Building trust in teams: What and why?

How do you build trust in a team? First, let’s understand what trust really is and why it matters.

Who do you trust?

The first people who likely came to mind were your partner, your family, and your friends (hopefully). 

How about your boss? Your coworker? It’s harder to say. 

A 2016 study conducted by Edelman surveyed 33,000 people in 28 countries. From it, they discovered: One in three people don’t trust their employer. And only 24% of employees in this study believe their CEO exhibited highly ethical behavior.

In our own Know Your Team survey this past year of 597 managers and employees, we found that folks were slightly more trustful of one another: About 8% of employees said they rarely or never trust their manager. That’s almost 1 in 10 employees not trusting their manager. 

Why defining trust matters

Whether 1 in 3 employees or 1 in 10 employees don’t trust their managers – both are significant occurrences. Especially given the amount of time we interact with our coworkers, and the projects and outcomes that are on the line, it’s startling.

Are we really spending all this time with people we don’t trust? Should we be doing anything about this?

To answer those questions, we first have to define “trust” clearly. Misconstrue what trust actually is, and you spend time on the wrong things. Get it right, and building trust gets easier.

What trust is NOT:  Likability

We often equate trust with likability. We think, “This is a nice person” or “This is the kind of person I’d want to hang out with on weekends”… So we trust them. 

However, that’s only part of the equation. 

Consider someone in your company you don’t trust. You might like her. She’s affable, genuine and definitely tries her best. But trusting her with a high-profile project? You hesitate – she hasn’t shown the track record you need to feel confident. You don’t give her the big project because, honestly, you just don’t trust her enough.

So you if you want someone to trust you, it’s not enough that they like you. It’s not enough that they think you have good intentions. They’ve got to think you’re capable. They’ve got to think you have what it takes to prove something through. 

You might think someone is a good person – but you don’t trust them to actually get the work done. You need both.

This is an important distinction because many leaders accidentally optimize for likability as a means to build trust. They try to “be friends” with their direct reports, thinking it’ll mean their team will trust them more.

If we can internalize that trust is not likability, it causes us to not fall into the trap of trying to please everyone around us. If we want to build trust, there’s something deeper we have to access.

So then, if trust isn’t likability, what is it?

What trust IS: Intentions + Behavior

In a 1998 paper, Denise M. Rousseau suggested this definition of trust:  “A psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another.”

In short, trust is two things:  Intentions and Behavior. It’s people’s perception of who you are, and their expectation of what you can do. 

The 4 Cores

Stephen M.R. Covey defines trust in his popular book, “Speed of Trust,” similarly to Rousseau. To Covey, trust is the belief in who the person is, and a belief in their abilities – a person’s “Character” and their “Capabilities.” Covey then further breaks down trust into what he calls “Four Cores”:

  • Integrity – This means being honest, walking the talk, and being congruent with what you believe. You can’t trust someone unless you believe they have integrity. When someone is assessing your integrity, they’re wondering, “Do you have values I align with? Are you a good person?” 
  • Intent – This is your agenda or mission. Your team must trust your intent before they can trust you. A person sizing up your intent will wonder, “Are you thinking about yourself, or others, in this situation? Do you have the short-term, or the long-term in mind?”
  • Capabilities  – This is your talents, attitudes, skills, and knowledge. When someone is determining whether or not to trust you, they’ll consider, “Does this person have the expertise to do this job as well as they say they can?” Based on our survey, we found that both managers and employees most question their each others’ capabilities (26% of employees said this, and 36% of managers said this).
  • Results – This is your track record, your performance. You can’t be trusted unless you’ve shown results in some way that you can be trusted to follow-through. When you ponder about a coworker, “What has this person done that proves I can trust her?” you’re seeking results.

Warmth + Competence

Another related lens for understanding trust is described by organizational experts Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger. They revealed the two elements needed for a leader to be trusted were “Warmth” and “Competence” – with warmth needing to come first. 

According to their research, when you project strength too quickly, people have a harder time trusting you. They explain in Harvard Business Review, “Before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you.”

These perceptions of warmth and competence are powerful: “Insights from the field of psychology show that these two dimensions account for more than 90% of the variance in our positive or negative impressions we form of the people around us.”

How do you show warmth and competence? Cuddy and her research partners detail how warmth can mean positive body language, affirming words, generous actions, and even a smile. Competence can be projected similarly through body language (such as standing up straight), your past track record, and the actions you take going forward.

Like Covey, Cuddy’s research and explanation of the requirements for trust echo Rousseau’s definition of intention + behavior. Trust is all about who people think you are (warmth), and what they think you can do (competence).

Getting this distinction straight helps lay the groundwork for you to build trust in your team. You can now understand why someone might distrust you. Perhaps you haven’t defined your intent clearly enough. Perhaps it’s because of your past behavior. As a result, most importantly, you now can start to think how you can build trust in your team.

The clearer understanding we have of trust and what it really is, the clearer path we have to our teams trusting us more.

The Mindset Shift: How to become a good new manager

How to become be a good new manager? Of all the management advice for new managers, embrace this one, first.

Don’t be fooled: Becoming a manager for the first time is deceptively difficult.

No matter how many leadership books you’ve read or conversations you’ve had with mentors – the transition to becoming a manager is precarious.

Talk to any leader, and they’ll affirm this. “I was a terrible manager when I first started,” most will say. Myself included!

This is because the change required to be a good new manager isn’t apparent from the outside looking in. You’re not truly aware of the change that’s needed in the role, until you’re actually in the role.

So what change do you need to make as a new manager? From 15,000+ people we’ve surveyed through Know Your Team and thousands of conversations with managers in our online community, the #1 consistent insight folks have shared is this:

Becoming a new manager isn’t merely a change in what you do – it’s a change in how you think.

When you become a manager, your responsibilities change and your daily schedule changes. But it’s your mindset that changes the most.

The biggest change in thinking, as a new manager, is that your best work is not you doing your best work. Your best work is creating an environment for others to do their best work.

You don’t think about, “Am I moving fast enough?” Instead, you now contemplate, “Am I removing obstacles so my team can move fast enough?”

You don’t consider, “Do I know the answer to this?” Instead, you ask yourself, “What am I doing to help my team become experts and find the answer?”

Becoming a good manager starts with how you think, not what you do. Shift your mindset, and the actions follow.

This shift in mindset, while seemingly obvious, is both substantial and hard to internalize. What previously indicated “success” for you as an individual contributor doesn’t indicates success anymore.

No longer do you pat yourself on the back when someone says, “Great work” or “I love what you did here”. As a manager, the small bump of validation happens when someone says: “Now I understand,” “Thank you for listening,” or “I’m excited to work on this.” The small wins change when you’re a manager.

This shift doesn’t happen overnight. We have to disregard the prior experiences of we were rewarded for as an individual contributor. We have to reconfigure our default settings of behavior that got us to where we are now.

But if you can embrace this mindset shift as quickly as possible, your ability to become a good manager exponentially increases.

You don’t have to wait til you’re in the thick of everything, as a manager, to know what you must change.

Now you know: You must change your thinking, first.

Watch our lessons for leaders: The Heartbeat Interview ❤️ with Amir Salihefendić, CEO + Founder of Doist

With over 13 million customers all over the world, Amir talks about his motivations as a leader, and the importance of constant learning. 

He also turns the tables and asks me some questions 🙈 Read on…

Every two weeks as part of The Heartbeat ❤️, I asks one question to a founder, CEO, or business owner I respect. This week, I interviewed Amir Salihefendić, CEO + Founder of Doist

Claire: Hi everyone. I’m Claire Lew. I’m the CEO of Know Your Team. Today, we have an incredibly special guest on The Heartbeat. We have Amir Salihefendić, who is the CEO and founder of Doist, this amazing company that has over 13 million users and builds products like Todoist and Twist, productivity apps that are used all over the world. I think what’s most fascinating is they’ve been able to have this reach with a 50 person company, completely remote, and bootstrapped from the very beginning. Amir, I know I’m a big fan of your work. You’re a member of The Watercooler, our online community, and have just loved always your perspective about leadership. I’m excited to ask you today this one question here on The Heartbeat.

Amir: Well Claire, it’s amazing to be here. I’m also a huge fan of your work. I need some productivity tips because I’m unsure how you can pull it off like all of these projects and you are just like two people. It’s very, very fascinating and inspiring.

Claire: Oh thank you, thank you. I don’t know, it’s never as glamorous as it looks, for sure. If we’re fooling some people, then my job is done. Amir, this question that I want to ask you about leadership that I’ve been asking all sorts of leaders who I admire is what’s one thing you wish you would have learned earlier as a leader? 

Amir: That’s a very good question.

The thing is, I never actually really aspired to be a leader. It’s kind of like I was forced into that.

Maybe having some kind of aspiration to actually learn it earlier or see the value of it, yeah. I was always a lone wolf. I just like to work alone, and I didn’t really like to work a lot with people. Learning all of these skills has been a challenge yeah. I would definitely say yeah, probably much earlier on, I would have liked to have a mentor or somebody telling me, “This actually is very important for your future.”

Claire: Absolutely. I think there are so many people who can relate to that, so many CEOs and managers who I speak with are like, “Yeah, I just found myself in this role.” For you, Amir, let’s rewind the clock here. What did you see yourself becoming? What is the story behind how you became CEO and founder of this company that has millions of customers and you’ve got employees all over the world? How did that happen by accident?

Amir: Yeah. I think if you listen to a lot of stories, it’s like the similar story line where you just have an idea, and you just are very passionate the idea, and you want to see this happen in the world and create this. Then at some point, you figure out, all the skills that I have are not sufficient to actually implement this. Then you need to go out and find people and convince them to join you. Basically, my journey, I saw multiple projects in the past, and I was always very project-driven.

Initially, I think my biggest success, what I thought about was a spell checker. I grew it actually and sold it off. I was still in my early 20s, maybe even younger than that. That’s that, and creating a spell checker, if you use some library stuff, it’s not really that difficult. Then once you venture into how the project … I merged onto this, which is the task manager Todoist for the last 10 years, the complexity is very, very huge. Especially right now, you have so many platforms. You can’t just pull it off all by yourself.

I got up here, I’m like, “Hey, if I really want to make something impactful, I really need to have a team and a company and more people that actually believe the same things that I do.” That’s what’s my story. I think it’s also much more healthy, because I think it’s a very bad habit right now.

The people who aspire to be leaders of their field – that shouldn’t be your inspiration. You should want to create something and then hire people and become the CEO afterwards.

Claire: Absolutely. In some ways then, maybe not learning all the stuff earlier was maybe a good thing? Rather, what I really appreciate about that sentiment Amir is that you’re saying that your focus isn’t to just tell people what to do, or to assume the name or the title, but to actually want to have an impact and to create the work. That was the path that got you to being a leader. I think there’s quite a few people like you said who’ve followed that story line and that are archetype.

I guess my question to you, to circle back to what you expressed as, “Oh, well I do wish I would have known a little bit about what I was getting into.” What would you say, of all the things, comes first to mind of like, “Had I known that this was part of the role, I wish I would have prepared this better,” or you mentioned, “I wish maybe I would have found a mentor earlier so that I could have talked to them more about X”? What is X?

Amir: As you know, it’s like a very diverse job.

You actually have to be good at almost everything. At least know something about everything because if you don’t, then you’re probably not going to be very good. Your company’s not going to be very good at that aspect.

Right now, we don’t have any sales [department]. It’s from the reflection that I don’t know anything about sales, or anybody in the company knows about sales. So we are really, really bad at it.

I think it’s the same thing and everything as a leader, especially as a founder. I think you need to be very good at learning stuff and changing yourself. I didn’t really know that in the beginning. I told you, you just had to cooperate to get products and hire good people…

Claire: That’s not it? That’s hard enough by the way. That’s hard enough as is. You just talked about two extremely difficult things, create a kick-ass product and hire kick-ass people. Those are hard in itself. You’re saying there’s another layer of optimizing and evolving your ability to learn very quickly as a leader it sounds like,

Amir: Yeah. Especially right now, as you’re scaling and adding more people, I think it becomes much more challenging, yeah. Definitely I think I still need to change myself and adapt myself to new situation. Then also people inside the company, we have a lot of people that have been with the company for over five years. They also need to do that. Kind of a journey, as you probably know.

Claire: It’s a journey for all of us. I’m curious, and you slightly touched on this, but I would love to dig deeper into first of all, how do you know what are the things that you’re supposed to be learning? The ocean is infinite and your time is not. Is it that there’s like a pain in the business and you’re reacting to the pain? Is it that you as Amir, you take time off to go out into the woods and you read and you self-reflect? Is it that yeah, you have a small council of mentors that you talk to? How do you know what to go deep on, what to start learning, what to start evolving yourself as you said?

Amir: That’s a very good question. I think there’s different resources you can use. I think Twitter is actually amazingly good. You can filter your feed, and you follow the interesting people. There’s a lot of good stuff there. Even also being part of the community like the Watercooler is also great. Yeah, for instance, book recommendations or an issue that you have, you can go in and see what do other people think you need to do in that situation? I mean even a community I think is very important, even for myself. 

I was an early part of the HackerNews community, though HackerNews is quite toxic right now, but in the beginning it was actually very good and an amazing resource. Over the years it has become worse. The thing is, having a community I think is also very important. Then also just being a sponge. I read a lot, like both articles and books and audio books, podcasts. I doubt you can actually say you need to be very good at a specific thing because you need to know a bit about everything, I think. Then once you have a problem, then you go deeply into it and figure out what should we do here? Yeah, that’s at least my strategy.

Claire: Absolutely. No, I find it actually quite inspiring. I think the undercurrent of what you are describing is two things. One is almost a insatiable curiosity to know more, to be better, to feel like, “You know what? I don’t have all the answers. There are things and aspects that I need to learn.” Then I think also is the refusal to be complacent. I think as leaders, it can be very easy, especially when at least what I’ve observed is usually become a leader be you’re good at something. Rarely do you just get into the position because you’re bad at a bunch of things. You get into the position because you’re good at something. 

When you’re good at something, it’s very easy to really sit on that and be like, “Oh, I’m good at building really good products,” or, hiring people where I can delegate tasks or whatever. You forget the stuff you’re not good at, which was what you’re saying, to really zoom in on. I those are really wonderful takeaways. I’m curious as well, Amir, for folks who are watching this, who are new managers, or who are maybe just really struggling as a founder or as an entrepreneur. How can they put this into practice with limited time? Is there something that you do or say to yourself to remind yourself to be learning, to be reinventing yourself, to be evolving in a certain way? What advice would you have to any new manager or to any entrepreneur who’s struggling?

Amir: Yeah, I would probably have a bunch of stuff to say.

I think the most important part, at least for me, is having a mission and then being driven by this mission. It forces you just to learn and adapt and want to improve.

I do like if you are motivated by something else, let’s say money or fame or whatever else, then I doubt you will actually want it that much. Maybe you will become complacent. Maybe you’ll be satisfied. 

At least what I have found out with me, I am actually never satisfied. I find it very, very brief, because I think it’s an amazing human trait. Then that is really a big energy driver. I can always see what are we actually bad at. Of course, you can’t really become too pessimistic. I think complacency is definitely a huge problem, especially if you have any kind of success. I think it’s very easy to just go and be happy with yourself, yeah. 

Claire: Absolutely. No, I think that advice is gold.

Amir: I’m also very curious. I also have a question for you.

Claire: Oh my gosh. Yeah, let’s do it. I’m all ears.

Amir: You have probably been asked this many times, but I’d actually love to hear your scaling or non-scaling strategy. Why haven’t you hired more? Do you actually plan in the new year to hire somebody else?

Claire: I love it Amir. You’re asking me questions on my own show. Growth is an interesting thing. There’s growth by head count, there’s growth by impact. For me, the thing that I’ve always been interested in is how can we help as many people as possible with being as simple and straightforward as an organization as possible. That’s the first thing that I’ve always thought about. Then the second thing that I’ve always thought about is I’ve always tried to be very honest with myself about what I actually like to do.

It’s funny, because as a profession, I think on leadership, study leadership, talk to leaders 24/7. I don’t really like leading tons of people, if that makes sense. The idea of running a 100 person, 300 person, 1,000 person company, maybe I could do it, but it really wouldn’t be that fun. I think about that a lot, and I try to be very honest with myself of, “Ooh, it’s tempting to hire more people, but Claire, is that actually what you want to focus on doing?” That’s the second thing I think about.

Then I think the third thing that influences me strongly is because I have this and am in this amazing position where I get to talk to CEOs of companies of all sizes, and get to almost peek inside their day. I have a pretty good sense of what I would like in my day to day. I talk to the CEOs that run billion dollar companies that have thousands of people, and I talk to entrepreneurs who bootstrap their company, and it’s 100 people, the whole range. Trying to understand like, what would I really enjoy?

I think what it all comes down to, if you mix all those influences, is again, just really being, you talk about motivation, wanting to have impact with reducing the complexity of the business itself. Here’s the issue that comes with that, is there are definitely constraints. It means that, oh my gosh, Daniel and I, my CTO, there’s so much that we wish we could do and that we’re not doing, or that we don’t feel like we’re moving fast enough and that we’re not. In the past year, what we noticed was, and folks who had been following along, know this as well, is that we noticed a change in our audience as well, and this mismatch with our audience and our product.

After figuring that out, and now looking to the new year, figuring out, “Oh, well I think we now have this really …” I think we’re really finally nailing what we want to offer people and who is actually now listening to us. Maybe it will make sense to hire more people. We’ll see. I always keep my options open for, “Oh, does that mean raise more money?” or raising any money, because we haven’t ever. Does that mean taking out a bank loan? What does that exactly mean? I’m not 100% sure. It’s still actually a little bit early for us to say.

Hopefully that peels back the curtain a little bit, Amir, on my thinking. I think the long story short, because that was very ramble-y, is I have the luxury to peek ahead into all these CEOs who are running companies many steps ahead of mine and just really being honest with myself of, “What kind of company do I want to build? What’s actually fun for me and what’s motivating for me?”

Amir: That makes so much sense. The thing is, there’s a saying, more people more problems.

Claire: Totally.

Amir: Yeah.

Claire: It’s interesting. When I do talk to founders Amir, sometimes I express, “Oh, you know, I do wish we were moving faster on some of this stuff,” and blah blah blah. I remember, I was sitting down with one founder who was like, “Claire, you are two people. You are profitable. You have happy customers. Your product’s awesome. It’s kind of as good as it gets. The minute you start getting any bigger than you are, it just isn’t as fun. It gets more complicated. Right where you are is actually the most fun I ever had running my business. I think if you talk to a lot of founders, it’s the really fun time.” I was like, “Oh!” That’s helpful to hear from someone who’s been through it before.

Amir: Yeah. I think definitely adding people, and this like obsession with head count, if somebody asks you how big is your company, it’s like head count. We can be 1000 people, but maybe it can have no impact or very little impact, and you can be maybe five people and have an amazing impact. I think there’s a vanity metric there, that we need to remove and just focus on impact, but I’m actually unsure how we should measure impact. That’s the problem.

Claire: Totally. I know, and it’s completely subjective. I think for me, my self-check, Amir, is always like, do I want to do this, this idea of growing the business, whatever that means in terms of headcount and impact? Do I want to do it because it makes me feel good to post about it on Twitter and it makes me feel good to tell my friends who are also running companies. “Oh yeah, we hired this person,” or, “Oh, our blog got viewed by this many people,” or, “Oh, this is our revenue.” 

All these, like you said, a lot of vanity metrics, when really for me, what’s most interesting is that I’m making a tangible difference in someone’s actual day to day. How that’s quantified in terms of a number, kind of hard. The most rewarding things are, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, when I get an email from someone who says, “Claire, the leadership training that you gave was hands down the best leadership training I’ve ever had,” or, “This product, Know Your Team, helped me learn something I had no idea about and we saved someone from leaving the company because of it.” 

It’s those, “This blog post Claire, all this totally changed my leadership philosophy.” I just think those are the moments for me where I’m like, “Ah, we have to replicate that,” more than is it exciting to say, “Oh, we hit certain revenue numbers,” which was always great. I’m a fan of money, no worries there, or hiring people. Always you had, for me at least, a self-check of, “Why?”

Amir: Yeah. I think also something that are very problematic. It’s like as you scale and add people, you get these inflection points where things just break, because the complexity becomes too big. Then you need to resolve that, and we have been through multiple of these, and they are very problematic and very energy consuming. I think it’s also, if you can actually stay relatively small.

The thing is, small teams, of instance, Apple’s industrial design team I think, they are on to 20 people, and they have various products and they have changed the world.

Claire: Right.

Amir: I don’t think they would be more productive or more impactful if they had 1000 people working there. That’s also something that we think a lot about. It’s finding the right combination of people, I mean the right people, instead of just adding a lot of them.

Claire: Absolutely. Well then on that note, I have one last question for you Amir, because I can sit here and talk to you for hours about this. On this note about finding the right people, I think one of the most common questions that I get and that a lot of founders discuss amongst themselves is hiring. I know we could probably go really deep on this also and have a whole separate podcast session on just hiring, but you’ve brought it a few times too, it’s importance as the company grows. For you, if you could sum up how you think about hiring the best people, what you look for, what advice would you share for folks who are watching this, about, “Okay, so you have to hire someone. Here’s some things to think about that most people don’t tell you.”

Amir: Yeah. That can tell you what, for me, is a very, very important thing. I think it’s personal projects or the day they actually created something themselves. We have a very, very huge correlation between people that have really been good at their job and have created something themselves.

I think if I look somebody’s resume, and they have only worked for other companies and there’s zero initiative on starting something themselves, so having a side project, something like that, then that’s a huge red flag for me. For me personally, I think that shows that that person is really passionate about something. 

A lot of times, for instance, they can maybe have an open source project they work on during the weekend through the night or whatever. That shows you they do enjoy the work so much that they would work for free and do your spot of like a community at work. Before I founded all this, even right now, I have open source projects that I do on the side, because I actually love to develop. For me, this passion for the job is very, very important. Same with these designers, and even migrating people. For instance, if they are really good at marketing they’re already hang out on ProductHunt and be part of that community there, or something like that.

Claire: Right, have a blog on the side.

Amir: Yeah, exactly. Of course, you can still go out. We have eyes on people that have been amazing and they just didn’t have any personal projects.

Claire: Sure.

Amir: It’s like, you can have a dark horse, but there’s just this huge correlation. Whenever I see somebody that has done something themselves, it’s just like yeah, I feel good about this person. Yeah.

Claire: Totally. I think to your point, it hints at the deeper motivation for why people do it, right? It’s not because I’m getting paid to, but maybe because I actually enjoy it or increases my learning. I think that is invaluable advice Amir. Thank you so much for all of your insights. I learned so much. I actually also enjoyed getting asked questions, finally. That’s actually a really nice change. I know everyone who’s watching this really appreciates all your wisdom as well. Thank you.

Amir: Thank you Claire. Best of luck also with the new product and rebranding. I’m actually unsure how you can do all of that with two persons, again. We need to do a session about personal productivity. I’ll say, write a post about it. I would love to read that part actually.

Claire: I’ll think about it, yeah. I appreciate the suggestion. No, it’s good to know people are interested. Thank you so much again Amir, talk to you soon.

Amir: Bye-bye Claire.

Enjoy this interview with Amir? Check out all our Heartbeat interviews with leaders…

The most counterintuitive leadership tip? Leaders, stop doing what you’re good at.

Playing to your strengths as a leader doesn’t make you a good boss – in fact, it can make you a bad boss. Here’s why.

Of all the tips to be a good manager, “leaning into your strengths” has got to be one of the most frequently cited.

“Do what you’re good at. Focus on your strengths.” That’s the conventional advice we all receive. There’s no shortage of StrengthsFinders assessments and personality tests urging us to triangulate which strengths we should zoom in on.

However, I recently had a conversation with Peldi Guilizzoni, CEO of Balsamiq. His insight on this topic turned my head sideways… in a good way. Peldi asserted:

“Doing what you’re good at hurts the team.”

Huh? Let me explain.

Peldi admitted to me that he’s good at getting stuff done. He makes things happen. He thinks he’s killing it. But as a CEO, 10 years in, should he really the one doing all the doing?

After a decade running his business, Peldi noticed he’d created an environment where his coworkers were depending on him to get things done. If he takes a vacation – he leaves them hanging. If he has to be out for a week – they’re stuck.

Peldi conceded:

“What I realized is that I should stop myself from doing things I’m good at  —  which is so counterintuitive  —  and instead, focus on delegating training and making sure that everybody gets good at doing those things.”

Doing what he was good at was hurting his team, not helping.

I could relate.

I’m good at communicating. So I do it internally. A lot. I write-up about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, a new approach I’m thinking about, a new concept we should try… But, when I take a step back, it’s a bit too much. We’re a tiny, two-person company. For our size, all that communicating is overkill. I could easily spend some of that same time somewhere else in the business and have it be more meaningful.

For both Peldi and I, our predisposition became a preoccupation. We’re good at it, so we automatically assumed it was good for our team.

Whenever you’re good at something, you don’t objectively assess its effectiveness as you should. You apply less of a discerning eye. You know you’re good at it, so you figure the more you do of it, the better.

But as with anything, repeated actions without rigorous judgment become lazy and reckless. And naturally, they have unintended consequences.

Now avoiding this pitfall is hard.

No one is going to stop you. Rarely do others have the temerity to stay, “What you’re good at is bad for the team.” Plus, doing what you’re good at is fun. It’s inherently satisfying to flex your strengths. Who wants to not feel that way?

So, you have to ask yourself: Are your actions feeding your team, or your ego?

Focus on what you’re good at, and the team never becomes good at it themselves. Focus on what you’re good at, and you never see things for what they really are.

Resist viewing your strengths as the only way to make the team strong. Resist falling in love with the short-term results of doing what feels good to be doing.

Pause. Don’t be so busy. Take stock. Why are you doing those things? Because you like doing them? Because you’re good at them? Or because it’s the best way to move the team forward?

Find someone who will tell you the truth. Your co-founder, your coworkers. Ask them if what you’re doing that you’re good at is really helping move the team forward.

This truth-seeking takes 10 minutes to do. Start today. And stop doing what you’re good at, all the time.

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

You have a micromanaging boss. What can you do?

There are 5 reasons your boss is micromanaging you. Here’s how to manage up, and around them.

I’ve heard the phrase, “I have a micromanaging boss,” more times than I can remember.

I heard it again, just last week. This person asked me, “What do I do? Is there anything I can say to a micromanager? How do I manage up?”

Here’s what I recommended to him…

First, identify the reason. (Yes, there is a reason.)

People do things for a reason. No one is a micromanager because they want to be a micromanager. No one hears that word and goes “Oh yeah, I want to be that.” In fact, for most leaders, to learn that we’ve become a micromanager is a sour, disheartening realization that sloshes around in the pit of our stomach.

So, if your boss is micromanaging you, ask yourself, “What might be causing them to act this way?”

Typically, your boss is micromanaging you for one (or several) of 5 reasons:

Reason #1: Worry

Your boss is worried about the outcome of the work and doesn’t think you’ll get it done.

Reason #2: Fear

Your boss’s butt is on the line, and they can’t have you make them look bad.

Reason #3: It’s All They Know

Your boss has only always had a micromanaging boss (or this is their first-time being a manager) — so they don’t know any other way to manage.

Reason #4: Past Experience

Your boss has been burned before by a prior employee who slacked off and didn’t produce results — and so this is their way of compensating.

Reason #5: You 🙂

You’re doing something (or not doing something) that is causing them to overstep and keep a close eye on things.

I want to be clear: These reasons do not excuse your boss’s behavior. Rather, they illuminate that micromanagement is not random, without reason, or out of malice (usually!). When you reflect on what’s driving your boss to be a micromanager, you can better calibrate how to work with them.

Also note that people are complex, and motivations are not neatly categorizable. The reason your boss is micromanaging might not perfectly fit into one (or any) of these reasons I listed above. However, having a hunch —a probable reason for why your boss is a micromanager — gives you wind in the sails to help change their direction.

Second, defuse the reason.

Once you’ve considered the reason behind why your boss might be micromanaging you, now you can take action. You can ask questions and take steps that loosens whatever is causing them to grip so tightly onto you and your work.

Based on what the reason is, here’s what you can do:

#1: If your boss is worried about the outcome of the work… Have a conversation about what success looks like.

Yes, this means defining what metrics or deliverables should be achieved. But equally critical are specific examples of what quality work looks like. “Quality work” is subjective, and as a result, what a leader is most concerned about. To get on the same page about success and quality of work, you can ask your boss: “What’s a previous project I did that measured up to the quality of work you’re looking for? When have I fallen short? What do you think is the best executed project you think the company or team has ever done? Why?”

#2: If your boss’s butt is on the line… Make it clear that you understand the stakes.

Your boss is likely more stressed than usual, and you don’t want that stress to be off-loaded onto you. Ask, “What can I do to relieve any pressure on your end? Is there any reporting you’d like me to do that would help make things more visible or consistent? Is there a crucial stakeholder I’m unaware about who I should consider? Is there a timeline I absolutely have to meet that we haven’t yet discussed?” Show that you’re in this critical situation together, and you’re willing to do your part.

#3: If your boss doesn’t know any other way to manage… Suggest alternatives.

This sounds intimidating, surely, but you can have this conversation in a non-threatening way. How? In your next one-on-one meeting, offer up “working styles” as a potential topic. Then when you sit down to chat, say, “I’d love to talk about our working styles and preferences, and how we each work best. How would you describe your working style and how you work best?” Then after thoroughly listening, ask, “Do you mind if I share mine?” You can also be straightforward and describe what changes in behavior you’d like to see. For example: “Ideally, here are things I’d like to see different. What can I do so you feel comfortable with those changes?”

#4: If your boss is acting based on a previous experience… Draw contrast to how you and this situation is different.

This is probably the trickiest of situations to really defuse well. Ask your boss, “What’s the best work experience you’ve had? The worst?” Then share yours. This will prompt a conversation about expectations and preferences — and what’s influenced those expectations and preferences. It also gives you a chance to learn how to adjust your own actions. You’ll learn that oh, your boss really didn’t like it when their former team member didn’t communicate decisions — and now you know to make decisions extra clear.

#5: If your behavior is causing them to micromanage you… Well, start doing things differently 🙂

This may be hard to admit, but sometimes our own behavior invites someone to micromanage us. We recently conducted a survey of 355 people and learned that the #1 piece of information that managers want to know is the progress that’s being made on a project. So it could be that you might not be sharing enough of the progress you’re making day-to-day or week-to-week. You can get to the bottom of this, by asking your boss: “How can I give you more visibility into my work or decision-making? What part of the job do you think I’m most shaky at?”


As they say, habits die hard. Very hard. You may not be able to kill their micromanaging tendencies completely, nor overnight.

However, you will be able to create some space. It might not be a lot, but it’ll be more than before. Over time, as you build more rapport and history with your boss, that space will grow.

You don’t have to silently absorb the incessant Slack pings or random taps on the shoulder asking, “Have you done this yet?” That’s not the only way to work.

You can have a healthy, productive relationship with your boss. You can help your boss not be a micromanager. Start here.


P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Watch our lessons for leaders: The Heartbeat Interview ❤️ with Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Founder + CEO of Pearachute

As a second-time founder who’s scaled a business to $5MM+ annual revenue and appeared on SharkTank (getting an offer from Mark Cuban along the way), Desiree shares her biggest leadership lessons on identity, team dynamics, and growth.

Every two weeks as part of The Heartbeat ❤️, I asks one question to a founder, CEO, or business owner I respect. This week, I interviewed Desiree Vargas Wrigley, Founder + CEO of Pearachute. Watch & read what she has to say here…

Claire: Hi everyone. I’m Claire Lew, and I’m the CEO of Know Your Company. Today, I am honored to have someone who I admire, a good friend of mine. I have Desiree Vargas Wrigley, who is the founder and CEO of Pearachute, which is this amazing platform that helps anyone who has kids drop into any class that they want. I think it’s yet a brilliant idea and she’s really built and grown the company. Before that, was the founder and CEO of GiveForward.

Something really cool that Desiree was also telling me about was they’re actually now offering Pearachute as a great work park. So something you can actually give your parents who are parents to help them, yeah, just really engage and feel connected with their kids. So anyhow, Desiree, it is so amazing to have you here and to be able to ask you this one question about leadership.

Desiree: Thank you for having me, I’m excited to see you.

Claire: Thanks. Okay, so you don’t know the question in advance, so brace yourself. Here’s what I’d like to ask and here is what I’ve been asking CEOs and founders who I respect, which is: What’s one thing or it can be several things, you wish you would have learned earlier as a leader?

Desiree: That is a big question. Early on someone gave me this advice but I didn’t know actually how to internalize it until later. So I’m going to start with … I’m going to make it a two-part.

But the first one was that don’t beat yourself up too much when things go wrong, but also don’t take too much credit when things are going right. Because a lot of times there are things that are happening as a leader and as a company that are out of your control.

As much as you want to believe that you are driving everything, external forces really do have an impact and great hires of course make up … as terrible hires sometimes make an impact. At the end of the day, like yes, you are the one holding the bag as CEO, but it’s never all your fault or all your credit. It probably sounds obvious, but I think in the early days I really thought if I work harder or if I think smarter I’ll be able to solve this problem all the time. Sometimes there are really just outside factors and you have to learn how to navigate them and kind of remove ego from the scenario to be able to just really perform.

That’s one, and then … Two, figuring out what kind of leader I wanted to be. I think a first founder, a mistake that a lot of us have which is tied to my first part of the answer is that you are so closely identified with the business that you’re creating because it came out of your brain. It’s literally like your brain child and you are convincing people to come and work on it with you, and convincing people to invest in it. It is so closely tied to how you feel about yourself. So the ups and downs can be … You know, have a really big impact I think on your mental state but also on your quality of leadership.

The more you can remove your sense of self-worth from the performance of your business, the better your business and your leadership will be.

You’re able to see more clearly kind of where your baby is ugly or why certain things aren’t working. So just kind of having that level of knowledge and reflection, being able to separate yourself. One other thing that allows you to do well as leader is that when people underperform, it’s not that they are kind of violating this promise to your baby, but it is instead an opportunity to coach them and help them grow into a better version of themselves. All for the kind of same North Star as opposed to taking care of this child that you are giving them access to.

Claire: Absolutely.

Desiree: Yeah.

Claire: Wow. No, I can completely relate to that answer, having now sort of my third company and I think it is a hard lesson to learn Desiree. I think this idea that you separate your identity from the business. I mean, how do you do that, first of all, and second of all … Or maybe I should actually ask the second part first. When did you learn that? Like did something happen? Whether it was when you were starting and running GiveForward, whether it was when you were starting GiveForward, whether it was when you were starting and running Pearachute, where you realized, “Huh, I think I’m equating my sense of self too closely to the business and it’s actually having negative effects.”?

Desiree: Yeah. For me, it was a series of things that helped me fully, fully realize the separation. You know, bringing in a co-founder early on meant that I had to of course share the vision with someone else. But I think if I’m being honest with myself, it still always felt like mine and I was letting him in. Which is not a great way. We’re still good friends and we overcame I think the challenge in our partnership. But if I’m being really kind of just honest about how I treated things in the beginning, I think as you bring in senior team members, starts ruling some of your ownership over that control.

So in a way you kind of give up a little bit of that identification, tiny bits at a time. But truthfully for me, when I decided to step away as CEO and bring a new CEO. It’s not honestly something I would recommend to most people, it’s a very challenging way to do that, to separate yourself. A much healthier way is through coaching and through maybe therapy, reading, I don’t know, a combination of things.

I ended up working with an executive coach for a while who like helped me make a lot of progress and understand kind of my role within the vision, as opposed to being the creator of the vision.

So I don’t recommend getting a new CEO as a way to do it, I think there’re other ways. But sometimes it does take something daring like that to force yourself and then there is a grieving process, no matter how you do it. Because you are separating a piece of yourself and it’s not a divorce in any way, shape, or form, but it is retraining your brain to think about yourself and your value differently than you did before. It’s so liberating.

Honestly, this time around with Pearachute, I get to look at Pearachute as something that is on its own. I actually think truthfully being a mother has helped me do this that much more because I have two boys that I’ve birthed and then a step-daughter also.

My role as a parent is not to dictate who they become, right? But to help put them on this journey for success and to give them the foundation and the resources that they need to be their best selves. That’s true about a business too.

So you know, the analogy does continue, but one that is less emotionally aggressive I think, which is: If you treat your company as this being that has his own life, and its own identity, and its own brand – you create the resources and the support system around. It’s just such a much more relaxing place to live and you still want them to do well. You still need them to get into college, you still need all those things to happen but you’re not … It’s not the same as your own personal value.

Claire: Absolutely. What then are you doing differently with Pearachute in this approach? Is it a mindset, is it in conversations you’re having with your senior leadership team, has it affected your hiring? Like curious, given that you’ve learned, “Okay, I can’t be as emotionally aggressive.” what are you doing differently then with Pearachute to sort of set those boundaries?

Desiree: Yeah, I’m doing so many things differently. Definitely hiring.

I hire a lot more for the individual athlete role.

I think if I’m being honest with myself, before, I hired good people that I thought would be good at the job, but this time I’m looking for efficiency, and a lot of creativity, and a strong level of autonomy. Because this time around I just have so much more trust and I sometimes feel sorry for some of my earlier team members because I just didn’t know how to trust them with the vision.

This time around I have that clear understanding. So people can achieve so much more obviously when you are willing to kind of give them that freedom to explore and make mistakes.

Of course, they fail and recover from those failures, and wow you, right? So creating room for that within my team is really important to me. Because of that, I often think we get more done with our eight or nine people than we did with our 40 that we had before. Just because people are able to be really, really focused.

I am so much better at clearing a path towards creating time blocks for people and making sure that they have enough time to do their work. Where in the past I think we really jammed meetings because there needed to be a lot of communication.

I think if you’re transparent and constantly doing a great job of reinforcing vision and the kind of ways you’d attack toward that end goal. That you don’t need to do as much real-time collaboration because people have a clear idea of where we’re all headed. It’s more about checking in with each other and confirming priorities, and then kind of getting back to work.

Claire: Absolutely. Yeah, and I mean, I think there’re so many CEOs and founders who I talk with who struggle with this, right? Like you start a company, you’ve been kind of killing yourself over it and now someone else is going to start to do your job. So being able to sort of release that and just be a lot more hands-off. It takes a certain amount of discipline but it sounds like that’s really paid off and been the difference for you, between the two companies. Yeah, that’s amazing.

Desiree: For sure and I’m actually very practical with my team too. A lot of their roles right now are a jack of all trades, wearing many hats.

So I remind that our job is to build this company to be big enough that you kind of earn the right to either hire your boss or hire the person to take everything off of your plate that you don’t love or aren’t the best at.

That really, like that is the sign that we have gotten there, is being able to also then relinquish some of the things. Sometimes it’s things that you do love that you have to relinquish. But I think if you’ve got into the culture, it creates less kind of territorial-ism and more of a willingness to like let peoples’ skills flow into the places that we need them the most. As opposed to like this is my silo, that’s your silo.

Claire: Absolutely.

Desiree: Which is something also that we did not as well in the first startup.

Claire: Totally. I mean, what you’re describing Desiree is the struggle that has come up so often in these conversations, which is a struggle with ego and a struggle with … again, like almost a sort of possessiveness. Which is very related to the very first thing you said, which was kind of the first answer you gave around what you felt like your biggest lesson was. Which is that it can be very easy to feel like when things are going really well, it’s all you, and then when things bad, it’s all you.

So tell me a little bit more about that founder mentality or … You know, I don’t know if you want to call it a syndrome, I don’t know if you want to call it sort of a blind spot, right? But why do we get stuck thinking that when things are really good, it’s all us, and things are really bad, it’s all us, and what are the dangers of that? Like how has that affected your journey as an entrepreneur?

Desiree: Yeah. So a very specific example of this for GiveForward was … So we were a crowdfunding company, coming of age when Facebook was coming of age. We launched before Kickstarter but Kickstarter’s massive rise definitely helped elevate all of crowdfunding, right? So we falsely believed that because we were investing in SEO and paid search, and we had this great channel for distribution through Facebook, that the growth that we were seeing was entirely of our own doing. That we were figuring it out, we had the secret together.

Then it took the Facebook algorithm change to knock us down really big. We didn’t realized that we were growing on top of the growth of other giants, and that while we had been intentional in how we spent, we didn’t perfectly know how to find our customers. Our customers are very hard to find. The best friend of someone with cancer is a hard target, absolutely. But this time around, I have a better understanding of what kind of external factors can be contributing to growth.

At the same time, I’m more much laser focused on what are the measurable things that I can do within kind of our economics to create efficiency there. So that I can predictably know that when I put $50,000 into marketing, I’m going to get X numbers of customers out. So I think that comes with experience just in general and success. So now our user growth feels much more earned because I had that other thing to reflect on. But I’m also very aware that I am now sitting in a company that is targeting mostly millennial parents and only 20% of them have started having children. So there’s this massive group, that’s 80%, that is about to have children.

I will assume that our growth and rise to power will be because of what’s happening within these external forces. You know, paying attention to both I think helps to remember that like it’s not … Everything that you’re doing is not perfect and something that works now obviously might not work again in a year. But it’s when you’re in the middle of crazy growth, it’s hard not to pat yourself on the back and say, “Look how amazing we are. We’ve done all these things right.” The truth is, a lot of it is about timing.

Claire: Yes. I think that advice is worth its weight in gold. Because I don’t think you learn it until you get burned by that situation and you realize, “Huh, I think we made a lot of assumptions.” I guess, what advice do you have for founders and CEOs to be rigorous about not assuming that it’s all you? It sounds like from your perspective, the analytics, the level at detail that you’re looking at, like you were saying the metrics are really key. But is there something also you’ve embedded in your team, are there sort of systems you place in Pearachute? Curious just about advice you would give to other founders to do that well?

Desiree: Yeah. It’s so tempting, right? To find this path that works and double down. So yeah, that is an element, of course, with any level of growth. But for me, I am very aggressive with my team about diversifying acquisition. That paid search is great, or any kind of paid ads are great, until the cost of acquisition gets so high that you have a ceiling and you can no longer spend to affordably acquire your customers depending on your LTV.

So we have been conscious of the pieces of acquisition and since the very beginning knowing that, of course, there’s a viral component to the business, there’s also a direct, which is a little bit harder to manage or influence. We need to be working kind of equally on all parts, because at the end of the day, full reliance on one channel has very high risk of creating really expensive customer acquisition down the road.

Claire: Absolutely.

Desiree: So I would say just constantly diversifying, yeah.

Claire: Again, I think everyone who is watching this will be taking notes and writing that down. Desiree, thank you so much for sharing.

I’ve been learning a lot just listening to you. Like I said, you’re someone who I’ve always really, really enjoyed hearing about your experience in building and growing companies. So thank you so much. I know everyone who is watching has really appreciated your thoughts too. Thanks.

Desiree: Thank you for having me.


P.S.: Please feel free to share + give this piece 👏 so others can find it too. Thanks😄 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Enjoy this interview with Desiree? Check out all our Heartbeat interviews with leaders…

Managing disagreements: How to handle diverging points-of-view with your boss

Six leadership tips on what to do when you disagree with your boss (or another senior leader at the company)

It’s inevitable: You’re going to disagree with your boss. No two people on the planet agree with each other on everything, 100% of the time.

That’s a terrible idea,” you think to yourself, after listening to your boss share a decision she’s come to. “She strongly needs to consider an alternate option.

Yet, managing disagreements at work is tricky — made only trickier if the person you disagree with is your boss. Of all people, you don’t want that person to get defensive or misinterpret your disagreement as an attack. You want whatever thing you’re arguing for to be considered, and hopefully enacted.

The key is to share your opposing point-of-view respectfully — and effectively — so the outcome you’re looking has a higher likelihood of happening.

So, how do you do that? How do you disagree productively with your boss, or another senior leader on the team?

In The Watercooler, our online community for leaders, managers from all over the world suggested taking these five steps when you and your boss disagree:

Peel back the layers of “why”

Start with the assumption that people are reasonable and make rational decisions. Then, ask yourself, “Given that assumption, what would have to be true for them in order to cause them to make the decisions they did?” Are there other priorities they’re managing that you’re not aware of? Are there other stakeholders who have an interest in the outcome that you aren’t considering? Rigorously peel back the layers of their rationale to figure out what those underlying reasons are.

Emphasize the common destination, not the divergent paths.

You’re both on the same team. Remind them of this. While trying to explain your own view, extrapolate the assumptions, beliefs, and values you both have in common. For example, you both care about the team’s success, you both value speed over perfection, you both see X priority to be most critical. What you most-likely differ on is the approach: The strategy to execute, the timeline, the resources, etc. Highlighting the points of agreement re-centers the conversation: While the roads you mapped out are different, you both want to end up in the same place.

Show, don’t just tell.

Evidence is compelling. How can you show — and not just tell — that your recommendation or idea should be taken up? Is there anything that you can work on that directly contributes to the company primary goals and illustrates your point? For instance, one Watercooler member discussed how she started a project without many resources, and eventually recruited people who shared similar views to build her case. It worked — her boss implemented the idea.

Consider: What is the one thing you can fix right now?

When we see a lot of fires, our urge is often to build a brand new fire station. However, in reality, all we might need is to find the nearest fire hydrant to hook up to. If many things are broken and you think you know a better way, avoid the desire to solve everything at once. Focus on just one thing that can be a visible quick win. Connect to the fire hydrant, first. Then, you can better make the argument to build the fire station for the neighborhood.

Ask yourself, “Do we really disagree on core beliefs?”

Sometimes, the gap between the opinions of you and your boss isn’t just a crack — it’s a chasm. It’s much wider and deeper than you initially thought. This is important to pay attention to. If you disagree with a coworker on core beliefs, then the change will be an uphill battle. You’ll want to seriously consider if it’s worth the trouble. And, if it’s not, perhaps it’s not the right company for you to be at. Core principles that you want to be aligned on include: your beliefs around company culture, how managers see and respect employees, the ratio of autonomy vs. control, iteration process, team structure and long-term goals.

Look for an outside advisor or mentor.

A third party can bring objectivity to a disagreement. One Watercooler member recommended how this option is helpful when the conversation becomes circular and isn’t progressing in a positive direction. Having someone fresh can not only be useful to moderate the discussion, but provide new insights that you both may not have considered. However, when doing this, it’s important to set clear expectations, and decide on how to handle the outcome of the discussion. You don’t want the outcome to devolve into office gossip because you “brought someone from the outside in to help.”


These tips have helped orient my thinking around approaching differences of opinion within my own team. I hope they help you too.

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

Feeling “off”? How to be a good manager when you just don’t feel like being one

If you’re struggling to stay engaged as a leader lately, here are some leadership tips to pull you out of the slump.

Some days, being a good manager is more difficult than others.

You can’t focus. The day drags. You feel “off.”

The company isn’t doing as well as it used to. Or you received a scathing email from a client. Or you’re questioning the latest shift in the company’s direction.

Whatever the reason may be, there’s no shame in it. I’ve had these “off” days, myself — and so many other leaders have too. As companies go through highs and lows, and our mind and emotions ride the highs and lows along with it. In our online Watercooler community with almost 1,000 managers, many folks shared this sentiment: We all “occasionally fall into slumps where being a good manager becomes more difficult.”

The question is: How do you handle “off” days, so you don’t stay discouraged as leader?

Here’s the advice that our Watercooler members gave to overcome the work doldrums:

Take a day or two off.

Perhaps this sounds like conventional advice when you’re feeling “off” — but it’s because it works. Go somewhere quiet and get away from anything that could remind you of work. No phone, no emails, no talk about work. Studies have shown how beneficial “unplugging” from technology is in particular to clear your head. Use this time to re-evaluate your priorities, the things that motivate you, and the sort of contributions you can make to your company and team.

Focus on the impact you have on the people you work with directly .

Even when you’re not particularly motivated by your company, think of the impact you can have on people’s lives and their careers. As a manager, your attitude and actions shape the everyday lives of your direct reports.

Revisit your team’s vision and purpose.

This should be the “why” behind your work, and re-evaluating it and can invigorate you. One member of The Watercooler did this by meeting with each member of his team to get their perspectives on the company’s direction. He listened to their feedback, looked at the market and their competitors, and reshaped the company’s vision accordingly. The adjustment in the team’s purpose gave him greater purpose to show up for work each day.

Dig into the work itself.

Sometimes you feel in “funk” at work is because you haven’t been able to be in a state of “flow.” Choose to get back to more hands-on work to make progress on something you love to work on. Before you were a manager, were you a programmer by trade? Roll-up your sleeves and write some code. Do you work at a public relations company and used to be the one interfacing with journalists all the time? Put together some traditional media pitches and pick up the phone. Reconnect with what you love to do most.

Switch up your role in the company.

You might be feeling “off” because you’re not in the right position in the company. One Watercooler member mentioned how he changed his role in to a “visionary” one (think CEO) rather than an “integrator” one (think COO). He then realized he was better suited — and qualified — for big-picture thinking than operating the business.

Consider going on a “work retreat.”

You could be missing some of the unstructured creative time you had prior to being a leadership position. To combat this, one Watercooler member will take little work retreats a few times a year where he can recharge his batteries. He normally spends about a week in an AirBnB in some random city all by himself. It’s like a vacation in the sense that he completely unplugs from his normal responsibilities, but instead he just works on design/programming.


Now, of course, these are not solutions to remedy serious core company issues. You may be feeling “off” for important reasons that you need to resolve: Your team culture is toxic or your work habits are unsustainable. Pay attention to the underlying reasons causing the “off” feeling.

Rather, these suggestions work well as a short-term boost, when you know it’s merely an “off” feeling, and you’d like to steady yourself.

If you’re stuck in a slump as a manager, you don’t have to stay in it.


 

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

The surest sign of a bad boss? You don’t listen.

You’re likely making these 4 leadership mistakes as a leader. Here’s what to do instead to become a better listener.

You’re not listening, as leader. You think you might be — but it’s highly likely that you’re not.

Think back to your last one-on-one meeting. Be honest: What percent of the time did you accidentally zone out during your direct report’s answers? Were you distracted by an impending meeting with an unhappy client? Were you trying to guess your direct report’s motives, and running through past one-on-ones with them in your head?

I don’t blame you, quite frankly. As leaders, we’re trained — and rewarded — to multi-task, rapidly context-switch, and think in parallel. We’ve got a firehouse of tasks, team dynamics, goals, customer requests that we’re juggling… How else are we supposed to weather the storm?

However, listening requires an opposite motion. Listening lives in silence. In stillness. You need to focus purely on the person you’re listening to. Not analyzing the response as they speak, not anticipating the next sentence, nor brainstorming ourselves what we’ll say next. Not thinking about the next meeting, the next phone call, or, hey, lunch is in 40 minutes.

The only way we’ll truly understand what the other person is trying to say is if we’re zoomed in on listening, in that moment.

When we do, listening becomes a powerful lever. A great listener gains knowledge that’s overlooked. They hear the tone of disappointment in an employee’s voice and discover that person is not happy on the team. They recognize that an employee has been having revealing conversations with a customer, and they finally understand why a customer isn’t satisfied with a particular part of the product. It’s knowledge only found in the nooks and crannies — you have to pay attention closely in order to spot it.

Not to mention, when you listen well, you show empathy and build trust in a way that’s more genuine than any office perk or team social event.

So how do you know if you’re a good listener — or a terrible one? Here are the 4 most common mistakes leaders make that reveal they’re not a good listener. Read on to see if you’ve been unintentionally committing any of them…

Mistake #1: You keep your phone on “just in case.”

Yes, emergencies do happen. But keeping your phone on during a meeting and having it buzz is enormously distracting for the other person. Countless of employees I’ve spoken to have mentioned how disrespectful it feels for their manager to have their phone go off — or worse, to be texting during the meeting. A recent study revealed that smartphones are distracting, even when we aren’t looking at them. So, what’s the solution? Just put it away for the meeting to be present as much as possible. If you do have to take a call or are expecting an important message, simply let the other person know so they’re aware, or reschedule the meeting.

Mistake #2: You assume people want your two cents — so you give it immediately.

As a leader, you’re often looked to as the expert. And, well, you are the expert most of the time. So it’s common to want to jump right in and help your team by providing the answers, or share how you’d attack a challenge. However, that eagerness to lend a hand can backfire. Rushing in with your opinion can crowd out any room for your team to share their opinion. I’ll always remember my interview with Laura Roeder, founder and CEO of MeetEdgar. One phrase Laura rigorously used with her team was: “Make this decision without me.” This gave her team the space to figure things out on their own, share their honest opinions with her — and helped her listen, not just tell.

Mistake #3: You only ask one question, before moving on to the next topic.

How many questions do you typically ask a direct report? Just one, then on to the next item? Or do you try to follow-up each topic with at least two, three, or more questions? Whether it’s during a one-on-one meeting, a Zoom video conference, or in a Slack message, the best managers frequently ask follow-up, clarifying questions — both about themselves, and their colleague. They ask, “What isn’t clear?” or “What am I not explaining enough?” Additionally, when their team members speak, they ask questions such as, “What do you need to make X happen?“ or “What can I take off your plate to help you do X?” The more clarifying questions you ask, the more listening you’ll do.

Mistake #4: You rarely ask yourself, “What’s my mood right now?”

We all have bad days. It’s inevitable. To make sure you can listen to someone well, it’s important to be aware of your current emotional state and to optimize for it. Not a morning person? Schedule your meetings in the afternoon. Just got out of some crazy traffic, or rushing to get all your tasks done before the weekend? Consider rescheduling — not avoiding — a tough conversation. The other person will be relieved that you asked if they don’t mind chatting with you once you’ve had time to take a breath.


If you’ve found yourself thinking, “Oh man, I’ve definitely done a few of those recently” — no need to get down on yourself. We all have been guilty of them, myself included. My hope is that in pointing them out, they no longer float under the radar. With awareness comes a small change in actions. We can all lift the veil that we’re all not as good listeners as we’d like to be. If we want to be better leaders, it starts with knowing what work we have to do 🙂


 

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)

8 ways to avoid your opinion swaying your team too much as “The Boss”

A good manager knows their opinion can influence their team sometimes TOO much. Here’s how to compensate for that.

When you’re a manager, something interesting happens: You mention an idea off-hand, and all of sudden, it becomes a priority. You casually ask a question out of curiosity, and all of sudden, everyone scrambles ASAP to get you an answer.

As a leader, your opinion matters. But sometimes, it can matter too much. You can unintentionally sway team members by stating your opinion prematurely. Or, you can accidentally quell perspectives that are critical for you to hear.

How do you keep this from happening? One of the managers in The Watercooler, our online community with almost 1,000 leaders, kicked off this conversation recently. Below is a summary of the insightful, practical replies.

Here are 8 ways for you to compensate for your opinion weighing too much, as “The Boss”…

Assign others the task of disagreeing with you.

Force the hand, and create a safe space for someone to disagree. For example, in a meeting with ~5 people, you might pick someone and say, “The four of us seem to be saying the same thing, and I’m making it your job to disagree with us regardless of how you actually feel. So if you’re forced to play the role of the disagreer, what’s your argument?

Give someone less experienced a chance to speak first.

This helps prevent folks from just shutting down and saying, “Yep sure, what that person said.” Even if the person is way off the mark in their opinion, it either signals you should spend more time working with them, or it causes the team pivot on the original idea after hearing others. One Watercooler member mentioned how he was recently listening to Great at Work and a high performing example company followed this practice: Most junior employees shared their thoughts first, most senior shared their thoughts last.

Have the person with the strongest opinion speak last.

A strongly-held viewpoint can drown out any potential for diversity of thought to emerge. So have the person who has already thought about an issue and formed a strong opinion speak last. This is also helpful because they’re the least likely to be biased by what everyone else says.

Ask others what they think before jumping in with your own thoughts.

One Watercooler member shared that he’ll often send people a link to a story, article, idea, etc. and ask people, “Thoughts?” to see what he gets back. This helps provoke thoughts from other people, in an unfiltered way, before you insert your own.

Ask everyone to explain their thought-process, not tell you their opinion.

This keeps the people with opinions — but perhaps more trivial reasoning behind them — from dominating the conversation (and wasting everyone’s time). In addition, understanding how someone is coming to a conclusion is sometimes just as valuable, if not more, than the conclusion itself.

Use phrases like “you’re the expert.”

When talking to people about areas that they’re a specialist in, affirm that they are the person who has the required knowledge and expertise. This helps make it clear that your view isn’t any more correct than theirs.

Ask for advice.

When you say to someone, “I need your advice,” you can open the door wide to getting useful feedback from your direct reports. The statement both indicates openness to fresh ideas, as well as a clear request for that person’s personal viewpoint.

Admit what you’re unsure about or struggling with.

Try saying something like, “I’m pretty sure I know the direction I want to go, but I want to be sure I haven’t overlooked something important. Will you review this with me, and poke holes in my idea?” Or “I’m having a tough time figuring this out…” It leads to a very different dynamic. Even if you end up sticking to your original plan, people are more likely to feel respected for being asked to help vet the idea. You’ll get valuable input, regardless.

If you want your team to be making the best decisions, making sure your opinion isn’t driving all the decisions is important. You want people to be honest, to bring up what they think could be better, and to point out what they think is wrong. Try one of these 8 ways to help foster that openness in opinions. Your viewpoint may unintentionally sway others, as a leader — but it doesn’t have to.


 

P.S.: If you did indeed enjoy this piece, please feel free to share + give it ❤️ so others can find it too. Thanks 😊 (And you can always say hi at @clairejlew.)