer face to face conversation

·       Entry level roles are hard to find (we expect a ton out of each role post-recession)

·       Global citizens-will have a stronger network than previous generations

·       Will want flexibility in role, work setting, hours, etc.

·       Will crave feedback (they grew on social media where they get feedback all the time)

·       Strong technical skills

·       Will need help with decision making, communication skill and office protocol

A few implications for you, as a leader, as you think about incorporating Gen Z and the Millennials into your organization.

·       You may want to think about how you design your entry level roles. I would recommend thinking more about an apprentice type role where there is lots of mentoring, coaching and skill enhancement (especially soft skills.)

·       You might want to create a small cohort of younger workers and ask them what their needs are for development. Ex. Decision making, communicating up in the organization, influence skills, presentation skills, etc.

·       Mentoring be intentional and with a two-way approach. The “older” worker can learn a lot from the “younger” workers about what is happening in the marketplace, new communication channels and even what is happening the organizations culture.

·       Highlight best practices in communications and help the younger generations know your preferred communication style. However, also be willing to flex your style as needed. The once a year performance appraisal and monthly 1:1 will not be enough feedback from then newer generations.

Good luck! Continue to read and learn about the new workforce. Finally, remember each person is an individual and will have their own set of skills, competencies and experiences. However, understanding what Gen Z has experience will make you a better leader! Have fun connecting with your new workforce.


Are you being Candid?


Jennifer Owen-O’Quill and I had the chance to attend the Valley Business Keynote in July in Harrisonburg, VA (my hometown—Go Blue Streaks!) Kim Scott was the keynote speaker and she wrote the NY Times and Wall Street Journal best seller Radical Candor. She did an excellent job and I wanted to share a few of her key points and my insights. I highly recommend the book for your own growth and to help your organizations grow stronger.

Kim focused much of her presentation on the following 2x2 matrix from her book—

radical candor.jpg

Your goal as a leader is to strive for Radical Candor. This is where you challenge someone directly with feedback (positive or negative), you care personally about the person and you are trying to help them achieve great results. Okay, I can hear some of my clients already not liking the phrase “care personally.” Let me get candid—get over yourself! No really, what Kim is trying to say is when you care about someone who works for you, you want them to personally succeed. You are not trying to be best friends or trying to solve their personal problems but you are trying to help them grow as far as they are capable. Also, if they personal challenges (and we all do!), you are compassionate enough to recognize it and let the person know you do care about the person and not just the performer. What are the most important skills to do this? Listening, seeking to understand the other person, challenging the other person to make decisions vs. making decisions for them, being direct with feedback and connecting their role/performance to the vision/mission of the organization.

Okay, sounds good so far. Why do we not do it more often? There are lots of reasons like time, we do not want to hurt the other person’s feelings, we do not really care about their feelings and we just want results. I would also propose that many of us have not really practiced giving feedback. Kim gives lots of good stories, suggestions and models in the book to help you with this.

My challenge has been ruinous empathy. I have worried too much about someone’s feelings, self-confidence, etc. and not been direct enough at times in my career. The challenge is that in the moment it feels like I am being a nice guy and helping the other person. The truth is that my inability to be direct, keeps the person from hearing valuable feedback that would help them grow and succeed. They may not love hearing the feedback but if I deliver it with specificity and show that I care about the other person succeeding, then it is likely to be heard. If I avoid the conversation, then I might end up having to let someone go, with them never knowing that they were in trouble and that is a failure as a leader.

We all find ourselves in all of the boxes from time to time. Obnoxious aggression is when you are direct but you really do not show you care about the other person. You may be more aggressive than you need to be, your tone may be too strong, you might belittle the other person or you keep them out of certain meetings, etc.

Manipulative Insincerity—this is when you tell the other person what they want to hear but not really what you believe. I see this a lot in my coaching situations. I heard leaders really fussing about the CEO but when given the chance to challenge either in public or a 1:1 they tend to praise the CEO/VP/Founder, etc. instead of stating how they feel. This is not authentic and the person never gets the chance to make changes that will help lead the organization to better results. I get this a lot when I am a speaker. I will ask for feedback and get nothing but love from the audience. I speak enough to know when I have delivered an A performance and when I deliver at B- speech. However, I will have a certain set of people that will still say I was “great!”

What box is your challenge? What will you do about it? One last thought from Kim’s presentation is about positive feedback. It is interesting how much time we practice giving negative/developmental feedback. How much time do you practice giving positive feedback? I would encourage you to take a few minutes to practice your positive feedback next time. Concentrate on what the person did right, what behaviors did you like and what impact did this have on the business vs. saying great job on the presentation. Good luck and let me know what you are learning about your leadership style.


