Successfully Leading A Team You Did Not Pick

If you spend a long time in a company, over the years, you may have the luxury of hand-picking your team from the ground up and intentionally leading a group of people who complement each other both personally and professionally. However, most leaders are brought in to run a team that has already been selected by their predecessor.

Taking over a team that you have “inherited” can be a challenging situation to navigate. You may be unfamiliar with the varying personalities and how they work together. However, with the right approach and strategies, you can find success in managing a group that you did not personally hire.

The first step is to build rapport. Try to get to know each team member on a personal level. Take the time to have one-on-one meetings with everyone and ask them about their interests, goals and challenges. This will not only help you understand each person’s unique perspective but also show them that you care about them as individuals.

Another way to build rapport is active listening. Giving your undivided attention when others speak and asking follow-up questions to show that you understand their point of view is a key skill. By doing so, you can create an environment of trust where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns with you.

During this “getting-to-know-you” phase, you might discover unique and varying temperaments. Successful management requires understanding each person’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their communication and work styles. This is where assessment tools can come in handy. For example, I often recommend the DiSC assessment to my clients. This evaluation helps to identify team members’ behavior and communication preferences so you can tailor your management style to meet their needs.

After working through the evaluation, you may find that team members who are more introverted may prefer to work independently and may not be as comfortable speaking up in meetings. In those cases, scheduling one-on-one meetings with them to ensure they have a voice in the decision-making process can be beneficial. On the other hand, if you have others who are more extroverted, they may thrive in group settings and desire more opportunities to collaborate with others.

Conflict resolution is a vital management skill when conflicts arise from a team with diverse personalities and preferences. To be a successful leader, you need to address these conflicts head-on and work to find a resolution that works for everyone. Listen to both sides of the conflict, acknowledge each person’s perspective and find a compromise that meets everyone’s needs.

While building rapport and taking on conflict resolution are key steps to getting settled in a new team, setting clear expectations is also imperative. Individuals within the group may feel a sense of uncertainty regarding their roles and responsibilities. It is your job to clarify these expectations and ensure that everyone is on the same page. This means outlining goals, defining roles and responsibilities and establishing a timeline for completing tasks.

Taking over a team that you have “inherited” can sometimes be a daunting task. However, with the right approach, you can build rapport and manage differing personalities and preferences. By getting to know everyone on a personal level, actively listening to their ideas and concerns, addressing conflicts head-on and setting clear expectations, you can create a team that is motivated, engaged and productive.

When you create an environment where each person feels valued, supported and clear in their role, you ensure the success of your organization.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Change Is Possible: It All Starts With You

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work as a leadership coach is to witness change that stems from the actions of one individual. Widescale change often starts small.

Imagine a still pond. From the outside, the bucolic scene seems peaceful and serene. The quiet water above looks tranquil, and below the fish and other creatures are darting to and fro, eating and living their lives without making much of a splash at all. Appearances can be deceiving, though. Without movement and a constant inflow of water, that pond will get stagnant quickly.

Stagnant water is full of bacteria and parasites that can harm wildlife and the quality of their habitat. Unfortunately, companies can be like those stale ponds. From the outside, everything looks fine, but savvy leaders can identify the business and cultural aspects that are lifeless and in need of change.

Just as a pond needs inflow from a stream to stay healthy, businesses need new thoughts and ideas in order to survive. The incoming stream of change does not have to be fast or strong; however, it does have to be steady, consistent and effective enough to move the water around a bit. Especially in today’s fast-paced business environment, motionless companies will not last long in a competitive market.

The pond analogy is one way of explaining how important change can be to the health of a team. As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure that positive change happens. It all starts with you.

Admittedly, it can be overwhelming to imagine momentous change all at once. The task can seem herculean and impossible. However, starting with small steps to reach achievable goals is the best path forward. Returning to a different pond analogy, throw even the smallest stone into a still pond, and you will see a ripple effect. Massive change can start from just one person.

For example, one of my executive clients was struggling in his relationships with the C-suite of his company. As CEO of a startup company, he is an energetic personality with smarts and plenty of ideas. He could not understand why his peers and direct reports did not respond positively or with equal vibrancy to his communications.

After evaluating several emails, we discovered that because of the abundance of his ideas, he often wrote short and to-the-point messages to convey them all. While concise emails have their place in business, they are not always the best way to introduce new thoughts that require more in-depth explanations and back-and-forth brainstorming. It was poor communication. The recipients of the emails felt confused, bossed around and uninvolved. They interpreted the messages as directives that seemed to come from nowhere as opposed to the quick idea that the CEO had hoped would spark conversation and enthusiasm.

After making this discovery, the CEO worked on improving his communications in that one area. He knew that change needed to start with him and began beginning his emails with “Just had a thought” and ending with “What do you think?” or “Would you like to meet to brainstorm with me?” By making this simple change of adding an introductory sentence and finishing with a request for their honest input, he radically improved his relationship with peers and employees. They began to show equal excitement for new ideas and worked with him instead of resisting. They began to understand their CEO, felt involved in his process and developed confidence to have more open communication with him. The business benefitted from the change, and work was much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

No doubt you see areas for improvement and growth in your own team. No matter where they are, change is possible—and it all starts with you.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

How To Perfect The Art Of Approachability In 3 Ways

How approachable are you? Do you emanate a sense of warmth that empowers others to come talk with you? Or do you find yourself giving off vibes that warn people away?

Approachability is an essential trait for professionals—particularly for leaders—as it enables them to connect with their colleagues to understand their concerns and build strong relationships based on trust and respect. Approachable leaders create a positive work culture that fosters collaboration, communication and creativity. Being approachable also has personal benefits, such as increasing your likability and improving your social skills. When people feel comfortable approaching you, they are more likely to share their thoughts and ideas, which can lead to new opportunities and insights.

If you find your people skills to be lacking, brush up on your approachability. Here are a few easy tactics to try.

1. Make yourself available.

A great tactic for improving your approachability is to adopt an office hours policy. Consider university professors, who often have regular office hours on a weekly basis so students can come in and talk about the class or other related topics. Because these meetings don’t have formal agendas, students can be in charge of the conversation.

Set up a system in which you block off a couple of hours on your calendar for your team to come talk with you informally about whatever is on their mind. Communicate this idea to them. They may not always take you up on it, but knowing the opportunity is there can garner confidence. As a side benefit, it can help reduce the number of impromptu hallway conversations you find yourself in. “Come see me during office hours and we’ll discuss!” is the line you can use to implement your approachability within the boundaries and time limits you set for yourself.

2. Address people using their names.

Sometimes, leaders can forget how vital being seen is for employee happiness. In a busy world where we have so much on our minds, it can be so easy to give out an impersonal “Hey” when you run into someone at work or out in the world. So taking that extra step and using their name can really be meaningful.

Are names not your strength? There are hacks you can use! For example, in a team meeting, say something like”Some of us are newer here and may not know everyone. Let’s take a second for introductions.” Of course, you can always just be honest and say, “I know most of you, but I would like to have a refresher on everyone’s name before we begin. I will start.” That transparency and desire to know everyone will garner goodwill.

At larger events, ask people to wear name tags. Another trick is to spend 10 minutes alone before the event running through the list of attendees and trying to place faces to names. You can also ask a socially savvy colleague to help you with it. Even if you can’t put a face to a name, you may be able to eliminate any awkward pronunciation issues when first meeting someone.

Though names may not always seem important, they truly matter. Knowing and using the names of people you encounter will help showcase your approachability.

3. Show up.

In far too many companies, high-level leaders are rarely seen except for once a year at the holiday party. Despite your busy schedule, make sure you’re taking a noticeable interest in your company at all levels, whether that’s with a stroll through the lunch room or a tour of the warehouse.

If you’re a leader who travels to multiple offices across the United States or even internationally, stick around for a bit. Don’t just pop in, make your presentation and leave immediately. Take time to socialize at lunch or coffee hour afterward—without any agenda. Those informal moments are a great opportunity for someone to gather up the nerve to approach and make an introduction.

Approachability is a key factor in cultivating a positive leadership presence. Brushing up on your people skills will be beneficial to your career—and your company—in the long run.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

Make Time For Big-Picture Thinking

As a business leader, one of your principal roles is to guide your team to achieve big-picture goals. To do that, finding time to regularly step back and reflect on those objectives is crucial. Those pauses for reflection allow leaders to maintain their eyes on the target, take stock of a team’s current position and reorient if necessary to successfully accomplish the plan.

Finding Time

Constant emails, phone calls, meetings, questions from team members, admin and other day-to-day responsibilities can really eat up your time and distract you from big-picture thinking and revision.

Effective time management is key. Be choosy when accepting meeting invitations. Try to determine the reason for the meeting and if your attendance is necessary to achieve results. If not, politely decline and ask for minutes if you want them. If your input is required for a meeting, maintain a “hard out” in an attempt to keep things concise.

Place recurring non-negotiable blocks of time on your calendar that you can take for the purpose of big-picture thinking. If you don’t schedule it and make it a priority, it will not happen.

In order to make space for those blocks of time, delegate smaller tasks to capable team members. If you are not accustomed to delegating, it can be overwhelming at first and may require time and training. To delegate tasks more effectively, identify the job and provide clear-cut instructions to the delegated team member. Check back in only occasionally to ensure that the work progresses. With reliable professionals taking on smaller projects, you are freed up to redirect your attention to higher-priority matters.

When To Evaluate

Most leaders conduct an annual or semi-annual review of their employees. This might be a great starting benchmark for analyzing a team’s progress toward its goals.

However, the frequency with which you review your big-picture goals throughout the year may depend on company size or the complexity of your goals. If your business plan is multifaceted with each department’s goals intertwined, you may want to take more frequent pauses to step back and analyze progress and next steps.

Company-Wide Objectives

In an ideal scenario, the CEO will establish and communicate company-wide goals with a specific timeline to all upper-level leadership from the very beginning. Setting intentions from the start is vital.

Once a company-wide goal is in place, CEOs must then check in with their team to make sure that all department heads are on the same page and consistently working toward the overarching goals of the business. Armed with the information of big-picture goals, those department leaders can in turn create department-level plans and objectives for their teams that support the main business goal.

A savvy leader will pause on a regular basis to analyze their team’s role and progress in achieving the larger goal. In doing so, your team can be more versatile and can pivot according to changes in the market or internal factors that might affect your plans. That flexibility can enable you to still achieve objectives despite the unexpected—resulting in ultimate success.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes

The Role Of Humility In Confident Leadership

During the length of your career as an executive leader, you will most likely have seasons of extreme confidence when you seem to be cruising along and doing everything right. Then suddenly, you’ll encounter some rocky ground that puts you on unsure footing, and you won’t know where it’s safe to step or in which direction to move.

Those moments are very normal, but more than that, they’re crucial. Being a confident leader actually requires having a little bit of humility.

Confident Leadership Is A Balancing Act

Naturally, confidence is fundamental in management. A confident executive presence, which involves having a clear vision and certainty about goals, can create trust and boost credibility. Once a manager has a well-defined objective, they can assemble the team and communicate those objectives to everyone involved. After all, a group will follow their leader on a journey with more optimism if they know there’s a clear destination in mind.

However, some leaders put too high a value on their own opinion. They can then fall into the pit of arrogance, which is detrimental to the success of their team. That’s why humility is a necessary quality for strong leaders. In my experience, some of the best leaders aren’t the smartest people in the room. They are, however, wise enough to harness the brainpower of their collective teams. For example, perhaps you have a rough plan to achieve your goals, but there are some gray areas you aren’t sure how to navigate. If you show humility and ask for advice and input from your team, you’ll receive the proper information to make better choices.

Being modest and encouraging input will lead to your team feeling honored and respected. Being a humble leader will show you believe in your team and that their opinions and knowledge matter. This creates a highly productive and supportive workplace. In fact, a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review found that employees who felt respected were 55% more engaged.

How To Be More Humble

Leaders can show humility in several different ways.

Of course, asking for advice or help is a major step. Another way to be humble is to master the art of listening. When in meetings, put your phone or other potential distractions away so you can dedicate 100% of your focus to the conversation. Make eye contact with speakers and focus on what they’re communicating. Once you’ve absorbed the information, ask follow-up questions that demonstrate you’re interested in knowing more. Do not interrupt unless necessary.

Be mindful of how you communicate. Use polite, courteous language when assigning projects or discussing your team’s performance. Show appreciation for an employee’s effort, even when edits need to be made. Give credit where it’s due, and acknowledge the contributions of everyone involved at the end of a project.

The doubts that pop up in your head as a leader can be completely normal. In fact, they can make you a better leader because they force you to ask questions and examine issues that an overconfident person might overlook or ignore. Humility in day-to-day interactions with your team will garner better interpersonal relationships, teamwork and decision-making. It will also help you achieve the end goals in which you are most confident.

This article has previously been featured on Forbes