Leading with Trust

10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Your Employees

Since this is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., I thought I’d re-share one of my most popular posts about how to build trust through the power of telling people “thank you.” Saying “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, here are ten amazingly simple ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In classic David Letterman, Late Night style…10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Employees:

10. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

9. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

7. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

6. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

5. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

4. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

3. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

2. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

…and the number one amazingly simple way to thank employees is…

1. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

How Does Your Presence Affect Team Members? 3 Questions to Ask

leadership presenceTension. Dread. Nervousness. Anxiety.

Early in my working career, those are feelings I experienced when I would meet with my manager. The feelings stemmed from a variety of factors. I didn’t think the manager had my best interests in mind, so I constantly felt on guard, like I had to defend my decisions, actions, or my direct reports. I also didn’t believe the manager had the competence to really understand how the business operated. It was difficult to accept her direction or support when I felt it wasn’t based on a true understanding of our present reality.

Regardless of the cause of those feelings, I left meetings with my manager worse off than when I arrived. That’s not a good place to be.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

If you’re a leader, flip the situation and personalize it to yourself. Are your people better off because of your presence? When your people interact with you, do they leave as a better version of themselves or a less capable one? It’s a sobering thought to consider. When I take the time to reflect on interactions with my team members, I try to ask myself the following three questions:

  1. Did I make them feel more trusted? In order to build trust with your team members, you must first extend trust. You can extend trust by giving the team member an opportunity to demonstrate competence. Give her room to recommend decisions and implement plans. Trust her integrity to do the right thing and to follow through on her commitments. Resist the urge to steer the employee to your way of thinking so she’ll do what you want her to do (that’s manipulation) or to micromanage her efforts. That will cause the employee to leave the interaction with you feeling less trusted, not more.
  2. Did I make them feel more valued? Everyone wants to know they are valued and accepted as individuals, regardless of their job title, position on the org chart, or the number of digits on their paycheck. You can make employees feel validated by expressing encouragement, listening to their input, incorporating their ideas into decisions, and giving a voice to their questions, concerns, and ideas. Don’t ignore, dismiss, or demean their contributions.
  3. Did I make them feel more powerful? Real, effective, and authentic leadership involves helping people discover and capitalize on their power. Weak and egotistical leadership is about robbing people of their power so they feel more dependent on leadership. It’s only by giving power away do you unlock your own leadership greatness. Sharing information, letting people make their own decisions, and giving team members opportunity to take on new challenges are among the many ways to move employees from powerless to powerful.

Much of how team members perceive us as leaders has to do with how we make them feel. That doesn’t mean our job as leaders is to hold hands with our team and sing Kumbaya, or to coddle and baby our people just so they feel good about our leadership. That’s just as bad as being the hard-nosed leader who has a slash and burn style with no regard to personal relationships. It takes a blend of being a competent and focused leader who also attends to the relational needs of the team. It’s balancing people and results.

A Better Boss or a Pay Raise? What Would YOUR Employees Choose?

Ask yourself this question: If I gave my employees a choice between receiving a pay raise or me becoming a better boss, which would they choose?

Chances are you’d probably say your employees would choose a pay raise, right? I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want more money? Taking a few liberties with the classic song Money by Barrett Strong, your employees are probably saying “Your leadership gives me such a thrill, but your leadership don’t pay my bills, I need money!”

Getting a pay raise would be an immediately tangible reward that everyone could literally take to the bank. Besides, it’s not like you need any dramatic improvement as a boss, right? Sure, you may not be the greatest leader in the world, but there’s a whole lot of bosses plenty worse than you. Your people would definitely choose a pay raise, you say.

Well, you’d be wrong. One study showed that 65% of Americans would choose a better boss over a pay raise. How do you like them apples?

In many of our training courses we do a “best boss” exercise. We ask participants to share the characteristics of the person who was their best boss, and as you can see from the list below, many of these traits are ones you can develop and master with just a bit of effort and focus.

My best boss…

  • Was trustworthy—Often mentioned as the foundation of what makes a best boss, being trustworthy is paramount to being an effective leader. Research has shown that employees who have high levels of trust in their boss are more productive, engaged, innovative, creative, and contribute more to the organization’s bottom-line. Click here to learn more about how to build trust as a leader.
  • Believed in me—Best bosses believe in the capabilities and potential of their people. Through their words and actions they communicate a sincere faith in their employees that builds the confidence of their team members to go above and beyond expectations.
  • Showed respect—No one likes to be talked down to or treated as “less than.” Best bosses recognize the inherent worth each person possesses and they seek to build people up, not tear them down.
  • Listened to me—Being a good listener is one of the most powerful, yet underrated leadership skills. Good listeners don’t interrupt, ask clarifying questions, summarize what they’ve heard, probe for deeper understanding, and also pay attention to what’s not being said in the conversation. Check out The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening for more tips.
  • Helped me grow—People want leaders who are invested in helping them grow in their jobs and careers. Best bosses understand that leadership is not about them; it’s about the people they serve. As such, they are committed to helping their team members grow in their careers, even if that means the employee ultimately leaves the team or organization for better opportunities.
  • Had my back—Participants in our classes often say their best boss was always in their corner, or had their back. There are times in organizational life where the boss needs to step up and defend the needs or interests of his/her team. Supporting your employees doesn’t mean blindly defending them regardless of the circumstances, but it does mean you always have their best interests at heart and are committed to putting that belief into practice.
  • Gave feedback in a way I could hear it—I’ve learned in my career that people really do want, and deserve, honest feedback about their performance. The trick is to deliver feedback in a way the person on the receiving end can hear it without becoming defensive, internalize it, and take positive action moving forward. Here is a way to give feedback that builds trust in a relationship.
  • Cared about me as a person—It’s a cliché but it’s true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent boss around, but if your people don’t feel you truly care about them as humans, then they will withhold their trust and commitment from you.
  • Adjusted their leadership style to my needs—The best bosses know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to leadership. Each team member can be at different development levels in their goals and tasks, so the leader needs to adjust his/her leadership style to meet the needs of the employee. Managers need to learn to become situational leaders.
  • Gave me autonomy—No one likes to be micro-managed. Helicoptering over your employees and telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, creates a sense of learned helplessness. It erodes the morale and motivation of employees and leads to them developing a “quit but stay” mentality. Best bosses make sure their team members have been given the proper training and have the best resources and tools needed to do their jobs. Then the manager steps out of the way and lets their team do their thing, while providing any needed support and direction along the way.

Unfortunately, too many leaders are unwilling to admit they could use a bit of improvement, and too many organizations tolerate poor managerial performance (free whitepaper: 7 Ways Poor Managers Are Costing Your Company Money). But as you can see from this list, becoming a best boss isn’t rocket science. It’s within the grasp of any leader who is willing to put in a bit of work to improve his/her craft.

A Question From Simon Sinek: Are You Playing a Finite or Infinite Game?

In January 1968, the North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns in the Vietnam War. In every single battle, the American-led forces and the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam defeated their enemies, leading to heavy casualties for the North. In the ensuing months there were several “Mini Tet” offensives launched, and each one ended the same way—defeat. The North lost over 100,000 soldiers during the January to August time-frame.

In the Vietnam War, the United States won every single battle but lost the war. Why?

North Vietnam was playing the infinite game. Their goal was to outlast the enemy, not defeat them.

Finite games have winners and losers. The rules of the game are known to both sides, the boundaries of the playing field are well-defined, the scoreboard keeps track of the game’s activity, and at the end of a prescribed period of time, a winner is declared. It’s neat. It’s clean. Someone wins, someone loses.

Infinite games have no winners or losers. Rules often don’t exist, and if they do, they are fuzzy and open to interpretation. The playing field is undefined and progress is hard to measure. Opponents change frequently, as does the game itself. There are no clear winners or losers in the infinite game. Competitors drop out of the infinite game when they lose the will or resources to stop playing. The goal is to outlast your competition.

Simon Sinek introduced this concept in his keynote address at our recent Blanchard Summit. In the VUCA  (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world in which we live, the most successful leaders and organization are learning to play the infinite game, not the finite one. The “game” of leadership and business is an infinite game where the rules change frequently, competitors come and go, and there is no end point to the game. You are either ahead or behind. There is no ultimate winner or loser. The infinite game continues indefinitely until someone loses the will or resources to keep playing.

Resources are well understood. Money, intellectual property, people, technology, etc. We have to have the capital we need to run a business. But what about will? Sinek shared five must-have components of will if we are to succeed in the infinite game:

1. Just cause—More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up.

2. Courageous leadership—Playing the infinite game requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. They are willing to stand up to the pressures of the Board, Wall Street, or popular sentiment, and stay true to their cause. This struggle is often too great for a single person to tackle alone, so it requires all the leaders of the organization to band together and act in alignment.

3. Vulnerable team—Sinek says being a vulnerable team doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for everyone to walk around crying. It means you’ve invested the time and energy to build a culture in your organization where people feel safe to be themselves. They can admit they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. They can take appropriate risks without fear of retribution or retaliation. If you’re people don’t feel safe, that is your fault, not theirs.

4. Worthy adversary—In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our products, services, marketing, etc., but in the infinite game we are constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfill our just cause.

5. Open playbook—Too many organizations pursue a variable cause with a fixed strategy, Sinek theorizes, rather than pursuing a fixed cause with a variable strategy. Having an open playbook means leaders and organizations are willing to have flexible strategies and plans that change as needed to pursue their just cause. An open playbook also means you are transparent with your strategies, so all members of the team can literally be on the same page. Leaders resist being too transparent with information because they fear losing control. They distrust how people will use that information so they hold it close to the vest. That only results in people making sub-optimal decisions because they don’t know all the plays in the playbook.

You can win every battle but still lose the war. The goal is not to beat your competition; the goal is to outlast them.

So what does it mean to play the infinite game as a leader? It means you leave something behind that outlasts your finite presence or contributions. An infinite leader builds a culture so strong, that when the leader is no longer there, the culture lives on. Infinite leaders commit to their just cause. The work produced by striving for that just cause has the indelible fingerprints of the leader, and lasts far beyond the time of the leader’s tenure.

So ask yourself: Are you playing the finite or infinite game?

%d bloggers like this: