Leading with Trust

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.

4 Signs You Are Over-Managing and Under-Leading

Magnifying GlassLeadership and management are separate disciplines yet there is a significant amount of overlap between the two. There are many times when leaders have to manage and managers have to lead.

However, in the work I’ve done with leaders and organizations over the years, as well as my own personal experience, I’ve noticed it’s much easier to gravitate toward management activities than it is leadership.

Why is that? The pressures of daily priorities, overwhelming to-do lists, fighting the unexpected fires that arise, and managing the minutiae of organizational life overtakes our focus. As a result, our leadership gets the short end of the deal. We neglect long-term planning, innovating for the future, and developing our team members for their next growth opportunity.

We can avoid letting our management responsibilities devour us if we keep an eye on where we place our time and attention. Here are four signs that may indicate you are over-managing and under-leading:

You focus more on holding people accountable to the letter of the law than the spirit of the law. Rules are important; no doubt about it. Especially when it comes to issues of law and safety, we need to ensure rules are followed. However, you need to remember that rules and processes exist to bring life to a greater purpose. Your decision-making should be governed by fulfilling the spirit of the law, not the letter. It’s easy to fall back on enforcing rules and processes because it’s tangible and clear-cut. Achieving the spirit of the law often involves more abstract issues, multiple points of view, and difficult decision-making.

You value results ahead of people. Achieving results and valuing people are not mutually exclusive, yet one only needs to look at how leaders behave to discern their true beliefs. However you define results—revenue, margin, profit, customer satisfaction—those are the points on the scoreboard at the end of the game. But your people are the players on the field achieving those results. One has to come before the other. When results dominate your focus, you stop viewing people as human beings and start looking at them as soulless human resources that are tools to be used to achieve your goals.

You spend more time helping people get comfortable with change instead of challenging them to rise to the occasion. Too often we tend to baby employees through change instead of equipping them with skills to be more resilient and adaptable. Change is a constant in organizations and we mistakenly think we can make it easy for employees by selling them on the benefits of the change, making it more palatable, crafting the perfect communication plan, and implementing the perfect roll-out plan. This results in leaders shouldering the responsibility for the change effort and it creates a culture of learned helplessness among employees.

You devote more energy to managing the status quo instead of innovating for the future. I believe the single biggest difference between managers and leaders is that leaders proactively initiate change to improve the organization, whereas managers deal with change on a reactive basis. Leaders display a desire to consistently make things better. They aren’t content to maintain the status quo just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here.” Leaders frequently question the way their business operates, with an eye toward making things simpler, better, easier, or more efficient. When was the last time you asked questions like: Why are we doing it this way? What would happen if we stopped doing that? How can we simplify this process?

Regardless of whether your formal position or job title classifies you as a leader or manager, it’s your mindset, and the resulting behaviors, that identify you as one or the other. Managing is often tangible and task-oriented, and checking items off our to-do list makes us feel good. Leadership can be more complex, ambiguous, and the results of our labor aren’t always immediately evident. If we aren’t careful, the whirlwind of organizational life will cause us to drift toward managing instead of leading, and that doesn’t serve ourselves, our people, or our organizations.

3 Steps to Overcome the Stress of Too Many Priorities

overwhelmed-350x350Do you feel like you have too many priorities to accomplish at work? Yeah, me too. It seems to be all the rage these days, although I think most of us would rather not be part of this popular cultural trend. Most professionals I speak with struggle with the same sort of issues: the rapid pace of change, tight organizational budgets that force us to do more with less, and trying to encourage the growth and development of our team members in flat organizations with limited mobility.

I’ve had seasons during my career where I’ve let myself become overwhelmed with too many priorities and I’ve found myself in fire-fighting mode. Fortunately, through experience I’ve learned how to get myself back on track. If you currently find yourself stressed-out because you’ve been cast adrift in a sea of too many priorities, follow these three steps to get back on course:

Acknowledge you’re not serving yourself or your team—It took me awhile to recognize this truth. I kept expecting the white water of change to smooth out at some point, and when that happened, I’d be able to refocus and feel more in control of my efforts. News Flash—change isn’t going to stop! The constant pace of change makes it even more important to be crystal clear on your top priorities. Having a fewclear priorities gives you the flexibility to deal with new ones as they arise without causing you to drown in a sea of work. You, and your team, deserves your full attention and focus. Taking on too much dilutes your leadership effectiveness.

