Leading with Trust

Seven Lessons Yard Work Has Taught Me About Leadership

Doing yard work has taught me valuable lessons about leadership. As I’ve mowed the grass, trimmed trees, pulled weeds, fixed sprinklers, tended plants, and performed numerous other chores in the yard over the years, I’ve been surprised at the number of parallels yard work has provided to my journey as a leader.

Here are seven lessons about leadership I’ve learned from working in the yard:

1. The view from the street may look good, but close inspection tells the real story — I learned this first lesson shortly after planting grass seed in the front yard. Soon after purchasing our house, I worked for weeks remodeling the front yard. I dug up the old lawn, roto-tilled the soil, raked out the old grass and weeds, fertilized, mixed in fresh soil, rolled the ground, planted seed, and watered it religiously on schedule. After a period of weeks I was rewarded with the lush growth of a new lawn that had tremendous curb appeal. From a distance it looked great, but when you got up close, you could see areas of sparse growth and patches of weeds that had sprung up.

I realized that others viewing my leadership probably had a similar view. From a distance it may look like I had everything together, but closer examination would certainly reveal flaws and areas that need improvement. As the caretaker of my personal leadership garden, I’ve learned that I have to be more concerned about the view up close and not worry about what others may think. If I’m taking care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.

2. Don’t let the weeds get out of control — It takes constant diligence to keep your yard looking nice. If you don’t keep a regular maintenance schedule, your yard is soon overgrown and the weeds get a foothold that is hard to erase. I’ve learned that being an effective leader requires constant learning and growth. I have to be diligent in taking time to invest in my ongoing development as a leader. If I remain complacent, then my capabilities begin to wither and I’m not able to perform up to my potential.

3. Less is more — If you plant too many varieties of vegetation, you run the risk of having plants that are incompatible with each other. The combination of the type of soil and amount of water and sunlight determine whether a plant will survive, thrive, or eventually wither and die. I’ve learned it’s better to have a few species of plants that have similar needs rather than having some plants that do great and some that end up being an eyesore. As a leader, I’ve found I’m more effective if I focus on doing a few things really well rather than doing a mediocre job at a lot of things. Finding that sweet spot as a leader where you can leverage your strengths is key to being a success.

4. Regular overhauls are needed — Every once in a while you have to schedule a work day to do a yard overhaul. Even when you’re able to keep up with the regular maintenance, there’s a few times each year where you’ve got to carve out some time to remove dead plants, plant new ones, fix your irrigation system, or even rake all the Fall leaves. Leaders need to schedule their own overhaul times throughout the year. I’ve found it helpful to take a day or two away from the office and take personal stock of how I’m doing and where I want to go in the future. It’s also helpful to periodically review your activities and see what needs to stay and what can go. Do you really need to be attending that weekly meeting or would no one miss you if you didn’t? Do you still need to generate that regular report or does the need for it no longer exist?

5. The long view — Patience is required when taking care of your yard. It takes time for it to reach its potential and no matter what you do you can’t rush Mother Nature. There aren’t any quick fixes in developing a nice yard and neither are there when it comes to being a good leader. Developing as a leader requires that you learn from your everyday experiences. You have to be patient with yourself, knowing that the leader you are today is not what you will be five years from now. Keep creating the conditions that will allow you to grow as a leader and the growth will come in due time.

6. Using the right tools makes all the difference — Doing yard work became much more enjoyable (and easier!) the day I discovered the oscillating hoe. Instead of pulling weeds by hand or using a hand-spade to dig them up, I now run my oscillating hoe back and forth over the ground and it pulls the weeds right up. My leadership has also benefited from using the right tools. Whether it’s obtaining more formal education, working with a leadership coach, connecting with mentors, attending training workshops, or even being smart with technology, I’ve learned to keep adding tools to my toolbox so that I have the right tool for the right kind of job.

7. Sometimes you need to call in a pro — There’s been a few times where I’ve gotten in over my head with a project in my yard. After spending too much time spinning my wheels and getting frustrated over my lack of progress, I finally decided to call in a professional to help me with the job. My life would have been so much less stressful if I had done that in the first place. Sometimes it’s necessary to call in a professional in our lives as leaders. A leadership coach can provide a non-biased view of whatever issue you’re facing and having that outside perspective can lead you to new areas of growth and insight that you’d never receive on your own.

Yard work can be dirty, tiring, and downright frustrating…much like leadership! Yet at the end of the day it’s rewarding to look back at the tangible results you’ve achieved and the difference you’ve made in your surroundings.

Have you experienced any leadership epiphanies doing yard work or any other “mundane” activities? If so, share your story by leaving a comment.

Have Your People Quit and Stayed? Twelve Factors of Employee Engagement

Everyday the spirits of millions of people die at the front door of their workplace. There is an epidemic of workers who are uninterested and disengaged from the work they do, and the cost to the U.S. economy has been pegged at over $300 billion annually. According to a recent survey from Deloitte, only 20% of people say they are truly passionate about their work, and Gallup surveys show the vast majority of workers are disengaged, with an estimated 23 million “actively disengaged.”

This issue presents a tremendous challenge for organizational leaders. Even worse than dealing with the effects of people who leave your organization, you have to manage these disengaged workers who have decided to “quit and stay.” You’re still paying them to under-perform and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of your organization!

Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies on the topic of Employee Work Passion has uncovered 12 factors that help create a culture of engagement. These 12 factors fall into three categories: Job Factors, Organizational Factors, and Relationship Factors. Integrating these factors into your leadership and organizational practices will help foster an environment where employees are more committed, productive, and engaged in their work.

Job Factors

  • Autonomy – People need to feel empowered to make decisions about their work and tasks. They need to be in control of their work and the ability to achieve their goals.
  • Meaningful Work – Your employees need to know that their work matters. How is it connected to making a difference? How does it help them and the organization succeed?
  • Feedback – Engaged employees always know where they stand regarding their performance. Do you offer timely, relevant, and specific information about their performance?
  • Workload Balance – Having too much work and not enough time to accomplish it all is demotivating. Experiencing peaks and valleys in workload is normal, but when the peak becomes the norm, people quickly become resentful and feel like they’re being setup to fail.
  • Task Variety – Each person is different in regards to how much variety in work tasks meets their motivational needs. Some people are motivated to do a minimal number of tasks over and over again. Others need more variety. The key is to find the right fit for people in regards to the variety of their work.

Organizational Factors

  • Collaboration – Does your organizational structure and policies foster cooperation among individuals within a work unit or across departments, or does it encourage competition and the withholding of resources?
  • Performance Expectations – People want to know what is expected of them. Does your organization have systems in place that allow employees to clearly know what’s expected in terms of the level of quality and quantity of their work outcomes?
  • Growth – Do employees believe that your organization fosters opportunities for career and job growth? This is increasingly more challenging as organizations become flatter and there is less hierarchical growth “up the ladder,” but smart organizations are finding ways to allow for employee growth through other avenues.
  • Procedural Justice (Fairness) – Are decisions made fairly and equitably? Are rules applied equally to everyone in the organization, or is there a culture of bias or playing favorites?
  • Distributive Justice (Rewards) – People need to feel that the distribution of rewards and compensation are commensurate to the effort they put out and the results they achieve at work. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Relationship Factors

  • Connectedness with Colleagues – Like the theme song from the old TV sitcom “Cheers” says, “You want to go where everybody knows your name.” People need rewarding interpersonal relationships with their coworkers to be fully engaged on the job.
  • Connectedness with Leader – Employees want and need a supportive and personal relationship with their boss. Of course this varies by personality types and other factors, but everyone wants to have a positive and productive relationship with their leader.

On January 25, 2012 at 8:00 a.m. PST, The Ken Blanchard Companies is hosting a free Leadership Livecast and I’m excited to be one of 40 thought leaders who will be presenting on the topic of “Quit and Stayed.” Over 5,000 people have registered to attend and I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about how you can address this workplace epidemic.

Six Ways to Power-Up Your Employees

Would your employees say their relationship with you makes them feel more powerful or powerless?

I’ve been pondering this question since I read a recent blog article from Liz Kislik on the topic of “speaking truth to power” where she made a statement that hit me straight between the eyes: “Leading — real leading — requires helping others find their power instead of squelching it.”

So how can I…how can WE as leaders…help others find their power? I think part of the answer lies in helping our employees find autonomy and control in their work and self-confidence in their abilities.

Here’s six practical ways we can help our people move from feeling powerless to powerful:

1. Give them public opportunities to shine — It’s easy to get trapped in the daily grind and just let people toil in the shadows. Leaders should look for opportunities to sing the praises of their team members to other leaders in the organization or let them showcase their talents in cross-functional teams, projects, or public presentations.

2. Let them make decisions — Don’t micromanage your employees. There’s no quicker way to make people feel powerless than to rob them of their ability to make decisions over their own work. Constant micromanaging develops a mindset of learned helplessness among your employees and inhibits their ability to learn and grow in their role.

3. Ask for and incorporate their feedback into your decisions — Simply asking others for their thoughts and opinions signals that you respect what they bring to the table and you recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Contributing to decisions and the direction of the team allows your employees to feel they have power to influence their own work environment.

4. Be a straight shooter — Being evasive or vague in your communications can create the perception that you’re trying to hoard  information, power, and control which leave people feeling powerless about their situation. Giving and receiving honest feedback builds trust and confidence with others because they always know where they stand with you and that gives them a measure of power and control over their current reality.

5. Give them leadership opportunities within the team — Whether it’s formal or informal, giving employees a chance to experience leadership positions is a positive step toward empowerment. I’ve seen a number of instances where someone who was thought to not be of “leadership caliber” was given the opportunity to lead and turned out to be a fantastic leader. Sometimes people just need a chance.

6. Let them fail — It’s easy to want to protect our people from failing. Whether we want to spare them from the pain or we’re reluctant to let go of control in the first place, we often don’t let our people get in situations where they have the potential to fail. Part of empowering our team members is letting go of control and allowing them to experience success and failure. Failure is a great teacher as long as we’re willing to learn, and that’s a key role of a leader – helping your people learn from their mistakes.

It’s our job as leaders to find ways to “power-up” our employees so they gain that sense of control and ownership of their work which leads to higher levels of commitment and engagement. What are some ways you’ve helped your people develop and embrace their personal power? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Does Your Culture Breed Success? Four Lessons From Michigan’s Brady Hoke

What a difference a year makes! Almost exactly one year to the day, I wrote a blog article titled What Killed The Coach? for LeaderChat.org, where I detailed the cultural missteps taken by Rich Rodriquez that led to his firing as head football coach at the University of Michigan.

Since that time, Brady Hoke was hired to come in and turn around the program and he just finished his first season with an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. One of the main reasons that Hoke was hired at Michigan was his former ties to the program as an assistant coach and his appreciation for the culture of the school and football program.

Hoke used the power of Michigan’s culture to reverse the course of his team and set them on the path to success. Here’s four lessons we can take away from Brady Hoke’s experience that can help us in our own leadership journeys:

1. Respect the past – Brady Hoke always speaks in glowing and reverential terms about the history of Michigan football. He shows a deep respect and appreciation for those who came before him, and he understands that he and his team have an obligation to continue the winning tradition at Michigan. We should honor those who have laid the foundations for our success and help our people understand that we have a responsibility to continue the winning ways for those that follow us.

2. Enlist the support of team leaders – When asked about the keys to his success this year, Hoke repeatedly mentioned the influence of the Seniors on the team. He spoke about how the Seniors bought into his philosophy and served as examples for the rest of the players on the team. When implementing change in our organizations, it’s critical that our team leaders, whether they hold formal leadership positions or not, are on board.

3. Create team rituals – Shared experiences build the bonds of culture and help to reinforce the ideals that we’re trying to foster within our organization. Hoke ended each of his team practices or meetings with the cheer “Beat Ohio!” in reference to Michigan’s end-of-season game against their biggest rival, Ohio State. Hoke also had a countdown clock installed in their training room that counted down the days, hours, and minutes to the game with Ohio State. Team rituals reinforce what it means to be a part of our organizations, the expectations we hold for each other, and the common goals that we strive toward.

4. Keep the focus on the team, not the leader – Unlike most football coaches, Brady Hoke doesn’t lead his team out of the tunnel before the game, he runs behind them. It’s his way of keeping the spotlight on the team and not himself. He knows that it’s the team that actually plays the game and they’re the ones that deserve the attention and focus. We as leaders need to remember that our role is to set the vision and direction, then prepare, train, and coach our people to higher levels of performance. But at the end of the day, they are the ones who are performing on the front lines and deserve the limelight of success.

Organizational consultant Stan Slap likes to make the point that the original sin of leaders trying to implement organizational change is failing to respect the power of the culture to bury you. A culture is the simplest operating system in the world and it makes all decisions based on a shared belief of survival and prosperity. It makes those decisions based on the actions of leadership and whether those actions support or contradict their stated values. If the culture believes supporting those values is in the best interest of their survival and prosperity, they’ll give everything they have to make it happen.

Leadership Wisdom From The North Pole – An Interview With Santa Claus

After finishing his whirlwind trip around the globe delivering presents, I had the opportunity to sit down with Santa for a one-on-one interview. I was interested in gleaning some wisdom from one of the most legendary leaders of all time and what appears below is an excerpt from our time together.

Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be exhausted after your long night of work.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy! I’m not exhausted, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.

Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?

Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.

Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?

Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.

Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.

Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?

Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.

Me: Santa, I know you’re tired and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question. If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?

Santa: I would encourage leaders to remember the purpose of their position – to serve those they lead. Leaders set the vision and direction for their team, provide the necessary resources and training, and then look for ways to support their team members in achieving their goals. Successful leaders remember that the most important thing they have is their integrity and the trust they hold with their followers, and they continually look for ways to build and maintain trust with others. If they focus on that, they’ll be successful in the long run.

Trust and Consequences – Five Tips for Making Wise Decisions

December 7th of this past week marked the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan. Every year around this time I’m reminded of the powerful, and sometimes largely unknown, consequences of the decisions we make. The reminder stems from a story that I heard my wife’s grandpa, Don Hadley, tell dozens of times about a decision he made 70 years ago that changed the course of his life.

In the summer of 1940, Don Hadley was a newly married U.S. Marine stationed in San Diego, CA. Returning from his honeymoon, he received a call from his Gunnery Sergeant informing him of his new assignment: Report to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor for a two-year tour of duty.

Not wanting to move his wife away from her Italian-immigrant family, Don asked if there were any other options. He was told he could go to Guam for 18 months, but it would be sea duty versus the two years of shore duty in Pearl aboard the USS Arizona. He chose Guam. Anyone familiar with the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor knows that the USS Arizona was sunk during the battle, resulting in 1,177 officers and crew losing their lives.

This one decision had a relatively few number of stakeholders directly affected by the outcome and the potential consequences seemed narrow in scope. Yet with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that generations of lives were impacted as a result of this one choice.

In a leadership capacity, this story has always reminded me of the importance of making good decisions. There may be consequences to our decisions that we can’t readily see on the surface so it’s vital that we make wise decisions. Here’s some tips and techniques to help you make good decisions:

1. Don’t overestimate your decision-making abilities – That fact is that most of us don’t receive much formal training in how to make decisions. Creating a list of pro’s and con’s is a good start, but there are many other decision-making tools that can help. Select the tools most appropriate for the decisions you need to make.

2. Be clear on the decision you need to make – There is a difference between problem-solving and decision-making. Problem-solving usually deals with a more complex set of variables whereas a decision is a subset of solving a particular problem. Dig into the root issues of the situation you’re involved with and determine what exactly it is you’re trying to decide. You don’t want to spend time making a decision about an issue that isn’t at the core of the situation.

3. Gather the facts – It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many times we rush to decisions because we assume we know all the facts. Do research, talk to people familiar with the situation, and get advice from unbiased advisers. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to make rash decisions that come back to haunt you because you didn’t take the time to thoroughly vet the situation.

4. Understand the impact on the stakeholders – Consider the needs and desires of those affected by the decision. Does your decision promote the welfare of those involved? Is it fair and just? Is it in alignment with your personal values and those of the organization? Try to step into the shoes of those on the receiving end of the decision to understand how they may perceive the outcome, and if possible, solicit input from those affected and incorporate their feedback into your decision if it makes sense.

5. Make the decision and follow through – In their classic Harvard Business Review article, The Smart-Talk Trap, authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton explain that in business, “When confronted with a problem, people act as if discussing it, formulating decisions, and hashing out plans for action are the same as actually fixing it.” Trusted leaders do more than talk – they actually make a decision and follow through by implementing it. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in “analysis-paralysis,” always wanting to discuss it a little bit more or gather just a few more facts. At some point you have to make the decision and move forward. If it ends up being the wrong decision then change course and try again!

I’m glad that Grandpa Don made the decision to go to Guam. If he didn’t, I almost certainly would never have had the opportunity to marry my wonderful wife Kim and have the beautiful family that I’m blessed with today. Trusted leaders take time to make wise decisions and then move forward confidently knowing they did their best.

Are You a Scary Boss? Six Ways to Lower Fear and Build Trust

The coach of the opposing team at my son’s high school basketball game yesterday clearly tried to lead his team through fear and intimidation. His voice had one volume setting – LOUD! He wasn’t just speaking loud so that his players could hear him in the noisy gym. He yelled. He screamed. The entire game. He criticized his players for making mistakes and made sarcastic comments about their performance. He threatened them with time on the bench if they didn’t follow his instructions. I mentioned to some other parents that when a coach constantly yells and screams at his players, they eventually start to tune out, or even worse, become so afraid to make a mistake that they fail to give their best effort. That clearly was the case with this team.

Even if you aren’t the stereotypical gruff, volatile, loud, in-your-face type of boss, you may be casting a shadow of fear over your team without even realizing it. Your positional authority alone is enough to create a certain amount of anxiety and stress in the hearts of your employees. Add in some common fear-inducing behaviors leaders often use like hoarding information, losing their temper, and not protecting the interests of their employees, and you’ve got the recipe for creating timid and fearful team members.

Fear is the enemy of trust. In fact, if you have fear in a relationship, you can’t have trust. The two are polar opposites just like night and day, black and white, pain and pleasure, success and failure, or even Michigan and Ohio State (Go Blue!).

In order to become a trusted leader, you need to lower, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of fear in the relationships with those you lead. Here are six ways to lower fear and build trust:

1. Be consistent in your behavior – Unpredictability breeds fear. If your employees can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to step out and take risks. They’ll always be on edge, not knowing who’s going to show up at the office, the “good boss” that will support their efforts and have their back should they make a mistake, or the “bad boss” that will fly off the handle and punish them for their failure.

2. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities – High-trust cultures give employees confidence to set BHAG’s – big hairy audacious goals – and risk failure by not achieving them. Rather than penalize your employees when they make a mistake, use the opportunity to coach them on how to do better the next time around.

3. Explain the “why” – Let your team members know the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions you make. It will help them better understand your thought processes and motivations and create more buy-in to your leadership. Failure to explain the “why” leaves people wondering about why you do what you do and sows the seeds of doubt and fear.

4. Share information about yourself – The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself. By soliciting the feedback of others, you can learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Check out one of my previous articles about how you can build trust by being more vulnerable with people.

5. Solicit and use feedback from others – Leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother soliciting feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.

6. Be nice – Say “please”… “thank you”… “you’re welcome”… a little kindness goes a long way in building trust. Simply making the effort to be friendly and build a rapport with others signals to them that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers that show up to do a job.

My son’s basketball team ended up winning the game quite convincingly, and in marked contrast to the other team’s coach, my son’s coach doesn’t lead by fear and intimidation. As a result, the players feel secure in the consistency of his leadership and perform without fear of how he’ll respond if they make a mistake. Give it a try with your team and watch the victories pile up.

The Indelible Mark of a Trusted Leader – Do You Have It?

I recently met someone who had a tattoo of this Chinese symbol. When I asked her what it meant, she said that it represented “honesty.” As the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, I was immediately intrigued since honesty is a core component of trust. I did some research on this symbol and learned that it could represent several concepts including “trust” itself. Yet the formation of this character is a compound word that has the meaning of “a person’s word is to be believed.” I was struck by the clear implication for leaders – are you a person whose word is to be believed?

In order to be a leader whose word is believed, it’s necessary to be honest in your dealings with people. Some would say that it’s unrealistic to be honest in all situations. In fact, just recently I read an article on a well-known management website that advocated the top ten reasons to be dishonest in the workplace, most of which were rationalizations for self-centric, me-first egoism. Being honest and ethical is actually a self-esteem boost for a leader. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”

If asked if they were honest, most leaders would say “Yes, of course. I don’t tell lies.” Telling the truth is at the core of being honest, but it’s not the only behavior that people interpret as honesty. Sharing information openly, not coloring or hiding parts of the truth to fit an agenda, and delivering tough news with tact and diplomacy all go into someone forming a perception of you as an honest leader. In a recent survey conducted of over 800 people who attended our webinar, Four Leadership Behaviors That Build or Destroy Trust, 57% of respondents said that the most important behavior of a leader to build trust is acting with integrity; being honest in word and deed.

You can’t establish a relationship of trust without being honest. When you behave honestly, others are able to rely upon your consistency of character. Being reliable, consistent, and predictable in your behavior, decisions, and reactions to critical situations allows your followers to have a sense of security and confidence in your leadership. Being honest also helps the bottom line. Kenneth T. Derr, retired chairman of Chevron Corporation said “There’s no doubt in my mind that being ethical pays, because I know that, in our company, people who sleep well at night work better during the day.”

Honesty is like a behavioral tattoo, the indelible mark of a trusted leader. Do you have it?

(I published a similar version of this article in June 2011 on LeaderChat.org.)

Be Like Mike – Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski’s Most Important Leadership Trait

“In leadership, there are no words more important than trust.
In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”
Leading With The Heart ~ Mike Krzyzewski

This past Tuesday Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history when Duke defeated Michigan State 74-69. This was Coach K’s 903rd victory in a 35 year career that has included four national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, and just four losing seasons.

In a post-game interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis, Coach K was asked the following question: “What’s the single most important characteristic for a coach to have to achieve the things you’ve achieved?”

Mike Krzyzewski’s answer is simple, yet profound, and is one that leaders everywhere should take to heart if they want to maximize their leadership influence. Here’s what he said:

“I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each individual player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in, and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

When Coach K references his players “letting him in,” he points to the heart. It’s not just a casual, conversational gesture. He’s making a specific point about tapping into his players’ heart – the emotional core of who they are as a person. Coach K intentionally focuses on developing a trusting relationship with each of his players because he knows without that absolute level of trust, he won’t be able to teach them how to transform their potential into performance.

The same principle applies to leaders in any organization. In order to achieve success, you have to take the time to establish meaningful, trust-based relationships with your team members. If your people don’t trust you, they won’t be receptive to your coaching on ways they can improve their performance. If your team can’t trust that you’ll have their back when they fail, they won’t take the necessary risks needed to move your business forward.

Conversely, trust enables your team to confront the brutal facts of their performance and find ways to get better. Trust allows individuals to set aside their personal ego for the betterment of the team and commit wholeheartedly to pursuing a common goal. Trust is what allows leaders to tap into the hearts and souls of their team members and achieve greater levels of success together than they could ever reach individually.

Beyond the career milestones, and he’s had plenty, leading with trust is Mike Krzyzewski’s most enduring legacy. In that regard, we should all try to be like Mike.

Losing The Moral Authority To Lead – Three Lessons From The Penn State Scandal

This past week we’ve seen the tragic consequences of what can happen when a trusted leader loses the moral authority to lead. Yesterday was the first time in 46 years that Penn State University played a football game without Joe Paterno as the head coach. Paterno spent 62 years building his career at Penn State, only to see it crumble in an instant as a result of one critical failure of judgement.

Joe Paterno is a Hall of Fame coach for good reason: Two national championships; five undefeated seasons; 23 top-ten finishes; 24 bowl victories (most ever); 87% graduation rate for his players; 409 victories (most ever); and 548 games coached, second only to the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg (578).

Joe Paterno and Penn State have been known as a model of stability and ethical behavior. In this day and age of recruiting violations, player misconduct, and booster improprieties, not once has Penn State been under NCAA sanctions during Joe Paterno’s leadership. Since he joined the Penn State coaching staff in 1950 (12 U.S. presidents have served during this time!), Paterno has risen to demigod status within the state of Pennsylvania and in the world of college football. Given this background, you can see why the child molestation scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky, and Paterno’s role in not fully investigating and reporting the alleged crimes to the proper authorities, has shaken Penn State and the college football community to its core.

As a father of two sons, a coach of youth sports, and a student, practitioner, and teacher of trust-based leadership, I’ve been disgusted and disheartened by what’s happened at Penn State. The blatant abuse of power by those in leadership and the lack of concern for the children victimized is absolutely inexcusable. It’s been an utter failure of institutional leadership that warranted nothing less than the removal of those who presided over these events.

Contemplating the events of the past week have reminded me of three fundamental lessons for all of us in leadership positions:

1. Leaders are held to higher standards. The Holy Scriptures capture this idea perfectly in Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Joe Paterno’s error in judgement came in believing the extent of his responsibility stopped at informing his athletic director of the alleged illegal activities. It seems unfathomable that Paterno would not recognize the severity of the wrongdoing involved in the actions of his former coach, but it was his responsibility as the leader of the football program to personally see these allegations fully investigated. When one of our team members brings a problem to us, particularly one that may involve illegal activity, it is our responsibility to notify ALL the appropriate authorities, and not try to minimize our personal responsibility by passing the buck to someone else.

2. Leaders are accountable for what happens on their watch. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper. When a problem occurs on your team, you are ultimately accountable whether you were personally involved in the situation or not. Leaders don’t have the privilege of enjoying all the benefits of being in charge without accepting the responsibility that comes with it. This is the exact reason that it was appropriate for Joe Paterno to be fired (along with other university leaders). I’ve read articles that have tried to excuse Paterno’s accountability by justifying that he did his part by informing his athletic director. That is really beside the point when it comes to accountability. The football program and all the activities and people associated with it were ultimately under Paterno’s stewardship. The buck stops with him and it stops with all of us as leaders. It may not seem fair, but it’s reality.

3. Leaders have a moral obligation to protect those in positions of low power. The most disturbing issue in this whole scandal is the lack of concern given to the victims, those young boys powerless to protect themselves. I believe that being a leader, whether as a coach, parent, or manager on the job, comes with a sacred trust. Leaders are placed in positions of power that comes with a duty to protect and care for those under their charge. The leaders at Penn State violated this sacred trust. Power has the ability to cloud our judgement and cause us to misplace our priorities. One can surmise this was the case at Penn State. Those who were victimized were essentially ignored in an effort to protect the university’s reputation. Leaders have a moral obligation to give voice to those who don’t or can’t have their own.

A bright light in this situation is that the newly appointed president of Penn State, Rodney Erickson, recognizes the task of rebuilding trust that lays ahead of him. In both video and written messages to the Penn State community, Erickson has stated that he will lead the university to reorient its culture and restore the moral imperative of doing the right thing. He has expressed remorse and support for those victimized and has committed to actions that will lead to greater transparency and trust in the future.

What are your thoughts about the Penn State scandal and its implications for leaders? Feel free to leave a comment.

Courageous Career Coaching – Ten Questions Trusted Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Ask

“What would we need to do to keep you here?” If you’re like most leaders, chances are the last (and only) time you’ve asked that question is when one of your valued employees was about to resign. In a last-ditch effort to keep her from walking out the door, you ask the question that you should have asked long before she even started to contemplate leaving your organization.

