The ability to lead well is invaluable in business, but is something not all entrepreneurs have. Nils Vinje saw this need and aims to fill the gap with organizational leadership training.
In this episode, he and James go into the how’s of being a good leader.
They talk about what leadership looks like, and why leadership matters in business.
They pinpoint poor leadership skills and bad leadership behaviors that commonly need work.
And they discuss some of what Nils teaches in his leadership training workshop.
Table of contents
1. Filling the leadership gap
2. Are you being surprised too often?
3. Guess what – it could be you
4. Being responsible is power
5. Leadership defined by a leadership coach
6. Why a leader should have less answers
7. Knowing the answer versus not knowing
8. The give and take of feedback
9. Feedback on the positive
10. Confirming what you think
11. Expectations and being accountable
12. Nils’s favorite accountability driver
13. Keeping things on track
14. When there’s a record of train wrecks
Filling the leadership gap
Leadership is something James almost took for granted when he came online, having spent years as a general manager.
He soon realized, however, that many business owners had had limited exposure to leadership or management.
An Ask method survey revealed a huge need around leadership and building team, something Nils Vinje has built a whole product around.
Nils’s leadership training program is B2B Leaders Academy, a membership focused on empowering leaders with the tools to confidently handle any situation.
What James would like to do in this episode is dig into Nils’s toolkit, and discuss some key elements of good leadership.
Are you being surprised too often?
Let’s say, says James, that he has a small agency, with two or three VAs and a couple of contractors. Let’s say too, he recognizes a gap between what he is and what he could be if he were an amazing leader.
What sort of indicators might he see?
Nils thinks surprises is one of the biggest things. And they often accompany assumptions.
Assumptions, says Nils, are an incredible killer in all things leadership. Relationships have been destroyed in minutes because assumptions were made.
So if an outcome often isn’t exactly what you anticipated or wanted, whether for a project, an ad, a piece of copy, an email, whatever, and you made the assumption that somebody was going to do something, it likely is not their fault. It’s probably yours.
What Nils is hinting at, James thinks, is if you’re constantly being surprised, you may be not taking enough responsibility for the communication.
Guess what – it could be you
That’s right, says Nils. And we have a natural human desire to place blame on something other than ourselves.
But if we look at most things that are surprises in the problem category, there is a significant chance that it was the result of something you did not do as effectively as you could have done. And especially in the leadership side, that happens all the time.
One of the things Nils loves about leadership is, it is the source of and solution to all problems. And it’s been his aim through B2B Leaders Academy to help make the world a better place through great leadership.
When you have great leadership, says Nils, and you demonstrate it, and you exhibit it, you positively impact other people’s lives. When it’s the reverse, and you don’t pay attention to it, and you don’t care, you negatively impact people’s lives.
Being responsible is power
James loves a twist on the Spider-Man quote, With great power comes great responsibility. To his mind, if it’s true that you’re responsible for your success, then with great responsibility comes great power.
And if you’re responsible enough to lead a team properly, it enables you to have a lot of power, like literally manpower or creative power, like this concept of buying time that James talks about in Work Less, Make More.
If you make great products, or solve problems, then the more responsible you can be, the more you can help other people, and also, the less surprises you get.
What Nils realized in getting an MBA, Management Organizational Behavior, was that most of the world, especially the professional world, knows nothing about leadership. That is, most leaders have not taken a structured path to develop leadership skills, instead of getting into the role and “figuring it out as you go”.
In James’s earlier career, he had been sent to leadership school, where he learned many principles that he’s carried through into business and taught his students.
Leadership defined by a leadership coach
In the absence of training, how would Nils define leadership? What does it mean to him?
In Nils’s view, the simplest definition is a leader does everything possible to ensure that the people that work for them are successful.
James likes that.
And where does the word manager fit into the equation?
Nils considers it an outdated term. And if you’re responsible for other people, the title doesn’t matter so much.
Nils prefers the term leader, and he believes everyone has the potential to become an elite leader.
Psychology plays a a huge role in leadership, says Nils, and we might as well start with the psychology of believing that we are leaders, not just managers there to make sure resources do stuff. We can dramatically change how we look at a situation just by how we think of ourselves.
Why a leader should have less answers
Now, what are some of Nils’s tools for becoming an elite leader?
One is counterintuitive to the idea that being in a leadership position is about having all the answers. Actually, says Nils, the less answers you have, the more successful you will be – and the higher up you go in whatever organization you’re in, the less answers you should have.
That’s an interesting take, says James. He’s seen people in positions of power who seem clueless, while he himself has always known the answers, and done pretty well.
How can Nils reconcile that?
The backdrop of the matter is coaching, says Nils. Over 10 years ago, he went through a leadership coach training program.
After 120 hours of coaching, he feels three things are core to being an incredible coach. Number one, the ability to listen. Number two, the ability to be present. And number three, the ability to ask powerful questions.
Sometimes, somebody can make a leap of discovery just by having a coach present and asking the right question. What they need is a bridge, and this is where Nils feels James does a terrific job.
The bridge might be sharing an example of something that worked in the past, the key being, you do not tell the other person what they ought to do. You might ask instead, What could you take from that example that might apply to your situation?
The reason it’s so important, says Nils, for the coach not to have the answer is because when people come to the answer themselves, even if it was the exact same thing you would have told them, they will be 80 percent more likely to follow through with that solution than if you just told them what to do.
Knowing the answer versus not knowing
So there’s a difference, says James, between a coach who doesn’t know the answer versus a coach who knows the answer, but doesn’t tell people the answer, but has them work it out.
A hundred percent right, says Nils. On calls with James, he’s aware James knows exactly what Nils want to build, but doesn’t tell him what to do.
Instead James asks questions and helps Nils think things out based on James’s experience, leading Nils to discover the answers. And Nils walks away from every call knowing exactly what to do next.
James knows that if Nils works for it, he’ll get the result. What concerns him is “coaches” who really don’t know what the answer is – how do they know someone’s making progress?
That’s why it’s important, says Nils, to find a coach who’s accomplished what you want to accomplish.
And if you don’t know the answers, asking questions is a good starting point, is what James is hearing.
Absolutely, Nils says. Leaders implementing this have seen dramatic changes in their team – ownership being taken, initiative being taken, unsolicited feedback and appreciation. People feel good because they’re actually using their brains.
You want to be a great leader, ask your team more than you tell your team, says James.
Nils agrees, except that you are not the source of information, you are the source of questions. And that will totally change the dynamic.
The give and take of feedback
In a study, Harvard asked leaders, employees and companies the number one thing they wanted. The resounding reply was negative or corrective feedback – people wanted to know how they could learn and grow.
And what was the thing they liked to do the least? The exact same answer, give negative or corrective feedback.
Nils’s belief is that people don’t have a reliable, consistent structure to give feedback regularly in a way that is objective and meaningful, and designed to bring somebody else into the conversation as opposed to just telling them they “did something wrong”.
So any ideas on how to do feedback, asks James?
Nils happens to have a three-step feedback made simple system. On his site, people can go through three five-minute videos, in which Nils walks through in more detail and presents examples of it in action.
Number one is a structure for giving feedback in a consistent, repeatable way. It has to be observable, objective, fact-based things, irrefutable – no assumptions, and no generalizations, just observable facts.
So if in a team meeting someone said something pertinent, quote what they said. If you observed something, it must be an undeniable, objective-based fact.
Step two is the impact. People often are unaware of the real impact of what they’re doing, so we have to share what that is – this is your interpretation.
So in the team meeting on Tuesday, you said, quote, X. The impact that had is, Y.
Step three, in the negative, corrective case, is one simple, very powerful question – Help me understand, what’s going on?
It’s important here to ask a question because there’s always some other perspective of why somebody behaved the way they did. And Nils can honestly say that whatever someone did at that time was what they thought was right.
You may think otherwise, but that’s what is necessary when you give feedback, to lay it out objectively, fact-based, share the impact, and then ask for the person’s input to help you understand what’s going on.
Feedback on the positive
When giving positive feedback, the only difference is in step three.
Step three, we reinforce the absolute specific behavior that we saw. So if somebody took initiative on a project, we might say, Here’s what I observed, X, the impact that had is Y, and I really appreciate the initiative you took on this project to put this into action.
Simply saying, Good job, is death when it comes to feedback, says Nils. Good job on what?
The more specific, the better.
Confirming what you think
On negative feedback, occasionally, what you thought happened actually did happen, and you’re just getting confirmation on that, right, asks James?
Yeah, says Nils. It will happen maybe 10 percent of the time.
The other 90 percent, the person involved is clueless of the impact, because again, we all operate from what we think is best.
James thinks the key point is, when a situation happens, it’s best not to fill in the gaps or assume things. You need to be a journalist and find out the information first, and check your sources.
Nils’s feedback made simple system is at b2bleadersacademy.com/feedback. There, he’ll take you through three different videos, walk you through step by step, show you examples, and give you everything you need to give more feedback so you can be an elite leader in your team today.
Expectations and being accountable
Two other things Nils would put in the 64:4 of being a leader are: expectations and accountability.
When you set expectations clearly and confidently, and then drive accountability for the fulfillment of those expectations that were agreed upon, it has a huge impact.
In the car world, says James, they had an expectations document – it was called Manager’s Expectations, or Sales Executive’s Expectations, and it listed things in bullet form.
They would say, This is what we’re hiring on; this is what your role will be judged against; this is the scorecard. And if we can meet all these expectations, everyone will be happy.
It’s a perfect example, says Nils – written down, documented, clear. It probably comes with a conversation in which the employee commits to upholding expectations and you commit to holding them accountable.
When it comes to accountability, there’s a myth that high performers can run on their own. In fact, people are high performers because they’ve been held accountable, and they thrive when they are held accountable to greater and greater expectations.
Accountability is a powerful tool, but it makes some people uncomfortable, because there’s a fine line between driving accountability and micromanaging. They’re actually night and day, but the difference can be as little as just focusing on one word versus another.
Nils’s favorite accountability driver
James would like an example of an accountability mechanism. Is it a dashboard? Is it a conversation? Is it something else?
Nils has a favorite one liner, even half of a liner.
Say you’ve set a very clear expectation with a member of your team, perhaps the deliverable of some project. It is discussed, it is agreed to, it is clear.
Let’s say the deliverable is going to happen, if today is Monday, a week from Friday – a two-week window. Around Thursday or Friday of this week, you might send a simple Slack message: Hey, are you still on track to…? And then insert what was agreed on.
This is powerful because all you’re focused on is what they already agreed to, which is the expectation.
If they answer, yes, you’re all set. If they answer no, simply follow up with one more powerful question, which is, Okay, what do you need to do to get back on track?
This is how you stay out of micromanager mode and stay focused on the deliverable that was agreed to. You still support your member, but you are not going to get into how they’ll deliver.
You’re just making sure they know that deadline is still there, and they have still agreed to deliver on that deadline. And now, they need to figure out a new path if they’ve deviated in some way.
Accountability can be as simple as that. The key is staying focused on the what, not the how.
In James’s team, he actually lets his team set deadlines. Take website migration – he might let them put together a list of steps and ask them, what would be a reasonable timeframe for this migration to occur?
Is letting them set expectations in that way normal?
Nils thinks it’s a great approach. Whether it’s normal or not, he couldn’t say, but James and his team have worked together for a long time, and have a strong dynamic.
Keeping things on track
The only thing Nils might add is asking maybe midway to the deadline, Hey team, are we still on track to…?
James’s team actually do little daily activity reports morning and evening, and at the weekly meeting every Tuesday, James might just follow up in that manner.
The reason it’s important, says Nils, is there are an infinite amount of things happening in people’s lives. There’s always something that can distract someone from whatever they committed to previously – Nils calls this the BBD, the Bigger Better Deal.
To battle the BBD, we make sure that what was agreed to is going to happen in a genuine, authentic, seamless way. And Nils’s one liner is the most powerful way he’s found, after lots of iterations and experimentation, to drive that accountability and make sure that just because somebody’s situation has changed, the thing they committed to is still top of the list and it’s still known that it has to get done.
If for some reason somebody else needs to finish the project, that can be done. But it’s still the responsibility of the original project owner to see it gets delivered.
When there’s a record of train wrecks
Random scenario, says James. Say you’ve given someone a project several times – every time, a train wreck.
You’ve given feedback, with no improvement. Do you then take everything off that person? Do you coach them forward, or do you put them somewhere else?
Everybody, everywhere, says Nils, in every business, has an opportunity to prove themselves every single day. Some people are perfectly aligned with their work, and Nils has been there.
He also, however, has been where he hated the work and did a terrible job. Some people are not well suited for the roles that they’re in, and that’s okay.
If feedback has been given through the feedback made simple system, if the expectations were clear, if the accountability has been driven, and the performance is below everybody else, then Nils’s recommendation would be probably to exit that person from the organization or find a different role for them. Because they’re not in a place where they can be successful, and that’s impacting the team and the team’s success.
James liked that: Everyone has the opportunity to prove themselves every single day.
If you’ve watched this episode, try Nils’s tool. Give feedback in the next 24 hours to a team member, and use the framework Nils mentioned.
And if you’d like help becoming a better leader, look up Nils at B2BLeadersAcademy.com
Enjoyed the show? Leave us a review on iTunes