Assess where to focus your energy—We need to focus our leadership on the most important areas that will have the greatest impact on our teams and organizations. Looking at importance and impact through the lens of a 2 x 2 grid can help us decide which priorities deserve our focus.

Obviously, our primary focus should be on those initiatives that are of the highest importance and carry the most impact. A prerequisite is to first determine what important and impact means for your particular situation. Your definition of important and impact will likely differ from mine depending on the needs of your team or organization. But whatever activities qualify for this quadrant, that’s your sweet spot. That’s where you add the most value as a leader.

The opposing quadrant, low importance/low impact, are activities you need to discard or delegate. Those are the projects that don’t warrant your time and attention. Getting rid of these activities can be challenging. They may be something you personally enjoy doing, are impact-vs-importancefun, and may have even served an important purpose at one time. If these activities still carry a modicum of importance and impact, delegate them to someone who can make them his/her primary focus. If not, jettison them. They’re holding you back.

The toughest ones to figure out are the other two quadrants: high impact/low importance and high importance/low impact. These require analysis and decision-making. If the activity provides a high level of impact, but isn’t that important, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. To help you make a decision, estimate the return on investment if you devote your energy to this activity. If the ROI is there (the impact makes it worth doing), delegate it to someone who can make it a primary focus. If the ROI isn’t there, discard it.

If an activity is important but carries low impact, it’s likely something that isn’t urgent but needs attention at some point in time. Prioritize these activities, get them scheduled out, and/or assign them to someone else to manage. These activities are important, but you have to keep your primary focus on those activities that are of higher importance and carry greater impact.

Act—This is the final step. Using the criteria above, you have to take action and make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. You may have to give up some pet projects in lieu of other initiatives that warrant more of your leadership focus. It may also involve some uncomfortable changes for your team members. Perhaps you may need to realign reporting lines or restructure your team to help you, and them, focus on the most important and impactful areas of the business. This isn’t a one and done process. You’ll need to periodically reassess your priorities and make necessary adjustments.

Feel free to leave a comment with your reactions or additional thoughts on how you handle the challenge of focusing your energies on the activities that drive the most value.

The 3 Ingredients of Great Performance Management

My wife is a big fan of TV cooking shows. You name it, she likes to watch it: IronChef, TopChef, Great American Food Truck, and MasterChef, just to name a few.

While recently watching an episode of MasterChef Junior, the show featuring young children displaying their culinary talents in competition with each other, I was struck by how the show illustrates the three fundamentals of effective performance management: goal setting, coaching, and evaluation.

Goal Setting

The young chefs are presented with various challenges that test their culinary expertise. The challenges are all unique. One may require the contestants to create an exact replica of a dish made by an adult chef, or another may be to create a dessert using a few specific ingredients, or yet another may be to create their own signature dish that follows a certain theme. Regardless of the unique challenge, the goal is clear. All good performance starts with clear goals. When goals are fuzzy or non-existent, energy is diffused and productivity suffers. But when goals are clearly defined, people’s focus is sharp, effort is purposefully directed, and productivity accelerates.

Gordon Ramsay Setting a Clear Goal on How to Cook Filet Mignon

Coaching

Once clear goals have been established, the second fundamental of effective performance management is day to day coaching. People need direction, support, and feedback in real-time to help them address competency gaps, make course corrections, or consider alternative approaches. In MasterChef Junior, this is illustrated when the judges connect with each of the chefs during the preparation of their dishes. They ask questions that get the youngsters thinking about the vision and strategy of their meal, or the judges will give advice if they notice something is not up to par, or they’ll offer warnings of things to pay attention to or avoid. The goal of coaching is to help the individual produce the best outcome possible.

MasterChef Judges Coaching a Contestant

Evaluation

Dumping the once a year formal performance evaluation is all the rage right now. What gets lost sometimes in this popular trend is the need remains to do some sort of performance evaluation with your employees. The timing, frequency, and format of the evaluation may change, but evaluation is still a critical component of the performance management process. It allows both the leader and employee to assess the effectiveness of the employee’s efforts, what worked well, and what could be done better. In MasterChef Junior, the judges offer each contestant a critique of their dish. I’m surprised, yet pleased to see, the candid nature of the judges’ comments. Rather than falling into the trap of over-praising effort to the neglect of constructive criticism, the judges deliver feedback in a factual, straightforward manner. The young chefs know clearly what they did well, where they came up short, and how they can get better in the future. Isn’t that how it should be in our workplaces?

Example of MasterChef Junior Performance Evaluation

Life at work doesn’t fall into the neat, 1-hour, edited format of a TV show, but the principles of effective performance management we see in MasterChef Junior are still valid. Good performance starts with clear goals that enable individuals to understand what they’re trying to achieve. Good leaders provide real-time coaching on an as-need basis to help employees stay on course, get back on course if they’ve strayed, or to consider ways to improve their performance along the way. And finally, once the goal or project has been completed, the leader and employee review the performance and celebrate things done well, and if needed, discuss how to improve performance in the future.

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

3 Proven Strategies for Leading Virtual Teams

Virtual Team CloudIn 1997 I asked my boss to consider allowing me to telecommute on a part-time basis. My proposal went down in flames. Although the company already had field-based people who telecommuted full-time, and my boss herself worked from home on a regular basis, the prevailing mindset was work was someplace you went, not something you did.

Fast forward a few years to the early-2000’s and I’m supervising team members who worked remotely full-time. The exodus continued for a few years and by the mid-2000’s nearly half my team worked virtually. A little more than 20 years after I submitted my telecommuting proposal, the world has become a smaller place. My organization has associates in Canada, the U.K., Singapore, France, and scores of colleagues work out of home offices around the globe.

My experience mirrors the reality of many leaders today. Managing teams with virtual workers is commonplace and will likely increase as technology becomes ever more ubiquitous in our lives. Here are three specific strategies I’ve adopted over the years in leading a virtual team:

Establish the profile of a successful virtual worker – Not everyone is cut out to be a successful virtual worker. It takes discipline, maturity, good time management skills, technical proficiency (you’re often your own tech support), and a successful track record of performance in the particular role. I’ve always considered working remotely a privilege, not a right, and the privilege has to be earned. You have to have a high level of trust in your virtual workers and they should be reliable and dependable performers who honor their commitments and do good quality work.

Have explicit expectations – There needs to be a clear understanding about the expectations of working virtually. For example, my team has norms around the use of Instant Messenger, forwarding office phone extensions to home/cell lines, using webcams for meetings, frequency of updating voicemail greetings, email response time, and out-of-office protocols just to name a few. Virtual team members generally enjoy greater freedom and autonomy than their office-bound counterparts, and for anyone who has worked remotely can attest, are often more productive and work longer hours in exchange. A downside is virtual workers can suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” so it’s important they work extra hard to be visible and active within the team.

Understand and manage the unique dynamics of a virtual team – Virtual teams add a few wrinkles to your job as a leader and a specific one is communication. It’s important to ramp up the frequency of communication and leverage all the tools at your disposal: email, phone, webcam, instant messenger, and others. It’s helpful to set, and keep, regular meeting times with virtual team members.

One of the biggest challenges in managing a virtual team is fostering a sense of connection. They aren’t privy to the hallway conversations where valuable information about the organization is often shared, and they miss out on those random encounters with other team members where personal relationships are built.

Team building activities also look a little different with a virtual team. Potluck lunches work great for the office staff, but can feel exclusionary to remote workers. Don’t stop doing events for the office staff for fear of leaving out virtual team members, but look for other ways to foster team unity with remote workers. For example, when we’ve had office holiday dinners and a Christmas gift exchange, remote team members will participate in the gift exchange and we’ll send them a gift card to a restaurant of their choice.

For many jobs, work is no longer a place we go to but something we do, from any place at any time. Virtual teams aren’t necessarily better or worse than on-site teams, but they do have different dynamics that need to be accounted for and managed, expectations need to be clear, and you need to make sure the virtual worker is set up for success.

The Leader is the Topic of Dinner Conversation – What is Your Team Saying About You?

As a leader, have you ever considered that you are often the topic of dinner conversations of your employees?

Think about it for a second in relation to your own life. How often do you find yourself talking to your spouse or family members over a meal about things that happened at work and how your boss treated you? It happens quite a bit, doesn’t it? So why wouldn’t your employees be doing the same thing in relation to you?

Viewing the impact of your leadership through the eyes of how your employees describe their workday can profoundly shape your leadership style and practices.

When your team members have dinner with their families, are they talking about:

  • How you micromanaged them to the point where they question their own competence and believe you must think they are idiots?
  • The only time you interact with them is when you find fault with something or have negative feedback to deliver?
  • How you only care about yourself and impressing your own boss?
  • You not having a clue about their jobs because you never took the time to learn what they do?
  • How untrustworthy you are because you frequently break your commitments?

Or does the dinner conversation of your team members center around:

  • How good you made them feel when you praised them for a job well done?
  • The faith you showed in them by giving them a challenging new project?
  • How you built trust by admitting your mistake in front of the team and apologizing for your behavior?
  • How you went to bat for your team by advocating for their needs with senior leadership?
  • The great example you set by jumping in to help the team meet a critical deadline?

I’m not suggesting the goal of your leadership style should be to make your employees your best buddies or send them home with warm fuzzies at night because you’re such a nice guy. We all know leadership is a tough gig. It’s not unicorns and rainbows every day.

What I am suggesting, however, is to view the ultimate impact of your leadership through the eyes of your employees. Start with the end in mind. What is the legacy you want to leave? What do you want team members saying about the impact of your leadership long after you no longer work together?

You know your team members will be talking about you over dinner. What do you want them to say?

10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Your Employees

Since this is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., I thought I’d re-share one of my most popular posts about how to build trust through the power of telling people “thank you.” Saying “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, here are ten amazingly simple ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In classic David Letterman, Late Night style…10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Employees:

10. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

9. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

7. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

6. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

5. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

4. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

3. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

2. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

…and the number one amazingly simple way to thank employees is…

1. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

A Better Boss or a Pay Raise? What Would YOUR Employees Choose?

Ask yourself this question: If I gave my employees a choice between receiving a pay raise or me becoming a better boss, which would they choose?

Chances are you’d probably say your employees would choose a pay raise, right? I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want more money? Taking a few liberties with the classic song Money by Barrett Strong, your employees are probably saying “Your leadership gives me such a thrill, but your leadership don’t pay my bills, I need money!”

Getting a pay raise would be an immediately tangible reward that everyone could literally take to the bank. Besides, it’s not like you need any dramatic improvement as a boss, right? Sure, you may not be the greatest leader in the world, but there’s a whole lot of bosses plenty worse than you. Your people would definitely choose a pay raise, you say.

Well, you’d be wrong. One study showed that 65% of Americans would choose a better boss over a pay raise. How do you like them apples?

In many of our training courses we do a “best boss” exercise. We ask participants to share the characteristics of the person who was their best boss, and as you can see from the list below, many of these traits are ones you can develop and master with just a bit of effort and focus.

