Leading with Trust

Does Being a Naysayer Make You a More Powerful Leader?

photography of a person pointing on something

If you’ve ever wondered why so many negative and critical leaders seem to rise to power, recent research sheds a little light on the cause. It turns out that even though we say we want compassionate and empathetic leaders, we perceive naysayers as being more powerful than their non-critical colleagues.

In one of a series of studies, 518 participants were shown four pairs of statements made by former U.S. presidential candidates during nationally televised debates. They were not told the candidates’ names or when the debate took place. The pair of statements included one that was positive and supportive of America’s future, while the other was negative and critical. Participants were asked to rate how powerful each candidate appeared to be, how effective they thought the person would be in office, and whether or not they would vote for the person.

Compared to the presidential candidates who made positive statements, participants rated the negative candidates as more powerful, more likely to be effective in office, and likely to earn their vote. In additional studies across different contexts such as art reviews and opinions on social issues, participants consistently rated the naysayer as more powerful, albeit less likable, than their neutral or positive counterpart.

Why is this the case? Researcher Eileen Y. Chou theorizes the cause is human psychology. We perceive naysayers as being more independent, willing to speak their mind, and willing to “tell it like it is.” This fuels a perception of the naysayer being powerful enough to not be bound by normal constraints or resources. This perception of power was strongest among those who felt the most disadvantaged. The disadvantaged perceive the naysayer as being willing to speak truth to power and disrupt the status quo.

So, should you incorporate more negativity into your leadership style in order to become more powerful? Let’s see…how can I put this in a sensitive, thoughtful, diplomatic way?

NO!

There is certainly a time and place for candid realism in a leader’s communications. Leader’s who sugarcoat the truth and try to get their people to believe everything is rainbows and unicorns are perceived as out of touch, fake, and incompetent. Leaders have an obligation to “keep it real” with their followers, but also need to inspire people with hope for a better future. Constant negativity and criticism causes people to view the leader as a malcontent and they eventually remove their support.

The more fundamental issue for me beyond the role of being a naysayer is a leader’s relationship with power. Power accompanies leadership and it can be used in healthy and unhealthy ways. The greatest use of power is in service to others and there are noble and altruistic ways of developing and sustaining power that benefits others.

One only needs to listen to the political rhetoric these days to see the harmful effects of naysaying leadership. Constant criticism, negativity, and fault-finding appeals to the most base instincts of humanity. The most successful and enduring leaders call to the “better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln said, and unite people through a shared vision of a more promising tomorrow.

Just OK is not OK When it Comes to Being Trustworthy

When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.

You may have seen any number of AT&T’s “just OK is not OK” series of commercials touting their wireless network. Well, I’m a fan of creative and funny TV commercials, and the first time I saw one of these I immediately saw the connection to trust. 

People form perceptions of our trustworthiness based on our behavior. Acting in trustworthy ways creates the condition of trust in our relationships. When you look at what makes people trustworthy, you find they are:

Able: Being able is about demonstrating competence. Able people have the expertise, training, and qualifications to perform well in their roles. They also have a track record of success as they demonstrate the ability to consistently achieve goals. Able people are skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable: A believable person acts with integrity by dealing with others in an honest fashion; e.g., keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, not gossiping, etc. Believable people have a clear set of values. They communicate these values to others and use them consistently as a model for their behavior: they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably is a key characteristic of a believable person.

Connected: Connected people show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps create an engaging work environment. People can create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and by trusting others to use that information responsibly. Connected people also build trust by having a people-first mentality and building rapport with others. Taking an interest in people as individuals, not nameless workers, shows that these people value and respect their colleagues.

Dependable: Being dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways people erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, those who do what they say they are going to do earn a reputation of being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires people to be organized so that they can follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable people also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for their work.

Growing in trustworthiness is a journey, not a destination. You never reach the point where you can say you are fully trustworthy. Trust in relationships is a living organism, constantly interacting with and adjusting to the dynamics of the situation and individuals involved. In order for trust to flourish, it’s important to behave in ways that demonstrate you are able, believable, connected, and dependable.

When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.

Rising Above the Mob: 5 Leadership Lessons from 1 Hawk and 3 Crows

A few days ago I was tidying up the back yard when the noise of several crows caught my attention. That’s not out of the ordinary for my neighborhood. Although I haven’t done an official tally, I’m pretty sure the ratio of crows to humans is 1:1 in my neck of the woods. Anyway, there was a real commotion going on.

When I looked up, I noticed there was a red-tailed hawk circling overhead and the crows weren’t too happy about it; hence all the racket. The hawk seemed to be minding his own business. He was majestically gliding through the air in circles, occasionally flapping his wings once or twice, but mostly being powered along by the air currents pushing him gently higher and higher into the sky.

The neighborhood flock of crows (or murder if you prefer the old-school term for a group of crows) had nominated three of their brethren to express their displeasure to the hawk about him invading their turf. The three delegates flew about the hawk in a menacing manner, dive bombing him from different directions and trying to knock him off course, all the while hurling bird epithets at him with their squawking and cawing.

Despite the crows’ ruckus, the hawk seemed to take it all in stride. Occasionally the hawk slightly deviated his course when he was closely buzzed by a crow, but for the most part he kept circling in a consistent pattern. The crows had to expend a lot more energy than the hawk to maintain their efforts. They furiously flapped their wings to match the speed of the hawk, forcing them to take turns in harassing the larger bird. Upward and upward the hawk climbed, and the more altitude he gained, the more difficult it was for the crows to keep pace. Eventually, the crows tired of their of their pursuit as the hawk soared out of reach.

I thought to myself, “Why were those crows harassing that hawk?” As with all of life’s existential questions, I turned to Google for help. It turns out those crows were engaging in what’s known in the animal world as mobbing behavior. The hawk represented a threat to the crows, so they cooperatively worked together to mob the hawk in an attempt to drive him away.

Mobbing behavior isn’t limited to birds; people engage in it, too. And sometimes being a leader can feel like being a hawk getting pestered by an angry mob of crows. I don’t think any hawks read my blog, but I know some leaders do, so here’s five lessons I think we can learn from our avian advisers:

  1. Expect to be crapped on—It turns out that one of the primary behaviors of mobbing birds is to defecate on the intruder. Nice, huh? Talk about dropping a bomb…anyway, leaders get crapped on, too. We should expect it because it comes with the territory. Gossip, backbiting, passive-aggressiveness, or outright resistance are all forms of crap leaders occasionally have to endure. Expect to occasionally encounter your fair share of crap so you aren’t caught by surprise when it happens. No matter how pure or noble your intentions, there will be people who don’t like what you’re doing and will let you know about it.
  2. Understand defensiveness—The crows didn’t mob the hawk for no reason; they mobbed him because they were afraid. It’s hard to get inside the brain of a crow (although I have been called a bird-brain before), but I imagine they were concerned the hawk might be looking for some delicious crow eggs for lunch, or maybe even a small baby crow if he was feeling extra hungry. In this way, people are similar to birds. When they perceive a threat in their environment, it creates fear and causes them to react defensively. If your people are starting to show signs of developing a mob mentality, figure out the root of their fear and address that issue. Too often we make the mistake of addressing the symptoms of a problem rather than the cause. Defensiveness can kill our relationships without us even realizing it.
  3. Check your motives—The hawk isn’t completely innocent in this situation. Why was flying in this particular area? Was he truly minding his own business or did he have ulterior motives? I don’t know. I asked but he didn’t respond. As leaders, we need to be clear on our motives. Are we behaving in self-serving ways, or do our actions reflect a desire to serve our people and organizations for the greater good?
  4. Don’t get distracted—Assuming your leadership behavior is driven by the right reasons, don’t get distracted by the critics in the mob and stay focused on your goals. The hawk wasn’t surprised by the mob of crows nor did he let them knock him off course. He stayed focused on doing his thing, knowing the crows would eventually get tired or bored and leave him alone. When you chose to be a leader, you chose to step apart from the crowd. You will be second-guessed and criticized, and with that will come lots of distractions. Stay focused on being a hawk and don’t worry about the crows.
  5. Rise above the mob—Ultimately the hawk flew high above and out of reach of the annoying crows. Leaders have to do the same when mobbed by their critics. I like the philosophy articulated by former First Lady Michelle Obama in response to how they tried to teach their young children to deal with the harsh criticism of her husband’s presidency: “…when they go low, we go high.” Leaders need to take the high road when responding to criticism—consider the source, learn from it what you can, and respond with integrity and decency. Keep soaring to greater heights and don’t get dragged down with the crows.

