Lisa Stirgus, Wells Fargo, District Manager/ VP

When Lisa Stirgus first became a district manager for Wells Fargo six years ago, she thought the transition would be simple. “I had it in my sleep,” she said. “I was always a top-performing manager.” But, as her boss had warned, going from managing individual contributors to managing managers presented a new scope of challenges.

Lisa soon realized that with her district being spread out over eight towns and cities across Northern Nevada, she could not be everywhere at once. She had to rely on her managers and the best way to get the results she needed was to mentor her managers in a way that would inspire everyone who worked for them to excel as well. This required an individualized approach, and with 10 managers on her team, Lisa had to learn how to teach to 10 different personalities, adjusting her leadership to fit each one separately and together as a whole. She believes that this is what created the team she has now, a team that has just completed its third straight year with the highest engagement scores in the state!

I have known Lisa for eight years and have heard firsthand from her team how much they admire, respect, and love her. Setting a meeting with her was my opportunity to find out from Lisa’s perspective what makes her a leader that people love.

Lisa started out by telling me of her reputation as a “pit-bull with a smile.” After a chuckle, she said the analogy was something she had taken to heart, and was even proud of. She’s created an environment where she can give honest and sometimes tough feedback—this works because she cares and because her team knows that she genuinely wants them to succeed in life and at work. Giving honest feedback means a combination of positive reinforcement as well as developmental feedback.

“My job is to build, grow and develop talent,” she said. Lisa knows that building confidence together with helping her team identify ways to grow and stretch is the key to breakthrough performance and engagement. Building confidence is an important aspect of a successful team; it changes the game. When a team member has a sense of purpose and confidence, they are going to do a great job no matter who is watching. Once this is achieved, a leader can then focus on providing direction and guidance.

We sat and talked for about three hours and as our meeting drew to an end I had a sense that what Lisa truly loved about being a leader was helping people achieve what they never thought was possible. She has a passion for what she does and believes that if you focus on cultivating talent and invest in developing your team, you’ll not only achieve your goals, but you’ll exceed your goals. It also creates a ripple effect; an engaged team leads to an engaged customer base. Love your team the way that you want them to love your customers. I call it contagious leadership. Setting the bar high and modeling the way every day sets the tone for everyone in the workplace. Lisa is constantly asking herself, “Am I living and breathing what I expect from my team?” It’s a top-down approach and it is truly inspirational.

Liberating Talent

As leaders, we are constantly faced with problems, and moving forward hinges on our ability to generate solutions. Basketball players shoot baskets, doctors cure ailments, and leaders solve problems; it’s what we do. When addressing issues, we typically follow the common method of Problem Solving— we state what’s wrong and then ask questions in search of a fix . For example, “Our managers are leaving the organization; what are we doing wrong? How can we fix it? Who works with these managers?”

While this method works well for processes and systems, it doesn’t work quite as well with people. It forces the team to identify someone as being wrong, and therefore places blame. By putting the blame on an individual or a group, people become defensive and a true resolution falls out of reach.

Another option that can be a successful way around this problem is a simple reframing of the question. Instead of posing the question as a glass half empty kind of problem, it can be posed as a glass half full scenario. For example, “We have great managerial talent and we want them to stay with our organization; how should we go about this?” It might seem like it’s the same question as above, but with a small shift you are highly likely to get better results and more creative solutions. By posing the question with a more positive perspective, it allows your team to discuss the concern without placing blame on anyone. This disarms them, essentially creating an unpolluted opportunity to develop ideas. This approach saves time, promotes innovation, and allows you to tap into the brilliance of your team!



Plager, Debbie. “Action ‘Thinking’: A Cognitive Look at Action Learning Programs.” OD Practitioner 2009: 38-43. Web. 29 June 2012.

5 Feedback Pitfalls to Avoid

If you want to get the best from your employees, mean what you say and say what you mean. Feedback serves as a reinforcement to either continue behavior or change behavior. If you want behavior to continue, focus on authentically enhancing self-esteem. If you want the behavior to change, be direct about what needs to change.

You’ll save time, frustration and energy by avoiding these pitfalls:

  1. Vague or abstractive feedback: “You need to be more professional.” The challenge with this feedback is that “more professional” means different things to different people. It’s subjective. Some people interpret “more professional” as the way they look, while others perceive “more professional” as showing up on time. Instead of leaving people guessing, be specific. “You were late 5 out of 60 working days” or “the dress code requires a suit and this week you’ve been without a suit jacket 3 of 5 days.”
  2. Making it about you: “I think you did a great job.” While this seems like you are focused on the person, saying “I think” makes it about you. Use this opportunity to focus on the other person by saying “you did a great job with _________.”
  3. Sandwiching your feedback: “You are great at using customers’ names. You do need to get better with closing. Overall though, you’re doing a stellar job.”  When you sandwich developmental feedback between two positive pieces of feedback, people hear “but you’re doing a stellar job, so don’t change anything!” Give your positive feedback. Give your developmental feedback. Then talk about an action plan.
  4. Using tentative language: “You might want to change how you’re giving feedback.” People hear might as a suggestion; no need to change if they don’t want to. If you want your employees to change their behavior, it is important to avoid tentative language and be direct. For example, “focus on how you are giving feedback. Here’s an example of what to change ‘_________.’”
  5. Using but or however:  “You were amazing today, but you could have smiled more.” You might as well leave out “you were amazing.” As soon as you add the word but you minimize anything positive you said. Instead, replace but with a period and start a new sentence so that employees hear the distinction.