Leaders don’t, and can’t, know everything—but the pressure to act like you do can be great—especially in this day and age of direct social connection. The way you show up in those moments where you just don’t have the answers can impact the degree of influence you have within your team, organization, community and society. The expectations and responsibilities for a leader of people are different than they are for a leader of an organization. I’ve experienced both throughout my career and I have a few tips to share on leading well through topics you don’t know much about.
Leading a Team When You Don’t Have Answers
Tip #1: Open the conversation without first sharing your opinion
If there is an issue impacting your people, you must step into that space. You must humbly approach your one-on-one conversations with a desire to learn. If a teammate has expressed something indicative of a deeper issue, open the conversation by referencing that comment, ready to listen and learn—without telling your story or sharing your opinions or defending your perspective. As Dr. Stephen R. Covey encourages, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Tip #2: Show empathy
You are a leader; you have a broader responsibility than addressing your own emotions. Your teammates need empathy, even if you don’t get it—and even if you have had different experiences. When you have a contrasting perspective, acknowledge your teammate’s point of view, appreciate the difference, their openness and authenticity, but then align to go forward together. By building a sense of inclusion within your team, you will provide emotional support for your teammates. In turn, a pathway is created for the individuals on your team to talk to you, their leader. Honor that trust by listening and seeking to understand.
Leading an Organization When You Don’t Have Answers
Tip #1: Be transparent with your strategy team (and board)
If you are the CEO, talk to your strategy team. Lead them in authentic, honest conversation where all perspectives are welcome. And be honest, let them know if you don’t know, but that you want to understand, you want to learn. This sort of transparency can be scary for leaders, but actually creates an atmosphere that allows vulnerability—which fosters empathy. Take time to listen to your leaders and learn what they believe. Discuss the issue from all necessary angles—business, societal, cultural. Then after talking with your strategy team, go to your Board. Run the same play with them—be honest, listen and learn.
Tip #2: Seek diverse perspectives before speaking reactively
As a leader of an organization, you can jeopardize your credibility if you don’t really understand an issue. There can be major unintended consequences of reacting without listening. And if you are the founder, there is an even greater risk—you don’t necessarily have accountability to others, so it’s a lot easier to discuss your own personal opinion. Make sure you are seeking diverse perspectives from people in all areas of the business. This honesty and education can provide alignment within the company going forward.
From my own experience, I remember unintentionally eliciting a strong emotional reaction from the people I led when I didn’t take the time to understand. Often, when I led a town hall meeting, staff would share their frustrations surrounding an operational issue. I would hear their dissatisfaction and spring into action to fix it. This would destroy their direct manager’s credibility. I would later learn that the manager was working very hard behind the scenes to come up with the best recommendation before bringing it to my attention. My quick response to the emotion of the staff would hurt my relationship with their manager.
To avoid reacting emotionally without all the information, pause and take a moment to listen. Ask questions for clarity and test your understanding by saying, “I want to be sure I understand, what you are saying is…” Whether it be an operational issue within the business or a cultural issue impacting the people you lead, choose to have the mindset of a learner—it makes all the difference.
With the amount of information, distractions, and change surrounding us today, staying productive and focused is harder than it’s ever been. But for the people and organizations that have been able to figure it out, it has quickly become a competitive advantage.
For the rest of us, it seems like a never-ending cycle of success and setbacks. There are days when I can conquer my to-do list with purpose and passion and days when I find myself in a constant state of reaction and overwhelm.
So, like many people, I’m always on the lookout for new tips, tricks, and hacks to help me be more productive. And while I’ve found some success in this area (turning off all my notifications has been huge for me), many of us still struggle to find long-term consistency because we believe some common myths about productivity—and they hold us back.
At Building Champions, we say beliefs always come before behaviors. So, rather than sharing a quick tip, let’s look at five false beliefs around productivity we’ve seen people struggle with (myself included).
Myth No. 1: It’s About Time Management
When many leaders begin to work with us, they often mention time management as one of their biggest struggles, and it is usually accompanied by a sense of overwhelm and always being behind. This belief is often rooted in the idea that the things they are doing are good—there just isn’t enough time to get all of them done.
When thinking about time management, we often want to focus on efficiency: How do I get better at what I’m doing? If you want to improve your productivity, we need to shift our focus to effectiveness: Am I even doing the right things?
We all have the same number of minutes in a year (525,600 to be exact). Rather than focusing on managing our time, we need to focus on managing our priorities, making sure we make room for our most important activities.
After all, productivity isn’t about getting more things done—it’s about consistently getting the right things done.
Myth No. 2: Being Busy is a Good Thing
If you ask a co-worker or friend how they are doing, you’ll often get a response that involves some level of busyness. In fact, many people today seem to wear the word busy as a badge of honor. This belief is often rooted in a sense of value. If I’m doing lots of things, constantly in motion, then my work must matter. And often the opposite holds true, If I don’t look busy, then people may begin to think I’m not working hard.
But too often we mistake motion (being busy) for action (behaviors that drive outcomes). Author James Clear refers to this as “the mistake smart people make.” Motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress—but often it’s busyness that keeps us from tackling the scary hard actions we need to take to achieve anything great. Legendary coach John Wooden once said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Yet when we buy this lie, we often do.
Myth No. 3: Multitasking Makes Me More Effective
This myth is so pervasive that I fear many of us have come to believe it is true. It’s often rooted in a feeling that with so much going on the only way to get it all done is to do a couple of things at once. Plus, everyone else is doing it (and most proud of it) so it can’t be that bad, right?
But the truth is that researchers believe that only about two percent of humans are actually capable of multitasking. The rest of us are experiencing contextual switching—picking up and putting down different tasks at lightning speed so it almost feels seamless. But it’s not seamless—in fact, it requires a lot of resources.
This myth is often rooted in a place of good intention—wanting to be a good teammate and serve others well. In a 24/7, digital, uber-connected world, sometimes we have the expectation that constant accessibility is a requirement. For some of us working more remotely, this burden can be exasperated and forces us to blend the boundaries between work and life in unhealthy ways.
But a side effect of always being accessible is that we often spend more time reacting to what’s going on around us, often serving at the whim of every interruption and email that comes our way. And these constant distractions come with a real cost.
According to a study by Microsoft, on average employees lose 25 minutes every time they immediately respond to an email notification—and never return to their original task more than 25 percent of the time.
Always reacting to someone else’s needs and priorities can also foster a pattern of passiveness—always waiting for the next interruption rather than being intentional with how you prioritize and invest your time.
Myth No. 5: Working More is the Answer
I have a long history of struggling with this one. For me, it is rooted in a feeling that I have too much to do in the time I have, so I’ll just find more time. We covered the first problem above—there is only so much time available. This leads us to the second and bigger problem—we often “find” time by investing more hours in our jobs at the expense of the other areas of our life.
This causes two main side effects. The first is in our personal well-being. The extra investment in our work usually comes with costs: skipping a workout, missing a family meal, allowing relationships to suffer. Self-leadership must always be a priority—we must be at our best in order to give our best to those around us, including our work.
The second side effect often goes unnoticed but carries an equally high cost—our creativity and productivity. We don’t often think of intellectual work as being as demanding as physical labor, but it requires a huge amount of resources and energy to maintain focus and produce quality ideas and insights. We’ve all experienced the effect of this: we can only work so long without a break before the quality of our work begins to suffer.
In a quest to get more done, the extra investment of time can actually harm our productivity and well-being. The old adage is true here: the key is to work smarter not harder.
I’ll share it again: beliefs always come before behaviors. I know those behaviors matter—ultimately, they will decide whether you succeed or fail, find new levels of productivity or fall further behind.
But if you don’t align your beliefs first, then consistently executing on those behaviors will be nearly impossible. So, before you hop in and try to adopt some new techniques, take some time to reflect on the myths above and figure out which ones are holding you back. If you change your beliefs first, then adopting long-term effective behaviors will be easier—and necessary if you want to see lasting change and results.
Dan Foster, Vice President and Principal Coach at Building Champions, shares three mistakes he made on his journey to becoming a coaching leader.
Dan Foster, Vice President and Principal Coach at Building Champions, shares his journey from being a manager to becoming a coaching leader.
You know from the moment I became a manager, I knew I wanted to do things different from how I had been managed in the past. Not that I had terrible managers in my career. In fact, I’m still friends with a number of people who managed me early on.
