Leading with Trust

The 4 Skills That Allow Your Team to Discuss The Most Difficult Issues

Webcam conferenceIn my last two articles, I’ve explored the concept of a team’s Conversational Capacity®. Conversational capacity is the ability to have open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects and in challenging circumstances. Teams that have a high conversational capacity know how to stay in the “sweet spot.” The sweet spot is where candor and curiosity are in balance. Dialogue flows freely, people share their input willingly, and listen to the feedback of others without judgment. Good work happens in the sweet spot.

The challenge, of course, is getting and keeping your team’s conversations in the sweet spot. There are two primary factors that pull us away from the sweet spot and lower our conversational capacity: fight and flight. The fight reaction shows itself in team communication when people engage in “win” behavior. They argue, try to dominate conversation, discount the input of others, or even refuse to listen to alternative viewpoints. The flight reaction is manifested when team members “minimize” their contributions. They shut down, don’t offer their ideas, discount their own opinions, avoid conflict, or offer half-hearted, wishy-washy viewpoints to avoid upsetting others. Both tendencies, win and minimize, pull a team away from the communication sweet spot and lower the team’s overall capacity to have productive conversations. Fortunately, there are four skills we can learn and develop to counteract our tendencies to win or minimize.

Testing and Inquiring

Let’s look at how to tame our desire to win. Since winning behavior results from a drop in curiosity, we need to learn how to become more curious about the perspectives of others. We do that by learning and using the skills of testing and inquiring. We test our perspective and inquire into the perspective of others.

What does it look like to test our perspective? It looks like holding our viewpoint as a hypothesis to be tested, rather than a truth to be proven. A simple way to do this is to ask questions that invite others to examine our viewpoint: What’s your take on this issue? How do you feel about what I’m suggesting? How do you see this from your angle? Is there a better way to make sense of this? I know I don’t have it all figured out, so what am I missing?

The skill of inquiring involves drawing the thinking of others into the conversation. It’s not just asking a few questions to invite their input, but rather delving into the rationale and thinking other people bring to the topic at hand. It’s the process of asking as many questions as necessary to get the other person’s view into the pool of information being considered. The goal of inquiry isn’t agreement, it’s understanding. Sample inquiries include: Tell me more about why you believe that? Can you provide a couple examples that illustrate your point? Help me understand how you reached that conclusion. Testing and inquiring raise your level of curiosity and combat your tendency to win.

Stating a Clear Position and Explaining Your Thinking

Let’s look at our tendency to minimize. Minimizing results from a drop in candor; we aren’t openly and confidently sharing our viewpoints with the team. To increase our candor, we can use the skills of stating our clear position and explaining our thinking.

Stating our position is like a clear topic sentence in a paragraph. It’s clear, candid, and concise, and can be communicated in one sentence, or no more than two. I think we should invest the funds in project X. Option 2 gives us the best chance for success. We should disband the team and use the resources elsewhere. It sounds simple, but just think about how often you fail you exercise this skill. Too often we beat around the bush, inadvertently hide our point in a convoluted story, or soften our opinion to prevent disagreement with others. When we fail to state a clear position, we open the door to misunderstanding and muddled dialogue.

However, it’s not enough to just state a clear position. You must also explain your thinking. This is the why behind your position. Explaining your thinking means you need to share the data that informs your position and how you’re interpreting that data. W. Edwards Deming’s famous quote, “In God we trust, all others must bring data” illustrates this concept. For example: We should disband the team and use the resources elsewhere (clear position). They have missed their quota by an average of 34% the last 5 quarters (data), and we know from previous experience that teams who aren’t hitting quota by quarter 3 usually don’t improve (interpretation). Stating a clear position and explaining your thinking increases the level of candor and combats the tendency to minimize.

Communication is the engine that drives team performance. Honest and open communication fosters teamwork, innovation, trust, and just about every other positive organizational dynamic. The best teams have learned how to balance candor and curiosity to remain in the communication sweet spot. The skills of testing and inquiring help to boost curiosity and temper the need to win, while the skills of stating clear positions and explaining our thinking allows us to increase the level of candor within team communications. Team members using these four skills will keep their team dialogue in the sweet spot where their best work happens.

The 2 Behaviors That Sabotage Team Communication

In my previous article I wrote about the conversational “sweet spot” that unlocks team performance. The sweet spot is defined as the balance of candor and curiosity in team discussions. It’s a reflection of a team’s Conversational Capacity® – the ability to have open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects and in challenging circumstances.

Teams that have a high conversational capacity know how to stay in the sweet spot. The sweet spot is where dialogue flows freely, people share their input willingly, and listen to the feedback of others without judgment. Good work happens in the sweet spot.

Teams with a low conversational capacity frequently get pulled away from the sweet spot. When a tough topic arises, some people heat up while others shut down. Some people dominate the discussion while others don’t say a peep. Sometimes the conversation turns argumentative and nothing gets accomplished, or if a decision is reached, it’s often forced upon people and there is collateral damage of hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Good work isn’t possible when the team is pulled out of the sweet spot.

The challenge, of course, is getting and keeping your team’s conversations in the sweet spot. There are two primary factors that pull us away from the sweet spot and lower our conversational capacity: fight and flight.

When faced with challenging and tense situations, the human brain is programmed to respond in two basic ways. One is to fight, engage with the threat, and try to exert control over the situation. In team conversations this response is manifested in “win” behavior. We argue, try to dominate the discussion, discount the input of others, or even refuse to listen to their viewpoints. When we let winning behaviors take over, we become less curious in other peoples’ perspectives. That pulls us, and the team, out of the sweet spot and lowers our conversational capacity to reach better and higher quality outcomes.

Flight is a second way our brains respond to threatening and stressful situations. We want to remove ourselves from the situation, whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally. In team conversations this response is manifested in “minimize” behaviors. Examples of minimizing behaviors include shutting down, not contributing, discounting our value or opinions, avoiding conflict, or offering half-hearted, wishy-washy viewpoints to avoid upsetting others. When we minimize, we reduce the amount of candor in the team conversation, thereby pulling us away from the sweet spot.

Imagine a sliding scale with “minimize” on the left and “win” on the right. When you think of your natural response to difficult team conversations, where would you place yourself on that scale? Do you tend to become less curious and try to “win” the conversation by exerting control, dominating the discussion, and convincing others of your position? Or do you tend to become less candid, not share your true thoughts and feelings, and acquiesce to those who are trying to win? The goal, obviously, is to stay in the sweet spot by balancing the amount of candor and curiosity in the discussion. In a future article I will share specific skills you can develop to reduce your tendency to minimize or win and boost your ability to stay candid and curious. After all, the sweet spot is where good work happens!

The 2 Factors That Drive Powerful and Productive Team Conversations

Team around a table

It’s ok, you can admit it. We’ve all been there. Working in teams can be incredibly frustrating.

Whether it was in school, work, or a community organization, you’ve probably had a dysfunctional team experience. It’s that team who can never seem to productively discuss challenging topics. Either they avoid the conversation completely and pretend the issue doesn’t exist, or when someone does get the courage to raise the topic, the discussion becomes heated and spirals out of control.

In a world of mounting complexity and rapid-fire change, it’s more important than ever to build teams that work well when the pressure is on. Despite organizations investing in a broad array of team development strategies, research shows only 15% of mergers and acquisitions succeed, 9 out of 10 organizational change initiatives fail to achieve their intended results, and teams consistently fail to meet their goals. Why is this so? It’s because our focus on effective teamwork is overly technical. We are too concerned with processes, systems, structures, and policies, instead of focusing on the people and how they communicate with each other. If we want to build healthier, more capable teams, we must pay attention to the key piece of the puzzle upon which every other aspect of teamwork depends–conversational capacity.

Conversational Capacity® is the ability to have open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects and in challenging circumstances. Teams that have a high conversational capacity know how to stay in the “sweet spot. The sweet spot is where dialogue flows freely, people share their input willingly, and listen to the feedback of others without judgment. Good work happens in the sweet spot.

Teams with a low conversational capacity frequently get pulled away from the sweet spot. When a tough topic arises, some people heat up while others shut down. Some people dominate the discussion while others don’t say a peep. Sometimes the conversation turns argumentative and nothing gets accomplished, or if a decision is reached, it’s often forced upon people and there is collateral damage of hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Good work isn’t possible when the team is pulled out of the sweet spot.

So how do you get your team to stay in the sweet spot? You balance candor and curiosity.

Being candid means having open, honest, forthright, and direct conversations. Remaining curious in a conversation means being open-minded, inquisitive, and eager to learn. It’s relatively easy to balance candor and curiosity when the stakes are low, or the subject of conversation is easy or non-threatening. But when a conflict arises, a hard decision is on the table, or there’s a personality clash, candor and curiosity often fall out of balance.

If we let our candor drop, our behavior becomes more cautious, we hold-back from sharing our opinions, minimize our concerns, or feign agreement with what others are saying. On the other side of the spectrum, when we become less curious, we tend to bulldoze people. We don’t listen, we argue, we dominate the discussion, and become more arrogant or aggressive. Candor and curiosity are the yin and yang of team conversations. Being candid gets your viewpoint across to other team members. Being curious helps you learn the viewpoints of others. The seemingly opposite forces of candor and curiosity are complementary and work together to push conversations to the sweet spot, where the best teamwork happens.

Interested in learning how to build your team’s conversational capacity? Join my colleague, Craig Weber, the author of Conversational Capacity: The Secret to Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure Is On, for a free webinar on July 29. Click here for more information or to register.

6 Ways Leaders Build Trust During Change

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Death and taxes have traditionally been viewed as the two guarantees in life, but I think a third item has officially made the list: change.

The pace of change accelerates with each passing, day, month, and year. The exponential growth of technology has enabled new products, services, and businesses to rise to prominence in short order, and has caused others to become obsolete just as quickly.

Yet research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail, cost more, or take longer than expected. Leading people through change is not a natural-born talent for most people. It’s a skill that must be developed and practiced over time for leaders to become comfortable navigating the complexities of organizational change.

The one must-have ingredient of successful change efforts is trust. If the people in an organization don’t trust their leaders, they won’t buy-in to the change. They will question their motives, drag their feet, or actively work against the change. It’s critical that leaders foster a culture of trust before, during, and after a change effort if they want to have any chance of success.

Here are six specific steps leaders can take to build trust during organizational change:

  1. Set realistic expectations – One of the primary ways trust is eroded is a failure to meet expectations. Leaders can easily over-promise the benefits of the proposed change effort, and when those benefits aren’t achieved, trust is broken. Once employees lose trust, it’s hard to regain it, which handicaps future change efforts. Set clear and realistic expectations and then work hard to hit those deliverables.
  1. Address people’s concerns – Research from The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that people have predictable stages of concern when faced with a change. Leaders improve the chance of success if they proactively address those concerns, rather than finding themselves on their heels having to react to resistant employees. The first stage is information concerns. Your people need to know what the change is and why it’s needed. The second stage is personal concerns. Team members want to know how the change will impact them individually. Will I win or lose? What’s in it for me? Will there be new expectations of me? The third stage is implementation concerns. What do I do first? Second? Will the organization provide the necessary resources? Will I have enough time? Will there be new training involved? It’s critical for leaders to address these stages of concerns to alleviate fear and anxiety so their team can embrace the change effort.
  1. Make it safe – Employees will not embrace taking risks or innovating in new ways if they are fearful of being punished, criticized, or looked down upon for making mistakes. Leaders have the responsibility to create an environment of psychological safety where people feel safe putting themselves on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility. People will embrace change more completely when they feel safe to express their true thoughts and feelings without fear of admonishment.
  1. Share information liberally – Ken Blanchard is fond of saying, “People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.” Leaders can fall prey to not sharing information because they fear people won’t have the proper context to interpret what it means, or perhaps they feel that people may take information and act in irresponsible ways. The root of this fear is a lack of trust. The opposite of trust is control, so when leaders withhold information, they are showing a lack of trust by wanting to control what people know, when they know, and how they know it. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth, and more often than not, that version will be a more negative view of the truth than what it is in reality.
  1. Admit when you don’t know – As a leader, admitting you don’t know something can be one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can use. It shows humility and honesty to admit you don’t have all the answers. It’s easy to let our egos get in the way and not want to appear incompetent or unable. Instead of spinning the truth, evading answers, or tap-dancing around difficult questions, admit you don’t know but commit to finding the answer. Your people will trust and respect your authenticity.
  1. Involve others in planning and implementation – One of my favorite sayings is “Those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People take ownership over plans they create and implement. Successful change efforts are those that are done ‘with’ people, not ‘to’ people. Involve your team in planning and implementing the change effort and it will go much smoother than if you try to force it upon them.

Leading organizational change is tough work! In my viewpoint, the biggest difference between being a “leader” and a “manager” is that leaders initiate change. That responsibility comes with the challenge of being in the line of fire. You’re under the microscope and carry the weight of making the change effort a success. Rather than carrying all that weight alone, why not spread it out among your team? Get them involved, make it safe for them to participate, address their concerns, be honest and authentic in your dealings with them, and be the torchbearer for leading with trust.

3 Assumptions That Keep Leaders from Building Trust

Building and maintaining trust is an issue that most leaders agree is critically important, but few have a plan to achieve it. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success, yet just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. It reminds me of the old project management adage: people don’t plan to fail; they just fail to plan.

Street sign of the word trust with a red circle around it

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

I’ve found that principle also applies in my work teaching leaders how to build trust in the workplace. Most leaders don’t plan to fail in building trust, they just fail to create a plan. I’ve observed three common assumptions leaders make that prevent them from building trust in a consistent and proactive way.

They assume trust “just happens.
Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure trust just naturally develops over the course of time, and the longer you’re in relationship with someone, the greater the likelihood you’ll build a strong bond of trust. Well, if you believe that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. Trust doesn’t work that way. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors you use. If you use trustworthy behaviors, you’ll be trusted. If you use behaviors that erode trust, people won’t trust you. Building trust is a skill that can be learned and developed, and once you have those skills, you can be intentional about acting in ways that build trust with others.

They assume others view trust the same way they do.
When I conduct training workshops on building trust, I often like to ask participants to draw a symbol or picture that represents trust. I’ve seen hundreds of representations of trust: wedding rings, a cross, a child holding a parent’s hand, a bank vault, and people shaking hands, just to name a few of the common ones. I conduct this activity because it illustrates the point I mentioned earlier: trust is based on perceptions. Everybody has their own view of what trust means, based on their unique personal experience. This varied understanding of trust reminds me of the classic movie, The Princess Bride. The character Vizzini uses the word “Inconceivable!” as an adjective to describe just about any situation, even if it doesn’t quite make sense. Finally, Inigo says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The same misunderstanding happens between leaders and their team members if they don’t share a common definition of trust.

They assume trust is only a “warm and fuzzy” concept.
When you discuss building trust, many leaders jump to the conclusion that you’re talking about building warm and fuzzy relationships. You know, the “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya” kind of warm and fuzzy. Well, trust does have a relationship component, and it’s the interpersonal connection that often sparks the development of trust in the first place. However, trust also has a hard, bottom-line impact on organizations. The research is clear that high-trust organizations have lower turnover, higher employee engagement, and outperform low-trust organizations on practically every measurable metric. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pizza lunches, fancy off-site retreats, or ropes courses check the box for having a strategy of building trust in the workplace.

I’m sure you noticed I used the word “assume” in the three examples above; that was intentional. You’ve probably the heard the familiar warning about what happens when you assume, right? Well, when it comes to building trust, you don’t want to assume anything. Don’t assume trust just happens by chance. Have a defined plan for building and sustaining it. Don’t assume other people perceive trust the same way you do. Chances are they see it differently, and if you’re not on the same page as to what trust looks like in a relationship, your efforts in building trust will miss the mark. Finally, don’t assume trust is solely a “soft” relationship dynamic. Trust can literally make or break the success of your organization. To build trust, I’m reminded of another project management adage: plan your work and work your plan.

Saving Face – How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust

Everyone wants to be respected and valued. As long as you have a heartbeat and breath in your lungs, you will have the desire to be appreciated, honored, and trusted in your relationships with others. We all want to “save face.”

Saving face, the notion of preserving individual honor and dignity, is often associated with Asian cultures. Although having it’s cultural birth in China, saving face is a universal concept that transcends national culture. In her new book, Saving Face—How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust, Maya Hu-Chan examines face as a global concept that enables one to connect with people, break down barriers, and build trust and long-term relationships.

Face is important, says Hu-Chan, because it represents a person’s self-esteem, reputation, status, and dignity. She emphasizes that face is a form of social currency. The more face you have, the easier it is to accomplish things at work, the smoother your relationships, and the more social capital you have at your disposal.

Since saving face is human nature across cultures, generations, and genders, there are harmful consequences when it is lost or damaged. Losing face provokes shame, guilt, fear, vulnerability, and a wide range of negative emotions.

I find the concept of face to be interesting given its close connections to trust. Saving face is a means to building trust in relationships. In that regard, Hu-Chan suggests the BUILD model as a construct for developing and preserving face.

Benevolence & Accountability—I love the concept of benevolence because it’s at the heart of building trust. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others; it’s having another person’s best interests in mind. When people see that you care more about them than you do yourself, they are willing to be vulnerable with you and extend their trust to you. Accountability comes into the picture when you consider the two-way aspect of respect in a relationship. Face involves honoring each other. It encompasses acting in ways that preserve the dignity and respect of each party in the relationship, and for that to happen, each person must be accountable to the other. Face, like trust, requires reciprocity. Each person must give and receive it in order for it to grow.

Understanding—Hu-Chan shares that understanding is about putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing situations from their perspective. Being able to see multiple perspectives of a given situation or problem allows you to act in ways and make decisions that honor and respect the positions of others. This ability is especially critical in the twenty-first century. Technology and globalization has made our world much smaller, and many times the decisions we’re facing have an inordinate number of dynamics that must be considered. A leader’s best move is to be understanding and tap into the viewpoints of others.

Interacting—This element encompasses your interpersonal and communication skills. Written and verbal communication skills are important for leaders, and even more so is emotional intelligence. Leaders who save face are those who are self-aware of their own and others’ behaviors, and the impact those behaviors have on the relationship. They know how to self-regulate the behaviors they use in relationships because they understand how the other person will be impacted. Hu-Chan states that “interaction involves both the message and the method of conveying the message. It’s also about creating the context in which clear conversations can be had. And of course, the ability to interact effectively creates an environment where face is protected and strengthened.”

Learning—In order to build and preserve face, it’s important to be a lifelong learner. Face is not an outcome; it’s a way of being and relating to others. As such, you never stop learning how to improve your relationships. Hu-Chan offers four “P’s” about learning: passion, practice, persistence, and pattern recognition. Passion is pretty straight-forward. When you are excited about learning, it fuels the motivation to do so. Practice is putting in the work. It’s using what you’ve learned to become more skilled and proficient. Persistence is going the extra-mile. Inevitably you will encounter challenges that threaten to knock you off-track, but the most successful leaders are those who push through the barriers. Finally, pattern recognition. Once you’ve begun to master a particular skill or subject, you start to see connections and trends that others don’t see, which increases your level of contribution.

Delivery—This is putting all the elements of the BUILD model into practice. Being benevolent and accountable, understanding others’ perspectives, interacting effectively, and learning continuously are all well and good, but they don’t mean much if you don’t deliver and put those skills to use with your team. Delivery is about walking the talk.

One of my core values is respect. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of their socio-economic status, color of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that identifies us. Respect is at the root of saving face. It’s a way of relating to people in a way that increases the level of honor, dignity, and trust. How can you go wrong with that?

Do You See Me? A conversation among friends about bridging the racial divide

Who do you see when you look at a black person? Do you see a husband, father, wife, mother, son, or daughter? Do you see a businessman, tradesman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, soldier, or educator? Do you see someone with hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and insecurities? Do you see a person who is very much like you?

Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, many of us don’t see those things. We see different. We see a threat. We see contempt. We see distrust. We see suspicion. We see fear. We see “less than.”

That needs to stop. If we are ever going to bridge the racial divide that separates us, we need to start trusting each other. The only way for trust to begin is for someone to take the risk of extending trust to another. It’s through that act of vulnerability that intimacy can develop and trust can flourish.

A few days ago I held a conversation with four of my friends, all African-American men, to learn more about their personal experience with racism. The discussion was rich, educational, humbling, and impactful. I encourage you to watch, listen, and reflect on what you can do to keep this conversation alive in your own sphere of influence.

3 Keys to Becoming a Better Coach

Book cover of Coach the Person, Not the ProblemCoaching has become a ubiquitous term these days in the field of leadership. It can mean anything from giving advice, teaching, encouraging, training, mentoring, or even using a specific leadership style that incorporates a defined set of behaviors.

In her new book, Coach the Person, Not the Problem—A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry, Marcia Reynolds defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Although Reynolds clearly positions coaching as a distinct profession and process, the skills she shares applies not only to professional business coaches, but for everyday leaders as well.

Reynolds shares three keys that I believe are important for leaders to use to improve their ability to serve as effective coaches for their teams.

Build trust—No matter how talented you are as a coach or leader, people won’t be open to being influenced by you until they know you are trustworthy. Trust is required for someone to be willing to take the risk of opening up and sharing what’s on their heart and mind. A good place to start building trust is getting connected relationally. You do this by finding common ground with your team members. Get to know them on a personal level and not just as another employee showing up to do a job. Also, open the lines of communication. Extend trust to your team member by sharing information about yourself and hold whatever they share with you in confidence. Interpersonal trust is the foundation for being an effective coach.

Be a thinking partner—Reynolds stresses that coaching works best when the person being coached has some skills and knowledge to draw on, but they aren’t sure about the options, what to do first, or even the reasons behind their own uncertainty. As a thinking partner, your role is to help the team member process their own thoughts and feelings, not to give them advice or an answer. That requires you as the leader to step out of the role of being the expert, teacher, or fixer. A key word here is partner. When you provide coaching, you are focused on helping the team member use their own creativity and resources to move beyond their mental or emotional blocks and solve their own problems. A helpful way to be a thinking partner is through using the skills of reflective inquiry.

Reflective inquiry—As Reynolds points out, much of what passes as coaching today is a series of questions the coach is supposed to ask, rather than paying attention to the person being coached. In training classes, we are often given lists of common, open-ended questions that we’re encouraged to use when engaging a team member in a coaching conversation. We’re admonished not to stray from the script and instead focus on asking questions, which ultimately is more frustrating than helpful to the person being coached.

Instead, Reynolds says that coaching should be a process of inquiry, not a series of questions. The intent of inquiry is not to find answers, but to provoke critical thought. It helps the person being coached to discern gaps in their logic, evaluate their beliefs, and clarify their fears or expectations about the issue they’re facing. Reynolds says reflective inquiry is using reflective statements (recapping, labeling, using metaphors, identifying key or conflicting points, recognizing emotional shifts) plus questions (Is this true for you?) to provoke the person being coached into looking into their own thoughts. Not only does reflective inquiry help the person being coached view their issue from a higher and more helpful perspective, it frees the leader of the weight of feeling like they have to find the perfect question to ask.

Reflective statements + questions = reflective inquiry

The concept of reflective inquiry has shifted my perspective of what effective coaching looks like. Rather than solely focusing on asking open-ended questions, I can now see how reflecting back what the person has said to me, then pairing it with a thoughtful question that encourages deeper thinking, is a much more fulfilling experience for both of us. Ultimately, my job as a leader is to help my people develop to become the best version of themselves. I can’t do that by telling them what to do. They have to figure it out themselves, but I can coach them along the way. Using a reflective inquiry approach will make them, and me, more successful.

If You Build It, They Will Come – 4 Characteristics of Trustworthy Leaders

I miss baseball.

By this point in the MLB season in previous years, I would have attended a few Padres games at PETCO Park (one of the best ballparks to catch a game, IMHO) and watched several more on TV. Instead, in the coronavirus lockdown world in which we currently live, I’ve had to make do with watching replays of classic Padres games. Recently, it was game 3 of the 1984 National League championship series, when the Padres found themselves down 2 games to 0 to the Chicago Cubs in the best of five series. The Pads came roaring back to sweep the next 3 games from the Cubs and made their first World Series appearance…where they were promptly swept by the Detroit Tigers 4 games to none. Oh well.

I’ve also been getting my fix by watching classic baseball movies like Field of Dreams. For those unfamiliar with the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) is a struggling Iowa farmer, who one day while walking through his cornfield hears a voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” This mysterious encounter sets Ray off on a journey that ultimately leads to him plowing over his cornfield to build a ballpark, where his deceased father, with whom Ray had a fractious relationship, makes an otherworldly appearance as his younger self before he became Ray’s dad. The two men have a game of catch that symbolizes the inner healing Ray experiences as he reconciles his past with his father.

The American Film Institute rated the “if you build it, he will come” phrase #39 on the list of 100 most memorable American movie quotations. It’s become a reliable catchphrase for business leaders to whip out whenever they’re trying to sell the merits of an idea. “If we build it (the latest and greatest product or service offering), they (customers, investors, the adoring public, etc.) will come!” Much of the time it’s overly simplistic hype, but there are a few instances where the saying holds true. One such case is building trust.

For trust to be established in a relationship, someone must first extend it. Trust doesn’t just one day magically appear. It begins by one person extending it and the other person proving themselves trustworthy, which in turn engenders more trust between the parties. When the trustee proves him/herself trustworthy, the trustor becomes more willing to extend trust the next time. Around and around it goes, as one trustworthy encounter begets the next.

But how do you know a leader is worth trusting? What does a trustworthy leader look like? There are four primary characteristics that distinguish high-trust leaders. Trustworthy leaders are:

Able—They demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.

Believable—Trustworthy Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

As I said earlier, “if you build it, they will come” is a catchphrase often overused and without much substance. However, when it comes to trust, it’s true. If you build trust, your team will come, and that’s what it takes to turn your field of dreams into reality.

3 Important Things to Contemplate During These Uncertain Times

Whether you wanted it or not, you’ve likely had a lot more free time as of late. 

Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

As COVID-19 continues to keep America — and most of the world — in lockdown, we’ve given up our nights out, our trips to the movies, and, for many of us, our standard work schedule. The new surplus of time allotted to us can lead to boredom and binge-watching, yes, but it can also be a beneficial period for productivity: finishing up old projects, exploring new hobbies, identifying new options for our careers or our education. 

In particular, though, this new surplus of time allows us to do something that we may be a bit too busy to do during our (normally) hectic schedules: contemplation.

Before the current pandemic, how often did you take half an hour to just think about things? How often did you reflect on changes to your lifestyle? New experiences? New dynamics in your life or in the wider world around you? Generally speaking, it’s difficult if not impossible for many of us to fit this time into our day-to-day routine. 

Contemplation and reflection, however, can be immensely valuable. They can yield deeper insights about ourselves, about our view of the world and its inhabitants, that will last us long after the pandemic comes to pass.

Below are three topics to consider for contemplation in these uncertain and unprecedented times. Find a quiet place, bring a pen and notebook if you’d like, and give yourself a little bit of time for deep thought.

Contemplate time itself and how you prioritize it: Before the pandemic, there were probably a lot of things you put off because they took too much time. Calling your parents or loved ones, planning recipes for the week, doing some stretches or light bodyweight exercises — when your day-to-day schedule is packed, making time for these small tasks can seem like an insurmountable challenge. 

But, given the surplus of time available to many of us in the pandemic age, perhaps you’ve been better about getting some of those tasks done. Perhaps you’ve discovered that those tasks often take, at most, 20 minutes, and that some tasks (such as recipe planning) may save you even more time later on. Think about how long 20 minutes is, really. How often do we spend 20 minutes (or more) scrolling through our phones, killing time with memes or social media posts?

Use this current surplus of time to reevaluate time itself, how you prioritize and allocate it. Take a mental inventory of the tasks you tend to avoid, and be honest with yourself about how much time they really take. Is it realistic to integrate those tasks into your day-to-day life once your normal schedule ramps back up? What would you stand to gain with that integration? Optimization of your habits? Less stress? Improved mental and/or physical health? All things to consider.

Contemplate your presence and intentionality with others: To use a cliché, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. This can obviously apply to a lot of things given our current situation, but it applies most aptly, I believe, to our friends and the time we spend with others. 

Think back on your pre-pandemic outings. How “present” were you during those outings? Were you engaged in the conversation at hand, revelling in the opportunity you had to hang out with your closest friends, colleagues, or family members? Or did you sit and scroll intermittently through your phone, sipping your drink of choice while being thankful that, at the very least, this engagement got you out of the house for a while?

If the latter sounds familiar, there’s no need to feel regret. Trust me — I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. But as we sit in our respective homes each weekend, longing to be out with friends (or, at least, longing to interact with them beyond the limitations of a Zoom room) think about what you can do better in the post-pandemic age. 

Consider the value in being more intentional when you’re making plans with others. Could your social life benefit from more imagination, more effort, more trust and openness on your behalf? Likewise, contemplate your ability to be fully present for future social engagements. How can you better approach the times spent with friends, colleagues, or family members to make them more memorable, more meaningful for you and everyone else involved?

Contemplate your capacity for empathy: Now, more than ever, the concept of “sonder” is something to consider.

Sonder — the realization that all people have deeply complex, difficult lives despite our being unaware of it — is an important thing to understand if one is attempting to build empathy. In the wake of the current pandemic, a time when almost everyone is experiencing some form of hardship, sonder is absolutely critical if we are to support each other and foster a harmonious transition into the post-pandemic period.

Consider the “essential workers”: the nurses, the doctors, the police, but also the grocery stockers, the restaurant employees, and the sanitation workers. How well are you able to recognize and empathize with the heightened stakes they now face? How well will you empathize with the plights they face even after the pandemic passes?

Likewise, consider those facing unemployment or reduced hours. Consider those who have to balance a full-time job while also being babysitters and homeschool teachers. Consider those who may appear fine on the outside, but who are battling overwhelming stress, anxiety, and uncertainty internally. Know that your hardships are valid, and so are the hardships of everybody else.

Reflect on the hardships we’re all facing right now. Use these reflections to foster empathy, kindness, and respect towards all those you meet and towards all those you interact with going forward.

If you make the time for it, contemplation can help you have a better understanding of yourself and your overall view of the world. 

Next time you have 30 minutes to spare, take some time for reflection. Think about your perception of time, how you prioritize and allocate it. Think about improvements you can make during your social interactions to make them more memorable, meaningful experiences. Think not only about the struggles you’re currently facing as a result of the pandemic, but also about the great struggles we’re all facing.

