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Copy These 5 Communication Skills From Top Leaders

Do you struggle with communicating effectively? Communication is a key part of success at work or in other parts of your life. Top leaders have practiced and mastered the skills that enable them to communicate so well. Luckily, you too can learn these same skills!

Follow these strategies to practice essential communication skills:

Learn to Listen

Top leaders know that listening is a crucial part of communication. Learn to love listening and engage in the stories of others.

Try to really pay attention during a conversation instead of being distracted by your phone or another device. Have one conversation at a time to give each person your full attention. 

Practice retelling the person’s story in your mind to get better at listening.

Everyone wants to be heard. Others will notice that you’re listening to them and will go away from your conversations thinking what a great communicator you are when all you did was listen.

Avoid Slang and Informalities

It’s normal to use slang or other types of informal language while talking to friends or family. However, business usually requires a more formal language set. Pay attention to who you’re talking to and make the necessary adjustments.

Slang, acronyms, and informalities can also make some people feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re not familiar with them.

Focus on Being Brief

Top leaders know that you don’t have to make a long speech to be effective.

Practice being brief and getting your point across with fewer words and less time. People appreciate brief conversations and respect others who don’t go off on tangents.

However, ensure you’re still providing enough information while you talk. You don’t want to be vague or miss important details.

This skill may take time to develop, so practice it often. The next time you have a conversation, try to get your point across with less talking. Try to summarize the important parts and only focus on them while you talk. 

Pay Attention to Other’s Emotions

When you talk, take note of how the other person is reacting. Words are powerful, and communication can affect people in many different ways.

You may want to learn psychology to understand emotions better.

Show sympathy and empathy when it’s appropriate during a conversation.

Look at things from the other person’s point of view without criticism or judgment.

Be Charismatic

Communication is easier for charismatic people, but you can learn this skill.

One of the most important aspects of charisma is confidence, but not arrogance or self-righteousness. Confident communicators know their value and worth, but they’re also respectful of others.

Another facet of charisma is optimism, and it’s also a big part of communication. Even if you’re having a difficult conversation, focus on something positive. Top leaders are good at finding the silver lining.

Charismatic communicators are interesting, but they also share interesting information with others.They focus on innovation and new ideas that give people a spark.

Summary

You can learn to communicate more effectively by following these tips from top leaders. Practice these skills as often as possible. You’ll have many opportunities each day. Every time you have a conversation with anyone is an opportunity to practice a little more. And as you know, practice makes perfect!

Become a Better Leader: 4 Steps to Boost Your E.Q.

understanding eq

Most of us think of a leader as someone with a great deal of education and experience in a certain area. While knowledge and experience are important qualities, one’s ability to communicate and work well with others is just as important to being an effective leader.

A hot topic on the scene these days is Emotional Intelligence or E.Q. While research and numerous studies have proven the concept, understanding how to use it in your leadership toolkit is another story.

Having a high degree of emotional intelligence (E.Q.) allows you to be able to inspire and motivate others to co-operate with you to accomplish a shared objective and vision. There are several ways that you can strengthen your interpersonal skills.

Try these methods to dramatically raise your E.Q. and accomplish more together:

FIRST

Increase your self-awareness. Self-development is the foundation of excellence. Before you can lead and inspire others, you must first understand your own motivations and behavior.

  • Develop your vision by learning to listen to your inner values and dreams. Trust yourself. Try not to compromise your values to achieve a goal or for other temporary gain.
  • Embrace passion by learning to be motivated by your internal compass rather than external forces and situations.
  • Keep your energy fully recharged, so you can give your best effort. You can stay energized by taking the time to learn what activities re-energize you and which ones drain your energy.
  • Respect yourself. Know the limitations of your body, mind, and spirit and strive for balance between your responsibilities in all areas of your life.
  • Become aware of your flaws and limitations. Seek ways to improve yourself and be open to change.

Next

Strengthen your discipline and self-management. Learning to be responsible for your behavior, attitudes, and actions can raise your performance level as well as help you to build trust and authority with others. 

  • Seek the input of others. Ask how you can help them, or what you need to do differently to communicate more effectively and manage them better.
  • Hold yourself accountable for your actions and performance.
  • Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities and tasks. Be confident enough in yourself to surround yourself with talented, qualified people.

Then

Develop your social awareness. Be aware of your own attitudes and the power you have to motivate others.

  • Show genuine concern for others and learn how to actively listen. Doing so will create lasting bonds and a strong team that will work with you rather than against you.
  • Give others a reason to support you and your vision. Let others know when they have done a good job and look for ways to openly recognize and reward excellence.
  • Help others to buy into your vision by making them stakeholders in the attainment of your goals. Seek their advice when setting goals and making plans on how you’ll achieve them.
  • Help others to increase their abilities and fully utilize their talents by providing opportunities for training, scholarship, and self-development.

