Keeping Your Team Engaged

The Good Old Days- People Together in an Office- Photo by fauxels on

As we are coming on six months of working from home, you are probably feeling disconnected from your team.  I have seen a million articles all giving great advice on how to remove the isolation being felt by teams.  However, I thought there was room for one more.

During my career, I have led remote teams across every time zone imaginable.  Some of my teams worked really well and others not so much.  Personalities, company culture and business circumstances definitely affected our team’s performance, but a couple of things kept us together.

  1. Daily Pop-ins: I believe that you need to speak to every person on your team every day.  Typically, they should last for no more than fifteen minutes.  You cover business stuff, but also get a temperature check on your team.  Any face to face application works.
  2. Create Project Teams:  Put your team into groups and assign projects geared towards improving processes, solving critical business problems or increasing morale.  “Force” the groups to meet regularly and report to the larger team with progress.
  3. Reimagine Team Meetings: Stop the one directional “I talk, you listen” team meetings.  Incorporate individual contribution segments that engage the team.  Encourage open ended debate- both work and socially focused.  Bring guest speakers who can improve industry, business or general knowledge.
  4. Increase Performance Reviews:  there is nothing worse than not knowing where you fit in a company.  That feeling increases the further away you are from the corporate office.  Couple that with working from home, a pandemic that is decimating job security, and the unrest around the country and you have the recipe for disaster.  Keep the reviews short and direct.  Reaffirm what is going well and be transparent in what is not.
  5. Be Present: There is an old sports saying that the best ability is availability.  This is especially true for leaders.  Making yourself available for your team will help you nip concerns before they become issues.

As always, these guides are the tip of the iceberg of being a successful leader.  Please contact me if you’d like to discuss how to implement these ideas for your team.

Where Do You Invest First?

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For businesses that are just now reopening or were decimated by the pandemic, the tasks to get back to normal are enormous.  From how to keep your team safe to how to provide a great user experience with the new restrictions, it can be overwhelming and scary. 

I believe that you need to pull back and look at an even simpler question- do you invest in the supply side of your business (typically the business facing side of the house) or the demand side (the customer interaction side). 

It is the ultimate chicken or egg decision- do I blast out to my customers that we are open for business, run specials to entice them, etc.? Or do I staff with the attitude that there is so much pent up demand that as soon as I open, the masses will come.

The answer obviously is that you need a balance of both.  You need to promote that you are back online and ready to serve AND you need to have the infrastructure ready to handle your customers.  Each industry is unique- a non-emergent health center can push patients out until they can bring providers back onto a full slate, but a restaurant needs to have the food and staff needed to serve some portion of their normal business every day and be able to react if their load is higher or lower than expected.

The key is that you understand that the sides need to work in tandem.  Too much demand generation without enough support leads to customer dissatisfaction.  Too much supply yields waste.  And both are spending money without a return on investment.

If you are in this situation and want to discuss further, please contact me at or hit me up on FB or Twitter.

When Your Partner Doesn’t Get It

Man and Woman TalkingAs many of you know, my company launched a new division to help people navigate their health journey through advocacy. In developing the company, we realized that we needed a couple of key partners to get this accomplished and I wanted to elaborate on the behavior of one because their handling of a situation is interesting to me.

The vendor bid on our project and mentioned that they would be willing to do it almost for free because they were not busy and needed the work for their team. We realized that letting them take the project on for free would not work and agreed on a fair price.

The project was moving along for about three weeks before the company had a huge bid accepted for another job. We realized our project would get less attention and continued to support our vendor’s activities even though they were not moving as quickly as we wanted.

The vendor scheduled weekly status meetings where instead of discussing project related issues, we were given their company’s CV and how much a larger company would have charged for this project. This went on for about 8 weeks before the vendor decided to let us know that we were a low priority for the firm now that they were busy, and they would only work on the project when they could fit it in.

We told the vendor we appreciated their honesty, and would it be possible to have the project back since we need it finished. What happened next was appalling. To date we have received 6 emails scathing our company and me personally because we did not want them to finish the project. One email asked, “How dare I?” and another questioned my integrity and loyalty- funny considering they fired us. Then we received an email saying basically they had to finish the project because of how it was developed as if the other 6 emails were never sent.