Conduct Yourself with Honesty and Authenticity


This week, a baseball slugger with a 22 year career was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In his speech, Jim Thome had this message for young players coming up in the game today:

"If you try to conduct yourself with honesty and authenticity, the result is the most natural high a human being can have."

Jim Thome, July 29, 2018 Hall of Fame Induction Speech

22 words that capture the heart of of Jim Thome's 22 season career. Living this way is what inspired USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale to muse: "Thome, considered perhaps the nicest human being ever inducted into the Hall of Fame." USA Today, July 30, 2018. 

His words beg the question, am I conducting myself with honesty and authenticity? In the face of all the challenges that life is laying before me today, how am I doing? Am I being the best version of myself?

These are excellent questions for all of us to ask regularly, particularly for leaders. Why? Because oftentimes leaders are faced with complicated choices, and they don't necessarily have someone to hold them accountable. Often, I get called in too late to work with the leader, and I see the wreckage left in the wake of inauthentic, dishonest leadership. The cost of these leaders is high: on companies, on communities, and, often most painfully, on their own families. 

Yet, so often the people around these leaders simply comply with their inauthenticity and dishonesty, because they are afraid or unaware, complicit or simply stuck. They can't find a way out yet. Here is the thing:

Character is contagious. 

People of excellent character positively impact the world around them. The school that shines brightly under the inspired leadership of a great Principal. The team that brings creative energy and repeatable success to their assignments because of the synergy that their mutual respect and enjoyment of one other produces. When communities or companies turn around and earn a reputation of excellence, its so often because the character and commitment of a leader has caught on, capturing the energy and engagement of the people around them. 

Under pressure a good leader can begin to fray. I have been known to say to the CEO's I coach through their challenging chapters: "Whatever your goals are for this engagement, I want to be clear about mine: I am trying to get you through this season with your character intact." I want the leaders I coach to look back over their careers and be able to speak with the kind of wisdom and clear character Jim Thome possesses.

Jim Thome played 22 seasons of baseball at levels of excellence rarely seen. And at the end of a long  and satisfying career, he wanted us to know that it wasn't the World Series appearances, or coming from behind in the bottom of the 9th, slamming the 3-2 pitch out of the park that gave him the highs in his life. No. It was when was in the zone, being the best version of Jim Thome he could be. 

Character is contagious. And we need to check ourselves. 

So my question for you, for me and for all of us, is this: how are you doing? Are you being the best version of yourself? 

What do you need to change to be in better alignment?

Are there amends you need to make?

Relationships to repair or reboot?

A habit you'd be well served to erase?

And where are you shining? What kind of light are you casting as you move through the world?

Leaders that live the way Jim Thome strives to live shine. And so do their teams. People that live like this shine. And so do their families, their friends, and the people around them. So go be the best version of yourself today. It's fun. It's rewarding. And it is what you were made for.

If you've got 20 minutes, here's the speech:






As July comes to an end and we find ourselves on the second half of the year, and Voltage Leadership Consulting wants to check up on you. How are you taking your time to invest in yourself before another year is over? Here is an old but favorite blog of ours that is a great reminder to invest in yourself. 


I am always amazed at the number of people who cannot wait until the weekend, the next month, etc.  They discuss how their job, their boss, their peers drive them crazy.  I think of these folks as serving time.  I once worked at a large organization where people would say they only had 15 more years until they could retire.  I would say, “15 years!  You could have several great careers.”  They replied, “Yes, but I would give up my pension, my vacation, my seniority.”  To me, they were giving up 15 years and just serving time…which is guaranteed to no one.

I propose an alternate approach.  How are you investing your time?  You may not love the situation you are in, but what are you doing to improve yourself?  A recent report by The Jenkins Group said that 42% of college grads never read another book after graduation.  In 1978, Gallup found that 42% of adults had read 11 or more books in the past year (and 13% had read more than 50!).  Today, Pew Research Institute finds that just 28% reach the 11 books mark.  Pew also found that in 2014, 23% of Americans did not read a single book.

Are you still learning?  What was the last great book that you read that got you out of your comfort zone?  (For me, it was Overworked and Overwhelmed by Scott Eblin.)  What podcasts or YouTube videos do you learn from?  Who do you share these lessons with?

I love the quotation, “the only difference for you in five years will be the books you read and the people you meet.” 

·       Who are you networking with?

·       What value do you bring to them?

·       Who are you mentoring or coaching?

·       Where are you volunteering?

These are all investments in time; however I firmly believe that you will wake up in five years from now doing something you are passionate about.  Thus, I hope you will call someone and set up an appointment for lunch and really listen to their ideas.  I think this is a great investment in time.

