Mel Savage Executive Coaching
The Highly Valued Leader Podcast - Clarifying Vision

Episode 90 – How Do I Create a High-Performing Team?

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Episode 90 - How Do I Create a High-Performing Team?
Summary

Discover the critical elements to build a high-performing team and learn how your leadership and strategy can make all the difference.

  • Regardless of the company, workload, number of staff, or quality of staff, all these factors only influence the pace at which your team comes together. However, achieving a high-performing team is possible if you desire it.
  • The outcome entirely depends on the kind of leader you become and the strategy you implement.

When you’re ready to become a top-performing leader, book a leadership strategy session to see if executive coaching is right for you. You’ll learn to simplify your leadership style while amplifying your value inside my 1-1 coaching program.

Go to https://melsavage.com/chat to book your leadership strategy session now.

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Read the Transcript

Welcome to The Highly Valued Leader podcast where I make it simple for leaders at all levels to amplify their value. My name is Mel Savage and I went from working in the mailroom at a small ad agency to making multiple six figures in senior management at McDonald’s, to running my own multiple six-figure executive coaching business. I’ve had huge successes in my career and epic failures. All of it taught me the world-class leadership, mind, and skill sets that I simplify for my clients and share with you on this podcast. I’ll help you reset your leadership style, demystify the politics, and help you become the highly valued leader everyone wants on their team. Get ready for the most honest, direct, and revolutionary leadership coaching you’ve ever heard. Let’s simplify leadership together.

Welcome back, my leaderly friends. How are you this week? Today we are talking about the very subtle art of building a high-performing team. There is no one way to do this, I’m going to tell you that right now. But I am going to give you some ways of framework today to help you get some traction doing it because it is a hard thing to do. There are nuances to it always. 

It’s going to be very uncomfortable as you’re doing it because not only do you have to build your own emotional capacity to do this, but there is also the ongoing challenge of balance and prioritization. You have work you need to get done, and you have a million things on your plate, how do you integrate the focus and the intention of building a high-performing team into what you do every day? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

I’m going to talk about some critical elements, as I say, that I think are really required for building a high-performing team. And I want you to know that your ability to build a high-performing team is largely in your hands. What I mean by that is, that it doesn’t really matter the company you work for, the “toxic culture,” the workload, the number of staff, or the quality of your staff. 

All those things will play into the pace with which your team comes together, or the pace with which your team becomes high-performing, but you get to control if you can get one because essentially, your ability to have a high-performing team really depends largely on the kind of leader you become and the strategy you put together to build that high-performing team. 

As I said, I’m going to give you parts of that strategy and some foundational frameworks for that strategy today. And you’re going to have to use your creativity as a leader to figure out how to mold those things specifically for your team and what you want your team to accomplish. A lot of the time, people don’t have a high-performing team because they think that they’re caught up in those things that I said, actually are not barriers. They’re caught up in ‘Oh, I don’t have the right people.’ 

First of all, as a leader, you will gravitate naturally to some members of your team more than others. People who think like you, people who work like you, people who present things your way that you don’t have to spend a lot of time with. You end up thinking those are the great people, and the other people are a problem. Because you think you don’t have the right people because you’re not a leader yet who can learn to grow all different kinds of people and appreciate the strengths of all different kinds of people and what they bring to the table, you’re maybe not seeing your team as holistically as you could, and you’re seeing people as a problem versus you being the person that drives the solution.

There are probably also people on your team that don’t work well together. And there might be a lot of finger-pointing going on when things go wrong. You might be finding yourself like ‘Oh, there’s so much conflict here… This person is creating too much drama. There’s not enough accountability… I don’t know who to trust…’ Whatever it is, there might be things like that going on. 

Also, you might have a situation where everyone is working their butts off, they’re on the verge of burnout, or some people are working harder than others. And that as a leader, you’re thinking that these people are committed, these people aren’t committed because there’s not a lot of communication going on. Overall, people tend to be stressed out, and overworked, and you’re not spending enough time with them because you’re in meetings all the time, and maybe you’re having a hard time understanding why people are doing things or acting the way that they are because you don’t have enough time to actually dedicate to it. 

But none of that is the real problem. Those are just symptoms of the problem. The main problem is that you haven’t decided, as a leader, what you want a high-performing team to look like, you don’t have a vision for it, and you’re not dedicating enough time to it. 

I’m not necessarily going to talk about how to manage your time. I’ve got other podcasts, lots of social content, and lots of stuff out there about managing time. So I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that today. You need to make time in your day calendar. You need to prioritize this as a project. If you want to build a high-performing team, you have to lead it. That’s the very first thing. That’s not even part of my framework today. 

If you need time, if you need help with that, that’s something I do with my one-on-one coaching. It’s to really help you figure out your prioritization, and how to work it. It’s one of the first things that we work on because everyone is having a problem with it. And as a leader, you need to spend less time meeting and more time leading. 

But when you actually create this vision for what you want your high-performing team to look like and why you want it to be that way, what will happen is you will get better results, you will be more profitable, you will have better top-line sales, more innovative thinking, you will be the department or the team or whatever that’s the go-to one, you’re going to have higher retention, less stress, work is going to be more fun, and you’re going to be the team that everyone wants to work on. 

So you’re going to get the best people even as people do naturally leave to get promoted or move to another department or whatever it is. The best people are going to want to work with you. And your team might even grow because you’re such a great leader, you’re going to get more projects and more responsibilities, and all good things when you decide what you want your high-performing leadership strategy to be. 

What I want to give you today are just some basic frameworks to start to build for yourself. And it’s going to be really all about mobilizing the people. It’s going to be less about how you emotionally handle leadership in general. I think I got a lot of content on that. Today, we’re really going to talk about some of the foundational things that you need to work on with the people to build a high-performing team. 

The very first one I want to talk about is vision. As a leader, it is so important that you have a vision on so many different levels. The two levels I want to talk about today in the context of a high-performing team are a cultural vision and a workload vision. That’s just in the vision bucket. And I have a couple of other buckets that I want to share with you. The very first thing that you need to work on and you don’t do this work solo, by the way, whenever it comes to vision, it is a collaborative effort. But it needs to be led by someone and there needs to be decisions made by someone and that someone is going to be you. 

The first thing is a cultural vision. You need to build a working culture that is based on safety and creating safety for people to do their best work, to be vulnerable, to take risks, and to risk failure. They need to feel safe. When people don’t feel safe and when there’s a fear of repercussion, you get the blame, you get the judgment, you get finger-pointing, you get complaining. You’ve lost right away. If people feel fear, you’ve lost right away. 

When you run a fear-based culture, which I worked in for a long time at McDonald’s (one of the presidents I worked for was big on fear-based culture and big on creating conflict between people), you will get some wins. Absolutely. By creating a fear-based culture, you will burn people out and turn them over quickly. Absolutely. So if you don’t want to lose them, you better have a really high monetary retention strategy that goes along with your fear-based culture. At McDonald’s, we call them the golden handcuffs. So there better be a really good reason for people to stay since they’re working in fear all the time. But you’ll burn people out. You won’t get the best results. And ultimately, you won’t be tapped for bigger opportunities. 

For instance, the president that I worked for who was facilitating this fear-based culture, never moved past being the president of Canada and never got to be a president of a larger market because of the way that they lead. I’m not saying fear-based cultures don’t work, but they are not sustainable long-term towards specific goals. You might be like, ‘It’s okay. I don’t care about turning people and never moving past what I’m doing right now.’ That’s you. Go for it. But if you want to build a really high-performing culture for the long term, you need to build a culture that’s based on safety. And that means you need to think about what behaviors you will reward. 

I do recommend that you only speak to each person on your team individually, in terms of how they feel. Do they feel safe, what makes them feel unsafe, and all those kinds of things? Also, once you have the basics from an individual standpoint, you bring it back to the wider group and have a conversation about this so you don’t just do this in a vacuum putting this together. But you need to think about what behaviors you reward. For instance, encouraging differences, and seeing everyone’s individual value because you’re going to have to walk the talk first. If they don’t see you doing it, they’re not going to do it. 

So if you’re the person who’s gravitating to people like you, if you’re like besties with some of your staff and not besties with the other ones, if they see you preferring people on your staff, preferring types of people, not appreciating their specific value, not helping them in the same way that you help all the other people; then you’re not going to be encouraging differences. I’m giving you lots of different examples, but you need to decide what encouraging differences means. 

It also includes things like shutting down blame. How can we all learn that there are no mistakes here? There are errors in our process, how can we all learn from them? We don’t shut each other down, blame each other, or feel fear for making a mistake. We were just feeling bad about letting each other down versus worrying about how it was going to impact us. Because we have each other’s back, which means encouraging, celebrating, offering help, nurturing safety, and supporting when we fail. 

But not failing in a bad way, like a failure in its true definition, which is essentially not getting the result that we hoped to get. We didn’t achieve that result, but it’s not a bad thing. We’re helping each other grow. We’re figuring out how to deal with those situations. You need to think about how to create safety in that area, as a group and have some key behaviors that you will all live by when it comes to creating a safe environment to work. And you need to be able to nip it in the bud very quickly if people are not behaving in an agreed-to way because they won’t at first. 

It’s going to require much more of your time to be able to sit down and have ongoing conversations about why people are continuing to blame others and judge others and all those kinds of things. Some people are going to take longer than others to adapt to this. And that’s just going to come from where they come from, what kind of traumas they experienced in their work history, and you’re going to have to help people really believe and create the trust that this is going to be a safe environment to work. 

It’s also going to include something about how you deal with conflict, because conflicts will happen even in the safest environments, even in a team that works well together because as humans, we love to create conflict. So don’t ignore the conflict or it will fester. I hated how sometimes my leaders would deal with conflict, which is like, “Well, you’re adults. You figure it out. I’m not getting involved. You guys can’t figure it out…” I get the impetus for that. I really do. Sometimes it works. Most of the time, it just blows up. And it just festers and it gets worse.

I suggest you don’t ignore it. I’m not saying fix it for people, but you can facilitate how they fix it. You can get involved by helping to facilitate the conversation, normalizing disagreements, reassuring them there is no right and wrong, reinforcing safety, helping the parties come together to a resolution, dealing with their own emotions, and taking accountability for the emotions that they’re blaming other people for. There is a role that you can play as a coach leader to help people come together. Your goal is to facilitate that understanding and appreciation of differences and help those people decide how to move forward. It’s their decision, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a role to play.

I talked about it. I just alluded to it a little bit. But the idea of accountability is not just accountability for doing the work that you say you’re going to do. But taking accountability for your own feelings is so important. Because we often say things like ‘They made me feel this way… They said this, and that hurt my feelings…’ Let’s say someone does say something unprofessional and someone is hurt by it. Both parties have something to learn here. 

The person who said the unprofessional thing needs to understand why they said it. What were they feeling? Why did they say it that way? Was there a better way to say it? What was their intention in saying it that way? Because they’re accountable for saying that unprofessional thing. And also, because they created the environment. They created the circumstance and also the person who was hurt by it. They’re not wrong for feeling hurt, but they are accountable for feeling hurt because that’s a choice that they made. 

They could have got curious with the person saying, ‘Why are you saying these things to me? I think what you’re trying to say is this, but you’re kind of saying the stressed-out mean. Why?’ To get to that point, instead of just being hurt and shutting down requires strong emotional intelligence, obviously. In order to foster an environment that creates strong emotional intelligence, you need to create those frameworks for people to work with them. You need to create that intentionality, you need to reward that intentionality, and you need to sit down, and have these conversations with people so they can understand it. 

Sometimes it requires you to understand it yourself, which is why coaching exists. One of the things that I talk about with my clients is, that being a great leader is not just about having experience in the subject matter that you lead in; it’s really about growing your capacity–your emotional capacity for failure, for understanding, for compassion for people. These people need to grow their emotional capacity. You need to grow your emotional capacity. And that is what coaching is all about. You have to create a cultural vision, sort of working guiding principles for the team.

Then there’s a work vision, meaning strategically, what will your team focus on that is aligned with the overall needs of the organization? I learned this early on from an ops manager at the time at McDonald’s. He was in charge of a bunch of corporate restaurants, not franchised restaurants. He always talked to me about the fact that he would come up with three things every quarter that his team would focus on. I’m giving you this because I think this is really important. Your job is to create compelling goals that are focused and clear. 

I always say to myself, ‘Right now, what are the three things?’ What are the three things that I need to focus on this quarter? When you give your team three things, and I’m just saying three things arbitrarily, obviously, you get to decide if it’s five things or two things or one thing, whatever it is, that gives your team permission to filter out all the good ideas that are not those three things. 

I always say this to my team, even separate from the three things in the vision: A great strategy is knowing which good ideas to say no to because there are lots and lots of good ideas out there that are going to grow the business, that is the right thing to do, yada, yada, yada. So as a leader, you need to help the team focus on right now, what are the three things that we’re going to focus on in the next quarter? You should be a couple of quarters ahead of your team, by the way. But every quarter, you reframe that. And the way you choose those things, is by managing up the organization, by saying, ‘Here’s what I’m going to my team to focus on. These are the three things.’ And 80% of the time your team is focused on those three things. 

I’m not saying to be a gatekeeper where there is no room for anything outside of those three things. But when you do work outside of those three things, it is an exception to the rule. An exception that has been discussed and negotiated and landed on for really, really good reasons. Not like, ‘I don’t want to upset this person… I don’t know what to say…’ None of that. It’s your job. 

Not only do you set these three things by managing up the organization, but you look at the things your team is saying to you because they’re on the front lines. They’re closer to the execution than you are. They’re going to see things that you don’t see and that management doesn’t see. I think you sort of get to bring everything together. And then choose those three things. Be clear about them, explain why, and have constant discussions with your team. That’s going to be a way for everyone to stay away from the shiny object syndrome, from the oh-this-will-be-a-fun-idea syndrome. You have to stay away from that so your job is to create a work vision. So cultural vision and work vision.

Then I would say to you, once everyone’s got the vision, it’s your job to be a very intentional leader, extremely intentional. Being intentional requires a ton of mindset work because your brain is not going to want to be intentional. Your human brain is not designed to be intentional, it’s designed to be reactive. It’s designed to keep you in comfort. So if you want to be intentional, you’re going to have to use your prefrontal cortex more, which is slower than the reactive part of your brain. But you really need to always think about it intentionally. Today, we’re going to do this… Today, we’re going to focus on this… Today, I need to be this person… You’re constantly setting yourself up intentionally. 

Every morning, this is something I really recommend to my clients, even though it seems tedious, and eventually, you won’t have to do it. But at the beginning, Here’s how I’m going to be today… Here’s what we need to focus on today… This is what’s happening… I need to make sure I’m intentionally staying calm when I’m dealing with this thing today… You really need to walk the talk. Role-model the trust, the safety, and the non-judgement. Be open to all ideas and all working styles. Be curious about why people are acting in certain ways, why they’re working in certain ways, and why they’re avoiding working in other ways. You need to celebrate mistakes. Talk about the learning. Be vulnerable yourself when you make mistakes, and share stories when something goes wrong. And talk about how everyone on the team could have each other’s back even more. Celebrate that and reward that. 

You have to be really clear, but you have to be very intentional. And if you’re having trouble with this, one of the things that we work on when we coach together is something I call a Power Brand Framework. It’s like your own personal intentional brand framework of who you want to be. It can be in all different kinds of leadership aspects. But for this, if you’re saying, ‘I want to be an intentional leader about building a high-performing team,’ that’s what we would build it around. 

Sometimes for people, it’s about how they advocate for themselves, or how they deal with authority, or how they believe in themselves, or how they onboard or whatever. There could be lots of things. How they build vision, and how they build relationships with certain people. It can be all different kinds of things, building an intentional brand framework for what kind of leader you want to be in order to get to a goal. 

I would say here, you want to be very intentional with the brand framework that you build for yourself and who you’re going to be as you’re building your high-performing team. And then there are lots of little things that you can implement. For instance, things like team meetings are no longer status updates. Status updates can be done via email. You can implement a forum people can look at, or something. Team meetings can be opportunities for dialogue. I think that’s a much better use of people’s time if we’re going to meet because we don’t get enough chance to actually have dialogue about how we’re feeling and things that are going wrong. How can you create that? 

You can also be very intentional about how you meet with the leaders of your team. Not your leaders, like your bosses, but the key leaders of your team. How are you meeting with them? How are you being intentional about how they’re creating and walking the talk and, creating the environment? You need to make sure that they’re doing that as well. 

When it comes to feedback, there is a lot of positive feedback to individuals, that is specific. Not just ‘Hey, good job.’ Good job is generic. I’m not saying don’t say good job. But you can be more specific like ‘I saw you do this, this, and this. Great job with that. I really appreciated that.’ Especially positive feedback to individuals who are walking the talk in the cultural framework that you built.

Sometimes when you’re giving positive feedback, people are going to get ‘What about me? syndrome’ because you’re not going to be able to see everything all the time. You’re not like an all-knowing Oz or something. And that can happen. I think about the show that I love, Ted Lasso. Ted Lasso was the best coach leader ever, by the way. But you remember in that show, if you’ve seen it, Nate gets all freaked out, because he doesn’t feel appreciated. He has a what about me? syndrome, because at first, he was focused on and then he wasn’t. It wasn’t intentional, but he went down the rabbit hole of feeling bad about that. And then shit ensues.

You need to make sure that not only do you give lots of positive feedback, but you’re also having connections with people or the leaders on your team are having connections with people and you’re staying in touch with what’s going on. Then I have this one rule when I’m being an intentional leader, and I say it all the time. When you see something, say something. 

I know lots of people use that term in lots of different ways. But the minute I see someone’s brow crinkle, or eyebrow raise, or head goes down, whatever it is, or if they say, “Ohh, okay,’ you can tell that they’re just sort of going along with that. You can feel it as a leader. You intuitively know when someone’s not on board with something or someone has a thought they’re not sharing with you. The minute I see that, I just say it. ‘Hey, it seems like you’re not on board with that. Am I wrong?’

I don’t assume that I know what they’re saying. I don’t assume that’s the reason they put their head down or fake agreements, or whatever. But I will ask, ‘Hey, I just sensed something. I sense a weird emotion coming from you. What’s going on?’ I open the door to allow people to come through it and be vulnerable and create safety for them to share. I question everything–every facial movement, expression, whatever, and not from an accusation. 

I remember one time I had this boss who I felt like I was under a microscope all the time. Sometimes when I was feeling nervous but trying to be calm, like faking calmness, this was before, I got really good at being emotionally intelligent and managing my emotions, I would blink a lot because I was nervous. And she was like, ‘You’re blinking. What’s going on? You’re blinking.’ And I’m like, oh my fucking god, I’m just nervous. A little bit. I’m just a little nervous. Nothing is wrong. 

I’m not saying put people under the microscope. But do it with compassion and understanding with the intention of opening the door. ‘Hey, you know what? I’m sensing that you’re a little bit uncomfortable. Is there something that you want to say? If not, that’s totally fine.’ ‘Oh, I’m just nervous.’ ‘I totally get it. Let’s move on.’ You’re not making people feel self-conscious, let’s say that. 

Have a vision. Be intentional. Have a structure for being intentional. Make sure that you have a really clear structure for being intentional, and creating spaces for your team to have intentional conversations. The third bucket, I would say is really focused on individual growth. And you’ll see what I’m doing here is I’m going wide with the vision and then going to you about your intentionality. So a little bit tighter about how are you walking and talking about that vision and creating the space for that vision. And then going right to the individual. \

You need to focus on the individual because not one size fits all for greatness. There are lots of ways to be great, not just the way that you’re doing it. You want to create a vision for what success looks like for the individual. Sometimes we think all managers should be at this level, and be this great and all these things. That’s just a generic one. Then you need to size that down for the individual. What does their next quarter’s success look like? Where do they want to grow between now and the next quarter, and then the next quarter, and then the next quarter? 

We need to customize those generic performance benchmarks that we get from HR and then make sure that we’re customizing them for the individual. And then once they have that specific benchmark, what they’re trying to create for themselves in terms of growth, it’s our job as leaders and for the leaders on our team, to be giving honest and direct feedback. 

When people tell me that I’m just direct, they often think that that’s a license to be rude and unprofessional. And what I want to offer you is that you can be direct with compassion. You can say, ‘Hey, what happened there?’ But you need to deal with it directly. What do you think was a better way to handle it? Before we even get to a better way to handle it, what did this create? Do you like what it created? How would you handle it differently next time? There are just questions off the top of my head. 

When you’re curious and you care about someone, you need to be direct and honest with the feedback. Have a discussion. You need to deal with underperformance quickly so that you can identify what it looks like. Was it just a one-off mistake, error or whatever that they’re learning from, or is this something chronic that we need to sort of unpack and understand why this behavior or this pattern continually exists? 

If a person on your team is not learning from mistakes, is not willing to break the pattern, is operating outside of the team culture, is not following through consistently enough, for whatever reason, in any capacity, you need to deal with that. You need to get that person feeling the consequences of that clearly, whatever those consequences are. And sometimes it means they need to leave the team or they need to move out. There are lots of ways to help them, identify, self-correct, and give them a buddy to work with. Sometimes you may need to join the one-on-one that a person is having with their leader on your team.

If they’re not performing, if they’re continually unperformed, maybe you need to see it for yourself a little bit. See how your leader is leading them. Not from a place of mistrust, not from a place of judgment, like ‘I’m going to figure out what the problem is. It’s got to be the manager’s problem.’ No. It’s just like, ‘How can I support this? How can I create even more safety? Is there a space for this person to grow?’ Make sure that you’re really focusing on the individual, constantly coaching on the EQ stuff, building their capacity for emotion, their awareness of how they’re handling their emotions, uncovering their insecurities, understanding how those insecurities are creating derailleurs for their behavior and their performance, and all of that stuff. Now, that’s your job as a leader.

I get this all the time from my clients. They’re like, “Are you a therapist?” I’m like, no, I’m not a therapist. I’m a highly emotionally intelligent leader, who can see things and understands what you’re feeling. Because guess what? I have felt it too. And there’s nothing wrong with you feeling it. It’s just that these feelings, this behavior, and this pattern are going to get in the way of what you want to create. How do you feel about that? Are you willing to invest the time to break this pattern to expand your most emotional capacity for discomfort, so that you can create the success you’re looking for? 

That’s our job as leaders, in addition to thinking strategically, having a vision, and building relationships, blah, blah, blah. Leadership is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to be willing. And when we’re talking specifically about growing a team, it’s about broadening your capacity and your patience to deal with people and manage your emotions in the process. You have to be willing to care about and grow people if you want to build a high-performing team.

One of the things I often say, I haven’t said it today, but I just did a social media post on this and it’s not making people the problem. People are never a problem, it’s their process. Sometimes that’s the problem. It’s not personal. They’re not bad. What they did didn’t work. Separating that, helping them see their process errors, and not making mistakes personally, is so important. 

Just in summary, there are lots of ways to create high-performing teams. All those external things like the company, the workload, the quality of the staff, and all that stuff are external factors that may potentially impact the pace with which you grow that high-performing team. 

But the foundation of building a high-performing team is firmly based on the kind of leader you decide you want to be, the culture that you want to create, the cultural vision that you have for the team, how you work collaboratively to create that vision, how you work collaboratively to be clear and focused on creating a workload vision, how you decide you want to show up as an intentional leader and create that intention, not just first thing in the morning, which I highly recommend, but over and over and over again. 

Being intentional is a decision that you make tens or hundreds of thought times a day, sometimes. Refocusing or regrounding yourself on the kind of intentional leader you want to be and having a plan for that is key. That’s why we build that when we coach together. And of course, focusing on the individual. Not only making sure that you’re not just putting a one-size-fits-all framework on everybody, but also making sure you are meeting each individual where they are, growing them to the benchmarks, and helping them find their own individual customized path there, and continuing to be that coach leader for them and everyone else on your team. 

That’s what I have for you this week, my friends. I hope you’re having a fantastic week and I will see you in a couple of weeks. Bye for now.

Hey, if you want to simplify leadership while amplifying your value, then you need to get your hands on my free training. Head over to melsavage.com/simple for instant access to the training and get a taste of how I help my clients lead with ease and make more money in the process. I’ll see you there.

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HI, I'M MEL

I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.
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