Leading with Trust

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.

Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People

Walking on EggshellsHunting for hidden eggs is one of the great traditions of celebrating Easter. The fun and excitement of finding eggs can be tempered by the prospect of accidentally stepping on and breaking those delicate treasures. As a result, you end up cautiously tip-toeing through the hunt, afraid to move too fast or take any chances. After a while it takes the fun out of the whole experience.

Walking on eggshells around temperamental people at work takes all the fun out of your job. We’ve all probably had the experience of knowing or working with someone who blows up without any warning or at the slightest provocation. It can be intimidating to work with someone like this, and if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get trapped in relating to this person in unhealthy ways. You can find yourself constantly bowing to this person’s wishes, avoiding the person, or actually believing you’re at fault for this person’s reactions.

Here are four suggestions to help you deal with this kind of situation:

1. Realize it’s not you – Your behavior isn’t the problem. The problem is the emotional instability of the other person. You are not responsible for how another person reacts, even if they blame you for their behavior (e.g., “You make me so mad!”). The truth is that each of us has to take responsibility for our own behavior, not that of other people.

2. Don’t cater to their demands – There is a reason the U.S. government has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and it should also be your policy with the office tyrant. Negotiating or catering to the demands of someone does nothing to change their behavior over the long-term and only works against you. They get what they want by having you modify your behavior to suit their needs and you get nothing…except walking on eggshells.

3. Set and maintain boundaries – Healthy boundaries are the key to relating to difficult people at work. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat for them. It’s completely appropriate for you to set boundaries with difficult people, and most importantly, consistently maintain those boundaries. It will likely mean some uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations with the offending party.

4. Seek help if needed – Handling this kind of situation directly with the other person will often solve the issue, but sometimes you may need to call in reinforcements. Don’t hesitate to ask your manager to help address the problem. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak and sometimes the offending party won’t change his/her ways until the boss addresses the problem.

7 Ways to Make it Easy for People to Work with You

easy“It all depends on who you’re working with.”

That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent. It all depends on who you’re working with.

In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.

Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.

Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:

1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.

2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.

4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.

5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.

6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!

7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.

No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.

Moment of Trust – How to Give Feedback That Builds Trust, Not Destroys It

feedback2Giving 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.

For most leaders, giving feedback is not our most pleasurable task. Having been on both sides of the conversation, giving feedback and receiving it, I know it can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, I’ve also come to learn and believe that people not only need to hear the honest truth about their performance, they deserve it. Most people don’t go to work in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a poor performer today!” We do a disservice to our people if we don’t give them candid and caring feedback about their performance.

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 and 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?

It’s your moment of trust. Seize it!

The Enemy of Trust and 6 Ways to Defeat It

coach-yellingToday is Super Bowl Sunday, and along with tens of millions of other people, I’ll be watching the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks battle it out for the NFL championship. One of the things I enjoy about watching sports is paying attention to the “game within the game.” I observe how the coaches interact with each other and the players, how they react to the highs and lows of the game, and how they lead their teams.

I’ve observed many coaches lead through fear and intimidation. I’ve seen them criticize players for making mistakes, or yell and scream at players in frustration because the game isn’t going the way the coach would like. I’ve noticed when coaches are “screamers,” their players eventually tune them out, or even worse, become so afraid to make mistakes they fail to give their best effort.

Unfortunately, this kind of leadership isn’t limited to the world of sports. Our workplaces have plenty of leaders who try to lead through fear. Maybe you work for one? Maybe you are one?

Even if you aren’t the stereotypical gruff, volatile, loud, in-your-face type of boss, you may be casting a shadow of fear over your team without even realizing it. Your positional authority alone is enough to create a certain amount of anxiety and stress in the hearts of your employees. Add in some common fear-inducing behaviors leaders often use like hoarding information, losing their temper, and not protecting the interests of their employees, you’ve got the recipe for creating timid and fearful team members.

Fear is the enemy of trust. It’s hard, if not virtually impossible, for trust to survive if there is fear in a relationship. The two are polar opposites just like night and day, black and white, pain and pleasure, success and failure, or even Michigan and Ohio State (Go Blue!).

In order to become a trusted leader, you need to lower, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of fear in the relationships with those you lead. Here are six ways to lower fear and build trust:

1. Be consistent in your behavior – Unpredictability breeds fear. If your employees can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to step out and take risks. They’ll always be on edge, not knowing who’s going to show up at the office, the “good boss” that will support their efforts and have their back should they make a mistake, or the “bad boss” that will fly off the handle and punish them for their failure.

2. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities – High-trust cultures give employees confidence to set BHAG’s – big hairy audacious goals – and risk failure by not achieving them. Rather than penalize your employees when they make a mistake, use the opportunity to coach them on how to do better the next time around.

3. Explain the “why” – Let your team members know the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions you make. It will help them better understand your thought processes and motivations and create more buy-in to your leadership. Failure to explain the “why” leaves people wondering about why you do what you do and sows the seeds of doubt and fear.

4. Share information about yourself – The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself. By soliciting the feedback of others, you can learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Check out one of my previous articles about how you can build trust by being more vulnerable with people.

5. Solicit and use feedback from others – Leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother soliciting feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.

6. Be nice – Say “please”… “thank you”… “you’re welcome”… a little kindness goes a long way in building trust. Simply making the effort to be friendly and build a rapport with others signals to them that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers that show up to do a job.

The coaches of today’s Super Bowl teams, John Fox (Broncos) and Pete Carroll (Seahawks), aren’t known as fear-inducing leaders. In fact, they’re quite the opposite – positive, upbeat, steady, and encouraging. Their players feel secure in the consistency of their leadership and perform without fear of how they’ll respond if they make a mistake. That style of leadership produces winning teams. Give it a try with yours.

4 Reasons I Use The “F” Word At Work

F-WordIn most workplaces the “F” word is taboo. There are some words you just don’t say out loud and the “F” word tops the list. Leaders, in particular, are afraid to even think about the “F” word, much less say it in public. Experienced leaders have learned that mentioning the “F” word is like opening Pandora’s Box. You flip the lid on that bad boy and you’re in for a world of hurt. Some things, including the “F” word, are just better left unsaid.

I think that needs to change. Leaders need to use the “F” word more. Much more.

I used to be afraid of the “F” word until I learned better. Now I find myself using the “F” word whenever I get the chance. Here are four reasons why I use the “F” word – feelings – in the workplace (you didn’t really think I was talking about that “F” word, did you?!):

1. It recognizes reality – People don’t check their feelings and emotions at the office door. Every one of your employees is a walking, talking, bundle of thoughts and emotions that affect the way they “show up” at work. Even though every manager in the world wishes that people kept their personal lives at home and didn’t bring their issues to work, that’s just not realistic. Everybody, including you and me, have issues in our lives that affect our work performance. Maybe it’s a sick child, an ailing parent, marital problems, financial pressures, <insert challenge here>, you name it – we all have ups and downs in life. Effective leaders have learned to be emotionally intelligent and understand the need to manage the whole person, not just the faceless/mindless “worker” that shows up to do a job.

2. It builds trust – There is no more important leadership competency than building high-trust relationships. There is very little chance for success in the leader/follower relationship without a solid foundation of trust. One of the core elements of a trustworthy relationship is “connectedness.” People trust you when they know you care about them as individuals and not just workers being paid to do a job. Acknowledging emotions, maintaining open communication, and recognizing/rewarding people for their accomplishments are key behaviors in building trust. You can’t build trust without using the “F” word.

3. It fosters engagement – Research has shown there are 12 primary factors in creating passionate employees at work. By “passionate” I mean engaged employees that are willing to be good corporate citizens, perform at high levels, and devote their discretionary energy to accomplishing their goals and those of the organization. Two of those 12 factors are relationship-focused: connectedness with leader and connectedness with colleagues. Like the theme song from the old TV sitcom “Cheers” says, “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” People need rewarding interpersonal relationships with their coworkers to be fully engaged on the job. Employees also want and need a supportive and personal relationship with their boss. Of course this varies by personality types and other factors, but everyone wants to have a positive and productive relationship with their leader. You have to talk about feelings if you want engaged employees.

4. It helps manage stress – People need an appropriate emotional outlet at work to share their concerns and frustrations. There needs to be a “safe zone” where people can voice their feelings without fear of recrimination, and in order for this to be possible, there has to be a high level of trust. Admittedly, this can be scary. If there aren’t proper boundaries in place, venting can quickly turn into gossiping, whining, complaining, and general negativity. That’s why I think it’s important for leaders to take charge on this issue and create a culture where their people feel safe in coming to them to share these concerns. People are going to vent about their frustrations whether the leader chooses to be involved or not. Why not be purposeful about creating a system, process, or structure to positively channel these feelings? (Oops, there I go…using the “F” word again.)

The world at work has changed dramatically over the last 25 years. The “F” word used to be off-limits. Everyone understood that people showed up for work, punched the clock, did their job, punched out, and went home. There wasn’t any namby-pamby talk about feelings, engagement, well-being, or happiness at work. You want to be fulfilled? Get a hobby outside of work. That will fulfill you.

Nowadays there is much less separation between a person’s personal life and work life. Technology has blurred the boundaries between those areas and it’s created new dynamics in the workplace to which leaders have to adapt. Whether you like it or not, leaders have to know how to deal with feelings in the workplace. Get used to it, you’re going to have start using the “F” word more. Much more.

Leadership Development Carnival – January 2014

leadership_carnival logo

Welcome to the January 6, 2014 edition of the Leadership Development Carnival! One of the best ways to improve as a leader is to reflect upon your past experiences, catalog the lessons learned, and apply that information to your future leadership activities. Fortunately for you, 28 of the top thought leaders in the field of leadership have assembled their best blog posts for 2013, effectively serving as a world-class library of leadership wisdom for your benefit. Enjoy the best of the best!

Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership – With so many great books on leadership, why are so many people in leadership positions clueless? Dan tells you why in 10 Reasons why Managers are Clueless about Leadership.

Joel Garfinkle at Career Advancement Blog – Joel provides insight on how to build a workforce that wants to stay with you in Six Articles to Fix Your Employee Retention Issue.

Mike Myatt of N2growth Blog – This Forbes article by Mike has been read more than 1 million times for good reason. In order for leaders to keep their best people, they need to know the 10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You.

Chris EdmondsThe Purposeful Culture Group – My friend and colleague Chris Edmonds shares that employees have The Right to Work Place Inspiration. Top organizations ensure their KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) align with their WPI’s.

John Hunter at the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog – In his article, Managers Are Not Non-Leaders: Managers Need to Practice Things We Classify as Leadership Traits, John discusses how management is often demeaned in comparison to leadership and we have much to learn from each discipline.

Chery Gegelman of Giana Consulting’s Simply Understanding Blog – In the first of a three-part series, The Single Best Way to Develop Leaders: Throw Them In!, Chery highlights the personal growth that happens when leaders take on challenging assignments over their heads.

Dana Theus of InPower Consulting – Dana illustrates the bottom-line benefits organizations receive in Activating The Hidden Face of Workforce Diversity.

Linda Fisher Thornton of Leading in Context – There is a trend toward considering our responsibilities broadly, beyond making profits to also making a difference. Here is Linda’s list of 16 Trends Shaping the Future of Ethical Leadership. As we head into the New Year, let’s help our leaders be ready for this positive, proactive, ethical leadership future.

Dr. Anne Perschel of Germane Consulting – In The One Thing Leaders Need to Know, Anne shares that some, but not all, who hold leadership titles are leaders. This post is about those leaders, the ones who are actually leading, which means you are evolving – and so are others.

Jim Taggart’s Changing Winds Blog – In his post The Leader Sets the Tone, Jim discusses the importance of three critical leadership attributes: Integrity, Modeling, and Consistency.

Frank Sonnenberg at Frank Sonnenberg Online – Frank gives the honest, straight-forward truth about balancing success with humility in Be Humble: Don’t Let Success Go to Your Head.

Julie Winkle Giulioni – Despite the ubiquitous use of the term, not all groups are teams. In Team, Group, or Train Wreck, Julie discusses how teams share some essential qualities that distinguish them from other collections of individuals.

Don MaruskaJay Perry of Take Charge of Your Talent – Don and Jay are calling for a revolution in talent development, and in their article, Putting the Keys to Talent Development in Your Hand, they give you a new paradigm for viewing talent development.

Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation – Jennifer offers an opportunity for women to step up and claim their leadership potential in the post 37 Women with Something Interesting to Say About Leadership. “This post resonated with both men and women. I heard from countless people, thanking me for giving voice to a frustration that has long existed in the blog world as it relates to women and leadership” says Jennifer.

Mike Henry, Sr. of The Lead Change Group – Written by Tal Shnall, Mike shares the post Five Ways to Improve Communication With Your Teams. These five tips will help you become a better leader-communicator in any environment.

Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog – Brutal honesty is supposed to be a good thing. Gentle honesty is better. In his post Gentle Honesty, Wally reminds leaders that their people should leave a conversation about performance or behavior thinking about what will change, not how they’ve been treated.

Joan Kofodimos from Teleos Consulting’s Anyone Can Lead Blog – In her article Biggest Coaching Mistakes Managers Make, Joan shares 9 of the most common managerial missteps when trying to coach employees.

Mary Ila Ward of Horizon Point Consulting – Mary asks 2 Questions for Striving Servant Leaders in this concise, yet pointed post, that will cause all leaders to stop in their tracks.

Lisa Kohn from Chatworth Consulting’s Thoughtful Leaders Blog – When we hold on to our misfortunes it’s as if we hand over our power to them. We give away our power, and then we feel powerless. In Don’t Give Your Power Away, Lisa shares that we have a choice as to whether or not we allow our misfortunes to have such power over us. We have a choice, as always, about what we focus on, what we notice, what we tell ourselves, and where we put our attention.

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s blog at the Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership – My friend and colleague, Jesse Stoner, says “The assumption that change has to start at the top is wrong. Stop waiting for senior leaders to provide leadership. You have the power to provide leadership within your own sphere of influence.” In her excellent article, Stop Waiting for Someone Else to Provide Leadership, Jesse give leaders four important questions to discuss with their teams.

Beth Miller at Executive Velocity – So often leaders don’t take time for themselves by getting good feedback, assessments, and coaching to develop themselves to their true leadership potential. In Leaders: Fight the Gremlins, Beth encourages leaders to make a New Year’s Resolution to create a personal development plan so they can avoid or resolve potential derailing behaviors.

Bill Treasurer of Giant Leap Consulting – In his post Leaders Are All Around Us, Bill shares the important truth that although role models like Steve Jobs can be helpful, we have leaders all around us, more accessible and ready to make a difference.

Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace – Everyone is talented in some way. In Target The Right Audience For Your Talents, Steve Roesler suggests from experience that where you choose to use your talents is key to satisfying you and everyone involved.

Jon Mertz of Thin Difference – Taking a mindful approach to challenging situations and conversations enables us to respond in better ways. In his post A Mindful Difference: Respond vs. React, my friend Jon highlights four steps leaders can take to be more mindful of how they respond to others.

Ted Coiné, Shawn Murphy, Meghan Biro, and Matthew Fritz from the Switch & Shift blog – Ted reminds us that what goes around, comes around in Good Karma is Good Business, while Shawn outlines 9 Leadership Essentials to Cause Meaningful Work. Meghan follows up with 5 Actions That Spark Employee Engagement and Matthew discusses three principles of The Leader’s Greatest Harvest.

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