Leading with Trust

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.

Advice to Leaders: Building Trust is a Journey, Not a Destination

Trust Compass“So, Randy, how long does this whole process take?”

That was a question from a senior executive with whom I was recently working. His company is proactively working to build a culture of trust and engagement, something few organizations do intentionally. Usually senior executives only start paying attention to trust when it has been broken and they’re in dire straits. This particular company is going about it the right way, taking a purposeful approach to building a high-trust organization that will continue to fuel its success well into the future.

However, his question clearly revealed his current mindset about this strategy of fostering trust and engagement. He considered it another item on the to-do list, something he would need to devote attention to for a few months and then move on to the next priority. That’s not the way it works.

Creating organizational trust and engagement is a journey, not a destination. It’s not a box you can check and say “Done!” It’s something you have to build and nurture every day of the week. It’s much more about who you are as a leader than what you do. It’s about being clear on your leadership point of view—your beliefs about leading and motivating people—and leading in a way that builds trust with others.

You’re never done building trust.

The presentation below, far from a complete treatise on the topic, lays the foundation of what it means to lead with trust. Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts about leading with trust.

Quit Trying to Motivate People and Focus on These 3 Things Instead

Got MotivationWhat if I said you were wasting your time trying to motivate your employees? Would you think I’ve committed leadership heresy? Would you say I’ve gone off the deep end and lost touch with the reality? Maybe I am a heretic. Maybe I have gone a little bit cuckoo.

But I’ll say it anyway. You’re wasting your time trying to motivate people.

The reality is people are always motivated. The question is not if they are motivated, but why. That’s the question my colleague Susan Fowler is imploring leaders to ask as they consider how to best lead their team members in achieving their goals and those of the organization. Susan’s recent book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging, along with the training program Optimal Motivation, explores how leaders can help their people tap into the psychological needs that drive their motivations. Once you and your people understand why you do what you do, you can master the ability to choose a more positive and productive motivational outlook.

For too long leaders have relied on “carrot and stick” strategies to try to motivate employees. Because B.F. Skinner was able to get pigeons to turn around in circles by offering them food pellets, we assumed we could get people to perform specific behaviors by offering them their own version of food pellets: bonus checks, reward trips, certificates to hang on the wall, etc. That may work for the short-term and for rudimentary, repetitive kinds of tasks, but it won’t unlock the long-term passion and commitment of your people that leads to sustained engagement in today’s knowledge economy.

Rather than focusing on carrot and stick strategies that only address external motivation and short-term results, focus on these three psychological needs that help people tap into their deeper, sustainable levels of internal motivation:

Autonomy – It’s human nature to desire independence and to feel in control of our lives. That desire doesn’t stop at the office door. Help your people be clear on the goals they have to achieve and the boundaries they’re operating within and then give them the authority and responsibility to get the job done the way they see fit. As much as possible, engage them in designing the work systems, creating the metrics used to manage their work, and evaluating the quality of everything they produce. When people are in control of achieving the goal they take more ownership and use their discretionary energy to help the organization succeed. Helping employees develop autonomy is not “letting the inmates run the asylum.” It’s giving them the space and freedom within defined boundaries to manage their work with an ownership mentality.

Relatedness – We are hardwired to have interpersonal connections with other people to one degree or another. Your people are much more than worker drones showing up to do a job for eight hours. They are complex, rich, dynamic people with amazing life stories and the relationships they have at work are primary threads in the tapestry of their lives. Leaders can foster a sense of relatedness by encouraging people to connect on the job through mentorships, buddy systems, and activities that foster team morale. As the boss, make the effort to share more information about yourself and the organization to increase transparency and authenticity with your team. The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself.

Competence – People have an innate desire to continually develop competence in their skills, talents, and abilities. Continuous growth and learning is critical to help people address the challenges and obstacles that come their way. Neglecting to develop the talents of your people is leadership malpractice. People who are ill-quipped to handle workplace challenges quickly become overwhelmed and give up, while those who are committed to ongoing development are able to flexibly adapt to changing business conditions.

