R Karl Hebenstreit of Perform & Function on 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readJun 12, 2024

Ensure that you are creating and nurturing an inclusive and open environment, where you are hiring and integrating diverse and complementary talent, perspectives, skills, and gifts into your team. Everyone needs to feel psychologically safe to contribute their authentic selves, feel heard and appreciated, and have their ideas acted upon, as appropriate. Everyone on the team needs to approach each interaction and meeting with an open mind, genuine curiosity to learn, and be willing to integrate this new knowledge and perspective into their existing worldview. This is how we get from Platinum Rule to Rhodium Rule application. And this is how we ensure that we are optimizing our team’s experience and potential.

As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing R. Karl Hebenstreit.

Karl is a certified Executive Coach, Leadership/Team/Organization Development Consultant, and international speaker, and author, with over 25 years of experience coaching leaders and their teams (from Individual Contributors to CEOs in myriad industries and sectors) to work better together and consistently exceed their organizations’ goals. He holds a PhD in Organizational Psychology (where this thesis was on “Using the Enneagram to Help Organizations Attract, Retain, and Motivate their Employees”) and has authored three books: “The How & Why: Taking Care of Business with the Enneagram” (now in its 3rd Edition!), “Nina and the Really, Really Tough Decision” (now available in English, Spanish, and Greek!), and the newly-released “Explicit Expectations: The Essential Guide & Toolkit of Management Fundamentals.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Thank you for asking and inviting me to share my story and perspectives! My backstory? Hmmm. I entered the corporate world while I was in college, working during my summer and winter breaks via temporary agencies. After graduating with a BA in French, Psychology, and Political Science from Rutgers College in 1993, I encountered challenges landing my first “real” job in a less-than-optimal economy, and decided to continue my education at night. For the next three years, I pursued and earned a MS in Human Resource Management from the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, while working full-time during the day — for the first two years as a temporary employee in a variety of Human Resources roles at Merck & Co., Inc., and then finally landing a benefitted role as a Recruiting and Staffing Manager at Bellcore. That launched my 30+ career in Human Resources, where I have been fortunate to work for great companies such as AT&T, Cushman & Wakefield, Kaiser Permanente, EMC Corporation, Bio-Rad, and Genentech/Roche. My career has afforded me the opportunity to be both an individual contributor as well as a manager of local and remote teams (while at AT&T, Cushman & Wakefield, and Kaiser Permanente). When I wasn’t pulling manager duties, I was fortunate to be a trusted leadership and organization development practitioner, where I consulted and coached leaders to become even more effective.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

You mean other than working for a week in a cork factory? Or doing data entry of employee information from index cards into a Paradox database? I’ll save those for another time! In keeping with the theme of this discussion around management skills, I’ll share a “what not to do” example of how not to motivate a team — because, after all, we learn from these examples as well as the positive behaviors from role model exemplars. I was on a team where our Director thought that it would motivate us to tell us that “You are all replaceable.” Well, I proved her right by immediately finding another, better job and leaving. At least for me, nothing disengages me and mobilizes me to exit a situation more than feeling unappreciated. And I have since learned that this is directly related to my Enneagram core type.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Other than not wearing long sleeves and long pants at the unventilated and un-airconditioned cork factory? Picture trying to get dried glue out of your forearm and leg hair! Seriously though, my journey to increased empathy started when I learned the importance of taking others’ needs and perspectives into consideration rather than thinking that I already knew them (or that they were the same as mine). While I was working at AT&T in a role that was new to me, my 27-year old self somehow ended up in a marketing/business development role (for a Human Resources program) and was surprisingly deemed the logical person to present our program at the annual Society for Human Resource Management conference in Minneapolis, MN. Off I went with my agenda of demonstrating and showcasing the virtues of our technology platform and hopefully attracting new organizations to join our “Talent Alliance” network. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this amazing network of forward-thinking, employee development-centric international organizations and pay millions of dollars annually to do so? My first session was a disaster — live technology didn’t cooperate (this was 1998), people were not interested in a sales pitch, and they left in droves. I was devastated. Fortunately, I had one more session scheduled to redeem myself with a new audience. I approached the session with a totally different mindset, this time focusing on THEIR needs and what THEY wanted to take away from the session. I also set expectations up front about what my session would be so that they knew if this was right for them. Only a couple people left at the beginning, since the topic would not have been of interest to them, and the rest stayed and engaged in a much more meaningful session. My lesson learned is that we don’t know what others really want/expect unless we ask them and that it’s imperative to set expectations up front so that everyone is aligned on what will happen. It’s akin to the Platinum Rule: treat others the way THEY want to be treated, and it’s a very inclusive and empathetic way of discovering, appreciating, and integrating the diversity that surrounds us and of which we may not be aware. And this was my first real lesson on the importance of empathizing with others and their potentially different needs. And I carry that with me to this day.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

