Leading with Trust

Santa Reveals His 5 Secrets To Effective Delegation

santaSanta is a leader with world-class delegation skills. How else can you explain one jolly man being able to run a global enterprise from the remote reaches of the North Pole, produce billions of toys with just a small workforce of elves, and distribute them around the world in just a single night? Delegation, that’s how.

With just a few days until Christmas, I sat down with Santa for our yearly leadership interview. In years past Santa has talked about his secrets about motivating the elves and his leadership philosophy. This year, over a cup of Santa’s favorite hot cocoa, he talked about his techniques for effective delegation. Here’s a portion of our conversation:

Me: Hi, Santa! It’s great to see you again. How’s life at the North Pole?

Santa: Ho, ho, ho Randy! Life is great at the North Pole! We’re making final preparations for December 24th, our biggest night of the year. Everyone is working hard in their areas of focus and collaborating well with each other. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Me: This year I reached out to my Twitter friends to ask for input on what we should discuss, and Rich Villodas wants to know how you’re able to deliver all those gifts in one night. What’s your secret to delegation?

Santa: Years ago I learned that if I was going to accomplish everything that needed to be done, I’d have to learn how to delegate effectively. Not simply to reduce my own workload, which is purely a self-centered goal, but to develop the skills of my team and elevate our overall performance and productivity.

Me: You make a great point, Santa. Many leaders have a narrow focus when it comes to delegation. They view it as a way to get rid of work they don’t want to do, or as a way to reduce the amount of work on their plate. What tips would you give to leaders seeking to improve their skills at delegation?

Santa: The first key to effective delegation is to diagnose the competence and commitment of the person receiving the work. Not everyone has the skills or motivation to succeed at every project a leader needs to delegate, so it’s important to make sure you have a good match. If you delegate work to someone who isn’t able to handle it, you’re only setting that person up for frustration and failure.

Me: Makes sense Santa. What else would you suggest?

Santa: The second key to delegation is to make sure the outcome is well-defined. One of my leadership mentors, Ken Blanchard, likes to say that all good performance starts with clear goals, and he’s right. I make sure my elves know exactly what they’re supposed to do and how their performance will be measured. After the goals are established, the third key to delegation is to clarify the boundaries of responsibility—who has the authority to do what. Everyone knows their budget limits, decision-making authority, and the approval process for any exceptions. With so many toys to produce we have to run a pretty tight ship around here!

Me: Establishing boundaries of responsibility seems like something leaders can often overlook. I’m glad you specifically addressed that point. Once you do these first three things, does that mean you can fade out of the picture?

Santa: Ho, ho, ho, NO! That leads me to the fourth secret of effective delegation—Be available! Even though a leader delegates work, he or she still needs to be available to provide any direction or support the individual needs. I have regular one-on-one meetings with my Manager Elves to stay in touch with how their teams are performing. Each manager has regular one-on-one’s with the elves on the front lines, so we have a constant stream of communication up and down the line. Delegation without participation equals abdication, something every leader should avoid.

Me: Your wisdom never ceases to amaze me Santa. Are there any other secrets to effective delegation you’d like to share?

Santa: The fifth and final secret is to review performance on a regular basis. If the elves are on track and doing well, I make it a point to praise them. Catching my elves doing something right is one of my biggest joys! If performance is off-track, then I take the time to offer coaching and direction to get it back on track. Reviewing performance isn’t something we only do once a year. We make it a point to have regular meetings focused on our performance as it relates to our yearly goals. If I can keep a list of all the children who are being naughty or nice, it would be a travesty for me to not keep track of my own team’s performance!

Me: Well, Santa, you always have such great leadership insights to share each year. You have certainly mastered the art of delegation.

Santa: Thank you, Randy, but you give me too much credit. Delegation only works when you have a high level of trust with your team members and if you approach it with the right attitude. Delegation is a leadership technique to develop and empower your people, not to dump your unwanted work on them. When trust is present, delegation is a fantastic way to raise the performance of yourself and your team. Merry Christmas to all!

6 Conversations Every Leader Needs To Have

ConversationBetween email, text message, instant messaging, and social media, it’s never been easier to communicate with each other, yet the quality of our interactions seems to have become brief, fragmented, and altogether unfulfilling. That’s a big problem for leaders and the people they manage.

