Leading with Trust

8 Steps for Dealing with An Underperforming Employee

Talking with team members about their performance challenges typically falls in the category of “least favorite” managerial tasks, along with things such as budgeting, attending all-day meetings, and completing performance reviews. It’s usually not something most leaders enjoy, but it’s a necessary and critical part of helping your team perform its best.

Why do most leaders shy away from confronting poor performance head-on? My experience has shown that it’s usually because they don’t know where to start. Because the process feels uncomfortable and managers don’t have a plan to follow, they either do a poor job at addressing underperformance or they just don’t do it all.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Managers can confidently and successfully deal with underperforming employees by following an eight-step plan. The first three steps involve what I call “looking in the mirror,” which is examining the leader’s role in the employee’s performance issue. The next five steps are “looking out the window,” which is exploring the employee’s role in the situation.

Looking in the mirror

Before having a conversation with the employee, the leader needs to look in the mirror and examine if they’ve done their part to help the employee succeed.

Step 1: Did I set clear goals? All good performance starts with clear goals.

That’s one of the key leadership principles Ken Blanchard and I discuss in our recent book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Although most managers agree with the importance of setting goals, many do not take the time to clearly develop goals with their team members and write them down. How do leaders expect people to achieve their goals if they aren’t clear on what a good job looks like? And how can leaders accurately address poor performance if there isn’t a clear benchmark against which to measure?

Step 2: Did I accurately diagnose the employee’s development level?

People go through predictable stages of development when starting a new goal or task. Their development level on a task is a combination of competence (knowledge and skills) and commitment (confidence and motivation).

Most people start a new goal or task as an Enthusiastic Beginner because they have high commitment but low competence on doing the task. As they gain a bit of competence, they typically experience a dip in commitment because they realize the task is harder than they thought. We call people at that stage of development a Disillusioned Learner. As they build competence and commitment on the task, they move into the stage of being a Capable, but Cautious Performer. They know most of what to do regarding the task, but they still have some self-doubt that causes them to question themselves or seek the help of more experienced colleagues. Finally, when a person is fully competent and committed on a task, they have become a Self-Reliant Achiever.

Step 3: Did I use a leadership style that matched the employee’s development level?

In The Ken Blanchard Companies’ SLII® leadership development model, managers are taught to use different leadership styles that match the development level of their employees. Leaders flex their style by employing a combination of directive and supportive behaviors. For example, when an employee is an Enthusiastic Beginner, a leader needs to use a Directive style that is high on direction and low on support to teach the employee the basics of doing the task. Disillusioned Learner’s need a Coaching style that is high in both direction support to help them develop both their competence and commitment. Leaders use a Supporting style, high on support but low on direction, to draw out the Capable but Cautious Performer and help them step into their own power and knowledge. And of course, Self-Reliant Achievers can be given a Delegating style of leadership because they know what to do with minimal involvement from the leader.

Looking out the window

Leaders “look in the mirror” by examining themselves to make sure they’ve worked with the employee to set clear goals, accurately diagnosed the development level of the employee on each of those goals, and then used a matching leadership style to help the employee develop to peak performance. If leaders can answer in the affirmative to steps 1 to 3, then they can begin “looking out the window.”

Step 4: Is the employee unclear on goals and expectations?

It’s not uncommon for there to be confusion between leaders and employees on goals. Here’s an interesting way to test for goal alignment between a leader and team member. Both the leader and team member write down what they each believe to be the team member’s top 3-5 goals and then they compare notes. It’s amazing how often there is a notable discrepancy between the two lists.

If there isn’t alignment on the specific goal, the leader needs to reset or renegotiate goals with the employee, or the leader needs to give feedback on what and how the employee needs to perform differently.

Step 5: Have things changed to impact goal achievement?

Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, famously said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Conditions in the employee’s environment may have changed since the goal was first established, and as a result, their performance is being negatively impacted.

If this is the case, the leader may need to work with the employee to renegotiate the goal. Additionally, the leader may need to work with the employee on a strategy to mitigate the environmental risks. The leader should also partner with the team member to facilitate problem solving. Sometimes obstacles cause employees to stall out in progressing on their goal and they just need their leader to provide good coaching that helps them solve their own problems.

Step 6: Is it a problem of competence/skill?

If leaders answer yes to this question, it means the employee is either an Enthusiastic Beginner or Disillusioned Learner on the goal/task. In that case, the leader should provide a more directive style of leadership that involves showing the employee how to do the task and setting up a step-by-step plan for learning that will help the employee become a Self-Reliant Achiever (fully competent and committed).

Step 7: Is it a lack of confidence?

If the employee has the competence to do the task but lacks confidence, that signifies they are a Capable, but Cautious Performer. The leader’s job at this point is to build the employee’s confidence. How is that done? The leader uses high supportive behavior like encouraging and reassuring the employee. The leader can also build the employee’s confidence by helping them reflect on past successes and highlight the progress the employee has already made on the goal/task.

Step 8: Is it a lack of motivation?

There are times when all of us experience the motivational doldrums. Whether it’s personal or work-related, our motivational outlooks can impact our work performance. Identifying and connecting the employee’s contributions to the bigger-picture outcomes of the organization can help improve their motivation.

Most People Want to Succeed

Most of the time, following the previously outlined steps will help an employee improve their performance. However, there will be occasions when leaders work through these eight steps and performance doesn’t improve. What to do then?

Leaders should challenge ‘won’t do” behavior and clearly outline the consequences of continued non-performance. But before resorting to that, consider that most people want to do a good job. Very few people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a total failure today!” Before “looking out the window” to address poor performance with an employee, leaders need to “look in the mirror” to see if they’ve done their part to set the employee up for success. After all, leadership is a partnership. It’s something you do with people, not to them.

Do You Trust Your Team Enough to Go on Vacation?

Trust never takes a vacation.

When you go on holiday this summer, will you be preoccupied with how things are going at work? Do you have low trust in your team’s ability to manage without you? Or perhaps your team doesn’t trust you, and they can’t wait for you to go on vacation, so they don’t have to look over their shoulder every minute of the day. Regardless of your situation, there’s never a right time to take a vacation from building trust.

Simple truth #44 in my new book with Ken Blanchard, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, says…

The most important part of leadership is what happens when you’re not there.

High-control leaders are afraid to take time off of work and delegate to their team members. They’re concerned that when they’re not around, people will get off-course and do something stupid that will reflect badly on the leader. Trusted servant leaders, on the other hand, develop and empower their people so that they will perform just as well, if not better, on their own as they do when the leader is present.

This is especially critical in today’s remote and hybrid work culture. When you as the leader are physically located alongside your people, it’s easy to observe their working behaviors. But that’s an impossibility in today’s environment. The real proof that you are a trusted servant leader is how your people perform on their own. They know you trust them and they want to live up to the standards you have demonstrated.

That’s why I’d like to invite you to join me for the 8-week Summer of Trust leadership reflection series. Every Monday, from July 11 through August 29, you’ll receive a weekly email containing…

  • An inspirational and thought-provoking message on how to become a trusted servant leader
  • Practical actions steps for that week’s focus area that will help you implement the mindsets and skillsets of trusted servant leaders
  • A downloadable tool or resource to help you in your leadership journey of building trust

The Summer of Trust series is free of charge, and you can opt-out at any time. I’ll be giving away five copies of Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. All subscribers are eligible for the random drawing and Ken and I will personally sign your copy!

I hope you’ll join me. I’m confident the Summer of Trust series will provide you with knowledge and resources that will make this a summer to remember.

Subscribe to Summer of Trust

5 Ways to Lead with Empathy

People want an empathetic leader. Many managers strive to be one. But ask someone to define the term, and you’re likely to be met with silence.

Let’s start with the definition. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy means “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

The logical question is: why is being empathetic an important quality of a leader? It seems to have nothing in common with achieving tasks or succeeding in the workplace.

The importance of being an empathetic leader starts with the simple truth that leadership is about people. If you’re going to lead effectively, you must be attuned to your people’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This translates into creating real partnerships rather than exerting power. It means walking alongside your team members and guiding them in the direction you need them to go.

Why Empathetic Leaders Are Needed Now

The topic of empathetic leadership has been getting a lot of press lately, mostly due to the adverse effects of the pandemic. COVID has bruised people in many ways: losing a loved one, losing a job, pay cuts, health problems, and on and on.

People are reevaluating their relationship with work in the wake of the pandemic. Some are deciding life’s too short to leave their spirit at the door and endure long workdays just to bring home a paycheck. They want an environment that nourishes them in a profound way.

The Empathy Deficit

Forbes says empathy is the most important leadership skill, but only 40% of people rate their leaders as being empathetic. It’s tricky to single out one skill as being the most important—anyone can argue that other skills deserve top billing. That qualifier aside, this statistic reveals a huge disconnect between what people want and what their leaders are providing.

But leading with empathy isn’t easy. If empathetic leadership were part of a college curriculum, it would be a 200-level class. It presumes that people have all the basics down—and many leaders don’t.

Leaders are often promoted to their roles based on their success as an individual contributor. But being a first-time manager requires a whole new set of skills—for example, emotional intelligence—that are more important than technical expertise. Many managers either haven’t had the opportunity to develop these skills, are resistant to doing so, or don’t have an interest in them.

When you add up all these reasons, it’s easy to see why we have an empathy deficit among leaders and their people.

Here are five ways to increase your ability to lead with empathy.

1. Know Thyself

Becoming an empathetic leader starts with having excellent self-awareness. This requires doing inner work on understanding your motivators, your temperament, and your personality style. It also includes knowing your communication style, your reaction to feedback, and how your values shape your behavior.

The first step in your journey is investing in your own development. Once you are more self-aware, you can begin to adjust your leadership style to the needs of your people.

Senior executives play a pivotal role in this. They must put organizational resources behind self-awareness initiatives to show they are serious about developing empathetic leaders. Investing in training is an example. Just as important, they need to model the behaviors they want the organization’s leaders to demonstrate. They also should have caring conversations with managers who don’t appear to be growing into empathetic leaders.

2. Understand Others

The second part of empathetic leadership is striving for a good understanding of your team members. This includes improving your communication skills, such as being curious in conversations instead of being defensive or aggressive. It also includes learning how to eliminate fear in your interactions with your people—trust cannot survive if there is fear in a relationship.

Building trust with your people is essential if you’re to be an empathetic leader. They must know you are on their side and you mean them no harm. You must show them your role as a leader is to help them succeed. The better you understand your people, the better you’ll be able to serve them in a meaningful way.

3. Be Helpful

Finding practical ways to serve others is a concrete example of empathetic leadership. Our Self Leadership course teaches five points of power you can use to help your people succeed:

  • Position Power: Having the title or authority to make certain decisions
  • Task Power: Having control over a task or particular job
  • Personal Power: Having interpersonal and leadership skills, passion, inspiration, or a personal vision of the future
  • Relationship Power: Being connected or friendly with other people who have power
  • Knowledge Power: Having relevant experience, expertise, or credentials

Empathetic leaders use these points of power to build up their people, help them feel safe and secure, and increase their confidence. When leaders do this, their people know they care about them. This opens many doors of possibility.

4. Be Compassionate

Empathetic leaders are compassionate and extend grace to others. They know how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. But remember: organizations have goals that must be accomplished. Leaders must balance compassion with clear expectations that are understood by every team member.

Leaders who are empathetic place great importance on creating psychological safety—an environment where a person feels free to speak their mind, take risks, and admit mistakes without fear of being punished or reprimanded.

Empathetic leaders also balance great relationships with great results. Ken Blanchard and I share how to navigate this tricky intersection in our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust.

Simple Truth #1 in our book is “Servant leadership is the best way to achieve both great results and great relationships.” Many people have an either/or mindset when it comes to leadership—they focus on either achieving results or developing relationships. You can get both if you set a clear vision and direction for your people, then work side by side serving them in ways that help them accomplish their goals.

5. Set Boundaries

Empathetic leaders know how to set clear boundaries that benefit everyone, such as letting people know how many hours a day they’re supposed to work or that sending late-night emails is inappropriate.

When everyone has clarity on work boundaries—including rules and expectations—there is tremendous safety and freedom. Boundaries create a guardrail so people don’t unduly sacrifice themselves to accomplish something. Boundaries also promote autonomy. They let people know what they can and can’t do.

An Empathetic Leader in Action

Seeing an empathetic leader in action turns philosophy into concrete reality. Try to imagine yourself as an empathetic leader who practices the following behaviors on a daily basis.

An empathetic leader:

  • Asks rather than tells
  • Listens rather than speaks
  • Serves rather than commands
  • Cares about people’s concerns
  • Is receptive to feedback
  • Doesn’t overact to people’s questions or concerns
  • Doesn’t interpret concerns as resistance

When you demonstrate these behaviors, your people will be loyal to you. They’ll be engaged. They’ll give their best effort. They’ll be more innovative. And they’ll speak highly about your organization to their friends and colleagues.

Call to Action

At its core, empathetic leadership is about being an others-focused leader. It’s about leaders being in tune with the needs of their people and responding in tangible ways that demonstrate their care and concern. And how do people respond when their leaders act this way? They pledge their loyalty, trust, and commitment to that leader, which results in greater productivity, innovation, and creativity. Who wouldn’t want that?

