Leading with Trust

A Positive Culture Starts With One Uplifting Person. Will That Be You?

Enjoy this guest post by Marcella Bremer

Have you ever worked in a positive culture? If you frown, then you haven’t! A positive culture gives people wings and swings results into a positive spiral. It “broadens and builds” people and organizations as Barbara Fredrickson researched. When people feel positive, they become more open and resourceful and achieve better results which reinforces the positivity. A positive culture contributes to the bottom line as positive organizations are engaged, innovative, competitive, agile, collaborative, and productive.

Isn’t that too good to be true? Well, no! Scientifically validated research shows that positive leadership (of yourself, and others) is the key to a positive culture and quantifiable positive outcomes.

This is important because many people don’t believe that a positive culture is possible. Maybe you started your work life optimistically, then you turned realistic and, finally, you may feel pessimistic or cynical because your workplace is far from positive. Yet, this is what companies such as Ford, Kelly Services, Burt’s Bees, Griffin Hospital, and Zingerman’s have been doing. They prove that you can create positive change in your organization through simple actions and attitude shifts.

What is a Positive Culture?

Positive leaders can change what is “normal” and all positive cultures have four ingredients. Based on positive psychology, positive cultures cherish an “abundance mindset.” There’s trust that there will be enough for everyone and aims to enlarge the pie instead of dividing its parts resulting in winners and losers. This first ingredient, Positive Awareness, helps to see more solutions, the half-full glass, and positive potential that is waiting to be realized. We are often used to aim for the default baseline: “We fix a problem to go back to normal”. Positive cultures aim for “positive deviance” where people are performing beyond expectations but without exhausting anyone or pushing too hard.

A positive culture builds on what is already working well. It appreciates people for their unique contributions. This is the second ingredient: Connection and Collaboration. It includes leadership basics such as connecting with and caring for people, being authentic and honest, communicating continuously and coaching people as well as stimulating them with compliments.

The third is a meaningful Shared Purpose that people like to contribute to, and the fourth part of positive cultures is Learning and Autonomy. People are trusted to do their work and even excel. People have choices and enjoy autonomy—no micro-management needed, no detailed instructions. Learning is the norm, and developing ideas together, learning from mistakes, and trying out things is appreciated. There’s no need to be perfect and no fear to “lose face.”

There’s only one requirement: that you engage and commit. When you work in a positive culture, you go “all in.”

What Positive Culture is Not

The issue with positive culture is that it can sound corny. “Positive means fake smiles, slacking off, and dreaming.” Let’s quickly look at these three common objections.

A positive culture stimulates people to be authentic at work so they can give their best. That includes off-days and occasional bad tempers. No need to fake a smile. Just be you and solve what you can solve – knowing that it will pass. Slacking off is the opposite of achieving positive deviance with a team. Positive leaders (and co-workers) give candid feedback to anyone who doesn’t contribute to the team as expected – and they try to help them improve.

Positive people might also be more realistic than cynics. Yes, really. Research shows that we’re wired to focus on the negative because that helped us survive physical dangers. Nowadays, it’s helpful to be able to see the positive potential that’s hiding in plain sight. No dreaming needed: stay grounded and work toward the best possible outcome.

What Can You Do?

So, what could you do to develop a more positive organization? What is interesting, is that organizations operate as non-linear networks. This means that you can influence your workplace. My book Developing a Positive Culture shares many tools to develop a more positive culture, with Interaction Interventions and/or Change Circles.

Culture happens when people get together because they copy, coach, and correct each other all the time. Culture is sustained in every interaction so if you start changing interaction patterns, you start to influence the system.

Interaction Interventions are small interactions that you can do on a daily basis to influence your meetings, co-workers, and eventually the organizational network. They are small but not insignificant, especially if you team up with like-minded co-workers. Interactions in meetings matter to the culture, so I share ways to make meetings more interactive and positive. I also share tools for leaders to work with their teams on values, purpose, positive challenges, and trust.

Next, there are Change Circles if you want to enroll the whole organization in culture change. This is a larger-scale approach that works if there’s attention for personal interactions in small groups that influence the culture.