Now, being a hawk doesn’t necessarily make one a leader, just as being a crow doesn’t automatically condemn one to be an annoying pest. It just so happens I observed one hawk being mobbed by three crows, and out of that interaction drew five leadership principles. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if you’re a hawk, crow, or some other creature that represents your inner leadership spirit animal. Whatever you decide, follow these leadership lessons to rise above the inevitable mobs that will criticize and undermine your leadership and soar to the success you deserve.

The 3 Types of People, Projects, or Tasks You Need to Prune in 2019

At this very moment on the cusp of a new year, you have people, projects, or tasks you need to eliminate from your life. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a troubling employee situation for months, or even years, and despite your best efforts you don’t see any hope for improvement. Or maybe it’s a project that got off track months ago, but no one, particularly you, wants to admit it’s a failure and a new strategy is needed. Perhaps it’s a particular task or process you’ve maintained for years because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” but you have an inkling that if you stopped doing it tomorrow, no one would notice or care.

If this resonates with you, then it’s time for some pruning.. The core definition of pruning is to remove anything considered superfluous or undesirable. As Dr. Henry Cloud points out in his book, Necessary Endings, the areas of business and life that require your limited resources—your time, energy, talent, emotions, money—but aren’t achieving the vision you have for them, should be regularly pruned in order to reach their full potential.

Consider the cultivation of a prized rosebush to understand the purpose of pruning. The gardener removes branches or buds that fall into any of three categories:

  1. Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones,
  2. Sick branches that are not going to get well, and
  3. Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive.

These three categories of pruning apply to the types of people, projects, and tasks you are dealing with right now.

Type 1 – The Good Detracting from the Great

The rosebush produces more growth than the plant can optimally sustain. The plant has only so much life and energy to power its development, so the gardener trims what may be healthy, yet average blooms, so the plant can direct its resources to the best producing roses. The good roses, if left alone, will suck life away from the great roses. The result? A rosebush with average blooms performing below its potential.

What people, projects, or tasks are you involved with that, although good in and of themselves, are taking time and resources away from achieving greatness with your team or organization? There is no shortage of things demanding your attention, so the key is to prune your priorities down to the most essential ones that fuel the majority of your success.

Type 2 – The Sick That Can’t be Cured

Some branches in a rosebush become diseased and have to be removed to protect the health of the entire plant. When the caretaker notices a sick branch, he will spend some time trying to nurse it back to health. At some point in time the caretaker will reach a decision to prune the branch because he realizes that no amount of water, fertilizer, or care is going to heal the branch. Sick branches take energy from the rosebush, and pruning these sick branches allows the bush to direct more energy to the healthy ones.

You have people, projects, and tasks that are diseased and need to be removed. You have fertilized them, watered them, nurtured them, and done everything in your power to help cure them. For whatever reason, they aren’t getting better and they’re only taking time and energy away from the healthy things you need to focus on. This can be one of the toughest decisions a leader has to face. It might mean confronting the difficult truth that a key company initiative isn’t working as intended, or a long-term employee isn’t able to improve his performance to meet the needs of the organization. On the plus side, it is liberating to admit things aren’t working and changes need to be made because it frees up time, energy, and resources to focus on areas of new growth.

Type 3 – The Dead Preventing Growth of the Living

The third type of pruning is removing dead branches in order to make more room for the living branches to grow. If the dead branches aren’t removed, the path of the living branches will be obstructed and limited. The living branches need room to spread in order to reach their full potential and the dead branches impede that growth.

You have dead branches in your business and personal life that need to be removed if you want to reach your full potential. It might be misguided organizational strategies that served your company well ten years ago but are no longer relevant. Or maybe it’s processes, systems, or meetings you engage in but don’t add any value to the purpose you’re trying to achieve. If it’s dead and just taking up space, get rid of it. It’s time to cut that branch.

Prune with a Purpose

The gardener doesn’t prune willy-nilly, just clipping branches and blooms here and there without discretion. The gardener has a purpose. He knows what a healthy rosebush should look like and he prunes toward that standard. It illustrates the importance of having clear goals and expectations for your organization, your people, and yourself. Without clear goals and standards, you don’t have an objective measure by which to prune and you handicap yourself from reaching your full potential in 2019.

One Simple Method for Achieving Your Goals in 2019

Goals 2019

credit: Flickr-Marco Verch (cc)

Let me go out on a limb here. You’re probably reading this article because you’re contemplating resolutions you’re going to set for the New Year, right? You don’t have much confidence in keeping your resolutions because you’ve failed repeatedly in the past (surveys show only 8% of people keep their resolutions), so you’re looking for some game-changing advice.

Or maybe you’re thinking about the goals you’ve set for your team or organization and you’re stressed out about how you’re going to actually achieve them. If your experience is similar to mine, you’ve set goals for the year only to look back twelve months later to realize what you accomplished bears little resemblance to what you set out to do. For most of us the challenge is not in setting goals. I mean, we’ve got a ton of projects and priorities on our plates. We’ve got goals aplenty! The difficulty lies in prioritizing goals and staying on track to get them accomplished.

There’s a better way to work toward achieving your goals and it’s called the Six by Six Plan – the six most important priorities you need to accomplish over the next six weeks. It’s a method of goal prioritization and execution I learned from Bill Hybels.

It starts with asking yourself one critically important and fundamental question: What is the greatest contribution I can make to my team/organization in the next six weeks?

In answering that question, consider the decisions, initiatives, or activities for which only you can provide the energy and direction. You will likely generate dozens of items on your list that will need to be whittled down to the six that require you to take the lead in order to deliver the most impact.

There is nothing magical in having six priorities over six weeks. What’s important is having a manageable number of goals to accomplish over a relatively short time period. It needs to be a few goals that allow you to keep your energy high and a short enough time period that creates a sense of urgency. Setting big, broad goals for the year is like running a marathon. It’s too tempting to get overwhelmed, distracted, or lose energy on goals that seem so distant. It’s much easier to run a series of sprints by focusing on just a few key priorities for a short amount of time.

I think it’s important to emphasize the 6×6 method is a helpful tool for goal prioritization and execution. It’s not a way to set goals, which is an art and science unto itself. Check out this YouTube video of Bill Hybels describing the Six by Six Plan. Hopefully you’ll find it as helpful as I did.

 

Want a Culture of Trust and Engagement? Get Back to Human

Technology and social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, yet our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. How is that?

Our technological tools have allowed us to be more collaborative, increase efficiencies, powered innovation, and allowed us to tap into information and knowledge at record speeds and levels. At the same time, those devices and technologies have given rise to a collective sense of distraction among its users, provided constant interruption, and replaced strong relational bonds with weak ties. It has also contributed to record levels of disengagement and low trust in the workplace.

In his newest book, Back to Human—How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel details how technology is isolating us at work, and he provides a road map for how we can develop more human-focused workplaces by fostering connected relationships on a personal, team, and organizational level.

In order to develop a connected and engaged workforce, Schawbel recommends leaders focus on four factors: happiness, belonging, purpose, and trust. Research has shown that employees who consider themselves happy at work are more likely to refer new candidates to the company, brag about the organization online, work harder, and are less likely to jump ship. Schawbel cites the research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, who found that happy employees have an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative. Simple acts of kindness, getting to know employees on a personal level, and helping employees with work-life balance are all ways to increase happiness.

Engaged employees also feel a sense of belonging to the organization. Humans are pack animals, and we like to be affiliated with organizations that appreciate our contributions and share our sense of values. So often we get focused on strategies and goals that we forget to develop a sense of community in our workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel a lack of belonging, depression is more common, problem-solving skills deteriorate, and effectiveness on the job declines. Schawbel says leaders can foster belonging by scheduling social events, having team lunches, and creating an environment where people feel free to share information about their personal lives.

Purpose is the third element of engagement that Schawbel suggests leaders focus on. When you have a purpose, you feel that you matter and that you are contributing to something larger than yourself. Having a clear purpose provides energy and direction, and it’s the fuel that keeps you going when life is busy and challenging. The tips Schawbel offers for creating purpose include helping people connect their work to the benefit it provides your customers. Bring in a customer who has been personally affected by your team’s work so they can hear and see the difference they are making. Another strategy for creating purpose is help employees understand the why of their work and how it supports your organization, customers, or the world at large.

Finally, the fourth element of an engaged workforce is trust. Many leaders think by virtue of them being the boss they are trusted by their employees. Wrong. It’s not the employee’s job to give trust; it’s the leader’s to earn it. Establishing authentic, caring, and appropriately vulnerable relationships is a primary way leaders build trust with their team. You can be a technical genius at your job, honest as the day is long, and follow-through on your commitments every time, but if you don’t show any sense of personal care or connection with your team, they will always keep you at arm’s length. Trusted leaders behave in ways that demonstrate the four elements of trust, and when employees see their leaders have their best interests in mind, they will not only trust them, but will pledge their loyalty and commitment as well.

Schawbel makes the point that technology isn’t all bad, but we should be more human and less machine. If we want a workplace where people engage their hearts and minds, and trust their peers and leaders, then we need to leverage technology to develop more human relationships of substance rather than connections of convenience.

10 Signs You’re Leading From the Rear View Mirror

Rear View Mirror

As I drove home recently, the freeway transitioned into a city road and I eased up behind a gentleman in a black Mercedes. He immediately slowed down significantly below the speed limit in a not so subtle attempt to tell me he didn’t want me following too close behind. I slowed down, all the while observing him eyeballing me through his rear-view mirror. Still not satisfied with the distance between our cars, he continued to pump his brakes and slowed down even more, to the point of holding up traffic several cars deep. Continuing to drive significantly below the speed limit, the grumpy Mercedes driver kept his attention focused on the rear-view mirror instead of watching the road up ahead. I switched lanes to pass Mr. Grumpy Pants and watched him as I drove by. He never took his eyes off the rear-view mirror as he proceeded to do the same thing to the next driver who moved up behind him.

The grumpy Mercedes driver got me thinking about how easy it is to lead by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield. What I mean by that is we can get so focused on what’s happened behind us that we forget to look forward to the opportunities ahead of us. Here are 10 signs you may be suffering from rear-view mirror leadership:

1. Your natural response to change is “That’s not how we do it around here.” Change brings out interesting behaviors in people. I’ve found most people don’t mind change as long as it’s their idea, they’re in control of it, and it benefits them in some way. But most of the time, though, change is thrust upon us in one way or another and we have to deal with it. Rear-view mirror leaders usually fixate on what they’re going to lose as a result of a change and they expend all their effort in trying to prevent or minimize the impact. Forward-looking leaders search for the opportunities of growth and improvement that will result from change. It’s our choice as to how we respond.

2. Things are never as good as “back in the day.” I’m a nostalgic person by nature and am susceptible to this attitude or line of thinking. However, I’ve learned by experience that the past is a fun place to visit but it’s a bad place to live. Nothing new ever happens in the past. There’s no growth, improvement, or change. Our jobs, organizations, and industries are not the same as they were 20 years ago. We have to stay relevant with the times, personally and organizationally, or risk becoming relics of the past.

3. You’re pessimistic about the future. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic about the future, especially in today’s day and age. If your outlook on the future is dependent upon the performance of the stock market or the headline news, then you’re in trouble. The best leaders are dealers of hope. They maintain an optimistic view of the future, keeping focused on their purpose and core values, and putting forth a vision that encourages and energizes their team.

4. You’re focused on maintaining status quo. I’m not one to make a big stink about the difference between leadership and management. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. But there is one key difference that I think is worth noting—leaders initiate change whereas managers focus on maintaining or improving the status quo. Status quo leadership is often about looking in the rear-view mirror, making sure everything occurred exactly as planned. Forward-looking leadership involves surveying the open road and charting a course to move the team to its next destination. There will be occasional wrong turns, rerouting the course, and asking for directions. It will get messy and chaotic at times. But it will never be status quo.

5. You micromanage. Micro-managers tend to not trust people. Since trust involves risk, micro-managers default to using controlling behaviors to minimize their dependency on others. They want to maintain power so they hoard information, don’t involve others, and make all decisions of any consequence. Micro-managers tend to believe they know what’s best and will act in ways to keep themselves in the center of any conversation, meeting, or activities in order to exert their influence.

6. You spend more time assigning blame and making excuses than focusing on what you can control. Rear-view leaders are consumed with what others are doing or not doing, and almost always believe their lack of success is a result of factors outside their control. “If only Marketing would have provided us with the right kind of collateral that appealed to our clients…,” or “If Operations hadn’t delayed in getting that order into production…,” and “Customer Service does a horrible job at client retention…” are the kinds of blaming statements or excuses you often hear from rear-view leaders. Proactive leaders understand there will always be factors outside their control, so they spend their energy focusing on what they can influence and trust their colleagues to do the same.

7. You wait for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Failure to take initiative is a symptom of rear-view mirror leadership. Because rear-view mirror leaders are focused on the past, what others are doing or not doing, or focused on maintaining the status-quo, they are often caught watching from the sidelines when they should be actively involved in the game. Do you find yourself surprised by decisions that get made? Find yourself out of the information loop about what’s happening around you? If so, you might be sitting around waiting for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Find a need, meet a need. See a problem, fix a problem. That’s what forward-thinking leaders do.

8. You have a graveyard of relationships that are “dead to you.” It’s easy to run over people when you’re not looking where you’re going. Precisely because they’ve been leading by looking in the rear-view mirror, these kinds of leaders have often neglected to invest in relationships across the organization. They have “written off” people for one reason or another, usually in an attempt to exert power and influence to preserve their position and authority.

9. A lack of possibility thinking. If your first response to new ideas is to find all the ways it won’t work, you’re a rear-view mirror leader. Critical thinking and risk mitigation is necessary when considering a new concept, but if the ideas that come your way never make it past the initial sniff test, then you may be shutting yourself off to new possibilities. Instead of shooting holes in the ideas your team brings to you, try responding with this question: “How could we make this work?” You may be surprised at how much energy and passion it unleashes in your team.

10. You have an “us vs. them” mentality. Do you say “we” or “they” when referring to your organization and its leadership? Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, rear-view mirror leaders tend to disassociate themselves from the decisions and actions of their fellow leaders. Being a leader, particularly a senior or high-level one, means you represent the entire organization, not just your particular team. You should own the decisions and strategies of your organization by phrasing statements like “We have decided…” rather than “They have decided…” because it shows your team that you are personally invested and committed to your organization’s plans.

The grumpy Mercedes driver couldn’t see he had a wide-open road ahead of him to enjoy because he was too focused on what others were doing behind him. Don’t make the same mistake as a leader. If any of these ten signs ring true, you may be spending more time leading by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield.

Research Shows These Are The Top 5 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

In their academic paper Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership, researchers Adam Focht and Michael Ponton share the results of a Delphi study they conducted with scholars in the field of servant leadership.

A total of twelve characteristics were identified, five of which were agreed upon by all of the scholars polled. These five most prominent servant leadership characteristics were:

  1. Valuing People. Servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they give to the organization. Servant leaders are committed first and foremost to people—particularly, their followers.
  2. Humility. Servant leaders do not promote themselves; they put other people first. They are actually humble, not humble as an act. Servant leaders know leadership is not all about them—things are accomplished through others.
  3. Listening. Servant leaders listen receptively and non-judgmentally. They are willing to listen because they truly want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve, they must listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand, and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed.
  4. Trust. Servant leaders give trust to others. They willingly take this risk for the people they serve. Servant leaders are trusted because they are authentic and dependable.
  5. Caring. Servant leaders have people and purpose in their heart. They display a kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are here to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders truly care for the people they serve.

To a large degree, these findings mimic the results of polling that The Ken Blanchard Companies conducted with 130 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who attended a series of servant leadership executive briefings in cities across North America in 2018. Topping the list was empathy, closely followed by selflessness and humility. Also mentioned multiple times were being authentic, caring, collaborative, compassionate, honest, open-minded, patient, and self-aware.

Both lists can serve as good starting points for HR and L&D executives looking to bring an others-focused culture into their organizations. What’s been your experience?  Feel free to enter additional characteristics of a servant leader in the comments section below.


Interested in learning more about bringing servant leadership principles into your organization? Join us for a free webinar on November 15!

Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of Brilliance By Design, will conduct a presentation for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals on 3 Keys to Building a Servant Leadership Curriculum.

In this enlightening webinar, Dr. Halsey will connect servant leadership characteristics to competencies and share best practices on how to design a comprehensive curriculum for your organization. You can learn more here. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

This article was written by my colleague David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

50 Practical Ways to Build Psychological Safety in Your Team

Last week I wrote about the five factors that foster psychological safety in organizations and why it’s important to be a safe leader. Creating an environment of trust and safety where team members feel secure in being vulnerable and taking risks can seem like an overwhelming task. How does one actually going about doing that?

