Those who aspire to be successful quickly realize that individual performance isn’t usually enough. Only a team of committed individuals can accomplish great things. So a leader’s job turns to finding, selecting, and cultivating an amazing team.
If you wonder whether you are performing at your best, look at your team. My philosophy has always been that, if they are growing, your company will follow.
“Successful business leaders prioritize talent-development as a recruitment tool in the same way top athletic coaches do.” -Whitney Johnson
One way to tell whether you are growing is to look at where your team falls on the S curve. Based on Whitney Johnson’s proprietary research around disruption, every organization is a collection of individual S – or learning – curves. You build high performing team by optimizing these individual curves, including yours. In her book, Build an A-Team, you will learn how to manage people all along the S-curve and what to do when they reach the top of the curve. As employees are allowed, even required, to surf their individual S-curve waves, disrupting themselves, you will not only be less vulnerable to disruption, you’ll also be a boss people want to work for.
“The mind and skill-expanding opportunity motivates great engagement more than money or accolades.” -Whitney Johnson
After the release of your last book, Disrupt Yourself, you traveled and met the leaders of many organizations. As you spoke with them, what surprised you most?
Many people feel stuck, like a genie corked in a lamp; if somebody (usually their boss) would just pull that cork, they could make magic. They say, “I’m ready to disrupt myself. How can I persuade my boss to let me?” Or, “How can I get my team to disrupt themselves? How can I get my boss on board with that?” In Build an A Team I answer these questions and address the fact that, in most cases, fear of failure is the cork. We may be the cork in the bottle—our own, and our employees’.
“Want to know if you are about to be disrupted? Take the pulse of your workforce.” -Whitney Johnson
I recently asked him about how a team can do big things.
Why are teams performing below their potential?
Teams don’t fail because they lack the technical talent they need to succeed. Also, they don’t fail because the members of the team aren’t good people. More often than not, teams flatline before they reach the finish line because they aren’t practicing human connection skills. They lack the ability to work together. It’s that simple.
It’s heartbreaking because it’s so common place: Organizations throw talented, experienced, successful people together, call them a team, and then expect them to team together in talented ways. But it doesn’t work that way, because connecting effectively as human beings is a skill.
“Teams flatline before they reach the finish line because they aren’t practicing human connection skills.” -Craig Ross
Consequently, teams with immense potential suffer from DSD: They’re Distracted, hopelessly Stressed, and Disconnected from each other as teammates and their purpose. As a result, these teams perform below their potential.
Characteristics of a “Do Big Things” Team
What are the characteristics of a team that can do big things?
Most teams have the right ingredients to succeed, such as talent, resources and customers. What they often lack, however, is a recipe to bring the talent and resources they have together. After spending over 65,000 hours working with and studying teams around the world and reviewing the research available on this topic, we’ve discovered that recipe. It consists of seven steps that create the thinking and actions that occur consistently in teams that achieve and deliver remarkable objectives.
That recipe is called The Do Big Things Framework.
Reliability is something every leader wants more of from his or her team. Your challenge is to coach for reliable individual performance as the building block of a reliable and profitable business. Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.
“Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.” -Lee Colan
When a customer needs something done by a set date, or a service performed in a specific manner, he’s seeking someone who can provide that service with certainty. Many companies have built their reputations by providing that certainty for customers. For example, FedEx realized it could corner the market by promising to get your letter to its destination overnight, without fail. The company created an entire niche that never existed before. McDonald’s has built its iconic brand based on a promise of a reliable experience, regardless of which location.
Ultimately, excellent leaders help good employees become even better people. They help their employees build better lives for themselves and others while producing better business results.
“Excellent leaders help good employees become even better people.” -Lee Colan
There are five habits that excellent coaches use to create the reliability advantage. The five habits give your team the biggest boost if applied in sequence. However, you must use your knowledge of your team to determine when to accelerate through or spend more time on a specific habit. The root meaning of the verb “to coach” means to bring a person from where they are to where they want to be. Consider the role of a football coach. He sets clear expectations for his team with a game plan to win. He asks players if they have any questions to ensure they are clear about their respective roles on the team. He also asks them questions like, “How can you improve your performance or overcome a certain obstacle?” Then during the game, he involves them in changing the game plan, if necessary, based on what they are seeing on the field. The coach also observes and measures each player’s performance (e.g., number of tackles, yards gained, etc.). Finally, the coach gives constructive feedback and recognition so his players can elevate their performance in the next game.
These are the same five habits that excellent leaders employ to coach their teams. First, excellent leaders explain expectations. They realize it is necessary but not sufficient, in and of itself, to boost performance. Excellent leaders take the time to ensure alignment with their teams before moving forward. Second, excellent leaders also ask questions. A leader might ask to clarify a problem or ask for ideas and suggestions. Asking questions ignites employee engagement. Third, excellent coaches involve team members in creating solutions to improve their work. This enlists ownership because we are committed to things we help create. Fourth, excellent leaders diligently measure results to boost team accountability. The fifth and final coaching habit is to appreciate people. This builds commitment to sustain and improve results. Using each of these habits in concert elevates team reliability.
You’ve been researching personality and leadership for decades. What are some of the more surprising conclusions you’ve reached?
Surprisingly, that the same traits that drive individual and team performance and those that derail effectiveness haven’t changed in the last 50 years. While almost everything associated with the world of work now evolves very quickly as technology transforms every 18 months per Moore’s Law, humans are quite similar to Stone Age humans.
There are four key domains of personality in play: Grit: the Task Mastery Traits, EQ: the Teamwork Traits, Dominance, and Deference. Broad research identifies behaviors associated with Grit and EQ as key drivers for leadership, teamwork and communications. FortuneMagazine editor Geoff Colvin calls them “high-value skills.” Broad research also identifies behaviors associated with Dominance and Deference traits that derail leadership, teamwork, and communications. Others refer to these derailers by different names like over-aggression, difficulty managing emotions, failure to build teams, excessive caution, but they are rooted in basic dominance and deference behaviors.
Interestingly, Grit and EQ appeared latest in human evolution – called phylogeny – and also appear latest in individual development – called ontogeny. And a basic law of human development is ontogeny follows phylogeny. Neuroscience shows that for many people, the full maturation of the frontal cortex goes on into the mid-twenties … and for many people, this might be required for their full maturation and thus ability to access Grit and EQ. In contrast, Dominance and Deference behaviors are almost inborn and evident in toddlers – and in other animals. Some people develop Grit and EQ, but many do not.
One lesson for emerging professionals is to be aware of a need to think before they act to summon and leverage Grit and/or EQ – which may not be abundant naturally. One way is to suppress Dominance and/or Deference habits and behaviors if they are prominent, as they actively interfere with Grit and EQ. Grit requires planning and thinking about projects and work; EQ requires attending to and considering people and relationships.
“Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald
Share an example of a personality trait and how it impacts leadership.
Sure. Consider someone very high on Need to Control, a Dominance trait. They are domineering and bossy, opinionated and like to advocate ideas rather than listen or seek collective intelligence; they get impatient and are vulnerable to the confirmation bias; they may act before thinking it out. Not too surprisingly, Need to Control is negatively associated with leadership, teamwork and communications … Now, Skip, of course personality traits do not operate in isolation, so what also matters are the other traits in a Profile with Need to Control!
The LMAP assessment is a Circumplex model where traits are organized on a circular chart that represents how they interact with and are influenced by the presence or absence of other traits. I’ve been building systems like this since 1984 – how weird is that! Anyway, in my book and in our assessments, the focus is on overall Personality Profile – combinations of 13 personality traits – rather than one trait.
So consider High Control and:
Add high Rigidity, Hostility, Competitiveness (Dominance traits) and I can guarantee there will be problems and it will be unpleasant.
Or add in Achievement Drive and/or Conscientiousness and/or Innovation – better yet, all three Grit traits – and you get a high performer, great at cranking results but not to lead and positively motivate a team – without at least average EQ.
Finally, take away Hostility and add in even-average Helpfulness or Sociability and it looks like the Profile of a super effective Managing Editor of a major newspaper I assessed, an introvert with high Control, Conscientiousness, Achievement Drive, Innovation and about-average Helpfulness: a great editor and leader in a tough business and a journalist coach and mentor for his direct reports.
For this fellow, the prominent Dominance wasn’t a derailer because he had just enough EQ traits to temper it… And managing editors of major newspapers must have strong opinions. But take away his average EQ and mentoring style and then his dominance would go unchallenged and impair his leadership effectiveness. I like how Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania Professor and Macarthur Genius Grant winner, says in her book Grit: “As a psychologist, I can confirm that grit is far from the only—or even the most important—aspect of a person’s character . . . There are many other things a person needs to grow and flourish. Character is plural.”
Personal and professional growth. We often think they’re different. We live our lives as if the personal and professional are in neat little silos, as if one didn’t affect the other.
I’ve often said that leaders help people with the personal, not just the professional. And sharing a little of the personal may make a big impact in the professional.
The two are interrelated.
And so, when I read Jonathan Raymond’s new work, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, I was excited to find a book that explained why this is…and how to use it to become a better leader. Jonathan is the former CEO of EMyth and now the owner of Refound, an advisory firm that offers leadership training and coaching. And I think his take on “good authority” will have you nodding along with what we want from the very best leaders.
“When you make peace with authority, you become authority.” –Jim Morrison
Contrast good versus bad authority. What are a few attributes you would think of?
I’d say the first attribute is in the willingness to own your role as an authority in the first place. I see too many modern leaders try to abdicate that responsibility, either outright or in subtle ways, and try to be nice at the expense of giving people the boundaries they need to grow. The main attribute of bad authority is when a leader doesn’t own their contribution to a stuck dynamic or problematic situation. For example, a leader who hasn’t provided a reasonable timeline to reach a goal and then blames the team for not delivering on it fast enough. Good authority is the art of owning your contribution, being transparent with your team, and then moving forward in a collaborative way.
“Our strengths are not our own until they are freed of the burden of having to heal the past.” –Jonathan Raymond
Would you share a little about the concept of “borrowed authority”?
Borrowed authority is the idea that until we investigate the beliefs about authority we inherited from our parents and teachers – not to mention the business culture in general – we’re still borrowing our leadership style from the past instead of discovering the one that genuinely expresses who we are today. In Good Authority, I offer that the opposite of Good Authority isn’t bad authority, it’s borrowed authority. What I mean by that is that most leaders have good intentions, but until we do the work, we’re bogged down by ideas and beliefs about what it means to be the boss that hold us back and create pain and confusion for the employees in our care as a result.
“You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” –Timothy O’Leary
I want to ask about organizational culture. You say, “Nobody sets out to make their employees overwhelmed, stressed-out, and miserable.” I have to say that I read that and laughed, thinking, “If Jonathan only met one of my bad bosses, he’d think differently!” You’re right, of course, but people are overwhelmed and stressed. What’s are some ways to change a culture into one that is positive, empowered, and driven?
This may sound odd, but the first problem is bad math. One of the things I ask leaders to do is to add up all the time they’re spending (1) doing re-work for a struggling employee, (2) mediating their interpersonal conflicts, (3) answering questions that they should be able to answer themselves, and (4) complaining to their spouse, partner or friends about how frustrated they are. The pivot is incredibly simple and goes against our conditioning, which is why we typically avoid it. The key to create a positive, empowered and driven culture is the exact same thing that will get you out of being overwhelmed and stressed. Repressing what you see and feel leads to emotional, mental, and physical problems, and it keeps that data away from the one person who needs to hear it in order to grow.
There’s an art to talking about work in a way that feels personally relevant to your employee, but it boils down to this: Give them feedback not about tasks and projects but about how they’re showing up as a human being. Make it about relationships, feeling their impact on others, how they avoid taking risks—those are the things that people will immediately see as helping them get better at work and at life at the same time. There’s a whole new type of organizational culture that opens up from that simple shift.
What are some techniques you use to help coach someone who has problems with listening? How can we all learn to be better listeners at a deeper level?
Before we talk about the deeper cut, one simple technique that’s often used in mediation applies well in the workplace in general. Have the person you’re trying to help repeat back what they heard before responding. Highlight for them what the gaps are between what was said (and, even more importantly, how it was said) and what they heard and how they interpreted it. There’s a lifetime’s worth of personal growth work there.
“We teach best what we most need to learn.” –Richard Bach
At a deeper level, and this is something I work on every day, is to re-examine what we think our value is as leaders. That’s a lot of what Good Authority is about: to learn how the highest value we can add to our teams, and in the rest of our lives, is to put our thumb on the side of the scale that’s about creating the space for others to discover that next better version of themselves, as opposed to tending to fill that space ourselves. I love leaders and have so much respect for anyone who throws their heart into a problem with no guarantee of success. The pivot is to see how not everyone works that way, and that to create the organization that can do more than you can on your own, you have to listen for those other voices.
Finally, it comes down to not shooting the messenger. I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve seen, in fact I’ve never seen one where this isn’t true, where one person becomes a scapegoat for the cultural dysfunction and is moved out (fired or pushed into quitting), and the message they were carrying never sees the full light of day. It’s a basic rule of group dynamics, but I see CEOs do it all the time, moving out the ‘disgruntled’ employee instead of leaning into the conversation and discovering the most powerful brand ambassador they’ve got.
Tip: Focus more on who people are and less on deadlines and tasks.
How about letting go of the past? What advice do you give to someone who is letting the past limit their future?
Find a way to get in relationship with it. Meaning, when you notice yourself re-hashing or cycling in an old story, imagine a friend was telling you that story, what would you tell them? It’s a life’s work for sure, but learn to reframe our past in terms of how it made us the person we are today. I heard this phrase again recently that I absolutely love: “The past didn’t happen to us, it happened for us.” To be clear, I’m not suggesting people try and transcend or gloss over traumatic or otherwise difficult personal experiences, only that we hold a bit of double-vision about them. Let yourself feel whatever there is to feel about whatever it is that you feel it’s holding back. Cry, laugh, roll up the car window on the freeway and let out a yell from the depths of your soul. By giving yourself permission to let it be what it is all the way, only then do you open up the room to see it in a new way. The paradox is that you don’t have to do any additional work to do this. It’s the process of giving yourself permission to feel that brings that higher mind back online, and you can move forward with confidence and a sense of self that might surprise you.