How to make meaningful progress when taking your game to the next level

If you want to be successful at taking your game to the next level, you have to be conscious of how you think and what comes out of your mouth.

I was leading a meeting recently with a telecom management team that had taken on a bold commitment to take their team’s leadership and performance to a higher level.  This was a good team that had been performing well. However, the changes in their markets, customers, and technologies were requiring them to think, innovate, and perform at a different level.

They were about three months into their transformation process and, in this meeting, we were reviewing their progress.

One by one, the leaders shared their views. One of the leaders summarized: “We are making progress, but not enough!” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. People added: “We need to bring more energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change to the game.”

I asked them “Why are you not making enough progress?” “Why are you not bringing the level of energy, courage, innovation, collaboration, and change that you know you need?

Their responses were things to the tune of: “It’s because of the holidays,” “It’s because of the year end,” “It’s because of the wider changes that are taking place in our company,” “We are doing quite well, so there’s not a lot of opportunities for big improvements,” and “It just takes time to make progress.”

So many teams and people, when taking on new levels of game, fall into the same traps of blaming their circumstances for their lack of progress and talking about their transformation in ways that undermine what they are trying to achieve.

If you want to avoid these pitfalls and make significant progress in taking your game to the next level, follow these principles:

  1. Take 100% ownership for your progress or lack thereof. Give up blaming your circumstances for not making enough progress or for not bringing enough energy, courage, innovation and/or collaboration to the game. Always relate to what you have or don’t have as your own doing.
  2. Promise clear results that require you to rise to the occasion. People bring high energy, courage and innovation to the game when they have promised specific results that are important to them, that require high energy, courage, and innovation. For example: one of the leaders stated that the people are not yet seeing any change in this leadership team. So, the team took on a promise that by our next meeting, three months later, their employees would notice a new level of energy, courage, innovation, and collaboration coming from the team. By promising this new state, the leaders now had an obligation to step up their leadership and performance in order to deliver.
  3. Focus on the areas of gap and opportunity, not how great you are. One of the biggest impediments to transformation is when people feel threatened or invalidated by acknowledging deficits and gaps. When discussing progress, I often hear people say things like: “We were already good at this.” If you are already good at something you will not be compelled to improve it. Even the greatest teams and people can find “next level” gaps, deficits and opportunities for improvement. Focusing on these does not invalidate your greatness.
  4. Avoid using phrases like: “We should do X” or “We have to do more of Y.” People simply don’t do what they “should” or “have to.” Either promise that you “Will do X” or don’t expect to see progress in the area you are talking about.
  5. Go out of your way to prove the validity of your commitment. When teams are driving significant change, team members often remain skeptical throughout the process. They adopt the “let’s see if this works” point of view. This mindset is understandable, but not powerful. If you want to be most effective, be clear about the future state you want, be all-in and trust your journey, no matter what ups-and-downs you encounter along the way. Don’t check if it works. Prove that it works.
  6. Collect as much evidence for progress as you can. Transforming a team to the next level is never about perfection. The focus should be driving as much progress as possible. In the realm of progress, everything counts – big, medium and small wins. And, being public about them is key. So identify, acknowledge and celebrate all of them. The more you identify areas of progress, the more it gives you appetite to find more. So, make it your priority to collect as many areas of progress as possible.

At the end of the meeting, the leaders took on a new perspective. They stopped accepting the reality: “We are making progress BUT not enough” and took on a commitment to cause a new genuine state: “We are excited about the progress we are making.”

This seems a simple shift, but it is very powerful. It is also a future worthy of proving right!

Photo by: Richard Potts

The danger of acting in a cautious and politically correct way

In a previous blog “Five necessary areas for improvement of your team,” I outlined 5 areas that most teams need to step up in. In this blog, I want to elaborate on the first area: Boldness and Courage.

Most leadership teams avoid the tough, uncomfortable conversations. Whether it’s giving honest, direct and critical feedback and coaching to others, or making difficult decisions about budgets, resources and other areas that affect power and status – the common tendency is to take the safe, easy way out.

Even when managers and team members attempt to say what’s really on their minds, a lack of courage often leads to things being said in such a diplomatic and sugarcoated way that the impact of the message is lost in its tepid delivery. And while diplomacy may allow team members to address some problems efficiently at times, critical issues demand an energy, passion and direction that cannot be gained from adherence to cautious, “be careful” behavior.

Although some may deny this to be the case, I strongly believe that 95% of the challenges, problems and dysfunction existing within teams are due to team members simply being afraid, hesitant, or resigned to have the hard conversations.

Even at the highest levels, I frequently see leaders being reluctant to rock the boat with their peers or boss, as they may be viewed as petty or make themselves vulnerable out of a concern or fear of negative consequences.

In other times, leaders and team members are so convinced nothing will come of any heroic efforts that they succumb to the pervasive mindset of, “Why stick my neck out?” and its political adaptive maneuver, “Pick your battles.”

To top it off, leadership teams caught in the courage conundrum don’t acknowledge that it’s the lack of willingness to speak up that leads to failures and issues. Instead, they blame various circumstances by using excuses such as:

We have conflicting priorities.

There is not enough time to get done what we need to do.

We can’t succeed because another department isn’t doing their job.

We don’t have enough resources to get done what we want to do.

Can you relate to any of this? To be sure, please answer the following questions about your team’s dynamic:


Do team members make tentative and contingent commitments by saying yes and agreeing to decisions they are not fully resolved about?

Do team members go off and do their own version of the commitment made, and then blame circumstances when they fail to produce their part of the commitment?

Do team members try to escape accountability by saying, “I was never fully on board with this in the first place”?


Do team members tolerate confusion and misunderstanding in the discussion stages and then use those as justifications when things don’t get done?

Do people see that things are going to break down, but still they don’t say anything about it?

Do team members have concerns about their colleagues’, or leader’s sincerity and/or effectiveness, but they don’t confront them?

Do team members hear others make commitments that they know are not going to happen, but they don’t speak up or hold others accountable?


Do team members know that there is an elephant in the room but still they not address it?

Does their “yes” not mean yes, and their “no” not mean no?

Are their promises empty?

Do team members sit in the meeting, choosing what they say or don’t say based on what is safe and politically correct?

Are people aware that there is no real alignment or agreement, but no one says it?


Do team members engage in undermining conversations about their fellow members or their departments, rather than confronting colleagues on the issues?

Do people talk about themselves as team players, smile in the strategic meetings, and then go behind their colleagues’ backs to badmouth them?

Do team members promote themselves and their careers at the expense of others?


When things don’t work, do team members spend more time making sure everyone knows “it’s not their fault” than actually trying to fix the problem?

Do team members copy everyone on emails just to protect themselves and “cover their behinds?”

Is there a lack of, or insufficient, results or progress?

Are team members always looking over their shoulders and suspicious of the others’ agendas?

If you answered most or all of these questions with a YES, your team has an opportunity to become stronger. If so, you aren’t alone. As I said before, most team members avoid difficult discussions. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

In a future post, I will share more about what you can do to make your team dynamic more authentic and courageous.

Photo by: Valery Kenski