As we just discussed from the example where I decided to quit my manager who told our team that we were all replaceable, I can personally attest to the truth of this statement. I have been very fortunate to have been managed by some amazing leaders during my career (nods to Janet Konopka, Corrine Root, Rich Elderkin, and Rachael Allison), all of whom taught me something different in my evolution as a Human Resources/Organization Development professional and leader. In addition to providing the necessary guidance and direction to support the strategy of the organization, all of them practiced and exhibited a genuine care for their people. They took the time to get to know each individual on their teams, understand what was important to us, what our aspirations were, what our development needs were, and truly encouraged, supported, and celebrated our development and successes, took chances on us, … and helped us learn from our missteps and mistakes. The simple formula for employee retention and engagement is to simply follow the Platinum Rule we just discussed — find out what’s important to others and how they want to be treated. Each team member may (ok, will) require a different approach and level of care and development. It’s about equitable treatment, not equal treatment (the latter assuming that everyone is and wants the same). Sadly, most managers were never equipped or developed to be managers, taking on the role because they were great individual contributors and that was the next logical step in their career ladder. Managers who are in the role for the wrong reasons and aren’t screened, prepared, and developed to become leaders cause the most damage to an organization, its culture, its reputation, and its people.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

I think that there is a great misconception about teams. Everyone likes to throw the term “team” around because it’s sexier than “group” and shorter than saying “a bunch of people reporting into the same leader.” A real team is differentiated from a group in that each team member depends on the others to achieve their own and the team’s goals. And that requires them to trust each other and be in constant communication. The other varietals don’t require that as much, if they can still achieve their goals without that interdependency on others. Team-building is really important to build that trust and to provide the opportunity for each team member to understand their own worldviews, motivations, styles, and needs … and how these may differ from those of their teammates. Once this self-awareness and empathy takes place (through the use of instruments like the Enneagram), greater understanding and trust is built, misunderstandings are minimized (since everyone now understands where each other is coming from and what is the likely driver behind their behaviors), and the team works more effectively together, producing incredible, innovative results derived from the inclusion of each team member’s diverse and unique perspectives and gifts. Of course, all constellations of people working at the same company must have a common grounding in the form of the direction provided by the organization’s strategy, vision, mission, values, and goals. All of these variables contribute to the synchronization of large teams (or groups of people) working effectively together.

Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”.

This is such a great question! In my experience, it all comes down to Explicit Expectations:

