Posted by & filed under being awesome.

In a perfect world, we would all get along with our coworkers and boss all the time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

At work, it’s rare that a decision gets made where everyone is 100% on board and in agreement. It is often the case that — because of time limits, budget constraints, or even just the preferences or work styles of other people — we have to make decisions or do work we don’t completely agree with.

And sometimes, when people don’t completely agree with the decision being made, conflicts can come up.

While most of us make our best efforts to avoid conflict at work, occasionally it is unavoidable. Whether you are the person who is frustrated, or you’re being approached by someone who is frustrated, there are definitely right ways and wrong ways to handle conflict at work.

Here is how to do it effectively, so you can all move on and get back to what really matters.

How to win

Give up on the idea of “winning”

The best way to win an argument is to let go of the idea that you have something to “win” at all. Winning, in this case, doesn’t mean getting your way or showing the other person how they were wrong. Instead, it means being the person who helps everyone get on the same page so they can move forward.

Whether that means everyone actually does come to your point of view or not, isn’t necessarily the most critical element. What you want to achieve is being the person who resolves the conflict. You want to be the leader who can look at the situation big picture, assess how to move forward, and then get everyone working on the same page again. That is true leadership.

Start by looking for common ground

KateM often says, “conflict comes from missed expectations”.

Which makes sense, right? We are all able to happily work together when we know we are on the same page with everyone else and we are all working towards the same goals. Conflict comes up when we realize someone wasn’t on the same page we were or where we thought they were.

And actually, at the heart of many workplace conflicts is a common goal. Two people disagreeing over strategy might have the shared goal of wanting to execute a project to the highest quality possible. So their conflict isn’t as deep as it might look from the outside; really, they already agree on the important parts, and they are just fighting about details.

One person’s definition of success might be a product that is completed and shipped faster; the other person might see success as a product that has high user ratings. Both of these metrics could measure success, but the routes to get there will be quite different, which can cause disagreement about how to execute the project.

When you can see what you have in common with the other side, then you can start to sort out the facts and key priorities. Why does each person think what they think? Is there outside information that could influence or persuade them otherwise? Why do you think what you think?

When you find common ground, it becomes easier to compromise, since the other person’s perspective can feel relatable and reasonable, and you realize they are more like you than you thought.

Don’t blow up (and if you do, leave)

If you really care about something, it’s easy to get worked up. If emotions are running high, though, you won’t be very effective at bringing everyone to resolution — least of all yourself. You need to be in control to work through a conflict.

It’s really hard to agree or give in to someone you’re mad at. The more worked up you are, the more defensive you get and the less listening you do.

So not only will you be damaging the relationship by blowing up at the other person, but you won’t be getting any closer to a resolution either. It is a waste of everyone’s time.

If you or the other person is losing their temper, walk away. Tell them you need to take a break, and come back later. If need be, apologize for your actions, and then come back to the question when you have a cooler head and you’re more likely to be thinking logically.

Focus on the facts (not the perceptions)

You might think you know why a person has a certain opinion or why they do their work a certain way, but don’t assume. Not only are you probably wrong, but nobody takes kindly to hearing what other people think of them (especially if they are worked up and frustrated).

The best thing you can do during a conflict is to focus on the facts. Only speak for yourself. Avoid saying things like “we all think ___” or “you’re just saying that because ___”. Instead, talk about your experience, your knowledge, and the facts at hand.

Try to take as much emotion and projection out of it as possible, and just look at what is in front of you. What is the goal? What are the possible solutions? How can we measure each of them? Do we have any experiences or resources we can draw on to get more information? How can we reach a compromise that acknowledges everyone’s needs?

If you have a feeling someone is doing a certain thing or leaning a certain way because of something you assume about them, don’t let that judgment color your interactions. Instead, try asking questions about their perspective. It will help them clarify their point of view (to you and to themselves), and will help you get rid of your assumptions and replace them with facts.

Repeat back the other person’s words to them

As you are talking, it can be tempting to reiterate your position again and again — in fact, you might not even realize you are doing it. We all want to feel heard, and when emotions are hot, it’s hard to think beyond our own opinions.

However, the more you can listen to the other person, the more you will make them feel heard (which lowers the level of conflict) and the more you will understand their perspective (which will help you uncover what you need to know to find a resolution that will work).

Trying to repeat the other person’s words back to them is a great way to do this.

When someone finishes making their point, you can acknowledge that you heard them by saying, “Okay, that makes sense. Just to make sure I completely understand, you are saying _____” and repeat back their key points to them.

This helps cement their points in your mind because you have to listen carefully enough in order to repeat back. And hearing you say their words shows the other person you were listening.

When people feel listened to, they are more likely to compromise because they feel like their perspective is being taken into account in the decision. (And feeling like they weren’t being heard is likely what started the conflict in the first place!)

Stick with it and seek a conclusion

It can be tempting to implement the silent treatment or simply walk away when someone disagrees with you, but it’s important to see the conflict through to resolution. As painful as that might sound, imagine the alternative: seething frustration that drags on for hours, days, or even years, and that damages your relationships with people — and maybe even your reputation, if the blowup was big enough or causes enough long term damage.

One bad interaction can turn into a bad relationship, which can have wide-reaching negative impacts on your career. Better to get the situation resolved now, so you can all move on.

It might be tempting to throw up your hands and say, “We’ll never agree!”, but it is better to seek a conclusion to the conflict than to just accept it. Maybe you ultimately will decide you and this other person have to just “agree to disagree”, but it is better to have that be a mutual decision than for one of you to just walk away.

If you must, agree to disagree and find room to compromise

Ideally, a good conversation can cure any conflict. When both parties feel heard and are acknowledging each other’s perspectives, it is easy to start looking at the facts and coming up with plans that make everyone feel good.

However, it might be the case that you and the other person simply do not see eye to eye.

In that situation, it’s important that you be able to find ways to still work together and create a plan that you can both work with. This might involve incorporating elements of each other’s ideas into one unified plan, or it might be going with one person’s idea but agreeing to check in later on and see if it would make sense to try the other person’s strategy.

Remember, you don’t always have to 100% agree in order to do really great work in your job. Don’t focus so much on winning that you are a sore loser if someone else appears to come out on top in the conflict.

Even if you don’t get your way, remember that at the end of the day, it is your job to be aligned with your team and do great work.

If you pout and phone in your work because you didn’t get your way, people will notice and they will remember. And that will make it even harder to get your way in the future.

However, if you can work through a conflict and be a great teammate and still produce great work, then you will become a respected authority on your team. The longer your track record of successfully managing and negotiating conflict is, it will serve you far better in the long run than winning one fight.

Have you faced conflict at work recently? How did it get resolved? Tell us in the comments!


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Posted by & filed under articles, Business, hiring.

How many of you have written a web dev job description with a requirement like, “Must have a Comp. Sci degree or equivalent”?  How many times did you hire somebody who had the skills, but didn’t have the degree … because let’s be honest, how many web dev positions actually require a background in building compilers?  What are the chances that your job description just discouraged an otherwise great developer from applying because they have a History degree?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as a Software Engineering Manager at  Safari is my role in recruiting for our various development teams.  I’ve enjoyed meeting some really great, smart, and helpful people, but it is, nonetheless, a challenge.  A particular hurdle that we’ve had to tackle is building diversity within Safari.

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Posted by & filed under Devops, infrastructure.

Creating a Fast Chef Development Environment

I recently had a six-hour flight across the country to visit our Boston office, and thought I’d get some work done using the Internet on the plane. I was trying to debug why a Chef community cookbook (‘application_python’) wasn’t working for me. The airplane wireless was fairly slow, which made pulling down packages and Chef cookbooks from the Internet during  kitchen test iterations too painful to bear.

It was the first time I’ve had Cookbook Karma hit me in the face at 30,000 feet: Why hadn’t I optimized this sooner?

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Posted by & filed under Business, leadership, management, managing yourself.

By Theodore Kinni

Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

There’s been a lot written about the power of storytelling in business. In fact, the concept has become mainstream enough that one company recently hired a bestselling novelist as its chief storytelling officer.

Stories can be used for lots of purposes in business. Annette Simmons calls out six of them in Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact : “who am I” stories; “why I’m here” stories; “vision” stories; “values in action” stories; “teaching” stories; and “I know what you’re thinking” stories.

As a leader, you can pick and choose among these different types of stories, but in Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate, Timothy J. Tobin, Marriott International’s vice president of global learning and leadership development, makes a pretty compelling argument that you should always start with a story that is about yourself. Crafting such a story is as much about clarifying how you view your self and your situation as it is about communicating who you are to others.

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Posted by & filed under leadership, productivity.

Do you fondly remember the early days with your team when you had a pile of work to do, and everyone just dug into it with a vengeance? Is it now a struggle every week to keep everyone busy and productive? Is it hard to divide up the work for the week? Is your team constantly discovering thorny problems at integration time that could have been prevented with a short conversation between two team members weeks ago?

Your team may have become siloed; each team member works separately in their own speciality, or silo. While a silo is a place to store grain, the metaphor exists in management too because grain silos are tall, and you can only store wheat in the wheat silo, corn in the corn silo. It’s a very natural mistake to end up with a siloed team, especially in companies that have organized people by function.

There’s hope. Silos are a fixable problem and it’s worth fixing because human beings actually prefer to work together. They’re happier, more productive, and it’s easier on you, the manager, when people work together, or swarm.

It’s a mistake I’ve made myself, and then fixed. What had happened to me was perfectly natural.

Optimizing for a particular development cycle by assigning the work based on previous experience and expertise made me more efficient for that development cycle. But it made me less efficient overall, because it started a slow slide of the team into silos of expertise. It was killing the ability of the team to get things done overall.

The fix was swarming.



Swarm your team to double productivity

Swarming is the exact opposite of siloing; swarming is the process of working by feature and distributing work across your whole team. If your team isn’t operating by swarming, your team is only half as productive as it could be. It only took me two development cycles of having my team swarm before I swore I would never go back.

My total team productivity doubled, code quality went up, and everyone just had more fun. Why would I want to go back?

I have to admit, the first time someone suggested swarming to me, I thought they were nuts. But what I found was that human beings want to work together on common tasks, and people are adaptable. Sure, I couldn’t assign a designer a coding task, or an engineer a design task. But my team was smarter than I gave them credit for. Swarming is a natural human activity. They’ll do it naturally and easily, if you get out of their way.

I think we’ve all had the experience of moving furniture with a bunch of friends. What often happens is that the strongest people take the heaviest furniture, the weakest move the cushions, and the weakest of all run ahead and open the doors. You didn’t have to “manage” the moving to make this happen; instead, people knew what needed to be moved, and volunteered to do the task they were most capable of doing.

The same thing happens when swarming with a technology team. You assign the big task, you let the team break it out into smaller tasks, people volunteer as best they can, and before you know it, the couch is moved and its time for celebratory pizza. Or in this case, the development cycle is done, and it’s time for the next cycle.


How swarming works in technology

Let’s say you have two engineers, Bob and Fred. Bob might be the expert on some tasks involving technology Y. Fred is the expert on tasks involving Z. As a manager, out of a false sense of efficiency, you might be tempted to always assign Y tasks to Bob, Z tasks to Fred. That will work as long as every development cycle produces an equal amount of Y type work and Z type work.

But if a feature needs a bunch of Y-type work, Bob is the bottleneck. Everyone has to wait for Bob. Bob is feeling pressured, so he’s grumpy. When Fred and Bob’s work interrelate, Fred will just guess rather than interrupt Bob (who is busy and cranky).

Pretty soon, everyone is in their little silos of expertise. Bob does Y, Fred does Z. When Bob and Fred go to integrate their work, there are always a bunch of places where Fred guessed wrong, which leads to more work for everyone. Bob is bored from doing the same work every week, and so is Fred. Uh oh, the team is siloed.

The road is long. You’re leaving a bunch of team performance on the table in a siloed environment. So let’s start swarming with the team instead. How can we do that? How can that possibly work?

90% of engineering is understanding the problem; only about 10% is expertise. Bob isn’t on the moon, he sits right next to Fred. If you have 2 Y tasks in a development cycle, it’s a perfect opportunity to swarm.

To swarm, you assign one Y task to Bob, and one to Fred. You tell Bob “Help Fred; work together for an hour or two as needed if necessary”.

In your project planning, you will schedule for Fred to be slightly less efficient at getting the task done, because he’ll have to get help from Bob. Similarly, Bob will be slightly less efficient at getting his task done because he’ll be helping friend. So we’ve lost a little efficiency for this one development cycle.

But not as much as you might think! Because what actually happens in practice is many wonderful benefits.

  • Because Bob and Fred are working together, they’re both going to enjoy their work more; even two introverts would rather work together than apart.
  • You’re establishing the rule that team members should help each other. When one of them runs late on a task, it will be very natural for the other to pitch in and help.
  • Bob’s quality will improve, because Fred is now looking at Bob’s code in detail.
  • In the process of explaining the code to Fred, Bob will catch and fix problems in the code.
  • Fred is learning something new, and engineers like to learn new things, so Fred will be in a better mood.
  • Because Fred now knows a little bit about Y, Bob can now use Fred as a sounding board. So Bob’s designs will improve with input from Fred. Fred will also be able to make better assumptions about how Z should work with Y.
  • Team productivity will go up. While Fred and Bob’s productivity were slightly impacted on an individual level in that it took them slightly longer to do their tasks this cycle, from the team viewpoint, you were able to get two Y tasks done in one development cycle. So the team productivity on Y tasks almost doubled; critical paths are shorter.

Those are the benefits I got after one development cycle. As I continued to go further with swarming, I reaped additional benefits:

  • My life as a manager got easier because I no longer had to worry about the silos when laying out a development cycle plan, because all of the silos had been dynamited.
  • Team members got into the habit of volunteering for whatever needed to be done. Attitudes between team members improved, because it established a culture of “we’re all in this together to get it done.” So engineers would test, and sometimes testers would engineer. On several occasions, a team member would volunteer for something I wouldn’t have considered, and it always worked out well. I remember a tester doing some analysis I would normally have assigned to an engineer; she did a better and more thorough job than the engineer would have done.
  • Because team productivity was higher, integration happened more continuously, and so everyone immediately fixed problems while things were still fresh in their mind.
  • With the destruction of the silos, my team continuously became more powerful and capable, and able to take on bigger challenges. Individuals became more promotable and more valuable to the company, which reflected well on me.
  • Because team productivity was up, integration of different components was happening more often and continuously, so problems that showed up when integrating new components happened sooner and were fixed more quickly. Integration problems were fixed by any team member in the appropriate place in the code, so finger-pointing and swirl just went away; instead, engineers just discussed the best place to fix the problem.

Swarming, step by step

Blow up your silos in your next development cycle, by swarming. You have nothing to lose but inefficiency and stress. Here’s a step by step recipe for doing so:

  1. Talk to your team about swarming, and get buy in.
  2. Lay out the tasks for the development cycle.
  3. Make a post-it note per task, with some sense of rough t-shirt size estimate of work (S, M, L, XL).
  4. Make a row per team member, with their name.
  5. Ask the team who should do what. They’ll naturally assign tasks based on skill. Put the post its in the appropriate lane.
  6. Ok, now you have an uneven amount of post its across the team. This always happens, but now you can to fix it. Here are the ways to fix it:
    • You can move a post-it to a volunteer
    • You can break a post-it into smaller post-its, so that another team member can do part of a task. The brain surgeon may need to do the brain surgery, but the scrub nurse can sew the head closed so the surgeon can handle the next patient.
  7. You’ll end up with a plan for the development cycle that’s balanced. Now you can watch and enjoy as your team works better together.

Really, its that simple. You’ll be amazed, until you realize that swarming is something that people do all the time. Long before I ever heard the term swarming I used to call this barn raising because the idea of everyone in a community gathering together to build a barn is the same thing as swarming.

Pierce Wetter has kicked around software development for a couple of decades, and recently decided to start laying out all of his management techniques into recipes for other mangers to use.

His hope is to upgrade the skill set of every single software engineering manager in Silicon Valley; sink or swim is not a training strategy.

You can reach out to him for questions or help via LinkedIn; hell be glad to help you implement swarming at your company.  


Posted by & filed under being awesome, productivity.

We all want flexibility, and to work on what we want when we want.

But it’s hard to get all of your things done when there are tons of demands on your time. You only have so many hours in a day, and when many of them are taken up with other people’s needs or meetings or conferences or travel, it can feel like there is no time left for the things you need to get done.

But really successful people manage to squeeze more juice out of the lemon; they find little ways to get more out of their time than anyone else. How do they do it?

The reason most people don’t squeeze the most out of the lemon is that it’s actually hard to do in the moment. There’s always a good excuse (I’m tired, I’m too busy, I didn’t get a chance, etc), but here’s the thing: every time you excuse yourself from maximizing your time, you are holding yourself back. And you’re going to feel bad whatever else you do with that time because you didn’t follow through.

Successful people know they have to maximize every hours (even the hours that feel too busy or filled with unavoidable lost time).

If you’re ready to start being more productive and getting more out of every day, here are some of our best ideas for how to do that.

-successful people manage to squeeze


Outline your most important goals beforehand

You have to be deliberate about your goals all of the time. A to-do list is great, but it’s not enough if you are going to be a time management superstar. Planning hours is just the beginning; really successful people do more than look at the time on their calendar. They look at the meaning behind every hour.

If you are going into a meeting, think about what you want to get out of that meeting.

Do you want to learn more about something? Do you want to express an idea?

If you are going to a conference, think about why you are going. Is it to build relationships? To learn? To network with future customers?

There are lots of ways to spend your time productively. But you have to choose the ways that are actually meaningful to you. If you go to a conference and learn a lot by sitting in talks all day, that’s great — unless the reason your boss sent you to that conference was to network with your customer base. You have to know your target in order to hit it.

When you know the why behind what you are doing, you will use your time more efficiently. If there is no good reason for you to do something, cut it out of your schedule. If you know exactly why you’re doing something, you’ll get to your goal faster and you can move on to the next thing.

You can even write out these plans. Answer the questions: why am I doing ____? What do results do I hope to get out of ____? How will I know if I am successful at ____? What would my manager/team/org say are my biggest priorities here?


Working in transit

For a long time, I used to chalk flights up as lost time. For some people, they are super productive; they are disconnected from everyone else’s demands and they can get focused on work they really need to do.

But try as I might to write blog posts or work on presentations, I just couldn’t focus while sitting in an uncomfortable chair during turbulence, and so I figured I just couldn’t be productive on a plane.

However, just because I can’t do high-focus work while flying doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. Now when I fly, I spend time writing to-do lists for the week or doing simpler tasks that don’t require as much focus, like scheduling social media posts. Even though this doesn’t allow me to knock huge items off my to-do list, it does mean that when I land and am back in a place where I can focus, I have eliminated all the minutiae and can get right down to work.

This works if you’re driving too. While you can’t do computer work at the wheel, you can schedule all of your meetings to take place by phone that day and talk hands-free. That way, once you get to your destination, you are free to focus on the work that you really need to sit down and do all by yourself, uninterrupted.

How can you make the most of transit time? I bet you are undervaluing the pockets of time you have or missing opportunities to make your life easier.


Schedule your downtime

When you’re running around all day, it is easy to want to collapse in front of the TV at the end of the day. However, being passive in your downtime actually makes you feel worse and doesn’t help you get any of what you need.

You have to be deliberate about all the time in your day, from when you wake up to when you go to bed.

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever relax and have TV time, or that you need to be productive every hour of the day; actually, you can’t be productive every hour and you shouldn’t try to.

It just means you have to decide when and how you want to relax. You should literally block this time off on your calendar; take your relaxation as seriously as any other appointment. If you aren’t valuing it, then it’s not really worth doing. If you’re not going to be fully present and relaxing, you might as well be working.


Listen to your rhythms

When are you most productive? I bet you already know the answer to this. And I bet you already know you should be doing your deep, focused work during this time.

Now…when are you least productive? What is the best way to use that time?

I tend to lose energy in the early afternoon. Those hours, then, are when I plan to do less focused work than I do in the morning or the evening. That’s when I’ll try to plan to respond to emails or do phone calls where I can feed off the energy of other people to keep me going.

If I have a blog post to write, I won’t try to do it then; it would take me 2 hours to write something that, a few hours later in the day, would only take me 1 hour. So it’s not a good use of my time to try to do it then.

Instead, I also usually take a break during those hours so that I have lots of energy and momentum going into my more productive hours in the later afternoon.


Train your brain

The more you practice following through and maximizing your time, the better you’ll get at it. Once you become super productive, you’ll start seeing more and more opportunities to do even better, and you will begin to stop having wasted downtime. When you normally would run out of steam or chalk a half hour up to lost time between meetings, you will start to see the little things you could do to make that time productive.

There are so many things you can do with a spare 15 minutes or a period of low energy.

KateM actually keeps a running list of these things so that she always has ideas for what to do with these chunks of time. It might be reading an article you’ve saved, sending an email to check in with a contact, or typing up meeting notes. The more often you do this, the more you’ll think of ways to spend this time efficiently.


If you make a decision, just go with it

When you’re just starting out, you might make a bad decision about how to spend your time. You might accidentally over-schedule yourself with more things than you can do in a day; instead of bailing out or canceling, though, just stick with it.

One very busy day might be tiring, but it is only one day. And it is worth it to keep building a reputation of someone who doesn’t cancel things last minute and who can be counted on.

Once you start something, don’t stop unless there is a very good reason to. It is better to ship an imperfect product than to have something perfect only halfway done. Don’t get sucked into multitasking or working on too many things at once; focus is the key to success.


Follow through, every time

You want to be known as someone who never lets people down. When you put something on your schedule, make sure it happens.

If you must change plans, follow up with any other people involved immediately and let them know your new deadline and expectations. But this should only happen really, really rarely.

You become indispensable not when you’re the only one who knows how to do something or where all the passwords are, but when you are someone that everyone can count on. You want to be valued by your peers and your team because you are their favorite person to work with. You should be bringing your very best all the time.

To be truly successful, you need to be present and aware throughout every day. This doesn’t mean planning every minute, but instead it means understanding how every minute is best spent. Your decisions should be deliberate and based on what will make you happiest or most successful.



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Posted by & filed under Business, careers, health, leadership, management, managing yourself, Personal Development.

By Theodore Kinni

Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.

“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together.” Plato wrote that about 400 years before the birth of Christ. I have no idea if the Greek philosopher pursued physical fitness, but it’s said that he died peacefully in his bed at the age of 81—which I assume was considered a ripe old age in those days.

It’s not a bad life span these days either. After all, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is just under 79 years. The only problem, according the founder of The Leadership Academy of Barcelona, executive coach, and b-school professor Steven P. MacGregor, is that a career in business is not exactly conducive to a long life. “As we advance through a career, we tend to increasingly live our lives on a purely mental level, with all of our emails and strategies and meetings and metrics, forgetting we have a body until something goes wrong with it!” he explains in the opening chapter of his book, Sustaining Executive Performance: How the New Self-Management Drives Innovation, Leadership, and a More Resilient World (Pearson FT Press, 2014).
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Posted by & filed under leadership, productivity.

How to empower a person or team that won’t take charge themselves

It’s written (a lot) that managers today should spend most of their efforts giving the people on their team autonomy and freedom in their work. You’re told, “Give people on your team a chance to impress you. Let them make mistakes and own their roles.”

Of course, giving up control is a challenge. But for managers who do it, they’re often rewarded with peers and employees who are more engaged and do better work.

But what happens when you try to give autonomy to your team and they don’t want it?

This week, we got an email from a reader asking, in part:

“My team structure is unusual and this is my biggest problem right now – getting the most out of them.

How can I change the way that they think about themselves to make them proactively seek out new development to make them suitable for up-skilling to take on more responsibilities?”

He went on to explain that he had asked them to set the agendas for their 1:1, but none of them had risen to the challenge. He also said they only take on new tasks when assigned; no one is proactively seeking out new work, despite his efforts to encourage them to take risks.

What would you do in this situation?


Why people don’t step up

Before you assume that the people on your team who don’t step up are lazy or disengaged, it’s important to realize there are actually a lot of really significant reasons why people shy away from opportunities to take the lead in their work.

Here are just a few:

Fear of being wrong or embarrassed.

Even the boldest among us has felt the wave of discomfort that comes from saying the wrong thing in front of a room of people. And for a lot of people, that moment of discomfort teaches us an unfortunate lesson, “Better to stay quiet and not be wrong, than to risk being embarrassed again.” And while this can be undone, it isn’t always easy and doesn’t always come naturally.

A great manager needs to coax and encourage the people on their team to speak up, and to help them rise up and see it is just part of the journey when they fail. This often involves creating an entire team culture that welcomes participation and doesn’t dwell on mistakes as long as progress continues to be made.

Past bosses who discouraged their efforts.

Even though you want your team to be empowered, their last boss (or possibly even you, at some point in your time with them) discouraged them from taking the lead. Bosses do this for all kinds of reasons, and even if they don’t mean the damage to be lasting, people are usually pretty tuned into their boss’ reactions and expectations of them.

Managers who say things like “this is just the way we’ve always done things” or who insist “it’s my way or the highway” can teach the people on their team that the path of least resistance is always the better choice.

And unfortunately for you, a person who has been discouraged from stepping up in the past isn’t likely to do it again, for fear about being turned down or looking stupid again. You may need to make it extra clear that this is something you want in order to get people to do it.

Past experiences speaking up and being shot down.

It sucks to get rejected, and just like in the scenarios above, people can learn pretty quickly to stop bringing up their ideas if they keep getting shot down. Does this happen on your team or in your company?

This can take lots of forms, both obvious and subtle. Sometimes ideas get shot down actively, like when someone proposes something in a meeting and another person says, “That won’t work.” It can also happen when someone proposes an idea, gets a halfhearted commitment from their leader or team, and then nothing happens. Soon enough, people will learn to stop trying.

They think they don’t have the skills to lead.

Would you offer to fly the plane if you were in a group of trained pilots? Probably not. You’d leave it to the experts, right? Well that’s how a lot of people feel at work. They assume they don’t have the skills to lead (or do any number of things you wish they would) and so they don’t do those things.

This might be because they are young, or just because they’ve never been given the opportunity to try, or maybe they are just hard on themselves. Either way, it is your job to help them see that they either have the skills already or that they are capable of learning to do amazing things.

Just not interested.

There will always be some people who truly aren’t interested in being a leader. It doesn’t mean they’re not good at their job or that they don’t like their work; it just means that they aren’t interested in stepping up, and won’t be that happy if you try to force them to. This is worth knowing.

Just like you may know to avoid scheduling morning meetings with your star engineer does their best productive work in the morning, you may discover certain people on your team need more handholding and direction than others.

If they do good work, you should adjust your expectations and how you interact with them accordingly.

Of course, there are people who are lazy or disengaged. But it’s important not to jump to that conclusion first, and instead to take time to understand where your people are coming from. Don’t assume the worst; if you give people the benefit of the doubt and take the time to understand them and set your expectations (for them and yourself) accordingly, most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised.

And by the way, check yourself here. It’s not impossible that *you* are the reason the people on your team are afraid of stepping up.

  • How do you react internally when people bring you a new idea?
  • How do you react externally?
  • What is the last self-directed project someone on your team has done? Are you happy with how recent that was?

Next time someone brings you an idea, listen to your internal voice. Feel your physical reaction. Are you smiling? Tense? Are you thinking, “Oh boy, here we go…”?

The better you understand what is going on with you, the better you’ll understand what you are communicating to your team. And when you know what you are doing, you can control your actions and responses to better encourage and empower your team.

How to inspire and empower your team

Once you’ve dug into what might be motivating your teams lack of motivation, you can start to do something about it.

Show, don’t tell, that you value leadership

Managers who want the people on their team to feel empowered have to do more than tell their team to step up to the plate. They have to demonstrate through their actions that they really do value leadership. This means being public in praising risk-takers and results-getters, and being enthusiastic and open to new ideas whenever they are presented (even if they’re not great, you have to be willing to dive in and help them shape it into something awesome).

Give them opportunities to take the lead

As we learned above, people often have lots of good reasons for not taking the initiative to lead themselves. So it is your responsibility to show them the way, by teaching them how to take the lead.

A great example of this is asking questions; when someone asks you for help, simply reply with, “What do you think we should do?”. This technique is so subtly powerful, because it gives authority back to the people on your team. It shows you value their judgment and that you want them to show you how amazing they are.

For a quick-but-in-depth look at how to do this technique effectively, check out this video from a former submarine captain who taught every member of his crew to be their own commander.

Find a coaching style that works for each individual on your team

I love this post that KateM wrote on different coaching styles. Essentially, she explains in the post, you need to get to truly know the people on your team in order to understand how best to work with them. Some people thrive with tons of autonomy, and others shine when they know they have lots of support backing them up.

When you know what your people need to succeed (and trust me, it is different for every single person), you will be able to give them the confidence and skills they need to thrive in their role.

Teach them & show the value of the skills they need to lead

In our example way back at the beginning of this post, our emailer was wondering why people didn’t take the opportunity to set their own agendas for their 1:1 meetings.

Well, if they’ve been working in an unsupportive culture up until this point, it’s possible they don’t even know what a good 1:1 looks like. Or they might not see why they should take the extra time every week to start setting the agenda for a meeting they see as their boss’ responsibility.

That’s where you come in. Giving people autonomy can often look like you’re just giving people more work and less help. So don’t skip out on the help part.

When you ask people to do their own 1:1 meeting agendas, don’t just throw them in the deep end. If they are hesitant or don’t do the work, try sitting with them to come up with 20 1:1 meeting topics you’d like to do over the next few months; then once you’re through those topics, make it their responsibility to own making those lists for the future. And make sure you have explained why you think 1:1s are important and valuable, not just for you, but what they can gain from it.

Don’t give up

Learning new skills and ways of working is challenging for everyone; even if you like where you are heading, it can still be challenging to get there if it’s brand new. So stick with the people on your team. As you encourage and help them to become more autonomous, don’t forget that it is always your job to help them succeed even more.

Keep looking for ways to help and make it easier and more appealing to be a leader on your team. And soon you will have that team of mini-CEOs owning their roles that will help you do amazing things.


Posted by & filed under being awesome.

In just the last couple of weeks, a lot of big things have happened. I moved from the city to the country. I got engaged. KateM watched her little boy turn a year old.

Whenever these big life events happen, they can make us stop and think about our lives as a whole (at least they do for me). It makes us consider the big goals we’ve been working towards, and whether or not we need to change course. It makes us really think about how we are doing. Are we on the right track? Are our choices getting us where we want to go?

Making these big decisions or being part of these big life changes takes you out of the day-to-day, and reminds you to look at your life big picture.

What kind of life do you want to be working towards? Does the map you’ve been using still make sense? Do you still like where you’re going?

Or have things changed?

At work, plans change all the time. Priorities shift when we get new information. And the same thing is true in life.

So when big things happen, don’t try to force them to fit into whatever you were already planning to do this year. You need to be flexible; if your target or your route needs to change, you need to be ready to make that change in order to get what you want.

As we round the corner to mid-2015 (when we recommend doing a personal midyear review anyways!), this is a time for self-reflection.

But self-reflection doesn’t have to happen on a set schedule. You should be prepared to do it anytime when thinking about your goals, priorities, and plans might get shifted by your life. Here are some questions to help you consider your goals and plans during a big life change.



1. Do you like where you are going?

In life, we make lots of small decisions every single day about where we are going. We do it without realizing it. But it is when we make big decisions that we get the chance to step back and really think: is this decision or event leading me in a direction that I like?

You get the chance to look at your life as a whole; you get to check out those many small decisions you were making every day, and ask yourself if they are really working for you.

Did you decide to show up to work on time with a smile on your face every day? Or did you walk in 5 minutes late? Did you decide to go to the gym most days, even when you didn’t feel like it? Or did you skip it more often than not?

When we set big goals, we do it with good intentions.

But in day-to-day life, there are so many factors that make it easy to be less than the person we aspire to be. And so we miss our targets and tell ourselves it’s okay and that we’ll be better next time.

So ask yourself: will you truly be better next time? Or do you need to change your goal to be more achievable, more realistic, or more in line with the things you truly want?

2. What are you proud of? What do you regret?

Big life changes create milestones. And at milestones, it is a perfect opportunity to look back and reflect on where you have been.

On 99u, Tanner Christenson writes about a Harvard Business Review study:

“The research is clear: dedicating time to reflect on your life and work regularly…really does have an affect on performance.”

It turns out that reflecting on the past is one of the best ways to understand your greatest strengths and to actually hone those skills. And as we know, maximizing your strengths is one of the most impactful ways to become successful (more so than broad improvement in all areas or focusing on improving your weaknesses).

So whenever a big change happens, look back on what went well. Where did you shine? Where did you feel proud? Where did other people applaud and acknowledge your efforts?

Look back also on what didn’t go well. Did you drop the ball? Were you working in an area where you don’t have strengths? Did you let an outside factor stand in the way of you doing your best work?

The better you understand where you’ve been, the better choices you’ll make about where you should be going in the future.

3. What would it mean for me to live a truly rich life?

Ramit Sethi, of the site I Will Teach You To Be Rich, asks this question all the time. What does a “rich” life look like for you?

This has to do with finances, of course, but it’s about more than that. Living a rich life means different things to different people.

For me, feeling rich would mean going on vacation and owning a house with lots of land for animals and projects. For someone else, it might be being able to go grocery shopping without having to worry about how much things cost. For someone else, it could be saving enough to send all of their kids to college without loans.

These goals are so different, and they are very personal. And that is what makes them powerful.

It is important to get specific on things like this. With money and finances, it is easy to think that more, more, more is always better; it’s easy to get caught up thinking that no matter what you have, you always want more.

If you don’t get specific about what would truly make you happy — what would make you feel rich, fulfilled, and grateful — then you’ll fall into the trap of thinking you’ll never have enough and that you always need more. You’ll never be able to realize, “Hey, I did it! I bought a house and went on vacation. I am living my rich life.”

So what would it mean for you to feel rich? Has it changed from what it was last year?

Are you on track in your financial life to make your rich life a reality? If not, are there changes you can make to get yourself on track?

4. How do you want to feel every day?

This question is kind of a two-parter:

  • How do you want to feel in your body?
  • How do you want to feel as a person?

When it comes to how you want to feel in your body, your health is the key target here. Do a quick scan of your body right now. How does it feel?

Are you holding tension? Where? Do you feel sick? Where are you uncomfortable?

If you’re not happy with how you feel, think about what needs to change. Do you need to eat better? Get more exercise? How can you set a goal that is achievable day-to-day?

Now think about how you want to feel emotionally each day. Happy? Proud? Strong? Fearless? Smart? Joyful?

Grab a thesaurus and start journaling. Just like with your financial life, getting really specific in how you want to feel in your emotional life can make it much easier to hit that target and actually start feeling that way.

See, feeling “proud” is a good thing; feeling “carefree” is also a good thing. But these two feelings are quite different. If you want to feel “proud” but you feel “carefree”, you probably feel good but you don’t feel the way that you want to.

Once you know how you want to feel (let’s say, for example, it’s “fearless”), then you have something to strive for. You have something to check yourself against. In any situation, you have a yardstick to measure yourself with and ask, “Do I feel fearless?” or “If I were fearless, what would I do in this situation?”.

And then you can act accordingly to achieve the results and feelings that really mean something to you.

Are you making choices every day that are helping you feel good, in your body and your soul?

5. What do you value? What is your purpose?

Okay, these are big ones. But during big life changes, these areas can come into sharper focus than any other times in our lives.

Because when you’re starting a new job, moving, getting married, having a kid (and the list goes on), you are making a big decision about the kind of life that you want to live. And understanding your values and purpose will help you make the best decisions as you go on and live that life.

If you set a yearly theme, revisit that. Otherwise, just start writing out ideas that sound interesting to you. This will likely take some brainstorming.

Try writing out the things that matter most to you. Think about what you want your impact on the world to be. It might take some time to get there, so just start writing. Write out 20 ideas. If none of them feel right, take a break, and then come back and write 20 more until something starts to feel authentic and true to you.

Another helpful thought exercise for this is called the “funeral exercise”. Imagine yourself being able to watch your own funeral. What do you hope people will be saying? How do you want people to remember you? What do you want to be your legacy among the people who knew you and loved you?

Work backwards from where you want to end up. When you know your values and what purpose is driving you, that will help inform the decisions you make every day about who you want to be and where you want to go, and will help you end up where you want to be.


How do you react to big life changes? Are you on course to meet your big goals for 2015 and beyond? Let us know in the comments!


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