Leading with Trust

The #1 Thing New Managers Need to Know

new-supervisorI remember the first time I became a manager, close to 25 years ago. I had established myself as one of the top performers in a team of about a dozen people and was promoted into a supervisory position. Literally overnight I moved from being a peer with the rest of my team members to now being “the boss.” My training consisted of being briefed on the administrative aspects of my new role, like managing work schedules, processing forms, and managing team member workloads.

Being trained up, I was released into the wild to manage the team. Run free, new manager! Go lead your team!

But there was a problem, and it was a big one. My training lacked one critical component: how to actually manage people.

If you’re a manager, my experience probably rings true for you as well. Most new managers don’t receive adequate training when they move into their new roles. A study by CEB shows 60% of managers under-perform their first two years, resulting in increased performance gaps and employee turnover.

Beside wishing I had been provided training on how to manage people, I wish I had known what my #1 priority should have been as a new manager: building trust. If you have your team’s trust, you open the doors to all kinds of possibilities. Without it, you’re dead in the water.

But how do you actually go about building trust? Most people think it “just happens,” like some sort of relational osmosis. That’s not the case. It’s built through the use of specific behaviors that demonstrate your own trustworthiness as a leader. You are a trustworthy leader when you are:

Able—Being Able is about demonstrating competence. One way leaders demonstrate their competence is having the expertise needed to do their jobs. Expertise comes from possessing the right skills, education, or credentials that establish credibility with others. Leaders also demonstrate their competence through achieving results. Consistently achieving goals and having a track record of success builds trust with others and inspires confidence in your ability. Able leaders are also skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable—A Believable leader acts with integrity. Dealing with people in an honest fashion by keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, and not gossiping are ways to demonstrate integrity. Believable leaders also have a clear set of values that have been articulated to their direct reports and they behave consistently with those values—they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably are key components to being a believable leader. Being fair doesn’t necessarily mean treating people the same in all circumstances, but it does mean that people are treated appropriately and justly based on their own unique situation.

ConnectedConnected leaders show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps to create an engaging work environment. Leaders create a sense of connectedness by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and trusting employees to use that information responsibly. Leaders also build trust by having a “people first” mentality and building rapport with those they lead. Taking an interest in people as individuals and not just as nameless workers shows that leaders value and respect their team members. Recognition is a vital component of being a connected leader, and praising and rewarding the contributions of people and their work builds trust and goodwill.

Dependable—Being Dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trust. One of the quickest ways to erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, leaders who do what they say they’re going to do earn a reputation as being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires leaders to be organized in such a way that they are able to follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable leaders also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for the outcomes of their work.

Building trust is the first priority of new managers but it isn’t the only one. Managing takes place through conversations, minute by minute as the dialogue unfolds. As a new leader I wish I had learned the critical skills a first-time manager needs to master. I wish I had known how to have conversations with purpose and direction. I wish I had known how to set goals, give praise or redirection, or wrap up conversations in a way that reinforced clarity and commitment to action (all skills, by the way, addressed in our newly released First-Time Manager training program…where was that 25 years ago when I needed it?!).

Becoming a manager for the first time is a significant career milestone. It is both exciting and nerve-wracking stepping into a role where you are now responsible for others and not just yourself. If that’s you, a new manager, remember the number one priority: building trust. That’s the foundation upon which all your other managerial skills and abilities rest.

I originally published this post on LeaderChat and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

Biggest Mistake Leaders Make - Section 1Over 1,400 people were presented a list of common leadership mistakes and were asked to select the top five. Two of them stood out clearly from the rest: Not providing appropriate feedback was chosen by 82%, with failing to listen or involve others a close second, chosen by 81%. (Failing to use an appropriate leadership style, failing to set clear goals and objectives, and failing to develop their people rounded out the respondents’ top five things leaders most often fail to do when working with others.)

Why is that? Well, one obvious reason is most managers receive little to no training when they move into a supervisory role. One study suggests most managers don’t receive any training until 10 years into their career and research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that 47 percent of organizations do not have a formal training program in place for new managers. Clearly many new managers aren’t getting the training they need to succeed in their roles. (If that’s you or your organization, check out our new First-Time Manager training program.)

A second, and no less obvious reason, is that giving feedback can be difficult and scary. Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts andFeedback details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

4 Essential Skills Every New Manager Needs to Learn

conversationBecoming a manager for the first time is a significant career milestone. It is both exciting and nerve-wracking stepping into a role where you are now responsible for others and not just yourself.

Most people who are promoted to managerial positions have been star performers in their roles as individual contributors. But managing people is a whole different ballgame and most managers are ill-prepared for the transition. As a result, 60% of new managers under-perform in their first two years according to a study by CEB resulting in increased performance gaps and employee turnover.

Managing takes place through conversations. In fact, it happens minute by minute as the conversations unfold. Because of this, some conversations are useful while others are not. Our research has shown there are four essential skills managers use to help them interact effectively with their people. These skills promote clarity and a positive sense of regard for the individual, and they are both people and results oriented.

Listen to Learn — Listening is one of the most important skills for any manager, not just those new to the role. Purposeful and effective listening helps your people feel valued and heard, and it build trust in your leadership abilities. I like to encourage new managers to listen with the intent to be influenced. Too many times we think we already know the answer or we’re formulating our response instead of listening to learn something new or to have our mind changed. Listen more than you talk and don’t be afraid to sit in a few moments of awkward silence (it’s really not as long as you think). The silence will actually serve as a prompt for the other person to more fully express himself.

Inquire for Insight — Great managers draw their people out. They ask questions that allow their people to share insights and ideas that can benefit projects, tasks, and the team in general. Asking open-ended questions helps the manager better understand the motivations of team members and what drives their behavior. When inquiring for insight, keep the conversation focused on moving forward, not the past. Emphasize “what” and “how” questions rather than “why,” which can sound judgmental and make people defensive. The goal is to draw others out, not shut them down.

Tell Your Truth — Giving candid feedback can be difficult for anyone, especially first-time managers who are afraid of damaging relationships with those who used to be their peers. But it’s essential that new managers learn how to balance candor with care, and when done properly, it can be tremendously freeing and empowering to both parties. The purpose of telling your truth is to create clarity and drive purposeful action toward accomplishing the goal. When the first two steps, listening to learn and inquiring for insight, are done well, it builds confidence and creates a safe environment where trust and respect flourish. When sharing your truth, be brave, honest, and respectful. Be open to other perspectives and focus on forward movement while being careful to avoid blame or judgment.

Express Confidence — People want to perform well for a manager they know has confidence in them. Just think of your best boss. Chances are the person had confidence and faith in your abilities. Your best boss probably built your self-confidence, expressed enthusiasm for your accomplishments, and gave you just the right amount of direction and support you needed to accomplish your goals. Don’t underestimate the power that exists in expressing confidence and belief in someone. Everyone wants to feel like they matter and are important to others.

Moving into management for the first time can be a daunting experience. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to learn and one of the most challenging tasks is developing effective relationships with your direct reports. The four skills of listening to learn, inquiring for insight, telling your truth, and expressing confidence will help foster an environment of trust and respect that will get your managerial career started on the right foot.

For more help or information on getting your managerial career off to the right start, check out our new First-Time Manager training program. It’s built on the time-tested secrets of The New One Minute Manager book and extends the secrets into essential skills and conversations that prepare people to transition into the role of management.

A Leader is Always Under the Microscope: 2 Lessons From Super Bowl 50

under the microscopeThe Super Bowl post-game actions and comments of Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, quarterbacks of the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers respectively, reminded me of how important it is for leaders to remember they are always under the microscope. It doesn’t matter if the occasion is the Super Bowl and you’re being watched by over 100 million people, or if it’s a staff meeting and you’re surrounded by a half-dozen team members, your every move is being watched…and remembered…by those around you.

Two specific incidents stood out to me from yesterday’s contest. The first was Peyton Manning’s post-game comments. Fresh off the thrill of winning his second Super Bowl championship and likely playing in his last professional football game, Manning graciously shared the credit for the victory with his teammates. This past season was Manning’s worst from a personal performance perspective, yet he put the needs of the team ahead of his own and the result was magic. Relying on the team’s defense and playing within himself, Manning helped the Broncos win the title. A great example of the power of teamwork.

But Manning isn’t perfect, and like all leaders, sometimes we say or do stupid things. Twice he stated he was going to “drink a lot of beer” after the game and gave Budweiser two unpaid, ringing endorsements (worth over $3 million in free advertising according to experts). For a league so concerned with its public image, and for a guy who has been a class act for most of his career, his comments were crass, careless and thoughtless.

The second example came from Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton. His mandatory obligation for a three minute post-game interview was a display of petulant, sulking behavior. Obviously upset over his most crushing loss as a football player, Newton fumbled the opportunity to show how much he has matured as a leader. Newton has rarely experienced such failure as a football player, having won a junior college national championship, the national college football championship with Auburn, winning the Heisman trophy, and being named the NFL MVP this season. Newton displayed significant growth as a leader this past season but a leader’s true character is measured in how he handles defeat, not victory. This will likely be a blip on the radar of Newton’s evolution as a leader, but it was a notable missed opportunity to raise his leadership brand to a higher level.

Remember, leaders, we are always on stage. The light is always shining on us and people are watching to see how we handle failure as well as success. Our words and actions carry great weight with those around us and we need to be responsible and thoughtful in the way we carry ourselves.

Top 7 Posts in 2015: Why it’s Hard to Trust People, Good Bosses vs. Bad Bosses, and More!

Top 7As I reflect back on 2015, it’s incredible to consider this is the fifth year of the Leading with Trust blog. In some respects it seems like just a few months ago that I started writing about the importance of trust in leadership, but in other ways it seems as though this blog has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.

This past year saw an amazing 67% increase in viewership! It’s mind-boggling to me that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to read, comment, and share articles from this blog. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to encourage others to lead in authentic ways that build trust in the workplace. The world desperately needs servant leaders more than ever and it has to begin with trust.

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2016, these Top 7 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

7th Most Popular Post: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” — Originally published in 2013 for the Thanksgiving holiday, this post has stood the test of time. Check it out for creative ideas on how to recognize and reward employees.

6th: The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening — Listening is one of the most neglected leadership skills yet it is key to building high trust relationships with your followers.

5th: Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do — The best leaders make it easy for people to follow them. Here are 10 leadership practices you should consider.

4th: 8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss — Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, this post explores eight ways that distinguish whether you are a good boss or a bad one.

3rd: Stop Measuring Employee Performance and Start Evaluating This 1 Thing Instead — This post discusses the one thing that is a better indicator of an employee’s contribution in place of the traditional performance review.

2nd: 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships — Low trust rears its head in predictable ways and this post from May 2014 clues you in on the warning signs.

and the #1 most popular post in 2015…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People — For the second year in a row this is the most viewed post on Leading with Trust. Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This article will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

6 Causes and Cures for Defensiveness In Relationships

defensiveness2Your defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

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. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

4 Conversations First-Time Managers Should Master

Peer to BossBecoming a manager for the first time is a significant career milestone. It brings a mix of emotions that range from excitement, confidence and eagerness on one side, to nervousness, fear, and anxiety on the other.

The biggest challenge for most new managers is they rarely receive any management-specific training prior to stepping into their new role. New managers are usually high-performing individual contributors that get promoted into a leadership role. Unfortunately, just because you’re a star performer in your individual role doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be a superstar manager. Leading people requires a different set of skills, and if you don’t have a game plan of how to develop those abilities as a manager, you’re setting yourself up for a difficult transition.

In particular, there are four primary conversations that first-time managers should be equipped to have with their people:

  1. Goal setting conversations – Ken Blanchard likes to say that all good performance starts with clear goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know when you’ve arrived? Effective goal setting tends to be one of the weakest skills of most managers, and for good reason…it’s hard! Mastering the art of setting goals sets the foundation for good performance.
  2. Praising conversations – When I conduct training workshops on building trust, I often ask the participants this question: “How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is that most people don’t receive enough praise or recognition on the job. Learning how, when, and why to praise performance will help first-time managers get the most from their team members.
  3. Redirecting conversations – Sometimes team members get off track with their performance and need some redirection on how to get back on course. Redirection conversations can be tricky and difficult to navigate. They have the potential of building trust, commitment, and enabling higher levels of performance of team members. If handled poorly, they have the potential to erode trust, destroy morale, and send team members into a nose dive.
  4. Wrapping up conversations – Too often first-time managers end their conversations with team members with no clear plan of action. Talking about what needs to be done doesn’t ensure it will get done. Wrapping up conversations with a positive tone and a firm plan for implementation helps team members follow through on their good intentions.

There is much more detail behind each of these four conversations that will be highlighted in our First-Time Manager Leadership Livecast on Thursday, December 3, 2015 from 8:00-9:00 a.m. PST. It’s free to join and you’ll get to hear more about these four essential conversations and get a sneak preview into Blanchard’s new training program for first-time managers.

Leaders – When Is The Last Time You Noticed?

ObserveI 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. We need to be more available. A leader’s best ability is availability.

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.

Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears – 4 Tips to Build Trust

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

10 Easy Ways Leaders Can Build Trust with Their New Teams

Trust StonesThe new president of the company came in with grandiose visions of the future. She saw the untapped potential of the organization and set a vision for increasing revenues by ten fold. She preached her message of change with catchy slogans to create excitement and instituted sweeping changes by bringing in people outside the organization whom she trusted to lead key initiatives.

She was large and in charge, but she forgot the one critical thing that would determine her ultimate success. She forgot to build trust with her team, and it was that lack of trust that resulted in her ouster just a few years later.

Trust is the catalyst that spurs innovation, the bonding agent that holds everyone together, and the lubrication that keeps things working smoothly in an organization. But trust doesn’t “just happen” by accident. It takes intentional effort and leaders need to have a specific game plan to establish and nurture trust in relationships.

The primary goal of any leader stepping in to lead a new team should be to build trust. Here are 10 easy ways leaders can get started:

1. Refrain from making bold proclamations — You probably have big goals for your new team and that’s likely why you were hired for the job. That’s great! But before you start proclaiming your vision for the future, spend time developing relationships with your new team members. Some of them may not know you from Adam. Some may be excited about you joining the team and others may be fearful. Be humble, exercise patience, and establish trust with your team before making bold proclamations. If your team trusts you, they’ll be much more receptive to hearing and acting on your message.

2. Ask open-ended questions — Dial down the temptation to start barking orders or making evaluations about current practices and ask open-ended questions instead. Saying “Tell me more about why the process was designed that way” builds trust more than saying “That process doesn’t make sense. Why do you do it that way?” The former comes from an attitude of inquisitiveness and wanting to learn, whereas the latter comes from a position of evaluation and judgment. You’ll learn a lot more from your team by asking open-ended questions.

3. Ask other people for their ideas — Chances are you have some pretty smart team members who know the business quite well. They probably have excellent insight into how things could work better, where the gaps are, and what could be done to improve the business. So ask them. Don’t think you have to come up with all the answers yourself. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan. Involve your team in developing plans and making decisions and trust will flourish.

4. Approach your role as a learner — You will develop trust much faster with your team if you approach this transition as a learner rather than acting like you’re a know-it-all. What attitudes do learner’s have? They are humble because they know they don’t know everything. They are open to new ideas, taking direction, and appreciative of others who are willing to share their expertise. Those are the same characteristics you should have when stepping in to lead a new team.

5. Go slow with changes — Practically every leader I’ve met has wanted to implement change quickly. And my experience has shown that effective change takes much longer to implement than we estimate or prefer it to take. So plan your schedule accordingly. Understand that your team is getting to know and trust you, and once that happens, they will be more receptive to the changes you want to implement. If you try to implement too much change before the team trusts you, they will resist and work against you rather than with you.

6. Respect the culture — Every organization and team has its own unique culture, and as the new person to the team, you need to be purposeful about learning the new culture and becoming part of it. A big no-no is to compare your new team or organization to your old one. When you keep bringing up your old company and make statements like “we did it this way” or “we should do it like my old team,” it makes your team question your loyalty. Using the pronoun “we” makes your team feel like a part of you is still with the old team. You’re not with your old team anymore so quit talking about them. When you need to reference your past experience, use the pronoun “I”—I’ve had experience doing it like this and it worked well—and it will go over better with your team.

7. Be nice — It sounds silly that this even has to be mentioned but you’d be surprised at how many leaders miss this obvious way to build trust. Just be nice. Say please and thank you. Smile at people. Ask them how they’re doing. Build rapport. It’s the little things that go a long way in building trust.

8. Catch people doing something right — When I do training sessions with clients I often ask the group this question: “How many people are sick and tired of their boss praising them at work?” No one ever raises their hand! The truth is people don’t get enough pats on the back for their achievements on the job. It doesn’t cost much—except time and effort—for leaders to praise team members, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust.

9. Laugh at yourself — Humor is a fantastic antidote to many of the ills of the day-to-day stress of organizational life. Well timed and appropriate humor keeps the mood light, lifts people’s spirits, and eases tension. Leaders who are not only humorous, but are vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves, have a leg up when it comes to building trust. People trust others whom they like and know. Humor breaks down barriers between people and allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level.

10. Extend trust — Someone has to make the first move when it comes to trust. Trust can’t be developed unless one party is willing to assume a little risk and extend trust to the other. I believe it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first in extending trust. Doing so sends a powerful signal to your team members and it creates a safer environment for them to reciprocate and extend trust to you.

I said earlier that these were “easy” ways to develop trust. Let me qualify that statement. Some of these ways are easier than others, and depending on your personality, some may be quite difficult for you. However, they are all eminently do-able. They just take intentional effort, and if you follow through and try some of these, you’ll find trust will start to blossom with your new team.

Feel free to leave a comment with other strategies or suggestions to build trust with a new team. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The 10 Commandments of Communication to Build Trust

The way we communicate with others is a primary way we build trust. Along with specific behaviors and actions, communication serves as the vehicle for building trust in relationships. What we say, how we say it, and how we respond to what others communicate can make or break trust. That’s why it’s important to develop your interpersonal communication skills. There are some basic communication do’s and don’ts…the 10 commandments if you will…that everyone should know to facilitate the growth of trust.

Check yourself against this list to see how many of the 10 Commandments of Communication you adhere to:

1. Thou shalt demonstrate genuine care for the other person – People can see right through a phony. If you don’t genuinely care for the other person in the relationship it will show in your words and actions. If it’s important for you to build trust with someone, then you should find ways to genuinely care about them. Examine the relationship to see what it is about the person, or the role they play in your organization, that you appreciate and value. Focus on those aspects of the relationship in an authentic and genuine way.

2. Thou shalt listen to understand, not to respond – Most of us have poor listening skills. Instead of listening to someone to understand their point of view, we spend our mental energy formulating a response. Practice active listening techniques such as asking open-ended questions/statements like “Tell me more” or “How did that make you feel?” Paraphrase key points and check for understanding throughout the conversation and listen with the intent to be influenced by the person speaking, not with the intent to argue or debate. Listening can be one of the easiest and quickest ways to establish trust with someone.

3. Thou shalt use open body language – Studies have shown that 70% or more of communication is nonverbal. Our body language often conveys much more meaning than our words so it’s important than your body language is in alignment with the intent of your words. If at all possible, eliminate physical barriers, like a desk, between you and the person you’re speaking with. Sit side by side or in front of each other, don’t cross your arms, roll your eyes, or grimace. Be sure to smile, nod in understanding, and verbally respond with phrases like “I hear you” or “I understand” to show the other person you’re tracking with the conversation.

4. Thou shalt look for commonalities with the other person – People intuitively trust people who are similar to themselves. When first establishing the relationship, emphasize things you have in common such as where you grew up, went to school, common hobbies/interests you have, or the activities/sports of your children.

5. Thou shalt express empathy/mirror emotions – You’ve probably heard the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Expressing empathy toward another person is an excellent way to show you care, particularly if you mirror their emotions. Neurological studies have shown our brains contain “mirror neurons” that have the capacity to help us feel the emotions being expressed by another individual. I’m not suggesting you mimic the emotions of others in an attempt to manipulate them into trusting you, but rather taking genuine interest in their plight and letting your natural empathetic instincts express themselves.

6. Thou shalt be transparent and show vulnerability – Establishing trust in a relationship requires one person to make the first move in extending trust. Someone has to make him/herself vulnerable to another and one way to do that is to be transparent (appropriate for the context of the situation) in sharing information. A lack of transparency or vulnerability breeds suspicion in the relationship and is usually the result of one party wanting to minimize risk and maximize control.

7. Thou shalt be positive and respectful – Right or wrong, people will judge the quality of your character by how you speak about and treat others. If you are positive and respectful in your words and actions, people will trust that you will treat them the same way. The opposite is also true. If you speak disparagingly about others or treat others as “less than” yourself, people will not trust you will act with fairness and integrity in your dealings with them.

8. Choose the right time, place, and method to communicate – Just as the secret in real estate is “location, location, location,” the secret to trust-building communication is “timing, timing, timing.” In addition to finding the right time to communicate, it’s important to choose the proper place and method. If your communication involves sensitive personal information, have a face-to-face conversation in a private location. Use email, phone, and other methods of communication that are appropriate to the specific situation.

9. Thou shalt look for opportunities to build up the other person – Your words can be used to build other people up or tear them down. Which do you think will build trust? Building them up, of course. Look for every opportunity to use your communication to help others learn, grow, and become the best version of themselves possible. Doing so will cause people to see that you have their best interests in mind, a key driver of deciding to place their trust in you.

10. Thou shalt own your words – Say what you mean, mean what you say, be forthright, honest, compassionate, caring, and responsible with your communication. If you say something that harms another, apologize sincerely and make amends. It’s really that simple.

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

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