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.

Thrown Under the Bus? 8 Tips on Dealing with Unfair Criticism

thrown under busSooner or later…sooner if you’re in a leadership position…you will get thrown under the bus by receiving unfair criticism from a boss or colleague.

Unfair criticism comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it shows up in your annual performance review when the boss rates you as failing to meet expectations in an area of performance where you had no idea you were falling short. Other times it shows up when a colleague criticizes you in an effort to deflect attention from his/her own shortcomings. Regardless of the cause or circumstance, unfair criticism hurts. It erodes trust between people, causes rifts in relationships, and stymies effective teamwork. You can’t control when you get thrown under the bus, but you can choose how to respond. Here are 8 tips on how to respond to unfair criticism:

1. Remember that your response shapes your reputation – Above all else, remember this point: the way you choose to respond to criticism will greatly shape your reputation. Take the high road and respond with integrity, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t let someone else’s unprofessional behavior goad you into responding in kind. Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day all they have is their integrity.

2. Don’t react defensively – Defensiveness only escalates the situation and lends weight to the unjustified criticism (similar to responding to a loaded question like “Have you stopped beating your wife?”). Getting passionately fired up over friendly fire gives emotional control to the accuser and limits your ability to respond rationally and thoughtfully.

3. Listen to understand; not to rebut or defend – Our most common instinct when we experience unfair criticism is to zero in on the fallacies of the other person’s comments and formulate a response to defend ourselves. Instead, resist the urge to focus on the micro elements of what’s being communicated and instead focus on the macro implications of the criticism. Even if the specific accusations of the criticism are off-base, there may be things you can learn and benefit from if you consider the broader message.

4. Acknowledge any truth that is present – Agreeing with any valid part of the criticism is a way to acknowledge you’re hearing the feedback without agreeing to the entirety of what’s being communicated or beating yourself up over the situation. Sometimes there is a kernel of truth present in friendly fire and it may be an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself or the other person. If there are elements of the criticism that are blatantly not true, state your differences in a respectful and professional way without getting into a debate parsing the details.

5. Consider the source – Probably the sagest of all advice when it comes to unfair criticism. If the person delivering the criticism is prone to dramatization, criticizing others, being egotistical, or other unpredictable behavioral patterns, then you have more evidence to discredit their feedback. However, if the person delivering the criticism is known as a steady, stable, trustworthy professional who has been personally supportive of you in the past, you should take stock of their feedback and explore it further.

6. Probe for root causes – What’s being communicated in the unfair criticism is often symptoms of a deeper problem or issue. When you encounter criticism, ask open-ended questions or statements like “Tell me more…,” “Explain why that’s important to you…,” or “What is the impact of that?” Asking a series of “why?” questions can also help you discover the root cause of the issue.

7. Understand their world – It’s helpful to put yourself in the other person’s shoes in order to understand their motivation for being unfairly critical. Is the person unhappy? Stressed? Insecure? Vying for power or control? Frustrated? Is there a significant amount of change happening in the organization? Organizational change brings out the critics and unfair criticism increases dramatically. Criticizing and blaming others is a defense mechanism to deal with the fear of being asked to change. Even though you’re the target, remember that unfair criticism is often more about them than you.

8. Remember that you are more than the criticism – It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we experience the friendly fire of criticism from our colleagues. Most people strive to perform well and do what’s right, and when we have a boss or colleague criticize our efforts it hurts deeply. Depending on our personality and emotional make up, it may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity, just to name a few. Remember that this too shall past, and in the big scheme of things this is probably just a blip on the radar. Keep focused on all the positive things in your life such as the people you love, those who love you, the successes you’re having at work, the joy you experience from your hobbies, your spiritual faith, and the support of your family and friends.

As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said, the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Getting wounded by criticism stinks; there’s no two ways about it. But remembering these principles can help us keep things in perspective and maintain a strong defense when we’re thrown under the bus.

How do you deal with unfair criticism? Feel free to leave a comment and share your wisdom with others.

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.

5 Ways to Turbocharge Development of Trust in Relationships

trubochargeWe live in an instant gratification society. One-click purchases, overnight or same-day delivery, self-checkout lines at the grocery store, microwave ovens, and real-time global communications in a 24/7 world—whatever we want, when we want, and how we want it.

When I conduct training sessions on building trust I often get questions from participants along the lines of “How can I build trust quickly with someone?” The questioner is often a time-crunched manager struggling with a low-trust relationship and is looking for a quick and easy solution to his “trust issue.” Trust is a multi-dimensional construct that doesn’t fit easily into our desire for quick and easy solutions. It’s a relational dynamic that is constantly ebbing and flowing with each trust-building or trust-eroding behavior or situation we experience. However, there are key behaviors a person can use to turbocharge the development of trust in relationships. Here are five important ones to consider:

1. Admit Mistakes — It’s inevitable; we all make mistakes. The key to building or maintaining trust is how you handle the situation. If you make excuses, try to shift the blame, cover it up or pretend it didn’t happen, the trust others have in you will plummet. If you readily admit the mistake, stand up and take responsibility for your actions in a sincere and humble way, trust in you will sky-rocket. People yearn for authentic connections in relationships, and in order for that to happen there has to be a level of vulnerability. Admitting mistakes is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate vulnerability, and as a result, the development of trust.

2. Follow-through on Commitments — I believe that most people genuinely intend to honor their commitments. The problem is we often lack a plan for doing so. We over-commit ourselves or fail to sufficiently plan our course of action and end up dropping the ball. Few things erode trust more than not delivering on a commitment. If you want to build or sustain trust, make sure you do what you say you’re going to do. If something looks like it’s going to get in the way of you being able to deliver on your commitment, speak up early and reset expectations. Negotiate new deadlines or seek additional resources to meet the original commitment, and most of all, don’t use the “P” word (Promise), unless you absolutely know you can deliver on your promise.

3. Be Nice and Helpful — People want to do business with those they like and trust, and it’s amazing how much trust you can build by simply being nice and helpful to others. You learned the basics from your parents and it’s still true…say “please” and “thank you.” Look for ways to make your colleague’s job easier, and even more so, make it easy for others to work with you. Smile, laugh, and extend simple courtesies to others; it really does work in building trust.

4. Be Interested in Others — People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You may be extremely competent at what you do, but if you don’t take a personal interest in the welfare of others, people will withhold a measure of trust from you. You don’t have to be an extroverted social butterfly to be a “people person.” It only takes a little effort to build rapport. Ask people how their weekend went, inquire about their kids, learn their hobbies, and take a genuine interest in them as individuals, not just as co-workers doing a job. When you start to do that, and do it genuinely and authentically, trust will blossom.

5. Walk the Talk — Acting with integrity is the foundation of being a trustworthy person. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word integritas, meaning soundness, wholeness, or blamelessness.” When we say a bridge or building has structural integrity, we mean it’s sound, sturdy, and stable. So it is with a person of integrity. That person is steady and consistent in his behavior. Being a person of integrity means being honest, treating people fairly and respectfully, and acting in alignment with honorable values. If you say one thing and then do another you will severely injure trust in your relationships. Gossiping, spinning the truth to your benefit, omitting facts, or taking credit for the work of others are sure ways to diminish your integrity and the trust people have in you.

Sit down, buckle your seat belt, and consistently practice these five ways of relating to others and you’ll see the turbocharged development of trust in your relationships.

Be a Fair Leader by Treating Employees Like Chess Pieces, Not Checkers

Chess PiecesWhen I was a young kid I used to love playing checkers with my younger sister. Part of the joy came from always beating her, which isn’t much of an accomplishment given she was four years younger than me, but mostly from it being an easy game to play. Checkers is a game with limited variations and clearly defined rules. You can move a checker forward, and once you get a “King,” you can move it backward. You capture your opponents’ checkers by jumping them and once you’ve captured all of them you win. That’s pretty much it.

Chess, on the other hand, is a different kind of game. Each piece on the board can move in different directions, but although each piece is treated differently, the rules of the game apply equally to all. There is also much more strategy involved in chess than in checkers. In chess you have to play with the long game in mind. Each move is one step in a larger plan to take control of the board and defeat your opponent. There are limitless ways to creatively implement your strategies.

I’ve noticed that when it comes to managing people, many leaders treat their people like checkers rather than chess pieces. I can understand why; it’s easier and less complicated. It’s also one of the most unfair things you can do as a leader.

Complete this statement: As a leader I am being fair because I treat everyone the _____.

You probably said “same,” didn’t you?

You’ve probably heard many leaders say that, and in fact, you’ve likely said it yourself from time to time, haven’t you? I know I have.

The reality is treating everyone the same can be quite unfair because everyone is not the same. People are like chess pieces, not checkers. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”

The key is to treat each of your people equitably and ethically given their unique needs and circumstances. Each team member has their own life story and individual gifts and abilities. Fair leaders don’t broad-brush everyone and treat them the same. They take each person’s situation into account and apply the rules and policies of the organization in an equitable and ethical way.

Of course there are certain rules, policies, and procedures that need to apply equally to everyone to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all employees or to make sure your business produces quality products and services. However, when it comes to career development, performance management, and other employee-specific issues, leaders will build more trust and loyalty be treating people individually.

Treat your people like chess pieces and not checkers. Although it’s a harder game to play and takes more thought and energy, your team members will appreciate your efforts and respond with higher levels of trust, engagement, and performance.

Note: Credit goes to Tim Elmore for first exposing me to this idea. Check out his blog post on this topic for great insights.

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