Leading with Trust

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?

Failing to Take These 10 Actions Will Sink You As a Leader

Enjoy this guest post from Scott Mautz:

As a leader, you don’t want to be defined by the things you didn’t do.

It’s hard enough to get right what you are acting on, let alone worry about what you’ve missed. But there’s no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacks who will take pot shots at you for the plays you didn’t run.

So, here’s the rest of the playbook.

Take action on these painful omissions:

  1. Failure to decide—Indecision can paralyze an organization. It can create doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Multiple options linger, sapping an organization’s energy and killing a sense of completion. Timelines stretch while costs skyrocket. And as we vacillate competition can eat our lunch. Choosing not to decide is a choice, with consequences.
  2. Failure to resolve conflict in a timely fashion—Debate is a healthy and necessary component of everyday business. Sometimes debate can grow uncomfortable, which is OK if respect is maintained, and transparency is prevalent. It’s when the leader allows the debate to devolve to lingering conflict that trouble arises. Ill will can quickly build, reality can be distorted as both sides spiral into an “us vs. them” mentality, and inefficiency and stress surges. So, cut off disrespectful behavior. Deflate, not elevate, overly emotional behavior and channel unproductive passion into high-energy, team-oriented solutions. Asking the troops to “work it out” is a cop out; sometimes you’ve got to dig in and mediate.
  3. Failure to reward and recognize—A missed opportunity to recognize is a missed opportunity to energize. The bottom line is that failure to reward and recognize creates doubts in employee’s minds. They wonder, “Am I working on the right things?”, “Does my leader notice my efforts and accomplishments, or even care?”, “Are my efforts not up to his/her standards?” It can manifest itself as a plain ol’ fashion lack of feeling appreciated. And all of this leads to a lack of feeling motivated.
  4. Failure to inform—It’s difficult enough to gain competitive intelligence, why would we withhold our own? And it happens far too often. How many times have you been on a team, found out something too late, and thought, “It would have been nice to know that a month ago”? As leaders, when we withhold information or don’t make the time investment to openly share critical information, we handicap our organizations.
  5. Failure to proactively manage change—If left to their own devices, employees often make the worst of change. Organizational psychologists have discovered that if employees can’t make a link between change and their own personal goals and values, intrinsic motivation to embrace that change will be absent. So, have a plan to manage change, including enrolling the affected in the change, equipping them for it, and making a clear case for change in the first place.
  6. Failure to take accountability—Nothing is more un-leader-like then when a leader misses the opportunity to stand up and take accountability, or worse yet, openly deflects it. There’s no recovery from this. The troops expect it from you. And even when you’re not accountable by personal involvement, you are by position power. Own it.
  7. Failure to address under-performers—Rotten apples can spoil the orchard. Nothing may be more frustrating for employees, especially high-performers, then when the dead-weight is allowed to continually burden the organization without retribution. Such individuals grow like a cancer and take with them the morale and sense of fairness in the group. Get after it.
  8. Failure to see around corners—The best leaders spend substantive time seeing around corners, proactively anticipating and addressing problems. They do this by understanding their industry, understanding competitors, asking “What if?” Having such a mindset forces them out of day-to-day operations that others can do much better (and want to be left alone to do much better).
  9. Failure to react quickly enough in crisis—Complacency has no place in great leadership. Be productively paranoid. At the first sign of a crisis, gather your core team of thinkers/problems solvers and ninja team of executors. Communicate quickly and frequently.  Mostly, act, don’t ignore.
  10. Failure to make an effort to connect—I once had a boss who said, “The door is always open.” The problem was the lower half was shut, like a bank teller counter, preventing me from ever really getting close enough to connect. People can read a lack of compassion and warmth a mile away, and they’ll stay a mile away when they sense it. So make the effort – it will make a difference.

Think of this post as a call to action to avoid damaging inaction.

About Scott Mautz

Scott Mautz is the CEO of Profound Performance and a veteran of Procter & Gamble. Scott is also the author of Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again and Make it Matter: How Managers Can Motivate by Creating Meaning.

The 2 Beliefs That Derail Well-Meaning Leaders

Best-selling business author Ken Blanchard believes leadership is an inside-out proposition.

“It begins by asking yourself a tough question: ‘Am I here to serve or be served?’” he says. According to Blanchard, the answer to this question will reveal your fundamental approach to leadership.

“If you believe leadership is all about you, where you want to go, and what you want to attain, then your leadership by default will be more self-focused and self-centered. On the other hand, if your leadership revolves around meeting the needs of the organization and the people working for it, you will make different choices that will reveal a more others-focused approach.”

Blanchard believes the best leaders have a servant leadership philosophy. He explains that servant leadership requires a two-pronged approach that combines strategic leadership—vision and direction—with operational leadership—strong day-to-day management practices.

“At its core, servant leadership means that once vision and direction are set, the organizational pyramid is turned upside-down and leaders work for their people.”

There are two beliefs that can derail you from being a successful servant leader, according to Blanchard.

“One is false pride—when you think more of yourself than you should. When this occurs, leaders spend most of their time looking for ways to promote themselves. The other is fear and self-doubt—when you think less of yourself than you should. These leaders spend their time constantly trying to protect themselves.”

Surprisingly, the root cause of both behaviors is the same, explains Blanchard: “The ego. It’s just part of the human condition. Any time I hear someone say that their ego has never gotten in their way, that they are never prideful and never experience self-doubt, I usually say, half-jokingly, ‘I’ll bet you lie about other things, too.’ We all have times when we get off track.”

To help executives identify ways that ego may impact their leadership, Blanchard often incorporates an “Egos Anonymous” exercise into some of his work with clients.

“The Egos Anonymous session begins with each person standing up and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Ken, and I’m an egomaniac. The last time my ego got in the way was …’ And then they share a false pride or self-doubt moment or example.”

Egos Anonymous sessions have become so popular with executives that some use the technique to kick off meetings back at their workplace.

“They find it really helps their teams operate more freely,” says Blanchard. “It’s very powerful when people can share their vulnerability and be more authentic and transparent with one another.”

For leaders looking to get started with an inside-out approach to addressing and improving their leadership abilities, Blanchard has one final question: “What are you doing on a daily basis to recalibrate who you want to be in the world?

“Most people don’t think about that. This could include how you enter your day, what you read, what you study—everything that contributes in a positive sense to who you are.

“Consider your daily habits and their impact on your life. Take time to explore who you are, who you want to be, and what steps you can take on a daily basis to get closer to becoming your best self. Your leadership journey begins on the inside—but, ultimately, it will have a tremendous impact on the people around you.”

PS: Would you like to learn more about servant leadership principles and how to apply them in your organization?  Join Ken Blanchard for a free online event February 28.  The Servant Leadership in Action Livecast will feature more than 20 thought leaders and business executives sharing how they have successfully implemented servant leadership principles in their organizations.  The event is free, courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.  Learn more here!

This article was authored by David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

The 1 Question All Leaders Must Ask Themselves

Are you here to serve or be served? That question gets to the heart of what motivates you as a leader.

Not to oversimplify the issue (although I’m going to!), but there are two basic kinds of leaders: those who are self-serving and those who serve others. The key difference is the mindset of the leader. The self-serving leader views her role primarily through a self-focused lens. She is motivated to lead as a means to accomplish her goals. She sees leadership as a way to obtain power, status, and influence, all valuable tools to help her make her way in the corporate world.

The serving leader, on the other hand, views her leadership as a way to help others. She is focused on facilitating the growth and success of her followers so they can accomplish their goals and those of the organization. She views her power, status, and influence as instruments to facilitate the success of others.

The majority of leaders I’ve encountered in my career have not consciously considered this question. I think it’s because most people fall into leadership positions without much forethought. They excel in their roles as individual contributors, get promoted to manager, and then learn on the job how to lead others. It’s the minority of leaders who intentionally consider this question, answer it, and pursue leadership positions with purpose and focus.

On February 28th you have an opportunity to ask yourself this question and to learn from others who have already answered it and experienced the success of servant leadership. Ken Blanchard will host the Servant Leadership in Action livecast and he’ll be joined by 20 other leadership experts who will do an in-depth examination of what it means to be a serving leader.

Our world is in desperate need of a new model of leadership. We’ve all seen the negative impacts of self-serving leaders and the harm they cause our organizations. Decades of research and experience have shown servant leadership is the way to achieve lasting success that brings out the best in people and organizations. I encourage you to attend the Servant Leadership in Action livecast and answer this question once and for all: Are you here to serve or be served?

If You Want Employee Accountability, Keep Them IN the Box

“We want you to act like owners.” How many times have you heard that phrase thrown around in organizations? As a leader, you’ve probably uttered those words, or similar ones, many times in the past. We all want employees who live and breathe accountability. It’s one of the key factors that set high performers apart from low or average ones.

We want employees to act like owners, but many times we discourage their accountability by treating them like renters. How so? We discourage accountability when we micromanage. Telling people what to do, how to do it, and insisting they do it our way thwarts their autonomy. We also prevent accountability when we shelter people from the consequences of their actions. We’ve let the pendulum swing too far to the side of wanting everyone to feel good about themselves no matter their level of performance. Everyone should get a trophy just for giving a good effort, right?

So as a result, we have developed employees who have the mindset of renters, not owners. You know what that looks like, right? The employee waits around for the boss to make the decision, rather than stepping out on their own initiative. They do a decent enough job, but often nothing spectacular; just enough to get by. They are content to point out problems, but don’t take the extra step to solve the problem themselves or offer suggestions on how to do so.

In their new book, Counter Mentor Leadership—How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace, my friends Kelly Riggs and Robby Riggs define accountability in a straight-forward way: the process of taking a personal interest in—owning—the results, as opposed to making excuses for mistakes and looking for something or someone to blame. They emphasize that accountability is an attitude, one that is cultivated, modeled, and instilled in others by a good leader.

The Riggs duo suggest leaders can help employees foster a mindset of accountability by putting them back in the box.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Did you say back IN the box? Yes, that’s right. Back IN the box…the Freedom Box.

The Freedom Box is about setting a perimeter within which the employee has complete autonomy to roam. The size of the box is proportional to the employee’s individual competence and commitment to take ownership of producing results. By definition, the box will be a bit different for each person. Using language from our Situational Leadership© II (SLII®) model, on particular goals or tasks some people are Development Level 4 (D4) Self Reliant Achievers (highly competent and committed), while others are Development Level 1 Enthusiastic Beginners (low competence and commitment). The D4’s box is going to look a whole lot different than the D1’s box.

There are four primary boundaries of the Freedom Box:

  • Company values and/or guiding principles. Your values determine what behavior is or isn’t acceptable in the workplace. If you don’t have values with behavioral definitions, this is where you want to start. It’s the foundation of how you want people to perform.
  • Expectations. Ken Blanchard has long stated that “All good performance starts with clear goals.” If employees don’t have clearly defined goals, how are they supposed to know what a good job looks like? It’s hard to exhibit ownership over ill-defined, nebulous goals.
  • Level of authority. An employee’s level of authority in the Freedom Box should be determined by their demonstrated capabilities. Riggs and Riggs share four common-sense levels of authority:
    • Level 1—Check with me before you do anything. For rookies who are just learning.
    • Level 2—Make the decision, but check with me prior to implementation. For those still learning on the job and need practice.
    • Level 3—Make and implement the decision, but keep me in the loop. For employees who are experienced and demonstrate good judgment.
    • Level 4—The buck stops with you. Seasoned veterans who are highly trusted and experts in their domain.
  • Performance standards and metrics. Employees need standards of performance that defines the measure of success. Success should not be defined by solely what is achieved, but also how it is achieved.

Accountability is a mindset of people who are personally invested in their work. It’s not something the leader can force upon an individual. We as leaders need to be careful that we aren’t unintentionally hindering our people from developing their own resilience to be accountable. When we take away the pain, thwart initiative, don’t reward appropriate risk-tasking, and withhold honest feedback, we prevent our people from stepping into accountability. The Freedom Box is a helpful process for how leaders can put people IN the box in order to help them develop accountability.

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