Leading with Trust

2 Key Steps Self Leaders Take In Moving From College To Career

Since graduation, I’m finding post-college life to be a bit lonely … a bit scary too. After walking across the big stage and grabbing my degree in early June, I returned, jobless, to my home in San Diego to seek a meaningful career. Graduation was the last big “milestone,” the last item to check off my pre-adulthood list. Now I’ve been turned loose to blaze my own path, and I’m finding the job market to be ruthless and the competition fierce. After so many dead ends and rejected applications, it’s quite easy to feel lost or discouraged.    

In transitional times like these, when bosses, teachers, and other sources of mentorship are in short supply, younger people should consider looking inward — they should consider self leadership. Self leadership is when an individual takes it upon themselves to find the motivation, knowledge, skills, and help they need to thrive personally and professionally. To do that, a self leader must be proactive. They must strive to create change instead of responding to it.

I want to talk about proactivity in two contexts: its presence in one’s personal life, and its importance for those who are reluctant to seek help. I’ve struggled in both areas, but I’ve learned and grown because of it. I’d like to share my experiences with you here.

A semblance of structure goes a long way.

When I was in school, I always had responsibilities to attend to, like class or one of my two campus jobs. They kept me productive and gave me a little bit of predictability. Once I graduated and went back home, I had no class. I had no campus jobs. There was no particular reason to wake up early in the morning; I was free to do anything, free to allocate my time however I chose. It seemed nice on the surface, but I could see the long-term danger it presented.

Settling into a routine is often looked down upon because it precedes one’s fall into the ever-treacherous “rut.” But living without anything to define your day can erode your motivation, opportunities, and potential. Preventing this erosion doesn’t require a militaristic regimen, though. You just have to be proactive and set some sort of structure. In the month since I’ve graduated, I’ve made an effort to get up each morning before 9:00 a.m. and workout (usually an hour spent lifting weights, doing some cardio, or working on my jump shot). Physical activity clears the mind of morning blurriness. It relieves stress and leaves you ready to learn.

After exercise and following breakfast, I’ll put aside five or so hours to do something productive: job apps, LinkedIn/resume updates, or writing articles like this one. It is often painfully boring, specifically the career-related stuff. You can only change up resumes so many times, and bragging about yourself in each iteration of a cover letter can make you feel phony. But when I envision the future I want — good money, fulfillment through my craft, health — I realize five hours a day isn’t the worst thing in the world. I commit myself to those five hours as if it were my career.    

Self leaders don’t sit in front of the TV all day. They are proactive about doing what is required to succeed, and success often requires things that are boring, tedious, or difficult. It’s up to the self leader to push themselves through the gauntlet. Value must be found in positive visions of the future and in the work that forms that future.     

Asking for help is not admitting failure.

Sometimes, success means soliciting assistance, feedback, and support from others. This can be difficult for those who take particular pride in their perceived talents. I was (and to a certain extent, still am) one of those people. Asking others for help seemed like a desperate act to me. I mean, if I was really worth my salt as a writer, editor, or “young professional,” I could do it all alone. Survival of the fittest, right? Getting a job, getting my work published, improving my craft … that was all on me, and I didn’t think there was much else others could provide. I was confident in my ability to learn, adapt, and improve, and that was good from a self leadership standpoint. But this overconfidence also blinded me to the fact that I’m not all that — not the best writer, not the smartest, not the most qualified … and not the most mature either. I thought others would hold me back, but they were actually what would propel me forward.

This realization came at a time of creative frustration. Graduation was near and I was exhausted. Barren of ideas and of any confidence in my ability, I questioned — for the millionth time — whether I had it in me to do any of this. Instead of wondering, I sought advice and feedback from friends. For the first time, I invited others into my editorial process. I gave them rough drafts of what I was working on, and they returned them with comments that were at times harsh. That hurt (a lot), but it humbled me and revealed errors in my work that I wouldn’t and couldn’t have noticed before.

The job search functions in a similar way. I’ve learned that established professionals are willing to help if you ask, but you have to ask. Very rarely will recruiters or higher-ups come to you out of the blue. Getting help doesn’t mean you’re talentless. It isn’t a last resort. It shows that you value progress, and it shows that you’re adept at diagnosing and addressing your weaknesses. Making it on your own without help is admirable if you were forced into that situation, but it’s neither admirable nor noble to purposefully limit yourself. That’s the antithesis of self leadership: self sabotage.

Young or old, what role does proactivity play in your life? Are you doing something to work toward that future you want? It’s good to go with the flow when you can, but some things require a more active approach. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, ideas, or feedback.

About Zach Morgan

Zach Morgan is a writer, editor, and recent grad living in San Diego, CA. He’s looking to use his talents to make an awesome company even better.

10 Signs You’re Suffering From Rear-view Mirror Leadership

rear-view-mirrorI was high on endorphins yesterday morning after I completed my usual Saturday bike ride. I had retreated to the San Diego coast to escape the heat of where I live inland, and I was feeling great after knocking off a crisp 40-mile ride.

As I drove home, 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.

Broken Trust – 3 Steps to Repair & Regain the Trust You’ve Lost

As I’m driving into the office one Thursday a few years ago, I’m contemplating the agenda for my team meeting that morning. It dawns on me that it’s April 1st—April Fools Day. Being a guy who loves a good practical joke, I immediately start thinking about a prank I can pull on my team. The only idea that comes to mind is to tell the team I’m resigning. I figured people will immediately know I’m joking, we’ll all get a good laugh, and then we’ll go on our merry way. Boy, was I wrong.

I enlisted several co-conspirators to follow my lead and feign reactions of surprise and sadness when I made the announcement at the end of the meeting. What ensued were acting performances worthy of an Oscar. The net result was team members were shocked, angry, and felt betrayed by my callousness. One person got very emotional and stormed out of the meeting in tears. Why I thought that joke would be funny is beyond me. Instead of having a good laugh with my team, I had severely eroded their trust in me.

Over the next several days I met with team members one-on-one and together as a group. I followed these three basic steps to rebuild trust between us.

  1. Acknowledge—As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.
  2. Apologize—The second step in rebuilding trust is to apologize for your actions. This is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.
  3. Act—This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.

Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We have to acknowledge we did something wrong, apologize for our behavior, and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.

We Don’t Have a Crisis of Trust – We Have a Crisis of Untrustworthy Leaders

“An Implosion of Trust”—That’s the headline of the executive summary of Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer. Their annual trust survey and report goes on to cite grim statistics about the state of trust in the world:

  • Trust in government, business, media, and NGOs declined broadly over the last year, the first time this has happened with all four institutions in the 17 years Edelman has been tracking trust.
  • Only 29% of respondents say government officials are credible and just 39% say the same about CEOs.
  • The media is distrusted in 82% of the world’s countries, and in only five (Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, and the Netherlands ) is it above 50%.
  • 85% of people lack belief in the system.

It’s enough bad news to make you want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head, isn’t it? (Note: These statistics are measuring generalized trust in a social and institutional context. For an excellent treatment on the importance and challenge of defining trust, read this and this from trust expert Charlie Green.)

We don’t have a crisis of trust so much as we have a crisis of untrustworthy leaders. Just take a look at Fortune’s list of the world’s 19 most disappointing leaders to get a feel for how many suffered trust-related gaffes. An institution is simply a collection of individuals who act in such a way that causes their constituents to trust or distrust the organization. Leadership sets the tone for an organization’s culture and performance and it’s there we need greater accountability for leading in trustworthy ways.

But what makes a leader trustworthy? There are four key elements to being trustworthy. You can easily remember them as the ABCDs of Trust:

A is for AbleDemonstrating Competence. Leaders who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able leaders demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.

B is BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity leaders are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.

C is for ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy leaders value relationships. They care about their people and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected leaders establish rapport with people by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected leaders are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.

D is for DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy leaders do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their team.

Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if your leaders are building or eroding trust.

5 Leadership Lessons From Being a Dad

Being a dad has been, and continues to be, one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve experienced tremendous highs, suffered through some lows, doubted myself, learned much, and have been stretched to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first started this journey twenty-five years ago. The same could be said for my journey as a leader!

As I reflect on the lessons that have taught me to be a better father, I realize that many of the same principles apply to being a trusted and successful leader. Here are five leadership lessons I’ve learned from being a dad:

  1. There’s no substitute for time — I’ve learned that “quality” time is just a convenient rationalization to justify our busyness and to ease our guilt from not spending “quantity” time with our kids. The “quality” happens in those unexpected moments during the “quantity.” Being a leader requires spending large amounts of time with your people and not isolating yourself in your own little world. Devote yourself to investing in the growth and development of your people and you’ll reap the rewards.
  2. Set clear expectations — Part of being a good dad is setting clear expectations for his kids. They should know what’s expected in terms of their behavior and attitudes, and what the consequences will be (either positive or negative) for meeting or not meeting those expectations. Your people at work need the same clear expectations regarding their performance. They need clear targets with identifiable rewards or consequences. It’s not fair to judge your people (or kids) for their actions if they weren’t clear on the goal in the first place.
  3. Be the example — Being a dad means setting the right example for his kids and the same is true in being a leader. Your attitudes, the tone of voice you use in speaking to others, your work ethic, and the way you treat people are just a few of the ways you will influence your people. Just as a child will observe and often imitate every move of his dad, your people are always taking their cue from the actions of their leader. Make sure you’re leading well!
  4. Have fun — It’s easy to get bogged down in all the stress and anxiety that comes with being a dad, but I’ve learned to have fun and enjoy the journey as much as possible. Leaders need to remember to take work seriously, but not take themselves too seriously. Laugh at yourself, keep the mood light, and don’t be afraid to have fun with your staff. When the stressful times come, your people will be more willing to put in the extra effort that’s necessary.
  5. Validate them — One of the primary roles of a father is to validate his children. A father’s approval imparts a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional confidence in a child that empowers him to grow in confidence and faith in his own abilities. Your staff needs your approval as well. When your people know that you accept them, desire the best for them, and will do whatever you can to help them succeed, you will have their loyalty and commitment in following your lead.

Leading and managing adults at work is obviously not the same as parenting children, although some days it can certainly feel that way! However, the principles one uses to be a successful father (or mother) can be equally beneficial for success as a leader. Just like being a father, the key is being consistent in your approach and having the best interests of your people in mind.

By no means are these five principles a definitive list. I’m curious to know what lessons you’ve learned from being a parent that apply to leadership. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Happy Father’s Day!

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