A Letter from Your Ready-Steady Team

You are a blessed and happy boss indeed when your team is engaged, competent, and things are flowing well.  It’s a sweet spot in leadership that I’ve found doesn’t last.  Your Ready-Steady team is likely on their way to other level.  If you are doing a great job, they are turning into a Rockstar team.  If you aren’t tending the health and productivity of the team, they are sinking into Stress (or Overstress).  When you are breathing easy and goals are being met and people seem generally happy in their work, it’s so alluring as a leader to take a deep breath, sit back, and chill out a little.  And you probably should for a minute, because this is a time for you to share in the joys of a lower-stress season.

But while you are deep breathing and have your feet up on your desk chilling out, you also need to be spending your quiet time thinking about the road ahead.  The world is constantly changing, and just because things are peaceful right now doesn’t mean they will stay that way.  You can’t control all the external things that will change how your team needs to respond, but you can focus in on your team, and use this time to keep them holding steady, and advancing towards Rockstar status.  They are ready, and this is what they would like to say to you.

Dear Boss,

Whew!  It’s nice to sleep easy and work regular hours for a change.  We come to work every day and know our jobs, feel appreciated for our individual and collective achievements, and have great professional and personal relationships with each other.  We know this is rare, and we don’t take it for granted.

What we are wondering now is — What’s Next?  A couple of us have been putting up some really big numbers and are starting to feel a little too comfortable…maybe even a little bored.  We know how to do this work, have become proficient, and are looking up the ladder and around the organization for how to leverage these successes into a new challenge and a higher-seniority position.  A couple of us are being recruited by other departments because things are going well here, but most of us feel like we are being overlooked for opportunities because things are just simply “fine.”  We aren’t standing out.  Meeting your numbers isn’t going to make anyone a top candidate for a better position.

It would be so fun to talk together as a team about what Rockstar status looks like.  Meeting goals is fun, and exceeding them is pretty fun too, but driving innovation and organizational growth is where we think we will really start to have FUN.  We know some things now, you know?  And we don’t want to get trapped in a comfortable position just because it’s easy and makes the executives happy. 

Help us be mentors, help us talk about what’s going well, and do some analysis and learning about how to replicate it in other areas.  Throw out a new challenge to us now and again to see how we do.  Not just the boring old “stretch goal” stuff either.  Something juicy that we can collaborate and think deeply about.  Something we can add to our resumes in the “noteable achievements” section.  Because “I did my job as outlined in my job description is JUST.NOT.SEXY.”

We want to be Rockstars, and we  are starting to see our own potential.  What we need more than anything is for you to be ready with the challenges and opportunities that will give us Rockstar status.  Get us into the best meetings, projects, show us off, and help us learn what’s going right.  You helped us get here, so we trust you.  We believe in you.  And we want you to lead us to the next level.  Soooo…will you?

Thanks in advance,

The Team

Leaders in the middle have a really special role, and my favorite time to help them see it is in this “Ready-Steady” phase with their team.  It is up to you here and now to be the innovator, and to get out in front guiding your team towards the next level up.  This is your chance to play and have fun with a group of people that trusts you and is ready to fine-tune their expertise.  Start a book group.  Ask your leaders for a troubling issue that might fit your team’s skills well.  Listen at higher-level meetings for challenges that similar teams are experiencing, and knock on doors to see how your team might be able to help.

You are going to think to yourself, “I don’t want to ask them to do more than they are doing.  They are meeting goals, people are comfortable.  Why would I give them more work to do?”  Don’t listen to that voice.  It’s not their voice, it’s your own fear talking.  YOU are afraid of being challenged, and this is the time when you must rise into your leadership and pave the way.  You need to be a Rockstar for them.  If you can’t or won’t…you should expect about another 6-12 months of comfort and then watch them slide into Burned Out/Over-stressed mode.  They will start to bicker, because they have nothing better to do.  That one person who has the potential to become negative will start doing so if you don’t actively engage this team in this time.

Ready-Steady is a waypoint, not a destination.  (There is no destination in team leadership.)  The ship is always heading into new waters.  It’s up to you to steer the ship towards the best possible next place, or risk being dragged by a sneaky undercurrent into rocky shores.

Call up your mentor (or call me!) and talk about where to go from here.  Get some help thinking of options if you can’t come up with any on your own, and get some support from your leader to begin exploring such options.  You need to believe more strongly in your team than anyone else right now.  Your belief will open doors that you can’t yet see.

Whenever I’m developing teams and they get to this place, the first thing I do is identify the individuals who are already Rockstars, and invite them into opportunities to show off what they can do.  Whether they are the best producer, have great informal leadership skills, or an outstanding thinker, find a space for those people to get a stage with bright lights and tons of support.  Give them the challenge because you know they can do it.  Some will be uncomfortable, and some won’t want to believe they are capable.  Believe for them.  Encourage, mentor, coach, and support them, and watch them fly.  You can do this, and you should do this.  Your Ready-Steady team is ready to blast off, and your job is to oversee Mission Control and set the countdown.  10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-…

If your team seems comfortable, get your focus in high gear.  Don’t shirk your responsibility as a leader.  Call in help (call me!), and let’s get them to the next level.  It’s the most exciting time EVER!!

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

(c) MediumCheddar.com November 22, 2015


A Letter From Your Over-Stressed Team

There are many reasons why teams get stressed.  Goals and resources are misaligned.  The skill level needed to do the job surpasses the skills that exist.  Whatever the reasons, stress is not in itself bad.  Stress can be productive.  But there are limits to productive stress, and there is such as thing as too much stress.  As the leader of your team, you need to be paying close attention to whatever is stressing your team, because when stressed becomes overstressed, productivity and engagement will suffer.  Your goals will go unreached, and you will likely begin to lose people because either they are calling in sick or going out and finding new opportunities.

I have found that interpersonal overstress is the most dangerous kind.  One interpersonal conflict or misunderstanding within a stressed team can make everyone overstressed.  When things get overstressed between people, things can get really messy and even downright toxic, leading to sometimes irreversible damage.

The real sign your team is in trouble and stressed is turning into over-stressed? You get this: “Hey boss, can I talk to you? I have a concern….”

“I have a concern” are the words I dread hearing as a manager. Not because I don’t want to deal with trouble, but because it means trouble has already found us and my team is suffering.  Imagine your team members.  Not one of them really wants to be the person that approaches the boss and says that there is a problem, especially if they are coming to you about a problem with a colleague.  In most cases, it takes great trust and courage for an employee to step forward and ask for some quiet time with you to express their discontent.  However calm and rational this person may seem when describing the issue, inside there is probably a whole lot of nausea and pulse racing.  Therefore, when she or he does come forward, LISTEN.  Take notes and engage in your best reflective listening, because right now your very best leadership is required.  Dig deep, call in your reserves, and get ready to address some very uncomfortable issues!

Here’s what your team wants to say to you…

Dear Boss,

Help. Please help. We wake up and just want to come to work, do our jobs and generally get along with our colleagues. We don’t all have to be friends, but we don’t want to walk around wondering when the Ticking Time Bomb is going to act out again.  Maybe  you have noticed that everyone is a lot more quiet in our weekly meetings lately? We just don’t have the same energy we always used to have.  To you, maybe it seems like it’s just the meeting that’s the problem, but what you don’t know is that TTB is always complaining and trying to get people to take sides, and then he plays people off of each other behind their backs.  He really offended someone last week, and the rest of us just don’t want to be around that kind of negativity all the time.  We don’t trust him.  That’s the bottom line. And when we can’t trust a member of our own team, everyone feels like they have to watch their back.

You may or may not know it, but most of us have quiet conversations about how frustrated we are.  The other day, four of us went on a walk for a full hour. We called it a walking meeting, but really we were just trying to vent about our frustrations, and it was basically a crab-session.  The negativity is spreading.

We understand you are trying to do your best, but we don’t see you dealing with the real issue.  We get that we are all adults and it’s not your job to tend our emotional well being, but we hope you figure out that when you don’t do anything to lead this team through this silent stressor, you lose credibility with us. We are quickly edging towards disengagement and burnout. It’s just too much. And now we are starting to snipe at each other too. It feels like junior high, and we all hate it. We get that this is icky to talk about. Even when we are crabbing and venting, we don’t like ourselves for it. We are better than this, and we want to be engaged and successful again. We need you to lead us there.

Our suggestions? Well, that’s your job as the leader, right? To figure out the solutions. But if we had to offer a few… What about some group norms or agreements? Our main problem is that we don’t have a shared understanding of how to have difficult conversations. Norms and agreements can make a huge difference.

And the guy that keeps behaving in ways that are aggravating and pushy – he really just needs to hear that he is a problem. Flat out. Be blunt with him and hold him accountable to being a positive and productive team member. PLEASE.  You are the manager and we don’t want to get labeled as a “negative nelly” for saying that there is a problem or calling this dude out in a meeting. Can you help us have a productive conflict? Get us focused on the goals again. Inspire us with the vision and our purpose. Get us out of the office for a retreat or a staff lunch. Make meaningful positive reinforcement your daily goal.

By the way, there are some very real problems with our systems and resources that need to be resolved. The TTB actually has that right. Tell us what you are doing to resolve the problems, or ask us for input about how to fix the things that aren’t working. Trust us, we DESPERATELY want to help. We want to believe that there is a way out of this storm, and that things will calm down again. No one expects utopia at the office. We are here to work, and every day doesn’t need to be a carnival of fun. But you are losing us, and pretty soon the only person you will still have hanging on is the crab-ass that caused us all to leave in the first place. Ultimately it reflects poorly on you, which is sad. You are a nice person and we know you are probably doing your best. Thanks for listening, and doing whatever you can to help. It means a lot!


The Team

If there is an interpersonal problem in your team, don’t avoid it.  Don’t shirk your responsibility as a leader.  Call in help (call me!), and let’s get to the bottom of it and get it resolved.

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

(c) MediumCheddar.com June 18, 2014


Your Brand New Team Has Written You a Letter!

Just as every individual is different, with different thoughts, emotions, ways of being, and quirks, so is every team. The character and culture of each and every work team will fluctuate as members change, as leaders change, and as the work environment changes. There is nothing static about your team. They are on their way somewhere, and your job is to pay attention and make sure they are going towards their next best place.

To do so, first you must understand where your team is today and what they want from you. To help you, I’ve written some letters from the types of teams I engage with most often. There are four types, and today starts this series with…

The Brand New Team

Dear Boss,

Oh wow! Here we are! We’re nervous but excited to be kicking off this new group. This could be one of those special teams that everyone hopes to be a part of at least once in their life. You know, the one that has a culture of respect and caring for each other, combined with an indefatigable drive to succeed. We really want this to be that team, and we want you to be the leader that makes us that team! We are going to be stressed out during this building phase, because there are always hiccups and glitches when things are in start-up mode. So here are our thoughts on what you can do to help us do well and stay sane.

To start with, please talk to us as grown up humans. Don’t keep information from us that you think we might not like or be ready for. We are trying really hard to get a handle on this new system and figure out what we are trying to do together. If you tell us something that isn’t in set in stone, and promise to keep us updated, and then do that, we will roll with the punches. If you believe in us enough to talk openly about everything that is going on as we get this team started, we will be open with you and with each other. We will solve our problems together. We won’t always agree with you or with each other, but we will be ok with that, because your respect and compassion for us makes us feel like we matter.

Second, we are all adults, but as a team we are young.  We need attention and TLC. When one of us starts to act out, that is a sign to you that we need you to get in here with us and help us…like, stat. One team member who is always frustrated or domineering or mean or oppositional makes the rest of us feel uncomfortable and unsafe. It seems like they must know something that we don’t, and we will listen to them even when we don’t want to, just to make sure we aren’t missing something that management has missed. Everything is new right now, and we don’t always feel like we know what’s going on, so we are constantly looking for clues that give us more information to work with.

Also, please tell us what you want us to be. We aren’t our goal. Our goal is what we are going to work towards, but there are a lot of moments and meetings and small wins between here and there. What do you hope those look like? Do you promise to tell us when you see them? It would be great to know how you think things are going. Not just how far we are, but how we–as your team–are doing as we grow and mature.

Finally, we get it. You are the boss. You call the shots and make the final decisions. That’s cool. Some of us want to be in your position someday. Please don’t piss us off by treating us like we are fragile, stupid, or inhuman robots with no ideas of our own. We are excited to be here, and we hope you put each of us on this team for a reason. You are smart, but sometimes we will see interesting things that you don’t. Like how our customers and clients react when we talk about that third talking point, or how hard it is to work efficiently when we can’t access the information we need—and how we have learned to work around that. We are nervous about saying anything in meetings, but if you ask us directly, we will probably tell you. And if you have demonstrated that you care about us and want the team to be strong and successful, we will also help figure out the solutions to our own complaints.  If not, you can assume we are talking about it with each other quietly, and you have just placed yourself out of the loop.

Ok, so that’s about it. Tell us the whole truth, keep a close eye on how we are acting and address it when someone gets weird. Tell us what you care about, and what you want us to be. Make the decisions, but get informed along the way by asking us questions about what’s working and not working, and give us the chance to help fix stuff that’s not quite right yet.

Thanks for listening boss! You are the best! We can’t wait to tell people how awesome this experience was!


Your Team

Do you have a Brand New Team? Let me help you get things started on the right foot. We will focus on establishing roles and group norms, engaging the motivations of each team member, assigning the right tasks to the right person, and setting goals.

Next Up…The Stressed Team writes a letter you really, really, really need to read.

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

(c) MediumCheddar.com May 13, 2014

3 Surprising Skills You Need to Master in Management

I prefer to talk about leadership versus management, because most views on management are so…well…this:

The Dilbert Principle: The most ineffective workers will be systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage — management.

But great managers have developed a technical managerial skillset, and it’s rather surprising!  The great manager is an expert at inviting and engaging the team to be their best.

If you are following the MedChedd Book Group, you know that we are studying the book Credibility, by Kouzes & Posner. I’m working on the study guide for Chapter 3 right now, and one of the key ideas from this chapter is, “Before leaders can do the right things, they have to know how to do them.”

So what are some of the key technical skills of management? I have some ideas, but I hope you will add your own.

1. Understand the needs of the team you are managing.

Over the course of my career, I have found that this skill has led to more of my success than any other. As a teacher, I could write the best lesson plan in the world, but I had to know my students as individuals, as well as the class dynamic, in order to facilitate learning. There was one student, “Scott”, who constantly interrupted my class with quips, jokes, and attempts to lead us off track. I tried to minimize his disruption with a variety of approaches and limited success, and found that the only result was that I was more stressed, more anxious, and more angry with each passing day. Finally, I realized that the class was now suffering twice — because of Scott’s distracting banter and my engagement with it. So I stopped trying to change Scott’s behavior. Instead, understanding the needs of the class, I created more opportunities for small group dialog. I put Scott into groups that had other bold voices who would not be afraid to offer peer social correction that my teacher authority could not achieve. I couldn’t change Scott. But I could change how our group operated so that his unique style no longer sucked time and energy from the learning experience of everyone. When you spend time trying to manage a person and stop attending to the team, you are leading disengagement. For one week, practice listening to members of the team about their experience of being part of this particular group. What do they want more or less of? It is your job as a manager to seek that information out and respond to it with new structures and operating patterns.

2.  Master effective communication.

Every professional needs to be able to communicate masterfully. But nowhere is this skill more important than in the manager. Because you are the translator, the messenger, the tour guide, the teacher. If there is any professional skill you should be spending time developing, it’s communication. Start with learning to listen. Move on to speaking with clarity and intention. Progress to storytelling. Incorporate some sales training, whether you are in sales or not. Learn how to engage in respectful dialogue and debate. Find interpersonal communication tools that work for you and keep 3-5 in your back pocket. There are bazillions (yes, bazillions) out there to choose from, and the ones you choose are less important than the ones you master. Practice, evaluate, practice more, evaluate again. This is your job. You have had successful communication with other humans, so you may believe you are doing well in your communication skills. But you cannot stop working towards mastery. The ability to speak words coherently and the ability to communicate effectively are completely independent of one another. You can’t speak to colleagues the same way you speak to friends and expect to be effective.

3. Know your heartaches, and therefore learn your values.

One of the points that Kouzes & Posner return to again and again is that every leader needs to know her or his personal values. That notion is important, but it is also is one of the hardest concepts to teach. What is a value? What are the right values? What are my values? So I will shortcut the question and simply ask you this: What is something you believe in so strongly that you will suffer for it? Asked another way: What causes you heartache or anger when it happens? These pain points are informative. Whenever I see someone in a role that is misaligned with their natural skills and strengths, trying to conform to their perceived expectations of what success looks like, I ache and yearn to help them. It causes me distress to see people trying to be everything they think they are supposed to be, and leaving their amazing talents and strengths to languish in shadow. This realization led me to my personal mission: To recognize, activate, and grow the strengths of individuals and organizations to create exceptional outcomes for humanity. As a leader and manager, I know that my mission is to help people put their very best into the world.  This means that in coaching and leading teams I expect that everyone has something important to offer, and I create spaces for them to offer it. I create the group expectation that sitting back and waiting to contribute is not acceptable. I have even gone so far as to tell group members exactly what kind of contributions I expect them to make. “Keep us on track with time” “Make sure we are seeing the risks here” “Lead our warm up activity so that we don’t forget to focus on building our relationships.” More importantly, I can describe why I use this approach. I can name the values and purpose associated with my actions. Can you?

These are skills. Not points of view. As a manager, you have to be able to facilitate success from a team. And therefore your skillset must include the ability to understand their needs, communicate masterfully, and lead from your values. It’s no small matter to master these skills, and they aren’t in most of the standard how-to manuals for managers. Standard trainings teach coaching, performance management, motivation, time management, on-boarding, and managing individuals. Too few management-training programs build skills in the areas I’ve described. I hate to believe it, but sometimes I think it’s because we still define our employees and managers as widgets, instead of respecting their total human wholeness and vitality. You may have to seek these things out on your own, but I encourage you to do so. You are worthy and capable and brilliant enough to master management. Wherever you are in your career, spending time building these competencies will only help you become more masterful.

What other manager skills would you add to this list?

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

(c) MediumCheddar.com April 22, 2014

The New Age of Leadership in a Millennial World

There is something exploding in the world. The spark has been launched, and the flame is smoldering, ready to turn into a full-fledged fire. Do you feel it? Are you part of it?

Maybe it’s because I live and breathe words of leadership these days. Maybe it’s because I’m intentionally talking with one new leader every week. Maybe it’s because I’m a Maximizer and I love to see good things becoming great. But there is something new in the air. Do you know what it is? It’s the burgeoning, blossoming, chemical reaction in the collective consciousness saying:

Anyone can lead. Everyone should lead.

Leadership is no longer simply about position, title, or role. The new leadership is active, authentic and self-actualized. Wherever I am in my organization, I want to contribute purpose and value. There is a lot of air time given to the Millennial generation’s work style. Not all of what’s out there is favorable. The most chronic unfavorable stereotype is that Millennials want leadership positions quickly, before having “put in their time.” They want coaching instead of mentoring, and they want to be promoted to positions of influence within 1-2 years. This style breaks the long held social code that one must work one’s way up the ladder in order to earn influence and authority. As if experience and seniority are the ultimate gauge of ability.

While the fascinating exploration of generational differences is certainly of interest and some importance, I’m really ready to move on to a more exciting conversation. Every week I meet someone new who doesn’t fit into the Millennial generation’s age limit, and yet I hear the same kinds of themes. “I want to grow and develop, I want to contribute something meaningful, I am ready to lead.” At the same time, I hear disengagement running rampant. “I’m not in the right position, I’m burned out. I just can’t bring myself to care.”

So, there’s this monumental problem, right? NO. Scratch that. Monumental Opportunity. The people of the entire world are becoming self-actualized and leading from the most amazing, surprising places. It is clear that every single voice matters, and has a purpose. At the same time, organizations, companies, and governments are trying to operate in a time of recovery and regrowth; trying to emerge from survival mode and ready to start taking risks and making investments.

To the formal leaders running the show: Open the Floodgates! Your people have ideas and passion and wisdom and unique experience. If you haven’t been asking regularly what your people think could work, start today. Tap into this energy. Engage in this unique moment in time. Lead by creating the healthy structures needed for productive thinking and purposeful discussion. Be clear about what you think you want, and open to surprising solutions that you didn’t expect. Care about engagement. Invest in engagement. Dedicate lines in your plans and budgets to the internal work of strengthening your people.

To all the people longing for purpose and meaning and mastery: Lead today, wherever you may be. Embrace your inner Millennial. Lead by listening. Lead by finding the coaching you need in order to grow your skills. Lead with respect for yourself and for those all around you–up, down, around and out. Listen to the better idea or more thorough rationale, and be willing to acquiesce if the better idea is someone else’s, or stand firm if it is your own. In every meeting and moment, be ready to catalyze collaboration, because the greatest idea is the one created by the best of many minds.

Speaking specifically to the Medium Cheddars, early, mid, or late career: Leadership is no longer about your position on the org chart, but the org chart still matters. If you are not a manager but want to be one, start seeking ways to develop your skills in management so that you are ready when the opportunity arrives. If you are a manager, don’t get trapped by an oversized – or undersized! – ego. Know your role. Lead people towards the goal. Keep the train on the tracks. Be the voice for the vision in the real day to day. You are just as responsible for the engagement and resulting productivity of your team as the senior leaders. And you are more likely to be the person who actually impacts engagement and therefore productivity. Do whatever you have to do to get to engagement. Find the way.

There is a moment happening right now that we will reflect on and say, “That was when everything changed. We had to figure out how to be effective in the new reality.” The opportunity is enormous, and the stakes are as high as ever. And this is where real leaders thrive.

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

(c) MediumCheddar.com April 10, 2014

Show Compassion When Asking Senior Leaders for Change

A few weeks ago, I posted an article to a LinkedIn group about 9 things leaders say, and it inspired some interesting discussion. One person commented that leaders may want to say these things, but times have been tough in recent years and many are still in survival mode. They may want to listen, engage, and build new strategies, but are still conservative in their approach.

I have thought a lot about that comment, and I get it. I think of my own experience in the past few years, and how challenging it was at both the mid- and senior leader level to find the way through intense resource constraints. It is a very serious responsibility to have people’s livelihoods and the ongoing sustainability of the organization in your hands. When times are tight, no one can blame a leader with that kind of responsibility for hunkering down and just trying to survive. I’ve been there. It’s a really hard place.

And. I would like to offer a suggestion to all of the Medium Cheddar leaders out there. You are standing in a special spot. You have insight from the ground level, and you also know the goals and vision of the organization.  You have ideas for how to change and adapt and grow, and your frustration at being constrained has hovered in the red zone for a while now.

Some of you have put your ideas forward, and perhaps have heard “no” often enough that your engagement has withered. You don’t feel heard or respected. Maybe you have even gotten to the point where you have said, “I’m just going to shut up and stop trying to help fix this problem. No one wants to hear my ideas, and I don’t really care anymore.”

Does any of this sound at all familiar?

If so, then start with compassion for the leader who lingers in survival mode. Really. Have some empathy. Take on the idea that every investment you make risks a negative bottom line. There is no slush fund. There is no reserve. If your investment fails, cuts will be required. Take it further and substitute “change” for the word “investment”. In many senior leaders’ minds, these may sound like the same thing.

What can you do from the Medium Cheddar zone? Let me propose a model for you. It’s the basic model I use when I do trainings on Mastering Management. But today I’m going to apply it to inspiring and engaging your leaders.

Ask Important Questions. One of the most important questions you can ask is “What do you want?” Before you ask anyone else, ask yourself! What do you want? Then ask the people around you. Your leaders, your team, your stakeholders. Remember that your approach to asking should start from authentic curiosity, and your action after asking is to listen. Listen between the lines. What are the fears, frustrations, needs, and hopes lingering in the pauses, tone of voice and body language? Don’t just listen for what you want to hear. Listen to the whole answer. If you want to have the chance to ask more than one question, try changing your question from “Why do/n’t we…” to “I’m interested in understanding this better. What are your thoughts?”

See The Bright Spots. This is perhaps where the Medium Cheddar perspective is most complete. You are in the middle of what is really going on. You are in the know! What’s working? What are the success stories that demonstrate what’s working? Use the Tell Me A Story guide to explore what is making people feel good. Then, name the bright spots. Give them voice and space. We all need to hear some good news. And employee recognition boosts engagement, so it’s a double win. The net result of being able to see and name successes that are relevant to organizational achievement is that you will build your credibility and influence. Be authentic in your praise, and tie the success to a tangible result.

Remove Barriers. You can’t eliminate every obstacle. But you can be thoughtful, creative, and insightful about identifying what barriers you can remove. If the issue is something beyond the scope of your decision making authority, use your Medium Cheddar perspective. Help your leader by clarifying the issue with specific examples, then offering a thoughtful recommendation for consideration (see next step). And finally, don’t forget to look in the mirror. Sometimes, the barrier is the manager (yes, you). Maybe you are taking too much responsibility and not giving people the opportunity to succeed—or learn from failure—on their own. Take a look at how you operate, and what you may be contributing to the problem.

Draw the Map. Everybody has a great idea. Or a hundred. Unfortunately, an idea is not a solution. If you have started by asking important questions, you know what success looks like, and have wisdom and insight about removing barriers to success, then go ahead and draft a proposal. It doesn’t need to be a Manifesto. It doesn’t need to be a thesis or a research paper. If you are trying to influence a leader, make it accessible to her or him. Use language about the purpose of the proposed change, include your (clear, succinct) recommendations and a suggested timeline or work plan. Keep it simple and brief—1 page is spectacular. Use visuals to illustrate your recommendations if you can. Hang your passion on it, but not your ego. If you have developed your credibility and are a trusted leader, you have opened the conversation and now you may have the opportunity to participate in it. Just remember, your best idea may not be the best idea. Show respect and compassion for your leader by graciously accepting “no” or “not now” as an answer. If you have shown compassion and smarts, you will earn credibility, which may turn the next “not now” into a “Let’s talk more, I think you are on to something.”

It can be really hard to be a courageous mid-level leader when there is doubt and hesitation all around you. Attitude matters, but I disagree with those who say it is everything. Credibility matters much more, and you have the ability to build yours. These are not simple steps. They take practice, and coaching, and there are many times when you will trip and stumble. That’s how leaders are made. No one is perfect at it, and no one becomes highly skilled without a great deal of practice. Wherever you are in your leadership journey, learn this lesson: understand the needs of the person you want to influence, and help them overcome their own hesitation by providing recommendations that are both smart and compassionate.

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

(c) MediumCheddar.com March 25, 2014


Today You Are A Leader

Do you remember the first time someone put you In Charge?  What did it feel like?  Invigorating?  Daunting?  Fantastic?  In high school I was in charge of putting together an AIDS awareness week.  It was the first time in our high school that a student group put the issue in the spotlight, and I was given the go-ahead to plan it and make it happen.  I felt fearless.  It never occurred to me that leadership had weight.  I talked eye to eye with the principal, and to the teachers who led the various subject departments, to convince them we needed this week.  I invited a speaker to come in to talk about safer sex practices to an entire school assembly.  I didn’t even know I was confident.  I was just passionate and driven and someone gave me a green light.

I would bet that you were fearless too that day.  That first time people looked to you and said, “hey, go for it, be the leader here.”  And I bet you knocked it out of the park.

Fortunately, life in the middle has days with that same feeling.  People rely on you and look to you for support.  They come and ask for your wisdom.  You spearhead a project with outstanding results.  There are a lot of days where you knock it out of the park and don’t even know how confident you are.

My guess is that there are also days when you feel like a dusty shelf in bright sunlight.  You are overwhelmed by email, too many meetings, being sandwiched between senior leaders who don’t want excuses and staff that need support.  Every single person seems to want a piece of you, and you maybe just want fly under the radar and let someone else take responsibility for a while.

I’m going to ask you right now to pause and think about your constituents. The project team, departmental team, shift team, even your senior leaders.  All of these people are your followers.  Yes, I said all.  Inside your head, you may see yourself as just another person on the team, but with different decisions and responsibilities.  You know you are just another human.  You know your weaknesses and carry around the guilt of never getting to the end of your respond-to list.  But the people around you don’t need you to just be another human carrying guilt and feeling self-conscious.  They need you to lead.  Like you did the first time someone gave you a green light—fearlessly, with passion and drive.

The people all around you need you to ignite their belief, trust, and leadership and offer them their own green light.

Today may feel like just another day at the office to you.  You may want to be just another human.  You may not feel the fire today.  But today, by title or by role, you hold the power to ignite the belief of all your followers that they can succeed, and that you are brazenly fearless in your willingness to act on that conviction.

Tend the flame today.  Yours, or someone else’s.  Maybe the whole team needs some oxygen and inspiration and belief.  Today you are a leader, leading from the middle.  Close to the action, but with influence and insight.  Find that first leadership moment inside your memory, draw upon it, and give yourself the green light.  Take a risk, recognize notable contributions (up, down, around and out), look a more senior leader in the eye and talk about something important to you, and forget the word impossible.  People are counting on you right now in this moment.  Give them a reason to believe.

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

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Contact Katherine

3 Ways Trainers Waste Everyone’s Time and Money

Or, How to be a Caring Facilitator of Great Learning

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.” -Anatole France

I can admit it, I’m something of a training and facilitation snob.  Thank you to all the amazing trainers and facilitators out there who really bring out the best in people.  I have been in so many trainings that were led by extraordinarily gifted and caring facilitators.  These professionals have taught me hundreds of great engagement strategies with audiences, and I am so grateful to have had such brilliant teachers.

Click here for information on how I can help you with training and facilitation.

But the truth is, there are terrible presenters out there, who are often content experts that have been asked to share their knowledge, and have little or no background in adult teaching and training strategies. The worst trainings in my memory are characterized by a distinct trio of presenter sins (which I will get to in a moment).  For a while I thought perhaps I was the only one frustrated by these approaches, and maybe I just needed to get over it.  But then I sent out a survey to my network to glean some information about what types of training people wanted, and the patterns that emerged were rather extraordinary.

The variety of training that people wanted was broad and deep.  Respondents wanted everything from time management and prioritizing to ways to help employees that have mental illness or learning challenges.

But when asked what kind of training was ineffective, there were almost no responses that indicated any particular subject was, in itself, ineffective.  Rather, the question produced a dramatically streamlined and cohesive set of responses that were all about facilitation and audience care.

  1. The most obvious training sin is presentation using a lecture format.   The standard adult attention span is 20 minutes. Lecturers, I beg you.  Stop talking.  No matter how fascinated I am by your topic, if you do nothing but talk at me for anything longer than 30 minutes, I will slowly despair and possibly even grow to hate you.  I have tuned out.  I am turned off.  All the resources of time, money, and mental energy that were spent to obtain this expert have now been wasted.  The audience will remember little and mostly will resent the entire experience and distrust the presenter and organizer from this day forward.  If you are a good lecturer and give me interesting visuals and content, I will perhaps be merely disappointed.  If you are a bad lecturer, I may spend time actively discussing my dislike of the experience afterward and resent anything you have made stick in my brain.  For a few strategies on how to at least avoid being a bad lecturer, start here.
  2. The second deadly sin of training is offering only generic or theory without practice content.  “Sales Strategies for Everyone! The four-step process to winning anyone over!” would be a stereotypical example.  This is a one-size-fits-all presentation offered without the benefit of practice or individualization.  If you can’t get specific for your audience, then give them an opportunity to apply your brilliant ideas to their own circumstances.  Ask them to think, discuss, practice, apply, challenge, engage.  Offer structured** opportunities for the audience to engage with your material and learn from each other.
  3. The final, and perhaps deadliest, training sin is insulting and belittling your audience.  Saying things like, “what you probably don’t understand here is…” or “I’m here to explain to you why your current approach is ineffective.”  I don’t care HOW true those statements are.  I don’t care if you are truly an expert that actually knows more than anyone else in the room.  I care that you respect me enough to not degrade my intelligence in order to reinforce your ego.  Always, Always, Always assume that someone in the room knows something more than you do.  No one needs to be told that you think they are inept, ignorant, or in need of saving by you.  You are there to help, teach, guide, engage.

Related: How TED Talks changed business communications forever

To become a caring facilitator and avoid the sins above, try the following:

  1. Talk less, engage more.  Provide structured** points of discussion and activity that get your audience talking and practicing the key learning points.
  2. Ask them what they know, and invite them to share their expertise and experience and apply it to the content at hand.  Ask the audience to provide specific examples that will provide context for your points.
  3. Be generous and humble.  Never, ever insult the intelligence of your audience by pointing out that you know more than they do, or that your strategy is the only way they can possibly succeed.

I’m proud to call myself a caring facilitator.  My trainings are smart, fun, practical, and progressive.  I provide the topic with key points of understanding, clear and non-threatening activities that also serve as tools for future application, productive discussion space, and I keep the whole thing moving.  The audience leaves believing  their time was well spent, they learned a great deal, and their contributions were valuable to the entire learning process.

If you are a mid-level leader that is tired of hearing complaints about trainings that your team has had to sit through, contact me.  I will help you craft an effective training, or develop and deliver training that engages and inspires people.  Let’s make a commitment to providing learning opportunities, not lectures.

**A note about structure.  Caring facilitators create boundaries and expectations for discussions and activities that help everyone stay on track and feel safe enough to contribute to the conversation.  If you let discussion devolve into complaining or allow one person to dominate the conversation, you have sinned by omission.  Stop it before it starts by being a leader who provides fruitful structure.

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

Related:  How your body stance can positively impact your presentation

Let’s Talk Strengths

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 9.00.19 AMMost people I talk with these days have heard of the Clifton Strengthsfinder (aka Strengthsfinder 2.0).  Launched in 2001 after 30 years of research, the Gallup organization has a very thorough report on its website  that explores the uses for the Strengthsfinder assessment, as well as validity measures.  If you have taken Strengthsfinder and have Analytical, Input, Intellection, Learner, or Context as a strength, you might enjoy reading the report.

I have worked with hundreds of people since I first began using Strengthsfinder in the fall of 2009.  At a personal level, I help people explore how to develop their strengths in leadership.  At the team level, I help teams identify appropriate roles for different strengths, as well as helping them understand their team values and culture.

Want help using Strengthsfinder with your team? Contact me!

I am a big fan of this assessment.  Not because it is the best or most comprehensive personality assessment out there.  I love it because it is accessible to almost anyone.

  • It’s affordable.  The assessment can be taken online for $10, or you can purchase either Strengthsfinder 2.0 or Strengths Based Leadership to have a reference book to use once you have taken the assessment using the code in the back of the book.  The books themselves range from $10-$26 depending on where you purchase.
  • It’s easy to take.  It takes about 20 minutes, and you get your results immediately.  While taking the assessment, you have 20 seconds to rate your agreement between a pair of statements.  If you don’t answer in 20 seconds, the assessment moves on.  Therefore there is no agonizing for an hour over your responses.
  • The results are easy to understand.  You get your top five Signature Strengths and their descriptions, out of a list of 34 strengths “themes.”  You also receive a Strengths Insights report that is customized to your top five, in the particular order that they appear for you.
  • It’s positive.  It is based in positive psychology, using the research of Donald O. Clifton.  People feel good when they get their results.  As a result, employees are often happy to take the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment.


I love using Strengthsfinder to start and revitalize teams.

I have used it at the start of a small workgroup that was embarking upon a challenging project.  The model helped us bond together and get organized for the work.

I put it to use again with a fractured, stressed team.  It helped them focus on seeing the best in one another so that they could productively come up with a strategy for expanding the reach and impact of the department.

When I started as a manager with a large, geographically separated team, I used Strengthsfinder as a launch pad to put together a highly productive workplan.  Over the course of time, we revisited the strengths grid of the team again and again to deepen our understanding of how we could engage and work together better.  It was transformative.


The biggest mistake that people make in using Strengthsfinder is due to the language that Gallup itself has used to brand and market the tool.  The title directly implies that the results you get are what you are.  That these are your strengths.  This idea is just a little misleading, and you need to read deeper to understand that your results reveal your top talents.  The ultimate goal of Strengthsfinder is that you will take your results and focus your development on transforming your raw talents into real strengths.

I give introductory presentations to groups pretty often, and people will say,
“Oh!  I took that, It was great!”
“Awesome!” I say.  “What are your top 5?”
They usually can remember 3 or 4, but not all five, and then they say, “But I don’t know what to do with them now.”

People misuse their top 5 simply as a profile.  It gets put on a resume, a LinkedIn page, or even a label on a nameplate.  Which is fine, except often they go no further in developing their talents into real strengths.  In contrast, I focus on how well a person is activating their strengths, and then coach them on how to activate strengths more effectively.  I give examples of what strengths look like when they are not activated well, and explore how different pairs of strengths can come into conflict when not at their best.

This is the real key to the Strengthsfinder assessment.  You don’t “find” your strengths in the results.  Your talents are revealed to you, and then it is incumbent on you to find and draw out the strength of that talent in your own unique way.

The first time I took the assessment, my top talent was Positivity.  For people that know me even a little bit, this was no surprise.  I collect yellow smiley faces and am known for my near-constant smile and optimistic outlook. But after working with Strengthsfinder for a while, I realized that the challenge in Positivity is that I can come across as dismissive of the concerns of others, because when I am not at my best I perceive concerns as negative and I want to get people out of negativity as quickly as possible.  Leading too heavily with Positivity doesn’t always honor the human need to feel heard and have our concerns acknowledged. Instead I have learned that at the end of a meeting with a stressed team member I can gently offer a warm smile or hopeful outlook, but only after making sure that I have really heard and understood the concern.

If you are seeking to start or revitalize a team, if you have an employee that is really stuck, or if you want to offer a professional development opportunity that is affordable and accessible, consider Strengthsfinder 2.0.  The result will be a team that appreciates the diversity of its member’s strengths, knows how to activate talents into strengths, and can overcome conflicts with respect and self-awareness.  For more information on how I can help your team develop around Strengthsfinder, please contact me!

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine

What’s Your Rev?

I inhale information.  This is what happens when one’s top strength is Input.  And I have a new dealer—Twitter.  It’s like my own personal leadership feed!  When I opened the @MediumCheddar Twitter account, I focused on following people and organizations that would post things relevant to MedChedds leading from the middle.  As a result I now have a constant flow of new articles that are directly related to my personal passion.  So it can’t be a surprise that I start scrolling as soon as I wake up.  In fact, it’s become part of my morning routine.  Even before I get out of bed I’m waking up my brain with articles about leadership, management, organizational excellence, engaging people, science, and business.

One day as I woke up, I saw this article outlining the morning rituals of successful small business owners.  Excellent marketing on Inc’s part, by the way.  Post an article about how people get started in the morning…in the morning.  I read through how these leaders get started in their day, and the theme was that they all took time to think, engage their body and get centered for the busy day ahead.

Which made me consider the morning rituals that I have and want to cultivate further, particularly those that get me revved up for the busy and productive days that I love. As the New Year turned to 2014, I realized with the help of my coach that I needed to throw out some mental garbage in order to make space for energizing new ideas and productivity.  I started a daily journal on Being OK, which was (and is) my space to come face to face with things I beat up on myself about, and make peace with them.  The physical connection of typing out my thoughts and saying “I am choosing to be ok with this” created a reality of progress, forgiveness, openness, and a vibrant new energy I hadn’t felt in over a year.

My morning routine also has started to include meditation, and that too has had a profound impact on my well-being and productivity.  Yes, it was hard to start meditating.  But I kept trying, and one day I had a powerful moment of self-awareness and now I meditate nearly every morning.

In fact, when I get to a fatigue point in my day and find myself surfing social media and checking engagement stats because I can’t think of what else to do, I stop.  I shut down, and I take a break and meditate, or journal, or rest, or run.  Because when I do that, I feel this motor inside me that wants to move.  It hates to stop because it loves forward motion.  When I stand still and check in with my center, I can hear the motor revving up.  I’m checking the gauges, going through the pre-race routine, focusing on visualizing success, listening to my heart beat, engaging my enthusiasm.  Revving that engine up so that when the flag comes down I’m ready to hit the gas and go full speed.

I don’t really know exactly what is happening in my neurons when I journal, meditate, or run.  But here’s what I do know—it changes me.  It makes me better.  I become more productive, more centered, and more fruitful.

The point is—take time to rev.  In whatever way you do.  Engage your body, engage your hopes, engage your energy.  It is not wasted time.  It is not selfish time.  It is essential time for every leader.  Your followers are counting on you to be your best.

So…what’s your rev?

If something here resonated with you, please like and comment on this post, follow this blog, follow @MediumCheddar on Twitter, or join the Medium Cheddar Group on LinkedIn.

Medium Cheddars lead from the middle.  Join the conversation.

Contact Katherine