We believe that leadership is an inside job; it’s a question of the heart. If you have the right character and intention, the right leadership actions will follow. You can’t “fake it ’till you make it” in leadership. People see right through the outward facade into the motivations of your heart.
The most persistent barrier to becoming a trusted servant leader is a heart guided by self-interest that looks at the world as a “give a little, take lot” proposition. Self-serving leaders put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are impacted by the leaders’ thoughts and actions.
The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is a change of heart. If leaders don’t get the heart right, they will never become servant leaders. A misguided heart will color their thinking, impact their behavior, and cause them to begin every day by asking “What’s in it for me today?”
Our friend and best-selling author Jon Gordon says, “You don’t have to be great to serve, but you do have to serve to be a great leader.” The key to being a successful leader is pretty simple when you get to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is the heart is the issue.
Is your heart motivated to serve others or to serve yourself?
Download this free eBook to get an excerpt of some of the simple truths we discuss, see the full table of contents, and learn more about the story behind why we wrote the book.
Leadership is a complex endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
We often tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and that’s true in the field of leadership. To prove my point, go to Amazon.com and search their book listings for the word “leadership” and see how many returns you get (but wait until you finish reading this article!).
What if I told you the key to being a successful leader was to make common sense common practice, and to do that, you need to remember and follow some important simple truths?
Ken Blanchard and I hold that belief and we’ve seen it proven throughout our careers. In our forthcoming book, Simple Truths of Leadership—52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust (February 1, 2022, Barrett-Kohler Publishers), we share a collection of simple truths that reflect common sense practices people can use to make their work and life—as well as the lives of the people they care about—happier and more satisfying.
Effective leadership is an inside job. It is a question of the heart. It’s all about a leader’s character and intention. Why are you leading? Is it to serve or to be served?
The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self-interest. Self-serving leaders put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are impacted by the leaders’ thoughts and actions.
The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is motivated by a change of heart. If leaders don’t get their heart right, they will never become servant leaders.
The following are two critical simple truths and suggestions on how to be a trusted servant leader.
Simple Truth—Servant leadership is the best way to achieve both great results and great relationships.
Organizational leaders often have an either/or attitude toward results and people. For example, leaders who focus only on results may have trouble creating great relationships with their people and leaders who focus mainly on relationships may have trouble getting desired results.
Yet you can get both great results and great relationships if you understand the two parts of servant leadership:
The leadership aspect focuses on vision, direction, and results—where you as a leader hope to take your people. Leaders should involve others in setting direction and determining desired results, but if people don’t know where they’re headed or what they’re meant to accomplish, the fault lies with the leader.
The servant aspect focuses on working side by side in relationship with your people. Once the vision and direction are clear, the leader’s role shifts to service—helping people accomplish the agreed-upon goals.
Making Common Sense Common Practice
This one-two punch of the aspects of servant leadership enables you to create both great results and great relationships:
Let your people know what they’re being asked to do by setting the vision and direction with their help. In other words, vision and direction, while the responsibility of the leader, is not a top-down process.
During implementation, assure your people you are there to serve, not to be served. Your responsibility is to help them accomplish their goals through training, feedback, listening, and communication.
Servant leadership is the vehicle to building trust. Servant leaders act in ways that inspire trust in their followers. They are distinguished by putting the needs of their followers ahead of their own.
When team members believe their leader has their best interests at heart and is there to support them in achieving their goals, trust in their leader grows by leaps and bounds.
Trust is an outcome. If we act in trustworthy ways, we build trust. If we behave in an untrustworthy manner, we erode trust. It’s common sense—but not always common practice.
Simple Truth—Leadership begins with trust.
Some leaders charge headlong into setting strategies and goals for their teams without giving much thought to building trust. Yet trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy relationship. When you have the trust of your team, all things are possible. Creativity, innovation, productivity, efficiency, and morale flourish. If your team doesn’t trust you, you get resistance, disengagement, apathy, and, ultimately, failure.
The most successful leaders realize their number one priority is to build trust with their team. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate competence in their roles, act with integrity, show care and concern for team members, and honor their commitments by following through on their promises.
Making Common Sense Common Practice
Does your team perceive you as trustworthy? If you’re not sure, ask them. Here are a few sample questions:
Do you have confidence in my leadership/management abilities? Where or how can I improve?
Do I walk my talk? Where can I be more consistent in my behavior?
How well do I listen to you? Do our interactions leave you feeling heard, valued, and supported?
Am I dependable? Do you trust that I’ll follow through on my commitments?
Demonstrating your vulnerability by having a discussion with your people about trust is a powerful way to introduce servant leadership in your workplace.
Leadership is complex but we don’t need to make it complicated. Following simple truths of leadership is the way to turn common sense into common practice. Keep it simple!
Many organizations are embracing hybrid teams (a mixture of onsite and remote employees) as a model of working in the post-COVID19 world. Hybrid teams are not new, but this model of working is new to many organizations and leaders.
I’ve been leading hybrid teams for 15 years, so I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned a lot over this time, mostly through trial and error. I thought I’d offer some straight-up, real talk about what it’s like to lead a hybrid team, so that you can learn from my experience and possibly avoid some of the mistakes I made.
Work From Home (WFH) and In-Office Schedules
Years ago, when I decided to allow team members to work from home a few days a week, I worked with my managers to create an elaborate schedule of the days team members would WFH and be in the office. We wanted to maintain at least 60% of our team in the office on any given day and we also wanted to limit people working from home on Monday or Friday (because, you know, those untrustworthy workers would use their Friday/Monday WFH day to make it a long weekend). To limit time out of the office, we had a policy that team members were to schedule personal appointments on their WFH days.
Life doesn’t happen according to our neat little plan. Legitimate circumstances would arise that caused a team member to shift their schedule – a sick child, a broken water pipe at home, or an impromptu meeting at the office that required the employee to come in on their normal WFH day. We quickly found ourselves spending more time and energy managing our team member’s whereabouts than the important work we needed to accomplish. I eventually decided to leave it to the employee’s discretion of when to WFH and when to be in the office. They came into the office when they needed to be there for meetings or to collaborate with others.
The first few years of leading a hybrid team, I had less than a handful of team members who worked remotely (full-time), while everyone else was in the office. Our team meetings would consist of everyone gathered around a conference table with a polycom in the middle, and the remote people joined in via conference call. Of course, the experience for the remote people was horrendous.
As my hybrid team grew and more people worked remotely, we started using Zoom for our team meetings. We were doing Zoom calls years before anyone had ever heard of Zoom (weren’t we progressive!). However, we still gathered everyone in the conference room, hooked a laptop to the LCD projector, and showed the remote people on screen. Of course, they were still connected via the horrendous polycom conference phone, so really the experience didn’t improve much for the remote folks. They were still second-class citizens when it came to team meetings.
We finally got smart and started holding our team meetings all-virtual. Everyone, including the entire team in the office, got on Zoom from their individual offices. Compared to our previous meeting formats, the experience was night and day better for everyone! All-virtual meetings level the playing field for everyone because each team member has equal opportunity to participate.
Make the implicit, explicit. That’s what I learned, and that’s what my colleague, John Hester, calls out as one of the key skills to leading a hybrid team. Document expectations so there isn’t any room for confusion. Everything from working hours, response times, technologies to be leveraged, backup plans, and communication norms should be clear, regularly communicated, and most of all, followed.
Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a hybrid team.
Foster a Connected Community
My friend, Michael Stallard, is an expert in this area. He emphasizes that a culture of connection meets the seven universal human needs at work for respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, meaning, and progress. I’ve found this to be true in leading hybrid teams. My managers and I found we had to work differently, and more intentionally, to foster relationships with team members. Team members themselves must be more intentional about being seen and heard when they aren’t in the office. Many leaders fall into the trap of proximity bias, which is giving preferential treatment to those in their immediate vicinity. Leaders need to be conscious of that bias, work to eliminate it, and employees need to know that it’s a factor that may impact their personal situation.
Hybrid Teams Are Different from Co-located Teams
In the early days of leading a hybrid team, I thought something was wrong because it didn’t feel the same as when everyone was in the office. I learned that nothing was wrong, it was just different. Hybrid teams “feel” different, both from the leader and team member perspective, than teams that have everyone physically located together. As mentioned previously, everyone needs to be more intentional to foster connected relationships in a hybrid team. Hybrid teams miss out on those chance hallway encounters, the lingering conversation after a meeting ends, or the chit-chat in the office lunch kitchen. You have to make up for those times by planning them into your online team meetings and specific events to build team camaraderie.
Face-to-face meetings are critically important for building relationships. I learned the importance of scheduling periodic meetings to bring the team together, usually for non-work, social activities. I would organize regular team lunches in the office and invite everyone to come in (free food always attracts a crowd!) or plan a cook-out at a team member’s house and then let them take the rest of the day off work. I leveraged yearly all-company meetings to bring the entire global team together, and the agenda for those meetings would be roughly 1/3rd work-focused and 2/3rd team-building focused.
There will be some team members who turn out to be ill-suited to work remotely. Some people have challenges staying focused and productive when working from home or don’t have the technical chops to effectively self-manage the technology required to be productive. I learned you have two choices: either require them to be in the office full-time (which often creates resentment because they feel they are being treated unfairly), or share them with your competition. Whichever route you choose, deal with it promptly. Don’t let it linger because it will eventually need to be dealt with, and it’s much easier for everyone involved if you act quickly.
Trust is the coin of the realm
Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a successful hybrid team. If you can’t trust an employee to do a good job when they WFH, then they probably shouldn’t be on your team. As a leader, you must take the risk of extending trust to your team, which is exactly what you did last year when you sent your team to WFH during the pandemic. Why would you want to pull back on that trust now by trying to run your hybrid team with an iron fist? Don’t do it.
I love leading and working in a hybrid team because it provides people the autonomy they need to do their jobs in the best possible way. I think most organizations have learned during the pandemic that there are tremendous upsides to remote work. Are there challenges? You bet. Are they manageable? Yes, they are.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water by returning to the old ways of work just because it’s familiar and comfortable. Hybrid teams work. Make them work for you.
The events of January 6th, 2021 in our nation’s capital starkly illustrate the results of self-serving leadership.
As I tweeted last night, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe the despicable acts that took place yesterday. I’m embarrassed and ashamed for our country, and totally disheartened that those who accepted the mantle of leadership for our nation have failed us so miserably.
Self-serving leadership looks like a president blatantly telling lies and perpetuating debunked conspiracy theories.
Self-serving leadership looks like a president shamelessly pandering to the base instincts of his followers in order to feed his ego and promote his own self-interests.
Self-serving leadership looks like a president publicly humiliating and denigrating his own team members.
Self-serving leadership looks like senators and congressmen and women vocally supporting their leader’s lies or remaining silent in the face of his atrocious behavior in order to protect their own political future.
Self-serving leadership looks like average citizens, people like you and me, who have grown complacent and accepting of the political circus we’ve allowed our government to become.
Self-serving leadership looks like citizens placing a higher priority on their own special interests—I’ve got rights!—ahead of the common good of our country.
Although self-serving leadership may seem successful in the short-term, it can never sustain itself in the long run. Ultimately, it will collapse upon itself because it’s built on a foundation of sand. As history has shown, at some point in time, people will band together to demand leaders who lead at a higher level.
Leading at a higher level looks like a leader being trustworthy.
Leading at a higher level looks like a leader putting the needs of their followers ahead of their own.
Leading at a higher level looks like a leader acting in a moral and ethical manner.
Leading at a higher level looks like a leader fostering unity, collaboration, and teamwork.
Leading at a higher level looks like a leader who displays humility and treats others with kindness and respect.
Leading at a higher level means viewing leadership as a calling, not just a job, title, or position of power. As a calling, leaders answer to a higher power and are held to a higher standard. It’s time for all of us to treat our leadership responsibility with the reverence and respect it deserves.
Judging the performance of a leader can be tricky. One person’s notion of a successful leader can be the polar opposite of another’s. It’s hard to agree upon a common definition of leadership, much less the definition of success.
Do you define a leader’s success as hitting the revenue goal? Is it the satisfaction scores from your customers? How about employee engagement statistics? Is that your primary measure of success? There’s no shortage of metrics that are used to judge a leader’s effectiveness, but most of them are backward-looking data points. How can you judge your success as a leader in real time?
Let me suggest a single question that can help you calibrate the effectiveness of your leadership at any moment in time:
Are my people better off because of my influence in their lives?
At its most fundamental level, leadership is an influence process. A leader is charged with influencing the attitude and actions of their team members. It doesn’t matter the setting, organization, or objective; a leader’s influence is received by their team members in either positive or negative ways.
How does your influence manifest itself in these common areas critical to leadership effectiveness?
Teamwork and Collaboration—Does your leadership result in team members working together cohesively and collaborating to achieve a common goal, or do team members compete to diminish the accomplishments of others, or worse, stab each other in the back?
Innovation and Creativity—Positive-influence leaders foster a culture of trust and psychological safety. They create an environment where team members feel safe to take risks, try something new, and use their best judgment to solve problems. Conversely, negative-influence leaders rule with fear and intimidation. They punish people for stepping out of line, or heaven forbid, using their brains at work.
Sustainable Performance and Results—Lest you think all this talk about positively influencing people is a bunch of touchy-feely nonsense, let’s talk about results. At the end of the day, leaders are out to help their teams accomplish specific objectives. Contrary to popular opinion, caring about results and caring about people are not mutually exclusive. Just about any bad leader can drive short-term results, but it’s the good leaders who are able to sustain performance and results over a long period of time. Does your leadership influence produce inconsistent, flash in the pan success, or does it result in steady achievement and growth?
Employee Growth and Advancement—Examining the employee lifecycle on your team is an insightful way to measure your influence. If you experience frequent turnover, morale problems, or employee grievances, that tells you something (hint…it’s not good). On the other hand, if team members leave because they’ve gained new skills, improved their performance, and are moving on to bigger and better opportunities, that tells you something else (hint…that’s good). One of the best testimonials to your influence as a leader is what former team members say about you. What’s the word on the street about your leadership?
Are my people better off because of my influence in their lives? It’s a sobering question, isn’t it? But it’s also a great one for assessing the quality of your leadership. What’s your answer to that question?
While teaching a class this past week on Building Trust, I found myself giving the participants this admonishment: “Just like anything in life, you’re going to get out of this what you put into it.”
I’m not quite sure where that came from, but I suspect it was the words of advice given to me over the years from my mother, teachers, coaches, and bosses. I imagine you’ve probably received, or given, that same advice before. It’s good advice because it’s true.
When it comes to trust, it’s especially true. You see, trust can’t begin to grow until someone first extends trust. That’s because there’s risk involved. Risk and trust go hand in hand. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust in order to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.
Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.
In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.
Leaders in all realms of society need to get back to leading with trust. We need to smartly, yet courageously, extend trust to our stakeholders with the positive expectation they will reward our trust by responding in kind. Trust begets trust. The Law of Reciprocity.
You’ve got to give it to get it. That’s the way it works with trust.
Death and taxes have traditionally been viewed as the two guarantees in life, but I think a third item has officially made the list: change.
The pace of change accelerates with each passing, day, month, and year. The exponential growth of technology has enabled new products, services, and businesses to rise to prominence in short order, and has caused others to become obsolete just as quickly.
Yet research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail, cost more, or take longer than expected. Leading people through change is not a natural-born talent for most people. It’s a skill that must be developed and practiced over time for leaders to become comfortable navigating the complexities of organizational change.
The one must-have ingredient of successful change efforts is trust. If the people in an organization don’t trust their leaders, they won’t buy-in to the change. They will question their motives, drag their feet, or actively work against the change. It’s critical that leaders foster a culture of trust before, during, and after a change effort if they want to have any chance of success.
Here are six specific steps leaders can take to build trust during organizational change:
Set realistic expectations – One of the primary ways trust is eroded is a failure to meet expectations. Leaders can easily over-promise the benefits of the proposed change effort, and when those benefits aren’t achieved, trust is broken. Once employees lose trust, it’s hard to regain it, which handicaps future change efforts. Set clear and realistic expectations and then work hard to hit those deliverables.
Address people’s concerns – Research from The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that people have predictable stages of concern when faced with a change. Leaders improve the chance of success if they proactively address those concerns, rather than finding themselves on their heels having to react to resistant employees. The first stage is information concerns. Your people need to know what the change is and why it’s needed. The second stage is personal concerns. Team members want to know how the change will impact them individually. Will I win or lose? What’s in it for me? Will there be new expectations of me? The third stage is implementation concerns. What do I do first? Second? Will the organization provide the necessary resources? Will I have enough time? Will there be new training involved? It’s critical for leaders to address these stages of concerns to alleviate fear and anxiety so their team can embrace the change effort.
Make it safe – Employees will not embrace taking risks or innovating in new ways if they are fearful of being punished, criticized, or looked down upon for making mistakes. Leaders have the responsibility to create an environment of psychological safety where people feel safe putting themselves on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility. People will embrace change more completely when they feel safe to express their true thoughts and feelings without fear of admonishment.
Share information liberally – Ken Blanchard is fond of saying, “People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.” Leaders can fall prey to not sharing information because they fear people won’t have the proper context to interpret what it means, or perhaps they feel that people may take information and act in irresponsible ways. The root of this fear is a lack of trust. The opposite of trust is control, so when leaders withhold information, they are showing a lack of trust by wanting to control what people know, when they know, and how they know it. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth, and more often than not, that version will be a more negative view of the truth than what it is in reality.
Admit when you don’t know – As a leader, admitting you don’t know something can be one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can use. It shows humility and honesty to admit you don’t have all the answers. It’s easy to let our egos get in the way and not want to appear incompetent or unable. Instead of spinning the truth, evading answers, or tap-dancing around difficult questions, admit you don’t know but commit to finding the answer. Your people will trust and respect your authenticity.
Involve others in planning and implementation – One of my favorite sayings is “Those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People take ownership over plans they create and implement. Successful change efforts are those that are done ‘with’ people, not ‘to’ people. Involve your team in planning and implementing the change effort and it will go much smoother than if you try to force it upon them.
Leading organizational change is tough work! In my viewpoint, the biggest difference between being a “leader” and a “manager” is that leaders initiate change. That responsibility comes with the challenge of being in the line of fire. You’re under the microscope and carry the weight of making the change effort a success. Rather than carrying all that weight alone, why not spread it out among your team? Get them involved, make it safe for them to participate, address their concerns, be honest and authentic in your dealings with them, and be the torchbearer for leading with trust.
Building and maintaining trust is an issue that most leaders agree is critically important, but few have a plan to achieve it. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success, yet just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. It reminds me of the old project management adage: people don’t plan to fail; they just fail to plan.
I’ve found that principle also applies in my work teaching leaders how to build trust in the workplace. Most leaders don’t plan to fail in building trust, they just fail to create a plan. I’ve observed three common assumptions leaders make that prevent them from building trust in a consistent and proactive way.
They assume trust “just happens. Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure trust just naturally develops over the course of time, and the longer you’re in relationship with someone, the greater the likelihood you’ll build a strong bond of trust. Well, if you believe that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. Trust doesn’t work that way. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors you use. If you use trustworthy behaviors, you’ll be trusted. If you use behaviors that erode trust, people won’t trust you. Building trust is a skill that can be learned and developed, and once you have those skills, you can be intentional about acting in ways that build trust with others.
They assume others view trust the same way they do. When I conduct training workshops on building trust, I often like to ask participants to draw a symbol or picture that represents trust. I’ve seen hundreds of representations of trust: wedding rings, a cross, a child holding a parent’s hand, a bank vault, and people shaking hands, just to name a few of the common ones. I conduct this activity because it illustrates the point I mentioned earlier: trust is based on perceptions. Everybody has their own view of what trust means, based on their unique personal experience. This varied understanding of trust reminds me of the classic movie, The Princess Bride. The character Vizzini uses the word “Inconceivable!” as an adjective to describe just about any situation, even if it doesn’t quite make sense. Finally, Inigo says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The same misunderstanding happens between leaders and their team members if they don’t share a common definition of trust.
They assume trust is only a “warm and fuzzy” concept. When you discuss building trust, many leaders jump to the conclusion that you’re talking about building warm and fuzzy relationships. You know, the “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya” kind of warm and fuzzy. Well, trust does have a relationship component, and it’s the interpersonal connection that often sparks the development of trust in the first place. However, trust also has a hard, bottom-line impact on organizations. The research is clear that high-trust organizations have lower turnover, higher employee engagement, and outperform low-trust organizations on practically every measurable metric. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pizza lunches, fancy off-site retreats, or ropes courses check the box for having a strategy of building trust in the workplace.
I’m sure you noticed I used the word “assume” in the three examples above; that was intentional. You’ve probably the heard the familiar warning about what happens when you assume, right? Well, when it comes to building trust, you don’t want to assume anything. Don’t assume trust just happens by chance. Have a defined plan for building and sustaining it. Don’t assume other people perceive trust the same way you do. Chances are they see it differently, and if you’re not on the same page as to what trust looks like in a relationship, your efforts in building trust will miss the mark. Finally, don’t assume trust is solely a “soft” relationship dynamic. Trust can literally make or break the success of your organization. To build trust, I’m reminded of another project management adage: plan your work and work your plan.
Everyone wants to be respected and valued. As long as you have a heartbeat and breath in your lungs, you will have the desire to be appreciated, honored, and trusted in your relationships with others. We all want to “save face.”
Saving face, the notion of preserving individual honor and dignity, is often associated with Asian cultures. Although having it’s cultural birth in China, saving face is a universal concept that transcends national culture. In her new book, Saving Face—How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust, Maya Hu-Chan examines face as a global concept that enables one to connect with people, break down barriers, and build trust and long-term relationships.
Face is important, says Hu-Chan, because it represents a person’s self-esteem, reputation, status, and dignity. She emphasizes that face is a form of social currency. The more face you have, the easier it is to accomplish things at work, the smoother your relationships, and the more social capital you have at your disposal.
Since saving face is human nature across cultures, generations, and genders, there are harmful consequences when it is lost or damaged. Losing face provokes shame, guilt, fear, vulnerability, and a wide range of negative emotions.
I find the concept of face to be interesting given its close connections to trust. Saving face is a means to building trust in relationships. In that regard, Hu-Chan suggests the BUILD model as a construct for developing and preserving face.
Benevolence & Accountability—I love the concept of benevolence because it’s at the heart of building trust. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others; it’s having another person’s best interests in mind. When people see that you care more about them than you do yourself, they are willing to be vulnerable with you and extend their trust to you. Accountability comes into the picture when you consider the two-way aspect of respect in a relationship. Face involves honoring each other. It encompasses acting in ways that preserve the dignity and respect of each party in the relationship, and for that to happen, each person must be accountable to the other. Face, like trust, requires reciprocity. Each person must give and receive it in order for it to grow.
Understanding—Hu-Chan shares that understanding is about putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing situations from their perspective. Being able to see multiple perspectives of a given situation or problem allows you to act in ways and make decisions that honor and respect the positions of others. This ability is especially critical in the twenty-first century. Technology and globalization has made our world much smaller, and many times the decisions we’re facing have an inordinate number of dynamics that must be considered. A leader’s best move is to be understanding and tap into the viewpoints of others.
Interacting—This element encompasses your interpersonal and communication skills. Written and verbal communication skills are important for leaders, and even more so is emotional intelligence. Leaders who save face are those who are self-aware of their own and others’ behaviors, and the impact those behaviors have on the relationship. They know how to self-regulate the behaviors they use in relationships because they understand how the other person will be impacted. Hu-Chan states that “interaction involves both the message and the method of conveying the message. It’s also about creating the context in which clear conversations can be had. And of course, the ability to interact effectively creates an environment where face is protected and strengthened.”
Learning—In order to build and preserve face, it’s important to be a lifelong learner. Face is not an outcome; it’s a way of being and relating to others. As such, you never stop learning how to improve your relationships. Hu-Chan offers four “P’s” about learning: passion, practice, persistence, and pattern recognition. Passion is pretty straight-forward. When you are excited about learning, it fuels the motivation to do so. Practice is putting in the work. It’s using what you’ve learned to become more skilled and proficient. Persistence is going the extra-mile. Inevitably you will encounter challenges that threaten to knock you off-track, but the most successful leaders are those who push through the barriers. Finally, pattern recognition. Once you’ve begun to master a particular skill or subject, you start to see connections and trends that others don’t see, which increases your level of contribution.
Delivery—This is putting all the elements of the BUILD model into practice. Being benevolent and accountable, understanding others’ perspectives, interacting effectively, and learning continuously are all well and good, but they don’t mean much if you don’t deliver and put those skills to use with your team. Delivery is about walking the talk.
One of my core values is respect. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of their socio-economic status, color of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that identifies us. Respect is at the root of saving face. It’s a way of relating to people in a way that increases the level of honor, dignity, and trust. How can you go wrong with that?
Coaching has become a ubiquitous term these days in the field of leadership. It can mean anything from giving advice, teaching, encouraging, training, mentoring, or even using a specific leadership style that incorporates a defined set of behaviors.
In her new book, Coach the Person, Not the Problem—A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry, Marcia Reynolds defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Although Reynolds clearly positions coaching as a distinct profession and process, the skills she shares applies not only to professional business coaches, but for everyday leaders as well.
Reynolds shares three keys that I believe are important for leaders to use to improve their ability to serve as effective coaches for their teams.
Build trust—No matter how talented you are as a coach or leader, people won’t be open to being influenced by you until they know you are trustworthy. Trust is required for someone to be willing to take the risk of opening up and sharing what’s on their heart and mind. A good place to start building trust is getting connected relationally. You do this by finding common ground with your team members. Get to know them on a personal level and not just as another employee showing up to do a job. Also, open the lines of communication. Extend trust to your team member by sharing information about yourself and hold whatever they share with you in confidence. Interpersonal trust is the foundation for being an effective coach.
Be a thinking partner—Reynolds stresses that coaching works best when the person being coached has some skills and knowledge to draw on, but they aren’t sure about the options, what to do first, or even the reasons behind their own uncertainty. As a thinking partner, your role is to help the team member process their own thoughts and feelings, not to give them advice or an answer. That requires you as the leader to step out of the role of being the expert, teacher, or fixer. A key word here is partner. When you provide coaching, you are focused on helping the team member use their own creativity and resources to move beyond their mental or emotional blocks and solve their own problems. A helpful way to be a thinking partner is through using the skills of reflective inquiry.
Reflective inquiry—As Reynolds points out, much of what passes as coaching today is a series of questions the coach is supposed to ask, rather than paying attention to the person being coached. In training classes, we are often given lists of common, open-ended questions that we’re encouraged to use when engaging a team member in a coaching conversation. We’re admonished not to stray from the script and instead focus on asking questions, which ultimately is more frustrating than helpful to the person being coached.
Instead, Reynolds says that coaching should be a process of inquiry, not a series of questions. The intent of inquiry is not to find answers, but to provoke critical thought. It helps the person being coached to discern gaps in their logic, evaluate their beliefs, and clarify their fears or expectations about the issue they’re facing. Reynolds says reflective inquiry is using reflective statements (recapping, labeling, using metaphors, identifying key or conflicting points, recognizing emotional shifts) plus questions (Is this true for you?) to provoke the person being coached into looking into their own thoughts. Not only does reflective inquiry help the person being coached view their issue from a higher and more helpful perspective, it frees the leader of the weight of feeling like they have to find the perfect question to ask.
The concept of reflective inquiry has shifted my perspective of what effective coaching looks like. Rather than solely focusing on asking open-ended questions, I can now see how reflecting back what the person has said to me, then pairing it with a thoughtful question that encourages deeper thinking, is a much more fulfilling experience for both of us. Ultimately, my job as a leader is to help my people develop to become the best version of themselves. I can’t do that by telling them what to do. They have to figure it out themselves, but I can coach them along the way. Using a reflective inquiry approach will make them, and me, more successful.
By this point in the MLB season in previous years, I would have attended a few Padres games at PETCO Park (one of the best ballparks to catch a game, IMHO) and watched several more on TV. Instead, in the coronavirus lockdown world in which we currently live, I’ve had to make do with watching replays of classic Padres games. Recently, it was game 3 of the 1984 National League championship series, when the Padres found themselves down 2 games to 0 to the Chicago Cubs in the best of five series. The Pads came roaring back to sweep the next 3 games from the Cubs and made their first World Series appearance…where they were promptly swept by the Detroit Tigers 4 games to none. Oh well.
I’ve also been getting my fix by watching classic baseball movies like Field of Dreams. For those unfamiliar with the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) is a struggling Iowa farmer, who one day while walking through his cornfield hears a voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” This mysterious encounter sets Ray off on a journey that ultimately leads to him plowing over his cornfield to build a ballpark, where his deceased father, with whom Ray had a fractious relationship, makes an otherworldly appearance as his younger self before he became Ray’s dad. The two men have a game of catch that symbolizes the inner healing Ray experiences as he reconciles his past with his father.
The American Film Institute rated the “if you build it, he will come” phrase #39 on the list of 100 most memorable American movie quotations. It’s become a reliable catchphrase for business leaders to whip out whenever they’re trying to sell the merits of an idea. “If we build it (the latest and greatest product or service offering), they (customers, investors, the adoring public, etc.) will come!” Much of the time it’s overly simplistic hype, but there are a few instances where the saying holds true. One such case is building trust.
For trust to be established in a relationship, someone must first extend it. Trust doesn’t just one day magically appear. It begins by one person extending it and the other person proving themselves trustworthy, which in turn engenders more trust between the parties. When the trustee proves him/herself trustworthy, the trustor becomes more willing to extend trust the next time. Around and around it goes, as one trustworthy encounter begets the next.
But how do you know a leader is worth trusting? What does a trustworthy leader look like? There are four primary characteristics that distinguish high-trust leaders. Trustworthy leaders are:
Able—They 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—Trustworthy 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.
As I said earlier, “if you build it, they will come” is a catchphrase often overused and without much substance. However, when it comes to trust, it’s true. If you build trust, your team will come, and that’s what it takes to turn your field of dreams into reality.
Have you given much thought to how you will be remembered as a leader after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed? If you’ve been fortunate enough to not be laid off or furloughed, you’ve probably spent the last several weeks just trying to keep your organization afloat. Meeting the needs of customers, your employees, and even figuring out how to deliver your product or service in this new environment has been consuming your time and attention. It’s understandable that you haven’t had much time for introspective thinking. However, I’d like to suggest that taking a little bit of time to think about the legacy you want to leave as a leader would be helpful in directing your leadership behavior today. Use these four questions to evaluate your leadership in recent weeks:
Am I walking the talk? This question forces you to evaluate your behavior in light of your personal values. Are your actions aligning with what you espouse to be most valuable to you? Would your team members describe your behavior as consistent and true with your character, or has the pressure of recent weeks forced you to behave in ways unlike yourself? Are your decisions in alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, and values? Your organization probably champions that “people are their most valuable asset” or that you operate with “integrity, trust, ethics” or something to that effect. Well, do you? I’m sure this crisis has afforded you plenty of opportunities to put your vision, mission, and values to the test. Are you walking the talk?
Am I treating people with kindness, empathy, and respect? When tensions are high and the heat is on, it’s easy to resort to authoritarian styles of leadership and just bowl people over without regard to their mental and emotional needs. This pandemic is wreaking havoc around the globe and people are being affected in ways that span the spectrum of personal impact. For some, sheltering in place has been a minor inconvenience. The worst of their problems is trying to find where they can buy toilet paper. For others, they’ve been infected with the virus, have loved ones who are sick, or maybe even suffered the tragedy of death in their families. For those more severely impacted, work has been the least of their worries. Are you treating people with sensitivity and kindness? Are you empathetic to how their world has been turned upside down? I’m not negating your feelings or the impact you’ve suffered as a result of COVID-19. However, as a leader, your job is to take care of your team members. Your needs must come second to theirs.
Am I leading with humble confidence? It may seem that humility and confidence are polar opposites. Actually, I think they are two sides of the same coin. Humble leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They know what they know, and they also know what they don’t know. Because of that self-awareness, they can confidently lead in their areas of expertise and are smart enough, and humble enough, to surround themselves with people who bring complementary skills and abilities. This pandemic has caused me to relearn the importance of holding my assumptions about the future lightly. None of us knows exactly how this pandemic will shape the future, and frankly, I’ve been turned off by prominent individuals who make such claims. Are you confidently leading with humility and admitting what you don’t know about the future, or are you trying to “fake until you make it” by acting as if you’ve got it all figured out?
Am I keeping it real, yet leading with faith and resilience? In recent days I’ve been reminded of the experiences of Admiral James Stockdale, the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. During his eight-year imprisonment from 1965-1973, Stockdale was tortured over 20 times, yet all the while he shouldered the responsibility of leading the other prisoners in captivity. He created covert systems of communication among the prisoners and devised a way to share secret intelligence information through handwritten letters to his wife. As recounted by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, Stockdale described the importance of balancing reality with resilience. He said, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Are you being open and transparent with your team about the harsh realities your organization is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, why? Your people are big boys and girls. They can handle the truth. If you are sharing the harsh reality, are you also conveying hope and optimism that the organization will persevere and do everything possible to not only survive the pandemic, but emerge stronger and better because of it?
Rather than assessing your leadership legacy when the COVID-19 pandemic is long gone in the rearview mirror of life, evaluate how you are leading right now by using these four questions. Are you walking the talk by living out your personal values and those of the organization? If not, how do you need to adjust? Will your people look back on this time and be able to say you treated them well? I’m a believer in the truth expressed by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Are you leading confidently, yet humbly aware of your limitations, and surrounding yourself with other capable leaders? And finally, are you keeping it real with your people, but communicating and demonstrating that faith and resilience will see you through this tough time? Don’t leave your leadership legacy to chance. Start living it now.