My best boss…

  • Was trustworthy—Often mentioned as the foundation of what makes a best boss, being trustworthy is paramount to being an effective leader. Research has shown that employees who have high levels of trust in their boss are more productive, engaged, innovative, creative, and contribute more to the organization’s bottom-line. Click here to learn more about how to build trust as a leader.
  • Believed in me—Best bosses believe in the capabilities and potential of their people. Through their words and actions they communicate a sincere faith in their employees that builds the confidence of their team members to go above and beyond expectations.
  • Showed respect—No one likes to be talked down to or treated as “less than.” Best bosses recognize the inherent worth each person possesses and they seek to build people up, not tear them down.
  • Listened to me—Being a good listener is one of the most powerful, yet underrated leadership skills. Good listeners don’t interrupt, ask clarifying questions, summarize what they’ve heard, probe for deeper understanding, and also pay attention to what’s not being said in the conversation. Check out The 5 Fundamentals of Effective Listening for more tips.
  • Helped me grow—People want leaders who are invested in helping them grow in their jobs and careers. Best bosses understand that leadership is not about them; it’s about the people they serve. As such, they are committed to helping their team members grow in their careers, even if that means the employee ultimately leaves the team or organization for better opportunities.
  • Had my back—Participants in our classes often say their best boss was always in their corner, or had their back. There are times in organizational life where the boss needs to step up and defend the needs or interests of his/her team. Supporting your employees doesn’t mean blindly defending them regardless of the circumstances, but it does mean you always have their best interests at heart and are committed to putting that belief into practice.
  • Gave feedback in a way I could hear it—I’ve learned in my career that people really do want, and deserve, honest feedback about their performance. The trick is to deliver feedback in a way the person on the receiving end can hear it without becoming defensive, internalize it, and take positive action moving forward. Here is a way to give feedback that builds trust in a relationship.
  • Cared about me as a person—It’s a cliché but it’s true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent boss around, but if your people don’t feel you truly care about them as humans, then they will withhold their trust and commitment from you.
  • Adjusted their leadership style to my needs—The best bosses know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to leadership. Each team member can be at different development levels in their goals and tasks, so the leader needs to adjust his/her leadership style to meet the needs of the employee. Managers need to learn to become situational leaders.
  • Gave me autonomy—No one likes to be micro-managed. Helicoptering over your employees and telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, creates a sense of learned helplessness. It erodes the morale and motivation of employees and leads to them developing a “quit but stay” mentality. Best bosses make sure their team members have been given the proper training and have the best resources and tools needed to do their jobs. Then the manager steps out of the way and lets their team do their thing, while providing any needed support and direction along the way.

Unfortunately, too many leaders are unwilling to admit they could use a bit of improvement, and too many organizations tolerate poor managerial performance (free whitepaper: 7 Ways Poor Managers Are Costing Your Company Money). But as you can see from this list, becoming a best boss isn’t rocket science. It’s within the grasp of any leader who is willing to put in a bit of work to improve his/her craft.

5 Tips for Handling Delicate Conversations

coffee conversationOne of the certainties of managerial life is there will be occasions where you need to have a delicate conversation with someone. No matter if it’s an employee, colleague, or vendor, the thought of having a potentially challenging conversation with someone causes fear and hesitation. And of course this isn’t just an issue in the workplace; the same dynamic happens in our personal relationships as well.

I had a delicate conversation with my 21 year-old son last week, and frankly, I could have handled it better. If I had practiced what I’m preaching here, I’m pretty sure the discussion would have been more fruitful. Here’s the tips I should have followed more closely:

1. Clarify your motive and desired outcome for the conversation—In my case, I had been stewing over a discussion my son and I had a few weeks earlier. In that prior conversation, I felt my son had neglected to mention some important facts that I later discovered on my own. I felt he had been less that truthful with me and my motive was to let him know how I felt so I could get the weight off my chest. I thought I was clear on the motive, but looking back I see it was a pretty selfish one. A better motive would have been to learn more about why my son shared what he did rather than accuse him of purposefully omitting facts. I also wasn’t clear on my desired outcome. Was I looking for an apology? Did I want him to acknowledge he made a mistake? Since I wasn’t fully clear on the outcome, it left the conversation in a ragged state when we finished.

2. Pick the right time and place—This one is hard for me because I don’t like to leave things unsettled. I’d rather address an issue quickly and get it resolved, rather than wait for things to settle down and perhaps sort themselves out naturally. When planning for a delicate conversation, choose a location that will create a comfortable and safe environment for the meeting. Choose a time of day when the other party will be at their best, and havethe right kind of open energy that will allow them to hear what you’re saying.

3. Watch your tone—Studies have shown that just 7% of communication is the actual words we speak. That leaves 93% of communication happening through tone and body language. The tone of your voice will literally set the tone for the conversation. Use a tone that is warm, supportive, inquisitive, and non-judgmental. Raising your voice, having a sharp tongue, or using defensive or dismissive body language (e.g., crossing your arms, rolling your eyes) will doom your conversation for failure.

The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations

4. Invite dialogue—Too often our delicate conversations turn into monologues. That’s because we feel more comfortable if we’re in control of the discussion. We can be afraid of what the other person may say or how she will steer the conversation, so we rattle on at the mouth until we’ve said our peace. The best way to handle a delicate conversation is to invite dialogue. Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to express her thoughts and share openly. This builds a climate of trust and safety which facilitates more open and honest communication.

5. Express support and empathy—The delicate conversation with my son was a textbook example of what not to do. If you recall, in a prior conversation with my son I was upset he didn’t share certain details with me that I thought were relevant. After he explained why he omitted those facts, I relied upon my trust-building and leadership expertise and responded, “If you believe that, then you’re lying to yourself!” I don’t think I’ll be winning Dad of the Year award anytime soon. I missed my opportunity to empathize with him and express support for his point of view. Instead, I selfishly used the opening to blast him with a critical comment that I had been harboring for weeks. Even if your point of view is correct, a delicate conversation will go off the rails if you shut the other person down by not expressing empathy and support.

Conversation is the vehicle by which we build trust, lead others, and develop relationships. The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations, so it’s important we develop effective communication skills. When it comes to discussing delicate topics, it’s important to be clear on our motives, choose the right time and place, watch our tone, invite dialogue, and express support and empathy.

4 Strategies for Leading in Uncertain Times

Uncertainty is scary. The unknown is scary. Leaders will always face uncertainty and the future will always be unknown.

A company team I worked with recently has some pretty big anticipated hurdles coming up in about a year. The height of the hurdles is not clear, nor if there will be ground to land on when they leap over. They’re struggling not to fret. They’re struggling not to worry.

Needless to say, this impacts focus, productivity and morale.

The management team wanted to know – in the face of these uncertain times, how can we support our teams?

Here are four of the recommendations I gave them. These can work in nearly every situation:

  1. Your team is a reflection of you – as the leader you can’t be Chicken Little. Emotions are contagious. If you’re freaking out, revving up, snowballing catastrophe, so will your team. Guaranteed. Watch your language – what are you saying about the future? You should acknowledge the fear, you just don’t want to feed it. Acknowledging the fear lets your team know that you “get it” – you’re not clueless or in denial. This is part of sharing your humanity as a leader. Stay positive, not pessimistic or Pollyanna. If you need to unabashedly “release” your own worries, share your concerns with a comforting friend outside of your workplace.
  2. Remember: What you and your team are up to in the world TODAY is bigger than this fear. You can’t let the fear become a scapegoat for not getting the work done. There is work to be done today. You have clients who need you to show up 100% today. Focus on the top three strategic action items your team can accomplish this week towards your quarterly goals. Celebrate completion. In other words, heed the words of Corrie ten Boom, whose family helped many Jewish people escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles, it empties today of its strengths.”
  3. What actually is known and unknown? Defining these two in simple high-level bullets can be surprisingly empowering.

What’s known?

  • The present
  • We’re all in this together
  • It’s not our first rodeo
  • There’s work to do now
  • We’re resilient and resourceful
  • We’ll figure out when the time comes
  • Our commitment and convictions
  • What’s next

What’s unknown?

  • The future
  • What’s going to happen
  • The weather two weeks from now

I have a roofing company client. About 90% of its revenue is determined by Mother Nature. If there’s a storm, it makes money. If there isn’t, it doesn’t. That’s uncertainty; yet the company is not paralyzed by the uncertainty of Mother Nature.

  1. Focus on what you can control. You can always control your response, attitude, behavior, words and actions. You can always choose to be proactive rather than paralyzed. In times of uncertainty, step up ownership of your authority. When the fog is thick, they want the leader to lead.

Don’t let uncertainty undermine you or your team’s efforts. Stay on course. Focus and finish on what needs to be accomplished now.

Acknowledge the fear, but don’t feed it.

Lastly, be courageous and confident in your convictions.


Guest Post by Kris Boesch, author of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace. Kris is the CEO and founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures.

These 3 Actions Will Make You Everyone’s Favorite Boss

I remember the rude awakening my oldest son received when he moved into a management position with a national pizza chain. He learned what it was like to carry a greater level of responsibility, deal with unreliable employees, and train new team members. One morning he walked into the kitchen, bleary eyed from lack of sleep, and vented to me about having to pull the closing shift the previous night for another store whose manager quit on the spot. To top it off, he had to turn around that same morning to open up his own store. Welcome to management, kid.

Being a good manager isn’t easy. It can seem like a million things compete for your attention and some days it feels as though you aren’t up for the task. Don’t worry, we all feel that way sometimes. The good news is there are some easy, straight-forward ways to become the manager that everyone loves.

Show Empathy — People love to work for managers who value and appreciate them as individuals, and not just as faceless workers showing up to do a job. Being empathetic means putting yourself in other people’s shoes and looking at life from their vantage point. You do this by asking open-ended questions about how they’re feeling and listening to their responses (yes, that means you actually have to have a conversation). You can also demonstrate empathy by being understanding when your employees experience difficult circumstances. Whether it’s taking time off work to deal with a sick child or elderly parent, or just listening to them vent a little bit about their rough day at work, people appreciate their boss responding with an attitude of “how can I help?” rather than “keep your personal problems at home.” You can be the most knowledgeable, technically proficient boss in the world, but if you don’t give your people a little bit of your heart they won’t you give you theirs.

Have Their Back — Great managers assume best intentions about their team members. They operate on the assumption that everyone is trying their best and no one is intentionally trying to make a mistake. If a mistake happens, use the occasion as a learning opportunity to help your team member grow. Don’t play the blame game or throw your team member under the bus for goofing up. Another way to have the back of your employees is to advocate for their needs. Being a manager means sometimes having to defend your people from unreasonable expectations or demands from other people or parts of the organization. It’s a challenge to strike the right balance between protecting your people and advocating for their needs versus doing what’s best for the organization, even if it has a negative impact on your team. But your people will love you and be supportive of your leadership if they consistently see you stick up for them when appropriate.

Make Work Fun — We spend too much of our lives at work to have it be drudgery or uninspiring. Managers can be tremendously influential in making work a little bit more fun and it doesn’t take much planning or effort to pull it off. You’d be amazed at how much mileage you can get from doing simple things like calling an afternoon break and serving popsicles, letting people go home from work 30 minutes early on a Friday afternoon, having a potluck lunch, or creating fun awards or rituals for your team. A few managers on my team recently created a humorous award involving the recipient wearing a unicorn-themed ski cap. Unicorns are an inside joke for the team and wearing the cap is slightly embarrassing, but everyone secretly wants to win the award because it’s positive recognition of their work. Managers who make the workplace a fun and rewarding place to be will develop loyal and hard-working team members.

Management is a tough gig but you can make it easier by following a few commonsense principles. Developing empathy in your relationships, standing up for your people when needed, and making work fun will put you on track toward becoming everyone’s favorite boss.

10 Signs You’re Suffering From Rear-view Mirror Leadership

rear-view-mirrorI was high on endorphins yesterday morning after I completed my usual Saturday bike ride. I had retreated to the San Diego coast to escape the heat of where I live inland, and I was feeling great after knocking off a crisp 40-mile ride.

As I drove home, the freeway transitioned into a city road and I eased up behind a gentleman in a black Mercedes. He immediately slowed down significantly below the speed limit in a not so subtle attempt to tell me he didn’t want me following too close behind. I slowed down, all the while observing him eyeballing me through his rear-view mirror. Still not satisfied with the distance between our cars, he continued to pump his brakes and slowed down even more, to the point of holding up traffic several cars deep. Continuing to drive significantly below the speed limit, the grumpy Mercedes driver kept his attention focused on the rear-view mirror instead of watching the road up ahead. I switched lanes to pass Mr. Grumpy Pants and watched him as I drove by. He never took his eyes off the rear-view mirror as he proceeded to do the same thing to the next driver who moved up behind him.

The grumpy Mercedes driver got me thinking about how easy it is to lead by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield. What I mean by that is we can get so focused on what’s happened behind us that we forget to look forward to the opportunities ahead of us. Here are 10 signs you may be suffering from rear-view mirror leadership:

1. Your natural response to change is “That’s not how we do it around here.” Change brings out interesting behaviors in people. I’ve found most people don’t mind change as long as it’s their idea, they’re in control of it, and it benefits them in some way. But most of the time, though, change is thrust upon us in one way or another and we have to deal with it. Rear-view mirror leaders usually fixate on what they’re going to lose as a result of a change and they expend all their effort in trying to prevent or minimize the impact. Forward-looking leaders search for the opportunities of growth and improvement that will result from change. It’s our choice as to how we respond.

2. Things are never as good as “back in the day.” I’m a nostalgic person by nature and am susceptible to this attitude or line of thinking. However, I’ve learned by experience that the past is a fun place to visit but it’s a bad place to live. Nothing new ever happens in the past. There’s no growth, improvement, or change. Our jobs, organizations, and industries are not the same as they were 20 years ago. We have to stay relevant with the times, personally and organizationally, or risk becoming relics of the past.

3. You’re pessimistic about the future. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic about the future, especially in today’s day and age. If your outlook on the future is dependent upon the performance of the stock market or the headline news, then you’re in trouble. The best leaders are dealers of hope. They maintain an optimistic view of the future, keeping focused on their purpose and core values, and putting forth a vision that encourages and energizes their team.

4. You’re focused on maintaining status quo. I’m not one to make a big stink about the difference between leadership and management. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. But there is one key difference that I think is worth noting—leaders initiate change whereas managers focus on maintaining or improving the status quo. Status quo leadership is often about looking in the rear-view mirror, making sure everything occurred exactly as planned. Forward-looking leadership involves surveying the open road and charting a course to move the team to its next destination. There will be occasional wrong turns, rerouting the course, and asking for directions. It will get messy and chaotic at times. But it will never be status quo.

5. You micromanage. Micro-managers tend to not trust people. Since trust involves risk, micro-managers default to using controlling behaviors to minimize their dependency on others. They want to maintain power so they hoard information, don’t involve others, and make all decisions of any consequence. Micro-managers tend to believe they know what’s best and will act in ways to keep themselves in the center of any conversation, meeting, or activities in order to exert their influence.

6. You spend more time assigning blame and making excuses than focusing on what you can control. Rear-view leaders are consumed with what others are doing or not doing, and almost always believe their lack of success is a result of factors outside their control. “If only Marketing would have provided us with the right kind of collateral that appealed to our clients…,” or “If Operations hadn’t delayed in getting that order into production…,” and “Customer Service does a horrible job at client retention…” are the kinds of blaming statements or excuses you often hear from rear-view leaders. Proactive leaders understand there will always be factors outside their control, so they spend their energy focusing on what they can influence and trust their colleagues to do the same.

7. You wait for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Failure to take initiative is a symptom of rear-view mirror leadership. Because rear-view mirror leaders are focused on the past, what others are doing or not doing, or focused on maintaining the status-quo, they are often caught watching from the sidelines when they should be actively involved in the game. Do you find yourself surprised by decisions that get made? Find yourself out of the information loop about what’s happening around you? If so, you might be sitting around waiting for someone to tell you what to do instead of taking the initiative. Find a need, meet a need. See a problem, fix a problem. That’s what forward-thinking leaders do.

8. You have a graveyard of relationships that are “dead to you.” It’s easy to run over people when you’re not looking where you’re going. Precisely because they’ve been leading by looking in the rear-view mirror, these kinds of leaders have often neglected to invest in relationships across the organization. They have “written off” people for one reason or another, usually in an attempt to exert power and influence to preserve their position and authority.

9. A lack of possibility thinking. If your first response to new ideas is to find all the ways it won’t work, you’re a rear-view mirror leader. Critical thinking and risk mitigation is necessary when considering a new concept, but if the ideas that come your way never make it past the initial sniff test, then you may be shutting yourself off to new possibilities. Instead of shooting holes in the ideas your team brings to you, try responding with this question: “How could we make this work?” You may be surprised at how much energy and passion it unleashes in your team.

10. You have an “us vs. them” mentality. Do you say “we” or “they” when referring to your organization and its leadership? Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, rear-view mirror leaders tend to disassociate themselves from the decisions and actions of their fellow leaders. Being a leader, particularly a senior or high-level one, means you represent the entire organization, not just your particular team. You should own the decisions and strategies of your organization by phrasing statements like “We have decided…” rather than “They have decided…” because it shows your team that you are personally invested and committed to your organization’s plans.

The grumpy Mercedes driver couldn’t see he had a wide-open road ahead of him to enjoy because he was too focused on what others were doing behind him. Don’t make the same mistake as a leader. If any of these ten signs ring true, you may be spending more time leading by looking through the rear-view mirror instead of the front windshield.

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