Motivation isn’t something that a person either has or doesn’t have. Everyone is motivated in one way or another. They key question is “What is the quality of their motivation?” I have a belief that you can’t motivate anyone. It’s up to each person to choose their level of motivation. But what I can do is help create an environment that encourages and allows people to be optimally motivated.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to develop Optimal Motivation for yourself and others, join the free Leadership Livecast Motivating People Doesn’t Work…What Does? on February 25 or 26.

3 Warning Signs You’re Leading on Autopilot

AutopilotI often find myself driving my car on auto-pilot. No, my car doesn’t actually have autopilot (although Tesla is testing one that does!), but I’ll find myself mentally on autopilot. Since the vast majority of time when I drive I’m traveling the familiar journey to and from work, I’ll sometimes mindlessly start driving the same route even when I’m intending to go somewhere else!

Over the course of my leadership journey there have been times when I’ve found myself leading on autopilot. Using autopilot is a helpful and necessary tool for airplane pilots, but it’s deadly for leaders. Leading on autopilot is equivalent to “mailing it in” – you physically show up to do the job but your heart and mind are elsewhere.

Here are three warning signs you may be leading on autopilot:

1. Your to-do list is filled with low-impact tactical items – I’m not one to make a big difference between leadership and management, but one of the clear differentiators in my mind is that leaders initiate change and managers react to it. If you find your to-do list is filled with low-impact, tactical items that contribute more to the daily operations of the business, then you may be running on autopilot. Your to-do list should be focused on big picture, strategic items that could make significant improvements in your operations.

There is nothing wrong with having tactical items on your to-do list. Every leadership job has a certain element of administrative or operational tasks that must be handled. The key is the amount of time and energy you devote to the tactical versus strategic parts of your role. You can dedicate more time for strategic items by intentionally planning strategic thinking time on your calendar. Block out chunks of time on a regular basis to think and plan for the long-term needs of your business. Spend time talking to your customers, stakeholders, and other leaders in the organization to help you get a broad view of the landscape of your business. Do your best to take control of your calendar and don’t get trapped in firefighting all the urgent issues that cross your desk.

2. You find yourself in reactive mode all the time – Building on the previous point, leaders who run on autopilot often find themselves surprised by changing business conditions. The autopilot leader easily becomes oblivious to changes occurring around him until the nature of the situation reaches a crises point, forcing the leader to snap back to reality. This happens because the leader was content to react to change rather than initiate it. Leaders have the responsibility to survey the landscape and proactively make changes to position their teams to take advantage of changing conditions, not be waylaid by them. If you find that you are constantly reacting to issues raised by customers, other organizational leaders, or even your team members, then you’re probably being too passive as a leader and letting circumstances dictate your actions. Instead, focus on being proactive and trying to shape those situations to your advantage.

3. You get upset when your routine is disturbed – Routine has the potential to be quite good. It can create powerful habits that lead to effectiveness over a long period of time. However, routine equally has the power to be bad. Taken to extreme, routine becomes complacency. Most people prefer some sort of routine, whether minimal or quite elaborate. We’re creatures of habit and it’s a normal part of our makeup. However, we have a problem when we’re more emotionally and mentally invested in preserving our routine at the expense of adapting our leadership methods to accomplish the goals of our organization. One of the most important competencies for leaders in the 21st century is adaptability. The pace of change continues to accelerate year after year and only adaptable leaders will survive while complacent leaders will be left behind. If you find yourself getting perturbed or exasperated because your routine is being messed with, you may have been running on autopilot too long.

Running on autopilot is great if you’re a pilot, but it’s a bad idea if you’re a leader. Instead, find yourself copilots who can shoulder the burden with you. Leadership doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, an individual sport. Today’s business landscape and organizations are too fast-moving and complex for one person to lead by him/herself. Surround yourself with capable leaders and team members who can fly the plane with you and you’ll find you won’t have any need for leading on autopilot.

4 Reasons Leaders Should Stop the Foolish Pursuit of Happiness at Work

HappyTo borrow from Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy:” It might seem crazy what I’m about to say

But I really don’t care if you’re happy at work. In fact, I think all the hype about happiness at work is a bit misguided. Now, before you blow up my Twitter feed with negative feedback or blast me in the comments section of this article, let me explain.

I’m all in favor of being happy. Personally, I much prefer happiness over sadness. If I have a choice, I’ll take happy every day of the week and twice on Sunday. When it comes to work, I’ll take happy there, too. I’d much rather work with happy people than mean people, and I know I’m more productive, creative, and a better teammate at work when I’m happy.

But here’s the deal…On the surface, all the talk about happiness sounds great. But If you aren’t careful and discerning about what you hear in the media and popular culture, you’d think that happiness of employees should be the primary goal of every leader and organization. I don’t buy it and here’s why:

1. Happiness is a fleeting emotion largely dependent on external circumstances – Defining happiness can easily lead to a battle of semantics, but a common, basic definition of “happy” is: delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing (e.g., to be happy to see a person). I’m happy when I come home from work and my kids have straightened up the house or loaded the dishes into the dishwasher. When it doesn’t happen (which is often), I’m not happy. Does that mean I love my kids any less? No. Is my life less fulfilled because I’m not happy? No. Happiness comes and goes, so it’s not something I want to build my life around. Happiness is too dependent on circumstances beyond my control for me to make it my goal. However, I can control how I respond to the circumstances of my life and I can choose to have a positive attitude. There are many times when work and life deal us a crummy hand. We have to work overtime, business travel takes us away from important family events, or we make a mistake and get reamed out by the boss; none of those things make us happy. But if we have the right attitude and perspective on work and life, we can put those situations in their proper place and learn and grow from the experience.

2. Happiness should be a pleasant outcome of good leadership and organizational culture, not the goal – My job as a leader is not to make you happy. If that was the case, then I’d serve ice cream every afternoon and cater to your every need. No, my job is to help you develop to your fullest potential while accomplishing the goals of our team and organization. If I’m smart, I will lead in a way that builds your commitment to the organization and fosters engagement in your work. I’ll also strive to create a culture that supports your health and well-being and makes your work enjoyable. Oh, and by the way, if you’re happy as a result, then great! Your happiness is not my goal, but you’re free to make it your own.

It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness. ~ Viktor Frankl

3. Happiness is negatively correlated with meaning – It didn’t take scientific research studies for Viktor Frankl to understand a fundamental truth: pursuing happiness as your primary goal is like a dog chasing its tail. Studies have shown that people who place more importance on being happy end up becoming more depressed and unhappy. Rather than happiness, we need to pursue meaning and purpose. Sadly, according to one study by the Centers for Disease Control, 40% of Americans either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose.The same study also reported that nearly 25% of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Having purpose and meaning in life and at work increases overall well-being and satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency and self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. As a leader, your efforts at helping employees understand and connect to the purpose and meaning of their work will reap more benefit than striving to make them happy.

4. Happiness is self-focused; true fulfillment in life (and work) comes from being others-focused – At its core, happiness is a pretty selfish motive when you think about it. Psychologists explain it as drive reduction. We have a need or drive, like hunger, and we seek to satisfy it. When we get what we want to meet the need, we’re happy. However, lasting success and fulfillment in life comes from what you give, not what you get. The greatest example of this is Jesus and his demonstration of servant leadership. This ancient truth is echoed in contemporary research by Adam Grant, the youngest tenured and highest rated professor at The Wharton School. In his book Give and Take, Grant identifies three ways people tend to operate in their relationships: as givers, takers, or matchers. Not surprisingly, although givers may get burned occasionally, they experience higher levels of fulfillment, well-being, and success in life compared to takers or matchers. I’ve experienced it in my own life and seen it in the lives of others. Those who chase happiness as their primary goal tend to be the most selfish and unhappy people I know. Those who give to others tend to be the most fulfilled, joyful, and happy people I’ve seen.

Happiness is a great thing. As I said, I much prefer it to the alternatives. But when happiness at work becomes such a primary focus that organizations start having CHO’s – Chief Happiness Officers – you know happiness has jumped the shark. Happiness at work is a byproduct of doing a good job in all the other fundamental areas of leadership, but it’s misguided to make it our ultimate aim.

Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, opinions, or questions.

P.S. I originally published this article last week at LeaderChat.org under a different title. I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Catch People Doing Something Right – 4 Ways to Build Workplace Morale

Happy FacesCreating a workplace culture that breeds high morale and engagement doesn’t happen by accident. It requires leadership – wise, empathetic, discerning, thoughtful, strategic, and caring leadership. And it’s a leadership you can’t fake. It has to flow from the ethos of who you are as a person.

For the last 18 years I’ve had the privilege of working for Ken Blanchard, a man who knows a thing or two about leadership. Along with his wife Margie, he has created a leadership development company that embodies several principles of a high engagement culture. In traditional Blanchard style, I’ve taken some complex issues of morale and engagement and tried to crystallize them into simple truths that all leaders can use to build morale in their organizations.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Too many work environments are focused on catching people making mistakes. In a well-intentioned effort to improve productivity and efficiency, leaders are prone to reduce an employee’s performance into raw data, metrics, and statistics. Every detail is parsed and analyzed and people’s shortcomings are readily pointed out. Years ago Ken Blanchard said, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous cycle built on the concept of catching people doing something right. One of the easiest and quickest ways a leader can improve workplace morale is to notice, encourage, and celebrate the good things that are happening. It’s a common occurrence at The Ken Blanchard Companies for us to start meetings with the agenda item of “praisings and celebrations.” We take time to intentionally focus on the good things people are doing and celebrate their successes.

Be Other Focused

Another strategy for enhancing workplace morale is to serve others. It’s hard to be self-centered, critical, and myopic about your own business when you reach out and help others less fortunate. We have an in-house charity organization called Blanchard for Others that supports numerous local, national, and world charities. Employees have a voice in not only directing funds to these organizations, but getting personally involved. Employee volunteer efforts are encouraged through the use of “Blanchard Ambassador” hours—paid time off apart from an employee’s own vacation time—that allow team members to serve with charities locally and abroad. You can build employee morale by not only engaging their minds at work, but their hearts as well.

Treat Your People How You Want Them to Treat Your Customers

The manner in which you treat your people will be the manner in which they treat your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have a catchy customer service slogan, wallpaper the office with posters of the company mission statement and values, or create fancy marketing materials touting your brand promise, if you treat your people like they’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, and have to be micromanaged, they’ll treat your customers the same way. At Blanchard, people are extended a fair amount of autonomy in their roles to do what’s in the best interest of our clients. Leadership takes this same approach with employees through various programs like Infant at Work, where new mothers are encouraged to bring their infants to work until they reach 6 months of age. The company also sets aside a certain percentage of our profits for employees to donate to the charity of their choice through our Give Back program. The employee, not the company, decides where that money will be used. Autonomy and flexibility are key components in creating a high-morale workplace.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

To plagiarize Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan (“It’s the economy, stupid”)—It’s the culture, stupid! At the end of the day, the creation of a high-morale, highly engaged workforce is about intentionally nurturing the norms and behaviors you want in your culture and extinguishing those you don’t. Every day Ken Blanchard leaves a “morning message” voicemail for the entire company. In that message, Ken takes the opportunity to reinforce the core values of our culture. He praises accomplishments of individuals, share concerns for those in need, discusses his latest insights about life and leadership, or shares other inspirational ideas and encouragement.

Any single one of these strategies is insufficient in itself, and certainly not appropriate for every organization. However, taken together, they weave together to form the fabric of our culture that results in a highly engaged, positive morale workforce. It doesn’t matter your industry, geography, or size of organization when it comes to building a high-morale culture. It starts with leadership. It starts with you!

This post was originally published at Switch & Shift as part of a series on workplace morale. I encourage you to check it out!

Performance Anxiety – Not Just a Problem in the Bedroom

Performance Anxiety 2Performance Anxiety…words often reserved to describe a person’s worrisome beliefs or fears regarding their sexual performance in the bedroom is now being used to describe the same debilitating effects on performance in the workplace. That’s the message from a recent publication by Vadim Liberman of The Conference Board, detailing the “performance anxiety” that has gripped many in corporate America. Years of corporate restructuring, shuffling people between positions, adding, deleting, and modifying roles, departments, and jobs has taken its toll on people. The mantra of “doing more with less” has become the norm as business continues a slow recovery from the economic recession of the last several years. Employees who once feared losing their jobs are now feeling insecure about keeping their jobs.

Liberman’s basic point is that people are having trouble keeping up with the amount of tasks added to their plates and the pace of change occurring in their organizations. Recession-driven layoffs, restructures, and job modifications have forced people to take on extra work, new job duties, or assume different roles and it’s taking a toll. As job scope increases, people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to accomplish, and it leads even the most engaged employees to gravitate toward focusing on the least complex, simple tasks they can control, rather than focusing on the most important and complex issues that need to be addressed.

According to Liberman, much of the fault lies at the feet of senior leaders. Whether it’s pursuing the latest management fad, reorganizing on a whim, or doing a poor job of managing change, senior leaders can be prone to lay the blame of organizational failure at the feet of employees who aren’t performing up to snuff, not taking into account those same employees are still trying to come to grips with the previous round of changes. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli says, “Today, work demands are through the roof. Not just the amount of work but challenges that employees do not know how to meet, in part because they may not be achievable.” Workplace frustration leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of trust and confidence in leadership.

I can identify with these conditions. The team I lead has experienced increased job scope and responsibilities over the years as our business has grown more complex and demanding in today’s global economy. “Task saturation” is a word we’ve used to describe this condition and the insecure, frustrated state of mind it induces. Here are six strategies I’ve found helpful to deal with this “performance anxiety” in the workplace:

1. Create a safe and trusting environment—The number one job of a leader is to build trust with his/her followers. Fostering a culture of safety is essential for trust to not only survive, but thrive. People need to know they can count on their leaders to look out for their best interests, protect them when necessary (even from themselves sometimes), and to genuinely care about them as people and not just worker drones showing up to do a job. Simon Sinek speaks to this truth in his insightful TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe.

2. Ask people for their opinions—One of the most tangible ways leaders can combat frustration and insecurity in the workplace is to ask people for their opinions. But asking is just the first step; you have to do something with what they tell you. The higher up a leader rises in the organization, the easier it is to lose touch with the daily frustrations and battles your employees face. It’s easy to oversimplify the problems and solutions our people face and dismiss their expressions of frustration as whining or griping. Listen with the intent of being influenced and be willing to take action on what you learn.

3. Start, stop, continue—As you consider your next round of corporate restructuring, job modification, or process improvements, ask yourself these three questions: What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to continue doing? I’ve found it’s easy to keep adding new tasks while continuing to do the old tasks. It’s much, much harder to identify those things we should stop doing. We can’t continue to pile more and more work on people and expect them to perform at consistently high levels. There is only so much time to accomplish the work at hand. As an addition to the start, stop, continue strategy, I’m seriously considering adopting a strategy from the simplicity movement: for every new task I add for my team, we have to eliminate one task. Enough of task saturation!

4. Manage change, don’t just announce it—Managing a change initiative involves more than just announcing a new strategy. That’s the easy part! The hard part is actually implementing and managing the change well. People go through specific stages of concern when faced with a major change and leaders need to be equipped to address those concerns throughout the process. By addressing the information, personal, and implementation concerns of employees, leaders can be much more successful in helping their people adapt and endorse the change initiative.

5. Focus on development of boss/employee relationship—One of the primary factors in an employee’s success, satisfaction, and engagement on the job is the quality of the relationship with their boss. Intentional effort needs to be placed on cultivating high-quality boss/employee relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. Frequent and quality conversations need to occur regularly between the boss and employee so the boss is aware of the daily challenges faced by the employee and can work to remove obstacles.

6. Foster empowerment, control, and autonomy—People don’t resist change; they resist being controlled. Much of today’s workplace frustrations are caused by workers having a lack of empowerment in their role, little control over what effects them at work, and scant autonomy in how they perform their tasks. Leaders can build engagement by focusing on the development of these three qualities in the work people do.

Performance anxiety in the workplace is like organizational high blood pressure—it’s a silent killer. This silent killer is not always evident through outward symptoms, but it’s always lurking underneath causing damage day after day. We have a choice…will we do anything about it?

“Get Lost in the Game” – 6 Ways to Perform Your Best

“I told him to get lost in the game.”

That was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s advice to one of his star players, Julius Randle, during half-time of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game this past Monday night. Coming into the game, Randle had been averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds, yet entering half-time he had scored just 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and was clearly fazed by the pressure-packed environment of the championship contest. Calipari knew his player was out of rhythm, trying too hard to contribute and forcing the action, rather than relaxing and letting the game come to him. Calipari wanted Randle to get lost in the game, to be in the flow.

The flow is the metal state you’re in when you’re fully immersed in an activity that consumes your entire focus, energizes your attention, and produces a deep level of satisfaction and joy through the process. In the groovein the zonewiredin the momenton fire…and my personal favorite, beast mode, are all ways of expressing this condition. It’s when we do our best work and experience the most fulfillment in our activities. It’s also a rare and fleeting circumstance to be in the flow.

How can we be in the flow more often? How can we get “lost in the game?” First, we have to understand the conditions that lead to flow experiences. Second, we have to take steps to create the environment for us to get in the flow.

Conditions for Flow Experiences
There are three basic conditions you need for flow experiences:

  1. A clear goal – This is why you often hear athletes talk about being in the zone or having tunnel focus when it comes to their activities. Whether it’s trying to hit a pitched ball, complete a pass, score a goal, make a last second shot, or cross the finish line ahead of others, there is a clear goal that lends purpose, structure, and process to the task at hand. A lack of clear goals is why we often don’t experience the flow at work. Unclear goals make it difficult to narrow our focus and attention and leaves us feeling stuck or overwhelmed with the work in front of us.
  2. A balance between your skills and the challenge of the task – If you perceive you have the skills to meet the difficulty of the challenge ahead of you, it’s easier to get in the flow. If you believe you’re ill-equipped or don’t have the talent to accomplish the goal, anxiety and stress will prevent you from achieving a flow-state. Conversely, if you believe the goal is not challenging enough given your experience and skills, you’ll encounter boredom or apathy. You need the goal to be challenging enough to capture your attention, while simultaneously having enough skill to give you the confidence that you can tackle the situation.
  3. Real time feedback on your performance – You can feel when you’re in the flow. It’s those occasions where you lose track of time because you’re completely immersed in an activity and things just, well…flow. And when you’re not, you feel like you’re trudging up a muddy hill, taking one step up and sliding back two. Flow is sustained by receiving feedback on your performance. When you see you’re performing well, it increases your confidence and desire to stay in the flow. When you see you’re off course, you can make adjustments to get back on track and in the flow.

How to Increase Flow Experiences
We can take concrete steps to help increase flow experiences at work that will allow us to perform our best. Here are six suggestions:

  1. Connect your work to the bigger picture – Too many of us view our work with a microscope rather than a telescope. A microscope allows you to zoom in on the details of a particular object, ignoring the surrounding area. A telescope, on the other hand, allows you to see long distances away—the big picture. Rather than being uninspired by the small tasks you have to do, connect them to the importance of the big picture. Figure out how your work contributes to the betterment of the world. How does your work help improve the lives of people by meeting their needs or desires? All work has redeeming value and it’s up to us to discover it. Tapping into the bigger picture will add motivation and commitment to your work and help you achieve flow in your activities.
  2. Clarify and prioritize goals – If your goals aren’t clear, work on gaining clarity. Figure out specifically what you’re trying to accomplish, what the standards are, the deadlines to meet, or the deliverables being produced. If you’re challenged with too many goals, work on prioritization. If you have conflicting priorities from multiple stakeholders, you may have to involve your supervisor to help you. Get clear on what you need to accomplish and then apply laser-like focus to your activities.
  3. View work as a game – Games in general, and video games in particular, lend themselves to flow experiences because they are immersive in nature. We get wrapped up in figuring how to reach the new level, unlock the next treasure, or beat the “boss.” You can apply the same principles to your work. Engage your mind in thinking about how can you accomplish things faster, better, or easier. Are there other ways you can approach tasks or activities that may bring more fulfillment? Look at work as a game you’re trying to master and let your creativity run wild.
  4. Seek out bigger challenges and/or improve your skills – Complacency, boredom, and apathy are flow killers. If you find your work lacking in challenge, seek out new ones. Work with your supervisor to see if there are increased responsibilities you can take on, project teams you can join, or other ways to add more challenge in your work. On the flip side, worry, stress, and anxiety are also flow killers. If you find your work is too challenging, explore skill development opportunities. Go back to school, read books, get a mentor, or seek out additional training to boost your confidence and capability to meet the challenges you face.
  5. Find your sweet spot – Your sweet spot is where your skills are matched appropriately to the challenge, and when you find that place, you have the greatest chance of achieving states of flow. Finding your sweet spot might mean following point #4 above, or it might mean transforming how you do your work by changing/improving processes, delegating it to someone, or collaborating with others.
  6. Choose your motivation – Your supervisor is not responsible for motivating you. You, and only you, control your level of motivation. You can choose to be disinterested in your work or feel like others are imposing work on you, or you can choose to shift your motivational outlook by focusing on areas of your work where you can exhibit autonomy in your activities, mastery over how well you do your job, and satisfaction in the relationships you build with others.

Kentucky ended up losing the championship to UConn and Julius Randle never really got into the flow of the game, finishing with just 10 points and 6 rebounds. However, it doesn’t negate the wisdom of Coach Calipari’s advice. We do our best work when we get lost in the game.

4 Reasons I Use The “F” Word At Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership Development Carnival – January 2014

leadership_carnival logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dysfunctionally Connected Workplaces – 3 Ways to Build Trust and Human Connection

Click to Download the Full Infographic

Click to Download the Full Infographic

Never in history have we been so technologically connected to each other in the workplace. Email, instant message, text message, and social media have enabled us to be in constant and immediate communication with each other. Yet record numbers of people are disengaged on the job and distrust their organizations, senior leaders, and coworkers.

We are dysfunctionally connected.

Based on research from the Pew Research Center and The Ken Blanchard Companies, 81% of employees say their leaders don’t listen well and 82% feel they don’t receive helpful feedback. Only 34% say they meet with their boss weekly and 28% never or rarely discuss future goals and tasks even though 70% wish they did. If that wasn’t depressing enough, consider that 64% of employees say they want to talk to their boss about problems they’re having with colleagues but only 8% say they actually do.

We are dysfunctionally connected.

“The typical workplace is at risk of becoming dysfunctionally connected,” says Ken Blanchard, author of more than 55 business books and world-renowned leadership expert. “People crave a deeper human connection at work. They need to feel a more personal and authentic connection with their managers and their peers that goes beyond what technology can provide.”

Creating trust and human connection starts with conversation. We have to detach from technology and actually speak to each other…you know…the old-school way of establishing a relationship. Demonstrating care and concern for others—being connected—is one of the four elements of a trusting relationship. It’s a critical requirement for any successful relationship in the workplace. Here’s three ways to build trust and true relational connection:

1. Have a people focus – People are more important than things. Don’t get so wrapped up in the busyness of your job that you neglect to build authentic relationships with others. Take interest in the lives of your colleagues and appreciate the diversity that everyone brings to the organization. Ask people what they did over the weekend, how their kids are doing, or what hobbies they enjoy. And here’s a novel idea – instead of sending a colleague an IM, get out of your chair, walk down the hall, and actually have a discussion!

2. Improve your communication – I love the line from the movie Cool Hand Luke when the prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character, Luke, “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.” That could be the motto for today’s workplace. You can build trust and connection by sharing information about yourself, and if you’re a leader, about the organization. Examine the frequency and ways in which you communicate and make adjustments if needed, particularly when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Most importantly, listen. Simply taking the time to listen to people and truly empathizing with their concerns is one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can employ.

3. Recognize people’s efforts – Whenever I conduct training workshops I ask participants to raise their hands if they receive too much praise and recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand. The truth is that most people are starved for genuine appreciation for the work they do and a simple word of “thanks” or “attaboy” go a long way toward building trust and commitment. Learn how people like to be recognized and rewarded and find ways to catch them doing something right.

The leadership styles and practices of managers are key drivers of trust and engagement in the workplace. Last week, The Ken Blanchard Companies announced the release of The SLII® Experience, a new learning design for its flagship product Situational Leadership® II (SLII®), the world’s most taught leadership model. Learning to flex your leadership style to the needs of your followers, giving them what they need when they need it, will lead to high-trust relationships that foster the kind of connection and engagement that people crave in today’s workplaces.

Five Ways Leaders Help Others Belong, Not Just Fit In

belongingThere’s a big difference between fitting in and belonging. In fact, fitting in can be one of the biggest barriers to belonging, says researcher and author Brené Brown. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and adapting who you are – your personality and behaviors – in order to feel accepted. Belonging is about freedom – freedom from having to change in order to be accepted and being valued and respected for being who you are.

In Brown’s research she asked a group of eighth grade students to describe the difference between fitting in and belonging. Here’s what they said:

    • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
    • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
    • I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.

Not much has changed since eighth grade, has it? Sadly, too many leaders and organizations expect people to just fit in. After all, it’s much easier to tell people they need to adapt in order to fit with the organizational culture, rather than find ways to help people belong and have the organizational culture absorb and reflect their uniqueness as individuals.

Helping people find a sense of belonging leads to them being fully engaged and committed to their work and the organization. It causes people to tap into their discretionary energy to accomplish the goals of the organization versus settling for just fitting in and doing the minimum to get by.

Leaders create belonging when they…

1. Give power away and allow people to take ownership of their work. People who feel they belong in an organization have a sense of ownership; it’s their organization. That ownership mentality comes from being given responsibility and authority for doing their jobs and being given the freedom to achieve results. Equip and coach your people, delegate wisely, and then get out of their way.

2. Listen and respond to feedback. Most leaders say they are open to hearing feedback; fewer leaders actually listen and do something with it. Leaders create an environment of belonging and safety when they actually take the time to sit down and listen, acknowledge a person’s concerns, and discuss how they will respond to the feedback. People don’t feel they belong when leaders don’t listen, dismiss, or disregard their input.

3. Help people understand how their work connects to the broader goals or purpose of the organization. People have an innate desire to belong to something bigger than themselves. Leaders tap into this reservoir of power when they help their people understand how their daily work helps the organization achieve its goals and makes the world a better place.

4. Appreciate and celebrate the diversity of their team. Each person is created with unique gifts and abilities and it’s a leader’s responsibility to leverage the individual strengths of their people. Treating your team members as individuals rather than nameless and faceless workers creates a sense of belonging that’s extremely powerful. One of my team members, Ed, has a jovial personality and great dance moves. Who do you think we go to when we need to make a fun team video? Another team member, Kim, is a champion snowmobile racer. Who do we brag about when we have team gatherings? How much do you know about the personal lives of your people? Get to know them and watch their sense of belonging increase.

5. Accept people where they are but refuse to let them stay there. Good leaders accept their team members for who they are, yet also have a desire and commitment to help them learn, grow, and become the best versions of themselves possible. When leaders show commitment to their people’s growth, it fosters a sense of commitment and belonging that can’t be underestimated.

Creating a sense of belonging for people requires that leaders be engaged. It means investing time and energy to understand what’s going on with their people, their hopes and dreams, their fears and insecurities. Fostering belonging is about humanizing the workplace and creating a safe space where people can be vulnerable, real and authentic. The payoff of having engaged, committed, and fulfilled team members is worth the effort.

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