Leaders – How are your people feeling? 3 Tips for starting this conversation

In a career transition program I facilitate in Michigan, our second day starts and ends with the question How do you feel?.  It is a critical and strategic because it challenges people to put one word around where they are at that moment, and as facilitators we can use that word to know where we need to spend more time to circle back for some one on one conversations.  It is not about fixing someone’s answer, but more about giving a voice to knowing when there is a potential barrier to learning/doing the work.  This is one of those keeping the pulse strategies, that allows a group to move forward to important work, lets individuals share where they are at that moment, and in a very direct way ask for help or pause for a celebration.

So what can we do as leaders to create those moments?

First, Do you believe it is important to give your people space to air some of this stuff? If yes, read on.  If no, I encourage you to read one of two books: First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham/Curt Coffman or Drive by Daniel Pink.  I share these not to make you a psychologist.  My advice to leaders is their best focus is NOT to try and get inside the heads of their people, but try and get what is inside the heads of their people on the table so it can be talked about. I probably opened a can of worms with that comment – consider the comment section of this blog as a space to explore that if you desire.  I am happy to defend/discuss it there.  Back to the question – How can a leader get feedback on what is on the minds of their team?

Here are 3 habits that will help you understand where your people are in terms of what is on their minds and/or how they are feeling:

1.  Meeting space (weekly/monthly)The question: Create an agenda item at the beginning:  Around the room:  3 Wins this week/month and 1 frustration.  The execution: Just listen.  Be ready to plug a big frustration aired by the team into a brainstorming/problem solving space later in the meeting or ask the person to connect later in the day with you to spend some time.  If you are uncomfortable with asking/handling this question/space – get some training/mentoring soon.  Not being able to ask this question and process the answers effectively will be an issue.

2. Create regular space/time to connect directly with employees The question: What is one question you have or you are hearing that needs an answer?  (note the strategy – people can ask their question (higher risk) or just share one from someone else.  The execution: Make this a monthly habit with coffee and donuts.  This space should be all non-direct reports and select based on anniversary dates for that month / birthdays / just became a leader in the last year / new employee that month/quarter.  The key is make it inclusive and give you a chance to listen.  Small company?  Pizza once a month and find a round table – and whoever is there gets the question.

3.  At monthly/weekly one on ones – The question: Give me one word – how are you feeling?  (Yes it is a little squishy for some, but trust me it is an effective question).  The execution: If you are not comfortable handling the conversation – you need some development help as a leader.  The ROI:  The $ spent getting better at this will save your organization $$$$ in the future and will probably have a positive impact on your relationships outside of work too. (marriage, kids, partner, name it . . . . )


Mini trU Tip: Why I think some coaching training for leaders is critical? When you invite people share things stuff will come out that requires you as a leader to: 1) Ask more questions to help the individual reveal what is at the core of this issue  2)  Help the individual identify one thing they can do to address it or explore it more so it can be solved at some point in the future.  If you want to spend some time learning about the voice of a coach I direct you to a blog I love by Mary Jo Asmus or a book I like called Co-Active Coaching.  My only caveat is that spending time in both of these resources will help you experience the voice of a coach, and especially the Co-Active Coaching book will help you understand the process of coaching.  In the end, if you want to become proficient at it plan on starting with a year-long commitment to learn about it and practice it.

New word for your leadership toolbox – Capacity

In a recent conversation I was sharing a story with a mentor and friend about how I handled a difficult moment in a facilitation.  As I reflected back on how I reacted to the individual causing the problem in the session, the outcomes, and how some of my facilitation work in the past year prepared me she shared with me a reflection of her own:  Scott, you have increased your capacity to manage a space filled with many different perspectives and voices.

That word caught me off guard.  I started my career in a capacity planning role worried about the output of a steel mill and then 80+ injection molding machines.  It was a very familiar word for me, and yet it was one that I had only use with very physical and definable assets . . . And I like it!

If you are focused on your own ongoing growth of skills and knowledge, or have a team of people that you are helping prepare for future roles or challenges, this is a word that you should add to your toolbox.  Here are two examples of conversations where it could be valuable:

  1. Preparing a team for change: What is the capacity of this team to handle this change?  What will it require of us?  What proven skills and talents do we have?  What is one area we need to increase our capacity?
  2. Your own development: What part of your job are you “at capacity” and feel like you cannot possibly have any more to give?  What part of your job are you avoiding because it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and/or undesirable – but important?  If you added 10% capacity in that area what would that look like?  How can that be accomplished?