Finally

Emphasize greater relationship management. Learn how to bring out the best in yourself and others. Utilize everyone’s best qualities and minimize their limitations with effective assignment of tasks and delegation of responsibilities.

Regardless of your education or experience, you can achieve greater success by learning how to use your people skills to fully harness the talents and energy of others. These strategies will allow you to increase your E.Q and inspire others to fully enlist in your cause of their own free will.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

meeting with the boss

There’s a subtle yet powerful way to make change happen. It involves doing your homework and some legwork before a big meeting. I call it the ‘meeting before the meeting.’

Larger businesses often rely upon leadership meetings or Board meetings to make big decisions. The person or teams bringing requests for approval have big challenges to get it right. Rather than waiting for the final big meeting to happen, you need to do prep work. You need to work the process.

The Back Story

I learned about this approach in my banking days. My bank was a bit old school. We had Loan Committees that approved big deals coming into the bank. By this, I mean the loan requests from customers. Millions of dollars were at stake.

Businesses needed the bank to help finance operations and growth. The bank had to make sound and solid loan decisions to keep the bank stable and profitable. It was a difficult balancing act. Loan officers worked very hard to build the banking relationships. When a customer decided to ask for help, it was important for the officer to be able to make things happen.

This meant going to loan committee.

The committee prep work was daunting unto itself. Analysts combed through spreadsheets and the customer financials. Proposals were carefully written and justified. But it would be certain death to go into the loan committee without doing something else first.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

This is where this special step became so important. The meeting before the meeting.

It meant a diligent loan officer would walk the proposal to every member of the loan committee for a one on one review and discussion. Basically the LO was having to lobby a vote from each member.

Our ‘big’ committee, where only the largest deals got done, had a single ‘no’ vote rule. One vote ‘no’ meant disapproval. The customer request would be denied and the LO would have to start over.

From a career standpoint, it was also death to an LO. Not literally, but figuratively. You couldn’t loose many and be considered a good credit person. Your career could hit a ceiling real fast.

However, using the meeting before the meeting helped grease the skids, oil the machine, and smooth the glide. LOs learned pretty fast how to get real good at lobbying their deals. They learned which senior officers asked what questions. They carefully crafted the right answer to persuade each committee member to vote yes.

On one hand, we were in the business to make loans, but we thought they needed to be good loans. There were plenty of ways to make sure that happened. By letting the committee members have a shot at the deal without risking the one no vote, LOs could make adjustments to the package. It helped them gain insights that could otherwise be embarrassing in front of the whole committee.

Then, when the big day came to actually present to committee, it was often more a formality rather than a process. Of course there might be group discussions, but usually everyone already knew what the vote would be. There were seldom any surprises.

Use in Your Business

Regardless of the business or industry you may find yourself, if you have these larger organizational meetings to make big decisions, you can take a page from this book.

By investing in the preparation and effort to garner support via the meeting before the meeting, you can greatly improve your chances of success.

I had a client recently who was responsible for a big organizational change that had been mandated by senior leadership. While the overall change was understood, there were strategic decisions that had to be made by a leadership council. These decisions drove P&L results and impacted vertical lines of business.

It was going to be vital that the council agreed to the plans that had been designed. Otherwise the whole change initiative would have to be scrapped and redesigned.

I recommended the meeting before the meeting. My client and her team got busy arranging the sessions. One by one they huddled with the individual members of the council. All of it was done before the big meeting.

When the day arrived for the vote, the presentation was made (with great edits and adjustments suited for exact satisfaction of various members). The vote was unanimous YES!

My client and her team came away victorious. Champions for the cause for change and recognized for great work to get there.

As we talked after the fact, she shared with me how powerful that little extra effort became. It helped galvanize the change effort. It crystallized the clarity and sealed the deal.

You should try this approach the next time you are trying to push through a big initiative at work. Take time to make these meetings before the meeting happen. You’ll be glad you did.

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How We Work – Perfect vs Imperfect

wabi sabi

There is a struggle in modern business. As people show up for work, there is a tension between forces that push us to be perfect in what we achieve, yet we know in our hearts and minds we are imperfect in many ways. And the work goes on.

We add more hours to the day to meet that deadline or deliver the project. We agonize over the work in front of us. We shape our words and stories to present the image that a perfect outcome is on its way, ‘almost there.’

Then, when the work is delivered, there is a nagging sense that we could have done more.

Explore the Source

First let’s explore where this voice comes from; the voice demanding perfection.

For many it comes from childhood memories (or nightmares) pressed into the psyche by that third-grade teacher or gym coach or, sadly, a parent who demanded ‘better.’ I’m not talking about the loving mentor who encouraged us, but rather the mean-spirited ogre who said hurtful things. Even with many years between their angry words and your own revelation of real truths, the messages that are remembered from these horrible souls shape our sense of what we need to accomplish.

Teacher complaining about schoolboy in elementary school class.

Another source of expectation comes from the bad boss who sets unrealistic demands for the team. They plot goals and standards that look like perfection, but usually won’t stand up to objective scrutiny. Unfortunately, too many workers buckle under these bosses. Instead of pushing back, you go to work and try to deliver.

Team or organizational culture can impact this too. On occasion I run into a work environment that demands 100% of the information be covered in an analysis before making a decision. There might even be punitive personnel assessments written for those who fail to hit the 100% mark.

Lastly, your own definition of perfection can be a force. I often encounter clients who have the perfectionistic personality. It torments them and drives those around them crazy. The interesting contradiction in this personality is that they usually don’t get enough done at all because they fear the work not being perfect, so they never start.

Here’s a Fresh Idea

Wabi sabi is a Japanese design concept. It means beauty in that which is temporary or imperfect. Things that come off of an assembly line, for example, are perfect, but things made by hand, like the glaze on a Japanese ceramic bowl, are imperfect. It is their imperfections that give them their beauty. (see the cover picture)

The same is true for people. It is the combination of all of our imperfections that make us vulnerable and beautiful.

If you are a leader, have you thought about applying the wabi-sabi mindset as a metaphor for the work you do? If you let your view of things shift to embrace the idea of life as a journey. Give yourself and those who work for you the grace to believe we are all working to become better versions of ourselves. The idea of a “work in progress” can become a great strategy for the work you do.

You can implement a system for constant improvement rather than always chasing perfection. As I write that last phrase it almost seems redundant and contradictory at the same time. ‘If I am working on constant improvement aren’t I seeking perfection?’

I argue NO. Perfection comes with the moment by moment, project by project expectation of scoring 100. Even college grads with a 4.0-grade point average (considered ‘perfect’ by most systems) don’t have to score 100 on every exam.

However, constant improvement is about learning from prior experience to make small adjustments or tweaks in what you are doing so that the next body of work can be a little better; not perfect, but better.

Closing Remarks

I know there will be readers who say ‘you don’t get it. If I don’t do perfect work, I’ll lose my job.’ My question is first to define exactly what ‘perfect’ is supposed to mean. There is an old saying:

Perfect is the enemy of good.

I’ve seen big corporations miss an entire market shift that could have earned them millions of dollars because their effort to analyze the situation took too long. Why?

Because they were working on the perfect analysis, covering 100% of the angles. In hindsight, an analysis that only addressed 50% or 70% could have given them enough validation to go forward. The extra effort to fill out the remaining margin to get to 100% didn’t add value. It actually cost them the opportunity.

Adopt wabi-sabi. There is beauty in imperfection if you just decide to look at it differently.

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How Do You Do What You Do?

Gaining Experience

From time to time, I have a mentee say “I am interested in doing what you do. Please tell me how to do that.”

Often I struggle with that ask, because if I was honest, I’d say “You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve been through to get here?”

John Maxwell said it much more eloquently. He said “OK. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to do what I did to get to do the things I do?”

Do the Things I Did

Doing things in the past created the experience required to do today, what I do. Without living through the leadership crucibles I’ve lived, I’d not have any of the material I share with clients today. Starting as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I took on management roles.

Later, joining a regional bank, I was recruited there because senior leaders inside the bank were former military officers and knew the kind of experiences I had. They could relate to the experiences and had automatic confidence in knowing I could assume a management role there too.

After 20 years in banking with successive growth roles along the way, I took an early retirement from banking and started several businesses. I knew I loved entrepreneurship, so I took the knowledge I gained at the bank (watching and working with many many client companies) and applied it in those start-ups.

It was at times a painful learning experience. Until you lay awake at night sweating the ability to make your next payroll, you have no idea what it takes to run a business on your own.

Experience earned the hard way. Plain and simple.

The same is true in many other professions. Plumbers and electricians have job grades starting with apprentice roles. You watch the masters, observe what they do, learn about the finer points. Then, with time, you test for and achieve the higher grade status in the profession.

Doctors spend years of schooling and rotations to learn about practicing medicine. You wouldn’t want a first year MD doing your heart or brain surgery. Most people I know, when the need arises for surgery, they ask the doc how many of these have you done?