Start with Kindness

So, how positive is your current contribution? What would happen if you role-model kindness, whatever your position at work? You understand that everyone tries their best, and everyone can make mistakes. So, you show compassion. You don’t take things too personally. It is safe to share “failures” or doubts with you.

You are present for your coworkers and teams. You give genuine attention. You give compliments. It costs nothing. All it takes is you: the best version of you. You can start today, no matter how busy you are or how challenging it may be to see something good in your coworkers.

But What If It Is Not Easy?

But what if you work in a corporate environment that does not “do” kindness? You may be labeled as weak, or you may be mocked. How kindness is perceived, depends on the current culture. Yes, being kind sometimes takes courage! Yet, a positive culture can start with one person who interacts kindly and offers a positive perspective… Are you going to be that uplifting example?

My book Developing a Positive Culture focuses on what you can personally do to develop a positive culture. Based on both research and practice, you’ll see how to engage your co-workers with Interaction Interventions or Change Circles. If you influence one person, one interaction at a time, you contribute to a more positive organization.

About Marcella Bremer

Marcella Bremer, MScBA, is an author and culture consultant. She is the author of Developing a Positive Culture Where People and Performance Thrive and co-founder of the online Positive Culture Academy. You can receive weekly inspiration to energize and engage your workplace from her blog, Leadership & Change Magazine.

6 Strategies for Leading When People Won’t Follow

stubbornLeadership can be a pretty enjoyable gig when your team is 100% behind you. It seems like every decision you make turns out to the be the right one, morale is high, people are engaged and productive, and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

It’s a different story, though, when you’re trying to lead people who don’t want to follow. Work slows down, decisions are questioned, and people get disgruntled. Leading in this kind of environment can be arduous, painful, and a test of your patience and commitment.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s imperative you proactively address the situation in positive and constructive ways. It likely won’t resolve itself on its own, and if left unattended, will severely hinder the performance of your team and cripple your leadership effectiveness. Here are six practical strategies you can employ:

1. Make sure the goal and expectations are clear—Just because you’ve shared a PowerPoint presentation of your strategic plan a few times doesn’t mean people are clear on how it specifically applies to them on an individual basis. What appears as resistance to your leadership may be a lack of clarity. People who are clear on what’s expected can make a decision on whether or not to get on board, and it makes your job as a leader easier to evaluate their performance.

2. Determine if it’s a can’t do or won’t do problem – It’s important to understand the difference between can’t do and won’t do performance. Can’t do performance is due to a person not having the skills, training, or ability to follow your leadership. Those individuals need direction, support, training, tools, and resources to help them perform. Won’t do performance is an attitude or commitment issue. These individuals have the skills and abilities to follow your leadership, but for whatever reason they are choosing not to get on board. It’s important to know the difference because you need to deal with them in different ways.

3. Engage with a few resistors who carry great influence—It’s important to understand the perspective of those who are resistant to your leadership. Actively engage a few key resistors to understand their point of view and to encourage them to get on board. If you can win them over, they can use their influence to positively influence their peers. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Spending too much time trying to convert the non-believers can distract from moving forward with those already in your camp. See the next point.

4. Focus on creating positive momentum—Nothing creates a positive team culture like winning. We see it in athletic teams all the time. Winning seems to cure all ills, and if you can create positive momentum with your team, it will spread positive morale and silence the doubters.

5. Incorporate the team’s input as much as possible—People will be more likely to follow your leadership if they have a hand in shaping the plan. I love the saying that goes “people who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People will own what they create, and the more you’re able to foster a sense of ownership among your people the more they’ll be inclined to follow your direction.

6. Be willing to make a necessary ending—There will be some individuals who won’t ever follow your leadership no matter what you do. For those people you may need to consider a necessary ending, a concept I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud. Leaders should do all they can to help team members to succeed, and when those efforts don’t improve the situation, it may be time to part ways.

Trying to lead people who won’t follow is a tremendous challenge. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, yet following these strategies can help you navigate the situation. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions you have for tackling this issue.

