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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #49: Taking Your Team To The Next Level

August 15, 2019
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #49: Taking Your Team To The Next Level

As a leader, it can be tempting to focus on maintenance instead of creation. Instead, it’s important to always be focusing on making sure your team is the best at what it does. In Episode #49 of our Executive Leadership Podcast, we discuss strategies for taking your team to the next level.

To learn more about taking your team to the next level, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach, and I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining.

This is a reminder as we kick off today, everything we talk about on this podcast is really in reference to the framework of the 5 Levels of Leadership. And so if you’d love to learn more about that model, about that framework, how it can help you personally or even your organization, do me a favor, visit There’ll be a form there, or if you just want to leave us a comment or if you’ve got a question for Perry or me, please feel free to do that as well. Well, today’s topic is titled, “Taking Your Team to The Next Level in Less Than 20 Minutes”. I say that because we tried to keep our podcast under 20 minutes.

We know that everybody’s busy and I love this title. We’re going to continue to talk about development, but what do you think is in here and what’s kind of the baseline of what you want to communicate? Flashback to when I first became a titled leader, I was promoted to be a first-line sales manager. I found the job to actually be more challenging than I thought it was from watching my predecessors. I should probably apologize to all of them, because I guess they made it look easier than it was. One thing I did not do very well, looking back, and I’ve tried to develop this over the years, I did not challenge my team. I probably didn’t challenge myself either, to a higher standard, and I didn’t challenge us to raise our game. I more or less just expected people to rise to whatever challenge presented itself.

And I wasn’t very intentional in developing the collective ability to meet new challenges. I just didn’t do it. You mentioned something just a minute ago that made me think about this. You said, yeah, I should probably call and apologize to some of those leaders I worked for when we all made some assumptions. I think we’ve all been there. What if we took the opportunity and the challenge to just write a letter, write a handwritten note to some of our former leaders that maybe we had tension with, but when you look back, had a great impact on you because of how they led you and just said, I’m sorry I made some assumptions. I think it’d be a powerful exercise for you to do. So that’s completely just a squirrel trail off of Perry’s content and we’re wasting our time on the podcast with that.

But I completely relate with you when you talk about this. And I think about some of the past leaders that I’ve worked for, and in the moment, at times there, there was tension, there was frustration, but when you get on the other side, you look at the development of yourself as an individual, personally and professionally. or me, I’ve had to go through a mindset shift here with Mark Cole, our CEO, and I’ve been talking about this for a couple of years because we’re wired fairly similarly. John kind of coached him through some of this, which is going from being liked to being a leader. You still need to like people and they need to like you, but sometimes as leaders, we’ve got to think about, you know, how are we making decisions? How are we pushing our team?

How are we taking our team to the next level? And at times you’re not going to be liked and you need to lead in a way that is going to benefit them. So, I know you have told me in the past that you’ve developed some strategies. You always have strategies, processes, and systems. We were just talking about that with water consumption. But you have one to help your team grow. So, let’s share that with our listeners and give me one or two of those and we’ll just kind of unpack it. And then, to your point about observing a leader. My eyes were really open to what’s required when I worked for a leader. He was a very senior leader in the organization and he did not just assume that we would rise to the occasion.

Instead, he built-in opportunities to help us, each member of the team, to grow and develop. And the first lesson he taught and one that I require now on every team I lead or every team I get to coach or speak to in a keynote is that everyone must come prepared with a point of view. And he did this in a regular meeting, I probably shared this a year ago, but it really resonated with me so much. I’m talking around the table, eight or ten of us on his team and he was laying out a vision and he just looked across, he said, “Perry, what do you think?” And you know, I’m kind of a funny guy and I’m kind of clever and I probably didn’t have an answer. So, I said, “Well, I think what you think boss, what do you think?”

It got a chuckle around the table, which is probably what I was going for. But he leaned in and he said, “Could I give you a tip?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “if we, you and I, think the same thing, one of us will not be necessary and it will not be me.” We had a bigger discussion back in his office later about this whole thing. But he taught me that part of my job as a leader is to challenge people to help me with the thinking. If they’re all sitting back waiting for me to do the thinking, they don’t have a point of view, then there they might as well just be hired hands, not owners.

And I really want owners not hired hands. I thought it was a great first lesson for me, to require everybody on your team to come to every gathering, meeting, conference call, whatever the subject is, with a point of view. So, let’s think about it this way. When we encourage people to come prepared and to communicate their point of view, what do they say? A rising tide raises all boats. You are lifting the lid, you’re lifting the level of the team’s awareness knowledge because of the perspectives that’ll be shared around the table, around the room, around the phone call, whatever it might be. I think about it like this, when I go into a meeting as a leadership team, John says, if you don’t add value to this meeting, you might not be invited back to the next meeting.

And so if that’s the case with our leadership team, then why am I not replicating that with my team? Why or why am I not expecting them to bring that perspective? And so, I do think this is a great point. How do we challenge our team to lift that lid, to come prepared and not just, you know, be the funny guy or off the cuff? What does that look like?

I had one guy that was doing some group coaching and one of the things he told me was, hey, I tell everybody a different individual is going to lead each week, but you don’t know who’s going to lead until we start the session. People come prepared and they have their perspectives and their point of views. And I was like, Oh wow, that’s powerful because let’s just be honest, if I go into some meetings and I know that I’m not the leader and I’m not facilitating whatever, I may not take as much time to prepare.

And then, in essence, I’m shorting my team on just my perspective, my thoughts. So just a few thoughts there. It reminded me of one of my guys I coach, he wanted to sit on our coaching calls with his team. We had a group call, he said, could we review? Each week’s been 15 minutes talking about the 21 Irrefutable Laws. So, he bought the book for everybody, asked them to read and said that, next week, Chris, you’ll take Law 1. And then so in the lull in the conversation, he said, Bob, what do you think about them? Well, I didn’t read it. Chris is teaching me that. Okay, so we went right back to what you said. Next month we’re going to do Law 2 and 3 and we’re going to draw out of a hat who presents it.

To your point, it would kind of raise the challenge and say, now everybody needs to be prepared. Another thing this leader did that I thought really inspired me in my leadership and in challenging people to the next level was teach that it’s okay to challenge people’s thinking and he did that to us. He would ask me what I thought. I thought I was going to quit at one time. My wife was so wise, she asked me, why would I quit? I said, everything that I bring to this guy, he pushes back. If I said it was blue, he’d say was teal. Nothing’s good enough for this guy. I think I’m going to quit. And she in her wisdom said I think he’s trying to make you better.

I went, nobody’s ever tried to make me better before. I didn’t even know how that felt. Right? And then I thought when I became a leader, am I trying to help people be better? One thing we did was, I’m going to call it the challenge circle. We were in a little bit of a development opportunity and we were in our monthly team meetings. He would assign what we were going to talk about, and it might be a customer presentation of the value proposition for our business. A compelling reason for a customer to act on a call. You’re going to make a presentation. You’re doing that, you bring it and you present it to the group and then the group would then take it apart, start challenging you, asking you questions about it.

Not rude, not mean, not destructive, but just saying, well, why did you say that, and could you have done this and why didn’t you do that? And it really started to say that the developing what I’ll call executive presence, this gravitas, that we could all be five questions deep in whatever we were challenged. Nobody could challenge me outside of this room. That couldn’t be any worse than what I just went through and I’m prepared and I actually raised my level of executive presence with others and say I’m pretty confident now in what I’m doing because I’ve put it through the challenge circle and that we have really tested it and it made me better. I thought nobody, no leader ever tried to make me better before. Yeah. I almost quit. I’ve heard you say this before and it kind of just rings true right now.

Defending your position helps you protect your position, right? So, inside position to different meetings right there, thinking about it by being able to defend it, you’re really protecting it. The other thing I love about that is the team is beginning to understand what it’s like to be curious. And you and I talk about this sometimes too, where I think oftentimes, we’re not curious enough. There’s not enough curiosity. And so, as a team member, while they’re trying to pick you apart, their mindset is having to get into a little bit of curiosity to be able to come up with those questions. And then you’re having to get to a place to be able to defend your position all while taking your team to the next level.

Remember what we’re talking about here. We’re giving you just some ideas, some tools, tips, some things that Perry has used in the past in order to take your team to the next level. So, what other strategy or system have you developed to improve and develop your team that we can share with our listeners? I’ll just pile back on what you just said. I’m a professional speaker, author, and a coach, and I think I’m pretty good and I don’t really think about, is there a next level? And all of a sudden when I start working with other people, I wonder what’s the next level for me? How do I get to the next level? And I, right now I don’t have anybody challenging me for that. So I’ve got to challenge me, which is a little frightening. But you think about you’re leading a team, it’s easy to think you’re pretty good at what you do. But could you take it to the next level?

Andy Andrews, in his latest book, he said, are you doing the best you can do? And we always say, yeah, I’m doing the best I can do. He said, are you doing the best it could be done? Oh my gosh, what a question. None of us can say, no, I’m not doing the best it can be done. Then what’s the next level for you? And so, you’re thinking about that for yourself and for your team. If you’re going to develop your team, what’s the next level? Individual by individual to raise that game. And I thought, for me as a professional speaker, what would I need to do next that would take me to the next level as a professional speaker. And I had really started, you know, getting people to assess me and give me some candid feedback and find my blind spots. There are all kinds of strategies behind that.

So, while you’re thinking about that real quick, I’ll jump in. In John’s leadership content, he talks about, you know, in The Abundance Shift, he talks about going from maintaining to creating, and he talks about, is that really your best? Is someone else doing it out there better than you that could improve your best? And so we’ve got to get into that mindset as a team, as a leader, taking our team to the next level to always be challenging that, always be getting better. Always looking at how other people are doing it and what can we be doing differently. I love that you shared that. Well, I’m flashing back to everyone who said, well, Barry, I’m doing the best I can do.

Yeah, but are you doing the best it can be done? That’s different. What are the steps to raise your game? So, yeah, that’s the downside, it’s not easy. Another tactic strategy that I’ve used that I learned from some others was invoking a monthly Lunch and Learn. It seems kind of simple. I actually like a throw-away, but it focuses people on a topic once a month or once a quarter is what we kind of got into that with. Depending on what you’re trying to do, I guess you could do it more often, but assign a topic, as you said. I know you guys do a thing here at the John Maxwell Company about teaching the 21 Laws to each other. I love it because you get someone else’s perspective, someone else’s view on that, but it’s definitely not a passive event.

It’s not just somebody teaching and you learning. You’ve got to be encouraging people to challenge the speaker with questions. And so, it’s an engaging, interactive event that people are really working together to help grow and use it for what it’s meant for. One of the things that I love about John is that we live out leadership. We live out what we desire in other organizations. And so, we have an intentional leadership plan and we go through whether it’s assessments in content digital, whether it’s a conversation, and to your point, in the past, we have gone through the 21 Laws and twenty-one different people facilitated. Now what we didn’t do is draw it out of the hat, which would have been great. Others have been like deathly terrified every time we’re getting ready to start a meeting.

But I think you, I think if you do that and, and you’re growing together, you’re having conversations, you’re going back to what we talk about with the 5 Levels, you have a common language around the growth of people and you’re beginning to challenge and talk and use that common language that I think  lifts the lid on the team. Yeah, absolutely. Another one that seems to kind of simple, and I mentioned it briefly, was a book club idea that I did this for one group. I led and they choose a book. We assign the reading. Not a lot. It’s got to be a chapter or less for every meeting. It could be a weekly, biweekly, monthly. On the team call, I did it weekly. I spent 10 minutes of the team call discussing either one chapter or one point from the chapter that we all were all assigned to lead.

Again, I’m driving that as a development opportunity. The book is intentional. It could be a John Maxwell. I did the 360 Degree Leader. I thought it was fantastic because it had so much about how to lead up, down and sideways, about influence, all things they needed with their customers, with their team. It just really helped. There’s so much resource there, but this a slow plod through a book, planting intentional seeds in people’s heads. I think from a development opportunity, in addition to some of the book clubs that we do here as well, there are two things that come to mind for our team. We call them triads, where we’re working with an organization and their stock or they have an opportunity and we’re trying to figure out how can we serve them, how we can add value to them.

We’ll get three people for the triad. We’ll get three people and we’ll be like, here’s the objective. Here’s the problem. This what we’re trying to overcome, what are your thoughts? It’s a stand-up triad, feed into it and then everybody kind of goes back to what they’re doing. But that mindset, that thinking helps develop the people. And even the opportunity, I know that others use roleplay when it comes to this. Not everybody’s comfortable with that. I know I’ve taken a global survey. 100% of people hate role play. Don’t go on our website and tell us you hate role play. I know you do. I’ve taken the survey. I find it to be incredibly valuable. I know that people do not enjoy doing it, but it’s one of the best ways– it goes back to defending your position because people are going to be like, that was terrible.

Here are three things I would do differently. There’s a statement that basically says, hey, you have to be able to do this through repetition and in front of people or whatever the situation might be. And so even roleplays and other development opportunities, they say that practice makes perfect, but it’s not true. By doing the role play, submitting yourself to whatever humiliation you may feel it is. I don’t feel it is if everybody’s doing it, but to actually put your heart into it to present your best case. Ask for hard challenges. If I’m doing a customer and salesperson, I roleplay the customer, and I give them some great objections to make so that I can see how I respond to that.

And I might not know what’s coming, but then have other people observing to say, so why did you handle that like that? Why did you not go to our value proposition? Did you not consider the compelling reason to act? How did you do that? And once you do that, you start saying, wow, I’ve got some blind spots. Because, going back to my earlier point, I think I’m pretty good. But I don’t even know what the next level is. Am I doing the best I can or am I doing the best that can be done? I need to take it to the next level. And I think we all need to be personally taken to the next level and we need to be helping our teams get to the next level. Well, as we wrap up, I think all of those ideas, those phases, those process systems, to take the team to the next level.

Here’s what I would challenge you with. I think oftentimes our teams learn a ton from what we do wrong and what we fail at. I think we kind of do the after-action review, right? Here’s what I would challenge you with. Continue to do that. Continue to even do some of the things that Perry was talking about from a development perspective to take your team to the next level, but also take the opportunities to, when you do have a win, you guys succeed at something, you hit quota or whatever it might be, to evaluate the why behind that as well, because I think there are lessons that the team can learn from your wins as well as some of the things that you’ve had the opportunity to struggle through, which we’ll call growth opportunities.

I think people sometimes struggle, not even knowing there’s a next level, right? There is always a next level. Chris, thank you. As always, thank you for joining us on this podcast. As a reminder, as Chris said, you can find us at Leave any questions or comments you may have below. We always love hearing in front of you. That’s it for today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.


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