How to Create an Awesome Team from Average Workers

This post shared from entrepreneurship faculty member Kristi Hedges’s blog at thehedgescompany.com.  See the full version of the post here!

Some leaders are able to assemble teams with the absolute best talent in the market. They have large budgets, innovative brands, and the latitude to recruit whomever they wish for their organizations. They’re also rare.

The vast majority of leaders are forced to make do with some combination of the talent they can attract and the talent they’ve inherited.

Either group has the same objective: to get the best results. And while it may seem to be a major advantage to cherry pick your team members, there’s a lot more to team effectiveness than individual contributions.

No matter where they start, leaders can create teams that are far more than the sum of their parts. If you’ve ever been on a high-performing team, you understand. With the right leadership, even average workers can rise to the occasion and accomplish great things – even more than they may have thought possible.

The following are four considerations to build an A+ team, even if you have B (or even a few C) players:

1. Communicate your expectations from the start.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, corporate leadership expert Anne Grady posits that if you feel that your employees aren’t measuring up, you need to start by looking at your own role as the leader. She writes, “Many leaders believe that holding people accountable is the key to getting the results they want. There’s one problem with this, though: Sometimes we get frustrated with people for not meeting our expectations when we have never communicated what they were in the first place.”

Team culture is determined quickly and, once ingrained, is very hard to change. Spend the time up front to paint a picture of what success looks like for the team. Have a vision that’s clearly communicated.

Never assume everyone is on the same page. Be clear with your expectations and have non-negotiables spelled out. Team members determine the culture based on both what’s emphasized and what’s ignored.

2. Foster a team-first environment.

If you are working with a motley crew of talent, to create a successful team, you must envision—and make your employees feel—that they are each an essential part of a larger machine. Every person should be able to clearly state their contribution to the bigger group, and know how the team is jeopardized if they don’t perform.

As a leader, you can promote group cohesion by treating the team as a unit. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University, says, “Leaders own the job of creating engagement. Although individual engagement is critical, team morale is the key. You might have a team of B players, but when they share common values, drivers, and motives, and care about each other much like friends, they will raise their performance for each other.”

Create a culture that thrives off of cooperation and mutual engagement. Encourage employees to brainstorm together, and celebrate team accomplishments openly. Focusing on the functions—and successes—of the group is key to creating a unified team of diverse players.

3. Establish 3-5 jointly agreed upon operating principles.

In an earlier post, I discussed my approach to assembling a high performing team in just 30 minutes. At the heart of this strategy is the creation of 3-5 operating principles that the members of the team develop and agree to. They are behavioral, tactical and provide specific direction for action, e.g., “Take risks.”

Once your team establishes their top principles of behavior, create an agreed upon system of accountability such as a monthly audit or discussion in one-on-ones.

Keep the principles visible. Tack them to a board in the conference room. Include them on the agenda. Have the team be responsible for upholding the principles and they will be more likely to stick.

4. Don’t expect that you need all A’s.

Not everyone is driven the same way that you might be as the leader. Some people are ambitious, hardworking, and aimed for the top. Others may be more focused on preserving a work-life balance or doing work they find rewarding—reserving some of their time and energies for their family, friends or passions.

While many leaders can empathize with the talent and drive of their A players, they have a tendency to neglect their B players, the team members who stay with a company for a longer period of time and do a solid job. And, as psychological studies confirm, we can even be harder on our B players because they are unlike us.

When it comes to mentoring and showing appreciation, don’t neglect the unique talents of your B players. After all, they provide “the ballast in bad economic times,” according to Harvard Business School Professor Thomas J. DeLong and Innosight Institute fellow Vineeta Vijayaraghavan. “When the boss says that things are going to be different around here on Monday morning, B performers are not only able to adapt, but they often also have the credibility with the rest of the organization to share important information and convey a sense of confidence. Even more important, B players have the inner resources to mentor less experienced people through the transition, stress, and even panic of change—a grossly underestimated talent.”

Your team is comprised of individuals with widely different strengths. By appreciating how employees can complement one another, rather than lamenting your lack of an all-star roster, you are on your way to assembling the type of extraordinary team that wins in the end.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of The Inspiration Code and  The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage OthersRead more on her blog and @kristihedges.

How To Work For A Human Tornado

This post shared from Leadership Coaching faculty member Scott Eblin’s blog at eblingroup.com.  See the full version of the post here!

Chances are that, at some point in your career, you’re going to work for a human tornado. In my speeches and workshops, I often say that leaders control the weather. When I talk with my audiences about that, I’m assuming that it’s a room full of healthy, positive people who can make smart choices about the weather they’re creating as leaders. Unfortunately, though, many of us will at some point, work for a designated leader who creates all kinds of terrible weather. They’re the human tornados.

The experience of working for a human tornado can feel a lot like being on the plains in a summer storm. You know the conditions are ripe for destruction and devastation, you just don’t know exactly where the tornado is going to hit, which way it’s going to turn, what it’s going to sweep up in its path and destroy and what it’s going to leave standing. Waiting for the inevitable but unpredictable forces of a tornado and then dealing with the damage is a very high stress experience.

Working for a human tornado can create a similar but different phenomenon. At least with a real tornado, you can read the atmospheric conditions to get a sense of when you should take cover. With the human tornado, not so much, They can spin out of nowhere and lash out in ways that leave their staff to clean up the mess and living in fear of when the next storm is going to be unleashed.

So, if you find yourself working for a human tornado, what can you do to both minimize the damage and survive the storm? Here are five tips on how to do it:

Put on your own mask first: One of the biggest dangers of working for a human tornado is the immediate as well as lasting damage the experience can do to your physical and mental health. As I discuss in my book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, the stress that human tornados create can leave you in a chronic state of fight or flight. That dramatically degrades your judgment and decision making abilities in the short run and can reduce your life expectancy in the long run. As they say in the pre-flight announcements, in the event of an emergency, put on your own mask first before attempting to assist others. Taking care of yourself is always important but perhaps never more so than when you’re working for a human tornado. Put on your own mask first. Mitigate your natural fight or flight response by activating your rest and digest response. Get up and move every hour. Take regular deep breaths from your belly. Stay connected with other (sane) people. Remember the things that are going right in your life.

Influence when and where you can: The best weather forecasters make solid predictions based on the experience they’ve had identifying patterns in the data available to them. If you’re going to be effective in working for a human tornado you have to do the same thing. If you step back and observe, you’ll start to see patterns in the tornado’s behavior that will allow you to influence when and where you can. For instance, based on your knowledge of the tornado’s hot buttons where are they most likely to strike? Look for and take advantage of opportunities to get ahead of the predictable patterns by sharing information early that will shape the tornado’s perceptions. A pro tip is to pay special attention to the triggers that are likely to make the tornado feel insecure. When you strip everything else away, most destructive leaders are inherently insecure about their place in the world. While it can be exhausting to do so, keep your radar turned on for situations that will trigger the tornado’s insecurity. Then do your best to avoid them or head them off at the pass to help things go more smoothly.

Form alliances: Managing a tornadic boss is not a job to do by yourself. You need to play zone defense, not man-to-man. Form alliances with trusted colleagues to help keep the boss calm and on track. Work with each other to develop shared agendas that move the organization forward. Coordinate with each other on the best ways to deploy the boss. Share information and insights on what’s working and what’s not. Commiserate with each other when things get crazy, but don’t live there. Nothing good comes from perpetual pity parties.

Be clear on your purpose: When you’re working for a human tornado, the pace of the daily crises can be so overwhelming that you can forget why you took the job in the first place. When you have a relatively calm hour or two, write down for yourself what you’re trying to accomplish in the bigger picture, why that matters and for whom it matters. That clarity of purpose can serve you in at least two important ways. First, it can serve as a reference point and guide when you’re trying to decide how to handle any given crisis your tornado boss stirs up. Second, it can serve as a source of motivation to keep going when the going gets tough.

Know when to say when: All of that said, when it comes to working for a human tornado, you have to know when to say when. Being in a constant state of waiting for damage or repairing the damage can get old fast. It’s hard on your mind, body and spirit. Circle some dates on the calendar – six months from now, 1 year from now and 2 years out. When you reach those dates, stop and ask yourself how it’s going and how you’re doing. Are you making progress, treading water or sinking fast? If the answer is treading water or sinking fast, consider if there’s anything else you can do or do differently that could make things better. If you’re coming up dry on those questions, then it’s probably time to move on. Life is short. You’ve done your best to make the best of a bad situation. Let someone else pick up the ball.

Learn more from Scott Eblin on eblingroup.com >>

Waking Up to Our Unconscious Bias

This post shared from Leadership Coaching  Co-Director Bill Pullen’s blog at bpacoaching.com. See the full version of the post here!

I approached a breakout session at a recent conference and felt immediately uncomfortable. I was struck by a desire to turn around and find another session to attend. I felt unsure, out of place, suddenly less than the person I believe myself to be. What was the perceived threat generating an instinctive desire to flee? Someone different from me – in this case, it was a minor difference of physiology and language – the presenter was a deaf woman.

This is the insidious power of unconscious bias. After a powerful session earlier in the day on power and culture my eyes were open to my own relationship to identity and bias, I recognized the instinctive desire to leave but consciously chose to stay and find a seat instead–to open my mind both to the presenter’s message and my personal opportunity to examine and face my bias. It turned out to be one of the best sessions I attended both for the content, and more importantly, for the way her presence and way of engaging with the audience challenged my own biases and opened my heart and mind to someone different than me.

We don’t want to admit our bias.

Unconscious bias is a sensitive subject. Admitting it affects us forces us to examine parts of ourselves we may not like; to acknowledge how it limits the way we relate to others, our view of the world and ultimately our ability to lead and to achieve the impact we want to have in our organizations, communities and the world.

Facing our biases often requires a journey though the difficult emotions of fear and shame as we look honestly at who we are in order to step closer to who we want to be.

What is the source of our fear?

Survival instinct is at the root of this tribal behavior. Like it or not, the amygdala (our primitive survival brain) is hard-wired to look for danger in the form of differences. My friend and colleague Howard Ross, in his book Everyday BIAS, describes it this way:

“In real time being able to make quick determinations about the people we encounter and the situations we are in is critical to our survival. It is built into the fundamental way our brains function. Social identification is especially important because picking up social cues about the circumstances we are in not only helps us be successful, but more importantly it keeps us safe. However, what we think we may see may not clearly be happening at all.”

It is no wonder we limit our worlds to what is familiar, understood and safe – it gives us a sense of control. However, these unexamined biases limit our ability to lead in the complex, interconnected, global world in which we now live and work.

What are we missing?

As leaders we risk much by not examining our unconscious biases and those of our organization. Unconscious biases in the workplace can undermine diversity, recruiting, retention, engagement, collaboration and innovation. Biases can be based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, weight, introversion, extroversion, past experiences and much more. If we unconsciously organize the world around us so as to avoid our biases we limit our ability to build trusting relationships, work effectively with others and create organizations that bring out the best in others and ourselves. Our leadership is based on limited vision and we miss critical information. We create a culture where bias is visible and ignored, causing the targets of that bias to begin to predict it, to limit themselves and mute their own voices in defense against the exclusion and isolation they experience.

So, what can we do?

1. Courageously face yourself.

The starting point for any leadership transformation is having the courage to face oneself. This is true when it comes to our biases as well. Face it, if you are human, you have biases; it doesn’t make you bad, it makes you human. With this in mind it is critical for leaders to develop the capacity for self-reflection and examination. Tools such as the Implicit Bias Test at Project Implicit are a good way to begin to raise your awareness about your biases. Start to pay attention to your reactions and judgments and notice what the thinking is beneath the reaction.

2. Be willing to be uncomfortable.

In the example above I recognized my discomfort and rather than allowing it to hijack me and make me leave, I challenged myself to step out of my comfort zone. One of the most effective ways to begin to dis-identify with our biases is through exposure to people and groups we harbor biases against. This, like any significant growth or change, requires a willingness to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of opening our hearts and minds and creating a more inclusive environment for those around us.

3. Look at the world through the eyes of another.

A third way to reduce biases and create a culture of greater inclusiveness is through the intentional cultivation of empathy. Lindsey and Hebl in a 2014 study published in The Journal of Business Psychology found that perspective taking positively impacted self-reported behaviors towards lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. Through their research they concluded that taking the perspective of others may have lasting positive effect on diversity related outcomes by increasing individual’s internal motivation to respond without prejudice.

This is difficult and dangerous work, examining our unconscious. Even blogging my personal experience on the subject feels risky – and yet without a willingness to recognize our own biases and face them, there can be no growth, we will continue to be ruled and blinded by bias we do not acknowledge. We will continue to build walls between people rather than bridges and will unintentionally create organizations where some voices are heard and respected while others are marginalized.

We no longer live in a world where we can easily close ourselves off from people who are different than we are. As leaders our colleagues, employees, customers, board members, and share holders represent seen and unseen differences which provide a wealth of insight and perspective to help us navigate a dynamic, complex, fast paced world.

Learn more from Bill Pullen on bpacoaching.com >>

Do you Haiku?

This post shared from Leadership Coaching faculty member Sue McLeod. See more from Sue on her blog at suemcleodcoaching.com.  

Presence is one of the fundamental skills of coaching. This ability to tune-into and be fully present with our client during a coaching conversation creates trust and intimacy, and signals to the client that we are listening, attentive and ready to meet them where they are.

Can you be fully present with another person, notice them with all your senses, speak to them in the present tense about what you experience without interpretation? Can you stay with them in the now without wanting to move to another time or place?

I think coaches are good at this. We practice being present during our coach training, we’ve experienced the benefits of the deep connections we create, and others tell us that we are great listeners. But I’ve heard from coaches that their attention can wander when clients talk too much; that their habit of taking notes means they are not 100% with their client; and when their “problem solver” gets activated that connection can disappear in a heartbeat. I, too, struggle sometimes with maintaining my coaching presence, so I’ve been playing with Haiku.

The instructions for writing Haiku are simple.

  • Find a place in nature and stay there for 30 minutes
  • Notice with all your senses
  • Write 15 syllables about what you notice
  • Write in the present tense
  • Write only what you experience – do not include your interpretations, judgments, or add metaphor, create simile, or refer to things that are not there.

Simple, but not easy.

Can you do it? Can you observe a single place in nature with all your senses for 30 minutes? Can you put into words only what you can sense, using only the present tense?

I can do it when I really focus and am intentional. When I begin, I notice that my brain likes to create simile and metaphor. My body likes to be moving, not sitting still. My spirit likes to be creating, not observing. “That waterfall sounds like an orchestra!”, “I could write a blog post about trying to write Haiku!”, “I wish I had my camera to take a photo of these trees.”, “I can’t wait to tell others about this beautiful place I’ve found.” or “I’ve seen enough here; it’s time to move on.”

These thoughts go through my head, until I settle myself down and remind myself to observe.

Buttercups move in the breeze.

Catbird jumps from branch to ground and back again.

Sky is blue. Grass is green…and darker green in the shade…and tan where the field has been mown in straight. Parallel lines.

The sun creates warmth on the back of my neck.

I hear children laughing in the distance. I hear birds chirping close in.

A soft breeze cools my cheek.

A church bell rings.

Here’s what emerged:

Soft breeze cools my cheek
Buttercups vibrate and sway
Noontime chimes

and, yes, it’s in the form of a Haiku.

Now, I won’t win any awards or accolades for my poetry, but that’s not the point. I’m satisfied with the experience; reminding myself that I can push aside the distractions, stay present, and find the essence of the moment.

Can you Haiku?

Learn more from Sue McLeod on suemcleodcoaching.com >>

Are You Contagious?

This post shared from Leadership Coaching & Transformational Leadership faculty member Chris Wahl’s blog at mirogroup.net.  See the full version of the post here!

Leaders…Your mood affects others.

Self-aware leaders practice noticing themselves and the impact they are having on others. It’s part of being emotionally intelligent.

Self-aware leaders recognize that their mood is a critical factor in the ‘field’ they create around them. What ‘field’ are you creating?

We all possess “mirror neurons” – neurons that fire both when we act and when we observe the same action performed by someone else – which means that when others are around us, they pick up on and imitate what we do, and feel what we feel. And we pick up on their behaviors and emotions. Have you ever noticed that when you are working with others who are positive and happy, you feel better around them? Or, if someone is always irritable or anxious, you may find you are noticing anxiety in yourself when you’ve been with them.

Leaders who are aware of their emotional contagion will pay attention to what they are conveying. If you as a leader notice that your organizational culture is suffering in some way (and there are many ways a culture suffers), notice how YOU are feeling about the culture. Are you worried, on edge, anxious, doubtful, critical, protective? If your answer is yes, look around you – chances are those you influence feel the same way.

Over and over in my coaching practice, I hear stories about leader contagion. No doubt a leader creating a negative field risks contagion and its multiple effects, such as direct reports and colleagues keeping the truth from a leader, doing work-arounds so as not to have to deal with the leader, hiding upsetting information, and creating team dynamics that are dishonest and backstabbing, resulting in eroding trust. And the positive contagion, when a leader creates a positive field, has wonderfully good consequences: well-being, caring, truth-telling, and problem-solving, results of greater trust.

Find a way to be the leader you wish to be. Live into a leadership stance that is inviting and enlivening – make that your contagion.

Learn more from Chris Wahl on mirogroup.net >>