Author and coach Bill Hawkins

I’m constantly telling leaders that probably the most important element of coaching is providing feedback. People need to know what they’re doing well, and they need to know what areas are in need of improvement. This may seem obvious, but research shows that many managers find it awkward and uncomfortable―and even embarrassing―to tell someone their performance needs improvement. So we put it off, hoping the situation will improve on its own. Many times it doesn’t; in fact, it may get worse.

In my coaching practice I’m frequently asked, “Is there a better way to do this?” The answer is yes! Of all the coaching and feedback models available, I do have a favorite.

Here’s why:

  • It respects the dignity of the person receiving the feedback.
  • It’s structured in a positive way to increase that person’s ability to really hear and accept the message.
  • There is a future―what you’re going to do differently―that should produce an immediate positive adjustment in performance.

Step 1: Describe the Problem Concisely

For some, this may seem impossible. “But there’s history and context, so I need to build my case.” Don’t. No long-winded build-up, no history, no blame. Keep it in behavior terms and avoid a discussion about attitude. You don’t know “why” the behavior occurred; just describe what was done.

Example:

“In our last meeting with several members of senior management, you interrupted the discussion three times to talk about issues you’re experiencing with the reorganization.

Step 2: Describe the effect of the person’s behavior on others: you, the department, the team, the customer―and themselves.         

Example:

“In meetings like this, bringing up problem after problem without suggestions, alternatives, or success stories brings the whole team down. And senior management may get the impression you aren’t doing your best to make the changes a success, which can negatively impact your opportunity for promotion. I need you to help me set a more positive tone.

Then, if possible, say something to minimize potential embarrassment (yours and theirs): “This isn’t like you.”

Step 3: Ask, “What Happened?”

Now give them an opportunity to “explain.” You must listen―really listen―to their explanation. Don’t interrupt. Don’t argue. Even if they get some facts wrong (and they might), and even if you disagree (you probably will), don’t argue. Instead, try to see it from their perspective.

Step 4: Get Their “Buy-In”

Helping this person take a share of responsibility for the situation is key. Notice I did not say their fair share, because who determines what is fair, anyway?

You want different behavior next time, so your goal is to get the other party to accept a share of the responsibility and move forward.

Example:

“You are right, it was a new situation for you, the instructions weren’t clear, and there were other people who were also negative. I understand that. Let me ask you, what could you have done differently?”

Step 5: Develop a Plan

Ask, “Faced with the same situation, what would you do differently next time?”

Once the person is aware of the situation, there’s a good chance that he/she will be able to come up with alternatives for the future. If not, be prepared to offer help, but my experience is that they will have ideas.

Resist the temptation to perfect their plan. If they are anywhere close, go with it.

Effectiveness is an equation:

Results = (quality of the idea) multiplied by (the motivation to implement that idea)

The idea may be good, but whose good idea is it? If it’s not their idea, the motivation to actually implement the idea decreases significantly.

Although they may nod and accept your great plan, it is still your plan. (And if it doesn’t work, your fingerprints are all over it.) You’re much better off with an acceptable plan that is theirs to own.

Step 6: Get a Commitment

Most people you work with take their commitments very seriously. So get one. Say, for example:

Example:

“The next time this situation comes up, do I have your commitment that you will do this?”

Step 7: Show Confidence

Finally, finish the conversation by stating your confidence in the person. For example:

“I have every confidence that you will.”

This quick 7-step process puts some structure to a difficult and uncomfortable task for many leaders. You won’t use it every day. When you need to approach a sensitive subject and you anticipate a difficult conversation, use this. It works.

About Bill Hawkins

Bill Hawkins leverages the latest research on leadership effectiveness to design and deliver high-impact practical leadership education workshops. He has worked with over 20 Fortune 500 companies in 17 countries, co-authored 5 books on leadership, and is listed in the Who’s Who of International Business. 

Bill will be presenting 4 more programs for IMS in 2019: Chicago in September, and Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and Toronto in December.  

Author and Educator Michael Brenner

If you saw the 2014 movie “Whiplash,” you’ll surely remember Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), the tyrannical jazz band leader fond of profanity and humiliating his young musicians.  The film would have you believe this approach to teaching yields great performance, but that hasn’t been my experience.  As a professional musician for almost 35 years, I can report with confidence that the best music teachers I’ve had took the opposite tack.  They created harmony not by screaming at and berating their students but by inspiring them to get better.  They set a clear example of how to achieve success, provided clear and honest feedback, and continually challenged them to improve week by week, month by month.

The same holds true in organizations.  You’ve probably invested a significant amount of time and money finding the right employees, but to enable them to achieve peak performance, don’t follow the Fletcher model.  Create team harmony the same way my best music teachers did.  Start with these 5 simple but powerful ideas:

COMMUNICATE CLEARLY

Many of my clients complain about having to sift through mountains of messages when only a few are really important—and they have every right to be frustrated.  So be purposeful and methodical in the way you communicate: think brevity, clarity, and specificity in everything you say and write.  Vague or contradictory messages cause confusion and consume valuable time to interpret.  Be crystal-clear in both your written and spoken communication and you’ll save yourself and your colleagues a lot of aggravation.

SHARE GENEROUSLY

Imagine if my music teachers had withheld their knowledge from me.  My lessons would have been short and pointless!  Be generous in how you share your experiences, wisdom, and suggestions with your team, not in a patronizing, “look-how-great-I-am” way but in a manner intended to help them excel.  The great producer and musician Quincy Jones once said, “Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, young and old, shared just a little of what he [or she] is good at doing.”  He’s right.

FOSTER ACCOUNTABILITY

Make accountability a key value of your team not through fear but through setting high expectations.  When I didn’t practice properly for an upcoming lesson, my music teachers didn’t lose their temper.  They expressed disappointment and told me I could do better.  That was a much more powerful way to get me to practice than yelling like Fletcher.  Similarly, accountable cultures develop when leaders exhibit confidence in their people and not through fear and intimidation.

EMPOWER OTHERS

Empower employees to take initiative and solve problems on their own.  Most employees, especially Millennials, want the freedom to be creative, take calculated risks, and try new things.  You need to be prepared to encourage this behavior.  This doesn’t mean allowing conduct that is inconsistent with organizational values and goals but rather encouraging autonomy, demonstrating confidence in their abilities, and providing coaching when necessary.

PROVIDE RECOGNITION

Few things feel as good as receiving recognition for a job well done, yet many employees hardly ever hear it.  A thoughtful “Great job!” or “Super presentation!” can go a long way toward elevating engagement and morale.  Had my teachers shared only criticism with me without recognizing my efforts, I likely would have stopped playing music altogether.  When they know their efforts are appreciated, your employees will want to continue down the path of success.

Achieving success as a musician is rooted in finding players who not only want to make the entire group sound good but each individual player as well.  It’s the same with teams.  That’s why leaders need to make sure their people are inspired and well-prepared every day to meet the demands they face.  It’s not easy, and leadership isn’t for everybody.  But for those who accept the role, incorporating the above suggestions as part of your repertoire is the best way I know to get your team playing beautiful music together!

ABOUT MICHAEL BRENNER

Dr. Michael Brenner is the founder and president of Right Chord Leadership, a leadership development and team building company near Philadelphia.  He has worked with SAP, QVC, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boeing, United Way, and many other notable organizations during his 20-year career.  Michael has spoken at numerous conferences and conventions around the world (often bringing his saxophone with him) in his quest to help leaders and teams find their groove, get in sync, and work in harmony.  He is currently writing a book on leadership that features some of his favorite musicians.

Author Hendrie Weisinger

It’s obvious why we want to make good decisions. Yet, it is also obvious that too many people make too many wrong decisions, from taking the wrong job, marrying the wrong person, to selecting the wrong college. How does this happen?

Recent books has made “cognitive biases” the frequent culprit but I have found a major cause for poor decisions is the tendency to listen to the advice of others instead of using the natural intuitive decision makers that Mother Nature has provided to all of us. Using your natural decisions makers is the act of applying intuitive decision-making. Here’s how:

1. WATCH YOUR FACIAL EXPRESSIONS 

Use your facial expressions when making an important decision. Emotions are directly linked to facial expressions. Before an important decision, stand in front of a mirror and think of the decision you are to make. Does your face show fear, anger, happiness, or anxiety? If your face does not look happy or satisfied when you think about the decision you are to make, you better think twice, because you will be ignoring your instincts.

I had a client, a young lady do this who was about to become engaged. When she spoke about her engagement, she said it was right for her, but when she saw how she looked in a mirror, when she was discussing her relationship, she opted out and soon came to realize that she would of been making a huge mistake. Her facial expressions helped her realized that she was fooling herself. Later on, she told me that deep down, she felt something was wrong, but tried to convince herself otherwise because she didn’t want to hurt her boyfriend. The mirror on the wall helped her become the fairest of them all.

2. IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY BUT HOW YOU SAY IT.

Listen with your 3rd ear…the practice of “listening to your voice,” is based on the fact that sound carries emotion, which is why some sounds of music make you enthusiastic, others scared, others depressed.

When a patient would tell me they were feeling great or happy about something, I would often notice that their voice communicated the opposite. You say you are happy but you don’t sound happy, or enthused.

Talk about a decision into a tape recorder or out loud and ask yourself, “how do I sound” often brings forth the incongruence between what a person says and what is really going on. Sounds of silence or when the person cannot talk about their decision enthusiastically often indicates not listening to one’s instincts/intuitions.

3. ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

motions are complex systems with three components: thoughts, physical arousal, behavior. Many times, with our thoughts, we “lie to ourselves,” but our behavior speaks the truth. You might tell yourself you have found the perfect mate, that the uncomfortable feeling is just your normal nervousness, but your behavior will speak the truth. One woman told me she found the perfect mate, but when I pointed out that her behavioral avoidance of sex didn’t match her thoughts, she finally confessed that she felt she knew she was kidding herself. Observe your behavior and if it doesn’t match what you say or feel, think about why and you will get closer to your intuitiveness for helping you decide what action to take.

4. VISUALIZE & FEEL THE OUTCOME OF YOUR DECISION-MAKING

Many times, when we are anxious (uncertain) about a decision we have to make, we can help ourselves by visualizing and feeling the outcome if we were to decide one way or another. Ask yourself, “How would I feel in year if I go down this path? Answers of Joy, engagement, interest, are telling you it is a path to take and that you are in turn with your nature. If the answers are different, you are going against your instincts–the “bad feelings” are saying, “This isn’t for you. Don’t do it.” 

Decision- making is a task for life. Now you can use Mother Nature’s intuitive decision makers to help you make your best choices.

ABOUT DR. HENDRIE WEISINGER

Dr. Hendrie Weisinger is a celebrated, influential, world renowned psychologist. A New York Times bestselling author, he is a leading authority in the application of Emotional Intelligence, an expert in Anger management, and the originator of the highly regarded techniques of Criticism Training, and the originator of the emerging new field, pressure management. Dr. Weisinger is the author of many successful books, including: Nobody’s Perfect, Anger Workout, Anger at Work, Emotional Intelligence at Work, The Power of Positive Criticism and the New York Times best-selling book Performing Under Pressure. Dr. Weisinger’s latest book, The Genius of Instinct introduces the principles of evolutionary psychology to everyday life.

Author and Consultant Michael Lee Stallard

Is there a “best” team and organizational culture? Countless books, podcasts, webinars and workshops offer do’s and don’ts on leading people and how to win at work. The sheer volume of opinions and approaches available reinforces that over the last hundred years of scientific inquiry there has not been a consensus on the definitions of, or a general theoretical model for, leadership or organizational culture.

In recent years, however, two trends have emerged. The first is that scholars are finding organizations are comprised of a complex web of intricate relationships best captured by theories of complexity. The second trend is that effective leaders foster positive relationships and care about people. “Connection” is cited as an emerging general theory of leadership and organizational culture that integrates these trends, according to The Connection Value Chain: Impact of Connection Culture and Employee Motivation on Perceived Team Performance, a recently published doctoral dissertation by Jon Rugg, PhD.

Applying a “one size fits all” culture isn’t realistic in today’s increasingly diverse and global working world. That said, I believe organizations that have sustainable high performance will have a common foundation to their culture – elements that enable them to be their best.

Connection Is the X-factor

Team and organizational cultures can be viewed as either emotionally connecting people or emotionally isolating them. Why do leaders need to care whether or not an employee feels connected? Research has found that social connection is a primal human need that appears to improve the cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems’ performance. Viewed from the opposite side, research has shown that lacking sufficient connection is associated with poorer cognitive performance, impaired executive control and self-regulation, lower levels of self-rated physical health, substance abuse, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation. Given these findings, it should be no surprise that greater loneliness in the workplace has been found to result in poorer task, team role and relational performance. Employees who feel regularly left out, lonely or out of the loop are not going to be able to do their best work and may not wish to.

In the research my colleagues and I conducted we found that isolation typically results from excessive control behaviors, or by excessive busyness and indifference to the human need for connection. Cultures that connect people (which we have termed “connection cultures”) are best for individual well-being and for helping organizations thrive. Specifically, cultures that intentionally connect people to their work, their colleagues and the organization as a whole convey several performance advantages upon organizations including higher employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, better decisions, higher rate of innovation and greater agility to cope with faster changes taking place today. These benefits combine to provide a significant performance and competitive advantage.

Today’s Connection Deficit

Media have reported on the current loneliness epidemic, including in the workplace. And what about the many people don’t think of themselves as lonely and yet the demands of work and task-oriented activities such as time in front of screens have crowded out time for meaningful relationships? That was my experience, earlier in my career. Today’s connection deficit is a risk to individuals and organizations, especially those with cultures of control or indifference. Leaders would be wise not to ignore it. 

Over the coming decade the workforce may become even more disconnected. Consider that research on adolescents, the next wave of incoming employees, has found they spend more time interacting with electronic devices and less time interacting with each other. Furthermore, artificial intelligence may diminish people’s ability to connect as an unintended consequence of spending more time interacting with machines.

What Leaders Can Do

To boost connection, leaders first need to develop a connection mindset throughout their organization. This means that people at all levels recognize and appreciate that human connection is a necessity and a lack of connection is unhealthy and can sabotage success. Second, people need to learn the attitudes, uses of language, and behaviors that are connecting. Some of these are universal and others will be shaped by local customs and the organization’s vision, mission and values. Training, mentoring and coaching are valuable in moving from an aspirational to an actual culture of connection.

Our memorable formula to help leaders create a connection culture is Vision + Value + Voice. Simply stated, leaders connect people when they communicate a Vision that inspires and unites people, Value people as human beings and not just means to an end, and give people a Voice to express their opinions and ideas.

Alan Mulally at Ford

A leader who created a connection culture is Alan Mulally. When he arrived at Ford Motor Company in 2006 to be CEO, sales, market share and profits were declining as its culture of infighting drove Ford to the verge of bankruptcy. Here are a few of the ways that he put the power of connection to work as he led the turnaround.

He reminded employees of the inspiring Vision put forth by founder Henry Ford of “opening the highways for all mankind.” Mulally described Ford’s contribution to society as giving people “freedom of mobility [to] access opportunities for growth.”

Mulally boosted Value in the Ford culture when he said leaders need to care about and value people in order to connect with them. He often used the phrases “One Ford” and “working together always works.” In meetings, he prohibited people from using humor at the expense of others.

Mulally increased the element of Voice by seeking people’s ideas and opinions, considering them and acting on the best ideas. A primary vehicle for this was the weekly Business Plan Review (BPR) meeting that was attended in person or by teleconference by the global leadership team as well as all business and functional leaders. 

When Mulally announced his retirement in May 2014, he had led Ford to 19 consecutive profitable quarters and rising market share in North America. Connection was not only good for the individual employees of Ford, it was good for the bottom line. Senior leaders who want their organizations to reach their potential are intentional about developing and sustaining cultures of connection that promote superior organizational outcomes. The net benefit amounts to better employee and organizational performance.

About Michael Lee Stallard

Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of E Pluribus Partners and Connection Culture Group, is a thought leader and speaker on how effective leaders boost human connection in team and organizational cultures to improve the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He is the author of “Connection Culture” and “Fired Up or Burned Out.”

Author Michael Roberto

Imagine that your organization faces a complex problem, and your team seems to be stuck. People appear to be fixated on a narrow range of potential solutions, none of which seem particularly innovative. How can you encourage divergent thinking and help your team generate more creative options? Let’s examine three techniques for broadening perspective and uncovering novel solutions.

Find Analogous Experiences

First, encourage your team to search far and wide for analogous situations and experiences that might offer useful insights. Too often, we search narrowly for solutions, looking at our past experiences or at our competitors’ best practices. When we benchmark our rivals, we often find ourselves imitating them, rather than innovating. Rampant benchmarking can lead to herd behavior and strategy convergence in many industries. Instead, encourage your team to think about how people in other industries or fields must approach this particular problem. Ask yourself: Who else has had this type of problem and how have they addressed it? Research shows that we tend to generate more novel solutions when we mine analogous contexts for inspiration. For instance, a pediatric hospital in the United Kingdom wanted to enhance patient safety. They knew that errors often occurred during “handoffs” – i.e., when patients were transferred from one clinical team or unit to another. The doctors asked themselves: Who is world class at executing handoffs? That question led to them to study Formula One Ferrari racing teams. Errors decreased dramatically thanks to ideas sparked by examining this analogous context. Similarly, firms from a range of industries have developed novel solutions to customer service problems by studying firms such as Ritz Carlton Hotels, a firm known for delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Become Unfocused

Second, ask your team to step back and “un-focus” for a moment. We all know that multitasking proves highly counterproductive in many cases. However, complete focus has its limitations too. We can get trapped into a particular way of thinking and too mired in the details. Sometimes, we simply need to step back and gain some distance from a problem to achieve a breakthrough. How can we encourage our team to detach from their work in a constructive manner? Achieving distance means more than simply taking a break or going for a walk. Creative ideas often emerge when we embrace a bit of “time travel” as a means of gaining fresh perspective. We look forward and reason back. For instance, Amazon asks software developers to imagine what the press release and frequently asked questions document will look like before they start a project. After leaping ahead in time, they work backwards to re-imagine their proposed solution. In the military, teams conduct pre-mortems as a means of sparking new ideas. In this technique, we imagine that our concept has been implemented and has failed at some point in the future, and we ask ourselves how we are likely to explain the failure at the postmortem. Envisioning this scenario can help us see our proposed solution in a whole new light. Achieving some distance in this manner helps us get “unstuck” at times and enhances divergent thinking.

Play Devil’s Advocate

Finally, directing one or two team members to play the devil’s advocate can spark creative solutions, provided that these individuals approach the role in the right manner. Devil’s advocates can quash creativity if they simply act as naysayers, seeking out all the reasons why an idea won’t work. If they lecture the team repeatedly, they can quickly become a broken record. Others will stop listening to them. Moreover, they can discourage people from proposing novel solutions for fear of facing withering criticism. The best devil’s advocates help the group reframe the problem when people are thinking too narrowly about a particular category of solutions. They can enhance divergent thinking if they ask thoughtful questions, rather than pretending that they have all the answers. Constructive devil’s advocates enhance creativity if they help a team generate new options rather than simply criticizing existing proposals. Simply, the right kind of tension, applied with care, tends to unleash the creative juices. The most successful leaders do not always generate novel solutions to perplexing problems themselves. They often enable others to develop creative ideas. They marshal the collective intellect of their teams. To accomplish that, leaders need to apply the right techniques to help their people get unstuck, broaden their perspective, and look at problems in a whole new light.

About Prof. Michael Roberto

Michael Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. He joined the tenured faculty at Bryant after serving for six years on the faculty at Harvard Business School. His research focuses on how leaders and teams solve problems and make decisions. The Case Centre ranked him #25 on their list of the 40 best-selling case study authors in the world. He is the author of three books including Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen, Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus and his latest book, Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions by Shifting Creative Mindsets.

Author Jan Ferri-Reed

Our fast-paced world is presenting leaders with increased demands. Recruiting the best and brightest employees to help your organization respond to the challenges is still crucial, but you can’t wait for new employees to figure things out on their own.

In today’s job market, the most heavily recruited new hires are Millennials and Gen Z. Many Millennial job candidates were stymied by the great recession of 2008, and as the economy has recovered, these candidates are now ready to embark on the “dream” careers into which they have invested so much time and student loan debt. Gen Z comes to the workplace with similar expectations as their generational predecessors. So orienting Gen Y and Z within the company takes even more non-traditional approaches and creative strategies. 

This 80-million strong Millennial generation and 61-million Gen Z generation have a few things in common that need to be leveraged in our onboarding programs – technological savvy, a “work to live” high efficiency mentality, hunger for feedback, collaborative approaches, a high level of self-confidence and philanthropic outlook, to name a few.

It may have been passable to gather new employees into a meeting room and briefly relay onboarding information. Today, however, organizations thrive when they implement robust onboarding programs that quickly bring new employees up to speed as follows.

Plan it together 

It may seem counter-intuitive to established employees, but one of the most effective ways to fully engage younger employees is to involve them in planning their own onboarding. Give them options for acquiring information, let them plan the order and sequence of their onboarding program, assign them to interview key existing employees or ask them to prepare a report on a specific topic related to their onboarding experience. 

Make it visual, playful and
data-intensive with infographics

The younger generation prefers to absorb information – and a lot of it – from technology and word pictures and graphics.

Keep it brief 

Millennials and Gen Z prefer sending and receiving information through short text, sound bites and capsule summaries like Snapchat. Keep presentations focused in small bites with flash and short videos in order to retain attention. 

Automate it 

Whether the goal is to introduce new employees to organizational structure and functions or to impart corporate culture, there are technologies that can make the process easier and more effective. Consider using Facebook, Twitter, micro-learning apps, new employee blogs or chat rooms, online video conferences, facetime, etc. 

Make it interactive 

Younger people are used to kinesthetic learning via hands-on activities and projects. The more active and interactive your presentations are, the more impact they will have including simulations, project assignments and virtual problem-solving. 

“Group” it 

Millennials and Gen Z are accustomed to working in teams. Giving them learning projects to tackle as a team is a great way to engage and maximize their learning opportunities. 

Connect it 

No matter what the subject, information from company history to policies and procedures should be directly relevant. Make sure you help them make the connection to their present jobs or to preparation for future ones. 

In addition to the above strategies, consider placing your new employees in brief, temporary assignments within other departments. Cross-training and orienting will both promote better understanding among new employees and build a base for future teamwork and collaboration. And don’t forget about community involvement to build leadership and team skills in partnership with non-profit organizations in your area.

It may also be useful to assign each new employee a transitional mentor to help him or her learn about the organization in a less formal environment. The transitional mentor can be a knowledgeable veteran employee, or even a new employee with enough experience in the company to fill the role.

Extend the on-boarding process throughout the year and involve recent hires in the design and delivery of future on-boarding programs to capture lessons learned or things they wished they would have known. Employees who are onboarded the right way have longer staying power with your organization. You are engaging them right from the start which should contribute to higher engagement scores in the longer term not to mention the increased productivity and satisfaction that you and they will gain as a result.

About Jan Ferri-Reed

Jan is a seasoned consultant and President of KEYGroup, a 32-year Pittsburgh-based education leadership, teambuilding and employment testing organization with a focus on developing leadership skills. Jan has presented a variety of keynotes, workshops, personal coaching and career coaching programs to thousands of managers and employees in a diverse range of organizations across the globe. She provides guidance, wisdom and wit to leaders who are interested in finding unique solutions to unique people problems while providing a return on investment.

Peter B. Star on Leadership

In coaching a manager recently, we learned that her biggest challenge was holding two employees accountable for following department procedures and for communicating to other employees in a style that is respectful and collaborative. To put it simply, this manager needed these employees to do their job correctly and be great team players. When we asked this leader why she was hesitant to hold these two employees accountable, she responded with one word…FEAR!

Leadership fear

  • Fear that if they held the employees accountable, the employees would threaten to quit
  • Fear of the employees’ reactions to being held accountable (tears, aggressive response, etc.)
  • Fear that the employees would attempt to spread ill will and discontent among other employees on the team
  • Fear that if they did try to hold the employees accountable, it would make the situation worse. (Example: although the employees come to work late, do not follow policies and procedures, and are not team players, their measurable results “sales” are outstanding)
  • Fear that the employees would become angry or upset and stop talking to them
  • Fear that if they held the employees accountable, the employees would run to someone higher up in the organization who may side with them and not support you in holding the employees accountable

Here is the problem with the examples shared by this leader. When you don’t do what you should do to hold your direct reports accountable…and you don’t take the action out of fear, you are neither a leader nor a manager…you are a HOSTAGE! A hostage, by definition, is someone who is captured against their will. When managers don’t do what they know is the right thing to do, hold the employee accountable, and they don’t do it out of fear, they are being held captive.

To be a leader, you need to be respected. When an employee holds you hostage for one of the above reasons, although the employee does not come and tell you to your face, they do not respect you. A bigger problem is that everyone on your team sees that you do not hold the deviant employee accountable and the rest of the team also lacks respect for the manager.

Here are seven tips to release your hostage bonds and start down the path to re-claim your position of manager and relationship of leader.

Lean in

Employees who hold their managers hostage effectively do so because they know their manager is hesitant or lacks the confidence to talk to them about the issue. We are convinced that employees know what they are supposed to do to make the manager happy and, when they exhibit behaviors that undermine the success of the organization, team or manager, those behaviors need to be addressed in a timely manner.

Don’t manage by hope and hint

When an employee does something they are not supposed to do, tell them exactly what you need them to do differently and when you need them to do it to be a successful member of the team.

Clear your strategy with your boss and HR

Employees who hold their boss hostage are able to do it for a reason. They usually produce strong measurable results. These employees tend to be the best salespeople; the most productive workers. Most times, their customers love them. What you don’t want is for the employee to go around you, their manager, to your boss and have your boss side with the employee over fear of what the employee might do. When the employee says, “I am going to HR or your boss” and you have reviewed your strategy and both HR and your boss are on the same page, you can look the employee in the eye and say, “Going to HR and/or my boss is a great idea. Would you like me to help you get the meeting set up?” When you have that level of confidence, you are well on your way to reclaiming your title of leader.

Follow-up

During your meeting to discuss your employee’s accountability, set up the next meeting to review their progress. If you set up the next meeting for one week, make sure you put it on both your calendars and ensure the meeting happens.

Expect that your relationship with the employee may get worse

When you hold people accountable who resent the fact you are asking them to change their behaviors, many times the relationship gets worse before it improves. For example, prior to meeting with the employee, there was very little communication with me about the progress of their projects.  After I met with the employee about turning their projects in complete and on time, they stopped communicating with me altogether. Holding the employee accountable and working through their problems will make them feel better about their performance and the relationship improves.

Remember the truth

Employees who threaten to quit over being held accountable very seldom actually follow through on their threat. The reason that most employees don’t quit is because when they think about having to find a new job, they quickly remember that any new employer is not going to put up with their crap and they will have to change even more than correcting the problem you are discussing with them.

Have the guts to take big action!

If the employee is not going to change, then you need to regain your leadership title the old fashioned way. Coach them. Counsel them. Train them. Document your process with HR’s help. When all this does not work, SHARE THEM WITH YOUR BEST COMPETITOR. There is no greater strategic planning action than to take the employee who causes you the greatest grief and give them to your competitor and screw up their business plan. When you begin to work on cool stuff with your new employee, your competitor will wonder how they even got into this hostage situation.

Do you have an employee holding you hostage?  Put these seven tips into action and regain your position of leadership.

About the author

Peter B. Stark is a nationally recognized executive coach, author, and speaker. For over 20 years, he has helped leaders build organizations where employees love to come to work and customers love to do business.  Peter’s humorous, customized, informative and content heavy speeches are drawn from his personal experience as a leader, his experience with clients, as well as the information he gains through pre-keynote interviews. Employees and leaders will leave with actionable tips on how to make positive change and achieve both their goals and the organization’s goals.

Author and coach Bill Hawkins

In 20 years of conducting leadership seminars and one-on-one coaching with executives, what would you guess to be the most common complaint I hear?

It sounds something like this:

There’s just so much on my plate. The amount of work that needs to be done can be overwhelming. There are meetings, conference calls, administrative requirements, not to mention routine emergencies that suck up all my time. It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

And what advice does our busy leader get? “You need to delegate more.” 

Surprisingly, the answer for the “not enough hours in the day” boss isn’t to delegate more but to delegate more effectively.

Delegation is not a quality like “demonstrating integrity.” Honest, ethical, and legal behavior is always appropriate―delegation isn’t. Inappropriate or poorly executed delegation can do more harm than good.

Criteria for Delegation

A good place to start is to review the criteria for delegation. Why do it? There are 3 good reasons a leader should delegate work:

  1. To ensure the work is done at an appropriate level (closest to the customer, at the lowest cost, with access to the needed information, etc.).
  2. To free up your time to do other more important activities.
  3. To develop the people on your team.

Ideally, you want to include all 3 criteria. So, how do you know what to delegate and to whom?

Steps to Delegation

Step 1: Every job (no matter if it’s the CEO or the person greeting at the front desk) can be broken down into 3 to 5 major components. There are no exceptions to this rule! Identify the key 3 to 5 areas of your responsibility, and then list several activities you do to achieve success in each of these key areas.

For example, one area of responsibility for a customer service manager might be: Train new customer service representatives.

Activities to support that responsibility might be:

  • Orientation on email and voice mail communication
  • Dealing with angry customers
  • Researching information on shipment and delivery questions
  • Handling quality issues

Step 2: Look at each activity and ask yourself, “Is this developmental for me? Am I building skills that will be useful in the future? Am I learning more about this business or industry? Is this increasing my business acumen, building my skills, and expanding my understanding?” If the answers are all “No,” even if you enjoy doing these activities, it is not necessarily a good use of your time.

Step 3: I can assure you there are people on your team who think your job is more interesting than theirs. Some would like to have more responsibility, earn a larger raise, or maybe get a promotion. Is there anyone on your team you could delegate all or some of these tasks to and it would be very developmental for them? If so, this is an appropriate opportunity to delegate work.

No Dumping Allowed

Step 4: There is a difference between delegating and dumping work on people. Effective delegation requires orientation to the new assignment. To the person assuming the new responsibilities:   

  1. Communicate why he or she has been selected for this assignment.   
  2. Discuss how much time it will take and how to structure their schedule so there is time available for this additional work.
  3. Make sure they have access to needed information or know where to find it.
  4. Confirm that they feel like they have the authority to do the job.

If you follow these simple steps, you’ll free up time for yourself and you’re also engaging and developing people on your team.

That is a Win / Win.  And that is effective delegation.   

When someone asks your employees what they do for a living, how do they respond?  With excitement and enthusiasm or with defeat and disillusionment?

Too many employees and too many workplaces fall into the second category. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if you apply the 8 secrets found in every positive, high performing organization.

Hire right – Train right

As you well know, one bad apple can spoil the whole cart. But you also know it can be very difficult to get rid of a bad apple or bad employee.  So approach every hiring decision with the utmost discernment.

In particular, focus your energy on recruiting and retaining people who are technically skilled and emotionally competent. In fact, they had better have both characteristics or you will have a sick workplace.

When you’re in the position of having to hire someone, look for ANY signals that tell you the new job candidate may be a drag on the positive culture you’re trying to create. You cannot afford to hire those kinds of people … because they will cost you money, rather than make you money.

In fact, I’m sure you can think of several situations where you walked into a store to buy something, totally ready to spend your money there, but some employee’s behavior was so offensive that you walked out. And instead, you spent your money at a competitor’s place of business. 

Hire right.  And for heaven’s sake, if the people you hire don’t have all the people skills they need, then train them right … right now.  

Protect your positive norms

If your organization has established certain norms of respectful behavior, reinforce those norms.

If, for example, employees are expected to acknowledge every customer within 10 seconds of entering the store, make sure they do it. Or if you have outlawed negative talk about customers, call someone on his violation of the norm if he is trashing a customer.

Don’t let your negative people dismiss your positive cultural elements by saying, “That’s just plain stupid … or … That’s just the way John is.” 

Discover and share success stories

Even though your office, like every office, has some things that could be improved, you’re also doing a lot of things right. Charge everyone with the responsibility of looking for those success stories. And then share a few of those stories at every meeting. Celebrate the positive.

Surface and defuse negativity

No matter how positive, productive, and profitable your organization is, it is not perfect. There are problems and there will always be problems in your organization.

Don’t ignore them. And don’t pretend they don’t exist. As best-selling author and psychologist Dr. Sidney Simon says, “The greatest danger in any relationship is to pretend not to know what we know.”

In other words, you can’t expect to bury the problems and have them somehow magically disappear. When you bury problems, you bury them alive, and the rate of resurrection is almost 100%.

Instead, create a forum where people can safely share their concerns. Take their feelings seriously. Listen intently. And decide on one or two things that can be done to address their concerns.

Conquer one energy-zapping issue at a time

Have everyone write down the specific tasks or job situations that drain them.  Some people may not feel supported by the boss, and others may feel betrayed by a team mate who is not doing her share of the work.

Then brainstorm small immediate steps that can be taken to maintain or recapture the energy at work. And then baby-step it.

Start with a simple issue … where an easy victory is likely … such as greeting one another respectfully and professionally when passing one another, rather than ignore the people around you.

Once you’ve built some confidence and skill in one area, move on to a more challenging issue — such as having to do ten projects at once, with no sense of their priority.

Assign energy as a personal responsibility

Whatever the situation at work, you’ve only got two choices: to produce results or make excuses.  Make it clear that it is everyone’s responsibility to bring the right attitude and the right amount of energy to every task. 

Even if your workplace is somewhat de-energizing, everyone there can still choose to focus on the good, to fill their minds with positive, powerful sayings that will inspire them. It’s not silly.  Every gold-medal winner in the Olympics does it every day.

About the author, Dr. Alan Zimmerman

At the age of 7, Dr. Alan Zimmerman was selling greeting cards door-to-door. By age 14 he owned a small international import business. By age 21 he was teaching at the University of Minnesota, and during the next 15 years, he was selected as the Outstanding Faculty Member by two different universities.

At age 36, Alan had retired from teaching and opened his own speaking and training company. That position has allowed him to deliver more than 3000 programs, to more than a million people, in 49 states and 22 countries. The National Speakers Association has named him a Certified Speaking Professional and inducted him into the Speaker Hall of Fame, which places him in the top 1% of speakers worldwide.

How many times have you been frustrated by people constantly seeking your advice or approval before taking action towards a goal?  You want them to make decisions.  You delegate the decision making to them, but they are reluctant.  Why.  And how do you get them to make responsible decisions without your having to look over their shoulders constantly?

Delegating and Growing

It’s called empowerment.  Many have tried, but few succeed.  That’s because the actual process for achieving empowerment is shrouded in psychological mystery.  One has only to look at the reasons people are hesitant to make decisions independent of supervisory overview.  Most people actually do want to make decisions on their own; but are hesitant because they don’t want to make mistakes.  No one does. 

I tend to think in analogies.  I see a person standing on the yellow line in the middle of the highway.  They want to make a decision and step off the line, but every time they do, an 18-wheeler comes whistling by causing them to jump back on the line.  They say, I’m not going to take the risk again unless you tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do….boss.  So, they keep coming back to the boss to seek approval and guidance before making any decision.  It’s much safer…albeit annoying to the boss who wants the employee to make the decision on their own.

What needs to be understood, however, is that empowered delegation is actually boundary management.  The reason people don’t make independent (empowered) decisions is that they don’t know where their boundaries are.  Where/when can they make independent decisions and when do they need to check with the boss. 

True Empowerment

To achieve true empowerment, the boss and the employee must sit down together and decide several things.  First, what’s the goal/objective.  Secondly, based on the employee’s skills and experience, what are the ranges within which the person can make independent decisions.  Ranges in terms of resources they can use (money, people, technology, etc.), timeframes within which the goal must be achieved (as soon as possible but no further than the end of this month), quality of the outcome (must meet these specs), etc.  The more skilled a person is, the wider the range/ leeway the boss is going to give them regarding these parameters.  The newer the employee, the narrower these ranges become forcing the employee to go to the boss before making a decision allowing for coaching and skill building by the boss.  The boss’s job is to create multiple lanes on the highway so they employee is more likely to step off the center line and make independent decisions within the agreed upon ranges for each of the parameters.  Once you reward the employee for taking the risk of making independent decisions within the range, then they are more likely to make it a habit.

Now that you have them moving in the right direction and making decisions within agreed upon parameters, you can keep the process on track by setting up process checkpoints.  At each checkpoint, you check what their progress is towards the goal.  If they’re on track, you can reward them.  If they’re off track you can discuss ways to get back on track by determining if the holdup is due to an employee motivational issue of a lack of skill issue.  In either case tweaking some of the parameters may become necessary to fix the problem.  It’s a team effort driven by the psychological need to make successful decisions and complete goals within a pre-approved decision-making structure.

Enjoy your newly recovered lost time.

About Harvey Robbins

Harvey Robbins has been a licensed psychologist and award-winning author and consultant for over 40 years. Since 1982, he has been the president of Robbins & Robbins, a company shaped on psychology principles to coach leaders and train business teams.

Before becoming a consultant, Dr. Robbins served as a personnel research psychologist for the Federal Government and was in executive leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies, including Honeywell and Burlington Northern. He is also a Fellow at the Executive Development Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a sought-after speaker at conferences and events locally and abroad.

His clients include American Express, Mayo Clinic, Nabisco, Toro, the IRS, the CIA, the US Secret Service, and many others.