Leading with Trust

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.

Strong Winds Make Strong Trees – 3 Ways to Develop Resilient Team Members

My little tree growing strong without the help of a stake.

A few years ago, my father-in-law passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. My wife decided that she wanted to plant a tree in our backyard as a way for us to remember the good memories of his life. Watching a young sapling grow into a healthy and strong tree evokes positive emotions and a sense of well-being. Focusing on the growth of new life is cathartic and healing for the soul.

When we purchased the tree from the nursery, it was staked to a large wooden pole to help it stand upright. That’s a common practice with young trees. Sometimes they need additional support along the trunk of the tree while they establish a strong network of roots. I had every intention of removing the stake after the tree became rooted where it was planted, but…life happened, I got busy with other priorities, and before I knew it, two years had passed by and I had forgotten to remove the stake. As I researched this topic, I learned that a tree needs to bend and sway in the wind for it to develop a strong trunk and root system. The wind forces the tree to entrench itself further into the earth to withstand the forces of nature. Leaving a tree staked too long can weaken it and prevent it from reaching its full potential. Strong winds make strong trees.

The same principle is true in our personal and professional lives. Experiencing the strong winds of life makes us strong and resilient…if we choose the path of growth. The strong winds can also break us and stunt our growth if we stake ourselves to people, places, or things that provide a false sense of support and stability.

In the workplace, leaders can unwittingly shield their team members from strong winds. We can engage in behaviors that appear to be helping or protecting our people, but are preventing them from becoming resilient and strong contributors. Here are three strategies we can pursue to develop resilience in our team members:

  1. Facilitate problem solving—Developing resilient team members includes teaching them how to solve their own problems. This can be one of the hardest challenges for leaders because most of us have risen to our positions by being great problem-solvers. However, that very strength can be a weakness when it comes to developing resilient team members. Resist the urge to rescue team members by providing them the answers to their problems. Instead, rely on asking questions to lead people through the process of solving their own problems. Ask them to define the problem in one sentence. Help them brainstorm options of addressing the problem. Ask them to list the pros and cons of their various courses of actions. Initially it takes an investment of time to help people develop their competence in solving problems, but it saves you time down the road from having to be the answer-man and it results in having stronger, more resilient team members.
  2. Let them make decisions—In order to do this successfully, a leader needs to diagnose the competence and commitment of the team member on the specific goal or task in question. The leader needs to know if the team member is a learner or doer. If the person is a learner, then the leader must take the lead in making decisions. It would be irresponsible to have a team member decide about something she doesn’t know. In that case, it’s the leader’s job to develop the team member’s competence so she can make her own decisions in the future. If the person is a doer, then the leader needs to let the team member make her own decision and experience the positive or negative consequences. Micro-managing, questioning decisions, or removing decision-making authority from a team member squashes her self-confidence and stunts her growth.
  3. Don’t overreact—A tree needs to sway in the wind to develop strength. For a human muscle to grow in strength, it needs to experience micro tears in the muscle fibers from stretching and contracting in opposition to a force. To become resilient, people need to fail. A leader’s job is to find purpose, growth, and learning in the failure. When a team member fails, the leader should not overreact, criticize, or blame the person for failing. The leader should facilitate learning by asking questions like What did you set out to do?, What actually happened?, What did you learn?, and What will you do differently next time?

Back to my tree…I removed the stake and have been closely monitoring the tree as it has weathered some recent stormy weather. I’ve noticed the width of the trunk expanding as the tree has learned to rely on its own strength rather than the help of the wooden stake. I had to trim some branches back, so the tree isn’t so top-heavy and to give the trunk and roots time to catch-up in their growth. I’m confident the tree is going to continue to thrive for years to come. 

Strong winds make strong trees. Let’s not deny our team members the opportunity to experience their own challenges and the growth it affords.

7 Ways to Tell If You’re a Boss or a Leader

“You’re not the boss of me!” That was the phrase my younger sister would frequently yell at me during our youth when I was being the domineering big brother. If you’ve had kids, been around kids, or were a kid (that qualifies all of us), then you’ve probably heard the phrase too. Whether it’s the older sibling who thinks she knows better, the playground bully establishing his dominance, or the teacher’s pet who somehow always gets her way, kids enjoy bossing others around.

Strangely enough, adults seem to like it too. We see it all the time in our workplaces where supervisors or managers create toxic environments because of their need to exert authority and control. The only one who wins in this type of culture is the boss. The people and the organization as a whole suffer.

