Leading with Trust

Why Leaders Should Make Love The Top Priority

I recently watched an excellent TED talk, which I think you’ll love, too. It’s about why the best leaders make loving employees a higher priority than profit.

Since the talk is only 9 minutes long, and the topic is an important, yet nuanced one, I have interviewed the speaker, Matt Tenney, to give you a deeper exploration of the topic. After you watch the video of Matt’s talk, I think you’ll enjoy my interview with him, which is below.

 1. When you talk about loving employees, you say you’re not talking about a touchy-feely, warm and fuzzy emotional feeling, but rather being concerned about the long-term well-being of team members. Can you give some examples of how leaders can show commitment to an employee’s well-being? 

Some general examples include frequently asking about and seeking out ways that we as leaders can help team members to be happier both at work and at home.

This can include removing obstacles that prevent people from doing their best work, reducing bureaucracy, facilitating skillful communication around problems in the workplace, setting clear boundaries between home and work so that employees don’t feel that they need to be checking emails and texts when they’re not at work, and investing time and resources in helping team members grow both personally and professionally.

A specific and counter intuitive, yet extremely impactful example of being committed to the well-being of team members, is refusing the demands of a customer when those demands create unnecessary negative impacts on the well-being of team members. This is something most, if not all, business leaders can relate to.

We have all dealt with external customers who are extremely demanding, not very grateful, and who create lots of stress for team members. A leader who is truly committed to the well-being of team members as the top priority would have a candid conversation with this customer and let them know that if they do not change their ways, the organization would no longer be able to serve them.

This doesn’t mean that the leader doesn’t love the customer.  The leader could certainly refer that customer to a competitor who would take care of them.

Supporting team members in this way is a powerful demonstration of love and a powerful way to build loyalty with team members. And, I’m confident than in almost all cases, this can actually improve the profitability of the organization. Oftentimes we find that the most difficult customers are the ones with the lowest gross margins, providing the least amount of profit for the company, despite being the most work.

By finding someone else to serve them, we can create a huge synergistic effect that improves business outcomes. This can give us more time to serve the customers that are easy to work with, who are often the ones with higher gross margins, and who provide us with more referrals.

Also, by making the lives of our employees easier, they will be better equipped to serve those customers well.  And, of course, there are side benefits like reducing sick days and improving overall productivity.

2. You share the example of Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines as models of love in action and the success it brings. Why haven’t more leaders and organizations adopted the same approach? What gets in their way? 

There are a lot of reasons that leaders and organizations, especially companies, fail to prioritize people over profit.

In some cases, unfortunately, it’s because owners and senior leaders are greedy and self-serving, and only care about enriching themselves.  However, I think this only true for a small percentage of profit-focused companies.

I believe the vast majority of leaders want to prioritize people over profit, but there are many forces that prevent them from doing it. In the case of most publicly traded companies, leaders face incredible pressure from the board to maximize stock performance.

Unfortunately, most shareholders have no connection to a company other than the stock they own. They’ve never met a single employee in the company they own. Thus, the company is nothing but numbers on an exchange listing to them. As a result, these shareholders generally only care about whether the numbers are going up or down. And, they want them to be going up every quarter.

Thus, most boards hire and incentivize senior leaders based on their abilities to make the numbers go up every quarter. It only takes a bad quarter or two, and leaders start losing their jobs. That type of pressure to hit the numbers in the short term makes it very hard to do the things necessary to create a culture that drives long-term success, which is a people-first culture. However, all leaders face similar pressure to hit the numbers to some degree.  

And, it seems that the bulk of the conditioning all leaders have received most of their lives has been to prioritize winning, or hitting goals, over loving well. This just seems to be what our modern culture values most, especially in the for-profit business world. This conditioning to focus on goals and winning is not easy to overcome, and it hinders our ability to love well.

3. What role does ‘trust’ play in loving your employees? 

Trust is an absolute non-negotiable requirement for loving team members.

If members cannot trust leaders, it is essentially impossible for the leader to consistently have a positive impact on the well-being have team members. There will always be a subtle anxiety present whenever trust is absent. This is going in the complete opposite direction of making a positive impact on well-being.

Also, giving trust away is a powerful way to demonstrate love. When leaders convey unquestionable trust and their team members, those team members are empowered to grow personally and professionally, and to be the best version of themselves.

4. What are the top 3-5 behaviors/actions/strategies you suggest leaders follow to start putting these concepts into practice?

First, and most important, we need to consciously make love the top priority to begin undoing the conditioning that I mentioned earlier.

An easy but effective way to do this is to change one’s job description. This doesn’t mean asking HR to officially rewrite your job description. What it means is just internally, for yourself, rewriting the job description in a way that reflects what’s most important. Most job descriptions start with a description of the responsibilities to the organization.  Instead, I recommend people rewrite their job description so that it starts with this:

“My job is to help the people I work with to thrive: to help them to grow both personally and professionally and to do my best to contribute to their long-term well-being.“

Everything else in the job description would be listed as additional responsibilities. Once the new job description is written, I recommend reading it out loud multiple times every day to gradually undo the conditioning that leads us to believe that achieving the goal and winning are what’s most important.

