Leading with Trust

4 Steps to Break Out of Your Leadership Prison Cell

I recently spent time at Alcatraz…as a tourist, of course. The old federal penitentiary hasn’t housed prisoners since 1963. As a history nerd it was fascinating to walk the same halls as some of the world’s most famous criminals like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “birdman” of Alcatraz.

Alcatraz cell 1Some of the prison cell doors are open so you can walk inside and get a sense for what it must have felt like to be confined in such a small space. The cells are five feet wide, seven feet tall, and nine feet long. I could reach my arms out to the side and place my palms on the walls of the cell. The concrete walls hold the frigid chill of the San Francisco Bay and the steel doors are hard and unforgiving. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have felt like to be confined in such a small space for hours on end, day after day, year after year.

Prison cells aren’t just concrete rooms with steel doors; they can be rooms of our own making. (click to tweet) All of us, in various areas of our lives, have constructed cells that imprison us and constrain our ability to experience true freedom and joy.

In the realm of leadership, some of us are career criminals doing hard time and the only life we know is within the four walls of our prison cell. These leaders are guilty of crimes like wielding power as a weapon, hoarding information, sucking up to the hierarchy, micromanaging, breaking trust, playing politics, and over-reliance on command and control styles of leadership. Most of us leaders aren’t hardened criminals serving a life sentence, but we dabble in our share of petty theft that puts us behind bars from time to time.

There are ways you can escape from the prison of ineffective leadership practices, but it takes planning, patience, and perseverance. You didn’t build those walls overnight and it’s going to take time to tunnel your way out. Here are four steps to break out of your leadership prison cell:

Discover Your Leadership Purpose

Why do you lead? Answer that question and you’ve discovered your leadership purpose. Discovering your leadership purpose is an introspective process that takes time and effort, but the result is an internal clarity and drive that inspires and fuels your work as a leader.

The process for discovering your leadership purpose begins with reflecting on your own leadership role models. How did those people influence you? What about the way they led others inspired you? What did you learn from them and how do you display that in your own leadership style? Second, how does your leadership connect with your larger life purpose? Do you see your role as a leader integrated with your overall life purpose? Are you clear on your greatest strengths and how you can use them to positively impact the world around you? Third, what is the legacy you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered for the way you influenced those you lead?

As you wrestle with these tough questions, you’ll eventually gain insight into your leadership purpose. Writing a simple purpose statement will help crystallize your thoughts and provide a reminder of why you do what you do as a leader. Do an internet search for “writing a personal mission statement” and you’ll find dozens of excellent resources and templates. As an example, my purpose statement is To use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and a model of God’s grace and truth

Define Your Leadership Values

Leadership is an influence process. As a leader you are trying to influence others to believe in certain things and act in specific ways. How can you do that if you aren’t clear on your own values? What drives your own behaviors? You have to be clear on that before you can expect to influence others…at least in a positive way.

In the absence of clearly defined values, I believe people tend to default to the more base, self-centered values we all possess: self-preservation, survival, ego, power, position. As an example, my core values are trust, authenticity, and respect. I look to those values to guide my interactions with others. Just as river banks channel and direct the flow of rushing water, so values direct our behaviors. What is a river without banks? A large puddle. Our leadership effectiveness is diffused without values to guide its efforts.

Declare Your Leadership Brand

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues and team members think of you, what is it that comes to their minds?

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance as a leader that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

Deliver on Your Leadership Promise

If you’ve ever removed the cardboard sleeve on a Starbucks coffee cup, you may have noticed this statement printed on the side of the cup:

Our Barista Promise

Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.

My experience with Starbucks is they live that promise. Whenever I’ve not been satisfied with my drink, they’ve always made it right.

Your leadership promise is the combination of your purpose, values, and brand. It’s who your people expect you to be as a leader and it’s how they expect you to behave. Whether you’ve articulated your leadership purpose, values, and brand to your people or not (which I strongly advocate you do), they have ascribed a leadership promise to you based on your past behavior. You are setting yourself up to break trust with your followers if their perception of your leadership promise doesn’t align with your own.

Escape from Alcatraz

It was simple for me to leave the island when my time was done on Alcatraz; I boarded the ferry and rode across the bay to San Francisco. It wasn’t nearly as easy for the prisoners who once called Alcatraz home. Likewise, it won’t be easy for you to escape your self-constructed prison cell of dysfunctional leadership practices, but it is doable with intentional focus and effort. Discovering your leadership purpose will direct your energies, clarifying your values will guide your activities, declaring your brand will let others know what you stand for, and delivering on your leadership promise will hold you accountable to being the leader you aspire to be and the leader your people need and deserve.

4 Steps to Develop Your Personal Brand at Work

Brand Me...PleaseWhether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work, and if you don’t take charge of it, someone else will.

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues think of you, what is it that comes to their minds? If you can’t answer that question, then you have a problem. A brand image problem.

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes. It’s part of what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

If you’re not quite sure what your personal brand is, or how to go about creating a brand, here are four steps to get you started.

1. Identify your core values – Your values guide your beliefs and actions. A brand is a trusted promise which requires clarity on what motivates you from the core of your being. Consider popular brands like Apple or Nike. Apple’s brand conveys the values of being creative, passionate, and visionary. Nike’s brand of “Just do it” reflects the values of excellence and dedication. What values reflect the way you “show up” in the workplace? Mine are trust, authenticity, and respect.

2. Identify your strengths/personal attributes – A personal brand combines what you value with what you do well. What is it that you’re really good at? What unique personal attributes do you bring to the table? Maybe it’s courage, decisiveness, enthusiasm, patience, perseverance, or trustworthiness, just to name a few. There are a number of surveys you can take to help you identify your character strengths and attributes.

3. Assess your current brand image – One of the best ways to understand your current brand is to ask those you work with to describe your brand image. In addition to asking others, you can use the following sentence starters to help you analyze your brand:

          • Inside the company I am known for…
          • Three things I’m really good at are…
          • Something about myself that I feel proud about is…
          • Some “WOW” projects I’ve worked on are…

4. Develop your brand – What if there weren’t career ladders, only great projects? What if you were your own brand manager? How could your career growth be different if the leaders you worked with were brand loyalists that backed you no matter what? What if you approached your performance review as a “portfolio” review where you highlighted your project accomplishments over the past year? If you viewed your job performance through these lenses, you would need to change the way you go about things. Set the following goals to develop your brand image:

By this time next year…

          • I plan to be known for these projects…
          • I plan to be known for these skills…
          • I plan to have added these contacts to my network…

And…

          • My principal resume-enhancing activity over the next three months is…
          • My public visibility program is…

Gaining clarity on who you are, what you love, and what strengths you bring to the table will help you understand your brand identity, while continuing to master your craft and assembling a portfolio of successes will fulfill the promise of you being a trusted brand that others can rely upon.

2014’s Top 10 Posts: Why You Don’t Trust People, When to Fire Someone, and More

Top 10 StampIt’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

10th Most Popular Post: 10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates – Creative questions that will help you make one of the most important decisions a leader faces.

9th: Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust – Originally published in July 2011, this continues to be one of the most widely read posts on Leading with Trust.

8th: 9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go – Sometimes firing an employee is inevitable. Learn the warning signs so you can address the situation quickly and respectfully.

7th: 3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate – You need to lead with a purpose and this post will help you understand areas in your life that could benefit from some healthy pruning.

6th: 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.

5th: Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.

4th: Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value – Each day at work is an interview for you to keep your job. This post will help you understand and adapt to the reality of today’s competitive job environment.

3rd: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” – This Thanksgiving-themed post from 2013 applies year-round. Telling employees how much they are appreciated is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and high performance in your team.

2nd: Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People – Dealing with temperamental people at work can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. Learn four tips to help you deal with this challenging situation.

and the #1 Most Popular Post for 2014…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value

Job Interview

The dress code in my office is business casual, but every once in a while I like to wear a tie. You know…look good, feel good…dress for the job you want, not the job you have…all that good stuff. Actually, there are times I just like to dress up for no special reason. But whenever I do, invariably I hear the same wisecrack from one or more team members: “Why are you all dressed up? Got a job interview today?” My response is always the same: “I interview for my job every day!”

Although I say that somewhat jokingly, there is an element of truth I’m trying to reinforce with my team—every day you show up to work is an interview for your job. In today’s economy you have to continually demonstrate to your employer how you’re adding value to the organization. I’m not talking about approaching your job from a state of fear, constantly afraid of being let go if you don’t hit a home run every time you come to bat. I’m talking about having an understanding and appreciation for how you have to “bring it” each day you walk through your company’s front door.

Here are five key principles that will help you increase your value and contribution to your organization:

1. Accept the new reality – My brother Ron had only one job his entire life. He recently retired from a 40+ year career with a national grocery store chain, having been employed by them since he was a 17 year-old high school student. Those days are gone. We live in a new reality of a dynamic, constantly shifting, and evolving global economy. It requires businesses to be agile and shift their strategies to take advantage of new opportunities, create new markets, or ward off upstart competitors. You have to come to grips with the need to constantly stay relevant in your job or profession. Complacency and stagnation makes you vulnerable and less valuable to your organization. If you aren’t adding value, you’re probably expendable.

2. Take charge of your own career development – As employees, all of us should expect our employer to help develop us in our role, but career development should be seen as a privilege, not a right. Organizations have an obligation to provide the right training, tools, and resources to enable employees to maximize their potential in the job they were hired to do. But career development (promotions, moving into new roles, etc.) is a privilege and is not the employer’s responsibility. Is it a smart thing for employers to facilitate career development in order to attract and retain key talent? Absolutely! But it’s up to you to keep learning, to further your education, improve proficiency in your job, and develop new skills in alignment with the direction of your organization’s goals and strategies. No one else except you is responsible for your career development.

3. Have an ownership mentality – How would the value of your contribution be different if you acted like you own the place? Would you be more emotionally invested and passionate about the work you do? Would you produce higher quality products? Would you be a little more prudent or cautious with company expenses? Would you care a little more about the customer experience? People who approach their jobs with an ownership mentality care about these sorts of things. They view themselves as stewards of the company’s resources and work hard to promote the success of the entire organization, not just their particular role, team, or department.

4. Build your brand – Whether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work. Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand. Check out this article if you need help developing your brand.

5. Consider yourself an independent contractor – Most of us are governed by at-will employment agreements with our companies. Either party can decide to end the employment relationship at any time for any reason (within certain legal boundaries, of course). You would be well-served to view yourself as an independent contractor in the business of you—You, Inc. You have hired out your services to your employer in exchange for a specific level of compensation. At some point in time, either by your choice or your employer’s, that business arrangement may change or end. In the meantime, focus on building a portfolio of accomplishments you can use to secure business with future clients. See rules 1 and 2 above.

Thinking of yourself in these ways might be new to you. It takes a shift in perspective to view yourself as not just an employee doing a job, but as an independent contractor running your own business. If you make that shift, you’ll realize you have to constantly develop your skill-set (i.e., the services you have to offer), build an attractive brand image, and consistently demonstrate to your client (i.e., employer) how you’re adding value. Remember, you are in the business of YOU!

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.

Lost in the Crowd? Three Steps to Help You Stand Out!

stand-out-from-the-crowdWhat is one thing you do better than anyone else? For some people, that may be easier to answer than others. If I asked LeBron James that question, I’m pretty sure he’d say that he can play basketball better than anyone on the planet. For most of us though, the question would prove to be quite a stumper. Try answering it for yourself. It’s not so easy, is it?

Granted, out of 7 billion people in the world, the odds of you being the absolute best at a particular something or other is pretty remote. But the point of the question is more general. What is it that you do really well? Probably better than most people you know? Knowing the answer to that question can help unlock levels of job satisfaction and engagement that you didn’t know existed.

Here are three steps you can take to understand the unique value you bring to your work and how you can stand out from the crowd.

1. Identify your strengths. Sounds pretty basic, huh? Well, it is pretty basic, but believe it or not, many people don’t have a good understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, or personality traits that help or hinder their success. Assessments such as the DISC, MBTI, Strengths Finder, or Marcus Buckingham’s newest StandOut survey can give you insight into what motivates you or how your personality preferences shape the way you perceive work experiences and “show up” to other people.

2. Understand the type of work or circumstances that best leverage your strengths and personality traits. One of my first “real” jobs was working for a popular Southern California fast food chain. I lasted one shift. The reason? My supervisor drilled into me the importance of following all the rules to the letter and corrected me whenever I deviated from them, yet he would go into the back of the kitchen and smoke a cigarette whenever he wanted (clearly in violation of the rules). I knew that I would never be happy working for a boss who didn’t display integrity in his actions. For me to be at my best, I need to be surrounded by people who have honorable values and strive to live up to those values.

One way to identify situations where you’ll thrive is to make a list of all the times where you’ve felt “in the flow” – those instances where you’ve been so absorbed in your work that you’ve lost track of time. What are the commonalities among those experiences? It might take a little digging and analysis, but you can probably find some themes running through those experiences. Perhaps it’s the type of people you worked with. Or maybe there was an element of problem-solving involved. Maybe it was the opportunity for you to use certain skills, like writing, teaching, or public speaking. Whatever the theme may be, it’s a clue to what really engages you and prepares you to take step #3 below.

3. Intentionally seek your “sweet spot.” Your “sweet spot” is that place where you find fulfillment in your work. You have two basic choices when it comes to identifying your sweet spot. The first is to leave it up to chance. You can hope that you stumble upon the type of job that is a good match for your personality and skills. Not a good option. The second choice is to actively look for situations that are a good match for what you bring to the table. Take what you’ve learned in steps 1 and 2 and apply it to your current situation. If you’re in a job that’s a complete mismatch for your personality and strengths, begin to put a plan together for how you can transition to something more in alignment with your natural gifts. If you’re in a job you like, but need a little more pizzazz in your work, map out new projects, tasks, or areas of responsibility that could benefit from the application of your strengths.

Discovering your strengths and learning how to use them in combination with your personality traits is an evolutionary journey. It doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes there is a lot of trial and error involved. However, taking a purposeful and introspective look into yourself and following these three steps can put you on the path toward finding a higher level of fulfillment and success in your work.

Do You Have an Image Problem? Four Steps to Develop Your Personal Brand

Brand Me...PleaseWhether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work, and if you don’t take charge of it, someone else will.

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues think of you, what is it that comes to their minds? If you can’t answer that question, then you have a problem. A brand image problem.

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes. It’s part of what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

If you’re not quite sure what your personal brand is, or how to go about creating a brand, here are four steps to get you started.

1. Identify your core values – Your values guide your beliefs and actions. A brand is a trusted promise which requires clarity on what motivates you from the core of your being. Consider popular brands like Apple or Nike. Apple’s brand conveys the values of being creative, passionate, and visionary. Nike’s brand of “Just do it” reflects the values of excellence and dedication. What values reflect the way you “show up” in the workplace? Mine are trust, authenticity, and respect.

2. Identify your strengths/personal attributes – A personal brand combines what you value with what you do well. What is it that you’re really good at? What unique personal attributes do you bring to the table? Maybe it’s courage, decisiveness, enthusiasm, patience, perseverance, or trustworthiness, just to name a few. There are a number of surveys you can take to help you identify your character strengths and attributes.

3. Assess your current brand image – One of the best ways to understand your current brand is to ask those you work with to describe your brand image. In addition to asking others, you can use the following sentence starters to help you analyze your brand:

          • Inside the company I am known for…
          • Three things I’m really good at are…
          • Something about myself that I feel proud about is…
          • Some “WOW” projects I’ve worked on are…

4. Develop your brand – What if there weren’t career ladders, only great projects? What if you were your own brand manager? How could your career growth be different if the leaders you worked with were brand loyalists that backed you no matter what? What if you approached your performance review as a “portfolio” review where you highlighted your project accomplishments over the past year? If you viewed your job performance through these lenses, you would need to change the way you go about things. Set the following goals to develop your brand image:

By this time next year…

          • I plan to be known for these projects…
          • I plan to be known for these skills…
          • I plan to have added these contacts to my network…

And…

          • My principal resume-enhancing activity over the next three months is…
          • My public visibility program is…

Gaining clarity on who you are, what you love, and what strengths you bring to the table will help you understand your brand identity, while continuing to master your craft and assembling a portfolio of successes will fulfill the promise of you being a trusted brand that others can rely upon.

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