Here are some of my favorite recent books and podcasts to give you some ideas:


·       TED Radio Hour

·       Harvard Business Review IdeaCast

·       RadioLab

·       Stuff You Missed in History Class


·       Overworked and Overwhelmed by Scott Elbin

·       Anatomy of Peace by Arbinger Institute

·       5 Gears:  How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram

·       Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

What are you interested in?  Go find a book, podcast, or YouTube video on the topic.  Next, discuss the book with a friend and start to apply the practices.  Investing time will provide a jolt of inspiration for your leadership.

Pause. Breathe. Listen. -- Learning to Receive Feedback Well


Have you ever been on the receiving end of a tough conversation?

Someone has an objection to your approach, disagrees with your ideas, challenges your values, checks your decision-making, is uncomfortable with your style, feels that your behavior has been inappropriate. It’s a tough conversation!

This kind of conversation is hard to hear and even harder to act on. 

Someone wants you to do something different, often something quite different:

 different ideas,

different decisions,

a different approach to the problem.

Or they might say:

               Stop this behavior pattern.

                              Change the way you interact with me (or someone else).

                                             Soften (or strengthen) your tone of voice.

Whatever it is, something about you is not working for them and they are letting you know. How have you handled these conversations?

Personally, sometimes I have done well in the moment, sometimes poorly, and sometimes it has been an epic fail.

There is a wide menu of Epic Fail reactions to choose from:

·        Shut down.

·        Dismiss the feedback as irrelevant.

·        Negate them as “other” (someone whose opinion does not count, so neither does their feedback)

·        Listen with judgment about the person coming to me, and think of all the things I don’t like or respect about them.

·        Blow up. Defend myself. Attack. Set an angry explosive boundary: “don’t you dare talk to me like that.”

From experience I can tell you that not much good comes from any of these Epic Fail reactions.

Fear, anger, judgment, and contempt are not particularly helpful emotional guides, but they do seem to be able to command my attention and marshal my reaction.

BUT there have been other moments - golden moments in my life, as I reflect on them – when the feedback I was being given I received well.

Let me be clear, receiving feedback well does not require that the feedback be given well. Receiving feedback is up to us, the receiver. In the moments of real transformation and growth in my life I was able to do 1 simple thing.


And then, in the pause I took a couple deep breaths and chose. And the choice I made was to listen.

Really listen.

What I notice, as I look back on those moments is that I had to do 3 things at once. (Imagine that beach boardwalk juggler from your old vacation picture – balls in the air, quickly he begins, one, two, then three …)

I had to pause.

I had to take a couple deep breaths.

                                     And I had to choose to listen.

And while all of this was going on I had to do the hard work of holding my emotional reactions at bay.

It is not that those feelings were not present.

There they were: the hurt, the embarrassment, the anger, the sadness, or the reactive, rising judgment.

Somehow, I had to hold them off to the side and give the focus of my attention to what the person was saying, trying to deeply and simply understand:

“What are they trying to share with me?”

“What does this mean to them?

“Why do they feel it is important enough for me to hear?”

“What are their ideas about what I could do differently?”

“How can we move forward to a better place? Today? In the coming days/weeks?”

This thorough listening has been the key to my own growth.

Learning to Listen

In my experience coaching leaders, this ability to listen through an emotionally charged conversation is a skill people learn after the fact. Retrospectively. It is when we step back and reflect on an experience that went poorly, and walk through our reactions, that we begin to map a different path for ourselves.

Learning to listen is a skill every leader (yours truly included) can get better at.

Do you want to get better at receiving feedback?

Take on this exercise (first by yourself and then with a trusted friend or colleague):

Step 1: Choose a time when you did not receive feedback well.

·        Think back to a moment when feedback came, and your reaction was less than optimal. A time when you came unglued, perhaps.

Step 2: Map what happened inside your mind and body.

·        As you think back over that experience, what were you feeling? What changed in your body?

·        Did you tense up? Change your posture? What reaction began internally?

·        What thoughts began to arise in your mind?

Step 3: Explore a different path.

·        What changes could you have made with your body to help you listen?

·        What would have happened if you relaxed your jaw? Your shoulders? Uncrossed your arms?

·        What would have happened to your inner state if you had taken a deep breath?

·        When would have been the right moment to ask yourself to listen. To stay curious. To remain open.

·        What would have happened if you noticed the negative thought, and challenged that with a simple internal command.

Could you tell yourself:

“Wait.”  “Breathe.”  “Keep listening.”  “Relax.”  “Uncross your arms.”  “Stay open.”

Ask yourself some questions:

“What is s/he trying to tell me?”

“How can this be helpful to me in the future?”

“Try to understand their point of view.”

“What can I learn?”

Sometimes a simple statement can be made when someone comes to you angry or upset, and you are not able to hear what they are saying because of the way they are saying it.  Try something like, “I am willing to listen, and I need you to restate what you want me to hear in a way that is respectful and kind.”

Thinking through these scenarios, and learning from the past, can help make you a great receiver. 

Great leaders take time to develop their listening skills and, in turn, they become even better leaders!

Assessing Promotability


For those who believe that they are getting ready to be promoted, it is wise to understand what are called “limiting behaviors.” These are the blind spots that all people have to one degree or another and the
ability to acknowledge that they exist is often the biggest limiting behavior of them all.

Organizations often employ leadership assessment tools to help managers identify and prioritize their own developmental opportunities. While not 100% infallible, they do contain insight. When combined with 360-degree multi-rater feedback, they can feel downright oppressive!

What do organizations look for in a “promotable” person? Below are “Eight Universal Competencies”
and their associated skills from one of my favorites multi-rater tools, CheckPoint 360°™ from Profiles International. The feedback is usually from a group of 15 - 20 people who have had direct interaction with the person under consideration for promotion.

An honest, objective self-assessment might be very useful. Begin by asking yourself how well you might be doing in these areas:

1.     Communication – Skills associated with communication include: How well the person
“Listening to Others”, “Processing Information” and “Communicating Effectively.”

2.     Leadership - Skills associated Leadership are: How well they “Instill Trust, “
Provide Direction” and “Delegate Responsibility”

3.     Adaptability - Skills associated Adaptability are: How well they “Adjust to Circumstances”
and the ability to “Think Creatively.”

4.     Relationships Skills associated Relationships include: “Building Personal Relationships”
and “Facilitating Team Success.”

5.     Task Management – Skills associated Task Management include: How well they Work Efficiently and “Work Competently”

6.     Production – Skills associated Production include: How well they “Take Action” and
“Achieve Results”

7.     Development of Others - Skills associated the Development of Others include: How well
they “Cultivate Individual Talents” of others and “Motivates Others Successfully.”

8.     Personal Development - Skills associated Personal Development include: How well they
“Seek Self-Improvement and “Display Commitment” to personal growth.


How did you do?

Over / Under - 94 World Series


In a recent onboarding/coaching session, the topic of group-think came up. It was in the context of a legacy culture “informing” a new leader, because “that’s the way we do things around here” Yep, the legacy culture assigned meanings and standards for people to go on as they provided predictability and it’s what “we all know.”

Question: Who won the 1994 World Series? Answer: Nobody. The 1994 World Series was canceled on September 14 of that year due to an ongoing strike by the Major League Baseball Players Association

How many answered - The Atlanta Braves? (I did too)

It is not that difficult for individual or groups of people to fall into thought patterns. This may even include tacit approval for behaviors or attitudes that hurt the esprit ‘d corp of an organization or Team.

Here are five thought patterns to be on the look-out for and dealt with:

1.     Jumping to Conclusions – The tendency to jump to unjustified conclusions, make quick assumptions about how things are and what they’re going to be like in the future (predictive thinking), or you will assume that you know what someone else is thinking (mind reading). These conclusions and assumptions are not based on fact or evidence but rather based on
feelings and personal opinions.

2.     Personalization - Tendency to blame yourself for persona, problems and for everything that goes wrong in life. You might, for instance, continuously blame yourself for your misfortunes and bad luck. Taking responsibility for things is admirable, however, it can end up being a very burdensome habit-of-mind that leads to very strong feelings of regret.

3.     Musting / Shoulding - Tendency to put unreasonable demands and pressure on oneself and on other people to do certain things. You might say, “I must… I should… You must… You should…”. These statements may provide insight into personal standards about the things you expect of yourself and others. These standards can at times be helpful, however at other times “musting” / “shoulding” can create unrealistic expectations.

4.     Overgeneralization – Tendency to reference the past in order to make assumptions about the present. For example, a person may take one instance from the past and use that as a “predictor” for a current or future situation. Whenever we hear the words “He always… She always… Everyone… You never… People never… I never…” overgeneralizing is likely taking place.

5.     Catastrophising - Tendency to blow things out of proportion and make them out to be worse than they are. The impact of a situation might actually be quite insignificant, but those in the mode of catastrophizing, they tend to make problems larger than life — thereby making the problems even more difficult to overcome.

How is your Summer Time Going?


Wow, our summer is going by fast. Mission trips, basketball camps, daughter working as a camp counselor, beach on the horizon and birthday parties with family. How about you? Have you scheduled any time off? Are you working any different hours? What fun event is on the calendar? If you are stammering a bit, then let this article guide you to some fun planning.

Many of my clients are just waking up to the idea of being intentional with their time. Why is this important? Well, we live in a time where it is way too easy to be connected all the time. Our phones can be an awesome tool to stay connected when we need something quick. They can also allow us to be flexible and work in coffee shops, libraries, etc. However, they have also made it too easy to check our email while on vacation, at the swimming pool, at Disney World or during a kid’s ball game. Scott Eblin wrote a great book called “Overworked and Overwhelmed” and I love a concept that he introduced in the book called guardrails and boundaries.

