Leading with Trust

Get Real! 7 Keys to Develop Leadership Authenticity

Get RealHey leader…get real! It’s time to quit trying to be something you aren’t. It’s time to be authentic.

Authenticity is an essential component of being a trustworthy leader. People are longing to follow leaders who are sincere and genuine, and when they find one, they will offer that leader 100% of their energy and engagement. You can be that kind of leader if you try and it’s not rocket science to figure out how. Start with these 7 keys:

1. Be humble – A recent study showed that only one out of four CEOs were described by their own executives as being humble. CEOs that were rated as highly regarded were nearly six times more likely to be described as humble (34% vs. 6%). Humble leaders use their power to benefit others, share the same values as their followers, and look for ways to empower others to reach their potential.

2. Be vulnerable – Take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself every once in while, because when you do so, it shows your followers that you actually are a little human (and just like them). Fear holds us back from being vulnerable with others, but take a little risk and “get naked” with your staff sometimes.

3. Admit you don’t know – Admitting they don’t know something can be incredibly difficult for leaders. After all, isn’t that why they’re leaders? They’re supposed to have the answers for everything! Admitting you don’t know something shows you have a realistic appreciation of your own strengths and weaknesses. Being a leader doesn’t mean you know all the answers; it means you’re willing to work hard to figure them out.

4. Walk the talk – It’s easy to talk the talk but authentic leaders make sure they walk it as well. Consistency in behavior is imperative for authentic leadership. Your actions need to be in alignment with your words otherwise people will quickly see you don’t actually believe what you say you do.

5. Admit mistakes – If you messed up, own it. Don’t try to shift blame, make excuses, or throw someone else under the bus. If you made a mistake, admit it, apologize if necessary, and then work hard to repair any damage. Authentic leaders are secure enough in their identities to deal with mistakes in a humble, genuine fashion that results in actually increasing trust and respect with their followers rather than eroding it.

6. Do what you say you will do – Following through on your commitments is a must-have for authentic leadership. Maintaining reliability with others through consistent and predictable behavior builds trust and confidence in your leadership. Authentic leaders can be trusted at their word. If you say you are going to do something, then do it.

7. Act with integrity – Be honest, do the right thing, make ethical decisions, keep promises, treat people with respect, don’t lie, cheat or steal…pretty much everything you learned in kindergarten! Authentic leaders value their integrity above all else. When you leave the workplace each day, you should be able to hold your head high because you conducted yourself with integrity. A leader of high integrity stands out above all others.

The world is in desperate need for authentic leadership and you can play a part. Start with these seven keys and you’ll be on your way to leading with trust and authenticity.

Feel free to leave a comment and share additional keys to develop leadership authenticity.

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.

The 1 Question All Leaders Must Ask Themselves

influence match sticksWhen you started your career, did you intentionally set your sights on being a leader or did it sort of, you know, just happen? For most of us, it just happens. We start out in an individual contributor role and soon find out the only way to gain responsibility and earn more money is to get promoted into a supervisory position. Suddenly we find ourselves responsible for leading other people and we probably never gave much thought about what kind of leader we wanted to be or if people would even want to follow us.

If you’re currently in a leadership position, or are thinking about moving into one, you should consider one very important question:

“Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you?”

Mel Lawrenz poses this question in his book Spiritual Influence – The Hidden Power Behind Leadership. The question contains several important truths:

  • Leadership is influence, not power or authority
  • People can choose whether or not they receive your leadership, you can’t force it upon them
  • The leader needs to have something worth giving

influence quoteIn an effort to help you answer that question, let me ask you a few more. Do you view your leadership role as a position, title, or form of power that will help you achieve your goals? Or do you view your leadership role as one of supporting other people to achieve their goals? Do you force your leadership influence upon people by coercing or demanding they follow your directives? Or do you earn the trust of your people by acting with integrity, being consistent in your behavior, taking a sincere interest in your people, and following through on your commitments? And what do you have to offer to your people? Do you have a track record of success and the expertise to share with others to help them in their own jobs? Do you have a desire to give people support, direction, and encouragement to reach their goals?

People want leaders who are authentic, genuine, and trustworthy, not those who play politics, are insincere, or out for their own gain. People want to know their leaders are invested in helping them succeed and will have their backs when times get tough, as opposed to hanging them out to dry when they make mistakes.

Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you? Answer that question and you’ll reach a deeper level of insight into your leadership motivations than you’ve ever had before.

4 Steps to Living Your Leadership Legacy

Rainbow Over Country Road

Honor. Courage. Humility. Integrity. Loving. Fun. Hero.

Those were the words used to describe Dan Hines at his memorial service last Tuesday. I didn’t know Dan that well, having met him just once, but those who knew him well, really knew him. By the stories told, the laughs shared, and the tears shed, it was evident that Dan’s legacy was clear to those who knew him best.

Are you intentionally living your legacy, or are you leaving it to chance? As a leader, what is it you want to pass on to others? What kind of lasting impact do you want to make? Have you even thought about it? If not, you should.

You will leave a legacy. Your leadership will have an impact on others no matter what you do. The question is, what kind of legacy will it be? Here are four steps you can take to identify the kind of leader you want to be and the legacy you leave to others.

1. Know your core values – Your values are those deeply held beliefs that guide your decisions and priorities in life. They are the guard rails on the highway of life, keeping you on track and pointed in the right direction. Sadly, many people don’t take the time to thoughtfully consider and explore their core values. If you don’t know your values, how can you expect to live them out? A good place to start is by doing a values identification exercise. As you go through this exercise, get the input of others who know you well. Once you identify your core values, you’re ready to move to the next step.

2. Craft a personal mission statement – I used to think this 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. My personal mission statement is “To use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and a model of God’s grace and truth.” The great thing about personal mission statements is they can be whatever you want them to be! You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started. First, brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.” Second, create a list of ways to effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.” Third, 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.” Fourth, 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.”

3. Share your leadership point of view with those you lead – Your leadership point of view is the combination of your personal values, mission statement, beliefs about leadership, and the expectations you have for yourself and others. It explains the “why” of your leadership. Sharing your leadership point of view with those you lead builds tremendous levels of trust and helps your team clearly understand why you do what you do as a leader. It helps your team know you on a more personal and intimate level and is a way to express your vulnerability and authenticity as a leader.

4. Surround yourself with truth-tellers – There are a couple common pitfalls of moving into higher levels of leadership. One pitfall is you begin to think you know all the answers. After all, that’s how you got to where you are, right? Another pitfall is people around you may become less willing to challenge your beliefs and actions because of your title and position power. The combination of these two things results in you being blind to areas where you may be falling short or not living up to your values. That’s why you need to surround yourself with truth-tellers. Truth-tellers are those trusted confidants who have your best interests at heart and are willing to engage you in those difficult conversations when you aren’t living true to your leadership purpose. I’m fortunate to have several of those people in my life and they are worth their weight in gold. They keep me on the right path of living my leadership legacy.

Dan Hines left college and joined the Army during the Vietnam War. He went on to become a helicopter pilot and was shot down three times. He refused a Purple Heart medal because he felt he was just doing his duty and his actions weren’t as significant as other soldiers who sacrificed more. He loved his wife and daughter deeply and his actions showed it. He adored his grandchildren. He pulled pranks on friends and family and enjoyed life. He strove to live by his principles and do the right thing.

Honor. Courage. Humility. Integrity. Loving. Fun. Hero.

Dan lived his legacy. Will you live yours?

10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates

Question MarksThe last few weeks I’ve been focused on hiring a new team member. Although time-consuming and laborious, it’s one of the most important things I do and is one responsibility a leader can’t delegate.

I have two main goals when conducting an interview: 1) Assess the candidate’s skills and abilities to do the job, and 2) gauge the candidate’s personality, attitude, values, and beliefs to determine if she will be a culture fit. (And not necessarily in that priority order. I would rather hire someone who is a good culture fit that has the aptitude to learn the job, than hire someone with great technical skills who is a bad culture fit. The culture will chew them up and spit them out every time, meanwhile, your life will be miserable managing the person and the fallout created.)

I try to accomplish the first goal through behavioral interviewing. Over the years, my leadership team and I have honed in on a list of behavioral interview statements/questions that align with the key competencies of the position for which we’re hiring. We look for specific accomplishments from the candidate that demonstrate she has the relevant transferable skills that will likely make her a success on our team.

For the second goal—to determine if the candidate will be a culture fit—I ask questions designed to get below the surface. I want to move beyond the standard, interview response clichés, and get to know the candidate on a more personal level. I want to learn about her motivators, demotivators, personality, and instinctive responses to the highs and lows of the job. In order to do that, we’ve come up with some slightly off-beat questions. Granted, you can only learn so much about a person in an interview, but we’ve found these questions to be pretty insightful. Feel free to use them at your own risk!

  1. Tell me your story. This is probably the most generic of the questions we ask, but it’s helpful to get to know the candidate on a personal level. Asking the question in this way leaves the candidate wide latitude in what she shares, which I find telling in regards to her level of vulnerability. Does she talk about her family or just herself? Does she include any personal information or does she keep it focused on her career?
  2. Let’s play a word association game! This is actually multiple questions wrapped up in one. We have chosen several key words that relate to different aspects of our culture, organization, and the job itself. We ask the candidate to share her first response upon hearing the key word, and then we ask her to expand on her answer. The rapid fire nature of this question and answer exchange helps us assess the candidate’s instinctive response and thoughts to the word/situation at hand.
  3. What is the biggest misconception people have about you? This question is designed to probe the candidate’s level of self-awareness and her willingness to be honest and vulnerable. The first impression we have of someone can often be a misconception, and I’m interested in knowing if the candidate has enough self-awareness to understand and manage the way she is perceived by others.
  4. What do you not want to be doing in five years? Rather than asking the standard “What are your goals over the next five years?” question, we flip it around and ask what the candidate doesn’t want to be doing. It gives insight into the type of work or environment that will be demotivating to the individual.
  5. What are three words your coworkers would use to describe you? Whether we realize it or not, each of us has a brand image at work. I’m interested in knowing if the candidate is aware of her brand image, as perceived by others, and if it’s a positive one.
  6. What are your biggest pet peeves at work? It’s amazing how revealing people will be when you ask this question. Their eyes will light up and they’ll rattle off several things that get under their skin. If those irritants are common in your workplace, you’ve just received a heads-up that this particular candidate may experience extreme frustration in the job.
  7. Who are your biggest role models in life? This question gives me insight into the candidate’s upbringing and values system. Does the candidate have positive role models? Does she credit other people with helping her along the way or is she self-focused? This question can open many doors of conversation in the interview that allow you to learn more about the candidate.
  8. Why should we not hire you? I want to see if the candidate has a realistic view of their skills and abilities in relation to the job requirements. Seldom is there a perfect job candidate and I want to see if she is authentic enough to admit she still has some areas of growth.
  9. What would your biggest critic say about you? We’ve all received negative feedback from time to time. This question probes the candidate’s level of self-awareness to see if she is vulnerable and authentic enough to admit it and to help me understand how she has dealt with it.
  10. What is your biggest regret? If you couldn’t tell already, I’m really interested in getting to know the candidate deeper than surface level niceties. A genuine, heartfelt response to this question often tells me more about the candidate’s character and maturity than any other question we ask.

There you go, ten awesome interview questions to help you really get to know your job candidates. Feel free to leave a comment and share your own awesome interview questions.

Don’t Lead Scared – 6 Tips for Leading Like a Badass

John WayneOne sure way to kill your leadership career is to lead scared.

Leading from a position of fear never brings good results. It causes you to make rash decisions, shrink from opportunities, and needlessly fight the wrong battles.

The opposite of leading scared is leading like a badass. 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.

How NOT to Lead – Six Lessons from Breaking Bad’s Walter White

Walter WhiteI’m a fan of the television show Breaking Bad. If you’re not familiar with it, the show chronicles the transformation of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a mild-mannered, milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who “breaks bad” and turns into a crystal meth-producing drug lord in order to finance his cancer treatments and provide for his family after his likely death.

The writing, story-telling, character development, and dialogue in the show are top-notch, and despite the edgy subject matter, I was hooked…addicted?…after just a small taste. As the series comes to a close tonight with the premiere of the final eight episodes, I reflected on some leadership lessons from Walter White. He’s an excellent study on how NOT to lead. If you employ these strategies you might achieve temporary success, as Walter White has, but eventually you’ll go down in flames…which is my prediction for Walt’s fate this season.

1. Don’t trust anyone – Walter White never fully trusts anyone, even himself at times. He only trusts people enough for them to do what he needs them to do, so he keeps people on a “need to know” basis, hoards power and information, and makes the final decisions. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and if you don’t have it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder to see who’s on your trail and your relationships will always have an air of suspicion and doubt surrounding them.

2. The end justifies the means – Walt started with the noble, yet morally ambiguous, goal of wanting to provide for his family. His odds of beating cancer were slim, and with a son starting college and a baby daughter on the way, Walt saw the cost of his cancer treatments leaving his family in financial ruins. What started as a quick-hit scheme to meet the financial needs of his family quickly devolved into Walt being willing to do anything – lie, cheat, steal, murder – to protect his drug empire and meet the dark and desperate needs of his shadow self. This strategy is particularly useful for leaders who view people as objects, just mere speed-bumps on the road to success, and are willing to run over anyone at anytime in order to get what they want.

Pyramid of Choice3. Erode your morality and integrity one choice at a time – Walter White didn’t become an evil mastermind and drug kingpin overnight, it was a series of small choices that led him down the road to destruction. The work of Dan Ariely and Tavris and Aronson provide insight into this slippery slope of human behavior. Tavris and Aronson use the “Pyramid of Choice” to illustrate the “what the hell effect,” which explains how our rationalizations of wrong choices makes it easier for us to make further wrong choices that continually erode our integrity. Moral of the story? Every decision counts. Make good ones that reinforce your integrity.

4. Intoxicate yourself on powerStudies have shown that money and power can make you less empathetic toward other people and Walter White’s experience illustrates that phenomenon. As Walt gains money and power in the drug world he quickly loses sight of his original goal. Jesse, Walt’s former student and partner in crime, points out that Walt originally said he needed to make just shy of $1 million to provide for his family, and now that he had $5 million stashed away it still wasn’t enough. If you’re in a leadership role to fulfill your needs for power, position, and status, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Get out now!

Say My Name5. Let your ego drive your actions – Over the seasons we learn that Walt co-founded a company called Gray Matter Technologies, sold his share for $5,000, and now the company is worth over $2 billion. Walt never reconciled his ego-needs with the direction his life took, and now that he’s got money and power from his drug business, his ego runs wild and manifests itself as “Heisenberg,” Walt’s street name. In one memorable scene where Walt is arm-twisting a rival drug dealer into becoming the distribution arm for Walt’s superior product, he not only revels in revealing his identity as Heisenberg, he forces his competitor to pay homage to him by demanding that he “Say my name.” Use that tactic in your next team building meeting and see how far it gets you.

6. Manipulate people to get what you want – Walt’s relationship with Jesse is a picture in manipulation. Walt goes so far as to poison the son of Jesse’s girlfriend and convinces Jesse to break up with her so there would be no one competing for Jesse’s time and attention. Jesse is ultimately a pawn in Walt’s strategy to build his drug empire. Demonstrating care and concern for people is a key factor in building trust, and if you aren’t genuine and authentic in wanting to be in relationship with people, others will quickly see through your facade.

It will be interesting to see how the character of Walter White fares over the last eight episodes of this series. We’ve seen plenty of real-life examples of prominent leaders who display these traits and characteristics and their fate isn’t pretty. Will Walter White fare any better? I don’t think so.

Three Leadership Lessons From Comic-Con

Comic Con 2013

Photo by K.C. Alfred / U.T. San Diego

This weekend was the annual Comic-Con event that’s held every summer here in San Diego. Nearly a 130,000 people visit the convention that celebrates a variety of comic arts and pop culture elements like animation, horror, science fiction, television, and movies.

Having attended a few Comic-Cons myself, I can say that you never know what you might see or experience, but one thing is certain – it’s always an interesting, unique occasion. In a very warped, twisted sort of way (which is appropriate given the topic), Comic-Con has many similarities to the workplace and can teach us valuable lessons about leadership. Here’s a few things I’ve learned about leadership from my Comic-Con experiences:

  1. People Like to Wear Masks — Comic-Con is like an early Halloween. Attendees often wear the outfits of their favorite comic/TV/movie characters and over the years I’ve seen Wonder Woman, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Storm Troopers, Zombies, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and just about every other “___man” character out there. In the workplace people like to wear masks to hide their fear and insecurities. Leaders have the responsibility to develop trusting relationships so their people aren’t afraid to be authentic and vulnerable.
  2. Passion is Powerful — Why did tens of thousands of people mindlessly go through the motions at work this past week and then suddenly turn into excited, engaged, and passionate (obsessed?) participants at Comic-Con? It’s because Comic-Con taps into their optimal motivational state by allowing them to demonstrate their competence (everyone is an expert at Comic Con), develop a sense of relatedness with others who share their interests, and celebrate their autonomy and individuality (hence the freedom and encouragement to wear costumes). Workplaces that want to tap into the discretionary energy of their employees should look to incorporate these same principles into the work people perform and the organization’s culture.
  3. Everyone Wants to Belong — People from all walks of life are not only welcomed and accepted at Comic-Con, they experience a sense of belonging. Two weeks ago I wrote about the difference between fitting in and belonging and Comic-Con is a real life example of where geeks, nerds, kids, adults, industry experts, and Hollywood stars are all on equal footing. A primary goal for leaders is to develop a team culture where their people feel they are valued for who they are, not just what they can do.

Comic-Con is a one-of-a-kind experience that always offers something new and unique. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could design our workplaces to offer the same sense of excitement, commitment, and engagement? Feel free to leave a comment and add to the discussion.

The Great Communicator – Four Ways Ronald Reagan Built Trust

On Tuesday, November 6th, those of us in the United States get to participate in the great American experiment of democratic self-government when we go to the polls to cast our ballot in the presidential election. One of the key roles of the President of the United States, and for any leader in general, is to inspire trust in his or her followers. Few have done it better than Ronald Reagan, the “Great Communicator.”

The first time I was old enough to vote in a presidential election was in 1984 when Reagan defeated Walter Mondale in a landslide, earning 525 of the 538 electoral votes, the highest total in history. Reagan communicated in such a way that allowed most Americans to trust and follow him and to believe in the direction he wanted to take the country. Far from being an exhaustive treatise on the Reagan presidency, here’s four ways that Reagan built trust through his communications. Leaders in any organization at any level can benefit from applying these principles:

He had clear values – Whether you agreed with him or not, Reagan had very clear values that drove his actions. His view on the supremacy of individual freedom and the limited role of government was clearly articulated when he said, “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” Trusted leaders have a keen sense of their own personal values and are not hesitant to communicate them to their people and make decisions in alignment with those values.

He helped people believe in themselves – Reagan’s belief in the capabilities of individual Americans inspired a sense of confidence in people. When he used phrases such as “It’s morning again in America” or “America is back and standing tall,” he communicated a sense of belief in Americans that had been lacking in prior years. Leaders build trust with their people when they express their belief and confidence in them. Don’t ever let an opportunity go by to build someone up.

He had an authentic sense of humor – One of Reagan’s most endearing qualities was his sense of humor. He, along with other successful leaders, knew how to take his work seriously but himself lightly. Reagan frequently took heat for being one of America’s oldest presidents yet he didn’t become bitter about the criticism. He said “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” Leaders will always be successful when they focus on being a first-rate version of themselves rather than a second-rate version of someone else.

He had a clear vision – Reagan frequently talked about America becoming the “shining city on a hill,” a vision of American exceptionalism, a vision of America reaching its full potential in all aspects of its existence and being an example for the world to model. In his farewell address in January 1989, Reagan said. “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still…”

Regan’s vision for America captured the hearts and minds of its citizens and tapped into an innate need that every one of us has; the need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. One of a leader’s primary responsibilities is to clearly articulate the vision of his or her team. Why does your team exist? What is your mission? What are you trying to accomplish? Answer those questions and clearly communicate them to your team and you’ll take a big step toward creating a trusted and loyal followership.

Navy SEALs, Fame and the Lure of Narcissism – A Cautionary Tale for Leaders

The publication this week of No Easy Day, a book written by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette (using the pseudonym Mark Owen) detailing his involvement in the killing of Osama bin Laden, offers a cautionary tale for leaders everywhere. How do you deal with cultivating and enforcing your organization’s culture when it clashes with the values of your team members and the evolving behavioral norms of society at large?

The Navy SEALs, along with the other special operation forces of the military, have a long and storied culture of humility, honor, and selflessness. The mantra of their profession has always been “we don’t talk about what we do,” yet that philosophy has come in direct conflict with the desires and decisions of current and former SEALs to cash in on their experiences and expertise.

“We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions,” said Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, in an email message to his 2,500 soldiers this week. He said he was “disappointed, embarrassed and concerned” that troops are now openly speaking and writing about what they do.

“Most of us have always thought that the privilege of working with some of our nation’s toughest warriors on challenging missions would be enough to be proud of, with no further compensation or celebrity required. Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations. For an Elite Force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so. We owe our chain of command much better than this.”

Pybus’ comments seem somewhat hypocritical given the fact that active duty SEALs were given approval to appear in the recent movie Act of Valor, former SEALs and special operatives appeared in the TV show Stars Earn Stripes, the Pentagon and CIA have provided support for an upcoming movie about the bin Laden raid, Zero Dark Thirty,  and SEALs are working on two other movies currently in production.

In their book, The Mirror Effect – How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, doctors Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young studied the narcissistic behaviors of American celebrities and their effects on society at large. They suggest that the explosion of reality TV shows, tabloid journalism, instantaneous news via the internet, gossip websites, personal blogs, and social networks are all changing our perceptions of what’s “normal” and facilitating the mirroring of these behaviors in our lives, particularly among the young.

This is the very cultural clash facing the SEALs. In a CNN.com story on this subject, a recently retired senior SEAL said, “It’s a generational thing that is happening to some extent. Some younger SEALs who have grown up in the age of the Internet and instant online communications simply feel it’s their right to talk about their work, as long as they can claim it’s not classified.”

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. In fact, if we as leaders are honest with ourselves, we would be the first to admit that we have our own battles with narcissism. A Ohio State University study found that people who score high in narcissism tend to take control of leaderless groups – it’s in our nature. But because it’s in our nature doesn’t mean that it has to control us.

In dealing with this challenge I’m reminded of the old Native American story about the battle of two wolves inside each of us. One wolf is Evil and it is anger, jealousy, pride, ego, and greed. The other wolf is Good and it is love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, selflessness, and compassion. Which wolf wins? The one you choose to feed.

Are You Suffering From The Illusion of Transparency?

If you google the phrase “transparency in business” you’ll get more than 61,200,000 results. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic in leadership and business circles. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency – the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.

Recently I had a manager ask my advice on how to be more transparent with her employees. She told me that one of her direct reports gave feedback that the manager needed to be more transparent, specifically in the area of sharing more personal information about herself. This leader believes herself to have a very transparent leadership style, but apparently it’s not coming across that way to this particular direct report. An illusion of transparency perhaps?

If you find yourself in a similar position of having received feedback that you need to be more transparent, or if you have an inkling that it’s an area in which you need to improve, I’d recommend you consider the following:

1. Be specific in your communications — Don’t take the easy way out by engaging in organizational double-speak which, unfortunately, seems to be more the norm than the exception today. Not wanting to get painted into a corner or be held to specific commitments or standards, we often obfuscate or communicate in vague generalities to appease people. In reality, your people want, need, and deserve the straight truth from you. It may be hard, difficult, or painful, but in the long run you’ll earn more trust and respect by being straight-up with your folks.

2. Understand what transparency looks like to your people — Just as with beauty, transparency is in the eye of the beholder. In the case I mentioned above, the leader believed she had a high level of transparency with her followers, but it wasn’t the case with this one particular employee. I think individual personalities play a role in how transparency is perceived. Some people who are more relationship-focused may have a greater need for personal transparency (the leader sharing more information about self) where others who are more task-focused may have a greater need for transparency of information.

3. Be authentic — It’s hard to fake transparency. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because although you may be able to get away with it for a while, eventually the real you will come out. If you have trouble being transparent, admit it! That in and of itself will be one the greatest things you can do to increase transparency and trust with others. Let your people know it’s something you’re intentionally working on improving and ask for their support and understanding.

People want to follow leaders who are authentic, genuine, and honest, and being transparent in your actions and communications is critical to being a trusted leader, and that’s no illusion.

“Situational Crying” – An Effective Way to Build Trust?

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, made news recently when she admitted to crying at work during a speech at Harvard Business School. Sandberg said,

I’ve cried at work.  I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that ‘Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder’, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs.  I try to be myself – honest about my strengths and weaknesses – and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

My colleague, Maria Capelli, sent me and several other colleagues a link to this article which prompted an interesting email discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of showing emotion in the workplace, especially from a leadership perspective.

Maria said that “Being vulnerable, not only as a leader but as a fellow co-worker, can help build trust.  Being real/authentic can help build credibility.  I am not saying we should all start crying at work – it’s situational. As long as it’s not disruptive or frequent, I think it’s perfectly healthy.  And besides, suppression of our emotions for long periods of time cannot be healthy for the mind, body and soul.”

Our colleague, Susan Fowler, co-author of our Situational Self Leadership training program and our soon-to-be-released program, Optimal Motivation, mentioned that the real “F” word in corporate America is “feelings,” and the interesting paradox leaders are faced with when regulating their emotions: Is not crying when you want to a form of self-regulation, or is crying and owning your emotion a form of self-regulated courage to be honest in the workplace?

I agree that a critical part of building trust is being vulnerable and authentic, and sometimes that involves showing emotion in the workplace, within reason of course. I think Susan brings up an interesting connection between self-regulation, managing emotions, and being emotionally intelligent. My experience is that people who are emotionally intelligent and good at self-regulation have the ability to express the appropriate emotions at the appropriate time. Those who are challenged in those areas seem to be the ones that go overboard which leads to being known as emotionally unstable and unpredictable. Being reliably consistent and predictable in your behavior is a key component of developing trust with others.

Emotional intelligence is a critical success factor for succeeding in today’s business world. A recent survey by CareerBuilder showed that hiring managers are increasingly looking for candidates with high EQ’s because they are more likely to stay calm under pressure, handle stress better, and approach workplace relationships and conflict with greater maturity and sense of perspective.

There’s no doubt that showing the proper amount of emotion, in the right place at the right time, can be a key to building trust. The key is for leaders to develop the emotional intelligence and maturity to properly discern when the timing is right and when it’s wrong. As my colleague Maria said, “it’s situational.”

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