Leaders are often afraid to engage in career development discussions because they feel unprepared to respond to the employee’s desires, or even worse, powerless to do anything about it due to organizational constraints. Yet in order to establish a high level of trust with those you lead, it’s critical your employees know you’re genuinely interested in, and committed to, their career growth.

Last week the Gallup organization reported that 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, and we know that disengaged employees are more likely to leave for other jobs, or worse, “quit and stay” at their current job. Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies has identified job and career growth as one of the 12 critical factors that create engaged and passionate employees, and it’s important for leaders to know that employees believe it’s the primary responsibility of their direct manager and senior leadership to influence and improve the environment for growth.

So how is a leader supposed to know what employees want or need in order to be engaged, committed, and grow in their work and career? Here’s a revolutionary idea: Ask them. Regularly.

Career growth discussions should occur on a regular basis, not just once a year when a performance review is conducted (and even then “career planning” is often just a euphemism for next year’s goal setting). Margie Blanchard advocates that leaders engage in “courageous career coaching” with employees and created 10 key questions to facilitate the process (see below)¹. It takes courage to ask and act upon these questions, but when you do, it sends a clear message to employees that you are committed to helping them grow in their jobs and careers.

Have you asked your staff any of these questions? Are there other questions you would add to this list? Leave a comment to share your thoughts and experiences.

Courageous Career Coaching Questions

  1. Why do you stay?
  2. What might lure you away?
  3. What did you like about your prior job (where you stayed several years)? What kept you there?
  4. Are you being ____ (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback) enough for now?
  5. What would make your life here easier?
  6. Are things as you expected they would be?
  7. What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?
  8. What would we need to do to keep you here?
  9. What is most energizing about your work?
  10. What about your job makes you want to take a day off?

¹Adapted from Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans

Leadership Zombie Apocalypse! Four Signs You May Be Infected

Organizations around the world are reporting their leaders are turning into zombies at an alarming rate. Formerly healthy, productive, and capable leaders are falling victim to the Zombie Plague, the deadly disease that has spread uncontrollably during the global economic recession the past three years.

Leadership development experts recommend that leaders be on alert for the symptoms listed below. If any of these are present in your current leadership practices, please consult a professional immediately.

1. You’re running on autopilot – Zombie’s are empty vessels with no willpower or mind of their own. They wander about aimlessly with no clear purpose other than to satisfy their basic needs for survival (mainly terrorizing and eating humans!). Zombie leaders have become complacent and stopped investing in their own growth and learning. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep the ship afloat and they’ve stopped pushing the boundaries to innovate and adapt to new realities in the marketplace. If you’re content with doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, you might be infected. Get it checked out.

2. You’re a doomsdayist – Healthy leaders are purveyors of hope and positive energy. They cast a compelling vision of the future that inspires their followers to commit to the goal, team, or organization. Zombie leaders tend to have a sense of doom and failure. They waste their energy focusing on all the reasons why something can’t be done rather than working to find new solutions. They’re often heard saying “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

3. Your relationships are strained and difficult – Zombie leaders tend to have a low EQ (emotional quotient) that makes them ill-prepared to develop strong interpersonal relationships. They fail to build rapport with their followers, don’t collaborate well with colleagues, and have a low self-awareness about how they “show up” with other people. In fact, zombie leaders reading this right now probably fail to identify with any of these qualities and instead are muttering to themselves “I wish my boss was reading this article.”

4. You’re in a “trust-deficit” – Leaders infected with the zombie virus are notorious for breaking trust with their followers. Failing to follow through on commitments, taking credit for other people’s work, not “walking the talk,” and withholding recognition and praise from others are all ways that zombies erode trust. The low-trust relationships that zombie leaders have with their followers results in reduced productivity, gossiping, questioning of decisions, and low levels of employee morale and engagement.

Various remedies are available to prevent leaders from contracting the Zombie Plague or to treat those already infected. The therapy plan extends over the course of a leader’s lifetime and requires constant diligence to ensure the disease stays in remission. Treatments include ongoing learning and self-improvement, building trust in relationships, and adopting a servant-leader philosophy.

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