But 15 years ago when I became a manager of people for the first time, there was something within me that said do it different. And I didn’t really understand what different looked like but I had worked with enough people who quit their job not because they didn’t like the company they worked, but rather because their manager didn’t know them and inspire them and develop them.
And I came to understand a key principle of leadership, which is people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.
And as I stepped into my first role as a manager, I knew I didn’t want to be a manager that people fled from. I wanted to be a manager that people were drawn to.
I wanted people to be drawn to my leadership style because they truly did feel known and inspired and they were becoming better versions of themselves working with me. Tall order, right? So I’m going to be honest with you, I had no idea how I was going to do it. So I just started diving into leadership development books and blogs and articles – you name it.
I was in search of how to be a different type of manager. And as I was on this journey, I stumbled across an executive
coaching company that helps leaders become what they call coaching leaders, and this really intrigued me and so I checked them out. I talked to their CEO, I talked to a few of their coaches and sure enough within a month I was being coached by them.
My coach and I worked on a lot of things to get me in the right place to where I could become a coaching leader.
Together we laid out a plan to help me transform from manager to coaching leader and our plan focused on three things, it focused on my purpose of becoming a coaching leader, a vision for where I saw my people, department and organization going as a result of me becoming a coaching leader, in creating a coaching culture for my team and third we focused on my strategy for engaging my direct reports in one-on-one coaching sessions.
So I just got to work and I doubled down on this whole idea of transforming myself from a manager to a coaching leader. I learned how to actively listen, ask powerful questions, build trust with empathy, and to help people see what was possible for their lives and for their career. And my coach helped me put in place the systems and the tools to make it all possible.
It was an amazing journey that delivered fun results, hitting record-breaking revenue, taking market share, opening new markets, achieving operational excellence awards. I had the opportunity to lead people who became future leaders themselves, that have achieved bigger and better things for their organization, for their careers, families and their community.
Now, I share my journey of becoming a coaching leader with you because I think a number of you out there see the problem with the same old way of doing people management and you want something different too. You want to be a better leader. You want to help people be more engaged at work and you want to make a difference in the world through your leadership, you know intuitively that better humans make better leaders.
So I invite you to start your own coaching journey. Your journey of becoming a coaching leader. It takes a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding to truly know your people, inspire them to step into their leadership calling. And to celebrate high levels of success together.
Now I want to share a ton of resources to help you along your journey. So just go to the link below and you’ll be able to download resources to help you be on your way.
And if you can, I want you to try and find a guide to help you along the way, it made all the difference for me, and I’m forever grateful to my coach and my friend, Barry Engelman for how he helped me become a coaching leader.
When it comes to effective management and great coaching leadership, one-on-one meetings (1x1s) with your people are a necessity. Without regular, scheduled time with your people, it is nearly impossible to lead and engage them well.
Regular 1x1s allow you to stay connected to your team, hear what’s happening and important to them (both at work and in their life) and provide the support, encouragement and accountability that’s required of you as a leader.
So if you are a leader that isn’t currently having regular 1x1s with your people, that’s the first step – and honestly a non-negotiable. So as soon as your done reading this, make sure to get those scheduled ASAP.
When it comes to what employees are looking for from their employers, the standard is higher than ever before. For my parent’s generation, most were content if they had solid wages, safe working conditions and a boss who didn’t yell at them too much.
Command and control were the standard leadership style, and career advancement, connection to a meaningful purpose and development opportunities weren’t on most people’s minds. But today they are front and center as employees wield more power, control and choice than ever before.
Now, employees change jobs and even careers at an unprecedented pace as they look for more meaning, connection and purpose. Before it was about a paycheck and the promise of a promotion; today it’s about finding a place where they belong, contribute meaningful work and have opportunities to grow and develop.
It was about three weeks ago when I realized the Covid-19 crisis was going to be different than anything I had experienced in my life. The predictions saying it would be over quickly turned out to be wrong and the phrase “new normal” became the way we all described this new way of life and work.
If setting hard and fast goals for your life is a bit overwhelming, I just want to say, “I get it.” Life can throw major curveballs and your trajectory can change dramatically—sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes it’s heartbreaking—and sometimes it’s both.
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When you look at your day, are you filled with a sense of dread over all the things you have to do? In this quick Virtual Coaching Tip, Executive Coach Todd Mosetter shares one simple phrase you can start using immediately to improve your mindset and get everything on your list done.
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