Leading with Trust

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.

The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening

listeningThink of the best boss you’ve ever had. What was it about that person that made him or her your best boss? Did you trust them? Probably. Did they care about you? Very likely. Was he or she a great listener? Almost certainly.

Listening is one of the most underrated and unappreciated leadership skills. Many leaders don’t put any intentional effort into how they listen to their people. They just assume “it happens.” I mean, come on, right? You have ears…the other person talks…you listen…then reply with what you want to say because usually that’s more important than what the other person has to say anyway, right? Wrong.

Being an effective listener is one of the quickest ways to build trust with your people. People trust leaders who take the time to hear their ideas and empathize with their concerns. It’s also one of the best opportunities to learn what’s going on in your business and influence the activities of your team members. You can’t know what’s happening on the front lines unless you ask questions and listen to the responses.

Becoming a good listener doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time and effort to listen effectively, and in order to become a great listener, you have to practice the five fundamentals of listening.

The Five Fundamentals of Effective Listening

1. Attending to Nonverbal Behaviors – Your nonverbal behaviors tell the speaker you are either interested and comprehending what is being said or you are disinterested and would rather be somewhere else. Are you smiling and nodding in understanding or are you yawning, scowling, or staring the person down? Is your body position leaning in to the conversation to show you are engaged or are you leaning back with your arms folded indicating you’re feeling defensive? Your body language should communicate “Go ahead, I care, I’m listening.”

2. Asking Questions – The best leaders ask questions – lots of them. But not all questions are created equal and different types of questions serve different purposes. Open-ended questions encourage the speaker to share more information and go deeper in the conversation. Clarifying questions help you understand the full context of what is being shared whereas prompting questions encourage the speaker to reflect deeper on their own thoughts. Close-ended questions allow you to limit the conversation or find out specific information and leading questions allow you to bring the conversation to a close.

3. Reflecting Feelings – Reflecting feelings is the skill of capturing the speaker’s feelings and restating them in nonjudgmental terms. It demonstrates to the speaker that you are aware of the emotion behind the content of what is being shared. Using phrases such as “It sounds like you’re really _______” (frustrated, angry, sad, etc.) or “I can sense your _______ (apprehension, anxiety, pride, etc.)” indicates you are empathizing with the speaker which allows him/her to trust you more and share more information.

4. Paraphrasing – Paraphrasing demonstrates that you heard and understand what was being shared. The basics of paraphrasing include restating key words or phrases, following the speaker’s sequence, listening to understand, and showing empathy. You don’t want to robotically repeat what the speaker said verbatim, twist the speaker’s words, or prejudge the situation.

5. Summarizing – Summarizing is the skill of being able to concisely recap what the speaker said over a longer period of time. The exact words aren’t as important as capturing the key ideas, feelings, or action items that were shared. It can help to take notes, summarize periodically throughout the conversation, and to follow the order and sequence of information shared by the speaker. Don’t act like a parrot and repeat the exact words shared or add your own conclusions to the summary.

These five fundamentals may seem like no-brainers, but the truth is that most leaders don’t do them very well, or even at all. Just like a professional athlete continuously practices the fundamentals of his/her sport, leaders should continually practice these fundamentals of listening.

Do You Manage Conflict or Does It Manage You? 5 Strategies for Success

ConflictConflict gets a bad rap. Most people tend to view conflict as a bad thing, automatically assuming it has to be an adversarial win or lose situation. The reality is that conflict is inevitable in relationships and it isn’t inherently a negative thing. It depends if you choose to manage the conflict or let the conflict manage you.

I’m a fan of the Thomas Kilmann model of conflict management because of its dispassionate approach to the topic and the practical strategies it offers for its followers. Kilmann defines conflict as any situation where your concerns or desires differ from those of another person. That can be as simple as deciding where to go for dinner with your spouse to something as complex as brokering the details of a huge corporate merger.

Thomas KilmannAccording to Kilmann’s model there are five basic modes of handling conflict that result from the amount of assertiveness and cooperation you employ. Each of us tend to have a natural, default mode we use when faced with conflict, but that particular mode isn’t always appropriate for every situation. The key to effectively managing conflict is to understand which mode is most appropriate for the situation given the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. Here’s a quick snapshot of the five modes of managing conflict:

Avoiding – Taking an unassertive and uncooperative approach to conflict defines the Avoiding mode. Sometimes avoiding conflict is the best move. Perhaps the issue isn’t important enough to address or you need to allow some time to pass to diffuse tensions. But of course avoiding conflict can also be harmful because issues may fester and become more contentious or decisions may be made by default without your input or influence.

Competing – High on assertiveness and low on cooperativeness, the competing mode is appropriate when you need to protect yourself, stand up for important principles, or make quick decisions. Overuse of the competing style tends to result in people around you feeling “bulldozed,” defeated, and un-empowered.

Collaborating – The collaborating mode is the highest use of assertiveness and cooperation and is appropriate when your focus is on merging the perspectives of the parties, integrating solutions, and building relationships. Overusing the collaboration mode can lead to inefficiency,  wasting time, and too much diffusion of responsibility (because if everyone is responsible, then really no one is responsible).

Compromising – Many times people think compromising should be the goal of resolving conflict. I give up something, you give up something, and we agree to settle somewhere in the middle…hogwash! There are certainly times when compromise is the best route, such as when the issue in dispute is only moderately important or you just need a temporary solution. But if you overuse the compromising mode, you can neglect to see the big picture and create a climate of cynicism and low trust because you’re always giving in rather than taking a stand.

Accommodating – This mode is high on cooperativeness and low on assertiveness which is appropriate for situations where you need to show reasonableness, keep the peace, or maintain perspective. If you overuse the accommodating mode, you can find yourself being taken advantage of, having your influence limited, and feeling resentful because you’re always the one making concessions to resolve conflict.

Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, and if managed effectively, can lead to deeper and stronger bonds of trust and commitment. The key is to diagnose the situation, determine your preferred outcomes, and use the mode most appropriate to help you achieve your goals.

The 1 Thing Every Employee Needs That Most Bosses Don’t Know How to Give

Challenging ConversationsEvery employee needs candid (yet caring) feedback about her performance, but most bosses shudder in fear at the thought of having that tough conversation.

I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is one of the most unpleasant things a leader has to do; it’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come one, 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 balance toughness with tenderness and get an employee’s performance back on track while preserving, or even building trust in the process.

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, or resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receiving 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.

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.

Surviving Friendly Fire: 8 Tips for Dealing with Unfair Criticism

criticismSooner or later…sooner if you’re in a leadership position…you will get wounded by “friendly fire”— unfair criticism from a boss or colleague.

Friendly fire comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it shows up in your annual performance review when the boss rates you as failing to meet expectations in an area of performance where you had no idea you were falling short. Other times friendly fire shows up when a colleague criticizes you in an effort to deflect attention from his/her own shortcomings. Regardless of the cause or circumstance, friendly fire hurts. It erodes trust between people, causes rifts in relationships, and stymies effective teamwork. You can’t control when friendly fire comes your way, but you can choose how to respond. Here are 8 tips on how to survive friendly fire:

1. Remember that your response shapes your reputation – Above all else, remember this point: the way you choose to respond to friendly fire will greatly shape your reputation. Take the high road and respond with integrity, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t let someone else’s unprofessional behavior goad you into responding in kind. Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day all they have is their integrity.

2. Don’t react defensively – Defensiveness only escalates the situation and lends weight to the unjustified criticism (similar to responding to a loaded question like “Have you stopped beating your wife?”). Getting passionately fired up over friendly fire gives emotional control to the accuser and limits your ability to respond rationally and thoughtfully.

3. Listen to understand; not to rebut or defend – Our most common instinct when we experience friendly fire is to zero in on the fallacies of the other person’s comments and formulate a response to defend ourselves. Instead, resist the urge to focus on the micro elements of what’s being communicated and instead focus on the macro implications of the criticism. Even if the specific accusations of the criticism are off-base, there may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the broader message.

4. Acknowledge any truth that is present – Agreeing with any valid part of the criticism is a way to acknowledge you’re hearing the feedback without agreeing to the entirety of what’s being communicated or beating yourself up over the situation. Sometimes there is a kernel of truth present in friendly fire and it may be an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself or the other person. If there are elements of the criticism that are blatantly not true, state your differences in a respectful and professional way without getting into a debate parsing the details.

5. Consider the source – Probably the sagest of all advice when it comes to unfair criticism. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to dramatization, criticizing others, being egotistical, or other unpredictable behavioral patterns, then you have more evidence to discredit their feedback. However, if the person delivering the criticism is known as a steady, stable, trustworthy professional who has been personally supportive of you in the past, you should take stock of their feedback and explore it further.

6. Probe for root causes – What’s being communicated in friendly fire is often symptoms of a deeper problem or issue. When you encounter friendly fire, ask open-ended questions or statements like “Tell me more…,” “Explain why that’s important to you…,” or “What is the impact of that?” Asking a series of “why?” questions can also help you discover the root cause of the issue.

7. Understand their world – To understand a person’s motivation for being unfairly critical, it’s helpful to put yourself in their shoes. Is the person unhappy? Stressed? Insecure? Vying for power or control? Frustrated? Is there a significant amount of change happening in the organization? Organizational change brings out the snipers and friendly fire increases dramatically. Criticizing and blaming others is a defense mechanism to deal with the fear of being asked to change. Even though you’re the target, remember that friendly fire is often more about them than you.

8. Remember that you are more than the criticism – It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we experience friendly fire. Most people strive to perform well and do what’s right, and when we have a boss or colleague criticize our efforts it hurts deeply. Depending on our personality and emotional make up, it may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity, just to name a few. Remember that this too shall past, and in the big scheme of things this is probably just a blip on the radar. Keep focused on all the positive things in your life such as the people you love, those who love you, the successes you’re having at work, the joy you experience from your hobbies, your spiritual faith, and the support of your family and friends.

As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said, the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Getting wounded by criticism stinks; there’s no two ways about it. But remembering these principles can help us keep things in perspective and maintain a strong defense against friendly fire.

How do you deal with unfair criticism? Feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom with others.

Santa Reveals His 7 Secrets for Building a High Performing Team

santa thumbs upToiling in anonymity for 364 days of the year in the far reaches of the North Pole is the highest performing team known to man. This team labors all year in preparation for the one night when their work is on display for the whole world to see. Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus and his team of elves. If there is anyone from whom you should take advice about building a high performing team, it is Santa.

Every year Santa is gracious enough to take time out of his crazy schedule to share some of his leadership wisdom with me. In previous years he’s shared five keys to effective delegation, three lessons about motivation, and the fundamentals of leadership success. In our most recent meeting, held at a local Starbucks over a hot cup of Christmas Blend coffee, Santa shared his seven secrets for building a high performing team.

Me: Hi Santa! I can’t thank you enough for meeting with me. You are always so gracious with your time.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy. I still owe you for that year you requested a bicycle and I delivered underwear instead. Even Santa makes the occasional mistake!

Me: No worries Santa, I really needed the underwear more than the bicycle anyway. I’ve always admired the team you’ve built at the North Pole. I can’t think of any team that performs better than yours. What is your secret?

Santa: Thanks for the compliment Randy. I wouldn’t say there is a single secret; there are seven! And they aren’t really secrets when you think about it, just common sense. The first secret of a high performing team is to have a clear purpose and values. The team needs to know why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve, and the values that will guide their actions. The team has agreed on challenging goals and deliverables that are clearly related to the team’s purpose. Each team member understands his role on the team and is accountable to other team members.

Me: I can see how that is evident in your team. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of your organization and how his/her role fits into the big picture. What is your second secret?

Santa: The second secret of a high performing team is empowerment. Each team member needs to have the responsibility and authority to accomplish his/her work. Information needs to be shared widely and team members have to be trusted to do what is right. Team members are clear on what they can or cannot do and they take initiative to act within their scope of responsibility. Empowerment is possible because of the third secret: relationships and communication. Trust, mutual respect, and team cohesion are emphasized and every team member has the freedom to state their opinions, thoughts and feelings. High performing teams emphasize listening to each other as well as giving and receiving candid, yet caring feedback.

Me: Empowerment, relationships, and communication are critical success factors for any team. What is the fourth secret of a high performing team?

Santa: The fourth secret is flexibility. Everything is interconnected in today’s global economy and change happens more rapidly than at any time in history. A high performing team has to be ready to change direction, strategy, or processes on a moment’s notice. Team members need to have a mindset of agility, knowing that change is not only inevitable but desirable.

Me: Considering your team pulls off the herculean feat of delivering presents across the world in a single night, I imagine your team has perfected the art of flexibility!

Santa: Do you know how many last-minute requests we get from children and parents around the world? Countless! Flexibility is part of our nature and it has led to us practicing the fifth secret of a high performing team: optimal productivity. The bottom-line for any high performing team is getting the job done. You have to achieve results – on time, on budget, with excellent quality. We are all committed to achieving excellence in everything we do.

Me: I know everyone appreciates you sharing all of this wisdom. How do you keep your team from burning out from all of their hard work throughout the year?

Santa: Great question! That leads to the sixth secret of a high performing team: recognition and appreciation. Our team places a high priority on celebrating our successes and milestones. We work hard but we have a lot of fun doing it! Individuals are frequently praised for their efforts and everyone feels highly regarded within the team. Rather than only focusing on catching people make mistakes, I make it a priority to catch the elves doing something right.

Me: So that brings us to the seventh and final secret of high performing teams.

Santa: That’s right. The seventh secret of high performing teams is morale. Team members are confident and enthusiastic about their work and each person feels a sense of pride in being part of the team. Team members are committed to each other’s success and to the success of the team. We fiercely protect the morale of the team by making sure we deal with conflict openly and respectfully. We may not always agree on each decision, but when a decision is made, we all agree to wholeheartedly support it.

Me: This has been a wonderful discussion Santa. You are truly a master at building a high performing team.

Santa: Thank you Randy! The credit really belongs to the entire team, not just me. We are all in this together. Merry Christmas to all!

4 Surefire Ways to Shatter Your Team’s Trust, Just Like the Chicago Bears

Bears OC Aaron Kromer

Aaron Kromer, Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator

A season that started with Super Bowl aspirations has devolved into one of dysfunction and disappointment for the Chicago Bears football team. The team hasn’t performed up to expectations, coaches and players seem to be at odds with each other, and an incident last week involving one of the Bears coaches brought everything to a head.

Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer publicly criticized quarterback Jay Cutler in an interview with a reporter. Though he subsequently apologized to Cutler and the team, only time will tell if this brings the team closer or pulls them further apart. However, the events with the Bears demonstrate four surefire ways to shatter your team’s trust in your leadership:

1. Talk behind people’s backs—Speaking negatively about someone to another person shows tremendous disrespect to the person you’re speaking about and a lack of integrity on your part. It not only erodes trust with the person you’re talking about, it causes distrust with the person to whom you’re speaking—“I wonder what he says about me when I’m not around?” The old adage “if you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all” is a good one to abide by. Even better, if you have something critical to say about someone, say it to that person. Muster up the courage to have those difficult conversations with the person involved and you’ll probably feel less frustrated and inclined to vent to other people.

2. Call team members out in public—Some leaders think by calling someone out in public it will motivate that person to perform better. It might work for a short while, but it only leads to resentment and bitterness and eventually performance will decline. No one wants to work for a leader who is willing to embarrass them in public. Team members want leaders who support them, encourage them, and have their back when times get tough. That doesn’t mean ignoring poor performance, coddling people, or not holding them accountable to high standards. It means leading them—setting goals, teaching, training, coaching, evaluating—not belittling and criticizing people. Remember, it’s better to reprimand in private and praise in public.

3. Don’t hold people accountable—It erodes the trust of good performing team members when they see their leader not holding poor performers accountable. In the case of the Bears, head coach Marc Trestman has repeatedly said Kromer’s behavior is being addressed and “handled internally.” Only those in the Bears organization know what that involves, but it’s important that team members see accountability being lived out within the life and culture of the team. The bottom-line is that holding team members accountable—in respectful, dignified, and equitable ways—is critical to maintaining high levels of trust within the team. Without accountability, team members feel as if “anything goes” and leads them to question who’s really in charge.

4. Fail to communicate openly—One of the most important truths I’ve learned in my leadership career is people deserve candid, yet caring feedback about their performance. Frequent, open, and trusted communication between the leader and team member is imperative to building and sustaining trust. If you are willing to communicate openly with a team member about something as important and personal as his/her performance, that person knows they can trust you to communicate openly and honestly about other areas of your leadership. Communication is a primary vehicle of transmitting trust. Openly and willingly sharing information about yourself, the organization, and the work of the team are all important ways to build trust.

Coach Kromer did the right thing by apologizing for his behavior. He recognized what he did was wrong and he addressed it with the people involved. Head Coach Marc Trestman seems to be trying to navigate this situation appropriately, a challenge in and of itself considering he’s operating under the spotlight of constant media attention. These events provide a lesson for all of us leaders about how easy it is to erode trust with team members through thoughtless words and careless actions.

Defensiveness Is Killing Your Relationships – How To Recognize It and What To Do About It

DefensivenessYour 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.

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