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Let’s Not Kid Ourselves – The Debate Over Hybrid Work Comes Down to Trust

In my line of work, I get the opportunity to interact with leaders from a wide variety of organizations from a diverse range industries, including government and non-profits. A common factor that most are dealing with right now is adjusting to the new world of hybrid work.

Hybrid work means team members work from both the office and remotely. Some organizations employ a formal schedule that requires employees to be in the office certain days of the week, while others leave it to the discretion of the team member to be in the office as needed, usually for key meetings or events. Many organizations are trying to find the model that works best for their specific needs and goals.

The Great Trust Experiment

Although working virtually has been “a thing” for many years, the pandemic forced it upon organizations at a scale that couldn’t have been imagined just a few years ago. Literally overnight, organizations were forced to adopt a new model of working if they wanted to survive. Employers had to extend massive amount of trust to their employees in what I have called “The Great Trust Experiment.” By most accounts, the shift has been a success, with organizations experiencing increased growth and productivity, and employees reporting higher levels of well-being and satisfaction.

But old habits die hard. Many organizations are either calling their employees back to the office full-time or requiring them to be in the office certain days of the week.

Why? Well, most companies are saying that employees’ physical presence in the office is required to foster a healthy organizational culture, or that in-person interaction is required for innovative and creative work to take place.

Are those important factors? Absolutely. Is being in the office a prerequisite for those things to flourish? No.

So, I’m calling B.S.

The Opposite of Trust is not Distrust—it’s Control

I think the root factor driving most of these decisions is control.

As Ken Blanchard and I point out in our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, distrust is not the opposite of trust. The opposite of trust is control.

We are in the early days of a transformation of how work is being defined in the 21st century. No longer is work a place you go to, but rather something you do. Since the very nature of work is being redefined, it’s also redefining the nature of leadership.

Since the industrial revolution, leadership has been governed by a command-and-control approach, where leaders were designated to make decisions (issue commands) and dictate (control) how the work is done. Employees have long been “human resources” that are merely a means to an end.

The digital age has rendered command-and-control leadership obsolete. For many occupations, work can be accomplished from literally anywhere, yet our mindset and approach to leadership is struggling to adapt to this new reality.

No Going Back to The “Old Days”

The genie is out of the bottle regarding remote work and there’s no putting it back in. The pandemic has caused people to re-evaluate their relationship with work and they’ve learned there’s a better way. And unlike any time in the past, employees have the lion’s share of power to make decisions about where and how they want to work.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating against the value and necessity of in-person work. Nothing yet invented can replace human-to-human interaction, and I doubt it ever will (although, I wouldn’t be surprised to see future technological innovation that closely mimics in-person interaction). I think in-person gatherings are critically important for team formation, bonding, and cultural development.

But I think it’s lazy leadership to blanketly mandate employees be in the office because “that’s what the office is for,” or “that’s how we did it before the pandemic.” I just had a conversation with a client this week who expressed her organization’s employees are struggling with being required to be in the office yet spend the entire day alone participating in virtual meetings.

A New Model of Leadership is Needed

We need more honest and introspective discussion about how organizations must shift in the years ahead if they want to attract and retain the best talent. We must adopt new mindsets about what leadership looks like and how our organizations operate in the future, rather than being stuck in our current mindsets of believing innovation/culture/teamwork/etc., can only happen when we’re together in person.

I think the future of work will look differently for each organization and employee. I think it will be a mosaic of options that take into account the unique needs of all the parties involved, but in order for that to happen, there has to be trust. Organizations need to let go of control and adopt a service-minded approach to leading.

Trusted servant leaders look to bring out the best in their team members. They put the needs of their followers ahead of their own. When team members believe their leader (and by extension, their organization) has their best interests at heart and is there to support them in achieving their goals, trust grows by leaps and bounds.

There are many questions we need to answer as we seek to define what work looks like in the hybrid world. I don’t have all the answers, and in fact, probably only have one: trusted servant leaders will be key to unleashing the potential and power of people and organizations in the years ahead.

The 4 Letter Word Leaders Need to Use More Often at Work

There are a few four-letter words that leaders would like to use more at work. You can probably guess the words I’m thinking of because you’ve almost certainly wanted to use them yourself! (Or perhaps you have…or do!)

Although there is some research that advocates the benefits of cursing at work, I’m still old-school in my approach. My mother would frequently remind me that the language we use reflects our level of intelligence and maturity, so instead of using curse words, we should find better ways to express ourselves. I still roll that way.

So, you won’t be surprised that I’m not advocating leaders more frequently use the four-letter words that begin with F, S, and D. No, I’m suggesting leaders use the four-letter word that begins with L.

Love.

In my new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, co-authored with Ken Blanchard, we share Simple Truth #20:

Love is the answer. What is the question?

Most people have probably heard the “love passage” from the Bible read at a wedding or other special occasions. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I don’t know a better representation of the qualities of a trusted servant leader than the virtues listed in this passage. But if you ask someone who works for a self-serving leader to describe their boss, you’ll hear the opposite of these characteristics. Self-serving leaders are seldom perceived as patient or kind. They tend to envy others with more influence, brag about their accomplishments, and so on.

I believe servant leadership is love in action. And if love is the answer, perhaps the question is, “What do servant leaders lead with?

Do you want to know if your people see you as a servant leader? Well, if you’re up for the challenge, consider doing this:

  1. List the personal traits from this passage and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 (least to most) as to how much they describe you as a leader.
  2. If you’re courageous, ask your team members to do the same. Make it anonymous.
  3. Once you get the feedback, set up a meeting with your team, share what you’ve learned, and ask them how you could improve on the traits where you scored low.
  4. Then—this is key—make changes in your leadership style to show them you are serious about improving.

One of the great things about love is that you don’t always have to say the word to let people know how you feel. You can demonstrate it through your everyday actions and interactions with your people. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying the word, too.

Love. It’s the four-letter word leaders need to use more often at work.

Grading Will Smith’s Apology to Chris Rock

The slap heard around the world, otherwise known as Will Smith smacking Chris Rock in the face at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony after Rock made a joke at the expense of Smith’s wife, has been the buzz of social media and pop culture.

Less than an hour after the embarrassing debacle, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor (awkward!), and gave a quasi-apology/acknowledgment of his juvenile actions mixed with an excuse for his bad behavior. After having some time to think about it, and probably at the behest of his handlers in an attempt to minimize the negative backlash, Smith issued an apology on Instagram.

Let’s take a look at his apology and assign it a letter grade to gauge its effectiveness. Take a seat. Class is in session.

Here’s the full text of Smith’s apology:

The first step in an effective apology is to acknowledge what you did and admit your wrongdoing. Smith addresses the issue head on by stating the violent way he acted is poisonous and destructive and his behavior was unacceptable and inexcusable. Strong start to the apology. Letter Grade = A, Excellent.

Great apologies refrain from using conditional language and making excuses. Using words like if and but weaken the apology, shift blame away from your behavior, and sound like you’re justifying your actions. Unfortunately, after a strong start, Smith fell prey to this common trap. After stating there was no excuse for his behavior, what did he do? He made an excuse by saying, “but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.” He would have been better served to simply say, “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job and I was out of line to react emotionally.” Short, sweet, to the point, and no excuses. Letter Grade = C, Average.

Another element of an effective apology is to express remorse for your actions and the harm it caused the other party. Smith’s expression of remorse includes him saying he was embarrassed about his actions, there’s no place for violence in this world, and stating regret over his behavior staining the awards ceremony. A notable omission is any sort of acknowledgment about the harm he inflicted on Chris Rock. Although Smith says, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris,” he doesn’t say a word about the extreme embarrassment and humiliation it must have caused Rock to be assaulted on live television in front of millions of viewers.

Notably, Smith used the word apologize versus sorry. The two words are often used interchangeably in regards to giving an apology, but there are important differences in their meanings. Apologize is a verb. It’s the act of acknowledging and taking ownership for a mistake. Sorry is an adjective. It’s the feeling of remorse, regret, or sorrow over one’s action. Apologize is something you do. Sorry is how you feel. Letter Grade = C, Average.

Finally, a good apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior in the future. It’s the bookend to acknowledging and admitting what you did wrong, and shows that you understand you need to learn, grow, and take steps to not engage in that behavior in the future. Smith attempts to communicate that he understands there is room for growth by saying he’s a work in progress, but he could have been more explicit about his plan of action. Simply saying, “I’m going to learn and grow from this experience so that I react in more peaceful ways in the future” would have sufficed. At best, Smith’s apology falls short in this regard. At worse, his “work in progress” comment sounds like another excuse. Letter Grade = C, Average.

Overall Grade = C, Average.

You might say I’m a tough grader, and you’d be right. I have a high standard for what trustworthy behavior looks like and what constitutes a good apology when one falls short of that mark. Assigning a grade of C is actually a pretty decent score in today’s world. Most public figures do a poor job of apologizing, so it doesn’t take much to stand apart from the crowd.

How would you grade Will Smith’s apology? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

The Fickle Nature of Good Character and Trust

The following article is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Brock Brown. Brock is a Channel Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies, an executive leadership coach, servant leader, and a man of integrity. I’m sure you’ll enjoy his wisdom about the intersection of character, trust, and ethics.


“HIRE FOR CHARACTER, TRAIN FOR COMPETENCE,” I have said it a thousand times. However, I have come to realize that people think very differently about a person’s good character, from how they define good character to how they determine a person is not of good character.

As I write this, the Canadian government is invoking the Emergencies Act to deal with people protesting Covid vaccine mandates. Last month the USA recognized one year since the January 6th, 2021, insurrection over the election. Many people of good character sit on both sides of these issues. If their choices are wrong, are they doomed to be never trusted again? To never achieve the label of “person of good character?” I hope not. Below are a series of commonly asked questions I receive when teaching our Values-Based Decision Making course where I discuss good character. Please join me as I walk through these thought provoking questions:

  1. What is character and how do we define it?
  2. If you have good character, how long does it take to lose it and how do you keep from losing it?
  3. If you lose it, will people ever trust you again? Can you get it back?
  4. If you don’t have good character, how long does it take to gain it?
  5. How do we test for good character in an interview in such a way that the answer can’t be faked?
  6. Is it possible to help our people develop good character or do we simply accept that if they don’t have good character by adulthood, they never will?

I have been in the full-time work force for over 45 years and have come to realize that we are “human beings, not perfect beings.” We are all prone to make mistakes or bad decisions, especially when we are under pressure. We are prone to make bad, and sometimes unethical judgements when there is greater pressure to “get’er done,” versus to get things done ethically, safely, or legally. I have seen the status of being “a person of good character” wiped away in a split second with a bad decision, resulting in years of penance before the good-character status is achieved again and sometimes it never is.

In 25 years of consulting, I have asked over fifteen thousand people the following question: In the workplace, do you receive more pressure to get things done no matter what it takes, or to get things done correctly (ethically, safely, legally)? In other words, do your supervisors demonstrate that they care more about your results, or about your results delivered through good character-based decisions? Overwhelmingly, people identified that they received more pressure to focus on results versus on results achieved using good character-based decisions. It is why so many employees describe their company’s values on the wall as “pious words of intent.” I come from an industry that espouses the importance of safety, but also has a commonly used saying: “get’er done.” That saying has led to more employee deaths and injury than I care to imagine. I know this because I led the investigation on some of them.

So, let’s take a crack at answering the above questions and see if we can draw some conclusions about good character.

1. What is good character and how do we define it?

The great basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” With all respect to coach Wooden, the trouble with this standard is: if no one is looking, how do we know? I tend to follow the character standard of the great ethicist Michael Josephson who said, “The real test of character is if you are willing to do the right thing even though it may cost you more than you want to pay.” Doing the right thing can be seen as too broad. However, the decisions we make as leaders, executives and people in general, are often complex and don’t fit in a right-versus-wrong box. It’s what makes being human so challenging sometimes. Doing the right thing often involves executing on such core values as integrity, loyalty, honesty, courage and fortitude. Some people would call these virtues and they are. However, I refer to them as moral values. As the great ethicist Dr. Larry Axline said, “Moral values in action is ethics.” I have discovered throughout my career that one’s character is rarely tested by making the right choice but more by what you do when someone points out that you’ve made the wrong choice and everyone is watching. Arguably, I correlate being trustworthy to good character. I believe people pin the label of “good character” on a person they trust and the label of “questionable character” on someone they do not trust or who they no longer trust.

2. If you have good character, how long does it take to lose it and how do you keep from losing it?

If you have good character, people will give you what I call character-based trust. They will trust your word. If you say you will do something, they don’t have a second thought about you doing it because they know and accept it will be done. That trust can be lost slowly over time or in a split second. I have witnessed, time and time again, people demonstrating what I call “stepping to the left” by using a myriad of rationalizations such as “no one will ever know” or “just this once” or “it’s only a little white lie.” I have seen this cause people to slowly lose the trust of others to the point where no one trusts the individual at all. I have seen leaders slowly erode their team’s trust by regularly showing up to their own meetings late with lame excuses. It’s as if you start a relationship with a pocket full of trust credits given by people who trust you (see my cynicism comments in section #4 below for those who don’t) and every time you rationalize a bad decision you lose a trust credit with others, until you reach the point where all the credits are gone.

However, I have also seen someone lose all their trust credits at once. Something done or said due to substance abuse, succumbing to a bribe or fraud when finances are tight, or erupting under pressure and tearing down another human being can all lead to a complete loss of trust credits.
As human beings, not perfect beings, I think we are all bound to lose some, or all, of the trust credits given to us by others at some point in our relationships. But there are things you can do to hold yourself in check, such as:

  • Set Your Compass: Define and publish your personal core values for all to see, then commit to letting them guide your behavior and decisions, no matter what.
  • Set Your Boundaries: Ask someone (or a group) to be your truthteller and always hold you accountable to your values and point out when they believe you have contravened one or more of your values. This usually takes a special person who sees you regularly in your element and has the courage to call you out. Of note, my oldest daughter, from a very young age, had no trouble pointing out when I strayed from my values.
  • Engage Your Leadership: When held to account by your truthteller on your values, you need to be willing to thank them for their courage, explain your reasoning or admit any mistakes, apologize to those affected and, if wrong, change or correct your decision.

I still find it amazing how many senior leaders consider themselves perfect beings and are unwilling to admit they are wrong, for fear that others will lose confidence in them. The fact is, the opposite is true. When leaders admit mistakes (I mean, everyone knows you’ve made a mistake already), they garner greater trust from others. Mind you, it the leader is constantly making mistakes, one may also need to consider leader competence, but I will save that discussion for another article. I have found that people don’t expect leaders to be perfect. They are expected to be honest, willing to admit when they are wrong and correct the issue.

It may be important to stop and discuss two other types of trust not covered in this paper. Competency-based trust is when others trust that you have the skill to do the work. Often companies have hired based on competence alone only to discover the individual’s character is wanting. Without some sort of development intervention, this can be a bad hire. Vulnerability-based trust, a term coined by Patrick Lencioni, is based upon the humble vulnerability one demonstrates with others on a team when one leaves everything on the table, warts and all. When achieved, it is often what catapults teams from merely competent to high performing teams and advanced organizational culture.

3. If you lose it, will people ever trust you again? Can you get it back?

When others pin the “lacks good character” button on you and have lost trust in you, they can be fickle in giving trust back and allowing you to regain your good-character status. I watched a colleague make a bad choice which was influenced by alcohol abuse. He ended up being demoted and losing the trust of his entire team and his boss, the CEO. I watched him go on the wagon, get sober, and pay his penance. It took five years for his boss and colleagues to truly demonstrate their trust in him. In my opinion, this trust could have been established more quickly. People can trust you again; however, it takes a high degree of humility and transparency. You need to discover, by asking them, what they need from you to regain their trust and then you need to execute on their answer. You need to give them time.

I use a Marshal Goldsmith Stakeholder Coaching process that asks for feedback and feed forward on behaviour(s) monthly. Performance change and trust can be measured using a quick mini survey. If a leader I am coaching had lost the trust of their team, we would ask the team what it would take to earn their trust again, set an aligned behaviour goal to achieve that, then ask affected stakeholders to provide feedback on the behaviour monthly by identifying what worked, what did not, and what the leader needs to do in the next 30 days. This process would occur in 30-day intervals over a 9-12 month period with interim mini-surveys focused on the behaviour and completed by the stakeholders. The survey measures improvement. My colleague referenced above didn’t ask others what was needed and didn’t ask for regular feedback. He put his own plan in place. I’m assuming that is why it took so long.

I was asked to do a presentation to an executive leadership team on values-based leadership. This was a team that had published values (the posters were everywhere) and professed to be a “values-based company.” Early in the presentation, I asked the executives if I could test how values-based they were. I had taken the liberty of taking down the values poster in the room before my presentation. I asked each executive to pull out a piece of paper and write down their company’s core values in order without reference to any other document, poster, etc. Out of seven people, the only person who wrote anything down was the CEO. He got the first value correct and then nothing after that. My comment to them was, “If you profess to be values-led, that means you know what the values are and use them in your dialogue daily. If you are the leader who had the values poster put up and you don’t know the values, I will guarantee that your teams think your values are pious words of intent and think you are untrustworthy.”

My message was not well received. One VP told me I was full of s@#t. My response was “maybe” and I challenged him to go find the answer. That same VP phoned me three days later and told me he tested my theory. He went to his three-person team, two of whom had worked for him for 12+ years and followed him to this company. He told me he asked them in their Monday team meeting if they trusted him. He said he got two no’s and one weak yes. He then asked them why they didn’t trust him. They said, “We like you, you are a nice guy, but you are always shooting off in different directions, not keeping us informed or telling us what you are doing and why”.” They said, “It’s like you totally disregard our core value of people.” I told the executive about the Marshal Goldsmith coaching method, asked him what trusted behavior would look like and suggested he ask his team and set a goal. Nine months later, he phoned me and said he now has three strong yeses to the question “Do you trust me?”

When you’ve lost trust and people believe your character is left wanting, they can trust you again: it just takes humility and involving them as stakeholders in the process of regaining their trust. It takes time.

4. If you don’t have good character, how long does it take to gain it?

There are two parts to this answer. One part reflects your behavior, and the other reflects the level of cynicism of the person who is issuing you trust credits. Cynics tend to doubt that people do anything from a position of character, but rather that people are motivated solely by self-interest. Their cynicism is often a reflection of their experience. A cynic, for example may not believe that a leader cares about the success of their team members, but only feigns caring so the leader themselves can succeed. We need to be careful not to judge a cynic too harshly. A participant in our Values-Based Decision-Making course completed a Cynicism Quotient Assessment which revealed he had a high level of cynicism. He informed his team that, in his previous employment, he was a midlevel manager for Enron and lost his pension due to their fraudulent misdeeds. Telling him he shouldn’t be so cynical would do no good. We had to prove ourselves trustworthy to permit him to let go of his cynicism in a timely manner.

To be a person of good character requires acting consistently with integrity, being truthful, loyal, honest, fair and forthright, having courage and being kind. People look for these traits to identify good character. People of good character admit mistakes, correct them, and move on. When people witness this, they tend to think of you as trustworthy and a person of good character. However, everyone comes with their own baggage. I always tell the leaders I am coaching that they must demonstrate trustworthiness consistently before people will trust them. Some people will take longer than others to deem them trustworthy and of good character and issue them the full load of trust credits. Some associates have been abused by previous leaders and will take time to trust again. This is true for many of our relationships, not just the working ones. Just because you are acting trustworthy with good character, doesn’t mean you will be trusted and deemed of good character by others right away. Be patient. There are those who may never issue trust credits and will carry their cynicism to the grave. I coach leaders to allow such cynicism to be an accountability yard stick for a period. However, if it stays too long without reason based on your relationship with them, it becomes a poison that must be removed from the relationship and/or organization.

5. How do we test for good character in an interview in such a way that the answer can’t be faked?

Is there a high enough percentage of “people of good character” in the population that it is even worthwhile testing for in an interview? I have read that putting your grocery cart back in the corral is a test of character. My experience would say that eliminates about 35% of the population. I have heard that sticking to your commitments is a sign of good character. Statistically, that eliminates about 52% of people in first-time domestic partnerships. However, this doesn’t mean we should only look for employees who are single and don’t go shopping.

When interviewing new employees for a software company I cofounded, we would ask the candidates to bring their personal core values to the second interview. If they did not have defined personal core values, we had them go to the free website http://www.EthicsTool.com and use the core values tool to aid them in creating, defining, and prioritizing their core values. We would then ask a series of behaviour-based questions around the candidate’s core values: asking them to illustrate how the values impacted various decisions they had made or how the values would help them solve a case study we presented them with. We also asked them to tell us how our published corporate values aligned (or not) with their personal values. We asked them to describe what it would look like when their personal core values came alive in our organization. With these “values deep-dives,” we always caught those who were just giving us good-character lip service.

6. Is it possible to help our people develop good character or do we simply accept that if they don’t have good character by adulthood, they never will?

Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to meet a man who modelled good character on a regular basis. It was then I realized that good character was a trait I generally lacked but wanted to pursue. It has been a life journey ever since.

I think we need to give ourselves and our colleagues a break. I think the status of good character is a journey we undertake and then oscillate between achieving and not achieving. Please don’t get me wrong, however; when we demonstrate something less than good character, there need to be consequences. Sometimes those consequences will be fair and uncomfortable, and sometimes they will be fair and catastrophic. When consulting to executive teams on team chartering, I coach them to consider the termination of a team member who violates team confidentiality. If the team member stays, the organization may not be able to afford the consequences of that person not having team trust while they are trying to recover it. Lack of trust amongst the executive team has a compounding negative ripple effect on the organization.

Over the years, I have come to accept that when accountability is doled out, there will be times the relationship severs. However, there are also times when we need to allow a person to reclaim good-character status with their actions and earn our trust credits back, rather than block them from ever achieving our trust again. Time and time again I have seen professional organizations place unbearable pressure on individuals to achieve financial/performance results while giving lip service to values and ethics, then display shock when the individual cuts corners to achieve the results. It is why we need to consider one’s intentions when we consider accountability. I tell my customers that malicious intent needs to be dealt with harshly; however, sometimes people have good intent (i.e., to help the organization succeed), but execute by doing the wrong thing. This type of misstep needs to be handled with compassion.

I have been running a survey for the past four months with two questions on it:

1. Have you ever witnessed someone make an ethically questionable decision?
a. Yes – 88%
b. No – 12%

2. Have you ever made an ethically questionable decision?
a. Yes – 87%
b. No – 13%

If these statistics represent the general population and if the standard of “once they’ve lost my trust, they will never regain it” is the benchmark or if regaining trust takes five years, then the likelihood of ever achieving high-trust teams, relationships or organizational culture is sadly out of reach.

I think we make too many assumptions about what people know and don’t know about good character: about acting with integrity, being truthful, loyal, honest, fair, and forthright, having courage and being kind. Sometimes people have not been taught this or had a chance to see this modeled in others. Sometimes the opposite modeling has been their experience. We need to help people explore their character and determine who they want to be through defining their personal values, and set up personal systems of accountability and trust. For some, any adjustments might be minimal; for others, they will be life changing.

Early in my career, I took such training from that very person who modelled good character for me and eventually became a mentor. For me it was life changing. So much so that I developed and offer a course called Values-Based Decision Making (VBDM). The course walks leaders through a deep dive into not only their personal character but also, if applicable, the character of their organizational culture and allows them to measure the discrepancy between desired versus actual character.

Taking such training was life changing for me and the thousands of others around the world who have taken Values-Based Decision Making training. I have a drawer full of emails that attest to this. People of literally every gender, race, and heritage can, with this training, envision the person they want to be versus the person they have become. We have witnessed individual and organizational character grow and flourish, leading to amazing relationships and success. Relationships based upon being human beings, not perfect beings. In other words, people of good character are still going to screw up at times in their lives. They will lose and gain trust credits. They simply need to keep a clear vision on their values compass and surround themselves with people who will hold them accountable. Our Values-Based Decision Making course helps individuals and organizations do just that.

I want to hire and be surrounded by people of good character, as I’m sure many of you do as well. It is possible but needs to be viewed through an understanding that good character, and the trust that goes with it, is more a journey than a destination.

Brock Brown, MA, CPHR, SCC Certified Coach
Servant Leader
Integrity Consulting Services Ltd.

Brock Brown is an Executive/Leadership Coach who has worked with leaders throughout North America, Latin America, Australia, Africa, Asia the UK and EU., to create best practice, successful, ethical cultures focused on leading through values and organizational clarity.

Brock can be reached at:
brock@ethics1.ca, or 1-403-350-5648

www.integrityconsulting.ca
www.valuesbasedlearning.com
www.EthicsTool.com

It’s Time to Turn Your Leadership Inside Out and Upside Down

Life has been turned inside out and upside down the last few years, hasn’t it?

Political and social unrest, a global pandemic, a massive shift to remote work, record levels of low trust in institutions, supply chain bottlenecks, the Great Resignation, rising inflation, and now war in Ukraine, are just a few of the challenges affecting us in one way or another. We live in a topsy turvy world.

You may not want to hear this, but your leadership needs to be turned inside out and upside down, too.

What do I mean by that? I mean you can’t approach today’s leadership challenges with yesterday’s solutions. The tired and worn command and control style of leadership doesn’t work in today’s fast paced workplace. Leaders must be nimble, move quickly, and develop empowered teams who take ownership of their own work. Nor do today’s employees want to be told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. They want leaders who partner with them in a side-by-side fashion, they want autonomy without abandonment, and they want to work with people and organizations who serve a greater purpose than the almighty dollar.

Inside Out Leadership

In our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, Ken Blanchard and I argue that leadership is an inside-out proposition. It starts with a leader’s heart, their character and intention. Are you here to serve or be served? That’s the most important question every leader needs to answer.

The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self-interest that views the world with an attitude of “give a little, take a lot.” Self-serving leaders put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are impacted by the leaders’ thoughts and actions. If leaders don’t get their heart right, they will never become servant leaders.

Upside Down Leadership

Simple Truth #3 from our book captures what it means to turn your leadership upside down:

Servant leaders turn the traditional pyramid upside down.

Command and control leadership loves the traditional hierarchical pyramid because it seems to make everything clean, simple, and easy. The leader is at the top and gets to issue commands to everyone further down the pyramid. What’s wrong with that? The minute you think you work for the person above you, you assume that person—your boss—is responsible and your job is to be responsive to your boss’s whims or wishes.

“Boss watching” can become a popular sport where people get promoted based on their upward-influencing skills. As a result, all the energy of the organization moves up the hierarchy, away from customers and the frontline folks who are closest to the action.

Servant leaders know how to correct this situation by philosophically turning the pyramid upside down. Customer contact people and the customers are at the top of the organization, and everyone in the leadership hierarchy works for them. This one change makes a major difference in who is responsible and who is responsive.

I believe that trusted servant leaders are the answer to today’s challenges. People are looking for deeper purpose and meaning as a way to meet the rapid changes happening in their lives. They are also looking for leaders they can trust and believe in—leaders whose focus is on serving the greater good.

You can be that leader! But, first you need to turn your leadership inside out—get your heart right and the actions will follow. Then, turn your leadership upside down—flip the organizational pyramid and start serving your people instead of them serving you.

How to Talk About Your Crummy Ex-Employer in a Job Interview

My colleague, Madeleine Blanchard, writes a regular column for the LeaderChat blog titled, “Ask Madeleine.” She responds to questions from readers who are facing some sort of leadership/organizational-related predicament, and offers sound perspective based on her expertise as a master certified business coach. Mad is a legend in the business coaching community and one of the most thoughtful people I know.

I thought the Leading with Trust community would enjoy her recent article, not because it references me, but because it addresses a topic that many people are faced with as they seek new employment. Enjoy the following article and be sure to check out Mad’s work on LeaderChat.


Dear Madeleine,

If relationships fail and one decides to pivot away from a toxic organization or situation, what is the best way to tell that story in a job interview?      

For example, I may be asked “Why did you leave that company?” My true feeling is it was all about the toxic culture. The objective truth might be more likely that I failed—ran out of patience, failed to make breakthroughs in those relationships, etc. Ultimately, it was a personal decision to leave based on my mental, emotional, and professional health and career choice. 

What do you think?

Preparing for My Next Step

______________________________________________________________________

Dear Preparing for My Next Step,

First, congratulations for having the guts to jump ship. So many just suck it up and stay miserable. It takes real courage to recognize an intractable situation and do what is needed to take care of yourself.

I consulted our Trust expert and coauthor of the just-published book Simple Truths of Leadership (with Ken Blanchard), Randy Conley, on this one. He says:

“I’d encourage you to be honest in a respectful way that doesn’t disparage your former employer or boss. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and have heard the good, bad, and ugly from people sharing reasons for leaving a past employer. The people who impressed me the most have been those whose integrity shined through in the way they explained their departure.

“A good way to get the message across is by using ‘I’ language to take ownership of your decision to leave, while clearly and diplomatically explaining that there was a misalignment between your values and theirs or the culture didn’t provide the type of environment in which you could flourish.

“Yours is a very common reason why people leave jobs, so I wouldn’t get too self-conscious about discussing it in a respectful and professional manner. Remember, your response shapes your reputation.”

I really can’t say it better than that. The only thing I would add is that it might be a good idea to prepare in advance some brief concise remarks about what you are looking for in the culture of your next job. Also, maybe add a little more detail about what you learned about yourself from the experience and what you might do differently in the future should you run into a similar bind. Your last gig made you hyper aware of what you don’t want, so how exactly can you use that experience to define what you do want? And if you are ready to own your part in having to leave, how might you apply that knowledge to build stronger relationships in your next job?

That will keep things on a lighter note—a positive vision of the future is always attractive. And you are ready for the inevitable behavioral interview question: “How might you deal with a perceived lack of values alignment in the future?” It will also assist your interviewer in assessing culture fit for your next potential opportunities.

Both Randy and I wish you the best of luck finding the exact right spot for your next career chapter.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

4 Tips for Being a Trusted Servant Leader in a Toxic Culture

“How do you practice servant leadership and build trust in a toxic culture where servant leadership isn’t valued, and can even be looked upon as being a weakness?”

That was the question I received in a recent training class I conducted, and unfortunately, it’s a common one. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of high-trust and servant leader-led cultures (see here, here, and here), many still view it as being a “soft” management style or “letting the inmates run the prison” (which, by the way, isn’t that a telling metaphor for today’s workplace?!).

There isn’t a single, magic solution you can implement to address this challenge. Believe me, if there was, I’d be selling it door-to-door. However, there are some commonsense principles you can apply to help you influence your organization for the better. Here are four things to consider:

1. Be the trust you want to see in the world. Ok, I borrowed and modified the famous saying attributed to Ghandi—”Be the change you want to see in the world”—but you get the idea. All organizational culture change starts with one person. In cases involving trust, someone has to make the first move to extend trust to others. Until that happens, trust can’t grow. If you want your organization’s culture to be more trustworthy, you be more trustworthy. Don’t underestimate the influence you can have on others.

2. Build a coalition. The first coalition to build is with your team. Work with your people to create a high-trust, service-minded culture that sets itself apart from all the other teams in your organization. There’s nothing like creating a winning team that causes others in the organization to say, “Wow, look what they’re doing! How come my team isn’t performing that way?” Once your team becomes living proof of the benefits of servant leadership, start sharing your learnings with other open-minded leaders.

3. Practice shuttle diplomacy. If you’re not familiar with the term, shuttle diplomacy is when a third-party acts as the mediator or conduit between two other parties who are reluctant to hold direct discussions. If you’re faced with senior leaders who aren’t sold on the idea of servant leadership, it can be helpful to enlist the advocacy of a third-party who is trusted and respected by those senior leaders. If you struggle with gaining credibility of senior leaders, gain the confidence and support of individuals who already have that credibility and get them to lobby on your behalf. Yes, it can be tiring and frustrating to influence indirectly, but sometimes it’s a reality of organizational politics. By the way, organizational politics is really just “relationship management.” Rather than thinking of it in negative terms, think of it as a necessary strategy for navigating organizational life.

4. Choose your playground. Remember what it was like as a kid playing on the playground at school or at the park? Sometimes there would be a group of kids that “didn’t play well with others,” and after trying to gain their friendship for a period of time and failing, we’d move to another playground and find a crowd that was more welcoming. In a sense, many workplaces are just adult playgrounds and that dynamic still exists. Some people “don’t play well with others” and aren’t open to changing their ways or trying new things. If you’ve been giving your best effort to positively influence your organization and nothing is changing, you may need to consider finding a new playground. I’m not encouraging you to fire off a resignation email to your boss, but I am reminding you that you have a choice. Invest your time and energy where you feel it can have the greatest impact.

One of my favorite truths from my new book with Ken Blanchard, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, is

Simple Truth #32 – There’s no trust without us.

Trust is a team sport, not a solo endeavor. You can build a high-trust, servant leadership culture by modeling the kind of behavior you want to see, creating a winning team, and building a supportive network. If your efforts aren’t being rewarded, you may need to find a different audience who is more receptive to your message. But don’t lose heart! The world is in desperate need for leaders who put the needs of others ahead of their own and your efforts will eventually bear fruit.

You Can Lead…Believe It! (free book giveaway)

Leave a comment on this guest post by Jim Dittmar and John Stanko to be eligible for for one of three complimentary copies of their new book, “The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders.” Deadline for entry is February 22, 2022.

When you hear or see the word leader, do you think of yourself? Your initial reply to this question may be, “I’m not in a position of authority or supervision. How can I consider myself to be a leader?” Such a response is not uncommon. For some years, we have been taught to believe that leaders are people who have a title or position within an organization that speaks to any and all that they are a leader, such labels as manager, supervisor, vice president, and the like. Those without these titles are the “employees” or other organizational “representatives” whose responsibility, we are told, is to listen to the leaders (those with the position or title) and “do what they are told to do.” 

The truth is that anyone can assume leadership roles and responsibilities regardless of their title or position in an organization, and irrespective of the type of organization in which they work or with which they are associated. Leadership is not just about power or position, it’s about relationships. As our friend Ken Blanchard has said, “Leadership isn’t something we do to people but with people.” More specifically, leadership occurs when we engage others in an “influence relationship” that moves those individuals or groups toward the achievement of a particular goal or objective. In that context, leaders are the people who work to establish influence relationships because they know that’s the best way to lead.

In our book, The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders, the L stands for leadership. It may seem redundant to include the word leadership in a model spelled out by the acronym LEADERS, but when you stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense. Leadership starts with accepting the fact that you are a leader and the rest of the acronym that stands for ethics, alignment, decision making, engagement, resilience, and stewardship follow that acceptance. Those other six practices speak to the nature of your influence relationship with others, things that will enhance or undermine your effectiveness. When members of the team accept that they are leaders based on their skills, expertise and experience, regardless of title, then everyone is starting from the same admission: I am a leader.

Consider the effects of everyone accepting the fact that leadership flows through influence relationship. Leadership becomes the responsibility of everyone in the group or organization. It is not always up to the leader in the traditional sense to make sure that a particular task or goal is achieved. Everyone in the group or organization is responsible to establish positive, influential relationships with other individuals or groups so the organization’s mission can be fulfilled in a meaningful way. This type of leadership is empowering and transformational for all who are involved.

Accept the fact that you are a leader, regardless of where you stand on the traditional org chart. Then seek to cooperate with and establish influential leadership relationships with others without regard for hierarchy or protocol. When you do, “leadership” will happen, not because it’s mandated but because everyone is pulling in the same direction. When that happens, there’s no telling what good things will emerge as everyone answers the questions, “Am I a leader?” with a resounding, “Yes!”

For more than 30 years, Jim Dittmar has served in the field of leadership development as a practitioner, teacher, consultant, researcher, and author. He is the founder, president, and CEO of 3Rivers Leadership Institute. Prior to this, Jim was the founder and director of the Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program. He is the co-author of the recently released book, The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders

John W. Stanko is the founder of Urban Press, a publishing service designed to tell stories of the city, from the city and to the city. John is the author of 50 books, including The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders, which he co-authored with Jim Dittmar.

5 Commonsense but Uncommon Practices of Successful Leaders

Effective leadership is an influence process where leaders implement everyday, commonsense approaches that help people and organizations thrive. Yet somehow, many of these fundamental principles are still missing from most workplaces.

In our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, Ken Blanchard and I share fifty-two Simple Truths about leadership that will help leaders everywhere make commonsense leadership common practice.

The book covers a wide-ranging list of leadership skills certain to bring out the best in people. One of the things that make our approach different is the down-to-earth practicality of what we recommend. Instead of outcome or trait statements, the authors share leadership behaviors that get results.

How about you? What day-to-day leadership behaviors have made a big difference in your effectiveness as a leader?

Below are five examples of commonsense practices from our book. Are any of these on your list of simple leadership truths? Which of these have been powerful in your life as a leader? Which do you wish you would have learned earlier? What else would you include?

1. See Feedback as a Gift

Giving feedback to the boss doesn’t come naturally to most people, so getting honest feedback from your team members may be difficult. They may fear being the messenger bearing bad news, so they hesitate to be candid.

If you are lucky enough to receive feedback from one of your team members, remember—they’re giving you a gift. Limit yourself to three responses. Make sure the first thing you say is “Thank you!” Then follow up with “This is so helpful,” and “Is there anything else you think I should know?”

2. Help People Win

It’s hard for people to feel good about themselves if they are constantly falling short of their goals. That’s why it’s so important for you as a leader to do everything you can to help people win—accomplish their goals—by ensuring the following:

  • Make sure your people’s goals are clear, observable, and measurable.
  • As their leader, work together with your people to track progress.
  • When performance is going well or falling short of expectations, give them appropriate praising, redirecting, or coaching—or reexamine whether your leadership style matches the person’s development level on a specific goal.

3. Admit Your Mistakes

If you make a mistake, own it. Admit what you did, apologize if necessary, and then put a plan in place to not repeat the mistake. Here are some best practices you can follow:

  • Be prompt. Address the mistake as soon as possible. Delay can make it appear you’re trying to avoid or cover up the issue.
  • Accept responsibility. Own your behavior and any damage it caused.
  • Highlight the learning. Let your team know what you’ve learned and what you’ll do differently next time.
  • Be brief. Don’t over-apologize or beat yourself up. Mistakes happen.

4. Extend Trust

Many leaders are afraid to give up too much control for fear that something will come back to bite them. They think it isn’t worth the risk to give up control. Are you willing to give up control and trust others? If you struggle to relinquish control and trust others, start with baby steps:

  • Identify low-risk situations where you feel comfortable extending trust.
  • Assess a person’s trustworthiness by gauging their competence to handle the task, integrity to do the right thing, and commitment to follow through.
  • As you become more comfortable giving up control and learn that others can be trusted, extend more trust as situations allow.

5. Rebuild Trust When Broken

Leaders inevitably do something to erode trust—and when that happens, it’s good to have a process to follow to rebuild it. Trust can usually be restored if both parties are willing to work at it. If you have eroded trust in a relationship, follow this process to begin restoring it:

  • Acknowledge. The first step in restoring trust is to acknowledge there is a problem. Identify the cause of low trust and what behaviors you need to change.
  • Apologize. Take ownership of your role in eroding trust and express remorse for the harm it has caused.
  • Act. Commit to not repeating the behavior and act in a more trustworthy way in the future.

Interested in learning more? Join Ken and I for a special webinar on January 26 where we will be highlighting key concepts from our book. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies. Use this link to register.

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