Coaching is about increasing capacity in clients.  I get great satisfaction when I hear people say they see themselves differently and, as a result, are able to navigate situations effectively that would have tripped them up in the past.  One of my all-time favorite books on development is Mastery by George Leonard.  Inherent in a journey to mastery is a commitment to always be open and able to increasing your own capacity.

Capacity is a tried and true manufacturing word, and a great word for the world of managing talent in an economy putting so much emphasis on the knowledge and capacity of people.

How does the term capacity show up in your conversations today?

What other words are cornerstones to your talent conversations?

mini-trU Tip: The only way to know your true capacity is to exceed it because you push the boundaries.  That was true when I first started my career worrying about the capacity of equipment, and it is equally true as I enter the second decade of a career focused on the capacity of people.  A good topic for another blog posting . . . .


3 Books That Make Great Graduation Gifts

College graduation is coming up, and after last weekend working with 21 students in Michigan through our Governor’s Economic Summit I have been thinking a lot about what I experienced and ways in which all of us can invest in someone starting a career.  While high school graduations might compel us to get something like Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, college is a little different.  Here are three books that would be great gifts for a new grad to help them to success in their first job and connect you with that success:

LinchPin by Seth Godin:  A little longer, but is focused on helping people be purposeful about building their brand and reputation through their work.  It is a good balance between practical advice and thinking bigger.

Great On The Job by Jodi Glickman: This book is targeted at college students.  I have also used some of the advice Jodi gives (especially around getting feedback) with some of the mid/late career transition individuals I coach through Shifting Gears, but she targets the new grad.  Our governor is actually giving a signed copy to each student from our recent summit.

Effective Immediately by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg: I am preparing to review this book and share my thoughts through my TruTips, but in advance I also like this book.  It differs from Jodi’s book in that it provides lots of 1 page tips for individuals.  How I would make this a great gift would be for you to write a note that identified your top 5 and pledge to be a mentor as they read and use this in their first job.

There are other books new professionals should read, but hold off until they get a job.  I actually like one of the chapters in Effective Immediately where the authors give them a list of books to keep in their cubicle and to read.  The great thing about all of these books is they are focused on helping them be successful, and coupled with a pledge from you of some time to read it with them/mentor them – this actually become a great gift.

How do I know you are a high potential? My 5 Qualifiers

As I watched them present, I realized that in the 16 hours since I last saw them – they got better.  It made me smile.

Sunday I had the opportunity to join a group of coaches to help 21 students looking for jobs in Michigan prepare to address 500+ business leaders and tell their story in 3 minutes.  The workshop included them presenting their story 4-6 times and having their peers and their coach give them feedback on what they did well and what is one thing they could do to improve next time.  Not surprisingly, they got better.  But what really made me smile is that after we sent them off (paired up with another student to do one on one coaching with each other), they returned and they demonstrated a huge leap in performance from the previous day.  In my 10 plus years being around high potentials through leadership development programs, it reminded me that is what high potentials do.

Are you a high potential?  Here are five things that tell me you qualify:

  1. You learn when I am not looking: If you read some of the research by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger they call this Learning Agility.  It is measurable and backed by research.  When I am helping leaders teams think about potential and what it looks like I use the book The Leadership Machine.  If you are charged with developing leaders in your organization, this should be in your library because it is backed with research and it will help you focus on the right things in your efforts to find and develop leaders.
  2. I experience your infectious energy: High potentials might not be the smartest person in the room, but they are never accused of being disengaged or along for the ride.  They see problems as opportunities, and that rubs off on the people around them.
  3. You listen: In any relationship a key part of listening is receiving feedback.  I know people hear something because instantly it is reflected in their performance and they say thank you in such a sincere manner that you know they appreciated it and are going to strongly consider it.  Listening is also apparent from the questions that people ask.  When you ask questions that help clarify or lead the speaker to an area they need to address next or completely missed, it means you are listening.
  4. I see you teaching: I watched strangers give each other great feedback, both on the positive and the negative (ie. improvement) aspects of their performance.  It was great, and it was extremely accurate.  I also found myself learning.  They showed me how about effective networking and gave me some tips about how colleges are preparing students today.
  5. I see results: In the end, high potentials figure out the learning curve and get to a result.  Most of the time it is quicker than what is expected, and often time the answer redefines what would be considered a great outcome.  The improvement and final deliverable of the performance is the special sauce.

One thing I did not include is “Everyone likes you.”  I left that out because high potentials have to learn to manage relationships effectively with peers and subordinates, but often times that lesson is part of the learning / development program.  It is critical that leaders like and respect you, so the ability to manage up and do the work is critical from the beginning.  Ultimately, high potentials should not move up without learning the craft of building respect at all levels and demonstrating the ability to build healthy relationships and teams – but that is for another blog.

