Monthly Archives: August 2016

10 Behaviors of Real Leaders

There’s usually a pecking order in the animal kingdom. There are queen bees, alpha gorillas, and male-female wolf pairs that dominate the pack. Humans are no different.

This may come as a shock, but organizational constructs like tribes, societies, and companies are not the result of high-level intelligence but of primitive survival impulses reinforced by neurotransmitters in the brain’s ancient limbic system.

To say that leadership and organizational behavior has been successful in the animal kingdom is a gross understatement. The planet is fully populated by millions of animal species that all exhibit the same sort of behavior.

The point is, leadership is not so much a thought process as it is instinctive behavior. It’s evolutionary. It’s to a great extent responsible for our survival on earth. And that’s why we do it. As survival imperatives go, it’s right up there with eating and breeding. No kidding.

So when I say, “Leaders lead. Followers follow. You can’t do both,” in my upcoming book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow, I’m not making this stuff up. It’s biology. Granted, you can behave any way you like by overriding your survival instincts, but neither you nor I get to change how the species behaves. Evolution’s got that covered.

I know you didn’t click on the headline to get a biology lesson, but it’s important to understand that leadership is not really about traits or habits. It’s primarily a behavioral phenomenon. So let’s be practical for a moment and discuss the sort of behavior we consistently value in our most cherished leaders.

They teach.

Apple CEO Tim Cook credits the company’s success in no small part to Steve Jobs’s role as a teacher. The way Apple’s unique culture continues to flourish and scale, even as the company grows to enormous size and valuation, is a testament to the way Jobs taught his team what matters most, so they could teach their teams, and so on.

If they hear you, they will listen.

Whether it’s politics, business, or non-profit, there are great demands on leaders’ time. That comes with the territory. So there are physical, organizational, and mental barriers they put up to block out the noise. Nevertheless, their success depends on being open to new and different perspectives. So, if they hear you, they will listen.

They challenge themselves.

Great leaders are never satisfied with the status quo and that goes for their own status quo, as well. They may recognize the success of the team, especially after a long hard effort, but you’ll rarely see them patting themselves on the back. Their own accomplishments don’t excite them; the next challenge does.

They don’t follow.

All leaders learn from experience and mentors. All leaders serve their stakeholders. But learning and serving are not the same as following. Real leaders serve and learn from others, but they still carve their own path. They have their own unique ways of doing things. And, when it comes to key decisions, they trust only their own judgment and their own gut.

They solve big problems.

Real leaders don’t play small ball. Whether it’s a customer problem, a constituent problem, or a societal problem, they live to come up with innovative solutions to big, tough problems. Real leaders are great troubleshooters.

Their vision inspires others to act.

I’ll never understand the endless debates over what leadership is and isn’t. It’s simple, really. Leaders are those who others follow. And leadership behavior causes others to act. Whether they have a vision for a product, an organization, a people, or a future, that’s what inspires them to lead and their followers to action.

They don’t whine.

Most great leaders grew up with adversity, so they learned at an early age that complaining gets them nowhere. Instead, they set out to prove something to themselves and others – that they’re special, unique, worthy, capable – and that’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

They don’t overindulge their egos.

Even if it’s not self-evident, most successful leaders have healthy egos – a strong sense of self. There are exceptions, but they’re rare. In any case, when our egos write checks that reality can’t cash, that’s self-limiting behavior. Some leaders learn from those mistakes and gain wisdom and humility. Others don’t, and that’s unfortunate.

They do only what matters.

Leaders are by definition people of consequence. They’re driven by their vision, their obsession, a problem they must solve, whatever, but they’re usually driven by one thing and that’s what matters to them. They move heaven and earth to make it happen and ignore pretty much everything else, although there’s usually an exception or two.

They’re effective, not efficient.

Since they’re consumed by a passion of some sort, that’s what they’re all about. Minutiae like optimizing, fine-tuning, efficiency, and productivity are completely off their radar screen, unless of course it just happens to be their specific focus. I suppose there have been leaders of the Toyoda (yes, that’s how it’s spelled, not Toyota) family obsessed with Kaizen – continuous improvement – but that’s an unusual circumstance.

The important thing to keep in mind is that leaders are defined by their behavior. What they do and don’t do. How they act and don’t act. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are extraverts and introverts. They’re morning people and night owls. They’re healthy and completely out of shape. They have neat desks and workspaces that look like a tornado ripped through it.

One thing’s for certain. Real leaders don’t follow. It’s biology.


Originally published on Entrepreneur by Steve Tobak.

4 Ways To Improve Your Hiring Process

When I was a corporate executive in the area of strategic planning, I quickly learned a very important lesson – the best way to ensure strategy implementation is to hire the right people into the company.