So how do you know if you’re a boss or a leader? Here are seven simple ways to tell:

Bosses rely on the use of “hard” power / Leaders leverage the use of “soft” power — Bosses use hard power like their title, positional authority, or ability to give/withhold rewards as weapons to control the behavior of others. Leaders use soft power like their interpersonal skills, communication, values, and appeals to common interests as a way to enlist the support of others.

Bosses demand respect / Leaders earn respect — Bosses believe others should respect and follow them because of their position. They believe the title of boss demands instant respect. Leaders, on the other hand, know they have to earn the respect of others. They know their walk has to match their talk and their consistent behavior will garner respect from those they lead.

Bosses require compliance / Leaders invite collaboration — Bosses don’t really care what you think or feel, just as long as you do what you’re told, when you’re told, and how you’re told to do it. Leaders understand you have to manage the whole person; their heart, head, and hands. Leaders invite collaboration by soliciting input, listening to concerns, and incorporating team member feedback into decisions and plans.

Bosses focus only on results / Leaders focus on people and results — Bosses tend to have a win-lose mentality. Nothing else matters except the final score on the scoreboard. Leaders value results just as much as bosses, but they don’t sacrifice their people in order to achieve them. Leaders know people are the path to results and they treat them as valuable resources needed to accomplish the mission.

Bosses are concerned with looking good / Leaders are concerned with giving credit to others — You’ll often hear bosses use “I” or “me” language when describing their team’s accomplishments. They like the spotlight and aren’t afraid to take the credit for their team’s performance. Leaders are the opposite. You’ll hear them say “we” and “us” when referring to the team’s achievements. They deflect the spotlight and shine it on their team members instead.

Bosses push people / Leaders lead — It sounds rather simplistic but it’s true. Bosses stand behind the team, barking out instructions and pushing them to move forward. Bosses say “Do as I say.” Leaders are out front saying “follow me” as they work together with their team members to achieve the goal. Leaders say “Do as I do.”

Bosses inspire fear / Leaders cultivate trust — Bosses manage through fear and coercion. If you don’t do what the boss requires then you know some form of punishment will ensue. Leaders inspire trust. They grant people appropriate levels of autonomy and authority and let them do their jobs. If mistakes happen, they treat them as learning moments and coach team members to higher performance. Leaders establish an environment of trust and safety.

If you found yourself identifying more with the characteristics of a boss instead of a leader, don’t lose heart because you can change. It will take time and intentional effort, but you can make the transition. Seek out leadership training opportunities, find a mentor, and learning from others are all ways to get started. Being bossed around as a kid wasn’t a pleasant experience and it’s even worse as an adult in the workplace. We need less bosses and more leaders.

4 Steps to Break Out of Your Leadership Prison Cell

I recently spent time at Alcatraz…as a tourist, of course. The old federal penitentiary hasn’t housed prisoners since 1963. As a history nerd it was fascinating to walk the same halls as some of the world’s most famous criminals like Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “birdman” of Alcatraz.

Alcatraz cell 1Some of the prison cell doors are open so you can walk inside and get a sense for what it must have felt like to be confined in such a small space. The cells are five feet wide, seven feet tall, and nine feet long. I could reach my arms out to the side and place my palms on the walls of the cell. The concrete walls hold the frigid chill of the San Francisco Bay and the steel doors are hard and unforgiving. It’s difficult to imagine what it must have felt like to be confined in such a small space for hours on end, day after day, year after year.

Prison cells aren’t just concrete rooms with steel doors; they can be rooms of our own making. (click to tweet) All of us, in various areas of our lives, have constructed cells that imprison us and constrain our ability to experience true freedom and joy.

In the realm of leadership, some of us are career criminals doing hard time and the only life we know is within the four walls of our prison cell. These leaders are guilty of crimes like wielding power as a weapon, hoarding information, sucking up to the hierarchy, micromanaging, breaking trust, playing politics, and over-reliance on command and control styles of leadership. Most of us leaders aren’t hardened criminals serving a life sentence, but we dabble in our share of petty theft that puts us behind bars from time to time.

There are ways you can escape from the prison of ineffective leadership practices, but it takes planning, patience, and perseverance. You didn’t build those walls overnight and it’s going to take time to tunnel your way out. Here are four steps to break out of your leadership prison cell:

Discover Your Leadership Purpose

Why do you lead? Answer that question and you’ve discovered your leadership purpose. Discovering your leadership purpose is an introspective process that takes time and effort, but the result is an internal clarity and drive that inspires and fuels your work as a leader.

