How Leaders Lead

Tricky Team Meeting

No one expects childish and unprofessional behavior in today’s workplace, but that is exactly what Bob got one morning. Bob is a team leader in a customer service center. Every morning he is required to conduct a team meeting to go over standard procedures and highlight any policy changes. This morning, Tom, the wisecracking, troublemaking, and thorn-in-Bob’s-side customer service rep is in rare form. As Bob talks through the standard procedures, Tom begins to finish every sentence that Bob starts.

Bob, like many managers in this situation, feels a little surprised and frustrated, but what should Bob do to handle Tom? How can Bob show that he is in control and not Tom?

Dish-out? Give-in? Robotic?

There are three basic approaches that come up frequently when talking about this situation with managers:

Dish-out Approach: Shoot an angry look in Tom’s direction and say, “Tom, stop it! We’ve got to get through this so everyone can start work this morning. We don’t have time for your nonsense!” With the assertive approach, managers make their point, but may make some enemies. Several team members may start to wonder about Bob’s leadership if he gets aggravated with Tom over such a trivial issue. By reacting to Tom with a bit of anger, Bob looks defensive, impatient, and perhaps insensitive. Tom is the winner in this exchange.

Give-in Approach: Smile kindly at Tom and say, “Thanks Tom, you really are good at this! Perhaps we can have you run the meeting for us in the future if that is something you’d enjoy.” With the affable approach, managers don’t make any enemies, but they don’t make their point either. This approach also may leave team members wondering about Bob’s leadership style. By giving in to Tom, Bob may seem weak and indecisive. Bob may be the sort of manager to babysit your kids, but would he be the sort of person that could handle a tough business situation? Again, Tom is the winner in this exchange.

Robotic Approach: Ignore Tom and continue with the morning briefing. After the briefing is over, quietly step aside with Tom and say, “Tom we are required to have this meeting and we’ll get through it better if I can have your cooperation. Can I count on you for that?” With the robotic approach, managers follow the rules, but don’t inspire anyone to follow them. To the team, Bob comes off as cold and ineffective. The team may think he is odd and has a hard time connecting with people. For the third time, Tom is the winner in this exchange. Tom may dislike authority, his job, or have personal issues with Bob. The motivation doesn’t matter. Tom’s goals are the same. Tom wants to slow down, stop, or reduce Bob to a smoldering mound of rubble. Tom is part of the hate-group. Every manager has one. Depending on the type of business and type of manager, the hate-group can be big or small, but the leadership question doesn’t change. How can we win an exchange with the hate-group? What if you were Bob, what could you do to make a point with Tom, but not lose the confidence of your team or even worse, make enemies that may keep you from getting things done at work or in the long run, advancing in your career?

Stop-Think-Lead Approach: The goal of Stop-Think-Lead is to help managers and business leaders make points without making enemies while building forward momentum in their organization. The stop-think-lead approach creates positive momentum and shows wisecracking Tom that he cannot control the meeting or cause Bob to lose his cool. In the real-life situation when Tom started finishing Bob’s sentences, Bob smiled and looked at the team and said, “Sounds like Tom has a new game to help us get through the meeting easier. It will be fun. I’ll start a sentence and let’s see who can be first to correctly finish it. I’ll buy a doughnut and soda for the winner.” Tom didn’t win the game or the exchange with Bob. Bob didn’t react. Bob didn’t lose his cool. Bob earned respect from the team and showed Tom that he couldn’t disrupt or derail the team. Tom threw in the towel and within a few weeks transferred to another team.


Bob’s approach, the stop-think-lead approach, requires tactics and a particular mindset; all of which can be learned, practiced, and perfected. We rarely see the stop-think-lead approach because, depending on our personal style, most of us react to situations by being assertive like the Dish-out, affable like the Give-in, or mechanical and Robotic. Leadership is a contact sport. The first time we are punched in the nose, we react with the style we know best. When it comes to leadership, one thing is certain. When our leadership skills are challenged, our first thought is usually the wrong thought. If we aren’t stopping and thinking before acting, then we aren’t leading. Our top-of-mind reactions tend to be momentum-killers rather than momentum-builders!

Bob had a tactic in his hip pocket when his leadership was challenged by Tom. The tactic is called play it, don’t say it. People love to play games and playing games are a great way to take the focus off the hate-group and put the focus on getting a job done and moving forward. The stop-think-leadership approach provides about two dozen tactics to help us survive the hate-group, engage the swing-group, and empower the love-group. It helps managers transcend their natural leadership styles to be a little more charming and a lot more effective. Ultimately, the approach strives to give managers a confident and caring mindset in which they can build up people as well as businesses. As managers and individuals we want to tally up our happy results and not our sad regrets. In brief, the stop-think-lead approach is:

Stop: Don’t react defensively. Which tactic(s) do you use to respond with patience and poise?

Think: Determine what to accomplish. Which tactic(s) do you use to make progress towards an achievable goal?

Lead: Don’t embarrass, but lift up. How are the tactics preserving and perhaps building everyone’s self-esteem?

Stop-Think-Lead is a process that reminds us to pick tactics based on the nature of the leadership challenge and from whom the challenge is coming from. This way of thinking is borrowed from the world of politics. In a political campaign voters are separated into three camps; the pro-group, the swing-group, and the anti-group. To be elected a politician must grow the pro-group to more than 50 percent of the voters by gaining support with the swing-group. At the same time, the politician must successfully deal with the personal and policy attacks from the anti-group.

Ronald Reagan: Stop-Think-Leader

In his run for a second term as president, Ronald Reagan and his political pollster Richard Wirthlin believed that the anti-Reagan group would use age as a campaign issue. Before the presidential debates with Walter Mondale, Wirthlin conducted surveys with voters and found that Reagan’s age was only an issue with voters aged 65 and older. Once the survey result came in, it was time to stop, think, and lead. Reagan and Wirthlin sat down and decided on a tactic to use with the anti-Reagan group in the event they brought up Reagan’s age. In the second presidential debate with Mondale, Hank Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun, hit Reagan with, “You already are the oldest President in history, and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall, yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?” Reagan smiled and said, “Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Mondale lost the election.