The concept is basically about being intentional with your time and protecting your time from other people’s interruptions. Here are some examples from my clients—no phones at the dinner table; no email or work texts during the weekend; dinner with my family 3 times per week; workout at noon, 3 days a week; no interruptions during 1:1’s; no meetings on Fridays. The reason we need to be intentional and establish some guardrails and boundaries is because it is too tempting to just check our phones, allow someone to interrupt our 1:1 or just get lost doing work.

Do you know that many US leaders do not use all of their vacation days each year? I understand how it happens, but they all say they wished they had done more fun things throughout the year. Okay, now back to summer. What are your guardrails and boundaries? What memories will you create with your family or good friends? Here are some ideas to get you started—

1.     We ask our kids for 2-3 things that they want to do this summer and put it on the refrigerator. We start checking things off during the summer (kayaking, hiking Mill Mountain, playing golf, camping out 1 night, seeing The Incredibles, etc. are some of the items on our list this summer.)

2.     I do not schedule appointment past 4pm in the summer. This means that I get home earlier and we can go do some of the things on the list (ex. We went to Mill Mountain and got ice cream last Tuesday!)

3.     I have marked 2 Fridays off to just be with the family. A family kayaking trip will happen on one of these Fridays.

4.     What will be your plan on vacation days? Be intentional—if you are going to check email, I would recommend doing it early and setting a timer for 15 minutes so you do not get sucked into the computer for a few hours. Who can cover for you while you are out? Be a friend and cover for them when they are out.

My final thought is, who can hold you accountable? I let my kids know my plan and they are great about doing the planning. I hope you can establish some boundaries and guardrails for yourself. Summer is a great time to start this new behavior. Go create some awesome memories and share your ideas with me. Have fun!

Why Networking Still Matters


How many of you see networking in the title and cringe just a little bit? Does going to a conference and walking up to folks at the cocktail reception make you want to flee the scene?  Does arranging a coffee and conversation make you sweat a bit? I understand—I really do!

Most of you that know me might find this hard to imagine. I can hear you saying, “Jeff, you just won the RBTC Regional Connector Award, how could networking ever be hard for you?!” There are plenty of times that I go to a conference or social event and wonder why am I doing this? I will admit that I love people and I have a general curiosity about what people find interesting. However, there are also times that I find it boring and just want to go back home or my hotel room.

Wow, great start Jeff! Really inspiring me so far! Okay, so why does networking matter? I have had several friends and clients that have recently been laid off from their jobs. They worked so hard and were so committed to their organizations that they never took time to network. All of sudden they need to look for new jobs and they are lost. I also have some clients that are in need of new customers but they spend so much time inwardly focused on their own operations that they do not know how to connect outside of their organization to gain new insights, innovations and potentially new customers. Thus, reasons to network include:

1.     Finding mentors and thinking partners to help you grow in your career

2.     Benchmarking with peers to learn about best practices

3.     Connecting with others to hear about possible new job opportunities

4.     Bouncing product ideas off others to see if you have a good idea

5.     Challenging your thinking

6.     Sanity check on what you are seeing in your organization

7.     Potentially finding new talent for your organization

8.     Developing acquaintances for a future need (like new jobs or clients)


If the benefits are so great, then why do we spend so little time networking? Here are a few reasons I hear:

1.     I am so busy, I do not have time

2.     It makes me nervous

3.     I am not very good at small talk

4.     I do not have anything to offer the other person (or the other person is so important, they would never meet with me)

5.     I am too shy, quiet, boring, scared, etc.

6.     I do not know how to lead a good conversation

Okay, the time one is a choice. We are all busy and we all like to tell everyone that we are busy. Some the of busiest people I know, go out of their way to invest in networking at least weekly if not daily. They see the benefits and make it a priority. The rest of the reasons, I think can be overcome by learning how to be a good networker.

Here are some of my ideas and shared some resources at the end of the blog.

1.     Find someone who is good at networking and ask them to mentor you

2.     Identify 3-5 people that you find interesting—ask one of them to have coffee with you

3.     Bring interesting questions to the conversation; ask the other person about the reasons for their success; leave them with an interesting article to help them grow; ask them about 1-2 other people they admire or appreciate

4.     At a conference, go to the networking event early. Set a goal of x # of people that you want to talk to. Be curious about the other person’s interest, passions and why they do what they do. If you enjoyed the conversation, ask for a business card and follow-up with an email suggesting a phone call or coffee another time.

5.     Introduce someone you respect to another person you respect so they can both learn.

6.     Celebrate when you have tried one of these things. Ex. I go for a run or get a Slurpee.

Here is the link with ideas on how to get better at networking. In the meantime, good luck building your list of influencers, potential clients or future hires. Put some time on the calendar and go do it. Let me know how it goes!

- Jeff Smith


Writing the Second Act: A Retention Parable


The Scene Is Set

“I need something different,” the leader tells me, an edge of frustration in their tone.

On another day, in another conversation I hear:

“This team isn’t bringing what I need to be successful right now” or

“ ______ does not have what we need to stay relevant in our market.”

Most of the time, the person or team in question has previously been a critical contributor.

Now what is surfacing is evidence of the dissonance between a once-successful key player and an organizational leader.

What is called for is a candid conversation about the organization's changing needs, and an exploration of the willingness of the employee in question to learn a new approach, grow new skills, and refocus their attention to successfully meet the next phase of the business’s needs. 

Most of the time this conversation does not occur.

Instead there is silence.


Frustration mounts, as the leader continues to see evidence that their assessment is correct: this person is not going to move the group forward.

Eventually, if the conversation takes place, it has been put off for so long that when it takes place it occurs at the outset of a separation process between the company and a formerly key contributor.

So much is lost because of the silence.


Lack of Communication: the Tension Rises

Here is what is happening internally with the employee, on the other side of that leader’s frustration:

“What is happening here?”

“I used to be successful. I am doing the same thing, and no one sees or appreciates my work anymore.”

Fear rises. Frustration and confusion reign.

These feelings begin to inhibit the performance of the employee.


The Untold Story: What is Happening

Why? Because fear and anxiety cause our bodies to dump a chemical cocktail into our bloodstream, inhibiting our strategic thinking. The cortisol our bodies produce when we are anxious and afraid keeps our brain from accessing its pre-frontal cortex, our executive brain. Strategy withers. Fear reigns. And so performance begins to fall.

Little by little, the leader’s assumptions about the employee’s capacity are “proven.” Performance coaching begins and an exit strategy is created by one or both parties.


Writing a Retention Story

There is another way to write this story.

It begins with a conversation.

Not one about you and your performance and me and my needs. This conversation begins with a mutual exploration of a changing organizational and competitive landscape.


The Importance of an Intermission

Intermission. It is the time between Act 1 and Act 2. During this time the audience gets up, stretches their legs, and finds the bathroom, while the stagehands and actors madly prepare for the Second Act.

Great performers need an intermission with their leaders. A time set aside for a conversation that explores and celebrates was has happened up until now and looks ahead at what is needed next to prepare for what is yet to come.


The Intermission Conversation

The Intermission Conversation is a conversation in 3 parts:

Part 1    What just happened?

·        Review the accomplishments and successes. Celebrate!

·        Share what you both had hoped would go differently, and which experiences you treasure.

Part 2    What’s happening out there effects what is happening here.

·  Explore the current and approaching competitive landscape is explored.

·  Acknowledge the reality that the company is different and the marketplace is moving rapidly.

·  Ask: What will it take for us to continue to be successful, keep up and remain relevant?

Part 3    What’s next?

·  Recognize that was then, this is now. Changes must be made for success to be sustained.

·  Compare the current and approaching landscape vs. what the landscape was like when we had past successes.  In this conversation past successes are reviewed and compared and contrasted with the current competitive landscape and current cultural context in mind.

· Plan for the future: What does the continued success of the business require next?

The Second Act

This Intermission Conversation allows leaders and team members to reflect on what has been, to look ahead strategically, and to realign expectations going forward. It celebrates what has been, yes. More importantly, it honestly acknowledges that the success in the future will be brought by different strategies, actions, projects and priorities that this season. Naming that allows people to see clearly that ongoing success requires ongoing re-orientation for everyone.

When we take time to have an intermission conversation, people can come back to their seats, ready for the second act. Yes, sometimes, people will realize this show is not for them. But most people simply need a moment to get up, walk around, and think about what might come next. Then they can settle down, and get ready to enjoy the Second Act of the show.

Retaining seasoned, successful team members takes time and attention… but not loads of time. Usually short intermission conversations will do.

Let me assure you, the investment of that short, meaningful conversation is worth the reward it reaps: long term, engaged, seasoned and successful employees who feel valued and who understand where the business needs to go next, how they can contribute, and why what they have accomplished so far matters.

Who on your team do you need to have an Intermission Conversation with?

What will it means for your future success if that conversation goes well?

I hope you take the time to get that conversation on your calendar today.

The Secret Ingredient of High Performing Teams


Communication breakdowns are hard on an organization, let alone the affected parties. But high performing teams have two things that work in their favor: their communication breakdowns are infrequent, and there is something else. Something more going on. Synergy.

