Tag Archive for teambuilding

#Leadership and the Emotionally Battered Employee



Sometimes we inherit them. Perhaps they’ve been hurt by other people within the organization. It may have been their manager, executive, or even the CEO. It may have been you. But there they are, sitting in front of you, obviously hurting, maybe even angry.

So what do you do? How do you handle it in that moment?

Well, the servant leadership perspective is going to be a little different from a traditional management approach in that a traditional management approach is likely going to be more geared toward figuring out the fastest and easiest way to get that employee back to functioning as quickly and efficiently as possible. Translation (from a traditional boss): How the heck can I get this emotional mess of an employee out of my office and back out there doing their job as soon as possible? Isn’t this what they should be paying a therapist for? 

Servant leadership, however, views employees as humans, and views humans holistically. Organizations are communities of humans, and as such, there are going to be times where healing is necessary. As leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to serve our teams by helping them along this journey.

Here are some suggestions. These aren’t necessarily in any sort of order; they’re more just random thoughts that I’m hopeful will help you think through your own personalized strategies for serving your teams when they’re hurting.

Listen. A lot. Resist the urge to begin offering feedback right away. It’s a normal, human, and well-intentioned thing to do; but interrupting to do it may prematurely cut off their expression of pain and emotion. It’s important for them to get that out, and it’s important for you to listen sincerely and deeply to them as they do.

Listen not only to what they’re saying, but also to what they’re not saying. Often just as telling as what folks are saying is what they’re not saying. Listen for those things. Make mental notes, and ask appropriate follow-up questions when the time is right.

Listen for and note themes. (Noticing a trend yet?) As they’re expressing their pain, you’ll often see that it’s not just one thing or event that’s taken place. It’s more likely been a series of things that have happened. Listen carefully, and you may begin to notice certain trends, or themes, or even people, that run throughout their narrative that may have at first seemed isolated or disconnected if you weren’t paying attention. This can provide helpful insight into the sorts of things that have a negative emotional and/or psychological impact on your teammate.

Don’t correct them at this point. Remember, at this point, you’re listening to their perceptions of events and attitudes and people and so on. They’re hurt and emotional, and like most of us, they may exaggerate here and there in the heat of the moment. There will come a time when you’ll want to come alongside them and help them untangle the difference between perceived reality and actual reality, but the immediate aftermath of the event and/or pain is likely not the time for that.

Carefully, gently, attempt to get to the underlying reason for the pain. Sometimes — though not always — the pain you’re seeing and the event/person being discussed are not the core cause of the pain. They may be the most recent irritant of a pre-existing hurt, if that makes sense. So listen carefully, and when the time is right, ask some well-crafted follow-up questions to determine the root cause.

Control your emotions. To the best of your ability, control your emotions. This can be quite difficult, especially since you also want to empathize, but your calmness can help de-escalate the situation and help your teammate think clearly and feel safe enough to speak to the pain.

Resist the temptation to “fix them.” You don’t fix people. But even if you could fix people, that’s not the point initially. This can be especially difficult for certain personality types that are more prone to want to immediately give them a bullet point list of action items and then call it good. That will just lead to mutual frustration; as they’ll feel dehumanized and patronized, and you’ll feel frustrated because your methods aren’t producing the results you wanted.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know what to say. It’s not as important that you’re a psychology expert as it is that you’re present, listening, and sincerely care. So be real and vulnerable, even in moments like these; and if you don’t know what to say, say that.

Commend them for their vulnerability. As leaders, we’re to lead the way in demonstrating vulnerability, and we’re to be creating a context within which vulnerability is applauded, not punished. So it’s important in situations like this to commend them for being human and vulnerable in front of you. They’re likely feeling all kinds of embarrassed and vulnerable; but you commending them for their courage can help them feel a bit safer in this moment, and can set the stage for continued honest dialogue down the road, be it about the current situations or something entirely unrelated.

Always be prepared to refer them to appropriate employee assistance programs. The reason I say to always be prepared to do this is because if you’re not prepared to do it, you probably won’t do it because it can be a pretty awkward thing to say if you’re just stumbling through it on the fly.

When the time is right, begin shifting the conversation to how you can collaborate with them to think through ways they can move forward in a healthy manner. This will look different from person to person and situation to situation, but it’s important that there be some forward momentum following the expression of pain and/or frustration. It doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering; it can be (and probably should be) a baby step. But it needs to be something. Further still, it needs to be something they can own. Most of the time, pain is the result of a situation in which the person harmed was not in control. The forward momentum, coupled with their control of that forward momentum, is a very helpful and healthy dynamic.

There’s obviously much, much more we could talk about here; and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Like I mentioned at the top, this is more to get you thinking through how you want to approach these situations when you encounter them. My hope is that if you think these things through, you’ll be more inclined to enter into these scenarios eager to serve your hurting teammate rather than just trying to figure out how to get them back in action as soon as possible.

All that said, what suggestions would you add? What sorts of things have you seen work? Have you been hurt before? If so, what did a leader do to help? Or, if you’ve been dealing with a teammate who’s struggling, what sorts of things did you do that seemed to be most helpful to them?

9 #Leadership Actions That Build Trust



Building trust seems so cliche, which is unfortunate, because its importance simply cannot be overstated. Real trust is critical to a healthy team and organization, and any team or organization without it will find itself rotting away from the inside out.