Productive and timely conversations are critically important to help people achieve their goals. Without a clear focus on goals and the proper direction and support to achieve them, individuals are cast adrift in the rough seas of the workplace, left alone to navigate their way to success. It’s the leaders’ responsibility to have the right conversations at the right time to help their people succeed. But what kind of conversations are we talking about?

There are six types of conversations leaders need to have with those they lead:

1. Alignment Conversations – All good performance starts with clear goals and an agreement on the type of leadership style the leader will provide the direct report. You’re probably familiar with the concept of setting goals that are SMART: Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. Many managers get bogged down trying to follow the SMART process when creating goals, so I suggest you switch up the letters and set STRAM goals. Start with making the goal specific and trackable, the two most important elements of SMART goals. Then make sure the goal is relevant to the person’s job and attainable with good effort. If those pieces are in place you can almost be assured the goal will be motivating to the individual.

2. Directive Conversations – Have you ever seen someone extremely excited to accomplish a new goal or project yet doesn’t have a clue where to start? Leaders need to have directive conversations with those individuals to build their competence and maintain their commitment and enthusiasm. They need their leader to explain the who, what, where, when, and why of the work they’re being asked to do, as well as being given the necessary training and resources needed to accomplish their goals. Directive conversations set a firm foundation for an individual’s future success.

3. Coaching Conversations – Individuals discouraged with their lack of progress or success in achieving a goal need coaching conversations with their leader. Coaching conversations blend high amounts of direction and support to pull individuals out of their disillusionment and help build their competence on the goal or task. The direction looks like continued training, instruction, and assistance in problem solving. Support from the leader includes listening, praise, and encouragement to help build the individual’s commitment and motivation.

4. Supportive Conversations – Leaders engage in supportive conversations with those individuals who have the skills and abilities to do the job but lack the confidence to take their work to the next level. Supportive conversations involve heavy doses of listening, asking open-ended questions that allow individuals to solve their own problems, and offering the praise and recognition they need to help boost their confidence.

5. Delegating Conversations – Leaders have delegating conversations with individuals who are high performing, self-reliant, motivated, and competent. These people need their leaders to affirm their competence and commitment by giving low amounts of direction and support. Leaders delegate the goal or task to these individuals and let them run with the ball, yet still being available on the sidelines to assist as needed.

6. One on One Conversations – These 15-30 minute conversations, occurring every 1-2 weeks, help leaders stay in touch with their employees’ goals and provides them the opportunity to ask for the direction and support they need from their leaders. One on Ones keep the lines of communication open between leaders and direct reports and allow for mid-course corrections if performance gets off-track.

The frequency and quality of conversations between leaders and direct reports will determine how successful individuals and teams will be in the workplace. Leaders need to be able to diagnose the competence and commitment of their people, use the leadership style that combines the right amounts of direction and support, and engage in the type of conversation that gives their people what they need to succeed on the job.

10 Essential Items for a New Manager’s Survival Kit

survival_kit3Stepping into a management role for the first time is a daunting task for anyone. Most new managers are eager to make their mark as leaders and approach their supervisory opportunity with verve and enthusiasm, yet don’t have a good idea of the nature of managerial workIt doesn’t take long for reality to set in before new managers realize that leading people is a whole new ballgame. What made them successful as individual contributors will not ensure their success as managers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You”

Thank YouTelling an employee “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, and with the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday just four days away, I thought I’d share ten easy, no to low-cost ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In David Letterman, Late Night style…The Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You:”

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 Easy, No to Low Cost Way to Tell Employees “Thank You” 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.

Don’t Feed The Monkeys! 3 Ways To Help People Solve Their Own Problems

Don't Feed the MonkeysIn my early days as a manager I used to love to feed monkeys.

“Monkeys” are the problems, issues, or challenges your employees bring you that somehow become your responsibility to manage and solve. Instead of the monkeys stopping by your office for a quick visit and going back home with their owners, they end up taking residence and you become responsible for their ongoing care.

I liked feeding monkeys because I thought I was helping people solve problems. Over time, I learned my good intentions were actually handicapping my employees from learning how to solve their own problems, resulting in me being overloaded with work.

There are three ways in which I developed that helped me stop feeding monkeys and I believe they can help you too.

1. Become a situational leader – There is no one best leadership style when it comes to managing people. People need different leadership styles depending on their competence and commitment on the specific goal or task at hand. SLII® teaches a leader to diagnose the development level (competence and commitment) of the employee and then use the appropriate leadership style (a combination of directive and supportive behavior) that will help the person develop from a beginner to an expert on the goal or task. If you don’t develop your employees’ competence and commitment in their job, they will always have to come to you to solve their problems.

Control and Responsibility Grid2. Don’t grab responsibility – One way to look at managing monkeys with your people is to examine how the elements of responsibility and control interact (see my post Losing Control & Liking It – 4 Ways to Handle Responsibility & Control for a more in-depth treatment of the topic). Managers make the mistake of grabbing control of a monkey even though they aren’t responsible for it. Leaders often fall prey to this style of relating because they think they can “fix” people or situations. GRABing control may result in short-term wins, but over the long haul it stunts people’s development and creates a state of learned helplessness.

3. Facilitate self-reliant problem solving – Part of a manager’s job is to help people learn how to solve their own problems. Assuming the manager has been a situational leader and developed the employee’s competence, and isn’t grabbing control of something they aren’t responsible for, the next step is to facilitate the process of problem solving. First, it’s important to have a clear definition of the problem. Many times the symptoms of a problem are more evident than the root cause so it’s important to investigate the underlying issues. Second, ask open-ended questions to allow the employee to think through possible solutions. Many times people just need someone with an objective point of view to help them think through the situation.

In his book, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, Ken Blanchard says “The best way to develop responsibility in people is to give them responsibility.” If you don’t let your people solve their own problems, they’ll always look to you to do it for them. Don’t feed the monkeys!

Nine Warning Signs An Employee Needs To Be Let Go

You're Fired“I’m sorry, we need to let you go.”

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

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

Here are nine warning signs you have an employee that probably needs to be “shared with the competition:”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The number one job for a leader is to help his or her employees succeed. Before an employee is terminated, a leader needs to be able to look in the mirror and honestly admit that everything possible has been done to help the employee succeed. If the leader has done his or her part and the employee situation hasn’t improved, the best thing for both parties is to help the employee transition to a new opportunity.

Forget Accountability – Follow These 5 Steps Instead

AccountabilityI don’t like the word accountability. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. I think it’s because it assumes the worst about people. When we talk about accountability, it always seems the assumption is a person is incapable of, or unlikely to, follow through on his/her commitments. So we spend a lot of time and energy creating systems, processes, or consequences to make the sure the person is held accountable.

I prefer the word responsibility. To me, responsibility has a positive connotation. It’s starting with the mindset that a person will be responsible if he/she is given the necessary tools and training. If a person is responsible, you don’t have to worry about him/her being accountable. Responsibility breeds accountability. Whereas focusing on accountability is only treating the symptoms of a performance issue, addressing responsibility is treating the root cause.

So how can leaders help their people develop an inherent sense of responsibility? Here’s five steps to get started:

1. Create a motivating work environment – You can’t motivate anyone. (What? Did he just say I can’t motivate anyone? Isn’t that one of my primary responsibilities as a leader?) Yes, I just said that. You can’t motivate anyone. Every person is responsible for his/her own motivational outlook. What you can do is create a work environment that allows your people to maximize their sense of autonomy, increase their level of relatedness with others, and develop competence in their work. Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are the variables that allow a person to be optimally motivated and it’s our jobs as leaders to foster an environment that brings out the best in our people.

2. Let your people take the lead in goal setting as much as possible – Think about your own experience. When have you felt the greatest sense of commitment to a goal? When you created it yourself (or had a hand in it), or when a goal was assigned to you? Most likely it was when you were involved in setting the goal because you had a sense of ownership. It was your goal, not someone else’s. Your people will exhibit more responsibility for accomplishing their goals if they are involved in setting them.

3. Be clear on expectations – If people are going to be responsible, they need to clearly understand the expectations of their commitment. Many times our frustrations with people not being accountable is due to a lack of clear expectations. Make sure people know why the goal is important, what the deadlines are, and what constitutes success. If the situation requires you to follow through with negative consequences, do so. Don’t make hollow threats.

4. Use the right leadership style – Your people have different levels of competence and commitment on each of their goals. It’s your job as a leader to flex your leadership style to provide the proper amount of direction and support your people need to accomplish their goals. If you don’t set your people up to be responsible and successful in achieving their goals, that’s on you, not them. (Hold yourself accountable…errr…responsible).

5. Let go – I’ve written previously about balancing control and responsibility. It’s easy to grab control from people when you see them underachieving or shirking their responsibilities. That doesn’t help your people develop responsibility and it only adds to your stress level and workload. If you’ve properly trained and equipped your people, you need to let go and let them succeed or fail on their own.

Starting with these five steps puts the onus on your people to live up to their responsibilities. It’s up to them to hold themselves accountable…to be responsible. The leadership mindset underpinning these steps is one of trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Trust your people to rise to the occasion, to be worthy of your trust. Odds are they will prove themselves to be responsible and you won’t have to worry about holding them accountable.

Dysfunctionally Connected Workplaces – 3 Ways to Build Trust and Human Connection

Click to Download the Full Infographic

Click to Download the Full Infographic

Never in history have we been so technologically connected to each other in the workplace. Email, instant message, text message, and social media have enabled us to be in constant and immediate communication with each other. Yet record numbers of people are disengaged on the job and distrust their organizations, senior leaders, and coworkers.

We are dysfunctionally connected.

Based on research from the Pew Research Center and The Ken Blanchard Companies, 81% of employees say their leaders don’t listen well and 82% feel they don’t receive helpful feedback. Only 34% say they meet with their boss weekly and 28% never or rarely discuss future goals and tasks even though 70% wish they did. If that wasn’t depressing enough, consider that 64% of employees say they want to talk to their boss about problems they’re having with colleagues but only 8% say they actually do.

We are dysfunctionally connected.

“The typical workplace is at risk of becoming dysfunctionally connected,” says Ken Blanchard, author of more than 55 business books and world-renowned leadership expert. “People crave a deeper human connection at work. They need to feel a more personal and authentic connection with their managers and their peers that goes beyond what technology can provide.”

Creating trust and human connection starts with conversation. We have to detach from technology and actually speak to each other…you know…the old-school way of establishing a relationship. Demonstrating care and concern for others—being connected—is one of the four elements of a trusting relationship. It’s a critical requirement for any successful relationship in the workplace. Here’s three ways to build trust and true relational connection:

1. Have a people focus – People are more important than things. Don’t get so wrapped up in the busyness of your job that you neglect to build authentic relationships with others. Take interest in the lives of your colleagues and appreciate the diversity that everyone brings to the organization. Ask people what they did over the weekend, how their kids are doing, or what hobbies they enjoy. And here’s a novel idea – instead of sending a colleague an IM, get out of your chair, walk down the hall, and actually have a discussion!

2. Improve your communication – I love the line from the movie Cool Hand Luke when the prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character, Luke, “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.” That could be the motto for today’s workplace. You can build trust and connection by sharing information about yourself, and if you’re a leader, about the organization. Examine the frequency and ways in which you communicate and make adjustments if needed, particularly when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Most importantly, listen. Simply taking the time to listen to people and truly empathizing with their concerns is one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can employ.

3. Recognize people’s efforts – Whenever I conduct training workshops I ask participants to raise their hands if they receive too much praise and recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand. The truth is that most people are starved for genuine appreciation for the work they do and a simple word of “thanks” or “attaboy” go a long way toward building trust and commitment. Learn how people like to be recognized and rewarded and find ways to catch them doing something right.

The leadership styles and practices of managers are key drivers of trust and engagement in the workplace. Last week, The Ken Blanchard Companies announced the release of The SLII® Experience, a new learning design for its flagship product SLII®, the world’s most taught leadership model. Learning to flex your leadership style to the needs of your followers, giving them what they need when they need it, will lead to high-trust relationships that foster the kind of connection and engagement that people crave in today’s workplaces.

It’s Not That Complicated – 7 Simple Truths For Leadership Success

ComplicatedWe tend to over-complicate things in life, and when it comes to defining what successful leadership looks like, we really, really, over-complicate it. Much of what constitutes leadership success comes down to common sense, but unfortunately it’s not common practice.

Searching the shelves of your local bookstore (do those still exist?) or doing a search on Amazon.com would lead you to believe that in order to be a successful leader you’ll need to find some keys, take the right steps, follow the proper laws, figure out the dysfunctions, embrace the challenge, ascend the levels, look within yourself, look outside yourself, form a tribe, develop the right habits, know the rules, break the rules, be obsessed, learn the new science, or discover the ancient wisdom. Did I say we like to over-complicate things?

I don’t think leadership should be that complicated. If you’re looking for leadership success, consider these seven simple truths (argh…I did it myself!):

1. There aren’t any shortcuts – Leadership is hard work and most of it is on the job training. Formal education and ongoing development are essential parts of developing your leadership competency, but don’t think you can transform yourself into a great leader by reading a certain book or taking a particular training course. Great leaders are built by being in the game, not by standing on the sidelines or sitting in the classroom.

2. Great leaders started by being great followers – Most successful leaders were successful followers at some point. They learned how to be part of a team, put the needs of others ahead of their own, and work toward a goal bigger than themselves. In our hero-worshiping culture we tend to place the spotlight on the individual achievements of leaders and not pay much attention to how they cultivated those winning ways earlier in their career. Learn to be a good follower and you’ll learn what it takes to be a good leader.

3. There’s no mysterious secret to leadership – Contrary to the titles of popular leadership books, there is no single, mysterious secret to unlocking leadership success (see truth #1). All those books that I lovingly needled offer valuable insights about various aspects of leadership, but most of them tell you what you already know to be true…which brings me to the next point.

4. You already know what it takes to be a good leader – Not to plagiarise Robert Fulghum, but you probably learned in kindergarten most of what it takes to be a good leader. Be nice. Play well with others. Say please and thank you. Do what you can to help others. Of course you have to mature and apply those fundamentals in adult ways like being transparent and authentic with others, challenging them to strive for their goals, holding people accountable, and having difficult conversations when needed.

5. The difference between management and leadership is overrated – Tons of books and blogs have been written debating the differences between these two concepts. Yes, each has its own unique characteristics, and yes, each of them overlap significantly in the practice of leadership and management. Leaders have to manage and managers have to lead. Learn to do them both well because they are much more similar than they are different.

6. Leaders aren’t special – We’re all bozos on the same bus. Leaders aren’t any more special than individual contributors and everyone is needed to have a successful team. If you view leadership as service, which I happen to do, you should consider your team members more important than yourself. Get your ego out of the way and you’ll be on your way to success.

7. Leadership is much more about who you are than what you do – This is probably the most important truth I’ve learned about leadership over my career. I view leadership as a calling, not a job. As a calling, leadership is about who I am—my values, beliefs, attitudes—and my actions are the visible manifestation of those inner ideals. If you want to be a successful leader, your primary focus should be on the inner work that is required, not on behavioral tricks or techniques.

So there you go, those are my seven simple truths. What do you think? What would you add, delete, or change? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Just don’t make it too complicated.

Most People Don’t Under-Perform, They’re Under-Led – 5 Ways Leaders Sabotage Performance

Slip on Banana PeelNot too many people get out of bed in the morning, head in to work, and say to themselves “I’m really looking forward to screwing up today!” Sure, there are always a few bad apples with horrible attitudes that seem to thrive on getting away with doing the least amount of work possible, but by and large most people want to succeed on the job. So why do we struggle with so many under-performers in the workplace?

“I think most people don’t want to under-perform,” Kathie McGrane, Course Manager/Management Analyst at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said to me in a recent conversation, “they’re just under-led.” Kathie’s insightful comment got me thinking about the ways leaders unknowingly sabotage the performance of their people. Here’s five common ways:

1. They don’t intentionally focus on building trust – Trust is the bedrock foundation of any successful relationship. There isn’t a business or leadership strategy around that will make up for a lack of trust between leaders and followers. Without trust your leadership effectiveness will always be limited. The problem is that most people think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is that trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors, and if leaders don’t specifically focus on establishing healthy, high-trust relationships with their people, under-performance will be the norm.

2. Lack of clear goals and expectations – This past week I conducted a job interview and the candidate described the training she received at her previous job. She said “I was given a Sharpie pen, shown to my desk, and told to ‘figure it out.'” A CEO I’ve coached in the past was explaining his frustration about one of his VP’s not “stepping up” to lead like he expected him to. When I asked him if he had made those expectations clear to the individual he replied, “Well, now that you mention it, no, I haven’t.” And we wonder why people under-perform? Your people need to have clear goals and expectations so they know exactly what is required. Make sure they know what a good job looks like.

3. Leaders use the wrong leadership style – When it comes to leadership, one size does NOT fit all. Leaders commonly under or over-supervise people. Under-supervision is when the leader is too hands-off when an employee needs more direction and support on a goal or task. Over-supervision is when the leader micromanages too much when the employee is competent and committed to do the task on his/her own. Leaders need to understand that a person can be at different levels of development on different goals or tasks. Just because an employee may be a superstar in organizing and managing projects, doesn’t mean he/she is a pro at giving presentations to a group of executives. Leaders need to use a variety of leadership styles to give employees the right amount of direction and support they need on each of their job areas.

4. They don’t stay in touch with performance – Leaders not being aware of the performance trends of their employees is often a cause for under-performance. Leaders should have regular one-on-one meetings with their direct reports every 1 to 2 weeks. The one-on-one meeting serves to keep the leader informed of how the employee is doing on his/her goals and tasks, and it allows the employee to ask for needed direction and support. Too often leaders fall prey to “seagull management” – They occasionally fly in, squawk and make a bunch of noise, crap all over the place, and then fly away. Don’t be a seagull manager. Stay in regular touch with your employees so you can give them the day-to-day coaching they need to succeed.

5. Fail to give helpful feedback – Many leaders fail to give any feedback, and when they do, it’s often not very helpful to the employee. One type of feedback is praise. When employees are doing a good job, let them know! A well-timed praising does wonders for developing trust in a relationship. Redirection is another type of feedback that leaders should use when an employee’s performance is off-track. Redirection is specific about what needs to be corrected, timely and relevant to the situation at hand, and about moving forward. Don’t gunny sack feedback and surprise the employee with it at the annual performance review.

When leaders find that employees are under-performing, the first action they need to take is to look in the mirror and examine what they’ve done (or not done) to set the employee up for success. There are certainly situations where leaders will find they’ve done everything possible to help an employee perform at an acceptable level and the best thing is to part ways. However, leaders will often find they’ve unknowingly sabotaged the performance of their people by neglecting some of these leadership fundamentals.

The Two Most Powerful Words to Rebuild Trust

Trust MeterCourtney, a new manager on my team, learned a valuable leadership lesson this week – despite your best intentions, sometimes your behavior inadvertently erodes trust with another person.

In this particular case, Courtney didn’t do anything “wrong.” She needed to make some changes to work assignments in her team and she followed all the right steps: analyze the situation, consider the pros and cons of the various options, make a decision, inform all the relevant stakeholders, and implement the changes. However, one of the people affected by the change felt blindsided and was not hesitant in expressing her unhappiness and frustration to Courtney. This was Courtney’s first major leadership interaction with this colleague, and despite her best efforts, she had started this relationship in a trust deficit.

At that point in time Courtney had a choice in how she responded. She could dig in her heels and respond to her colleague with defensiveness and justifications, because after all, she hadn’t done anything wrong. Or, she could recognize her actions had inadvertently eroded trust and confidence with a colleague and address it head on by saying “I’m sorry” – the two most powerful words in rebuilding trust.

There are several reasons why saying “I’m sorry” is one of the critical steps in rebuilding trust:

    • It shows remorse – Consider the difference between saying “I apologize” versus “I’m sorry.” The word “apologize” is a verb and it means “to offer an apology or excuse for some fault, insult, injury, or failure.” The word “sorry” is an adjective and means “feeling regret, compunction, sympathy.” Notice the difference in personal feeling ascribed to saying “I’m sorry” versus “I apologize?” Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you own your behavior and you feel bad for how it affected the other person.
    • It demonstrates humility – People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. Saying “I’m sorry” shows that you place a higher level of importance on the person you offended than trying to defend, excuse, or rationalize your behavior. Humble leaders are trustworthy leaders, there’s no two ways about it.
    • It displays your vulnerability – Without vulnerability there is no trust. By its very definition, trust acknowledges that you are vulnerable to someone else in some aspect of your relationship, but you’re willing to have faith (trust) in the other person not to take advantage of you. Colleen Barrett, President Emerita of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that people respect you for your competence and skills, but they love you for your vulnerabilities.

So what choice did Courtney make? She chose to say “I’m sorry.” Not only did it smooth over the situation at hand, it was a tremendous “trust booster” in the relationship with her colleague. Sometimes we erode trust with others without even realizing it. If you find yourself in that situation, consider the power of saying “I’m sorry” to rebuild trust.

P.S. Courtney gave me permission to share her story. In fact, it was such a powerful learning for her that she suggested I write about it in my blog.

Four Points in Building Trust with Millennials

Millennials“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” ~ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland’s line from The Wizard Oz could appropriately capture the feeling of many leaders when it comes to managing Millennials in the workplace – it’s a whole new world! Millennials, or Gen Y (born 1982-1995), are rapidly becoming a greater share of the workforce and some studies have estimated that by 2025 they will comprise 75% of the working population. Like each generation before them, they bring a unique blend of attitudes, traits, and characteristics that define how they “show up” at work. Building trust with this generation and leveraging their strengths in the workplace is a pressing priority for today’s generation of leaders.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on the topic of Trust in Millennial Leaders, on the Trust Across America radio show, hosted by my friend Jon Mertz, a leadership writer and marketing executive. Jon assembled representatives from Gen Y who are in the early stages of their careers along with a couple of “old guys” (me included!) further along in their career.

The insightful discussion produced a number of valuable learning moments, four of which stood out to me as particularly important for leaders to grasp in order to build trust with Millennials.

1. Millennials are a trusting, optimistic generation – Whenever you speak about generational demographics, there is the danger of over-generalizing and stereotyping individuals. With that said, by and large the Millennial generation has a higher propensity to trust others and they value authentic relationships. A study by Deloitte showed that 87% of the Millennials they surveyed reported that they “completely,” “mostly,” or “moderately” trust their boss, with nearly 1 in 3 falling in the “completely” category. This opens the door for leaders to extend trust to the Millennials on their team with the expectation that trust will be reciprocated. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship and it’s the starting point for leaders interested in maximizing the talents of the younger generation.

2. Tech savviness of Millennials opens new doors – Gen Y is the first workforce generation to grow up completely in the world of modern computers and it fundamentally drives the way they approach work. Millennials take to technology like a fish takes to water and their use of technology is forcing organizations to reevaluate their business practices. The ubiquitous use of social media by Millennials is one prominent example. For many younger workers there is a blending of work and social community interaction through Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms. Today’s leaders need to consider ways to build trust with Millennials through the use of technology rather than viewing these new methods with fear or suspicion.

3. Millennials are quick learners – In large part due to their upbringing in the computer age, Millennials are conditioned to consume, absorb, and apply large amounts of information. (No experience with creating a business plan? Google it and have nearly 3 million options to meet your need!) Because of their fast-paced nature to learn on the fly, many in this generation have gotten the bad rap of not wanting to “pay their dues” or are “entitled” (Generation Me!) to quick promotions and pay raises. Leaders interested in building trust would be wise to avoid labeling Millennials with these stereotypes and treat them on an individual basis. As Jon Mertz pointed out, many Gen Y’ers understand that growth in organizations today is much more horizontally focused than vertically up the traditional corporate ladder.

4. Millennials know the power of community – A common trait of this generation is their focus on social causes and the strength that comes from like-minded individuals banding together to achieve a common goal. Whether it’s assisting in disaster relief, combating slave trafficking, or providing clean water to villagers in Africa, Millennials have emerged as leaders in addressing social issues. What does that mean for organizational leaders? Millennials are naturals at teamwork! Who wouldn’t want that skill in their company? Millennials are eager and ready to accept new responsibilities and have a natural inclination to partner with others to achieve ambitious goals. Rather than forcing Millennials to “wait their turn,” leaders can build trust by looking for appropriate projects and growth opportunities where they can showcase their talents.

I encourage you to listen to the recording of the radio show. I think you’ll come away from the discussion with a greater appreciation for the skills and talents that Millennials bring to the workforce and a greater hope for a bright future with this new generation of leaders.

%d bloggers like this: