Leading with Trust

5 Common Leadership Behaviors That Crush The Spirits of Employees

crushedI admit it. Sometimes when I’m under the gun at work and feeling the pressure of all my responsibilities, I can get tunnel vision about accomplishing my own goals and forget how my behavior is influencing others. It’s not that I’m trying to be insensitive to people, I’m just not being mindful or intentional in my actions.

I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. It happens to every leader from time to time when we’re under stress and reacting in the moment. It’s in these occasions that we have a tendency to focus on the objectives of the task and minimize the people concerns. Who cares how people feel as long as the job gets done, right? Well, consistently behaving this way may help you check items off your to-do list, but it can come at the cost of crushing the spirits of your team members in the process. Here are five common spirit-crushing behaviors leaders should avoid:

Micromanaging – Control is the opposite of trust, and micromanaging sends the message to your team members that you don’t trust them to do their jobs. It’s common for leaders to exert control when under stress because they feel more secure being able to directly influence the outcome. However, micromanaging saps the initiative of your team to the point where they stop taking responsibility because they know you’re going to step in and take charge.

Demeaning Others – Leaders demean others through careless comments that degrade their dignity, status, or character. An example is when a leader says or does things that communicates people are “less than” they really are. Stereotypical examples are asking an administrative assistant to pick up your dry cleaning or get you a cup of coffee, tasks clearly outside their job description.

Ignoring Others’ Contributions – We all have an innate need to be appreciated and it doesn’t take much for leaders to acknowledge the efforts of team members. Many times all it takes is saying thank you. A pattern of not recognizing the good work of others will eventually turn team members against you. People will develop a mindset of doing the minimum amount of work acceptable because “they don’t appreciate me going above and beyond.”

Intimidating or Coercing Others – This behavior is a holdover from the days of Command and Control leadership, but unfortunately, too many leaders still rely on this tactic to get work accomplished. I think there are two main reasons why this is the case. First, some leaders truly don’t know any better. They believe their job as the “boss” is to tell other people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Secondly, it’s the path of least resistance. When leaders are stressed and short on time and patience, getting work done by intimidating or coercing others seems the most expedient thing to do. It may work for you once or twice, but intimidating others will not only crush their spirits, it will create enemies that actively work against you and not with you.

Playing favorites – One of the most influential factors that crush a person’s spirit is being treated unfairly. We are hardwired with a desire for justice, and when we feel we’re aren’t being treated justly, it causes a variety of emotions ranging from defensiveness and anger to cynicism and despair. Leaders can be fair by treating people equitably and ethically. Being equitable means people receive what they deserve based on the circumstances, and being ethical means the leaders behavior is alignment with the values of the organization and it’s policies and procedures.

I believe most leaders have positive intentions. There are very few leaders who wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to crush the spirits of my employees today!” No, that doesn’t usually happen, but what does happen is we get so focused on our own agendas that we forget how we’re treating our team members. Being more mindful of how our leadership impacts others and avoiding these spirit-crushing behaviors will help foster an environment where our people feel safe, appreciated, and free to give their all.

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

The Habits of Ability

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

The Habits of Integrity

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

The Habits of Benevolence

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

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

Leaders – Quit Trying to be Fair and Do This Instead

Fair vs UnfairComplete the following statement: “I’m being fair because I treat everyone the ______ .”

You’ve probably heard this statement many times from the leaders you’ve had in your career and you’ve likely said it yourself from time to time. The statement is:

“I’m being fair because I treat everyone the same.”

The reality is that treating everyone the same can be one of the most unfair things you do as a leader. It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating everyone the same because it’s the easiest thing to do. Broad-brushing everyone with the same treatment is less work and causes fewer headaches for leaders. “Sorry, that’s the policy” or “I’m treating you the same way I treat everyone else” takes less mental and emotional effort than digging into the individual situations of our team members and formulating an appropriate response.

Frankly speaking, I think it’s a leadership cop-out to treat everyone the same. It’s the path of least resistance. Now granted, there are certain rules or policies, particularly those involving health, safety, and welfare, that need to apply to everyone equally. But generally speaking, when it comes to day-to-day employee relations, too many managers default to treating everyone the same as their method to ensure fairness.

There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals. ~ Aristotle

Instead of trying to be fair by treating everyone the same, try treating people equitably and ethically given the particular situation. Let’s drill into that a bit more.

Treating people equitably means being impartial, unbiased, and even-handed in your dealings with others. It also means you are concerned with people getting their just deserts; what they have rightfully earned or deserve. Treating people ethically means you hold them, and yourself, to the principles, standards, rules, or policies of right conduct.

Let me give you an example. My team has a policy that affords people the privilege to work from home two days a week if they meet specific standards of performance. Some people meet the standards and get to work from home while others don’t meet the standard and aren’t able to enjoy that privilege. Both sets of people are treated equitably because the policy is applied impartially and they receive what they deserve. They’re also treated ethically because they are being held to the same standard of performance. If everyone were treated “the same,” it would mean all or nothing—either no one is allowed to work from home or everyone is given the privilege. You can see why it would be easier to treat everyone the same instead of looking at each case individually and treating the person equitably and ethically given his/her unique situation.

Treating people equitably and ethically is closely tied to the concept of justice. Fairness and justice are often used interchangeably but they are separate constructs. (See here, here, and here for interesting reading on the distinctions between fairness and justice.) Without getting too far down a rabbit’s hole, there are two forms of justice leaders should pay attention to: distributive justice and procedural justice.

Distributive justice is concerned with the fair distribution of pay, rewards, and recognition within the organization. Procedural justice involves the policies and procedures of an organization being applied fairly and consistently across the organization. Treating people equitably supports distributive justice in that people are rewarded according to what they’ve earned, whereas treating people ethically supports procedural justice because everyone is held to the same standard and must play by the same rules.

Treating people fairly can feel like a no-win situation for leaders. There will always be someone who exclaims “that’s not fair!” which causes leaders to play to the lowest common denominator—treating everyone the same. As the quote above from Aristotle illustrates, not everyone is the same, and treating them the same can be one of the most unfair things you do. Instead, focus on treating people equitably and ethically. It takes more time and effort, but in the long run you will be known as a fair and trustworthy leader.

Got Ethics? The 5 Principles of Ethical Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How NOT to Lead – Six Lessons from Breaking Bad’s Walter White

Walter WhiteI’m a fan of the television show Breaking Bad. If you’re not familiar with it, the show chronicles the transformation of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a mild-mannered, milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who “breaks bad” and turns into a crystal meth-producing drug lord in order to finance his cancer treatments and provide for his family after his likely death.

The writing, story-telling, character development, and dialogue in the show are top-notch, and despite the edgy subject matter, I was hooked…addicted?…after just a small taste. As the series comes to a close tonight with the premiere of the final eight episodes, I reflected on some leadership lessons from Walter White. He’s an excellent study on how NOT to lead. If you employ these strategies you might achieve temporary success, as Walter White has, but eventually you’ll go down in flames…which is my prediction for Walt’s fate this season.

1. Don’t trust anyone – Walter White never fully trusts anyone, even himself at times. He only trusts people enough for them to do what he needs them to do, so he keeps people on a “need to know” basis, hoards power and information, and makes the final decisions. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and if you don’t have it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder to see who’s on your trail and your relationships will always have an air of suspicion and doubt surrounding them.

2. The end justifies the means – Walt started with the noble, yet morally ambiguous, goal of wanting to provide for his family. His odds of beating cancer were slim, and with a son starting college and a baby daughter on the way, Walt saw the cost of his cancer treatments leaving his family in financial ruins. What started as a quick-hit scheme to meet the financial needs of his family quickly devolved into Walt being willing to do anything – lie, cheat, steal, murder – to protect his drug empire and meet the dark and desperate needs of his shadow self. This strategy is particularly useful for leaders who view people as objects, just mere speed-bumps on the road to success, and are willing to run over anyone at anytime in order to get what they want.

Pyramid of Choice3. Erode your morality and integrity one choice at a time – Walter White didn’t become an evil mastermind and drug kingpin overnight, it was a series of small choices that led him down the road to destruction. The work of Dan Ariely and Tavris and Aronson provide insight into this slippery slope of human behavior. Tavris and Aronson use the “Pyramid of Choice” to illustrate the “what the hell effect,” which explains how our rationalizations of wrong choices makes it easier for us to make further wrong choices that continually erode our integrity. Moral of the story? Every decision counts. Make good ones that reinforce your integrity.

4. Intoxicate yourself on powerStudies have shown that money and power can make you less empathetic toward other people and Walter White’s experience illustrates that phenomenon. As Walt gains money and power in the drug world he quickly loses sight of his original goal. Jesse, Walt’s former student and partner in crime, points out that Walt originally said he needed to make just shy of $1 million to provide for his family, and now that he had $5 million stashed away it still wasn’t enough. If you’re in a leadership role to fulfill your needs for power, position, and status, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Get out now!

Say My Name5. Let your ego drive your actions – Over the seasons we learn that Walt co-founded a company called Gray Matter Technologies, sold his share for $5,000, and now the company is worth over $2 billion. Walt never reconciled his ego-needs with the direction his life took, and now that he’s got money and power from his drug business, his ego runs wild and manifests itself as “Heisenberg,” Walt’s street name. In one memorable scene where Walt is arm-twisting a rival drug dealer into becoming the distribution arm for Walt’s superior product, he not only revels in revealing his identity as Heisenberg, he forces his competitor to pay homage to him by demanding that he “Say my name.” Use that tactic in your next team building meeting and see how far it gets you.

6. Manipulate people to get what you want – Walt’s relationship with Jesse is a picture in manipulation. Walt goes so far as to poison the son of Jesse’s girlfriend and convinces Jesse to break up with her so there would be no one competing for Jesse’s time and attention. Jesse is ultimately a pawn in Walt’s strategy to build his drug empire. Demonstrating care and concern for people is a key factor in building trust, and if you aren’t genuine and authentic in wanting to be in relationship with people, others will quickly see through your facade.

It will be interesting to see how the character of Walter White fares over the last eight episodes of this series. We’ve seen plenty of real-life examples of prominent leaders who display these traits and characteristics and their fate isn’t pretty. Will Walter White fare any better? I don’t think so.

Three Questions That Could Save Your Career

Three QuestionsThe question is not if you will ever face an ethical dilemma, the question is when. Ethical dilemmas come in all shapes and sizes and you will inevitably be faced with a situation where you find yourself at a crossroads. Do you choose to do something that is wrong in order to benefit yourself, even if no one will ever know, or do you choose to do the right thing?

“There is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

Last week I wrote about the five P’s of ethical power that Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale discuss in their book The Power of Ethical Management. In that classic best-seller they also offer an “ethics check,” three questions you should ask yourself when faced with an ethical choice point. Asking yourself these three questions could save you from making a decision that ends your career.

Is it legal? The first of the three ethics check questions goes right to the core of the matter. Is what you are going to do legal? Does it violate civil law, corporate policy, or your own code of ethics? If the answer is No then STOP! There’s no need to even ask the next two questions. To take it a step further, if choosing to proceed could even give the appearance of illegal activity, you should avoid that course of action.

Is it fair and balanced? Assuming you answer Yes to the legality of the decision, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not your action will be fair and balanced to the parties involved. Will your decision or action result in one party being taken advantage of by another to the point of their detriment? Is there a clear winner and loser involved? The parties can’t always win equally in every situation, but you should strive to avoid great imbalances in the fairness of your actions. Ideally you want to strive for decisions that promote long-term fairness and respect in relationships.

How will it make you feel about yourself? If your actions were published on the home page of CNN.com, how would you feel? Would you feel proud of the decision you made or cringe in embarrassment that your actions were on display for the whole world to see? Besides your behavior being publicized, how would your decision align with your own sense of right and wrong? Most of us have a pretty good sense of when we’re on shaky ethical ground, yet we often try to rationalize our behavior in order to feel good about ourselves. I love the quote from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. He said, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.” If your decision is legal and balanced, yet something about it just doesn’t sit well with your conscience, then it’s probably not the right decision to make.

I’ve asked hundreds of people this question: “What is the most important factor in building trust?” Overwhelmingly the response is “integrity.” Integrity is a leader’s most valuable asset and using the ethics check questions can help you keep it intact and avoid what could be a career ending decision.

Got Ethics? The Five P’s of Ethical Power

Got EthicsThere is but one place where people without any problems reside—the cemetery. The only people without problems are dead, otherwise, for people like me and you…we’ve got problems! The question is, do we have ethics? Do we have the moral principles or values in place to guide our decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas or difficult situations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Managing the Malcontent – Four Leadership Tips

Malcontent
Part of speech:  adjective
Definition:  dissatisfied
Synonyms:  belly aching, complaining, discontented, disgruntled, unhappy, unsatisfied

Managing a chronically malcontent staff member can be an exhausting experience for a leader. No matter what you do to address the situation, there always seems to be a reason for the staff member to be unhappy, and to prove the truth of the old saying “misery loves company,” the malcontent often loves to spread their discontent to others, creating a whirlpool of negativity for the entire team. The result is the leader ends up spending the majority of his time managing the emotional state of the malcontent in an effort to keep peace within the team.

It’s easy to have all of your emotional and mental energy get sucked into the black hole of managing the malcontent. It’s important for leaders to step back, gain a little perspective, and have a strategy in place for handling these situations. Here’s a few tips that may help:

1. Be consistent in your behavior—It’s important for the malcontent to understand, and for other staff members to see, that you are going to remain consistent in your responses to the situations at hand. Don’t give in to emotional outbursts, frustration, or “fighting fire with fire,” but remain cognizant that you have to set the tone for the type of environment you want within the team and that you set the example of how team members should treat each other. Be respectful, yet firm and consistent, in dealing with the demands or issues raised by the malcontent. It’s necessary to support point #2.

2. Maintain your integrity—Don’t treat the malcontent unfairly by dismissing their concerns or excluding them from opportunities you would provide to other team members. Resist the urge to pander to their needs, walk on eggshells, or make exceptions for the malcontent just to avoid any negative reactions. Treat the malcontent fairly and consistently, just as you would any other staff member. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, the only thing a leader has left is his/her integrity. Don’t lose it by compromising your principles.

3. Don’t take it personallyHurt people tend to hurt people. Those who have emotional and mental wounds from other life experiences can easily take out their pain and suffering on those around them. This is often the case with the office malcontent, who for whatever reason, chooses to express their unhappiness at work. If you have been consistent in your behavior and treated others equitably and ethically, you can feel confident that the issues probably lie with the malcontent, not with you.

4. Recognize when a change is needed—If previous constructive efforts have failed, and the leader has taken all reasonable steps to allow the malcontent to change his/her attitude, the only resolution may be a change of assignment or employment. Usually when it gets to this point in the employer/employee relationship, both parties know that a change is needed, and it often comes as a welcome relief. Certainly that’s not the case in all situations, so leaders need to make sure they’ve been consistent and ethical in their dealings with the employee over time. However, at some point in time, this may be the only solution available.

Each of us are ultimately responsible for our own attitudes and behaviors. Leaders have a responsibility for helping malcontent staff members see where they can improve and provide them the resources and opportunities to do so, but in the end, the employee has to take control of their actions and assume responsibility for the outcomes. If they are willing and able to change, they will. If not, they will manage themselves into other career opportunities.

If It’s Broken, Do You Fix It or Throw It Away?

When you have something that’s broken, do you fix it or throw it away? Many of the products we buy today, especially electronics, have become disposable commodities that are more cost-effective to replace than repair.

Unfortunately, this same attitude has transferred over to many other areas of lives, particularly relationships. If a relationship no longer works for us, we’re quick to throw it away and look for another one to replace it. In describing the generational attitude of her parents who recently celebrated their 35th anniversary, an acquaintance said “they are of a generation that when something broke, they fixed it instead of throwing it away.” She was specifically talking about their view on relationships, not possessions.

It got me thinking about the value we place on relationships at work. When a relationship needs repairing in the workplace, what’s your instinct? Do you try to fix it or just throw it away?

Relationships have an inherent value that goes beyond the surface-level, transactional nature of workplace interactions, and each exchange you have with a co-worker is an opportunity to enrich or degrade the relationship. My friend Jon Mertz recently wrote a blog article about the importance of understanding the type of “wake” you leave behind in your interactions with others. People interested in building high-trust relationships understand the importance of leaving behind a wake of integrity, sincerity, and authenticity in their associations with colleagues.

When it comes to repairing a broken relationship, if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

Granted, it takes two people to be in relationship, and if one party isn’t willing to fix what’s broken, it may not be possible to fully repair it. However, the only thing that each of us ultimately controls is our own actions. Leading with trust means reaching for the greater good that exists within us, placing a premium value on our relationships, and making the effort to repair what’s broken rather than throwing it away. Relationships aren’t easily replaced.

Are Your People Ready to Stage an “Occupy” Protest? Four Ways to Build a High-Trust Culture

If given the chance, would the people in your organization stage an “Occupy” protest? Do they have feelings of inequity, spawned by the perception that the top 1% in your organization receive a disproportionate amount of the rewards at the expense of the 99%?

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last few weeks, you’re probably familiar with the “Occupy” movement that has spawned social protests on Wall Street and various cities and venues around the world. Underlying these protests of social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money and lobbying in politics, is a profound lack of trust between leaders and those being led.

What can we learn from the Occupy movement to help us build organizational cultures of high-trust? I think the following four areas are good places to start:

1. Share information liberally
We live in an information age, where just about anything we want to know is but a few keystrokes or mouse-clicks away. Yet in many of our organizations, leaders withhold information as a way to maintain power and authority over others.

A lack of information sharing about the compensation system at the Mayo Clinic had created perceptions of inequality and just a 17% satisfaction level in 1999. By increasing the frequency, clarity, and transparency of communication about all compensation related matters, the Mayo Clinic was able to raise the level of satisfaction to 82% in 2011, with very little change to the fundamental structure of the compensation system itself.

In the absence of information, your people will make up their own version of the truth. Share information openly so that your people know the facts about what’s going on in the organization and trust that they will use and respond to that information responsibly.

2. Increase employee involvement in decision-making
My friend, colleague, and organizational change expert Pat Zigarmi, likes to make the point that contrary to popular opinion, people don’t resist organizational change; they resist being controlled. When people are shut out from contributing to decisions that will directly impact them, they develop a sense of distrust and skepticism toward the decision makers.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, my organization suffered a loss of over $2 million dollars of booked business due to clients eliminating corporate travel. Our company had to make immediate moves to reduce expenses, but rather than making the easy and obvious decision to layoff staff, our leadership engaged everyone across the organization to generate ways to decrease costs or increase revenues in order to avoid layoffs. Hundreds of ideas were surfaced and many were implemented which resulted in the company being able to not only survive the economic downturn, but continue to make a profit and avoid eliminating jobs.

Involving your people in making decisions will lead to higher levels of trust and commitment. Remember, those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

3. Give people what matters most – your time and attention
Google is legendary for the perks that it offers its employees. At the Googleplex, Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA, team members have unlimited access to free haircuts, massages, meals, dry cleaning, and even on-site medical care.

Yet when Google undertook a study to determine what employees valued most, they overwhelmingly said “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Just like workaholic parents who fool themselves into believing they can make up for their lack of presence in their kids’ lives by spoiling them with all the latest toys and gadgets, leaders often fall prey to the same line of thinking by believing corporate perks and benefits can make up for the lack of intimate one-one-one leadership. Developing genuine and authentic relationships is a primary way to build a culture of trust.

4. Have an ethical and equitable compensation system
Economic inequality is one of the primary platforms of the Occupy protest movement. According to research done by Kevin Murphy at USC’s Marshall School of Business, in 1971 the ratio between the average CEO’s salary and that of an employee was 30.6 percent (averages of $212,230 vs. $6,540). In 2009, the last year of his research, it was 264.4 percent ($8.47 million vs. just over $32,000).

Although research has consistently shown that money is usually not a primary motivator for employees, it would be a huge mistake to discount the negative effect of unfair compensation. In a recent HBR blog article, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, make three excellent points about the importance of fair compensation.

First, compensating your employees fairly is simply the right thing to do. Second, fair compensation creates a more positive “inner work life effect” – the positive flow of emotions, thoughts, and motivators about the employee’s perception of their work. It’s confirmation of Ken Blanchard’s old saying that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results.” And third, compensation is more than a paycheck. It’s a signal to employees about their value to the organization and the importance of the work they do.

If we’re willing to pay attention, we can learn several important lessons from the Occupy movement. Sharing information liberally, increasing employee involvement in decision-making, nurturing one-on-one relationships, and compensating people fairly will lead to higher levels of trust, commitment, and engagement in our organizations.

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