The 1 Question All Leaders Must Ask Themselves

influence match sticksWhen you started your career, did you intentionally set your sights on being a leader or did it sort of, you know, just happen? For most of us, it just happens. We start out in an individual contributor role and soon find out the only way to gain responsibility and earn more money is to get promoted into a supervisory position. Suddenly we find ourselves responsible for leading other people and we probably never gave much thought about what kind of leader we wanted to be or if people would even want to follow us.

If you’re currently in a leadership position, or are thinking about moving into one, you should consider one very important question:

“Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you?”

Mel Lawrenz poses this question in his book Spiritual Influence – The Hidden Power Behind Leadership. The question contains several important truths:

  • Leadership is influence, not power or authority
  • People can choose whether or not they receive your leadership, you can’t force it upon them
  • The leader needs to have something worth giving

influence quoteIn an effort to help you answer that question, let me ask you a few more. Do you view your leadership role as a position, title, or form of power that will help you achieve your goals? Or do you view your leadership role as one of supporting other people to achieve their goals? Do you force your leadership influence upon people by coercing or demanding they follow your directives? Or do you earn the trust of your people by acting with integrity, being consistent in your behavior, taking a sincere interest in your people, and following through on your commitments? And what do you have to offer to your people? Do you have a track record of success and the expertise to share with others to help them in their own jobs? Do you have a desire to give people support, direction, and encouragement to reach their goals?

People want leaders who are authentic, genuine, and trustworthy, not those who play politics, are insincere, or out for their own gain. People want to know their leaders are invested in helping them succeed and will have their backs when times get tough, as opposed to hanging them out to dry when they make mistakes.

Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you? Answer that question and you’ll reach a deeper level of insight into your leadership motivations than you’ve ever had before.

Posted in Authenticity, Credibility, Integrity, Leadership, Power, Purpose, Trust | 1 Comment

The 1 Thing Every Employee Needs That Most Bosses Don’t Know How to Give

Challenging ConversationsEvery employee needs candid (yet caring) feedback about her performance, but most bosses shudder in fear at the thought of having that tough conversation.

I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is one of the most unpleasant things a leader has to do; it’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come one, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow.

The following steps can help you balance toughness with tenderness and get an employee’s performance back on track while preserving, or even building trust in the process.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, or resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receiving coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart.

Posted in Accountability, Challenging Conversations, Communication, Conflict, Feedback, Leadership, Management, Performance Management | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Surviving Friendly Fire: 8 Tips for Dealing with Unfair Criticism

criticismSooner or later…sooner if you’re in a leadership position…you will get wounded by “friendly fire”— unfair criticism from a boss or colleague.

Friendly fire comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it shows up in your annual performance review when the boss rates you as failing to meet expectations in an area of performance where you had no idea you were falling short. Other times friendly fire shows up when a colleague criticizes you in an effort to deflect attention from his/her own shortcomings. Regardless of the cause or circumstance, friendly fire hurts. It erodes trust between people, causes rifts in relationships, and stymies effective teamwork. You can’t control when friendly fire comes your way, but you can choose how to respond. Here are 8 tips on how to survive friendly fire:

1. Remember that your response shapes your reputation – Above all else, remember this point: the way you choose to respond to friendly fire will greatly shape your reputation. Take the high road and respond with integrity, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t let someone else’s unprofessional behavior goad you into responding in kind. Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day all they have is their integrity.

2. Don’t react defensively – Defensiveness only escalates the situation and lends weight to the unjustified criticism (similar to responding to a loaded question like “Have you stopped beating your wife?”). Getting passionately fired up over friendly fire gives emotional control to the accuser and limits your ability to respond rationally and thoughtfully.

3. Listen to understand; not to rebut or defend – Our most common instinct when we experience friendly fire is to zero in on the fallacies of the other person’s comments and formulate a response to defend ourselves. Instead, resist the urge to focus on the micro elements of what’s being communicated and instead focus on the macro implications of the criticism. Even if the specific accusations of the criticism are off-base, there may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the broader message.

4. Acknowledge any truth that is present – Agreeing with any valid part of the criticism is a way to acknowledge you’re hearing the feedback without agreeing to the entirety of what’s being communicated or beating yourself up over the situation. Sometimes there is a kernel of truth present in friendly fire and it may be an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself or the other person. If there are elements of the criticism that are blatantly not true, state your differences in a respectful and professional way without getting into a debate parsing the details.

5. Consider the source – Probably the sagest of all advice when it comes to unfair criticism. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to dramatization, criticizing others, being egotistical, or other unpredictable behavioral patterns, then you have more evidence to discredit their feedback. However, if the person delivering the criticism is known as a steady, stable, trustworthy professional who has been personally supportive of you in the past, you should take stock of their feedback and explore it further.

6. Probe for root causes – What’s being communicated in friendly fire is often symptoms of a deeper problem or issue. When you encounter friendly fire, ask open-ended questions or statements like “Tell me more…,” “Explain why that’s important to you…,” or “What is the impact of that?” Asking a series of “why?” questions can also help you discover the root cause of the issue.

7. Understand their world – To understand a person’s motivation for being unfairly critical, it’s helpful to put yourself in their shoes. Is the person unhappy? Stressed? Insecure? Vying for power or control? Frustrated? Is there a significant amount of change happening in the organization? Organizational change brings out the snipers and friendly fire increases dramatically. Criticizing and blaming others is a defense mechanism to deal with the fear of being asked to change. Even though you’re the target, remember that friendly fire is often more about them than you.

8. Remember that you are more than the criticism – It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we experience friendly fire. Most people strive to perform well and do what’s right, and when we have a boss or colleague criticize our efforts it hurts deeply. Depending on our personality and emotional make up, it may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity, just to name a few. Remember that this too shall past, and in the big scheme of things this is probably just a blip on the radar. Keep focused on all the positive things in your life such as the people you love, those who love you, the successes you’re having at work, the joy you experience from your hobbies, your spiritual faith, and the support of your family and friends.

As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said, the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Getting wounded by criticism stinks; there’s no two ways about it. But remembering these principles can help us keep things in perspective and maintain a strong defense against friendly fire.

How do you deal with unfair criticism? Feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom with others.

Posted in Communication, Conflict, Criticism, Emotions, Fairness, Feedback, Integrity, Leadership, Listening, Management, Professionalism, Relationships, Trust | Tagged , , , , | 26 Comments

Ditch the New Year’s Resolution and Do This One Thing Instead

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Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Admit it, you’re in trouble with your New Year’s resolution, aren’t you?

That’s okay, you’re not alone. Surveys show that just a few days into the new year, 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned it altogether, and just 8% will actually keep their resolution the entire year.

So ditch the New Year’s resolution…go ahead, just do it. I give you permission. But do this one thing instead: choose a word.

One word.

A couple of months ago I spent a weekend at a men’s retreat with Jon Gordon and that’s where I learned the power of one word. Jon’s written a number of best-selling books including The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and One Word, co-written with Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.

The concept is simple yet powerful. Spend time in solitude and reflection to determine one word that will provide focus, clarity, motivation, and purpose to your activities this coming year. Not a mission statement…not a phrase…but a word. Just one word.

The word applies to all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational. Choosing one word forces you to think deeply about what’s important, not just what’s urgent. It forces you to consider the impact you want to have on others and how you want to feel about yourself when the year is done.

Jon would say the word chooses you as much as you choose it and that was true in my experience. The word I chose during the retreat, and that I’m carrying over to this year, is invest.

I’m in a new season of life where I want to invest in relating to my sons (22 & 18 years old) as adult to adult and not just parent to child. My children don’t “need” me in the same way as they have in years past and sometimes that hurts. Occasionally I find myself mourning the change in our relationship rather than celebrating the season we’ve come through. Invest reminds me to get out of the victim mentality and be active in creating new ways to relate to my children. You never stop being a parent; it just changes complexion over the years.

I want to invest in rediscovering my wife of 26 years and developing new aspects of our relationship. Since our lives are no longer driven by the activities of our children, new doors are open to us that have been closed in the past. I want to invest in personal friendships that have taken a back seat over recent years as my focus has been on family and career. I want to invest in my physical, emotional, and mental health by developing healthy and nourishing hobbies, like cycling and golf.

I want to invest in being a better leader at work, by making a positive contribution to the organization and helping my team members reach new levels of success. I want to invest in my spiritual life by developing more regular times of prayer, meditation, and reading Scripture.

Invest…just one word but multi-dimensional in implication and potential impact.

Life gets busy and we find ourselves occupied with the urgent circumstances that arise. It takes intentional effort to focus our energies and simplify life and the one word process can help in that regard.

So ditch your new year’s resolution, if you haven’t already done so, and choose one word instead. Leave a comment letting me know your one word and why you chose it. I know Jon would appreciate you tweeting him with your one word also.

Make 2015 a great year!

Posted in Motivation, Parenting, Purpose, Relationships, Resolutions, Success | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

2014’s Top 10 Posts: Why You Don’t Trust People, When to Fire Someone, and More

Top 10 StampIt’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

10th Most Popular Post: 10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates – Creative questions that will help you make one of the most important decisions a leader faces.

9th: Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust – Originally published in July 2011, this continues to be one of the most widely read posts on Leading with Trust.

8th: 9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go – Sometimes firing an employee is inevitable. Learn the warning signs so you can address the situation quickly and respectfully.

7th: 3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate – You need to lead with a purpose and this post will help you understand areas in your life that could benefit from some healthy pruning.

6th: 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.

5th: Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.

4th: Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value – Each day at work is an interview for you to keep your job. This post will help you understand and adapt to the reality of today’s competitive job environment.

3rd: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” – This Thanksgiving-themed post from 2013 applies year-round. Telling employees how much they are appreciated is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and high performance in your team.

2nd: Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People – Dealing with temperamental people at work can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. Learn four tips to help you deal with this challenging situation.

and the #1 Most Popular Post for 2014…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Posted in Apology, Brand, Career Growth, Decision-Making, Interviewing, Leadership, Management, Morale, Performance Management, Purpose, Relationships, Servant Leadership, Stress, Success, Talent Management, Teamwork, Trust | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment