Leading with Trust

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.

Are Your People Ready to Stage an “Occupy” Protest? Four Ways to Build a High-Trust Culture

If given the chance, would the people in your organization stage an “Occupy” protest? Do they have feelings of inequity, spawned by the perception that the top 1% in your organization receive a disproportionate amount of the rewards at the expense of the 99%?

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last few weeks, you’re probably familiar with the “Occupy” movement that has spawned social protests on Wall Street and various cities and venues around the world. Underlying these protests of social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money and lobbying in politics, is a profound lack of trust between leaders and those being led.

What can we learn from the Occupy movement to help us build organizational cultures of high-trust? I think the following four areas are good places to start:

1. Share information liberally
We live in an information age, where just about anything we want to know is but a few keystrokes or mouse-clicks away. Yet in many of our organizations, leaders withhold information as a way to maintain power and authority over others.

A lack of information sharing about the compensation system at the Mayo Clinic had created perceptions of inequality and just a 17% satisfaction level in 1999. By increasing the frequency, clarity, and transparency of communication about all compensation related matters, the Mayo Clinic was able to raise the level of satisfaction to 82% in 2011, with very little change to the fundamental structure of the compensation system itself.

In the absence of information, your people will make up their own version of the truth. Share information openly so that your people know the facts about what’s going on in the organization and trust that they will use and respond to that information responsibly.

2. Increase employee involvement in decision-making
My friend, colleague, and organizational change expert Pat Zigarmi, likes to make the point that contrary to popular opinion, people don’t resist organizational change; they resist being controlled. When people are shut out from contributing to decisions that will directly impact them, they develop a sense of distrust and skepticism toward the decision makers.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, my organization suffered a loss of over $2 million dollars of booked business due to clients eliminating corporate travel. Our company had to make immediate moves to reduce expenses, but rather than making the easy and obvious decision to layoff staff, our leadership engaged everyone across the organization to generate ways to decrease costs or increase revenues in order to avoid layoffs. Hundreds of ideas were surfaced and many were implemented which resulted in the company being able to not only survive the economic downturn, but continue to make a profit and avoid eliminating jobs.

Involving your people in making decisions will lead to higher levels of trust and commitment. Remember, those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

3. Give people what matters most – your time and attention
Google is legendary for the perks that it offers its employees. At the Googleplex, Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA, team members have unlimited access to free haircuts, massages, meals, dry cleaning, and even on-site medical care.

Yet when Google undertook a study to determine what employees valued most, they overwhelmingly said “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Just like workaholic parents who fool themselves into believing they can make up for their lack of presence in their kids’ lives by spoiling them with all the latest toys and gadgets, leaders often fall prey to the same line of thinking by believing corporate perks and benefits can make up for the lack of intimate one-one-one leadership. Developing genuine and authentic relationships is a primary way to build a culture of trust.

4. Have an ethical and equitable compensation system
Economic inequality is one of the primary platforms of the Occupy protest movement. According to research done by Kevin Murphy at USC’s Marshall School of Business, in 1971 the ratio between the average CEO’s salary and that of an employee was 30.6 percent (averages of $212,230 vs. $6,540). In 2009, the last year of his research, it was 264.4 percent ($8.47 million vs. just over $32,000).

Although research has consistently shown that money is usually not a primary motivator for employees, it would be a huge mistake to discount the negative effect of unfair compensation. In a recent HBR blog article, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, make three excellent points about the importance of fair compensation.

First, compensating your employees fairly is simply the right thing to do. Second, fair compensation creates a more positive “inner work life effect” – the positive flow of emotions, thoughts, and motivators about the employee’s perception of their work. It’s confirmation of Ken Blanchard’s old saying that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results.” And third, compensation is more than a paycheck. It’s a signal to employees about their value to the organization and the importance of the work they do.

If we’re willing to pay attention, we can learn several important lessons from the Occupy movement. Sharing information liberally, increasing employee involvement in decision-making, nurturing one-on-one relationships, and compensating people fairly will lead to higher levels of trust, commitment, and engagement in our organizations.

Build Trust Through Professionalism – Seven Mindsets for Success

Do you consider yourself a professional? Or do you think professionalism is reserved for those occupations that require a special degree or qualification, such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant?

Being a professional has nothing to do with a particular job, title, or degree. It has everything to do with the mindset you choose to hold in the way you approach your work, argues Bill Wiersma, in the Fall 2011 issue of the Leader to Leader Journal. In Fixing the trust deficit: Creating a culture of professionals, Wiersma makes the valuable point that adhering to professional ideals builds trust with others and he offers the following seven mindsets that are characteristic of trusted professionals.

