Leading with Trust

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.

Five Leadership Lessons From The Life of Neil Armstrong

Yesterday we lost a true American hero. Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away at the age of 82. Armstrong’s life story read like pages from an adventure novel: earned his pilot license at age 15, flew 78 missions in the Korean War as a Navy fighter pilot, test piloted experimental rocket planes that flew to the edge of space at altitudes of over 200,000 feet, and commanded the Apollo 11 space mission and became the first man to walk on the moon.

Despite his many accomplishments, Neil Armstrong was a humble, private man who didn’t seek to turn his achievements into fortune and fame. After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong taught engineering at Purdue University and served on the boards of several businesses. His reserved, low-key approach to leading his life is strikingly at odds with today’s “look at me” reality TV infused culture. In An Audience with Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut discusses his life and the experience of traveling to the moon. The interview is a treasure-trove of leadership wisdom, but there were five lessons that struck me as important for leaders of all generations.

1. Humility – Virtually every written account of Armstrong’s life, as well as descriptions from those who knew him best, describe him as a man of extreme humility. He resisted bringing attention to himself and always viewed his accomplishments as simply the result of “doing his job.” Humility is a key characteristic of Jim Collins’ profile of successful Level 5 leaders and it is a key component to establishing high-trust relationships. It’s hard to trust the intentions of self-absorbed leaders whereas humble leaders create an environment and culture that breeds openness and trust.

2. Recognize and value the contributions of others – Armstrong readily acknowledged the invaluable contributions of the Apollo 1-10 missions as laying the building blocks for his crew’s moon landing. Each Apollo mission had specific goals that were milestones to the ultimate mission of landing on the moon. Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crew got the nod for the moon landing and he recognized that his efforts were just the next link in the entire chain of the Apollo space program. Today’s leaders would be wise to honor and respect those who have laid the groundwork ahead of them and not act like the success they’re enjoying today is solely a result of their efforts.

3. Stay vigilant because problems occur when you least expect them – On the descent to the moon, the Lunar Module’s navigation system was targeting a landing spot that would be on the edge of a slight hill. Armstrong had to take manual control of the spacecraft for the last 2 minutes and fly it to a safe landing site. Successful leaders are always scanning the environment so they can react to changing conditions. Flying on auto-pilot is best when conditions are stable, but in today’s world where daily change is the norm, using auto-pilot for too long can have disastrous consequences.

4. The power of focus – Shortly after stepping onto the surface of the moon, Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin placed a memorial on the lunar surface honoring the deceased astronauts, both Russian and American, who had preceded them in attempts to reach the moon. Armstrong describes it as being a tender moment, yet a very quick one because there was a checklist of many tasks awaiting their attention. Armstrong took a focused, methodical approach to his work that shows the power of concentrated attention. It’s easy for leaders to have their focused diffused among all the demands competing for their attention, yet the most successful leaders have learned to block out the distractions and focus on those activities that produce the most results.

5. Never let a good problem go to waste – The Apollo 1 crew suffered a terrible tragedy in 1967 when during a pre-flight test a cabin fire in the control module killed the crew of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chafee. The Apollo space flights were put on nearly a two-year hold while the accident was investigated. NASA only had four years to fulfill President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon by the end of the decade, but rather than letting the delay prevent them from achieving their goal, they used those two years to refine the design of the control module and to keep training for the moon landing. Armstrong and his colleagues demonstrated ingenuity and perseverance in dealing with this setback and it’s a lesson for all leaders about how to make the most of the problems thrown their way.

I think his family described it best when they said yesterday, “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

Are You Suffering From The Illusion of Transparency?

If you google the phrase “transparency in business” you’ll get more than 61,200,000 results. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic in leadership and business circles. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency – the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.

Recently I had a manager ask my advice on how to be more transparent with her employees. She told me that one of her direct reports gave feedback that the manager needed to be more transparent, specifically in the area of sharing more personal information about herself. This leader believes herself to have a very transparent leadership style, but apparently it’s not coming across that way to this particular direct report. An illusion of transparency perhaps?

If you find yourself in a similar position of having received feedback that you need to be more transparent, or if you have an inkling that it’s an area in which you need to improve, I’d recommend you consider the following:

1. Be specific in your communications — Don’t take the easy way out by engaging in organizational double-speak which, unfortunately, seems to be more the norm than the exception today. Not wanting to get painted into a corner or be held to specific commitments or standards, we often obfuscate or communicate in vague generalities to appease people. In reality, your people want, need, and deserve the straight truth from you. It may be hard, difficult, or painful, but in the long run you’ll earn more trust and respect by being straight-up with your folks.

2. Understand what transparency looks like to your people — Just as with beauty, transparency is in the eye of the beholder. In the case I mentioned above, the leader believed she had a high level of transparency with her followers, but it wasn’t the case with this one particular employee. I think individual personalities play a role in how transparency is perceived. Some people who are more relationship-focused may have a greater need for personal transparency (the leader sharing more information about self) where others who are more task-focused may have a greater need for transparency of information.

3. Be authentic — It’s hard to fake transparency. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because although you may be able to get away with it for a while, eventually the real you will come out. If you have trouble being transparent, admit it! That in and of itself will be one the greatest things you can do to increase transparency and trust with others. Let your people know it’s something you’re intentionally working on improving and ask for their support and understanding.

People want to follow leaders who are authentic, genuine, and honest, and being transparent in your actions and communications is critical to being a trusted leader, and that’s no illusion.

Deception Destroys Trust – 10 Questions to Ask To Keep From Being Duped

Contrary to popular belief, trust is not as fragile as we make it out to be. Trust can be one of the strongest forces in the world, binding people, institutions, and nations together in the midst of incredible adversity. Trust can be amazingly resilient, and when broken, can be restored over time through diligent and intentional behavior.

Research findings from Wharton have shown that “trust harmed by untrustworthy behavior can be effectively restored when individuals observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions,” and that making promises to change behavior can help speed up the process. However, the study also found that  “Trust harmed by the same untrustworthy actions and deception, never fully recovers – even when deceived participants receive a promise, an apology, and observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions.”

In order to build trust you have to first extend trust. Extending trust to others requires wisdom and discernment, and the amount of trust extended grows over time as you observe repeated, consistent, and reliable behaviors that cause you to make yourself more vulnerable to another person without fear of being taken advantage of or being harmed. There will inevitably be instances in relationships where one party breaks trust and disappoints another, either intentionally or unintentionally, and those occasions are usually repairable. Yet when intentional deception is involved, it strikes at the heart of the very integrity and character of the deceiver.

Dr. Bill Knaus suggests that you can protect yourself from harmful deceptions through enlightened skepticism and confident composure. Enlightened skepticism is a way to discern the facts of a situation through asking questions that force you to think critically. It helps you learn who to trust and to what degree so that you minimize the risk of deception in the first place.

Confident composure is a belief that you can directly command only yourself and you choose to do so. When you are in charge of yourself, you believe you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. It’s a self-empowering approach to acting confident and composed that allows you to come across as authentic and resolute in your convictions and actions.

Dr. Knaus says that “You are vulnerable to lies and deceptions when you don’t know the facts, the situation is fuzzy, or you want to believe” and he offers the following ten enlightened skepticism questions to gain clarity:

  1. What do I know about the speaker’s truthfulness?
  2. Is the statement consistent with reality?
  3. Can I verify the statement?
  4. What do I gain by accepting and acting on the statement?
  5. What do I lose by accepting and acting on the statement?
  6. What does the speaker gain if I bought into the statement?
  7. What is exaggerated or downplayed in the statement?
  8. Does the idea seem too good to be true?
  9. Would I advise my best friend to accept the statement without a question of doubt?
  10. What doesn’t compute? (Is something being said too emphatically or in some strange way?)

Trust is an active and vibrant dynamic in relationships, not a passive condition that “just happens” over time. Part of developing a high trust relationship is being wise about who and what you trust. Not all people or situations are deserving of your trust, and approaching these situations with confident composure and enlightened skepticism is a proactive way to help prevent you from being deceived in the first place.

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.

The Incredible “Sulk” – Four Ways to Overcome Envy in the Workplace

The Incredible Hulk, one of the Marvel Comics superheros featured in the recently released film The Avengers, is a raging beast capable of great fury and destruction. Whenever the mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner experiences certain negative emotions like fear, anger, or terror, he succumbs to those feelings and transforms into the Hulk, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.

Envy has the same potential for damage in the workplace by transforming you into The Incredible “Sulk” – someone with a sullen, silent, inwardly focused negative self energy that wreaks havoc on yourself and others. Envy is a feeling of discontent or covetousness a person feels in regards to another person’s success, advantages, or possessions, and causes you to sulk, feel sorry for yourself, and make you downright miserable. If left unchecked, envy creates resentment toward others, leads to fractured relationships, and causes low morale and a loss of productivity in a team environment.

I coach others, and have personally used, the following strategies to overcome envy in the workplace:

  • Don’t play the comparison game—The number one way to make yourself miserable with envy is to compare yourself to other people. There will always be someone who appears to have it better than you, whether it’s that recent promotion, title, new office, or cool new project at work. In addition to not rightfully acknowledging the successes or achievements of others, when you compare yourself to others you’re actually denying or discounting all the wonderful gifts, talents, and abilities you bring to the table. Focus on “blooming where you’re planted” and don’t waste energy by obsessing about what other people are doing.
  • Count your blessings—I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Envy robs us of happiness because we get focused on what we don’t have, and that negative emotion leads to a downward spiral in our thinking. I’ve found it helpful to periodically make a list of all the things I’m grateful for in life because it’s an eye-opening experience to realize how good I’ve got it. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices is also helpful in combatting envy.
  • Avoid gossip—Gossip is the conduit for envy to poison a whole team. Human nature tends to gravitate toward the negative anyway, and gossip is an easy way for people to seek solace and comfort from others. Rather than being cathartic and healing, gossip is divisive and destructive and it doesn’t do anyone any good to talk about people behind their backs. We’d all be better off if we remembered and practiced some of the first words of wisdom from our parents: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Focus on personal growth—When feelings of envy start to crop up, it’s a perfect time for self-examination. Ask yourself why you’re feeling envious and don’t stop at the first answer; keep asking “why?” For example, suppose I’m feeling envious of my neighbors because they have an RV Camper and I don’t. Why am I feeling that way? Because I wish I could go on camping trips like they do. Why do I wish I could go on camping trips? Because I want to nurture and deepen family relationships. Why do I want to do that? I want my children to have great experiences and memories of their childhood. Ok, so that’s a great reason…now what I can I do to accomplish that? Maybe I can’t financially afford an RV, but I can certainly do other things to accomplish my goal of creating family memories. I’ve taken the negative emotion of envy that had the potential to damage the relationship with my neighbors and turned it into a positive step in my own personal growth.

Envy is an incredibly destructive force that leads to personal unhappiness and negativity within a team. Taking a positive, proactive approach to identifying and rooting out envy will help you lead a more satisfied and productive life at work and keep you from turning into The Incredible Sulk.

Have you dealt with envy in the workplace? What did you do? Feel free to share your experiences and comments.

Memo to Leaders: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Memorandum

To: Leaders Everywhere

From: A Fellow Sojourner

Subject: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Dear fellow leaders,

It has come to my attention that we are our own worst enemies. The lack of our effectiveness and success is primarily due to our own stupidity and failure to get out of our own way. We tend to get wrapped up in our own little worlds and forget that our primary goal is to influence others to higher levels of performance. We forget that the energy we bring to our team through our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual presence is what sets the tone for their morale, productivity, and well-being.

It’s time to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Here are three key checkups I suggest you perform:

Check your attitude — If you come to work acting like Mr./Ms. Grumpypants, how do you expect your team members to act? They’re going to act just like you. Remember, when you’re in a leadership position, you’re always under the microscope. Does it get tiring? Yes. Is it reality? Yes. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice, so try putting a smile on your face, remember to say please and thank you, catch your people doing something right, and spread a little sunshine to your team. You’ll find that it’s contagious.

Check your ego — Get over yourself. You’re really not that big of deal (everyone else already knows it so you might as well admit it). Our oversized egos are often the primary culprits of our undoing. A little bit of power can be intoxicating, and if you don’t manage it properly, you’ll find your head growing bigger than the rest of your body. Make sure you have some “truth-tellers” in your life that will keep you down to earth by speaking the honest, hard truth about your performance even if everyone else thinks you walk on water (they really don’t think you can walk on water, they just flatter you by pretending they do).

Check your motives — Why did you sign up for this leadership gig anyway? Was it to make more money? Was it the only way to move up in the organization? Do you like to boss people around? Or were you interested in helping people learn, grow, and achieve their goals? While you’re checking your motives, you might want to examine your core values as well. Whatever values you hold dear are probably the driving force behind your motives and behaviors. Get your values and behavior in alignment and you’ll be a leadership dynamo.

Being a leader is a tough job and it’s not for the weary or faint of heart. Don’t make it harder by acting stupid. Use your brain. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Thank you.

Leading With Trust – Four Fundamentals of Success

I was recently talking with a friend about the critical importance of teaching the fundamentals when coaching baseball. Baseball is a game built on basic, fundamental skills. No matter the level at which the game is played — Tee Ball, Little League, High School, College, or Professionally — players continuously work on learning and refining the fundamental aspects of the game. From the proper way to field ground balls, the basics of a good batting swing, correct pitching mechanics, or smart base running techniques, there are certain skills and competencies that must be practiced and mastered for a player to achieve success.

The same is true for being a successful and trusted leader; you have to focus on the fundamentals. Perusing a list of book titles in search of the keys to effective leadership can leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless as to where to start. We’re encouraged to do so much: Lead with heart, lead with soul, get out of the box, find the leader within, follow the irrefutable laws, adhere to the timeless principles, leverage your strengths, eliminate your weaknesses, develop the right habits, start with ‘why’, start with ‘how’, lead with vision, lead from the trenches, etc., etc., etc.

Yet beyond all the hyperbole, fluff, clichés, and modern-day snake oil leadership remedies, the most basic fundamental of becoming a successful leader is leading with trust. What does it mean to lead with trust? It means:

  • Lead competently — A fundamental of being a trusted leader is to be good at what you do, both in terms of developing your competence as a leader as well as being a high performer in your technical role. There are no shortcuts to success. It takes hard work, discipline, and constant growth and learning.
  • Lead authentically — Successful leaders embrace and build upon their uniqueness and don’t try to be someone they’re not. It’s wise to glean knowledge about what makes other leaders successful and to incorporate those practices into your own leadership philosophy, but don’t be a copycat. You’re not Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, General Patton, Mark Zuckenberg, or any other host of people who may be held up as different leadership models. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true what our parents have always told us – Just be yourself, there’s no one else like you.
  • Lead with integrity — Successful leaders know that at the end of the day the only thing they have left is their integrity. The fundamentals of successful leadership start here: Be honest, don’t lie, behave ethically and legally, keep your word, follow-through on commitments, be dependable. Get this wrong and it’s impossible to lead with trust.
  • Be other focused — To borrow Rick Warren’s opening line of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” Leadership is about other people, not about yourself. Leading with trust means you realize that leadership is about influencing and developing the people around you. You invest your time and energy in helping them succeed, and when that happens, you succeed. Self-focused leaders erode trust and lose the commitment and loyalty of their people.

Leading with trust is a lifelong journey that plays out in the simple, everyday interactions leaders have with their people. Through practice and refinement of these leadership fundamentals, leaders will enjoy successful, strong, and lasting relationships built on trust.

I’ll be exploring this topic in more detail when I co-host the #LeadFromWithin TweetChat with @LollyDaskal on Tuesday, April 24 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific/8:00 p.m. Eastern. Feel free to join me, Lolly, and hundreds of other leadership practioners and teachers as we discuss what it means to lead with trust.

The Fragility of Trust – Lessons from the Ryan Braun Story

Last Thursday, baseball All-Star Ryan Braun won his appeal of a positive drug test, but the truth remains clouded, trust has been broken, and he’s left with a tarnished image that may never be repaired.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Braun, the reigning National League MVP of the Milwaukee Brewers, tested positive last October for elevated levels of testosterone and was facing a 50-game suspension as a result. Braun had already filed an appeal when news of the failed drug test was leaked in December (results of failed drug tests are supposed to remain confidential until a player exhausts the appeals process, to avoid this very situation of unjustly tarnishing a person’s reputation). Last week an arbitrator ruled that Major League Baseball didn’t follow the strict specimen collection and handling procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement with the players union and Braun’s suspension was overturned.

In a press conference on Friday, Braun detailed how the specimen he provided on October 1 wasn’t delivered to a FedEx shipping facility until October 3. The specimen collector kept possession of the urine sample over the weekend under the belief the local FedEx offices were closed. MLB countered that the FedEx packaged arrived at the laboratory sealed three times with tamper-proof seals – one on the box, one on a plastic bag inside the box, and again on the vial that contained the urine sample. Braun and his supporters say that he is vindicated because MLB didn’t follow the rules, while skeptics counter that Braun got off on a procedural technicality.

This story highlights the fragile nature of trust. Even though the 28 year-old Braun has had a sterling reputation during his 5 year major league career – passing all previous drug tests, never involved in trouble off the field, a positive role model in the community, and by all accounts a stand-up, trustworthy person of good character – one accusation has cast doubt on his trustworthiness. As a leader I’m reminded that my actions are under a microscope and it only takes one instance of un-trustworthy behavior, or even behavior that has the potential to create the perception of un-trustworthiness, to cast doubt on my character.

In his press conference Braun said “We won because the truth is on my side.” “I tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that’s who I am and that’s how I’ve always lived my life,” he said. “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and I say I did it. By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life, I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that the substance never entered my body at any point.”

Is he telling the truth about never using performance enhancing drugs? We may never know the full story but one thing is certain. Braun’s trustworthiness has taken a hit and it’s going to require more than stellar play on the field to rebuild it.

Leadership Wisdom From The North Pole – An Interview With Santa Claus

After finishing his whirlwind trip around the globe delivering presents, I had the opportunity to sit down with Santa for a one-on-one interview. I was interested in gleaning some wisdom from one of the most legendary leaders of all time and what appears below is an excerpt from our time together.

Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be exhausted after your long night of work.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy! I’m not exhausted, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.

Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?

Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.

Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?

Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.

Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.

Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?

Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.

Me: Santa, I know you’re tired and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question. If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?

Santa: I would encourage leaders to remember the purpose of their position – to serve those they lead. Leaders set the vision and direction for their team, provide the necessary resources and training, and then look for ways to support their team members in achieving their goals. Successful leaders remember that the most important thing they have is their integrity and the trust they hold with their followers, and they continually look for ways to build and maintain trust with others. If they focus on that, they’ll be successful in the long run.

The Indelible Mark of a Trusted Leader – Do You Have It?

I recently met someone who had a tattoo of this Chinese symbol. When I asked her what it meant, she said that it represented “honesty.” As the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, I was immediately intrigued since honesty is a core component of trust. I did some research on this symbol and learned that it could represent several concepts including “trust” itself. Yet the formation of this character is a compound word that has the meaning of “a person’s word is to be believed.” I was struck by the clear implication for leaders – are you a person whose word is to be believed?

In order to be a leader whose word is believed, it’s necessary to be honest in your dealings with people. Some would say that it’s unrealistic to be honest in all situations. In fact, just recently I read an article on a well-known management website that advocated the top ten reasons to be dishonest in the workplace, most of which were rationalizations for self-centric, me-first egoism. Being honest and ethical is actually a self-esteem boost for a leader. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”

If asked if they were honest, most leaders would say “Yes, of course. I don’t tell lies.” Telling the truth is at the core of being honest, but it’s not the only behavior that people interpret as honesty. Sharing information openly, not coloring or hiding parts of the truth to fit an agenda, and delivering tough news with tact and diplomacy all go into someone forming a perception of you as an honest leader. In a recent survey conducted of over 800 people who attended our webinar, Four Leadership Behaviors That Build or Destroy Trust, 57% of respondents said that the most important behavior of a leader to build trust is acting with integrity; being honest in word and deed.

You can’t establish a relationship of trust without being honest. When you behave honestly, others are able to rely upon your consistency of character. Being reliable, consistent, and predictable in your behavior, decisions, and reactions to critical situations allows your followers to have a sense of security and confidence in your leadership. Being honest also helps the bottom line. Kenneth T. Derr, retired chairman of Chevron Corporation said “There’s no doubt in my mind that being ethical pays, because I know that, in our company, people who sleep well at night work better during the day.”

Honesty is like a behavioral tattoo, the indelible mark of a trusted leader. Do you have it?

(I published a similar version of this article in June 2011 on LeaderChat.org.)

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