The process for discovering your leadership purpose begins with reflecting on your own leadership role models. How did those people influence you? What about the way they led others inspired you? What did you learn from them and how do you display that in your own leadership style? Second, how does your leadership connect with your larger life purpose? Do you see your role as a leader integrated with your overall life purpose? Are you clear on your greatest strengths and how you can use them to positively impact the world around you? Third, what is the legacy you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered for the way you influenced those you lead?

As you wrestle with these tough questions, you’ll eventually gain insight into your leadership purpose. Writing a simple purpose statement will help crystallize your thoughts and provide a reminder of why you do what you do as a leader. Do an internet search for “writing a personal mission statement” and you’ll find dozens of excellent resources and templates. As an example, my purpose statement is To use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and a model of God’s grace and truth

Define Your Leadership Values

Leadership is an influence process. As a leader you are trying to influence others to believe in certain things and act in specific ways. How can you do that if you aren’t clear on your own values? What drives your own behaviors? You have to be clear on that before you can expect to influence others…at least in a positive way.

In the absence of clearly defined values, I believe people tend to default to the more base, self-centered values we all possess: self-preservation, survival, ego, power, position. As an example, my core values are trust, authenticity, and respect. I look to those values to guide my interactions with others. Just as river banks channel and direct the flow of rushing water, so values direct our behaviors. What is a river without banks? A large puddle. Our leadership effectiveness is diffused without values to guide its efforts.

Declare Your Leadership Brand

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues and team members think of you, what is it that comes to their minds?

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance as a leader that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

Deliver on Your Leadership Promise

If you’ve ever removed the cardboard sleeve on a Starbucks coffee cup, you may have noticed this statement printed on the side of the cup:

Our Barista Promise

Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.

My experience with Starbucks is they live that promise. Whenever I’ve not been satisfied with my drink, they’ve always made it right.

Your leadership promise is the combination of your purpose, values, and brand. It’s who your people expect you to be as a leader and it’s how they expect you to behave. Whether you’ve articulated your leadership purpose, values, and brand to your people or not (which I strongly advocate you do), they have ascribed a leadership promise to you based on your past behavior. You are setting yourself up to break trust with your followers if their perception of your leadership promise doesn’t align with your own.

Escape from Alcatraz

It was simple for me to leave the island when my time was done on Alcatraz; I boarded the ferry and rode across the bay to San Francisco. It wasn’t nearly as easy for the prisoners who once called Alcatraz home. Likewise, it won’t be easy for you to escape your self-constructed prison cell of dysfunctional leadership practices, but it is doable with intentional focus and effort. Discovering your leadership purpose will direct your energies, clarifying your values will guide your activities, declaring your brand will let others know what you stand for, and delivering on your leadership promise will hold you accountable to being the leader you aspire to be and the leader your people need and deserve.

9 Warning Signs of a Failing Employee

Danger Thin Ice“I’m sorry, we need to let you go.”

Oomph! Those words feel like a punch to the gut of the employee on the receiving end, and for the leader delivering the bad news, those words create anxiety and many sleepless nights leading up to that difficult conversation.

No leader likes to see an employee fail on the job. From the moment we start the recruitment process, through interviewing, hiring, and training, our goal is to set up our employees for success. It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expense to bring new people into the organization and ramp them up to full productivity, so it’s in everyone’s vested interest to see an employee succeed. Yet we all know there are situations that, for whatever reason, an employee struggles on the job and there isn’t much hope of turning it around.

I recently met with a group of HR professionals and line managers to debrief employee termination situations. As we reviewed the cases at hand, the following nine signs emerged as warning signals, that had they been heeded early on in the employee’s career, a termination decision could have been made much earlier in the process that would have saved everyone a lot of heartache and the company a lot of money. Any one of these signs is alarming in and of itself, but when you combine all of them together…KABOOM! You’ve got an employee meltdown waiting to happen.

Nine Warning Signs of a Failing Employee

1. Things don’t improve with a change of scenery – Maybe it’s the relationship with the boss, certain peers, or the nature of the work has changed and the employee is struggling to perform at her best. Whatever the reason, moving the employee to another role or department can get her back on track. I’ve done it myself and have seen it work. But if you’ve given someone another chance by giving them a change of scenery and it’s still not working out, you should be concerned. The scenery probably isn’t the problem.

2. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around the employee – We all have personality quirks and some people are more difficult to work with than others, but when an employee becomes cancerous to the morale and productivity of the team and everyone feels like they have to walk on eggshells around the person for fear of incurring their wrath, you’ve got a serious problem. Don’t underestimate the destructive power of a toxic, unpredictable employee.

3. Emotional instability – Part of being a mature adult is being able to manage your emotions and it’s critically important in a professional workplace. If you have an employee that demonstrates severe emotional mood swings on the job and in their relationships with others, you need to pursue the proper legal and ethical guidelines in dealing with the employee and getting them the support they need. Don’t ignore the behavior by chalking it up to the heat of the moment, the stress of the job, or excusing it by saying “Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe.”

4. Trouble fitting into the company culture – Perhaps one of the earliest signs that you have a failing employee is noticing she is having significant trouble adapting to the culture of the organization. There is a natural transition time for any new employee, but if you’re constantly hearing the employee make negative comments about how the company operates and criticizing leadership, or not developing solid relationships with others and becoming part of the team, warning alarms should be going off in your head.

5. Blames others, makes excuses, and challenges authority – You know the incredibly loud sound of air raid sirens used in civil defense situations? That’s the sound you should be hearing if you have an employee with a track record of blaming others and making excuses for her poor performance. Failing employees will often challenge authority by trying to lay the blame at the boss’ feet by saying things like “You should have done this…” or “You didn’t address that problem…” or whatever the case may be. If you have an employee who always seems to be involved in drama, ask yourself “What (or more appropriately ‘who’) is the common denominator in these situations?”

6. Distorts or manipulates the truth – I’ve dealt with employees who were very skilled at manipulating or distorting the truth. In whatever difficult situation they were in, they would find a kernel of truth to justify and excuse their involvement to the point that I would feel compelled to side with them. I learned you have to be discerning and consistent in your approach to dealing with manipulative people and make sure you document your interactions so you have sufficient data to support your termination decision.

7. Unseen gaps in performance – One of the most challenging situations is when an employee seems to be performing well by outside appearances, but when you explore behind the scenes you discover there are gaps in her performance. Maybe it’s sloppy work, not following correct procedures, or even worse, being intentionally deceptive or unethical. Be careful, things may not always be as they seem.

8. A trail of broken relationships – Employees don’t have to be BFF’s with all of their coworkers, but they do need to respect others and be able to work together. A person may be a high-performer in the tasks of her job, but if she can’t get along with other people and has a history of damaging relationships with colleagues, eventually there will come a point where her contributions are outweighed by the damage and drama she creates.

9. Passive-aggressive behavior – You know those smiley-face emoticons at the end of slightly sarcastic and critical emails? A classic example of passive-aggressive behavior where the sender is trying to couch her criticism in feigned-humor. This is toxic and can be hard to manage because it manifests itself is so many ways that appear to be innocuous in and of themselves. Veiled jokes, procrastination, sullenness, resentment, and deliberate or repeated failure to follow-through on tasks are all signs of passive-aggressive behavior. Be careful…very careful.

The number one job for a leader is to help his or her employees succeed. Before an employee is terminated, a leader needs to be able to look in the mirror and honestly admit that everything possible has been done to help the employee succeed. These nine warning signs should serve as critical guideposts in helping any leader be alert to a failing employee.

Research Shows These Are The Top 5 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

In their academic paper Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership, researchers Adam Focht and Michael Ponton share the results of a Delphi study they conducted with scholars in the field of servant leadership.

A total of twelve characteristics were identified, five of which were agreed upon by all of the scholars polled. These five most prominent servant leadership characteristics were:

  1. Valuing People. Servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they give to the organization. Servant leaders are committed first and foremost to people—particularly, their followers.
  2. Humility. Servant leaders do not promote themselves; they put other people first. They are actually humble, not humble as an act. Servant leaders know leadership is not all about them—things are accomplished through others.
  3. Listening. Servant leaders listen receptively and non-judgmentally. They are willing to listen because they truly want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve, they must listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand, and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed.
  4. Trust. Servant leaders give trust to others. They willingly take this risk for the people they serve. Servant leaders are trusted because they are authentic and dependable.
  5. Caring. Servant leaders have people and purpose in their heart. They display a kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are here to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders truly care for the people they serve.

To a large degree, these findings mimic the results of polling that The Ken Blanchard Companies conducted with 130 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who attended a series of servant leadership executive briefings in cities across North America in 2018. Topping the list was empathy, closely followed by selflessness and humility. Also mentioned multiple times were being authentic, caring, collaborative, compassionate, honest, open-minded, patient, and self-aware.

Both lists can serve as good starting points for HR and L&D executives looking to bring an others-focused culture into their organizations. What’s been your experience?  Feel free to enter additional characteristics of a servant leader in the comments section below.


Interested in learning more about bringing servant leadership principles into your organization? Join us for a free webinar on November 15!

Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of Brilliance By Design, will conduct a presentation for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals on 3 Keys to Building a Servant Leadership Curriculum.

In this enlightening webinar, Dr. Halsey will connect servant leadership characteristics to competencies and share best practices on how to design a comprehensive curriculum for your organization. You can learn more here. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

This article was written by my colleague David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

5 Ways Leaders Try to Lead Right in The Wrong Way

Right-way-wrong-wayFew leaders wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I wonder how I can screw up today?” Most leaders have good intentions and earnestly try to lead in the right ways, but sometimes the actions they think are helpful to their team actually cause harm or frustration. They’re trying to lead right in the wrong ways.

Here are five common ways leaders try to do the right thing in the wrong way:

1. Valuing results at the expense of relationships—Leaders are responsible for achieving results, and a common mistake is to pursue those results at the expense of relationships. Meet the sales quota…close the deal…finish the project under budget, on time, and with top quality…all important goals to achieve in and of themselves. But how do leaders achieve them? Through the efforts of the people they lead. What good does it do to run roughshod over your people to achieve a short-term goal? It may produce immediate success but it will destroy your long-term effectiveness. Leading right in this instance means valuing results and relationships. Take care of the needs and concerns of your people and they will take care of your customers, projects, and business.

2. Treating everyone the same in order to be fair—Leaders have to balance myriad issues and one of the trickiest is treating people fairly. Playing favorites is a huge trust buster! It kills the morale of your team and makes people suspicious of your motives and decisions. One way leaders try to avoid this problem is by treating everyone the same, and quite frankly, it’s a leadership cop-out. Most leaders do this because it’s easy, expedient, and causes them fewer headaches. Leading right in this case means treating people equitably and ethically given the particular situation. Of course, there are some policies and procedures that need to be universally applied, such as health, safety, and operational business processes, but leaders have more opportunities than they realize to increase employee loyalty and engagement by treating them as individuals with specific needs rather than just another nameless face that needs to toe the line.

3. Not developing relationships in order to maintain professional distance—This can be a particular challenge for newly promoted leaders who find themselves leading people who used to be their peers. In an effort to establish leadership credibility, leaders become reticent to develop personal relationships with those they lead. This results in a lack of connection with people, lowers their trust, and reduces commitment and engagement on the job. Research has shown that one of the twelve key factors of employee work passion is “connectedness with leader.” People want to have a personal connection with their leaders. They want to know and be known. Learn what makes your people tick, what’s important to them, their hopes, dreams, and fears. Leading in this way will gain you trust, loyalty, and commitment in spades.

4. Hoarding information—Why do people hoard information? Because information is power, power is control, and leaders love to be in control. In a well-intentioned effort to maintain proper control of their team, leaders can lead in the wrong way by playing their cards too close to the vest. Lack of information sharing leads to suspicion and distrust. Leaders build trust by sharing information about themselves and the organization. On the personal side, sharing information about yourself allows you to be a little vulnerable with your people and they get to know you as a person, not just as a boss (see #3 above). Sharing information about the organization allows your people to make smart business decisions. People without information cannot act responsibly. In the absence of information people will make up their own version of the truth. However, people with information are compelled to act responsibly.

5. Micromanaging—Micromanagers are like dirty baby diapers—full of crap and all over your butt. Ironically, most leaders don’t realize they’re micromanaging. They think they’re helping someone out by telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. That’s fine when a person is first learning a task or skill, but once the person demonstrates competence and commitment in doing the work, the leader needs to back off and let the employee be in charge of the task or goal. Micromanaging competent team members kills their initiative and morale, and over time, creates a state of learned helplessness. They give up on using their brain because they know the boss is going to tell them how to do it anyway.

Most leaders have good intentions and want to lead right, but sometimes we go about it in the wrong ways. Take time to pause and think about your leadership behaviors before you jump into action. If you don’t, you might be causing more harm than good.

%d bloggers like this: