3 Key Areas for Leaders to Check Their Egos

EgotisticalDon’t kid yourself…you’ve got an ego and sometimes it gets out of control. You may not act like a pompous jerk in public, but you have undoubtedly experienced moments where self-righteous, egotistical thoughts run through your mind and you act in ways inconsistent with your normal behavior. Maybe your ego raged out of control when you felt the need to impress someone or maybe to protect yourself in response to a perceived slight. Regardless of the cause, if you’re not careful to keep your ego in check, it will erode trust in your relationships and be the downfall of your leadership.

One of the four key elements of establishing trust in a relationship is being “believable,” which means acting with integrity. In polls and surveys I’ve conducted with hundreds of people, this one element is often cited as the most important element in building trust. It’s also the element of trust that takes the biggest hit if your ego is left unchecked. An out of control ego signals to other people that you believe you’re more important than them, place your interests ahead of theirs, and that others can’t be vulnerable with you without fear of being taken advantage of.

There are three key areas leaders can focus on to keep their ego in check, increase their “believability” with others, and build trust.

  • Honesty — The basics apply here: don’t lie, cheat, or steal. But being honest also means not stretching the truth, telling half-truths, omitting facts out of convenience, or failing to speak the truth when needed.
  • Values — Do you know what your core values are? What motivates you as a leader? When faced with a difficult choice, what are the values you use to filter your decision? Developing and articulating your values, and asking others to hold you accountable to living out those behaviors, will help keep your ego in check and allow others to gain confidence in the consistency of your behavior.
  • Fair Process — Do you treat people fairly? Egotistical leaders love to play favorites. Trustworthy leaders treat people ethically and equitably. Being fair doesn’t mean treating people the same across the board, no matter the circumstances. It means treating people fairly according to their specific situation and upholding consistent principles and ideals with your entire staff.

A believable leader is someone who acts with integrity and is a role model for the company’s values. We commonly describe believable leaders as credible, honest, and ethical. When someone is believable, he or she tells the truth, holds confidences, is honest about his or her skills, and gives credit when credit is due. Notice that egotistical doesn’t appear anywhere in that description. Egotistical leaders “bust” trust, whereas as believable leaders “boost” trust, and by focusing on developing honesty, values alignment, and acting fairly, leaders can keep their ego in check and build trust in the process.

Posted in Ego, Leadership, Trust | 7 Comments

The One Responsibility a Leader Can’t Delegate

Help Wanted SignSixty resumes submitted and counting. A half-dozen interviews scheduled and more in the pipeline. Key team members prepared to have hour upon hour devoured in interviews, presentations, and meetings. The thought of having several weeks consumed by the process of hiring a new team member causes many leaders to delegate the responsibility to someone else…anyone else…just so long as their lives aren’t sucked into the black hole of endless interviews.

Hiring new team members is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader and is one that cannot be delegated. You can’t leave it to the personnel manager, HR, or a head hunter. They can help in the process, but it’s up to the leader to be intimately involved in the recruitment, interviews, and selection process.

I believe there are at least three key reasons why leaders shouldn’t delegate this responsibility:

1. People are your number 1 strategic advantage – The one thing that differentiates you from your competition is your people. The success of your organization rises and falls with the talent of your people, and as the leader, you need to call the shots about who is and isn’t on your team. There is a reason why the coaches of professional sports teams are increasingly wanting control over personnel decisions. If they are going to be held accountable for the performance of their team on the field or court, they want control over selecting the players. You should feel the same way.

2. Team chemistry can make or break your success – You know better than anyone else the mix of skills and personalities you need on the team. . Your job is to always raise the capabilities and performance of your team, and in order to do that, you need to be intimately involved in the hiring process. I view the hiring process as similar to the recruitment efforts of a college sports team. You want to stockpile as much talent as possible to not only replace the outgoing players, but to create a level of healthy internal competition that requires everyone to raise the level of their game. You can’t do that by outsourcing the hiring process or decision.

3. The amount of risk and investment demands it – With no disrespect to Human Resources, Personnel, or anyone else involved in the recruitment process, you will be the one stuck with a bad hiring decision, not them. The cost to replace a bad hire can range from 1.5 to 3 times the salary of the position and that is a level of responsibility that requires the leader make the decision. Should a new hire not work out, the termination process can be a lengthy and arduous process that’s even more grueling and taxing than the hiring process. The risk-reward ratio is too high for the leader to delegate the hiring responsibility to someone else.

Bringing new people on your team is one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. You will win or lose with the talent on your team and selecting new team members is not a responsibility you can, or should, delegate to someone else.

What do you think? Should a leader ever delegate the hiring decision to someone else? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Posted in Delegation, Leadership, Talent Management | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

3 Leadership Lessons from LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland

LeBron James

Over the last few weeks, fans of the NBA, and sports fans in general, have been eagerly awaiting the news of where LeBron James will be playing basketball next season. He chose to opt-out of his contract with the Miami Heat at the conclusion of this past season, and speculation has run rampant about whether he would stay in Miami or return to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he began his career 11 years ago, drafted #1 into the NBA as a 19 year-old kid just out of high school. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you know the decision: LeBron is going home to Cleveland.

James’ decision to return to Cleveland, presumably where he will finish his career, presents some interesting leadership lessons:

1. Move from success to significance – LeBron James left Cleveland 4 years ago in pursuit of success and he found it in Miami, winning 2 NBA titles and 2 league MVP’s. Despite that success, something was missing: significance. In his book, Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance, Bob Buford says at some point in life (often around middle age) you will have to transition from the struggle for success to the quest for significance. We spend the first half of our life striving to earn more money, get a better title, or gain more possessions. Despite our success, we begin to question the lasting value of our accomplishments and our desires turn toward wanting to leave a lasting legacy. James recognizes this is his opportunity for significance. It’s his chance to influence other players, the city, and the state. James said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” The transition from success to significance also involves the identification of what brings you true joy and happiness. James said it simply about why he is returning to Cleveland: “This is what makes me happy.”

2. Serve others and something greater than yourself – Part of moving from leadership success to significance is realizing leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you influence. LeBron James has grown to realize this truth. He said, “I know that I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.” Leadership is more than a job; it’s a calling. It’s a sacred opportunity to help other people grow into their full potential and achieve more than they could on their own. James said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”

3. Leadership wisdom involves learning the lessons of past experiences – When LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland four years ago, he made the announcement in an over-hyped ESPN television special called “The Decision.” He announced that he was “taking his talents” to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. People in Cleveland burned his jersey in effigy, called him a traitor (and much worse), and the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letter to the public where he described James as “narcissistic” and his decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal.” James has learned from his experiences and grown as a person and a leader. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently,” he said. “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. Without the experiences I had there (Miami), I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.” LeBron has also learned that leadership wisdom involves recognizing the mistakes you make and working to repair them. Regarding his relationship with Gilbert he said, “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron James entered the NBA with ridiculously high expectations, as evidenced by the moniker assigned him: The Chosen One. Being born in Akron, OH, he was Cleveland’s native son, the savior of the franchise, and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan as the world’s greatest basketball player. In spite of the unreal expectations placed on him and the inevitable bumps in the road he’s experienced, James has seemed to grow into a more self-assured leader who has gained clarity on his purpose on and off the court. That’s a worthy goal for leaders everywhere.

Posted in Leadership, Sports, Success | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

21 Seeds of Trust – If you don’t sow it, you can’t grow it!

sowing-seeds1Building trust at work is much like growing plants in a garden; you have to sow the seeds. If you don’t sow it, you can’t grow it.

It doesn’t matter how rich the soil is in your garden, how much sunlight it receives, or how often you water, if you don’t sow the seeds, you won’t have any plants. In your relationships at work, it doesn’t matter how educated you are, how much money you make, or how successful you are (by whatever standard you want to apply), if you don’t sow the seeds of trust then it won’t develop in your relationships.

If it sounds elementary, well, that’s because it is. Trust in relationships at work begins by demonstrating your trustworthiness. It’s that simple. To get you started, listed below are 21 seeds of trust. Sow these seeds of trust and you’ll reap a harvest of high-trust relationships at work.

  1. Constantly learn, grow, and get better at what you do.
  2. Generously share your expertise with others.
  3. Develop self-awareness (emotional intelligence).
  4. Focus on doing the right thing and doing things right.
  5. Develop good problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  6. Admit mistakes.
  7. Make ethical choices.
  8. Make decisions in alignment with your personal values and those of the organization.
  9. Avoid gossip.
  10. Don’t play favorites.
  11. Tell the truth.
  12. Listen with the intent of being influenced.
  13. Be authentic and genuine.
  14. Accept feedback as a gift.
  15. Share credit with others.
  16. Keep your promises.
  17. Meet deadlines.
  18. Be on time.
  19. Respect and appreciate your co-workers.
  20. Praise the good work of others.
  21. Create win-win solutions.

Twenty-one simple seeds of trust. If you sow it, you can grow it!

What other seeds of trust would you recommend sowing? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Posted in Trust, Trust Boosters | Tagged | 14 Comments

Defensiveness Is Killing Your Relationships – How To Recognize It and What To Do About It

DefensivenessYour defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

Posted in Attitude, Communication, Emotions, Fear, Personality, Relationships, Trust Busters | Tagged , , | 9 Comments