Leading with Trust

8 Steps for Dealing with An Underperforming Employee

Talking with team members about their performance challenges typically falls in the category of “least favorite” managerial tasks, along with things such as budgeting, attending all-day meetings, and completing performance reviews. It’s usually not something most leaders enjoy, but it’s a necessary and critical part of helping your team perform its best.

Why do most leaders shy away from confronting poor performance head-on? My experience has shown that it’s usually because they don’t know where to start. Because the process feels uncomfortable and managers don’t have a plan to follow, they either do a poor job at addressing underperformance or they just don’t do it all.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Managers can confidently and successfully deal with underperforming employees by following an eight-step plan. The first three steps involve what I call “looking in the mirror,” which is examining the leader’s role in the employee’s performance issue. The next five steps are “looking out the window,” which is exploring the employee’s role in the situation.

Looking in the mirror

Before having a conversation with the employee, the leader needs to look in the mirror and examine if they’ve done their part to help the employee succeed.

Step 1: Did I set clear goals? All good performance starts with clear goals.

That’s one of the key leadership principles Ken Blanchard and I discuss in our recent book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Although most managers agree with the importance of setting goals, many do not take the time to clearly develop goals with their team members and write them down. How do leaders expect people to achieve their goals if they aren’t clear on what a good job looks like? And how can leaders accurately address poor performance if there isn’t a clear benchmark against which to measure?

Step 2: Did I accurately diagnose the employee’s development level?

People go through predictable stages of development when starting a new goal or task. Their development level on a task is a combination of competence (knowledge and skills) and commitment (confidence and motivation).

Most people start a new goal or task as an Enthusiastic Beginner because they have high commitment but low competence on doing the task. As they gain a bit of competence, they typically experience a dip in commitment because they realize the task is harder than they thought. We call people at that stage of development a Disillusioned Learner. As they build competence and commitment on the task, they move into the stage of being a Capable, but Cautious Performer. They know most of what to do regarding the task, but they still have some self-doubt that causes them to question themselves or seek the help of more experienced colleagues. Finally, when a person is fully competent and committed on a task, they have become a Self-Reliant Achiever.

Step 3: Did I use a leadership style that matched the employee’s development level?

In The Ken Blanchard Companies’ SLII® leadership development model, managers are taught to use different leadership styles that match the development level of their employees. Leaders flex their style by employing a combination of directive and supportive behaviors. For example, when an employee is an Enthusiastic Beginner, a leader needs to use a Directive style that is high on direction and low on support to teach the employee the basics of doing the task. Disillusioned Learner’s need a Coaching style that is high in both direction support to help them develop both their competence and commitment. Leaders use a Supporting style, high on support but low on direction, to draw out the Capable but Cautious Performer and help them step into their own power and knowledge. And of course, Self-Reliant Achievers can be given a Delegating style of leadership because they know what to do with minimal involvement from the leader.

Looking out the window

Leaders “look in the mirror” by examining themselves to make sure they’ve worked with the employee to set clear goals, accurately diagnosed the development level of the employee on each of those goals, and then used a matching leadership style to help the employee develop to peak performance. If leaders can answer in the affirmative to steps 1 to 3, then they can begin “looking out the window.”

Step 4: Is the employee unclear on goals and expectations?

It’s not uncommon for there to be confusion between leaders and employees on goals. Here’s an interesting way to test for goal alignment between a leader and team member. Both the leader and team member write down what they each believe to be the team member’s top 3-5 goals and then they compare notes. It’s amazing how often there is a notable discrepancy between the two lists.

If there isn’t alignment on the specific goal, the leader needs to reset or renegotiate goals with the employee, or the leader needs to give feedback on what and how the employee needs to perform differently.

Step 5: Have things changed to impact goal achievement?

Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, famously said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Conditions in the employee’s environment may have changed since the goal was first established, and as a result, their performance is being negatively impacted.

If this is the case, the leader may need to work with the employee to renegotiate the goal. Additionally, the leader may need to work with the employee on a strategy to mitigate the environmental risks. The leader should also partner with the team member to facilitate problem solving. Sometimes obstacles cause employees to stall out in progressing on their goal and they just need their leader to provide good coaching that helps them solve their own problems.

Step 6: Is it a problem of competence/skill?

If leaders answer yes to this question, it means the employee is either an Enthusiastic Beginner or Disillusioned Learner on the goal/task. In that case, the leader should provide a more directive style of leadership that involves showing the employee how to do the task and setting up a step-by-step plan for learning that will help the employee become a Self-Reliant Achiever (fully competent and committed).

Step 7: Is it a lack of confidence?

If the employee has the competence to do the task but lacks confidence, that signifies they are a Capable, but Cautious Performer. The leader’s job at this point is to build the employee’s confidence. How is that done? The leader uses high supportive behavior like encouraging and reassuring the employee. The leader can also build the employee’s confidence by helping them reflect on past successes and highlight the progress the employee has already made on the goal/task.

Step 8: Is it a lack of motivation?

There are times when all of us experience the motivational doldrums. Whether it’s personal or work-related, our motivational outlooks can impact our work performance. Identifying and connecting the employee’s contributions to the bigger-picture outcomes of the organization can help improve their motivation.

Most People Want to Succeed

Most of the time, following the previously outlined steps will help an employee improve their performance. However, there will be occasions when leaders work through these eight steps and performance doesn’t improve. What to do then?

Leaders should challenge ‘won’t do” behavior and clearly outline the consequences of continued non-performance. But before resorting to that, consider that most people want to do a good job. Very few people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a total failure today!” Before “looking out the window” to address poor performance with an employee, leaders need to “look in the mirror” to see if they’ve done their part to set the employee up for success. After all, leadership is a partnership. It’s something you do with people, not to them.

5 Ways to Lead with Empathy

People want an empathetic leader. Many managers strive to be one. But ask someone to define the term, and you’re likely to be met with silence.

Let’s start with the definition. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy means “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

The logical question is: why is being empathetic an important quality of a leader? It seems to have nothing in common with achieving tasks or succeeding in the workplace.

The importance of being an empathetic leader starts with the simple truth that leadership is about people. If you’re going to lead effectively, you must be attuned to your people’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This translates into creating real partnerships rather than exerting power. It means walking alongside your team members and guiding them in the direction you need them to go.

Why Empathetic Leaders Are Needed Now

The topic of empathetic leadership has been getting a lot of press lately, mostly due to the adverse effects of the pandemic. COVID has bruised people in many ways: losing a loved one, losing a job, pay cuts, health problems, and on and on.

People are reevaluating their relationship with work in the wake of the pandemic. Some are deciding life’s too short to leave their spirit at the door and endure long workdays just to bring home a paycheck. They want an environment that nourishes them in a profound way.

The Empathy Deficit

Forbes says empathy is the most important leadership skill, but only 40% of people rate their leaders as being empathetic. It’s tricky to single out one skill as being the most important—anyone can argue that other skills deserve top billing. That qualifier aside, this statistic reveals a huge disconnect between what people want and what their leaders are providing.

But leading with empathy isn’t easy. If empathetic leadership were part of a college curriculum, it would be a 200-level class. It presumes that people have all the basics down—and many leaders don’t.

Leaders are often promoted to their roles based on their success as an individual contributor. But being a first-time manager requires a whole new set of skills—for example, emotional intelligence—that are more important than technical expertise. Many managers either haven’t had the opportunity to develop these skills, are resistant to doing so, or don’t have an interest in them.

When you add up all these reasons, it’s easy to see why we have an empathy deficit among leaders and their people.

Here are five ways to increase your ability to lead with empathy.

1. Know Thyself

Becoming an empathetic leader starts with having excellent self-awareness. This requires doing inner work on understanding your motivators, your temperament, and your personality style. It also includes knowing your communication style, your reaction to feedback, and how your values shape your behavior.

