Leading with Trust

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

I miss baseball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Important Things to Contemplate During These Uncertain Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you given much thought to how you will be remembered as a leader after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed? If you’ve been fortunate enough to not be laid off or furloughed, you’ve probably spent the last several weeks just trying to keep your organization afloat. Meeting the needs of customers, your employees, and even figuring out how to deliver your product or service in this new environment has been consuming your time and attention. It’s understandable that you haven’t had much time for introspective thinking.

Photo Credit: Laurenz Kleinheider

However, I’d like to suggest that taking a little bit of time to think about the legacy you want to leave as a leader would be helpful in directing your leadership behavior today. Use these four questions to evaluate your leadership in recent weeks:

  1. Am I walking the talk? This question forces you to evaluate your behavior in light of your personal values. Are your actions aligning with what you espouse to be most valuable to you? Would your team members describe your behavior as consistent and true with your character, or has the pressure of recent weeks forced you to behave in ways unlike yourself? Are your decisions in alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, and values? Your organization probably champions that “people are their most valuable asset” or that you operate with “integrity, trust, ethics” or something to that effect. Well, do you? I’m sure this crisis has afforded you plenty of opportunities to put your vision, mission, and values to the test. Are you walking the talk?
  1. Am I treating people with kindness, empathy, and respect? When tensions are high and the heat is on, it’s easy to resort to authoritarian styles of leadership and just bowl people over without regard to their mental and emotional needs. This pandemic is wreaking havoc around the globe and people are being affected in ways that span the spectrum of personal impact. For some, sheltering in place has been a minor inconvenience. The worst of their problems is trying to find where they can buy toilet paper. For others, they’ve been infected with the virus, have loved ones who are sick, or maybe even suffered the tragedy of death in their families. For those more severely impacted, work has been the least of their worries. Are you treating people with sensitivity and kindness? Are you empathetic to how their world has been turned upside down? I’m not negating your feelings or the impact you’ve suffered as a result of COVID-19. However, as a leader, your job is to take care of your team members. Your needs must come second to theirs.
  1. Am I leading with humble confidence? It may seem that humility and confidence are polar opposites. Actually, I think they are two sides of the same coin. Humble leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They know what they know, and they also know what they don’t know. Because of that self-awareness, they can confidently lead in their areas of expertise and are smart enough, and humble enough, to surround themselves with people who bring complementary skills and abilities. This pandemic has caused me to relearn the importance of holding my assumptions about the future lightly. None of us knows exactly how this pandemic will shape the future, and frankly, I’ve been turned off by prominent individuals who make such claims. Are you confidently leading with humility and admitting what you don’t know about the future, or are you trying to “fake until you make it” by acting as if you’ve got it all figured out?
  1. Am I keeping it real, yet leading with faith and resilience? In recent days I’ve been reminded of the experiences of Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. During his eight-year imprisonment from 1965-1973, Stockdale was tortured over 20 times, yet all the while he shouldered the responsibility of leading the other prisoners in captivity. He created covert systems of communication among the prisoners and devised a way to share secret intelligence information through handwritten letters to his wife. As recounted by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, Stockdale described the importance of balancing reality with resilience. He said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Are you being open and transparent with your team about the harsh realities your organization is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, why? Your people are big boys and girls. They can handle the truth. If you are sharing the harsh reality, are you also conveying hope and optimism that the organization will persevere and do everything possible to not only survive the pandemic, but emerge stronger and better because of it?

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

10 Powerful Ways to Build Trust

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

4 Critical Needs of Employees During Coronavirus Lockdown

4 Basic Human Needs for Engagement

Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote

Now, more than ever, people need leaders to step up and lead from the heart.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down, and people are looking to their leaders for direction on how to move forward when it seems like life has ground to a halt. Sheltering in place and social distancing may be effective strategies for slowing the spread of coronavirus, but they can be recipes for disaster by creating isolation, fear, and loneliness. Millions of workers have been told to work remotely, often with little training on how to do so effectively. That leads to a loss of productivity, frustration, low morale, and disengagement.

In order to be fully engaged and bring our best selves to work, there are four basic human needs that must be met. Meeting these needs has become even more critically important during this time of uncertainty and change, and if we lose sight of them, we run the risk of losing our best people.

In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.

The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.

The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.

The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.

These four needs – trust, hope, sense of worth, and competence – aren’t just needed during the coronavirus lockdown. They’re needed each and every day. Unfortunately, too many people show up to work each day and check their expectation for these needs at the door. They don’t think of work as a place where they should experience fulfillment. Isn’t that sad? If there is one good thing to come out of this global pandemic, I hope it’s the renewed focus that leaders have on the value of their people. Most business leaders spout the cliche that “people are our most valuable asset.” Well, now is the time to put the money where your mouth is. What are you doing to meet these basic human needs of employees during this unprecedented time?

4 Areas to Address in Your Coronavirus Working Virtually Strategy

pexels-photo-3786763

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The desire to contain the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus has led many organizations to require their employees to work from home. For some, working virtually isn’t a big change. Many workers are already accustomed to working remotely on an intermittent or regular basis. It’s been reported that 43% of Americans work from home occasionally and at least 5.2% (8 million people) work from home full-time.

However, there’s a big difference between occasionally working from your kitchen table and setting up shop in your home for an extended period of time (or permanently).

Before you pull the trigger on sending your team members home to work virtually, I suggest you formulate a thoughtful strategy. Having led and been a part of virtual teams for many years, I can testify that working from home is not a panacea. It has its advantages compared to life in a cubicle, but it has its own unique challenges as well.

Incorporate these four areas in your strategy to have team members work virtually:

Clarity—Your team needs clear direction about the expectations and responsibilities of working remotely. Questions or topics to address include: Will team members be expected to maintain specific “office” hours? Does there need to be a different process for securing a backup if someone needs to be away from their desk or has a personal appointment? What technology platforms will you use, and when, to replace face-to-face meetings? If webcams are required for meetings, will be people be allowed to opt-out because they’re having a “bad hair day” (when, likely, they just didn’t feel like changing out of their pajamas)? Are there norms established that govern how the team makes decisions, communicates, and collaborates? Don’t assume the implicit expectations of a few team members working from home occasionally are explicitly known by everyone and that they apply to having the entire team function virtually.

Communication—Effective communication is the key to working successfully in a virtual team and of primary importance is establishing trust among team members. Trust is built through interpersonal interactions, and unfortunately, working virtually reduces the amount of interpersonal connection we experience compared to working in the office. We lose the random encounters in the hallway, break room, or at the water cooler that are so important in fostering personal connection. We also lose the visual cues provided by body language that place a person’s communications in context. The reliance upon email and IM in the virtual world easily leads to misinterpreting a person’s intent, usually in a negative fashion, so be proactive about using the phone and webcams to make communications more personal. Stay disciplined about holding one-on-one and team meetings to bring people together to combat loneliness and foster a sense of team identity.

Community—There are many benefits to working remotely. Included are increased productivity, a greater sense of autonomy and control over one’s work, and better work-life balance. But it comes at a cost—isolation and loneliness. Any veteran remote worker will tell you that loneliness is a frequent visitor to their home office and intentional effort is required to prevent that visitor from settling in permanently. Remote workers need to be proactive about reaching out to other team members to connect socially, even to just chit-chat for a few minutes. It’s also important for team leaders to create opportunities for team members to bond. Strategies can include having a virtual team lunch via webcam, have team members share pictures of their pets, or give virtual tours of their home offices. Shifting employees to work virtually, either temporarily in response to the coronavirus, or permanently as part of a larger strategy, requires leaders to increase the amount of training they provide the team. Whether it’s specific training on how to lead or work in a virtual team, or general leadership and other skill-building training, remote employees should not be treated differently from office-based team members. The out of sight, out of mind pitfall often befalls virtual workers, thereby limiting their personal development and advancement opportunities. Virtual workers must advocate for themselves and need their leaders to champion their efforts in being included in the broader organizational community.

Shifting employees to working virtually requires leaders to increase the amount of training they provide the team.

Care—Virtual workers need to take the lead in self-care if they are going to be successful over the long haul. In addition to the challenges of isolation and loneliness, virtual workers often end up working longer hours because work is ever present. It’s hard to resist the temptation of sending just one more email, writing a few more lines of code, putting the finishing touches on that critical presentation, or doing just a bit more data analysis when the glow of the laptop screen is beckoning. To combat this challenge, have a dedicated work space, preferably with a door, where you can leave work behind at the end of the day. Establish personal norms for yourself regarding work hours and breaks, just like you would have in a physical office. Establish boundaries with housemates about noise and activity levels in the house, and how household responsibilities are handled during the workday. Build routines into your schedule that allow you to connect with others and recharge your batteries. It may be going to the coffee shop in the morning, walking the dog around the block, eating lunch outside, or taking an afternoon walk at a local park. Treat working from home much the same way you’d treat working in the office. Getting dressed in office attire puts you in the mindset of being at work, and believe me, it works in your favor when you need to join an impromptu webcam meeting!

For many occupations today, work has become something you do, not somewhere you go. Requiring people to work from home in response to the coronavirus gives many organizations a chance to see that people can be just as productive, if not more so, working virtually as compared to working in the office. This is a fantastic opportunity for organizations to build trust with their employees by giving them the opportunity to work remotely, and it’s also an opportunity for employees to prove themselves trustworthy in response.

4 Ways Servant Leaders Use Power

PowerThe word itself evokes a reaction. What thoughts or feelings do you have when you think of power? Perhaps you picture an organizational chart where the boxes at the top are imbued with more power than those below. Maybe you imagine an iron fist, representative of a person who rules over others with absolute authority. Or perhaps the word power conjures up feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or fear, based on negative experiences you’ve had in the past. On the flip side, maybe the word power emboldens you with excitement, energy, or drive to exert your influence on people and circumstances in your life.

I recently spoke at the Training 2020 Conference & Expo on the topic of Servant Leadership. After my presentation, a participant approached me to discuss how servant leaders use power. You see, she had noticed on one of my PowerPoint slides that I had said servant leaders “seek more influence.” That seemed contradictory to her. Servant leaders seeking more power? Why?

I explained that power is a dynamic present in all of our relationships and it’s one we need to properly manage to help our relationships develop to their fullest potential. In and of itself, power is amoral; it’s neither good or bad. The way we use power is what determines its value.

But what is power? How do we get it? And once we have it, how do we keep it?

In his book, The Power Paradox: How we gain and lose influence, author and U.C. Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner, shares twenty “power principles” that range from how we earn power, how to retain it, why power can be a good thing, when we’re likely to abuse it, and the dangerous consequences of powerlessness.

Keltner defines power as the capacity to make a difference in the world, particularly by stirring others in our social networks. Focusing on the needs and desires of others is key, and four specific social practices—empathizing, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories—are ways we develop power and sustain it over time. These four keys are in alignment with the benevolent use of power in a servant leadership context.

Enduring Power Comes from a Focus on Others

1. Enduring power comes from empathy—We express empathy when we focus on what other people are feeling. We attune ourselves to their mannerisms, language, expressions, and tone of voice to gain a sense of their emotions. This promotes a sense of connection and trust with others that allows them to be vulnerable and authentic in their behavior. We can promote empathy in several practical ways: asking open-ended questions, listening actively, asking others what they would do in a given situation before offering advice, and soliciting the opinions of those in less powerful positions.

2. Enduring power comes from giving—Giving, without the expectation of receiving something in return, is a tremendous trust builder and leads to people being willing to grant you power in relationships. Keltner focuses on a particular form of giving: touch. Whether it’s politicians shaking hands, athletes high-fiving each other, or a boss giving an affirmative pat on the back, there is tremendous power in the human touch. A reassuring touch on the shoulder or warm embrace causes the release of oxytocin in the brain, a neurochemical that promotes trust, cooperation, and sharing, and also lowers blood pressure and fights the negative effects of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. The overarching principle of giving is that it’s a way of providing reward and recognition to others that promotes goodwill.

The key to enduring power is simple: Stay focused on other people. Prioritize others’ interests as much as your own. Bring the good in others to completion, and do not bring the bad in others to completion. Take delight in the delights of others, as they make a difference in the world. — Dacher Keltner

3. Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude—Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation we have for things that are given us, whether it’s an experience, a person, an opportunity, or a thing. Importantly, it’s something that has been given to us, not something we’ve attained on our own. Expressing gratitude is a way to confer esteem on others and we can do that in a number of ways: acknowledging people in public, notes or emails of affirmation, and spending time with others. Expression of gratitude spreads goodwill within a team and causes social bonding.

4. Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite—Abraham Lincoln is an excellent example of a leader who used the power of storytelling to communicate important truths and unite people in working toward a common goal. Families, sports teams, businesses, and organizations of all kinds have a history that is communicated through story. Members of these groups establish their identities and understand their role in the group based on those stories. Stories enhance the interests of others and reduces the stress of working in a group. They also help us interpret the events going on around us and shape the way we deal with the challenges we encounter. Stories bring us together and foster the sharing of power that is necessary in organizational life.

Power is often perceived in a negative light. The natural reaction of many is to associate power with Machiavellian attempts at preserving self-interest and exerting dominance over others. It doesn’t have to be that way. Servant leaders know the best use of power is in service to others, and the four principles Keltner advocates are an excellent way to develop and sustain power in a way that allows you to influence others to make a positive difference in the world.

Not Sure Who to Trust? Start by Asking These 4 Questions

It can be difficult knowing who to trust.

Most people think they have a pretty good “trust radar,” knowing who’s trustworthy, but studies show we aren’t that great at discerning who to trust. We tend to trust people whom we like on a personal level as well as those who are most similar to us even if it’s to our disadvantage. One study of hospital nurses showed the majority of them sought out advice from those they personally liked even though more competent individuals were available.

I misplaced my trust in a landscaper based on a personal recommendation from a friend. The landscaper (we’ll call him John) had done excellent work for my friend. John was personable, knowledgeable, and took me to see several of his recent projects for other homeowners. I paid John a decent sum of money to start revamping my front and back yards. Stamped concrete, landscape lighting, new sod, bushes, trees, plants…the whole deal. Well, you probably know where this story is going. John started the work, got it partially completed, but then faded out of sight. After nearly a year of constant badgering and threatening legal action, I finally got a partial reimbursement of money I had advanced John and we parted ways with one-third of my project still incomplete.

That experience was many years ago before I started studying and teaching about trust. I wished I had known then what I know now. If I had, I would have asked myself these four questions before I decided to trust John.

1. Is he a person of integrity? For me, this is the first and most important question. A person of integrity is honest, has honorable values, consistently lives by those values (walks the talk), is fair in their dealings with others, and always strives to do the right thing. Assessing someone’s integrity may require you to do some digging into their past, such as obtaining references from past employers or colleagues, checking their standing with organizations like the Better Business Bureau, or searching out online reviews. The best predictor of someone’s future trustworthiness is their past trustworthiness. If the answer to this question is no, then STOP. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Save yourself the trouble and heartache of trusting someone who isn’t worthy of your trust.

The best predictor of someone’s future trustworthiness is their past trustworthiness. (click to tweet)

2. Is he competent? Competence is having the demonstrated knowledge and skills to perform a particular task. Demonstrated is a key word in this definition. You want to trust someone who has a track record of success in relation to the specific goal, task, or project. It’s easy to mistake confidence for competence. People can talk a good game and convey the sense they are capable and motivated to do the job, but have they actually done it successfully in the past? Competence is relative to the context of the situation. It would make sense to trust your CPA to prepare your tax returns but not to diagnose and treat an illness. Make sure someone has the skills to do the job.

3. Is he dependable? Ask this question to understand if the person consistently follows through on his commitments. No one is perfect and there are times we all fail to meet a deadline, but what is this person’s history with being reliable? Does he show up on time for appointments? Is he responsive? Does he do what he says he will do? Does he hold himself and/or his team accountable? Or is he unpredictable, inconsistent, or reticent to make commitments? You could answer “yes” to the other three questions, but if the person can’t be depended on to actually do the job, does it make sense to trust him?

4. Does he care about me? This question is exploring the idea of benevolence—placing the interests of another ahead of your own. Benevolent people care about the well-being of others and act in ways to promote their welfare, not harm it. If someone cares about you, they won’t seek to take advantage of you. They will be open communicators, transparent, and authentic in their dealings with you. Although demonstrating care is an important consideration in deciding to trust someone, it may not be a deal-breaker. For example, if I need to have major surgery, I’m much more interested in trusting the surgeon who is an expert in their field, has a stellar reputation and a track record of success, regardless of their bedside manner. As I mentioned earlier, we are more inclined to trust those we like even if there are warning signs they may not be the best ones given the situation. Don’t let your heart overrule your head in this situation.

Getting back to my experience with John, the landscaper. He was very competent. I saw several examples of his work and definitely trusted his expertise in being able to do the job. He also appeared to be dependable, as far as I could tell. My friend had a great experience with John and didn’t mention any issues with his reliability. John also appeared to care. We hit it off on an interpersonal level, shared similar perspectives on faith, and he was initially very communicative and responsive. However, if I would have more deeply investigated John’s integrity, I would have quickly seen several red flags: his contractor’s license was expired; he had been taken to court several times; and he no longer maintained a physical office as indicated on all his paperwork.

If I had asked these four questions before I decided to fork over a bunch of money to John for my landscape project, I would have been much happier and my wallet a little thicker. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m grateful for the experience. Let my experience be a learning opportunity for you. Use these questions to help you make a confident and informed decision about another person’s trustworthiness.

5 Strategies for Building High Trust, High Performing Teams

Growing up playing sports, coaching my kids’ sports teams, and being a sports fan in general has taught me numerous lessons about life and leadership. A few that standout are the value of setting goals and working to achieve them, persevering through failure, and the importance of everyone knowing their role and working together to make the team successful.

However, the most important lesson I’ve learned about being part of a successful team, or leading one, is the need for trust. Great teams thrive on trust (click to tweet).

It doesn’t matter if it’s a sports team, a military team, a work team, or any other kind of team, the best teams have developed a high-level of trust among team members to the point that each individual knows they can count on each other to do their part. If someone is falling short or needs help, another team member will be there to fill the gap.

But how do you build that kind of trust in a team? Well, it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentional focus and effort. It also doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and shared experiences for people to bond with one another. It’s the team leader’s job to structure the team and its environment in a way that allows trust to flourish.

Here are five strategies leaders can use to build high-trust teams:

1. Hire and develop great team members—You may be asking what this has to do with trust. Well, any leader will tell you that the team is only as great as its members. Team members need to be competent in their roles and dependable in their performance if they’re going to be trusted by their fellow team members. Of course, the best option is to recruit and hire top performers, but even if you can’t afford to pay top-tier talent, you can still train and develop team members to perform their best in their specific roles. As Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great points out, it’s not just about getting the right people on the bus, but getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.

2. Teach them about trust—One of the truths about trust is that it’s based on perceptions. My perception of what constitutes a trustworthy team member is likely different from your perception. Differing perceptions among team members is why it’s critical to establish a common definition of trust. I’m a proponent of using the ABCD framework as the “language” of trust. ABCD is an acronym that describes trustworthy team members. A team member can be trusted if he is Able (demonstrates competence), Believable (acts with integrity), Connected (cares about others), and Dependable (honors commitments). Having a common language of trust allows team members to identify actions that will build trust, and to discuss low-trust actions in an objective, behaviorally focused manner.

3. Have clear roles and expectations—One of the primary ways mistrust develops in a team is a lack of focus and clarity on the team’s purpose, goals, and roles of its members. This causes team members to step on each other’s toes and question each other’s motives. It drags down their morale and productivity and fosters disengagement. High-trust teams are crystal clear on their purpose and goals, each other’s roles on the team, and how they work together to make the team a success. A team charter provides this clarity from the get-go. Whether it’s a temporary ad-hoc team or a permanent, operational team, a team charter details the purpose of the team, the roles of team members, behavioral norms of how team members relate to each other, and how they’ll make decisions. A team charter functions like banks for a river. It provides direction and boundaries for the team to operate and channels their energy toward their goals. A river without banks is just a large puddle, and without a team charter, teams flounder and their productivity wanes.

4. Create an environment of psychological safetyPsychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in their work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea. A safe environment cultivates trust because it allows team members to take risks and potentially fail without fear of punishment. If team members fear the consequences of being vulnerable, they will withhold their trust from others and won’t put themselves at risk to help their teammates. Team leaders set the tone when it comes to creating a safe environment. By role modeling vulnerability, authenticity, admitting their own mistakes, and treating team member errors as learning moments rather than opportunities for punishment, the leader gives permission for team members to do the same.

5. Let them experience challenges together—Part of astronaut training at NASA includes experiencing 7 to 10-day wilderness expeditions. NASA brings together a crew and puts them in an uncomfortable environment in the wilderness where they are forced to rely upon and trust one another. It’s the breeding ground for the trust they will need to have in each other when they are living and working together in space. The key variable in this exercise is dealing with and overcoming challenges together. Now, obviously, it’s not practical or possible for most organizations to send their teams on wilderness expeditions to build trust, but it is possible to structure other activities to accomplish the same purpose. Team building events like ropes courses often get a bad wrap as being gimmicky, but if done in the context of a broader, more strategic approach, can be helpful trust-builders. The key is to let team members experience challenge together, either on the job or off it, and let them work through it themselves. We do a disservice to our teams when we try to prevent or rescue them from hard times. It’s the perseverance through struggle that builds team trust and unity.

The most successful and high-performing teams are built on trust. I agree with Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team, who said in his book Leading With The Heart, “In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”

The 1 Thing Leaders Agree is Critically Important for Success, Yet Few Have a Plan to Achieve It

marketing school business idea

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

Imagine, if you will, you are in a large hotel ballroom with nearly 3,000 leaders from 115 countries representing 38 different industry sectors. You’re attending a conference to discuss the most important leadership issues of the day, and 96% of the attendees agree that one specific topic needs to be a high priority in relation to all their other business priorities. You would guess the vast majority of leaders would have a plan in place to deal with such a widely accepted, high-priority business issue, right?

Wrong.

The high priority business issue that is critically important for success? Building and maintaining stakeholder trust.

The number of leaders who have a defined plan to address this issue? Just 34%.

Building trust starts with your most important stakeholders: employees. If your employees trust you and the organization, they are much more likely to go above and beyond to do good work, take risks that fuel innovation, and deliver excellent service to colleagues and customers. But as YPO’s Global Pulse survey reports, even though nearly all leaders say building and maintaining trust is important, it’s hard work to build trust with employees. In fact, survey respondents said it’s easier to build trust with vendors and suppliers than it is with employees. No wonder only a third of leaders have a defined plan for building and maintaining trust in their organization.

Building trust with employees isn’t easy because it never stops. It’s not like other business strategies that have a beginning, middle, and end. You don’t conduct a trust initiative by holding a few team-building events, hanging up motivational posters around the office, giving out t-shirts with pithy hashtag statements on them, and then consider the task done. Building and sustaining trust is part of your leadership and organizational ethos. It’s a way of being, not just doing.

So how can you get started in creating a high-trust culture? Here’s four key steps:

1. Start with You. The most important and impactful thing you can do to build trust is to be trustworthy. Leaders are always being watched, and your behavior sets the standard for what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace. It’s the little things that count when it comes to building trust, and those little things are your behaviors. Do you walk the talk? Do you use behaviors that build or erode trust? Building trust is a skill you can learn and develop, it’s not something that just happens automatically.

2. Create a Safe Environment. An environment of psychological safety is the fertile soil that allows the seeds of trust to grow and flourish. Psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea. Leaders can foster safety by encouraging and rewarding employees who demonstrate vulnerability.

3. Connect. In my experience, a primary cause of low trust between employees and their leaders or organization is a lack of personal connection. Connecting with employees involves building rapport, communicating, and acting with their best interests in mind. People trust those they know and like, and unfortunately, many leaders don’t take the time to foster personal relationships. Granted, in large organizations it’s not possible for senior leaders to have a personal relationship with every employee. But leaders can be more transparent in sharing information about themselves and the organization, interacting with employees in town hall meetings or company events, taking time to attend smaller department or group meetings, and generally making themselves more available and known to team members.

4. Foster Collaboration, not Competition. Research has shown that collaboration has more positive effects on team and organizational outcomes than competition. Unhealthy competition creates a scarcity mentality and perceptions of mistrust among team members, whereas collaboration encourages people to develop trust and reliance on each other to accomplish goals as a collective unit. At The Ken Blanchard Companies we have a saying that defines our philosophy about the power of collaboration in teams: No one of us is as smart as all of us.

Nearly every leader agrees that building and maintaining employee trust is a critical priority for organizational success, yet few actually have a plan to make it a reality. Building trust is not an easy-peasy, one-time effort. It takes constant effort and vigilance, however, the results are worth it because it’s the foundation of your personal leadership and organizational success.

The 3 Dimensions of Leading with Trust – Becoming the Leader Your People Deserve

Let me ask you a question: Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? Raise your hand if you answered yes. OK, you can put your hand down now.

Why do I think you raised your hand? Well, nearly everyone agrees trust is a critically important factor in leadership success. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success. This past week I posed that question to 120 family business owners and leaders representing dozens of industries across the Midwest United States and 100% answered in the affirmative.

Now let me ask you a second question: Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Raise your hand if you answered yes. Anyone? Anyone?

If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re not alone. YPO’s survey showed just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. Based on my personal experience, I think that number is a bit generous. The response from the group of family business owners and leaders this past week is more reflective of my experience – 3 people raised their hands (2.5%).

It can be difficult to know where to start to build trust. Trust goes deep and wide. There aren’t any magic silver bullets when it comes to building trust. It requires a comprehensive and sustained approach over time.

If you want to have a defined and specific approach to leading with trust, I recommend you consider the following three dimensions:

1. Trust in Your Mission—Organizational mission statements are common and most of our organizations have them, even if we can’t always remember them verbatim (I said they were common, not effective or well written!). But how about a personal leadership mission statement? What is your mission as a leader?