A safe and trusting team culture is the result of a series of decisions and actions that build upon each other. The behaviors and strategies used to build psychological safety aren’t rocket science, but they require a leader’s commitment, focus, and energy. Here’s a list of fifty practical ways you can build a team culture of trust and safety:

  1. Ask, “What can I do to help?”
  2. Say, “I trust your decision.”
  3. Ask, “What can I do differently?”
  4. Ask, “What do you think is the best course of action?”
  5. Admit your mistakes.
  6. Treat mistakes as learning moments.
  7. Don’t treat everyone the same.
  8. Put employees ahead of customers.
  9. Promote learning opportunities.
  10. Be securely vulnerable.
  11. Follow the Platinum Rule – Treat others the way they want to be treated
  12. Welcome curiosity.
  13. Promote healthy conflict.
  14. Give employees a voice.
  15. Extend trust.
  16. Be trustworthy.
  17. Promote effectiveness, not efficiency.
  18. Encourage creativity in problem solving.
  19. Establish accountability with clear expectations.
  20. Share your intent.
  21. Be present; don’t multitask.
  22. Control your temper.
  23. Build rapport.
  24. Tell the truth.
  25. Follow through on commitments.
  26. Walk the talk.
  27. Solicit feedback from others.
  28. Use the feedback from others when making decisions.
  29. Listen without interrupting.
  30. Take responsibility for your actions.
  31. Share your expertise with others.
  32. Be a mentor.
  33. Keep confidences.
  34. Recognize and reward good behavior.
  35. Don’t bend the rules.
  36. Avoid gossip.
  37. Speak positively about others and the organization.
  38. Address behavior not in alignment with organizational values.
  39. Show care, concern, and compassion for others.
  40. Put others’ needs ahead of your own.
  41. Share information about yourself and the organization.
  42. Establish clear norms for your team.
  43. Develop and implement a clear decision-making process.
  44. Encourage responsible risk-taking.
  45. Encourage diverse points of view.
  46. Celebrate achievements and have fun.
  47. Promote autonomy and freedom.
  48. Implement health and wellness strategies.
  49. Conduct team-building activities and events.
  50. Provide training on communication, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, building trust, etc.

The 5 Causes of Psychological Safety and Why You Need to be a Safe Leader

Reflective Listening

Psychological safety sounds like a complex academic topic, doesn’t it? It’s quite simple when you boil it down to its essence.

Amy Edmondson of Harvard University has pioneered the research on psychological safety. She says psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea.

When faced with these kinds of situations, we make micro-second calculations to assess the risk and likely consequences of our behavior. We make these decisions in light of the interpersonal climate we’re in, so we say to ourselves “If I do X here, will I be hurt, embarrassed, or criticized? Or will I be praised, thanked, or respected?”

Organizational Conditions for Psychological Safety

There are five areas that contribute to the establishment of a psychologically safe environment. The first is Leader Behavior. The leader is always being watched. What you say and do has a profound impact on whether your team members feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Research has shown that bad news is rarely transmitted up the hierarchy and team members are more likely to seek help from peers than their boss. But on the flip side, research has also shown that leaders who exhibit supportive managerial behaviors have positive effects on self-expression and creativity. Leaders must go out of their way to be open and use coaching-oriented behaviors. The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility.

The second area that contributes to psychological safety is Group Dynamics. The norms of a group either encourage or inhibit team member vulnerability. Are new ideas welcomed or discouraged? Are divergent opinions solicited or are they criticized? The interplay of team member roles and characters are also part of group dynamics. Have you ever noticed how people in teams tend to assume familial-type roles? You often have a father figure of a group that offers sage advice and direction. You may have team member who plays a mothering role, the favored son who can do no wrong, or even the black sheep of the team who tends to stir up trouble. The interplay of these roles has a direct impact on the level of safety within a team. Additionally, in-group and out-group dynamics and power distribution among team members influence psychological safety.Psychological Safety 5 Factors

The third area that influences psychological safety is Trust and Respect. There is significant overlap between trust and psychological safety as it relates to vulnerability. Trust can be defined as the willingness to be vulnerable based on perceptions of someone’s (or some thing’s) trustworthiness. If you don’t feel the leader or team is trustworthy, you won’t be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself at risk. Supportive and trusting relationships promote psychological safety, whereas lack of respect makes people feel judged or inferior, resulting in them keeping their opinions to themselves. Trust is at the heart of creating a safe environment.

The fourth area that contributes to psychological safety is the use of Practice Fields. Peter Senge coined this term in the 1990’s to describe one of the hallmarks of a learning organization. He made the point that unlike other fields, most businesses don’t employ practice and reflection to improve the skills of their employees. For example, what do sport teams do between games? They practice! Practice is a safe environment to learn, make mistakes, and work on skill improvement. Pilots train in simulators before flying a new aircraft. Surgeons observe, assist, and practice new procedures before leading an operation. Employing practice fields creates an environment where it is safe to learn and make mistakes without fear of being penalized.

Finally, the fifth area that contributes to psychological safety is having a Supportive Organizational Context. What does that mean? It means team members have access to resources and information to perform their best. When people have this level of freedom it reduces anxiety and defensiveness. Contrast this to being in a “need to know” environment where suspicion, tension, power, control, and territoriality are the norm. Organizations with healthy and ethical cultures of fairness and trust create the supportive mechanisms that allow people to feel safe, take risks, and innovate.

Results of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a win-win for both employees and the organization.

Safe environments allow people to seek feedback more often. Seeking feedback places a person in a position of vulnerability to hear negative criticism, however, when it is safe to do so, the sharing of feedback leads to improvements in quality and performance. Safe environments also encourage people to seek help from those who are in positions of greater power. It’s risky to ask for help from someone who judges your performance, but leaders who foster psychological safety make it easy for their team members to ask for help.

A culture of psychological safety encourages people to speak up about wrongdoing. It alleviates concerns about repercussions of calling out unethical or illegal behavior, which is critical in today’s low-trust environments of many organizations. Innovation is also a benefit of having a safe environment. Innovation is essentially about taking a risk and trying something new. It’s about offering new ideas and challenging conventional ways of thinking which can’t happen if people are afraid of being judged or punished for stepping out of line. Lastly, psychologically safe environments allow team members to work more effectively across boundaries. It increases communication and coordination with other groups in the organization. It lowers the interpersonal risk of asking for help, resources, seeking feedback, or delivering bad news.

It’s vitally important for leaders to establish environments of trust and safety so their people can step out, step up, and achieve new heights of accomplishments. It begins by being a safe leader who is trustworthy, respectful, and committed to prioritizing the well-being of his/her team members over his/her self-interest. It begins by leading with trust.

25 Ways to Immediately Build Trust at Work

Most people assume that trust “just happens” in relationships. Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure that 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. It comes down to those simple and routine behaviors you use every day at work.

If you need help building trust at work, here are 25 specific ways you can start:

  1. Follow-through on your commitments.
  2. Take a genuine interest in your colleagues.
  3. Mentor someone.
  4. Strive to be the best at what you do.
  5. Tell the truth.
  6. Don’t gossip.
  7. Keep confidences.
  8. Listen well.
  9. Incorporate the ideas of others.
  10. Praise people for a job well done.
  11. Be responsive to requests.
  12. Under-promise and over-deliver.
  13. Walk your talk.
  14. Stand up for what is right.
  15. Admit your mistakes.
  16. Apologize when necessary.
  17. Constantly build your expertise.
  18. Build rapport with others.
  19. Be inclusive and appreciate diversity.
  20. Be on time for meetings and appointments.
  21. Demonstrate strong organizational skills.
  22. Say please and thank you.
  23. Go out of your way to help others.
  24. Be receptive to feedback.
  25. Be friendly.

Of course those are just the tip of the iceberg. What other key behaviors would you recommend to build trust? Please share your feedback by leaving a comment.

Even In This Cynical World, Trust Is Worth It

You’ve been betrayed by people you trusted and it has shaken you to the core. Time and time again you’ve opened yourself to the risk of trusting, only to be disappointed repeatedly. You’re hurt and bruised; mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe even physically. You question if trust is worth it.

You’re trapped in a downward spiral of distrust. Doubt and suspicion permeate your relationships, causing you to keep others at arm’s length. You fall further into states of anxiety, fear, and self-protection, until the only solution you see is to build walls around yourself to keep the pain out. It works. Your walls keep the pain out, but trap the loneliness inside. You question if trust is worth it.

You know that life without trust is unfulfilling and you want more. You deserve more. The safety, strength, freedom, joy, and happiness that comes with trust is waiting for you, so you resolve to try again. Baby steps perhaps, but you will start again. You believe that trust is worth it.

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