3 Steps to Upgrade Your Leadership Operating System for 2016

LOS v2016The start of the new year is a perfect time to consider upgrading your LOS—Leadership Operating System. Your LOS is a collection of the leadership traits, styles, techniques, and strategies you use to lead and manage people, and it’s imperative to make sure your LOS is up to date if you want to maximize your effectiveness. Failing to upgrade your LOS may result in your leadership becoming outdated and sluggish, and you run a higher risk of suffering a fatal system crash.

I recommend you follow these three steps to upgrade your LOS for 2016:

1. Do a backup of 2015 — Before you begin any system update, it’s a good practice to back up your existing data. Backing up your LOS involves taking stock of your leadership experiences this past year. What worked well for you in 2015? Where did you do your best work? Give yourself a pat on the back for your successes and don’t be shy about tactfully sharing them with your boss, especially if he/she isn’t one to naturally recognize your efforts. Conversely, a good LOS backup also involves cataloguing where you fell short and reflecting on the lessons you learned from those experiences.

2. Determine the new LOS programs you want to install — What new things do you need to learn in 2016 in order to be a better leader? Where do you need to improve? The best leaders are continuous learners, always seeking new ways to improve their craft. Examining the areas for improvement you identified in your backup is a good place to start. Another helpful strategy is to ask for feedback, especially from those you lead. It takes some courage and willingness to be vulnerable to ask other people how you can improve, but the discomfort will pale in comparison to the insights you’ll gain.

3. Reboot — It’s time to Ctrl-Alt-Delete your leadership from 2015. Installing an updated LOS means you need to have a fresh start before you can move forward and there’s no better time than the new year to reboot your system. You may have accomplished some amazing things in 2015, and likewise, you may have had some epic failures. But you know what? Your success doesn’t last forever and your failure isn’t fatal. Honor and learn from what 2015 brought you but leave it there in the past. The new year beckons and there is much work to be done.

No one likes following a leader who runs an outdated Leadership Operating System. Running an old LOS may allow you to accomplish the basic tasks of leadership, but if you really want to perform at your best AND get the best out of your followers, take the time to upgrade your LOS to v.2016. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year!

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Top 7 Posts in 2015: Why it’s Hard to Trust People, Good Bosses vs. Bad Bosses, and More!

Top 7As I reflect back on 2015, it’s incredible to consider this is the fifth year of the Leading with Trust blog. In some respects it seems like just a few months ago that I started writing about the importance of trust in leadership, but in other ways it seems as though this blog has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.

This past year saw an amazing 67% increase in viewership! It’s mind-boggling to me that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to read, comment, and share articles from this blog. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to encourage others to lead in authentic ways that build trust in the workplace. The world desperately needs servant leaders more than ever and it has to begin with trust.

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2016, these Top 7 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

7th Most Popular Post: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” — Originally published in 2013 for the Thanksgiving holiday, this post has stood the test of time. Check it out for creative ideas on how to recognize and reward employees.

6th: The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening — Listening is one of the most neglected leadership skills yet it is key to building high trust relationships with your followers.

5th: Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do — The best leaders make it easy for people to follow them. Here are 10 leadership practices you should consider.

4th: 8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss — Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, this post explores eight ways that distinguish whether you are a good boss or a bad one.

3rd: Stop Measuring Employee Performance and Start Evaluating This 1 Thing Instead — This post discusses the one thing that is a better indicator of an employee’s contribution in place of the traditional performance review.

2nd: 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships — Low trust rears its head in predictable ways and this post from May 2014 clues you in on the warning signs.

and the #1 most popular post in 2015…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People — For the second year in a row this is the most viewed post on Leading with Trust. Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This article will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Posted in Communication, Distrust, Leadership, Listening, Performance Management, Trust | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s 4 Keys to Leadership Success

RudolphRudolph the red-nosed reindeer may be the most famous reindeer of all, but not too many people know the reasons behind his enormous success. Rudolph’s experience offers a number of lessons for leaders at all levels.

If you aren’t familiar with Rudolph’s story, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Rudolph was a reindeer with a red nose. None of the other reindeer had red noses so Rudolph was frequently ridiculed and ostracized for being different. One foggy Christmas eve, Santa asked Rudolph if he could join the sleigh team and use his red nose to light the way through the fog. Rudolph took the challenge, was a big success, and became loved and admired by all the other reindeer.

Despite how it might sound when Bing Crosby croons about Rudolph’s achievement, that little red-nosed reindeer wasn’t an overnight success. He worked for years preparing himself for his opportunity, and when it came, he took advantage of it. Here’s four lessons we can learn from Rudolph:

1. Don’t let assumed constraints hold you back – Assumed constraints are the self-limiting beliefs we hold that prevent us from being our best. We tell ourselves things like, “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m not creative,” “That job will be too hard,” or, “I’m not like all the other reindeer.” Well, maybe you don’t say that, but you get what I mean. Rudolph could have chosen to limit himself by believing his red nose would prevent him from being on Santa’s team, but instead, he chose to embrace his unique talents. Which leads to the second secret of Rudolph’s success…

2. Leverage your strengths – As illustrated in Marcus Buckingham’s ground-breaking work, we tend to spend most of our time and energy at work, and in life, trying to shore up our weaknesses. If we focus on building upon our strengths and minimizing the instances our weaknesses come into play, we tap into more joy, engagement, and success in our work. Rudolph had a strength no other reindeer possessed, a red nose, and found success because he discovered and leveraged that strength.

3. Prepare for your opportunity – The Roman philosopher Seneca famously said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Rudolph didn’t know if he would ever get the opportunity to be part of Santa’s sleigh team, but he prepared each day so he would be ready when his chance arose. When his opportunity came, he was ready. So much of success comes down to being in the right place at the right time, but that only helps if you’ve put in the right preparation to help you succeed.

4. Take a risk – Nothing ventured, nothing gained…at some point you have to take a risk if you want to succeed. You have to raise your hand, volunteer for the special project, offer an opinion, sign up for that class, ask the girl on a date, or any number of risky actions to move forward in your life and career. Rudolph could have offered Santa a number of excuses…”It’s too foggy,” “My nose isn’t that bright,” “It’s more comfortable here in the stable”…but he saw his chance and he took it! Preparation breeds confidence, and if you’ve put in the hard work to prepare yourself (see point #3), then you can step confidently into your future knowing you’ve done your best to set yourself up for success.

Rudolph transformed himself from a reindeer who lacked self-confidence to the leader of Santa’s sleigh team because he refused to let his assumed constraints hold him back, leveraged the unique strengths he possessed, prepared diligently, and took a risk when the opportunity presented itself. Outstanding lessons for all of us this holiday season.

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

6 Causes and Cures for Defensiveness In Relationships

defensiveness2Your 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, Body Language, Communication, Conflict, Criticism, Emotions, Relationships, Trust Busters | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Be a Fair Leader by Treating Employees Like Chess Pieces, Not Checkers

Chess PiecesWhen I was a young kid I used to love playing checkers with my younger sister. Part of the joy came from always beating her, which isn’t much of an accomplishment given she was four years younger than me, but mostly from it being an easy game to play. Checkers is a game with limited variations and clearly defined rules. You can move a checker forward, and once you get a “King,” you can move it backward. You capture your opponents’ checkers by jumping them and once you’ve captured all of them you win. That’s pretty much it.

Chess, on the other hand, is a different kind of game. Each piece on the board can move in different directions, but although each piece is treated differently, the rules of the game apply equally to all. There is also much more strategy involved in chess than in checkers. In chess you have to play with the long game in mind. Each move is one step in a larger plan to take control of the board and defeat your opponent. There are limitless ways to creatively implement your strategies.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to managing people, many leaders treat their people like checkers rather than chess pieces. I can understand why; it’s easier and less complicated. It’s also one of the most unfair things you can do as a leader.

Complete this statement: As a leader I am being fair because I treat everyone the _____.

You probably said “same,” didn’t you?

You’ve probably heard many leaders say that, and in fact, you’ve likely said it yourself from time to time, haven’t you? I know I have.

The reality is treating everyone the same can be quite unfair because everyone is not the same. People are like chess pieces, not checkers. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”

The key is to treat each of your people equitably and ethically given their unique needs and circumstances. Each team member has their own life story and individual gifts and abilities. Fair leaders don’t broad-brush everyone and treat them the same. They take each person’s situation into account and apply the rules and policies of the organization in an equitable and ethical way.

Of course there are certain rules, policies, and procedures that need to apply equally to everyone to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all employees or to make sure your business produces quality products and services. However, when it comes to career development, performance management, and other employee-specific issues, leaders will build more trust and loyalty be treating people individually.

Treat your people like chess pieces and not checkers. Although it’s a harder game to play and takes more thought and energy, your team members will appreciate your efforts and respond with higher levels of trust, engagement, and performance.

Note: Credit goes to Tim Elmore for first exposing me to this idea. Check out his blog post on this topic for great insights.

Posted in Fairness, Leadership, Management, Performance Management, Trust | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments