4 Interviewing Tips for Hiring Managers


With today’s low unemployment rate, we’re in a candidate-friendly job market. Hiring managers need to be on their A-game throughout the interview process to make sure they find and attract the right person for the job. But without proper interview training, hiring managers may fall into the trap of relying on their own assumptions about what a great candidate “should” look like, instead of the team’s shared objectives for a role. 

Taking an attribute-based interviewing approach will help hiring managers define the core skills needed for a role, objectively evaluate candidates, and ultimately make a great hire. Check out our four-step process to conduct effective interviews. 

1. Create a Structured Interview Plan

Structured interviews use the same set of questions and evaluation criteria across candidates for a role. The goal is to evaluate candidates using a consistent, repeatable process that focuses on key job skills.

Start by listing the core skills and attributes needed for the role and coming up with the behaviors you believe constitute solid evidence of these skills. Then, develop a set of questions that provide candidates the opportunity to share examples of these behaviors. 

For example, if you’re evaluating collaboration skills, note how candidates discuss working with their colleagues, developing cross-functional goals with internal partners, and sharing their team’s successes versus their own contributions. This technique will help you focus your interviews by prioritizing searching for objective evidence of skills rather than relying on a “gut feeling” about a candidate’s general abilities.

Though it takes a little more work up front, structured interviews actually save time in the long run. You’ll use the same skills rubric and line of questioning across all candidates, which not only provides more consistency and fairness, but results in apples-to-apples comparisons that simplify the post-interview evaluation. 

2. Practice Active Listening 

While it’s important to have an overall interview plan, it doesn’t mean you have to robotically stick to a script. Interviews are conversations between two people—and that’s where active listening comes into play. 

Active listening is a core communication skill that helps you understand and remember what a person says. It entails paying full attention to candidates’ verbal and nonverbal communication—not only listening to responses, but being aware of eye contact, facial expressions and tone. 

We’re all busy and it’s often challenging to overcome short attention spans and the myriad notifications from our email, Slack, and calendar. But being distracted during interviews could result in missing out on important differentiators and interesting moments. One easy behavior change is to silence your phone and mute computer notifications during an interview conversation (those emails and messages will be there when you’re done!).

Practicing active listening will prevent you from interrupting or thinking about what you want to say next. It also helps you discover opportunities for unplanned follow-up questions to go deeper into a unique experience and ensure you have enough evidence to properly evaluate a candidate’s skills and abilities. 

3. Tackle Unconscious Bias

Whether we like it or not, we all have unconscious biases based on personal experiences and societal expectations. At a fundamental level, unconscious biases are shortcuts our brain uses to make decisions quickly. When left unchecked, they can cause us to evaluate people based on instinct rather than evidence. 

In interviews, our biases act as a lens that influences the way we interpret candidates’ answers. When faced with limited information, our brains tend to subconsciously map candidates to people we’ve worked with in the past who we feel are similar. Because of this, it’s critical for all interviewers to actively work to limit the impact of these biases as much as possible. 

In addition to using a consistent interview structure across all candidates, hiring managers can tackle unconscious bias by avoiding beginning interviews with “chit chat” on topics unrelated to the role—including questions about where candidates are from, whether they have kids, and what they did over the weekend. These questions don’t focus on the candidate’s qualifications, and may result in evaluating them based on how well you relate to the candidate, or how similar they are to you. 

For example, instead of asking a candidate about where they live or what their commute is like, pose questions directly related to the requirements of the role such as, “We have a weekly 9am meeting on Tuesdays—are you able to be in the office at that time?” 

Some organizations try to show off their fun culture with irreverent interview questions like “If you could be any animal, which would you be?” But these queries are incredibly subjective. The answer “owl” can be interpreted in five different ways by five different people, and it doesn’t provide any objective evidence of skills or values!

4. Follow Through with an Objective Evaluation

You’ve done that hard work of conducting an effective, fair interview—now it’s time to set yourself up for a successful candidate evaluation. 

Once the interview is over, refrain from sharing your thoughts with other interviewers until they’ve all met with the candidate and you’re gathered together for a debrief meeting. Ask interviewers to record their feedback immediately, focusing on specific, factual evidence about the agreed upon skills. Because of your structured interview plan, you’ll be able to easily compare responses and choose the right candidate for your team.

Bad hires happen when organizations hire candidates who are great interviewers but don’t have the right skills for the role. Remember: your role is never to evaluate whether or not a candidate is a great interviewer. Instead, your mindset should be to give each candidate as many opportunities as possible to provide clear evidence of their skills and values. 

By focusing on gathering objective evidence about desired skills, you’ll be on the right track to building a great team.


These 6 Values Help Top NBA Teams Win


Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors and Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs are two of the best coaches in the NBA. While a number of factors make them successful, a key trait they share is a values-based leadership approach.

Since Kerr began coaching the Warriors in 2014, he built the team’s culture around four leadership values: joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition. These values have become part of the Warriors’ DNA. Take joy, for example—Steph Curry dances after three-pointers, Draymond Green emotes after every big defensive play, and Klay Thompson is consistently considered the NBA’s most popular player.

Over in San Antonio, Popovich is known for developing character in his players, which in his mind, includes a sense of humor. He explained in 2015, “Having a sense of humor is huge to me and to our staff because I think if people can’t be self-deprecating or laugh at themselves or enjoy a funny situation, they have a hard time giving themselves to the group.”

Popovich also asks, “Has he gotten over himself?” The answer helps the coaching staff measure a player’s work ethic, ability to listen and selflessness.

Let’s Practice: Define Your Values

Joy, mindfulness, compassion, competition, a sense of humor, and humility. The same values that guide two of the most successful NBA coaches can also help business leaders inspire their teams. Start developing your own list of leadership values by reviewing the following questions:

  • What are five values that are important to you?

  • Which values guide the way you work?

  • What are the common traits and behaviors of your favorite colleagues?

  • Which traits and behaviors in colleagues frustrate you?

  • What makes you proud to work at your organization?

If you feel comfortable, complete this exercise with a colleague or friend and compare notes. Do your values align with your organization’s? If not, how can you start a discussion with your manager or team to bring these values to the forefront of your work?

Let's Practice: "I'm a Tree"

im a tree.jpg

In every monthly newsletter, I’ll be introducing you to simple group exercises you can facilitate on your own. This month, we’re looking at how to demonstrate the power of “Yes, And, And” to your teams. The following exercise is something you can do to kick off your next team meeting.

Skill: Practicing “Yes, And, And”

Exercise: “I’m a Tree”

Time: 5-7 minutes

# of People: 10-15



At the beginning of your next team meeting, gather attendees together in a standing circle. Let them know that you’re doing a warm-up exercise to get collaborative juices flowing. To introduce the exercise, say:

“This exercise is called, “I’m a tree.” It sounds silly but it’s a really effective seven-minute warm-up for setting a collaborative tone in this meeting.

Let’s form a circle. I’ll start the exercise by walking into the circle and pretending to be a tree by saying “I’m a tree!” Next, someone will join me in the circle, add something to my tree and say something like “I’m a bird!” and place an imaginary bird on one of my “branches.”

Then a third person will add something to the scene, for example, “a park bench under the tree.”

Once that third person has entered the circle, we prepare to repeat the exercise in the following way: The original person in the scene, in this case me, the “tree,” will take something out of the circle by saying “I’ll take the bird,” leaving only “the park bench.” That person stays and continues to be the same thing. They’ll start a new sequence by saying “I’m a park bench.” Then someone new adds something to the bench scene, (i.e. “I’m a person sitting on the bench”) and off we go!”



The group will be reticent and slow to participate at first, but will quickly get excited by the possibilities they can create together. Encourage people to jump in whenever they have an idea, even if it’s not perfect, in order to support the other players.

Continue repeating these steps for 5-7 minutes or until you feel the group has reached a high-energy stopping place in which to begin the debrief. If you’re short on time, skip the debrief and go directly into the rest of your agenda.


Debrief Questions

  • What was the most surprising supporting idea presented? What was an obvious one that you would’ve guessed? Does it matter how obvious the ideas are?

  • What made it hard to add to a particular idea? Which ideas were easy to build off of?

  • Were you stuck at any time? How did that feel? What did you do to get unstuck?



  • This is “Yes, And, And” in action. Adding a third idea opens up opportunities for unexpected, creative solutions. In the context of this exercise, the group is building out an interesting scene. In a work situation, it means adding additional opinions, ideas and solutions into a idea-generation process.

  • It’s tough being the first person out in the circle waiting for someone to come in to support them. Finding ways to be the “second” to someone’s idea in a real setting is a great way to support teammates or clients and create a collaborative atmosphere.

  • Be on the lookout for people that are great at “seconding” and those that prefer adding the “three” for a big laugh. Typically the funniest part of this exercise is the third idea added (see: rule of threes), but that doesn’t mean it was the most important. Often, the second idea won’t be that funny, but a clear and deliberate choice will dictate the entire direction of the scene and set up a hilarious “three.”

  • Try doing this with more than three people adding to a scene (Remember: “If you can include three you can include seventeen.”)

Can AI-Powered Robots Have a Point of View?

Artificial intelligence has advanced leaps and bounds in just the last few years. We’re now in an age of Amazon Alexas, Google Assistants and all sorts of computer interfaces that are designed to communicate in a pseudo-human way. All of these technologies are fascinating and advanced, but for now, humans still have one key advantage over robots: the ability to improvise.

For example, Piotr Mirowski is a computer scientist living in London approaching this idea of robot improvisation in a very literal way. He and his colleague are the creators of A.L.Ex, an improv-performing AI system. He hosts a two-“person” show starring himself and A.L.Ex performing improv together.

improv AI.jpeg

Mirowski programmed A.L.Ex using a dataset comprised of millions of pieces of dialogue from movies, films, novels and TV. It picked up different phrases and language and learned how to piece together a response from the millions of previously recorded responses contained in its “memory.” It learns from every interaction it has during its improv shows and continues to hone its algorithm to more accurately replicate human speech.

I’ve watched some videos of their show, Human-Machine Live!, and well, as an improv performer, I can say the improv is terrible. A lot of what A.L.Ex says in response to Piotr’s lines are non-sequiturs that don’t advance the scene or resemble any sort of basic understanding of “Yes, and.” But that’s not really the point. As with all software, this program will eventually get better and will be able to have an interesting, life-like conversation.

But at that point, can we really call that improvisation? The way this software operates is not exactly in line with how human actors hear a line of dialogue, feel an emotion and then say the most logical response. Can we really call what A.L.Ex is doing the same (or better) as two humans improvising a scene together?

Point of View

In its simplest form, a “point of view” is a set of perspectives and deep-seated beliefs that together help to form a person’s opinions. Even if you’re not an improv performer, your “point of view” is visible every time you have a conversation.

When it comes to communicating, thinking about one’s point of view is a helpful way to prepare a person to speak about a topic, especially if he or she doesn't have a lot of time to prepare a script or plan remarks. Having a firm grasp of one’s opinions and perspectives on a topic will help guide a speaker to communicate his or her thoughts in an organized way.

This brings us back to the question at hand: Can robots have a point of view? The answer is unclear. Some scientists are looking into ways to program certain ethics or values into an AI robot’s coding. The idea is that if AI shares our values, the decisions it makes autonomously will have been generated through a process that takes into consideration the same things that a human would care about.

Anca Dragan, an assistant professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, was recently interviewed about AI values and had some interesting thoughts on the topic:

“Robots aren’t going to try to revolt against humanity, they’ll just try to optimize whatever we tell them to do. So we need to make sure to tell them to optimize for the world we actually want.”

The idea of robot values is something straight out of science fiction (see Asimov’s Laws for an example). There are countless movies (2001 and iRobot are two that jump to mind) where robots decide to wipe out humans because of a misdirected sense of purpose. Many data scientists today are thinking about this exact challenge. How can we make sure the AI systems we create will have the same values as the humans they’re designed to help?

All this brings us back to the idea of point of view. Can AI have an opinion? And would that mean a robot could have a personality that drives it to make surprising or unexpected choices?

These are deep questions that we don’t know the answer to right now. We can, however, begin to examine our own deeply held assumptions and gain confidence in our ability to communicate our values as humans.

Exercise: Point of View Questions

The next time you’re preparing to speak on a topic, whether it’s a small team check-in meeting or a large keynote speech, try asking yourself the follow questions. The answers to each of these will help you refine and hone your message:

  • Why you? Why does your expertise make you the most qualified person to explain this content?

  • Why them? What are the audience’s expectations and how will you satisfy or subvert them?

  • Why do you care? What about this topic ignites your passion? What will get your audience excited?

  • What action do you want to inspire? What is the one big takeaway that you must convey to the audience?

Hopefully these rhetorical questions will help you clarify your point of view in order to give a clearer and more interesting presentation. Perhaps some day we’ll have a similar set of questions we can ask our AI colleagues, but for now, we can all sleep a little easier knowing that that day is still a few years away.

Why “Yes, And” Needs a Reboot

group smiling.jpg

The concept of “Yes, and” has been, in my opinion, beaten to death in the business community. That’s in no small part thanks to to consultants and trainers (like me!) who use this concept as a panacea for solving collaboration skill-building challenges.

“Yes, and” implies there are only two people in a collaborative transaction; one to share an idea, and the other to build on it. Why is that wrong? Because 99% of real-world challenges, upon closer inspection, involve multiple parties. These challenges can’t be solved with pairs of neatly organized “call and response” surface-level solutions.

Collaboration at work is messy and confusing. How can we fix that this year?

“Yes, and...and”

My solution? Include a third person. We need to start approaching challenges with a question: “Who is the third person we’re not discussing here? What do they want? What can we give them as part of the solution?”

Why is including the third person important?

1. It forces non-binary decision-making - Boolean, “ones and zeros” logic is built into every piece of technology we have, but that doesn’t mean we as humans have to problem solve like an AI robot. Moving away from binary, Yes/No decision-making helps us think about the ripple effects of our decisions in a more comprehensive way.  

2. It forces inclusion of multiple points of view - It’s simple to focus a team on hitting a single metric or target. It’s much much harder to keep multiple goals in your team’s crosshairs.

Think of it like exercise (metaphor alert!). It’s easy to pick up a weight with your arm and curl it up to your shoulder. It’s much much harder to do the same movement while balancing on one foot on on unstable surface. You get much more out of a workout if you can engage balance, stability and kinetic challenges into the same movement. The same logic applies when building collaborative problem-solving skills with your team.

The more inputs you can bring to the table, the more you’ll build your team’s ability to think dynamically about multiple stakeholders.

3. If you can include three you can include seventeen - How many customers, internal and external, do you have? I’m talking about your team, the cross-functional teams you require input from to approve budgets, your customers, their bosses determining their budgets, etc. How often do you actively think of ways to bring wins to those farther down the list?

If you can think about a third person’s relationship to a deal or solution, then you can start to think about a fourth. Then a fifth. Keep these small stakeholders top of mind and you’ll discover easy wins that come at little to no cost for the larger initiative.

Let’s Practice!

In these newsletters I’ll be introducing you to simple group exercises you can facilitate on your own. This month, we’re looking at how to demonstrate the power of “Yes, and, and” to your teams. The following exercise is something you can do at the beginning of your weekly team check-in meeting or in the first five minutes of a daily standup.

Skill: Practicing “Yes, and, and”

Exercise: “I’m a Tree”

Time: 5-7 minutes

# of People: 10-15

After you try this out, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear how this approach changes the way you look at the challenges you’re addressing in a particular meeting or collaborative setting.

Unconscious Bias: What the NFL and NBA Drafts Can Teach Us about Hiring

Imagine you’re a 20 year old super-athlete. You just finished up your senior season playing at the top level of your sport. You can run faster than anyone you’ve ever met, lift more weight than professional bodybuilders and have the intelligence to process and anticipate the movements of 21 other similarly gifted athletes on a football field. You’re looking ahead to a million dollar payday in a few months and you’re feeling on top of the world. Then you walk into a room where the men in charge of determining your future look you in the eyes and ask you if you’re gay.

This is precisely what happened to Derius Guice at this year’s NFL scouting combine.

In March, the National Football League hosts an event called the “NFL scouting combine.” At this event, held every year in Indianapolis, a little over 300 former college football players are invited to showcase their skills in front of NFL scouts. The goal for the players is simple, run fast, jump high, lift a superhuman amount of weight, and prove that they’re ready to be drafted into the NFL and play in the pros.

Every team has the opportunity to schedule a formal, sit-down interview with any player at the combine. Typically, each team will meet with somewhere between 10 and 25 players before the week-long event is complete. Some teams look to assess a player’s ability to quickly understand and communicate strategic concepts. They’ll have an athlete draw and explain plays from his college’s playbook, or ask about how they would respond on the field in certain circumstances. Other teams take more of a behavioral approach, asking players how they’ve responded to adversity, injuries or tough losing stretches. Some may even ask how they would respond to theoretical struggles when they arrive in the league.

Unfortunately, many teams also seem to purposefully try to upset players in the room in an effort to judge their ability to keep calm in the face of adversity. This is what happend to Guice when he stepped into that interview room.

In a bizarre way, the teams are trying to generate an emotional reaction in order to disqualify a player due to a perceived lack of emotional stability. Players have been asked about committing hypothetical crimes, family histories and even sexual preferences, the type of questions that would get any normal corporation in serious legal trouble if these questions were a part of a normal interview process.

For the players, these kinds of questions are not only offensive, they’re completely unfair. How would you react if you heard that kind of question in a job interview - of course you would be upset! These questions only underline previous assumptions about a player. You think he’s a hothead who will lose his temper when pushed about his rough childhood? Asking a question about that will only reinforce what you already know, rather than discovering new or interesting skills or attributes. There are no surprises in an NFL combine interview; only bizarre questions that reconfirm biases.

What can we learn from the NFL combine interviews?

The NFL combine is a fascinating case study in talent evaluation. With a static set of challenges to complete, athletes look to be measured fairly against their competition for a job. But of course, the process has its weaknesses. In the mid-90’s a player named Mike Mamoula decided he would train specifically for the tests, not just for the football skills. He showed up to Indianapolis in 1995 and blew all the other competitors out of the water. He ended up getting drafted with the seventh pick in the first round and went on to have a spectacularly mediocre career in the NFL. In his case, the evaluation process failed, because he understood and exploited the weaknesses inherent in the talent evaluation and interview process.

Unconscious Bias in Interviewing

Unconscious biases are the shortcuts one’s brain uses to make decisions quickly. As people, we have a tendency, when faced with limited information about a person, to map onto him or her our experiences working with people we feel are similar.

Think about the interviews you’ve conducted in your career. What assumptions did you have about job candidates before they walked into the interview room? Had you reviewed their resumes? Or looked at their LinkedIn profiles? How many conclusions had you already drawn about them, their skills or their ability to succeed in the role?

It’s impossible to totally eliminate bias from your interviewing process. Fortunately, there are some simple tools and techniques to help you reduce the role of bias when evaluating talent. And even more fortunately, there’s another sports league, besides the NFL, that can teach us about those techniques!

Basketball to the Rescue

Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets, sees talent evaluation differently from his NFL counterparts. Morey has always been referred to as a “data guy,” and his evaluation processes have helped him assemble a team that’s currently in first place in the NBA’s Western Conference.  Long ago, he recognized that the traditional methods scouts used to evaluate players were rife with opportunities for bias to sneak into their evaluations.

In Michael Lewis’ book, the Undoing Project, Lewis interviews Morey about his struggle to eliminate bias from his staff’s talent evaluation process:

The problem was magnified by the tendency of talent evaluators—Morey included—to favor players who reminded them of their younger selves. “My playing career is so irrelevant to my career,” (Morey) said. “And still I like guys who beat the shit out of people and cheat the rules and are nasty. Bill Laimbeer types. Because that’s how I played.” You saw someone who reminded you of you, and then you looked for the reasons why you liked him.

Morey recognized the role that unconscious bias was playing in his front office’s process and set out to fix it. Here are some of the things he did:

  • Banned Nicknames -  After one nickname led to the staff’s constantly joking about a player’s being out of shape, they passed on him in the draft and saw him become a perennial all-star for another team.
  • Reduced the role of private workouts – Morey realized that a season’s worth of data was much more valuable than how well a player performed during a 30-minute workout in an unfamiliar gym.
  • Forbid intraracial comparisons – If a scout wanted to compare a college player to an NBA pro, he would have to compare him to a player of another race. Lewis writes about the change in the book: “A funny thing happened when you forced people to cross racial lines in their minds: They ceased to see analogies. Their minds resisted the leap.”

Resisting the Leap

Professional sports talent evaluation has a lot to teach us about our own interview processes. One bad decision by the Houston Rockets costs their organization millions of dollars in lost opportunities, team successes and overall fan interest. They have the highest stakes and need to take the utmost precautions to ensure they’re making smart decisions with clear eyes.

There are a lot of things you can do to reduce the role of unconscious bias in your own organization’s hiring process. The first, most important step, is to encourage your team members to take an unconscious bias training to examine the specific “leaps” that their minds take when confronted with limited information. Short of taking a class, there are free online resources prepared by researchers at Harvard University’s “Project Implicit” that allow you to test your own social biases online.

In the context of an interview, there are some small, but hugely important things you can do before, during and after an interview to reduce the role of unconscious bias in your talent evaluation process:

Before the Interview:

  • Include job candidates with uncommon backgrounds,

  • Plan ahead to ensure consistent structure and questions,

  • Ensure that all interviewers understand and agree on the definitions of the skills they’re evaluating.

During the Interview

  • Avoid unnecessary “small talk” on unrelated topics,

  • Allow yourself to be surprised by uncommon backgrounds or skill sets that allow the person to be successful in the role,

  • Validate assumptions about the candidate while they’re still in the room by asking follow-up questions.

After the Interview

  • Write and record notes immediately before you discuss your thoughts about a candidate with other interviewers

The next time you and your team set out to hire for a new role, take a moment and see if you can use some of these “bias-reduction” ideas. Or see if you can come up with some of your own rules that more closely align with the talent you’re evaluating. The more you build these questions into the front end of your talent process, the less likely you’ll be to miss out on future all-stars.


Octavia Spencer, Icelandic Politics and 80’s Comedy

In January, a new law went into effect in Iceland. It is now illegal for companies which are larger than 25 employees to pay men more than women for doing the same job. To enforce this new law, companies must submit payroll records every three years to prove they pay employees on an equal level.

Later that same month, Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer spoke about the topic of equal pay during an interview at the Sundance Film Festival. She revealed that in contract negotiations for a current project, her co-star Jessica Chastain learned that Spencer was earning five times less than she for appearing in the same movie. Upon learning that, Chastain went back to the producers and demanded that co-star’s pay be increased, otherwise she’d walk away from the movie. She was successful - Spencer received a substantial pay bump and the project continued on schedule.

Race and gender in the workplace are currently squarely in the center of our national consciousness. Practically every American industry has seen leaders at the highest levels removed from their jobs because they abused people, neglected responsibilities or acted cruelly to those who report to them.

As I’ve read through the stories, tweets, interviews and discussions on this topic, I’ve realized there’s a theme from the world of improvisation that crosses over directly into this workplace conversation. It’s a concept that seems to underlie all the discussions and deserves to be discussed on its own. That concept? Status.

What is “Status”?

In improvisation, status is the perceived difference in power between two characters. When played for laughs, it can be a terrific tool to show the absurdity of our expectations about two characters and our assumptions about how they will behave.

The movie “Trading Places” is an excellent example of how playing with “status” can create hilarious results. If you haven’t seen the movie (You should! It’s on Netflix…), the premise is that a young Eddie Murphy is picked off the street by two old and crusty stockbrokers. They’ve made a bet over whether or not they can turn any random person into a successful financier. Throughout the movie, Murphy’s character slowly but surely raises his perceived status through miscommunication, embarrassment and outrageous bravado.

Why do I bring this up? The key tool he uses throughout is “Status Transfer.” He’s able to use status expectations to his advantage to improve his stature, wealth and influence. At a more fundamental level, he learns how to do two things: raise his own status and lower the status of others. By the end, he’s become so adept at transferring status to himself that, well...I won’t spoil it!


Status Transfer - Raising your own “Status”

Kat Koppett, an expert in the tools of applied improvisation, discusses status in the workplace in her book, Training to Imagine:

“In the U.S., we eschew the concept of class and power. Everyone is supposed to be created equal, and so that must mean everyone is equal. An awareness of status differences, especially with a small community or team, has come to constitute political incorrectness. Organizations flatten their hierarchies and expect that status differentials will disappear. And perhaps not surprisingly, it is often those with the most power who resist the concept the most strongly. As social science tells us, the privileged are often blind to their privileges.

But make no mistake. Status dynamics exist. All the time, everywhere. What may distinguish one culture from another is what characteristics endow someone with status, which behaviors are expected of individuals with differing status roles, and how stable those roles are... Status can be understood not as something we are, but as something we do. We confer or accept status through our behaviors, and it is those interactions that determine who is perceived as holding the power.”

This idea that status is a behavior, not an endowed trait, is immensely powerful. In an organization, status is constantly shifting, evolving and changing. In one meeting, you may be the highest status person in the room, later that afternoon you may be the lowest status and have to sit quietly while others make decisions and you sit silently.

Luckily, we don’t all have to be comedic geniuses like Eddie Murphy to shift our status in the workplace. There are some simple things that will immediately help to show confidence and raise your status relative to those around you:

  • Pay attention to your physicality - posture and eye contact go a long way towards establishing confidence and respect.

  • Tone of voice - speaking loudly, clearly and without “um’s” and “you knows” demonstrates mastery of content.

  • Calm demeanor - finding ways to stay cool, calm and collected in the face of uncertainty and animosity helps increase your perceived status.


Status Transfer - Raising the “Status” of Others

Unfortunately, there’s only so much we can do on our own to raise our status. Power structures built over decades can’t simply be turned on their head by maintaining eye contact. That’s where high status people must transfer power to lower status individuals in order to empower them. That’s Jessica Chastain’s acting as an ally to demand pay raises for her coworker. That’s the power of the Icelandic government putting checks in place to ensure corporations provide equal pay for equal work. For those of you who typically take on a higher status position in your role (i.e. you’re a holder of power), here are some ways you can transfer your status to those that you manage or oversee:

  • Provide insights and context of what’s going on “at the top” so that your colleagues are armed with accurate information and facts.

  • Provide mentorship or be a peer coach. Seek to mentor colleagues and be a resource who can provide help and assistance.

  • Create Opportunities. Give people the chance to do the work that proves their skills and raises their profile. Give them credit for a well-done task.

  • Speak up when others demean or disrespect others. Make it clear that you won’t stand for a widening of the “status gap” between powerful people in your company and those that report to them.


Let’s Practice!

In these posts I’ll be introducing you to simple group exercises you can facilitate on your own. This month, we’re looking at how to explore the subtle ways we take and give “status” to those around us. The following exercise is something you can do at the beginning of your weekly team check-in meeting or as part of a larger conversation around power dynamics in the workplace.


Skill: Exploring “Status Transfer”

Exercise: “Status Cards”

Time: 10 minutes

Supplies: One deck of playing cards

Number of People: 2-50


Click here for the full instructions

Let's Practice: Status "Cards"

Skill: Exploring “Status Transfer”

Exercise: “Status Cards”

Time: 10 minutes

Supplies: One deck of playing cards

Number of People: 2-50



Ask everyone to find a partner. Introduce the exercise by saying:

“This exercise is called “Status Cards.” I’m handing out a card to each person. Don’t look at it. What you’ll do is hold it up on your forehead facing out. Everybody you interact with in this exercise will see your card except you.”

“Now we’re going to do a role-play. Let’s pretend we’re all ourselves and we’re all mingling together after a recent all-hands meeting. Your job is to have casual conversation, but talk to people at the status level of their cards. That is, if they’re “high”, like queens, kings or aces, treat them as such. If they’re low, do the same. Talk over them, interrupt and otherwise show them that their status is very low. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re being rude - that’s part of what we’re exploring here!”

“As you get going, I want you to take the clues you’re receiving from others and start to take on the status you believe is represented by your card.”



  • Before starting the role-play, have a quick brainstorm session to generate a list of all the ways people perform status. Make a list on a whiteboard of “high status” and “low status” behaviors. Inform the group that this is a list they can draw from during the role-play.

  • Give the group their cards and then set them off into the role play. Set a timer for five minutes.

  • Encourage people to play up their status. High status people should be dismissive, speak loudly, interrupt others and otherwise do all sorts of things that demonstrate their power. Same in reverse for the low status people: speak softly, slouch, cower when being talked to. All the things that show they’re low status! Have fun and don’t be afraid to push people to heighten their interactions.

  • After 5-7 minutes, ask the group to line up from high to low status. Don’t let them look at their cards yet! They should be able to do this just by the way others were treating them.

  • Now have them look at their cards - how accurate were they in forming their line?


Debrief Questions:

  • How did it feel when others treated you based on your status?

  • What did you pay attention to? What were the strongest clues as to what your card was showing?

  • How did it feel to talk to high status people? Low status people? When were you most comfortable?

  • What did you do to show people their status?



  • Status isn’t something we “are,” it’s something we “do.” The way we interact with each other is what creates status. Sometimes the highest status people aren’t the VPs or Directors. Sometimes it’s the lower level people in an organization who people have the most confidence in and trust.

  • Being high status all the time isn’t necessarily everyone’s goal. Sometimes it’s helpful to lower your status relative to your team in order to increase trust and buy-in to a project. The smaller the gap between a leader and his or her team, the greater the perceived safety and trust between those managers and their employees.


After you try this out, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear how you and your team understand the role of status in your unique organization.

Joy, Humor and “Getting Over Yourself”: Values-Based Coaching in the NBA

Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich are two of the most successful coaches in the NBA. Kerr won five NBA championships playing for the Bulls and Spurs and now coaches the Golden State Warriors. Popovich won five championships as coach of the Spurs, including two with Kerr as one of his most productive players.

Today, both coaches are widely respected as two of the best coaches in professional sports. Beyond winning together as a player-coach pair, these two men share a similar approach to coaching: Values-based leadership.

Popovich (L) and Kerr (R) share a lighthearted moment before a 2014 regular season game

Popovich (L) and Kerr (R) share a lighthearted moment before a 2014 regular season game

Kerr began coaching the Warriors in 2014. From the start, he built his team’s culture around four leadership values: joy, mindfulness, compassion and competition. To develop this list, Kerr combined his experience as an NBA player, executive and broadcaster with direct input from the Warriors players. The influence of joy on the team’s output is clear - Steph Curry dances after made three-pointers, Draymond Green emotes after every big defensive play and Kevin Durant, a new addition to the team this year, is frequently quoted saying how much fun he’s having playing for his new organization.

Over in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich is heralded as the coach who knows how to spot and develop “character” in the players he coaches. When pressed on how he’s able to identify a strong “character” in a young player, he bristles, saying that character is really a collection of specific, valuable traits that he and his staff can identify. For example, he lists Tim Duncan’s sense of humor as one of the reasons he was such a great player to coach: “Having a sense of humor is huge to me and to our staff because I think if people can’t be self-deprecating or laugh at themselves or enjoy a funny situation, they have a hard time giving themselves to the group.”

Humility is another one of Coach Pop’s key values. The Spurs have a phrase they use to evaluate new players, “Has he gotten over himself?”. The answer helps the coaching staff measure a player’s work ethic, humbleness and acceptance of his role. “Getting over himself” means that a player understands how his skills and limitations help or hinder the team’s ability to win. This concepts drives the way the Spurs attract veteran NBA players in free agency. Year after year their roster grows with superstar talents signing for less than maximum money to play a lesser role (fewer shots, fewer minutes, less media spotlight) for the chance to work alongside like-minded teammates devoted to winning an NBA championship.

Kerr won two NBA championships (1999, 2003) while playing in San Antonio under Popovich

Kerr won two NBA championships (1999, 2003) while playing in San Antonio under Popovich

Joy, a sense of humor, humility. These are the values espoused by highly successful NBA coaches. Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr use these concepts to contextualize the demands they place on the highly-skilled people they lead. These values form the lens through which they evaluate and solve challenges in the complex and highly scrutinized world of professional basketball.

A values based leadership approach also works well for people working outside the world of sports. Here’s a thought exercise you can do to start developing your own list of professional values. The next time you have five free minutes, ask yourself the following:

  • What are the values you use to guide the way you work?
  • What are the common traits and characteristics of your favorite colleagues?
  • Which traits in your colleagues frustrate you?
  • When faced with a challenge, which of your own values help you organize the way you plan your response?

As a personal challenge, try to articulate your own list of 3-5 professional values. If you feel comfortable, do this with a colleague or friend and compare your lists. Do these values line up with the values of the organization you work for? If they don’t, what can you do to start a discussion to bring these values to the forefront of your work?


Improv for Interviewers - A FastCompany Interview

Dave Collins, Founder and CEO of Oak and Reeds, was interviewed in Fast Company on ways to integrate improv into a company's interview process. Below is an excerpt of his thoughts (you can read the full interview here):

Brainstorm the questions you need to ask to get the information you need about the candidate beforehand. Have those ready, but also be prepared to go off-script if the opportunity arises. Collins uses a "question-asking funnel," where the interview starts with very broad questions, then more specific, probing questions are used as various lines of discussion develop. The key is to keep the conversation fluid, listen intently, and to be ready to follow an interesting thread when it emerges, he says.
"What I like to teach in improv is called ‘color and advance,’" he says. Use an open-ended question to get the color that the person will share in the story, then use an "advance" question to drill down into the specific skills about which you need to know.