Experience is a Cruel Beast

Gaining experience is the big hurdle for young people entering the job market. There aren’t that many positions available to start at the ground floor and work your way up. Yes, larger companies create starter jobs and recruit the top of the class graduates to fill those roles. They might even have training programs to grow and nurture the less experienced to fill future job needs inside the company.

However, for many, finding those experience learning opportunities is tough. Couple that with a new found impatience about career advancement and you have a frustrating situation.

Yet, there is no denying the need for experience to do the right thing in later roles. ‘Do the things I did to get to do the things I do.’ I love that.

Tips to Achieve the Success You Want

So for those who are in the early years of your careers, here are some thoughts to follow.

Understand Your Purpose

First, work on the need to understand your purpose. You were put on the earth for a reason. It was not some happy accident. You are created, wired, and pre-disposed for a purpose. Identify what that might be, then create a roadmap for fulfilling that purpose.

It won’t happen overnight or in the next 24 months. It’s a life journey. You can learn more about writing your own personal purpose statement here.

Play the Long Game

Next, learn how to play the long game. Stop worrying about tomorrow and the next immediate thing. Try to envision the picture of your future state lloooooonnnngggggg down the road. Not just tonight or tomorrow. Search for opportunities that serve that plan.

As an example, if you really want to be a consultant, get some analysts jobs first. Learn how to run studies and surveys. Compile big reports and findings for customers. Do the heavy lifting on those kinds of jobs so that you build experience in the tools of the trade.

If you think you want to be a coach, get some ‘people’ jobs first. Work your way up to become a shift supervisor at a Burger King. Learn how to deal with all kinds of people, not just your circle of friends from school.

Find Mentors

Then find some mentors. Let them help you along the way. Don’t just ask for a 30-minute session then be done. You’re not done. You have lots to learn. Mentoring is a process that evolves over time.

You’ll notice I said mentors (plural). Find people who will help you in all areas of life, not just work things. If you’re starting out in married life, get a mentor. Need spiritual help? Find a mentor. If you have a hobby you’d like to improve on, get a mentor.

It’s not that hard to find mentors either. All of my friends are willingly helping people in all walks of life. They just need to be asked.

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Perpetual Learning

All of the best coaches and leaders I know are perpetual learners. They read, study, and research to keep their edge sharp. In addition, they attend workshops and participate in mastermind groups. They rely upon peer-to-peer advisory work. Lastly, they hire coaches. Similar to top tier professional athletes, great thinkers and leaders turn to coaches to help up their game.

It’s a layered effect. You achieve one level, then start working on the next level. That is true in experiential growth as well as job promotion.

Wrapping it Up

When you ask an older, more experienced person how to do what they do, you have to recognize they did what they did before, so they now can do what they do. You can’t skip the steps in between.

They wouldn’t be who they are, doing what they do today without having done what they did to get here.

I know those are tongue twisters, but you get meaning. Do the work, find the experience, then you can do the big thing you want to do, your life’s purpose.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment. Click a share.

Finding a North Star in 2021

It seems the world is spinning out of control. But I choose not to believe that.

Rather, I believe we have temporarily lost our way. As someone who coaches, teaches, and writes about leadership, it is time to talk about one very vital aspect of what it means to be a leader.

While I spend a great deal of my time with clients and colleagues talking about casting a vision for their work, there is still one critical ingredient for determining the right vision. Just like in baking that delicious secret recipe your grandmother passed down, you cannot ignore critical ingredients. Otherwise, the cake will be a miserable failure.

The vitally important ingredient for leaders is their sense of True North, the “North Star.”

In the cosmos, the northern start stays almost constant while the rest of the night sky swirls around it. Ancient travelers in the northern hemisphere used this beacon to direct their travel.

north star
Time lapsed picture of stars swirling around North Star

Your Core Purpose Sets Your North Star

For leaders today, your sense of purpose becomes your North Star. If you don’t know why you are doing something or for what purpose your efforts are dedicated, you’ll live a groundhog’s day existence. Life will be about getting up and walk the same steps, doing the same things, day after day.

You can write great business plans and maybe even accomplish a few good things, but you will feel empty. You’ll have this nagging sense that there is more.

We have all been brought here for a purpose. You are no accident.

Your life is no accident, but the way you live it may be random.

Doug Thorpe

Finding and having a true sense of purpose becomes your North Star.

Lost Identity

In my book “STRIVE”, I share the experience of founding and running a career transition organization, coaching over 4,500 people through job search after the great recession of 2008.

In the early going, I discovered a deep need for people to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Losing a job for the first time in a career path of 10, 15 or 20 years, left people feeling lost.

When I really dug into that fact, I discovered the way out was to help people reconnect with their sense of purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with a job title or station at work. I began teaching people about ways to redefine who they were and what they were about.

THEN, they could think about targeting a new job. They were finding their North Star.

The same thing is being repeated today. People impacted by the COVID pandemic have lost their identities because the work they were doing has either shifted or been lost. The work should never be your True North. But your sense of purpose for the work you are doing is.

Managing a Team

Anyone in a position of responsibility, whether managing a team or owning a business, deals with not having a North Star. When you lose your purpose as a team, everything else in the circle of trust breaks down. (See more on that HERE)

Leaders need to have their own sense of True North and they should help their teams find and understand theirs.

Time and time again, I hear clients struggling with not knowing True North. They say things like “if only I knew true north…”

True North keeps us stabilized and centered. It helps us avoid wasted effort and meaningless pursuits.

Having the right sense of True North lets you go to bed a night with a feeling of accomplishing something because your day was focused on following that True North.

How Do You Know It’s Gone

How do you know for sure you’ve lost your North Star? Here are several key things to consider.

First, you feel very empty. You’re tired from all the effort, but there is no real sense of accomplishment. Trying to do more and be more just keeps you feeling that emptiness.

Next, people on your team may express their sense of being lost. They question everything. They challenge your authority. They’re not pointing the stick at you, but the chatter is about having no clarity. They no longer know what a ‘win’ looks like.

Finally, you feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see things ahead of you. This actually happens literally out on the ocean. Ships trying to navigate by the stars lose all bearing when the sky is overcast of foggy. You lose the North Star so all other navigational effort is compromised.

Reconnect with Your North Star

If any of this sound familiar, it’s time to do the work to reconnect with your sense of purpose, your North Star. Strip away all of the distractions and re-center on who and what you think you are.

If you need help with this effort, I provide the whole second half of “STRIVE” to walk your through a personal purpose process. It’s a classic look at the areas of life that mean the most to you. It helps you chart personal values and aspirations into a clear, purposeful definition.

By having your personal purpose, you will be ready to cut through the clutter, the sense of being lost, and create more meaningful visions for your business, your family and your community.

We need leaders today who have this proper sense of purpose to guide and direct. I hope you’ll join me in becoming one of those kinds of leaders.

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PS – In some of my seminars, I ask the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and point to North. Then I tell them to hold their point and open their eyes.

Everyone is pointing in different directions. There’s a chuckle.

As they sit down I tell them that finding True North is a bit like this for the individual. While magnetic north and the North Star are fixed, your personal sense of purpose is going to be unique.

Cover photo courtesy of Credit Union Times.

When Things Stop Working

Here you are, rocking along, trying to make the best of tough situations; COVID lock downs, remote working, wearing masks, Zoom meetings Teams meetings…. the list goes on.

You think you and your team are making progress. Stakeholders and customers seem happy. Life is good.

Then BAM!

It happens. Someone in your network lights up and informs you that things are very wrong. There is a heated exchange with very clear expressions that feelings have been hurt.

Your leadership has been challenged. The cart is in the ditch. A valued professional relationship is in jeopardy.

You get presented with a long list of grievances, many of which were related to things from the past. And it is said that YOU were responsible for creating the whole mess.

You had no idea. What went wrong? How are your conflict resolution skills?

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

First, let me say feedback like this comes with the territory. You assume a role of leadership, people create their expectations. These expectations can be fair or not, most often not.

When expectations, false or otherwise, get denied, people’s feelings do get hurt. Maybe even anger enters the room. Hostility toward your leadership can fester.

What should you do?

First, you’ve got to stay calm about it. Don’t let the level of hostility coming at you churn you up. Are the allegations unfair? Do you disagree? Likely so. But responding with hostility only suggests lower emotional intelligence.

As the old saying goes, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

A quick response fired off in retaliation only sets you up to lose. You need to apply a calm resolve to assess and prepare. Avoid escalation of the hostility.

Clearly you owe the wounded party a response, and respond you should. But what do you say?

The Thoughtful Response

Your response needs to be carefully crafted. Acknowledge the claims the other person made. You don’t have to accept them directly, but you need to empathetically ‘hear’ the other person.

By delivering a true sense of empathy, you can help diffuse the situation quickly so you can get down to resolving the differences.

balancing the scales

Find the common ground. If the person is a peer in your organization, meet them appropriately where they are coming from. Show a genuine recognition of their role too.

Ask yourself what you really know about the person. What are their skills, experiences, duties, and responsibilities? Are their grievances well-founded in the facts of their role? Or is this just a misunderstanding, a personality clash, or a serious breakdown?

Take Ownership

Conflict resolution taxes your grit. Take ownership of what is truly yours. The accusations might be spot on. If you failed to do something, left them out of communication, or didn’t seek their input before making a key decision that might involve their area, then you are culpable, plain, and clear. Say so. Admit it. Own it.

Begin laying out a detailed response. Think thoroughly and objectively about the issues being cited. Spell out your side of the story, but avoid argumentative tones.

You can still assert yourself appropriately, but don’t sound defensive. That implies embarrassment at being caught in the act. If there is an issue, resolve the issue.

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

Too many careers have started and died on email. If issues need to be resolved, arrange an in-person event. If Zoom is your only tool, then use it. Don’t relegate important communication to text, voice mail, or email. Too much gets read into or ignored via email.

Arrange a meeting to have the right discussion. Prepare yourself in advance. Be ready but be calm. Remain confident in the tone you choose but never be overbearing, defensive or argumentative.

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

If you have this meeting and tensions cannot be resolved, then others in the organization must be brought in to mediate. This is a ‘next level’ discussion. Not just a company hierarchy issue, but ‘next level’ of familiarity with the matters in question.

Stopping the domino effect concept for business solution, strategy and successful intervention

Above all, don’t let these kinds of surprises smolder. It can become a cancer in the company or the organization. If missed expectations are not resolved, attitudes about leadership will erode your effectiveness.

A leader cannot allow that to happen. And by ‘allow’, I mean ignore or deny the issues.

The Leadership Journey

Great leaders have their stories about resolving problems just like these. Getting them handled with solid, positive, resolution based outcomes are what makes the difference between managers and great leaders.

You can do this. You just need a dedicated, thoughtful effort to get there.

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Handling the Smartest Guy in the Room

smartest guy in the room

We’ve all been there before. You’ve either worked with or for THAT person; “The smartest guy in the room.”

They can make you feel small, disregarded, uncomfortable. They have ways of expressing their thoughts to make your ideas seem so wrong.

I once knew an executive who was always the smartest guy in the room. His IQ was off the charts. He could dissect any argument, slicing and dicing his way to outcomes that were usually his.

The story is told of this man one day actually being stumped by a new topic that had been brought up by a junior member of his team. He seemed stunned but undaunted.

The next day a follow-up meeting was held. This gent had gone home, opened his vast libraries and began studying the topic. His academic prowess proved once again superior.

As the new meeting began he was now and would evermore be the smartest guy on the subject. And he was.

Being the smartest person in the room is not just about academic skills alone. It can come from vast experience through years of exposure to all aspects of a business or industry. The knowledge that gets captures is retained.

Typically executives who are tagged the smartest guy have very little interpersonal skill. They plow through the day problem solving and sharing their superior knowledge, leaving hard working souls in their wake.

Working with these people is very hard to do. When they are stakeholders on a project, they can become the derailer.

What can you do?

Finding ways to work with or through these special people can be very frustrating. If you’re not intimidated by their knowledge, you might be put off by their behaviors. They often make terrible bosses.

So what can you do?

Over the years, I’ve had several clients who reported being frustrated by TSGITR (the smartest guy in the room). Whenever I hear this, I recommend one solution.

Arrange a one-on-one. Present to TSGITR the following comments or whatever version of this works for you.

“Look, whenever we meet to talk about ____________________I want to acknowledge you are the smartest guy in the room. You are an important stakeholder in the project. Whenever I try to explain the alternative ways we are working on this problem, I’d appreciate your help resolving it, not just dismissing ideas that don’t stand up to your standard.”

“I am sure no one is trying to challenge your wisdom on these subjects. I’d like to find a better way for you and me to work together. Is that ok?”

Whenever a client has used this approach, they tell me it worked well. The senior person stopped and admitted they had no idea their communication was impacting people that way. I’ve even heard of situations where TSGITR asked for help being called out when they start down that domineering path.

Managing Up the Organization

I don’t believe in the concept of managing up the organization. See my mention of that here.

However, those who are true leaders, regardless of your level in the organization, can garner respect and thereby influence those above you.

To have that kind of respect, you have to bolster your confidence, speak boldly but gracefully. Don’t find fights to fight. But likewise, don’t shrink away from objections and stronger personalities. Create your boundaries. Fight for what you know needs to get done.

If you discover that important information is missing, you can change your position. But don’t do it because of intimidation and boldness from TSGITR.

Try this out next time. Let me know how it went. Then if you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to schedule a call or leave a comment.

Also, I am offering coaching on demand through my sister site at FLASHCOACH.ME

Coaching on demand is the ability to arrange professional coaching support without a long term, ongoing contract. You can buy blocks of hours on specific topics you believe a coach could help you with. Try it out!

Why Trust Matters to Leaders; Leaders Build Trust

team trust

For decades, business leaders have been equipping themselves with every book, philosophy, reward, and program the so-called experts have convinced them to buy into, yet companies everywhere continue to struggle with toxic cultures, low performance from teams, and the unhappiness that go with them. Yet how can leaders build trust?

From our earliest days on the playground to modern-day business board rooms, there is one giant factor that makes the difference between success and failure.

That factor is trust.

Companies work long and hard, spending millions of dollars to build brand awareness that shows trust. Consumers have to trust something before they buy. Managers and CEOs spend time and money trying to build better work teams.

Recent studies in several sectors have discovered the biggest contributor to team success is TRUST.

Building Team Performance

Google broke the ice on this topic with their “Aristotle Project.” Following the success of Google’s Project Oxygen research where the People Analytics team studied what makes a great manager, Google researchers applied a similar method to discover the secrets of effective teams at Google.

Code-named Project Aristotle – a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (as the Google researchers believed employees can do more working together than alone) – the goal was to answer the question: “What makes a team effective at Google?”

The runaway winning attribute in highly successful teams was “psychological safety” or simply trust.

The Google study found that this element of trust was the most significant factor in helping teams do more, even among their peers of highly educated, well trained employees.

When trust is broken, relationships of all kinds stop working well.

The Brain Science Behind Trust

Adding to this interesting discussion comes the book “The Trust Factor” by neuroscientist Paul Zak.

In Trust Factor, we are shown that innate brain functions hold the answers we’ve been looking for. Put simply, the key to providing an engaging, encouraging, positive culture that keeps your employees energized is trust.

When someone shows you trust, a feel-good jolt of oxytocin surges through your brain and triggers you to reciprocate. This simple mechanism creates a perpetual trust-building cycle between management and staff, and–voilá!–the end of stubborn workplace patterns.

The book incorporates science-backed insights for building high-trust organizations with successful examples from The Container Store, Zappos, and Herman Miller. The Trust Factor explains:

• How brain chemicals affect behavior

• Why trust gets squashed

• How to stimulate trust within your employees

• And more

What’s a leader to do?

For you who are sitting in the corner office or who are building a small business, you hear these things and wonder. I understand it, but I have no idea where to start. I’ve had so many ‘bad hires’ I can’t imagine getting this thing going. And trust an employee????

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Let’s turn back to the Aristotle results and get the answers. Leaders build trust. Here are five key action areas that leaders can control.

The five key dynamics of effective teams that the Google researchers identified are rooted in the wider world of team performance research. Whether you’re coding at Google, riffing in a writers roompreparing for a trip to Mars, or skating in a hockey rink – teams are essential to the work experience and output.

At Google, now that the Project Aristotle team has identified what makes for an effective team at Google, they’re conducting research to figure out how to take the next steps to create, foster, and empower effective teams.

Whatever it is that makes for effective teams in your organization, and it may be different from what the Google researchers found, consider these steps to share your efforts:

  1. Establish a common vocabulary – Define the team behaviors and norms you want to foster in your organization.
  2. Create a forum to discuss team dynamics – Allow for teams to talk about subtle issues in safe, constructive ways. An HR Business Partner or trained facilitator may help.
  3. Commit leaders to reinforcing and improving – Get leadership onboard to model and seek continuous improvement can help put into practice your vocabulary.

Here are some tips for managers and leaders to support the behaviors the Google researchers found important for effective teams. These are based on external research and Google’s own experience:

Psychological safety:

Dependability:

  • Clarify roles and responsibilities of team members.
  • Develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work.
  • Talk about some of the conscientiousness research.

Structure & Clarity:

  • Regularly communicate team goals and ensure team members understand the plan for achieving them.
  • Ensure your team meetings have a clear agenda and designated leader.
  • Consider adopting Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) to organize the team’s work.

Meaning:

  • Give team members positive feedback on something outstanding they are doing and offer to help them with something they struggle with.
  • Publicly express your gratitude for someone who helped you out.
  • Read the KPMG case study on purpose.

Impact:

  • Co-create a clear vision that reinforces how each team member’s work directly contributes to the team’s and broader organization’s goals.
  • Reflect on the work you’re doing and how it impacts users or clients and the organization.
  • Adopt a user-centered evaluation method and focus on the user.

If after considering these things, you still struggle to get your head around this complex challenge, I can help.

I’ve developed a Team Trust Model that provides a clear, concise framework that teams can embrace. In places where I have introduced this framework, it becomes that vocabulary the team uses to communicate with each other. It allows a structure and process to something that otherwise may feel too vague. With it, leaders build trust.

This model has been used by leaders at corporate giants like ExxonMobil and UPS. But it has also been used by small business owners too.

Anywhere you have three or more people assembled for performing tasks, you need Team Trust.

PS – I realize that the new era of COVID remote workers really impacts your ability to connect with your teams. However, as you study the key elements here, it is easy to see why following these ideas is more critical now than ever before.

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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7 Strategies for Being a Better Manager

team leadership and better managers

Most managers get their start because they were good workers. There is nothing wrong with that, except…

Being a good manager requires a level of leadership. Without the right training and development, you might find that being a manager is a struggle.

“Management is about process. Leadership is about people.”

To reach your leadership potential, you need to be a fearless, bold, and effective coach. But where do you start? Check out these 7 strategies that will help you become the manager your employees (and company) need you to be:

Talk less, listen more

We have two ears but only one mouth; great managers should keep that ratio in mind as they help employees grow. Instead of talking at employees, use that time to listen. They all have career ambitions they’d like to achieve, but that won’t happen if managers are more focused on their own points of view.

As a manager, you should guide the discussion, but ultimately, it’s the employee’s voice that needs to be heard.

There’s something called empathetic listening. That’s when you, as the manager, are fully engaged; really hearing what the employee is saying. You not only hear their words, but begin to feel their passion about the topic. With this level of connection, you can build better trust with that employee.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”

Zig Ziglar

Play to your (and your team’s) strengths

Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses can really change how you coach and give feedback. While you, the manager, might be a great verbal communicator, you’ll need to acknowledge when your direct reports may not have the same skills.

Tailor your relationship to what enables them to be the most open about their goals; if possible, leverage your learning & development solution to strategically address weaknesses and encourage their personal growth.

I’ve written before about ways to perform your own personal SWOT analysis. Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses while you engage and learn your team members’ too.

swot analysis

Manage teams, not individuals

Performance reviews typically look at individuals, but managers are ultimately responsible for their team’s performance. By identifying individual strengths and skills gaps, you can encourage team members with complementary skills to team up; this promotes teamwork, learning opportunities, and increases the likelihood of project successes.

For more on team performance and building team trust visit my program here. I have a whole 6-step model that defines the process for creating a team environment with high trust, collaboration, and support.

building team trust

Accentuate the positive

We all know our professional strengths, but our weaknesses represent our best chance for growth. Celebrate employees’ talents, but also acknowledge areas that need to be developed. By addressing them through training, you may turn a negative into a major strength.

Also, don’t be afraid to celebrate the “wins”. There’s a strange attitude among high performers. When you win, you feel like it’s no big deal. “I was supposed to do that.” is the logic. The reality is that you cannot sustain long term high performance without taking a moment to celebrate the win.

As a manager, you need to decide on ways to celebrate with your team. Use your next team meeting to have a celebration. Cater lunch or have an ice cream afternoon. Do something to let the team know you know they deserve a celebration.

Be inspirational

The most successful companies have one thing in common: they inspire more success by publicly acknowledging employee achievements and talents. Whether an employee earned a new certification or learned a new skill, celebrate this among the team. When team members see their colleagues being rewarded for growing, they’ll take it upon themselves to seek out development opportunities.

Give feedback frequently

Acknowledging achievement is Management 101: give feedback frequently – it means more in real-time than 6 months later – and do it publicly when appropriate.

Yet when you need to correct the occasional misstep, be direct and private about it. Just ensure you make it clear you’re talking about the employee’s action, not them as a person. Above all, honesty will make sure your feedback carries the most weight.

Learn more about powerful ways to deliver feedback by using the Big 5 performance tool.

Make performance reviews about people

Performance reviews are ultimately about blending employee goals with company strategy. Demonstrate how their efforts drive the bottom line so they feel less siloed and that their work is a big part of the company’s growth. This boosts engagement and productivity.

However, a performance review should not be limited to the annual prescribed company tools. Great managers have performance check-ins routinely. One very powerful yet simple way to do that is with a tool called Big 5. You can learn more about Big 5 here.

Get going

By following these 7 principles, you will rise above the crowd as an effective and respected leader. To receive more tips and ideas for up-leveling your game as a manager, subscribe to this bog. I’ll send weekly updates to get you going toward better performance as a leader.

Note: Portions of this article were inspired by my friends at Cornerstone on Demand, a talent development company specializing in building effective teams and leaders.