The first step in your journey is investing in your own development. Once you are more self-aware, you can begin to adjust your leadership style to the needs of your people.

Senior executives play a pivotal role in this. They must put organizational resources behind self-awareness initiatives to show they are serious about developing empathetic leaders. Investing in training is an example. Just as important, they need to model the behaviors they want the organization’s leaders to demonstrate. They also should have caring conversations with managers who don’t appear to be growing into empathetic leaders.

2. Understand Others

The second part of empathetic leadership is striving for a good understanding of your team members. This includes improving your communication skills, such as being curious in conversations instead of being defensive or aggressive. It also includes learning how to eliminate fear in your interactions with your people—trust cannot survive if there is fear in a relationship.

Building trust with your people is essential if you’re to be an empathetic leader. They must know you are on their side and you mean them no harm. You must show them your role as a leader is to help them succeed. The better you understand your people, the better you’ll be able to serve them in a meaningful way.

3. Be Helpful

Finding practical ways to serve others is a concrete example of empathetic leadership. Our Self Leadership course teaches five points of power you can use to help your people succeed:

  • Position Power: Having the title or authority to make certain decisions
  • Task Power: Having control over a task or particular job
  • Personal Power: Having interpersonal and leadership skills, passion, inspiration, or a personal vision of the future
  • Relationship Power: Being connected or friendly with other people who have power
  • Knowledge Power: Having relevant experience, expertise, or credentials

Empathetic leaders use these points of power to build up their people, help them feel safe and secure, and increase their confidence. When leaders do this, their people know they care about them. This opens many doors of possibility.

4. Be Compassionate

Empathetic leaders are compassionate and extend grace to others. They know how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. But remember: organizations have goals that must be accomplished. Leaders must balance compassion with clear expectations that are understood by every team member.

Leaders who are empathetic place great importance on creating psychological safety—an environment where a person feels free to speak their mind, take risks, and admit mistakes without fear of being punished or reprimanded.

Empathetic leaders also balance great relationships with great results. Ken Blanchard and I share how to navigate this tricky intersection in our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust.

Simple Truth #1 in our book is “Servant leadership is the best way to achieve both great results and great relationships.” Many people have an either/or mindset when it comes to leadership—they focus on either achieving results or developing relationships. You can get both if you set a clear vision and direction for your people, then work side by side serving them in ways that help them accomplish their goals.

5. Set Boundaries

Empathetic leaders know how to set clear boundaries that benefit everyone, such as letting people know how many hours a day they’re supposed to work or that sending late-night emails is inappropriate.

When everyone has clarity on work boundaries—including rules and expectations—there is tremendous safety and freedom. Boundaries create a guardrail so people don’t unduly sacrifice themselves to accomplish something. Boundaries also promote autonomy. They let people know what they can and can’t do.

An Empathetic Leader in Action

Seeing an empathetic leader in action turns philosophy into concrete reality. Try to imagine yourself as an empathetic leader who practices the following behaviors on a daily basis.

An empathetic leader:

  • Asks rather than tells
  • Listens rather than speaks
  • Serves rather than commands
  • Cares about people’s concerns
  • Is receptive to feedback
  • Doesn’t overact to people’s questions or concerns
  • Doesn’t interpret concerns as resistance

When you demonstrate these behaviors, your people will be loyal to you. They’ll be engaged. They’ll give their best effort. They’ll be more innovative. And they’ll speak highly about your organization to their friends and colleagues.

Call to Action

At its core, empathetic leadership is about being an others-focused leader. It’s about leaders being in tune with the needs of their people and responding in tangible ways that demonstrate their care and concern. And how do people respond when their leaders act this way? They pledge their loyalty, trust, and commitment to that leader, which results in greater productivity, innovation, and creativity. Who wouldn’t want that?

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Build Trust by Sitting on The Same Side of The Table

By their very nature, unionized workplaces and industries often promote a culture of distrust between stakeholders. Each party is suspicious of the other and is afraid of being taken advantage of, so they hold their cards close to their vest and try to cut the best deal possible for their stakeholders. It’s us on one side of the table versus them on the other.

Must it be that way? I don’t think so. I think both sides can build trust by sitting on the same side of the table.

First, let’s talk about why we don’t trust each other. We refrain from trusting because it involves risk. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.

Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.

In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.

Trust cannot begin to grow until one party extends it to the other. Trust must be given before it can be received. It really is that simple.

Once you understand someone must make the first move to extend trust, how do you get both parties on the same side of the table? I think it involves have a common mindset and skillset about trust.

The trust mindset is understanding the fates of each party are intertwined. All successful relationships are built on a foundation of trust. It doesn’t matter the type of relationship—husband/wife, parent/child, boss/employee, or union/labor–trust is what binds us together. Operating from this mindset eliminates the fear of being disadvantaged by the other party and allows you to work toward solutions that provide mutual benefit. In a relationship of trust, both parties are searching for win-win solutions, not win-lose or win-break even.

The skillset of trust involves behaving in a trustworthy manner. Sometimes this is challenging because people have different perceptions of what constitutes trustworthy behavior. That’s why it’s helpful to have a common definition of trust.

Research shows there are four key elements of trust. Since every language has an alphabet, we’ve created the ABCD Trust Model to define the language of trust. You build trust with others when you are:

Able—You demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for your role or profession. You achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. You show good planning and problem-solving skills and make sound, informed decisions. People trust your competence.

BelievableActing with integrity. You tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit your mistakes. You walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with your personal values and those of the organization. You treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are applied fairly.

Connected—You care about others. Connected people are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected individual who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust others who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do—is a hallmark of dependable people. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and are responsive to others.

Building trust is not a one and done proposition. Trust is not a destination you reach, but rather a journey that never ends. Extending trust, embodying a mindset of trust, and using the skillset of trust will transform distrustful relationships into trust-filled partnerships that promote the growth and well-being of both parties.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of Partners in Progress magazine.

4 Ways Managers Cheat Their Employees

The legendary college football coach Woody Hayes once said there were four ways he could cheat his players: do for them what they can do for themselves, allow them to get by on less than their best effort, allow them to believe their athletic talent is the only education they will need, and allow them to believe that football makes them privileged.

As a manager you may have never thought of it this way, but there are times when you cheat your employees. You probably don’t do it intentionally, and in fact, I’d almost guarantee you don’t. However, we all get stuck in patterns of unexamined behavior which lead to unintended consequences. Here are four common ways manager’s cheat their team members:

1. Solving their problems. Prior to being a manager, the odds are that you were a top performer on your team. You likely developed a reputation as someone who could solve any problem that came your way and that ability probably helped you get promoted. Now that you’re the boss, you relish the opportunity to help team members solve problems. When they come to you for advice, you don’t hesitate to jump right in and solve the problem for them. Although you think you’re helping your team by doing this, the reality is you’re cheating them from gaining the competence and confidence that comes from solving their own problems. You’re also creating a sense of learned helplessness among your team members. Even if you have the noble intention of wanting to help your team, your efforts will have the unintended consequence of conditioning them to expect you’ll always be there to give them the answer. Instead, help them become self-reliant problem solvers. Practice asking open-ended questions that draw out their thinking, help them consider alternatives, and provide perspective to expand their approach to solving the problem.

2. Micromanaging. Lack of trust is at the heart of micromanagement. Although you may rationalize your behavior as helping a team member because you’re taking work off their plate, or wanting to make sure things are done right, the fact is you resort to controlling behavior because you don’t trust the abilities of your team members. Micromanagement kills the motivation of your team members, reduces their creativity, and stifles innovation. It leads to them checking their brains at the door because they know you’ll do all the thinking for them. Micromanagement cheats your team out of embracing their own knowledge and power that leads to them performing their best.

