Leading with Trust

A Question From Simon Sinek: Are You Playing a Finite or Infinite Game?

In January 1968, the North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns in the Vietnam War. In every single battle, the American-led forces and the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam defeated their enemies, leading to heavy casualties for the North. In the ensuing months there were several “Mini Tet” offensives launched, and each one ended the same way—defeat. The North lost over 100,000 soldiers during the January to August time-frame.

In the Vietnam War, the United States won every single battle but lost the war. Why?

North Vietnam was playing the infinite game. Their goal was to outlast the enemy, not defeat them.

Finite games have winners and losers. The rules of the game are known to both sides, the boundaries of the playing field are well-defined, the scoreboard keeps track of the game’s activity, and at the end of a prescribed period of time, a winner is declared. It’s neat. It’s clean. Someone wins, someone loses.

Infinite games have no winners or losers. Rules often don’t exist, and if they do, they are fuzzy and open to interpretation. The playing field is undefined and progress is hard to measure. Opponents change frequently, as does the game itself. There are no clear winners or losers in the infinite game. Competitors drop out of the infinite game when they lose the will or resources to stop playing. The goal is to outlast your competition.

Simon Sinek introduced this concept in his keynote address at our recent Blanchard Summit. In the VUCA  (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world in which we live, the most successful leaders and organization are learning to play the infinite game, not the finite one. The “game” of leadership and business is an infinite game where the rules change frequently, competitors come and go, and there is no end point to the game. You are either ahead or behind. There is no ultimate winner or loser. The infinite game continues indefinitely until someone loses the will or resources to keep playing.

Resources are well understood. Money, intellectual property, people, technology, etc. We have to have the capital we need to run a business. But what about will? Sinek shared five must-have components of will if we are to succeed in the infinite game:

1. Just cause—More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up.

2. Courageous leadership—Playing the infinite game requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. They are willing to stand up to the pressures of the Board, Wall Street, or popular sentiment, and stay true to their cause. This struggle is often too great for a single person to tackle alone, so it requires all the leaders of the organization to band together and act in alignment.

3. Vulnerable team—Sinek says being a vulnerable team doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for everyone to walk around crying. It means you’ve invested the time and energy to build a culture in your organization where people feel safe to be themselves. They can admit they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. They can take appropriate risks without fear of retribution or retaliation. If you’re people don’t feel safe, that is your fault, not theirs.

4. Worthy adversary—In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our products, services, marketing, etc., but in the infinite game we are constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfill our just cause.

5. Open playbook—Too many organizations pursue a variable cause with a fixed strategy, Sinek theorizes, rather than pursuing a fixed cause with a variable strategy. Having an open playbook means leaders and organizations are willing to have flexible strategies and plans that change as needed to pursue their just cause. An open playbook also means you are transparent with your strategies, so all members of the team can literally be on the same page. Leaders resist being too transparent with information because they fear losing control. They distrust how people will use that information so they hold it close to the vest. That only results in people making sub-optimal decisions because they don’t know all the plays in the playbook.

You can win every battle but still lose the war. The goal is not to beat your competition; the goal is to outlast them.

So what does it mean to play the infinite game as a leader? It means you leave something behind that outlasts your finite presence or contributions. An infinite leader builds a culture so strong, that when the leader is no longer there, the culture lives on. Infinite leaders commit to their just cause. The work produced by striving for that just cause has the indelible fingerprints of the leader, and lasts far beyond the time of the leader’s tenure.

So ask yourself: Are you playing the finite or infinite game?

6 Ways Workplace Optimism Creates Trust and Community

Thumbs Up GroupWe are in desperate need for a new model of leadership in organizations. The type of leadership we’ve seen the last several decades has produced record low levels of trust and engagement in the workforce, so clearly what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Every day the spirits of millions of people die at the front doors of their workplace as they trudge through another day of work that lacks inspiration, purpose, and is disconnected from all other parts of theirs lives.We need a leadership philosophy grounded in the knowledge and belief that the most successful leaders and organizations are those that place an emphasis on fostering trust, community, and optimism. We need a new approach to leadership; we need people-centered leadership.

In his new book, The Optimistic Workplace: Creating An Environment That Energizes Everyone, Shawn Murphy, my friend and fellow advocate of human worth in the workplace, offers six straightforward strategies leaders can employ to develop a sense of community and belonging in workplaces that builds trust and collaboration.

1. Send employees to learn other parts of the business — Early in my career I worked in the funeral service business. Yes, I said funeral service, as in cemeteries and funeral homes. I worked in the corporate headquarters of the cemetery division, far removed from those on the “front lines.” In order to help everyone learn the business and build collaborative relationships with those who worked in the field, all new employees were sent to work at a cemetery or funeral home for three days. It was an experience that transformed me. I came away from it with greater understanding of the business, more appreciation for colleagues working with our customers, and an increased connection to the important service we were providing.

2. Inquire regularly into the team’s effectiveness — Peter Drucker said that nothing good ever happens in organizations by accident. It takes intentional planning and effort and that’s especially true when it comes to staying in touch with how your team members are feeling and performing. It’s easy to fall into the practice of “no news is good news.” An important way to foster trust is to have regular check-in meetings with your team members. We advocate 15-30 minute one-on-one meetings every 1-2 weeks. The agenda is driven by the team member and it can be anything on their mind: how they’re feeling, discussing how things are going at home, direction or support they need on a particular task, or just sharing an update with you about their recent accomplishments. Knowing what’s going on with your team members removes barriers that often derail collaboration.

The Optimistic Workplace3. Hire people with collaborative tendencies — In his book, Murphy shares an example of how Menlo Innovations tests job candidates for collaborative tendencies. Candidates are put into pairs, given a challenge to solve, and told that their goal is to make their partner look good. People with a tendency to collaborate make it to the next stage in the hiring process. Instead of asking your job candidates if they like to collaborate, devise some sort of exercise that allows them to demonstrate their skills. Murphy points out that collaboration is not merely an action, it’s also a mindset.

4. Develop routines that reinforce collaboration — You know those committees that get formed to plan holiday parties, team BBQ’s, or other group activities? They can be really frustrating, can’t they? But they serve an important purpose: they reinforce social and team norms that allow people to collaborate and bond with each other. Many of these practices seem out of date in today’s technology-enabled world. Who needs a committee when you can just create a Facebook event and invite everyone, right? Wrong. Leaders who foster high-trust and collaborative environments look for opportunities to bring people together.

5. Create spaces for random collisions — I love this recommendation! We all know that many times the most important decisions or creative breakthroughs happen in the hallway or lunch room conversations after the formal meeting. Murphy recommends we look for ways to structure our work environment that allow people to naturally and routinely “collide” with each other. When people collide in these natural ways, they feed off each others’ energy. It leads to deeper engagement between team members which results in more creative exploration of ideas and concepts. For some organizations the open work space concept works well, while for others it doesn’t fit their culture or business needs. Whatever approach you use, look for ways to help people interact in positive ways.

6. Make time for face to face meetings — Knowledge workers are increasingly isolated as we move to more people working virtually. It’s no longer necessary for everyone to congregate in the same location to get work done. Work is not a place you go; it’s something you do. In this environment it’s even more important to foster human connections. Webcams, Instant Messenger, and other technologies are good starts, but nothing replaces face to face interaction. It’s critically important to bring your team members together at regular intervals so they can deepen their relationships with one another. Trust and commitment to each other is built during these times and it’s the lubrication that keeps relationships working smoothly.

The climate of our organizations set the tone for how people “show up” on the job. Unfortunately, too many leaders are thermometers, reflecting the poor climate of their teams, rather than being thermostats, the climate controllers. Murphy’s book offers a wealth of tips on how leaders can take a proactive approach to being those “thermostats” that create more optimistic workplaces where people flourish.

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!

5 Freedom-Fostering Ways to Develop High Performing Teams

FreedomLast week I shared four ways to tell if you inspire freedom or fear in your team members. You can tell you’ve created a culture of freedom in your team if you see your people taking appropriate risks, speaking truth to power, readily admitting their mistakes, and sharing their heart with you.

What if your team doesn’t display those signs? Does that mean you’ve done something wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. The more likely scenario is you just haven’t devoted intentional effort to building the culture of your team. Now that you have an idea that things could be better, here’s a way to get started fostering freedom within your team to enable them to perform at their best.

1. Be trustworthy – The bedrock of any successful leader or team is trust. As Warren Bennis said, it’s the lubrication that makes organizations work. It’s the oil that keeps your team’s engine humming at its best, and without it, your team’s production will grind to a halt. A primary component of your leadership role is to model trustworthy behavior. It sets the tone for how you expect team members to treat each other. Building trust is a never-ending quest. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a primer on being a trustworthy leader, see The ABCDs of Leading with Trust.

2. Be open – To infuse your team atmosphere with a sense of freedom, it’s imperative that you lead with a philosophy of openness. You demonstrate openness by sharing information freely because you know people need information if they are going to act responsibly in their roles. Openness also means being forthright and genuine when you share information or interact with team members. You don’t spin the truth to manipulate the way team members interpret information, but you share the truth candidly and appropriately. Openness means your team members know there are no hidden agendas with you. What they see is what they get (you’re authentic).

3. Establish clear expectations – Fostering freedom within your team doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility or accountability. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means everyone is clear on the expectations for their role. It means they clearly understand what’s in their lane and what’s not. Freedom results because within the boundaries that have been established, team members have the full reign to operate according to their best judgment. If boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, it leads to people being hesitant to act, duplication of efforts, or even worse, someone dropping the ball because they assume the other person is supposed to be responsible. Clear expectations through the use of job descriptions, establishing key responsibility areas for positions, and setting SMART goals are all ways to clarify expectations.

4. Be receptive to others – You cultivate freedom in your team by actively seeking the input of others, truly listening to their ideas, and incorporating their feedback into your decisions and action plans for the team. This isn’t the same as being open, as I mentioned above. Think of openness as what you communicate out to the team, and think of receptivity as what you take in from the team. Team members want to be invested and display a sense of ownership if only leaders will give them the opportunity. Availability is a key aspect to being receptive, because you can’t be receptive if you’re in meetings eight hours a day and never available to connect with your team members. When they do bring ideas or input to you, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t instinctively look for all the holes in their ideas, but explore ways to make their ideas (or parts of them) work.

5. Don’t micromanage – You can excel at being the most trustworthy and open leader, set clear expectations and be receptive to the input of others, but if you micromanage your team to death, freedom will never gain a foothold. Micromanagement creates discouragement and resignation on the part of team members. It beats down the spirits of your people to the point where they “quit and stay” on the job. They’re physically present but not engaged in their work. They eventually develop the attitude of just doing the minimum amount of work acceptable and nothing more. If that’s the kind of team you want, then be my guest. Micromanage away! If it’s not the type of team you want, then avoid the temptation to over control. Your team will thank you for it.

Five ways to foster freedom in your team: be trustworthy, open, establish clear expectations, be receptive to others, and don’t micromanage. By no means an exhaustive list but a good start nonetheless. Practice these big five and you’ll be on your way to developing a high performing team.

Do You Have the Constitution to Lead?

The Culture Engine 3Do you have the constitution to lead?

Leadership is a demanding activity that can test your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical constitution. But that’s not the kind of constitution to which I’m referring.

I’m talking about a document like the Magna Carta or the U.S. Constitution. A living, breathing document that clearly outlines the agreements and principles of how something should operate. In this case, your leadership, and in the case of your organization, its culture.

Developing a personal leadership philosophy and an organizational constitution is the driving goal of The Culture Engine – A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace by my friend and colleague, Chris Edmonds. I’ve known and worked with Chris for over 18 years and recommend you take the time to read his book. Chris emphasizes the importance of developing an organizational constitution that outlines the specific expectations and rights of organizational members. An organizational constitution specifies the team or company’s purpose and the values and behaviors that all team leaders and members believe in and commit to. It functions as the organization’s North Star, the guiding light of what is and isn’t acceptable in the organization and how team members will work together to achieve the organization’s goals.

Before you have an organizational culture, it helps to have a clear picture of your own leadership philosophy. Chris outlines several helpful steps leaders can take to develop a deeper understanding of their leadership points of view.

1. Clarify your personal purpose – A few weeks ago I wrote about how to craft your own mission/purpose statement. Chris makes an important point about developing a personal mission/purpose statement: look at your life purpose and values, not just a set for the workplace. Our core purpose and values don’t change based on the role we choose. Chris offers a guided process to help you develop a life purpose statement by answering questions such as “What are your core talents?,” “Whom are you focused on serving?,” and “What are you striving for?” Your personal purpose statement will serve as the foundation for how you express your leadership.

2. Clarify your personal values and aligned behaviors – When you are leading at your best, what values characterize your behavior? Identifying your personal values is good; defining the behaviors that align with those values is even better. For example, if “integrity” is one of your personal values, define what that means in behavioral terms. It might mean you do what you say, keep your commitments, and do the right thing even when it’s difficult. Chris recommends you limit your core values to just three to five in order to create clarity and focus on how you want to act as a leader.

3. Define your values – Specifically defining your values eliminates any question as to what your values mean. In the absence of clear values, you open the door to rationalizing your behavior and create confusion among those you lead as to exactly what you stand for as a leader. Values can mean different things to different people so it’s important to be very clear with your followers about what your values mean.

Once you have created and defined your own personal leadership philosophy or constitution, you are primed to create your team/department/organizational constitution. Chris details a specific process on how to create your organization’s constitution and his book is replete with worksheets to help you through the process.

Perhaps Chris’ most important point is you have to live the constitution. Leaders are the living embodiment of the principles contained within the constitution, and if you don’t live them out, you can’t expect anyone else to do so.

Culture is the engine that drives your organization’s performance and developing an organizational constitution, and operating by its principles, will keep your engine in tip-top shape — and your organization performing at its peak.

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