Leading with Trust

6 Ways Leaders Bully People Without Realizing It

Bullying at WorkIn the latest edition of Leaders Behaving Badly, the University of Maryland has placed multiple members of the men’s football team staff on administrative leave, including head coach DJ Durkin, while the school investigates their role in creating a toxic culture that contributed to the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair in June after a football workout.

The ESPN report cited these examples:

  • There is a coaching environment based on fear and intimidation. In one example, a player holding a meal while in a meeting had the meal slapped out of his hands in front of the team. At other times, small weights and other objects were thrown in the direction of players when Strength and Conditioning coach, Rick Court, was angry.
  • The belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common. In one example, a player whom coaches wanted to lose weight was forced to eat candy bars as he was made to watch teammates working out.
  • Extreme verbal abuse of players occurs often. Players are routinely the targets of obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock their masculinity when they are unable to complete a workout or weight lift, for example. One player was belittled verbally after passing out during a drill.
  • Coaches have endorsed unhealthy eating habits and used food punitively; for example, a player said he was forced to overeat or eat to the point of vomiting.

There is absolutely no room for that kind of behavior in sports, school, or the workplace. Leaders have to be held to a higher standard.

Bullying is not just verbal or physical intimidation of someone. Especially in the workplace, bullying can manifest itself in many subtle ways. Any behavior you use to intimidate, dominate, embarrass, harass, or purposely make someone feel inferior could be considered bullying.

Here are six subtle ways you may be acting like a workplace bully without even realizing it:

1. You are condescending—When you act in a condescending manner, whether it’s patronizing someone, being dismissive of a person’s contributions, or minimizing someone’s accomplishments in order to highlight yours, you are sending a message that you believe you are superior to the other person.

2. Wounding with sarcasm—I like sarcastic humor as much as the next guy, but there is a huge difference between sarcasm that highlights the irony of a situation and is self-deprecating, versus sarcasm that is intended to belittle and injure another person. Next time you’re ready to drop that witty, sarcastic joke, pause and consider if it will build up the other person or tear her down.

3. Being cliquish—Cliques aren’t only for high school. Unfortunately, many adults carry that same behavior into the workplace. Purposely excluding people from activities is a bullying behavior intended to send the message that “you’re not one of us” and “we’re better than you are.” Trusted leaders look for opportunities to include people so they feel valued and appreciated.

4. Thinking you know it all—Have you ever worked with a person who thinks she knows it all? How annoying is that?! Much like behaving in a condescending manner, acting like you are the all-knowing expert is a way to intimidate others to go along with your ideas or wishes. Just stop it! No one really believes you anyway.

5. Being passive-aggressive—Perhaps one of the most subtle forms of bullying and manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior poisons teams, departments, and organizations. A common trait of bullies is expressing aggression in order to intimidate another person. Passive-aggressive people are bullies who express aggression in indirect ways such as disguising hostility in jokes, stubbornness, procrastination, resentment, or giving just the minimum effort required. I perceive passive-aggressive people as double-agent bullies disguised as victims. Watch out for them!

6. Gossiping—Have you ever considered gossiping as a form of bullying? Probably not, but it easily could be considered bullying, and some experts even consider it a form of workplace violence because it’s intended to harm another individual or group. Why do people gossip? It’s to make themselves feel powerful. The gossiper believes she knows something that other people don’t and she uses that information as leverage to elevate herself above others.

Leaders are charged with bringing out the best in their people and I don’t understand how some leaders, particularly sports coaches, believe that bullying is an acceptable form of motivation. It’s not. It’s belittling, destructive, demeaning, dehumanizing, and does nothing but feed the power-hungry ego of the bullying leader.

If you’re a leader in the workplace, whether it’s in an office, factory, warehouse, construction site, or any other place, make sure you’re not being a bully without even realizing it. You’re better than that and your people deserve your best.

3 Words That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership

Hemingway Quote - Trust Someone“I trust you.”

When it comes to building trust in relationships, someone has to make the first move. One person has to be willing to step out, be a little vulnerable, and place trust in another person. Is it risky? Yes! Without risk there isn’t a need for trust.

So in a work setting, who makes the first move, the leader or the follower? Some would argue that trust has to be earned before it is given, so that places the responsibility on the follower to make the first move. The follower needs to demonstrate trustworthiness over a period of time through consistent behavior, and as time goes by, the leader extends more and more trust to the follower. Makes sense and is certainly valid.

I would argue it’s the leader’s responsibility to make the first move. It’s incumbent upon the leader to extend, build, and sustain trust with his/her followers. Why? It’s the leader’s job to create followership. It’s not the follower’s responsibility to create leadership. In order to create followership—influencing a group of people to work toward achieving the goals of the team, department, organization—trust is an absolute essential ingredient, and establishing, nurturing, and sustaining it has to be a top leadership priority.

When you make the first move and say “I trust you,” through word and deed, you accomplish the following:

  • You empower your people — Being trusted frees people to take responsibility and ownership of their work. Trust and control are opposites of each other. We don’t trust others because we want to remain in control, which results in over-supervising or micromanaging employees and crushing their initiative and motivation. Extending trust means letting go of control and transferring power to others.
  • You encourage innovation — When employees feel trusted they are more willing to take risks, explore new ideas, and look for creative solutions to problems. Conversely, employees that don’t feel trusted will do the minimum amount of work to get by and engage in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior to avoid catching heat from the boss.
  • You tap into discretionary effort — Trust is the lever that allows leaders to tap into the discretionary effort of their people. People who feel trusted will go the extra mile to do a good job because they don’t want to let down the boss or organization. Being trusted instills a sense of responsibility and pride in people and it fuels their efforts to succeed.
  • You free yourself to focus in other areas — What happens when you don’t trust your people? You end up doing all the work yourself. Leadership is about developing other people to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Does it take time? Yes. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Develop and build trust with your team so that you can spend time on the critical leadership tasks that are on your plate.

Let me make an important point—I’m not suggesting that leaders extend trust blindly. It’s foolish to give complete trust to someone who isn’t competent or hasn’t displayed the integrity to be trusted. I’m talking about extending appropriate levels of trust based on the unique requirements and conditions of the relationship. Leaders have to use sound judgement in regards to the amount of trust they extend and it usually begins with small amounts of trust and grows over time as the person proves to be trustworthy. But the point is, someone has to make the first move to extend trust in a relationship.

Leaders—It’s your move.

4 Signs You Are Over-Managing and Under-Leading

Magnifying GlassLeadership and management are separate disciplines yet there is a significant amount of overlap between the two. There are many times when leaders have to manage and managers have to lead.

However, in the work I’ve done with leaders and organizations over the years, as well as my own personal experience, I’ve noticed it’s much easier to gravitate toward management activities than it is leadership.

Why is that? The pressures of daily priorities, overwhelming to-do lists, fighting the unexpected fires that arise, and managing the minutiae of organizational life overtakes our focus. As a result, our leadership gets the short end of the deal. We neglect long-term planning, innovating for the future, and developing our team members for their next growth opportunity.

We can avoid letting our management responsibilities devour us if we keep an eye on where we place our time and attention. Here are four signs that may indicate you are over-managing and under-leading:

You focus more on holding people accountable to the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Rules are important; no doubt about it. Especially when it comes to issues of law and safety, we need to ensure rules are followed. However, you need to remember that rules and processes exist to bring life to a greater purpose. Your decision-making should be governed by fulfilling the spirit of the law, not the letter. It’s easy to fall back on enforcing rules and processes because it’s tangible and clear-cut. Achieving the spirit of the law often involves more abstract issues, multiple points of view, and difficult decision-making.

You value results ahead of people. Achieving results and valuing people are not mutually exclusive, yet one only needs to look at how leaders behave to discern their true beliefs. However you define results—revenue, margin, profit, customer satisfaction—those are the points on the scoreboard at the end of the game. But your people are the players on the field achieving those results. One has to come before the other. When results dominate your focus, you stop viewing people as human beings and start looking at them as soulless human resources that are tools to be used to achieve your goals.

You spend more time helping people get comfortable with change instead of challenging them to rise to the occasion. Too often we tend to baby employees through change instead of equipping them with skills to be more resilient and adaptable. Change is a constant in organizations and we mistakenly think we can make it easy for employees by selling them on the benefits of the change, making it more palatable, crafting the perfect communication plan, and implementing the perfect roll-out plan. This results in leaders shouldering the responsibility for the change effort and it creates a culture of learned helplessness among employees.

You devote more energy to managing the status quo instead of innovating for the future. I believe the single biggest difference between managers and leaders is that leaders proactively initiate change to improve the organization, whereas managers deal with change on a reactive basis. Leaders display a desire to consistently make things better. They aren’t content to maintain the status quo just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here.” Leaders frequently question the way their business operates, with an eye toward making things simpler, better, easier, or more efficient. When was the last time you asked questions like: Why are we doing it this way? What would happen if we stopped doing that? How can we simplify this process?

Regardless of whether your formal position or job title classifies you as a leader or manager, it’s your mindset, and the resulting behaviors, that identify you as one or the other. Managing is often tangible and task-oriented, and checking items off our to-do list makes us feel good. Leadership can be more complex, ambiguous, and the results of our labor aren’t always immediately evident. If we aren’t careful, the whirlwind of organizational life will cause us to drift toward managing instead of leading, and that doesn’t serve ourselves, our people, or our organizations.

6 Strategies for Dealing With Those Who Resist Your Leadership

Leadership can be a pretty enjoyable gig when your team is 100% behind you. It seems like every decision you make turns out to the be the right one, morale is high, people are engaged and productive, and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

It’s a different story, though, when you’re trying to lead people who don’t want to follow. Work slows down, decisions are questioned, and people get disgruntled. Leading in this kind of environment can be arduous, painful, and a test of your patience and commitment.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s imperative you proactively address the situation in positive and constructive ways. It likely won’t resolve itself on its own, and if left unattended, will severely hinder the performance of your team and cripple your leadership effectiveness. Here are six practical strategies you can employ:

1. Make sure the goal and expectations are clear—Just because you’ve shared a PowerPoint presentation of your strategic plan a few times doesn’t mean people are clear on how it specifically applies to them on an individual basis. What appears as resistance to your leadership may be a lack of clarity. People who are clear on what’s expected can make a decision on whether or not to get on board, and it makes your job as a leader easier to evaluate their performance.

2. Determine if it’s a can’t do or won’t do problem – It’s important to understand the difference between can’t do and won’t do performance. Can’t do performance is due to a person not having the skills, training, or ability to follow your leadership. Those individuals need direction, support, training, tools, and resources to help them perform. Won’t do performance is an attitude or commitment issue. These individuals have the skills and abilities to follow your leadership, but for whatever reason they are choosing not to get on board. It’s important to know the difference because you need to deal with them in different ways.

3. Engage with a few resistors who carry great influence—It’s important to understand the perspective of those who are resistant to your leadership. Actively engage a few key resistors to understand their point of view and to encourage them to get on board. If you can win them over, they can use their influence to positively influence their peers. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Spending too much time trying to convert the non-believers can distract from moving forward with those already in your camp. See the next point.

4. Focus on creating positive momentum—Nothing creates a positive team culture like winning. We see it in athletic teams all the time. Winning seems to cure all ills, and if you can create positive momentum with your team, it will spread positive morale and silence the doubters.

5. Incorporate the team’s input as much as possible—People will be more likely to follow your leadership if they have a hand in shaping the plan. I love the saying that goes “people who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People will own what they create, and the more you’re able to foster a sense of ownership among your people the more they’ll be inclined to follow your direction.

6. Be willing to make a necessary ending—There will be some individuals who won’t ever follow your leadership no matter what you do. For those people you may need to consider a necessary ending, a concept I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud. Leaders should do all they can to help team members to succeed, and when those efforts don’t improve the situation, it may be time to part ways.

Trying to lead people who won’t follow is a tremendous challenge. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, yet following these strategies can help you navigate the situation. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions you have for tackling this issue.

3 Steps to Overcome the Stress of Too Many Priorities

overwhelmed-350x350Do you feel like you have too many priorities to accomplish at work? Yeah, me too. It seems to be all the rage these days, although I think most of us would rather not be part of this popular cultural trend. Most professionals I speak with struggle with the same sort of issues: the rapid pace of change, tight organizational budgets that force us to do more with less, and trying to encourage the growth and development of our team members in flat organizations with limited mobility.

I’ve had seasons during my career where I’ve let myself become overwhelmed with too many priorities and I’ve found myself in fire-fighting mode. Fortunately, through experience I’ve learned how to get myself back on track. If you currently find yourself stressed-out because you’ve been cast adrift in a sea of too many priorities, follow these three steps to get back on course:

Acknowledge you’re not serving yourself or your team—It took me awhile to recognize this truth. I kept expecting the white water of change to smooth out at some point, and when that happened, I’d be able to refocus and feel more in control of my efforts. News Flash—change isn’t going to stop! The constant pace of change makes it even more important to be crystal clear on your top priorities. Having a fewclear priorities gives you the flexibility to deal with new ones as they arise without causing you to drown in a sea of work. You, and your team, deserves your full attention and focus. Taking on too much dilutes your leadership effectiveness.

Assess where to focus your energy—We need to focus our leadership on the most important areas that will have the greatest impact on our teams and organizations. Looking at importance and impact through the lens of a 2 x 2 grid can help us decide which priorities deserve our focus.

Obviously, our primary focus should be on those initiatives that are of the highest importance and carry the most impact. A prerequisite is to first determine what important and impact means for your particular situation. Your definition of important and impact will likely differ from mine depending on the needs of your team or organization. But whatever activities qualify for this quadrant, that’s your sweet spot. That’s where you add the most value as a leader.

The opposing quadrant, low importance/low impact, are activities you need to discard or delegate. Those are the projects that don’t warrant your time and attention. Getting rid of these activities can be challenging. They may be something you personally enjoy doing, are impact-vs-importancefun, and may have even served an important purpose at one time. If these activities still carry a modicum of importance and impact, delegate them to someone who can make them his/her primary focus. If not, jettison them. They’re holding you back.

The toughest ones to figure out are the other two quadrants: high impact/low importance and high importance/low impact. These require analysis and decision-making. If the activity provides a high level of impact, but isn’t that important, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. To help you make a decision, estimate the return on investment if you devote your energy to this activity. If the ROI is there (the impact makes it worth doing), delegate it to someone who can make it a primary focus. If the ROI isn’t there, discard it.

If an activity is important but carries low impact, it’s likely something that isn’t urgent but needs attention at some point in time. Prioritize these activities, get them scheduled out, and/or assign them to someone else to manage. These activities are important, but you have to keep your primary focus on those activities that are of higher importance and carry greater impact.

Act—This is the final step. Using the criteria above, you have to take action and make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. You may have to give up some pet projects in lieu of other initiatives that warrant more of your leadership focus. It may also involve some uncomfortable changes for your team members. Perhaps you may need to realign reporting lines or restructure your team to help you, and them, focus on the most important and impactful areas of the business. This isn’t a one and done process. You’ll need to periodically reassess your priorities and make necessary adjustments.

Feel free to leave a comment with your reactions or additional thoughts on how you handle the challenge of focusing your energies on the activities that drive the most value.

The Leadership Superpower That Builds Trust and Connection

If you could have any superpower in the world that would help you be a better leader, what would it be?

Mind-control could be a good choice. Manipulating people’s minds to make them do what you want would certainly make your job easier. Or how about super-intelligence? If you were the smartest person in the room, you could shortcut all the inane problem-solving discussion and just tell everyone the answer. That would definitely improve productivity, wouldn’t it? Or maybe you’d like an out-of-this-world dose of charisma that would allow you to inspire your followers to charge through a brick wall to achieve the vision you laid before them. All of those abilities sound wonderful, but we know that superpowers don’t exist, right?

Well, according to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., we all have a very specific superpower, but most of us fail to recognize it as such. What is this leadership superpower? It’s your social skills.

What? Social skills are a leadership superpower? Are you kidding me?

Nope, I’m not kidding. And I believe it, too. In 22 years of working for The Ken Blanchard Companies, I can tell you that one of the top reasons organizations bring us in to work with their leaders is because they don’t have the social skills needed to lead others. To illustrate, let me ask you a question: Who is it that usually gets promoted to a leadership role? The star performer, of course. Well, just because someone is a superstar as an individual contributor, doesn’t mean she will be a superstar leader. Leadership is a whole different ballgame where success or failure usually hinges on a person’s social skills.

In particular, your social skills are critical to creating stronger bonds of relational connection that results in higher levels of trust with others.

There is an epidemic of loneliness in America, and our workplaces are in dire need of greater relational connection. My friend Mike Stallard, is an author, speaker, and expert on human connection in corporate cultures and how it affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He recently wrote about this challenge and the benefits organizations can achieve if they improve human connection. Stallard points out that stronger bonds of human connection in the workplace boosts the cognitive firepower of employees, increases employee engagement, tightens strategic alignment, improves decision-making quality and boosts the rate of innovation.

Connection not only addresses the problems of loneliness and its ill effects, it also builds trust. In fact, connection is one of the four key elements of trust in a relationship.

Connection is about caring for others. When people see that you act with goodwill, that you have their best interests in mind, they are more apt to trust you. They trust your intentions because they believe you won’t do anything to intentionally try to harm them. Connection also builds trust through open communication. Sharing information about yourself and the organization shows people that you don’t have any hidden agendas. People see that you don’t use information as power, and you don’t withhold it in an attempt to retain power over them. You can also build connection through rapport. In Stallard’s article, he cites the example of a Costco manager who builds rapport by making it a point to remember the names and something memorable about all 280 of his employees.

Trust is important because it’s the magic ingredient of organizational success. It acts as both the lubrication that keeps organization’s running smoothly as well as the glue that holds it all together. Research has repeatedly shown that high levels of trust in organizations lead to higher revenues, profit, innovation, engagement, and lower costs related to turnover, accidents, sick-leave, and employee theft.

So forget about wishing for the superpowers of mind-control, super-intelligence, or hyper-charisma. You’ve already got a superpower and didn’t even realize it. Now it’s time to put it to work.

The 3 Ingredients of Great Performance Management

My wife is a big fan of TV cooking shows. You name it, she likes to watch it: IronChef, TopChef, Great American Food Truck, and MasterChef, just to name a few.

While recently watching an episode of MasterChef Junior, the show featuring young children displaying their culinary talents in competition with each other, I was struck by how the show illustrates the three fundamentals of effective performance management: goal setting, coaching, and evaluation.

Goal Setting

The young chefs are presented with various challenges that test their culinary expertise. The challenges are all unique. One may require the contestants to create an exact replica of a dish made by an adult chef, or another may be to create a dessert using a few specific ingredients, or yet another may be to create their own signature dish that follows a certain theme. Regardless of the unique challenge, the goal is clear. All good performance starts with clear goals. When goals are fuzzy or non-existent, energy is diffused and productivity suffers. But when goals are clearly defined, people’s focus is sharp, effort is purposefully directed, and productivity accelerates.

Gordon Ramsay Setting a Clear Goal on How to Cook Filet Mignon

Coaching

Once clear goals have been established, the second fundamental of effective performance management is day to day coaching. People need direction, support, and feedback in real-time to help them address competency gaps, make course corrections, or consider alternative approaches. In MasterChef Junior, this is illustrated when the judges connect with each of the chefs during the preparation of their dishes. They ask questions that get the youngsters thinking about the vision and strategy of their meal, or the judges will give advice if they notice something is not up to par, or they’ll offer warnings of things to pay attention to or avoid. The goal of coaching is to help the individual produce the best outcome possible.

MasterChef Judges Coaching a Contestant

Evaluation

Dumping the once a year formal performance evaluation is all the rage right now. What gets lost sometimes in this popular trend is the need remains to do some sort of performance evaluation with your employees. The timing, frequency, and format of the evaluation may change, but evaluation is still a critical component of the performance management process. It allows both the leader and employee to assess the effectiveness of the employee’s efforts, what worked well, and what could be done better. In MasterChef Junior, the judges offer each contestant a critique of their dish. I’m surprised, yet pleased to see, the candid nature of the judges’ comments. Rather than falling into the trap of over-praising effort to the neglect of constructive criticism, the judges deliver feedback in a factual, straightforward manner. The young chefs know clearly what they did well, where they came up short, and how they can get better in the future. Isn’t that how it should be in our workplaces?

