137: Questions Every New Leader and Manager Should Ask with Barbara Mitchell & Cornelia Gamlem

Ep137 Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem Questions Every New Leader and Manager Should Ask TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

So you’ve been promoted. Now what? Stepping into a new position can be both exciting and terrifying, but thankfully there are lots of good resources you can tap into. On this episode of The TalentGrow Show, authors of The Manager's Answer Book: Powerful Tools to Maximize Your Impact and Influence, Build Trust and Teams, and Respond to Challenges Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem join me to break down some of the important advice they have for new leaders and managers in the book. You’ll learn how to professionally manage former peers or even your best friend, and why every leader should cultivate a personal board of advisors. Plus, hear Barbara and Cornelia weigh in on questions they wish more new leaders and managers would ask. Tune in and don’t forget to share this episode with others!


Barbara Mitchell is an author, speaker, and human resources consultant. She is the coauthor of The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and The Essential HR Handbook. Most of her HR career was spent with Marriott International. Barbara is now managing partner of The Mitchell Group where she works with a variety of clients to help them successfully hire, develop, engage, and retain the best talent available. She is a docent at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR, president of The Gems Group, LLC, consults, speaks, and writes on human resource and management issues. A recognized expert in employee relations and human resources, she has co-authored five books, four with Barbara. Cornelia spent most of her HR career with a Fortune 500 IT services company with a global presence.


  • When you step into a new position where you’ll be managing former peers and friends, how do you let them know that your work relationship needs to be different? (5:53)

  • What do you do when you’re best friends with one of your former colleagues, whom you now manage? (6:43)

  • What is a personal ‘board of advisors’ for a leader, and how can it be leveraged effectively? (8:10)

  • Halelly, Barbara and Cornelia concretize the idea of a personal board of advisors, describing what it might look like day-to-day (12:19)

  • Cornelia weighs in on a question that she wishes more managers and new leaders would ask: how do you build trust with your team? (14:16)

  • Barbara shares her thoughts on the importance of cultivating your ability to listen (16:35)

  • What’s new and exciting on Barbara and Cornelia’s horizon? (17:52)

  • Barbara and Cornelia share a sneak peak of their upcoming book! (18:49)

  • One specific action you can take to upgrade your leadership skills (you’ll actually get two this time: one from Barbara and one from Cornelia!) (20:18)



Episode 137 Barbara and Cornelia

TEASER CLIP: Interviewee: Listening is such an under-valued skill. I think how we learn to spend time learning to read, learning to write, learning to do Power Point presentations, but when do we learn to listen? I think that’s a skill that is so overlooked but it is so critical to success as a manager.

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey there TalentGrowers. Welcome back. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is the TalentGrow Show. This week we have two guests who are experts in HR and authors of several books and they will answer a couple of commonly asked questions that new managers have. I think that you will like learning from them. There’s a lot of good nuggets that are absolutely actionable and useful in this interview, so enjoy my conversation with Cornelia and Barbara.

Okay TalentGrowers, this week we have not one but two guests. My guests today are Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem. Barbara Mitchell is an author, speaker and human resources consultant. She is the co-author of the Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the Essential HR Handbook. Most of her HR career was spent with Marriot International. Barbara is managing partner of the Mitchell Group where she works with a variety of clients to help them successfully hire, develop, engage and retain the best talent available. Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR, is President of the Gems Group LLC. She consults, speaks and writes on human resources and management issues. A recognized expert in employee relations and human resources, she has co-authored five books, four of them with Barbara. Cornelia spent most of her HR career with a Fortune 500 IT services company with a global presence. Welcome to you both.

Barbara: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Halelly: I’m glad that you’re here and thanks for making time today. Before we start, we always ask our guests to tell us a brief history of their professional journey. Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?

Cornelia: I’ll go ahead and take the lead. This is Cornelia. I spent about 16 years in human resources with a large IT firm that did have a global presence and my focus was on employee relations and got to a point where I looked at myself and I said, “What’s the next chapter in your life?” And I’d always wanted to be self employed, wanted to try my hand at consulting, so I kind of took that leap of faith in 2000 and went off and started my own consulting practice. I was really having a good tim with it and continued to, but the one thing that sort of happened along the way as well is Barbara and I started talking about writing this book that she was approached by our publisher to write. My career has now expanded into being an author as well as a consultant and business leader.

Halelly: Sounds exciting. And Barbara?

Barbara: My career is, as you mentioned already, I spent most of my HR career with Marriot, which was all over the country. I ended up here in the Washington, D.C., area, and left Marriot to, like Cornelia, to start my own business which I started a company that got to be too big for two people to run so we sold it. Then I’ve been consulting on my own and also writing for the past 11 years and just loving the combination of writing, speaking and just being an active part of the business community.

Halelly: And you have been. I also hail from the Washington, D.C., area and I know that I always saw your names come up as speakers and guests in different venues and different groups that all three of us belong to. I’m glad that you have joined us here on the TalentGrow Show and we look forward to sharing about your most recent book together, which is called The Manager’s Answer Book. I have it right here and it’s a great book because, first of all, it’s not as big as your big book. The Big Book of HR is a mammoth. But this one doesn’t look daunting. It looks easy, and when you flip through it, it’s full of the kinds of questions that I also get a lot because I work with new managers and people working on their leadership skills. The kinds of questions that many managers and leaders wonder about. So I thought that the best way for us to go into this conversation is for me to choose a couple of interesting questions – they’re all interesting – but choose a couple from the book and then have you answer them on the show. What do you think?

Barbara: That sounds great. We’d love to do that.

Halelly: Fabulous. So let’s start with the first one, which is the questioner asks, “My new job means I am managing former peers and friends. How can I let them know that we must work together differently?”

Barbara: This is really a tricky question because it is hard to go from being a peer to then suddenly someone’s manager. But in order to succeed as a manager, you really have to let people know that it’s a different ballgame. Our suggestion that we have in the book is you start out with making it very clear that things have changed. Not in a punitive way, not in a negative way, but that we’re going to work together differently and we do it as a group. Get started as quickly as possible letting people know what your expectations are and then you meet individually with each of the people in your department and so they can ask you questions. How do you like to work? Let them know, for example, how you like to be communicated with. Do you like long reports, short reports, whatever. But you do it as quickly as you can so that they get to know that things really have changed. You also need to let them know that you’re probably not going to be as available as you used to be for lunches or social activities. While you still want to maintain a good, positive relationship with them, you do now have additional responsibilities including you’ll be doing their performance evaluation. That does change the dynamic quite dramatically.

Halelly: It sure does. How do you handle it if, let’s say, you have a best friend? I know this comes up a lot. You hung out with one particular person, and now you have to treat everybody equally, but you clearly have a strong relationship and a strong kinship with that person, so it’s kind of like a two-edged sword because in one way you’re losing a friend that you can no longer be as close with them, and in the other way you have to manage the perception that you’re going to have a favorite on your staff. What have you suggested to people on that?

Barbara: You absolutely have to be very clear that the great friendship you had before, unfortunately, does need to just probably come to an end. I’m not saying you can’t go to lunch with that person at some point, but in order to maintain that fairness that is so critical for success as a manager, you’re going to have to just stop being the best friend of that person and boy is that hard. It’s one of the reasons why lots of organizations struggle with promoting people within an in tact workgroup. It does create some interesting dynamics, but it can be done. I think I outlined some steps where you would really let people know, especially your former best friend, that things are going to be different. I still like you and I hope we can still occasionally get together, but I am your boss, your manager. Things have to be different.

Halelly: It’s so hard. All right. I think that is pretty clear. Thank you for that answer and now let’s ask another question. This one I chose, “A colleague suggests that because I’m a new manager I should assemble a personal board of advisors. What does she mean?”

Cornelia: Well, often what happens is you walk into a room and whether you’re new to a company or a brand new manager within a company that you’re been working at, all eyes are on you and you’re suddenly feeling like, “I’ve got to do everything right,” and you may have some concerns about the best way to approach a situation or how you’re being perceived. So what you want to do is reach out to some people who not necessarily are mentors. If you have that arrangement in your organization, that’s great, but you want to be able to get some kind of feedback from a number of different people. They can include colleagues and peers within the organization and they may even be your immediate team members. Some of the people that you’re now responsible for leading.

But what you want to look for in these people is to assure that you’ve assembled a group of people that will be truthful with you, that aren’t afraid to challenge you and that they’re going to tell you the things that you need to know, not necessarily what they think you want to hear, so that the truthfulness is really, really important. You also want people that will speak up and let you know if you kind of had a misstep, if you’ve done something wrong, without you necessarily asking. It’s just human nature that you’re going to do some things, sometimes, and you think you’re proceeding in the right direction and you really may not have taken the best action or you may have misinterpreted some things. So you want people that will speak up and will kind of be able to help you do a cost correction before things really go kind of off the rails, if you will.

Finally, you want people that are going to tell you where your blind spots are. We all have blind spots and it’s important if they’ll be truthful enough to speak up and tell you, “Hey, I think you’re kind of looking at this the wrong way and let me give you a different perspective on this,” these are the kinds of things you should welcome in your board of advisors and always be open to feedback. Let them know that if they notice something, you want them to speak up right away because you want to be able to change what you’re doing or to seek additional advice and input if that’s something that’s necessary.

Halelly: How many people are you looking to put on this board of advisors?

Cornelia: I think it kind of depends on the size of the organization you’re in and the particular situation that you’re in as well. Like I said, if you’ve got management experience but you’re new to the organization, you may want to reach out to one or two people who are peers and colleagues, so that they can kind of help to guide you as you’re navigating through this brand new organization. I think if you’re a new manager, I would say no more than four or five people, because otherwise you can get overwhelmed with getting advise and getting critiques and feedback.

Halelly: It sounds like you’re describing that they should all be members of your organization? They’re all from the inside?

Cornelia: Not necessarily. You may want to also have some folks who are outside the organization. Professional colleagues who you can go to and bounce ideas off of and solicit some advise. Maybe some general advise about the industry that you’re in or the particular function that you’re in within the organization. That also brings some different perspectives and may help you with trying to identify with some of your blind spots are as well.

Halelly: It’s good for benchmarking too, because if they’re in a similar role in a different organization, you can also hear from them about how they’ve handled it and without impacting your specific organization or without having to repeat the mistake.

Cornelia: Absolutely.

Halelly: Do they come together? I’m just trying to concretize this. People listening, let’s say they want to do this. We’ve got an idea of the ballpark, maybe it’s one or two people and in some cases up to four, and they don’t necessarily have to be from within your organization. You described they might be from a variety of levels, so are they coming together for meetings? Are there regularly scheduled meetings or are they more like, you tag them – you’re on my board of directors – and then you just have interactions with them ad hoc?

Cornelia: I think it’s more the latter. They’re not necessarily going to be a group of people that would come together. They’re people that you would seek out and say, “I really would appreciate your guidance. I really appreciate it if you could act in this capacity for me as I’m initially finding my way through the organization. But then on an ongoing basis.” And you can also offer to do the same for them, but I think you want to leave this as fluid as possible so that people do feel comfortable coming to you at any time and saying, “I kind of noticed that you did this the other day,” or, “I notice you’ve been struggling with your interaction with the CEO. Let me give you some pointers and advise on how I handled this when I was in that situation. Or let me tell you a little bit more about the background of the organization. You may not really be aware of some of the past history.” So I think if it’s kind of open-ended, the advise comes a little bit more clearly and people don’t feel compelled to, “I’ve got to say something right now, and I may not have something to share with you today.” It’s almost like giving feedback to an employee. You want to have that arrangement and relationship with the employee where if something is going on, you want to be able to tell them as soon as it’s noticed and not wait for a scheduled time or a scheduled meeting.

Halelly: Perfect. Makes sense. What’s a question that you wish more managers would ask, that I didn’t choose it from the book and maybe it is in the book or maybe it’s not in the book. What’s one of those questions that not enough people are asking and they should?

Cornelia: One of the things I wish managers would ask more often is how do I build trust with not just my team, but within the organization? I think some people come into a role – and I know I’ve had this expedience myself where a new manager comes in and they just think that everybody’s going to be thrilled that they’re there and just sort of fall into line. What they don’t realize is that you’ve got to build some trust with your team and again, it works whether you’re a brand new manager, perhaps the situation that Barbara talked about earlier where now I’m managing a group of people who were formerly peers of mine, or you join an organization from outside. I thin kit’s just really, really important that people recognize one of the first things I have to do is to build trust with a team, build trust with their colleagues and to build trust with the leadership within the organization.

Halelly: What are a couple of your best tips for how they can do that?

Cornelia: I would say first of all you want to be honest. You want to let people know as much information as you’re free to share. Obviously there may be confidential information that you can’t share with the team from time to time, but be as honest and open and transparent as you can. Listen to people. People really want to be heard, they want to know that their concerns have been heard and that they’re being taken seriously. Now, you may not be able to act on all of their concerns, but if you can’t, let them know. Keep your word, do what you say you’re going to do, and if you can’t, let them know why you can’t. I think this is the biggest one and the hardest one – admit when you’ve done something wrong. You know, acknowledge it to your team and let them know that you’re vulnerable as well as they can be from time to time.

Halelly: That goes a long way. Thank you. Barbara, do you have one that you want to throw in?

Barbara: Yes. The one I want to throw in is one I think that fits right into what Cornelia said, she used the word. That is listening. I think there’s nothing more important that managers do to gain people’s trust and to make sure people feel as if they are heard and that they have a voice within the organization. Obviously you can’t do everything people want, but listening is such an under-valued skill. I think often about how we learn to spend time learning to read, learning to write, learning to do Power Point presentations, but when do we learn to listen? I think that’s a skill that is so overlooked but it is so critical to success as a manager. If I could make one suggestion to anybody going into management, it would be hone your listening skills because it will give you a lot of edge. First of all, we have to be able to listen if you’re going to interview people, hire people, counsel them, coach them. You have to be able to hear what it is on their minds. I think it’s something that for sure anybody that goes into management needs to do. Also, it certainly is a trust-building strategy as well.

Halelly: Perfect. I’ll share a few of the resources that I’ve created about how to be a better listener in the show notes. That should help people who are listening and want to take you up on that challenge. Wanted to ask you both what’s new and exciting on your horizon? What new discover or project has your attention these days?

Barbara: We are working on a new book and it’s pretty exciting. It’s a whole new venture for us because it is a creative nonfiction. I describe it as the book that every HR person threatens to write in his or her career. We’re writing about things people do at work that are either a little crazy, a little wrong, but they make really good stories. In the stories, we hope that the message comes through that the HR world, managerial world, is complex, and we need to deal with an awful lot within our world. We’re having fun with it. We’re learning to do things like write dialogue and write the things you don’t write when you’re doing nonfiction. That’s what the two of us are working on together right now.

Halelly: That sounds exciting. Of course this makes me wonder about some of the stories you’ll include. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Barbara: Well, I guess we could give you … which one should we share Cornelia?

Cornelia: I know, it’s kind of, this thing is still very much a work in progress for us. It probably won’t get released until sometime in 2020, but there’s some situations around terminations that perhaps went array, interview horror stories that HR people have encountered or heard about, and of course no book about bad workplace behavior would be complete if you didn’t have some things to say about sexual harassment and other activities around that subject matter. We actually have gathered quite a broad range of stories from different people. I guess we weren’t surprised, but I think perhaps the average reader who doesn’t have a strong background in business will probably be a little puzzled that these things really do happen in organizations. But they do!

Halelly: I know. I know that HR people, with the door closed, you’ve got stories to tell. I’ve seen a couple of articles like that and they’re always just really very entertaining and puzzling is a good word. It’s a polite word. You kind of go, “What were these people thinking?”

Cornelia: Exactly.

Halelly: Interesting. That should be something we will look forward to reading. What’s one specific action that you suggest that our listeners take today, this week, to upgrade their own leadership skills?

Barbara: I’ll take first crack at that. I think one of the things people need to spend time thinking about is how transparent they are in their leadership style. How do they set their expectations to people who know what it is they’re looking for? And then do they hold people accountable? I thin if those three things – transparency, setting expectations and accountability – if all of us did that, in the next week, I think we would each see something very different in our organizations. So that would be my advice. All of those are complicated. They are not easy. They’re easy words to say. They are not easy actions ot take. But boy can they make a difference in the life of a manager as well as an organization.

Halelly: Just take transparency – there’s just so many tricky situations where either you cannot share certain things, so you suddenly are learning to have to keep things close to the vest when you become promoted, or you’re kind of stuck in the middle and you have to tow the line and speak positively about things that maybe come down from above that you personally are not a fan of. So now you’re not being transparent, because that would be unprofessional. I know that while many people endeavor to be transparent, maybe that’s their preference and their personal style, when you’re in a management role you suddenly are forced to not be transparent in certain cases. What can people do to take you up on that challenge? What specifically can they do to be transparent while also doing their job the right way?

Barbara: Let’s just say, I’ll be honest about it and say there are times when you cannot be transparent. Let’s say your organization is acquiring another company and you’re a publicly held company. You as a manager probably are not allowed to speak about things. But, in most cases, you can be as honest … I think one of the things that trips up managers that I see a lot is they think that people only want to hear good news. They only want to hear that things are going well, and I don’t think that’s true. I think most employees really want you to be honest with them, and if there is something going on that they need to know about, if you can tell them, great. If you can’t, then you tell them as soon as you can. But it’s not that you just hide behind closed doors. You are as open as you possibly can be. And if you keep that in mind, knowing that you can’t always be transparent, but mostly you are, I think your people will definitely appreciate it. When you have to tell them something that you had to keep silent about, and you tell them why, they’re smart people and they’ll understand you had no choice in the matter. You had to keep that quiet. So I know it’s a fine line to walk, but it can make a huge difference in your effect as a manager.

Halelly: Great. Thanks. Well, Barbara, you said that is one action you would suggest, and Cornelia, did you want to add a tip? Or are you just behind that one too?

Cornelia: I’m behind that one. I think something perhaps a little bit easier, especially if you want to try to accomplish something this week, is to make sure that you’re delegating your tasks appropriately. Don’t try to do it all. You’ve got a staff. Make sure you understand where the strengths and weaknesses are among staff members. If you’ve got something that you need to delegate to them, pick the right person for the job and then explain what the task is and what a successful outcome for that task would be, how it’s going to be measured, and be available to people if they’ve got questions. If you’re giving them something for the first time that they’ve never done before, they are going to have questions. Just make sure that you can be there to support them and to clarify any of their concerns, but it’s so important to get things off of your desk and onto their desk so that it frees you up to do more of the strategic management tasks that your job now requires you to do.

Halelly: I’m sure you see a lot of managers that are hesitant to delegate for a variety of reason. Certainly the one that I would say is the most frequently named is that they’re worried that the person won’t do it right, or that it’ll take them too long to explain it and they’ll just do it themselves. Is that how people explain that to you?

Cornelia: That’s exactly right. What I will advise them, if they pose that question to me is, you’re making an investment in your employee. You’re helping to build some skills. Yes, you may be able to do it faster now, but think back to when you were first in their role and the first time you had to tackle something. You had a learning curve. Be patient with them and help them through their learning curve, because once they do it the first time, and if you pick the right person, the second time they’ve got to do something like that it’s going to take them the same amount of time it would take you to do it. Don’t be afraid to let go of some things, and I think that’s another part of it. People just want to hang onto it because it’s their comfort zone. It’s where they know they can work the best and you’re in a different role now so go out and conquer the new role that you’re in and let them have their own conquests as well.

Halelly: It’s such a tricky situation. I think being a manager is really tough because you usually get promoted not because you are management material, but usually you get promoted because you’re an outstanding performer. So you do your job really great, you have great skills, you do it really well, and now we’re going to promote you and tell you not to do this thing anymore, give it to someone who doesn’t do it that well. It’s like it’s backwards! But that’s how it goes.

Cornelia: Yes it does!

Halelly: All right. It’s been fun talking with you and I’m glad you shared some of your wisdom that you’ve collected over the years with the TalentGrowers. How can they stay in touch with you and learn more about and from you?

Cornelia: Probably the best way to reach us is to go to our website, www.bigbookofHR.com, and there’s a form there that you can reach out to us and we’re always happy to hear from listeners, we’re happy to share any more information that perhaps people might still have some concerns about and follow up on some of the ideas we’ve talked about in today’s podcast.

Halelly: Great. Of course get the book. I’ll link to that in the show notes as well, so people can grab a copy. Thank you both very much, Barbara and Cornelia, for spending some time on the TalentGrow Show today. We appreciate you.

Barbara: Thank you! It’s been a delight to be with you.

Cornelia: Thanks a lot.

Halelly: You’re welcome, and thank you. All right TalentGrowers, what did I tell you? Lots of actionable advise from experts with experience. I hope that you found this useful. I’d love to hear what you thought. You can always give me feedback in any format that you like because I’m always very interested in hearing from you. And also, of course, a way for you to thank me for putting this show together for you for free every single week is to give some appreciation in the form of a review. That helps a lot of other people who discover the show give it a try and take the chance. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts and I will be very grateful for that. Of course one of the best ways for you to help me get more people to listen to the show that I already am putting together, might as well get more people to listen and get value, is for you to share it. If you share it with just one person, I’m already getting double the listenership. Would you do that for me? Just send the link to someone that you know that could get benefits from listening to the show as well, and tell them why you like it or why you thought of them, and now you’re doing them a favor because you’re helping them out and you’re doing me a favor and you’ll feel good. It’s a win-win-win. Okay, that’s it for today! That’s all I wanted to share with you and I appreciate you listening. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and this is the TalentGrow Show. Until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

Get my free guide, "10 Mistakes Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them" and receive my weekly newsletter full of actionable tips, links and ideas for taking your leadership and communication skills to the next level!

Don't forget to LEAVE A RATING/REVIEW ON APPLE PODCASTS/iTUNES! It’s easy to do (here’s how to do it in 4 easy steps). Thank you!!

Like the Facebook page of The TalentGrow Show!
Join the Facebook group – The TalentGrowers Community!
Intro/outro music: "Why-Y" by Esta

You Might Also Like These Posts:

99: Selfish For Success -- Embracing Your Self-Interest as a Leader with Dr. Steve Orma

73: How to become a better leader by using Polarity Thinking with Laura Mendelow

71: [Ask Halelly] How to develop and cultivate new managers and leaders with Halelly Azulay