Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears – 4 Tips to Build Trust

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Posted in Communication, Leadership, Listening, Management, Trust | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

10 Easy Ways Leaders Can Build Trust with Their New Teams

Trust StonesThe new president of the company came in with grandiose visions of the future. She saw the untapped potential of the organization and set a vision for increasing revenues by ten fold. She preached her message of change with catchy slogans to create excitement and instituted sweeping changes by bringing in people outside the organization whom she trusted to lead key initiatives.

She was large and in charge, but she forgot the one critical thing that would determine her ultimate success. She forgot to build trust with her team, and it was that lack of trust that resulted in her ouster just a few years later.

Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t “just happen” by accident. It takes intentional effort and leaders need to have a specific game plan to establish and nurture trust in relationships.

The primary goal of any leader stepping in to lead a new team should be to build trust. Here are 10 easy ways leaders can get started:

1. Refrain from making bold proclamations — You probably have big goals for your new team and that’s likely why you were hired for the job. That’s great! But before you start proclaiming your vision for the future, spend time developing relationships with your new team members. Some of them may not know you from Adam. Some may be excited about you joining the team and others may be fearful. Be humble, exercise patience, and establish trust with your team before making bold proclamations. If your team trusts you, they’ll be much more receptive to hearing and acting on your message.

2. Ask open-ended questions — Dial down the temptation to start barking orders or making evaluations about current practices and ask open-ended questions instead. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former comes from an attitude of inquisitiveness and wanting to learn, whereas the latter comes from a position of evaluation and judgment. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.

3. Ask other people for their ideas — Chances are you have some pretty smart team members who know the business quite well. They probably have excellent insight into how things could work better, where the gaps are, and what could be done to improve the business. So ask them. Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions and trust will flourish.

4. Approach your role as a learner — You will develop trust much faster with your team if you approach this transition as a learner rather than acting like you’re a know-it-all. What attitudes do learner’s have? They are humble because they know they don’t know everything. They are open to new ideas, taking direction, and appreciative of others who are willing to share their expertise. Those are the same characteristics you should have when stepping in to lead a new team.

5. Go slow with changes — Practically every leader I’ve met has wanted to implement change quickly. And my experience has shown that effective change takes much longer to implement than we estimate or prefer it to take. So plan your schedule accordingly. Understand that your team is getting to know and trust you, and once that happens, they will be more receptive to the changes you want to implement. If you try to implement too much change before the team trusts you, they will resist and work against you rather than with you.

6. Respect the culture — Every organization and team has its own unique culture, and as the new person to the team, you need to be purposeful about learning the new culture and becoming part of it. A big no-no is to compare your new team or organization to your old one. When you keep bringing up your old company and make statements like “we did it this way” or “we should do it like my old team,” it makes your team question your loyalty. Using the pronoun “we” makes your team feel like a part of you is still with the old team. You’re not with your old team anymore so quit talking about them. When you need to reference your past experience, use the pronoun “I”—I’ve had experience doing it like this and it worked well—and it will go over better with your team.

7. Be nice — It sounds silly that this even has to be mentioned but you’d be surprised at how many leaders miss this obvious way to build trust. Just be nice. Say please and thank you. Smile at people. Ask them how they’re doing. Build rapport. It’s the little things that go a long way in building trust.

8. Catch people doing something right — When I do training sessions with clients I often ask the group this question: “How many people are sick and tired of their boss praising them at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is people don’t get enough pats on the back for their achievements on the job. It doesn’t cost much—except time and effort—for leaders to praise team members, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust.

9. Laugh at yourself — Humor is a fantastic antidote to many of the ills of the day-to-day stress of organizational life. Well timed and appropriate humor keeps the mood light, lifts people’s spirits, and eases tension. Leaders who are not only humorous, but are vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves, have a leg up when it comes to building trust. People trust others whom they like and know. Humor breaks down barriers between people and allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level.

10. Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one party is willing to assume a little risk and extend trust to the other. I believe it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a powerful signal to your team members and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.

I said earlier that these were “easy” ways to develop trust. Let me qualify that statement. Some of these ways are easier than others, and depending on your personality, some may be quite difficult for you. However, they are all eminently do-able. They just take intentional effort, and if you follow through and try some of these, you’ll find trust will start to blossom with your new team.

Feel free to leave a comment with other strategies or suggestions to build trust with a new team. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Posted in Attitude, Authenticity, Beliveability, Communication, Connectedness, Culture, Humility, Humor, Leadership, Praising, Relationships, Teamwork, Trust, Trust Boosters | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

The Reason Why You Don’t Trust Your Team May Surprise You

baby_in_mirrorMaybe you’ve heard these types of phrases from leaders in the past, or to bring it closer to home, perhaps you’ve even uttered them yourself:

  • “I just can’t trust my team to complete the job to the quality I expect.”
  • “Deadlines always seem to be a moving target with my team.”
  • “I seem to be on a different wavelength with my team. I say one thing but they hear another.”
  • “I don’t always see or feel a sense of teamwork. We seem to be a collection of individuals rather than a unified team.”

Do any of those sound familiar? All of them can point to a lack of trust between the team leader and his/her team. But have you ever paused to consider why you don’t trust your team? It may not have anything to do with them. It might be you.

Trust doesn’t “just happen” in relationships. It takes intentional effort, and in a team setting, it’s up to the leader to cultivate the right environment for trust to flourish. If you find yourself not trusting your team, explore these three areas:

Trust Signals – Trust is developed through the use of specific behaviors, and based on a complex set of variables (our personality, early childhood upbringing, past experience, and our values, just to name a few), each of us is “tuned in” to certain behavioral signals that communicate trust. The challenge in a team environment is every person can be tuned in to different trust signals, so what communicates trust to you may be different than what communicates trust to someone else. It’s important to establish a common language of trust so that everyone is picking up the same signals. A helpful tool to get everyone on the same page of trust is the ABCD Trust Model. It takes the four elements of trust (competence, integrity, care, and dependability) and puts them in an easy to understand model that provides a common set of trust signals for everyone to use.

Mis-aligned Expectations – Many times the reason leaders don’t trust their teams is they haven’t done a good job of clarifying expectations. Leaders often assume the team knows the importance of the goal, the quality standards expected, or the deadline for completing the work. When the team doesn’t perform as expected, the leader jumps to the conclusion that the team can’t be trusted. Step back and reassess the situation. Did you verbalize your expectations and make them absolutely clear? Did you equip or train your team to meet those expectations? Did you provide the day-to-day coaching needed or did you just leave the team on its own? When expectations aren’t met, we have a habit of judging others by their actions but judging ourselves by our intent. Judge your team by their intent and explore whether or not your expectations were communicated clearly.

Lack of Vulnerability – Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. That leads to team members always playing a guessing game as to what the leader wants. People can’t do their best work when they don’t know what to expect from the leader. The cure is for leaders to be clear on their Leadership Point of View (LPOV). Your LPOV is your leadership philosophy. It’s a statement of why you lead, what’s important to you as a leader, what your team members can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Developing and communicating your LPOV lets team members “behind the curtain.” It shows vulnerability on your part to be real and authentic with team members and it creates tremendously high levels of trust.

Trust has been called the miracle triple-acting agent for organizations. It provides the lubrication that makes people, processes, and systems work more smoothly. It also acts as the bonding agent that brings people together, allowing them to collaborate effectively and achieve more together than they could as individuals. And trust also functions as the catalyst to spur the innovation and creativity that’s necessary to propel organizations to higher levels of success. So don’t underestimate the power of trust, and when you feel it’s lacking with your team, take a look in the mirror first. The problem may be staring back at you.

Posted in Authenticity, Distrust, Leadership, Transparency, Trust, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Your First 5 Steps When Leading a New Team

Working_TogetherStepping in to lead a new team can be an exciting time for a leader. You probably have grand ideas of all the things you’re going to change to take the team’s performance to the next level. You’re looking forward to making an impact and demonstrating to everyone that you’re the right person for the job.

But you also need to be careful when stepping in to lead a new team. Your first few moves sets the tone for your leadership – positive or negative – so it’s important you go into this venture with a clear and focused plan of action. Every leader has a honeymoon period with his/her new team and you want to be sure to capitalize on this opportunity.

Here are five critical steps you should take when leading a new team:

1. Meet with your boss to get clear on your own goals – First and foremost you need to be clear on your own performance goals. Some organizations and leaders do a better job than others in setting goals, but regardless of the cultural norms of your organization, take it upon yourself to drive the goal setting process with your boss. At the end of the day your performance will be evaluated against those goals so you’ll want to make sure you and your boss are in alignment.

2. Schedule and conduct 1on1’s with all of your team members – Your primary goal when taking over leadership of a team is to build trust with your team members, and the only way that’s possible is by investing time in developing the relationship. Hold 1on1 meetings with each team member and make it your focus to build the relationship. Get to know them personally and understand their goals, dreams, and frustrations. Enter these conversations with the spirit of a learner. Don’t use this time as an opportunity to impress others with your brilliance. That will backfire and you’ll come off as arrogant and bossy. Listen, learn, solicit input, get the lay of the land, and simply get to know people.

3. Diagnose your team’s stage of development and use the appropriate leadership style – Teams go through natural stages of development and each stage requires the leader to use a different leadership style. When teams are just forming, morale is generally high but productivity is low because the team hasn’t accomplished much. At this stage the leader needs to provide high direction such as setting goals, establishing processes, and getting people up to speed on their respective tasks. As the team starts to mature they often experience growing pains. Morale may suffer and productivity may fluctuate. At this stage leaders have to keep providing high direction to develop the team’s productivity but also dial-up the emotional support to help the team address their morale issues. Things will start to smooth out for teams in the next stage of development and leaders can dial down their directive behaviors because the team knows what to do, but the leader still needs to provide high support so the team continues to improve internal relationships to work cohesively as a group. Eventually teams can reach the stage where they are firing on all cylinders in regards to both their tasks and their relationships. At this stage leaders are focused on helping the team consider new challenges or removing roadblocks to help them continue their great performance.

4. Review or create a team charter – A team charter is a set of agreements the team develops that outline why the team exists, what its goals are, and how team members will work together to live out their purpose. If your team already has a defined charter, this is a good time to review it and see if it still accurately captures the purpose and goals of the team. If your team doesn’t have a charter, schedule sufficient time to work through these elements. Developing a team charter isn’t touchy-feely team building nonsense; it’s important work that sets the foundation for how your team will operate moving forward.

5. Build a climate of trust – As I mentioned earlier, the number one priority for you when stepping in as a new leader is to build trust with your team. If you don’t establish trust, your team will constantly be working against you. Once a climate of trust is established, you will be able to implement new ideas and move the team to higher levels of performance. Focus on demonstrating the ABCD’s of trust and the team will follow your lead.

You only get once chance to make a first impression with your team. Make sure you approach this opportunity with a clear plan of action. Getting clear on your own goals, developing relationships with team members, using the right leadership styles for your team’s stage of development, having a clear charter to guide your team’s activities, and fostering a climate of trust will get you started on the right foot.

Feel free to leave a comment with your own suggestions for leaders stepping in to lead a new team.

Posted in ABCD Trust Model, Leadership, Teamwork, Trust | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

3 Ways Leadership is Like…Dominoes?

DominoesDominoes is a great game to play when you’re hanging out with friends. My wife and I like to play Mexican Train with our friends because it has a nice blend of strategy, surprise, and most of all, allows for easy conversation and fellowship.

The other day a friend of mine shared an interesting analogy about dominoes that caused me to see immediate applications to successful leadership practices.

Leadership is like dominoes in that…

Matching is required — In dominoes the primary objective is to lay down a domino that matches the number of previously played bones. The same is true for successful leadership practices—you need to match the needs of your team members. Team member needs show up in a number of areas: development level on specific goals or tasks, emotional needs, communication styles, learning styles, etc. The goal for the leader is to match the needs of team members by using the right leadership style or practices. When developing people’s skills on goals or tasks, the leader has to use the right blend of directive and supportive behaviors that allow team members to develop their competence and commitment. When communicating, the leader needs to transmit the message in a way team members will understand, internalize, and encourage dedication to the team and its mission. If the employee needs emotional support, then the leader needs to find the right expressions of empathy or encouragement to get the person back on track. Whatever the need, the goal is for the leader to match.

Community is created — Dominoes is a great community-building game. The nature and pace of the game allows conversation to flow among participants, resulting in relationships being built and nurtured over the course of time. Leaders are responsible for creating community with their teams. Leaders are not lone rangers; they are mayors, pastors, coaches, teachers, and other builders of community. Leaders accomplish their work through others and that’s only possible if they help their people see and feel a connection to something bigger than themselves.

The goal is to give it all away — You win a dominoes game when you go out, when you give away all your bones. That’s how leaders win—they give it all away. Power, encouragement, energy, praise, recognition, time, trust, knowledge, help, discipline, wisdom, direction, support…whatever it is, leaders give it away to their people. Successful leadership is not about hoarding what you have, it’s about giving it to others in service of the greater good. There is a universal law that is somewhat paradoxical—the more you give, the more you receive. The act of giving to others and seeing the positive impact in their lives, results in your own tank being refilled to allow you to keep on giving.

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts about other leadership applications you see from dominoes or any other game of your choice.

Posted in Leadership | Tagged , | 1 Comment