Example of MasterChef Junior Performance Evaluation

Life at work doesn’t fall into the neat, 1-hour, edited format of a TV show, but the principles of effective performance management we see in MasterChef Junior are still valid. Good performance starts with clear goals that enable individuals to understand what they’re trying to achieve. Good leaders provide real-time coaching on an as-need basis to help employees stay on course, get back on course if they’ve strayed, or to consider ways to improve their performance along the way. And finally, once the goal or project has been completed, the leader and employee review the performance and celebrate things done well, and if needed, discuss how to improve performance in the future.

This post was originally published on LeaderChat.org and I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Do Your Leaders Build or Erode Trust? #infographic

Trust is the absolute, without a doubt, most important ingredient for a successful relationship, especially for leaders. Unfortunately, though, most leaders don’t give much thought to trust until it’s been broken, and that’s the worst time to realize its importance.

According to a study by Tolero Solutions, 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting work performance. A 2015 study titled Building Workplace Trust reported that only 40% of employees have a high level of trust in their management and organization, and 25% reported lower levels of trust in those two groups than they did two years before.

Many leaders think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. These people often understand trust is important, but they don’t know what it takes to have their people perceive them as being trustworthy. There are four elements of trust in a relationship. Leaders demonstrate their trustworthiness when they are:

Able—Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.

Believable—Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

Trust enables cooperation, encourages information sharing, and increases openness and mutual acceptance. It creates a culture of safety that leads to greater innovation and appropriate risk-taking. Trust also paves the way for unleashing employee engagement. A 2016 study we conducted showed leader trustworthiness is highly correlated to the five key intentions that drive employee work passion: discretionary effort, intent to perform, intent to endorse, intent to remain, and organizational citizenship.

Building trust is a skill that can be developed. You can learn how to become more trustworthy by being able, believable, connected, and dependable in your relationships, and therefore more trusted by your employees. Trust doesn’t happen by accident. YOU make it happen.

3 Proven Strategies for Leading Virtual Teams

Virtual Team CloudIn 1997 I asked my boss to consider allowing me to telecommute on a part-time basis. My proposal went down in flames. Although the company already had field-based people who telecommuted full-time, and my boss herself worked from home on a regular basis, the prevailing mindset was work was someplace you went, not something you did.

Fast forward a few years to the early-2000’s and I’m supervising team members who worked remotely full-time. The exodus continued for a few years and by the mid-2000’s nearly half my team worked virtually. A little more than 20 years after I submitted my telecommuting proposal, the world has become a smaller place. My organization has associates in Canada, the U.K., Singapore, France, and scores of colleagues work out of home offices around the globe.

My experience mirrors the reality of many leaders today. Managing teams with virtual workers is commonplace and will likely increase as technology becomes ever more ubiquitous in our lives. Here are three specific strategies I’ve adopted over the years in leading a virtual team:

Establish the profile of a successful virtual worker – Not everyone is cut out to be a successful virtual worker. It takes discipline, maturity, good time management skills, technical proficiency (you’re often your own tech support), and a successful track record of performance in the particular role. I’ve always considered working remotely a privilege, not a right, and the privilege has to be earned. You have to have a high level of trust in your virtual workers and they should be reliable and dependable performers who honor their commitments and do good quality work.

Have explicit expectations – There needs to be a clear understanding about the expectations of working virtually. For example, my team has norms around the use of Instant Messenger, forwarding office phone extensions to home/cell lines, using webcams for meetings, frequency of updating voicemail greetings, email response time, and out-of-office protocols just to name a few. Virtual team members generally enjoy greater freedom and autonomy than their office-bound counterparts, and for anyone who has worked remotely can attest, are often more productive and work longer hours in exchange. A downside is virtual workers can suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” so it’s important they work extra hard to be visible and active within the team.

