How Dr Kimberly Janson Uses Leadership, Culture and Coaching To Create High-Performing Teams

·11-min read

Throughout the decades of her exemplary career, Dr. Kimberly Janson has seen just what it takes for organizations to become unstoppable: strong leaders and effective teams. Time and again, her methods have helped companies reverse a downward spiral or push beyond complacency. She shares what organizations can do to create high-performing teams positioned to succeed.

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“When teams can truly collaborate and be powerful together, very often they are limitless” shared Dr. Kimberly Janson, the CEO and Founder of Janson Associates, a leading executive coaching and talent development firm.

With a Ph.D. in Business focused on leadership, Kim has spent the last two decades successfully shaping organizations to operate effectively, unleashing people’s potential on a global scale.

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To date, Kim has worked in over 40 countries with nearly 300 companies, largely in creating high-performing teams that best their competitors and drive industry growth.

Her track record of success spans fortune 100 companies including Bank of America, Hasbro, Heinz, Johns Hopkins, and many more where she’s shared her coaching techniques with uppermost management in driving transformation.

Kim is recognized today as the go-to source for teams and individuals that are struggling to reach their full potential. According to her diagnosis, the most successful organizations are the ones that can rely on high-performing teams. Yet many organizations fail to create effective teams capable of high performance.

In fact, a recent survey found that 97% of employees and executives believe that lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project, with another 86% citing poor communication as the root cause of workplace failures.

This shows that despite many employees claiming to “work well with others” on their resumes, the execution of this soft skill is much rarer in reality.

So how do we teach employees to overcome individualism and embrace team unity along the road to success?

The reigning expert has weighed in.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Kim Janson and learn the secrets behind her decades of success in building teams across the globe.

For Kim, it all begins with leadership and culture creation. Below we’ve uncovered simple ways that teams can incorporate this into their operations to achieve big results:

You’ve spent your entire career working with teams across a multitude of industries. What is the number one cause of error that you run into?

(KJ) “The leader. If the leader doesn’t model the right behaviors and lacks the skills to nurture and cultivate relationships with the team, a domino effect of negative results occurs.

“When I work with teams, I first seek to understand what is in the lens of the leader. This gives me an immediate sense of what’s working, what isn’t, and what needs to be fixed.

“For teams looking to improve their performance, it must begin with assessing the leadership effectiveness currently at play. It is essential for leaders to drive the changes that will drive long-term results and it begins with a healthy sense of where they are.”

How do you work with leaders to encourage thought leadership that results in greater outcomes?

(KJ) “There are so many elements that can cause a leader to be ineffective. Lack of skills in various areas, lack of experience, lack of emotional intelligence, not operating at the level appropriate to the role, and an inability to create followership are some examples.

“Often, one significant source of leader ineffectiveness is ego. We should be careful to not confuse ego with pride. Ego is about self-importance and creates distance in relationships. Pride is about the celebration of something and being proud of your team is a wonderful attribute. Ego can easily impede the success of a team. If this is the case, the first step is to assess whether or not this leader is capable of change.

“Begin by digging into what’s worrying the leader and what’s motivating them. Is the leader worried that their team won’t properly complete the tasks they’ve been assigned? Has their own ego made them think they can do the tasks better? Are they motivated by seeing their team succeed? Or are they worried that successful team members may undermine their own success and their position?

“By immersing myself into the experience of the leader, I can better understand why they lead the way they do. From here, we can open up the conversation about optimal solutions in overcoming barriers that are preventing their team’s success.”

What are common challenges you see that hinder a team’s success?

(KJ) “I typically come across several frequent challenges that inhibit a team’s success.

“The number one challenge is that team members are often disincentivized in both overt and subtle ways to operate as a team. One simple example is whether their compensation structure is 100% based on the performance of their function so they are driven to pay attention only to their function and not be strong cross-functional team members.

“Secondly, lack of accountability is a huge challenge for teams. When expectations are not clear and team members are not being held accountable for their work, it is all too easy for processes to unravel and failure to achieve collective results becomes a reality.

“Thirdly, many team members have forgotten or haven’t learned the skills it takes to be part of a team. At times, this often means suspending individual glory to pass the ball to someone else in an effort to score. Someone else may be better positioned to drive the change. This is a hard concept as we have been drilled on the idea that our success is about individual excellence.

“To overcome these challenges, team leaders need to assess their current structure and ask themselves, what do I need to modify, add, or eliminate to enable these folks to come together as an Avenger Team - a fierce fighting collective force. For example, is there a compensation structure in place that rewards BOTH individual and team accomplishments? Is there a system of accountability in place holding team members responsible for their work? Do team members trust each other enough to work together as a team? Are we doing things to get to know each other and truly want each other to succeed? By asking these questions and more, team leaders can then think about how they can best implement the right solutions.”

Have you stumbled across situations where the leaders themselves fail to be coachable? In those situations, what’s your course of action?

(KJ) “Oh, yes! I’ve learned that you cannot help people who do not want to change. Unfortunately, at times, you will find people in leadership positions who are not coachable individuals. They look outside themselves rather than inside and lack the self-awareness that is required to be a successful leader. I can tell you about an individual right now who is brilliant in his space but he has a fatal flaw. He thinks the problem is external. The issue is he can’t create followership. He will not ascend to the CEO role unless he humbly recognizes the issue is within and work on it. If a leader purely values individual success, they are absolutely not a fit to be a leader.

“I’m currently doing a study on Determining Leadership Potential. I’m interviewing more than 50 CEOs on their views on the subject. It’s turning out to be an amazing study. What I continue to be blown away by is the CEOs that many would look at as most successful are the most humble. They are worried about their own blind spots and biases. They are incredibly coachable, looking to be better every day. There is a relationship between their success and these attributes. It’s powerful.

“In situations where the leaders are not coachable, the organization must ask themselves if this leader may be better suited in a different role that encourages their individual ideals, within or outside of the company. For me, it would be outside the organization because even individual contributors need to be coachable but the problem is much more significant when it is a leader. How this leader is showing up is not a secret in the organization and the longer it is perpetuated, the more questions, confusion, and frustration it creates in the employee base.”

When teams come to you, are they already succeeding and looking for that next boost? Or are they operating in a downward trajectory, and in need of rescue?

(KJ) “I would say it is a fair balance of both. I often have the pleasure of working with teams that have performed well. Surprisingly, this can be a challenge in itself.

“If your business or team is not on a burning platform of problems, it’s easy to have only incremental growth. Success can be one of the biggest impediments to future success. It is easy to be comfortable in moderate success. It takes courage to create transformational success.

“Other times, CEOs will bring me in to work with teams that are simply not functioning well. There are many root causes to why this might be but a common one is that leaders often focus on only their own span of control. A “silo mentality” prevails in those organizations. Organizations are communities. We live and work and depend on each other and when you try to split that into functional areas in a strict sense, it always leads to issues. Helping a team evolve from being a team of leaders to a true leadership team is one of my greatest joys because the impact of this evolution is significant.”

You discuss the importance of creating culture in determining the success of a team. COVID has no doubt impacted this. How do you recommend teams can continue to create culture during this time?

(KJ) “Culture is the manifestation of shared beliefs. With COVID, there is less interaction and fewer physical ways we can manifest culture. That just makes it a little harder but still doable. Companies should be clear on what their belief system is. A key question for leaders to ponder is, ‘What are the beliefs that we subscribe to that should drive our behaviors in this organization.’

“Some examples of beliefs are: ‘We are entrepreneurial, we are fun and feel life is short so we should enjoy what we do, respect is non-negotiable, we are the pace-setter in our industry, we are committed communicators.’

“Whatever the beliefs are, they should be brought to life in the behavior of leaders and employees. Companies should hire for these beliefs, should coach and provide feedback relating to them, should reward them, etc. We can do this in person and remotely. We just need to be clear about these beliefs and make sure our behavior follows accordingly.

“I find that leaders have moved away from these fundamentals in a virtual/Covid environment. Doing these basics well would continue to serve as a strong foundation for team effectiveness, but we aren’t spending the time on these elements during Covid. However, global teams have successfully operated remotely for years because they pay attention to these fundamental elements. It’s a priority for those teams”

You’ve worked with countless CEOs throughout your career. For these individuals, they really are at the top of the corporate ladder - what are the top things they need to think about in being THE thought leader?

(KJ) “There are several things CEOs need to think about if they want to lead their organization to success, especially in light of this new era of work, but let me emphasize three:

  1. Culture - In addition to what has already been expressed in the previous responses, CEOs should consider themselves as first in line as a culture keeper and shaper of an organization.

  2. Risk Tolerance - The CEO sets the pace on the risk of an organization. Coupled with this is how failure is dealt with because unknowingly many organizations have fear embedded in them. For organizations to grow, it takes risk.

  3. Talent - Successful CEOs spend the majority of their time on talent. Identifying top talent, assessing them, grooming them, promoting them, and holding their leaders accountable for doing the same is truly how high-performing organizations get perpetuated. The most important responsibility of a CEO is to create an environment that thrives because they have harnessed the power of highly effective talent management.”

For those who underestimate the power of properly run teams, how does your experience provide an argument in favor of the power of teams?

(KJ) “There are so many examples among us as to the power of leading effective teams. Just turn on the TV and watch any sporting event. This stuff is not rocket science but there is a huge knowledge and skill gap when it comes to making it happen. Seek the experts to help because it is very learnable and makes a tremendous difference in the success of organizations.”

Despite the cliche, teamwork truly does make the dream work. Kim’s decades of experience have proven this to be the case time and again, with organizations big and small. For teams that have found themselves complacent with their success, or struggling to meet their intended objectives, now is the time to get things in check.

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