I suppose that’s why I’m always surprised at the casual and often lackadaisical attitude many managers take when it comes to hiring. Look around and what you’ll notice is at the heart of most great companies is an incredibly strong emphasis on the hiring process.

That’s why I almost cheered out loud when I read an Inc. article by Les McKeown, “How to Hire Great People – Every Time”. In the article, McKeown emphasizes that managers should treat the hiring process “as the most important strategic planning your company needs.” Why? Because every new employee will either improve the organization or lower it – and managers should be seeking and hiring employees who will enable the company to grow and to become more profitable.

McKeown provides four tips for hiring great people: 1) Forget trying to ask magic bullet questions, 2) Ensure you have clearly defined what it will take to be successful in the position, 3) Test candidates, and 4) Include others in the hiring process.

Here is why I believe these are excellent tips that, if followed, will help you improve your hiring process so you can find the best employees:

Why you shouldn’t ask magic bullet questions: I was once asked in an interview to explain what animal I would want to be if I were to reincarnate as one. “Really?” I thought to myself. “I mean seriously, this guy wants to focus on outlandish questions instead of finding out if I can actually do the job?” Just say no to magic bullet questions – because there is no magic bullet. Focus instead on getting to know candidates and their experience, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors, as these will better reveal which candidates are most likely to be successful in the position.

Why you should clearly define the position and requirements: Some managers take a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to hiring. They write a brief job description for the online job posting and then never look at it again, turning each interview into casual chats. But, surprise! Clearly defining the job and position requirements (education, experience, knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes) necessary for someone to be successful will actually help make the interview process easier. This is because you then have a roadmap to follow for evaluating each candidate against the requirements to determine who will be the best fit.

Why you should test candidates: I hate to say I’m a disbeliever in humanity or think people aren’t truthful, but – oh, yeah, some people really do lie on their résumés. Others like to stretch the truth, a lot. How do you ensure someone has the skills they say they do? Test them. These can be written tests, role-plays, or simulations such as asking a PR candidate to write a press release for a make-believe product or asking a marketing candidate to explain the key components in a marketing plan. These tests don’t need to be elaborate, but they do need to be able to differentiate the candidates who have the necessary skills from those who don’t.

Why you should include others: I never hire someone without including others in the hiring process because I realize my opinion is only one quick snapshot. Having the final candidates interview with others in the company (especially those with whom they will most interact if hired into the position) provides additional perspectives I might not have seen. Those additional perspectives greatly increase the odds of finding the best candidates.

The key aspect I learned about the hiring process over the last 25 years is to focus the most attention on understanding what the person will need to accomplish in the position and then use the interview process to find out if they have what it takes to be successful, including skills, experience and their level of motivation.

In the end, taking a serious and formalized approach to hiring can actually save you time and a lot of headaches. It helps you clearly see the type of person who will be successful in the position, provides a roadmap of questions to ask during interviews, highlights skills to be tested, and delivers input from others that will either corroborate first impressions or highlight disconnects. All of this results in better employee hiring, which leads to improved company performance. Well worth the investment indeed!

Originally published in Forbes by Lisa Quast


How to Interview Active vs. Passive Candidates

If you’ve ever walked away from an interview with a programmer wondering if you could have structured it differently, you’re not alone. Recruiters are always looking for new ways to engage candidates, especially when it comes to handling conversations with those who are actively searching, and especially with programmers who aren’t quite as keen on leaving their current posts. We spoke to a few recruiters here at Stack Overflow for their thoughts on how to go about interviewing active and passive tech candidates. Here’s what they had to say.

Focus on How You Ask Questions, Not Which Questions You Ask

Life would be much easier if you could simply build two different lists of good interview questions to ask active and passive candidates. However, our People Team agrees that it’s more important to focus on how you pose questions to each type of candidate, rather than getting too caught up in the details of exactly what you ask them.

Tom Harvey, a recruiter here at Stack Overflow, says that when he speaks with active candidates for the first time, he tries to determine if they have a legitimate interest in the company, or if they’re simply sending out their resume to anyone who happens to be hiring. “You want to sift out candidates who don’t care about your purpose,” Harvey says. “The best candidates are the ones that can tell me what we do, and not just grasp at straws.”

While job seekers who are more active in their search should be doing research on your company, Joe Humphries—our Director of People Operations—tells us that recruiters should be researching passive candidates before they pick up the phone to schedule an interview. Harvey also adds that because they’re not as eager to switch roles, they have the upper hand in early stage conversations, making it important for recruiters to employ a style of questioning that is less probing and more respectful of those circumstances.

Move Active Candidates Away From Scripted Answers

Not surprisingly, active candidates often come off as strong interviewers. Because they’ve made a concerted effort to find their next gig, they also tend to have a well-manicured elevator pitch ready to retell whenever they’re asked for it. However, you’ll end up learning much more about active candidates if you make an effort to get them off their scripts.

Recruiters all have their own ways of throwing active candidates for a loop, but Harvey tells us that he likes to focus his initial conversations with them by focusing on just one piece of their background. While their responses might not sound as impressive, youwill learn more about the candidate, which will ultimately help you decide whether or not you’d like to hire them down the road.

Ask Passive Candidates Lots of Open-Ended Questions

Not only do passive tech candidates have leverage in early conversations with recruiters, they’re often too busy to spend a lot of time on the phone with you. Even when you have an exciting opportunity to discuss, questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” aren’t engaging enough to make a programmer who’s not looking for a job want to continue the conversation.

In the spirit of being respectful of their time, Harvey tells us that he leans more on open-ended questions with passive candidates, which allows them to go into as much detail as they’d like to. Start by asking them about the projects they’re currently on, and once you’ve built a level of trust with the candidate, consider asking them about the pain points they’re experiencing in their current role. Although they might not be looking for a new job, Harvey finds that even passive candidates are often willing to open up about their current benefits and team dynamics. This makes for a great transition into a more specific conversation about your company and the role you’re looking to fill.

Originally posted by Rich Moy on StackOverflow.

How to Beat Those Awful Monday Blues

If you wake up on Monday morning with a groan and struggle to get on with the workday, you may have a case of the Monday blues. There’s no wondering why we hate Mondays — it always seems to sneak up on us, just as we’re starting to relax and enjoy our weekend. While for most of us, Monday is the least productive day of the week, Carla Wood, business coach and founder of ALL Strategy, says it doesn’t have to be.

Follow these strategies and eliminate the Monday blues for good:

Start your Monday on Sunday night. Wood says the reason Mondays are so hard is because of the shift in attitude and lifestyle that happens over the weekend. “We move into personal mode on the weekend. Having to ramp up again can feel overwhelming as you anticipate the mountain and having to climb it again at the start of the week,” says Wood. While you may want to suck up every last bit of freedom on Sunday night, taking a couple of minutes to mentally prepare for the week ahead can help you overcome the Monday blues.

Start prioritizing. Make a list of tasks to do on Monday and schedule it into your calendar as the first appointment of the day. Rather than starting the workweek with a blank slate, reminding yourself of the priorities for the day can help you avoid getting stuck in the busy-ness that can at times be overwhelming on Monday morning. Scheduling a team meeting to go over the priorities for the week can help everyone get into work mode and fight off the Monday blues.

Start the day with something that gives you energy. Going for a run or hitting the gym first thing Monday morning gets your body moving and creates positive energy to begin your day. Having the Monday blues doesn’t mean you hate your job, nor does it mean you’re depressed. “It’s more about being stuck and not yet in the momentum of the work week,” says Wood. Doing an activity that ramps up your energy can help put you back in the right headspace to be productive.

Reconnect with colleagues. If you run into the office and hit your desk first thing Monday morning, consider doing a social call first. “Just having that water cooler conversation sometimes can be a motivator to get in and get started because you’re looking forward to the social time rather than sitting down at your desk and cracking down,” says Wood.

Get a mentor. If your Monday blues are chronic, it may be a symptom of a larger problem. Wood recommends entrepreneurs, especially those who work alone, find a mentor to speak with about business goals and issues. “It allows you to have another perspective and some accountability,” she says. A bad case of “the Mondays” could just be a symptom of feeling overwhelmed. Finding a mentor to help you work through those underlying issues could help get rid of the blues.


Originally published in Entrepreneur by Lisa Evans.

How to Make Friday Your Most Productive Day of the Week (Well, Almost)

Like everybody else, I love to complain about Monday. It’s only natural, really. As that dreaded day that immediately follows the weekend, it’s the logical scapegoat for everybody’s dread.

But, when I take a few minutes to think about it, I don’t really hate Monday all that much. In fact, it’s usually my most productive day of the week. I fire off emails. I make lists. I organize big projects. I identify a foolproof method for achieving world peace.

OK, not really, but you get where I’m going with this. At the beginning of the week, both my ambition and my enthusiasm toward my work are actually running high—even if I’m not quite excited about the fact that Monday has rolled around again so soon.

Friday, on the other hand? Well, I love Friday. I basically consider this day to be an extension of the weekend. I just need to bide my time in order to enjoy 48 hours of relaxation. However, my productivity leaves quite a bit to be desired—there’s a lot more Facebook scrolling, yawning, and mindless staring involved than I would like to admit.

Since I work for myself, I’ve developed the attitude that whatever I don’t wrap up on Friday, I can take care of on Saturday or Sunday. Unfortunately, this usually means that I spend a big chunk of my weekend working on things I actually should’ve been able to finish beforehand.

So, I challenged myself to take my weekends back by making sure I used Friday to its full potential—despite the fact that my motivation is usually waning. Here are a few tips and tricks that helped me realistically do that. I didn’t actually inspire world peace, but I was still way more productive than normal.

1. Complete Smaller Tasks

Let’s face it—this isn’t the day when you’re going to want to tackle those large projects. Those big to-dos just seem far too daunting when you know you’re going to be away from your desk for the next two days anyway.

Instead, I found that completing smaller tasks allows me to still get stuff done and feel accomplished by the time 6 PM rolls around—rather than dilly-dallying all day simply because I’m trying to put off a more time-intensive project. Plus, it’s much easier to get myself geared up to start chipping away at my list when I know that those items don’t involve an overwhelmingly large commitment.

Whether it’s filling out your expense report, taking some time to organize your overflowing inbox, or even de-cluttering your workspace, reserve Friday as the day when you can tie up all of those loose ends that pop up throughout the rest of the week.

2. Plan Your Following Week

Alright, so maybe no productivity trick in the world will inspire you to make short work of your to-do list on a Friday. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t plan all of the things you want to get done the following week. So, take some time to sit down and map out what it’ll look like.

What exactly do you want to accomplish? What action items or materials are required to get those done? Are there any large projects or presentations you can spend some time outlining right now—making them easier to get started on the following week?

Planning ahead might seem a little on the anal-retentive side. But it’s really a smart move. It allows you to walk into the office on Monday morning knowing exactly what you’re in for—meaning you can also be strategic about where you channel your time and energy.

3. Schedule Meetings

Most of the time, I’m not a big fan of meetings. They tend to break up my workday and function as a constant distraction. But, on Fridays—when being chained to my desk feels like a rare form of torture anyway—having the opportunity to get up and talk things through with others really seems like a blessing.

Now, I make an effort to schedule as many phone calls, meetings, and appointments as I can on Fridays. It gets me away from my desk and allows me to be social with others—rather than mindlessly watching the minutes tick by at my desk. Plus, those scheduled commitments make the day pass by faster. On the last day of the work week, a speeding clock is never a bad thing.

4. Utilize the Pomodoro Technique

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh no, here she comes. She’s going to throw some bogus productivity hack at me that doesn’t actually do anything.”

I can’t blame you for your skepticism—I’m the exact same way. I’ve never been a big believer in the tricks and changes that promise to transform me from unmotivated to unbelievably productive in three seconds flat. But, take it from someone who shares your cynicism: the Pomodoro Technique actually works.

What is it? Basically, it’s a time management method that breaks your day into 25-minute chunks, with five-minute breaks in between. You set a timer for each interval, and it’s said to create a sense of urgency—it inspires you to get as much done in that 25-minute period as you can.

I gave it a try, and it really worked for me. And, while it can be difficult to implement on days when you have a lot of appointments (which I know I just recommended you set up), it can definitely still be helpful to use during those periods of time between meetings.

Not only will it inspire you to crank out work at a breakneck pace, but splitting up your day also makes that never-ending Friday in the office feel way more manageable.
If you’re anything like me, Friday is notorious for being your least productive day. But, that doesn’t mean you need to chalk it up as a total wash. Use a few (or all!) of these tips, and you’re sure to make a good dent in your to-do list by the time the weekend rolls around.


Original article published on The Muse by Kat Boogaard.

9 Tips on Conducting Great Interviews

In my career, I have conducted thousands of interviews, been interviewed hundreds of times and as a media consultant, I have also observed thousands of interviews from a neutral seat. There are a few tips that have worked consistently well for me and perhaps they will help you. I write this from a media professional’s point of view, but I think many of these points  are applicable to business and employment interviews as well.

1. Start slow, safe and personal.

I usually begin with a question that focuses on the person and not the topic at hand, such as: “Where did you grow up,” or “what was your first job out of college?” First off, you relax your subject and you humanize the interaction. This relaxes the atmosphere, starts the conversation on safe ground, and let’s you get a sense of the where your subject is coming from. Second, you sometimes get a surprisingly good story.

Many years ago, when Oracle was a startup on a meteoric rise, Larry Ellison was interviewed by a veteranmagazine reporter. The subject was corporate strategies related to database software. But the reporter started by asking Ellison where he was born an raised. Ellison known for his aggressive and independent style, revealed that he was raised by a single mom and spent much of his youth on the streets of Chicago. This, for many years, became a key component of the Ellison persona and the Oracle’s street-tough competitive style.

2. Coax, don’t hammer.

The “shock jock” interviewer may get daytime TV audiences to cheer and jeer, but chances are your audience is too sophisticated and businesslike for such low-rent tactics. I prefer interviews who have the up-close, but soft style that coaxes  revealing, newsworthy, useful answers. For that reason, I am a huge fan of NPR’s Terry Gross, host of the long-running Fresh Air. She coaxes the most revealing content out of her subjects, by adopting a very personal rapport and asking questions, in a “c’mon, you can tell me” style. People tell her the most amazing stuff. I’ll bet a few of them later wonder whatever possessed them to reveal certain matters on national television.

3. Make some questions open ended.

All interviews require you to ask specific questions that get answered with narrow data points. “What was you last  job title?” But, in my experience, the most interesting responses I get come from open-ended questions, such as, “What is your vision for your organization five years from today?” or one of my current favorites, “Do you worry about any unintended consequences from what you are trying to accomplish?”

Years ago, I interviewed Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace a controversial segregationist running for thepresidential nomination. I was no fan of his, but made it my business not to show my personal animosity. I asked hom what he thought the voters of Massachusetts shared in common with him. “They are as tired as I am of big government stomping on hard-working folks butts,” he said. This is a tired old saw today, but that interview may be the first time a candidate personified “big government” bullying everyday people. Wallace almost won that Massachusetts primary. His campaign sent me a thank you note for giving Wallace the chance to state his case. I have regretted it ever since, but it was where I learned my job was to get the interviewee to tell his story and let the readers decide what they think of his or her ideas.

4. Ask what you don’t know.

There’s a lawyer’s tip that advises you to only ask witnesses questions that you already know the answers to. I do the opposite. I ask questions on issues where I am clueless what the answer will be. Lawyers hate surprises. As a journalist–or reader–I love them. Surprises mean I have something that has not been previously reported.

5. Let the interviewees wander a bit–but be careful.

Interviewers, in my view, try to hard to control the conversation, when the person in the other seat is the one who can produce the news.

I recently watched Oprah Winfrey interview Sean Penn in a Haitian refugee camp on television. Penn was in an uncharacteristically reflective mood. He obviously wanted to talk about the recent dissolution of his marriage but Winfrey changed the subject on him. Then he wanted to talk about the suffering of children, but she changed subjects on him again. After that Penn seemed bored and detached. I don’t blame him.

There is a danger, however. If you are conducting a business interview, the company representative may resort to talking points and “Corpspeak” if you allow to much slack. I usually stop writing, fold my arms and look out the window. They often trail off. Sometimes I complain that I had hoped to get from the person something that I could not have downloaded from the company site. Sometimes it work, sometimes it does not.

6.  Don’t send advance questions.

Sometimes, time requires me to send email questions, and then I get written answers in return. These are often adequate but the result is rarely as good as a face-to-face, candid interaction.  If I am going to have face time, I make clear the topics that I wish to cover and even ask if there are other subjects the interviewee would like to discuss.

But I don’t send questions in advance. The result feels far too scripted, and the answers start feeling like they were written by a committee. The result is that very little new ground is covered. It also eliminates my beloved follow-up questions, the ones that drill down on what was or was not said in the response. Very often, the followup question produces the lead to the story I report.

7. Be prepared. Find the overlooked.

I used to spend days researching before conducting an interview. Thanks to Google, that has been reduced to approximately an hour. I see what the subject has told other reporters and bloggers and I figure out what can be added to those previous conversations. I also look in forgotten cubbyholes. In searches I often go back to always go to result pages 3, 4 and 5, where I may find surprisingly interesting content that no one else has recently looked at.

I go into the room know the topics I want to discuss and trying not waste time of asking for answers recently discussed. But I do look for updates and I do look for the questions that someone else forgot to ask. I recently was scheduled to interview Yammer CEO David Sachs for my Forbes column. I had planned to ask him about his $25,000 hiring bonus to Yahoo employees. Unfortunately, in the preceding week , other reporters got to ask him all about it. I read them all and started my interview by asking Sachs how many resumes he had received and how many offers he had made. As a result, I got a small scoop, by asking the missed question.

Quite often, a subject’s response to one question begs for a follow up. Many times the follow-up question reveals more than either the interviewer or interviewee expected. You just can’t make that happen when you are following a script. When you do that, your mind very often goes on to your next question and you are not listening carefully to what your subject is saying.

I do come prepared and I let my subject know what subjects I want to cover. I also ask if there are other topics she or he would like me to add. I even jot a few topics down to make sure I remember them. But I do not write down questions and I stay poised to change directions and topics based on what my subjects are saying.

8. Listen, really listen.

The value of my interviews comes out of of what people say, not what I ask. If I ask a question and the subject drifts off, there is often a good reason. I can get feist and retort “Please anser my question,” or I can see where the person wants to go. If it’s into Corpspeak and key points, I simply stop writing. If it’s into an area that might interest my readers, then I let the subject wander. They key is to pay close attention to what is not answered and make on-the-spot judgements on why that area was skipped or glossed. Was it uninteresting to the subject? Unimportant? Painfully embarrassing?

9. There are dumb questions.

Try not to ask a question that your subject has already answered. It discloses that you really weren’t listening after all. Also try not to answer any questions that are answered in the interviewee’s online bios or company FAQ.

And remember above all, the interview is about the person you are talking to, not about you. It’s your job to reveal them, not to build them up or cut them down. Good night and good luck.


Original report published in Forbes. Written by Shel Israel.

6 Ways Successful Teams Are Built To Last

It takes great leadership to build great teams. Leaders  who are not  afraid to course correct, make the difficult decisions and establish standards of performance that are constantly  being met – and improving at all times.   Whether in the workplace, professional sports,  or your local community, team building requires a keen understanding of people, their strengths and what gets them excited to work with others.   Team building requires the management of egos and their constant demands for attention and recognition – not always warranted.   Team building is both an art and a science and the leader who can consistently build high performance teams is worth their weight in gold.

History has shown us that it takes a special kind of leader with unique competencies and skills to successfully build great companies and teams.  In the sports world, the late John Wooden set the standard for great coaches, leading UCLA to 10 NCAA national basketball championships in a 12-year period — seven in a row.   His success was so iconic, Wooden created his own “Pyramid for Success” to help others excel through his proven wisdom. In the business world, we can look to Jack Welsh,  who was the Chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. According to Wikipedia, the company’s value rose 4000% during his tenure.  In 2006 Welch’s net worth was estimated at $720 million and in 2009, he launched the Jack Welsh Management Institute  at Strayer University.

Building companies requires the know-how to build long-lasting teams.   This is why most managers never become leaders and why most leaders never reach the highest pinnacle of leadership success.   It requires the ability to master the “art of people” and knowing how to maneuver hundreds (if not thousands) of people at the right place and at the right time.  It means knowing how each person thinks and how to best utilize their competencies rightly at all times.  It’s playing a continuous chess match – knowing that every wrong move that is made can cost the company hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars (just ask BP and Enron).

As you evaluate the sustainability of the team(s) you lead and its real impact on the organization you serve, here are six ways successful teams are built to last:

1.       Be Aware of How You Work

As the leader of the team, you must be extremely aware of your leadership style and techniques.   Are they as effective as you think?  How well are they accepted by the team you are attempting to  lead?  Evaluate yourself and be critical about where you can improve, especially in areas that will benefit those whom you are a leading.

Though you may be in-charge, how you work may not be appreciated by those who work for you.   You may have  good intentions, but make sure you hold yourself accountable to course-correct and modify your approach if necessary to assure that you’re leading from a position of strength and respectability.

Be your own boss.  Be flexible.  Know who you are as a leader.

2.       Get to Know the Rest of the Team

Much like you need to hold yourself accountable for your actions to assure you maximize performance and results, you must make the time to get to know your team and encourage camaraderie.   In my “emotional intelligence blog,” I discuss the importance of caring, understanding the needs of your team and embracing differences and helping your colleagues experience their significance.  In this case, gathering intelligence means learning what defines the strengths and capabilities of your team –  the real assets that each member brings to the table, those they leave behind and those  yet to be developed.

All great leaders know exactly what buttons to push and when to push them.  They are experts at activating the talent that surrounds them.  They are equally as effective at matching unique areas of subject matter expertise and / or competencies to solve  problems and seek new solutions.

Fully knowing your team means that you have invested the time to understand how they are wired to think and what is required to motivate them to excel beyond what is expected from them.

Think of your team as puzzle pieces that can be placed together in a variety of ways.

3.       Clearly Define Roles & Responsibilities

When you successfully complete step 2, you can then more effectively and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of those on your team.  Now, don’t assume this is an easy step;  in fact, you’ll often find that people’s ideal roles  lie outside their job descriptions.

Each of your team member’s responsibilities must be interconnected and dependent upon one another.    This is not unlike team sports, where some players are known as “system players” – meaning that, although they may not be the most talented person on the team,  they know how to work best within the “system.”    This is why you must have a keen eye for talent that can evaluate people not  only on their ability to play a particular role – but even more so on whether they fit the workplace culture (the system) and  will be a team player.

For example, I once inherited an employee who wasn’t very good at his specific job.  Instead of firing him, I took the time to get to know him and utilized his natural talents as a strategic facilitator who could keep all of the moving parts within the department in proper alignment and in lock-step communication.   This person helped our team operate more efficiently and saved the company money by avoiding the bad decisions they previously made because of miscommunications.  He was eventually promoted into a special projects manager role. 

A team should operate as a mosaic whose unique strengths and differences convert into a powerful united force.

4.       Be Proactive with Feedback

Feedback is the key to assuring any team is staying on track, but more importantly that it is improving each day.   Feedback should be proactive and constant.   Many leaders are prone to wait until a problem occurs before they give feedback.

Feedback is simply the art of great communication.  It should be something that is part of one’s natural dialogue.  Feedback can be both formal and informal.    In fact, if it becomes too structured and stiff, it becomes difficult for the feedback to be authentic and impactful.

Remember that every team is different, with its own unique nuances and dynamics.  Treat them as such.  No cookie-cutter approach is allowed.   Allow proactive feedback to serve as your team’s greatest enabler for continuous improvement.

Take the time to remind someone of how and what they can be doing better.  Learn from them. Don’t complicate the process of constructive feedback.  Feedback is two-way communication.

5.       Acknowledge and Reward

With proactive feedback comes acknowledgement and reward.  People love recognition, but are most appreciative of respect.   Take the time to give your teammates the proper accolades they have earned and deserve.   I have seen too many leaders take performance for granted because they don’t believe that one should be rewarded for “doing their job.”

At a time when people want to feel as if they are making a difference, be a thoughtful leader and reassure your team that you are paying attention to their efforts.   Being genuine in your recognition and respect goes a long way towards building loyalty and trust.  It organically ignites extra effort!

When people are acknowledged, their work brings them greater satisfaction and becomes more purposeful. 

6.       Always Celebrate Success

At a time when uncertainty is being dealt with each day, you must take the time to celebrate success.    This goes beyond acknowledgment – this is about taking a step-back and reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you have learned throughout the journey.

In today’s fast-paced, rapidly changing world of work, people are not taking enough time to understand why they were successful and how their success reverberated and positively impacted those around them.    I have seen leaders fall into the trap of self-aggrandizement – because of what their teams accomplished – rather than celebrating the success stories that in many cases required tremendous effort,  sacrifice and perseverance.

Celebration is a short-lived activity.  Don’t ignore it.  Take the time to live in the moment and remember what allowed you to cross the finish line.

Leaders are only as successful as their teams and the great ones know  that with the right team dynamics, decisions and diverse personalities, everyone wins in the end.


Originally published in Forbes, by Glenn Llopis

Special Thank You/Announcement:

  • Inspired by my readers to help organizations and individuals reach for success in today’s new workplace , I would like to invite you to my new online educational platform – Glenn Llopis Training – where we have launched phase 1 (Leadership and Career Advancement categories).   Use the code “GLG” and receive 15% off this interactive video-based educational experience.

Create A Vocabulary That Inspires Employee Engagement

It’s official. Employee engagement is the new black. I’ve been writing and thinking a lot about it lately, as have others. The very notion of how leaders and employees engage has slowly morphed away from ‘companies have to do this because employees want it’ to ‘companies have to do this even though employees don’t trust it 100 percent’. I’m not saying employees don’t seek engagement; I’m simply saying many have reasons to doubt corporate engagement programs as they stand today. We are still in a process of finding what really works.

This revelation came after I’d read a series of interesting articles and spoken with a few clients of mine who’ve been working on employee recruiting, retention, engagement programs. The clients are genuinely trying to connect with employees, for a number of reasons. But not all are finding it easy going.

Carina Wytiaz, writing in TLNT, The Business of HR, suggested a number of employee appreciation resolutions employers could adopt for 2014. Her suggestions speak to the human-ness of the relationship between employers and employees.  What stuck with me most was her recommendation that employers find a way to say ‘thank you’ for performance. It’s such a powerful thing, to thank someone from the bottom of your heart, to make it genuine. Unfortunately it’s not part of most big-company HR programs.

Then I came across a Fortune interview with the CEO of PepsiCo PEP -0.27%Indra Nooyi, who has adopted an extraordinary engagement strategy: she writes letters to the parents of her direct reports and thanks the parents  – the direct quote from the article is “therefore I’m writing to thank you for the gift of your son, who is doing this at PepsiCo, and what a wonderful job this person is doing.” There’s that phrase again – ‘thank you’ – uttered with power, wisdom and grace. Imagine being the parent and getting that letter, then calling your son or daughter, tears in your eyes. Nooyi’s empathy and ability to engage is definitely not taught in most management classes.

The article that really got me thinking was one was shared by a friend of mine on Twitter Judy Gombita in PRConversations. Judy’s interesting post deals with the nature of social engagement programs – asking employees to use their social channels for a company’s benefit as brand ambassadors. My sense is she’s concerned companies treat the process as a form of employee engagement. It’s a very in depth look at engagement, with quotes from leaders of top companies; it’s worth reading for its clarity and deep questions.

These three very different views of employee engagement led me to think we need a lexicon of engagement if we are to actually do engagement right. We need to use words that are simple, direct and unambiguous. And we have to really mean it when we say the words.

We need to use words that are simple, direct and unambiguous. And we have to really mean it when we say the words.

My vocabulary for employee engagement would start with these words and phrases:

Please.  This is one of the most powerful words in any language. It tells the listener you need them, you need their help, and it means something to you. Too few people use the word. If you want to engage with someone at a meaningful level, if you need help, you have to ask nicely, and you have to say please.  It’s not simply polite – it’s a social cue that tells the listener you are asking for their time, attention, and assistance.

Thank you. This was the #1 phrase in Carina Wytiaz’s column, cited above, and it is number two here only because in my mind it bookends the word ‘please’. It’s essential to thank employees for their efforts. Salary, perks, all those things are part of the employment contract; ‘thank you’ is a person-to-person recognition of effort. It’s an essential phrase.

Do you have a moment? This (or ‘Is this a good time?’) may not seem like an essential set of words, but asking people if it’s a good time to engage with them is more than good manners: it tells them you value their time and effort, and it lets them know you expect the same respect in return. There are times when command-and-control is necessary, but most of the time employers should think about meeting the employee in his or her context before pushing for employee engagement.

I understand. Make sure you really do before you say this phrase, because it’s fraught with meaning. But understanding where an employee is in his or her life, day, or job is critical for any employee engagement program to work.

Well done. It’s not every day an employer gets to say those words, but to my mind it is a more powerful statement than the ubiquitous ‘good job’.  People say that to their kids when they pick up the toys without being nagged five times; it’s not enough when you’re trying to communicate the truth of a job well done. I remember hearing that phrase from a former manager and feeling the glow of approval; it was a big deal.

Say things clearly, say what you mean, and be careful with language if you want to really engage with your employees. Get the words and sentiment right, and engagement will follow.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

4 Psychological Tricks That Will Improve Your Performance Today

Maybe you just bombed the bar exam. Or perhaps you’re terrified that you’re going to get laughed out of the room when you try to sell your product.

When the stakes–and your emotions–are high, it’s hard to think positive. But the thoughts that run through your head influence the way your body behaves and if you don’t think like a winner, you’ll struggle to be successful.

Don’t Think Like A Failure

If you think too much about your failure, you’ll actually increase the chances that you’ll fail again. In fact, studies show there’s a big difference between playing to win and trying to avoid failure.

How To Be More Confident At Work

If your goal is to avoid failure, you may actually increase your chances of failing again. So rather than think, “I don’t want to lose again,” you’ll be more likely to succeed if you think, “This time, I’m going to win.”

Quite often, one failed attempt leads to negative predictions about the next attempt. Thinking, “I’ll just mess up again,” or “This will never work,” will hinder your performance and sabotage your effort.

How To Think Like A Winner

If you’re intentional about the way you think, you can take steps to shift your mindset. Thinking in a productive and positive manner increases the chances that you’ll succeed.

A new study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that a few subtle shifts in thinking habits made a big difference in a subject’s overall performance. Researchers found that these four psychological tricks were most effective in helping people improve their performance:

1. Self-talk outcome – Tell yourself that you can have a better outcome this time than you did last time. Saying, “I can improve my score,” or “I can convince the audience to close the deal,” will improve your performance.

2. Self-talk process - Pay attention to the behavior that will improve your performance. Identify one thing you’ll need to do and tell yourself you can do it. Try saying, “I can speak more persuasively,” or “I can react faster,” and you’ll be more likely to make those things happen.

3. Imagery-outcome - It’s not enough to just think about the positive outcome you want–you actually have to imagine it happening. Visualize the boss offering you that promotion or imagine the audience giving you a standing ovation.

4. Imagery-process - In addition to imagining the positive outcome, imagine the positive behavior that will help make you a success. See yourself swinging the bat faster or engaging your audience better. That imagery will make you more likely to do those things when it comes time to perform.

Practice Training Your Brain To Think Differently

The conversations you have with yourself can either sabotage your best effort or bolster your performance . Don’t let failed experiences, high anxiety, or self-doubt cause you to think like a failure.

Train your brain to think differently about success and your performance will improve. Before you step back on that stage or head into that board room, take a few minutes to go through all four steps.

With practice, the process will happen naturally and your inner monologue will become more productive so you can perform at your peak with less effort.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, speaker, and author of the bestselling book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.