Leading with Trust

How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

Biggest Mistake Leaders Make - Section 1Over 1,400 people were presented a list of common leadership mistakes and were asked to select the top five. Two of them stood out clearly from the rest: Not providing appropriate feedback was chosen by 82%, with failing to listen or involve others a close second, chosen by 81%. (Failing to use an appropriate leadership style, failing to set clear goals and objectives, and failing to develop their people rounded out the respondents’ top five things leaders most often fail to do when working with others.)

Why is that? Well, one obvious reason is most managers receive little to no training when they move into a supervisory role. One study suggests most managers don’t receive any training until 10 years into their career and research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that 47 percent of organizations do not have a formal training program in place for new managers. Clearly many new managers aren’t getting the training they need to succeed in their roles. (If that’s you or your organization, check out our new First-Time Manager training program.)

A second, and no less obvious reason, is that giving feedback can be difficult and scary. Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts andFeedback details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for nearly 26 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

Top 7 Posts in 2015: Why it’s Hard to Trust People, Good Bosses vs. Bad Bosses, and More!

Top 7As I reflect back on 2015, it’s incredible to consider this is the fifth year of the Leading with Trust blog. In some respects it seems like just a few months ago that I started writing about the importance of trust in leadership, but in other ways it seems as though this blog has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.

This past year saw an amazing 67% increase in viewership! It’s mind-boggling to me that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to read, comment, and share articles from this blog. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to encourage others to lead in authentic ways that build trust in the workplace. The world desperately needs servant leaders more than ever and it has to begin with trust.

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2016, these Top 7 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

7th Most Popular Post: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” — Originally published in 2013 for the Thanksgiving holiday, this post has stood the test of time. Check it out for creative ideas on how to recognize and reward employees.

6th: The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening — Listening is one of the most neglected leadership skills yet it is key to building high trust relationships with your followers.

5th: Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do — The best leaders make it easy for people to follow them. Here are 10 leadership practices you should consider.

4th: 8 Ways to Tell if You’re a Good Boss or a Bad Boss — Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, this post explores eight ways that distinguish whether you are a good boss or a bad one.

3rd: Stop Measuring Employee Performance and Start Evaluating This 1 Thing Instead — This post discusses the one thing that is a better indicator of an employee’s contribution in place of the traditional performance review.

2nd: 5 Stages of Distrust and How it Destroys Your Relationships — Low trust rears its head in predictable ways and this post from May 2014 clues you in on the warning signs.

and the #1 most popular post in 2015…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People — For the second year in a row this is the most viewed post on Leading with Trust. Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This article will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Close Your Mouth and Open Your Ears – 4 Tips to Build Trust

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Easy to Follow? 10 Things Great Leaders Know and Do

Easy Way or Hard Way“He’s a pretty easy guy to follow.”

That was the response from a friend when we were recently talking about how much she enjoys her job. She’s worked with this person for several years, they have a great rapport, and she loves her work. She said the fact that her boss is easy to work with is a primary reason for her success and job satisfaction.

Her statement got me thinking about my own leadership. Am I easy to follow? I’d like to think so, but of course, the only real opinion that matters is that of my team members. Considering leadership in general, what makes a person easy to follow? I think the answers are pretty straight forward and common sense, but often not common practice because our own personality quirks and baggage get in the way.

As I’ve considered this question, the following 10 leadership practices have come clear to me as characteristics of leaders who are easy to follow:

1. Be nice – It’s kind of sad this has to be called out but it does. Too many leaders are jerks. They let power go to their heads and think they have the right to lord it over their people. Don’t do that, please. Just be nice. Smile every once in a while. Say please and thank you. Ask people how their day is going. It doesn’t cost you a dime to be nice and you’ll be amazed at how much more engaged and productive your team will be if you treat them nicely.

2. Give people your time – The greatest gift you can give your people is a few minutes of your time. Leaders like to say they have an open door policy, but is that the case with you in reality? When people stop by your office, do you stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention, or do you ask them to schedule a meeting with you for the following week? Does everyone on your team know without a doubt that they can meet with you regarding any topic, or are there barriers (real or imagined) between you and your employees that prevent them from opening up to you? Giving people the gift of your time shows you value, respect, and genuinely care about them. I know from experience that the larger your team the harder this is to accomplish. Get creative by scheduling regular communication forums (quarterly meetings, town hall meetings, etc.) and make sure you leave enough white space on your own calendar to be available for those impromptu drop-in meetings. We often over-schedule ourselves to the point where we don’t have any availability for our own team members.

3. Don’t expect everyone to be like you – This can be challenging, particularly for leaders who have personalities that favor perfectionism. It’s great to have high expectations for yourself; that’s probably what helped you rise to a leadership position. It’s good to have high expectations for your staff as well, but remember, they may not do things exactly the way you would. Give people the freedom to be who they are and leverage their strengths to help them achieve their goals and those of the team. Don’t try to make them your personal mini-me’s.

idea light bulb4. Solicit and incorporate people’s ideas – Many leaders are great at asking for ideas; only a few actually do anything with them. One of the quickest ways to alienate your team members is to tell them you want to hear their ideas and are open to feedback, but not actually do anything with it when it’s shared with you. Incorporate the ideas of your team members into your action plans and they’ll be invested in the success of your team. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

5. Be good at what you do – This one may see odd, but people want to follow leaders who are good at what they do. Set a good example for your team by continually improving your skills, both in your technical role as well as your leadership skills. Many people get promoted into a leadership role because they were star performers in their role as an individual contributor. Leadership is a whole different skill set so be sure to focus on developing the skills and abilities that will help you lead effectively.

6. Empower people – Empowerment was a popular buzz word in the 90’s and soon fell out of favor, however, the concept is still valid and effective. Good leaders establish the boundaries of the playing field for their team members, make sure everyone is clear on the rules and objectives, and then let them play the game. They don’t micromanage and dictate how the work should be done, but they manage to the outcome of what needs to be done.

7. Recognize and reward good performance – Leaders who are easy to follow are experts in finding people doing something right. They take the time to acknowledge the good performance of their team members and to celebrate their (and the team’s) success. When I conduct training sessions with clients and this topic comes up, I will frequently ask participants to raise their hand if they are sick and tired of all the praising they receive at work. No one ever raises their hand. People crave hearing positive feedback about their hard work.

trust8. Treat people with respect and create an environment of trust and safety – The spirits of too many people die at the office door each morning because they dread their work environment. No  one should have to feel bullied, intimidated, or afraid to go to work. It’s the leader’s job to foster an environment of trust and safety that allow team members to unleash their power and potential for the good of themselves and the organization.

9. Show a sense of humor; make work fun – Making work fun and showing a sense of humor is a hallmark of leaders who are easy to follow. They create a sense of camaraderie within the team and keep the mood light when times get tough. They know how to take work seriously but themselves lightly. Showing a sense of humor and laughing at yourself once in a while shows your vulnerability and authenticity that draw people to you, not away from you.

10. Maintain perspective on the most important priorities in life – Work is important; life is more important. Easy to follow leaders maintain the proper perspective about what’s most important in life. These kinds of leaders understand they have to lead the whole person, not just the worker who shows up to do a job eight hours a day. Kids get sick, employees have personal challenges, life happens….good leaders understand this and are sensitive to the needs of their team members. Show a little compassion and understanding with your team members and you’ll earn their loyalty, trust, and commitment.

Leadership is a complex proposition, but it doesn’t have to complicated. It’s these common sense principles that help us be successful leaders, if only we can get out of our own way.

What else would you add to this? What makes a leader easy to follow? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and ideas.

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