How to Cultivate the Essential Quality of Psychological Safety Within Your Team

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  Ralph Nichols

What do the strongest teams in business have that other teams don’t have? Over the next several weeks, we will explore what tech giant Google discovered during Project Aristotle, a detailed study into why some of its teams thrived while others failed.

Let’s start by taking a look at the first and most important quality for building a strong team in the workplace–psychological safety. You can find a summary of all the characteristics in a recent blog post 

What is psychological safety? And, how can you encourage this essential quality in your teams?

A sense of safety with our co-workers and those we interact with on a regular basis means we  feel valued and listened to when we speak. They’ll be open to hearing all of our ideas, and we in turn will feel comfortable enough to speak freely Even though someone might challenge our assumptions, not with the intent to belittle us, instead with the higher intention of wanting to understand the “why” behind our thoughts and opinions.. If someone wasn’t sure they agreed with our conclusions, they wouldn’t tell us we were wrong, rather they may  say things like “Tell me more about that,” or “What information did you learn as the background for that statement?” Or, “What do you see that I’m not seeing?”

The best advice we can pass along about how to create psychological safety in your organization comes from Oprah Winfrey. In a recent interview, she said that after interviewing more than 37,000 people on her talk show over 25 years, she realized all her guests had one thing in common: “Everyone you meet just wants to be seen and heard.”

Here’s how to make sure everyone on your team feels seen and heard: 

  1. Hire the Right People for the Right Roles. The responsibility of the leader is to develop other leaders. It all startsby making sure everyone has a job that plays to their strengths. In the words of Jim Collins, a renowned business expert, teacher and writer, you need to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people in the right seats. Leaders of companies that go from good to great, Collins writes, start with “who.”

If you start to realize that someone is not in the right job or is not right for your team, no matter how good of a person they might be, it’s time to have a critical conversation with them. At Institute Success, we can help you do that, and help you improve your overall communication with your staff. 

  1. Make Sure Every Team Member Feels Valued. To create an environment where everyone can feel seen and heard, the leader first needs to get agreement on how we define success organizationally. We need to be working toward a shared vision of success. First, ask yourself how YOU define success. Then make sure you know how each member of your team defines success. Only then can you create a shared vision, together. If you want to push the company forward, but your employees are satisfied with the status quo, it is your job – actually your mission as a leader – to enroll people into a bigger vision of possibility. How do you do this? Not by focusing on what is wrong, but by concentrating on strengths and then asking yourself: how do we take this even further?

Let’s use an example from one of our past clients. This particular leader wanted to grow his business, but his employees were comfortable with the way things were. So, he took his two highest performing salespeople, who weren’t so great at keeping track of client data and partnered them with people who got a tremendous amount of energy from collaborating and inputting all the specific details around clients to create new goals and big plans of action. At their weekly meetings, the leader asked this team to think about what was working and how they could do more of it. They incorporated the production department in these meetings too because they were also essential to this vision of success. Together, they came up with a shared vision of 20% growth. And because the team had clarity around a shared vision and had formed bonds of psychological safety, their growth that year was 35%! 

Together, we can do more than when we work as an island. Or in a silo. Don’t let your company create silos, where each department refuses to collaborate with other departments. Encourage cross-collaboration for greatest success.

  1. Cultivate Trust and Inclusion. Trust between employees and senior management was the second most important contributor to job satisfaction, according to a 2015 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM. (The first factor was respectful treatment of all employees at all levels). Neuroscience research tells us that the brain chemical oxytocin causes us to reciprocate trust by being trustworthy. When we listen to one another, we encourage the release of oxytocin, which engenders further positive interactions, rather than the fear and stress response from cortisol, which is released when psychological safety is absent.

It is our job as leaders to connect without judgment. It is also our job to make sure that everyone is included and invested in our vision of success. If someone in your workplace or on your team feels excluded, that emotional pain registers in the brain the same way physical pain does. A great leader understands that everyone needs to feel included (think back to how everyone wants to be seen and heard) to be functioning at their best.

Institute Success Tip: Be willing to be vulnerable. To paraphrase advice from the research professor and best-selling author Brené Brown, when leaders are willing to be vulnerable, not perfect, that creates standards for the organization that perfection isn’t the goal, but continuous improvement is. From time to time, it’s important for us to ask: What else is going on that I may not be seeing?

5 Hacks to Reset Your Habits

With the new year in full swing, it’s a good time to take stock of the progress you’ve made – or where you’ve stalled – on achieving your New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re already on your way to achieving some of the goals you set for yourself, celebrate! After all, we know from the science of behavior research that the feeling of satisfaction for a job well done triggers a release of dopamine that encourages us to repeat the pattern again.

But what if you’ve struggled to reset your patterns and need a boost of inspiration? You’ve come to the right place!

Combining our Institute Success Principle™ with advice from some best-selling authors on the science of habit formation, here are five quick takeaways on how to form good habits:

1. Don’t Give Up Too Soon: Many people struggle with the consistency needed for a new good habit to take hold. Consider the classic New Year’s resolution, “I am going to the gym more often.” At first, it’s invigorating; then it becomes harder and excuses start getting in the way. Did you know it takes on average at least two months – and sometimes up to a year – for a new behavior to become an automatic part of your routine? If those sore muscles are telling you to quit, don’t listen. Just keep going!

2. Make the New Habit Small and Easy to Achieve: Break down your goal into tiny, specific steps that are realistic for YOU. If you want to read more books to develop expertise in your new job, start with 5 pages a day. Read every day at the same time, then add more pages over time. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to finish a book like BJ Fogg’s “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything,” or James Clear’s “Atomic Habits: an Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” (both Institute Success recommendations) in no time.

3. Piggyback a New Habit After an Existing One: The easiest way to make a new habit part of your routine is to start doing it AFTER a habit that is already ingrained. Want to start meditating to clear your mind and align your priorities with your goals? Try doing it right after you brush your teeth in the morning. Want to grow your business network? Set aside 10 or 15 minutes after your daily sales meeting to reach out to a fresh contact or two.

4. Track Your Habits: Make a plan with specifics for starting your new habits, then track your progress in writing, or use a tracking app like Streaks or Habitify. Remember the dopamine rush that comes from checking off a job well done.

5. Reframe Habits in Terms of Who You Want to Become: Every day, we should ask ourselves, “How can I be at MY best today?” Write down three things that will make you feel accomplished. Repeat this every day, and soon patterns will emerge that will take you down the path to becoming your best self.

When did you last give yourself time to think and plan? Do you ever feel there are too many priorities and you don’t know which to tackle first? 

You’re not alone. It’s such a major problem that we’re holding an upgraded version of the Design Your Year workshop at the stunning JW Marriott, Charlotte

People set goals they “hope” to make, and don’t create a plan that will work for them. They start the year invigorated, yet fail to make the impact they desire. At the end of the year, they feel overwhelmed.

The two-day, in-person session will allow you to achieve real success with your 2023 plans as well as network with like-minded people.

Click here to decide whether it’s right for you or not.

This Quality Can Be the Difference Between Being an Average and an Exceptional Leader

Like many professional coaches, we at Institute Success often hear from the leaders and managers who come to us they want to cultivate “executive presence.” What exactly is it and how do you get it?

Put simply, executive presence conveys in a calm and confident way you are a model for positive leadership in your company culture and you have the ability to teach those methods to others.

Here are a few mantras to get you thinking:

  1. Read the Room and Read Others: Just as you want to make a good visual first impression by dressing in a way appropriate for your workplace and makes you feel confident, you need to have the right tone when interacting with your team members, and that is likely to look different for each person. Before having an important conversation, ask yourself the Golden Questions: Who is this person? What do I need to do to communicate successfully with them?
  2. Be an Active Listener: When engaged in conversation, make sure you are fully present. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next and instead truly listen and absorb what the other person has to say. You might learn something new! Don’t feel you have to say everything you think. Ask clarifying questions so your conversation partner knows you are listening and not just nodding your head. Put your phone away!
  3. Be Self Aware and Know YOUR Vision and Values: Success begins with clarity. How do YOU define success? That looks different for all of us, so be sure to put down in writing what business success means to you. Now, articulate your vision to your team and ask each member how THEY define success. Only then can you come toward a shared vision of success that will propel your company forward. As you have these discussions, focus on each member’s strengths, including your own. 
  4. Know What You Don’t Know: Now that you have a clearer picture of your strengths and values, ask: how do I close the gap in my knowledge and skills between where I am and where I what to be? One person cannot be an expert on everything, even you as a leader. You need to seek out knowledge from your team and learn how each person’s areas of expertise can complement yours and the rest of their colleagues. If someone comes to you with a question you can’t answer, remember it’s more important to know HOW to find the answer or WHO to seek out for the best response. Leaders teach others how they can improve their own knowledge by guiding them to the right resources.   
  5. Be Willing to Adapt Your Behavior: By getting in touch with your vision for success and figuring out where you can grow your knowledge, you should also gain an understanding of your behavior strengths and weaknesses. We all have preferred communication styles, and leaders need to adapt their style to the people around them. If you are gregarious, you may need to tone it down to relate to your more introverted team members. If you tend to be on the quieter and more thoughtful side, you may need to work on coming across as more engaging and decisive.

At Institute Success, we’ve created an entire series, The Engaged Leader Program, to introduce business owners, leaders and managers to a transformational way of thinking and relating to others. It all begins with a clear understanding of yourself, your values and your vision for success. Join us to learn how you can cultivate your own executive presence.


Project Oxygen Recap – Year in Review: Top Ten Qualities of an Effective Leader and How You Can Attain Them

In the middle of last year, Institute Success began exploring the findings of Google’s Project Oxygen, the company’s ongoing, data-rich initiative focused on identifying traits common among its highest performing managers. 

We dedicated a full newsletter and blog post to each quality so that our clients and potential clients could benefit from the details of Google’s research. Our main goal, though, was to clearly show you how our coaches turn these results into timeless wisdom for the leaders and professionals we inspire every day. Won’t you join us for a workshop or leadership coaching program and make 2020 your strongest year yet?

If you need a refresher or in case you missed a few, here is the full list, which includes links to our blog so you can find more information about each one. 

The Ten Qualities You Need to Be a Great Leader, According to Research by Google:

  1. Be a good coach.

Google’s study of its most effective leaders found that the best ones were also great coaches. Light years away from micromanagers or the outdated “command and control” style of leadership, excellent managers spoke less and listened more, asked powerful questions, were truly empathetic to their employees’ concerns, gave regular feedback, helped remove obstacles and focused on the team’s success. 

  1. Empower your team, and don’t micromanage.

By letting go of minor details and instead empowering their teams to design their own strategies for success, top managers were able to guide their staff toward taking charge of the future. By letting your employees offer their own insights and discover the power of their ideas, you foster a collaborative relationship that endures for the long term. 

  1. Create an inclusive team environment and show concern for success and well-being.

The research from Project Oxygen found that leaders with this trait were 71% more likely to have an energized and engaged team. At Institute Success, we believe the five key qualities of a caring manager are: the ability to communicate a genuine concern to their staff; knowing employees’ goals for the future; knowing how team members are doing by asking meaningful questions; being unafraid to have frank discussions to remove roadblocks and continually presenting each team member with challenges and opportunities. 

  1. Be productive and results-oriented

Being productive is not the same as being busy. This can be an eye-opening statement for many people. True productivity, great managers know, is not found in looking busy with email or putting in long hours every night. Meaningful results come from concentrated time spent on a task, sticking to a decision and method of working for at least 30 days and sharing your non-essential duties with direct reports so you can focus on the larger vision for your company. 

  1. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

Did you know that true communication resides in the listener, not the speaker? We encourage leaders to practice the skill of active listening and work on being fully present, asking clarifying questions and listening more while speaking less. This includes not thinking about what to say next to prove your point, but rather on really taking in what the speaker is saying and being open to new ways of looking at things. 

  1. Support career development and discuss performance.

Researchers at Gallup found that only about half of employees indicated a strong understanding of what was expected of them at work. Good leaders should see that as a wakeup call. Focus not just on the skills that employees bring to the table, but their habits and attitudes. We can teach you how to assess for this, and also how to see strengths and blind spots up front, before you’ve hired someone. One of our mantras is to hire for the job as you envision it, not what it is right now. Lastly, create a shared picture of success with your employees and nurture their connection to the work by outlining the “why” behind what you do, not just focusing on tasks to be done. 

  1. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

Do you have a clear vision for your company’s success? Great. Now for the big question: Have you shared that vision with your employees and do each of them know the role they can play in achieving it? If you aren’t sure, keep reading. Start by defining your vision of success. Then find out how each of your team members defines success. Once you know everyone’s motivations, you can begin to seek clarity around their strengths and learn how to engage them by giving them work they excel at and rewards that make them feel valued. Only then can you work together toward a shared vision of success, which is the best and most lasting kind. 

  1. Possess key technical skills to help advise the team.

You might wonder, how much technical know-how is enough? Do I possess enough knowledge to lead others who are also experts in their field? First, let’s start by asking different questions. After all, at any given moment in time, you only know what you know. So, the real questions to ask yourself are: do I also know what I don’t know, and do I know how to close the gap between where I am and where I want to be? Who else may know even more? Read on for more tips on what to keep in mind as you reflect on these questions. 

  1. Collaborate across the organization.

We are interdependent: my success depends on yours, and this is true for every member of our team and our company. If you’d like to build a stronger bridge to prosperity and longevity, there are some things to keep in mind. Leaders who are skilled at cross-collaboration know that everyone has diverse communication preferences and they must ask themselves the Golden Questions in order to best communicate with each member of their company. (Read the full blog post to find out the Golden Questions). Good cross-collaborators also know that people do things for those they know, like and trust. They also keep the value of the team in mind at all times by checking to make sure every employee understands the “why” of the company’s mission and is engaged in realizing it. 

  1. Be a strong decision maker

When will you realize that you are “ridiculously in charge” — that you are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your organization? It sounds like a heavy burden, but in reality, it’s liberating. At Institute Success, we understand that it takes a structured course of action to make the best decisions, and we share with our clients a ten-step process for problem-solving and decision-making. Through our workshops, we can help you find your own system for making the best decisions for long-term success at your company. In the meantime, read the full blog post for more tips.

What is Project Aristotle?

“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations, but look what they can do when they stick together.” 

                                                                                          – Author Unknown

How would you describe the strongest teams with the best ideas in corporate America?

 Smart? Highly skilled? Highly paid? Expertly trained? Well educated?

Sure, you’d find individuals with these qualities among the teams. But if you guessed that these were the qualities most necessary for building the best teams in business, you’d be wrong.

We’d like to introduce you to the startlingly simple and profound findings of Google’s Project Aristotle, a muti-year project the company undertook starting in 2012 to examine why some teams thrived while others failed. The lessons learned from this project can be broken down into five qualities, with the first being the most essential:

1.  Psychological Safety –  After combing through decades of academic research about teams and then scrutinizing and surveying teams at Google over a period of years, the organizational psychologists, engineers and other researchers working on Project Aristotle came to some conclusions. More than anything else, a sense of psychological safety, or a shared belief that the team is a safe place for interpersonal risk-taking, was critical for making the team function effectively.

Consider today’s NFL teams, which are comprised of some of the highest paid athletes, making millions upon millions of dollars a year.   Many NFL players have very strong personalities and big egos. Because players have  performance bonuses in their contracts for sacks, tackles, catches and yards gained, each player has a strong motivation to be individually successful.  When the ball is snapped, those individual goals can get in the way of a well executed play, successful drive and ultimately that elusive win. The teams that make it to the playoffs and ultimately to the Super Bowl have learned to value each teammate, support each other and create safety within the team.  It happens on the practice field, in the locker room, in the huddle and on the field. Which brings us to our next quality that is essential for a strong team, dependability.

2.  Dependability –  Strong teams get things done on time and meet high standards. Each member knows they can trust the others to do what they say they are going to do. At Institute Success, we tell leaders to always be impeccable with your word. And this is why: because your team is counting on you. They shouldn’t have to give a second thought to what you are doing at any given moment, because you’ll always do what you said you would. They need to know that when you are running down the field together, they can depend on you, just as you can depend on them. You are in this together.

3.  Structure and Clarity – Team members must have a clear understanding of their goals. It starts at the top – leaders must define what success means to them and understand how each member of the team defines success to create a shared vision, and so every employee knows what’s expected of them in achieving that vision.  Things are going to get sloppy if you are doing the Mambo and I’m doing the Cha-Cha. We need to be in alignment and learn how to come together. Trust – or, as Project Aristotle found, psychological safety – is the foundation.

 4.  Meaning – Work must be personally important to the team members. It is up to the leader to impart to his or her team the “why” behind what we do every day. What motivates us to get out of bed, to come into work? Remember, customers buy “you” before they ever buy what you are selling, so you need to have buy-in from your entire team and define your essential mission before you can present it to the outside world. We at Institute Success tell business owners and executives, a business is like a child; it is a living and breathing legal entity. We need to surround it with the appropriate caregivers, as we would a child. I can’t be incredibly successful by myself. I have a family at home and at a family at work. My family at work has my back when it comes to my business. 

5.  Impact – Leaders have a tremendous impact on their teams. Truly great leaders maximize their own strengths first so they can enroll others in a shared vision for success and inspire them to be at their best. Things are continually moving in life, and we need to keep learning and growing ourselves. We believe that it is essential to always “ASK” of others — this stands for Always Seek Knowledge. When we share what we know with each other, we can create magnificence, much like the snowflakes in the opening quote. That’s how you get to the Superbowl.

For more purposeful leadership, join our Engaged Leader™ programworkshops, on the first Tuesday of each month. We’ll show you how to create your own vision of success and how you can enroll your team in a shared vision. We teach 78 core competencies and you’ll learn concepts both as a team and individually. It’s very interactive, so you also learn from the leaders around you.

Here’s to your success!

Institute Success Tip: Every day, ask yourself “What does it look like to be at my best?” Remember that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.


Project Oxygen: Possessing key technical skills to help advise your team

“If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

The quote above has been attributed to many famous thinkers and successful leaders, including Confucius and Marissa Mayer, the former CEO of Yahoo. No matter who said it first, this memorable line resonates in many ways in the world of business.

It’s especially relevant as we consider the eighth attribute identified by Google’s Project Oxygen initiative about what makes a great manager: Possesses key technical skills to help advise the team.

You might wonder, how much technical know-how is enough? Do I possess enough knowledge to lead others who are also experts in their field?

First, let’s start by asking different questions. After all, at any given moment in time, you only know what you know. So, the real questions to ask yourself are: do I also know what I don’t know, and do I know how to close the gap between where I am and where I want to be? Who else may know even more? Here are some things to keep in mind as you reflect on these questions:

  1. Be Self-Aware and Work on Your Knowledge Gaps. First, identify your gaps in knowledge; the best leaders prize self-awareness. Then figure out how to fill those gaps. In addition to your own research and reading, consider an online course, a class at a local college, or weekly coffee chats with a mentor. Even your suppliers, the ones you’ve built a good rapport with, may have some ideas for who could help you improve your knowledge base.

Consider networking groups too. For every niche business, there is a related professional organization. Are you a member of such a group? If not, join today! Beyond that, strive to create valuable relationships in your industry, in your network, in your community.

At Institute Success, our three favorite words are: Engage, engage, engage. Get out of your office, out of your own head and into the world. Realize that while you may own a certain amount of knowledge, others in your field may own a whole different set. And the flow of knowledge goes both ways, so always be willing to give before you get. When asking for someone’s time so they can share their knowledge with you, offer a resource of yours in exchange. Building networks in this way in invaluable. Consider the very title of the well-known book on business networking by Harvey McKay: “Build Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.” Start building your knowledge network today.

  1. Know Your Team and Develop Leaders From Within. In addition to knowing our own strengths and weaknesses, good leaders have to know what each employee’s strengths and challenges are. As the common saying goes, train employees well enough so they can leave and treat them well enough that they don’t want to. Great leaders must communicate with their employees (another attribute of a great leader, as identified by Project Oxygen) and continually challenge them to grow and develop.

Leading employees in this way starts with the Golden Question: What do I need to do to help you become more successful? It always starts with me, the leader. My job as the leader is to give my staff the opportunity to learn from their own gaps in knowledge. And it’s my job to know that when I cannot be the one to teach them that information, I need to point them to people who can. So, don’t be afraid to offer resources to your employees who are trying to improve their knowledge base. You could refer them to people within your own firm, or from your wider network.

Whether they are learning directly from you, or from someone you recommended, you are still the one guiding them. And that’s important. Because one of the main jobs of a leader is create other leaders. The easiest way to do that is to share knowledge back and forth. Just as your employees should not be afraid to come to you for help, you should never hesitate to tap into their expertise. Ask them: What do you see that I’m not seeing?

  1. It Starts With Yourself. To be the best leader of others, you must be the best leader of yourself. One way to do that is to value continual learning. Even professional athletes or expert singers never stop learning. They hire a coach, many times more than one type of coach, to keep them sharp or help them develop in a particular area. At Institute Success, we see every day as a new opportunity to learn. We can help you open up new avenues of strength and development as a leader, helping you fine tune who you want to be.

Often when coaching clients, we will draw one box on a board or paper, entitled “Learning.” On top of that will be a box labeled “Doing.” We draw arrows back and forth between the two because you can’t have one without the other. It’s not enough to be just learning, you have to be doing and immerse yourself in your work. This experience gives you the feedback you need to keep improving. The goal of all this learning and doing is the box we draw at the very top: “Becoming.” We want all our leaders to “become” the best versions of themselves they can be.

This won’t happen magically, or overnight. In fact, as many of us know from the writings of Malcolm Gladwell, it takes about 10,000 hours to become expert at something. Even the Beatles had to put in their time. According to Gladwell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” the Beatles traveled to Hamburg, Germany, multiple times over a year and a half to rack up live performances. All told, they performed for 270 nights in that short time span and that set them on their path to fame. So, don’t rush it, and never stop learning.

Institute Success Tip: When asking for help, come from a place of strength and vulnerability. Ask: “This is what I know, maybe there is something I don’t know. Can we talk?”

Project Oxygen: How to Be a Strong Decision Maker

“As leaders, we are ridiculously in charge. Are you building the environment you want or just allowing things to happen?”

Dr. Henry Cloud, author of “Boundaries for Leaders”

As the leader, everyone is coming to you to make a decision or validate one. What you say or do determines whether your organization will continue down a path or change focus. At times, it can feel overwhelming to be the one ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your company. As demonstrated in the quote above by the leadership expert Henry Cloud, sometimes the magnitude of our control takes us by surprise as we realize there are no excuses, only us.

This ability to be “the decider” is vital to the effectiveness of any leader. We know from the findings of Google’s Project Oxygen that the tenth quality of an excellent manager is to be a strong decision maker. Some of us might feel that we are naturally good at making decisions, while others struggle with uncertainty and second-guessing. So, what is the best way to make a decision and how do we know it’s a solid one?

At Institute Success, we understand that it takes a structured course of action to make the best decisions, and we share with our clients a ten-step process for problem-solving and decision-making. Through our workshops, we can help you find your own system for making the best decisions for long-term success at your company. Give us a call to see how we can help. In the meantime, here are a few tips:

The Art of Delegation

Many people are familiar with the advice from renowned coach and management consultant David Allen for getting things done. His “Four D’s” method of approaching any To-Do list, whether personal or professional, include putting every task into one of four categories (Do It, Delegate It, Defer It or Delete It). When it comes to making decisions, most business leaders need help with either “Doing” or “Delegating,” and especially with delegating.

We have some tips to help you with delegating, and before you can put them to work, you must have the right team in place. We already know that when making a decision, leaders must have the self-awareness necessary to begin with the end in mind and have clarity about the destination. An essential step is making sure they have a team with the skills, habits and values that will help them achieve their unique organizational goals.

Ideally as a leader, you have surrounded yourself with others who have different expertise than you. It is not necessary for you to have all the answers, instead you must operate with a shared purpose and incorporate the best of what you’ve seen and heard from the experts around you when making a decision. You must understand how your decisions will impact everyone in the organization. 

Only then can you engage in the art of delegation to execute your plan or problem-solving strategy. You can start this way:

  1. Make a Request: First, check the skills and knowledge of those you are delegating to and give authority commensurate with the responsibility. If you choose someone under you to share your latest decision with the rest of the firm and that person has poor communication skills, then your message will not come through. (This creates ambiguity rather than clarity, which leads to dissatisfaction and disagreement.) Lastly, give a time commitment to hold everyone accountable.
  2. Get Agreement: Ask questions to get clarity from all parties. Come to agreements where everyone feels valued and is using their natural strengths. This leads to higher productivity and engagement. Create a framework for ongoing support. 
  3. Check In: Measure results and modify if needed. Share feedback of what’s working and what isn’t. This is one of the most important things a leader can do, to go back. It’s critical to the decision-making process. Talk about results and conclusions and remember to acknowledge success!

When you are authentic with yourself about your vision, choose the right team, set goals that incorporate the best of what you have seen and heard, and involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process, you are well on your way to making a decision that works for you. Remember to communicate clearly to everyone on the team how they are responsible for meeting those goals and make sure you know your responsibility for meeting them. 

Institute Success Tip: Leaders are often quick to hire and slow to fire. We need a better hiring process and we need to better understand how to best train and develop our employees.  We also need to learn the art of having “critical conversations” when things are not in alignment. Ask us how we can help you have better critical conversations with your staff.

Project Oxygen: How to be cross-collaborative in your organization

You can’t be successful by building silos; everyone needs to have shared values and a shared vision for success because we need each other to be successful. – Harvard Business Review 

The ninth quality of a successful leader, as defined by Google’s Project Oxygen, is the willingness and ability to collaborate across the organization.  As the quote above illustrates, Google believes that isolating ourselves or our teams from other members of our organization will never lead to success. After all, we are interdependent: my success depends on your success, and this is true for every member of our team and our company.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you work toward becoming cross-collaborative in your organization:

  1. We all have diverse communication styles and preferences.

Though much has been said about diversity in terms of racial makeup, ethnicity, gender expression, religion or national origin, little attention has been focused on diversity of communication styles. At Institute Success, we know that everyone wants to be spoken to in a the way they prefer. When this doesn’t happen, especially in the workplace, it can lead to problems that often go unresolved unresolved.

In order to fruitfully collaborate across our organization, we must first acknowledge that we might be called upon to work with someone whose approach to their job is quite different from ours. If we are the vice president of sales, we might be surprised when the accounting manager doesn’t seem to “hear” our request to process expenses. Likewise, if we’re a technical supervisor, we might not realize that the gregarious marketing manager who calls out of the blue to explain his latest idea is not trying to distract us but to get our valued opinion.

The good news is, we can work on this. As leaders, it is imperative for us to do so. Consider the Golden Rule we learned as children: treat others the way you want to be treated. But when it comes to truly communicating with others, this mantra doesn’t always work. We at Institute Success prefer instead to teach Golden Questions: 

-Who is this person?

-And what do I need to do to communicate successfully with them? 

I may need to go outside of what is natural for me in order to effectively communicate with some of my employees. And that’s okay – we all have natural and adaptive styles of communication. Most of the time – studies show about 70% to 85% of the time – we use our natural style. But that still leaves up to 30% of our time for communicating in our adaptive style. 

Whenever we are preparing to meet with someone, especially someone new, we need to think about the best way to reach them. At Institute Success, we can help you do that. Because every person in our organization has value and makes an impact on our lives. They deserve our intentional focus so that we all can be more productive.

  1. People do things for people they know, like and trust. Be that person!

    The number one rule of relating to someone is that you have to create trust. Without trust, employees in another department or a location across the country  will be less open to share information with you. They’ll hold it tight so they can possess the knowledge that they’ve worked hard to collect. Why should they share it with you if they don’t trust you? 

As leaders, we need to get our employees out of this space of scarcity and into a place of abundance. We need to move them from “I” to “we.”

How do you build trust or encourage your employees to do so? Conversation and relationships. Take the time to stop by an employee’s or coworker’s desk and ask them about their projects, their children, the photo next to their computer. If you are a leader who is cross collaborating, start by finding out how your counterparts like to work. What makes them tick?  This isn’t being disingenuous; it’s adapting to your company’s most valuable asset – employees – so you can move forward together. 

We like to tell our clients that when you put your attention around your intention, you get a good result.  We advise them to have a “meeting before the meeting” with themselves before they engage with someone and ask themselves the Golden Questions.  

  1. Remember the value of the team.

    What does success look like? When it comes to an organization, whether large or small, success is a team effort. I might be a superior performer, but I can’t get to fully realized success by myself. When we come from a place of abundance, recognizing that what you do is as valuable as what I do, we can move forward together. 

Remember the “why” of your organization. What is your company’s mission? Why are you doing what you do? 

The bestselling author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, who wrote “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” reminds us that the most successful companies understand that clients don’t buy what you are selling. They buy why you are selling it. And the same goes for your internal clients, your staff. They will be much more devoted to your pursuit of cross-collaboration if you can remind them how it ties into your overall mission.  

Institute Success Tip: Take a page from Google’s playbook for creating a collaborative workplace:  

1) Embrace differences

2) Encourage “casual collisions” of employees and their ideas

3) Promote employee engagement

4) Keep the door open and be approachable to your staff

Exceptional Leaders Engage and Communicate

“Communication is the real work of leadership.”

– Nitin Nohria

Poor communication is likely costing your organization more than you think. Miscommunication is estimated to cost smaller companies of 100 employees an average $420,000 per year. And for larger companies of more than 100,000 employees, that inadequate communication to and between employees, costs an organization a whopping $62.4 million dollars per year.

And, that’s only in lost productivity. Imagine how it’s impacting culture, job satisfaction and employee engagement.

The largest line item on your profit and loss statement is likely payroll. As a leader you have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to make an impact by focusing on that most important priority  your people.

It all begins with how you focus your time. Everything shifts when you make your people your top priority. You have a finite number of hours you can work in a day, so success can only come through your team.

It’s easy to think that increasing salary levels is the key to a more engaged team, but research proves time and time again that simply by listening to them, finding out what help they need and letting them know they are valuable has much more impact. After all, we are all human and the need to feel a part of something greater than ourselves is universal.

While we help people and organizations communicate at a deep level, here are some quick fixes:

4 Communication ‘Hacks’ to Better Connect With Those You Lead

John Eades shares some great ideas on how to engage your team in his Inc. Magazine article “Use These 4 Communication ‘Hacks’ to Better Connect with Those You Lead.” [read full article]

Project Oxygen: Have a Clear Vision of Success and Articulate it to Your Staff

“To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the conversations. Everything happens through conversations.”

                    – Judith E. Glaser, author of  “Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results” 

Success begins with clarity. Do you have a clear vision for your company’s success? Great. Now for the big question: Have you shared that vision with your employees and do each of them know the role they can play in achieving that success? If you aren’t sure, read on.

Research from Google’s Project Oxygen, an initiative that identified the top 10 qualities of a great leader, listed the seventh quality as having a clear vision and strategy for the team. When the purpose and strategy is articulated to each team member, they can begin to see for themselves where they have an opportunity to contribute. Nothing is more powerful than a team with a shared vision of success. 

How do you get there?
1. Start with Clarity of Vision.

First, understand YOUR vision of success as a leader. Oftentimes we have so many things coming at us that we have multiple definitions of what success means on any given day. It’s important for us as leaders to move from ambiguity to clarity by understanding exactly how we  are defining success. We also need to acknowledge this definition is fluid and could change in six months or a year, we need to be willing to reexamine our vision.

Next, talk to your staff about what success looks like to them. Your employees are your most important assets. It is essential for you to be aware of how they define success so you can understand their motivation and drive and their role within your business.  

Once you have that clarity around how each person defines success, then you have the opportunity to create a shared vision. This allows you to connect with your employees and come to an agreement about what success means for your organization. In a positive relationship between leader and teammate, we can play to each other’s strengths and ensure  we aren’t duplicating our efforts, instead aligning them. Our job as leaders is to communicate and also enroll our staff in our shared vision.

2. Know Your Employees’ Strengths.

If you wait until you need to delegate a job to an employee to figure out that person’s strengths, you’ve waited too long. It’s your job as a leader to know your team. Know their strengths; be aware of their blind spots. What do they excel in? What comes naturally versus what is outside their comfort zone? You can ask your workers to stretch in order to promote growth, which is a different conversation.

You will thrive when you know them like the  back of your hand, what drives each employee and how to best engage them. As certified leadership coaches, we at Institute Success can help you do this. The more time employees spend working on what they are good at, the easier it is for you as a team to make agreements and create action plans that are in alignment with the shared vision of success. Everyone is more productive and the work feels less like work and more like something that brings, dare we say it, pleasure!

3. Listen to and Communicate With Your Internal Clients:

In addition to  satisfying our clients’ needs by listening to what is important to them, we have an opportunity when we  actively listen to our internal clients too — our employees. Spending time in this way is not wasting it, not by any measure. By listening to what our employees see as their truth, we are instead making an investment in our shared future.

Everyone wants three things:       

To be heard; To feel valued; To make a connection

If we fail to truly “hear” what our staff members are telling us, we won’t know how to make them feel valued because we won’t know what’s important to them. Some people are highly motivated by objective markers of achievement, like commissions or promotions. Others focus more on internal factors like the knowledge of a job expertly done or alignment with a moral or ethical value.

If you don’t find out, your employees may not feel a connection, and without connection there is loss of trust and engagement. 

Picture connection as the intersection of circles: you (the leader), your employee, and the organization itself. If you are working with a team, you can recreate this intersection with each team member. What do you want from each other? What are you going to give to the organization and what do you want to get from it?

Have your employees get together and ask each one what they want, both from the business and from each other. They may say things like: I want respect, I want to use my talents and work as partners. Now you are getting somewhere. 

Collaborating as a team is like dancing: you need to figure out how to do it. If I have a vision of the cha-cha and you’d rather do the merengue, we’ll be stepping on each other’s toes and won’t make very good partners.

At the end of the day, we need to walk away in agreement and Institute Success can help you do this for your team

Institute Success Tip: Always make time for an employee who comes to you with a problem. As Colin Powell has said of his soldiers, “The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them.”

Project Oxygen: Be a good communicator and listen to your team

“To truly be an active listener, stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.”

– Robin Dreeke

Did you know that neuroscience research has found that it takes as little as 0.7 seconds to make a first impression? In that bare fragment of time, people are deciding whether you are trustworthy and whether they feel safe with you. This impression can be so lasting that it forms the pathway for our entire business relationship. It’s not something we can control, as humans are simply wired this way. But what we can do is learn to make a better first impression and build a stronger foundation for transformative, rather than perfunctory communication, especially as it relates to the people we lead and the customers we interact with.

It is crucial to have good rapport with our staff, co-workers and clients if we wish to be strong leaders. If you feel that you (or anyone on your team) could be doing a better job of truly listening and being heard, it’s never too late to improve. Keep reading!

We know from the findings of Google’s Project Oxygen that the 5th quality of the most effective managers is the ability to communicate well and listen to our teams.

But did you also know that communication resides in the listener, not the speaker? It’s so important to remember that words have meaning to each person individually. Words are not neutral — a listener is going to interpret what is said based on their own upbringing and communication preferences. Keep this in mind when you are speaking with your team or your customers and be sure to check in with them often and seek feedback about how your message was received.

When you are the listener, be fully present, ask clarifying questions and don’t feel you have to say everything that you think. There’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth. (LISTEN can become the word SILENT with a little rearrangement.) Be present with the other. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next, be open to listening. You are wise enough. You will know what to say.

This is called active listening, and leaders who master it will not only be remembered for the long term, they will lead their employees (a company’s most valuable asset) and ultimately their business, to new heights of productivity and success.

In upcoming newsletters, we’ll tell you more about the importance of effective communication as we explore another workplace initiative from Google, Project Aristotle. The company decided in 2012 to study hundreds of their teams and figure out why some outperformed while others faltered. What Google learned from this exploration has resonated across thousands of businesses; we’ll show you how to apply those lessons to achieve your goals.

In the meantime, keep these tips in mind for becoming an active listener:

  1. Be Attentive. Face your speaking partner squarely, adopt an open posture and maintain eye contact. Don’t look at your phone or be thinking about how to respond to that latest email! People can tell when you are just pretending to listen. Often, we are so preoccupied with our own “busyness” that we fail to truly absorb what someone is saying. Give speakers the respect that they and their ideas deserve.
  2. Speak Less and Listen More. Many of us have an “addiction to being right,” a phenomenon identified by the executive and organizational anthropologist Judith E. Glaser as a need to fight for dominance and “win” by proving that our point of view is correct.

At the neurochemical level, these victories, however hallow, flood our brain with adrenaline and dopamine, which make us feel invincible and want to repeat the experience. But our need to dominate can crush honest dialogue and the willingness of others to participate fully, as their brains flood with the stress hormone cortisol. When we instead take time to allow everyone to feel heard and to listen to others’ ideas without judgement, our bodies release the “happy hormone” oxytocin, which is activated by human connection and promotes co-creation.

Glaser suggests forging an addiction to this hormone instead by planning ahead so that everyone knows the rules for engaging at meetings and what the objectives are; giving everyone a chance to speak and listening with empathy and an open mind rather than listening to judge or reject another’s idea.

  1. Ask Clarifying Questions. Paraphrase back what you think you heard. Ask questions to fill in the gaps of what you didn’t understand. What piece of the conversation sparked your curiosity? Ask more about it. This maintains the interest of both parties, and you’d be surprised how much you might learn. Periodically summarize what the other person said.

You are now on the road to becoming an exceptional communicator!

Institute Success Tip: Change your words and you can change your world. When teams learn the keys to positive communication that allows everyone to feel heard and valued, great things happen for your company.  Part of what we do at Institute Success is teach teams how to listen to each other. Ask us about our master sessions in team-building and get your company on the right path today.

Leadership Checklist: Critical Questions to Ask

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

– Ken Blanchard

Why can it be so hard to motivate others to improve?

Knowing the right way to give and receive feedback is one of the hottest topics facing leaders today. With only 33% of the American workforce considered to be engaged at work—there’s definitely much room for growth.

In a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, share their conclusion on what works and doesn’t work when giving feedback to others, “We humans do not do well when someone whose intentions are unclear tells us where we stand, how good we ‘really’ are, and what we must do to fix ourselves. We excel only when people know us and care about us tell us what they experience and what they feel, and in particular when they see something within us that really works.”

Here are 7 questions to ask yourself when you give feedback.

1. What’s my level of trust with this person? Without trust individuals are afraid to communicate honestly and openly. And, people are not open to hearing what someone thinks of their performance when there’s no confidence in the intent of the feedback. It is likely to hurt the relationship and hinder their learning. Trust happens when others feel heard, understood, valued, safe and connected.

2. What’s the individual’s expectation around this feedback? Is the individual anticipating appreciation, coaching or evaluation? Without a clear agreement of what success means to an individual, the conversation can go wrong very quickly. Setting clear agreements and expectations, set the stage for a rich conversation that will help an individual to thrive and excel.

3. How does this person like to communicate? We love the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. However, at Institute Success, we believe that 80% of conversations fail when using the Golden Rule. Instead, we believe 100% of conversations can succeed by asking the Golden Questions: “Who are you communicating with?” and “How can YOU adapt to be successful with them?” By understanding someone’s communication preferences, you can match their pace, tone, body language and even use specific words that resonate with them. Want to understand someone’s communication style before going into a meeting? Have them take the DISC Discovery Assessment.

4. How should I start the conversation? Choose your words carefully. Don’t begin conversations with phrases like, “I have some bad news,” “I need to give you some feedback,” and “We have a problem”. They immediately trigger negative responses and activate the amygdala, the primitive part of our brain that causes us to “freeze, flee or appease.” Instead, use neutral statements like, “Here’s my reaction”, “This is how it came across to me”, “This is how I felt”, and “I appreciate it when you.”

5. What have I noticed them doing right? Buckingham and Goodall share an example in their recent HBR article. “There’s a story about how legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry turned around his struggling team. While the other teams were reviewing missed tackles and dropped balls, Landry instead combed thorough footage of previous games and created for each player a highlight reel of when he had done something right; when that player had done something easily, naturally, and effectively. Landry reasoned that while the number of wrong ways to do something was infinite, the number of right ways, for any particular player, was not. It was knowable, and the best way to discover it was to look at plays where that person had done it excellently.”

6. What’s my “why” in giving this feedback? In their book, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen, they explain, “Cross-transactions happen when the giver and the receiver are misaligned. Discuss the purpose of the feedback explicitly. It seems obvious, but even competent, well-meaning people can go their whole lives without ever having this part of the conversation.” They recommend asking yourself these three questions:

• “What’s my purpose in giving this feedback?”

• “Is it the right purpose from my point of view?”

• “Is it the right purpose from the other person’s point of view?”

7. How will we walk away with the same understanding? How many times have you left a meeting and thought you were on the same page with others—only to realize later that each person walked away with their own idea of what happened? Asking important questions like these below can help to clearly define takeaways, next steps and expectations about who is doing what.

• “What are you taking away?”

• “What can we do to make you more successful?”

• What agreements should we be making together?”

By preparing and asking yourself these powerful questions before your next feedback meeting, you can change what could have been a challenging encounter into a meaningful conversation that helps to build trust, improve learning and excel someone forward.

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Leaders are Readers

Want to talk more in-depth about helpful and essential books? We are exploring launching a monthly virtual book club, delivered via Zoom, for leaders and coaches. Let us know if you are interested. I’m interested