Regular, earnest contemplation can guide you down a path to greater personal insights, greater empathy, and greater connections to you friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Try to make a habit out of it — what else do you have to do?

Zach Morgan is a digital marketer, writer, and editor living in Southern California.

The Answers to These 4 Questions Will Define Your COVID-19 Leadership Legacy

Have you given much thought to how you will be remembered as a leader after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed? If you’ve been fortunate enough to not be laid off or furloughed, you’ve probably spent the last several weeks just trying to keep your organization afloat. Meeting the needs of customers, your employees, and even figuring out how to deliver your product or service in this new environment has been consuming your time and attention. It’s understandable that you haven’t had much time for introspective thinking. However, I’d like to suggest that taking a little bit of time to think about the legacy you want to leave as a leader would be helpful in directing your leadership behavior today. Use these four questions to evaluate your leadership in recent weeks:

  1. Am I walking the talk? This question forces you to evaluate your behavior in light of your personal values. Are your actions aligning with what you espouse to be most valuable to you? Would your team members describe your behavior as consistent and true with your character, or has the pressure of recent weeks forced you to behave in ways unlike yourself? Are your decisions in alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, and values? Your organization probably champions that “people are their most valuable asset” or that you operate with “integrity, trust, ethics” or something to that effect. Well, do you? I’m sure this crisis has afforded you plenty of opportunities to put your vision, mission, and values to the test. Are you walking the talk?

  1. Am I treating people with kindness, empathy, and respect? When tensions are high and the heat is on, it’s easy to resort to authoritarian styles of leadership and just bowl people over without regard to their mental and emotional needs. This pandemic is wreaking havoc around the globe and people are being affected in ways that span the spectrum of personal impact. For some, sheltering in place has been a minor inconvenience. The worst of their problems is trying to find where they can buy toilet paper. For others, they’ve been infected with the virus, have loved ones who are sick, or maybe even suffered the tragedy of death in their families. For those more severely impacted, work has been the least of their worries. Are you treating people with sensitivity and kindness? Are you empathetic to how their world has been turned upside down? I’m not negating your feelings or the impact you’ve suffered as a result of COVID-19. However, as a leader, your job is to take care of your team members. Your needs must come second to theirs.

  1. Am I leading with humble confidence? It may seem that humility and confidence are polar opposites. Actually, I think they are two sides of the same coin. Humble leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They know what they know, and they also know what they don’t know. Because of that self-awareness, they can confidently lead in their areas of expertise and are smart enough, and humble enough, to surround themselves with people who bring complementary skills and abilities. This pandemic has caused me to relearn the importance of holding my assumptions about the future lightly. None of us knows exactly how this pandemic will shape the future, and frankly, I’ve been turned off by prominent individuals who make such claims. Are you confidently leading with humility and admitting what you don’t know about the future, or are you trying to “fake until you make it” by acting as if you’ve got it all figured out?

  1. Am I keeping it real, yet leading with faith and resilience? In recent days I’ve been reminded of the experiences of Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. During his eight-year imprisonment from 1965-1973, Stockdale was tortured over 20 times, yet all the while he shouldered the responsibility of leading the other prisoners in captivity. He created covert systems of communication among the prisoners and devised a way to share secret intelligence information through handwritten letters to his wife. As recounted by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, Stockdale described the importance of balancing reality with resilience. He said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Are you being open and transparent with your team about the harsh realities your organization is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, why? Your people are big boys and girls. They can handle the truth. If you are sharing the harsh reality, are you also conveying hope and optimism that the organization will persevere and do everything possible to not only survive the pandemic, but emerge stronger and better because of it?

Rather than assessing your leadership legacy when the COVID-19 pandemic is long gone in the rearview mirror of life, evaluate how you are leading right now by using these four questions. Are you walking the talk by living out your personal values and those of the organization? If not, how do you need to adjust? Will your people look back on this time and be able to say you treated them well? I’m a believer in the truth expressed by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Are you leading confidently, yet humbly aware of your limitations, and surrounding yourself with other capable leaders? And finally, are you keeping it real with your people, but communicating and demonstrating that faith and resilience will see you through this tough time? Don’t leave your leadership legacy to chance. Start living it now.

10 Powerful Ways to Build Trust

Now, more than ever, leaders need to decisively and powerfully nurture trust in the workplace. Although much of what it takes to build trust is common sense, it’s not always common practice. In this short video, I share 10 practical ways leaders can immediately build trust with their teams and organizations.

%d bloggers like this: