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:
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.
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.”
What actually is known and unknown? Defining these two in simple high-level bullets can be surprisingly empowering.
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 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.
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.
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.
I 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.
Today is a time we set aside to celebrate our mothers. Motherhood is often a thankless and tiring endeavor. It’s easy to take for granted the hard work, sacrifice, and love that moms contribute to our lives. So today we pause to appreciate the countless ways our mothers have positively influenced us and shaped us into the people we are today.
In many ways, moms are the ultimate picture of servant leadership in action. They always have the best interests of their children in mind and will go to great lengths to help them grow, develop, and succeed in life. They are able to harmonize the polarities of unconditional love and tough love, and do so in such a way that their children always know that mom has their back. Mothers are simply amazing leaders.
Using the acronym MOTHER, here are six ways leaders can improve their effectiveness by embodying the characteristics and behaviors of great mothers:
Mentor — What does a mentor do? A mentor shares the wisdom that has been gleaned from life experiences. Mentors offer advice, perspective, and guidance to help their mentee navigate their life or career journey. Sometimes that comes in the form of encouragement and other times as correction. Moms, and great leaders, are trusted mentors.
Objective — Moms have a unique ability to be objective in the way they treat their kids, and leaders should use the same approach with their team members. Moms love all of their children completely, yet uniquely. If love were able to be measured, a mom’s love would be complete, 100% for each child. And if love came in different colors, each child’s color would be unique: blue, red, purple, etc. Leaders should be completely objective with their followers, yet treat each one uniquely according to their needs and situation.
Trustworthy — It goes without saying that moms are trustworthy. Leaders should be no different. Trustworthiness is the foundation upon which successful leadership is built. Leaders should embody the four elements of trust: ability, believability, connectedness, and dependability. Above all else, team members should never have to doubt the trustworthiness of their leader. If you’re not sure if you’re building or eroding trust, check out this free e-book.
Helpful — Who stays up late to help their child complete a school project the night before it’s due? Who drives the team carpool all day on Saturdays to shuttle the kids between matches? Who does the laundry, cooks the meals, cleans the house, packs lunches, and plays nurse when the kids are sick? Mom, that’s who! (Yes, sometimes Dad too, but I’ll save that for a Father’s Day article.) Mom is always there to help, no matter how big or small the need. The best leaders do the same. Their team members know they can approach the leader with any question or need, no matter how trivial, and the leader will welcome the opportunity to provide assistance.
Encouraging — Moms are awesome cheerleaders. They are always looking for opportunities to cheer on their kids to be the best they can be. Excellent leaders are constantly looking for ways to bring out the best in their people. It can be as simple as spending a few minutes to build rapport with a team member by talking about their mutual interests outside of work, or it could be something as big as publicly recognizing a team member in front of his/her peers. Regardless of the action, great leaders look for ways to encourage their followers.
Responsible — Moms are the role models of dependable and responsible leadership. If moms say they are going to do something, they do it. They can always be counted on to fulfill their end of the bargain. Shouldn’t workplace leaders do the same? Employees crave leaders who demonstrate responsibility. They want to know their leader takes their obligations seriously and will follow through on their commitments. If leaders want responsible team members, they need to walk the talk and show what responsibility looks like.
Not everyone’s mother has been a great role model of leadership. Mothers, just like all other kinds of leaders, aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. They fail. They disappoint. We can learn from those experiences too, even if it’s as basic as what not to do as a leader.
The best mothers illustrate what great leadership looks like. They act as mentors, are objective in dealing with people, are trustworthy, helpful, encouraging, and responsible. Anyone in a leadership role would be wise to lead a little more like mom.
How do you know if your boss is trustworthy? Look at her actions. When it comes to trust, the old adage that “actions speak louder than words” is absolutely true. Here is a list of ten ways to evaluate the trustworthiness of your boss. As you read, keep a mental tally of how many criteria your boss meets. Respond to the poll at the end of the article to get a sense of how your boss compares to others. For more information, download our free e-book Do Your Managers Build or Erode Trust?
10 Ways to Tell if Your Boss is Trustworthy
Your boss demonstrates strong task knowledge and skills. A leader who possesses sufficient expertise in her role inspires confidence and trust in others. People trust bosses who can provide direction and support to help them perform well at work. It doesn’t mean the boss has to be the ultimate expert in everything under the sun, but the boss does need to have a sufficient grasp of the worker’s job to help them solve problems.
Your boss has a track record of achieving results. Trustworthy bosses consistently help their teams win. Whatever the definition of success for your team or organization, trustworthy leaders are those who regularly lead their teams to victory. Do you trust your boss to take you to the winner’s circle, or is your boss preventing your team from achieving success?
Your boss is honest. Telling the truth, acting ethically, and being a person of integrity are nonnegotiable for being a trustworthy boss. If your boss likes to spin the truth, blame others, and practice situational ethics, then it’s pretty likely she violates the other nine items on this list.
Your boss admits mistakes. Bosses who are willing to admit their mistakes display a level of humility and authenticity that inspires trust in their followers. Does your boss readily admit mistakes and accept responsibility, or does she look to shirk her responsibility, make excuses, or shift the blame?
Your boss walks the talk. Trustworthy leaders act in alignment with personal and organizational values. These leaders are often role models for how others should behave and they take this responsibility seriously. Bosses who walk the talk have earned reputations of being authentic, genuine, and stand-up people.
Your boss practices fairness. Fairness is not treating everyone the same regardless of the circumstances. Broad-brushing everyone with the same treatment can be one of the most unfair things a leader does. Being fair means treating people equitably and ethically given their specific circumstance. How does your boss measure up in this regard?
Your boss cares about your well-being. Does your boss truly care about you as a person, or does she treat you as just another worker showing up to do a job? Trustworthy leaders care about their people. They take a personal interest in the lives of the people by getting to know about their hopes, dreams, and lives outside of work. Could your boss describe 3-5 things about your personal life, or would you be lucky if the boss remembered your name?
Your boss acknowledges, encourages, praises, and advocates for you. Trustworthy bosses are cheerleaders for their people. They look for ways to help their team members grow, catch them doing things right, shine the light on their accomplishments, and stand up for them when they need support. Trustworthy bosses can be counted on to be there for their people whenever needed.
Your boss follows-through on commitments. When your boss makes a commitment, what is your level of confidence that she will actually follow-through? Can you count on your boss to fulfill the commitment, or is it a pleasant surprise when it actually happens? Dependability is a key trait of trustworthy leaders. Is your boss dependable?
Your boss is personally accountable and holds team members accountable. Good bosses set the example for their teams, and they hold themselves and others accountable to those standards. Do the expectations for your team apply to your boss as well, or is she allowed to live by a different set of rules? When team members aren’t carrying their weight, does the boss respectfully and appropriately address it, or is a blind-eye turned to the situation?
How Does Your Boss Compare?
Do you want to know how your boss compares to the bosses of other Leading with Trust readers? Add up the number of criteria your boss meets in the list above and choose the appropriate poll response. The cumulative results of the poll will display when you submit your answer.
Too often leaders think they are the smartest person in the room, so they are quick to offer advice, give direction, and share their perspectives on how things should be done. Most leaders do this instinctively, because after all, it’s the type of behavior that caused them to rise through the ranks. But when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen to empowering your team members to get the job done. You can’t do that if you’re always dominating the conversation. You need to draw out the best thinking and performance from your team members, and the way to do that is through asking great questions.
If you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start, give these a try:
1. What are you excited about in your job? The answer to this question allows you to understand what motivates and excites your team member. When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that energize your team member, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests which results in greater engagement and performance.
2. Why do you stay? This is perhaps the most important question that leaders never ask. Do you know why each of your team members chooses to stay with your organization? If you did, would it change the way you relate to them? I would hope so. Knowing the answer to this question will drive the way you structure job opportunities for those employees you want to retain. For employees who have “quit and stayed,” the answer to this question will give you insight into why they are choosing to remain stuck in their current position (usually fear of change, they’re comfortable, or they’re beholden to their current salary and lifestyle).
3. What might lure you away? This is the sister question to number 2. If you’re like most leaders, you probably don’t know the answer to either one. If you knew what would lure away your top performers, you would know what you need to do to get them to stay. Asking this question sends the signal to your team members that you know they are a valuable contributor and you’re not blind to opportunities they may have elsewhere. It lets them know you are committed to doing what you can to keep them happy and engaged with your organization.
4. What would we need to do to get you to stay? Don’t wait until your employee resigns and has one foot out the door to ask this question. By then it’s too little, too late. Ask this question on a regular basis as part of longer term career development discussions. Similar to questions 2 and 3, this question allows team members to express the things they think about their employment experience that they would never say to you in any other context. Just the very fact that the leader is willing to acknowledge the employee has the potential for other opportunities and cares about retaining him/her, causes the employee to feel valued and respected, which inspires loyalty and commitment.
5. What new skills would you like to learn? Most people want to keep learning and growing in their jobs, and in fact, this desire often ranks higher in surveys as being more important than getting a raise or other forms of recognition. Many managers are afraid to ask this question because they aren’t sure if they can deliver anything in return. Even the most mundane, clear-cut jobs usually have some room for creativity or improvement, but it takes a bit of work for the leader to think outside the box to uncover those opportunities. One good place for leaders to start is to examine their own jobs. What could you delegate or share with your team members that would allow them to learn something new?
6. Are you being __________enough for now? (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback, etc.) You’re probably starting to see a theme to these questions by now, aren’t you? Along with the others, this question allows you to probe into areas of performance that wouldn’t normally surface in your typical 1on1 conversations. We all fall victim to tyranny of the urgent and tend to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines we face. We have to train ourselves to periodically step back from the daily grind and have discussions with team members about the bigger picture issues that define their employee experience.
7. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? The people who usually know best about what’s working and not working in the business are those on the front-lines of the action. Ask your team members about the things that are holding them back from performing better or experiencing more joy in their work, and then get to work on addressing those issues. Leaders can often make a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.
8. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? Do you like it when your boss asks your opinion? Of course you do! It makes you feel like the boss respects your knowledge and expertise, and values your perspective on issues. Then why don’t you do the same with your employees? It’s a truism that no one of us is as smart as all of us. The power of a team is unleashed when the leader leverages the collective wisdom and experience of all its members.
9. What should I be doing more of? Unlike the other questions, this one is about you, the leader. It opens the door for you to hear from the employee about what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing. You may not see much value in asking this question because you believe you already have a good sense of the answer, but I encourage you to ask it anyway. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your team members (like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, taking an interest in them personally).
10. What should I be doing less of? It’s important you know this critical principle about leadership — most people won’t speak truth to power unless they believe it is safe and acceptable to do so. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. You do that by explicitly giving permission to your team to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior. Too many leaders only receive feedback from their bosses during the annual performance review, and although it can be helpful, it’s often from a limited and biased perspective. Great bosses seek feedback from where it matters most — their team.
Being a great boss isn’t easy. If it was, the world would be full of them. Instead of relying on the natural tendency to solely focus on the here-and-now in your interactions with team members, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Start incorporating some of these questions into your 1on1 meetings and watch for the positive impact it will have on your team members’ level of engagement and productivity.
The following is a guess post from Nat Greene based on lessons and concepts in his new book Stop Guessing.
As a business leader, one of your key responsibilities is ensuring that your customers see huge value in your offering. In the hyper-competitive landscape of 21st century business, you have the difficult tax of constantly increasing your customer value. Many businesses focus primarily on reducing their cost to customers: if a customer gets the same product for less money, they see greater value in the investment. But merely driving down costs makes for a low-margin future, and strategically locks you in an ongoing price war with your competitors.
A far more effective–and enjoyable–path is seeking to improve the value of your product, so your customers are getting more for the same price. Doing this creates greater customer loyalty, improves your margins, and improves the satisfaction of your team, knowing that they’re better serving your customers rather than simply trying to be the lowest-cost provider.
You have certainly already put significant thought into this, and realized there are many different options by which you can attempt to improve your value to your customers. If you have spent time on search engines looking for ideas, you have likely found pithy lists or tips that will give you even more ideas to try out than you already had. But you have limited resources, and you know that what works well for some will not necessarily apply to your unique business and unique customers’ needs. How can you choose what’s most effective?
Learn How to Improve Customer Value
As for any problem you’re trying to solve, approaching the problem with the right behaviors will help you find the most effective solution for your unique situation. Rather than trying out different ideas that others have tried before, you need to understand your problem by observing it thoroughly and learning as much about it as possible.
To do this, get close to your customers. Don’t just ask them what they want from you: they are not likely to be able to conjure up in their minds what you can do for them. And that’s not their job: it’s yours. Understand how your product or service interacts with their business, and what changes would make the most impact to them. Approach this investigation by starting with the following questions:
How do they use your product?
What about their business are they trying to improve with your product?
What resources do they deploy by working with your product?
What do they have to do internally in order to work with your product?
What is their experience trying to acquire your product?
What is your customer’s biggest pain point that your product interacts with?
By understanding the answers to these questions–and more that arise during your investigation–you will be able to understand what you can change about your product that will most improve your value to your customers, and you’ll find yourself not only holding on to customers you may have been losing, but you may also find yourself at a higher price point.
Case In Point
One business I was working with made high-performance coatings for products like ships, jet planes, and equipment that underwent lots of stress, such as heat. In order to improve their cost competitiveness, they were planning on moving their operation from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, where labor costs were lower. The operation would have taken years and of course entailed significant capital costs to implement.
When they instead found out what was most important to their customers, price did not rise to the top. Instead, they found that the biggest stress to their customers was their own supply chain: these customers wanted to get their jets, ships, and heavy equipment out to their own customers reliably on time. Each of these manufacturers had to buy dozens of parts to assemble at their own facilities, and they felt constant stress that any late delivery would impact their own production timeline.
The coatings business decided to instead focus on perfecting its in-full on-time (IFOT) delivery performance. We worked together to solve logistics problems that caused some of their shipments to arrive late, and they were able to quickly boast the best IFOT in the industry. Their customers were thrilled, as they could be confident that at least the coatings part of their sourcing operation was something they never had to worry about. They stayed in Western Europe in order to keep their lead times low, and were even able to increase the price of their own products, without a grumble from their customers.
Nathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.
If you’re a senior leader in your organization, chances are the vast majority of employees don’t view you as a real person.
Research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin shows employee perceptions of senior leaders are governed by mental models they form through incidental interactions with the leader, such as emails, videos, speeches, or other impersonal means of communication.
So what should you make of that? First, it should make you question the level of trust people have in you. Second, you should know that without trust it’s virtually impossible to influence and inspire your team to follow your lead. And third, it should prompt you to consider ways to build a more personal relationship with those you lead.
But where to start? Start at the beginning. Start with building rapport.
Merriam-Webster defines rapport as “a friendly, harmonious relationship; especially a relationship characterized by agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication possible or easy.”
Rapport is a fundamental component of having a connected relationship with someone, and the lack of personal connection is the reason people view their leaders as impersonal avatars. Research has shown the importance of warmth as a critical factor in building trust. Your team members are wanting to know that you care about them as individuals and not just nameless worker bees showing up to do a job.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant or charismatic you are as a leader; if your people don’t think you have their best interests in mind and truly care for them, they won’t give you their trust, loyalty, and best performance. Establishing rapport with someone creates an environment of warmth and safety which allows trust to blossom.
Building rapport isn’t rocket science but it takes an intentional effort. Here’s a few easy and practical ways to foster rapport with someone:
Remember and use their names
Learn something about their life outside of work
Share information about yourself; show some vulnerability
Strike up a conversation (about them, not you)
Identify mutual interests
When clients tell me their organization is suffering from a lack of trust between senior leaders and front-line employees, the first area I explore is the sense of connectedness between the two groups. Almost always the issue boils down to the front-liners not having any semblance of a personal connection to senior leaders.
It’s a predictable dilemma. The further up a leader moves in the organization, the wider her span of control becomes and the harder it is to have a personal relationship with each employee. However, through effective communication techniques, conveying a sense of authenticity by sharing information about yourself, and intentionally making the time and effort to connect with people as much as possible, you can develop rapport with your employees that leads to high trust and loyalty.
A few years back my team underwent a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players moved on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team had remained relatively stable, but we entered a new phase of growth, which was both scary and exciting. It seemed like each day I was having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we tried to sort out who was going, who was staying, and how we were going to get our work done.
It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.
Rather than being discouraged, I get energized and look forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:
1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.
2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.
3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.
4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.
5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.
Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!
Leadership can be a pretty enjoyable gig when your team is 100% behind you. It seems like every decision you make turns out to the be the right one, morale is high, people are engaged and productive, and everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.
It’s a different story, though, when you’re trying to lead people who don’t want to follow. Work slows down, decisions are questioned, and people get disgruntled. Leading in this kind of environment can be arduous, painful, and a test of your patience and commitment.
If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s imperative you proactively address the situation in positive and constructive ways. It likely won’t resolve itself on its own, and if left unattended, will severely hinder the performance of your team and cripple your leadership effectiveness. Here are six practical strategies you can employ:
1. Make sure the goal and expectations are clear—Just because you’ve shared a PowerPoint presentation of your strategic plan a few times doesn’t mean people are clear on how it specifically applies to them on an individual basis. What appears as resistance to your leadership may be a lack of clarity. People who are clear on what’s expected can make a decision on whether or not to get on board, and it makes your job as a leader easier to evaluate their performance.
2. Determine if it’s a can’t do or won’t do problem – It’s important to understand the difference between can’t do and won’t do performance. Can’t do performance is due to a person not having the skills, training, or ability to follow your leadership. Those individuals need direction, support, training, tools, and resources to help them perform. Won’t do performance is an attitude or commitment issue. These individuals have the skills and abilities to follow your leadership, but for whatever reason they are choosing not to get on board. It’s important to know the difference because you need to deal with them in different ways.
3. Engage with a few resistors who carry great influence—It’s important to understand the perspective of those who are resistant to your leadership. Actively engage a few key resistors to understand their point of view and to encourage them to get on board. If you can win them over, they can use their influence to positively influence their peers. But don’t let the tail wag the dog. Spending too much time trying to convert the non-believers can distract from moving forward with those already in your camp. See the next point.
4. Focus on creating positive momentum—Nothing creates a positive team culture like winning. We see it in athletic teams all the time. Winning seems to cure all ills, and if you can create positive momentum with your team, it will spread positive morale and silence the doubters.
5. Incorporate the team’s input as much as possible—People will be more likely to follow your leadership if they have a hand in shaping the plan. I love the saying that goes “people who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People will own what they create, and the more you’re able to foster a sense of ownership among your people the more they’ll be inclined to follow your direction.
6. Be willing to make a necessary ending—There will be some individuals who won’t ever follow your leadership no matter what you do. For those people you may need to consider a necessary ending, a concept I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud. Leaders should do all they can to help team members to succeed, and when those efforts don’t improve the situation, it may be time to part ways.
Trying to lead people who won’t follow is a tremendous challenge. It’s time-consuming and exhausting, yet following these strategies can help you navigate the situation. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions you have for tackling this issue.
Organizations around the world are reporting their leaders are turning into zombies at an alarming rate. Formerly healthy, productive, and capable leaders are falling victim to the Zombie Plague, a deadly disease that is spreading uncontrollably across the globe.
Leadership development experts recommend everyone be on alert for the symptoms listed below. If your boss demonstrates any of these behaviors, please consult a professional immediately.
1. She is running on autopilot – Zombie’s are empty vessels with no willpower or mind of their own. They wander about aimlessly with no clear purpose other than to satisfy their basic needs for survival (mainly terrorizing and eating humans!). Zombie leaders have become complacent and stopped investing in their own growth and learning. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep the ship afloat and they’ve stopped pushing the boundaries to innovate and adapt to new realities in the marketplace. If your boss is content with doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, she might be infected.
2. She is a doomsdayist – Healthy leaders are purveyors of hope and positive energy. They cast a compelling vision of the future that inspires their followers to commit to the goal, team, or organization. Zombie leaders tend to have a sense of doom and failure. They waste their energy focusing on all the reasons why something can’t be done rather than working to find new solutions. They’re often heard saying “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”
3. Her relationships are strained and difficult – Zombie leaders tend to have a low EQ (emotional quotient) that makes them ill-prepared to develop strong interpersonal relationships. They fail to build rapport with their followers, don’t collaborate well with colleagues, and have a low self-awareness about how they “show up” with other people. In fact, zombie leaders reading this right now probably fail to identify with any of these qualities and instead are muttering to themselves “I wish my boss was reading this article.”
4. She’s in a “trust-deficit” – Leaders infected with the zombie virus are notorious for breaking trust with their followers. Failing to follow through on commitments, taking credit for other people’s work, not “walking the talk,” and withholding recognition and praise from others are all ways that zombies erode trust. The low-trust relationships that zombie leaders have with their followers results in reduced productivity, gossiping, questioning of decisions, and low levels of employee morale and engagement.
Various remedies are available to prevent leaders from contracting the Zombie Plague or to treat those already infected. The therapy plan extends over the course of a leader’s lifetime and requires constant diligence to ensure the disease stays in remission. Treatments include ongoing learning and self-improvement, building trust in relationships, and adopting a servant-leader philosophy.
Performance planning, coaching, and review are the foundation of any well-designed performance management system, but the results of a recent study suggest that leaders are falling short in meeting the expectations of their direct reports.
Researchers from The Ken Blanchard Companies teamed up with Training magazine to poll 456 human resource and talent-management professionals. The purpose was to determine whether established best practices were being leveraged effectively.
The survey found gaps of 20-30 percent between what employees wanted from their leaders and what they were experiencing in four key areas: Performance Planning (setting clear goals), Day-to-Day Coaching (helping people reach their targets), Performance Evaluation (reviewing results), and Job and Career Development (learning and growing.)
Use these links to download a PDF or PNG version of a new infographic that shows the four key communication gaps broken down into ten specific conversations leaders should be having with their team members.
Are your leaders having the performance management conversations they should be? If you find similar gaps, address them for higher levels of employee work passion and performance.
You can read more about the survey (and see the Blanchard recommendations for closing communication gaps) by accessing the original article, 10 Performance Management Process Gaps, at the Training magazine website.
(This post was originally written and published by David Witt at LeaderChat.org.)