Leading with Trust

Show and Tell – A Game Leaders Need to Play

Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.

The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!

My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.

I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:

Show
  • Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
  • Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
  • Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
  • Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
Tell
  • People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
  • People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
  • The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
  • Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.

Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.

The 4 Behaviors Guaranteed to Destroy Relationships

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Dr. John Gottman is world-renowned for his work on marital stability and is one of the top thought leaders in the field of marital therapy and psychology. Much of his research and writing focuses on the behavioral patterns that formulate healthy relationships, and conversely, the behaviors that destroy them. Through his research, he has been able to predict with 90% accuracy the four behavioral patterns that destroy relationships. He calls these behaviors the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The negative impact of the Four Horsemen behaviors is felt in all relationships, not just marriage. Being aware of these behavioral patterns, and how to prevent them, are key to establishing healthy and trustworthy relationships in the workplace. Let’s look at the Four Horsemen and their antidotes:

1. Criticism—Criticism is different from critiquing or voicing a complaint. Whereas critiquing/complaining is focused on a specific issue, criticism is directed at the person, not the behavior. Criticism is filled with accusatory language and “you” statements: “You always forget to complete your reports on time and don’t care about how it affects me. You’re so unreliable.” Criticism makes a person feel picked-on, rejected, and hurt, and opens the door for the other deadly horsemen to follow.
Antidote—Using “I” language is the antidote to criticism. Rather than blaming or criticizing another person, describe how you feel and its impact on you by using “I” statements. “I feel let down when you miss the reporting deadline because it forces me to work over the weekend to complete the reports.”

2. Contempt—When treating people with contempt, we are being mean and disrespectful. Contempt is demeaning others through sarcasm, ridicule, and body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The victim is made to feel “less than” and in a morally inferior position as the perpetrator. Contempt sounds like: “You think you have it tough?! You come into work, do a half-ass job all day, take long lunches, and then expect everyone to help you get the work done so you can punch out at 5:00 sharp! I’m tired of carrying you on my back around here. You have no clue what it takes to succeed!” Contempt is the single biggest predictor of relationship failure.
Antidote—The antidote to contempt is to treat each other with respect and appreciation. No matter the difficulties you’re encountering with someone, that person deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect and decency. Focusing your attention on the positive aspects of the relationship and expressing gratitude is a way to cultivate a culture of appreciation.

3. Defensiveness—People react defensively when they feel threatened and it’s often in response to criticism. Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. When we blame or criticize someone and they react defensively, we often respond in kind, leading to an ever-increasing level of conflict.
Antidote—Accept responsibility for your part in the conflict. Accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing; it’s demonstrating that you value the relationship more than you value being right.

4. Stonewalling—This behavior is usually in response to contempt. Stonewalling is when an individual withdraws from the interaction, goes quiet, doesn’t respond or engage, and essentially shuts down. Instead of actively participating in resolving the situation, the stonewaller retreats and isolates himself. Gottman says this is usually the result of the individual feeling physiologically flooded, and when in that state, the person literally may not be capable of responding in a productive manner.
Antidote—The way to address stonewalling behavior is to take a timeout. Give each other at least 20 minutes to calm down and process the situation before re-engaging in conversation. Having time and space to process your feelings allows you to gain perspective which often isn’t visible when you’re in the heat of the conversation.

The Four Horsemen can be defeated with conscious effort. Early diagnosis of these negative communication patterns, and replacing them with positive ones, will help you develop healthy and productive relationships.

5 Ways Servant Leaders Stand Out From The Crowd

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a scientist running a grand experiment on leadership. Your laboratory is an organization with hundreds of leaders at varying levels, and with technology, you can watch and listen to them 24-hours a day over an extend period of time. Sort of like the TV show Big Brother, except corporate style (and minus all the drama-filled antics). Essentially you get to observe the species Homo Sapiens Laederes in their native environment.

Your quest is to learn the behaviors that make servant leaders stand out from the crowd. In a noisy world where a few celebrity leaders grab the headlines, and everyone tries to copy-cat their way to becoming an overnight leadership success, servant leadership has withstood the test of time as a tried and true approach to effectively leading people and organizations. You would observe at least five key ways servant leaders are different from their counterparts.

Servant leaders…

  1. Listen more than they talk—A servant leader is much more interested in hearing the viewpoints of others than having their voice be the loudest in the room. Make no mistake, servant leaders clearly articulate their point of view and cast a vision for the organization, but they do so after they’ve spent plenty of time hearing from others, incorporating their ideas, and enlisting others in their cause. As Larry Spears observed in the book Servant Leadership in Action, listening is one of ten key characteristics of a servant leader. Listening involves paying attention to what is said and not said, identifying the will of the group, listening to the leader’s own inner voice, and coalescing that input into a clear plan of action.
  2. Say we more than meWhen servant leaders do talk, they focus the attention on their team by speaking in the collective we, rather than the personal me. Servant leaders know that leadership isn’t about them; it’s about others. Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of the modern servant leader movement, said the motive of a servant leader is to serve first, and out of that desire to serve rises a conscious decision to lead. Servant leaders are driven to improve the welfare, contribution, and autonomy of others, not to garner fame, attention, or status for themselves. Their focus is on we, not me.
  3. Flex their leadership style to meet the needs of their followers—Since servant leadership is about doing what’s best for others and helping them to realize their full potential, servant leaders adapt their leadership style to provide the right amount of direction and support their followers need. There is no one best leadership style. If someone is new to a task, the leader provides higher levels of direction to teach the how, what, where, when, and why. If the follower has a moderate level of competence but is unsure of himself, the servant leader uses a supportive style to build the follower’s confidence and help him problem solve. Servant leaders understand their followers have varying levels of competence and commitment on their tasks or goals so they adjust their leadership style to the situation.
  4. Look for opportunities to shine the light on others—As you observe leaders in this mythical experiment, you’d notice that servant leaders make an intentional effort to give people the chance to be in the spotlight and to praise them for their accomplishments. Servant leaders don’t care who gets the credit; they care about helping people and the organization succeed. Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous process that servant leaders look to perpetuate.
  5. Treat failures as learning moments—Failure is inevitable; learning is optional (click to tweet). Servant leaders view failure as an invaluable teaching tool, and rather than punish or demean people for making a mistake, they turn it into a positive and make it a learning moment. This is possible because servant leaders have a high level of trust with their followers. When people are trusted, they aren’t afraid to take risks and try something new. They know that if they fail, their leader will partner with them to use the opportunity to grow, learn, and do better next time. My friend and fellow servant leader, Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, embodies this philosophy. He believes that creating a culture of learning has been one of the pillars of WD-40’s success, an organization with 93% employee engagement.

Although it would be cool to take part in this kind of mad scientist experiment, it really isn’t necessary. Research about the effectiveness of servant leadership is plentiful and the traits of a servant leader are common sense, albeit not common practice. If you look around and see people engaging in these five behaviors and others like them, chances are they’re servant leaders who are bringing out the best in their people and organizations.

Confronting Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come on, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow. The following steps can help you capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, and resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receive coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

3 Reasons Why Leaders Should Pause and Take Notice

I have to admit, it’s easy for me not to notice. I get focused on my own goals and priorities and everything else around me seems to fade from view. That focused attention is a good thing when I need to meet a deadline or accomplish an important task, but when it comes to leading people, it’s a deadly mistake. I can get so wrapped up in my own agenda that I neglect to notice the needs of my team members.

I know I’m not alone here. Many people fall into the same trap because they think that’s what leaders are supposed to do. Make decisions, be in lots of meetings, and wear our busyness like a badge of courage. Let me be the first to break the news to you—that’s not how you should lead. Great leaders make time for their people because they know a leader’s best ability is availability. (click to tweet)

You may not think being a good “noticer” is important but I’d argue otherwise. I think it’s one of the top priorities for leaders because it makes you other-focused rather than self-focused.

Being a good noticer builds morale. Being valued, understood, and appreciated is a basic human need, but unfortunately, too many leaders forget their people are actually human. They view people as utilitarian resources performing a specific job function and treat them as interchangeable parts. But taking time to notice people lifts their spirits. A well-timed praising, note of thanks, or even just a personal conversation can turn around a person’s day.

Noticing people also builds trust. It shows your people that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers showing up to do a job. Everyone has a story and good leaders take the time to learn the stories of their team members. I’m not talking about hugging everyone and singing Kumbaya, but simply building relationships. Asking about their kids, getting their input on new ideas, or eating lunch in the break room with your team members every once in a while. With the trust of your team you can reach new heights, but without it you’re dead in the water.

Finally, noticing others keeps your leadership on course because you’re in tune with the needs of your team. The higher up leaders move in the organization the easier it is to get disconnected from the realities of life on the front line. Being a good noticer means you have to stay engaged with your team. It means you are familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of what your team has to deal with daily. That allows you to make leadership decisions based on what’s really going on versus what you think is going on.

So I challenge you to make a commitment this week. Take 5 minutes each day to pause, consider your team, and notice what’s going on around you. If you see a person doing a good job, tell him/her so. If you see someone struggling, ask if they need help. If one of your team members seems downcast, ask if they’d like to talk. It’s not that hard; it just takes a little time and effort.

Feel free to leave a comment this week to let me know what you noticed.

3 Reasons to Apologize Even if You’ve Done Nothing Wrong

“I’m not going to apologize because I didn’t do anything wrong!”

I remember my kids uttering that phrase a number of times when they were young, and I’ve also heard it from adults in the workplace more times than I care to remember. No one likes to be wrongly accused and most people certainly don’t want to apologize for something they didn’t do. The thought of apologizing when we’ve done nothing wrong, or even worse, when we’re actually in the right, causes our blood to boil. We become indignant, defensive, or lash out at others, none of which does anything to improve the situation.

However, there is a time and place for apologizing even if you’re not guilty. It’s important to remember that apologizing is not an admission of guilt; it’s an admission of responsibility. (Click to tweet) You are taking responsibility for improving and moving past the situation at hand. Here are three good reasons to apologize even if you’ve done nothing wrong:

  1. Choosing relationship over being right—When difficulties arise in a relationship, it’s a natural human instinct to want to assign blame. If the other person is in the wrong, then we can gloat in the satisfaction of being right. It’s easy to dive into the deep end of the pool of self-righteousness. It takes emotional maturity to prioritize the health of the relationship over the ego-feeding need to be right. Apologizing for the pain and difficulty of the current situation, even if you didn’t cause it, shows you place a higher value on the other person than you do on the need to be right.
  2. Lose the battle to win the war—You need to have a long-range perspective when it comes to relationships. There are going to be lots of battles (e.g., differences of opinion, conflict, etc.) in our relationships at home and work, and we’d die of exhaustion if we fought tooth and nail to prove ourselves right in every instance. Sometimes it’s better to lose the battle and apologize even when you’re right, for the sake of winning the bigger war (e.g., maintaining peace, completing the project, etc.).
  3. Take one for the team—As the leader, there are times you need to take one for the team. You may not personally have been at fault, but if your team has dropped the ball, you should take the blame on their behalf. Weak leaders will often throw their team under the bus when they’ve made a mistake. The leader will absolve him/herself of any responsibility and blame it on the team acting carelessly. The best leaders, however, apologize for the mistakes their team make and accept whatever blame comes their way.

It’s no fun to apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. Every fiber of our being compels us to scream that we didn’t do it, and to blame someone or something else. Responding with righteous indignation often escalates the tension and does little to resolve the situation. If you value the relationship more than being right, are willing to lose a small battle for the sake of winning the larger war, or need to take one for you team, it’s OK to apologize—even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

9 Warning Signs of a Failing Employee

Danger Thin Ice“I’m sorry, we need to let you go.”

Oomph! Those words feel like a punch to the gut of the employee on the receiving end, and for the leader delivering the bad news, those words create anxiety and many sleepless nights leading up to that difficult conversation.

No leader likes to see an employee fail on the job. From the moment we start the recruitment process, through interviewing, hiring, and training, our goal is to set up our employees for success. It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expense to bring new people into the organization and ramp them up to full productivity, so it’s in everyone’s vested interest to see an employee succeed. Yet we all know there are situations that, for whatever reason, an employee struggles on the job and there isn’t much hope of turning it around.

I recently met with a group of HR professionals and line managers to debrief employee termination situations. As we reviewed the cases at hand, the following nine signs emerged as warning signals, that had they been heeded early on in the employee’s career, a termination decision could have been made much earlier in the process that would have saved everyone a lot of heartache and the company a lot of money. Any one of these signs is alarming in and of itself, but when you combine all of them together…KABOOM! You’ve got an employee meltdown waiting to happen.

Nine Warning Signs of a Failing Employee

1. Things don’t improve with a change of scenery – Maybe it’s the relationship with the boss, certain peers, or the nature of the work has changed and the employee is struggling to perform at her best. Whatever the reason, moving the employee to another role or department can get her back on track. I’ve done it myself and have seen it work. But if you’ve given someone another chance by giving them a change of scenery and it’s still not working out, you should be concerned. The scenery probably isn’t the problem.

2. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around the employee – We all have personality quirks and some people are more difficult to work with than others, but when an employee becomes cancerous to the morale and productivity of the team and everyone feels like they have to walk on eggshells around the person for fear of incurring their wrath, you’ve got a serious problem. Don’t underestimate the destructive power of a toxic, unpredictable employee.

3. Emotional instability – Part of being a mature adult is being able to manage your emotions and it’s critically important in a professional workplace. If you have an employee that demonstrates severe emotional mood swings on the job and in their relationships with others, you need to pursue the proper legal and ethical guidelines in dealing with the employee and getting them the support they need. Don’t ignore the behavior by chalking it up to the heat of the moment, the stress of the job, or excusing it by saying “Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe.”

4. Trouble fitting into the company culture – Perhaps one of the earliest signs that you have a failing employee is noticing she is having significant trouble adapting to the culture of the organization. There is a natural transition time for any new employee, but if you’re constantly hearing the employee make negative comments about how the company operates and criticizing leadership, or not developing solid relationships with others and becoming part of the team, warning alarms should be going off in your head.

5. Blames others, makes excuses, and challenges authority – You know the incredibly loud sound of air raid sirens used in civil defense situations? That’s the sound you should be hearing if you have an employee with a track record of blaming others and making excuses for her poor performance. Failing employees will often challenge authority by trying to lay the blame at the boss’ feet by saying things like “You should have done this…” or “You didn’t address that problem…” or whatever the case may be. If you have an employee who always seems to be involved in drama, ask yourself “What (or more appropriately ‘who’) is the common denominator in these situations?”

6. Distorts or manipulates the truth – I’ve dealt with employees who were very skilled at manipulating or distorting the truth. In whatever difficult situation they were in, they would find a kernel of truth to justify and excuse their involvement to the point that I would feel compelled to side with them. I learned you have to be discerning and consistent in your approach to dealing with manipulative people and make sure you document your interactions so you have sufficient data to support your termination decision.

7. Unseen gaps in performance – One of the most challenging situations is when an employee seems to be performing well by outside appearances, but when you explore behind the scenes you discover there are gaps in her performance. Maybe it’s sloppy work, not following correct procedures, or even worse, being intentionally deceptive or unethical. Be careful, things may not always be as they seem.

8. A trail of broken relationships – Employees don’t have to be BFF’s with all of their coworkers, but they do need to respect others and be able to work together. A person may be a high-performer in the tasks of her job, but if she can’t get along with other people and has a history of damaging relationships with colleagues, eventually there will come a point where her contributions are outweighed by the damage and drama she creates.

9. Passive-aggressive behavior – You know those smiley-face emoticons at the end of slightly sarcastic and critical emails? A classic example of passive-aggressive behavior where the sender is trying to couch her criticism in feigned-humor. This is toxic and can be hard to manage because it manifests itself is so many ways that appear to be innocuous in and of themselves. Veiled jokes, procrastination, sullenness, resentment, and deliberate or repeated failure to follow-through on tasks are all signs of passive-aggressive behavior. Be careful…very careful.

The number one job for a leader is to help his or her employees succeed. Before an employee is terminated, a leader needs to be able to look in the mirror and honestly admit that everything possible has been done to help the employee succeed. These nine warning signs should serve as critical guideposts in helping any leader be alert to a failing employee.

Does Being a Naysayer Make You a More Powerful Leader?

photography of a person pointing on something

If you’ve ever wondered why so many negative and critical leaders seem to rise to power, recent research sheds a little light on the cause. It turns out that even though we say we want compassionate and empathetic leaders, we perceive naysayers as being more powerful than their non-critical colleagues.

In one of a series of studies, 518 participants were shown four pairs of statements made by former U.S. presidential candidates during nationally televised debates. They were not told the candidates’ names or when the debate took place. The pair of statements included one that was positive and supportive of America’s future, while the other was negative and critical. Participants were asked to rate how powerful each candidate appeared to be, how effective they thought the person would be in office, and whether or not they would vote for the person.

Compared to the presidential candidates who made positive statements, participants rated the negative candidates as more powerful, more likely to be effective in office, and likely to earn their vote. In additional studies across different contexts such as art reviews and opinions on social issues, participants consistently rated the naysayer as more powerful, albeit less likable, than their neutral or positive counterpart.

Why is this the case? Researcher Eileen Y. Chou theorizes the cause is human psychology. We perceive naysayers as being more independent, willing to speak their mind, and willing to “tell it like it is.” This fuels a perception of the naysayer being powerful enough to not be bound by normal constraints or resources. This perception of power was strongest among those who felt the most disadvantaged. The disadvantaged perceive the naysayer as being willing to speak truth to power and disrupt the status quo.

So, should you incorporate more negativity into your leadership style in order to become more powerful? Let’s see…how can I put this in a sensitive, thoughtful, diplomatic way?

NO!

There is certainly a time and place for candid realism in a leader’s communications. Leader’s who sugarcoat the truth and try to get their people to believe everything is rainbows and unicorns are perceived as out of touch, fake, and incompetent. Leaders have an obligation to “keep it real” with their followers, but also need to inspire people with hope for a better future. Constant negativity and criticism causes people to view the leader as a malcontent and they eventually remove their support.

The more fundamental issue for me beyond the role of being a naysayer is a leader’s relationship with power. Power accompanies leadership and it can be used in healthy and unhealthy ways. The greatest use of power is in service to others and there are noble and altruistic ways of developing and sustaining power that benefits others.

One only needs to listen to the political rhetoric these days to see the harmful effects of naysaying leadership. Constant criticism, negativity, and fault-finding appeals to the most base instincts of humanity. The most successful and enduring leaders call to the “better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln said, and unite people through a shared vision of a more promising tomorrow.

How To Tell Someone You Don’t Trust Them Without Destroying The Relationship

Addressing low trust in a relationship is a challenging issue. As soon as the “t” word—trust—is mentioned, emotions start to rise, defensiveness climbs, and people begin to feel uneasy about where the conversation is headed.

When I conduct workshops on building trust, participants often ask me for advice about how they can tell someone they don’t trust them. That’s because trust is not a topic most people are comfortable talking about, and few are equipped to handle a trust conversation in an objective, productive, and respectful way that strengthens the relationship rather than tearing it apart.

The key to addressing a lack of trust in a relationship is to not focus on trust itself, but on the behaviors causing low trust. In fact, as a general practice, I recommend trying to avoid using the “t” word completely during the trust conversation. By focusing on behaviors, you and the other person can zero in on what you can control; how you treat each other.

But how do you do that? How do you convey to someone you don’t trust them by only talking about behaviors? There are three basic steps:

  1. Diagnose which element of trust is low. Before you can even begin to discuss specific behaviors causing low trust, you have to diagnose which element of trust is being eroded. That’s because trust isn’t a one-dimensional concept. Research shows that trust is made up of four elements: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Depending upon the context and nature of the relationship, some elements may be emphasized more than others, but all are still important and needed to some extent. For example, competence, integrity, and dependability may be more relevant in the relationship with your auto mechanic, while demonstrating care may be less so. You want to make sure the mechanic is knowledgeable about fixing your car, charges you a fair price, and completes the work on time. Although care is less important in this context, if the mechanic is rude and treats you disrespectfully, it may cause you to wonder if he/she truly has your best interests in mind and therefore erode your trust in him/her.
  2. Identify the specific behaviors causing low trust. When you feel you don’t trust someone, it’s rarely a situation where you distrust everything about the individual. It’s almost always one or two key behaviors driving the erosion of trust in the relationship. Once you’ve diagnosed which element of trust is low, you can then narrow down the behaviors causing the gap in trust. For example, let’s look at dependability. People are dependable if they behave in ways that show they are reliable, responsive, and accountable. Those kinds of behaviors look like meeting deadlines, following through on commitments, being readily available or getting back to you in a reasonable amount of time, and holding themselves accountable for the results of their commitments. If you are experiencing low trust with a colleague because he/she isn’t dependable, you’ll close the trust gap quicker and easier by getting crystal clear on the behaviors causing low trust and how you can fix them.
  3. Provide feedback on the behavior. Giving feedback to someone is a moment of trust in the relationship. It’s an opportunity to either build trust or erode it, so it’s important you approach the situation with a clear purpose and plan in mind. Once you’ve diagnosed which of the four elements of trust is being eroded, and narrowed down the specific behaviors causing that erosion, the next step is to provide feedback on those behaviors and develop a plan for strengthening them moving forward. Focus the conversation on the behaviors the person can control and change moving forward, not on general personality traits or characteristics. Resist the urge to over-generalize or soft-pedal the feedback. Be descriptive, specific, and describe the negative impact resulting from the behavior, but also assume best intentions on the part of the other person. Finally, keep the conversation focused on problem solving the troublesome behaviors and moving forward in a productive way. Using our previous example of addressing a trust gap caused by someone’s lack of dependability, the feedback might sound something like: “Sarah, we need to discuss the weekly project status reports. You’ve missed the Friday deadline the last three weeks, and as a result, the executive team has had an incomplete picture of the overall project status for their Monday meeting. I’m concerned because this isn’t normally like you. Can we talk about what’s been going on and figure out a plan to make sure we get this corrected?” In this example, without using the word trust, you’ve addressed the behaviors causing low trust with Sarah and have begun to put a plan in place to rebuild trust moving forward.

No one considers themselves to be untrustworthy, so to flat-out tell someone, “I don’t trust you,” will usually lead to damaging the relationship further and make the recovery of trust all that harder, if not impossible. But by diagnosing the elements of trust being eroded in a relationship, identifying the specific behaviors at the root of the issue, and discussing ways to address them moving forward, you can get trust back on track while preserving and growing the relationship.

The Leader is the Topic of Dinner Conversation – What is Your Team Saying About You?

As a leader, have you ever considered that you are often the topic of dinner conversations of your employees?

Think about it for a second in relation to your own life. How often do you find yourself talking to your spouse or family members over a meal about things that happened at work and how your boss treated you? It happens quite a bit, doesn’t it? So why wouldn’t your employees be doing the same thing in relation to you?

Viewing the impact of your leadership through the eyes of how your employees describe their workday can profoundly shape your leadership style and practices.

When your team members have dinner with their families, are they talking about:

  • How you micromanaged them to the point where they question their own competence and believe you must think they are idiots?
  • The only time you interact with them is when you find fault with something or have negative feedback to deliver?
  • How you only care about yourself and impressing your own boss?
  • You not having a clue about their jobs because you never took the time to learn what they do?
  • How untrustworthy you are because you frequently break your commitments?

Or does the dinner conversation of your team members center around:

  • How good you made them feel when you praised them for a job well done?
  • The faith you showed in them by giving them a challenging new project?
  • How you built trust by admitting your mistake in front of the team and apologizing for your behavior?
  • How you went to bat for your team by advocating for their needs with senior leadership?
  • The great example you set by jumping in to help the team meet a critical deadline?

I’m not suggesting the goal of your leadership style should be to make your employees your best buddies or send them home with warm fuzzies at night because you’re such a nice guy. We all know leadership is a tough gig. It’s not unicorns and rainbows every day.

What I am suggesting, however, is to view the ultimate impact of your leadership through the eyes of your employees. Start with the end in mind. What is the legacy you want to leave? What do you want team members saying about the impact of your leadership long after you no longer work together?

You know your team members will be talking about you over dinner. What do you want them to say?

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

5 Tips for Handling Delicate Conversations

coffee conversationOne of the certainties of managerial life is there will be occasions where you need to have a delicate conversation with someone. No matter if it’s an employee, colleague, or vendor, the thought of having a potentially challenging conversation with someone causes fear and hesitation. And of course this isn’t just an issue in the workplace; the same dynamic happens in our personal relationships as well.

I had a delicate conversation with my 21 year-old son last week, and frankly, I could have handled it better. If I had practiced what I’m preaching here, I’m pretty sure the discussion would have been more fruitful. Here’s the tips I should have followed more closely:

1. Clarify your motive and desired outcome for the conversation—In my case, I had been stewing over a discussion my son and I had a few weeks earlier. In that prior conversation, I felt my son had neglected to mention some important facts that I later discovered on my own. I felt he had been less that truthful with me and my motive was to let him know how I felt so I could get the weight off my chest. I thought I was clear on the motive, but looking back I see it was a pretty selfish one. A better motive would have been to learn more about why my son shared what he did rather than accuse him of purposefully omitting facts. I also wasn’t clear on my desired outcome. Was I looking for an apology? Did I want him to acknowledge he made a mistake? Since I wasn’t fully clear on the outcome, it left the conversation in a ragged state when we finished.

2. Pick the right time and place—This one is hard for me because I don’t like to leave things unsettled. I’d rather address an issue quickly and get it resolved, rather than wait for things to settle down and perhaps sort themselves out naturally. When planning for a delicate conversation, choose a location that will create a comfortable and safe environment for the meeting. Choose a time of day when the other party will be at their best, and havethe right kind of open energy that will allow them to hear what you’re saying.

3. Watch your tone—Studies have shown that just 7% of communication is the actual words we speak. That leaves 93% of communication happening through tone and body language. The tone of your voice will literally set the tone for the conversation. Use a tone that is warm, supportive, inquisitive, and non-judgmental. Raising your voice, having a sharp tongue, or using defensive or dismissive body language (e.g., crossing your arms, rolling your eyes) will doom your conversation for failure.

The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations

4. Invite dialogue—Too often our delicate conversations turn into monologues. That’s because we feel more comfortable if we’re in control of the discussion. We can be afraid of what the other person may say or how she will steer the conversation, so we rattle on at the mouth until we’ve said our peace. The best way to handle a delicate conversation is to invite dialogue. Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to express her thoughts and share openly. This builds a climate of trust and safety which facilitates more open and honest communication.

5. Express support and empathy—The delicate conversation with my son was a textbook example of what not to do. If you recall, in a prior conversation with my son I was upset he didn’t share certain details with me that I thought were relevant. After he explained why he omitted those facts, I relied upon my trust-building and leadership expertise and responded, “If you believe that, then you’re lying to yourself!” I don’t think I’ll be winning Dad of the Year award anytime soon. I missed my opportunity to empathize with him and express support for his point of view. Instead, I selfishly used the opening to blast him with a critical comment that I had been harboring for weeks. Even if your point of view is correct, a delicate conversation will go off the rails if you shut the other person down by not expressing empathy and support.

Conversation is the vehicle by which we build trust, lead others, and develop relationships. The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations, so it’s important we develop effective communication skills. When it comes to discussing delicate topics, it’s important to be clear on our motives, choose the right time and place, watch our tone, invite dialogue, and express support and empathy.

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