  1. Professionals have a bias for results, knowing that they are counted on to achieve results by using their knowledge, expertise and skills. They develop a track record of success and a reputation for getting the job done, no matter what it takes.
  2. Professionals realize (and act like) they are part of something bigger than themselves. They understand that true success is measured beyond their own personal interests, are good collaborators, and are committed to the goals of their organization. In the world of sports, they say this is being more committed to the name on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back.
  3. Professionals realize that things get better when they get better. They are engaged and committed to improving their craft, always looking for opportunities to personally get better. When it comes to being a professional, it’s not just business; it’s personal.
  4. Professionals often have standards that transcend organizational ones, because they are motivated by a core set of values that compels them to do the right thing rather than what’s expedient. They keep focused on the long-term goal and don’t get wrapped up in the daily drama.
  5. Professionals know that personal integrity is all they have. Following through on commitments, being honest, authentic, and not violating the trust that has been extended to them is a reflection of their character.
  6. Professionals aspire to master their emotions, not be enslaved by them. Dealing diplomatically with difficult people, rising above the fray, and remaining objective in emotional situations are key skills for trusted professionals.
  7. Professionals aspire to reveal value in others by keeping their ego in check, celebrating the success of others, and valuing the contributions that other professionals bring to the table. Professionals understand that no one of us is as smart as all of us.

One of my pet peeves is when I hear people describe their work by saying “I’m just a ______” (insert title or job). You are not just anything. Don’t discount yourself or your work by qualifying it with the word “just.” The work you do is valuable and important! Elevate the value of your work and your own self-image by approaching your job with these professional mindsets. You will be more satisfied in your work, perform better, and build higher levels of trust with others.

Trust Busters – The Top Five Ways Leaders Erode Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Every interaction leaders have with their followers is an opportunity to develop trust, and “trust boosters” are those behaviors we use that build trust with others while “trust busters” are those things we do that erode trust in relationships. Here are five common Trust Busters leaders commit that erode the level of trust in relationships:

1. Making promises you can’t keep – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Not following through on commitments – This trust buster is clearly linked to the first one about making promises you can’t keep, but it also goes beyond to failing to live up to even the routine or mundane commitments you’ve made. Common examples include being habitually late for meetings and appointments, rescheduling deadlines because you haven’t finished your part of the assignment, and canceling meetings without explanation. Consistency and predictability in behavior is a fundamental aspect of being a trustworthy individual. If others cannot count on you to be consistent and predictable in following through with even the simplest responsibilities, they certainly won’t trust you with the truly important ones.

3. Not being good at what you do – This may be one of the most overlooked trust busters that leaders commit. Others trust you as a leader when they know you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise that’s needed in your role, both from a technical standpoint as well as a leadership standpoint. Many of today’s leaders face the challenge of not having the specialized technical skills of the people they manage, but they can still display competence in their role by mastering the fundamentals of their particular field and relying on the advice and partnership of team members who possess that technical knowledge. Leverage the technical skills of your superstar performers and continue to improve your own leadership skills so that you can effectively manage the entire operation.

4. Spinning the truth – Being dishonest is obviously a major trust buster, but sometimes a less obvious way leaders erode trust is by spinning the truth – intentionally trying to shape someone’s understanding or perception of the facts of a particular situation. Of course leaders want to be positive in the way they deliver news to support the goals and strategies of the organization, but when they fail to acknowledge the realities of the situation, don’t engage team members in authentic dialogue to address their concerns, and blindly tow the company line, that’s when trust is eroded because team members can clearly see through the leader’s charade. When delivering news about significant changes in the organization, leaders need to address the information concerns that people have (what is the change?), their personal concerns (how does this affect me?), and implementation concerns (how is this going to work?). Be honest, forthright, and authentic with your people and you’ll gain their trust and commitment.

5. Not giving credit where credit is due – This trust buster can manifest itself in different ways. One common occurrence is taking personal credit for the accomplishments of others. When speaking about the success of your team, check your language. Do you speak more of “we” or “me?” In my experience I’ve found that leaders who think and speak in terms of “we” are more trusted and respected than those who claim success for themselves. Another way leaders bust trust in this way is being stingy with praise. Some leaders believe that in order to keep their people motivated they have to keep them on edge, and if they’re given too much praise they’ll get complacent and won’t work as hard. In my own leadership journey and through the work I’ve done with clients I’ve yet to hear any employee say they’re having problems with their boss giving them too much praise.

I’m curious if you’ve experienced other trust busters that you think should rank in the Top Five. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

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