Do You Set People Up to Win?

| | General Leadership

In an excellent post titled “Listen Like a Leader”, Randy Hall shares a great story illuminating a trap that people in leadership positions can easily fall into: focusing on ensuring their people get to know them rather than focusing on getting to know their people.  He also points to what I will call a corollary to this which is: “focus[ing] solely on the message they want to deliver, with no regard to what they need to learn.”

The bottom line:  effective leaders listen.  Randy does a great job of expressing the particular ways effective leaders listen.  There is gold there  so I encourage you to read his post.

What I want to talk about here is another powerful tool in a leaders arsenal that involves listening:  setting up how others are listened to.

I was reminded of this Friday morning when delivering a keynote address at a Women’s Business Conference. There is no doubt I was set up to win beginning with a fabulous agenda, great promotion and some high profile speakers from our local area.  Then there was the wonderful introduction from Dr. Mary Locke.  And last but not least were a group of business women who chose to be there.  It was of course all staged to ensure the event was a success.

The combination of a clear purpose for the day, a well planned agenda, an excellent facility, and a committed team of exceptional people running the event set the stage for everyone there to both expect and be part of creating an exceptional day.  That is of course a great place to start.  Yet the conference planners, Donna Rivett and Jan Pagano, did something else that is key: they did a great job of setting up every one of the speakers.

People were listening for us to be great.  I can honestly say that is how it felt for me personally.  I stepped in front of a group of women and felt like they truly wanted to hear what I had to say.  Despite my usual butterflies whenever I speak, the moment I stepped to the podium I was connected and at ease.  That is the power of how people listen to us.

Which brings me to the key point Randy’s post triggered for me: 

How we are set up can make all the difference in how we show up.

As leaders and managers we can actually support the people who follow us, work for us, and work with us by setting the context for how people listen to them.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time in either preparation or delivery.  Yet the payoff can be huge for everyone involved.

Every time we ask someone to step up and take the lead in some way, whether that is to lead a  project or simply a conversation, we have an opportunity to set them up to win by setting the context for how people listen to them.

This is true even if we think everyone knows them already.  In fact this is one way we can also support people in getting out of the proverbial box they may be stuck in based on who they have been.  And if we truly want to foster leadership in others we must get very good at setting people up, not based on who they have been, but rather based on who they are committed to becoming.

Here are some quick questions you can use to help you set anyone up to win. It could be a meeting with a group or a conversation with just one other person.  It could be a formal presentation or a weekly status meeting.  The point is you can use these questions to help you set up anyone to win in any interaction.

5 Questions for Setting People Up to Win

1.  What is the intended outcome of this particular project, meeting,  interaction, event, etc. and in what way is this particular individual important to that outcome?

2.  What have you asked them to provide and/or why did you choose them to take the lead on this?

3.  What can you highlight about this persons skills, knowledge, abilities, kind of person, etc. that would help establish their credibility to this particular group or individual?

4.  What is something about this person that others in the room may not know that could increase their stature with the group?

5.  What do you most appreciate about this person?  Is there something recent you can authentically and meaningfully acknowledge them for?

Consider what might be possible if we put the same thought and effort into how we were going to “introduce” (i.e. set up) someone in the regular course of business as we do when we are preparing for a big event.  What if we took every opportunity to set people up in a way that helped them transform their identity so they gain confidence and have some room to grow?  What might happen for us as leaders in the process?

Of course there are many ways to set people up to win.  I believe this can be one of the simplest and most effective.  What do you think?


Enter A Comment

Peg Rowe   |   05 November 2009   |   Reply

Susan, thanks for sharing your experience and extracting such valuable lessons. Jennifer, great contrast you’ve noted between setting up for failure or setting up for success.

I want to tease out something you allude to in your post. Setting someone up for success can also mean providing an opportunity to stretch, expand a skill, take on something new, all to provide valuable growth. The set up is so important in creating a context that supports learning and, ultimately, success.

Susan Mazza   |   05 November 2009   |   Reply

Absolutely Peg. Setting people up by providing them an opportunity is critical to growth and expansion of both the individual and the organization. Even in those cases though I think we can do a much better job of setting the context for everyone affected by and/or observing the person given the opportunity.

One sign that we have not set someone up to win very well is when we give them an opportunity or even promote them and it results in negative chatter in the hallways. Now you have me thinking about what other signs might be.

Thanks for taking the time to comment and getting me to think!

Randy Hall   |   05 November 2009   |   Reply


What a great concept that you have explored here and an important one. People begin any endeavor with some degree of trust and credibility and so much of that is gained, or not, by how others set them up. In the end they have to earn those things, but if they are supported properly from the start, the distance they have to go is much shorter, and the chance for success that much greater.

Thanks for making us think!


Susan Mazza   |   06 November 2009   |   Reply

Well said Randy “if [people] are supported properly from the start, the distance they have to go is much shorter, and the chance for success that much greater”. Thanks very much for inspiring this post and for stopping by to comment.