Leading with Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brene Brown’s 4 Pillars of Courageous Leadership

Vulnerability, clarity of values, trust, and rising skills are the four pillars of courageous leadership, according to Brené Brown, author, storyteller, and research professor at the University of Houston. Brené joined us at the Blanchard Summit this past week and shared her latest thinking on what it means for leaders to be courageous and vulnerable.

Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Leaders exhibit courageous leadership when they’re willing to be vulnerable—they’re “all in”—even though it means they may fail or get hurt. Contrary to popular opinion, vulnerable leadership isn’t soft or weak. Brown says vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.

When you choose to engage in courageous leadership, you will have critics and haters. Brown reminded us that being brave with your life is a painful mirror to those around you. “Don’t try to win over the haters,” Brown said, “you aren’t the ‘jackass whisperer.'” She encouraged us to draw a one inch by one inch box on a piece of paper and list the names of the people whose opinions matter to us within that one inch box. It drives home the point about how important it is to be selective about who you allow to speak into your life. Brown punctuated this point by saying she’s adopted the point of view that “If you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked occasionally, then I’m not interested in your feedback or criticism.”

Trust is at the heart of true courageous, vulnerable relationship. Many people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s not how trust works in reality. Trust is built through the intentional use of specific behaviors, and you can teach people how to become more trustworthy and better trust builders with others. To effectively build trust in a team or organization, it requires everyone to have a common definition of trust. Download this free whitepaper to learn how having a common language about trust fuels high performance in organizations.

As Brené Brown shared with us, courageous leadership is not comfortable. You will fall and skin your knee. But courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.

6 Ways to Become a Badass Leader

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldI’m a fan of the Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials (the original ones, not the cheesy new ones). Some of my favorite sayings about The Most Interesting Man in the World include:

  • His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.
  • Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.
  • People hang on his every word, even the prepositions.
  • He can disarm you with his looks or his hands, either way.
  • He can speak French in Russian.
  • He once taught canaries the art of falconry.

That guy is a real badass, isn’t he? Imagine him in a leadership role…badassery at it’s best! You can be a badass leader too, although it’s probably not what you think.

What does a badass leader look like?

He confidently marches to the beat of his own drum, not swayed by popular opinion or the need to please others. He doesn’t put on airs, pretending to be something he isn’t, but stays true to his principles and values in all that he does. He doesn’t have to talk about being a badass (that’s a poser) because he knows he is a badass. A badass leader isn’t an uncooperative jerk, indiscriminately ticking people off. A badass leader knows his limits and takes pride in working with others to achieve the goals of the team. Understated, purposeful, and pursuing excellence in all he does. That’s a badass.

Examples of well-known badasses:

  • Abraham Lincoln – Presidential Badass
  • Condoleezza Rice – Diplomat Badass
  • Derek Jeter – Baseball Badass
  • Leonardo da Vinci – Renaissance Badass
  • Mother Teresa – Spiritual Badass
  • Albert Einstein – Intellectual Badass
  • Aristotle – Philosophical Badass
  • John Wayne – Western Movie Actor Badass

Get the idea? So how do you become a leadership badass? Here’s six ways:

1. Develop your competence – Competence breeds confidence, no two ways about it. If you want to be more secure in your leadership abilities then you need to keep learning and growing. Read books, take classes, get a mentor, and learn from others. Badass leaders aren’t content with the status quo. They are always striving to improve their craft.

2. Be vulnerable – Huh? Isn’t that the opposite of being a badass? No! Leaders that display vulnerability show they don’t have anything to hide. Posers are those who lead with a false sense of confidence, trying to hide their weaknesses from others. Badass leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something. People crave authentic leadership and badasses are nothing if not authentic.

3. Focus on building trust – Trust is the foundation of badassery. You have to earn people’s trust before they will follow you and give their all. Badass leaders focus on building trust by being good at what they do, acting with integrity, caring for others, and following through on their commitments.

4. Build up other people – Badass leaders don’t feel the need to build themselves up by tearing down others. Secure enough in their self-worth, badass leaders take pride in the accomplishments of their team members and do everything they can to set them up for success. Badass leaders know that their success comes from the success of their people.

5. Get stuff done – Badass leaders don’t make excuses, they make things happen. They remove obstacles for their people, find the tools and resources they need, and provide the right amounts of direction and support they need to achieve their goals. Badass leaders are about doing, not talking. Badass leaders get stuff done.

6. Go against the grain – Doing what’s right is not always the popular choice, but badass leaders aren’t afraid to go against the grain when it’s the right thing to do. Badass leaders know they can’t base their self-worth on the applause of others and they aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers on occasion.

Every leader has the ability to be a badass. It’s an attitude, a belief, a way of being. Don’t lead scared, letting fear drive your behavior, but tap into your inner badassness and lead with confidence and assurance. Before you know it, people will look at you and say, “Now that’s a badass leader!”

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on what it means to lead like a badass.

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

Leading with Character – The Key to Servant Leadership

leading-jesus-wayThe following is a guest post by Mark Deterding, author of the newly released book “Leading Jesus’ Way: Become The Servant Leader God Created You To Be.

Ever wonder what makes a good leader great? The answer is character.

Character is what flows out of the heart. It is what defines us as a leader. People want to follow people they can look up to and trust. So to become an effective servant leader, we must get intentional about building character.

Personal character is the sum of all the qualities that define us as individuals and as leaders. Warren Bennis cited Harvard research that indicated as much as 85% of a leader’s performance depends on his or her character. My experience in 35 years in business tells me the same thing.

The personal character of leaders defines their depth and stability; it is what leaders are truly made of.

Recognizing Character

When you look at leaders, you see many things. You can tell easily if they are intelligent, whether they have good technical skills and how much they understand the business and the industry. What you don’t see, because it is below the surface in their heart, is their character. That’s what Dwight Moody meant when he said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

Servant leaders are defined and recognizable by their character. Servant leaders know that people will follow them only if they are trusted and trust is only developed through virtuous character.

Servant Leadership Character Traits

Key aspects of a servant leader’s heart that will separate them from the pack include:

  • A desire to serve others, above and beyond oneself
  • A desire for never-ending development of one’s ability
  • A desire to achieve one’s very best
  • A willingness to always accept responsibility for one’s actions
  • A commitment to being humble and vulnerable
  • A desire to make a positive impact on society

Issues of the heart don’t change overnight. We must first get intentional about positively developing all the areas of our character to become better servant leaders.

On-Going Development

This is not a matter that is looked at only once. It is something we must check up on from time to time. This can be done by asking others (truth tellers) what they think. But don’t just stop with the feedback – work to implement changes so you can grow and have a greater impact as a servant leader.

We can also start improving in this area from where we are today by identifying someone whose character you greatly respect. Write down what that person says or does that you admire. This will help you frame up areas that you want to focus on to enhance your trust and build your personal character.

Make the Commitment

Remember, building character and trust is a process that takes time. Make the commitment to start where you are and pray for guidance and stamina through the journey. In time, you will be blessed for your efforts, so stay the course and allow God to work through you to make an impact in this world.

Mark

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

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