Focus On The 7 Minutes, Not The 2 Seconds – 3 Leadership Lessons From Skydiving

skydiverBarbara was coming up on a milestone birthday and decided she wanted to do something adventurous and out of the norm to celebrate the occasion. So why not go skydiving? That certainly fits the bill. Her daughter Courtney, a manager on my team, went along and the two had a fantastic experience.

I knew from previous conversations with Courtney that she was unafraid of jumping out of a perfectly fine airplane. She doesn’t have much of a sense of fear. So when I had the chance recently to speak to Barbara, I was curious to learn her perspective. I asked her if she was afraid or nervous leading up to her skydiving adventure. Barbara said the only time she started to feel anxious was when she thought about actually jumping from the plane. Then she added what I thought was a profound insight: “So instead of focusing on the two seconds of fear of leaving the plane, I chose to focus on how fantastic it would feel to fly through the air for seven minutes.”

Thinking about Barbara’s insights has caused me to draw a few interesting parallels to leading in challenging or fearful circumstances.

1. Your focus determines your reality—Barbara intentionally kept her focus on the seven minutes of fun and joy she would experience as she floated to earth under a safe parachute rather than the fear and panic that arose inside of her when thinking about jumping from the airplane. The principle is the same for leaders facing situations that conjure up feelings of fear. We can choose where to place our focus: on what causes us fear or on what the benefits will be if we act with courage. When facing challenging situations, focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t. Focusing on what you can’t control only leads to worry, anxiety, and fear, whereas focusing on what you can control makes you feel empowered and purposeful.

2. Acknowledge your fear but don’t let it rule you—Fear is a normal response. Sometimes it’s a helpful warning sign that assists us in making decisions to protect ourselves. Many times, however, we experience fear in anticipation of a particular situation or outcome and it causes us to stop dead in our tracks before we even get started. If Barbara had let the fear of jumping from the plane hold her back, she never would have experienced the thrill of skydiving. The next time you feel fear rearing its ugly head, step back and try to view it dispassionately. Step outside of yourself and acknowledge what you’re feeling but also look at it logically. Understand what needs to be learned from your fear but don’t give it more credit than what is due. Be prudent, be smart, think things through…but don’t let fear rule your life.

3. Approach challenges with openness and positivity—There are many factors that shape how we typically respond to challenges in life. Some of these factors are largely out of our control: personality, temperament, and early childhood experiences, just to name a few. However, there is one factor completely under our control: our attitude. We can choose what kind of attitude we have in the face of challenges. We can choose to be fearful and resistant, or we can choose to be open and positive. Approaching challenges with openness and positivity opens the door to learning and growth, both essential characteristics of successful leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a burning desire to jump out of an airplane and parachute back to earth. However, after talking with Barbara, I have a better picture of how I could get beyond my fear of skydiving if that was ever a challenge I wanted to tackle. But there are plenty of other challenges I face as a leader and I’ll be relying on these three principles to help me approach them in a more positive, empowering, and healthy way.

Do these principles ring true to you? Feel free to leave a comment and share your perspective.

6 Causes and Cures for Defensiveness In Relationships

defensiveness2Your defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

10 Easy Ways Leaders Can Build Trust with Their New Teams

Trust StonesThe new president of the company came in with grandiose visions of the future. She saw the untapped potential of the organization and set a vision for increasing revenues by ten fold. She preached her message of change with catchy slogans to create excitement and instituted sweeping changes by bringing in people outside the organization whom she trusted to lead key initiatives.

She was large and in charge, but she forgot the one critical thing that would determine her ultimate success. She forgot to build trust with her team, and it was that lack of trust that resulted in her ouster just a few years later.

Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t “just happen” by accident. It takes intentional effort and leaders need to have a specific game plan to establish and nurture trust in relationships.

The primary goal of any leader stepping in to lead a new team should be to build trust. Here are 10 easy ways leaders can get started:

1. Refrain from making bold proclamations — You probably have big goals for your new team and that’s likely why you were hired for the job. That’s great! But before you start proclaiming your vision for the future, spend time developing relationships with your new team members. Some of them may not know you from Adam. Some may be excited about you joining the team and others may be fearful. Be humble, exercise patience, and establish trust with your team before making bold proclamations. If your team trusts you, they’ll be much more receptive to hearing and acting on your message.

2. Ask open-ended questions — Dial down the temptation to start barking orders or making evaluations about current practices and ask open-ended questions instead. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former comes from an attitude of inquisitiveness and wanting to learn, whereas the latter comes from a position of evaluation and judgment. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.

3. Ask other people for their ideas — Chances are you have some pretty smart team members who know the business quite well. They probably have excellent insight into how things could work better, where the gaps are, and what could be done to improve the business. So ask them. Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions and trust will flourish.

4. Approach your role as a learner — You will develop trust much faster with your team if you approach this transition as a learner rather than acting like you’re a know-it-all. What attitudes do learner’s have? They are humble because they know they don’t know everything. They are open to new ideas, taking direction, and appreciative of others who are willing to share their expertise. Those are the same characteristics you should have when stepping in to lead a new team.

5. Go slow with changes — Practically every leader I’ve met has wanted to implement change quickly. And my experience has shown that effective change takes much longer to implement than we estimate or prefer it to take. So plan your schedule accordingly. Understand that your team is getting to know and trust you, and once that happens, they will be more receptive to the changes you want to implement. If you try to implement too much change before the team trusts you, they will resist and work against you rather than with you.

6. Respect the culture — Every organization and team has its own unique culture, and as the new person to the team, you need to be purposeful about learning the new culture and becoming part of it. A big no-no is to compare your new team or organization to your old one. When you keep bringing up your old company and make statements like “we did it this way” or “we should do it like my old team,” it makes your team question your loyalty. Using the pronoun “we” makes your team feel like a part of you is still with the old team. You’re not with your old team anymore so quit talking about them. When you need to reference your past experience, use the pronoun “I”—I’ve had experience doing it like this and it worked well—and it will go over better with your team.

7. Be nice — It sounds silly that this even has to be mentioned but you’d be surprised at how many leaders miss this obvious way to build trust. Just be nice. Say please and thank you. Smile at people. Ask them how they’re doing. Build rapport. It’s the little things that go a long way in building trust.

8. Catch people doing something right — When I do training sessions with clients I often ask the group this question: “How many people are sick and tired of their boss praising them at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is people don’t get enough pats on the back for their achievements on the job. It doesn’t cost much—except time and effort—for leaders to praise team members, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust.

9. Laugh at yourself — Humor is a fantastic antidote to many of the ills of the day-to-day stress of organizational life. Well timed and appropriate humor keeps the mood light, lifts people’s spirits, and eases tension. Leaders who are not only humorous, but are vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves, have a leg up when it comes to building trust. People trust others whom they like and know. Humor breaks down barriers between people and allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level.

10. Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one party is willing to assume a little risk and extend trust to the other. I believe it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a powerful signal to your team members and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.

I said earlier that these were “easy” ways to develop trust. Let me qualify that statement. Some of these ways are easier than others, and depending on your personality, some may be quite difficult for you. However, they are all eminently do-able. They just take intentional effort, and if you follow through and try some of these, you’ll find trust will start to blossom with your new team.

Feel free to leave a comment with other strategies or suggestions to build trust with a new team. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

5 Strategies to Cultivate a Healthy Leadership Spirit

OpennessLeading in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world takes its toll on the best of us. If we aren’t careful, the stress and difficulty of leadership can quickly become a burden that negatively shapes our perspective and causes us to lead in unhealthy ways.

Last week I wrote about five warning signs that indicate you’re leading with a wounded spirit. Those warning signs serve notice that something is off track with your inner life as a leader. They signify your values, beliefs, and attitudes have taken a negative hit from the rough experiences you’ve had, and there is a need to adjust your mindset and priorities so you can get back on track to leading at your full potential.

Even more important than recognizing the warning signs something is wrong with your inner life as a leader, is pursuing strategies to prevent yourself from running off the rails in the first place. To cultivate a fertile soil for your life as a leader, or to apply a soothing balm to your wounded spirit, try following these five strategies:

1. Live and lead for something bigger than yourself – “It’s not about you.” Rick Warren’s famous opening line of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, simply and succinctly illustrates a universal truth: your life and leadership will experience greater joy and fulfillment when you realize you aren’t the center of the universe. If your life and leadership is all about you, you have no choice but to be severely wounded by the trials of life. But if your life and leadership is driven by a higher purpose, something bigger than yourself, you are able to place the difficulties of life in proper perspective. For me, it’s my faith in Jesus that drives my leadership priorities. It’s my True North, as Bill George says, that guides the beliefs, values, and actions that help me lead in authentic ways. Identifying your higher purpose and calling is the most important strategy to ward away the debilitating effects of wounded leadership.

2. Have an abundance mentality – We have Stephen R. Covey to thank for helping us better understand the power of having an abundance mentality. As Covey explains in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, healthy leaders are others-focused and understand there is more than enough power, resources, and authority to share among everyone. As opposed to having a scarcity mentality—a perspective that information, ideas, and responsibility need to be hoarded—well-grounded leaders know they are here to serve and meet the needs of others. When the wounds of life and leadership begin to accumulate, abundance-minded leaders keep giving themselves away because they know it will come back to them tenfold.

3. Surround yourself with truth tellers – Every leader needs a few close associates who aren’t afraid to speak the honest truth. These truth tellers keep you grounded in reality and hold you accountable to living in alignment with your leadership purpose. Most of our leadership wounds are self-afflicted. Especially as we move higher up in leadership positions, we become more self-focused and less sensitive to the needs of others around us. If we aren’t careful, we begin to slowly drift off course and gradually start acting in ways counter to our ideals. Surround yourself with people who will compassionately, lovingly, yet honestly and directly, tell you the truth even if it’s difficult to hear.

4. Guard your heart – “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) As the great proverb illustrates, everything you do as a leader flows from your heart—your emotional core, spirit, or soul. There are a number of ways you can guard your heart as a leader. Beyond the five strategies listed in this article, consider these others:

  • Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people who inspire you to be your best.
  • Stay away from negative people who bring you down or detract from your leadership purpose.
  • Read books, blogs, and articles that help you grow your leadership knowledge and skills.
  • Be purposeful about identifying your leadership point of view—the values, beliefs, and ideals that define your leadership philosophy.

5. Practice forgiveness – Refusing to forgive ourselves and others keeps us mired in our leadership dysfunction. As I mentioned last week, refusing to grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die; it does nothing but harm ourselves. Forgiveness grants freedom from past hurts. It serves as a regular cleansing of our leadership wounds, keeping them from getting infected and allowing them to properly heal. Yes, wounds can leave scars, but scar tissue is stronger and more resilient. Forgiveness makes you a stronger and more resilient leader.

Leadership is a demanding enterprise that requires our very best and it’s vital to have clear strategies in place that protect you from the inevitable wounds that will come your way. Feel free to leave a comment about the strategies you employ to help you lead at your best.

5 Warning Signs You’re Leading With a Wounded Spirit

Wounded SpiritBeing a leader can be rough business and it’s not for the faint of heart. You’re constantly in the line of fire, not just from those outside your team, but often from within as well. If there is a team member unhappy with something, who do they complain to? You. If your team doesn’t achieve an important goal, who does your boss come down on? You. If another department leader is frustrated about a perceived lack of collaboration from your team, who gets an earful of feedback? You.

If you aren’t careful, the toxicity of these negative situations can seep into your soul and cause you to lead with a wounded spirit. I firmly believe that effective leadership is about who you are as a person—your values, beliefs, and character—and much less about what you actually do in terms of leadership techniques or practices. Leadership begins on the inside, and what’s on the inside eventually comes out. If your inner life is in order, healthy leadership practices will follow. If you’re leading with a wounded spirit, that will be clear as well.

Unfortunately, we’re often blind to the reality that we’re leading in a wounded capacity. We are so close to it that we don’t see it, and it may take someone else calling us out on our behavior for us to realize what’s going on. But if we pay attention and look closely, we can detect these warning signs of leading with a wounded spirit.

Bitterness – A strong, unrelenting hostility or resentment toward someone is a sign bitterness has taken root in your soul. Bitterness comes from never fully processing and moving on from a situation that harmed us. The situations are common, everything from being passed up for a promotion, having someone take credit for your idea, or being blamed unfairly for something that went wrong. These things happen every day in the workplace. Do you find yourself ruminating over past hurts? Are you preoccupied with resentful thoughts about another person? If so, bitterness has gotten a hold on you and you need to shake it loose. Be bitter or get better; it’s your choice.

Un-forgiveness – When we’ve been wounded, we often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past. You can’t change what happened but you can control how you move forward. Holding on to past hurts keeps your leadership effectiveness stuck in first gear and diminishes the positive impact you can have on others.

Sarcasm – Sarcasm is one of the more subtle, socially acceptable ways wounded leaders express themselves. Often masked in humor, sarcasm can range from friendly little jabs at someone to full-on passive-aggressive attacks. We get the word sarcasm from the Greek word sarkázein which means to “rend flesh” – the ripping, pulling, or tearing apart of skin and flesh. Isn’t that a beautiful word picture! But that’s exactly the intent of sarcasm, to cut someone down, to tear at their self-esteem, or knock them down a notch to let them know you’re just a little bit better. Leaders should be focused on building others up, not tearing them down. If you frequently use sarcasm to express yourself, I’d challenge you to examine the thoughts, feelings, and motivations behind why you choose to express yourself that way.

NegativityNegative Nelly, that’s the term we use around the office for people who tend to see everything in a negative light. It doesn’t matter how good the idea might be, Negative Nelly always finds something to fault…it will cost too much, it will be too hard to implement, it’s not comprehensive enough, it’s too encompassing, it will take too long, it won’t last long enough…you know the drill. No matter what, you can’t please Negative Nelly. But more importantly, is that you? Are you Negative Nelly? Consider these questions to see if you might be letting negativity rule your leadership reactions: Is your first response to new ideas to find fault or explore how they might work? Is your default answer “no” or “yes?” Do you find yourself catching people doing something wrong instead of praising what they’re doing right? Critical, questioning, deep thinking and analysis should be a normal part of your leadership repertoire, but there is a time and place for it. If you find that negativity is your standard M.O., that’s a warning sign you haven’t dealt with underlying issues.

Apathy – Leaders can be wounded to a point where they give up. They may still show up to work and go through the motions, but their heart and soul is no longer in the job. They’ve quit and stayed. Apathy is contagious. It doesn’t affect just the leader, it affects everyone. Team members look at their apathetic leader and say to themselves, “If he doesn’t care, why should I?” I’ve seen once thriving leaders and teams slowly go downhill as the leaders experienced a series of challenges, dealt with them ineffectively, eventually grew tired and frustrated, then threw their hands up in resignation and chalked it up to “that’s just the way it is around here.” Apathy is the polar opposite of leadership. Leaders should be change agents, always on the lookout for how they can improve as individuals and how their teams can grow and become more effective.

All of us leaders are wounded in one way or another. Getting scarred from battle wounds is inevitable if you sign up for this leadership gig; you shouldn’t expect otherwise. That’s why it’s so important to find healthy, productive ways to process these experiences so you’re inner life as a leader is in good order…more on that in a future blog post.

Feel free to leave a comment and share your own experiences of leading with a wounded spirit.

Defensiveness Is Killing Your Relationships – How To Recognize It and What To Do About It

DefensivenessYour defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

Catch People Doing Something Right – 4 Ways to Build Workplace Morale

Happy FacesCreating a workplace culture that breeds high morale and engagement doesn’t happen by accident. It requires leadership – wise, empathetic, discerning, thoughtful, strategic, and caring leadership. And it’s a leadership you can’t fake. It has to flow from the ethos of who you are as a person.

For the last 18 years I’ve had the privilege of working for Ken Blanchard, a man who knows a thing or two about leadership. Along with his wife Margie, he has created a leadership development company that embodies several principles of a high engagement culture. In traditional Blanchard style, I’ve taken some complex issues of morale and engagement and tried to crystallize them into simple truths that all leaders can use to build morale in their organizations.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Too many work environments are focused on catching people making mistakes. In a well-intentioned effort to improve productivity and efficiency, leaders are prone to reduce an employee’s performance into raw data, metrics, and statistics. Every detail is parsed and analyzed and people’s shortcomings are readily pointed out. Years ago Ken Blanchard said, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous cycle built on the concept of catching people doing something right. One of the easiest and quickest ways a leader can improve workplace morale is to notice, encourage, and celebrate the good things that are happening. It’s a common occurrence at The Ken Blanchard Companies for us to start meetings with the agenda item of “praisings and celebrations.” We take time to intentionally focus on the good things people are doing and celebrate their successes.

Be Other Focused

Another strategy for enhancing workplace morale is to serve others. It’s hard to be self-centered, critical, and myopic about your own business when you reach out and help others less fortunate. We have an in-house charity organization called Blanchard for Others that supports numerous local, national, and world charities. Employees have a voice in not only directing funds to these organizations, but getting personally involved. Employee volunteer efforts are encouraged through the use of “Blanchard Ambassador” hours—paid time off apart from an employee’s own vacation time—that allow team members to serve with charities locally and abroad. You can build employee morale by not only engaging their minds at work, but their hearts as well.

Treat Your People How You Want Them to Treat Your Customers

The manner in which you treat your people will be the manner in which they treat your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have a catchy customer service slogan, wallpaper the office with posters of the company mission statement and values, or create fancy marketing materials touting your brand promise, if you treat your people like they’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, and have to be micromanaged, they’ll treat your customers the same way. At Blanchard, people are extended a fair amount of autonomy in their roles to do what’s in the best interest of our clients. Leadership takes this same approach with employees through various programs like Infant at Work, where new mothers are encouraged to bring their infants to work until they reach 6 months of age. The company also sets aside a certain percentage of our profits for employees to donate to the charity of their choice through our Give Back program. The employee, not the company, decides where that money will be used. Autonomy and flexibility are key components in creating a high-morale workplace.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

To plagiarize Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan (“It’s the economy, stupid”)—It’s the culture, stupid! At the end of the day, the creation of a high-morale, highly engaged workforce is about intentionally nurturing the norms and behaviors you want in your culture and extinguishing those you don’t. Every day Ken Blanchard leaves a “morning message” voicemail for the entire company. In that message, Ken takes the opportunity to reinforce the core values of our culture. He praises accomplishments of individuals, share concerns for those in need, discusses his latest insights about life and leadership, or shares other inspirational ideas and encouragement.

Any single one of these strategies is insufficient in itself, and certainly not appropriate for every organization. However, taken together, they weave together to form the fabric of our culture that results in a highly engaged, positive morale workforce. It doesn’t matter your industry, geography, or size of organization when it comes to building a high-morale culture. It starts with leadership. It starts with you!

This post was originally published at Switch & Shift as part of a series on workplace morale. I encourage you to check it out!

Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People

Walking on EggshellsHunting for hidden eggs is one of the great traditions of celebrating Easter. The fun and excitement of finding eggs can be tempered by the prospect of accidentally stepping on and breaking those delicate treasures. As a result, you end up cautiously tip-toeing through the hunt, afraid to move too fast or take any chances. After a while it takes the fun out of the whole experience.

Walking on eggshells around temperamental people at work takes all the fun out of your job. We’ve all probably had the experience of knowing or working with someone who blows up without any warning or at the slightest provocation. It can be intimidating to work with someone like this, and if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get trapped in relating to this person in unhealthy ways. You can find yourself constantly bowing to this person’s wishes, avoiding the person, or actually believing you’re at fault for this person’s reactions.

Here are four suggestions to help you deal with this kind of situation:

1. Realize it’s not you – Your behavior isn’t the problem. The problem is the emotional instability of the other person. You are not responsible for how another person reacts, even if they blame you for their behavior (e.g., “You make me so mad!”). The truth is that each of us has to take responsibility for our own behavior, not that of other people.

2. Don’t cater to their demands – There is a reason the U.S. government has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and it should also be your policy with the office tyrant. Negotiating or catering to the demands of someone does nothing to change their behavior over the long-term and only works against you. They get what they want by having you modify your behavior to suit their needs and you get nothing…except walking on eggshells.

3. Set and maintain boundaries – Healthy boundaries are the key to relating to difficult people at work. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat for them. It’s completely appropriate for you to set boundaries with difficult people, and most importantly, consistently maintain those boundaries. It will likely mean some uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations with the offending party.

4. Seek help if needed – Handling this kind of situation directly with the other person will often solve the issue, but sometimes you may need to call in reinforcements. Don’t hesitate to ask your manager to help address the problem. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak and sometimes the offending party won’t change his/her ways until the boss addresses the problem.

7 Ways to Make it Easy for People to Work with You

easy“It all depends on who you’re working with.”

That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent. It all depends on who you’re working with.

In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.

Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.

Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:

1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.

2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.

4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.

5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.

6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!

7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.

No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.

The Enemy of Trust and 6 Ways to Defeat It

coach-yellingToday is Super Bowl Sunday, and along with tens of millions of other people, I’ll be watching the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks battle it out for the NFL championship. One of the things I enjoy about watching sports is paying attention to the “game within the game.” I observe how the coaches interact with each other and the players, how they react to the highs and lows of the game, and how they lead their teams.

I’ve observed many coaches lead through fear and intimidation. I’ve seen them criticize players for making mistakes, or yell and scream at players in frustration because the game isn’t going the way the coach would like. I’ve noticed when coaches are “screamers,” their players eventually tune them out, or even worse, become so afraid to make mistakes they fail to give their best effort.

Unfortunately, this kind of leadership isn’t limited to the world of sports. Our workplaces have plenty of leaders who try to lead through fear. Maybe you work for one? Maybe you are one?

Even if you aren’t the stereotypical gruff, volatile, loud, in-your-face type of boss, you may be casting a shadow of fear over your team without even realizing it. Your positional authority alone is enough to create a certain amount of anxiety and stress in the hearts of your employees. Add in some common fear-inducing behaviors leaders often use like hoarding information, losing their temper, and not protecting the interests of their employees, you’ve got the recipe for creating timid and fearful team members.

Fear is the enemy of trust. It’s hard, if not virtually impossible, for trust to survive if there is fear in a relationship. The two are polar opposites just like night and day, black and white, pain and pleasure, success and failure, or even Michigan and Ohio State (Go Blue!).

In order to become a trusted leader, you need to lower, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of fear in the relationships with those you lead. Here are six ways to lower fear and build trust:

1. Be consistent in your behavior – Unpredictability breeds fear. If your employees can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to step out and take risks. They’ll always be on edge, not knowing who’s going to show up at the office, the “good boss” that will support their efforts and have their back should they make a mistake, or the “bad boss” that will fly off the handle and punish them for their failure.

2. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities – High-trust cultures give employees confidence to set BHAG’s – big hairy audacious goals – and risk failure by not achieving them. Rather than penalize your employees when they make a mistake, use the opportunity to coach them on how to do better the next time around.

3. Explain the “why” – Let your team members know the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions you make. It will help them better understand your thought processes and motivations and create more buy-in to your leadership. Failure to explain the “why” leaves people wondering about why you do what you do and sows the seeds of doubt and fear.

4. Share information about yourself – The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself. By soliciting the feedback of others, you can learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Check out one of my previous articles about how you can build trust by being more vulnerable with people.

5. Solicit and use feedback from others – Leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother soliciting feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.

6. Be nice – Say “please”… “thank you”… “you’re welcome”… a little kindness goes a long way in building trust. Simply making the effort to be friendly and build a rapport with others signals to them that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers that show up to do a job.

The coaches of today’s Super Bowl teams, John Fox (Broncos) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks), aren’t known as fear-inducing leaders. In fact, they’re quite the opposite – positive, upbeat, steady, and encouraging. Their players feel secure in the consistency of their leadership and perform without fear of how they’ll respond if they make a mistake. That style of leadership produces winning teams. Give it a try with yours.

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