Leading with Trust

Leading with Character – The Key to Servant Leadership

leading-jesus-wayThe following is a guest post by Mark Deterding, author of the newly released book “Leading Jesus’ Way: Become The Servant Leader God Created You To Be.

Ever wonder what makes a good leader great? The answer is character.

Character is what flows out of the heart. It is what defines us as a leader. People want to follow people they can look up to and trust. So to become an effective servant leader, we must get intentional about building character.

Personal character is the sum of all the qualities that define us as individuals and as leaders. Warren Bennis cited Harvard research that indicated as much as 85% of a leader’s performance depends on his or her character. My experience in 35 years in business tells me the same thing.

The personal character of leaders defines their depth and stability; it is what leaders are truly made of.

Recognizing Character

When you look at leaders, you see many things. You can tell easily if they are intelligent, whether they have good technical skills and how much they understand the business and the industry. What you don’t see, because it is below the surface in their heart, is their character. That’s what Dwight Moody meant when he said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

Servant leaders are defined and recognizable by their character. Servant leaders know that people will follow them only if they are trusted and trust is only developed through virtuous character.

Servant Leadership Character Traits

Key aspects of a servant leader’s heart that will separate them from the pack include:

  • A desire to serve others, above and beyond oneself
  • A desire for never-ending development of one’s ability
  • A desire to achieve one’s very best
  • A willingness to always accept responsibility for one’s actions
  • A commitment to being humble and vulnerable
  • A desire to make a positive impact on society

Issues of the heart don’t change overnight. We must first get intentional about positively developing all the areas of our character to become better servant leaders.

On-Going Development

This is not a matter that is looked at only once. It is something we must check up on from time to time. This can be done by asking others (truth tellers) what they think. But don’t just stop with the feedback – work to implement changes so you can grow and have a greater impact as a servant leader.

We can also start improving in this area from where we are today by identifying someone whose character you greatly respect. Write down what that person says or does that you admire. This will help you frame up areas that you want to focus on to enhance your trust and build your personal character.

Make the Commitment

Remember, building character and trust is a process that takes time. Make the commitment to start where you are and pray for guidance and stamina through the journey. In time, you will be blessed for your efforts, so stay the course and allow God to work through you to make an impact in this world.

Mark

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

Got Ethics? The 5 Principles of Ethical Leaders

Got EthicsThere is only one place where people don’t have any problems—the cemetery. Dead people don’t have any problems, but for people like you and me, we’ve got problems! The question is, do we have ethics? Do we have the moral principles or values in place to guide our decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas or difficult situations?

One of my favorite books is The Power of Ethical Management, written by Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale. In their book, Blanchard and Peale discuss the five principles of ethical decision-making which they call the “Five P’s of Ethical Power.” I find myself returning to these principles time and again when faced with challenging decisions. Hopefully they can be as helpful to you as they have been for me.

Purpose—Your purpose is the road you choose to travel, the meaning and direction of your life. It’s the driving force of why you do what you do. For some it may be rooted in their spiritual faith. Others may find their purpose is something they feel called to do, such as serving those in need, raising responsible children, or leaving the world a better place than they found it. Aligning the activities of your life according to your purpose gives you a clear sense of direction, so when you’re faced with challenging circumstances or difficult decisions, you’re able to filter those occasions through the lens of your purpose and make choices that keep you on track.

Pride—Unlike false pride, which stems from a distorted sense of self-importance that causes people to believe and act like they are better than others, a healthy sense of pride springs from a positive self-image and confidence in one’s abilities. A proper sense of pride mixed with a good dose of humility is the balance you’re seeking. Being driven by false pride causes you to seek the approval and acceptance of others which can overly influence you to take the easy way out when faced with a tough situation.

Patience—Patience is in short supply in our culture. We live in a hyper-connected, instantaneous world where virtually anything we want is just a click away. Blanchard and Peale describe patience as having a faith and belief that things will work out well, as long as we stick to our values and principles. Giving in to instant gratification is one of the biggest temptations we face and it causes us to make decisions that aren’t in alignment with our purpose and values. Enduring the struggles and challenges life throws our way helps develop the strength of our character. Much like prematurely opening a caterpillar cocoon leads to a weakened and under-developed butterfly, choosing the path of expediency leaves us with an under-developed character and weakens our ethical power.

Persistence—This component of ethical power is about staying the course and remaining true to your purpose and values. Persistence is about commitment, not interest. When you have interest in something, you do it when it’s convenient. When you’re committed, you do it no matter what! One of my favorite “Yoda-isms” from the Star Wars movies is “Do or do not. There is no try.” When it comes to making ethical decisions, there is never a right time to do the wrong thing. Persistence keeps us on the straight and narrow path.

Perspective—All the other elements of ethical power emanate from the core of perspective. Perspective is about having the big picture view of situations and understanding what’s truly important. Too often we make snap decisions in the heat of the moment and neglect to step back and examine the situation from a bigger perspective. Maintaining the proper perspective is also about paying attention to our inner-self and not just our task-oriented outer-self. Taking the time to enter each day with prayer, meditation, exercise, or solitude helps foster self-reflection which is needed to help us maintain the right perspective about life.

Many people believe there is a huge gray area between right and wrong and they use that as rationale to operate by situational ethics. What’s right in this situation may be wrong in the next. I don’t agree. I believe in most cases we can distinguish between right and wrong if we take the time to examine the situation and rely upon our ethical power.

So I ask you: Got ethics? Share your feedback or questions by leaving a comment.

Are You Too Exhausted to be Truthful? 3 Strategies to Avoid Dishonesty

Fuel GaugeIt’s late on a Friday afternoon and you are feeling spent. You feel like you’re fried crispier than a piece of bacon on a greasy hot griddle. You are mentally and emotionally drained after a long week of work, yet you still have one important task you need to finish before you can start a weekend of much-needed rest and relaxation.

Your boss is expecting the updated project budget and you know she’s not going to be happy when she sees it. Despite your best efforts in managing the team, the project is over budget and it looks like the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

As you review the budget for what seems like the millionth time, you realize you could fudge the numbers a bit and shift some of the costs from the Implementation Team to the Design Team and it would make the overall budget look better. Who’s going to know? Besides, the Design Team consistently runs over budget and you usually take the heat for their mistakes. You could make this budget change, save yourself an hour’s work, start your weekend now, and avoid the wrath of your boss on Monday morning.

What do you do?

Well, according to research, you are likely setting yourself up to cheat and be dishonest. In this study, Dan Ariely (who has written about this subject in several of his books) and a team of researchers illustrated the connection between our level of self-control, resource depletion (mental/emotional), and the likelihood to cheat.

The gist of the experiments showed that participants who engaged in activities that depleted their self-control resources were more likely to cheat on subsequent tasks (rewarding themselves more than they actually earned), and even more alarming, were more likely to place themselves in tempting situations that resulted in them cheating even more!

So how does this apply to us as leaders? Well, anyone who has experience leading groups of people knows that leadership can be an energy draining and resource depleting activity. As a leader, nothing is more important than your integrity. All it takes is one moment of weakness to compromise your ethics and you’ve torpedoed your whole career.

Here are three practical, commonsense ways to avoid this dilemma:

1. Be intentional about recharging your batteries – This research, along with our practical experience, shows we can make bad decisions when our self-control resources are low. It stands to reason that the best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure our self-control resources stay high. We have to keep our batteries charged. All the things your mom told you growing up apply: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, find a hobby, and engage in activities that nourish you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I can hear some of you saying, “Easy for you to say, Randy, but you don’t understand my work environment. I’m expected to work 70-80+ hours a week, stay connected to work 24/7, and do whatever it takes to get the job done.” If that’s your situation then I have empathy for you. It must be miserable and I can see how easy it is to feel trapped, especially if you’re beholden to the large paycheck that’s usually used as an incentive to get people in those kinds of jobs. But remember, you have choices. They may be tough choices, like scaling back your lifestyle, seeking a new job, or changing careers, but you do have choices. It will likely take time and require some tough decisions, but don’t fool yourself by thinking there’s no way out. You have a choice.

2. Don’t make decisions when you’re tired or hangry – It’s important to know yourself well enough that you can tell when your self-control resources are running low. For many of us, self-control goes out the window when we’re tired or “hangry” (hungry + angry = hangry). This is certainly true for me personally. I can see a clear pattern of making not-so-good decisions when I’ve been in this kind of state.

If this is true for you as well, then we both know what to do: don’t make significant decisions when we’re in this vulnerable state. If at all possible, delay making the decision until you’ve had a chance to recharge your batteries. There is wisdom in the old adage of “needing to sleep on it” when faced with a significant decision. We think more clearly and are in a better state of mind when our self-control resources are on full rather than empty.

3. Avoid tempting situations, especially when you’re running on empty – It seems too obvious to even mention but it has to be called out: avoid tempting situations at all costs, especially if your self-control resources are running low. The frightening thing about this particular research study is that people in a resource depleted state were even more likely to expose themselves to tempting situations. It’s as if our “temptation radar” is degraded when our self-control resources are low; we don’t fully recognize the danger of the situation. Using the project budgeting example above, it would be better to let that task go for the day and revisit it on Monday morning, than settle for the quick, easy, and unethical strategy of fudging the numbers…even if it means getting chewed out by your boss for being late with the report. There is never a right time to do the wrong thing, and it’s never the right time to make an important decision when you’re tired, exhausted, or feeling mentally or emotionally drained.

Leaders are givers. We give people our time, energy, support, guidance, coaching, and many other things that can leave us feeling like we’re running on empty. When our tanks are empty we expose ourselves to making decisions that can damage our integrity and erode the trust of our followers. We need to keep our own tanks full, not only so we can give to others, but also to protect us from ourselves.

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