What makes high performing teams special? What creates the synergy?

It is the Secret Ingredient in their Communication Rhythm.  Can you find it tucked into this outline?

The Communication Rhythm

Most successful organizations follow a similar Communication Rhythm:

A Daily Stand Up to coordinate work, get updates, and transfer information. 15 minutes tops.

Tip:  The Convener must know and moderate what information needs to be shared so that the work can continue to move forward successfully.  Be brief, focused, and keep it moving.

·        Recognize the wins your people had the day before. Celebrating provides momentum!

A Weekly Planning / Problem Solving Meeting to address current and potential issues. 30-60 minutes.

Tip: Ask these 4 questions every week.

Ø  What problems are emerging that you need the thinking of the group to resolve quickly?

Ø  What updates need to be shared so the team moves forward with alignment?

Ø  Do you have enough resources (time, talent, material) to get the work done?

Ø  How are we doing as a team? Do we need to clean up any communication?

A Monthly Team Meeting is a deeper dive into Relationships and Strategy. 60-90 minutes.

Ø  Again, how are we doing as a team? Do we need to clean up any communication?

Ø  Are we on track with our Desired Outcomes?

Ø  Are we spending time on things that matter most?

Ø  What are the obstacles on the horizon, and how do we plan for them?

Ø  Have we had 1:1 time with our Direct Reports this month? Are they aligned and engaged?

Did you spot the hidden Secret Ingredient?

Its People. Recognizing the wins. Checking in weekly and monthly on team dynamics. Accountability about 1:1’s. All of these elements ensure that people are the priority. Success happens when people are engaged, working well together, and accountable and appreciated for their work.

People-Focus is the Secret Ingredient of high performing teams.

Ø  Catching people winning every day.

Ø  Checking in to see how the team is doing. Is there any communication that needs cleaning up?

Ø  Taking the time every month to have a quality one on one with your team members.

Here are some questions to ask in your monthly 1:1:

Ø  Simply asking, “How are you doing?” and really listening to the answer is important.

Ø  What has been the biggest success and the biggest struggle this month?

Ø  What support do you need?

Ø  Are you satisfied with your current scope?

Ø  Is there something new or different you are curious about?

Ø  What can I do differently to better communicate with you?

Ø  What can I do to support your success?

Ø  Do you need a new skill or a new experience to be more engaged and satisfied at work?

Just this week I had a conversation with my colleague. I had assigned a project I thought matched with their professional goals. As I walked out the door, she leaned back and said, “Hey Jennifer, you really should assign this to Diane. She would love it. It is the right thing for her. I know you think I want to do this, but I don’t.”

Sure enough, Diane did want the project. She lit up when I asked her about it. And Erin was relieved to have something that was not a good fit for her reassigned.

It was a good reminder that, even when I think I am paying attention and asking the right questions, I miss the mark. I am glad for that quick, off-the-cuff conversation that allowed me to make a simple change in scope that made everyone happy. When your people know you are interested in their professional dreams and desires, they look for ways to help you get it right.

Put people on your meeting agenda every time. It pays off in spades. Appreciate the work. Check in on conflict, communication, and issues as they arise every week so pressure does not build, and be curious about them. Know their long and short term goals.

Everything gets done through people. They are your biggest asset. Its worth the time you give. I promise.

The Leadership Challenge

The Leadership Challenge.png

I was working recently with a group of leaders in the healthcare industry and it got me thinking
about the common challenges that all leaders face. It seems that wherever we travel as leadership development consultants, these variables keep surfacing.

How well these five principles are addressed may be the difference between change efforts that succeed and those that fail. They also impact trust. The trust factor is paramount for collaboration and organizational success.  Unfortunately, a lot of time and energy may be wasted in dealing with the absence of one of these five principles.

The Leadership challenge:

1.      We chose how we respond - This seems simple enough to understand however there are
times when even the most experienced leaders may violate this principle. A lot of time and energy has been devoted to the subject of managerial self-control.  I.e. keeping your saw nice and sharp, finding balance and symmetry with Body Mind and Spirit. Regardless of how well
we achieve this ideal, we still choose how we respond.

2.      We own our team's work product – As with many teams, the leader experience people challenges. The leader is ultimately responsible for their teams work product.  this may mean that underperformers get managed up or out allowing the leader to devote more time with performers and high potentials.

3.      We lead with balance, wisdom, and sufficient EQ - Leaders who understand balance wisdom and EQ are likely to have high-performing teams.  Balance means that the leaders own limitations are not imputed as team limitations. It is the wise manager who knows but they don't know and have sufficient emotional maturity to navigate in that space.

4.      We forfeit schadenfreude when we sit in the Leader's chair - Schadenfreude means pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune, aka “dishing the dirt.” It is the opposite of Leadership. Grip it and zip it.

We win together as a Team and Organization - Very often we see organizations that have
fallen into the trap of believing that component pieces can function in isolation or independently.  Not so. Successful techniques for bunker busting include: revising internal communication plans; leadership advocacy; cross functional / non-routine ROI or efficiency summits; and humility in the form of good old fashioned team-work.

What Are You Doing To Grow?


I was thinking about college graduation recently. The grads are closing a chapter of immense growth and entering another period of tremendous learning whether that is a job, grad school, the military, etc. However, after a couple of years, many of them settle into a routine. For some, it may even grow into a rut. They are the ones that dread Monday, celebrate Hump Day, and dance to work on Friday. They live for the weekends, when they come alive.

What about you? When was the last time you were in a period of intense learning? Some of my times were

               Leading a large call center outside of headquarters

               1st baby

               Grad school

               Coaching program

               Traveling to the UAE to teach serving leaders

               Starting my own company

               Sending first kid off to college

What I notice about all of these periods, is that there was some apprehension before entering each phase. For some, it was tempting to maintain the status quo. It was not always fun to be in the 1st year of marriage, working full-time and going to grad school full- time (Thanks for putting up with me Beth). However, the learning reshaped my world view. It also gave me opportunities to grow that I still benefit from to this day.

What is keeping you from learning? Time? Yep, that can be a factor. However, what are you giving up in the future by not investing in yourself now. Do not know the path? Great call us, another coach, a pastor, a great friend and go have a coffee and dream together. This person will help you share a path. Nervous about trying something new? We all suffer from this. Take comfort in knowing growth comes when we move out of our comfort zone. Your coach, friends, etc. can help you with your confidence. I am sure there are more things but I think you get my point. Go out and try something new and maybe find a recent college grad to mentor and see what they can teach you about learning!

Help! I Don't Know What I'm Doing!


Sometimes you have to unexpectedly lead in an area in which you are not an expert.  Maybe you are not even close to an expert.  Maybe you have no experience at all.  Situations will arise that you are not prepared for and when they do, you are still the leader and it is up to you to steward that role.  Take parenting for example, no one really knows how to do it.  But, guess what, you have to lead this tiny person into adulthood through unforeseen circumstances.  You figure it out, right?

However, most of the time it is other professional adults (some who may be gunning for your job), not children.   How will you accomplish this without those people figuring out that you don't know what you're actually doing?  There are a few ways to handle this, but what I've seen to be the most effective leadership style is not being afraid of the vulnerability.  OWN IT! 

You will need a bit of time to get yourself together and make a plan, but mostly you need to leverage the talent you already have in the people around you.  Don't be afraid to say, “I'm not quite sure what we should do with this part of it but I know that [Diane] has the skill set to take that on and be successful.”  That's leading!  Appreciating who is around you, being vulnerable enough to say, “I'm not quite sure about … but what I do know is this...”, and leading your team through the unknown.

Focusing on what you don't know and striving to find the “right” answer or way to do something will create an atmosphere of distrust.  When things get stressful, a person will tend to close themselves off from others or work themselves to the point of exhaustion in an effort to appear to have it all together.  The whole team notices that and, unless someone is bold enough to face and discuss it, distrust and rumors brew.  We must remember that we are often called to lead through something we have no experience with yet.  And that is OK!  Gather your team, share the situation before you, own that you are not sure about how to walk through it but that you will lead them through it.  I have not mastered parenting, but I am learning along the way and becoming better at it all the time.  Sometimes I have to talk to my older children in this way to let them know that I do have vulnerabilities but that I own my role as their leader and we will walk through this together.  That helps them to believe that they do not always have to have all of the answers to walk through something well.  In that way you will grow and your team will grow along with you. 


Try these steps when you don't know how to walk your team through a situation:

Get Clarity:  Are there questions you can ask, experienced people you can talk to, or resources you could scour to understand the situation more clearly?  

Focus on what you DO know:  You know you are the leader.  You know your team. You know that there will be an outcome on the other end of this. 

Decide what the desired outcome is and work towards it:  Is it success at all costs, or is it a team that will grow and learn together?  When mistakes happen or the result isn't good, will you cast blame, or will you be able to humbly take responsibility because you made the best choices you knew how to at the time?  Will you back your team or will you scramble toward self-preservation?  None of these are actually wrong, just different, choices one could make … just be sure you think about who you want to be as a leader as you make the choice.

Being secretive and not sharing a major project, change, or situation for too long could create distrust and paralyzing shock at just the time you need your people to step up and offer their loyalty, trust, and most thoughtful, creative work.  How will you approach your next difficult situation when you don't have experience in that particular area yet?  Here's to walking headlong into the unknown … but hopefully, not alone!