Why Bad Managers Focus on Friendship Instead of Leadership

leadership or different concept with red and white paper airplane on blue background

Until you are a manager, you never really know the struggle of balancing friendship with leadership. In one sense, friendship shouldn’t even be on the radar, but on the other side of the coin, everyone wants to be liked, which puts leaders in a bit of a challenging position.  

Anyone who has led or has studied the field of leadership development will tell you that building and maintaining quality relationships is a key to success. However, having the goal of being best friends first with every team member will hurt you.  

This doesn’t mean you or any leader should avoid or reject being friends with a team member. If a friendship grows, that is great, but that’s not the purpose of leadership. If being friends with a team member becomes more important than doing what’s in their or the team’s best interest, your priorities are out of alignment.

If being friends with a team member becomes more important than doing what’s in their or the team’s best interest, your priorities are out of alignment.

Healthy boundaries for both parties

Boundaries, respect, and trust are essential to the success of any relationship. For leaders, think, “friendly is essential; friendship isn’t required.”

It turns out; team members need healthy boundaries as well. Most professionals don’t want or even need a friend in their boss, but they do have to know their manager cares about them.

Professionals don’t need their manager to be a best friend, but they do have to know they care about them.  

How to focus on leadership over friendship

When you dig into friendship in the workplace deeper, it becomes less elusive identifying its five key components from research; (a)Affect (b) a Grand Project (c) Altruistic Reciprocity (d) Moral Obligations, (e) Equality.

In the workplace, one of these stands out, which is “a grand project.” C. S. Lewis said, “lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” Wikipedia defines friendship as a relationship of mutual affection between people. While there is nothing wrong with a platonic relationship between colleagues, the best leaders see the lines of friendship and leadership differently. They know their primary job is not friendship.

Instead, they know their job is to connect team members to a deeper cause, remove barriers to help them be successful, coach them up daily, and challenge them to become a better version of themselves.

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If you have fallen too much into the “friend zone” as a manager or want to get back to leaning into the shared common interests with team members, here are some ideas.  

1. Reconnect to the Team to a Deeper Purpose

No matter your business, there is a deeper purpose for why it exists. Maybe it’s to make the lives of your clients better, or perhaps it’s to transport joy around the world. Regardless of what it is, it’s the leader’s job to constantly reconnect people to the cause behind the work a team does.  

While this might sound corny, it’s not. By constantly talking about important things that matter, you elevate the conversation and relationship between the people you get the opportunity to lead.

2. Elevate the Standard

To ensure leadership comes before friendship, it’s a great idea to elevate the standard of what’s expected to be a team member. A standard is defined as what good looks like. However, managers define what good looks like, leaders define what great looks like. 

Your team’s behavior will default to the standards that you demonstrate and define for them. Be crystal clear, concise, and conclusive. Limit yourself to as few standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied. If you struggle to set clear standards, ask yourself the following three questions:

What’s the end result I want from my team?

What’s stopping us from getting there?

What can be done instead?

3. Act Like a Coach

The best way to demonstrate to team members that you are in your role to lead and not just be a friend is to help them perform at their best and be proactive in helping them reach their full potential. A great way to achieve this is to act as a coach for them.  

Just think of the best sports coaches in the world. They are constantly looking for ways to bring out the best in their players and to help them get from where they are to where they want or need to be. 

The best coaches help people get from where they are to where they want or need to be.

Arm yourself with a set of go-to coaching questions to get your people to think differently and solve their problems. Then, check out the Coaching for Excellence Program if you want to improve your coaching skills in less than 1 hour. 

4. Prepare to Be Tested

No one likes change, and there is a high likelihood you will be met with resistance or downright defiance. Be prepared and willing to follow up and follow through with your mindset of leadership over friendship. 

I don’t pretend this to be easy. In fact, you will be tempted to default to your old ways. Leaders aren’t immune to resisting change, and the path of least resistance can be tempting. Reject this with all your heart, soul, and mind. As I wrote in Building the Best, “only leaders who are tested become great. 

Only leaders who are tested become great.

