Tips to Move Away from Internally Based Competitors

A leadership team whose members view one another as competitors is one with dysfunction. When members are not on the same page, battling internally, protecting turf and working at cross purposes become dominate priorities. Conflict runs rampant. Frustration is an epidemic. And moving things forward is next to impossible.

In this environment of competitors, silo versus silo becomes the operating norm. Community doesn’t exist, and innovation can’t thrive. Alignment around a common vision and strategy for the organization is not feasible. Professional satisfaction and rewarding results seem unattainable.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Turning competitors from internally based to externally focused is possible while establishing a community of leaders. Two factors are key to this turn-around: commitment and clarity.

Commitment to reject internal competitors

First, leaders must acknowledge that leadership doesn’t revolve around one leader or a couple of functional areas. Rather it is built upon a recognized and respected team, one where the individual silos are woven together to form a community.

This community comes about from a realization that not any one leader will have all the answers. To flourish today, a one-company mindset must be inherent in the company’s value system. Leadership must be distributed, leveraging the creativity, know-how and dedication of all leaders on the team.

Distributing leadership also capitalizes on diversity – the unique business acumen, experiences and perspectives of each leader along with his or her capabilities from functional responsibilities. Embracing and honoring this diversity helps shape a culture of strength not just in terms of its cohesiveness, but also for its vulnerability.

When leaders plant the one-company mindset in their core, they know they must commit to having each other’s backs for the benefit of the whole. Asking for and receiving help emerges as strength in the organization’s culture. It is required to get the work done, solve the problems, fight the competition and stay on top of market trends.

Clarity to eliminate internal competitors

Second, leaders must know what is expected of them. They must have clarity on the vision, strategy and leadership expectations. With well-defined success metrics, personal accountability and responsibility become grounded for each leader and expanded into the team as a whole. Included in that clarity is an obligation to hold others to the same high standards for making leadership and community a differentiator for the company.

When expectations are discussed and agreed upon, playing by the old rules is no longer be feasible. Instead the new way of being in the leadership community and acting with the one-company mindset takes a firm hold. Those who choose to adhere to the internal-competitors approach will not be tolerated.

Leaders must not allow a few lame leaders to poison the collaboration. With transparency, there is a duty to give feedback and challenge others on the team. It’s a duty steeped in what the team needs to be successful with employees, customers and stakeholders. Those who opt not to adapt will self-select out or be asked to leave.

It’s hard work to build trust and create the mutual support required for this level of commitment and clarity. And it doesn’t happen over night. I know from first-hand experience that grit and resolve are required to make the shift. I also know that it is extremely rewarding work to create a leadership community and feel a part of something special.

It’s only too late if your team doesn’t begin now. Ask yourself what part you will play in changing the culture to include a community of leaders.

Constructive Feedback – How to Develop vs Correct

The majority of managers hate to give constructive feedback. And yet most employees want feedback aimed at improving how they work. They want to be told how they are doing, what’s working and what’s not. Many want to know what’s next for development and growth.

As a leader, you are often their catalyst for change. You are the one who helps them attain their goals and live up to their potential. Thus, the information you provide must be useful. And it must be delivered such that your employees feel respected and supported.

The key is to provide feedback honestly and constructively. You want your employees to find your feedback session fair and supportive. To that end, consider the following for tips:

4 Points to Consider When Giving Constructive Feedback

  • Be timely
  • Make it specific (behavior and not personal traits)
  • Open a two-way dialog
  • Use it to teach and coach
  1. Be timely. Providing feedback and coaching is a continuous processes. As such, people should receive your feedback as close as possible to occurrences of the behavior. This way the specifics are fresh in their minds, and opportunities are given to address behaviors right away.
  1. Make it specific. Rather than using vague generalizations such “more strategic thinking” or “a greater sense of urgency,” Katrina C. Johnson, PhD suggests drilling down into exactly what you mean and what you will do to coach that. Focus on behaviors, not the person and personal traits. Describe behaviors in exact terms. Below are questions that  help you to identify specifics. Each set of questions is followed by examples to illustrate behaviors that might be observed with “overly defensive.”
  • Describe what you see (and want to see more of) – What is the person physically doing? What does the person look like?
    • Crosses arms
    • Arrives late to staff meetings
    • Works independently without pausing to check course
  • Describe what you hear (and want to hear more of) – What words are used? What tone is used?
    • Breaths a big sigh of exasperation
    • Uses “I thought I had already explained that. What don’t you get?”
  • Describe the context (and why the context matters) – With whom does the behavior occur? Where does it occur?
    • Occurs primarily with peers when they ask clarifying questions
  1. Open a two-way dialog. Let your employees know you “have their backs.” You want them to succeed. Open the session by naming the topic (i.e., overly defensive) and get curious about what’s going on. Rather than telling and directing, explore behaviors with benign questions and share the specifics you have noted. Solicit input and listen. Avoid “pushing” corrective actions. Instead, identify strategies for change and methods for tracking together. Partner for success.
  1. Use it to teach and coach. Done correctly, providing feedback presents an opportunity for learning. With the desired behaviors clear and agreed upon, you now step into the helping people acquire them.

Think of constructive feedback as part of the process for teaching and coaching your employees. Shifting your mindset from “correcting” to “developing” along with utilizing these four steps will help you have more effective feedback sessions.

Boundaries – 3 Steps to Establish for Effectiveness

As a leader, an important skills to master the art of setting boundaries. Why? Because boundaries enable prioritization on what  matters most and effectiveness to meet commitments on those priorities. They lead to focus and engagement for you and your team.

Years ago as a new leader, I experienced being pulled in a thousand different directions. As a result, I was managing too many priorities. My effectiveness was not what it should have been. And I was overwhelmed and exhausted.

This experience was one I brought on myself. Because I did not want to disappoint, I said yes to everything. At the time, I did not have boundaries. People saw that, so I was “fair game“; the target of “dump it on her and know she’ll do it.”

When things reached the breaking point, I knew it was time to make a conscientious effort to assert myself and take control. I had to let go of the “disease to please” and the myth of “the more I do, the more promotable I will be.” I had to get smart about my effectiveness on the job and re-engage with a life outside of work.

I hired a coach to help me navigate the choppy waters of being a new leader. I loved my work and wanted to ensure I had the energy required for its demands. The first thing we focused on was developing a backbone and establishing boundaries.

The three-step process we developed served me well back then and continued to serve me as I moved up the ranks. It enables greater value to what matters most – customers, employees and stakeholders.

Here are the three steps:

Acknowledge that boundaries are healthy and productive

Established well, boundaries do not conflict with flexibility and adaptability. Nor do they impact the importance of being a team player. Instead they can enable a higher degree of productivity and success. The key is to establish boundaries around the priorities of the organization.

Focus on boundaries for the sake of the organizations’s priorities.

Boundaries help you give your time and attention to what matters most. Questions such as the following can help frame your boundaries, putting context around whether you accept, decline or negotiate what is requested from you.

  • What are the strategic priorities requiring your attention?
  • What are the most pressing needs right now?
  • What are the key projects?
  • What measurements are driving your work?
  • Where do your people need your help?
  • What can you do to make their work more productive?

Recognize that boundaries help with options: yes, no, negotiate.

Boundaries give you options. Is it a fit or not? Or is something, but not everything, about it a fit?

First clarify the request. Get curious about what is being requested and why it is important. That way you are able to map it against your priorities. When you are clear on your priorities, you are able to think rationally about the request. You can frame consideration in terms of how those priorities will be impacted or enhanced. Make your decision relevant to the organization’s objectives – as a whole and to the team you are leading. Once you have decided, be succinct and confident with your response.

As a leader, you have an obligation to lead with boundaries established for the sake of clarity and commitment. Knowing what you need to do for your customers, employees and stakeholders enables you to move your organization forward. With resolve to take on the hard work as long as it is the right work, you will be more deliberate with your time. That leads to a less overwhelming workflow and higher levels of productivity and effectiveness.

How might the lack of boundaries be impacting your leadership? What boundaries based upon priorities do you need to establish?

“It’s All Made Up:” How to Avoid Flawed Assumptions

Poor decisions are often the result of flawed assumptions. Rushing to judgment. Misunderstanding. Equating to a similar situation. These are just a couple of reasons behind erroneous conjectures. What if you had access to five tips that would help you avoid flawed assumptions, thus making more informed decisions?

While in a leadership training program a couple of years ago, I found myself perplexed by something one of the facilitators kept saying: “It’s all made up.” Huh? He said it with conviction and passion as if revealing a leadership-enhancing secret.

But I have to confess. I wasn’t getting it. Each time he spoke those words, I would look at him quizzically. Eventually after hearing it enough times, I had an ah-ha moment. I realized the power in those words.

The Art of Making Assumptions

As humans, one of our jobs is to make things up. It happens moment to moment, often without our awareness, as our minds weave together a version of “rational and logical” conclusions. These conclusions, also known as assumptions, become our perceived truths.

Assume means to take for granted or without proof. – Webster’s Dictionary

These perceived truths are important because they satisfy our need to understand. They help justify or make sense of what is happening within us, to us and around us.

Left unchecked, however, assumptions can cause problems with our leadership, affecting our interpersonal behaviors, work place interactions and ultimately business results. Specifically, our assumptions cause us to

  • Respond with emotions that are unjustified.
  • React in a manner that sabotages the best intentions.
  • Provide direction that delivers less than favorable results.

5 Tips to Avoid Flawed Assumptions

“It’s all made up” can serve as a powerful tool for a new level of awareness. Before behaving or interacting in response to the perceived truth, take a moment for reflection and then get curious.

  • Reflection – Pause and take a deep breath while reminding yourself that the assumptions you are drawing may not fit the situation. Refrain from jumping in until there is more clarity around the situation.

Next run through a quick mental checklist of actions to help you avoid erroneous assumptions. Get curious by checking in to gain clarity and perspective.

  • Check your gut – As the assumptions you are drawing unfold, check your gut. How would you describe the feeling? What comes up for you here? Notice. It could be the feeling has arisen from something the current situation is triggering from the past. That in turn can signal the assumptions may not be based on what is actually occurring but rather influenced by a past experience. This gut check can alter the perspective for another way of viewing the situation.
  • Paraphrase – Sometimes someone will say or write something one-way and we take it another. To ensure you have not misunderstood what was conveyed, paraphrase by repeating back the gist of what you heard or read. Then check-in by asking something as simple as “Did I get that right?” This conversational approach opens up communication and uncovers truths for more grounded behaviors and interactions.
  • Honor perspective – People come from different backgrounds and experiences. As such, we tend to make assumptions based upon our frame of reference. What if there was another frame of reference from which to draw assumptions? Take a checkpoint to assess the ways in which you bias your understand and judgment. Open a dialogue to exchange information from opposing points of view. This exchange can help give new meaning to the situation and create possibilities that defy the assumptions.
  • Validate direction – If you have responded with a direction based upon your assumptions, ask “what do you think?” Then sit back and listen. This question gives people an opportunity to be heard, and the conversation can help validate your direction or redirect actions based on new information.

These five actions to help you avoid flawed conjectures have an underlying commonality. They all involve clarification through powerful questioning techniques. Open-ended questions can get at the heart of the matter, challenge thinking and alter assumptions. Moreover, they engage folks and enable learning, digging deep and discovering more.

Getting curious and asking questions is central for the leader within and to serving others with fitting leadership behaviors and interactions. How will having using “It’s all made up” enhance your leadership capacity?

Energizing – Understanding What You Need and Why

As a leader in today’s complex world, the demands are plentiful. The hours are long. The days and nights run together. The competitive landscape and fast-pace of change require unrelenting focus. With global workforces and round-the-clock production environments, availability 24/7 is the name of the game. Add personal responsibilities and you have a recipe for running on empty or burning-out if you are not pro-active with energizing tactics. How can you be proactive?

Energizing Begins with Identifying Your Needs

Pro-activity begins with knowing what you need and why to maintain your energy reserves day in and day out. To that end, a good use of time is an energy assessment.

The assessment begins by identifying your needs in each of the four sources of being
energized. According to Dr Edy Greenblatt, those four sources include physical (body), cognitive (mind), psychological (emotional) and social (spiritual). Your list does not need to be exhaustive, but it should include at least 2 – 4 needs in each of the four sources.

For example, your “energizing” list may look like this:

  • Physical: sleeping, drinking water, eating healthy food, exercising
  • Cognitive: practicing meditation, reading
  • Psychological: being appreciated, spending time in nature,
    puttering around the house
  • Social: having alone time, engaging with others, attending a concert / theater event

Energizing Comes About By Getting Specific

Once the list is complete, create a table with four rows:

  1. What is my need?
  2. What can’t I be when I don’t get enough of that need?
  3. What is enough of that need?
  4. How long does enough last for?

Answer each of those questions for your needs. This assessment is meant to be a quick check-in, not a laborious effort. It is also intended to be realistic versus optimal. What is the minimum required to keep your energy tanks recharged? Your batteries don’t have to be fully charged (aka optimal or recommended). They simply have to be charged according to your answers to questions 4 and 5.

An illustration might be helpful.

  1. Need = water
  2. Without it, we are not hydrated. Our body fluids are not properly balanced. Our muscles can become fatigued, and our skin is dry.
  3. Minimum of three 8-ounce glasses. In addition, an emphasis is put on fruits and vegetables for their water content as well as any other sources of healthy fluid intake.
  4. One day

Energizing Takes Hold By Acting on What You Need

When this “energizing” assessment is complete, you will have information to prioritize activities and experience that restore your energy levels. Maybe you’ll add a 15-minute walk to your schedule each day, buy a ticket to the theater each quarter or read a book for 30 minutes before bed. Whatever you choose, the point is to be a leader who knows the importance of energy management for strength and resilience.

Emotions at Work: How to be Credible and Authentic

There is no doubt that female leaders are judged differently than their male counterparts when it comes to the display of emotions at work. But the truth is that emotions are constantly being expressed by both genders. That’s why emotional intelligence (EQ) is hot topic. How emotions are handled matters.

The Key to Expressing Emotions at Work

The key is to express emotions credibly and authentically, but not based on what you alone are experiencing. Rather emotions conveyed in relation to what others are feeling is the differentiator.

As a leader, you want to express feelings that show you are concerned and care about what others are concerned and care about. People don’t want to see you experiencing emotions relevant to you. They relate when you are expressing emotion shared by them and relevant to them.

Illustrations to Differentiate Emotions at Work

For example, tearing up over a colleague’s health crisis or another round of lay offs affecting people you care about may give permission for others to experience their emotions around those same issues.

Whereas over reacting to a project delay with tears rooted in a situation at home may not go over well. This situation is one that may result in the “over emotional” feedback you want to avoid. The emotion communicated was not effective for handling the situation nor was it serving to those you were leading.

Tips for Holding Emotions at Work in Check

A good rule of thumb is to hold your demeanor in check. The following 3 points, which all relate to heightened emotional intelligence, get to the heart of handling emotions at work:

  1. Identify your emotions and the emotional field of those around you.
  2. Channel your emotions and note if and how they apply to the situation at hand.
  3. Manage emotions, by regulating your own and conveying them appropriately in relation to others.

The bottom line is not to stymie your emotions at work. Rather keep them in check by employing your emotional intelligence to the situation. For more on enhancing emotional intelligence, I recommend Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.

Getting to Know Your Employees – Why it Matters

Good leaders know that a business is just an entity. They also know it’s the people who give substance to that entity. People matter to them. Thus, getting to know their people on a deeper level is something they focus on. Why? Because they recognize connections in the workplace make a difference.

Connections are the basis for developing trust, inclusion and community with your team and others throughout the organization. So how do you get to know and understand the people you serve?

It starts with holding steadfast to three basic tenets rooted in human needs.

  1. You recognize the each person wants to know he / she matters.
  2. You acknowledge the need to belong is powerful.
  3. You understand that people are wired for community.

Firmly planted in those three tenets, you can tap into a genuine interest in people and begin the process of getting to know them more sincerely. The more you learn, the more you will appreciate the diversity on your team. And you will understand why “one size fits all” leadership does not work well.

The more you appreciate the diversity, the more you will leverage your team members for their strengths and with their motivators. You will come to value their uniqueness’s and want to capitalize on how to best bring forth their best. By uncovering synergies and complements among your team members, you lead in a different way with regards to building trust, inclusion and community.

Here are a few questions to help with getting to know your people or assessing how well you know them already.

Getting to Know the Personal Basics

  • What do they consider their strengths?
  • What values would they say are at the core of who they are?
  • What do they stand for?
  • Are they introverts or extroverts?
  • When are their birthdays?

Getting to Know the Personal Life Basics

  • Spouse? Partner? Children? Parents? In-laws? Pets?
  • What community activities are important to them?
  • Are there religious or cultural practices that they practice?
  • What hobbies do they have?
  • What they do outside of work? On vacations?

Getting to Know the Professional Basics

  • What are their professional backgrounds and experiences?
  • How do they find meaning in their work?
  • What motivates them?
  • What leadership styles and strengths do they employ?
  • What are their short-term / long-term goals and career aspirations?

Get curious and see what you discover. Notice if your assumptions about your people change. Catch yourself thinking, “I had no idea.” Spot news ways to engage and include. See if you change and grow as a leader.

How a Book Club Helps with Team Building

Leaders read. They read for new insights, latest thinking, creative inspiration and exposure to different perspectives, just to name a few. As such, a book club at work can be a valuable tool. How so?

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” ― Harry Truman

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of being at an event with Madeline Albright, former United States Secretary of State. During her talk, she referenced a book she had read to further her knowledge of the middle east. That book, as she told us, was a recommendation from her boss President Clinton. With humor, she commented about the importance of following through on a reading recommendation from your boss.

She went on to note that reading expands knowledge and offers insights. That comment got me thinking about something I did as a first time manager. I started a book club with my team. It was a way for us to rally around learning, share common experiences and build cohesion.

I will admit to being fearful of this idea. Would they reject it? Would it be too much on top of everything else they had going on? In spite of reservations, I shared the idea and asked for their input. They enthusiastically embraced the book club and carried forth to design an inclusive and engaging structure.

Designing a Book Club

First they established our goals:

  • Bring us together
  • Help us grow professionally

Next they defined three objectives:

  • Enhance our skills
  • Shed light on new methods
  • Open up to new perspectives

Then they outlined the logistics.

  • Held every other month to give plenty of time for reading
  • Book selection and facilitation of the book review rotated from team member to team member, so everyone had a chance to lead
  • 45-minute meetings to discuss the book

Results from the Book Club

The book club was a tremendous success. People embraced it, coming prepared for the discussion and engaging in the shared experiences. The benefits found were many, including team building, improved communication and professional growth. We also learned new things, experimented with new concepts and became thought-provoking agents for new ideas.

Years later one of the leaders who worked for me started a book club with her team. Just as I experienced, her team engaged in the club and enjoyed the benefits.

What might a book club bring to your team?

Power Questions: How to Engage Your Employees

Characteristics of good leadership include a desire to learn and curiosity. Why? Because they help you engage your leadership and your employees. As a leader, you have a responsibility to use those characteristics to communicate clearly, build connections and produce results. And a tool that will help you shine with that responsibility is mastery of asking power questions.

A hallmark of strong leadership is the ability to ask astute questions whether to your colleagues and superiors or your employees. At the heart of that ability is curiosity. And curiosity is rooted in power questions.

6 Reasons to Lead Using Power Questions

Establish clarity: Asking questions helps get everyone on the same page. All too often people are perceiving things differently. They may hear something different than what was meant or interpret something in another way than was intended. Inquiring can help get ahead of chaos before it begins. Good questions lay a foundation for more clear communication, and they challenge current thinking.

Challenge thinking: Asking questions gets you and your employees out of status quo thinking and ready responses. Inquiries can reframe a problem, shed light on assumptions and uncover new information. They can force your team into research, provide a teaching tool or get right at the heart of a matter. Power questions transform thinking and redefine relationships.

Redefine relationships: Asking questions moves you away from the hierarchical leadership structure. When you advise, provide the answers or give direction, you are placing yourself in a superior position. Alternately, when you inquire, you are positioning yourself as member of the team. You become a peer working along side them rather than the boss dictating from above. Leading as an equal changes individual relations and team dynamics. It deepens connections and generates buy-in.

Generate buy-in: Asking questions moves your employees beyond passive acceptance. When they’ve applied critical thinking and unleashed creative abilities, they have a stake in the issue, problem or situation. Answers they believe in and ideas they have are forthcoming. Consequently, they are more likely to buy-in and produce results.

Produce results: Asking questions leads to buy-in, which in turn gets results. Research shows that people are more driven to act upon their own ideas and solutions. A majority of the time, your employees know what to do. They need your encouragement and facilitation to share their perspectives and offer their opinions. When they come up with the answers, they are more likely to move forward with motivation and empowerment.

Empower others: Asking questions sends a message of respect. First it says that you have confidence in their abilities. You are asking them to step up. Second it demonstrates that you value their contributions. You are acknowledging their capabilities. Inviting them to contribute as resident experts empowers them to exert their own leadership and develop professionally in the process.

While there is a time and place for giving orders, most of the time power questions offer the right leadership tool. In the book Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business and Influence Others, authors Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas provide 337 essential questions to help you succeed at work and in life. The book is an easy and interesting read. Thirty-four short chapters illustrate questions to transform conversations and situations based upon a variety of circumstances.

Curious? How might power questions engage your leadership and employees?

High Potentials – 4 Points for Leading Them

Companies have a stake in growing and retaining their future leaders. Many do this through programs aimed at identifying and developing their high potential candidates. As a leader, you have a responsibility to help prepare these high potentials for advancement.

High potentials look for opportunities to increase their direct influence. They also want to take on assignments with real risks and rewards. Thus, they should be challenged in a variety of settings and circumstances. Settings and circumstances with exposure, accountability and access are most appropriate to foster growth. So how do you set yourself up for success in developing employees and building bench strength?

4 Points for Consideration in Managing High Potentials:

Planning Session

A one-on-one session is a good starting point. This starting point involves you both in his professional development. During this session, you can gain an appreciation for his accomplishments and aspirations. An open and direct two-way dialog will help you do two things:

  • Assess how his interests can best be balanced within your team
  • Target assignments to help him grow toward his potential

High potentials want to know that the company is investing in them. Involving him in a brainstorming session about areas of focus and potential assignments is vital. It will illustrate that he has a hand in the way he develops and his career unfolds. It will also let him know that the company is taking his grooming seriously.


The endowment effect suggests that when people take ownership, they immediately value it more. To that end, give this manger ownership. High potentials flourish when they are truly responsible for something. That means you should facilitate, not direct, his ability to succeed. The following are “guidelines” for giving him autonomy:

  • Unleash his intuition, creativity and business acumen
  • Give him freedom to make decisions and own his assignments
  • Empower him to deliver and make an impression
  • Recognize that mistakes provide learning
  • Coach and support his growth


In construction, scaffolding expands to reach new heights. The same is true in business. Scaffolding will help him stretch beyond his comfort zone and learn new skills. The stretch assignment should help set the stage for more responsibility and expanded leadership experiences.

The three Ws will give you insights on what constitutes a stretch assignment.

  • Where he has been
  • When assignments leveraged learning
  • What he aspire to do next

By building upon the three Ws, you help develop his leadership abilities and other skills necessary for career advancement.

Tips for stretch assignments include:

  • Connecting assignments with goals and learning
  • Finding opportunities for education specific to his grooming
  • Gearing assignments toward selection and advancement decisions
  • Thinking about visibility but not letting it be the driver
  • Planning ways to give exposure


Frequent communication is essential. Scheduled one-on-one sessions and impromptu conversations will keep the lines of communication open. The conversations should be aimed at developing attributes he will need for advancement. Specifically, they should center around:

  • Providing feedback on behaviors
  • Tracking progress with autonomy
  • Discussing learning from the scaffolding

The on-going dialogs will let him know he matters to the company. And frequent talks about his growth and development ensure they are being fostered and managed.

High potentials generally have a greater appetite for feedback, both constructive and positive. The blog post, Developing versus Correcting with Constructive Feedback, provides information on a behavioral feedback format. This particular format lends itself to teaching and coaching specific behaviors.

Note: Research done by the University of Michigan Business School suggests a 6-to-1 ratio of positive comments to constructive feedback.