The Trouble with Trust – 3 Things to Consider Before You Give It

trouble-signToday’s blog article is pretty straightforward and to the point.

There is trouble with trust.

Now, trust is pretty cool and amazing. It is an essential ingredient for any healthy relationship or organization, and I write a lot about how to build it and the benefits of having it.

But it also comes with some trouble. This trouble affects you and me on a very personal level and we should be aware of it before we decide to trust someone or something.

Here are three things you should consider before giving your trust:

1. It opens you to risk – Without risk there is no need for trust. People often think distrust is the opposite of trust, but it’s not. The opposite of trust is control. We don’t trust because we don’t want to lose control. If you want to experience the benefits of trust, then you have to accept some risk. Yes, you may get burned once in a while. That’s the risk of playing the game of life. But most of the time you end up winning, and winning big! Trust is worth the risk.

2. It requires investment from you – Trust is built through reciprocity. I give some to you, you give some back to me by demonstrating your trustworthiness, and I in turn give more to you. It’s a virtuous cycle that feeds upon itself. The gift that never stops giving. Giving…that’s the key word. Trust requires you to give. You give in to risk…you give up control…you give by being trustworthy…you give by experiencing pain and turmoil when someone breaks your trust. It can cost you time, money, and emotional energy, but you give because it’s worth it. So before you give away your trust, pause to consider the other ways you will need to give to nurture it or even rebuild it.

3. It can (and will) get messy – Trusting others is not always a smooth road. Any time people are involved it’s bound to get messy and that’s definitely the case with trust. Sometimes people will abuse your trust and you’ll feel like you’re on the losing side. Other times your efforts in building trust with others will take longer than expected and you’ll feel like giving up. Regardless of the situation, you’ll eventually hit some pot holes on the road to building trust. That’s normal and you’re not alone. Push through the messiness because the outcome is worth it.

Feel free to add a comment and share your thoughts about other costs people should count before giving their trust.

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5 Freedom-Fostering Ways to Develop High Performing Teams

FreedomLast week I shared four ways to tell if you inspire freedom or fear in your team members. You can tell you’ve created a culture of freedom in your team if you see your people taking appropriate risks, speaking truth to power, readily admitting their mistakes, and sharing their heart with you.

What if your team doesn’t display those signs? Does that mean you’ve done something wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. The more likely scenario is you just haven’t devoted intentional effort to building the culture of your team. Now that you have an idea that things could be better, here’s a way to get started fostering freedom within your team to enable them to perform at their best.

1. Be trustworthy – The bedrock of any successful leader or team is trust. As Warren Bennis said, it’s the lubrication that makes organizations work. It’s the oil that keeps your team’s engine humming at its best, and without it, your team’s production will grind to a halt. A primary component of your leadership role is to model trustworthy behavior. It sets the tone for how you expect team members to treat each other. Building trust is a never-ending quest. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a primer on being a trustworthy leader, see The ABCDs of Leading with Trust.

2. Be open – To infuse your team atmosphere with a sense of freedom, it’s imperative that you lead with a philosophy of openness. You demonstrate openness by sharing information freely because you know people need information if they are going to act responsibly in their roles. Openness also means being forthright and genuine when you share information or interact with team members. You don’t spin the truth to manipulate the way team members interpret information, but you share the truth candidly and appropriately. Openness means your team members know there are no hidden agendas with you. What they see is what they get (you’re authentic).

3. Establish clear expectations – Fostering freedom within your team doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility or accountability. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means everyone is clear on the expectations for their role. It means they clearly understand what’s in their lane and what’s not. Freedom results because within the boundaries that have been established, team members have the full reign to operate according to their best judgment. If boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, it leads to people being hesitant to act, duplication of efforts, or even worse, someone dropping the ball because they assume the other person is supposed to be responsible. Clear expectations through the use of job descriptions, establishing key responsibility areas for positions, and setting SMART goals are all ways to clarify expectations.

4. Be receptive to others – You cultivate freedom in your team by actively seeking the input of others, truly listening to their ideas, and incorporating their feedback into your decisions and action plans for the team. This isn’t the same as being open, as I mentioned above. Think of openness as what you communicate out to the team, and think of receptivity as what you take in from the team. Team members want to be invested and display a sense of ownership if only leaders will give them the opportunity. Availability is a key aspect to being receptive, because you can’t be receptive if you’re in meetings eight hours a day and never available to connect with your team members. When they do bring ideas or input to you, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t instinctively look for all the holes in their ideas, but explore ways to make their ideas (or parts of them) work.

5. Don’t micromanage – You can excel at being the most trustworthy and open leader, set clear expectations and be receptive to the input of others, but if you micromanage your team to death, freedom will never gain a foothold. Micromanagement creates discouragement and resignation on the part of team members. It beats down the spirits of your people to the point where they “quit and stay” on the job. They’re physically present but not engaged in their work. They eventually develop the attitude of just doing the minimum amount of work acceptable and nothing more. If that’s the kind of team you want, then be my guest. Micromanage away! If it’s not the type of team you want, then avoid the temptation to over control. Your team will thank you for it.

Five ways to foster freedom in your team: be trustworthy, open, establish clear expectations, be receptive to others, and don’t micromanage. By no means an exhaustive list but a good start nonetheless. Practice these big five and you’ll be on your way to developing a high performing team.

Posted in ABCD Trust Model, Culture, Engagement, Goal Setting, Integrity, Leadership, Management, Morale, Sharing Information, Success, Teamwork, Transparency, Trust | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Your Leadership Inspire Freedom or Fear? 4 Ways to Tell

American FlagIndependence Day was yesterday and it had me thinking about freedom. As we all know, the desire to be free from the rule of the British Empire was the driving force for the fledgling United States to declare their independence. Such bravery and courage it took for our Founding Fathers to make that stand! It gives great meaning to the last line of the Declaration of Independence: “…we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

But I was thinking of freedom in the context of leadership and a question occurred to me: Does my leadership inspire freedom in my people? It’s an interesting question to consider.

I believe leadership should inspire people to be the best versions of themselves. It should encourage others to manifest the full expression of their intelligence and creativity, and in order to do that, people need to be free. They need leaders who foster an environment of freedom and liberty rather than fear or oppression.

I think it’s fairly easy to know if your leadership inspires freedom or fear. All you have to do is look at your people and see how they act. Here are four telltale signs you’ve inspired freedom in your people:

1. They take appropriate risks – Call it what you will…using their best judgment, not asking your permission, showing a sense of ownership, or acting like they own the place…they’re all ways of describing employees who know they have the freedom to do their jobs the best way possible. They know that if they use their best judgment and take a risk that the boss will support them regardless of the outcome. Freedom inspires ownership and engagement on the part of employees. Fear-based leaders develop employees who only do the minimum amount of work required. They wait for the boss to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Leaders who inspire freedom in others have team members who know they are trusted to do their jobs the right way and they act responsibly because they value and appreciate the trust and confidence from their leaders.

2. They aren’t afraid to speak truth to power – Freedom-inspiring leaders foster an environment where people know they can give honest feedback without fear of recrimination. These kinds of leaders model what it means to give and receive feedback in healthy ways and their people follow suit. People who are afraid of their leaders never speak up. Their feedback is delivered in the form of gossip or venting with coworkers which leads to poor team morale and loss of productivity. They’ve learned from experience that speaking truth to power only leads to discipline, harsh treatment on the job, or outright termination. Are your people afraid to give you feedback, or have you fostered a sense of trust, freedom, and openness with your people that allow them to approach you with feedback they know you may not enjoy? When’s the last time a team member approached you to express disagreement with a decision you made? If it’s been awhile, don’t automatically assume it’s because everyone agrees with your decisions. They might just be afraid to tell you the truth.

3. They readily admit their mistakes – People who work in an environment of fear hide their mistakes and hope that no one finds out. They’ve learned the hard way that if they make a mistake there is going to be hell to pay. So they brush it under the rug, try to fix it as best as they can, and hope and pray the boss doesn’t find out. On the other hand, people who work in an environment of freedom will bring their mistakes to the boss’ attention, most likely after they’ve already resolved the problem (because they aren’t afraid to take initiative to fix their own mistakes). Freedom inspires looking at mistakes as learning opportunities instead of occasions for discipline or punishment. How are mistakes handled in your team? Do team members have the freedom to openly address them or is it taboo to admit they goofed up?

4. They share their heart with you – If you have employees share their fears, hopes, and dreams with you, then you know you’ve inspired freedom. That means they’ve let down their guard, they trust you, and they’re willing to be vulnerable because they know you won’t judge them or take advantage of them. That doesn’t happen with leaders who inspire fear. Actually, not much of anything positive happens with leaders who lead by fear. People bring their whole selves to work. It’s just not possible to separate the personal and professional when you walk through the office doors, even though many leaders expect their people to do so, as if it’s as easy as flipping a light switch. Leaders in the 21st century have to know they are required to manage and lead the whole person, not just a warm body who shows up to do a job. If you’re people aren’t afraid to open up to you, then you’re doing a good job fostering freedom. If that’s not the case, then alarm bells should be going off in your mind because you’ve got a problem.

Those are four pretty clear signs a leader is fostering an environment of freedom. But how do leaders actually create that sort of vibe within their teams? How do they lead in freedom-inspiring ways? I’ll explore that in a future post. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Are their other signs you would add that show a leader inspires freedom? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Posted in Leadership, Management, Relationships, Trust | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

5 Qualities Every Employee Wants in a Boss

I-Love-My-BossBosses…most of us have one. Some are good and some are not so good. But every one of them has an impact. The question is, what kind of impact? Does their influence cause learning, growth, and success for their team members, or does it damper their enthusiasm, discourage autonomy, and produce mediocrity?

I believe leadership may be a complex notion but it doesn’t have to be complicated in practice. There are basic, common sense behaviors that successful leaders share.

To illustrate this principle of common sense leadership, I asked my wife, two sons, and nephew to list five qualities they want in a boss. The similarity in their lists was remarkable (and pretty common sense). By no means do they represent a statistically significant population size, but their answers are valuable nuggets of leadership wisdom that any leader should put into practice.

Here are five common sense qualities every employee wants in their boss:

1. Easy to work with – Employees want bosses who are easy to work with and make work enjoyable. Having a good sense of humor, being flexible, patient, and being a good listener all help make life on the job pleasant. Kindness goes a long way. No one wants to work for Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy-pants, so leave the bad attitude at home. It doesn’t cost much to smile and be pleasant so spread a little sunshine to your team.

2. Shows interest in me as a person, not just an employee – Employees want a boss who shows interest in them as individuals and not just workers showing up to do a job. Ask your employees how their weekend went, how their kid played in their soccer game, or how their family is doing. You’ll be amazed at how your people will respond (if they looked shocked that you even asked you’ll know you’ve got more work to do!). Your team members will engage more in their work, be more productive, and their trust and loyalty to you will increase over time.

3. Be a role model of dependability and have a strong work ethic – Leaders show the way. They need to be the role model of how they want every team member to perform. If you expect your people to work hard, then you need to work hard. If you want your employees to display excellent customer service, then you need to do the same. Behave as if your employees are constantly watching you…because they are.

4. Know the work of your team – Too often bosses lose touch with reality. They get too far removed from the day-to-day work and become callous to the challenges and demands their team members face. Employees want their boss to be sympathetic and understanding. They want the boss to be knowledgeable enough about their work so they can provide the right amount of direction and support to help them accomplish their goals.

5. Have my back – Employees want a boss who assumes best intentions and doesn’t automatically assume they screwed up when something goes wrong. These bosses assume best intentions, listen without judgement, and trust their employees to do the right thing. They protect their employees from being taken advantage of yet don’t swoop in to rescue them when they need to stand on their own two feet.

Pretty common sense, but unfortunately, not common practice. Incorporate these five practices into your repertoire as a leader and you’ll see the growth in your team’s morale and productivity.

Posted in Leadership, Management | Tagged , | 2 Comments

5 Pieces of Advice for all Those “Average Joe” Grads

Graduation CapsI attended a high school graduation this past Friday. It was similar to all the other high school and college graduation ceremonies I’ve experienced over the years. The graduates filed in to their seats accompanied by the notes of Pomp and Circumstance, the high achieving graduates received special recognition and a stream of awards, then the valedictorians (the highest achievers of the high achievers) gave speeches, followed by the mass roll call of all the graduates as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

A new thought struck me as I watched the ceremony on Friday. When you take out the time allotted for the graduates to march to their seats as well as the time for the roll call awarding the diplomas, 90% of the graduation ceremony is focused on 10% of the highest achieving students.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a high-achiever. I think every student should aim to perform his/her best and those outstanding performers definitely deserve special recognition. However, those are the exceptions, not the norm. Most people won’t graduate with a 4.87 GPA and plans to study Neurobiology at John Hopkins University. The fact is that most of us graduate with little clue as to what we want to do with the rest of our lives. What sort of leadership advice should be passed on to those “average Joe’s?”

Well, from one average Joe to another, here’s what I would say:

1. Don’t stress, it’s normal to not know what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most of us are bozos on the same bus; we’re figuring out life as we go. Very few of us have a crystal clear purpose of what we want to do in life, and even many of those high achievers giving the graduation speeches will take unexpected turns in life that deviate from their original plan. It’s called life. We learn, grow, and mature (hopefully) and our wants and desires change over the course of time. But somehow life has a way of working out. We all eventually find our niche and you’ll find yours.

2. Don’t compare yourself to others. Playing the comparison game is a guaranteed way to make yourself miserable and unhappy. There will always be someone who has a better job, makes more money, owns a bigger house, or accumulates more “stuff” than you. But that doesn’t mean they’re happier than you. Learning how to be content in all circumstances is one of the secrets of life. If you can find contentment, gratefulness, and thankfulness for what you do have, then you’ve got it all.

3. Be patient. More than any previous generation, today’s graduates have grown up in an instant gratification society. Many young graduates expect the work world to operate the same way. It doesn’t. Get used to it. However, you are among the brightest and quickest learning people to enter the workforce in ages and that has its own strengths. Work hard, listen more than you speak, learn from the experience of others, and prepare yourself to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. You’ll get your shot, but it will take some time and hard work.

4. Live for something bigger than yourself. If you haven’t yet learned this universal truth, I hope you will someday soon. Life really becomes meaningful and filled with purpose when you learn you aren’t the center of the universe. Life is not all about getting that job with the corner office or the handsome paycheck. It’s not about vacationing in Europe every summer or making “bank” as my 19 year-old son likes to say. Life becomes worthwhile when you realize it’s about giving more than you get. It’s about serving others, not yourself. One of the mysterious paradoxes in life is the more you give your time, talent, and treasure to others, the more deep-seated satisfaction you receive in return. I don’t know how else to describe it and I don’t think there’s a way you can learn it without doing it. Give it a try. Sooner rather than later. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted living.

5. Don’t give up. Life throws you curve balls and sometimes you strike out. Other times you get beaned by the pitch and you’re on the disabled list for a while. But if you keep getting back in the box and swing at enough pitches, you’ll get your fair share of hits. It takes time, effort, and patience but it will eventually turn your way…as long as you don’t give up. You matter. You are important. No one else in this world is like you and we need you. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

None of this is rocket science; much of life isn’t. It’s the basic fundamentals of life, that when practiced well, lead to success and happiness. Not being the honor grad with plans for a grand future doesn’t mean you’re a loser…it just means your normal. And normal is a pretty fantastic thing when you consider how amazingly gifted you are (even if you don’t realize it or believe it).

Congrats all you grads! There’s a fantastic life waiting for you. Go out and live it!

Posted in Career Growth, Leadership, Millennials, Purpose, Success | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments