Leading with Trust

3 Key Areas for Leaders to Check Their Egos

EgotisticalDon’t kid yourself…you’ve got an ego and sometimes it gets out of control. You may not act like a pompous jerk in public, but you have undoubtedly experienced moments where self-righteous, egotistical thoughts run through your mind and you act in ways inconsistent with your normal behavior. Maybe your ego raged out of control when you felt the need to impress someone or maybe to protect yourself in response to a perceived slight. Regardless of the cause, if you’re not careful to keep your ego in check, it will erode trust in your relationships and be the downfall of your leadership.

One of the four key elements of establishing trust in a relationship is being “believable,” which means acting with integrity. In polls and surveys I’ve conducted with hundreds of people, this one element is often cited as the most important element in building trust. It’s also the element of trust that takes the biggest hit if your ego is left unchecked. An out of control ego signals to other people that you believe you’re more important than them, place your interests ahead of theirs, and that others can’t be vulnerable with you without fear of being taken advantage of.

There are three key areas leaders can focus on to keep their ego in check, increase their “believability” with others, and build trust.

  • Honesty — The basics apply here: don’t lie, cheat, or steal. But being honest also means not stretching the truth, telling half-truths, omitting facts out of convenience, or failing to speak the truth when needed.
  • Values — Do you know what your core values are? What motivates you as a leader? When faced with a difficult choice, what are the values you use to filter your decision? Developing and articulating your values, and asking others to hold you accountable to living out those behaviors, will help keep your ego in check and allow others to gain confidence in the consistency of your behavior.
  • Fair Process — Do you treat people fairly? Egotistical leaders love to play favorites. Trustworthy leaders treat people ethically and equitably. Being fair doesn’t mean treating people the same across the board, no matter the circumstances. It means treating people fairly according to their specific situation and upholding consistent principles and ideals with your entire staff.

A believable leader is someone who acts with integrity and is a role model for the company’s values. We commonly describe believable leaders as credible, honest, and ethical. When someone is believable, he or she tells the truth, holds confidences, is honest about his or her skills, and gives credit when credit is due. Notice that egotistical doesn’t appear anywhere in that description. Egotistical leaders “bust” trust, whereas as believable leaders “boost” trust, and by focusing on developing honesty, values alignment, and acting fairly, leaders can keep their ego in check and build trust in the process.

Six Ways You’re a Workplace Bully Without Even Realizing It

Mike RiceBullying has been on primetime display this week as basketball coach Mike Rice was fired from his head coaching job at Rutgers after a leaked practice video showed him pushing, grabbing, throwing balls at players, and cursing them with gay slurs. As a youth sports coach for over 15 years and the father of a 20 year-old college student, I was sickened at Rice’s conduct. There is absolutely no room for that kind of behavior in sports, school, or the workplace. Leaders have to be held to a higher standard.

Bullying is not just verbal or physical intimidation of someone. Especially in the workplace, bullying can manifest itself in many subtle ways. Any behavior you use to intimidate, dominate, embarrass, harass, or purposely make someone feel inferior could be considered bullying.

Here are six subtle ways you may be acting like a workplace bully without even realizing it:

1. You are condescending – When you act in a condescending manner, whether it’s patronizing someone, being dismissive of a person’s contributions, or minimizing someone’s accomplishments in order to highlight yours, you are sending a message that you believe you are superior to the other person.

2. Wounding with sarcasm – I like sarcastic humor as much as the next guy, but there is a huge difference between sarcasm that highlights the irony of a situation and is self-deprecating, versus sarcasm that is intended to belittle and injure another person. Next time you’re ready to drop that witty, sarcastic joke, pause and consider if it will build up the other person or tear her down.

3. Being cliquish – Cliques aren’t only for high school. Unfortunately, many adults carry that same behavior into the workplace. Purposely excluding people from activities is a bullying behavior intended to send the message that “you’re not one of us” and “we’re better than you are.” Trusted leaders look for opportunities to include people so they feel valued and appreciated.

4. Thinking you know it all – Have you ever worked with a person who thinks she knows it all? How annoying is that?! Much like behaving in a condescending manner, acting like you are the all-knowing expert is a way to intimidate others to go along with your ideas or wishes. Just stop it! No one really believes you anyway.

5. Being passive-aggressive – Perhaps one of the most subtle forms of bullying and manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior poisons teams, departments, and organizations. A common trait of bullies is expressing aggression in order to intimidate another person. Passive-aggressive people are bullies who express aggression in indirect ways such as disguising hostility in jokes, stubbornness, procrastination, resentment, or giving just the minimum effort required. I perceive passive-aggressive people as double-agent bullies disguised as victims. Watch out for them!

6. Gossipping – Have you ever considered gossipping as a form of bullying? Probably not, but it easily could be considered bullying, and some experts even consider it a form of workplace violence because it’s intended to harm another individual or group. Why do people gossip? It’s to make themselves feel powerful. The gossipper believes she knows something that other people don’t and she uses that information as leverage to elevate herself above others.

Leaders are charged with bringing out the best in their people and I don’t understand how some leaders, particularly sports coaches, believe that bullying is an acceptable form of motivation. It’s not. It’s belittling, destructive, demeaning, dehumanizing, and does nothing but feed the power-hungry ego of the bullying leader.

If you’re a leader in the workplace, whether it’s in an office, factory, warehouse, construction site, or any other place, make sure you’re not being a bully without even realizing it. You’re better than that and your people deserve your best.

Frankenbossnoun; 1. A mean boss that terrorizes his or her employees; 2. A boss whose behavior closely resembles that of a half-brained monster; 3. A jerk.

With Halloween just three days away, I told my wife that I wanted to write an article about the bad, clueless behaviors that make a leader a “Frankenboss” (see definition above). Sadly enough, it only took us about 3 minutes to brainstorm the following list. If any of these describe your leadership style, you might want to take a look in the mirror and examine the face that’s peering back at you…you might have bolts growing out the sides of your neck.

You might be a Frankenboss if you…

1. Lose your temper – Some leaders think by yelling or cursing at employees they are motivating them. Baloney! Losing your temper only shows a lack of maturity and self-control. There’s no room for yelling and screaming in today’s workplace. Our society has finally awoken to the damaging effects of bullying in our school system so why should it be any different at work? No one should have to go to work and fear getting reamed out by their boss. If you have troubles controlling your temper then do something to fix it.

2. Don’t follow through on your commitments – One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to not follow through on commitments. As a leader, your people look to you to see what behavior is acceptable, and if you have a habit of not following through on your commitments, it sends an unspoken message to your team that it’s ok for them to not follow through on their commitments either.

3. Don’t pay attention, multi-task, or aren’t “present” in meetings – Some studies say that body language accounts for 50-70% of communication. Multi-tasking on your phone, being preoccupied with other thoughts and priorities, or simply exhibiting an attitude of boredom or impatience in meetings all send the message to your team that you’d rather be any place else than meeting with them. It’s rude and disrespectful to your team to act that way. If you can’t be fully engaged and devote the time and energy needed to meet with your team, then be honest with them and work to arrange your schedule so that you can give them 100% of your focus. They deserve it.

4. Are driven by your Ego – The heart of leadership is about giving, not receiving. Self-serving leaders may be successful in the short-term, but they won’t be able to create a sustainable followership over time. I’m not saying it’s not important for leaders to have a healthy self-esteem because it’s very important. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to be hard to generate the self-confidence needed to lead assertively, but there is a difference between self-confidence and egoism. Ken Blanchard likes to say that selfless leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.

5. Avoid conflict – Successful leaders know how to effectively manage conflict in their teams. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our culture tends to have a negative view of conflict and neglect the benefits of creativity, better decision-making, and innovation that it can bring. Frankenbosses tend to either completely avoid conflict by sweeping issues under the rug or they go to the extreme by choosing to make a mountain out of every molehill. Good leaders learn how to diagnose the situation at hand and use the appropriate conflict management style.

6. Don’t give feedback – Your people need to know how they’re performing, both good and bad. A hallmark of trusted leaders is their open communication style. They share information about themselves, the organization, and they keep their employees apprised of how they’re performing. Meeting on a quarterly basis to review the employee’s goals and their progress towards attaining those goals is a good performance management practice. It’s not fair to your employees to give them an assignment, never check on how they’re doing, and then blast them with negative feedback when they fail to deliver exactly what you wanted. It’s Leadership 101 – set clear goals, provide the direction and support the person needs, provide coaching and feedback along the way, and then celebrate with them when they achieve the goal.

7. Micromanage – Ugh…even saying the word conjures up stress and anxiety. Micromanaging bosses are like dirty diapers – full of crap and all over your a**. The source of micromanagement comes from several places. The micromanager tends to think their way is the best and only way to do the task, they have control issues, they don’t trust others, and generally are not good at training, delegating, and letting go of work. Then they spend their time re-doing the work of their subordinates until it meets their unrealistic standards and they go around complaining about how overworked and stressed-out they are! Knock it off! A sign of a good leader is what happens in the office when you’re not there. Are people fully competent in the work? Is it meeting quality standards? Are they behaving like good corporate citizens? Micromanagers have to learn to hire the right folks, train them to do the job the right way, monitor their performance, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

8. Throw your team members under the bus – When great bosses experience success, they give the credit to their team. When they encounter failure, they take personal responsibility. Blaming, accusing, or making excuses is a sign of being a weak, insecure leader. Trusted leaders own up to their mistakes, don’t blame others, and work to fix the problem. If you’re prone to throwing your team members under the bus whenever you or they mess up, you’ll find that they will start to withdraw, take less risk, and engage in more CYA behavior. No one likes to be called out in front of others, especially when it’s not justified. Man up and take responsibility.

9. Always play by the book – Leadership is not always black and white. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to being a leader and the best ones learn to use good judgment and intuition to handle each situation uniquely. There are some instances where you need to treat everyone the same when it comes to critical policies and procedures, but there are also lots of times when you need to weigh the variables involved and make tough decisions. Too many leaders rely upon the organizational policy manual so they don’t have to make tough decisions. It’s much easier to say “Sorry, that’s the policy” than it is to jump into the fray and come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.

10. You practice “seagull” management – A seagull manager is one who periodically flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies away. Good leaders are engaged with their team members and have the pulse of what’s going on in the organization. That is much harder work than it is to be a seagull manager, but it also earns you much more respect and trust from your team members because they know you understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis and you have their best interests in mind.

I’m sure you’ve had your own personal experiences with a Frankenboss. What other behaviors would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Navy SEALs, Fame and the Lure of Narcissism – A Cautionary Tale for Leaders

The publication this week of No Easy Day, a book written by former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette (using the pseudonym Mark Owen) detailing his involvement in the killing of Osama bin Laden, offers a cautionary tale for leaders everywhere. How do you deal with cultivating and enforcing your organization’s culture when it clashes with the values of your team members and the evolving behavioral norms of society at large?

The Navy SEALs, along with the other special operation forces of the military, have a long and storied culture of humility, honor, and selflessness. The mantra of their profession has always been “we don’t talk about what we do,” yet that philosophy has come in direct conflict with the desires and decisions of current and former SEALs to cash in on their experiences and expertise.

“We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions,” said Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, in an email message to his 2,500 soldiers this week. He said he was “disappointed, embarrassed and concerned” that troops are now openly speaking and writing about what they do.

“Most of us have always thought that the privilege of working with some of our nation’s toughest warriors on challenging missions would be enough to be proud of, with no further compensation or celebrity required. Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations. For an Elite Force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so. We owe our chain of command much better than this.”

Pybus’ comments seem somewhat hypocritical given the fact that active duty SEALs were given approval to appear in the recent movie Act of Valor, former SEALs and special operatives appeared in the TV show Stars Earn Stripes, the Pentagon and CIA have provided support for an upcoming movie about the bin Laden raid, Zero Dark Thirty,  and SEALs are working on two other movies currently in production.

In their book, The Mirror Effect – How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, doctors Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young studied the narcissistic behaviors of American celebrities and their effects on society at large. They suggest that the explosion of reality TV shows, tabloid journalism, instantaneous news via the internet, gossip websites, personal blogs, and social networks are all changing our perceptions of what’s “normal” and facilitating the mirroring of these behaviors in our lives, particularly among the young.

This is the very cultural clash facing the SEALs. In a CNN.com story on this subject, a recently retired senior SEAL said, “It’s a generational thing that is happening to some extent. Some younger SEALs who have grown up in the age of the Internet and instant online communications simply feel it’s their right to talk about their work, as long as they can claim it’s not classified.”

There are no easy answers to this dilemma. In fact, if we as leaders are honest with ourselves, we would be the first to admit that we have our own battles with narcissism. A Ohio State University study found that people who score high in narcissism tend to take control of leaderless groups – it’s in our nature. But because it’s in our nature doesn’t mean that it has to control us.

In dealing with this challenge I’m reminded of the old Native American story about the battle of two wolves inside each of us. One wolf is Evil and it is anger, jealousy, pride, ego, and greed. The other wolf is Good and it is love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, selflessness, and compassion. Which wolf wins? The one you choose to feed.

Don’t Let Your Ego “Bust” Trust

Don’t kid yourself – you’ve got an ego and sometimes it gets out of control. You may not act like a pompous jerk in public, but if you’re human (and if you’re reading this then there’s a good chance you are), you’ve undoubtedly had those self-righteous, egotistical thoughts run through your mind from time to time whenever you’ve felt the need to impress someone or in response to a perceived slight. If you’re not careful to keep your ego in check, it’s likely that it’s causing you to erode trust in your relationships.

One of the four key elements of establishing trust in a relationship is being “believable,” which means acting with integrity. In polls and surveys I’ve conducted with hundreds of people, this one element is often cited as the most important element in building trust. It’s also the element of trust that takes the biggest hit if your ego is left unchecked. An out of control ego signals to other people that you believe you’re more important than them, place your interests ahead of theirs, and that others can’t be vulnerable with you without fear of being taken advantage of.

There are three key areas leaders can focus on to keep their ego in check, increase their “believability” with others, and build trust.

  • Honesty — The basics apply here: don’t lie, cheat, or steal. But being honest also means not stretching the truth, telling half-truths, omitting facts out of convenience, or failing to speak the truth when needed.
  • Values — Do you know what your core values are? What motivates you as a leader? When faced with a difficult choice, what are the values you use to filter your decision? Developing and articulating your values, and asking others to hold you accountable to living out those behaviors, will help keep your ego in check and allow others to gain confidence in the consistency of your behavior.
  • Fair Process — Do you treat people fairly? Egotistical leaders love to play favorites. Trustworthy leaders treat people ethically and equitably. Being fair doesn’t mean treating people the same across the board, no matter the circumstances. It means treating people fairly according to their specific situation and upholding consistent principles and ideals with your entire staff.

A believable leader is someone who acts with integrity and is a role model for the company’s values. We commonly describe believable leaders as credible, honest, and ethical. When someone is believable, he or she tells the truth, holds confidences, is honest about his or her skills, and gives credit when credit is due. Notice that egotistical doesn’t appear anywhere in that description. Egotistical leaders “bust” trust, whereas as believable leaders “boost” trust, and by focusing on developing honesty, values alignment, and acting fairly, leaders can keep their ego in check and build trust in the process.

I originally published this article in June 2012 under a different title for the LeaderChat.org blog and decided to share it here with the LeadingWithTrust community.

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