Leading with Trust

4 Ways to Transform Failure Into Success

Success-Failure-SignIn yesterday’s Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson threw an interception at the end of the game when his team was on the verge of scoring the game winning touchdown. Earlier in the game, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw a couple of interceptions that led to his team being in a 10 point deficit heading into the fourth quarter. The coaches of each team, Pete Carroll for Seattle and Bill Belicheck for the Patriots, had been fired from NFL jobs earlier in their career before they found success later in life. All four of those men are considered “winners,” yet each of them have experienced notable failures on their road to success.

Our society likes to celebrate winning and everything that comes along with it: money, status, power, privilege, and fame. Yet failure is often what helps us develop perseverance, wisdom, and maturity. No one likes to fail, but failing isn’t all bad and you can use it to your advantage if you do these four things:

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Be Persistent — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate your identity from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

“Tell yourself, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference.” ~ Erma Bombeck

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it takes to turn failure into success.

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!

Nine Warning Signs An Employee Needs To Be Let Go

You're Fired“I’m sorry, we need to let you go.”

Oomph! Those words feel like a punch to the gut of the employee on the receiving end, and for the leader delivering the bad news, those words create anxiety and many sleepless nights leading up to that difficult conversation.

No leader likes to see an employee fail on the job. From the moment we start the recruitment process, through interviewing, hiring, and training, our goal is to set up our employees for success. It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expense to bring new people into the organization and ramp them up to full productivity so it’s in everyone’s best interest to see an employee succeed. Yet we all know there are situations that, for whatever reason, an employee struggles on the job and there isn’t much hope of turning it around.

Here are nine warning signs you have an employee that probably needs to be “shared with the competition:”

1. Things don’t improve with a change of scenery – Maybe it’s the relationship with the boss, certain peers, or the nature of the work has changed and the employee is struggling to perform at her best. Whatever the reason, moving the employee to another role or department can get her back on track. I’ve done it myself and have seen it work. But if you’ve given someone another chance by giving them a change of scenery and it’s still not working out, you should be concerned. The scenery probably isn’t the problem.

2. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around the employee – We all have personality quirks and some people are more difficult to work with than others, but when an employee becomes cancerous to the morale and productivity of the team and everyone feels like they have to walk on eggshells around the person for fear of incurring their wrath, you’ve got a serious problem. Don’t underestimate the destructive power of a toxic, unpredictable employee.

3. Emotional instability – Part of being a mature adult is being able to manage your emotions and it’s critically important in a professional workplace. If you have an employee that demonstrates severe emotional mood swings on the job and in their relationships with others, you need to pursue the proper legal and ethical guidelines in dealing with the employee and getting them the support they need. Don’t ignore the behavior by chalking it up to the heat of the moment, the stress of the job, or excusing it by saying “Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe.”

4. Trouble fitting into the company culture – Perhaps one of the earliest signs that you have a failing employee is noticing she is having significant trouble adapting to the culture of the organization. There is a natural transition time for any new employee, but if you’re constantly hearing the employee make negative comments about how the company operates and criticizing leadership, or not developing solid relationships with others and becoming part of the team, warning alarms should be going off in your head.

5. Blames others, makes excuses, and challenges authority – You know the incredibly loud sound of air raid sirens used in civil defense situations? That’s the sound you should be hearing if you have an employee with a track record of blaming others and making excuses for her poor performance. Failing employees will often challenge authority by trying to lay the blame at the boss’ feet by saying things like “You should have done this…” or “You didn’t address that problem…” or whatever the case may be. If you have an employee who always seems to be involved in drama, ask yourself “What (or more appropriately ‘who’) is the common denominator in these situations?”

6. Distorts or manipulates the truth – I’ve dealt with employees who were very skilled at manipulating or distorting the truth. In whatever difficult situation they were in, they would find a kernel of truth to justify and excuse their involvement to the point that I would feel compelled to side with them. I learned you have to be discerning and consistent in your approach to dealing with manipulative people and make sure you document your interactions so you have sufficient data to support your termination decision.

7. Unseen gaps in performance – One of the most challenging situations is when an employee seems to be performing well by outside appearances, but when you explore behind the scenes you discover there are gaps in her performance. Maybe it’s sloppy work, not following correct procedures, or even worse, being intentionally deceptive or unethical. Be careful, things may not always be as they seem.

8. A trail of broken relationships – Employees don’t have to be BFF’s with all of their coworkers, but they do need to respect others and be able to work together. A person may be a high-performer in the tasks of her job, but if she can’t get along with other people and has a history of damaging relationships with colleagues, eventually there will come a point where her contributions are outweighed by the damage and drama she creates.

9. Passive-aggressive behavior – You know those smiley-face emoticons at the end of slightly sarcastic and critical emails? A classic example of passive-aggressive behavior where the sender is trying to couch her criticism in feigned-humor. This is toxic and can be hard to manage because it manifests itself is so many ways that appear to be innocuous in and of themselves. Veiled jokes, procrastination, sullenness, resentment, and deliberate or repeated failure to follow-through on tasks are all signs of passive-aggressive behavior. Be careful…very careful.

The number one job for a leader is to help his or her employees succeed. Before an employee is terminated, a leader needs to be able to look in the mirror and honestly admit that everything possible has been done to help the employee succeed. If the leader has done his or her part and the employee situation hasn’t improved, the best thing for both parties is to help the employee transition to a new opportunity.

Addressing Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. 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 capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

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, and 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.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. 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. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

Defining Moments of Leadership – Will you define the moment or will the moment define you?

It’s inevitable. Through the course of your leadership journey you will be faced with defining moments. Defining moments are those situations that require you to make a tough decision or take a stand on a controversial issue.

Will you define the moment, or will the moment define you?

Consider the news headlines of recent events in society, politics, sports, and business that illustrate defining moments for several prominent leaders:

  • “Cameron vows ‘uncompromising measures’ in dealing with riots” – U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron, faced the challenging situation of how to respond to rioting in the streets of London after a fatal police shooting. Was he too slow to respond? Is he properly managing the tensions between the government and police force?
  • “U.S. debt crisis: Is Obama’s leadership style suited to the moment?” – President Obama had to navigate rough political waters in route to getting the debt ceiling raised. Was he assertively leading the effort to bring the parties together to reach a deal, or was he too hands-off by leaving the negotiations and details to leaders in Congress?
  • “Shalala Breaks Silence Over UM Allegations” – University of Miami President, Donna Shalala (former Secretary of Health & Human Services under President Clinton), is currently dealing with an athletic department scandal involving a former booster who claims he provided athletes with cash, jewelry and prostitutes over an eight-year period, several of which were under Shalala’s watch. How will she respond?
  • “Gay advocates pressured Starbucks chairman to cancel church speech” – Last week Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, faced a defining moment when he decided to cancel his speaking appearance at the Global Leadership Summit, an annual leadership training event hosted by Willow Creek Church. His cancellation was prompted by an online petition signed by slightly over 700 people who expressed concern that he was speaking at a church that was “anti-gay” (see the response from Willow Creek’s Pastor, Bill Hybels). Did Schultz do the right thing or was his decision short-sighted?

The defining moments for most of us may not approach the scope or severity of the ones mentioned above, but the principles for handling them remain the same. I would offer the following suggestions to help you prepare for your defining moments of leadership:

  1. Be crystal clear on your personal values – Your values should serve as the primary filter in your decision-making process. If you aren’t clear on the values that motivate and guide your life and leadership actions, you’ll be like a rudderless ship tossed about on a stormy sea. When faced with difficult decisions, ask yourself if the action you’re about to take is in alignment with your values and if it will contribute to the growth and welfare of the stakeholders involved.
  2. Develop a Leadership Point of View (LPOV) – If you understand your LPOV – what motivates you as a leader, your life purpose and values, your beliefs about leading people, and the legacy you want to leave as a leader – you will be better equipped to sort through the complex issues that need to be addressed when those defining moments arrive. Instead of just focusing on the immediate impact of the issue at hand, understanding your LPOV helps you take a long-range view of the consequences of your leadership actions.
  3. Expect to be criticized – President Harry Truman is famously known for having a sign on his desk that stated The BUCK STOPS Here! Leaders will be faced with moments of truth when they, and only they, can make the decision. With that responsibility has to come the knowledge that there will always be some who disagree with you and won’t be afraid to say so! Keeping your eye on the goal and making your decisions in alignment with your personal and organizational values will keep you pointed in the right direction.
  4. Understand that there will be a personal cost – Rarely are there instances when defining moments do not exact a personal toll. The cost may be stress, popularity, fortune, or friendship. I suggest that leaders handle defining moments with contemplation and conversation. Making rash, snap judgments based on gut feel can be a leadership death knell. If possible, thoroughly vet decisions and seek input and guidance from trusted advisors.
  5. Learn from the past – It’s easier to recognize a defining moment after the fact. Unfortunately, that usually means you missed the opportunity to maximize your influence and the moment defined you. Review and assess previous defining moments you’ve experienced. What were the circumstances? How did you react? What could you have done differently? Just like a sailor learns to predict weather patterns based on the color of the sky, the type or movement of clouds, and the direction of the wind, leaders can become more aware of the conditions of defining moments by analyzing their past experiences.

“Great moments are born from great opportunity.”
Herb Brooks, Coach of 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

Have you had defining moments in your leadership journey? Feel free to leave a comment and share what you’ve learned.

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