I used to think a personal mission statement was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission and express them succinctly and coherently.

You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started:

  1. Brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.”
  2. Create a list of ways you effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.”
  3. Write a description of your perfect world. For example, “My perfect world is a place where people know their destinations and are enjoying their life journeys.”
  4. Combine two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your definition of your perfect world. For example, “My life purpose is to use my energy and my people skills to teach and motivate people to know their destinations and enjoy their life journeys.”

My personal mission statement is “To use my writing and speaking skills to teach and inspire people about the power of trust so they enjoy deeper, more meaningful, and rewarding relationships.”

There is a two-fold reason why a personal mission statement is the first dimension of leading with trust. First, if you don’t know where you’re going as a leader, why should anyone place their trust in you? People trust leaders who are clear on their beliefs, values, and priorities. Second, having a clear mission allows you to lead confidently and authentically, with a sense of purpose and direction for your life. Trust in your mission translates into others trusting your leadership.

2. Personal Trustworthiness—The second dimension of leading with trust is personal trustworthiness. Trust is based on perceptions, and perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. If you use trust-eroding behaviors with those you lead, they won’t trust you. If you use behaviors that build trust, they will trust you. It’s that simple.

There are four elements that determine your trustworthiness: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Those four elements are the “language” of trust, and to make them easy to remember, we’ve captured them in the ABCD Building Trust Model:

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

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

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

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

Personal trustworthiness is at the core of leading with trust. Trust is the foundation for unleashing the creativity, innovation, and productivity of your team. Using behaviors that align with the ABCD’s of trust is where it starts.

3. Extend Trust to Others – The third dimension of leading with trust is to extend trust to others. For trust to develop, someone must make the first move by extending trust to another. It’s the leader’s job to extend trust; it’s not the follower’s job to blindly grant trust to the leader based on their position or title.

Servant leadership is an approach that incorporates this third dimension of leading with trust. Creating a culture of servant leadership is based upon the idea that we can lead and serve at the same time. The leading aspect is represented by the traditional organizational pyramid with senior leaders at the top and front-line employees at the bottom. The leader has the responsibility to build a culture around a clear and compelling vision that includes the organization’s purpose, values, and a picture of the future where the organization is headed.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

Once that’s in place, the servant aspect of servant leadership is flipping the pyramid upside down and serving the people who will bring that vision to life. It’s extending trust to those who will implement the vision and doing whatever is needed to support them with the training, tools, and resources to accomplish the mission.

Servant leaders create an optimally motivating environment for employees to flourish. Your people are constantly making logical and emotional appraisals of your leadership behavior. Every interaction in the workplace causes them to make judgments about how they think and feel about you, the organization, and the job they perform. Those appraisals lead to employees evaluating their sense of well-being. Am I feeling safe? Am I winning or losing? Is my boss for me or against me? Based on those appraisals, people form intentions about how they’re going to “show up” on the job. Our research shows that employees of other-focused, trustworthy leaders have greater intentions to do above-average work, give discretionary effort, be a good corporate citizen, stay with the company, and endorse it as a great place to work, the five hallmarks of passionate, highly-engaged employees.

Let’s circle back to the two questions I originally posed. Do you believe trust is critical and important to your success as a leader? You likely answered with a resounding yes. Do you have a defined strategy and plan for building and maintaining trust? Your answer was probably no. If so, build a plan based on the three dimensions of leading with trust: trust in your mission, personal trustworthiness, and extending trust to others. Your people deserve a leader they can trust.

Does Your Team Know What You Want? Clarify Your Intent with These 4 Steps

The turning of the calendar page from one year to the next is an opportunity to start the new year with a clear and focused plan for your team or organization. Yet, if you’re like many leaders, you not only find it hard to establish a clear strategy for the year, you find it difficult to keep all your team members aligned and moving forward to achieve the goals. If this predicament is familiar, you have the opportunity to clarify your leadership intent for the year.

What is a ‘leadership intent’? It’s my variation on the concept of a ‘commander’s intent.’ In military parlance, a commander’s intent is the purpose and goal of a given order from a leader to their troops. It provides clear direction and the boundaries of operation for the troops to carry out the commander’s intent.

In his book, Call Sign Chaos, retired General and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, details how young Marine officers are taught to convey a clear intent so that it passed intact through layers of leadership down to the front lines. In the heat of battle, where communication can be difficult and circumstances can change rapidly, it’s imperative that every soldier be crystal clear on the intended outcomes of the mission.

Regardless of the type of organization you lead—a military unit, business, or non-profit —a clear leadership intent sets the course for getting all your team members on the same page for achieving the outcomes you desire. The formula of a clear leadership intent is:

Leadership Intent = The ‘why’ of the strategy + A clear picture of the end state

There are four characteristics of a clear leadership intent:

1. It conveys the ‘why’ of the strategy—A shared understanding of the ‘why’ of the strategy allows your team members to understand the big picture, which allows them to take ownership of their given responsibilities. Anyone who has ever questioned the ‘why’ behind a decision and been told “just do it, you don’t need to know why,” understands how demoralizing and unempowering that can be. Knowing the ‘why’ empowers your team members to make decisions, independent of your direction, that lead them closer to achieving the goal.

2. It provides a clear picture of the end state—My experience has shown that one of the primary reasons we fail to accomplish our goals is a lack of clarity on exactly what we’re trying to achieve. We can get so twisted up in trying to set the perfect SMART goal that we fail to clearly paint the picture of the end state. A clear understanding of the end state enables team members to understand what needs to happen next in order to move closer to achieving the goal.

To illustrate the value of conveying the ‘why’ of the strategy and painting a clear picture of the end state, Mattis recounts the example of the legendary World War II British field commander, Viscount Slim. Deep in the jungles of Southeast Asia, Slim’s troops were vastly outnumbered by the Japanese, often out of radio contact with him for days or weeks at a time. In his book, Defeat into Victory, Slim describes the value of having a clear leader’s intent:

“Commanders at all levels had to act more on their own; they were given greater latitude to work out their own plans to achieve what they knew was the Army Commander’s intention. In time they developed to a marked degree a flexibility of mind and a firmness of decision that enabled them to act swiftly to take advantage of sudden information or changing circumstances without reference to their superiors…This acting without orders, in anticipation of orders, or without waiting for approval yet always within the overall intention, must become second nature in any form of warfare.”

3. It conveys the essential details—By the very definition of providing a clear end state, a leader’s intent should provide the essential details, and only the essential details. Resist the urge to micromanage by providing too many details. Micromanaging thwarts initiative and creates dependency on you, the leader. A key to achieving your team’s or organization’s goal is to create acceleration within your team. You want team members to take responsibility for owning the goal and developing their own plans for executing against that goal. Burdening your team with too many details or conditions handcuffs them from acting independently. Your goal as a leader is to orchestrate and synchronize the efforts of your team, not to control them.

4. It is written with ‘will’ statements—Rather than condensing your strategic plan or goals into a PowerPoint slide with fancy charts or graphs that may leave room for interpretation, try going old school and write out your leadership intent with very clear ‘will’ statements. A clear statement of your intent focuses on ‘what’ you’re trying to achieve and the ‘why,’ but refrains from telling your team ‘how’ to achieve the goal. A good leadership intent statement includes an ‘in order to’ phrase that crystallizes the measure of success.

For example, “We will attack that bridge in order to cut off the enemy’s escape” is a clear leadership intent. It describes the ‘what’ (attack the bridge), the ‘why,’ and measure of success (to cut off the enemy’s escape). If the troops seize the bridge but allow the enemy to escape, the mission is a failure. However, a troop commander acting under clear intent will adjust their actions to cut off the enemy’s escape regardless of whether the bridge is captured.

The length of a written leadership intent need only be as long as necessary to clearly convey your message. It may be a single sentence, a few bullet points, a paragraph, or an entire page, all depending upon the scope of your strategy or goal.

A clear leadership intent has the potential to align your team around the key outcomes you want them to achieve. But it requires a few prerequisites. First, trust must be present up and down the chain of command. Leaders need to trust their team members to act responsibly within the boundaries of the stated intent, and team members need to trust their leaders to provide them with all the information they need to make smart decisions. Second, leaders must be tolerant of mistakes. Empowering your team to make decisions means that occasionally they may get it wrong. If you punish people for taking risks, you’ll create a culture of risk-aversion. Instead, treat mistakes as learning moments and view them as an opportunity to teach and develop your team. Finally, discipline and accountability need to be alive and well. Team members need to be disciplined to act in alignment with the leader’s intent, and when team members stray, leaders need to hold them accountable for their actions.

As you head into a new year, consider making your leadership intent explicit with your team. Provide them a clear picture of the end goal, a solid understanding of the purpose of the strategy, and enough details that enable them to make the next right decisions to accomplish the mission.

%d bloggers like this: