Leading with Trust

Saving Face – How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust

Everyone wants to be respected and valued. As long as you have a heartbeat and breath in your lungs, you will have the desire to be appreciated, honored, and trusted in your relationships with others. We all want to “save face.”

Saving face, the notion of preserving individual honor and dignity, is often associated with Asian cultures. Although having it’s cultural birth in China, saving face is a universal concept that transcends national culture. In her new book, Saving Face—How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust, Maya Hu-Chan examines face as a global concept that enables one to connect with people, break down barriers, and build trust and long-term relationships.

Face is important, says Hu-Chan, because it represents a person’s self-esteem, reputation, status, and dignity. She emphasizes that face is a form of social currency. The more face you have, the easier it is to accomplish things at work, the smoother your relationships, and the more social capital you have at your disposal.

Since saving face is human nature across cultures, generations, and genders, there are harmful consequences when it is lost or damaged. Losing face provokes shame, guilt, fear, vulnerability, and a wide range of negative emotions.

I find the concept of face to be interesting given its close connections to trust. Saving face is a means to building trust in relationships. In that regard, Hu-Chan suggests the BUILD model as a construct for developing and preserving face.

Benevolence & Accountability—I love the concept of benevolence because it’s at the heart of building trust. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others; it’s having another person’s best interests in mind. When people see that you care more about them than you do yourself, they are willing to be vulnerable with you and extend their trust to you. Accountability comes into the picture when you consider the two-way aspect of respect in a relationship. Face involves honoring each other. It encompasses acting in ways that preserve the dignity and respect of each party in the relationship, and for that to happen, each person must be accountable to the other. Face, like trust, requires reciprocity. Each person must give and receive it in order for it to grow.

Understanding—Hu-Chan shares that understanding is about putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing situations from their perspective. Being able to see multiple perspectives of a given situation or problem allows you to act in ways and make decisions that honor and respect the positions of others. This ability is especially critical in the twenty-first century. Technology and globalization has made our world much smaller, and many times the decisions we’re facing have an inordinate number of dynamics that must be considered. A leader’s best move is to be understanding and tap into the viewpoints of others.

Interacting—This element encompasses your interpersonal and communication skills. Written and verbal communication skills are important for leaders, and even more so is emotional intelligence. Leaders who save face are those who are self-aware of their own and others’ behaviors, and the impact those behaviors have on the relationship. They know how to self-regulate the behaviors they use in relationships because they understand how the other person will be impacted. Hu-Chan states that “interaction involves both the message and the method of conveying the message. It’s also about creating the context in which clear conversations can be had. And of course, the ability to interact effectively creates an environment where face is protected and strengthened.”

Learning—In order to build and preserve face, it’s important to be a lifelong learner. Face is not an outcome; it’s a way of being and relating to others. As such, you never stop learning how to improve your relationships. Hu-Chan offers four “P’s” about learning: passion, practice, persistence, and pattern recognition. Passion is pretty straight-forward. When you are excited about learning, it fuels the motivation to do so. Practice is putting in the work. It’s using what you’ve learned to become more skilled and proficient. Persistence is going the extra-mile. Inevitably you will encounter challenges that threaten to knock you off-track, but the most successful leaders are those who push through the barriers. Finally, pattern recognition. Once you’ve begun to master a particular skill or subject, you start to see connections and trends that others don’t see, which increases your level of contribution.

Delivery—This is putting all the elements of the BUILD model into practice. Being benevolent and accountable, understanding others’ perspectives, interacting effectively, and learning continuously are all well and good, but they don’t mean much if you don’t deliver and put those skills to use with your team. Delivery is about walking the talk.

One of my core values is respect. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of their socio-economic status, color of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that identifies us. Respect is at the root of saving face. It’s a way of relating to people in a way that increases the level of honor, dignity, and trust. How can you go wrong with that?

3 Keys to Becoming a Better Coach

Book cover of Coach the Person, Not the ProblemCoaching has become a ubiquitous term these days in the field of leadership. It can mean anything from giving advice, teaching, encouraging, training, mentoring, or even using a specific leadership style that incorporates a defined set of behaviors.

In her new book, Coach the Person, Not the Problem—A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry, Marcia Reynolds defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Although Reynolds clearly positions coaching as a distinct profession and process, the skills she shares applies not only to professional business coaches, but for everyday leaders as well.

Reynolds shares three keys that I believe are important for leaders to use to improve their ability to serve as effective coaches for their teams.

Build trust—No matter how talented you are as a coach or leader, people won’t be open to being influenced by you until they know you are trustworthy. Trust is required for someone to be willing to take the risk of opening up and sharing what’s on their heart and mind. A good place to start building trust is getting connected relationally. You do this by finding common ground with your team members. Get to know them on a personal level and not just as another employee showing up to do a job. Also, open the lines of communication. Extend trust to your team member by sharing information about yourself and hold whatever they share with you in confidence. Interpersonal trust is the foundation for being an effective coach.

Be a thinking partner—Reynolds stresses that coaching works best when the person being coached has some skills and knowledge to draw on, but they aren’t sure about the options, what to do first, or even the reasons behind their own uncertainty. As a thinking partner, your role is to help the team member process their own thoughts and feelings, not to give them advice or an answer. That requires you as the leader to step out of the role of being the expert, teacher, or fixer. A key word here is partner. When you provide coaching, you are focused on helping the team member use their own creativity and resources to move beyond their mental or emotional blocks and solve their own problems. A helpful way to be a thinking partner is through using the skills of reflective inquiry.

Reflective inquiry—As Reynolds points out, much of what passes as coaching today is a series of questions the coach is supposed to ask, rather than paying attention to the person being coached. In training classes, we are often given lists of common, open-ended questions that we’re encouraged to use when engaging a team member in a coaching conversation. We’re admonished not to stray from the script and instead focus on asking questions, which ultimately is more frustrating than helpful to the person being coached.

Instead, Reynolds says that coaching should be a process of inquiry, not a series of questions. The intent of inquiry is not to find answers, but to provoke critical thought. It helps the person being coached to discern gaps in their logic, evaluate their beliefs, and clarify their fears or expectations about the issue they’re facing. Reynolds says reflective inquiry is using reflective statements (recapping, labeling, using metaphors, identifying key or conflicting points, recognizing emotional shifts) plus questions (Is this true for you?) to provoke the person being coached into looking into their own thoughts. Not only does reflective inquiry help the person being coached view their issue from a higher and more helpful perspective, it frees the leader of the weight of feeling like they have to find the perfect question to ask.

Reflective statements + questions = reflective inquiry

The concept of reflective inquiry has shifted my perspective of what effective coaching looks like. Rather than solely focusing on asking open-ended questions, I can now see how reflecting back what the person has said to me, then pairing it with a thoughtful question that encourages deeper thinking, is a much more fulfilling experience for both of us. Ultimately, my job as a leader is to help my people develop to become the best version of themselves. I can’t do that by telling them what to do. They have to figure it out themselves, but I can coach them along the way. Using a reflective inquiry approach will make them, and me, more successful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are four characteristics of a clear leadership intent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1 Thing That Makes Feedback Work and 4 Ways to Get It

Feedback Book CoverFeedback has become the dreaded and dirty “F” word at work. No one wants to receive it, most fear giving it, yet everyone needs it in order to grow and improve. So, what do we do? Abandon feedback altogether or fix the way it’s used in the workplace?

M. Tamara Chandler and Laura Dowling Grealish make the case we need to fix the way feedback is viewed, delivered, and received in their book, Feedback (and Other Dirty Words)—Why We Fear It, How To Fix It.

Chandler and Grealish wisely point out that trust is the one thing that will fix the foundation of feedback. Trust is the must-have ingredient for open and honest communication, and feedback isn’t possible without it. When you receive feedback from someone you don’t trust, you question their motives for giving it. Since you don’t trust their intentions, you are likely to immediately discount or disregard their feedback, even if it is true and could help you grow or improve. If you try giving feedback to someone who doesn’t trust you, you are likely to trigger their “fight, flight, or freeze” response and your feedback won’t accomplish anything.

Trust acts as the grease for the gears of feedback. When trust is present, feedback can be given frequently, received generously, and produce powerful change. When trust is absent, the gears of feedback produce friction, give off sparks, and eventually grind to a halt. The lack of effective feedback flowing across the organization leads to siloed thinking and behavior. Individuals and teams get stuck in patterns of dysfunctional and unproductive behaviors that effectively act as a brake that slows down or prevents the organization’s success.

So, if trust is the foundation for feedback, we must make intentional effort to build it. Trust doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a direct result of the behaviors we use, or don’t use. Chandler and Grealish offer four ways you can build trust in a way that fosters healthy feedback.

1. Be Human. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our power, position, and influence. When we do that, we tend to stop viewing others as individuals with hopes, dreams, and feelings. We start to treat people as things instead of human beings. The authors offer the following examples of ways to demonstrate your humanity:

  • Admit mistakes
  • Be authentic; let your values show
  • Get personal; share your thoughts and feelings
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously

2. Do What You Say You’ll Do. One of the four key elements of trust is dependability. Right, wrong, or indifferent, if you aren’t consistently reliable, people will be hesitant or downright resistant to trust you. Examples include:

  • Keep your promises
  • Don’t over-commit
  • Be consistent and reliable
  • Don’t lie, conceal, or exaggerate

3. Be Kind. Trust flourishes in an environment of safety. If you are unpredictable, uncaring, or uninterested in others, they will be fearful and skeptical of your intent. Ways to demonstrate kindness include:

  • Encourage others
  • Speak kindly; eliminate criticism, defensiveness, blame
  • Be available and present for others
  • Value the needs of others as much as your own

4. Connect. Personal connection enhances trust, and good connection requires an investment in time and effort. This means we:

  • Spend time with others and are fully present when doing so
  • Seek win-win outcomes
  • Relinquish control and allow for collaboration
  • Honor others’ viewpoints and listen without judgment

Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t need to be a dreaded experience. It can, and should be, a normal and healthy free-flowing exchange between people. Trust is the foundation of feedback, and unless that foundation is rock-solid, feedback will continue to be a dirty word in organizations.

Want a Culture of Trust and Engagement? Get Back to Human

Technology and social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, yet our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. How is that?

Our technological tools have allowed us to be more collaborative, increase efficiencies, powered innovation, and allowed us to tap into information and knowledge at record speeds and levels. At the same time, those devices and technologies have given rise to a collective sense of distraction among its users, provided constant interruption, and replaced strong relational bonds with weak ties. It has also contributed to record levels of disengagement and low trust in the workplace.

In his newest book, Back to Human—How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel details how technology is isolating us at work, and he provides a road map for how we can develop more human-focused workplaces by fostering connected relationships on a personal, team, and organizational level.

In order to develop a connected and engaged workforce, Schawbel recommends leaders focus on four factors: happiness, belonging, purpose, and trust. Research has shown that employees who consider themselves happy at work are more likely to refer new candidates to the company, brag about the organization online, work harder, and are less likely to jump ship. Schawbel cites the research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, who found that happy employees have an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative. Simple acts of kindness, getting to know employees on a personal level, and helping employees with work-life balance are all ways to increase happiness.

Engaged employees also feel a sense of belonging to the organization. Humans are pack animals, and we like to be affiliated with organizations that appreciate our contributions and share our sense of values. So often we get focused on strategies and goals that we forget to develop a sense of community in our workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel a lack of belonging, depression is more common, problem-solving skills deteriorate, and effectiveness on the job declines. Schawbel says leaders can foster belonging by scheduling social events, having team lunches, and creating an environment where people feel free to share information about their personal lives.

Purpose is the third element of engagement that Schawbel suggests leaders focus on. When you have a purpose, you feel that you matter and that you are contributing to something larger than yourself. Having a clear purpose provides energy and direction, and it’s the fuel that keeps you going when life is busy and challenging. The tips Schawbel offers for creating purpose include helping people connect their work to the benefit it provides your customers. Bring in a customer who has been personally affected by your team’s work so they can hear and see the difference they are making. Another strategy for creating purpose is help employees understand the why of their work and how it supports your organization, customers, or the world at large.

Finally, the fourth element of an engaged workforce is trust. Many leaders think by virtue of them being the boss they are trusted by their employees. Wrong. It’s not the employee’s job to give trust; it’s the leader’s to earn it. Establishing authentic, caring, and appropriately vulnerable relationships is a primary way leaders build trust with their team. You can be a technical genius at your job, honest as the day is long, and follow-through on your commitments every time, but if you don’t show any sense of personal care or connection with your team, they will always keep you at arm’s length. Trusted leaders behave in ways that demonstrate the four elements of trust, and when employees see their leaders have their best interests in mind, they will not only trust them, but will pledge their loyalty and commitment as well.

Schawbel makes the point that technology isn’t all bad, but we should be more human and less machine. If we want a workplace where people engage their hearts and minds, and trust their peers and leaders, then we need to leverage technology to develop more human relationships of substance rather than connections of convenience.

Quit Babying Employees Through Change and Do This Instead

Hey leaders, let me ask you a question: Do you ever feel like the burden of successfully implementing an organizational change rests squarely on your shoulders? I know that I have frequently felt that way and I’m sure you have too.

Tell me if this sounds like your typical to-do list when leading a change effort:

  • Build the most persuasive business case to convince people of the need for change
  • Craft the perfect communication plan to address every possible question
  • Patiently address every concern with empathy so people “feel good” about the change
  • Make the change as easy as possible so people aren’t disrupted too much
  • Control the pace of change so people don’t have to change too much too fast

Notice the similarity in all those items? You, the leader, is responsible for everything related to the change effort. No wonder you feel exhausted.

These are all important items that need to be addressed when implementing change. However, the result of the leader assuming responsibility for convincing employees to change, getting their buy-in, and making change as easy as possible actually creates learned helplessness among employees. Leaders babying employees through change denies them the personal growth of developing resiliency and readiness to change.

In her book No Ego—How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, Cy Wakeman offers two commonly held beliefs about change that actually force leaders to shoulder all the burden and rob employees of personal responsibility in adapting to the change.

Myth #1: Change is Hard—Wakeman says that leaders who believe this tend to over-manage and under-lead. If the goal is to make change easier and more palatable for people, then leaders end up shouldering all the burden for the success of the change initiative (see the to-do list above). This creates a culture of learned helplessness, and when employees figure change isn’t their responsibility, they fail to develop resiliency and readiness for what’s next.

Myth #2: We Can’t Handle So Much Change—The marketplace never stops changing, Wakeman points out, and it’s indifferent to people feeling uncomfortable or disturbed. Resistance to change usually comes from those who find themselves unready and they fear being exposed. Instead of asking “How can we make this change easier for you?,” leaders should be asking “How can we build your skills to be better at change?” Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary, and neutral. They coach people through a process of incremental growth to build their skill at being ready for change.

So the next time you’re faced with leading a change effort, question your long-held beliefs about how you should lead. Your efforts to make change easier for employees, or to slow down the pace of change, may actually make the change effort more difficult. Instead, teach your employees how to exhibit self-leadership and take responsibility for developing their own readiness for change.

Want to Attract Top Talent? Tell The Story!

Enjoy this guest post by Mark Miller

When working on the research and the book, Talent Magnet, I was intrigued by the formula representing the strength of an actual magnet:

B2A

The B refers to the strength of the magnetic field and the A is the Area (size of the surface).

Although all of this is applicable, I think many organizations are missing out on the A, or size of their magnet. Let me explain…

For our purposes, let’s transform the A from area to Awareness. Just like a magnet with a small surface area has limited pull, an organization with little Awareness of the employee value proposition has little drawing power. The bottom line: assuming you have a message worth sharing (B), you must Tell the Story! The better you do, the larger the Awareness and awareness always precedes attraction!

Unless there is awareness of the organization’s most desirable attributes outside your current employees, there is little chance Top Talent will wander in the door hoping to find a job. Organizations who consistently attract Top Talent excel in their ability to Tell the Story.

Leaders sometimes are deceived into thinking orientation is the place to Tell the Story. Orientation is too late. By then you have a room full of people who may or may not qualify as Top Talent. If you truly want to attract great people, you must proactively spread the word your business is a place where leaders are engaged, there is a path for people to grow, and there is a compelling vision that reaches beyond the four walls of the workplace.

There are many ways and many places to Tell the Story. Leaders must identify where Top Talent is likely to be and make sure the story spreads to those places. No matter how good you are, without creating awareness of what is going on in your organization, you receive no credit for your efforts.

Make the promise Top Talent wants to hear, keep it, and then make sure the people you are looking for know what they will get if they join your team. A magnet with a small surface area is weak, and your ability to attract Top Talent will be also, unless you find new and creative ways to continually Tell the Story.

About Mark Miller

Mark Miller is the best-selling author of seven books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Talent Magnet: How to Attract and Keep the Best People, unveils the three critical aspects of a true talent magnet, and explores the deeper meaning of each in a clever and entertaining business fable.

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.

Improving Your Value to Your Customers

The following is a guess post from Nat Greene based on lessons and concepts in his new book Stop Guessing.

stopguessingbookcoverAs a business leader, one of your key responsibilities is ensuring that your customers see huge value in your offering. In the hyper-competitive landscape of 21st century business, you have the difficult tax of constantly increasing your customer value. Many businesses focus primarily on reducing their cost to customers: if a customer gets the same product for less money, they see greater value in the investment. But merely driving down costs makes for a low-margin future, and strategically locks you in an ongoing price war with your competitors.

A far more effective–and enjoyable–path is seeking to improve the value of your product, so your customers are getting more for the same price. Doing this creates greater customer loyalty, improves your margins, and improves the satisfaction of your team, knowing that they’re better serving your customers rather than simply trying to be the lowest-cost provider.

You have certainly already put significant thought into this, and realized there are many different options by which you can attempt to improve your value to your customers. If you have spent time on search engines looking for ideas, you have likely found pithy lists or tips that will give you even more ideas to try out than you already had. But you have limited resources, and you know that what works well for some will not necessarily apply to your unique business and unique customers’ needs. How can you choose what’s most effective?

Learn How to Improve Customer Value

As for any problem you’re trying to solve, approaching the problem with the right behaviors will help you find the most effective solution for your unique situation. Rather than trying out different ideas that others have tried before, you need to understand your problem by observing it thoroughly and learning as much about it as possible.

To do this, get close to your customers. Don’t just ask them what they want from you: they are not likely to be able to conjure up in their minds what you can do for them. And that’s not their job: it’s yours. Understand how your product or service interacts with their business, and what changes would make the most impact to them. Approach this investigation by starting with the following questions:

  • How do they use your product?
  • What about their business are they trying to improve with your product?
  • What resources do they deploy by working with your product?
  • What do they have to do internally in order to work with your product?
  • What is their experience trying to acquire your product?
  • What is your customer’s biggest pain point that your product interacts with?

By understanding the answers to these questions–and more that arise during your investigation–you will be able to understand what you can change about your product that will most improve your value to your customers, and you’ll find yourself not only holding on to customers you may have been losing, but you may also find yourself at a higher price point.

Case In Point

One business I was working with made high-performance coatings for products like ships, jet planes, and equipment that underwent lots of stress, such as heat. In order to improve their cost competitiveness, they were planning on moving their operation from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, where labor costs were lower. The operation would have taken years and of course entailed significant capital costs to implement.

When they instead found out what was most important to their customers, price did not rise to the top. Instead, they found that the biggest stress to their customers was their own supply chain: these customers wanted to get their jets, ships, and heavy equipment out to their own customers reliably on time. Each of these manufacturers had to buy dozens of parts to assemble at their own facilities, and they felt constant stress that any late delivery would impact their own production timeline.

The coatings business decided to instead focus on perfecting its in-full on-time (IFOT) delivery performance. We worked together to solve logistics problems that caused some of their shipments to arrive late, and they were able to quickly boast the best IFOT in the industry. Their customers were thrilled, as they could be confident that at least the coatings part of their sourcing operation was something they never had to worry about. They stayed in Western Europe in order to keep their lead times low, and were even able to increase the price of their own products, without a grumble from their customers.


Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.

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

3 Ways to Create Trust with Millennials in the Workplace Today

The following is a guest post by Dan Negroni, author of the newly released book Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage, and Maximize Next Generation Leaders in the Workplace.

Chasing RelevanceMillennials will be 75% of your workforce in the next 10 years. As a manager or leader, this might make you nervous. Millennials live and work much differently than you do. Handing over the reigns to Generation Y and establishing their trust will take real deal, no BS effort on your part. However, this is necessary. We must build trust with millennials if we want to bridge the generational gap and work effectively today. Here are 3 ways you can create trust with your millennial employees starting now.

Show that you care

As the saying goes, people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. In order to establish trust, caring by itself isn’t enough—you must show that you care. You may genuinely care, but if you don’t show and express that you do, it does no good. They need to believe you are authentic and real. Ask your millennials questions to really understand them and build trust.  Questions like “How can I help you in any way?” and “What do you need from me to learn, grow and provide value?” are great, as long as you are being authentic. Make an effort to show up for them in this honest and direct way through all coaching opportunities daily. You can start by simply explaining how grateful you are to them for leaning in. Showing gratitude, even if it’s for something small, goes a long way…it shows that you care! And caring is critical for building trust… and it takes repeatable and consistent behavior, just like all of your relationships.

Check in regularly

A poll by Gallup revealed that only 19% of millennials routinely receive feedback and only 15% of millennials routinely ask for feedback.[i] This discrepancy offers you an incredible opportunity to build trust. Make yourself approachable so your millennials feel comfortable to want to ask you anything. Whether it’s physically coming in the office, sending regular texts or another form of communication, establish a relationship with your millennials on a regular, weekly basis. Act in a way that’s relevant to them, which lets them know you care. They will remain loyal and retention will go through the roof.

You need to lead the way and initiate a feedback loop by engaging with them and effectively communicating that they can and should come to you with questions, ideas and feedback. This results in how to connect and trust better.

Own your stuff and be responsible

As a manager or leader, you must be accountable for your actions—and show it. In order to establish respect and trust with millennials, be transparent. Own up to your mistakes. Take responsibility when you mess up. By doing so, you not only set a positive example for your millennial employees to follow, but you show authenticity and vulnerability. Vulnerability is key to connecting with millennials because it makes you more real and humanizes you. They will feel more comfortable approaching you and trusting you.  So own up and be transparent about your wins and losses!

Show that you care. Make yourself open and approachable. Check in regularly and engage with your millennial employees daily. Be authentic, be vulnerable and take responsibility for your actions. Start developing trust with your millennials today!

[i] Adkins, Amy, and Brandon J. Rigoni. “Managers: Millennials Want Feedback, but Won’t Ask for It.” Gallup. Gallup, Inc., n.d. Web.

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

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