Leading with Trust

10 Questions Great Bosses Regularly Ask Their People

Great leaders ask great questions.

Too often leaders think they are the smartest person in the room, so they are quick to offer advice, give direction, and share their perspectives on how things should be done. Most leaders do this instinctively, because after all, it’s the type of behavior that caused them to rise through the ranks. But when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen to empowering your team members to get the job done. You can’t do that if you’re always dominating the conversation. You need to draw out the best thinking and performance from your team members, and the way to do that is through asking great questions.

If you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start, give these a try:

1. What are you excited about in your job? The answer to this question allows you to understand what motivates and excites your team member. When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that energize your team member, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests which results in greater engagement and performance.

2. Why do you stay? This is perhaps the most important question that leaders never ask. Do you know why each of your team members chooses to stay with your organization? If you did, would it change the way you relate to them? I would hope so. Knowing the answer to this question will drive the way you structure job opportunities for those employees you want to retain. For employees who have “quit and stayed,” the answer to this question will give you insight into why they are choosing to remain stuck in their current position (usually fear of change, they’re comfortable, or they’re beholden to their current salary and lifestyle).

3. What might lure you away? This is the sister question to number 2. If you’re like most leaders, you probably don’t know the answer to either one. If you knew what would lure away your top performers, you would know what you need to do to get them to stay. Asking this question sends the signal to your team members that you know they are a valuable contributor and you’re not blind to opportunities they may have elsewhere. It lets them know you are committed to doing what you can to keep them happy and engaged with your organization.

4. What would we need to do to get you to stay? Don’t wait until your employee resigns and has one foot out the door to ask this question. By then it’s too little, too late. Ask this question on a regular basis as part of longer term career development discussions. Similar to questions 2 and 3, this question allows team members to express the things they think about their employment experience that they would never say to you in any other context. Just the very fact that the leader is willing to acknowledge the employee has the potential for other opportunities and cares about retaining him/her, causes the employee to feel valued and respected, which inspires loyalty and commitment.

5. What new skills would you like to learn? Most people want to keep learning and growing in their jobs, and in fact, this desire often ranks higher in surveys as being more important than getting a raise or other forms of recognition. Many managers are afraid to ask this question because they aren’t sure if they can deliver anything in return. Even the most mundane, clear-cut jobs usually have some room for creativity or improvement, but it takes a bit of work for the leader to think outside the box to uncover those opportunities. One good place for leaders to start is to examine their own jobs. What could you delegate or share with your team members that would allow them to learn something new?

6. Are you being __________enough for now? (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback, etc.) You’re probably starting to see a theme to these questions by now, aren’t you? Along with the others, this question allows you to probe into areas of performance that wouldn’t normally surface in your typical 1on1 conversations. We all fall victim to tyranny of the urgent and tend to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines we face. We have to train ourselves to periodically step back from the daily grind and have discussions with team members about the bigger picture issues that define their employee experience.

7. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? The people who usually know best about what’s working and not working in the business are those on the front-lines of the action. Ask your team members about the things that are holding them back from performing better or experiencing more joy in their work, and then get to work on addressing those issues. Leaders can often make a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.

8. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? Do you like it when your boss asks your opinion? Of course you do! It makes you feel like the boss respects your knowledge and expertise, and values your perspective on issues. Then why don’t you do the same with your employees? It’s a truism that no one of us is as smart as all of us. The power of a team is unleashed when the leader leverages the collective wisdom and experience of all its members.

9. What should I be doing more of? Unlike the other questions, this one is about you, the leader. It opens the door for you to hear from the employee about what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing. You may not see much value in asking this question because you believe you already have a good sense of the answer, but I encourage you to ask it anyway. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your team members (like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, taking an interest in them personally).

10. What should I be doing less of? It’s important you know this critical principle about leadership — most people won’t speak truth to power unless they believe it is safe and acceptable to do so. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. You do that by explicitly giving permission to your team to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior. Too many leaders only receive feedback from their bosses during the annual performance review, and although it can be helpful, it’s often from a limited and biased perspective. Great bosses seek feedback from where it matters most — their team.

Being a great boss isn’t easy. If it was, the world would be full of them. Instead of relying on the natural tendency to solely focus on the here-and-now in your interactions with team members, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Start incorporating some of these questions into your 1on1 meetings and watch for the positive impact it will have on your team members’ level of engagement and productivity.

Depressed Over Losing a Star Player? Consider These 5 Benefits

star-playerA few years back my team underwent a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players moved on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team had remained relatively stable, but we entered a new phase of growth, which was both scary and exciting. It seemed like each day I was having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we tried to sort out who was going, who was staying, and how we were going to get our work done.

It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.

Rather than being discouraged, I get energized and look forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:

1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.

2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.

3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.

4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.

5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.

Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!

4 Ways to Develop & Retain Employees When You Can’t Give Promotions

Climbing the corporate ladder has long been the traditional view of success in an organization. The main strategy for developing and retaining key talent has been to keep them engaged through a series of promotions and title changes that satisfy an individual’s need for growth and recognition.

Corporate Ladder vs Lattice

Credit: The Corporate Lattice, Deloitte University Press

Well, in most organizations these days, the corporate ladder has been replaced by the corporate lattice. The flat design of most organizations has eliminated the ladder—multiple layers of structure—and instead created an environment where growth has to be achieved in a zig-zag, network pattern of project-based assignments or leadership experiences. So when leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions, how do they grow, engage, and retain their key talent? Here are four approaches:

1. Ask your team members what they’re interested in doing — Asking someone what they want…novel concept, huh? Many leaders choose not to have this conversation because they are afraid they won’t be able to provide what is requested. Instead, frame the conversation with your employees as a time to explore opportunities with no strings attached. I tell team members that nothing is off the table when we have these conversations and I balance it with also saying I’m not making any promises. We’re simply exploring options, yet I make it clear that I’m in the employee’s corner and will do everything in my power to help them achieve their goals if there is a way we can find alignment between their interests and the needs of the organization.

2.Don’t be constrained by job descriptions — My HR colleagues may cringe a bit with my philosophy, but I believe leaders need to think beyond job descriptions when it comes to employee growth. Too often we get locked into job descriptions as the defining scope of a person’s responsibilities, including who reports to who in the chain of command. In reality, we need to consider the job description as the broad outline of how and where the person will contribute to the organization. Growing in the corporate lattice requires people to take on BHAG’s (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) that allow them to develop new skill-sets and competencies. Leaders should frame growth as an individual’s chance for resume enhancement that will benefit them in the future, whether at your organization or somewhere else.

3. Give away parts of your job — Most leaders have far too much on their plates to accomplish on their own, so why not delegate some of your key responsibility areas to competent and motivated team members? It’s hard for some leaders to go this route because it means giving up control and trusting others. It can also be threatening to your ego, as if it’s an admission you aren’t capable of doing it all on your own. Actually, smart leaders use this strategy because it’s a win-win for everyone. Your employees get to take on challenging goals and they earn the satisfaction of contributing in important ways, and you deliver on the key objectives for your team and develop a strong bench of capable and committed team members.

4. Adopt a mindset of being a developer and exporter of talent — Leaders should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to help their people grow, even at the risk of having them leave for greener pastures at some point in the future. My experience has shown when employees clearly know you are on their side and will do whatever you can to support their growth, they devote even more loyalty to you and will stay with you as long as possible. Who would want to leave an environment where they know their boss bends over backwards to provide opportunities for growth and development? Not many.

The corporate ladder doesn’t exist in many organizations these days and leaders don’t have the ability to hand out promotions like they were candy. We’ve got to have ongoing career conversations with team members, look for areas of growth beyond the boundaries of job descriptions, delegate key responsibilities to others, and be willing to invest in developing people, even at the risk of them ultimately leaving the organization. Using these strategies to navigate the corporate lattice, combined with financial models that facilitate income growth, will help you develop an engaged and passionate workforce that fuels personal and organizational success.

Leadership Development Carnival – June 2016

leadership_carnival logoIt’s my pleasure to host the June 2016 edition of the Leadership Development Carnival. This month’s collection of articles is a treasure trove of wisdom from many of the world’s premier leadership, management, and coaching thought leaders and practitioners. Enjoy!

Do Your Motivations Undermine Your Ability to Lead? by MarySchaefer — Certain leaders are disconnected from the motivations of the human beings who happen to be employees. Successful leaders are aware that when you make decisions that affect their lives, employees need to know you understand what keeps them engaged, or you risk compromising their trust.

The Power of Almost Perfect Practice by Jennifer V. Miller — Jennifer’s preteen daughter is learning to play the trumpet and that’s providing opportunity for how to encourage someone who’s learning a new skill. Read Jennifer’s thoughts on how to catch someone doing something (almost) right.

May The Force Be With You: An InPower Guide to Real Superpowers by Dana Theus — The reason media superheroes are so popular is because we all yearn to unlock our secret inner talents, the ones we instinctively know we have by virtue of being human. For most of us, navigating the trials and tribulations of a day at the office, a light saber seems like overkill. But the ability to steer someone’s thinking or read their true intent? Now that would come in handy!

Feel Unappreciated? Improve Your Working Relationships by Joel Garfinkle — I just don’t get it! I know I’m doing good work, but nobody seems to notice. I put in the hours, I bring in the clients, I get the job done. If you feel unappreciated, apply these three action steps to improve your working relationships.

How’s Cubicle Life Going for You? by Jim Taggart — In this post Jim looks at how the modern cubicle was initially created and its evolution in the ensuing years, noting the effects on people.

Bubbily Boo’ by Bill Treasurer — While on an epic vacation to Spain a few summers ago, Bill learned a valuable leadership lesson from his kids.It was the first time he realized that Dad Dad and Business Dad were two different people.

Tactical To-Dos for First-Time Leaders by Jon Mertz — Given the opportunity, how would you help someone prepare for their first leadership position? Jon Mertz shares five slices of advice to provide a solid foundation for anyone walking into a new leadership role.

Why You Need to Learn to Coach People by Mary Jo Asmus — There are lots of things that are called coaching, but aren’t. Real coaching uses a special type of two-way conversation that can help leaders to help others. This article describes what coaching isn’t and why it’s important for leaders to (really) coach others.

Give ‘Em Some Space (for Possibilities) by Julie Winkle Giuloni — There’s one  thing that best-in-class coaches do that frequently goes unnoticed to the casual observer. It’s invisible but perhaps the most invaluable contribution a coach can make: Exceptional coaches hold the space for possibilities.

The Problem With Motivating People by David M. Dye — A recent audience member asked David: When it comes to motivating people, are the carrot and stick dead? David suggests that they’re not dead, but they rarely get you what you want.

Deliver on the Promise of Servant Leadership by Chris Edmonds — Two friends – in completely different industries – were excited to join a vibrant boss & company. Within months the bubble burst – their great boss left due to values conflicts and worse. How can we help leaders serve others – not themselves? This post explains how.

3 Practices to Protect Your People from Toxic Stress and Burnout by Michael Stallard — Burnout is on the rise in healthcare and is taking its toll on healthcare workers. Michael Lee Stallard explains steps that leaders can take to protect their people from toxic stress and burnout.

Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self Doubt by Art Petty — The biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a distinct shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence. This article offers six ideas to help you strengthen your support of these individuals on your team.

6 Tips for Becoming a Compelling Conversationalist by Willy Steiner — Willy shares why a good conversation is like playing catch and 6 things that a great conversationalist will do to make the dialogue good for both sides.

Make Communication Personal To Establish Greater Connection by Paul LaRue — With all a of our electronic communication – emails, texts, and even social media – we still have opportunities to connect and build personal engagement.

Talent Management Strategy Lessons Learned from T-Ball by Mary Ila Ward — If you have ever had a son or daughter play t-ball there is only one word that can describe it…chaos. In this guest post from Dave, Mary’s husband, he shares that a couple of weeks into the season he realized he would be utilizing many of the management skills he uses at work.

Managers and Musicians: Leading by Being Present by Marcella Bremer — Marcella says, “I attended a music workshop that helps leaders discover the ‘note you cannot hear’. What stood out for me is that action speaks louder than words, or better phrased: presence speaks louder than words.” Check out Marcella’s article to learn more.

Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by Paula Kiger — This post is a review of the book by the same title. The book encourages leaders (as well as employees throughout all layers of corporate hierarchy) to recognize and nurture “the power of everybody.”

Acting Without Theory Often Results in Wasted Effort by John Hunter — If you don’t understand why you take action you will find yourself wasting effort. You must have a theory that you can test in order to test what is working and what changes actually lead to improvement and learning.

Turn Relentless Focus into Attentiveness by Jill Malleck — As leaders take on more responsibility they sometimes become adept at compartmentalizing to avoid distraction. This relentless focus may be seen by others as rigidity or disinterest. Here’s how to ensure an ability to focus remains a strength.

Developing Your Own Management Career Plan by Lexie Martin — Lexie says, “Proactively motivating and managing yourself, including your career development, is part of your responsibility as a manager.” This easy-to-follow guide provides simple steps to help you take control of your development, from identifying where you what to head as a leader to planning the actions you need to take to get there.

It’s Time to Take a Stand for a #TrueLeaderCreed by Jesse Lyn Stoner — Jesse’s post features the True Leader Creed, created by by Aspen BakerEileen McDargh, and Charlotte Ashlock as a vehicle to take a stand for positive leadership. Read the post and sign the creed!

Are You Giving The Right Message With Your Leadership? by Tanveer Naseer — When it comes to praise, it’s not just how often leaders give it, but also what kind. Discover how this difference can help to empower your employees.

Don’t Worry About Being Humble, Just Do It by Wally Bock — Humility is a virtue. You acquire it be acting humble. Here’s how to start.

Creativity’s Role in High-Performance Organizations by Neal Burgis — Being creative helps high-performance organizations stay ahead of the competition by doing things differently and they do it better. Most organizations don’t realize how to thrive, but here are some ways they can move forward.

Avoiding the Big Mistake New Leaders Make by Robyn McLeod — Robyn shares essential steps for avoiding the deadly traps organizations fall into when bringing in an external hire for a leadership role.

What to Do (and Not to Do!) to Get Your Presentation Off on the Right Foot by David Grossman — It’s not uncommon to hear leaders say they need to tell a joke to get the audience’s attention, but what many don’t know is it’s not a helpful strategy for the majority of us. It’s risky. Read on to get proven tips to ensure your presentation gets off to a strong start.

4 Conversations First-Time Managers Should Master

Peer to BossBecoming a manager for the first time is a significant career milestone. It brings a mix of emotions that range from excitement, confidence and eagerness on one side, to nervousness, fear, and anxiety on the other.

The biggest challenge for most new managers is they rarely receive any management-specific training prior to stepping into their new role. New managers are usually high-performing individual contributors that get promoted into a leadership role. Unfortunately, just because you’re a star performer in your individual role doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a superstar manager. Leading people requires a different set of skills, and if you don’t have a game plan of how to develop those abilities as a manager, you’re setting yourself up for a difficult transition.

In particular, there are four primary conversations that first-time managers should be equipped to have with their people:

  1. Goal setting conversations – Ken Blanchard likes to say that all good performance starts with clear goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you’ve arrived? Effective goal setting tends to be one of the weakest skills of most managers, and for good reason…it’s hard! Mastering the art of setting goals sets the foundation for good performance.
  2. Praising conversations – When I conduct training workshops on building trust, I often ask the participants this question: “How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is that most people don’t receive enough praise or recognition on the job. Learning how, when, and why to praise performance will help first-time managers get the most from their team members.
  3. Redirecting conversations – Sometimes team members get off track with their performance and need some redirection on how to get back on course. Redirection conversations can be tricky and difficult to navigate. They have the potential of building trust, commitment, and enabling higher levels of performance of team members. If handled poorly, they have the potential to erode trust, destroy morale, and send team members into a nose dive.
  4. Wrapping up conversations – Too often first-time managers end their conversations with team members with no clear plan of action. Talking about what needs to be done doesn’t ensure it will get done. Wrapping up conversations with a positive tone and a firm plan for implementation helps team members follow through on their good intentions.

There is much more detail behind each of these four conversations that will be highlighted in our First-Time Manager Leadership Livecast on Thursday, December 3, 2015 from 8:00-9:00 a.m. PST. It’s free to join and you’ll get to hear more about these four essential conversations and get a sneak preview into Blanchard’s new training program for first-time managers.

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