If you want to see some of these students speak, here is a link.

Do you have anything to add to my list based on your experience?

4 Keys To Successful Transitions

4 Keys To Successful Transitions

Not Cool Robert Frost

If you have not seen the Kid President video on YouTube you should.  It has been played in our house through Apple TV no less than 12 times, with the funniest being watching my 86 year old father viewing it with his grandchildren saying “Isn’t this great Grandpa!”  It might not connect with all generations, but he was gracious. 🙂

There is a part in the video where Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken, is referenced and the kid president talks about how hard that road is with all the rocks, thorns, etc. . .   He then delivers the line – “Not cool Robert Frost”.  That line resonated and has been often repeated by my teenage daughter.  In the last two weeks, almost daily I have found situations where I repeat it.

Not cool Robert Frost

I love transitions.  People.  Teams.  Companies.  There is much to be gained in a great transition, and there is lots at stake because it is not an easy road.  Even in a successful transition there will be moments of failure.  My experience tells me that there are four key things that have to be there for a successful transition (whether it is corporate or individual):

  1. Desire to make the change
  2. Community of support for individuals doing the change (including at least 2 people willing to provide one on one support)
  3. Willingness and ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn (thanks for those words Greg Hartle) as part of the process.
  4. Resilience to do the work, regardless of the conditions (this is leadership)

As I look at this list, I see number 2 and 3 as the things anyone can be working on today regardless of their situation.  In fact, if you are not doing the work of making those a part of your work life, you are guaranteeing yourself / team / organization a difficult journey.

A story.  I was talking to someone who had successfully transitioned to a new role, only to have it go away months later.  The one thing they stopped doing when they landed?  Building/maintaining their community (#2).   Networking and maintaining your community is easy to stop when we are ‘busy’.   But it is the road that will become overgrown if not used at least a little.  It is also the piece that takes time to rebuild.  We create more rocks and thorns for ourselves when we stop doing all of the work of preparing ourselves, our teams, or our organizations for the transitions that will occur.

It is okay to rest, but don’t stop doing the work of preparation.  And when you hit a rock or a thorn, just blame Robert Frost and keep moving. 🙂

Empathy – How I experienced it with a dog and 3 ways to build it with humans

I just finished a book called The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is a story told through the eyes of a dog.  Coincidentally, we just added a puppy to our family.  The book was amazing, and I will never look at Harper, or any other dog, the same way again.  In her presence I am constantly wondering what she is thinking, and trying to get her to tell me.  Read the book before you call me insane.  I now have empathy for dogs.

Harper Lee Patchin

There are lots of very clinical terms and tools for helping leaders understand what the people in their organizations are thinking.  360 feedback tools, employee surveys, personality assessments, behavioral assessments, classes, consultants, CEO breakfasts . . . . the list goes on.  I once had a new leader tell me the #1 surprise for them in becoming a leader was the loneliness because nobody told them things any more AND nobody asked them how they were doing.  It is too bad no one else understood that except me, he might have stayed longer.

Empathy – probably the number one challenge in any organization that prides itself on leaders that have relational capacity with the people that work for them.

Here is a secret – it is not a test, or a consultant, or a mini-PhD so you can guess more accurately why people do things.  It is a conversation.  One that happens with the sole intent that we need to know what each other are thinking.

There is a big topic, but let me give you three ways to help your journey of empathy:

  1. Make a habit out of asking people about themselves. What do I mean by that?  Here is a template I use with almost every group I work with.  Nothing fancy, but if I had a dollar for every time a team member was surprised by the number of children someone had or where they were born.  Well, I would be richer. 🙂
  2. You first. How do you share with your team what is keeping you up at night?  How do you tell them when you are dealing with a terminally ill parent?  I had a leader once share that ‘a pity party is the last thing I want.  I just need to man-up and get through it.”  Hmmm – at what cost?  10% of your team is paranoid that another cut is coming?  A new report thinks your disconnectedness is normal and leaves for another job?  Nobody steps up to pick up the balls you dropped (weekly staff meetings maybe?) because they are still in the coffee room stage of wondering What is up with Bill?  One leader once shared that monthly they took 2-3 minutes at the staff meeting to outline the top 2-3 problems they were trying to solve.  In the end, the team started picking a few up and solving them for the leader.
  3. Pick a relationship that really matters – and go have some conversations. For a leader that has a spouse or significant other, I recommend spending the next 2 months reading a book that focuses on understanding each other.  The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman or For Men Only / For Women Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.  Have a teenager?  What about go to a speaker on teenagers or commit to monthly breakfasts with them for the next 6 months.  I start with significant relationships because they matter the most and there is usually a strong reason to spend time on it.  Your sole job is to listen to understand – not tell to convince.

For me, it started with a dog book my wife told me I needed to read.  It is my daily reminder that I need to try a little harder, because there are always lots of reasons not to worry about it.


Knowing our roles:  One Thing A Leader Does

Knowing our roles: One Thing A Leader Does

We finally got some winter where I live.  Yesterday we enjoyed the chance to go cross country skiing and sledding.

When we returned home and I was settling in the question came – Dad, would you come outside and help us build one of those big snow forts? My inside voice initially said No.  After all, my agenda was about rest and focusing on my to do list.  Then I realized how important it was for them.  So my verbal answer was Yes, and I spent the next hour helping them create a pretty cool fort.  The effort was rewarded later when my daughter’s friend was being picked up and the girls were bragging about the fort they built.  Their pride was my reward.

You see, there are certain roles we take on that, as part of the role, we commit to doing things that are important to others.  When we do that, the big message is You matter, so you get my time.  Relationships are built when we commit some of our time to the priorities of others.

Being a leader is one of those roles.  Inherent to your role as a leader is spending time worrying about/supporting others. Is it a sacrifice?  Sometimes.

One of the great books I have found that paints a picture of this time commitment is The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard.

Remember your roles today – and make some of the commitments that come with them.

Forget your brand. What is your art?


Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient.  the medium doesn’t matter. ~ Seth Godin (Linchpin, p.83)

It is popular now to talk about our reputation in terms of our Brand.  Just this week I received an email touting a class to define and grow your brand.  Coincidentally this week has also been a big week for another brand that is working hard to salvage its reputation.  Have you read anything about Livestrong?

Inherent to every coaching or development conversation I have is focusing on the foundational understanding of who you are, what you bring, and the experience you are creating for others.  I don’t like using the word brand because it is a word that too easily moves into the area of spin and perception.  I follow Seth Godin’s quote (fyi – he is also a world class marketer, among other things) to use the word Art.  Inherently, Art is personal and carries with it a passion for creation and sharing.  In the age of flat organizations, fuzzy job descriptions, and leaders too busy to provide daily care and leadership to their people – the world needs more artists.  An artist sees their gifts and finds ways to practice it because they love it.  An artist finds community naturally because they understand other artists and express sincere appreciation for what they do.

The other quote that Godin shares on the same page is from Roy Simmons ~ Most artists can’t draw.

Quit worrying about your brand.  Worry about your art and your medium.

(If you want to explore this further is to read Linchpin by Seth Godin.  I also use a model called trUYou to help clients frame this conversation.)

For a full list of books/resources I recommend here is my library.

Leadership Journey – Strengths to overused Strengths

They were a year into their first leadership role and the feedback was You do not careHow could that be – because I do! was the defense.  The proof to the contrary was two valuable people leaving the organization and the final expert doing everything they could to help the leader fail.

A universal truth of most people that write about competencies or personality profiles is the simple fact that if we have a strength (example:  getting work done) and if that strength is overused, it becomes a weakness (example:  so task focused that people do not care).  This is and should be one of the number one focuses of developing leaders, and if you look at a leadership program that is laced with classroom time and lite on self awareness/feedback – run.

If you need a second opinion and are not afraid of a 200+ page business book, read Flip Side by Flip Flippen. The Flip Side: Break Free of the Behaviors That Hold You Back

If you are a coach, and you want this conversation in the voice of a coach – read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

If I had you at hello with this conversation and you want to jump in and try to avoid the mistake again, here is a simple way to start that conversation and get to an action plan:

  1. What are the reasons you got this leadership role? (list as many as you would like, pick the top 3)  *as their leader, feel free to correct their list after they have created it.
  2. How are these reasons (actually they are strengths) going to help you in this leadership role?
  3. How are these same reasons going to get in the way of your success?  What actions do you need to take to be successful and how can I best support you in this transition? (fyi . . if they don’t ask for help, so at a minimum meet with them weekly for the first 3 months)

The other solution is to speed past this conversation, let the situation play itself out, and try and fix it later.

fyi – Michael Watkins found that 40% of outside leaders hired into an organization fail in the first 18 months.  Brad Smart contends that a bad leadership hire takes 18 months to fire and the cost is 14.6x their base compensation.

Hmmm . . . .