What if I could show you how to improve the way you give compliments, and create truly memorable moments for the objects of your praise, simply by framing your words a bit differently?
I discovered this technique by accident years ago, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time considering and researching how it works. Its roots are grounded in a simple truth of psychology and emotional intelligence that I think we all understand.
The framing works quickly, and it comes down to preparing your audience to do two things: first, to pay attention to what you’re about to say, and next, to expect that your message will be a true and positive reflection on them.
The easiest way to remember to do this is to learn to give praise by starting with a short, simple, focus-shifting preamble.
For example, you might use a variation of these six words: “You might not know this, but…”
That short phrase is packed with meaning. It starts with “you,” so it impresses that the other person in the conversation is also the subject of the conversation.
It also implies that you’re about to share new knowledge that the other person isn’t aware of yet. And the inclusion of a difference-indicating conjunction (“but”) suggests that the information will contradict a previous assumption.
Overall, it establishes that whatever comes next isn’t just about something you want to share. Instead, it’s about the other person’s perception of reality.
It’s other-centered, rather than self-centered.
Now, we’re talking only about the preamble, so far. And I know we’ve squeezed a lot into it. However, whatever follows is just as crucial. It has to be both positive and truthful.
So consider these sample iterations:
“You might not know this, but people really appreciate how calm you can be in a crisis.”
“I’m not sure if you appreciated your impact, but your comments in the meeting last week reassured the whole team.”
“I hope you didn’t think you were alone; when you asked that question in class, you spoke for everyone.”
“You’re never going to believe this, but I took your advice and it worked out.”
“Would it surprise you to know how much the newer people on the team talk about you as a role model?”
I’m making these examples intentionally broad, and mixing up the preambles, of course.
But, I think you can see how it works — and how phrasing a compliment or positive feedback like this makes it a lot more powerful than simply offering praise as a declarative statement.
It also illustrates that the substantive compliment has to be authentic and truthful for this to work.
For example, if somebody were to say to me: “Bill, you may not know this, but people think you’re a really great dancer,” I would be skeptical.
I mean, I know that I’m simply not a very good dancer. It’s kind of comical, actually.
Now, as I mentioned above, the irony for me is that I stumbled across this technique purely by accident.
Back when I was practicing law, a more experienced attorney taught a class for the newer lawyers. She really knew her stuff, and the advice she gave — including some fairly technical intricacies of tax law and civil procedure — saved my greener colleagues and me a lot of time and frustration.
Afterward, I remember wondering why this gifted speaker hadn’t been promoted into a true leadership role. I also thought: Wait, does she actually know how helpful this was? Does anyone give her feedback?
We had hardly spoken before, but when I bumped into her later, I said something like: “I don’t know if anyone ever tells you this, but your presentation was great. It taught me and the other new lawyers quite a few things that made life a lot easier for us.”
That conversation sparked a bit of a work friendship and mentorship. And maybe a year or two later, I remember she said something reciprocal to me, like:
“You might not have understood the power of your words, but when you complimented my presentation that day, I really needed to hear it.”
Now, I’m certainly not saying that this is the only way to phrase a compliment, or that other ways are wrong, or that it always has the kind of memorable impact that will leave you thinking about it years later.
But I know that the preamble played above its weight in both cases, and I’ve been tuned in ever since to observe it in action again.
It’s a reminder that whether it’s hard-wired or learned insecurity, most of us are predisposed to seek out information about how others perceive us. So, framing compliments like this can increase their effect, while also reminding you to be other-centered in your interactions when that is beneficial.
In other words: You might not have known this, but your opinions are valuable to other people.
And when you phrase them correctly, they can stick with them in a positive way, for a very long time.
Two worlds seem to exist; one where all businessmen are evil and one where all businessmen are geniuses.
Yet entrepreneurs don’t go from an average Joe to a caricature ruthless boss overnight. Many of them start with dreams of changing the world for the better and small decisions move them away from their original principles.
Google famously included “Don’t be evil” in their code of conduct in 2000. Then they removed it in 2017.
Warren Buffett stands out amongst his billionaire peers because he has maintained his grounded image for over half a century. The Financial Times called him “capitalism’s kindly grandpa” and he seems far less ruthless than Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs in their primes.
While he isn’t in the running for the next Nobel Peace Prize, for entrepreneurs there are few better role models than the Sage of Omaha. He highlights integrity as the key to unlocking successful management:
“You look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true.” — Warren Buffett
Yet there isn’t a tape measure on Earth we can pull out to simply measure someone’s integrity. Often it’s hard to even judge our own ethics and whether we are doing the right thing. So how does Warren test people to determine whether they meet his standards? There are two key questions he has shared over the years which provide insight.
1. The Eros question
In 2014, two businessmen paid $650,000 to have lunch with Warren Buffett. It’s ridiculous but it went to the Glide Foundation to help homeless people so the money is in a better place now.
At this lunch, Warren explained his beliefs on integrity in-depth to their eager ears. It’s unsurprising the businessmen needed to learn about it considering they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single meal.
Warren posed this question:
“Would you rather be considered the best lover in the world and know privately that you’re the worst — or would you prefer to know privately that you’re the best lover in the world, but be considered the worst?”
We instinctively know the answer we are supposed to say here. Either way, people are being misled but it feels better to underplay our talents than to have wrongful adoration. If you hesitated before answering, don’t worry it goes against all our survival instincts.
Warren calls this the “inner scorecard”, where what matters most is our opinion of ourselves according to our values. Rather than an “outer scorecard” which measures the points other people give you because you are living up to their values.
While Warren’s question is more memorable, on a more realistic level, are you doing something because you think it is right or because you want others to praise you? I ask myself this regularly and sometimes I don’t like my answer.
Social media has distorted many of our minds into thinking about how to impress people we barely care about. It’s no different when acting as an entrepreneur and wanting to show off about success all the time. For some, it’s a strategy and for others, it’s just ego.
Only you know your true motives so you are the only person who can hold yourself accountable.
2. The newspaper question
Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln didn’t need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to ask Warren Buffett questions in 2005.
Berkshire Hathaway’s tentacles spread wide across industries and individual managers often run parts of the company larger than what many entrepreneurs ever manage. The students wanted to know how Warren ensures ethical standards across them.
His solution was simple, he would ask them how they “would feel about any given action if they know it was to be written up the next day in their local newspaper”.
If you are ok with your choices being public then it passes and you uphold your principles. Yet there’s a problem when you make a choice which you’d be ashamed to see on the front cover the next day. If you consistently make decisions that make you feel queasy then maybe you’re lying to yourself about what your principles are.
Transparency is proven to improve employee happiness and consumer loyalty. It makes sense logically as if you want to hide details then you can’t be proud of them. Sooner or later people will realize this and your reputation will suffer.
As with the previous question, there are flaws.
“Any publicity is good publicity” is an old cliché but one some businesspeople still believe. The question is completely neutralized when a leader’s narcissism is more important than the success of the company. When you don’t care who you hurt with your decisions then everything passes the test. Donald Trump is a master here, whatever newspapers print about him is good because he can flip it to work in his favor.
Business is not easy despite what you may read online. Sometimes no path is positive and the lesser of two evils must be chosen. The short term nature of Warren’s question can obstruct good decision making. It may be better to announce 20% job losses today and save the company than to go bankrupt in a year out of “integrity”.
A change to the medium of the question could be more illuminating. I have immense respect for Guy Raz’s podcast guests as he asks awkward questions about the less glamourous parts of their lives. He refuses guests who demand censorship of specific events.
If you were scheduled for a probing interview, would you feel the need to block a subject? Unlike the newspaper test, you have a chance to justify a superficially immoral decision. When you can’t then it tells you everything you need to know about your integrity.
The truth is we don’t live in a perfect way and even Warren Buffett has made some questionable decisions. His questions can help to determine your underlying motives for the choices you make. Yet beware of applying them too literally and be mindful that life is usually more nuanced.
I’ve simplified the questions for you to use the next time you find yourself in a moral quandary.
Would you make this decision if someone else got all the credit?
Would you feel comfortable explaining your choice in an interview?
And finally, a reminder to be kind to yourself. We all do things we later regret, we’re human. What’s important is how we handle our next challenge.
Busy entrepreneurs and founders don’t often have a lot of time in their day for objective introspection, where they intentionally try to become more aware of aspects of themselves that either drive or hinder their progress.
However, it is especially important for business owners to reflect on how their behavior is affecting their relationships, the perceptions of those around them and, consequently, the outcomes of their own actions. Without taking the time to do this, you will miss opportunities to grow—not only as a leader, but also as a person.
The members of Forbes Coaches Council understand how important self-reflection is. Many of them encourage their clients to practice it to understand and improve the impact of their behavior and interactions at work and at home. Here are 15 self-reflective exercises that they recommend you try.
1. Regularly Review Your Goals And Health
Carve out time, at least monthly, not just to review goals and outcomes for your business, but also to assess your own mental, emotional and spiritual health. Then, based on your reflection, set personal goals for the next month and assess where you are once more. – Billy Williams, Archegos
Taking a step back to self-reflect on a daily basis is essential to leading and loving. Creating this space daily is key. One proven activity is to spend ten to 30 minutes rehearsing mentally how you will show up personally and professionally in the day ahead. Visualize it, feel it and you will move the needle on your influence, impact and ability to stay connected to your values and vision. – Bree Luther, Inspired Science Coaching
4. Have A Ten-Minute Weekly Meeting With Yourself
Commit to having a ten-minute meeting with yourself every week. Weekly, ask, “What did I learn this week that made me more effective, and how do I know?” Monthly, ask, “What did I do this month to improve my impact, and how do I know?” Quarterly, ask, “What one change can I make that will improve key outcomes, and how will I know it works?” Yearly, ask, “What barrier should I remove this year?” – Sharon Richmond, Richmond Associates Consulting
5. Use This Five-Point Check-Up
I have regular five-point check-ups that I call my “ABCs.” Alignment: Is the company still aligned with who I am and my “why?” Boots on the ground: Remember where I came from, personally and professionally. Communication: Self-awareness and clarity support clear communications. Care: My indispensable triad is self-care, staff development and business development. Creativity: Flexibility and innovation foster growth. – Keda Edwards Pierre, True II Soul
I advocate for journaling. Allow yourself to slow down your mind by writing down whatever thoughts are running through it in a brain dump without filtering or editing. Journaling makes words tangible. Reflecting on your day and noting what you are grateful for allows you to park unproductive thoughts, discover insights and solutions and identify areas of growth. – Debra Kasowski, Debra Kasowski International
8. Work ‘On’ Versus ‘In’ Your Business Once A Quarter
Entrepreneurs need to recognize and accept the importance of introspection by prioritizing it on their calendars. Once every quarter, set aside one day specifically for working “on” the business versus “in” it. Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis and do an activity that is unique to you. Doing something outside of work may clear your mind, giving you more space in your head to focus on the business. – Anna-Vija McClain, Piccolo Marketing
9. Practice Active Introspection
There are a number of ways to practice introspection that don’t require actual meditation. Activities like sports, hiking or just being in nature are ideal. Absent these opportunities, set aside even ten to 15 minutes before bed or when you first wake up to journal your thoughts and feelings somehow. For those on the go, voice recordings on your phone are a great alternative to an actual journal. – Dhru Beeharilal, Nayan Leadership, LLC
10. Have Fun Writing Down Desires And Outcomes
After getting clear on the impact you want to have, write it down, along with the actions and behaviors you routinely want to exhibit. Then, take 15 to 30 minutes at the end of every week to look back and write down your thoughts. Go-getters can be hard on themselves, so it helps to have a little fun and lightness in reflecting. I use these four areas: “Yay!”, “Oh No!”, “Aha!” and “Next Time.” – Tracey Thorsen, LAITHOS™ — The Leadership Impact Company
11. Consider Doing A Core Values Exercise
I was unfulfilled in my past role until an exercise revealed that I was at odds with my core values. By articulating three core values and acting on them, I’ve launched the business I was made to create. Now, I weigh each personal and professional decision against them, and when I align decisions with my core values, I show up my best in all areas of life. – Lisa Walsh, Beacon Executive Coaching
12. Read More Than Emails
Anytime I get out of my zone, it is often because I stopped or halted my reading. I don’t mean reading emails, but rather intentionally reading business books, key industry literature and optional books, such as biographies. Nothing allows you a quicker release from the world around you than associating with other experiences and stories. The best way, to me, is through reading. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
13. Take Daily Walks
The busier you are, the more important it is to set aside explicit time to be able to quiet the mind and practice meaningful self-reflection. For me, this most often takes the form of daily walks with my dogs around the neighborhood park. The fresh air and the beautiful views are the perfect backdrop for me to let go of the day’s stresses and recenter myself. – Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D, Utah Valley University & Human Capital Innovations, LLC
14. Look At Where You Failed And Where You Prevailed
At the end of the day, I always sum it up by looking at where I failed and where I prevailed. Founders are often guilty of only celebrating the wins, but this gives you a chance to be honest, assess where you made a mistake and still keep moving! – Maresa Friedman, Executive Cat Herder
15. Observe Your Breath
Every mental state has a physical counterpart that’s inseparably connected. When you feel rushed or not able to stop and self-reflect, observe your breath. It is the first and most directly controllable aspect of your performance state. To reach emotional calmness, let your breath work as a guide.
Humans are motivated by four drives: acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend. Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams discuss how managers can use all four to keep employees engaged.
We recently asked 600 CEOs: What is keeping you awake at night during this global pandemic? A major and multifaceted concern that emerged is how to keep employees motivated when their world is crashing around them. The circumstances of work have become more difficult. Their responses included:
“Keeping morale and motivation up amongst employees while they are dealing with the stress of COVID-19 as well as parenting/schooling children while working from home. How can we be supportive while maximizing productivity? How do we help employees with work/life balance?”
“How to keep people engaged and connected and OPTIMISTIC in appropriate measure while so many have so many competing personal and business and health and family issues right now.”
Meanwhile, cost-cutting, uncertainty, and the necessities of social distancing attenuate or alter the traditional organizational levers. Several CEOs observed:
“Keeping spirits high in a sales environment. At the moment our sales force has to work twice as hard for a quarter of the results. We have reduced the expectation of results but they still feel like they are losing every day. I believe this will be a marathon, not a sprint, and I will need help for the next many months to keep theirs and others’ spirits high so we can keep them for when we recover.”
“How to motivate a team that has been furloughed? With our operations totally shut down by the government, we had to furlough 90% of our team. They still receive benefits but no wages. We plan on bringing them all back as soon as we are allowed to reopen, but for now they have no income from the company. Many in our industry laid off their employees, we did not.”
“How to keep executives motivated who were asked to take a 50% salary reduction. Because we are now closed and have no revenue, we asked senior staff to take a 50% pay reduction until we reopen. Our CEO took a 100% pay reduction.”
On the positive side of the spectrum, CEOs report that their teams are eager to be motivated, to find meaning at work during this crisis.
Research by Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and colleagues suggests that people are guided by four basic emotional needs, or drives, that are the product of our common evolutionary heritage. These four drives—the “ABCD” of human motivation—are:
Acquire. Obtain scarce goods, including intangibles such as social status.
Bond. Form connections with individuals and groups.
Comprehend. Satisfy our curiosity and master the world around us.
Defend. Protect against external threats and promote justice.
The extent to which a job satisfies these four drives accounts for a large portion of how much an individual is motivated in their work. While improving the fulfillment of any one drive enhances employee motivation somewhat, the key to a major employee-motivation advantage relative to other companies comes from improving all four drives in concert.
To some extent this is because of the balance required between two pairs of drives.
The drives to acquire and to bond are in tension with each other because the first is competitive and the second cooperative. A major part of management is to keep these two drives in healthy balance, for example by giving rewards for both individual and team performance. Without direct oversight, “Relationships can all too readily slide into cutthroat competition or totally collusive bonding. Either extreme will harm the firm’s performance.”
Organizations can balance these drives by allocating rewards and resources for both traditional performance and for learning activities.
What has changed and what hasn’t?
The four drives themselves, fundamental to human psychology, have not changed. The COVID-19 pandemic has not altered these dynamics as much as it has intensified or complicated them:
Cost-cutting and remote work mean that both the acquisition and bonding drives are harder to meet via traditional means such as raises and team outings.
Uncertainty around the pandemic itself, and its effect on industries and governments, have increased people’s comprehension and defensive drives.
The implicit, almost unconscious ways we get information and reassure each other are lost when people go remote. Colleagues are not going to overhear useful conversations while getting coffee. Because of this, functions of leadership that may have been automatic must now be done explicitly and with intent. The implication for leaders: overcommunicate, and over-reinforce boundaries and expectations.
While organizational policies are the infrastructure of meeting employees’ four drives, managers implement those policies and can do so in ways that increase or decrease engagement. Subcultures within organizations can differ as much as organizational cultures themselves. Most people have encountered a team that performs well above—or below—the organizational norm. While this has always been the case, widespread moves to remote work mean that individual managers are now, for many employees, the only face of the company that they interact with. This greatly increases the importance of managers.
A big question remains. What can organizations and team leaders do to increase fulfillment of each of the four drives? The graphic below displays the four-drive ecosystem.
The four-drive ecosystem
On the organizational level this drive is usually met through the compensation and rewards system. Best practices include:
Pay as well as competitors. There can be exceptions; the need to acquire applies to intangibles as well. Organizations with good reputations may be able to attract talent at a discount; the reverse may be true for stigmatized organizations. Likewise, investments in employees’ long-term prospects via continuing education/development or ownership options may allow for a discount in pay.
Sharply differentiate good performance from average and poor performance. This should be based on metrics that are clearly tied to the company’s mission. Note that we say performance, and not performers. Performance may be based on factors besides the talent and motivation of the individual in question, such as job or market conditions. A person may perform well in some aspects of the job but not in others. Avoid creating a system that plays favorites or denies people the opportunity to improve.
Tie rewards clearly to performance. Ideally, this should be done at both the individual and group (organization and/or team) level. This requires deciding what performance metrics are truly important and being consistent in their application. There is no point to encourage senior employees to mentor juniors, for example, but only reward them for time spent with clients.
These practices are possible regardless of the amount of resources available, with the possible exception of the first.
Managers work within this system and their team members understand that they are constrained by it. Managers who succeed at meeting their team members’ drive to acquire:
Set clear expectations by which performance is evaluated
Demand high performance
Ensure their team members receive rewards and recognition.
Be exceedingly clear on metrics and priorities. People are stretched to the limit: Don’t demand busywork or needless perfectionism.
During this pandemic managers may be the only witnesses of extraordinary efforts employees are making to stay focused and productive. Sincere, informed acknowledgement of these efforts can go a long way. Recognize outstanding accomplishments during meetings or some other way.
For example, gifts and services are appreciated by people more than ever before. Gifts of consumable items are actually valued these days! A fruit basket looks pretty exciting. Especially good are rewards that will ease workers’ daily strains—deliveries, dog-walking, online entertainment or classes for children. With so many companies in flux, it may be possible to get good discounts or in-kind exchanges of items that team members would appreciate. Gift certificates for takeout to local restaurants, personalized miniature embroideries, and online classes in yoga (for adults) and improv (for kids) are only some of the creative rewards managers have given their teams.
Celebrate not only splashy wins but the steadfast, regular business-as-usual activities that are now being accomplished under extraordinary circumstances. Everyone on your team can now add the line “ … during a global pandemic” to their list of job duties. Acknowledge that! At the same time, be authentic and don’t condescend.
Don’t be afraid to give course corrections when necessary. In the words of CEO coach Sabina Nawaz, “Small and frequent performance guidance circumvents major corrections down the road and allows everyone to stay in sync despite distance and daily change.”
On the organizational level, this drive is usually satisfied through company culture. Best practices include:
Foster mutual reliance and friendship among coworkers. Much has been written about how to manage remote teams and encourage collegiality. Teams that have only recently gone remote because of the pandemic have a few differences. On the upside, they have already built relationships and can leverage those. On the downside, the distance from colleagues and work friends is experienced as a possibly demotivating loss.
Value collaboration and teamwork. There is also the issue that over the next 18 to 24 months some people will return to the office while others continue working from home; this can lead to rival subcultures. Onboarding and integrating new employees is also especially difficult. The major issue with remote workers and motivation appears to be feeling isolated and second-class relative to the onsite workers.
Encourage sharing of best practices. Encourage employees to tell you what they are doing well and how they are lifehacking. Share best practices and praise them.
Managers who meet their teams’ bonding needs:
Make employees feel a part of the team
Care about employees on a personal level.
Start meetings with a check-in or opening ritual before diving into business.
Think about creative bonding experiences—an online talent show? Recipe contest? Game night? Show-and-tell of each team member’s favorite piece of art or travel souvenir? These might even be ways for team members to show new skills or facets of their personality.
Zoom fatigue is real. Not all bonding has to be in the moment. Take advantage of asynchronous communication with a page or Slack channel for sharing recipes, articles, and snapshots.
The leveling effect of remote work may make this a good time for cross-team collaboration, assignment rotations, or peer mentorship opportunities. The fact that sales was on the third floor and R&D on the second isn’t quite as relevant as it once was.
On the organizational level, this drive is usually satisfied through job design. Best practices include designing jobs that comprise distinct and important roles, have meaning, and foster a sense of contribution to the organization.
This does not mean all jobs must be knowledge work, or that employees must work at the peak of their intellectual or creative capacity to be fulfilled in this drive. There are two main ways that the drive to comprehend is satisfied on the job. The first is through whatever opportunities for learning, problem-solving, and creativity exist in the job itself. The second is through understanding the role and value of the job within the organization. This understanding can transform even mundane jobs.
The many unknowns of the pandemic mean that people’s overall need for comprehension and control is severely stymied. Organizations that can satisfy this drive for their employees will find them highly motivated in return. People are desperate for a chance to feel in control, as if they are making a difference.
Managers meet the drive to comprehend by:
Empowering team members
Giving team members challenging assignments
Helping team members learn and grow.
Do “office hours” on videoconferencing to replace the informal conversations you once had in the office. This will encourage people to come forth with questions, and with observations and suggestions that might not seem important enough for a full meeting.
Job design may have to take a back seat to immediate needs at this moment because some companies may not be able to perform all of their usual functions, and others may be in all-hands-on-deck mode. At the same time, the crisis brings the opportunity to interrogate business practices. Managers should continually connect their employees’ efforts to the organization’s higher-level goals. If they are not able to do this they need to be having conversations with their own bosses. This may be a good time as well to “[Challenge] employees to think more broadly about how they could contribute to making a difference for coworkers, customers, and investors.”
Providing employees with opportunities for continuing education can be highly motivating. At the moment, experts, educators, and entertainers are releasing a great deal of content online due to public events being cancelled. Furloughed or underutilized employees, especially, should be empowered to do continuing education—in things they are interested in, regardless of its apparent relevance to their jobs. Organizations will need creativity in the coming months and years, and the most reliable recipe for it is to collide one way of thinking or body of knowledge up against another. Sign your best salesperson up for those violin-making classes!
Nawaz also recommends:
“Stay ahead of the game by inviting problems, not just solutions. Our previous rules of engagement have gone by the wayside, so no one has definitive solutions. Invite your team to come to you with problems, even if they don’t yet have solutions. Consider saying, ‘In our current world, we all have questions, few people have answers. If you see signs of trouble, issues that aren’t visible to me, don’t wait to come to me until you have an accompanying solution. Bring me your early indicators and together we’ll devise experiments to tackle the challenge.’ Explicitly signaling you want to know about budding problems will enable greater periscopic vision and access to broader sets of solutions.”
The drive to defend, though primitive—it’s rooted in the basic fight-or-flight response—is nonetheless complicated. Animals are concerned only with “mine” and “might.” For humans, the defense drive is combined with a sense of justice or fairness. The desire to have something valuable—a well-paying job with a good title, say—is the drive to acquire. The drive to defend is the desire to be known to have deserved the job and gotten it fairly, and to believe that the job will not be capriciously taken away. When this drive is negatively affected, people become fearful, resentful, and disengaged.
On the organizational level, this drive is usually satisfied through performance management and resource allocation systems. Best practices: Processes must be transparent and fair, and their transparency and fairness must be communicated to employees.
Managers who meet the defend drive well:
Create a psychologically safe environment
Treat people fairly. Encourage team members to speak up and listen to what they say.
Overcommunicate. Even without economic turmoil remote workers can develop negative attribution tendencies, such as assuming they were left off an email chain because they are being eased out when in fact a simple error might be to blame.
Creating a psychologically safe environment does not mean compromising on performance. Instead, it means acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable, especially in times of learning and transition, and that success consists of surfacing errors and learning from them. Make a clear distinction between mistakes and malfeasance. Allow time for team members to process losses with new technology and altered ways of doing things. Encourage them when necessary. Typing is faster than writing, but not when you’re first learning.
Normalize asking for help. Offer help before it is asked for.
If resources need to be cut, be clear about why. Let employees know that it is acceptable to be frustrated or upset; those emotions are entirely valid. This does not mean condoning unprofessionalism or abuse by any stretch—it means not putting the emotional burden on them to make you feel better about it. Explain the business case, give them time to process.
Integrate the drives, empower the managers
When employees report even a slight enhancement in the fulfillment of any of the four drives, their overall motivation shows a corresponding improvement; however, major advances relative to other companies come from the aggregate effect on all four drives. This effect occurs not just because more drives are being met but because actions taken on several fronts seem to reinforce one another. The holistic approach is worth more than the sum of its constituent parts, even though working on each part adds something.
When these actions come through one person—the manager or team leader—some integration automatically takes place. A course correction serves to hone the competitive edge (acquire), while improving understanding (comprehend), and, if it is delivered in a helpful and respectful way, strengthens the relationship between manager and employee (bond).
Please look to your managers: Do they have what they need to lead and manage? Are they leading, managing, and motivating their employees during these difficult times?
Tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams has some advice for the more than 30 million small business owners and entrepreneurs across the U.S. struggling to find their footing in the new normal: Don’t let fear take over. It’s a lesson she learned at the age of 19 while competing with sister Serena, then 17, at the 1999 U.S. Open. Williams only made it to the semi-finals—her sister went on to win the tournament.
“I let fear take over, and that’s where I should have just let go and would have been my best,” she says. “You want more, and you work very hard for more, so less than that is just not acceptable. That was my biggest loss.”
Speaking to Forbes ahead of the American Express “Business Class Live: Summit for Success” on October 20, Williams drew parallels between her experience playing tennis and running various businesses during the pandemic. “Even though it’s a very challenging time it’s an opportunity to really refine your business and make it something that is a service or a product that is really needed and not just wanted,” says Williams, the founder of full-service commercial and residential design firm V Starr and activewear brand EleVen by Venus Williams. “This year showed all of us that we need to be a product or service that you can’t say no to.”
All entrepreneurs can benefit from that guidance right now. As of August 31, more than 163,000 businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic, according to Yelp’s September Local Economic Impact report. This represents a 23% increase from July 10. Even more alarming: 60% of closed businesses have permanently shuttered due to Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions in many states. The Q3 Yelp Economic Average Report released on October 22, however, points to a hopeful rebound: More than 210,000 businesses have now reopened amid a significant increase in consumer interest for outdoor related services and activities.
For those businesses that have managed to stay afloat, the path forward will require the will to adapt in an ever-changing environment. In fact, about 76% of small and medium-sized businesses have had to pivot their business models to maintain revenue, according to the latest Business Resilience Survey of 1,000 business owners by American Express. Of those surveyed, 73% expect to pivot again in the next year. More than 80% still believe the benefits of owning their own businesses outweigh the challenges.
“It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process. There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over? Hell, no.” Venus Williams, Tennis champion & Olympic gold medalist
When it comes to overcoming obstacles, small business owners can’t afford to doubt themselves. Williams learned this, and the importance of mental preparation, long ago. “It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process,” she says. “There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over?,” she says. “Hell, no.”
The hard-earned lessons from the court have translated to the boardroom as she’s set out to become a multi-venture entrepreneur. Inspired by her father, who ran his own security company, and her mother, who encouraged her creativity as a child, Williams found her second calling in fashion and interior design. In 2002, she founded V Starr, which recently collaborated with Airbnb partner Niido to design its first-ever apartment complex. In 2009, Williams and her sister became the first African American women to buy a stake in a NFL franchise when they joined the ownership group of the Miami Dolphins. Three years later, she launched EleVen by Venus Williams and earned her associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Earlier this year, she partnered with Credo Beauty to launch a line of clean, mineral-based SPF products for EleVen by Venus.
Williams says running her businesses in the current environment has been one of the greatest challenges she’s ever faced, but she still appreciates the silver linings. “The world of business is really lending a hand to African Americans and women and minorities during this time. And that has also been unprecedented—so opportunity comes out of this really crazy hardship as well. You have to look at that as a challenge—you need to accept it and run with it. There’s no time to waste.”
You can start with one simple behavior change that will bring a massive impact.
If you’re a leader or a manager, you probably wear a lot of hats. You’re a project manager, delegator, spokesperson, and most importantly, a coach. But the problem is that no one ever tells you how to be an effective coach, or even what that means. Are you supposed to act like a sports coach? A therapist? Perform some bizarre (and arcane) HR ritual?
The answer is none of the above. In fact, it’s about making one tiny change to your behavior, one that will bring a significant impact. Being a coach is about being more curious, and being slow to give advice and take action.
Now, I’m not saying that that coaching never involves giving advice. At times, your job is to provide an answer. If the building’s burning down–for example–you don’t want to have a conversation about how people are feeling about the smell of smoke.
But the truth is, most of us are advice-giving maniacs. We don’t listen as much as we should. Think about the last time someone talked to you about a complex issue. Did you listen intently? Chances are, after about three sentences, you formed some initial thoughts, and you probably jumped in to voice them.
Start with a simple question
It’s a simple concept to understand, yet it’s difficult to implement. According to a 2015 survey, on average GPs interrupt their patients after 18 seconds. I wouldn’t bet on managers doing much better.
Being curious involves asking questions–and they don’t have to be complicated ones. Start with, “And what else?”
Yes, it’s hardly the probing, introspective coaching question you expect. But it works really well.
It is based on the understanding that the first answer someone gives is never their only answer, and it’s rarely their best. Far too many of us spring into action before we’ve uncovered the truth. We don’t probe a little further to dig beyond their half-baked thought or the first thing that’s come to their minds. “And what else?” allow us to push a little deeper.
This question works so well is that it’s a self-management tool. You know you have an ingrained habit of leaping in with advice, solutions, opinions, and ideas. We all do. “And what else?” is one of the most effective ways of taming your inner advice monster and staying curious a little bit longer.
How to ask the question effectively
This question is powerful because it’s almost always usable. You can generally get more bang for your buck by following up with “And what else?”
Of course, tone matters. You can ask this question from a place of boredom, frustration, disinterest, or disdain, and it’s unlikely to be effective. But when you ask from a place of genuine curiosity, the other person won’t even register that it’s a question. They might not even click that you’ve asked this before.
If you feel like you need to move things forward or end the conversation, ask them, “is there anything else?” This indicates that you’re prepared to end the discussion, but you’re giving room for anything important that they might still want to bring up. It’s an emotionally intelligent way to send a signal that you’re about to close the conversation.
Coaching is an essential leadership behavior. Curiosity is the driving force in being more coach-like. Questions fuel curiosity. If you’re looking for just one question to add right now to your leadership repertoire, “And what else?” might be it. Remember, as a leader or manager, your job is not to have all the answers–but to guide your employees to come up with the right ones.
When the U.S. stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, shock waves collapsed markets worldwide. Three years later, 15 million Americans were out of work — one out of every three people. Capital investment dropped from $10 billion in 1929 to $1 billion in 1932. Farm income plummeted 60 percent. Worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 15 percent.
The following spring, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States. He took urgent and bold action to save American from ruin. “The country needs — and, unless I mistake its temper — the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” he told the American people. “It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
More than 80 years later, the lessons of FDR’s leadership are still relevant for business leaders — especially those leading a company through difficult times. These five leadership lessons from FDR’s presidential campaign, early days in office and tenure as president have stood the test of time.
Leadership lesson 1: Provide an inspiring vision that gets people excited.
During his run for office, FDR campaigned on a “New Deal” for America. While he was short on specifics, his energy, charisma and message of hope resonated. “Happy Days Are Here Again” played at all FDR events. Campaign Manager Jim Farley observed that Roosevelt’s “ability to discuss political issues in short, simple sentences made a powerful impression. There was a touch of destiny about the man.”
Americans thought so too, and elected FDR in a landslide.
Leadership lesson 2: Lead with optimism, no matter how dire the situation may be.
The day before FDR’s inauguration, banks in 32 of the country’s 48 states had closed. Deposits evaporated. Money was useless anyway — there was nothing to buy.
On Saturday, March 4, 1933, gloomy skies matched the nation’s mood at FDR’s inauguration. Yet he radiated optimism. In his address, FDR proclaimed he would speak with “candor,” lead with “vigor,” and act “boldly.” He assured Americans of his “firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” As he spoke, sunshine emerged.
Leadership lesson 3: Work collaboratively with your colleagues to develop a plan for change.
While thousands attended inaugural celebrations, FDR invited his cabinet to the White House where Justice Benjamin Cardozo swore them in as a group — a first. Roosevelt had assembled his team in February, a bipartisan mix of conservatives and liberals, including the first female Secretary of Labor. FDR joked the Saturday swearing-in meant they would “receive an extra day’s pay.” It signaled his presidency would start with action, not ceremony.
That night, FDR stayed up past 1 a.m. with longtime aide Louis Howe, discussing the plan that would become known as the “Hundred Days,” a bold experiment in governing that set the bar for new leaders. Henceforth, the first hundred days for executives in all types of institutions would become the symbolic benchmark for measuring their early successes.
Leadership lesson 4: Take bold action and demonstrate courage.
FDR’s approach was informed by three elder statesmen: Antioch College professor Arthur Morgan inspired FDR to think big. Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell encouraged FDR to take and hold the initiative with Congress. Retired Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes told FDR, “You are in a war, Mr. President, and in a war there is only one rule, ‘Form your battalion and fight!’”
On Sunday, March 5, 1933, FDR met with Congressional leaders to enlist their support, and then issued a proclamation closing the country’s banks. The next day he met with U.S. governors to explain his decision. He received a standing ovation.
That Thursday, Congress convened in a 100-day special session. In just seven hours, legislation safeguarding banks and depositors was introduced, passed and signed. FDR’s first days in office set the tone for his presidency and were characterized by speed, confidence and a willingness to try new things. “There are many ways of going forward,” he noted, “but only one way of standing still.”
Leadership lesson 5: Make decisions that benefit the greater good.
During the Hundred Days, FDR introduced — and Congress established — dozens of agencies that stimulated farm programs, initiated conservation programs, outlawed child labor and lifted wages. Timing helped. With war looming, American industry awoke — providing new jobs and what Roosevelt called the “great arsenal of democracy.”
FDR created opportunities to get Americans working and feeling good about themselves. Though crippled by polio and unable to walk since age 39, FDR exhibited the courage, vision and willpower to get America back on her feet.
Of all the difficult decisions executives face, few torment them more than having to fire someone on their own team. High-risk innovations, layoffs, and even major acquisitions don’t cause as much angst as removing someone from a senior position.
Recently, a client of mine — a division president of a large manufacturing company, let’s call him Kyle — struggled with this problem. One of his VPs of sales had missed his targets for the third consecutive quarter. The VP had been given a coach and additional resources to help him succeed, but was still unable to turn around his performance, causing significant employee turnover in his region. Removing him seemed like the obvious choice, but Kyle was tortured by the thought. “I want to give him one more chance,” he said. “Is it wrong to want to give him every possible chance to make it?”
Kyle, who did not routinely struggle with difficult decisions and leads one of the highest performing divisions in his company, is not alone. Firing someone is a decision rife with complexity and personal angst. But avoiding it only prolongs the inevitable and increases the consequences of keeping a poor performer at the top.
In my work with senior executives, I’ve observed five things that often get in the way of making the necessary call. Recognizing and correcting these behaviors early on can help you overcome the fear of firing an under performing leader and prevent the damage that may occur if you don’t.
A determination to fix others. Well-intended leaders often feel genuine commitment to helping direct reports succeed. The importance of coaching and feedback has been drilled into them. But when your commitment to someone’s growth exceeds their ability to grow, you are unwittingly contributing to their failure.
Kyle offers a case in point. He set out to help his VP of sales turn things around and he wasn’t going to stop until he did. He saw the VP’s under performance as his own personal failure to effectively develop younger executives. In reality, however, the VP was years away from thriving in a role with such high demands. While Kyle’s desire for people to succeed was admirable, his belief that he could, and should, make that happen was a form of arrogance.
This is not uncommon. Another HR executive I worked with prided herself in developing leaders others had given up on. She invested in coaching, training, and created “developmental assignments” for struggling leaders. She sometimes succeeded at uncovering great talent that others had prematurely discarded. But too often, under the guise of creating a culture that prized employee development, she set people up to fail by keeping them in roles they’d long proven to be incapable of handling.
Be careful not to confuse your commitment to employee development with masked “savior syndrome.” Playing the hero could come at the expense of someone else’s career.
Fear of delivering a fatal blow. One of the unique complexities of removing an executive from their role is the damaging consequences it may have on their career. Falling from a high perch can make a leader damaged goods when pursuing future opportunities. As a result, bosses may experience guilt when it comes time to let that leader go — guilt for not preparing that person to take on their current role or guilt about the struggle that person might go through when looking for a new job. But you can do much greater damage to their career and reputation by allowing them to publicly struggle. A better solution is to have an honest conversation with that person and offer support.
In Kyle’s case, a conversation with the VP of sales about his poor performance and his future aspirations enabled Kyle to see that not succeeding in this role didn’t deem the VP unemployable or untalented. While disappointed, the VP knew he wasn’t delivering, and was relieved to acknowledge it. He’d been thinking about other roles in the organization for which he was better suited. Kyle saw that he could help his VP look for more suitable opportunities within the broader organization or provide a reference for him at another company.
Other leaders can follow this example. Feeling guilty about a potential outcome that you have no control over helps no one. In fact, 68% of executives who are fired find a new job within six months.
Ego. Firing executives is especially difficult when you hired them in the first place. The decision to hire someone is a rejection of your leadership and it’s natural to fear what people will think when you need to go back on that decision and remove them. But no one is infallible to making a bad hire, and no one has complete control over whether someone succeeds. You should do everything you can to hire with rigorous standards and onboard effectively. You should not become so attached to your own hires that you lose objectivity.
In the example of Kyle, he had promoted his VP of sales two years earlier and he feared his judgment would be called into question if the VP failed. Though the VP excelled during his first year, further solidifying Kyle’s decision, market headwinds and major competition made his second year difficult. The VP was simply too inexperienced.
It’s common for leaders to be blind to the shortfalls of those they hire. But Kyle needed to see that, while the decision to promote his VP was a calculated risk, the conditions of that risk had evolved and keeping the VP in his current role could have serious consequences for the whole division.
Public visibility. When an executive is fired, the world inside and outside the organization sees it. Irrationally or not, people speculate about what’s going on. While you can’t control what people think about a major decision, you can minimize unfounded conjecture by being intentional in your communications about the exit and why it happened. Internally, try to normalize difficult exits by letting your team know that moving on is a part of business and be gracious to those who are leaving. Externally, focus on looking forward. Publicly acknowledge the aspirations your organization aims to reach or the challenges you are working to address. Remember, it looks far weaker to ignore poor performance than it does to address it.
Kyle feared that his boss, the CEO (for whom he was a succession candidate) and other key stakeholders outside the company, might conclude his division was unstable or his team was weak once he fired his VP of sales. And for the VP himself, it could mean public embarrassment and loss of respect. What Kyle needed to consider was what people might conclude if he didn’t remove the under performing sales VP. It is far more cruel to leave a leader publicly poundering, particularly in Kyle’s case when the VP’s under performance drove other talented employees out the door.
Perceived indispensability. Often, executives fear the disruption a departing executive might cause. Certain it will result in irreparable damage, they convince themselves and others of the executive’s indispensability to justify tolerating a poor performance or bad behavior. I have seen this fear used as an excuse for not firing under performing executives many times, but I have never seen this fear materialize. With a carefully choreographed transition plan, it’s possible for an office to return to normal quickly. Important people, like top customers, understand that things change. What they want to know is how you’re going to take care of them, regardless of who does it.
One of my clients once put up with horrific behavior from their sales executive because they “couldn’t possibly risk” losing his customer relationships. Externally, the sales exec was highly regarded. He spoke at conferences alongside top customers and was regularly invited to exclusive gatherings of prominent buyers. Internally, he was loathed for what he got away with: never attending meetings, refusing to learn new technologies, and consistently violating travel expense guidelines. Eventually, a newly appointed leader had the courage to clean house and replace him, and those who followed in his example, with fresh talent. They didn’t lose one customer in the wake of these exits, and within a year, top-line revenue had grown by 35%.
The complicated decision to remove a senior leader from their job should never be taken lightly. And while there’s no way to avoid some fallout from such a choice, the decision to ignore irreversible poor performance is a choice with far greater consequences. By acknowledging the above behaviors, and practicing ways to overcome them, you will not only help your organization move forward, but also the employees you’re afraid to let go.
Author Simon Sinek offers a dead simple mantra to instantly level up your leadership.
We all know great leaders excel at articulating their vision. What’s less often appreciated is that listening is an equally valuable leadership skill.
Why? First, because feeling truly heard is deeply empowering for a team. As Yale business professor Marissa Kind has explained, “when employees feel listened to, they are less likely to feel emotionally exhausted and less likely to quit their job. They are also more likely to trust — and like — their bosses, and feel committed to them.”
Second, because you need to actually hear and process information about the world to be able to set a sensible vision in the first place. Listening well makes you smarter.
So how do you get better at this essential but under sung skill? There are a million suggestions out there, but perhaps one of the most powerful is also the simplest. It comes from author Simon Sinek and consists of all of five little words.
“Be the last to speak.”
In the quick snippet of a talk below, Sinek offers a profound leadership lesson that’s dead easy to remember: be the last to speak.
“I see it in boardrooms every day of the week, even people who consider themselves to be good leaders, who may actually be decent leaders, will walk into the room and say, ‘Here’s the problem. Here’s what I think, but I’m interested in your opinion. Let’s go around the room.’ It’s too late,” he warns.
Instead, cultivate the skill to hold you tongue until everyone else has weighed in. Not only does this allow other participants to feel heard, but it gives you an obvious advantage: you get to hear everyone else’s brilliant ideas before you contribute your own. Of course, you’ll say smarter things compared to when you first walked in itching to put your ideas instantly out there.
The logic behind the idea is unassailable, but actually putting this wisdom into practice can be harder than it sounds, Sinek warns. We’re all dying to jump in and prove our brilliance or correct others’ errors, after all. But if you can manage to just keep your mouth shut, you’ll instantly level up your leadership.
Here’s Sinek’s complete advice if you want to check out the complete two-minute clip.
BY ANDREA (ANDI) SIMON, PH.D. CORPORATE ANTHROPOLOGIST | CEO SIMON ASSOCIATES MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS
After a busy 2018 of Vistage workshops, keynotes and client engagements across the country and around the world, I thought this was a good time to reflect on the Trends from the Trenches I’ve been hearing and seeing from CEOs and their key executives—and from their clients, college students and customers. What are they seeing? What are the major trends they are confronting as they wrap up 2018 and begin to plan for the new year? Well, some are rather disturbing. Others are very encouraging. Here are ten that are worth sharing. But please, don’t get change fatigue. The pace and path of change are not slowing down. I invite you to enjoy the journey and learn how to “see, feel and think” in new ways. Here we go…