Leading with Trust

Five Leadership Lessons From The Life of Neil Armstrong

Yesterday we lost a true American hero. Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away at the age of 82. Armstrong’s life story read like pages from an adventure novel: earned his pilot license at age 15, flew 78 missions in the Korean War as a Navy fighter pilot, test piloted experimental rocket planes that flew to the edge of space at altitudes of over 200,000 feet, and commanded the Apollo 11 space mission and became the first man to walk on the moon.

Despite his many accomplishments, Neil Armstrong was a humble, private man who didn’t seek to turn his achievements into fortune and fame. After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong taught engineering at Purdue University and served on the boards of several businesses. His reserved, low-key approach to leading his life is strikingly at odds with today’s “look at me” reality TV infused culture. In An Audience with Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut discusses his life and the experience of traveling to the moon. The interview is a treasure-trove of leadership wisdom, but there were five lessons that struck me as important for leaders of all generations.

1. Humility – Virtually every written account of Armstrong’s life, as well as descriptions from those who knew him best, describe him as a man of extreme humility. He resisted bringing attention to himself and always viewed his accomplishments as simply the result of “doing his job.” Humility is a key characteristic of Jim Collins’ profile of successful Level 5 leaders and it is a key component to establishing high-trust relationships. It’s hard to trust the intentions of self-absorbed leaders whereas humble leaders create an environment and culture that breeds openness and trust.

2. Recognize and value the contributions of others – Armstrong readily acknowledged the invaluable contributions of the Apollo 1-10 missions as laying the building blocks for his crew’s moon landing. Each Apollo mission had specific goals that were milestones to the ultimate mission of landing on the moon. Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crew got the nod for the moon landing and he recognized that his efforts were just the next link in the entire chain of the Apollo space program. Today’s leaders would be wise to honor and respect those who have laid the groundwork ahead of them and not act like the success they’re enjoying today is solely a result of their efforts.

3. Stay vigilant because problems occur when you least expect them – On the descent to the moon, the Lunar Module’s navigation system was targeting a landing spot that would be on the edge of a slight hill. Armstrong had to take manual control of the spacecraft for the last 2 minutes and fly it to a safe landing site. Successful leaders are always scanning the environment so they can react to changing conditions. Flying on auto-pilot is best when conditions are stable, but in today’s world where daily change is the norm, using auto-pilot for too long can have disastrous consequences.

4. The power of focus – Shortly after stepping onto the surface of the moon, Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin placed a memorial on the lunar surface honoring the deceased astronauts, both Russian and American, who had preceded them in attempts to reach the moon. Armstrong describes it as being a tender moment, yet a very quick one because there was a checklist of many tasks awaiting their attention. Armstrong took a focused, methodical approach to his work that shows the power of concentrated attention. It’s easy for leaders to have their focused diffused among all the demands competing for their attention, yet the most successful leaders have learned to block out the distractions and focus on those activities that produce the most results.

5. Never let a good problem go to waste – The Apollo 1 crew suffered a terrible tragedy in 1967 when during a pre-flight test a cabin fire in the control module killed the crew of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chafee. The Apollo space flights were put on nearly a two-year hold while the accident was investigated. NASA only had four years to fulfill President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon by the end of the decade, but rather than letting the delay prevent them from achieving their goal, they used those two years to refine the design of the control module and to keep training for the moon landing. Armstrong and his colleagues demonstrated ingenuity and perseverance in dealing with this setback and it’s a lesson for all leaders about how to make the most of the problems thrown their way.

I think his family described it best when they said yesterday, “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

Six Tips for Success From Restaurant Impossible’s Robert Irvine

The Food Network is a popular TV channel in my house. One of our favorite shows is Restaurant Impossible, where chef Robert Irvine has two days and $10,000 to help turnaround a failing restaurant. It’s amazing to see the commonalities shared by these struggling businesses and the strategies Irvine uses to address their ills. I’ve gleaned several tips from Irvine that can apply to just about any business turnaround or general leadership situation.

  1. Know what your customers want — A common situation that Irvine encounters is a restaurant that has lost sight of what their customers want. I remember one example of an aging Italian eatery that looked like a retirement home cafeteria even though it was located smack dab in the middle of a college town occupied by thousands of young adults. They clearly had lost sight of what their customers wanted, and as soon as Irvine helped them retool their business into a hip, upscale place attractive to the twenty-something crowd, they began to flourish.
  2. Clarify roles & responsibilities — In virtually every failing restaurant there is a lack of effective leadership. Over time the leaders have become burned-out, stopped caring, or tried to make up for deficiencies in other team members’ skills and end up spending too much time in the wrong areas. One restaurant owner was not only the head chef, but he also ordered all the food and supplies, managed the books, and came in at 4:30 a.m. to clean tables! It’s critical for any successful business to be clear on the roles and responsibilities of its team members so that everyone can be focused on their specific area of expertise and the sum of the whole will be greater than its individual parts.
  3. Master the basics of your business — Irvine will ask “So what are your food costs?” and it’s mind-boggling to see how many restaurant owners have no clue as to how much they’re spending on food. Many of them seem to have no grasp of the basics of their business: determining the right pricing of dishes based on food costs and profit margin, understanding the need to quickly turn tables to serve more customers, or how to run an efficient kitchen. It’s critical for any successful leader to master the basics of his/her business. You may have all the talent and potential in the world, but if you can’t master the fundamentals then you won’t go very far.
  4. Less is more — Another common ailment of struggling restaurants that Irvine encounters is having too many menu items. On a recent show he had an owner read the menu out loud and it took nearly 15 minutes! So much for quickly turning tables. Irvine frequently encourages the business owners to pare down their menu to one page of items they can produce excellently, rather than being mediocre at producing a lot of things. Successful leaders understand the importance of focusing their energies on the few critical items that will result in the most gain.
  5. The importance of having skilled people — It’s dumbfounding to see how many restaurant owners entrust their kitchen to cooks who don’t have much experience or training. The bottom-line reason people come back to a restaurant is the quality of the food. The decor and service can be great, but if the food stinks you’re not going to be very successful. Irvine has to help the owners make tough decisions about getting skilled people to work in the kitchen which often means letting go of long-term employees who just aren’t qualified for the job.
  6. A few key changes could bring dramatic results — Anyone who has tried sprucing up their home knows the value of a fresh coat of paint. Sometimes there are a few key changes that can result in dramatic gains. Irvine brings a fresh, outside perspective to restaurant owners who have gotten locked into their own way of viewing their business. By focusing on a few important areas such as menu selection, kitchen operations, and decor of the restaurant, Irvine helps the owners focus on the key areas that will give them the most bang for their buck.

These struggling restaurant owners didn’t find themselves in their situation overnight. It was the result of small decisions made over the course of time that landed them in their current plight. Sometimes that’s the case with us as leaders, too. We start out with the best intentions and then slowly lose steam as the months and years go by. These lessons from Restaurant Impossible’s Robert Irvine can get us back on track to being the successful leaders we started out to be.

Hey, Leaders! Quit Talking & Start Listening – 4 Tips to Build Trust

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Are You a Good Boss or a Bad Boss? 8 Ways to Tell

“Are you a good boss or a bad boss?” That question reminds me of the scene from the Wizard of Oz when Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, first encounters Dorothy in Munchkinland. Glinda asks Dorothy “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” Dorothy replies that she’s not a witch at all, and besides, witches are old and ugly. After being informed that the beautiful, young Glinda is a witch, Dorothy says “You are! I beg your pardon! But I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.” Glinda responds, “Only bad witches are ugly.”

I think only bad bosses are ugly.

How do you know if you’re a good boss or a bad boss? Just over a year ago, Google’s People Operations group unveiled the results of their two-year study into what separates bad bosses from good bosses in their own company. They performed extensive data analysis on performance reviews, feedback surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards. What they came up with was 8 behaviors that distinguished the best bosses at Google. How do you stack up against this list?

1. Be a good coach

    • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
    • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

    • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

    • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work.
    • Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented

    • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it.
    • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

    • Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information.
    • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
    • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.

6. Help your employees with career development

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

    • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy
    • Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

    • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed.
    • Understand the specific challenges of the work.

Kind of a no-brainer list, huh? It reinforces the idea that leaders can make tremendous strides by simply following the basics: Be interested in your folks, help them achieve their goals, provide the resources and support they need and get out of their way, communicate and share information, and have a vision for where the team needs to go.

Hopefully you’re a good boss and these behaviors are already part of your repertoire. If they aren’t, don’t worry. They’re all things that are very much under your control and you can incorporate them into your leadership practices. After all, you don’t want to be a bad boss. Bad bosses are ugly.

Are You Suffering From The Illusion of Transparency?

If you google the phrase “transparency in business” you’ll get more than 61,200,000 results. Needless to say, it’s a hot topic in leadership and business circles. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency – the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.

Recently I had a manager ask my advice on how to be more transparent with her employees. She told me that one of her direct reports gave feedback that the manager needed to be more transparent, specifically in the area of sharing more personal information about herself. This leader believes herself to have a very transparent leadership style, but apparently it’s not coming across that way to this particular direct report. An illusion of transparency perhaps?

If you find yourself in a similar position of having received feedback that you need to be more transparent, or if you have an inkling that it’s an area in which you need to improve, I’d recommend you consider the following:

1. Be specific in your communications — Don’t take the easy way out by engaging in organizational double-speak which, unfortunately, seems to be more the norm than the exception today. Not wanting to get painted into a corner or be held to specific commitments or standards, we often obfuscate or communicate in vague generalities to appease people. In reality, your people want, need, and deserve the straight truth from you. It may be hard, difficult, or painful, but in the long run you’ll earn more trust and respect by being straight-up with your folks.

2. Understand what transparency looks like to your people — Just as with beauty, transparency is in the eye of the beholder. In the case I mentioned above, the leader believed she had a high level of transparency with her followers, but it wasn’t the case with this one particular employee. I think individual personalities play a role in how transparency is perceived. Some people who are more relationship-focused may have a greater need for personal transparency (the leader sharing more information about self) where others who are more task-focused may have a greater need for transparency of information.

3. Be authentic — It’s hard to fake transparency. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because although you may be able to get away with it for a while, eventually the real you will come out. If you have trouble being transparent, admit it! That in and of itself will be one the greatest things you can do to increase transparency and trust with others. Let your people know it’s something you’re intentionally working on improving and ask for their support and understanding.

People want to follow leaders who are authentic, genuine, and honest, and being transparent in your actions and communications is critical to being a trusted leader, and that’s no illusion.

Three Tips to Build Trust by Closing the Knowing-Doing Gap

Most leaders don’t show up to work saying to themselves, “I think I’ll erode trust with my people today!” yet that’s often what happens despite their best intentions. It’s too easy to walk through the office doors, turn on the auto-pilot switch, and fly through the day without putting much intentional and deliberate thought into our choices and decisions and how those either build or erode trust with others.

It’s not that leaders DON’T KNOW what to do (although there certainly are times when that is the case), it’s that we don’t put into practice what we DO KNOW. It’s the classic “knowing-doing gap.” We know what to do, but we don’t do it. Why is that? The answer is complex, multi-layered, and certainly worth exploring, but perhaps even more important is answering the question “What do we do about it?”

The reason it’s so important to answer this question, is that when it comes to building trust, your actions speak louder than words. You can have the best intentions in the world to build positive, high-trust relationships with your people, but if those intentions aren’t translated into tangible, practical, trust-building behaviors in the workplace, your relationships will never reach their full potential.

Here are three tips for leaders that can help close the knowing-doing gap:

1. Identify the gap — Before you can close the knowing-doing gap, you need to know where you’re starting from and where you want to go. Which of the four elements of trust is your strong suit and which is your biggest area for growth? Within your growth area, what are the specific behaviors you need to focus on that will help you build trust, and how will you know when you’ve made measurable progress in that area?

2. Create a roadmap for improvement — Once you’ve identified the specific trust-building behaviors you want to focus on, create an action plan that will help you achieve your goal. I’m a fan of quality over quantity, so I would suggest focusing on one or two key behaviors and putting intentional and focused effort in improving your use of those behaviors, rather than trying to do too much at one time. Leaders are hard-wired to make an impact and we’re often our own worst enemy in trying to do too much, too fast. Building trust can seem like an ominous task, especially if you’re starting from a point of very low or non-existent trust, yet it can be accomplished over time through the use of very specific behaviors.

3. Make course corrections — Ask for feedback from those you’re trying to build trust with, listen to it, and make course corrections to your strategy as appropriate. Asking for feedback is a trust-building behavior in and of itself, and when your people see you taking their feedback seriously and changing your behavior as a result, your “trust stock” rises immeasurably in their eyes.

If you’re thinking about embarking on this journey of closing the knowing-doing gap in order to build trust, I would offer you one warning and one encouragement. The warning: Don’t do it unless you’re going to follow-through! Announcing that you’re going to make an effort to improve in this area, and then either not following through or only doing so half-heartedly, will do more to erode trust than not doing anything at all.

The encouragement: You can do it! Trust is built by using very specific behaviors that all of us are capable of doing. If you identify where you need to improve, map out a plan to get better, and make course corrections to stay on track, you’ll develop higher-trust relationships that will fuel your success and that of your people.

Father’s Day Special: Five Leadership Lessons From Being a Dad

Being a dad has been, and continues to be, one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve experienced tremendous highs, suffered through some lows, doubted myself, learned much, and have been stretched to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first started this journey twenty years ago. The same could be said for my journey as a leader!

As I reflect on the lessons that have taught me to be a better father, I realize that many of the same principles apply to being a trusted and successful leader. Here are five leadership lessons I’ve learned from being a dad:

  1. There’s no substitute for time — I’ve learned that “quality” time is just a convenient rationalization to justify our busyness and to ease our guilt from not spending “quantity” time with our kids. The “quality” happens in those unexpected moments during the “quantity.” Being a leader requires spending large amounts of time with your people and not isolating yourself in your own little world. Devote yourself to investing in the growth and development of your people and you’ll reap the rewards.
  2. Set clear expectations — Part of being a good dad is setting clear expectations for his kids. They should know what’s expected in terms of their behavior and attitudes, and what the consequences will be (either positive or negative) for meeting or not meeting those expectations. Your people at work need the same clear expectations regarding their performance. They need clear targets with identifiable rewards or consequences. It’s not fair to judge your people (or kids) for their actions if they weren’t clear on the goal in the first place.
  3. Be the example — Being a dad means setting the right example for his kids and the same is true in being a leader. Your attitudes, the tone of voice you use in speaking to others, your work ethic, and the way you treat people are just a few of the ways you will influence your people. Just as a child will observe and often imitate every move of his dad, your people are always taking their cue from the actions of their leader. Make sure you’re leading well!
  4. Have fun — It’s easy to get bogged down in all the stress and anxiety that comes with being a dad, but I’ve learned to have fun and enjoy the journey as much as possible. Leaders need to remember to take work seriously, but not take themselves too seriously. Laugh at yourself, keep the mood light, and don’t be afraid to have fun with your staff. When the stressful times come, your people will be more willing to put in the extra effort that’s necessary.
  5. Validate them — One of the primary roles of a father is to validate his children. A father’s approval imparts a tremendous amount of psychological and emotional confidence in a child that empowers him to grow in confidence and faith in his own abilities. Your staff needs your approval as well. When your people know that you accept them, desire the best for them, and will do whatever you can to help them succeed, you will have their loyalty and commitment in following your lead.

Leading and managing adults at work is obviously not the same as parenting children, although some days it can certainly feel that way! However, the principles one uses to be a successful father (or mother) can be equally beneficial for success as a leader. Just like being a father, the key is being consistent in your approach and having the best interests of your people in mind.

By no means are these five principles a definitive list. I’m curious to know what lessons you’ve learned from being a parent that apply to leadership. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Happy Father’s Day!

“Situational Crying” – An Effective Way to Build Trust?

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, made news recently when she admitted to crying at work during a speech at Harvard Business School. Sandberg said,

I’ve cried at work.  I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that ‘Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder’, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs.  I try to be myself – honest about my strengths and weaknesses – and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

My colleague, Maria Capelli, sent me and several other colleagues a link to this article which prompted an interesting email discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of showing emotion in the workplace, especially from a leadership perspective.

Maria said that “Being vulnerable, not only as a leader but as a fellow co-worker, can help build trust.  Being real/authentic can help build credibility.  I am not saying we should all start crying at work – it’s situational. As long as it’s not disruptive or frequent, I think it’s perfectly healthy.  And besides, suppression of our emotions for long periods of time cannot be healthy for the mind, body and soul.”

Our colleague, Susan Fowler, co-author of our Situational Self Leadership training program and our soon-to-be-released program, Optimal Motivation, mentioned that the real “F” word in corporate America is “feelings,” and the interesting paradox leaders are faced with when regulating their emotions: Is not crying when you want to a form of self-regulation, or is crying and owning your emotion a form of self-regulated courage to be honest in the workplace?

I agree that a critical part of building trust is being vulnerable and authentic, and sometimes that involves showing emotion in the workplace, within reason of course. I think Susan brings up an interesting connection between self-regulation, managing emotions, and being emotionally intelligent. My experience is that people who are emotionally intelligent and good at self-regulation have the ability to express the appropriate emotions at the appropriate time. Those who are challenged in those areas seem to be the ones that go overboard which leads to being known as emotionally unstable and unpredictable. Being reliably consistent and predictable in your behavior is a key component of developing trust with others.

Emotional intelligence is a critical success factor for succeeding in today’s business world. A recent survey by CareerBuilder showed that hiring managers are increasingly looking for candidates with high EQ’s because they are more likely to stay calm under pressure, handle stress better, and approach workplace relationships and conflict with greater maturity and sense of perspective.

There’s no doubt that showing the proper amount of emotion, in the right place at the right time, can be a key to building trust. The key is for leaders to develop the emotional intelligence and maturity to properly discern when the timing is right and when it’s wrong. As my colleague Maria said, “it’s situational.”

If It’s Broken, Do You Fix It or Throw It Away?

When you have something that’s broken, do you fix it or throw it away? Many of the products we buy today, especially electronics, have become disposable commodities that are more cost-effective to replace than repair.

Unfortunately, this same attitude has transferred over to many other areas of lives, particularly relationships. If a relationship no longer works for us, we’re quick to throw it away and look for another one to replace it. In describing the generational attitude of her parents who recently celebrated their 35th anniversary, an acquaintance said “they are of a generation that when something broke, they fixed it instead of throwing it away.” She was specifically talking about their view on relationships, not possessions.

It got me thinking about the value we place on relationships at work. When a relationship needs repairing in the workplace, what’s your instinct? Do you try to fix it or just throw it away?

Relationships have an inherent value that goes beyond the surface-level, transactional nature of workplace interactions, and each exchange you have with a co-worker is an opportunity to enrich or degrade the relationship. My friend Jon Mertz recently wrote a blog article about the importance of understanding the type of “wake” you leave behind in your interactions with others. People interested in building high-trust relationships understand the importance of leaving behind a wake of integrity, sincerity, and authenticity in their associations with colleagues.

When it comes to repairing a broken relationship, if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.

Granted, it takes two people to be in relationship, and if one party isn’t willing to fix what’s broken, it may not be possible to fully repair it. However, the only thing that each of us ultimately controls is our own actions. Leading with trust means reaching for the greater good that exists within us, placing a premium value on our relationships, and making the effort to repair what’s broken rather than throwing it away. Relationships aren’t easily replaced.

The Incredible “Sulk” – Four Ways to Overcome Envy in the Workplace

The Incredible Hulk, one of the Marvel Comics superheros featured in the recently released film The Avengers, is a raging beast capable of great fury and destruction. Whenever the mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner experiences certain negative emotions like fear, anger, or terror, he succumbs to those feelings and transforms into the Hulk, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.

Envy has the same potential for damage in the workplace by transforming you into The Incredible “Sulk” – someone with a sullen, silent, inwardly focused negative self energy that wreaks havoc on yourself and others. Envy is a feeling of discontent or covetousness a person feels in regards to another person’s success, advantages, or possessions, and causes you to sulk, feel sorry for yourself, and make you downright miserable. If left unchecked, envy creates resentment toward others, leads to fractured relationships, and causes low morale and a loss of productivity in a team environment.

I coach others, and have personally used, the following strategies to overcome envy in the workplace:

  • Don’t play the comparison game—The number one way to make yourself miserable with envy is to compare yourself to other people. There will always be someone who appears to have it better than you, whether it’s that recent promotion, title, new office, or cool new project at work. In addition to not rightfully acknowledging the successes or achievements of others, when you compare yourself to others you’re actually denying or discounting all the wonderful gifts, talents, and abilities you bring to the table. Focus on “blooming where you’re planted” and don’t waste energy by obsessing about what other people are doing.
  • Count your blessings—I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Envy robs us of happiness because we get focused on what we don’t have, and that negative emotion leads to a downward spiral in our thinking. I’ve found it helpful to periodically make a list of all the things I’m grateful for in life because it’s an eye-opening experience to realize how good I’ve got it. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices is also helpful in combatting envy.
  • Avoid gossip—Gossip is the conduit for envy to poison a whole team. Human nature tends to gravitate toward the negative anyway, and gossip is an easy way for people to seek solace and comfort from others. Rather than being cathartic and healing, gossip is divisive and destructive and it doesn’t do anyone any good to talk about people behind their backs. We’d all be better off if we remembered and practiced some of the first words of wisdom from our parents: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Focus on personal growth—When feelings of envy start to crop up, it’s a perfect time for self-examination. Ask yourself why you’re feeling envious and don’t stop at the first answer; keep asking “why?” For example, suppose I’m feeling envious of my neighbors because they have an RV Camper and I don’t. Why am I feeling that way? Because I wish I could go on camping trips like they do. Why do I wish I could go on camping trips? Because I want to nurture and deepen family relationships. Why do I want to do that? I want my children to have great experiences and memories of their childhood. Ok, so that’s a great reason…now what I can I do to accomplish that? Maybe I can’t financially afford an RV, but I can certainly do other things to accomplish my goal of creating family memories. I’ve taken the negative emotion of envy that had the potential to damage the relationship with my neighbors and turned it into a positive step in my own personal growth.

Envy is an incredibly destructive force that leads to personal unhappiness and negativity within a team. Taking a positive, proactive approach to identifying and rooting out envy will help you lead a more satisfied and productive life at work and keep you from turning into The Incredible Sulk.

Have you dealt with envy in the workplace? What did you do? Feel free to share your experiences and comments.

Memo to Leaders: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Memorandum

To: Leaders Everywhere

From: A Fellow Sojourner

Subject: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Dear fellow leaders,

It has come to my attention that we are our own worst enemies. The lack of our effectiveness and success is primarily due to our own stupidity and failure to get out of our own way. We tend to get wrapped up in our own little worlds and forget that our primary goal is to influence others to higher levels of performance. We forget that the energy we bring to our team through our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual presence is what sets the tone for their morale, productivity, and well-being.

It’s time to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Here are three key checkups I suggest you perform:

Check your attitude — If you come to work acting like Mr./Ms. Grumpypants, how do you expect your team members to act? They’re going to act just like you. Remember, when you’re in a leadership position, you’re always under the microscope. Does it get tiring? Yes. Is it reality? Yes. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice, so try putting a smile on your face, remember to say please and thank you, catch your people doing something right, and spread a little sunshine to your team. You’ll find that it’s contagious.

Check your ego — Get over yourself. You’re really not that big of deal (everyone else already knows it so you might as well admit it). Our oversized egos are often the primary culprits of our undoing. A little bit of power can be intoxicating, and if you don’t manage it properly, you’ll find your head growing bigger than the rest of your body. Make sure you have some “truth-tellers” in your life that will keep you down to earth by speaking the honest, hard truth about your performance even if everyone else thinks you walk on water (they really don’t think you can walk on water, they just flatter you by pretending they do).

Check your motives — Why did you sign up for this leadership gig anyway? Was it to make more money? Was it the only way to move up in the organization? Do you like to boss people around? Or were you interested in helping people learn, grow, and achieve their goals? While you’re checking your motives, you might want to examine your core values as well. Whatever values you hold dear are probably the driving force behind your motives and behaviors. Get your values and behavior in alignment and you’ll be a leadership dynamo.

Being a leader is a tough job and it’s not for the weary or faint of heart. Don’t make it harder by acting stupid. Use your brain. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Thank you.

Leading With Trust – Four Fundamentals of Success

I was recently talking with a friend about the critical importance of teaching the fundamentals when coaching baseball. Baseball is a game built on basic, fundamental skills. No matter the level at which the game is played — Tee Ball, Little League, High School, College, or Professionally — players continuously work on learning and refining the fundamental aspects of the game. From the proper way to field ground balls, the basics of a good batting swing, correct pitching mechanics, or smart base running techniques, there are certain skills and competencies that must be practiced and mastered for a player to achieve success.

The same is true for being a successful and trusted leader; you have to focus on the fundamentals. Perusing a list of book titles in search of the keys to effective leadership can leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless as to where to start. We’re encouraged to do so much: Lead with heart, lead with soul, get out of the box, find the leader within, follow the irrefutable laws, adhere to the timeless principles, leverage your strengths, eliminate your weaknesses, develop the right habits, start with ‘why’, start with ‘how’, lead with vision, lead from the trenches, etc., etc., etc.

Yet beyond all the hyperbole, fluff, clichés, and modern-day snake oil leadership remedies, the most basic fundamental of becoming a successful leader is leading with trust. What does it mean to lead with trust? It means:

  • Lead competently — A fundamental of being a trusted leader is to be good at what you do, both in terms of developing your competence as a leader as well as being a high performer in your technical role. There are no shortcuts to success. It takes hard work, discipline, and constant growth and learning.
  • Lead authentically — Successful leaders embrace and build upon their uniqueness and don’t try to be someone they’re not. It’s wise to glean knowledge about what makes other leaders successful and to incorporate those practices into your own leadership philosophy, but don’t be a copycat. You’re not Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, General Patton, Mark Zuckenberg, or any other host of people who may be held up as different leadership models. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true what our parents have always told us – Just be yourself, there’s no one else like you.
  • Lead with integrity — Successful leaders know that at the end of the day the only thing they have left is their integrity. The fundamentals of successful leadership start here: Be honest, don’t lie, behave ethically and legally, keep your word, follow-through on commitments, be dependable. Get this wrong and it’s impossible to lead with trust.
  • Be other focused — To borrow Rick Warren’s opening line of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” Leadership is about other people, not about yourself. Leading with trust means you realize that leadership is about influencing and developing the people around you. You invest your time and energy in helping them succeed, and when that happens, you succeed. Self-focused leaders erode trust and lose the commitment and loyalty of their people.

Leading with trust is a lifelong journey that plays out in the simple, everyday interactions leaders have with their people. Through practice and refinement of these leadership fundamentals, leaders will enjoy successful, strong, and lasting relationships built on trust.

I’ll be exploring this topic in more detail when I co-host the #LeadFromWithin TweetChat with @LollyDaskal on Tuesday, April 24 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific/8:00 p.m. Eastern. Feel free to join me, Lolly, and hundreds of other leadership practioners and teachers as we discuss what it means to lead with trust.

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