Leading with Trust

6 Ways Leaders Should Be Like Mothers

rosie the riveterMother’s Day 2017

Dear Leaders,

Today is a time we set aside to celebrate our mothers. Motherhood is often a thankless and tiring endeavor. It’s easy to take for granted the hard work, sacrifice, and love that moms contribute to our lives. So today we pause to appreciate the countless ways our mothers have positively influenced us and shaped us into the people we are today.

In many ways, moms are the ultimate picture of servant leadership in action. They always have the best interests of their children in mind and will go to great lengths to help them grow, develop, and succeed in life. They are able to harmonize the polarities of unconditional love and tough love, and do so in such a way that their children always know that mom has their back. Mothers are simply amazing leaders.

Using the acronym MOTHER, here are six ways leaders can improve their effectiveness by embodying the characteristics and behaviors of great mothers:

Mentor — What does a mentor do? A mentor shares the wisdom that has been gleaned from life experiences. Mentors offer advice, perspective, and guidance to help their mentee navigate their life or career journey. Sometimes that comes in the form of encouragement and other times as correction. Moms, and great leaders, are trusted mentors.

Objective — Moms have a unique ability to be objective in the way they treat their kids, and leaders should use the same approach with their team members. Moms love all of their children completely, yet uniquely. If love were able to be measured, a mom’s love would be complete, 100% for each child. And if love came in different colors, each child’s color would be unique: blue, red, purple, etc. Leaders should be completely objective with their followers, yet treat each one uniquely according to their needs and situation.

Trustworthy — It goes without saying that moms are trustworthy. Leaders should be no different. Trustworthiness is the foundation upon which successful leadership is built. Leaders should embody the four elements of trust: ability, believability, connectedness, and dependability. Above all else, team members should never have to doubt the trustworthiness of their leader. If you’re not sure if you’re building or eroding trust, check out this free e-book.

Helpful — Who stays up late to help their child complete a school project the night before it’s due? Who drives the team carpool all day on Saturdays to shuttle the kids between matches? Who does the laundry, cooks the meals, cleans the house, packs lunches, and plays nurse when the kids are sick? Mom, that’s who! (Yes, sometimes Dad too, but I’ll save that for a Father’s Day article.) Mom is always there to help, no matter how big or small the need. The best leaders do the same. Their team members know they can approach the leader with any question or need, no matter how trivial, and the leader will welcome the opportunity to provide assistance.

Encouraging — Moms are awesome cheerleaders. They are always looking for opportunities to cheer on their kids to be the best they can be. Excellent leaders are constantly looking for ways to bring out the best in their people. It can be as simple as spending a few minutes to build rapport with a team member by talking about their mutual interests outside of work, or it could be something as big as publicly recognizing a team member in front of his/her peers. Regardless of the action, great leaders look for ways to encourage their followers.

Responsible — Moms are the role models of dependable and responsible leadership. If moms say they are going to do something, they do it. They can always be counted on to fulfill their end of the bargain. Shouldn’t workplace leaders do the same? Employees crave leaders who demonstrate responsibility. They want to know their leader takes their obligations seriously and will follow through on their commitments. If leaders want responsible team members, they need to walk the talk and show what responsibility looks like.

Not everyone’s mother has been a great role model of leadership. Mothers, just like all other kinds of leaders, aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. They fail. They disappoint. We can learn from those experiences too, even if it’s as basic as what not to do as a leader.

The best mothers illustrate what great leadership looks like. They act as mentors, are objective in dealing with people, are trustworthy, helpful, encouraging, and responsible. Anyone in a leadership role would be wise to lead a little more like mom.

Happy Mother’s Day!

10 Ways to Tell if Your Boss is Trustworthy

Trustwortiness-IconEveryone deserves to work for a trustworthy boss. Unfortunately, in today’s business world, that seems to be the exception rather than the norm.

Cases in point: One survey depressingly shows that 82% of people don’t trust their boss to tell the truth, and other research shows that people are more likely to trust a stranger than their boss.

Uh, Houston, we have a problem.

How do you know if your boss is trustworthy? Look at her actions. When it comes to trust, the old adage that “actions speak louder than words” is absolutely true. Here is a list of ten ways to evaluate the trustworthiness of your boss. As you read, keep a mental tally of how many criteria your boss meets. Respond to the poll at the end of the article to get a sense of how your boss compares to others. For more information, download our free e-book Do Your Managers Build or Erode Trust?

10 Ways to Tell if Your Boss is Trustworthy

  1. Your boss demonstrates strong task knowledge and skills. A leader who possesses sufficient expertise in her role inspires confidence and trust in others. People trust  bosses who can provide direction and support to help them perform well at work. It doesn’t mean the boss has to be the ultimate expert in everything under the sun, but the boss does need to have a sufficient grasp of the worker’s job to help them solve problems.
  2. Your boss has a track record of achieving results. Trustworthy bosses consistently help their teams win. Whatever the definition of success for your team or organization, trustworthy leaders are those who regularly lead their teams to victory. Do you trust your boss to take you to the winner’s circle, or is your boss preventing your team from achieving success?
  3. Your boss is honest. Telling the truth, acting ethically, and being a person of integrity are nonnegotiable for being a trustworthy boss. If your boss likes to spin the truth, blame others, and practice situational ethics, then it’s pretty likely she violates the other nine items on this list.
  4. Your boss admits mistakes. Bosses who are willing to admit their mistakes display a level of humility and authenticity that inspires trust in their followers. Does your boss readily admit mistakes and accept responsibility, or does she look to shirk her responsibility, make excuses, or shift the blame?
  5. Your boss walks the talk. Trustworthy leaders act in alignment with personal and organizational values. These leaders are often role models for how others should behave and they take this responsibility seriously. Bosses who walk the talk have earned reputations of being authentic, genuine, and stand-up people.
  6. Your boss practices fairness. Fairness is not treating everyone the same regardless of the circumstances. Broad-brushing everyone with the same treatment can be one of the most unfair things a leader does. Being fair means treating people equitably and ethically given their specific circumstance. How does your boss measure up in this regard?
  7. Your boss cares about your well-being. Does your boss truly care about you as a person, or does she treat you as just another worker showing up to do a job? Trustworthy leaders care about their people. They take a personal interest in the lives of the people by getting to know about their hopes, dreams, and lives outside of work. Could your boss describe 3-5 things about your personal life, or would you be lucky if the boss remembered your name?
  8. Your boss acknowledges, encourages, praises, and advocates for you. Trustworthy bosses are cheerleaders for their people. They look for ways to help their team members grow, catch them doing things right, shine the light on their accomplishments, and stand up for them when they need support. Trustworthy bosses can be counted on to be there for their people whenever needed.
  9. Your boss follows-through on commitments. When your boss makes a commitment, what is your level of confidence that she will actually follow-through? Can you count on your boss to fulfill the commitment, or is it a pleasant surprise when it actually happens? Dependability is a key trait of trustworthy leaders. Is your boss dependable?
  10. Your boss is personally accountable and holds team members accountable. Good bosses set the example for their teams, and they hold themselves and others accountable to those standards. Do the expectations for your team apply to your boss as well, or is she allowed to live by a different set of rules? When team members aren’t carrying their weight, does the boss respectfully and appropriately address it, or is a blind-eye turned to the situation?

How Does Your Boss Compare?

Do you want to know how your boss compares to the bosses of other Leading with Trust readers? Add up the number of criteria your boss meets in the list above and choose the appropriate poll response. The cumulative results of the poll will display when you submit your answer.

10 Questions Great Bosses Regularly Ask Their People

Great leaders ask great questions.

Too often leaders think they are the smartest person in the room, so they are quick to offer advice, give direction, and share their perspectives on how things should be done. Most leaders do this instinctively, because after all, it’s the type of behavior that caused them to rise through the ranks. But when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen to empowering your team members to get the job done. You can’t do that if you’re always dominating the conversation. You need to draw out the best thinking and performance from your team members, and the way to do that is through asking great questions.

If you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start, give these a try:

1. What are you excited about in your job? The answer to this question allows you to understand what motivates and excites your team member. When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that energize your team member, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests which results in greater engagement and performance.

2. Why do you stay? This is perhaps the most important question that leaders never ask. Do you know why each of your team members chooses to stay with your organization? If you did, would it change the way you relate to them? I would hope so. Knowing the answer to this question will drive the way you structure job opportunities for those employees you want to retain. For employees who have “quit and stayed,” the answer to this question will give you insight into why they are choosing to remain stuck in their current position (usually fear of change, they’re comfortable, or they’re beholden to their current salary and lifestyle).

3. What might lure you away? This is the sister question to number 2. If you’re like most leaders, you probably don’t know the answer to either one. If you knew what would lure away your top performers, you would know what you need to do to get them to stay. Asking this question sends the signal to your team members that you know they are a valuable contributor and you’re not blind to opportunities they may have elsewhere. It lets them know you are committed to doing what you can to keep them happy and engaged with your organization.

4. What would we need to do to get you to stay? Don’t wait until your employee resigns and has one foot out the door to ask this question. By then it’s too little, too late. Ask this question on a regular basis as part of longer term career development discussions. Similar to questions 2 and 3, this question allows team members to express the things they think about their employment experience that they would never say to you in any other context. Just the very fact that the leader is willing to acknowledge the employee has the potential for other opportunities and cares about retaining him/her, causes the employee to feel valued and respected, which inspires loyalty and commitment.

5. What new skills would you like to learn? Most people want to keep learning and growing in their jobs, and in fact, this desire often ranks higher in surveys as being more important than getting a raise or other forms of recognition. Many managers are afraid to ask this question because they aren’t sure if they can deliver anything in return. Even the most mundane, clear-cut jobs usually have some room for creativity or improvement, but it takes a bit of work for the leader to think outside the box to uncover those opportunities. One good place for leaders to start is to examine their own jobs. What could you delegate or share with your team members that would allow them to learn something new?

6. Are you being __________enough for now? (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback, etc.) You’re probably starting to see a theme to these questions by now, aren’t you? Along with the others, this question allows you to probe into areas of performance that wouldn’t normally surface in your typical 1on1 conversations. We all fall victim to tyranny of the urgent and tend to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines we face. We have to train ourselves to periodically step back from the daily grind and have discussions with team members about the bigger picture issues that define their employee experience.

7. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? The people who usually know best about what’s working and not working in the business are those on the front-lines of the action. Ask your team members about the things that are holding them back from performing better or experiencing more joy in their work, and then get to work on addressing those issues. Leaders can often make a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.

8. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? Do you like it when your boss asks your opinion? Of course you do! It makes you feel like the boss respects your knowledge and expertise, and values your perspective on issues. Then why don’t you do the same with your employees? It’s a truism that no one of us is as smart as all of us. The power of a team is unleashed when the leader leverages the collective wisdom and experience of all its members.

9. What should I be doing more of? Unlike the other questions, this one is about you, the leader. It opens the door for you to hear from the employee about what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing. You may not see much value in asking this question because you believe you already have a good sense of the answer, but I encourage you to ask it anyway. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your team members (like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, taking an interest in them personally).

10. What should I be doing less of? It’s important you know this critical principle about leadership — most people won’t speak truth to power unless they believe it is safe and acceptable to do so. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. You do that by explicitly giving permission to your team to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior. Too many leaders only receive feedback from their bosses during the annual performance review, and although it can be helpful, it’s often from a limited and biased perspective. Great bosses seek feedback from where it matters most — their team.

Being a great boss isn’t easy. If it was, the world would be full of them. Instead of relying on the natural tendency to solely focus on the here-and-now in your interactions with team members, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Start incorporating some of these questions into your 1on1 meetings and watch for the positive impact it will have on your team members’ level of engagement and productivity.

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.

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