7 leadership lessons over 2.5 years

Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve interviewed 49 leaders for our podcast on leadership, The Heartbeat. These are the leadership lessons that have influenced me the most, personally.

“What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned from others, that have changed or affected your own management style?”

No one had ever asked me this question before – let alone on my own podcast show – until recently.

Who asked me this? None other than Jason Fried, CEO and co-founder of Basecamp. I’d invited Jason back on The Heartbeat, our podcast on leadership, for our 50th episode. He’d been our very first guest back in 2017 when I started the show. (Jason also sits on our board and originally spun out Know Your Team back when it was a part of Basecamp).

For this 50th anniversary episode, I thought I’d turn the tables: I asked Jason if he might interview me. And so, Jason asked me this never-before-asked question, “What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned from others, that’s changed or affected your own management style?”

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Skip level meetings: What they are, and exactly how to run them

If you manage other managers, holding skip level one-on-one meetings with their direct reports is paramount. Here’s how to do ’em.

If you’re a manager of managers, skip level meetings are your lifeline. I don’t mean to sound bombastic, but if you’re a CEO, executive, or director who manages other managers – then skip level meetings are an essential way to keep your ears on the ground.

Skip… what? If you’re anything like me, when I first heard the term “skip level meeting,” I was befuddled. Yes, I held one-on-one meetings with my team. But as the team grew and I had a manager who had someone else reporting to them… I wasn’t talking to their direct report with any regularity. How was I supposed to ever learn what that team members was thinking and feeling about the company if I never talked with them?

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The 5 mistakes you’re likely making in your one-on-one meetings with direct reports

Don’t waste your time. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. 

You’re feeling good: You’ve started to hold regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports. But have you paused to ask yourself, lately, “Am I making the most of them?”

The question is worth asking. One-on-one meetings with direct reports can have a surprisingly large impact on your team’s performance. In Google’s widely known 2009 manager research code-named “Project Oxygen,” they found that higher-scoring managers were more likely than lower-scoring managers to have frequent one-on-one meetings with their team members.

Our own survey results revealed a similar narrative: After surveying 1,182 managers and 838 employees from all over the world this past year, 89% of managers said that one-on-meetings positively affect their team’s performance – and 73% of employees said that one-on-one positively affect their team’s performance, as well. For both managers and employees, the majority of them think of quite highly of one-on-one meetings.

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When to give feedback to an employee?

A perfect time to give feedback doesn’t exist – but some times are better than others. In deciding when to give feedback to a direct report, consider these 4 things.

“When is the right time to give feedback to an employee?” A manager asked me this last week during a workshop I gave at the Business of Software Conference.

He elaborated:

“Sometimes, I want to give feedback but I’m worried it’s going to come across as too petty, or that I’m nitpicking. Should I wait until there’s a time when it’s about something a bit bigger? Or should I give the feedback immediately to them, regardless? Is there ever a right time to give to feedback?”

I told him that he wasn’t going to like my answer: It depends.

Depending on who the person is, what the feedback is, what is going on in the work environment, and even what mental state you are in – all are factors in to when to give feedback to an employee. Choosing the timing well is important. It has big impact to how likely the person is going to change their behavior based on your feedback, going forward.

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How to motivate employees? Don’t.

Do this instead. Here are 6 ways to motivate your team that doesn’t undermine their intrinsic employee motivation that they already have.

I need to figure out how to motivate my employees.” When was the last time thought that to yourself? It could’ve been the other week, when you noticed one of your direct reports dragging his feet on a project that’s critical to the company. Or, perhaps it was the other month when you felt frustrated that your team wasn’t being proactive about addressing customer issues.

If either of these situations feel even remotely familiar, you’re not alone. I hear this sentiment of “how to motivate employees” frequently from managers we work with who use Know Your Team, and I often am asked countless questions about it.

Keep reading “How to motivate employees? Don’t.”

7 ways of giving feedback that encourage change

You’re giving feedback because you want your team to improve. Here’s how to give feedback that precisely helps nudge your team in the right direction.

The reason you’re giving feedback is because you want something to be different, in the first place. You want a direct report to make sure he’s not rubbing the rest of the team the wrong way. You want a new hire to improve how she interacts with clients.

It can be easy to lose sight of this amidst the hoopla of management material that screams “feedback is important” and the day-to-day grind of managing your team and executing on your top priorities. But that’s the point at the end of the day (and in many ways, the most important part of your role as a manager): To encourage your team, constructively.

The tricky part is giving feedback in a way where this becomes true – where your team does feel encouraged to change their behavior. After all, there are so many ways it can go wrong. They can misinterpret your feedback as being aloof and off-the-mark and ignore what you have to say. They can be offended by your feedback and over-compensate in certain areas. They can feel blindsided by your feedback and become demotivated in their work.

Figuring out, “Is there a right time? Is there a right way?” to giving feedback is key.

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Managing up

5 not-so-often-shared ways to manage up and have a better relationship with your boss.

You want to manage up – but what you really mean is that you simply want to work well with your boss.

Who doesn’t? Especially when your boss is pestering you with questions via Slack after work-hours, or failing to give you enough time to complete projects…

You sigh and think yourself: “How do I manage up effectively?”

This is one of the most common questions I’m asked – and, unfortunately, one of the most common situations that you might face, whether you’re a manager, executive or individual contributor.

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How to build social connection in a remote team

Virtual team building is tough. Here are 7 ways you can build social connection in a remote team, even from afar.

I’ll be shocked if you’re shocked: Building social connection in a remote team is the hardest part of managing a remote team. According to a survey we ran this past fall with 297 remote managers and employees, “fostering a sense of connection without a shared location” was seen as the #1 most difficult part of being a remote manager – and the #1 most difficult part of working remotely, in general.

It’s predictable. When you work in a co-located office, you walk by someone’s desk and give them a friendly hello, catching up about their weekend. You notice a coworker’s body language appears a little “down” so you ask if they want to grab coffee later. You share a joke over lunch with another colleague when you realize you both oddly adore the same brand of obscure New Zealand mints.

Those serendipitous moments of social connection don’t happen with the same frequency or fidelity when you’re working remotely. As a result, the sentiments of “Ah, we’re in this together” or “You’ve got my back” can be absent in a remote team, unless you deliberately foster them.

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How to share your company vision as a leader

The #1 piece of information you should be focused on as a leader is sharing company vision. Here’s exactly how to do it.

“Company vision” might be the fluffiest business term I know.

Thrown around by every nearly business book and article, “vision” is often used vaguely, without nuance or thoughtfulness.

Yet despite it’s watered-down usage, “vision” is the most important information for us to communicate across a team. According to a survey we conducted with 355 people in the fall of 2018, vision was ranked as the #1 information people need to share in a team.

Given its significance, how to best share a company vision within a team?

Before we can answer that, we must start with what company vision exactly is and why it’s important. Then, we can dive into to how you can make sure it’s shared across the team.

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How to onboard a new hire

Recently I hired someone new here at Know Your Team. Here’s exactly what I wrote on Day 1 and the 23 questions I asked as a part of our employee onboarding process.

Something new happened recently: We hired a new employee at Know Your Team – and it caused me to rethink our entire employee onboarding process. As a small, profit-focused team, we don’t hire often. As a result, this time around, I wanted to be intentional about how to onboard a new hire.

After all, the numbers on how likely it is for a new employee to leave within the first 90 days are astounding: 30% employees leave before their first 3 months are up, according to a survey with 1,500 people.

It got me reflecting deeply… How to onboard a new hire, and make sure that person feels welcomed, encouraged, and well-equipped to contribute to the team?

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