Understand and manage the unique dynamics of a virtual team – Virtual teams add a few wrinkles to your job as a leader and a specific one is communication. It’s important to ramp up the frequency of communication and leverage all the tools at your disposal: email, phone, webcam, instant messenger, and others. It’s helpful to set, and keep, regular meeting times with virtual team members.

One of the biggest challenges in managing a virtual team is fostering a sense of connection. They aren’t privy to the hallway conversations where valuable information about the organization is often shared, and they miss out on those random encounters with other team members where personal relationships are built.

Team building activities also look a little different with a virtual team. Potluck lunches work great for the office staff, but can feel exclusionary to remote workers. Don’t stop doing events for the office staff for fear of leaving out virtual team members, but look for other ways to foster team unity with remote workers. For example, when we’ve had office holiday dinners and a Christmas gift exchange, remote team members will participate in the gift exchange and we’ll send them a gift card to a restaurant of their choice.

For many jobs, work is no longer a place we go to but something we do, from any place at any time. Virtual teams aren’t necessarily better or worse than on-site teams, but they do have different dynamics that need to be accounted for and managed, expectations need to be clear, and you need to make sure the virtual worker is set up for success.

3 Things About Leadership I Learned From a 1 Hour Conversation With President Obama

This past Monday I had the great fortune of sitting in on a conversation with former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Before I sound too prideful or self-aggrandizing, let me clarify something. I was in a room with 10,000 of my not-so-closest friends, and I wasn’t actually involved in the discussion, per se. I attended the Association for Talent Development 2018 Conference and Barack Obama was the opening keynote speaker. He engaged in a conversation with Tony Bingham, the CEO of ATD, and I got to listen in. But still, the former president was relaxed, open, and made all the attendees feel like they were part of the discussion.

The conversation was wide-ranging, covering the importance of values, inclusion, learning, diversity of perspectives, and many other topics relevant to leaders today. President Obama made three points that really caught my attention:

  1. Have high expectations for your people—In his first presidential campaign, Obama’s organization was hugely successful in leveraging the talents of young people in their early to mid-20’s. The former president reflected on how they challenged these young folks to rise to the occasion, even though many of them had not yet had significant job responsibilities. The Obama campaign enlisted their support, trained them, and trusted them to do good work, and the vast majority of the time they delivered. In my experience, I’ve found it’s common for leaders to under-challenge their teams. We talk a good game about setting BHAG’s—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals—but most of the time the goals we establish are pretty modest and achievable. I was inspired to set goals that challenge my team to not only stretch, but extend themselves out of their comfort zones.
  2. Call on the outer circle—In perhaps my favorite story, Obama shared a leadership practice he developed some time during his first term in office. When the President meets with the Cabinet, seated around the table are all the heads of the various federal departments and any other senior advisers the president wants in attendance. Seated behind all the principals at the table are their respective staff members, each bearing stacks of papers, briefing books, and any other relevant reports or data needed for the meeting. President Obama routinely observed all the principals being fed information from their staffers, so he decided to start randomly calling on the “outer circle” to solicit their opinions. He said it was surprising and awkward at first, primarily for those staffers put on the spot, but he continued with the practice because it brought diverse ideas and perspectives to the discussion. This story served as a good reminder about the importance of hearing and understanding points of view different from my own. How are you doing in this regard? Are you soliciting input from the outer circle, especially people who may see things differently than you, or do you only seek the input of those who you know will agree with you?
  3. Focus on what you want to accomplish, not a position or title—A recurring theme of President Obama’s talk was being of service. He encouraged everyone to focus on the impact they want to make in their work, and not be overly focused on a particular title or role. The titles and accolades will usually come, but only after we’ve made our impact seen and known. Although he didn’t use the words servant leadership, that’s exactly what Obama described. Servant leaders put the needs of others ahead of their own and they look for ways to be of service. Being of service does not equate to being a passive or milquetoast leader. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Servant leaders see a need and take action to meet it. Servant leaders are proactive and future-focused, and they look to make the world a better place as a result of their efforts. Our culture encourages us to glory in praise, titles, and fame, but the true leaders in life are those who look to serve others as a way to fulfill their greater purpose in life.

Most of us will never achieve a position remotely as influential as President of the United States. But all of us, regardless of our station in life, can apply these three common-sense principles of effective leadership to make a small dent in our corner of the universe.

Quit Babying Employees Through Change and Do This Instead

Hey leaders, let me ask you a question: Do you ever feel like the burden of successfully implementing an organizational change rests squarely on your shoulders? I know that I have frequently felt that way and I’m sure you have too.

Tell me if this sounds like your typical to-do list when leading a change effort:

  • Build the most persuasive business case to convince people of the need for change
  • Craft the perfect communication plan to address every possible question
  • Patiently address every concern with empathy so people “feel good” about the change
  • Make the change as easy as possible so people aren’t disrupted too much
  • Control the pace of change so people don’t have to change too much too fast

Notice the similarity in all those items? You, the leader, is responsible for everything related to the change effort. No wonder you feel exhausted.

These are all important items that need to be addressed when implementing change. However, the result of the leader assuming responsibility for convincing employees to change, getting their buy-in, and making change as easy as possible actually creates learned helplessness among employees. Leaders babying employees through change denies them the personal growth of developing resiliency and readiness to change.

In her book No Ego—How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, Cy Wakeman offers two commonly held beliefs about change that actually force leaders to shoulder all the burden and rob employees of personal responsibility in adapting to the change.

Myth #1: Change is Hard—Wakeman says that leaders who believe this tend to over-manage and under-lead. If the goal is to make change easier and more palatable for people, then leaders end up shouldering all the burden for the success of the change initiative (see the to-do list above). This creates a culture of learned helplessness, and when employees figure change isn’t their responsibility, they fail to develop resiliency and readiness for what’s next.

Myth #2: We Can’t Handle So Much Change—The marketplace never stops changing, Wakeman points out, and it’s indifferent to people feeling uncomfortable or disturbed. Resistance to change usually comes from those who find themselves unready and they fear being exposed. Instead of asking “How can we make this change easier for you?,” leaders should be asking “How can we build your skills to be better at change?” Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary, and neutral. They coach people through a process of incremental growth to build their skill at being ready for change.

So the next time you’re faced with leading a change effort, question your long-held beliefs about how you should lead. Your efforts to make change easier for employees, or to slow down the pace of change, may actually make the change effort more difficult. Instead, teach your employees how to exhibit self-leadership and take responsibility for developing their own readiness for change.

The Leader is the Topic of Dinner Conversation – What is Your Team Saying About You?

As a leader, have you ever considered that you are often the topic of dinner conversations of your employees?

Think about it for a second in relation to your own life. How often do you find yourself talking to your spouse or family members over a meal about things that happened at work and how your boss treated you? It happens quite a bit, doesn’t it? So why wouldn’t your employees be doing the same thing in relation to you?

Viewing the impact of your leadership through the eyes of how your employees describe their workday can profoundly shape your leadership style and practices.

When your team members have dinner with their families, are they talking about:

  • How you micromanaged them to the point where they question their own competence and believe you must think they are idiots?
  • The only time you interact with them is when you find fault with something or have negative feedback to deliver?
  • How you only care about yourself and impressing your own boss?
  • You not having a clue about their jobs because you never took the time to learn what they do?
  • How untrustworthy you are because you frequently break your commitments?

Or does the dinner conversation of your team members center around:

  • How good you made them feel when you praised them for a job well done?
  • The faith you showed in them by giving them a challenging new project?
  • How you built trust by admitting your mistake in front of the team and apologizing for your behavior?
  • How you went to bat for your team by advocating for their needs with senior leadership?
  • The great example you set by jumping in to help the team meet a critical deadline?

I’m not suggesting the goal of your leadership style should be to make your employees your best buddies or send them home with warm fuzzies at night because you’re such a nice guy. We all know leadership is a tough gig. It’s not unicorns and rainbows every day.

What I am suggesting, however, is to view the ultimate impact of your leadership through the eyes of your employees. Start with the end in mind. What is the legacy you want to leave? What do you want team members saying about the impact of your leadership long after you no longer work together?

You know your team members will be talking about you over dinner. What do you want them to say?

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