Leading with Trust

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.

Are You Too Exhausted to be Truthful? 3 Strategies to Avoid Dishonesty

Fuel GaugeIt’s late on a Friday afternoon and you are feeling spent. You feel like you’re fried crispier than a piece of bacon on a greasy hot griddle. You are mentally and emotionally drained after a long week of work, yet you still have one important task you need to finish before you can start a weekend of much-needed rest and relaxation.

Your boss is expecting the updated project budget and you know she’s not going to be happy when she sees it. Despite your best efforts in managing the team, the project is over budget and it looks like the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.

As you review the budget for what seems like the millionth time, you realize you could fudge the numbers a bit and shift some of the costs from the Implementation Team to the Design Team and it would make the overall budget look better. Who’s going to know? Besides, the Design Team consistently runs over budget and you usually take the heat for their mistakes. You could make this budget change, save yourself an hour’s work, start your weekend now, and avoid the wrath of your boss on Monday morning.

What do you do?

Well, according to research, you are likely setting yourself up to cheat and be dishonest. In this study, Dan Ariely (who has written about this subject in several of his books) and a team of researchers illustrated the connection between our level of self-control, resource depletion (mental/emotional), and the likelihood to cheat.

The gist of the experiments showed that participants who engaged in activities that depleted their self-control resources were more likely to cheat on subsequent tasks (rewarding themselves more than they actually earned), and even more alarming, were more likely to place themselves in tempting situations that resulted in them cheating even more!

So how does this apply to us as leaders? Well, anyone who has experience leading groups of people knows that leadership can be an energy draining and resource depleting activity. As a leader, nothing is more important than your integrity. All it takes is one moment of weakness to compromise your ethics and you’ve torpedoed your whole career.

Here are three practical, commonsense ways to avoid this dilemma:

1. Be intentional about recharging your batteries – This research, along with our practical experience, shows we can make bad decisions when our self-control resources are low. It stands to reason that the best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure our self-control resources stay high. We have to keep our batteries charged. All the things your mom told you growing up apply: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, find a hobby, and engage in activities that nourish you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I can hear some of you saying, “Easy for you to say, Randy, but you don’t understand my work environment. I’m expected to work 70-80+ hours a week, stay connected to work 24/7, and do whatever it takes to get the job done.” If that’s your situation then I have empathy for you. It must be miserable and I can see how easy it is to feel trapped, especially if you’re beholden to the large paycheck that’s usually used as an incentive to get people in those kinds of jobs. But remember, you have choices. They may be tough choices, like scaling back your lifestyle, seeking a new job, or changing careers, but you do have choices. It will likely take time and require some tough decisions, but don’t fool yourself by thinking there’s no way out. You have a choice.

2. Don’t make decisions when you’re tired or hangry – It’s important to know yourself well enough that you can tell when your self-control resources are running low. For many of us, self-control goes out the window when we’re tired or “hangry” (hungry + angry = hangry). This is certainly true for me personally. I can see a clear pattern of making not-so-good decisions when I’ve been in this kind of state.

If this is true for you as well, then we both know what to do: don’t make significant decisions when we’re in this vulnerable state. If at all possible, delay making the decision until you’ve had a chance to recharge your batteries. There is wisdom in the old adage of “needing to sleep on it” when faced with a significant decision. We think more clearly and are in a better state of mind when our self-control resources are on full rather than empty.

3. Avoid tempting situations, especially when you’re running on empty – It seems too obvious to even mention but it has to be called out: avoid tempting situations at all costs, especially if your self-control resources are running low. The frightening thing about this particular research study is that people in a resource depleted state were even more likely to expose themselves to tempting situations. It’s as if our “temptation radar” is degraded when our self-control resources are low; we don’t fully recognize the danger of the situation. Using the project budgeting example above, it would be better to let that task go for the day and revisit it on Monday morning, than settle for the quick, easy, and unethical strategy of fudging the numbers…even if it means getting chewed out by your boss for being late with the report. There is never a right time to do the wrong thing, and it’s never the right time to make an important decision when you’re tired, exhausted, or feeling mentally or emotionally drained.

Leaders are givers. We give people our time, energy, support, guidance, coaching, and many other things that can leave us feeling like we’re running on empty. When our tanks are empty we expose ourselves to making decisions that can damage our integrity and erode the trust of our followers. We need to keep our own tanks full, not only so we can give to others, but also to protect us from ourselves.

Get Real! 7 Keys to Develop Leadership Authenticity

Get RealHey leader…get real! It’s time to quit trying to be something you aren’t. It’s time to be authentic.

Authenticity is an essential component of being a trustworthy leader. People are longing to follow leaders who are sincere and genuine, and when they find one, they will offer that leader 100% of their energy and engagement. You can be that kind of leader if you try and it’s not rocket science to figure out how. Start with these 7 keys:

1. Be humble – A recent study showed that only one out of four CEOs were described by their own executives as being humble. CEOs that were rated as highly regarded were nearly six times more likely to be described as humble (34% vs. 6%). Humble leaders use their power to benefit others, share the same values as their followers, and look for ways to empower others to reach their potential.

2. Be vulnerable – Take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself every once in while, because when you do so, it shows your followers that you actually are a little human (and just like them). Fear holds us back from being vulnerable with others, but take a little risk and “get naked” with your staff sometimes.

3. Admit you don’t know – Admitting they don’t know something can be incredibly difficult for leaders. After all, isn’t that why they’re leaders? They’re supposed to have the answers for everything! Admitting you don’t know something shows you have a realistic appreciation of your own strengths and weaknesses. Being a leader doesn’t mean you know all the answers; it means you’re willing to work hard to figure them out.

4. Walk the talk – It’s easy to talk the talk but authentic leaders make sure they walk it as well. Consistency in behavior is imperative for authentic leadership. Your actions need to be in alignment with your words otherwise people will quickly see you don’t actually believe what you say you do.

5. Admit mistakes – If you messed up, own it. Don’t try to shift blame, make excuses, or throw someone else under the bus. If you made a mistake, admit it, apologize if necessary, and then work hard to repair any damage. Authentic leaders are secure enough in their identities to deal with mistakes in a humble, genuine fashion that results in actually increasing trust and respect with their followers rather than eroding it.

6. Do what you say you will do – Following through on your commitments is a must-have for authentic leadership. Maintaining reliability with others through consistent and predictable behavior builds trust and confidence in your leadership. Authentic leaders can be trusted at their word. If you say you are going to do something, then do it.

7. Act with integrity – Be honest, do the right thing, make ethical decisions, keep promises, treat people with respect, don’t lie, cheat or steal…pretty much everything you learned in kindergarten! Authentic leaders value their integrity above all else. When you leave the workplace each day, you should be able to hold your head high because you conducted yourself with integrity. A leader of high integrity stands out above all others.

The world is in desperate need for authentic leadership and you can play a part. Start with these seven keys and you’ll be on your way to leading with trust and authenticity.

Feel free to leave a comment and share additional keys to develop leadership authenticity.

7 Ways to Make it Easy for People to Work with You

easy“It all depends on who you’re working with.”

That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent. It all depends on who you’re working with.

In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.

Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.

Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:

1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.

2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.

4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.

5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.

6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!

7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.

No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.

8 Essentials of an Effective Apology

I'm Sorry HandsI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 25 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 25 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Don’t Lead Scared – 6 Tips for Leading Like a Badass

John WayneOne sure way to kill your leadership career is to lead scared.

Leading from a position of fear never brings good results. It causes you to make rash decisions, shrink from opportunities, and needlessly fight the wrong battles.

The opposite of leading scared is leading like a badass. What does a badass leader look like?

He confidently marches to the beat of his own drum, not swayed by popular opinion or the need to please others. He doesn’t put on airs, pretending to be something he isn’t, but stays true to his principles and values in all that he does. He doesn’t have to talk about being a badass (that’s a poser) because he knows he is a badass. A badass leader isn’t an uncooperative jerk, indiscriminately ticking people off. A badass leader knows his limits and takes pride in working with others to achieve the goals of the team. Understated, purposeful, and pursuing excellence in all he does. That’s a badass.

Examples of well-known badasses:

  • Abraham Lincoln – Presidential Badass
  • Condoleezza Rice – Diplomat Badass
  • Derek Jeter – Baseball Badass
  • Leonardo da Vinci – Renaissance Badass
  • Mother Teresa – Spiritual Badass
  • Albert Einstein – Intellectual Badass
  • Aristotle – Philosophical Badass
  • John Wayne – Western Movie Actor Badass

Get the idea? So how do you become a leadership badass? Here’s six ways:

1. Develop your competence – Competence breeds confidence, no two ways about it. If you want to be more secure in your leadership abilities then you need to keep learning and growing. Read books, take classes, get a mentor, and learn from others. Badass leaders aren’t content with the status quo. They are always striving to improve their craft.

2. Be vulnerable – Huh? Isn’t that the opposite of being a badass? No! Leaders that display vulnerability show they don’t have anything to hide. Posers are those who lead with a false sense of confidence, trying to hide their weaknesses from others. Badass leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something. People crave authentic leadership and badasses are nothing if not authentic.

3. Focus on building trust – Trust is the foundation of badassery. You have to earn people’s trust before they will follow you and give their all. Badass leaders focus on building trust by being good at what they do, acting with integrity, caring for others, and following through on their commitments.

4. Build up other people – Badass leaders don’t feel the need to build themselves up by tearing down others. Secure enough in their self-worth, badass leaders take pride in the accomplishments of their team members and do everything they can to set them up for success. Badass leaders know that their success comes from the success of their people.

5. Get stuff done – Badass leaders don’t make excuses, they make things happen. They remove obstacles for their people, find the tools and resources they need, and provide the right amounts of direction and support they need to achieve their goals. Badass leaders are about doing, not talking. Badass leaders get stuff done.

6. Go against the grain – Doing what’s right is not always the popular choice, but badass leaders aren’t afraid to go against the grain when it’s the right thing to do. Badass leaders know they can’t base their self-worth on the applause of others and they aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers on occasion.

Every leader has the ability to be a badass. It’s an attitude, a belief, a way of being. Don’t lead scared, letting fear drive your behavior, but tap into your inner badassness and lead with confidence and assurance. Before you know it, people will look at you and say, “Now that’s a badass leader!”

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on what it means to lead like a badass.

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.

Five Lessons From Lance Armstrong’s Failure

Lance Armstrong“I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people.”

Lance Armstrong made that statement to Oprah Winfrey in his public confession this week when he finally admitted to using illegal performance enhancing drugs. It’s the one statement that has stuck with me as I’ve tried to make sense of how and why someone would go to such great lengths to perpetuate a lie and intentionally deceive so many people.

Millions of people have admired Armstrong as an example of how to “Livestrong” and battle through life’s difficult circumstances. Oddly enough, even though his athletic success and personal brand image have been discovered to be a fraud, he’s still proving to be an example from whom we can learn.

Armstrong’s fall from grace offers some important life and leadership lessons:

1. Life’s not about you – Armstrong described himself as a narcissist and said it was his ruthless desire to win at all costs that drove him to be a cheater. I don’t know that I’ve witnessed a public character with such an intense self drive and singular focus (with the possible exception of Tiger Woods, and look at what happened to him) that caused him to be so egotistical and selfish. The joy of life is unleashed when we discover that true happiness comes from serving others and not ourselves.

2. Bullies eventually get what’s coming to them – A self-described bully, Armstrong vehemently condemned and intimidated anyone who stood in his way to success. He burned so many relationships on his way up, that now he finds himself alone in his shame on the way down.

3. If you’re going to say you’re sorry, you should actually be sorry – Several times Armstrong said that he was sorry and took full blame and responsibility for his actions, yet based on other comments he made and the unspoken words of his body language, he left me with the impression that he wasn’t truly remorseful for defrauding everyone. He was apologizing for the sake of apologizing, recognizing that it was the necessary first step in rebuilding his image.

4. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is – Armstrong’s comeback from cancer, Tour de France victories, and life as an anti-cancer crusader seemed to be the perfect tale. He admitted to Oprah that he had devised such a fantastical narrative that it was impossible to live up to the idealistic standards he created. And millions upon millions of people bought it – hook, line, and sinker. Everyone single one of us has our faults and it’s extremely dangerous to place anyone on a pedestal as the end-all be-all example we should follow.

5. The truth will set you free – Oprah closed the interview by telling Armstrong it was her hope that he would find “the truth will set you free.” Jesus spoke those words in reference to people who choose to follow his teachings (John 8:32), meaning they would find the freedom and protection that comes from adhering to His moral principles. We all need a moral compass that keeps us oriented to true north, and Armstrong is an example of what happens when you lead without morality.

Lance Armstrong has a long way to go to rebuild trust with his followers. Is it even possible given the scope of his willful deception? I think it’s going to be hard.

What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Lance Armstrong: It’s Not About the Bike – It’s About the Truth

If life was like a bicycle, Lance Armstrong’s suddenly has two flat tires.

On the heels of being slapped with a lifetime ban from cycling and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency a few weeks ago, Armstrong resigned Wednesday as chairman of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. His resignation came as a result of the negative fallout surrounding the USADA releasing its 200 page report detailing their evidence of Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) and his role in what USADA dubbed “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

Armstrong has been dropped by several of his top sponsors including Anheuser-Busch, Trek, 24-Hour Fitness, Radio Shack, and most importantly, Nike. “Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” the company said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

I don’t know Lance Armstrong. I haven’t even read his book. But it seems clear that he’s broken trust with a lot of people who have admired him, both for his sporting accomplishments as well as his personal comeback from cancer and his efforts to fight the disease on a global basis. At this point in Armstrong’s life, he refuses to acknowledge that he’s broken trust, which is the first step in the process to restore his credibility with others. Once he’s able to acknowledge the situation, he needs to admit his wrongdoing, apologize to his legions of supporters, and then begin the process of making amends, whatever that may look like.

There is no denying the tremendous accomplishments of the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the wonderful support they provide to so many people in the cancer community, yet Lance Armstrong’s personal integrity seems to be completely incongruent with the noble mission he helped found.

Integrity means you tell the truth. You don’t lie. You don’t cheat. You have honorable values and live your life in accordance with those values. You walk the talk. You’re ethical. You’re a person of character.

That’s what it means to LIVESTRONG.

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.

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