small business owner

How To Help Your Team Reach Their Potential

potential A business leader who was running a very successful organization spoke to me about one of her direct reports. “He has to learn to adapt to those who report to him, not the other way around,” she said.  

I started thinking of how true that is.  For leaders to succeed, they need to draw out the best in those that follow them.  Since their followers have different personality types, a one-size-fits-all approach will leave some on the team less engaged.

What if the leader really understood those who follow him? What if he learned how his team was wired?  Then, the leader could tap into the strengths of his team and, as a byproduct, benefit from their ingenuity, engagement, and support.

So, how do you become a flexible leader?

  • Understand how each member of the team is wired.

There are objective and subjective ways to understand how each team member is wired.  Objective assessments such as Myers-Briggs, Birkman, and DiSC can give you many clues.  When the team members digest the results of the assessment, be sure to ask them what parts really fit and what parts did not fit as well.  

Make note of those.

Subjectively, you can observe when they come alive more.  You can also be alert to what others on the team say they do better than average.  Ask them about their dreams and goals, even if they are not work-related You will gain lots of insight into what makes them tick.  

  • Understand what their strengths are.

Very often with the objective assessments, the strengths are pegged in the results report.  

However, dig in deeper with them.  Ask them under what circumstances they come alive, and what it is about those times that causes them to feel more alive.  

You can also ask them and those on their team what they do better than average.  

Just go for the top three strengths.

  • Provide them with opportunities where their strengths shine.

Once you know their strengths, think about how you can encourage those strengths to be displayed more.  It might be that someone on the team does the majority of the presenting to clients.  However, it could also be that after you brainstorm with them, you discover how to leverage their strengths across their role.  

For example, I love getting to the heart of things and then developing actionable plans around those things.  As I do this with clients, or talk about my services to potential clients, I am more in my groove. 

When I try to get practical without getting to the essence first, I am not as strong in what I do.  I greatly admire people who are quick with the “right” steps, but that is not me.  I need a little more time so we can get to the essence of the matter, then plans seem to flow much more easily.

Take one of your direct reports.  What is their top strength and how can they leverage it more?

  • Encourage them to find ways to contain their weaknesses.

Time can be greatly wasted when someone focuses on overcoming their weaknesses instead of strengthening their strengths.  I am not saying that weaknesses should not be worked on, but I am saying that their time might be better spent on learning to contain those weaknesses.  

For example, I can be impulsive.  I can tell you a bunch of now-humorous stories from my past to illustrate how my impulsiveness did not gain me the results I desired.  Today, even though I run my own company, I don’t let major decisions be made without a “committee” of different personality types giving feedback on that decision.  Just recently we made it a policy that I will discuss major decisions with the team and solicit their input.  In addition, I will solicit help from those whom I believe would have good insights into the decision.

This has done wonders for my business life.

  • Enjoy the fact that they will do things in a style that is different from yours.

Very often when we see one of our direct reports doing something in a different style, we get a sense of foreboding that “it is not going to go well."  This fuels a sense of insecurity which, in turn, may prompt us to try to make them do things in the style we would do them in.  

If this is our response, we are missing out on the ingenuity of those who are different from us.  The other option is to learn from them.  Perhaps we may grow even more by adapting some of what they do to our style.

Before the sense of foreboding takes over, turn on your curiosity and ask yourself, “What if their style can work really well for them?” 

If you are still feeling insecure, then ask more questions before making any corrections.  See if they have answers for some of the fears you may have.

Adapting your style to your team will help you to reach and pull out the potential that is inside of them.  

In appreciation, those who follow you will increase their engagement and will want to support you even more.

Chew On This:

  • How are the members of your team different? How can you meet them where they are at?

Ryan Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.

*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients.  No one single client is being singled out.

Ten Actionable Steps To Facilitating Great Skip-Level Meetings Part 1

10 steFour years ago, a client of mine--let’s call him Bob--received the engagement survey results of the eight teams that directly report to him.  Three teams were at 100% engagement, two teams were at 85% engagement and three other teams had dismal scores, between 30%-40% engagement. Bob tried working with the direct reports of the three lowest teams, to build engagement across their team.  When he realized that the leaders wanted out of their roles, he found better positions for them.

Next, he hired three really talented and hungry managers to take the place of those he had re-positioned.  They worked hard to figure out what to do to increase engagement, and they implemented a strategy.

After about a year, the three new managers received the result of the latest engagement survey.

Guess what happened?

There was NO change in the engagement scores across all 8 teams.

Needless to say, Bob was really concerned about the bottom three, though he was still pleased with the top five.  What could the bottom three be missing?

In an attempt to create an environment in which his direct reports could safely share what was happening, Bob hired me to talk to one of the newer hires, Eva.  Eva shared that her team was being asked to handle far too many calls that were not a part of their original mandate.  “Somehow all of these support calls get dumped on us,” she explained.  “We can’t possibly handle these calls and still meet our goals.  It’s like everyone on the team has two full time jobs.”

I could see that while Eva, the direct report, is still engaged and hungry, those under her are struggling.  So how does my client help those two levels below, while still empowering Eva and the other two managers?

Here are the steps Bob used.  I hope they work for you as well as they worked for him.

  • As the leader, sit down with your manager and get the manager’s buy-in for a Skip-Level Meeting.

It would be easy for the manager to assume that the focus of the Skip-Level Meeting will be to hear all the complaints about her and build a case for her removal.  But a Skip-Level Meeting is NOT about that.

A Skip-Level Meeting is about hearing the perspectives of those closest to the front-lines so that you, as the leader, can best coach the manager.

Make sure that your direct report is comfortable with this meeting and can enthusiastically support it.

  • If you haven’t communicated much with people two levels down, start doing this months before the Skip-Level Meeting is solicited.

In today’s there-isn’t-enough-time-to-do-everything-at-my-job environment, it is not hard to see why a leader may not have much of a relationship with those two levels below them.  Before having a Skip-Level Meeting, walk around, start conversations, create an air of safety, learn about what matters to those employees, whether it is work-related or not, and make sure that the team views you favorably.  This is a critical step.  It will delay the Skip-Level Meeting for weeks, but it is very important.

  • You and the manager send a joint email to the manager’s team.

Co-create a positive and encouraging email detailing why you want to have the Skip-Level Meeting.

Be sure to tell the team what is truly going well, and how you want to make things even better.  Let them know what you are looking to understand.  I would send the questions you are going to ask ahead of time.  See under 5) in Part 2.

In this email, stress that you want to make the meeting as safe a place as possible in order to learn what needs to be learned.  Your aim is to make things run more smoothly so you can better coach the manager for the benefit of everyone, and therefore you will keep everything they say in the strictest of confidence.

No one on the team will know anything that anyone else shared.  Instead, you are going to integrate all the responses from all the meetings, and pull out themes to coach.  Stress that it is important that you know the details so that you can best coach the manager.

  • Create a safe environment

Make sure that the space where the Skip-Level Meeting will take place is free of distractions.  You want to be fully present with the person to whom you are speaking.

Once in the Skip-Level Meeting, reassure the employee that you will not convey anything they share with you to the manager, or to anyone else on the team.  You want them to “let it rip.”  You are far more interested in reaching solutions than in assigning blame for anything that is off.

Stress that you don’t want this meeting to be focused only on the negative. You also want to celebrate what is going well, and find ways to strengthen that.

Recognize something that they do really well, and tell how it impresses you.

Chew On This:

  • What do you most want to find out from those on the front-lines of your business?

*This blog is a compilation of three different clients.  No one particular client is being singled out.