Learn coaching tips and how to strengthen teams.

One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is about managing a difficult team member.  They say things like, “He is taking up too much of my time” or “She isn’t responding to my suggestions for changing her behavior.”  My response is, “What does that person need that they aren’t getting?”  The leader rarely knows the answer – if they did, they wouldn’t need my help.

Where to Look for Clues

In these situations, I recommend a personality assessment for the team member and the team leader.  This increases their understanding of themselves and each other, especially their similarities and differences.  The assessment also provides suggestions for what each person needs to be most effective.  If someone needs clear cut instructions and their boss is too vague, they will likely want more detail.  That can be frustrating to a boss who is a big picture thinker and wants someone else to fill in the blanks.

Be Intentional

With increased awareness of what they need from each other, these two individuals can make adjustments.  Although it can get easier with practice, it will likely always require intention and feedback.  Asking, “Did you get what you needed?” at the end of a conversation may not be common but it is essential for effective communication and connection.

I invite you to think about a team member who has been a challenge for you.  How might you change your approach to improve the situation?

How many times a day do you say, “I know” even when you don’t?  If you grew up in a family or worked in an organization that valued knowledge over curiosity, you learned the importance of being right.  Needing to know everything can be a heavy burden.

Armored Leadership

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown explains that being a knower and being right is a form of armored leadership that may be driven by shame.  This shows up in organizations when only certain people are valued as knowers so others don’t speak up because they’re not “senior enough” or it’s “not their place.”

Daring Leadership

The antidote to armored leadership is daring leadership.  The Courage to Not Know suggests three strategies to transform always knowing into always learning:

  1. Name the issue with a conversation like this: “I’d like you to work on your curiosity and critical thinking skills. You’re often quick with answers, which can be helpful, but not as helpful as having the right questions, which is how you’ll grow as a leader.”
  2. Make learning curiosity skills a priority. Brown points out that some people may need to be taught how to be more curious.
  3. Acknowledge and reward great questions and instances of “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out” as daring leadership behaviors. Encourage and model a shift from wanting to “be right” to wanting to “get it right.”

If you’re a knower or you work with one, I invite you to consider the impact of becoming a learner.  What would be the first step?

In our 360 feedback debrief, my client’s boss said, “I thought of you when I heard a recent How I Built This podcast.”  One of the founders of Strava, an app for tracking cycling and running performance, told a story about teamwork that had a huge impact on him and his fellow co-founder.  Their college rowing coach stopped the boat to figure out why it was rocking back and forth.  When each crew member shouted out the number on their heart monitor, it was obvious – one rower was 40 beats higher than everyone else.  He stopped trying to do most of the work himself and the boat took off like a rocket.

What’s the Problem?

A lot of my clients are rowing harder than ever as they try to find new approaches to leading hybrid teams while dealing with staffing shortages.  Gartner’s research confirms that leaders are overwhelmed, which can hurt retention and engagement.

What’s the Solution?

The authors of this Harvard Business Review article make a compelling case for reinventing the role of leaders.  In the wake of these significant shifts resulting from the pandemic, the leader as coach model is more important than ever:

  1. Power shift from “me” to “we” – moving from instruction to support and guidance
  2. Skills shift from task overseer to performance coach – moving from oversight to giving feedback
  3. Structural shift from static and physical to fluid and digital – engaging in a way that’s not tied to a physical workplace

As the HBR authors point out, human connection is essential for effective leadership.  Instead of rowing faster and doing more, how are you strengthening your coaching skills to support the demands of this new environment?

Asian businessman and young female executive bowing

Whatever your generation, you probably know Aretha Franklin’s famous lyric, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Find out what it means to me.”

The topic of respect often comes up in my work with teams when we discuss what each person needs to be most productive.  Although everyone agrees conceptually that respect is important, it is essential to find out the specifics.

Why and How

As this Indeed article highlights, respect reduces stress, increases productivity and collaboration, improves employee satisfaction, and creates a fair environment.  Indeed lists these general ways to show respect:

  1. Listen to what everyone has to say
  2. Pay attention to nonverbal communication
  3. Practice transparency
  4. Recognize the strengths and accomplishments of others
  5. Value the time and workloads of others
  6. Delegate meaningful work
  7. Practice common courtesy and politeness
  8. Prevent bias (even implicit bias)
  9. Include everyone in meetings, discussions and celebrations
  10. Consider how others view you and your actions
  11. Help your peers

Customize to Maximize Impact

In addition to the general ways of showing respect, Brené Brown recommends the “paint done” approach:  ask someone to describe what their desired outcome looks, sounds and feels like.  For some people, respect looks like eye contact, sounds like being heard and feels like their perspective matters.  For others, it looks like giving them space, sounds like silence until they are ready to talk and feels like they aren’t being pressured.

How would you describe what respect means to you?

With an impish grin and a twinkle in his eye, the wise old man talks about the importance of sowing seeds with the hope that they will bear fruit in the future.  He encourages us to sow seeds every day and not hold onto them.  In this Stories of a Generation episode, Pope Francis explains that instead of holding onto our skills and knowledge, we should share them.

Empowering Leaders are More Effective

It’s a beautiful description of what leadership should be – sharing what we’ve learned and investing in the future by empowering our team members to make their own choices.  And it works — based on data from more than 30,000 employees in 30 countries, empowering leaders are much more effective at influencing employee creativity and more likely to be trusted by their team members.

How to Become an Empowering Leader

  1. Start with strengths — identify and leverage what makes each team member shine
  2. Develop the team – help them learn how to work together
  3. Share your experience – teach them that looking back will enable them to move forward
  4. Hold them accountable – communicate clear expectations and follow through

What might grow from the empowerment seeds you sow?

To kick off a recent workshop at Rice University’s business school on building trust, I invited Melinda English, Rice’s Director of Organizational Development and Talent Strategy to share her story.  This is what she said:

I have seen the impact of increasing trust work its magic over the years. You cannot put a price on trust and psychological safety when it comes to team cohesion and effectiveness.   Recently one of my new team members led us through an exercise called What’s Working/What’s Not Working and the number one thing revealed as what IS working is the level of trust on our team. This was so wonderful to hear because I know it is foundational to team resilience and working together to achieve some very big goals.  Since half of my team is new, I have been very intentional about taking the time to do team building and development despite the temptation to skip over it because there is so much to get done.

Specific Strategies

Here are some specific ways we are building trust on our team:

  • For my one-on-ones it is not just about what is going on at work. I feel it is really important to know how they are as a person and I want them to know I care about them as a person first.
  • Every team member completed an All About Me form. Each time we meet I take a category and everyone gets to guess who goes with each one.
  • We all took a values survey and then shared our top five. From there we identified our Team Commitments.
  • One of our new team members is leading us through a Teams That Work discussion, which allows us to learn what is impactful to each team member. You have to show trust in them to lead and lead differently in order be trustworthy.
  • We recently completely individual “User Manuals” and will be sharing the highlights of those.
  • We rotate meeting facilitation and start each meeting with a quote – some funny and some inspirational.
  • For projects I try to select those members where I can leverage their strengths or ask the team who might be interested and they are wonderful about taking turns.
  • Last but not least, we actually have A LOT of fun. I never sacrifice this and it has always been well-received.

As you can see I believe it is not just any one thing and that it has to be consistent and intentional because it develops over time.


It’s indicative of Melinda’s trust with her team that she invited them to email me their confidential input about their team and her leadership.  Some of the common themes were:

  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Authenticity
  • Caring and support
  • Psychological safety
  • Valuing each other’s experiences, thoughts and opinions
  • Celebrating successes and learning from mistakes
  • Follow-through
  • Responsiveness
  • Communication
  • Focus on development
  • Leading by example

As a result of Melinda’s leadership, her team has been able to persevere during an incredibly challenging time with motives and spirit intact.

These are the 7 Elements of Trust we discussed in our workshop.  I invite you to consider which one is most challenging for you.  How could improving in that area impact trust on your team?