Leading with Trust

How Does Your Presence Affect Team Members? 3 Questions to Ask

leadership presenceTension. Dread. Nervousness. Anxiety.

Early in my working career, those are feelings I experienced when I would meet with my manager. The feelings stemmed from a variety of factors. I didn’t think the manager had my best interests in mind, so I constantly felt on guard, like I had to defend my decisions, actions, or my direct reports. I also didn’t believe the manager had the competence to really understand how the business operated. It was difficult to accept her direction or support when I felt it wasn’t based on a true understanding of our present reality.

Regardless of the cause of those feelings, I left meetings with my manager worse off than when I arrived. That’s not a good place to be.

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. ~ Maya Angelou

If you’re a leader, flip the situation and personalize it to yourself. Are your people better off because of your presence? When your people interact with you, do they leave as a better version of themselves or a less capable one? It’s a sobering thought to consider. When I take the time to reflect on interactions with my team members, I try to ask myself the following three questions:

  1. Did I make them feel more trusted? In order to build trust with your team members, you must first extend trust. You can extend trust by giving the team member an opportunity to demonstrate competence. Give her room to recommend decisions and implement plans. Trust her integrity to do the right thing and to follow through on her commitments. Resist the urge to steer the employee to your way of thinking so she’ll do what you want her to do (that’s manipulation) or to micromanage her efforts. That will cause the employee to leave the interaction with you feeling less trusted, not more.
  2. Did I make them feel more valued? Everyone wants to know they are valued and accepted as individuals, regardless of their job title, position on the org chart, or the number of digits on their paycheck. You can make employees feel validated by expressing encouragement, listening to their input, incorporating their ideas into decisions, and giving a voice to their questions, concerns, and ideas. Don’t ignore, dismiss, or demean their contributions.
  3. Did I make them feel more powerful? Real, effective, and authentic leadership involves helping people discover and capitalize on their power. Weak and egotistical leadership is about robbing people of their power so they feel more dependent on leadership. It’s only by giving power away do you unlock your own leadership greatness. Sharing information, letting people make their own decisions, and giving team members opportunity to take on new challenges are among the many ways to move employees from powerless to powerful.

Much of how team members perceive us as leaders has to do with how we make them feel. That doesn’t mean our job as leaders is to hold hands with our team and sing Kumbaya, or to coddle and baby our people just so they feel good about our leadership. That’s just as bad as being the hard-nosed leader who has a slash and burn style with no regard to personal relationships. It takes a blend of being a competent and focused leader who also attends to the relational needs of the team. It’s balancing people and results.

A Better Boss or a Pay Raise? What Would YOUR Employees Choose?

Ask yourself this question: If I gave my employees a choice between receiving a pay raise or me becoming a better boss, which would they choose?

Chances are you’d probably say your employees would choose a pay raise, right? I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want more money? Taking a few liberties with the classic song Money by Barrett Strong, your employees are probably saying “Your leadership gives me such a thrill, but your leadership don’t pay my bills, I need money!”

Getting a pay raise would be an immediately tangible reward that everyone could literally take to the bank. Besides, it’s not like you need any dramatic improvement as a boss, right? Sure, you may not be the greatest leader in the world, but there’s a whole lot of bosses plenty worse than you. Your people would definitely choose a pay raise, you say.

Well, you’d be wrong. One study showed that 65% of Americans would choose a better boss over a pay raise. How do you like them apples?

In many of our training courses we do a “best boss” exercise. We ask participants to share the characteristics of the person who was their best boss, and as you can see from the list below, many of these traits are ones you can develop and master with just a bit of effort and focus.

My best boss…

  • Was trustworthy—Often mentioned as the foundation of what makes a best boss, being trustworthy is paramount to being an effective leader. Research has shown that employees who have high levels of trust in their boss are more productive, engaged, innovative, creative, and contribute more to the organization’s bottom-line. Click here to learn more about how to build trust as a leader.
  • Believed in me—Best bosses believe in the capabilities and potential of their people. Through their words and actions they communicate a sincere faith in their employees that builds the confidence of their team members to go above and beyond expectations.
  • Showed respect—No one likes to be talked down to or treated as “less than.” Best bosses recognize the inherent worth each person possesses and they seek to build people up, not tear them down.
  • Listened to me—Being a good listener is one of the most powerful, yet underrated leadership skills. Good listeners don’t interrupt, ask clarifying questions, summarize what they’ve heard, probe for deeper understanding, and also pay attention to what’s not being said in the conversation. Check out The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening for more tips.
  • Helped me grow—People want leaders who are invested in helping them grow in their jobs and careers. Best bosses understand that leadership is not about them; it’s about the people they serve. As such, they are committed to helping their team members grow in their careers, even if that means the employee ultimately leaves the team or organization for better opportunities.
  • Had my back—Participants in our classes often say their best boss was always in their corner, or had their back. There are times in organizational life where the boss needs to step up and defend the needs or interests of his/her team. Supporting your employees doesn’t mean blindly defending them regardless of the circumstances, but it does mean you always have their best interests at heart and are committed to putting that belief into practice.
  • Gave feedback in a way I could hear it—I’ve learned in my career that people really do want, and deserve, honest feedback about their performance. The trick is to deliver feedback in a way the person on the receiving end can hear it without becoming defensive, internalize it, and take positive action moving forward. Here is a way to give feedback that builds trust in a relationship.
  • Cared about me as a person—It’s a cliché but it’s true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent boss around, but if your people don’t feel you truly care about them as humans, then they will withhold their trust and commitment from you.
  • Adjusted their leadership style to my needs—The best bosses know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to leadership. Each team member can be at different development levels in their goals and tasks, so the leader needs to adjust his/her leadership style to meet the needs of the employee. Managers need to learn to become situational leaders.
  • Gave me autonomy—No one likes to be micro-managed. Helicoptering over your employees and telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, creates a sense of learned helplessness. It erodes the morale and motivation of employees and leads to them developing a “quit but stay” mentality. Best bosses make sure their team members have been given the proper training and have the best resources and tools needed to do their jobs. Then the manager steps out of the way and lets their team do their thing, while providing any needed support and direction along the way.

Unfortunately, too many leaders are unwilling to admit they could use a bit of improvement, and too many organizations tolerate poor managerial performance (free whitepaper: 7 Ways Poor Managers Are Costing Your Company Money). But as you can see from this list, becoming a best boss isn’t rocket science. It’s within the grasp of any leader who is willing to put in a bit of work to improve his/her craft.

A Question From Simon Sinek: Are You Playing a Finite or Infinite Game?

In January 1968, the North Vietnamese People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns in the Vietnam War. In every single battle, the American-led forces and the South Vietnamese Army of the Republic of Vietnam defeated their enemies, leading to heavy casualties for the North. In the ensuing months there were several “Mini Tet” offensives launched, and each one ended the same way—defeat. The North lost over 100,000 soldiers during the January to August time-frame.

In the Vietnam War, the United States won every single battle but lost the war. Why?

North Vietnam was playing the infinite game. Their goal was to outlast the enemy, not defeat them.

Finite games have winners and losers. The rules of the game are known to both sides, the boundaries of the playing field are well-defined, the scoreboard keeps track of the game’s activity, and at the end of a prescribed period of time, a winner is declared. It’s neat. It’s clean. Someone wins, someone loses.

Infinite games have no winners or losers. Rules often don’t exist, and if they do, they are fuzzy and open to interpretation. The playing field is undefined and progress is hard to measure. Opponents change frequently, as does the game itself. There are no clear winners or losers in the infinite game. Competitors drop out of the infinite game when they lose the will or resources to stop playing. The goal is to outlast your competition.

Simon Sinek introduced this concept in his keynote address at our recent Blanchard Summit. In the VUCA  (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world in which we live, the most successful leaders and organization are learning to play the infinite game, not the finite one. The “game” of leadership and business is an infinite game where the rules change frequently, competitors come and go, and there is no end point to the game. You are either ahead or behind. There is no ultimate winner or loser. The infinite game continues indefinitely until someone loses the will or resources to keep playing.

Resources are well understood. Money, intellectual property, people, technology, etc. We have to have the capital we need to run a business. But what about will? Sinek shared five must-have components of will if we are to succeed in the infinite game:

1. Just cause—More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up.

2. Courageous leadership—Playing the infinite game requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. They are willing to stand up to the pressures of the Board, Wall Street, or popular sentiment, and stay true to their cause. This struggle is often too great for a single person to tackle alone, so it requires all the leaders of the organization to band together and act in alignment.

3. Vulnerable team—Sinek says being a vulnerable team doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for everyone to walk around crying. It means you’ve invested the time and energy to build a culture in your organization where people feel safe to be themselves. They can admit they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. They can take appropriate risks without fear of retribution or retaliation. If you’re people don’t feel safe, that is your fault, not theirs.

4. Worthy adversary—In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately we are competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our products, services, marketing, etc., but in the infinite game we are constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfill our just cause.

5. Open playbook—Too many organizations pursue a variable cause with a fixed strategy, Sinek theorizes, rather than pursuing a fixed cause with a variable strategy. Having an open playbook means leaders and organizations are willing to have flexible strategies and plans that change as needed to pursue their just cause. An open playbook also means you are transparent with your strategies, so all members of the team can literally be on the same page. Leaders resist being too transparent with information because they fear losing control. They distrust how people will use that information so they hold it close to the vest. That only results in people making sub-optimal decisions because they don’t know all the plays in the playbook.

You can win every battle but still lose the war. The goal is not to beat your competition; the goal is to outlast them.

So what does it mean to play the infinite game as a leader? It means you leave something behind that outlasts your finite presence or contributions. An infinite leader builds a culture so strong, that when the leader is no longer there, the culture lives on. Infinite leaders commit to their just cause. The work produced by striving for that just cause has the indelible fingerprints of the leader, and lasts far beyond the time of the leader’s tenure.

So ask yourself: Are you playing the finite or infinite game?

Brene Brown’s 4 Pillars of Courageous Leadership

Vulnerability, clarity of values, trust, and rising skills are the four pillars of courageous leadership, according to Brené Brown, author, storyteller, and research professor at the University of Houston. Brené joined us at the Blanchard Summit this past week and shared her latest thinking on what it means for leaders to be courageous and vulnerable.

Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Leaders exhibit courageous leadership when they’re willing to be vulnerable—they’re “all in”—even though it means they may fail or get hurt. Contrary to popular opinion, vulnerable leadership isn’t soft or weak. Brown says vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.

When you choose to engage in courageous leadership, you will have critics and haters. Brown reminded us that being brave with your life is a painful mirror to those around you. “Don’t try to win over the haters,” Brown said, “you aren’t the ‘jackass whisperer.'” She encouraged us to draw a one inch by one inch box on a piece of paper and list the names of the people whose opinions matter to us within that one inch box. It drives home the point about how important it is to be selective about who you allow to speak into your life. Brown punctuated this point by saying she’s adopted the point of view that “If you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked occasionally, then I’m not interested in your feedback or criticism.”

Trust is at the heart of true courageous, vulnerable relationship. Many people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s not how trust works in reality. Trust is built through the intentional use of specific behaviors, and you can teach people how to become more trustworthy and better trust builders with others. To effectively build trust in a team or organization, it requires everyone to have a common definition of trust. Download this free whitepaper to learn how having a common language about trust fuels high performance in organizations.

As Brené Brown shared with us, courageous leadership is not comfortable. You will fall and skin your knee. But courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.

6 Ways to Become a Badass Leader

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldI’m a fan of the Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials (the original ones, not the cheesy new ones). Some of my favorite sayings about The Most Interesting Man in the World include:

  • His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.
  • Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number.
  • People hang on his every word, even the prepositions.
  • He can disarm you with his looks or his hands, either way.
  • He can speak French in Russian.
  • He once taught canaries the art of falconry.

That guy is a real badass, isn’t he? Imagine him in a leadership role…badassery at it’s best! You can be a badass leader too, although it’s probably not what you think.

What does a badass leader look like?

He confidently marches to the beat of his own drum, not swayed by popular opinion or the need to please others. He doesn’t put on airs, pretending to be something he isn’t, but stays true to his principles and values in all that he does. He doesn’t have to talk about being a badass (that’s a poser) because he knows he is a badass. A badass leader isn’t an uncooperative jerk, indiscriminately ticking people off. A badass leader knows his limits and takes pride in working with others to achieve the goals of the team. Understated, purposeful, and pursuing excellence in all he does. That’s a badass.

Examples of well-known badasses:

  • Abraham Lincoln – Presidential Badass
  • Condoleezza Rice – Diplomat Badass
  • Derek Jeter – Baseball Badass
  • Leonardo da Vinci – Renaissance Badass
  • Mother Teresa – Spiritual Badass
  • Albert Einstein – Intellectual Badass
  • Aristotle – Philosophical Badass
  • John Wayne – Western Movie Actor Badass

Get the idea? So how do you become a leadership badass? Here’s six ways:

1. Develop your competence – Competence breeds confidence, no two ways about it. If you want to be more secure in your leadership abilities then you need to keep learning and growing. Read books, take classes, get a mentor, and learn from others. Badass leaders aren’t content with the status quo. They are always striving to improve their craft.

2. Be vulnerable – Huh? Isn’t that the opposite of being a badass? No! Leaders that display vulnerability show they don’t have anything to hide. Posers are those who lead with a false sense of confidence, trying to hide their weaknesses from others. Badass leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something. People crave authentic leadership and badasses are nothing if not authentic.

3. Focus on building trust – Trust is the foundation of badassery. You have to earn people’s trust before they will follow you and give their all. Badass leaders focus on building trust by being good at what they do, acting with integrity, caring for others, and following through on their commitments.

4. Build up other people – Badass leaders don’t feel the need to build themselves up by tearing down others. Secure enough in their self-worth, badass leaders take pride in the accomplishments of their team members and do everything they can to set them up for success. Badass leaders know that their success comes from the success of their people.

5. Get stuff done – Badass leaders don’t make excuses, they make things happen. They remove obstacles for their people, find the tools and resources they need, and provide the right amounts of direction and support they need to achieve their goals. Badass leaders are about doing, not talking. Badass leaders get stuff done.

6. Go against the grain – Doing what’s right is not always the popular choice, but badass leaders aren’t afraid to go against the grain when it’s the right thing to do. Badass leaders know they can’t base their self-worth on the applause of others and they aren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers on occasion.

Every leader has the ability to be a badass. It’s an attitude, a belief, a way of being. Don’t lead scared, letting fear drive your behavior, but tap into your inner badassness and lead with confidence and assurance. Before you know it, people will look at you and say, “Now that’s a badass leader!”

Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on what it means to lead like a badass.

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