3. Not giving honest feedback. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news and giving feedback about poor performance is probably the most dreaded task of any manager. Too often we dance around the issue, talk in vague generalities, and hope the employee will somehow get the message that they need to improve. I’ve learned over and over in my career that people not only need honest feedback about their performance, they deserve it. As a manager, we should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to coach our team members in areas that need improvement. That doesn’t mean the feedback needs to be delivered in a harsh, in your face manner. It can be communicated with candor and care. The two are not mutually exclusive. Don’t cheat your team and stunt their development by sugarcoating performance feedback.

4. Not having high enough expectations. A hallmark of winning teams is having a leader with high expectations. People often perform to the level of expectations placed upon them. Good leaders know this and push their team to perform at the highest level possible. These leaders don’t just expect it, but they train, coach, equip, and encourage their team to reach heights they wouldn’t normally achieve on their own. It’s easy to get beaten down with the grind of everyday corporate life. We get so engrained in the mundane activities of keeping the business running that we neglect setting stretch goals for our team members. Don’t cheat your team by letting them stay comfortable with the status quo. Anyone can set the bar low and reach it. Great things are achieved when the bar is set high and the team works hard to clear it.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the coach of a sports team, a leader of a volunteer group, or a manager in the workplace, cheating your team members comes down to failing to act in their best interests. Always do what’s right and best for your employees, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable, and you won’t ever have to worry about having cheated your team, or yourself.

If You Build It, They Will Come – 4 Characteristics of Trustworthy Leaders

I miss baseball.

By this point in the MLB season in previous years, I would have attended a few Padres games at PETCO Park (one of the best ballparks to catch a game, IMHO) and watched several more on TV. Instead, in the coronavirus lockdown world in which we currently live, I’ve had to make do with watching replays of classic Padres games. Recently, it was game 3 of the 1984 National League championship series, when the Padres found themselves down 2 games to 0 to the Chicago Cubs in the best of five series. The Pads came roaring back to sweep the next 3 games from the Cubs and made their first World Series appearance…where they were promptly swept by the Detroit Tigers 4 games to none. Oh well.

I’ve also been getting my fix by watching classic baseball movies like Field of Dreams. For those unfamiliar with the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) is a struggling Iowa farmer, who one day while walking through his cornfield hears a voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” This mysterious encounter sets Ray off on a journey that ultimately leads to him plowing over his cornfield to build a ballpark, where his deceased father, with whom Ray had a fractious relationship, makes an otherworldly appearance as his younger self before he became Ray’s dad. The two men have a game of catch that symbolizes the inner healing Ray experiences as he reconciles his past with his father.

The American Film Institute rated the “if you build it, he will come” phrase #39 on the list of 100 most memorable American movie quotations. It’s become a reliable catchphrase for business leaders to whip out whenever they’re trying to sell the merits of an idea. “If we build it (the latest and greatest product or service offering), they (customers, investors, the adoring public, etc.) will come!” Much of the time it’s overly simplistic hype, but there are a few instances where the saying holds true. One such case is building trust.

For trust to be established in a relationship, someone must first extend it. Trust doesn’t just one day magically appear. It begins by one person extending it and the other person proving themselves trustworthy, which in turn engenders more trust between the parties. When the trustee proves him/herself trustworthy, the trustor becomes more willing to extend trust the next time. Around and around it goes, as one trustworthy encounter begets the next.

But how do you know a leader is worth trusting? What does a trustworthy leader look like? There are four primary characteristics that distinguish high-trust leaders. Trustworthy leaders are:

Able—They demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.

Believable—Trustworthy Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

As I said earlier, “if you build it, they will come” is a catchphrase often overused and without much substance. However, when it comes to trust, it’s true. If you build trust, your team will come, and that’s what it takes to turn your field of dreams into reality.

10 Powerful Ways to Build Trust

Now, more than ever, leaders need to decisively and powerfully nurture trust in the workplace. Although much of what it takes to build trust is common sense, it’s not always common practice. In this short video, I share 10 practical ways leaders can immediately build trust with their teams and organizations.

Newly Promoted Manager? Here are 10 Must-Have Items for Your Survival Kit

survival_kit3Perhaps the new year has started off with you being promoted into a managerial role for the first time. If so, congratulations!

Stepping into a management role for the first time is a daunting task for anyone. Most new managers are eager to make their mark as leaders and approach their supervisory opportunity with verve and enthusiasm, yet don’t have a good idea of the nature of managerial workIt doesn’t take long for reality to set in before new managers realize that leading people is a whole new ballgame. What made them successful as individual contributors will not ensure their success as managers.

Upon promotion to a supervisory position, all first-time leaders should be issued the New Manager’s Survival Kit. This metaphorical kit includes the basic items a new manager needs to survive the transition from being an individual contributor to a people manager. This kit doesn’t include everything a new manager needs to succeed on the job, just a few essential emergency relief items (see Dan McCarthy’s 25 Tips for New Managers for an excellent list).

1. Compass—To succeed as a manager you need to know where you’re going, and you need to navigate your journey from a couple different perspectives. First, you need to be clear on your own leadership point of view—your values, beliefs, and desires for being a leader—for it is these ideals that will keep you grounded and motivated in your career. Second, you need to understand the path of success from your boss’ perspective. What does success look like in your new role? Make sure you’re clear on your goals and objectives.

2. Mentor—Or more accurately, the contact information for your chosen mentor. Think of it as the “phone a friend” lifeline from the “Who Want’s to be a Millionaire?” TV game show. There will be many times you’ll need to phone a friend to ask for advice, vent, or commiserate with someone who has walked the same path. We all need a sage guide to help us on our leadership journey.

3. Seat cushion—For better or worse, the reality of organizational life is that managers participate in a lot of meetings. When you first move into a supervisory position you might wonder to yourself “What am I going to do with my time now that I’m not on the front lines?” The answer is meetings, meetings, and more meetings.

4. Thermos—Managers frequently work long hours, sometimes at an unrelenting pace. You’ll need a thermos for your coffee to keep you energized and focused, especially when you’re in those meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Did I say that managers have a lot of meetings?

5. Hearing aid—Arguably the most important of the survival kit items, a hearing aid is essential for your success. Listening is one of the most valuable yet underused skills for managers. Through listening you will build trust, establish rapport, learn about your people, and understand what’s truly going on in your business.

6. Tissues—Inevitably you will have someone cry in your office, and occasionally, you may feel like crying yourself! Always have a box of tissues on hand to gracefully handle those emotional moments.

7. Megaphone—One of your primary roles as a manager is to cheer your people on to success. The most difficult transition for new managers is learning how to achieve goals through other people rather than doing it themselves. You’ll need to learn the three P’s of motivating people: Push, Praise, and Play. Some people need to be pushed to perform their best through challenging assignments or strict accountability, while others need to be praised in order to bring out their best work. And of course every manager’s favorite, some people just need to play. Those are the self-motivated individuals that just need to be put in the starting lineup and given the freedom to do their thing.

8. Task list—Whether it’s a productivity app on your smart phone or an old school to-do list, you need a method to keep yourself organized. Managerial work is characterized by brevity, variety, and fragmentation, so you need a way to keep track of all the tasks on your plate. I use a combination of techniques including elements from David Allen’s Getting Things Done philosophy, ABC task prioritization, and Urgent vs. Important analysis.

9. Inspirational reading material—I won’t give you a list of critical books that new managers should read (that’s the subject of a different blog post!), but I will say that new managers need inspirational reading material to help them learn the skills they need to master as well as to stay inspired on their journey. Leading people requires mental, emotional, and physical stamina and it’s important to make sure you’re feeding your own soul so you’re equipped to give to others.

10. Mirror—Yes, you could use the mirror to help start a campfire or catch the attention of a rescue plane if you’re stranded in the wilderness, but in the office you can use it to look at your reflection, because at the end of the day you have to be comfortable, satisfied, and proud of the person looking back at you. One of the best pieces of advice a new manager can receive is to “be yourself,” for that’s what it means to be authentic. As you experience the highs and lows of leading people, occasionally check yourself out in the mirror to see if you’re being the kind of leader that you’d like to follow.

Are there other items you would include in a new manager’s survival kit? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

7 Gifts Every Leader Deserves This Christmas

Santa is making his list and checking it twice. He’s going to find out which leaders have been naughty or nice. Actually, I think any person willing to step into a position of leading and managing others deserves whatever he/she wants for Christmas! (Try selling that to your spouse or significant other and see how far it gets you!)

If I were to play Santa at the office Christmas party, I’d give the following gifts to leaders:

1. A Sense of Humor – I’ve noticed that a lot of leaders have forgotten how to have a good time at work. Managing people can be quite stressful and it’s easy to get focused on all the problems that have to be solved and the fires that need putting out. This Christmas I would give every leader a healthy dose of fun and laughter as a reminder that you should take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Play a practical joke on your staff, send a funny joke via email, or even better, laugh at yourself the next time you goof up in front of your team. You’d be amazed how a little bit of levity can go a long way toward improving the morale and productivity at work.

2. The Chance to Catch Someone Doing Something Right – Too often we’re on the lookout for people making mistakes and overlook all the times that people are doing things right. Of the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the years, not once have I had one say “If my boss praises me one more time I’m going to quit! I’m sick and tired of all the positive feedback I’m getting!” Unfortunately the opposite is true. Most workers can recall many more instances where their mistakes have been pointed out rather than being praised for doing good work. Be on the lookout this holiday season for someone doing something right and spread a little cheer by praising them.

3. An Opportunity to Apologize – Despite our best leadership efforts, there are bound to be times where we make mistakes and let people down. One of the surefire ways to lose trust with people is failing to admit your mistakes or not apologize for a wrong you’ve committed. Take some time this holiday season to examine your relationships to see if there is someone to whom you need to apologize. If so, don’t let the opportunity pass to repair your relationship.

4. A Challenge to Overcome – A challenge to overcome? Why would that be considered a gift? Well, my experience has shown that the times I’ve grown the most as a leader is when I’ve had to deal with a significant challenge that stretched my leadership capabilities and forced me to grow out of my comfort zone. I would bet dollars to donuts (and would be happy losing because I LOVE donuts) that your experience is similar. Challenges are learning opportunities in disguise and it’s these occasions that shape us as leaders.

5. Solitude – Everything in our society works against leaders being able to experience regular solitude in their lives. Technology allows us to always be connected to work which is just one click or touch away. If we aren’t careful it can begin to feel like we’re “on” 24/7. Regular times of solitude helps you re-calibrate your purpose, relieve stress, and keep focused on the things that are most important in your life and work.

6. A Promise to Fulfill – Keeping a promise is an opportunity to demonstrate your trustworthiness. The best leaders are trust builders, people who are conscious that every interaction with their employees is an opportunity to nurture trust. This gift comes with a caveat – don’t make a promise that you can’t or don’t intend to keep. Breaking promises is a huge trust buster, and if done repeatedly, can completely destroy trust in a relationship.

7. Appreciation – Leadership is a noble and rewarding profession, yet leaders can go through long stretches of time without hearing a word of thanks or appreciation for their efforts. I would give every leader the gift of having at least one encounter with an employee who shares how much he/she has been positively impacted by the leader and how much the leader is appreciated by his/her team.

There are many more gifts that I’d love to give, but like most of us, I’m on a budget this year. However, I’m curious to know what other gifts you’d give to leaders if you were playing Santa. Feel free to leave a comment with your gift ideas!

Why Leaders Should Make Love The Top Priority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The X Factor of a Great Employee Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show and Tell – A Game Leaders Need to Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid the 1 Mistake Managers Make When Trying to be Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published on leadchange.com.

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