By reading the new job description out loud multiple times each day, we are telling the brain that loving well is important to us. As a result, we start to see more opportunities to love better, and we’re much more open to opportunities to develop our ability to love better.

It’s kind of like when you buy a new car, or learn a new name, and then, suddenly, you start seeing it or hearing it all over the place. This doesn’t happen because that name or that car just magically multiplied all around you.  It happens because the part of the brain that filters out information we don’t think is important has stopped filtering that information out, and is allowing us to see what we now think is important.

Second, we need to look at the problem of being too busy. Most leaders I’m aware of try to do too many things. Unfortunately, there is a direct, negative correlation between how busy we are and how likely we are to love team members. The busier we are, the less likely we are to love well. This was demonstrated in the now famous Good Samaritan study conducted at Princeton University.

So, I highly recommend taking measures to do less and spend more time just being. For those who think that their productivity will somehow go down, I think you’ll be surprised. I feel very confident that your productivity will increase. Productivity is not a function of how many tasks we complete.  It’s a function of the value we produce.

Doing less helps you to get clearer on what really matters and spend more time doing that. And, of course, the most important example of this is getting clear on the truth that what is most important in life is loving well. By reducing the number of things we do, we are much more likely to love better.

Third, we need to work on the bad habit of being distracted. I would guess that most people spend 90% of their time distracted either by obsessive use of technology or by their own thinking (or both).  This, of course leads to increased anxiety, which makes us much less likely to love well. And, it also means that we’re habitually distracted when we’re interacting with other human beings.  If we are distracted when interacting with others, people don’t feel loved in our presence because they don’t feel as though we are truly there with them. The simplest yet perhaps most tangible way to demonstrate love is to give a person our complete and undivided attention, to be fully present with them.

This is why I’m a huge advocate have engaging in mindfulness training.  With mindfulness training, we can systematically break the habit of being distracted and cultivate a new habit of being mindfully self-aware and fully present. Mindfulness empowers us to consistently embody love.

Matt Tenney is the author of Serve To Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom, and The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule.

The X Factor of a Great Employee Experience

How do you feel about your employer when you leave work at the end of the day? When you talk to friends or family about your job, how do you describe it? When you eat lunch with coworkers in the break room and the conversation shifts to work, what is the tenor of the discussion? Are there positive sentiments expressed or negative?

How you answer those questions says a lot about the quality of the employee experience at your organization. The employee experience can be defined as the sum of all the interactions an employee has with their employer. It starts from the moment a person applies for a job and continues through the interview, hiring, and on-boarding process. It includes the training process, the daily work experience including the quality of the work environment and the technology they use, career growth, interactions with leadership and the organization’s policies and procedures, and eventually retirement or separation. In essence, it’s the entire employee/employer life cycle.

Why is the employee experience important and why should leaders give a hoot? Well, the answer is pretty straight-forward when you think about it. The way you treat your employees is the way they are going to treat your customers. If you want your customers to have an outstanding experience, then your employees need to have one, too.

Given the expansiveness of all the factors impacting the employee experience, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when considering where to focus your efforts. Let me suggest that there is one critical X factor that has a disproportionate amount of influence on the quality of the employee experience, and as a leader, this X factor is primarily under your control. This X factor is something your employees experience every day and it shapes how they view the importance of their work, their commitment to the organization, and whether they endorse the organization as a good place to work.

What is the X factor of the employee experience? The X factor is you. The leader.

An employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor is the primary lens through which they interpret how they are treated by the organization. Gallup’s research shows that leaders are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, so a healthy employee-supervisor relationship is key to an exceptional employee experience. Research on other key dynamics of the employee-supervisor relationship confirm its importance and impact. The 2017 “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement” report from the Society for Human Resource Management showed the top two contributors to employee satisfaction were respectful treatment of all employees at all levels (65 percent) and trust between employees and senior management (61 percent). Studies have shown that committed and engaged employees who trust their leaders perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, and that high-trust organizations experience 50 percent less turnover than low-trust organizations. 

The employee experience of your organization will develop with or without your involvement. Obviously, it’s in your best interest to proactively influence the process. I invite you to learn more by joining me for the free online Experia Summit, December 9-13, where I’ll be presenting specific strategies for creating an exceptional employee experience. I’ll be joined by several other thought leaders discussing ways you can elevate your employee, customer, product, brand, culture, and leadership experience.

Remember, as the leader, you are the primary influence on the quality of experience your employees have at work. What will that experience be like? What will you be like?

10 Ways to Thank Your Employees That Means Everything to Them But Costs You Little

Telling an employee “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, and with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday just a few days away, I thought I’d share ten ways to express thanks to your employees that will mean everything to them, yet cost you very little. I’ve used these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

1. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

2. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

3. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

4. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

5. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

6. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

7. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

8. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

9. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

10. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

You Might Be A “Frankenboss” If…

Frankenbossnoun; 1. A mean boss that terrorizes his or her employees; 2. A boss whose behavior closely resembles that of a half-brained monster; 3. A jerk.

With Halloween just a few days away, I told my wife that I wanted to write an article about the bad, clueless behaviors that make a leader a “Frankenboss” (see definition above). Sadly enough, it only took us about 3 minutes to brainstorm the following list. If any of these describe your leadership style, you might want to take a look in the mirror and examine the face that’s peering back at you…you might have bolts growing out the sides of your neck.

You might be a Frankenboss if you…

1. Lose your temper – Some leaders think by yelling or cursing at employees they are motivating them. Baloney! Losing your temper only shows a lack of maturity and self-control. There’s no room for yelling and screaming in today’s workplace. Our society has finally awoken to the damaging effects of bullying in our school system so why should it be any different at work? No one should have to go to work and fear getting reamed out by their boss. If you have troubles controlling your temper then do something to fix it.

2. Don’t follow through on your commitments – One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to not follow through on commitments. As a leader, your people look to you to see what behavior is acceptable, and if you have a habit of not following through on your commitments, it sends an unspoken message to your team that it’s OK for them to not follow through on their commitments either.

3. Don’t pay attention, multi-task, or aren’t “present” in meetings – Some studies say that body language accounts for 50-70% of communication. Multi-tasking on your phone, being preoccupied with other thoughts and priorities, or simply exhibiting an attitude of boredom or impatience in meetings all send the message to your team that you’d rather be any place else than meeting with them. It’s rude and disrespectful to your team to act that way. If you can’t be fully engaged and devote the time and energy needed to meet with your team, then be honest with them and work to arrange your schedule so that you can give them 100% of your focus. They deserve it.

4. Are driven by your ego – The heart of leadership is about giving, not receiving. Self-serving leaders may be successful in the short-term, but they won’t be able to create a sustainable followership over time. I’m not saying it’s not important for leaders to have a healthy self-esteem because it’s very important. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to be hard to generate the self-confidence needed to lead assertively, but there is a difference between self-confidence and egoism. Ken Blanchard likes to say that selfless leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.

5. Avoid conflict – Successful leaders know how to effectively manage conflict in their teams. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our culture tends to have a negative view of conflict and neglect the benefits of creativity, better decision-making, and innovation that it can bring. Frankenbosses tend to either completely avoid conflict by sweeping issues under the rug or they go to the extreme by choosing to make a mountain out of every molehill. Good leaders learn how to diagnose the situation at hand and use the appropriate conflict management style.

6. Don’t give feedback – Your people need to know how they’re performing, both good and bad. A hallmark of trusted leaders is their open communication style. They share information about themselves, the organization, and they keep their employees apprised of how they’re performing. Meeting on a quarterly basis to review the employee’s goals and their progress towards attaining those goals is a good performance management practice. It’s not fair to your employees to give them an assignment, never check on how they’re doing, and then blast them with negative feedback when they fail to deliver exactly what you wanted. It’s Leadership 101 – set clear goals, provide the direction and support the person needs, provide coaching and feedback along the way, and then celebrate with them when they achieve the goal.

7. Micromanage – Ugh…even saying the word conjures up stress and anxiety. Micromanaging bosses are like dirty diapers – full of crap and all over your a**. The source of micromanagement comes from several places. The micromanager tends to think their way is the best and only way to do the task, they have control issues, they don’t trust others, and generally are not good at training, delegating, and letting go of work. Then they spend their time re-doing the work of their subordinates until it meets their unrealistic standards and they go around complaining about how overworked and stressed-out they are! Knock it off! A sign of a good leader is what happens in the office when you’re not there. Are people fully competent in the work? Is it meeting quality standards? Are they behaving like good corporate citizens? Micromanagers have to learn to hire the right folks, train them to do the job the right way, monitor their performance, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

8. Throw your team members under the bus – When great bosses experience success, they give the credit to their team. When they encounter failure, they take personal responsibility. Blaming, accusing, or making excuses is a sign of being a weak, insecure leader. Trusted leaders own up to their mistakes, don’t blame others, and work to fix the problem. If you’re prone to throwing your team members under the bus whenever you or they mess up, you’ll find that they will start to withdraw, take less risk, and engage in more CYA behavior. No one likes to be called out in front of others, especially when it’s not justified. Man up and take responsibility.

9. Always play by the book – Leadership is not always black and white. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to being a leader and the best ones learn to use good judgment and intuition to handle each situation uniquely. There are some instances where you need to treat everyone the same when it comes to critical policies and procedures, but there are also lots of times when you need to weigh the variables involved and make tough decisions. Too many leaders rely upon the organizational policy manual so they don’t have to make tough decisions. It’s much easier to say “Sorry, that’s the policy” than it is to jump into the fray and come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.

10. You practice “seagull” management – A seagull manager is one who periodically flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies away. Good leaders are engaged with their team members and have the pulse of what’s going on in the organization. That is much harder work than it is to be a seagull manager, but it also earns you much more respect and trust from your team members because they know you understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis and you have their best interests in mind.

I’m sure you’ve had your own personal experiences with a Frankenboss. What other behaviors would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

5 Ways You Undermine Trust in Your Leadership

For leaders, trust is a must. It’s the critical foundation for creating an environment where your team members can flourish, be engaged, and exercise their creativity and innovation to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Trust is the connective tissue in relationships and organizations, and it allows us to collaborate and achieve more together than we would independently.

But trust is under attack. Nearly everyday we hear or see reports of prominent leaders who have been caught in a scandal, violated the law, or broken trust with their followers in some form or fashion. Whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally, we act in ways that cause others to doubt our trustworthiness. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to undermining trust in our leadership.

What are the ways we undermine trust? Well, there are several, but five stand out above the others. These five ways have the power to destroy trust on multiple fronts. They can erode trust slowly over a long period of time, to where one day you wake up and realize the trust you thought you had in a relationship has disappeared. On the other hand, these enemies of trust can also destroy a relationship in one fatal blow, like a sledgehammer crushing a cement block. You must be on guard to constantly protect and nurture the most prized possession of your leadership—trust.

Five Ways We Undermine Trust in Our Leadership

  1. Self-Orientation – Self-oriented leaders place a higher priority on their personal needs and desires above those of their followers. They’re in it for themselves. They are more concerned with how they look to their higher-ups than how they’re viewed by their team members. Charles Green, co-author of the book The Trusted Advisor, uses a formula to describe how trust is built. His “trust equation” is Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) ÷ Self-Orientation. The more self-oriented (aka, selfish) you are, the greater you reduce the amount of trust you build with others. Self-oriented leaders are more focused on “me” than “we.”
  2. Control – Most people think distrust or mistrust is the opposite of trust. That’s not correct. The opposite of trust is control. That’s because trust requires risk, and you must give up a degree of control when you accept the risk of extending trust to someone. For trust to be established, someone must first extend trust, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first. Leaders who refuse to accept the risk of trusting others are forced to rely on controlling behaviors like micromanaging, not sharing information, or performing all the work themselves.
  3. Isolation – There are a few ways we let isolation undermine trust in our leadership. One is when leaders isolate themselves from others, either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional isolation happens when leaders move higher up in the organization and have less contact with their team members, become focused on other priorities, or simply get distracted with busyness to the neglect of connecting with team members. Another way isolation erodes trust is when leaders “freeze out” or intentionally ignore a team member. People trust leaders who establish a personal connection with them. They want to know their leader cares about them and their well-being. Distrust is born in the absence of connection, and isolation has a way of feeding upon itself and creating more distance in the relationship.
  4. Unreliability – Perhaps the most common way we undermine trust, unreliability slowly chips away at trust every time a leader fails to meet a commitment. Leaders are expected to be role models of accountability, and when they don’t keep their own commitments, it sends a message to the entire team that it’s OK for them to do the same. Unreliability is also a silent killer of trust. Most people are forgiving when small, inconsequential commitments are dropped. Being a few minutes late for a meeting, a slow response to an email, or canceling a meeting at the last minute are common examples of everyday behaviors that demonstrate unreliability. A few, infrequent occurrences of those behaviors don’t have much impact on trust, but when they happen often enough that the leader develops a reputation of being unreliable, a trust gap has developed that can be difficult to overcome.
  5. Dishonesty – Being dishonest is the cardinal sin of trustworthy leadership. Above all, trustworthy leaders are honest and act with integrity. That means keeping your promises, not gossiping, and telling the truth. Trustworthy leaders not only tell the truth, but they’re honest without spinning the truth. Spinning the truth is really mis-characterizing the facts of a situation in order to make yourself or the organization look good or attempting to influence people to interpret the truth in the way you want them to. Many people view integrity as the heart of trust, and if leaders are not honest, they have virtually no chance to win the trust of their followers.

When leaders are trusted by their followers, anything is possible. Research has consistently shown that high trust leaders have teams that are more productive, innovative, and have higher levels of engagement. The best way to build trust is to avoid breaking it in the first place, and to do that we have to quit sabotaging ourselves by acting in ways that undermine trust.

Show and Tell – A Game Leaders Need to Play

Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.

The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!

My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.

I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:

Show
  • Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
  • Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
  • Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
  • Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
Tell
  • People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
  • People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
  • The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
  • Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.

Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.

Avoid the 1 Mistake Managers Make When Trying to be Fair

blind justiceI coached youth baseball for over 15 years, from five-year old kids to 14-year-old teenagers, and at least two things were common across all the age groups: 1) the kids always kept score, and 2) they were the first ones to remind me if I wasn’t being fair.

Whether I was coaching a bunch of energetic five-year old kids in tee-ball where we didn’t keep an official score of the game, or with older kids playing a practice game against one another or an opposing team, the kids always kept score of who was winning and losing. And if I made a coaching decision that an individual player or the whole team didn’t like, one of their first complaints was “That’s not fair!”

Switch the scene to the modern-day workplace. I’m a leader working with mature adults, yet I’ve found that not much is different from coaching kids in baseball. People still keep score, only now it’s about who received the new project, promotion, or corner office. And as soon as someone perceives I made an unjust decision, the first thing I hear is exactly what five-year old tee-ballers said: “That’s not fair!”

Leaders aiming to build trust in relationships need to pay attention to the issue of fairness. “No problem,” you may say, “I treat everyone the same, no matter what.” Actually, treating everyone the same is the biggest and most frequent mistake leaders make when trying to be fair. A quote from Aristotle speaks to this: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” People should be treated equitably and ethically, given their individual needs and circumstances, and the differences between people should be recognized and valued, not diminished.

There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals. ~ Aristotle

To build and maintain trust with followers, leaders need to exhibit fairness through the distribution of organizational resources and application of policies to all team members. It’s helpful to understand exactly what “fairness” means in an organizational context. Fairness is composed of two main elements: distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice is fairness in the organization’s pay, rewards, and benefits for employees. Procedural justice is fairness in the organization’s decision-making processes in how those rewards and benefits are doled out. Of the two, procedural justice is the element most under control of individual leaders and is the aspect of fairness most closely linked with building or eroding trust with followers.

Based on research from The Ken Blanchard Companies, procedural justice was ranked as the most important organizational factor for employee retention. Additionally, over 60% of respondents believed the primary responsibility for influencing and improving procedural justice rested with their immediate supervisor.

So how can leaders be fair and build trust with their team members? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Be transparent – Share information about the criteria and process that you use to make decisions. Putting all your cards on the table eliminates doubt and mistrust.
  • Increase involvement in decision-making – As much as possible, involve the people who will be affected by your decisions in the process. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
  • Play by the rules – Clearly establish the rules, play by them, and hold others and yourself accountable to following them.
  • Listen with the idea of being influenced – Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know it all. Ask others for their input and genuinely listen with an open mind and be willing to change course if needed.
  • Don’t play favorites – No one likes a teacher’s pet so don’t create one. That will eliminate a key source of jealousy.
  • Save spin for the gym, not the office – Be authentic and genuine in your communications. People see through the political spin.

Remember, people are keeping score of your every behavior. Broad-brushing everyone with the “same” treatment is the easy and lazy approach to being fair. Treating people equitably and ethically, given their unique circumstances, will help them see you are being a fair and consistent leader.

This article was originally published on leadchange.com.

4 Principles for Building Trust in a VUCA World

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity…over the last several years, the term VUCA has gained momentum in everyday life as a way to describe the fast-changing, chaotic, and unpredictable global environment in which we live and do business. Everywhere you look in leadership circles it’s VUCA this or VUCA that. A recent internet search on “VUCA leadership” returned over 347,000 references! It’s clearly a dynamic that leaders must manage in today’s world.

When faced with complex issues or situations, a leader’s job is to simplify things down to a reasonable level that allows people to understand what’s going on and to act in ways that create positive, forward progress; not get stymied or stuck in complexity. Unpredictability and chaos breed distrust, so just by living in a VUCA world, distrust has the power to run rampant. It’s imperative for leaders to understand what VUCA means and how to nurture trust with their followers amidst change.

But what exactly is VUCA? And whatever it is, how can a leader build and maintain trust in a world that seemingly can change overnight?

In a recent Forbes article, author Jeroen Kraaijenbrink provides a helpful definition of VUCA. When you understand the individual components and their relationships to each other, it’s easier to know how to lead in such an environment. Within each VUCA element, I believe there are four principles leaders can apply to build trust with their teams and organizations.

Volatility has to do with the speed of change. A tweet from a world leader can set a new wave of change into motion. New markets emerge overnight, or business models appear out of nowhere that put other organizations out of business in a snap of a finger. The more volatility there is in the world, the faster things change. The trust-building antidote to volatility is for leaders to be reliable and consistent in how they respond to change. Freaking out, making rash decisions, or retreating into a shell to resist change will further erode trust in leadership. Steady, thoughtful, and predictable leadership builds trust. As my fellow trust activist Stephen M.R. Covey points out in his book The Speed of Trust, when trust is high, teams and organizations can move faster and adapt to change easier.

Uncertainty is the extent to which we can reasonably predict the future. With change happening so fast, this is a tremendous challenge for 21st century leaders. The trust-building corollary is to emphasize what is known and to keep teams focused on things under their control. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, leaders need to extend trust in times of uncertainty. Trust requires risk. If there’s no risk, there’s no need for trust, and risk and uncertainty are brothers in crime. Leaders must resist the urge to control and play their cards close to the vest. Control is the opposite of trust, so if leaders resort to controlling behaviors like micromanaging or withholding information during times of uncertainty, they’ll further erode trust with their teams and kill their ability to thrive during change.

Complexity is the number and variety of factors a leader must consider and their relationships with one another. Often, a leader’s challenge is not having enough information to make a decision, but having too much information. We are overwhelmed with data, and many times it is too vague or inaccurate to breed a sense of confidence. When dealing with complexity, a leader builds trust by leveraging the skills and abilities of team members. They involve others in solving problems, bringing their best and brightest to the table to help figure out these complex issues. Trustworthy leaders share information liberally and foster a culture of transparency, because they believe that people cannot act responsibly if they don’t have the right information. High-trust leaders know that the answers to their most frequent business challenges often lie with the front-line people who deal with them every day. To build trust, ask questions, listen to learn, and incorporate your people’s ideas into decisions. A good team axiom is no one of us is as smart as all of us.

Ambiguity refers to the lack of clarity about how to interpret something. Information may be incomplete, the truth may be indiscernible, or the data may be contradictory. Fuzziness, vagueness, and indecisiveness reign in times of ambiguity. To build trust, leaders must be clear on the vision and purpose of the organization. Proverbs 29:18 shares the ancient wisdom that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” When your team has a clear vision of where they’re headed, they can cut through the noise, confusion, and distractions swirling around them. The leader’s job is not just to articulate a clear vision, but also to equip team members with the necessary mindset and skillset to achieve the vision.

I believe that high-trust leaders are uniquely positioned to successfully navigate their teams through the waters of VUCA. People are craving leaders of integrity and truth. They are searching for anchors of confidence and hope during turbulent times. Leaders who act in trustworthy ways build trust with their teams and gain their commitment and loyalty. That is what’s needed to survive and thrive in a VUCA world.

5 Ways Servant Leaders Stand Out From The Crowd

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a scientist running a grand experiment on leadership. Your laboratory is an organization with hundreds of leaders at varying levels, and with technology, you can watch and listen to them 24-hours a day over an extend period of time. Sort of like the TV show Big Brother, except corporate style (and minus all the drama-filled antics). Essentially you get to observe the species Homo Sapiens Laederes in their native environment.

Your quest is to learn the behaviors that make servant leaders stand out from the crowd. In a noisy world where a few celebrity leaders grab the headlines, and everyone tries to copy-cat their way to becoming an overnight leadership success, servant leadership has withstood the test of time as a tried and true approach to effectively leading people and organizations. You would observe at least five key ways servant leaders are different from their counterparts.

Servant leaders…

  1. Listen more than they talk—A servant leader is much more interested in hearing the viewpoints of others than having their voice be the loudest in the room. Make no mistake, servant leaders clearly articulate their point of view and cast a vision for the organization, but they do so after they’ve spent plenty of time hearing from others, incorporating their ideas, and enlisting others in their cause. As Larry Spears observed in the book Servant Leadership in Action, listening is one of ten key characteristics of a servant leader. Listening involves paying attention to what is said and not said, identifying the will of the group, listening to the leader’s own inner voice, and coalescing that input into a clear plan of action.
  2. Say we more than meWhen servant leaders do talk, they focus the attention on their team by speaking in the collective we, rather than the personal me. Servant leaders know that leadership isn’t about them; it’s about others. Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of the modern servant leader movement, said the motive of a servant leader is to serve first, and out of that desire to serve rises a conscious decision to lead. Servant leaders are driven to improve the welfare, contribution, and autonomy of others, not to garner fame, attention, or status for themselves. Their focus is on we, not me.
  3. Flex their leadership style to meet the needs of their followers—Since servant leadership is about doing what’s best for others and helping them to realize their full potential, servant leaders adapt their leadership style to provide the right amount of direction and support their followers need. There is no one best leadership style. If someone is new to a task, the leader provides higher levels of direction to teach the how, what, where, when, and why. If the follower has a moderate level of competence but is unsure of himself, the servant leader uses a supportive style to build the follower’s confidence and help him problem solve. Servant leaders understand their followers have varying levels of competence and commitment on their tasks or goals so they adjust their leadership style to the situation.
  4. Look for opportunities to shine the light on others—As you observe leaders in this mythical experiment, you’d notice that servant leaders make an intentional effort to give people the chance to be in the spotlight and to praise them for their accomplishments. Servant leaders don’t care who gets the credit; they care about helping people and the organization succeed. Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous process that servant leaders look to perpetuate.
  5. Treat failures as learning moments—Failure is inevitable; learning is optional (click to tweet). Servant leaders view failure as an invaluable teaching tool, and rather than punish or demean people for making a mistake, they turn it into a positive and make it a learning moment. This is possible because servant leaders have a high level of trust with their followers. When people are trusted, they aren’t afraid to take risks and try something new. They know that if they fail, their leader will partner with them to use the opportunity to grow, learn, and do better next time. My friend and fellow servant leader, Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, embodies this philosophy. He believes that creating a culture of learning has been one of the pillars of WD-40’s success, an organization with 93% employee engagement.

Although it would be cool to take part in this kind of mad scientist experiment, it really isn’t necessary. Research about the effectiveness of servant leadership is plentiful and the traits of a servant leader are common sense, albeit not common practice. If you look around and see people engaging in these five behaviors and others like them, chances are they’re servant leaders who are bringing out the best in their people and organizations.

Strong Winds Make Strong Trees – 3 Ways to Develop Resilient Team Members

My little tree growing strong without the help of a stake.

A few years ago, my father-in-law passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. My wife decided that she wanted to plant a tree in our backyard as a way for us to remember the good memories of his life. Watching a young sapling grow into a healthy and strong tree evokes positive emotions and a sense of well-being. Focusing on the growth of new life is cathartic and healing for the soul.

When we purchased the tree from the nursery, it was staked to a large wooden pole to help it stand upright. That’s a common practice with young trees. Sometimes they need additional support along the trunk of the tree while they establish a strong network of roots. I had every intention of removing the stake after the tree became rooted where it was planted, but…life happened, I got busy with other priorities, and before I knew it, two years had passed by and I had forgotten to remove the stake. As I researched this topic, I learned that a tree needs to bend and sway in the wind for it to develop a strong trunk and root system. The wind forces the tree to entrench itself further into the earth to withstand the forces of nature. Leaving a tree staked too long can weaken it and prevent it from reaching its full potential. Strong winds make strong trees.

The same principle is true in our personal and professional lives. Experiencing the strong winds of life makes us strong and resilient…if we choose the path of growth. The strong winds can also break us and stunt our growth if we stake ourselves to people, places, or things that provide a false sense of support and stability.

In the workplace, leaders can unwittingly shield their team members from strong winds. We can engage in behaviors that appear to be helping or protecting our people, but are preventing them from becoming resilient and strong contributors. Here are three strategies we can pursue to develop resilience in our team members:

  1. Facilitate problem solving—Developing resilient team members includes teaching them how to solve their own problems. This can be one of the hardest challenges for leaders because most of us have risen to our positions by being great problem-solvers. However, that very strength can be a weakness when it comes to developing resilient team members. Resist the urge to rescue team members by providing them the answers to their problems. Instead, rely on asking questions to lead people through the process of solving their own problems. Ask them to define the problem in one sentence. Help them brainstorm options of addressing the problem. Ask them to list the pros and cons of their various courses of actions. Initially it takes an investment of time to help people develop their competence in solving problems, but it saves you time down the road from having to be the answer-man and it results in having stronger, more resilient team members.
  2. Let them make decisions—In order to do this successfully, a leader needs to diagnose the competence and commitment of the team member on the specific goal or task in question. The leader needs to know if the team member is a learner or doer. If the person is a learner, then the leader must take the lead in making decisions. It would be irresponsible to have a team member decide about something she doesn’t know. In that case, it’s the leader’s job to develop the team member’s competence so she can make her own decisions in the future. If the person is a doer, then the leader needs to let the team member make her own decision and experience the positive or negative consequences. Micro-managing, questioning decisions, or removing decision-making authority from a team member squashes her self-confidence and stunts her growth.
  3. Don’t overreact—A tree needs to sway in the wind to develop strength. For a human muscle to grow in strength, it needs to experience micro tears in the muscle fibers from stretching and contracting in opposition to a force. To become resilient, people need to fail. A leader’s job is to find purpose, growth, and learning in the failure. When a team member fails, the leader should not overreact, criticize, or blame the person for failing. The leader should facilitate learning by asking questions like What did you set out to do?, What actually happened?, What did you learn?, and What will you do differently next time?

Back to my tree…I removed the stake and have been closely monitoring the tree as it has weathered some recent stormy weather. I’ve noticed the width of the trunk expanding as the tree has learned to rely on its own strength rather than the help of the wooden stake. I had to trim some branches back, so the tree isn’t so top-heavy and to give the trunk and roots time to catch-up in their growth. I’m confident the tree is going to continue to thrive for years to come. 

Strong winds make strong trees. Let’s not deny our team members the opportunity to experience their own challenges and the growth it affords.

Think You’re Wise in Your Own Eyes? 4 Steps to Develop Leadership Humility

Leaders who are wise in their own eyes seem to be the ones who get the most attention in our world. They’re the outspoken, big personality, larger-than-life characters who always seem absolutely convinced of their own wisdom despite any evidence to the contrary. They capture the news headlines, private equity investors, and achieve personal wealth and fame. The only thing they don’t seem to possess is a healthy dose of humility.

Yet a number of research studies have shown that humble leaders are more effective at bringing people together, marshaling resources toward a common goal, and accomplishing organizational objectives. One study showed that firms led by a CEO who scored high in humility developed management teams that were more likely to collaborate and make joint decisions, share information openly, and possess a shared vision. And of course in the classic book, Good to Great, author Jim Collins’ discovered that those organizations who moved from average to superior performance shared a common factor of being led by Level 5 leaders, people who possessed a powerful mixture of humility and indomitable will.

So how can we develop humility in our leadership? I believe it’s a life-long journey, but we can start by:

  1. Considering others more important than our self…and treating them that way. Humble leaders make it a practice to put the needs of their teammates ahead of their own. They look for ways to serve others rather than being served. That doesn’t mean they let their team walk all over them. As Ken Blanchard likes to say, “Being humble doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking about yourself less.” Humble leaders facilitate the development of structures, systems, and processes that allow people to effectively use their skills to accomplish the organization’s goals.
  2. Viewing yourself as a steward. Unless you are the founder and owner of the company, you’ve been hired as a steward to manage and develop that which has been entrusted to you. Stewards understand that everything they have is on loan and can be taken away in an instant. Therefore, they view their leadership as a responsibility to care for, nurture, and grow the organization and the people who comprise it.
  3. Remembering all the help you received along the way. Humble leaders realize and appreciate the help they received along their journey. I think there are very few, if any, truly “self-made” individuals in the world. Anyone who has achieved a modicum of success has benefited from the help of someone else. Maybe it was a parent who paid your college tuition, a coach who inspired confidence, a teacher who opened the doorway to learning, or the manager who hired you for your first job. The point is, someone believed in you and gave you a chance. Humble leaders do the same for others.
  4. Believing in something bigger than yourself. The opening line in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, summarizes the heart attitude of humble leaders: “It’s not about you.” At the center of the lives of humble leaders is a values system that drives their beliefs and actions. Whether it’s your religious faith, core values, or personal mission statement, it’s critical to have a philosophical or moral code that serves as the foundation for your leadership. In the absence of such a grounding framework, you will put yourself at the center of your leadership philosophy and that’s the root cause of becoming a leader who is wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26: 11-12 contains a warning for people who reject personal humility and think “they’re all that:” As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.”

My life experience has been that leaders who are wise in their own eyes eventually suffer a downfall. They may demonstrate signs of success over the short-term, but they can’t sustain lasting success over the long-term. Humble leaders, on the other hand, are the ones I’ve seen that leave teams and organizations in a better position than they found them and create a lasting impact that far out lives their personal contributions.

7 Ways to Tell If You’re a Boss or a Leader

“You’re not the boss of me!” That was the phrase my younger sister would frequently yell at me during our youth when I was being the domineering big brother. If you’ve had kids, been around kids, or were a kid (that qualifies all of us), then you’ve probably heard the phrase too. Whether it’s the older sibling who thinks she knows better, the playground bully establishing his dominance, or the teacher’s pet who somehow always gets her way, kids enjoy bossing others around.

Strangely enough, adults seem to like it too. We see it all the time in our workplaces where supervisors or managers create toxic environments because of their need to exert authority and control. The only one who wins in this type of culture is the boss. The people and the organization as a whole suffer.

So how do you know if you’re a boss or a leader? Here are seven simple ways to tell:

Bosses rely on the use of “hard” power / Leaders leverage the use of “soft” power — Bosses use hard power like their title, positional authority, or ability to give/withhold rewards as weapons to control the behavior of others. Leaders use soft power like their interpersonal skills, communication, values, and appeals to common interests as a way to enlist the support of others.

Bosses demand respect / Leaders earn respect — Bosses believe others should respect and follow them because of their position. They believe the title of boss demands instant respect. Leaders, on the other hand, know they have to earn the respect of others. They know their walk has to match their talk and their consistent behavior will garner respect from those they lead.

Bosses require compliance / Leaders invite collaboration — Bosses don’t really care what you think or feel, just as long as you do what you’re told, when you’re told, and how you’re told to do it. Leaders understand you have to manage the whole person; their heart, head, and hands. Leaders invite collaboration by soliciting input, listening to concerns, and incorporating team member feedback into decisions and plans.

Bosses focus only on results / Leaders focus on people and results — Bosses tend to have a win-lose mentality. Nothing else matters except the final score on the scoreboard. Leaders value results just as much as bosses, but they don’t sacrifice their people in order to achieve them. Leaders know people are the path to results and they treat them as valuable resources needed to accomplish the mission.

Bosses are concerned with looking good / Leaders are concerned with giving credit to others — You’ll often hear bosses use “I” or “me” language when describing their team’s accomplishments. They like the spotlight and aren’t afraid to take the credit for their team’s performance. Leaders are the opposite. You’ll hear them say “we” and “us” when referring to the team’s achievements. They deflect the spotlight and shine it on their team members instead.

Bosses push people / Leaders lead — It sounds rather simplistic but it’s true. Bosses stand behind the team, barking out instructions and pushing them to move forward. Bosses say “Do as I say.” Leaders are out front saying “follow me” as they work together with their team members to achieve the goal. Leaders say “Do as I do.”

Bosses inspire fear / Leaders cultivate trust — Bosses manage through fear and coercion. If you don’t do what the boss requires then you know some form of punishment will ensue. Leaders inspire trust. They grant people appropriate levels of autonomy and authority and let them do their jobs. If mistakes happen, they treat them as learning moments and coach team members to higher performance. Leaders establish an environment of trust and safety.

If you found yourself identifying more with the characteristics of a boss instead of a leader, don’t lose heart because you can change. It will take time and intentional effort, but you can make the transition. Seek out leadership training opportunities, find a mentor, and learning from others are all ways to get started. Being bossed around as a kid wasn’t a pleasant experience and it’s even worse as an adult in the workplace. We need less bosses and more leaders.

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