  1. Even though you may be leading the team, you are not expected to — and you will never — know everything and have all the answers. A team is made of up individuals who are interdependent; they depend on each other to achieve their goals and the team’s goals. Each team member brings their own personal expertise, knowledge, skills, abilities, worldviews, and gifts to the team and all should be welcomed and leveraged to optimize the team’s success. It’s the collective wisdom that’s going to be the key differentiator for success and we don’t want to create a single point of failure. If you fall into the trap of “the leader should know everything and tell people what to do,” you are putting undue strain and stress on yourself and will inevitably alienate, disempower, disengage, and demotivate your team members into a state of “learned helplessness” and codependency, where they don’t develop or grow. Nobody wants or benefits from that. Your role as a manager is to motivate and develop your people, remove obstacles that get in their way of their goal achievement (organizational politics, ineffective processes, etc.), and empower them to solve problems and address challenges on their own (or with each other).
  2. Develop and leverage different leadership styles to match the situation at hand and the employee’s specific need/readiness, based on where they are in their employee maturity lifecycle. This also applies to change management, identifying where each of your team members is in the change/loss curve, what leadership support/approach they need at that stage to work though and progress to the next stage, to ultimate acceptance. There’s a time and place for each leadership style (authoritative/visionary, democratic, coaching, affiliative/supportive, and even coercive/directive and pacesetting) and it’s an art to determine when each is warranted and will be most effective. Spoiler alert: this is where the Platinum Rule mindset comes into play.
  3. How well do you know each one of your team members? What motivates them? What inspires them? What do the dread doing? What are their career aspirations? What do you expect of them? What do they expect of you? How do they like to be rewarded? How do they like to be given feedback and coaching? Forming and nurturing meaningful and authentic professional relationships with each of your team members, where you visit all of these topics regularly, will keep you in tune with how to motivate and engage your team members, one employee at a time. Here’s another opportunity for you to leverage the Platinum Rule.
  4. How clear is each of your team members about what is expected of them? How clear are you about what each of your team members expects of you? It all boils down to continuous communication — make sure all expectations are explicit, so no misunderstandings or resentment occur. Ensure role clarity, direction (without micromanagement, because nobody wants that), and explain the why of requests (why they are needed by the organization to further and achieve its strategy and goals). Schedule and hold regular one-on-ones with each of your team members to review these topics. Hmm, I’m sensing another Platinum Rule application theme here, too.
  5. Ensure that you are creating and nurturing an inclusive and open environment, where you are hiring and integrating diverse and complementary talent, perspectives, skills, and gifts into your team. Everyone needs to feel psychologically safe to contribute their authentic selves, feel heard and appreciated, and have their ideas acted upon, as appropriate. Everyone on the team needs to approach each interaction and meeting with an open mind, genuine curiosity to learn, and be willing to integrate this new knowledge and perspective into their existing worldview. This is how we get from Platinum Rule to Rhodium Rule application. And this is how we ensure that we are optimizing our team’s experience and potential.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

No one has all the answers themselves. Not when it comes to customer needs, employee motivation, and/or peer/stakeholder relationships. Forming and nurturing meaningful relationships with these groups by asking them questions, actively listening, and acting on those learnings is the key to making the right decisions that incorporate all viewpoints and concerns, ultimately driving and sustaining success in an inclusive and psychologically-safe environment. In addition, it’s imperative for everyone to be on the same page about what is expected of them — clarity and alignment in direction, the mission, vision, and strategy of the organization, the values of the organization, role clarity, and explicit understanding of goals and expectations around achieving them for all employees (managers and each of their team members).

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The movement I would love to inspire, which, I truly believe would ultimately lead to world peace, would be one where we abolish the Golden Rule and replace it with the Platinum and Rhodium Rules. So much hurt, pain, destruction, and death have been caused by the worldview that some peoples’ beliefs and values are superior to others and that everyone else should abide by them. As we discussed earlier, we need to eliminate the self-centered, arrogant, exclusionary, myopic, and wrong Golden Rule belief of “treat others the way you want to be treated” (which assumes that everyone is the same and wants to be treated the same way) and replace it with the Platinum Rule: “treat others the way THEY want to be treated.” The latter has the obvious caveats of legality, universal morality, and not causing harm. The Platinum Rule invites us to be more open-minded and inclusive in trying to understand differing perspectives and what value they offer us — and to integrate them into and expand our own limited current worldview (the Rhodium Rule). Adopting a mindset of Platinum and Rhodium Rules has the possibility to really help the whole world see that all viewpoints, values, and perspectives have merit, that no one is superior to anyone else, and can be integrated to ultimately create a more harmonious, connected, and peaceful existence for all. And it can only be enhanced through everyone’s communication of their explicit expectations of each other.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s all about readiness.” This realization is a great reminder that you may not be ready for something yet (you need more training, more maturity, more pain to activate the change) or others may not yet be ready for you and your ideas. That doesn’t make you or the others bad people; it’s just that the time and space isn’t optimal for the idea, change effort, relationship, or initiative to be embraced. The readiness may occur in as little as a day or as long as several years or decades … and that’s OK. We can’t push or force things, or they will break. Sometimes we need to put things on the backburner and bring them back to the front burners when others are hungry for the meal.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Connect with me on LinkedIn at https://linkedin.com/in/rkarlhebenstreit and via my website: www.performandfunction.com

And, specific to this interview topic, pick up a copy of the just-released Explicit Expectations: The Essential Guide & Toolkit of Management Fundamentals (available via Amazon and IngramSpark)!

Thank you for these great insights, and for the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success.

It’s been my pleasure! Thank you for the interview! Much success to you as well!