Remember, it’s your job to elevate others and improve performance over time, and it doesn’t happen by accident. 

Closing

What’s interesting about this topic of friendship and leadership is there isn’t only one correct way. I have had team members where real legitimate lifelong friendships developed because of our work together and others where it didn’t. I am profoundly grateful for both.  

However, as long as leaders keep the main thing, the main thing, and focus on leadership over friendship, our teams and our performance will be in a better place.

Do you agree?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

One Word Micromanagers Use That You Must Avoid

Conflict management

With leadership comes responsibility. A significant portion of that responsibility includes being accountable for team members’ behaviors. While this might sound like no big deal, trying to influence or control what other people do is hard.  

The strategies and tactics managers leverage but are not limited to include; setting clear standards, aligning teams to core values, defining hiring processes, providing coaching, and having difficult dialogues. While all of these are effective and things I teach leaders to use, there is a less effective method many managers adhere to called micromanaging. 

Now before you act as you have never micromanaged, stop right there. You have been guilty of it, and I have as well. To closely observe, control, or remind others what they should be doing or how they should be doing is an easy thing to do when you are ultimately responsible for their choices. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it correct.

What is Micromanagement and Why Do We Do It?

The term micromanagement has skyrocketed in popularity in the last few decades. Webster defines it as “manage[ment] especially with excessive control or attention on details.” It has a negative connotation both in the marketplace and to employees because it limits the freedom to complete jobs or tasks instead of trusting things will be done correctly. 

Managers tend to micromanage for one of three reasons:

  • Comfort – Many managers were successful in the role the people they now lead are currently work in, so it’s comfortable for them to get in the weeds. 
  • Connectedness – There is a sense of being a unit when a manager helps do the work with their team. 
  • Importance – No manager wants to feel they aren’t necessary anymore. So they micromanage to feel important. 

Many full-fledged micromanagers have been exposed and removed from their position in the last few years because of high turnover rates, engagement surveys, and 360° Leadership assessments. However, the best leaders know there is a fine line between setting high standards and coaching someone and reminding others what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.  

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Since most managers don’t have an overt problem with micromanagement, they often do small things that lead to their people feeling micromanaged. These small things tend to be the words they use and when they use them.  

Leaders can make small changes in communication to lead to big changes in performance. 

One word managers use to modify the behavior of an employee is the word “Don’t.” Not only is it a micromanaging word, but it’s demotivating to people. Here is how managers typically use it:

  • Don’t do it that way.”
  • Don’t miss the deadline.”
  • Don’t say it like that; say it like this.”

Writing these statements that start with “don’t” exudes a manager trying to control, not inspire. Since inspiration is a key to elevating others, breathing life into team members will help change behavior with an internal trigger instead of an external motivator.  

The best leaders don’t control, they inspire.

The word “don’t” has a negative connotation, and it stirs up feelings of defensiveness in people. Instead of responding positively, more often than not, it will have someone responding a begrudgingly way.  

Just check out these same statements communicated without the word “don’t.”

  • “Do you need any help making the deadline?”
  • “Try saying it this way to see if you get a better response.”
  • “I love your effort; if you modify your technique there is a chance it’s easier for you.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the enormous difference between a leader communicating like this versus one using the word “don’t.”

Closing

Eliminating or modifying a word from “don’t” from your managerial language won’t be easy. The challenge to you this week is to take a mental checklist around how often you say the word “don’t” to your colleagues, teammates, significant other, or even your kids.

Once you recognize the extent of your “don’t” habit, then it’s time to change your language moving forward to something more positive, inspirational, and encouraging.  

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

3 Proven Rules to Increase Accountability as a Leader

Red figure of the leader in the center of the circle of people

Accountability as a leadership skill is among the most difficult to be highly effective when you solely rely on instincts. Most leaders struggle with accountability not because they don’t have the talent to be effective but because they don’t know what it actually is. 

Accountability is one of these words that has lost its meaning because of overuse. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people. Accountable leaders provide a path for personal improvement and team performance. 

Accountability is an advantage; make it your obligation.

In a best-case scenario, managers and executives have a lot of training and experience to learn, develop and mold their accountability skills. However, when business and HR executives expect individual contributors to be highly effective managers on day one after their promotion, it sets both parties up to be disappointed.   

What most managers do is rely on their instincts when it comes to accountability. While instincts can undoubtedly be good, just because you have them doesn’t mean they’re always right. 

Just because you have instincts as a leader doesn’t mean they are always right. 

Research for the SkillsLoft assessment has shown accountability is one of the top 4 weakest leadership competencies in managers, only behind listening, empathy and communication. So clearly, if you struggle with accountability as a leadership skill, you are not alone. So if you are ready to get better and take some steps to increase accountability in your leadership approach, follow these rules.  

Relationships Come First

Joe Maddon, a successful Major League Baseball manager and current skipper for the Los Angeles Angels, has a unique way of leveraging accountability. When one of his players violates a team rule or isn’t meeting a standard, he asked the player to purchase a nice bottle of wine, then they open it and have a glass or two in a one-on-one meeting. Thus he’s dedicating time to the player to have the disapproval dialogue while at the same time creating a deep sense of connection between himself and the player.

While this isn’t a strategy every leader can use, Maddon understands this critical leadership lesson regarding accountability. 

“Leaders must connect before they correct.”  

The reason this rule exists is that “rules before relationships lead to rebellion.” The stronger your relationship with team members, the more comfortable and more effective accountability can be. 

No Standards, No Accountability

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is not setting clear standards or assuming people know them. By definition, standards define what good looks like. The way I want you to think about them is slightly different. The best leaders don’t define what good looks like; they define what great looks like. When you define what great looks like for your team and communicate it correctly, these standards will produce behaviors and habits that are vital to achieving results.  

They also become the foundation for what you hold your people accountable for. Without their presence, it’s nearly impossible to be an accountable leader and to have an accountable culture.  

Praise and Recognition Count as Well

Most people think of accountability in a negative way and believe because they are willing to have difficult dialogues or fire someone, they are good at it. The truth is, accountability isn’t only focused on the negative; firing someone is one of the weakest forms of it. To go a step further, accountability can be used to praise and recognize team members who meet and exceed the standards as well.  

When team members go above and beyond the standard, sharing praise and recognition released dopamine in the brain, making them feel good. Beyond that, dopamine has also been proven to create innovative thinking and promote problem-solving at work. Those small recognitions make people want to keep emulating the behavior that caused them to give it.  

An excellent way for you to think about this is what I call the Constructive Praise Meter, or “CPM.” Over the course of a month, a leader should balance between 40% and 60% of delivering constructive feedback and praise. If at any point that meter dips too much in one direction over an extended period, accountability gets out of balance.    

Closing 

The absolute best part about accountable cultures is that they produce great outcomes, and team members end up embracing them. But accountable cultures don’t happen by themselves. They are created by leaders who work hard at developing their accountability skills daily.

How do you raise the accountability level on your team or organization?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Lead a High Performing Team

Innovation and creative idea concept

Traditionally, people were promoted into leadership positions because they were viewed as a top individual contributor, a type-A extrovert, and/or a supremely confident professional. This results from what’s called a “promote to retain” strategy implemented by many organizations. 

While retaining top talent is vitally important, it’s also critical for organizations to promote people into positions of leadership that can drive performance and make a positive impact on the people they get the opportunity to lead.

There is one predictor of leaders like this regardless if they were a top individual contributor or not, and it’s not where organizations have previously focused. Leaders who have a servant’s heart sustain positive business results and achieve high employee engagement scores.  

After studying so many leaders with a servant’s heart in all different industries, roles, and backgrounds, it turns out they are doing many things right to have a high performing team. It’s what I refer to as “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best.” These are a list of things which by themselves are important, but they tend to compound and build upon each other. Here they are with a brief description of each to help you leverage them with your team as well.

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Leadership Methodology

Over the last 30 years, methodologies have skyrocketed in popularity because they provide a backbone and structure to do any difficult job. From sales to research to project management and now leadership.  

Many of the best modern leaders we have studied either knowingly or unknowingly use a servant leadership methodology and use high levels of love and discipline in the way they lead. Robert Greenleaf said it well, “Servant leadership always empathizes, always accepts the person, but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”

Relationships

The key to leadership is relationships because, without strong relationships, you can’t lead. High performing teams have bonds of mutual trust and respect. Where most leaders struggle is in understanding their responsibility to earn those two things. Long gone are the days of a title commanding respect. In today’s workplaces, a title should only be a reminder of your responsibility to your people.

While this seems obvious, many leaders skip relationship building and jump right into accountability to drive performance. This is a massive mistake because 

Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. 

Instead of assuming the relationships with your team members are strong, make time with each team member to ask this powerful question: “How are you and your family coping during the pandemic?”

Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams not only leverage the proper amount of communication but also are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Effective leaders are great communicators.

The best modern leaders are constantly looking to improve how they communicate by evaluating their verbal, written, and body language.  

Shared Purpose

People in organizations don’t get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do the work they do. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their teams of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.  

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into poor thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.  

Standards

For teams to keep getting better, leaders must raise the bar of what’s expected. The reason is that team members’ behaviors and habits are always going to default to the bar set. The best modern leaders embrace this by relying on standards. 

A standard is defined as “what good looks like.” If you want to leverage standards, don’t define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like.

Be crystal clear, concise, and focused. Limit yourself to as few standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied.

Execution

The teams that execute their strategy and plans to near perfection will always achieve more than teams who do not. George Patton famously said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” As right as Patton is, it’s the leaders on a team who are responsible for removing barriers and putting people in the right positions to execute to the best of their abilities.  

Accountability 

Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here.

Coaching

One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager in today’s modern business environment is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach have never been more critical than they are today. A strong, dedicated leader plays an integral role in elevating people to new heights, exactly how John Whitmore envisioned it.  

Closing

Every leader began somewhere. Regardless of whether you were promoted to a leadership position because of a “promote and retain strategy” or for some other reason, now is the time to embrace responsibility and develop servant’s heart. Once these are in place, work hard to understand, master, and apply “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best” on an ongoing basis.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Lead Your Remote Team

Remote work concept. Designer demonstrates color swatch

The snowball effect has been in full force. First, Facebook made a work from home announcement, then Google, Twitter, and Salesforce followed up with policies of their own. While these companies’ WFH policies are slightly different, managers will be leading remote teams for the foreseeable future.  

On the surface, this is great for professionals because it provides built-in flexibility to control their commute and work schedule. However, when you dig deeper, it exposes some real challenges for people in positions of leadership. Sustaining productivity, performance, teamwork, and culture are all more complicated in a remote work setting.  

After studying remote work and helping managers prepare for their changing responsibilities, one thing is abundantly clear:

Most people manage a remote team, but few lead one.

Managing focuses on numbers, KPI’s, schedules, and performance management. These are obviously important when it comes to remote work, and often can be automated or be executed successfully, even by bad bosses. Leadership, on the other hand, is about inspiring, empowering, and serving others. The best leaders elevate others to levels they didn’t think possible.  

Challenges for leaders of remote teams

Leading this way is hard, but it’s even harder with a remote team due to the inability to gather the team together, in person. In a recent episode of the WorkLife Podcast with Adam Grant, he covered two primary challenges of remote teams that leaders need to be aware of:

Shared identity. Teams need to feel they are all in this together. When working remotely, it is easier than ever to feel like you’re on an island and lose sight of achieving things as a group instead of individually. Grant said it so well: “We bond best when our individual actions contribute to a common purpose.”

Shared understanding. Individuals need to feel alignment with what a team is doing and what it values. Since each remote team member will have a different personal situation and remote work set up, having a shared understanding is essential.

While both seem simple on the surface, they are difficult for leaders of remote teams to achieve. If you are faced with leading a remote team, here are a few best practices to help ensure you are leading and not just managing:

Connect them to a shared cause and objective

The verb form of the word “team” means coming together as a group to achieve a common goal. Setting a clear cause and an objective for a team is instrumental in achieving higher levels of success.  

Do not go another minute without being clear on why your team is doing what it’s doing and what you’re working towards achieving. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without considering how their work impacts the larger organization and customers. 

If you’re unsure how to communicate this to your team, start by answering these two complicated yet straightforward questions:

  • What do you do, and why do you do it? (Hint: it’s got to be more than making money)
  • What goal would your team be excited about achieving?

It’s easy to skim past those two questions, but I’m challenging you to pause. Reread those two questions and ask yourself if each member of your team could answer them. If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

Clarify remote work standards

A standard is defining what good looks like. From all of our research in studying what the best leaders do in Building the Best, it’s clear:

Managers define what good looks like; leaders define what great looks like. 

It will be tempting to lower the standards for your team since you are working remotely. I urge you to reject this temptation and instead maintain or even raise the standard. Clarity your team standards around work schedules, team and one-on-one meetings, and communication methods.  

Every leader of a remote team should have a standing weekly team meeting; Don’t just stop there; leverage a weekly one-on-one scheduled meeting each week with every team member. Use a tool like Peoplebox to help you be an effective leader during these interactions. 

Coach for development 

Since so much of remote work is about outcomes, leaders need to make a dedicated effort to coach and develop their people. The word coach comes from “carriage,” which means to take someone from where they are today to where they want to go. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Be present. If you are going to coach your people for development, being present in your interactions is essential. Reject the temptation to multitask and instead lock in and focus on how you can help them develop.  

While being an effective coach isn’t easy, it will not only pay off in the short term but will leave a lasting impact. If you ever find yourself veering away from coaching your people ask yourself this simple question. “What is the value I can give the person in front of me right now that’s meaningful to them?”

I have included a list of remote coaching questions to get you started:

  • I’ve struggled to unplug from work since we are now remote, how are you managing it?
  • Do you have a proper work setup at home?  
  • Which aspect of remote work do you enjoy the most?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you be more productive when you’re working from home? 
  • What’s the biggest challenge you face while working remotely? 
  • How often are you speaking with other team members? 

Closing

You are capable of leading your remote team through this unprecedented time. Embrace the discomfort of your virtual environment and elevate your people to higher levels of performance.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company making virtual training easy and effective. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Fix An Underperforming Team in No Time

Joey was an experienced manager at a mid-sized company. When his team missed its mark in the first year, he made a myriad of excuses. The next year didn’t get any better, so he blamed people on his team and even threw a teammate under the bus to save his job. 

While Joey’s responses weren’t unlike most leaders of underperforming teams, the reason things weren’t getting better was that Joey hadn’t come to grips with a hard truth; The responsibility is the leaders.  

Sure there are many possible factors that can cause a team to underperform. These are just a few: lack of talent, talented people not meeting their potential, changes in the market, or a lack of resources. Still, ultimately, one person is responsible, the leader.  

As the late Kobe Bryant said, “Leadership is Responsibility.”  

If you are leading an underperforming team or you want to take your current team to higher levels of performance, here’s what you can do.

Reinvest in your relationships

People work harder and push themselves to new levels of performance when they know their boss cares about them.  

Researchers at the University of Berkley studied what motivates productivity in professionals. When people felt recognized for the work they did, they were 23% more effective and productive. But what’s even more astonishing is that when people felt valued and cared for, their productivity and effectiveness experienced a 43% increase. While recognition is essential, there is an additional 20% jump in performance by showing your people you care for them. 

Make time for one-on-one meetings with team members to find out what’s important to them, what goals they want to achieve, and what current challenges they are facing in their life.  

Set higher standards

Anytime performance isn’t where you need or want it; it’s time to raise the standard. A standard is simply defining what good looks like. From all of our research in studying what the best leaders do in Building the Best, it’s clear;

Good leaders define what good looks like; Great leaders define what great looks like. 

Raise the bar on what expected to be a part of the team or organization. Start with the level of effort and commitment required moving forward. Ask yourself this question:

“What kind of behaviors and actions do we need from every member of our team to level up?” Then set standards based on what’s required.  

While this is simple to write, it’s difficult to put it into practice. For your people’s behavior to change, you have to be consistent in your message and in accountability, which leads us to the next point.

Accelerate with accountability

Many words make people uncomfortable; “accountability” is one of those words. Accountability is simply the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.

A mentor of mine always told me, “What you tolerate, you encourage.” It is your obligation to hold yourself and others accountable to the standards you set. Otherwise, you’re encouraging sub-standard behavior. To do this effectively, you have to have the courage and a proven model to have direct dialogues with your people when standards aren’t met. 

Remove the people who aren’t bought in

One of the fastest ways to improve performance isn’t by addition, but by reduction. If there are team members who aren’t bought in and they have been given multiple chances to get on board, it’s time to make a change.  

Not only does their continued participation hold others back, but there’s a good chance they are bringing negativity and doubt to the team. There is no bigger killer to performance than doubt and fear.  

Each of these strategies by themselves is challenging, but put together, they become even harder. Know this, you were not put in this position if you couldn’t rise to the occasion. If you believe in yourself, you will be surprised at what you are going to achieve as a team. 

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades

How the Best Leaders Prepare for Difficult Conversations

Ever tried to have a tough conversation with someone and it went terribly wrong? Or worse, you know you need to have a difficult conversation but you hold back, only to run up against the same problem three months later?

These conversations are especially important if you are in a position of leadership. Tough conversations can be uncomfortable, but consider the alternative. You could be suppressing a person’s potential by not sharing something that could help them on their journey, ultimately stunting their professional development.

Many frameworks exist to help successfully execute these difficult conversations. Like anything, success hinges on preparation. All great leaders who thrive in having these conversations embrace the use of a three-part formula that I highlight in Building the Best

Standards + evidence + courage = direct dialogue

If you have all three parts — standards, evidence, and courage — the interactions with your team members who fail, meet or exceed the standard will happen naturally. Conversely, if one of them is weak or doesn’t exist, your tough conversation falls apart.

Setting clear standards

Imagine a police officer pulled you over for speeding, but there was no speed limit posted. Not only would you be confused, but you’d be furious because you didn’t know the ground rules. If you are going to be successful at having tough conversations, you have to set the standards first.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson University’s championship-winning football coach, has a mantra: “Best is the standard.” A standard defines what good looks like. I’ve come to realize that the very best leaders don’t just determine what “good” looks like — they define what “great” looks like.

Standards come in three forms: 

  • Policy
  • Procedure
  • Merit

Each type of standard serves a different purpose. The key is that you have not only thought out the standards of your team, but also communicated them clearly.

Facts, not feelings

There’s nothing that will derail a difficult conversation more than the lack of evidence. Be prepared with facts, not feelings, to support your perspective. The evidence should be specific, detailed and tangible.

Many managers claim they are “too busy” to spot evidence. Just walking around the office or being attentive during a meeting isn’t enough. Why? Because people are good at straightening up when the boss comes around.

Dedicate time on your calendar to proactively look for evidence. The purpose of this isn’t to seek bad behavior or find ways to micromanage. It’s to capture evidence to encourage, reinforce or improve performance.

Courage for the win

Once you have gathered evidence, then you need the most significant element of the formula: courage. Courage is simply the ability to do something that frightens you.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Each and every virtue a leader needs to possess will meet its testing point at some time.

Most leaders aren’t comfortable with the idea of inviting a team member into a dialogue to share disapproval, which is why courage is so necessary. If you fall into this category, ask yourself this one simple question: “Will taking action help this person?” If the answer is yes, have the courage to step into the dialogue.

Improve Your Difficult Conversations: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. It was named the #1 Best New Management Books to Read by Book Authority. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others and have better direct dialogues.

Ultimate Leadership Academy: Join the 8-week virtual leadership development academy to elevate the way you lead. Learn more here.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Difficult Conversations FAQ’s

What elements do you need to have a difficult conversation?

If you are in a position of leadership you need these elements present:
1. Standards
2. Evidence
3. Courage

How do leaders have difficult conversations?

1. It’s important leaders have clearly defined standards (what great looks like)
2. Leaders need evidence that the standard was met or not met
3. Courage to have the conversation

How do you start a difficult conversation?

Leaders always should start a difficult conversation with a shared purpose statement to show the other person they re on the same team and not different teams.

Why is courage so important in difficult conversation?

Most people avoid difficult conversation like the plague. Because of this leaders must have courage, which means being scared and deciding to do it anyways. The only way someone gets better is by having the conversation.

Why Bad Leaders Focus on Being Friends Before Leading

In the latest episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, John Eades covers the difficult question, “should leaders be friends with their team members?”

Listen on iTunes


It’s human nature to want to be liked. While there is nothing wrong with this desire, it may be hurting your ability to lead others effectively. 

Take Susan, a young manager of a mid-sized company, for example. The friendships she formed with her team were real and included lunches, discussions about personal lives, and even after-work drinks.

While at first, these close relationships proved to bring the team success, the performance of the team quickly began to erode. The reason: Susan couldn’t turn off the “friend” label which made it extremely difficult to challenge, coach, and hold her team accountable.

There is a simple reason for this phenomenon. Leaders aren’t meant to just be friends, they are meant to elevate others by challenging them to reach the height of their potential.  But being a friend with someone on your team isn’t wrong.  Because a friend is simply a person who you know and you have a bond of mutual affection typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. The keywords here are a “bond of mutual affection.”

There is nothing wrong with being friends or “having a bond of mutual affection” with members of your team, but it just can’t affect your ability to lead them well.

If you are in a place as a leader where because of your friendships you have lost your ability to lead other people well here are a few ideas:

Admit the Mistake

“Authenticity and humility are so undervalued today,” Jordan Montgomery, a performance coach mused during a recent interview on the Follow My Lead Podcast. Leaders should be the first to take responsibility when things go wrong. The first step is to point the finger at yourself and admit you are in the “friend zone” because of your own actions and choices. When you do this, you create a true moment of humility and authenticity.

Once you admit the mistake, then it’s time to eat a case of humble pie in front of your team. Tell them you let them down as a leader and you want to rectify the situation.

Set Clear Standards

In order to level up, you have to define a new standard. A standard is simply defined as what good looks like. It’s not only your job to define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like moving forward.

The behavior of your team is going to default to the bar set. Be crystal clear, concise and focused. Limit yourself to as few as standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied. Have a clear standard about what type of effort is expected to be part of your team regardless of your personal relationship and mutual affection for each other.

Communicate the Standards

Ideally, leaders communicate standards when taking on a team or to individuals as they’re hired. But it’s not the case when a leader has fallen into the “friend zone.” Set up a specific one-on-one or in a group meeting, admit your mistake(s), and clearly communicate the new standards.  

Many leaders take a shortcut and just assume people should know the standards through some kind of osmosis. Don’t make this mistake, by being clear and setting up a specific time to communicate them.

Prepare to Be Tested

No one likes change and there is a high likelihood you will be met with resistance or downright defiance. Be prepared and willing to follow up and follow through.

I don’t pretend this to be easy. In fact, you will be tempted to default to your old way of leading. Leaders aren’t immune to resisting change, and the path of least resistance can be tempting. Reject this with all your heart, soul and mind. Remember it’s your job to elevate others and improve performance over a long period of time and it doesn’t happen by chance.

Get a Coach or Colleague to Help

If I am being honest, there is no way I would have written this 5 years ago, but I have never been more convinced that every leader in an organization should have someone to help improve their performance and hold them accountable.  I know you have the experience, but as strong and experienced as you may be, you and I don’t have all the answers.

Whether you believe that professional coaching will help you or not, the best coaches know how to open the hearts and minds of their clients to levels never imagined. This is the reason why I have coaches to help and we a coaching program for leaders at any level.

Elevate the Way You Lead: Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill. It was named the #1 Best New Management Books to Read by Book Authority. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead others.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The Keys to Successfully Leading Remote Teams

Poor signal. businessman searching for mobile phone signal in desert

“Hope is not a strategy.”

In season 23 episode 4, John Eades covers five key strategies for successfully leading remote team members.  


5 Key Strategies for Successfully Leading a Remote Team

  1. Remember Remote Team Members are Human
  2. Build and Maintain Trust-Based Relationships
  3. Set Clear Standards
  4. Constantly Communicate Culture
  5. Get Them Together Face-to-Face

Specific topics include:

– Why trust is so important with remote employees

– Why employees deserve to be led better

– How to see people as human when they are remote

– Why clear standards are important

– How often to talk about values and culture

Elevate the Way You LeadBuilding the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success is published by McGraw-Hill and debuted as a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. Learn the stories, principles, and tools to help elevate the way you lead.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why Great Leaders Don’t Care About Being Friends First

It’s human nature to want to be liked. While there is nothing wrong with this desire, it may be hurting your ability to lead others effectively. 

Take Susan, a young manager of a mid-sized company, for example. The friendships she formed with her team were real and included lunches, discussions about personal lives, and even after-work drinks.

While at first, these close relationships proved to bring the team success, the performance of the team quickly began to erode. The reason: Susan couldn’t turn off the “friend” label which made it extremely difficult to challenge, coach, and hold her team accountable.

There is a simple reason for this phenomenon. Leaders aren’t meant to just be friends, they are meant to elevate others by challenging them to reach the height of their potential. 

There is nothing wrong with being friends with your team, but it can’t be your main goal. If you are falling into the “friend zone” with your team, here’s what you can do:

Admit the Mistake

“Authenticity and humility are so undervalued today,” Jordan Montgomery, a performance coach mused during a recent interview on the Follow My Lead Podcast. Leaders should be the first to take responsibility when things go wrong. The first step is to point the finger at yourself and admit you are in the “friend zone” because of your own actions and choices. When you do this, you create a true moment of humility and authenticity.

Once you admit the mistake, then it’s time to eat a case of humble pie in front of your team. Tell them you let them down as a leader and you want to rectify the situation.

Set Clear Standards

In order to level up, you have to define a new standard. A standard is simply defined as what good looks like. It’s not only your job to define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like moving forward.

The behavior of your team is going to default to the bar set. Be crystal clear, concise and focused. Limit yourself to as few as standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied. If you struggle to set standards, ask yourself the following three questions:

  • What’s the end results I want from my team?
  • What’s stopping us from getting there?
  • What can be done instead?

The last question will reveal the new standard(s) for your team.

Communicate the Standards

Ideally, leaders communicate standards when taking on a team or to individuals as they’re hired. But it’s not the case when a leader has fallen into the “friend zone.” Set up a specific one-on-one or in a group meeting, admit your mistake(s), and clearly communicate the new standards.  

Many leaders take a shortcut and just assume people should know the standards through some kind of osmosis. Don’t make this mistake, by being clear and setting up a specific time to communicate them.

Prepare to Be Tested

No one likes change and there is a high likelihood you will be met with resistance or downright defiance. Be prepared and willing to follow up and follow through.

I don’t pretend this to be easy. In fact, you will be tempted to default to your old way of leading. Leaders aren’t immune to resisting change, and the path of least resistance can be tempting. Reject this with all your heart, soul and mind. Remember it’s your job to elevate others and improve performance over a long period of time and it doesn’t happen by chance.

Get a Coach or Colleague to Help

If I am being honest, there is no way I would have written this 5 years ago, but I have never been more convinced that every leader in an organization should have someone to help improve their performance and hold them accountable. 

I asked Gordon Shuford, the Director of Leadership Development at LearnLoft, why having a coach is so important. Gordon’s answer felt spot on, “As strong and experienced as a leader may be, they don’t have all the answers. Whether a leader believes that professional coaching will help them or not, the best coaches know how to open their hearts and minds to take their skills and development to levels never imagined.”

If you are good friends with your team and you’re achieving maximum performance, kudos. There is absolutely no reason you can’t be friends with your team, but your roles have to be clear in order to help improve performance over a long period of time.  

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com

What’s Your Leadership Style? Join over 35k leaders and discover how well you are leveraging love and discipline as a leader and find out what leadership style you are for free.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the author the upcoming book “Elevate Others: The New Model to Successfully Lead Today” and host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on instagram @johngeades.