My favorite leadership phrase is, “Oh Rhoda, you can’t do it that way.” Sometimes they’re right, but other times, taking a risk is so worth it. Recently, I led two team retreats and broke some “best practice rules” to achieve outcomes that were transformative.
Here is what I’ve learned:
Early Vulnerability Creates Intimacy.
Best practices often state that creating intimacy in a group setting takes time. However, in my experience, that practice has rarely worked. During a recent retreat, all guests received luggage tags upon arrival and were instructed to write down three concerns they wanted to leave behind to be fully present — personal, professional, and attitudinal. To encourage vulnerability, I began this exercise by sharing:
Personal: I left an ill and elderly relative at home, which was very difficult.
Professional: I was overwhelmed with the idea that COVID-19 could shut down similar retreats at any time.
Attitudinal: It was my initial thought that the participants, all New Yorkers, might see my coaching style as “too relaxed” or “West Coast,” hence not effective enough.
After I shared these it opened the floodgates for executives to talk about their own concerns and 40 minutes later, the group had indeed become intimate. This exercise taught retreat members that embracing our vulnerabilities can strengthen relationships quickly and authentically.
Keeping Time Limits Creates Trust.
A general rule of thumb when public speaking is to never stop a person who speaks too often, exceeds a time limit, and/or correct someone who repeats information to avoid embarrassment. When leading a focus group recently, I forced myself to do all three. For example, I gently told several important speakers their time was up and to conclude their thoughts. When they didn’t, I apologized with warmth and proceeded to call on the next person to build on what was said and bring us deeper. It worked and the shift was palpable. When another member repeated the same perspective with tremendous passion the third time, I said with a glint in my eye, “We love your point of view, we got it, and we have to move on.” The room broke out in laughter, including the speaker, and we moved on without missing a beat. This pattern continued; when others spoke too often I stopped them, enduring their angry expressions to provide space for less assertive colleagues to speak. I winced internally but reminded myself that the group deserved to hear everyone’s voices, and it was my job as the leader to make that happen. After this exercise was completed, there was a sense of group trust and unification.
Finally, best practices tell us that evaluation should be “behind closed doors,” due to the possibility that several of the comments will not be in sync with the organization's viewpoints. During the focus groups, I insisted that we invite the professional and volunteer leaders involved in the project to attend, socialize, and listen quietly to the group. Many participants mentioned that because those influencers were present and listening, there was a heightened desire to perform better. The influencers were thrilled at the opportunity to hear a range of unfiltered opinions and perspectives. In similar situations, transparency motivated philanthropic supporters to increase their donations and involvement afterward, grateful for a deeper understanding of the program and its impact. Therefore, transparency always leads to better outcomes.
Breaking these types of established norms can seem a bit daunting at first, but forging your own path and breaking the rules every once in a while can be a fantastic way to advance in your career and personal growth. If you want to learn more about my personalized approach, get in touch with me.