Leading with Trust

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

Improving Your Value to Your Customers

The following is a guess post from Nat Greene based on lessons and concepts in his new book Stop Guessing.

stopguessingbookcoverAs a business leader, one of your key responsibilities is ensuring that your customers see huge value in your offering. In the hyper-competitive landscape of 21st century business, you have the difficult tax of constantly increasing your customer value. Many businesses focus primarily on reducing their cost to customers: if a customer gets the same product for less money, they see greater value in the investment. But merely driving down costs makes for a low-margin future, and strategically locks you in an ongoing price war with your competitors.

A far more effective–and enjoyable–path is seeking to improve the value of your product, so your customers are getting more for the same price. Doing this creates greater customer loyalty, improves your margins, and improves the satisfaction of your team, knowing that they’re better serving your customers rather than simply trying to be the lowest-cost provider.

You have certainly already put significant thought into this, and realized there are many different options by which you can attempt to improve your value to your customers. If you have spent time on search engines looking for ideas, you have likely found pithy lists or tips that will give you even more ideas to try out than you already had. But you have limited resources, and you know that what works well for some will not necessarily apply to your unique business and unique customers’ needs. How can you choose what’s most effective?

Learn How to Improve Customer Value

As for any problem you’re trying to solve, approaching the problem with the right behaviors will help you find the most effective solution for your unique situation. Rather than trying out different ideas that others have tried before, you need to understand your problem by observing it thoroughly and learning as much about it as possible.

To do this, get close to your customers. Don’t just ask them what they want from you: they are not likely to be able to conjure up in their minds what you can do for them. And that’s not their job: it’s yours. Understand how your product or service interacts with their business, and what changes would make the most impact to them. Approach this investigation by starting with the following questions:

  • How do they use your product?
  • What about their business are they trying to improve with your product?
  • What resources do they deploy by working with your product?
  • What do they have to do internally in order to work with your product?
  • What is their experience trying to acquire your product?
  • What is your customer’s biggest pain point that your product interacts with?

By understanding the answers to these questions–and more that arise during your investigation–you will be able to understand what you can change about your product that will most improve your value to your customers, and you’ll find yourself not only holding on to customers you may have been losing, but you may also find yourself at a higher price point.

Case In Point

One business I was working with made high-performance coatings for products like ships, jet planes, and equipment that underwent lots of stress, such as heat. In order to improve their cost competitiveness, they were planning on moving their operation from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, where labor costs were lower. The operation would have taken years and of course entailed significant capital costs to implement.

When they instead found out what was most important to their customers, price did not rise to the top. Instead, they found that the biggest stress to their customers was their own supply chain: these customers wanted to get their jets, ships, and heavy equipment out to their own customers reliably on time. Each of these manufacturers had to buy dozens of parts to assemble at their own facilities, and they felt constant stress that any late delivery would impact their own production timeline.

The coatings business decided to instead focus on perfecting its in-full on-time (IFOT) delivery performance. We worked together to solve logistics problems that caused some of their shipments to arrive late, and they were able to quickly boast the best IFOT in the industry. Their customers were thrilled, as they could be confident that at least the coatings part of their sourcing operation was something they never had to worry about. They stayed in Western Europe in order to keep their lead times low, and were even able to increase the price of their own products, without a grumble from their customers.


Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.

4 Steps to Avoid a Leadership Meltdown Like Uber’s Travis Kalanik

kid-having-meltdownThe last few weeks have not been kind to Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanik. Revelations by former employees of the company’s toxic and abusive culture, a highly publicized video of Kalanik arguing with and demeaning a Uber driver, and a New York Times article of Uber’s aggressive and unrestrained workplace, all led to Kalanik’s public apology for his role in fostering this culture and his pledge to seek “leadership help” to make things better.

He doesn’t need “leadership” help. He just needs help. Period.

Through the experiences of my own leadership journey and in my work helping people improve their leadership impact by developing trust in relationships, I’ve come to believe that leadership is an inside-out proposition. If you get things right on the inside, the outside takes care of itself. The inside things—our values, beliefs, motivations, and purpose—drive our outward behavior. Being clear on the inner aspect of leadership will keep our outward actions on track and help us avoid a leadership meltdown like the one Uber’s Travis Kalanik is currently experiencing.

Four Steps to Develop Inside-Out Leadership

  1. Know Your Core Values—Leadership is an influence process. As a leader you are trying to influence others to believe in certain things and act in specific ways. How can you do that if you aren’t clear on your own values? What drives your own behaviors? You have to be clear on that before you can expect to influence others…at least in a positive way. In the absence of clearly defined values, I believe people tend to default to the more base, self-centered values we all possess: self preservation, survival, ego, power, position. As an example, my core values are trust, authenticity, and respect. I look to those values to guide my interactions with others. Just as river banks channel and direct the flow of rushing water, so values direct our behaviors. What is a river without banks? A large puddle. Our leadership effectiveness is diffused without values to guide its efforts.
  2. Develop Awareness of Yourself & Others—The best leaders are acutely aware of their own personalities and behavioral patterns and the effect they have on others. Having self-awareness is good but it’s not enough. We also have to be able to self-regulate our default behaviors and learn how to dial them up or down depending on the needs of the situation. Effective leaders also develop awareness of the behavioral styles of those they lead, and they learn how to adjust their behaviors to meet the needs of others. Being a leader requires you to be a student of people and human behavior. You can’t be a bull in a china shop when it comes to human relationships and only rely on your default modes of behavior. It’s a leadership cop-out to use your personality as an excuse for bad behavior.
  3. Be Clear on Your Beliefs About What Motivates People—I believe most people want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. I believe they want to learn, grow, and be the best version of themselves they can possibly be. I believe they want recognition for a job well done and want to be rewarded appropriately. I believe everyone who works at a job wants to be fairly compensated, but at the end of the day, money is not their primary source of motivation or satisfaction in work. When people have dinner with their family after a day at work, I believe they want to talk about how their boss helped them become better that day, or about a new accomplishment they achieved. I believe people don’t leave their personal cares and concerns at home when they arrive to work, and they want to be valued as individuals with hopes and dreams, and not viewed as nameless or faceless drones showing up to do a job. That’s what I believe and it dictates how I relate to others as a leader. What do you believe about others? The answer is to take a look at how you behave. That will tell you what you believe and why it’s so important to get clear on this aspect of inside-out leadership.
  4. Live Out Your Leadership Purpose—My leadership purpose is to “Be a servant-leader and a model of God’s grace and truth.” Being a servant leader means I strive to be other-focused, putting the needs and interests of those I lead ahead of my own. It means I set the vision for my team (the “leadership” aspect) but then turn the pyramid upside-down (the “servant” part) to help my team members achieve the goal. Being a model of God’s grace and truth guides my behaviors with others. It drives me to give others the benefit of the doubt and forgive when mistakes are made. It also drives me to be truthful and honest with team members, delivering candid yet caring feedback or redirection when the situation warrants it. Hopefully through this example you can see the importance of having a leadership purpose. It’s the driving force of how you “show up” as a leader. If you find that your leadership is inconsistent, unfocused, or lacking impact, revisit (or establish) your leadership purpose.

Leadership is as much about who you are as it is what you do. But in order to do the right things, you first have to believe the right things. If you place a priority on developing your inner life as a leader, the outward actions will follow suit and you won’t have to worry about experiencing a leadership meltdown.

Building Rapport Shows Employees You Care – How to Get Started

rapportIf you’re a senior leader in your organization, chances are the vast majority of employees don’t view you as a real person.

Research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin shows employee perceptions of senior leaders are governed by mental models they form through incidental interactions with the leader, such as emails, videos, speeches, or other impersonal means of communication.

So what should you make of that? First, it should make you question the level of trust people have in you. Second, you should know that without trust it’s virtually impossible to influence and inspire your team to follow your lead. And third, it should prompt you to consider ways to build a more personal relationship with those you lead.

But where to start? Start at the beginning. Start with building rapport.

Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a friendly, harmonious relationship; especially a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”

Rapport is a fundamental component of having a connected relationship with someone, and the lack of personal connection is the reason people view their leaders as impersonal avatars. Research has shown the importance of warmth as a critical factor in building trust. Your team members are wanting to know that you care about them as individuals and not just nameless worker bees showing up to do a job.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant or charismatic you are as a leader; if your people don’t think you have their best interests in mind and truly care for them, they won’t give you their trust, loyalty, and best performance. Establishing rapport with someone creates an environment of warmth and safety which allows trust to blossom.

Building rapport isn’t rocket science but it takes an intentional effort. Here’s a few easy and practical ways to foster rapport with someone:

  • Remember and use their names
  • Learn something about their life outside of work
  • Share information about yourself; show some vulnerability
  • Strike up a conversation (about them, not you)
  • Identify mutual interests

When clients tell me their organization is suffering from a lack of trust between senior leaders and front-line employees, the first area I explore is the sense of connectedness between the two groups. Almost always the issue boils down to the front-liners not having any semblance of a personal connection to senior leaders.

It’s a predictable dilemma. The further up a leader moves in the organization, the wider her span of control becomes and the harder it is to have a personal relationship with each employee. However, through effective communication techniques, conveying a sense of authenticity by sharing information about yourself, and intentionally making the time and effort to connect with people as much as possible, you can develop rapport with your employees that leads to high trust and loyalty.

The Strategy Every Leader Can Use to Develop High-Performing Employees

man-flipchart-groupThe performance of your employees is a reflection of your leadership. What does your team’s performance say about you?

For many leaders, their team’s performance doesn’t say much. Gallup surveys show nearly 70% of the workforce is “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” These employees have quit and stayed—they show up for work but do the bare minimum to get by, don’t put in any extra effort to care for customers, and are a drain on organizational resources and productivity. According to Tolero Solutions, 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting work performance.

Two new research reports just published by The Ken Blanchard Companies point to strategies that learning and development leaders can use to improve the level of trust in their organizations.

Drawing on an 1,800-person survey, the study looked at the connections between coaching and trust behaviors and employee intentions to:

  1. Remain with an organization;
  2. Apply discretionary effort;
  3. Be a good organizational citizen;
  4. Perform work at high levels; and
  5. Endorse the organization as a good place to work.

Results of the survey show that trust in one’s leader has a large degree of correlation to the five intentions as a distinct unit.

The research also looked at the impact coaching behaviors had on trust. There was a strong relationship between trust and the coaching behaviors of facilitating, inspiring, and guiding—and it was found that individuals are more likely to trust their leader when they perceive the leader exhibiting these coaching behaviors.

Building trust with other people doesn’t just happen. It’s a skill that leaders need to develop just like any other leadership competency. If you want to have a team of high-performing employees who are engaged, loyal, and vocal supporters of your organization, focus on building trust. The results will speak for themselves.

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