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Tag Archives: leading people

A leadership lesson from Aesop’s fables

This blog post originally published in September 2009, just a few days after we launched the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog for the very first time. Today, over 10 years later, this story about teamwork and synergy  is as relevant to leaders as it was then.  I hope you enjoy this blast from the past.

synergyThere is a classic Aesop’s fable that offers a great lesson to leaders about synergy and teamwork.  A father whose sons were always fighting wanted to show them the value of the synergy that comes from working together.  So he had one of the sons bring him a bundle of sticks.  He gathered his sons around him, and one at a time, he asked each young man to take the bundle of sticks and try to break it.  None succeeded.  He then split open the bundle, and handed each son one or two sticks, asking them once again to try to break them.  This time, the sons did so easily.  “You see boys,” he said.  “Individually, these sticks do not have much strength, but when you combine their individual might, they form something of much greater power.  Separately, you can be broken, but together, you are stronger.” Continue reading

Improve your coaching skills by asking this one simple question

coachingBack in 2012, I posed this question on the blog: When your employee comes to you with a problem, do you tell or do you ask?  My point was that so many leaders have the tendency to “solve” our employees’ issues rather than coaching our employees to resolve the problems themselves.  Over the years, I have discovered one very simple, yet powerful, phrase can make the difference.  Ask: What do you think?

A powerful coaching moment

When an employee comes to you with an issue, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to provide an answer.  Instead, use the opportunity to create a very powerful coaching moment.  The chances are high that your employee already has a very good idea as to what the solution should be, and only really wants to discuss it with you and get your concurrence.  When you ask “What do you think?”, you are opening the door for a dialogue that not only will lead to a solution, but will also build your employee’s self-confidence as well as enhance problem-solving skills.  Continue reading

Insist that your employees be problem solvers, not problem identifiers

ProblemSolvingSome employees are serial “problem identifiers” – they’re very good at telling you what’s wrong. Whether they’re talking about a process, a person, another department, or even their own jobs, they’re adept at pinpointing and vocalizing what is amiss. But then the unspoken assumption is that it’s your job (because you’re the boss) to fix it. And unfortunately, many managers and supervisors blindly stumble into this trap (see Why do managers have a tendency to do rather than coach? and Do you tell or do you ask?). Don’t. Make it a point to insist that your employees bring you solutions, not problems.

Require that your people become “problem solvers” instead of “problem identifiers”. Continue reading

Be proactive – think like a chess grand master to avoid a “checkmate”

ChessPiecesIn chess, a checkmate occurs when a player’s king is under attack, and has no alternative plan or course of action available because every possible escape route is blocked.  At the moment of checkmate, the game is already lost, so the only way to avoid being checkmated is to be proactive, to strategically think several moves before ever getting to this point.  Chess grand masters, able to visualize permutations and combinations involving ten or more moves into the future, have perfected this skill.  Fortunately, it’s far less complicated to avoid a checkmate in the world of work!  In fact, there are only three elements needed to develop a leadership approach that is effective in avoiding a workplace checkmate.

  1. First, pay attention to “checks”.  In chess, a “check” (called by a player when the opponent’s king is under threat of capture) serves as a warning that a checkmate is imminent and gives the opponent a chance to take evasive action.  Checks are also present in the workplace, alarm signals to leaders that things are about to go awry.  But it’s up to leaders to pay attention.  Whether it’s an increase in errors, a rise in customer complaints, or grumbling around the staff water cooler, it’s up to leaders to heed the cautionary signs and take evasive action.
  2. Second, pay attention to the pieces on the board.  Continue reading

Do you tell or do you ask?

In my last blog post, I asked why so many of us have the tendency to “solve” our employees’ issues rather than coaching our employees to resolve the problems themselves. It prompted this related question: when your employee comes to you with a problem, do you tell or do you ask? Let me explain further.

Let’s say one of your employees is having trouble reconciling a client’s account. Do you tell him how to fix it, or do you ask him what he has already tried? Continue reading

Why do managers have a tendency to do rather than coach?

When an employee comes to you with a problem, what is your most likely reaction? Are you a doer – someone who jumps in and solve the problem – or are you a facilitator – someone who helps the employee get to the bottom of it on his/her own? Most managers and supervisors I talk to readily admit that they even though they know the better answer is the latter (i.e. being a coach and facilitator), they still tend to step in and take over quite quickly. So why is that? Why the tendency to take over and run the show? I think that it’s always one or more of three possible reasons: Continue reading

What made that good boss so special?

My professional colleague and good friend Kit Grant is known to his clients as “The Director of Comfort Zone Infiltration” because he works with them to help create environments that foster personal responsibility and accountability. And today he makes a return appearance to the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog as a guest author.

Most people can remember a really good boss they used to work for, or still do. At the same time, it’s not hard to recall the one you didn’t like. If you were to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, you could list the good characteristics on one side and the not-so-good on the other. After making your list, you would probably discover that what sets the good boss apart from the other one is their ability to exercise better “people skills”. I am not suggesting technical skills are not important, but most people who leave organizations actually just leave a particular manager or supervisor.

So what are some of these important “people skills”? Here’s a few I have identified:

  • Gives clear instructions … it doesn’t matter whether you understand your directions, it only counts when they actually get it!
  • Good listening skills … the foundation of trust building and people will do almost anything for you if they trust you.
  • Enthusiasm for the task and for life in general … people get excited when the leader is excited.
  • High degree of self-esteem and self-confidence … usually gained by experiencing success by doing what you are good at — this has huge implications for hiring and delegating effectively.
  • Encourages continual growth and improvement …. we all have a daily choice of getting better or worse.
  • Makes decisions and addresses challenges after appropriate analysis … people do not like working for someone who won’t make decisions and gets bogged down in endless meetings after which not much happens.
  • Recognizes efforts of others and praises accordingly … feedback based on performance creates a motivating environment as opposed to no personal recognition ever being given which usually means your good people leave (because they can).
  • Expects good work from everyone … as opposed to demanding it — no one wants to work for “Attila the Hun” or “Hunette” as the case may be.
  • Can overcome resistance to change … people follow you because they think you know where you are going.

How many of the above characteristics would describe your leadership style? Implementing these on a consistent basis builds strong teams and personal loyalty.

So Kit asked: how many of these “people skills” would you use to describe yourself?  Do tell.  Please add your comments below.

And you can reach Kit through his website at

Validation — so many leadership lessons

Okay, true, this video is longer than usual – about 16 minutes.  But really, it’s worth it!  Starring T.J. Thyne (of television show Bones fame), it won a whole slew of awards as best short film at various film festivals.  It is described as the magic of free parking, but that description doesn’t do it justice.  Really, it’s so much more.  If you’re a leader, do yourself and favour and watch it; there are several messages and reminders of what it takes to be an exceptional leader.

So what are your leadership lessons?  Here are some of mine:

  • It’s important to validate what your people do.  Not necessarily by complimenting them, but at least by acknowledging the skills and value they bring to your department or organization.  (Okay the movie did lay the flattery on a little thick, but they were making a point!)
  • When people enjoy what they do, getting work done becomes a lot easier.
  • Even the most positive person can eventually be affected by a negative environment.  So as leaders, it’s important that we work to create positive and productive workplaces.
  • Sometimes we have to deliberately remind ourselves that we can and must find reasons to smile, despite negative events that may be occurring around and to us.
  • There are some workplaces (hopefully not yours) where people who smile and have fun are frowned upon!  What a miserable way to spend eight hours a day!!
  • Persistence and tenacity can pay off (he got the girl, didn’t he?)
  • Seemingly random acts of kindness come back to create positive outcomes.  Worth remembering in our busy workdays when sometimes it just feels like we’re doing everything possible to keep our heads above water.

What do you think?  Did I miss any?