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6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.

Come Home Before Dark

welcome sign

Lately, I’ve been reminded of a saying I once used to guide my kids. The phrase was ‘come home before dark’.

When I was younger, we’d play outside seemingly forever. When we asked to go outside, our parents always said: “Come home before dark.”

That was a literal meaning. Once it was dark, if we weren’t home we were in big trouble.

As I grew into adulthood and began having children of my own, an old preacher taught me something new about this phrase.

The words home and dark have a deeper meaning to explore.

Come Home

Coming home is about returning to safety. It’s a center of being. As a kid, it was the place I lived. There was love and warmth at home.

I could reconnect with who I was at home. The world around me could be throwing flaming arrows, but the home was a fortress.

Home was where values were formed. At home we could have honest, loving talks about the things that I worried about.

Dark

When something gets dark, there is trouble brewing. Bad things happen in the darkness.

Dark journey

You hear people talk about others and say ‘they just went dark.” Lights out, no response.

The Instruction

I wanted my kids to know that they could always come home before dark. My wife and I would be waiting to take them in, give them security, and talk through whatever we needed to talk about.

One night our doorbell rang about 2:00 a.m. We stumbled out of bed to find our middle son (family of 5 kids). He was in his early 20’s, already graduated and living in town with a roommate.

We could tell he had been drinking, but his first words were “You said come home before dark.”

We said “Sure, glad you did. What’s going on?”

He proceeded to tell us about a party that was going on in his apartment. Suffice it to say it had gotten out of control. The roommate was a college friend. They had invited other college buddies to join.

Plenty of drinking followed. Behaviors got wilder and wilder.

My son said he had tried to calm things down. He had left his fraternity lifestyle behind the day he walked across stage to get his diploma. Clearly, these others had not.

He sensed the night was not going to end well. Even with his own influence of alcohol, he remembered the words ‘come home before dark.’ And that he did.

As it turned out, later that night, neighbors in the apartments called police. Some arrests were made, but my son was home safe, out of the darkness.

So What

Why do I share this story with you in a blog about leadership? It’s because I believe leaders guide people home before dark.

A leader establishes a home base; somewhere people want to be. Yes, they may venture out on their own to explore new opportunities, new tasks, new direction. But when they sense the darkness, home is where they should turn.

Is your team environment a safe home to shield your employees from their darkness?

Have you communicated to them your desire that they consider your place a home?

I realize some will read this and say “You have no idea what my home life was like. It was darkness all its own.” To those I say, I am sorry to hear that. Why don’t you create a new home? Surely you will have people around you who need that safety and shelter.

I’m not going to lie when I say this article was prompted by the world we’re in right now, the corona virus scare. It is scary.

We need leaders who will stand firm in their conviction for choosing the next right step toward creating calm, creating safety, and helping others through the storm.

Will you be that leader, right where you are?

Help others come home before dark.


For anyone who feels in darkness over a job loss, I’ve just released my book on job search called “STRIVE“. It’s a practical guide to effective job search, even in tough times. This program was born in the crash of 2008 when we had double-digit unemployment. STRIVE helped thousands, yes, thousands of job seekers reconnect with their sense of personal purpose so they could find the right job. Share this info with your friends.

strive job search

Leaders Helping Leaders

Friday, April 3, at 10:30 AM CT I’m inviting you to join me for a community discussion about our response to COVID-19.

I’ve been talking with dozens of small business owners who are up against the wall. We need to pull together to help each other.

This session will have NO SALES pitches, no products being sold. It’s my idea to allow people together online to talk about what they’re doing to get through this crisis.

You must register though because zoom seats are limited. You can register on my website at DougThorpe.com or click this link now.

https://dougthorpe.us/2xGtWMk

What Do You Do with a 3-2 Count?

baseball batter aand catcher on 3-2

In baseball, there is something known as the 3-2 count (three-two). It means three balls and two strikes. It means the person who is up to bat has only the next pitch to get something done.

Three strikes and you’re out. If the pitcher misses the strike zone and the batter waits to swing, it will be called a “ball” and the batter gets to walk to first base.

While all pitches in baseball count for something, there is nothing like the three-two moment to feel the pressure rise.

In Business

The same is true in business. Managers and leaders have to make decisions all the time, but only some of those are real “3-2 decisions”.

What do you do when you realize the situation is a 3-2 moment? Some managers freeze. They ask for more data. Or they try to stall in some other way.

Other leaders are quick and confident to jump in and make the call.

What makes it so much different?

According to John Maxwell, the 3-2 count results in something he calls “PGE results.”

Pain, gain, and experience. The outcome of the decision you make in a 2-3 moment results in PGE.

Pain – the results might be painful. The results can be painful to you, your team, the company, and even the community you serve.

During Hurricane Harvey in the Texas Gulf Coast area, a tough 3-2 decision had to be made by the Corps of Engineers. Two large dams northwest of the greater Houston area were about to burst from being overfilled by 52″ of rainwater.

A 3-2 decision was made to intentionally release water from the flood gates, pouring into thousands of homes downstream. Billions of dollars of damage happened.

Yet, had they NOT opened the gates, the entire structures could have burst, flooding out most of the entire Houston area, some 6 million inhabitants.

It was a very painful result for some, but it saved so many others.

baseball batter aand catcher on 3-2

Gain – the results will be rewarding. Good decisions can result in a miraculous gain. Once I was flying some friends in a small single-engine airplane, a Piper Arrow.

The weather had changed from good to bad as we approached our destination. Plus the winds had picked up and shifted to crosswind conditions.

Crosswinds are the worst kind of wind to land a plane. It means the wind is blowing across the runway, causing a force that pushes the plane sideways while you are trying to follow a straight line to land.

I took in all of the information I needed from the tower about landing that day. I set up my final approach and begin a severe crab angle to land. Crabbing involves turning the plane at as much as a 45-degree angle to the straight line of the runway.

With the angle, you fight the crosswind until the last possible moment when the plane has to be turned into alignment with the center stripe of the runway. I won’t go into all the details, but we experienced a textbook crosswind landing that day.

My pilot training had prepared me to do that landing in a definite 3-2 situation. My passengers appreciated the fact we got home safely without incident despite the bad weather that day.

Experience – Working through a 3-2 decision gives you added experience. Experience alone is not a good teacher. Informed experience, studied and analyzed gives you better instruction.

Whatever the outcome, the experience from making a 3-2 decision needs to be evaluated and reviewed. What you learn, once properly vetted, can be applied to future decisions.

In the baseball story, if the batter strikes out on 3-2, he will review the video replay of that at-bat. Anything he can find about his stance, his swing or his posture, will help to improve the odds of making the next 3-2 situation have a better outcome.

Managers and leaders have to stay sharp for 3-2 conditions. As I write this, I’m hearing leaders expressing concerns for their people, businesses and families. Rightfully so. There is so much uncertainty.

This is one giant 3-2 situation. Use your informed experience to muster the training and resolve you need to make good decisions for your team, your family, and your community.

Be strong, stay well.

Leadership in Times of Crisis – Finding the CALM

calm lake, leadership

It would be surprising if anyone on the planet with access to any form of communication (old or new) didn’t know about the coronavirus. We have news of it popping up every few seconds as messages unfold about closures, cancellations, and other alerts regarding the spread.

I respect the need to be cautious, proactive and vigilant. Many of the gatherings and events I was scheduled to attend have been suspended, postponed or canceled outright. There have even been moments where I was part of the decision to cancel something. I get it.

However, I am not convinced I’ve seen perfect examples of leadership demonstrated in every announcement or bulletin. I’ve seen supposed leaders take a podium and simply spread fear and concern.

In the face of a global pandemic, as it is now called, leaders in both public and private sectors need to stay calm. Calm is a tricky proposition for a leader.

On one hand, you should have your own personal concerns about what is going on. If you are high enough in an organization, you might be leading a major project team. Having a totally external force like COVID-19 interrupt your plans is frustrating at best. Again, I don’t want to sound irresponsible or insensitive but hang with me a bit.

When a leader begins to gain momentum, the last thing you want to have happen is for something to break the cycle. Especially something that comes from outside your organization.

calm business man

We Need Calm

Calm needs to be the focus. Here are four key principles to think about during a crisis.

C is for Clarity. Simplify your messages. Speak clearly and intentionally, thoughtfully. Immediately respond to those who seem unclear after you communicated.

People will need clear communication about your new expectations under new and perhaps stressful situations.

A is for Action. You still need to act. If your decision has not been formed, say so. But don’t wait too long. This virus situation is a fast-moving event. Be ready to respond as information changes.

L is for Leadership. Perhaps it should be obvious, but some may get busy and not be intentional about their leadership wheelhouse.

Dig deep in your leadership tool kit to make ready the best tools you have to guide, direct, inspire, and influence during troubling times. People need us now.

M is for mean it. Be sincere. Don’t rely on cliche and platitude. Stay connected with your people. I mean emotionally connected. Up-level your empathetic listening. Hear people out.

Be relevant and relatable so that people maintain (or increase) their trust in your leadership.

Forget About It

We also need to forget some things. A client from long ago posted these wonderful reminders. He’s a very accomplished CEO and leader in the mortgage finance industry. His name is Bill Dallas. Here are his thoughts.

1. Forget About Yourself; Focus on Others. You will become a source of confidence (and calm) for everyone else.

2. Forget About Your Commodity; Focus on Your Relationships. Every time you strengthen a relationship, the viability of you are selling will increase.

3. Forget About the Sale; Focus on Creating Value. Most people don’t like being sold at the best of times.

4. Forget About Your Losses; Focus on Your Opportunities.

5. Forget About Your Difficulties; Focus on Your Progress.

6. Forget About the “Future”; Focus on Today.

7. Forget About Who You Were; Focus on Who You Can Be.

8. Forget About Events; Focus on Your Responses.

9. Forget About What’s Missing; Focus on What’s Available.

10. Forget About Your Complaints; Focus on Your Gratitude.

The Leadership Premium

In times of crisis and concern, leadership value rises to a premium. You, as a leader, must be the one to help others survive. Encourage those around you.

staying calm in times of stress

Stay calm.

No need to argue the merits of a decision someone else has made. Yet if your people are beginning to act in extremes, encourage them to reconsider. Lead toward calm.

3 Ways to Better Accountability

accountability in action

The word for today is accountability. It’s an elusive yet powerful tool for your leadership toolbox.

As a young manager, I don’t think I ever thought specifically about accountability. Sure, there were deadlines and goals, but as my teams reached those, seldom, if ever, did I include intentional accountability.

It was later in my career that I discovered the incredible power of accountability. I was invited to join a men’s mastermind group. At each meeting, we shared the truth about where we stood with important areas of our life. We banded together to hold each other accountable for accomplishing the growth and change we each desired.

During the following several years, the collective outcome from that group enriched lives, expanded businesses, and strengthened families. Powerful indeed!

Here are three, very important ways accountability impacts you and those around you.

It Starts with You

The leader must set the tone, communicate the vision, and establish expectations. “Inspect what you expect” is a wise old saying. Once you establish the expectations, you have to monitor the progress.

Team members failing to meet expectations must be called to accountability.

But accountability isn’t punitive. It’s responsible.

Accountability gives the team the sense of “I’ve got your back.” If the leader sets that tone, then it is much easier for others to follow.

Leaders can demonstrate accountability by being accountable to the team. Let them know when hurdles are met, but also when they are missed. Which hurdles? YOUR hurdles.

Acknowledge when you need to stand up to something that has slipped or fallen behind; i.e. below standard. Call yourself out for that and let the team know you’re serious about meeting those expectations yourself.

Your Teams Want It

Yes, it’s true. People inherently know whether they have met the mark or not.

Among your best performers, they are looking for that small margin of gain which they truly believe is there. Despite how gifted and talented your team may be, the best performers know there is more that can be achieved.

Team success

If you, as their leader, ignore this margin, your action (by avoiding the subject) becomes a disincentive to your best performers. You’ll lose their respect.

It would be like you denying them one element of what it takes to build job satisfaction.

For your workers who are already on the cusp of performance, they too know they should be doing more. If you ignore this part of accountability with them, then they will slide further away from the desired performance.

Your Peers Expect It

In every 360 review I’ve ever been a part of, there is a mention from the peer raters that the subject person needs to do something with accountability.

Either they need to see it across the organization or within the team. Simply put, accountability is at a premium regardless of your position in the organization.

When you ask a sister department for support, they know they should be accountable. If you don’t manage that expectation, you will lose face with your peers too.

What About the Servant Leader

When I coach clients in the area of accountability, the ones who rate high on the servant leadership scale are often soft on accountability.

accountability on your team

Consciously or unconsciously they feel enforcing accountability will detract from their collaborative leadership approach. They err on the side of letting people figure things out for themselves i.e. the “less than” performance issues.

For all the reasons cited above, even the best servant leader needs to hold people accountable. And the great ones do.

Set Goals That Are Measurable

Be sure your expectations have measurable attributes to gauge the “wins”. What does success look like? Think about that as you plot the strategy for your team. Then clearly communicate your view of success.

Define it for the team. That way, you have a clear goal by which you can hold others accountable.

Leading Your Team’s Accountability

Finding the right tools to lead your team’s accountability is not hard. For the leader, accountability is about setting the expectations, then following up on them.

Many years ago I was introduced to Big 5 Performance tools for doing just that.

With Big 5, you and your team establish five things you want to accomplish during the month. At the end of the month, you report on those five and set a new five for the next month. Right at the start of the new month, you sit with each of your team members and review the report; aligning expectations and talking about results.

Building better accountability

That is great accountability.

The report is simple but elegant in nature. Using Big 5, you are always on the same page with your team. It’s a great coaching tool for you, as a leader, to implement for your team.

Let me stress Big 5 is not a “big” report. It’s a one-line summary of each task you decide is a priority. Many of my clients administer it using email between the manager and the employee. (Although there is a cloud-based app to get it done).

Using a tool like Big 5 can increase clarity on the expectations and deliver regular accountability for everyone on your team.

Leave a comment. Tell us the approach you have used to hold your team and yourself accountable.

Leaders: Are You Wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It is about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, untrained, or incompetent.

In reality, the tailors make no new clothes at all. Instead, they make everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades naked before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him.

They fear that they will be seen as incompetent. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”

Leaders need to be cautious about getting too caught up in the excitement of something new. Moving ahead on excitement alone can leave you exposed, just like the Emperor in the fable.

Pride, maybe even arrogance, can contribute to a mindset of denial. So too can fear. Fear of what is ahead can cause a manager to block out vital information.

Another Story, Second Verse

I once worked with an executive who lived in this “New Clothes” mode. This person wasn’t just occasionally vulnerable but lived a daily routine of walking about fully exposed and refusing to hear any news to the contrary. 

Going to a staff meeting with this leader was a painful process for anyone who felt obligated to share “bad news”. The reaction was brutal and downright embarrassing at times. “How can that be?” “What are you doing? Clearly, you must be wrong.”

These were the responses when an issue was raised. Eventually, the other executives stopped talking about the truth during the meeting, instead choosing to just go about the day dealing with and fixing the things that came up.

We had our own meetings on the side to actually get things done. Obviously a very sad situation.

Going Forward

New projects or new initiatives bring their own set of leadership challenges. Things never go perfectly as planned. There are shifts, changes, and surprises along the way.

A good leader knows these things will happen before even starting down a new path. Effective leaders take input from the team to address these issues. Decisions get made about ways to resolve problems, mitigate risks, and maximize performance.

Often the culture suffers from the ability of direct reports being able to “speak truth to power.”

I live by creed in the workplace. “I can handle any news. Just don’t let me get surprised by bad news.”

Said another way, feel free to tell me the truth about what is happening out there. There have been numerous colleagues who have told me how much they appreciate knowing that mindset is real.

Poor leaders make a plan and hope for the best, never wanting to accept bad news about things not working out as hoped.

Why will Leaders Get Blinded?

There are many reasons a leader gets stuck in the “New Clothes” mode. Here are the top three I’ve seen happen.

PRIDE

Yes, pride gets in the way. When you are absolutely sold out to an idea or approach, you just don’t want to hear bad news. It’s closely akin to someone telling you your baby is ugly.

Pride has to get checked at the door. Good leaders never come close to operating in a spirit of pride. Yes, you can have a strong opinion about how good an idea or a team may be, but letting pride overcome objective reasoning is a recipe for disaster.

When things happen that don’t meet expectations, it’s your job to adjust. Review the details and make an informed decision about where, when or how to make a change.

FEAR

Fear is a powerful emotion in any phase of life. As a leader, you have to overcome whatever fear you might have about the mission or the role.  Fear causes us to live in the fight or flight mode. How very unproductive that can be.

Thoughtful guy sitting at a laptop

If the leader is fearful, imagine what the team feels. Fear is an emotion that erodes credibility and confidence. Without either of those, your strength as a leader is undermined. Your foundation crumbles.

HEAD IN THE SAND

The last principle is somewhat a catch-all. Sometimes a person just chooses to ignore the bad news.  It becomes more comfortable to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. (OK this is an old saying, not a scientific fact.)

The point is, you choose to ignore the details. Blinded by your own sense of reality, you let important details go by, never attempting to resolve the issues.

Don’t Fall for the Ruse

The emperor’s new clothes was a ruse perpetrated by some bad people. Yet the ruler fell for it.

Don’t let any of these three choices impact your ability to be an effective leader. Be open to all the information; good or bad. Make informed choices about the changes around you.

Remember, becoming an effective leader is less about writing the perfect plan, but more about solving imperfect problems.

PS – Have a Happy New Tear! I hope 2020 brings you only the best! But you have to get out there and make it happen.

Leaders: If you Confuse, You Lose

There’s an old saying in the sales world. “The confused mind says NO.” Clearly that has big implications when trying to sell a product or service.

A prospect who gets confused by your sales pitch will revert to a NO answer all the time. On the other hand, a clear, concise explanation of the thing you are trying to sell will help close the deal.

The same is true of leadership responsibility. A confused mind says NO. If you confuse the people around you, the overall performance will be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

An employee’s willingness to perform is centered on their ability to clearly understand expectations and directions.

Clarity may be your best secret weapon to achieve better team performance.

It’s a Complicated World

There’s no denying the increased complexity in business these days. Whether you blame the exponential growth of technology or just the deeper understanding of things around us, it’s much harder to operate a business today than it once was.

Confused minds say NO

However, operating a highly specialized or technical business should not distract you from trying to make things simple for your team to comprehend.

Military people learned the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid. When giving orders, it is the leader’s duty to make the instructions as simple to comprehend as possible. In combat, confused minds get people killed.

In business, the smartest guy in the room shouldn’t be rubbing that in, especially if they are the boss. Rather, if you think you truly are the smartest guy at the table, then you should be able to figure out ways to make directions and instructions easier to understand.

What To Do

Sometimes in figuring out what to do to make things more clear for your team, it is valuable to talk about what NOT to do. Here are a few big ideas to follow.

First, don’t be vague about directives. Masking your meaning immediately leads to confusion. The odds of your people going off in the wrong direction are far greater when you are unclear about your own expectations.

Think of 360 degrees on a compass (in a circle). The direction you need people to take is likely on one of a few degrees on that compass. If you are vague, your team has a minimum of 350+ other directions to go.

If you’re not exactly sure about the direction you want to take, invest the time and energy in getting your own clarity first.

Next, watch your communication style. In times of high stress and urgent deadlines, lookout for accelerating your own reactions to things going on around you. Create more measured responses.

Don’t react, respond instead. There is a big difference.

Lastly, remember the acronym FAST to increase your leadership effectiveness.

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach the desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around them.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Eliminate Confusion

Eliminating confusion can bring greater results. Remember, the confused mind says “NO” every time.

Question: When was the last time you experienced being confused by what the boss said? Were YOU the boss creating confusion?

The Great Leadership Debate: Nature vs Nurture

Visit the best business schools on the planet and you are likely to hear a robust debate about the virtues of leadership. The central question is whether great leaders are born or bred; nature versus nurture.

One theory argues that true leadership is an inborn trait that few possess. The other popular and prevailing thought is that leaders can be developed. 

While certain natural talents afford some leaders with an innate sense of leadership, you certainly can train people to become better leaders.

The military does it on a regular and reliable basis. Whether you look at the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or commissioned officer corps, the development of leadership talent is a business for the military.

People who exhibit good leadership talent are promoted to progressively more significant leadership roles until their capabilities are maximized.

As an example, few officers make it to the rank of general. Typically, officers are promoted several times in their career before their maximum efficiency as a leader is determined and the promotion train stops. The same holds true in corporate circles.

Some call this phenomenon the law of maximum incompetence. John Maxwell calls it simply “The Law of the Lid”.

Everyone who aspires to become a leader has a lid on their ability to lead. You can start a career with some natural talent (i.e. born with it) and you can work toward increasing your leadership capacity by training and coaching.

Yet according to Maxwell, you still hit a personal lid that limits the level of influence you achieve as a leader.

It is not hard to see this concept in real life. Not everyone who tries their hand at business leadership becomes the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. In fact very few do it.

What to Do

So what is the mainstream business executive or company owner supposed to do with his or her current leadership capacity? Have you ever thought of yourself as a Leader?

Looking at blind spots

Seek valid and reliable feedback about your blind spots. This immediate and valuable insight that can vault your effort above what it is today. Knowing what you don’t know or can see is vital information with which you can make changes and grow.

Here’s a diagram that outlines the ways we see (or don’t see) our blind spots.

Hire a coach. Coaching for executives is growing in acceptance and popularity. People have used coaches at the gym and for special hobbies and interests for quite some time.

Why not use the same approach when seeking to increase your leadership influence?

An effective executive coach will help you design a growth plan; personal growth. There should be measurable and tangible outcomes expected.

Improve your circle of peers. Be open to networking with mastermind groups and coaching groups where you can work with peers to gain insight for best practices and have a personal board of directors to whom you report.

Read – it seems so simple, but the power of reading has been proven time and time again. Take recommendations from leaders you admire. Read their selections of books. Consume what they consume and you will begin to grow.

Every leader I have ever admired has his/her own list. As soon as I asked about their favorites, they would gladly share. Of course, some titles get repeated, but that just serves as proof of the impact of that book.

Leadership growth is possible.

The best and greatest leaders claim a rigorous routine of seeking knowledge and information about ways to grow as leaders.

Stephen R. Covey called it “sharpening the saw”. As you move through the phases of your career and life, things change. You can get worn down. There must be an ever-present desire to stay sharp and grow.

Building Team Trust When Some Don’t Trust Anyone

Dan was recognized as a strong and effective leader. He had earned the respect from the CEO and other senior leaders at his company.

In his newest assignment, he had been working hard to establish the framework of trust that he knew would be vital to the team’s success.

From the very first day as the new division head, he was speaking with his direct reports one-on-one and in small groups, using his best practices to tear down walls and create the right harmony he knew he needed.

Yet he could sense total pushback from two of his longest-tenured technical people. Sandy and Ted were not buying it.

Dan decided to take his concerns directly to both Ted and Sandy. One by one he called them in for a private chat.

He opened with acknowledging how important he thought their roles were to the team’s success. They each agreed with that. Then he asked a fairly pointed question.

co-workers not trusting

Ted Went First

Dan started “I’ve been watching the development of this leadership team. We’ve been working to understand the clarity of our purpose and align our resources for the best outcomes toward our goals. Yet I sense a reluctance from you. I’d really like to understand what it is that is blocking things for you.”

Ted was pretty quick to respond. He said “Dan, I haven’t been honest with you. I’ve been at this company for a long time. This latest change is too much for me. I’m eligible to retire and I think now is the right time to do that.”

Dan was not surprised, that made perfect sense. He responded “Ted, I’d sure hate to lose you, but I respect everything you’ve done here. Is there anything that might help you change your mind?”

Ted smiled a wry grin. “Thanks, but no. It’s time. This has nothing to do with you or the company. I just need to get serious with my own situation and quit holding you guys back. It’s been a good run. I want to leave a good legacy.”

Dan said “Thank you for that honesty. If there’s anything I can do while you get situated, let me know.”

On the Other Hand

Sandy’s talk didn’t go so well. Dan opened the same way but got a totally different reaction.

Sandy shook her head and replied “I just don’t trust these people. I’ve worked with a few of them before and know what they do behind people’s backs.”

Dan thought about how contrary this sounded based on his own history with the team from prior assignments. He knew about their performance elsewhere and the accolades they had gotten from others, both above and below them in the organization.

He simply said to Sandy, “Tell me more.”

“Well…..” and her list began. Interesting to Dan was the level of petty complaints he heard. He was shocked at just how petty many of these grievances sounded when compared to the duties Sandy had on her plate.

He had not known Sandy that well from before, but had always relied on her technical delivery of work product and was pleased. Yet hearing her voiced concerns about others made him realize one big thing about Sandy.

She really didn’t trust anyone.

The Leader’s Boundaries

In the effort to be an effective leader, there are many things you must do but there are some you cannot do.

Becoming a therapist for an employee who exhibits behaviors that are not conducive to good teamwork is just not something you should delve into.

We’ve all been there before, realizing you have an employee who has some psycho-emotional baggage that will not allow open and reliable cooperation on the team.

So what do you do?

First, don’t let it get personal. Stick to team outcomes when describing expectations. Make those expectations very clear.

Shifting the Spotlight

Watch for tell-tale signs of behavioral problems. An untrusting soul may often try to shift the spotlight away from themselves onto others.

anger at work

Examples include placing blame for minor matters and accusing others of “failing” to deliver properly. They somehow think that constantly churning the team around them will keep the focus away from their own issues.

Someone who is more trusting will accept responsibility and become vulnerable to things needing more attention.

I’ve seen situations where the highest performer on the team was actually the least trusting individual. Despite adding significant value to the team, they cause so much confusion and disruption, their actual worth starts to be questionable.

This latter situation may be the leader’s biggest challenge. If you’ve ever been frustrated by someone’s behavior yet asked yourself something like this “Can I afford to lose them?”, you should start the process to do just that.

Keeping a team member who will never trust the rest of the team will derail everything you may try to accomplish. It happens every time.

Question: When was a time that you had someone on your team who couldn’t trust others? Leave a comment.