Be Human

This one is foundational for many of the others. Leaders have to be human, and what I mean by that is that leaders have to be vulnerable and flawed with their teams. Instead of hiding faults and mistakes, leaders should own them, admit them, and apologize for them when appropriate. They should be quick to ask for and offer help. This cultivates trust on a team, and establishes this level of openness as a team norm. Soon, following their leader’s example, a team begins to be human as well, embracing their mutual humanness and vulnerability. This allows them to serve each other, help each other, engage in healthy conflict together, commit to each other, hold each other accountable, and much, much more. But leaders being human with their teams is the first step.

Be Humble

This goes hand in hand with being human, but being humble is huge. Now, there’s no human that’s humble all the time. We all have an ego, and it’s a constant struggle to keep that thing in check. But as leaders, we have to fight ego and work toward humility. It’s humility that will allow us to be open and human with our teams. It’s only humility that enables us to have any sort of self-awareness. Show me a boss without self-awareness and I’ll almost guarantee you that boss is about as arrogant as they come.

Ask Questions

Asking questions — and I’m not just talking about work-related questions — is important for so many reasons. It helps you get to know your team. It helps you better understand how and what they’re thinking. It lets them know you’re interested in them not only as professionals, but also as people. Asking questions continues to open the communication between you and your team, and the more you and the team communicate, the stronger that relationship has a chance to become.


Related to the above, of course, is listening. When people feel listened to — really, truly listened to — it matters. By the same token — and I can’t emphasize this enough — when people feel like a boss is going through the motions of “listening” to them, but isn’t really listening, it’s destructive. It’s so harmful, in fact, that I’d suggest not even faking it. If you’re not really going to listen, and if you’ve already made up your mind about something, don’t even bother.

Embrace Serving

People can tell when you’re in it for them. People can also tell when you’re primarily in it for yourself. The former builds trust. The latter destroys it. Servant leaders see leadership as a vehicle to serve others.

Be Honest

I wish this one went without saying, but like many of you, I’ve seen too much evidence to the contrary. Dishonest leaders destroy trust. They tear teams and organizations to shreds.

Give Away Power

Leaders who give away power instead of hoarding it inspire trust on their teams. Team members feel trusted when they’re empowered, and as a result, are far more likely to trust. Bosses who hoard power send the message that the only people they trust are themselves.


Somewhat akin to the previous point, hoarding information promotes distrust. Sharing information with your team and engaging in open and candid dialogue with them shows you trust them and that you are more likely to be worthy of their trust in return.

Let Them See You Learning

There’s something about seeing a leader learn that speaks volumes to a team. It tells them that you are self-aware enough to know that you don’t know everything, and further still, you’re not even trying to hide the fact that you don’t know everything. This, of course, is impossible without the very first item in this post: being human.

What do you think? What others leadership actions would you add to the list? What else have you seen leaders do that built trust?

Team Not On Board? Check These 4 Things.



“The whole team’s not on board.”

It’s a common refrain in organizations. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, either out loud or in your mind.

But why does it happen? And as a leader, what can you do about it?

It’s not unusual for teams or organizations to struggle with changes, projects, and/or initiatives; and the reasons for those struggles can be varied. However, there are some things we can think through that may help us move forward in a more unified way.

1. What, specifically, is the team not on board with? In other words, does the team know specifically what’s expected of them? Sometimes, organizations provide general, aspirational statements, which are fine; but they fail to provide the specifics of what it looks like for folks within the organization to live that out every day. In that case, it may be that what’s being perceived as folks not being on board is simply a case of them not knowing exactly what it is they’re supposed to be doing.

2. Is it a case of lack of alignment with the organization’s identity and values? Values are a big deal, and it’s important that organizations get them right. Sometimes, if organizations’ values are too vague or general, it will be nearly impossible to get the whole team on board with any sort of coherent behavioral expectations because they’re not prescribed and described with any specificity in the values. Thus, folks aren’t on board because there’s nothing identifiable for them to be on board with. However, if an organization has solid, concrete values that are unique to them and describe their identity and behavioral expectations, you have a sort of guidepost or standard against which folks can be held more objectively accountable.

3. Is it a leadership issue? Sometimes, folks have been beaten down by poor or even abusive leadership. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty. It’s vital that organizations and boards take a look at leaders and managers from the CEO all the way down and see if they’re living and leading in ways that jive with the organization’s values and leadership expectations. I’d highly recommend embracing servant leadership ideals as the standard, or else you could end up with some pretty toxic leadership.

4. How does the organization understand accountability? When it comes to being on board as a team, accountability is going to be huge. Accountability has its roots in real-deal trust, healthy conflict around ideas, and group commitment. If a team is human and vulnerable with each other, it builds a legit trust. That trust allows them to speak with each other openly, even disagreeing with other passionately about ideas and strategies. However, since that trust is in place, after those honest discussions have taken place, real commitment can happen. The team can lock arms and move forward together. And because of that group commitment, a functioning team will hold each other accountable (notice I said the team will hold each other accountable — I didn’t say the manager has to hold everyone accountable) for being on board.

So if your team’s not on board with something, consider these four things. Any that I missed? Feel free to add them below!