While we are still working through this, I found several best practices were ignored. The first was be careful what you put in writing. If I was more vindictive, I could have posted these emails and in effect would have ruined their company. Limit your communications to the pertinent facts in a case. Flying off the handle does not achieve anything positive.

The second is honor your commitment or work towards a compromise as soon as possible. Once the vendor took on the new job, we should have been given the option of dealing with a slower timeline or taking our project elsewhere. Or the vendor should have worked quickly to get our project off their plate. Lamenting that they were not making money on the project and insulting us was not the solution.

The third lesson is on my end- be careful who you decide to give a break to. Our collective guts told us that the vendor would be able to handle the project, but it would be painful. Boy, were we right. We liked them at their initial meetings and figured we were helping them as much as they were helping us. We were so wrong there.

Honest communication between and within both companies may have helped avoid this situation. Both companies wanted to help each other, but their vision of help couldn’t be more different.

Compassion Versus Sympathy and Empathy

SN Logo Final colorI work with a special needs sports program in my town.  One of my roles is to explain to our teenaged volunteers how we want them to interact with our athletes and what kinds of behavior are acceptable.  The class is a little heavy handed as we feel that our culture of kindness is the paramount reason why we are able to have success. 

One of the hardest parts of the class is when we discuss the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion.  In a simplistic manner, sympathy means you feel sorry for someone.  Empathy is that you can relate to what someone is going through, and compassion is understanding there are differences and you want to make it better.  We explain that our athletes want people who want them to succeed not someone who prejudices against them because of their uniqueness.

These phenomena happen every day in the workplace without people realizing it.  Leaders feel like they are bonding with their team by showing sympathy and empathy in inappropriate times.  A coworker having personal issues at home needs you to be flexible and understanding (compassion).  They do not need you to tell them you are sorry then relay a story about how you have gone through or are going through the same thing.

This is especially true when a leader rises through the ranks.  You tend to be very involved in your team’s lives since you were one of them.  To be their leader, you need to establish new ground rules and boundaries.  Caring about the person and their well-being is a critical part of team building, being overly involved is not.

As you are building your leadership tool belt, make sure you focus on compassion.  If you find yourself always telling stories that parallel your team member’s issues, then maybe you need to look in the mirror and focus more on how to help.

What Happens When No One Wants to be the Leader?

team-blaming-each-other-istock_000020967547_largeI was thinking about the horrible situation at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.  It was an institutional epic fail that is a classic case of no one stepping up to be the leader.  Everyone focused on their personal agendas and did not look to be the one to stand above the madness.

It reminded me a lot of a couple of organizations that I worked with.  They had very talented followers, but no one wanted to become the leader of the group. No one wanted to handle the tough decisions, everyone wanted to be seen as the good person all of the time.  They had great meetings, made great action plans, and never held anyone accountable and no was accountable for the failure.  As a result those organizations, like the two listed above, ended up mired in situations that they were ill equipped to handle.

Every organization needs to have at least one official and many unofficial leaders.  These people need to want to take the responsibility of leading their team through the inevitable successes and failures that organizations have.  They need to have the vision to inspire, the knowledge to teach and the integrity to have people believe in them.  Organizations without these people are rudderless and will fail- either through scandal or lack of performance.

A smart mentor once told me to see a need and fill the need.  Sometimes that meant taking the trash to the dumpster, other times it meant running a project or team that needed help.  None of the times did it mean to dump the situation onto someone else’s lap.  When you are in this situation, be sure to think about who is leading the project and how you can support them.  If the answer is no one is leading, fill the void.  Your co-workers will appreciate you stepping up.

A Lesson in Credibility

credibilityI had a little misstep in my class the other day.  I shredded the attendance sheet before I had a chance to input it into my spreadsheet.  So, I did what every trusting professor would do, I asked the students at the next class to mark whether they attended the previous class.  Then a funny thing happened.  Only one person who missed the class was truthful and marked herself absent.

Seeing this, I decided to address it in the next class.  I mentioned that trust, integrity and honesty are the paramount cornerstones of leadership and that without these attributes, it is going to be hard to get hired, keep your job and advance in the company.  I also told the class that if you did mark yourself at the class, do not come and apologize because it is hollow.  You are only doing it because you were caught.

My friends at the Colonel’s Leadership Council have a great seminar that focuses on the key attributes that people believe leaders must exhibit if they want others to follow them.   Honesty, competence, inspiration, and forward thinking are the traits most commonly associated with a leader.  However, the foundational attribute is credibility.

Credibility is simply the quality of being trusted and believed in.  However, in today’s business environment, it is very elusive.  Between claims of fake news, real news that has to be fake, and every day interpersonal situations that end with disappointment, it is harder and harder to be seen as credible.  Fewer people are walking the talk.  They tell you want you want to hear then do something else.

That is not the type of a leader I would like to follow.  I want to be led by people I can believe in, trust, and know that my best interest is near the top of their priority list.  I also would like to believe that the people I lead feel that my credibility is beyond reproach. 

If you want to be a successful leader, you need to realize that your reputation is your key leadership criterion until you are able to establish relationships and prove that you are honest, competent, inspiring and forward thinking.  Any blemish will diminish your ability to build relationships and establish credibility.

To all of the people who think you are getting away with getting in right before or leaving right after the boss, who spend all day on the internet, their smartphone or gossiping, or who are mailing in your work, know that people notice this stuff and your credibility is taking a huge hit.  And don’t be surprised when you’re passed over for that promotion.

Leadership Means Being Relevant

happy-customersI was listening to Wharton Radio on Sirius/XM last week and a listener was calling to complain about an unmotivated, know it all subordinate.  Quickly into the discussion, it became apparent that the problem was with the manager as much as the employee.  The caller twice interrupted the host who was suggesting potential course of action to dismiss their ideas as trite.

It got me thinking about qualities that are important for leaders that are softer than the traditional inspirational, honest, competent and forward-thinking attributes that are indisputably the key ones and I kept thinking about relevance.  The idea is a leader needs to be able to relate to their team and the situations that they face.

In too many cases, leaders lack the emotional intelligence to understand the situation they are in and how to find a positive solution for all involved.  In the case above, the caller had the audacity to tell her subordinate to look in the mirror when she told him he was defensive.  She clearly did not understand the person she was talking to and was not self-aware of her strengths and weaknesses.  She could not relate.

This is especially important when you lead people across the traditional generational classifications.  You need to figure out how to relate to each person on a personal and direct level as well as understand the cultural, experiential, and demographic differences between you and your team and work to bridge them.  You also need to understand how each person views their job, tasks, goals, and values.

At the same time, you need to be vulnerable to your team and explain where you are coming from.  People in today’s workforce do not respect nor accept “because I said so”.  You need to be able to relate your goals to them in ways to make them want to follow you.

You also need to understand that you are an important figure in your team’s life for a few reasons.  One of course is that you control their professional livelihood.  You also act as the moral compass for your team.  You also their window into what upper management values as an ideal employee.

If your experience, personality and attitude are not relevant to the position you hold, you will never be viewed as a leader.

Learn to Let It Go

let-it-go-frozenNo, I was not watching Frozen this weekend, but rather was thinking about the unrest that festers in the workplace.  More and more people are feeling slighted and holding onto these perceived slights to the detriment of their health and the health of their team.

Instead of moving forward and working towards common goals, people are pushing their agenda to vindicate that they feel are affronts to their character, intellect or abilities.  Many times, the anger stems from a manager’s criticism of their work.  Other times it is because a company decides to fund or green light a competing project.

If you are going to be a true leader, you are going to need to work through these issues and get your team back on track.  Much like parenting every child is different, dealing with an “insulted” team member is unique.  You are going to need to:

  1. Have Two Way Communication. Most grudges happen over miscommunications.  You need to speak openly, honestly, and respectfully so the person understands where you are coming from and that you understand their position as well.  Speaking from the mountain top does not help heal wounds.
  2. Forgive, But Not Forget. You need to be the bigger person as the leader.  Forgive the person who wronged you or accept the apology of someone who slighted you.  But also learn from the experience- both about how you could have handled it better and how you can manage through the situation better with that colleague.  Don’t repeat the same mistakes.
  3. Keep It Close to Your Vest. The lasting thing that needs to happen is for the disagreement to go public and have people choose sides.  That may work in movies, but in business, chasms are really hard to close and overcome.  The end result is a poorly functioning team where no one wins.  Here is an obvious lesson, but needs to be said if you are asked which side you are on, simply state that you are Switzerland.

As a leader, you need to massage egos all day to get what you want accomplished.  Do not let yours be the biggest in the room.  Stay focused, grounded, and engaged to keep your team working well.

The Two Real Keys to Success

welcome-freshmen11As many of you know, my daughter has started college this Fall.  Her workload is daunting as she majors in physics and music.  Not surprisingly, about a week ago, I got the call.  “Dad, we need to talk.”  Like every other freshman, her world has been turned upside down.  Surrounded by tons of people 24/7, but not really knowing any of them, suddenly having freedom, but buried with school work, she was living the avalanche.

During breakfast, I learned that she was confused and anxious about school, her abilities, and her “after life”.  Some time during this, I decided to tell her the key to success.  I made her hold on to the table with both hands and look at me.  Then I told her- “The Key to Success is Having a Big Ego”.

She looked at me quizzically because we have stressed humble and kind before it became a song.  I told her that if you do not have extreme confidence in yourself, what you are doing and what you believe, no one else will.  You cannot be successful if you can’t speak about your ideas without conviction.  And you have to believe that you will ultimately succeed even if you are hit with obstacles and temporary failures.

Since I was on a roll (and my fifth cup of coffee), I decided to tell her the next biggest key.  You need to be flexible in your journey.  When I was 18, I wanted to be an accounting major then get a law degree.  Today, I hate numbers and don’t like to read volumes of legalese.  I would have never succeeded if I didn’t change my path.

The goal for Katie was to give herself a large enough base that she could follow either of her passions or become something else.  By studying both arts and sciences, she can achieve that.

How does this relate to you?  Are you confident in yourself and your abilities to stand up for what you believe?  Are you willing to stand on the proverbial ledge to do what’s right?  Can you fail, pick yourself up and try again?  Do you roll with the punches?

Unfortunately, the answer for most people is no.  And to compensate for this, they use arrogance and bravado to cover for a lack of good ego.  You need to work at being comfortable in your own skin and do what you feel is right- even if it is not the prevailing thought.

In this time of social discord, make sure you reflect on what you believe is right and follow it.  It will make your personal and professional lives better.  Please let me know if you’d like to discuss further.

Fearless Leaders are Doomed to Fail

patg013There is a certain image of a fearless leader.  Maybe it’s General Patton storming through Europe in World War II or Tom Brady putting his team on his back to win a Super Bowl.  Then when asked about their victory, they tell you how they always knew they’d be victorious and there was never a doubt in their mind about it.

They seem to forget to mention the hours of planning, the sleepless nights trying to figure out the best path to winning, and the missteps that they took to find the right path.  This is a huge problem for you as an aspiring leader because you believe this myth to be true.

You tell your team what they are going to accomplish and to follow you to make sure it will be done.  You ride them to ensure tasks are completed, push them to their limit to get the best results out of each and every one of them, and you blaze a path in your company leaving everybody not on your team in your wake.

In real life, this cannot happen.  Aside from the enemies you will make with this no holds barred attitude, it is impossible to be a true leader without doubt and introspection coming to light.  You need to have a healthy fear of failure because that grounds your decisions and forces you to continually check the competitive environment, your team’s “temperature”, and your companies’ attitude towards your project.  Going haphazardly guns a blazing will cause your team to burn out and for you to miss the mark in the long run.

Instead, understand that a little uncertainty in your mission will cause you to be a better leader.  You will be able to access your situation more clearly.  You will be able to see the big picture and understand the goal of your project, not just the tasks that need to be accomplished.  And you will develop empathy for your team.  Your Emotional Intelligence will grow and that is a real skill that measures your long-term success.

Unless you work in a military style environment, how you understand and treat people will contribute more to your success than the hard driving style of a fearless leader.  Remember, just because you buy into the project, doesn’t mean your team has.  Having that awareness will help you get the results you all need to be successful.