Leading with Trust

The 5 Causes of Psychological Safety and Why You Need to be a Safe Leader

Reflective Listening

Psychological safety sounds like a complex academic topic, doesn’t it? It’s quite simple when you boil it down to its essence.

Amy Edmondson of Harvard University has pioneered the research on psychological safety. She says psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea.

When faced with these kinds of situations, we make micro-second calculations to assess the risk and likely consequences of our behavior. We make these decisions in light of the interpersonal climate we’re in, so we say to ourselves “If I do X here, will I be hurt, embarrassed, or criticized? Or will I be praised, thanked, or respected?”

Organizational Conditions for Psychological Safety

There are five areas that contribute to the establishment of a psychologically safe environment. The first is Leader Behavior. The leader is always being watched. What you say and do has a profound impact on whether your team members feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Research has shown that bad news is rarely transmitted up the hierarchy and team members are more likely to seek help from peers than their boss. But on the flip side, research has also shown that leaders who exhibit supportive managerial behaviors have positive effects on self-expression and creativity. Leaders must go out of their way to be open and use coaching-oriented behaviors. The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility.

The second area that contributes to psychological safety is Group Dynamics. The norms of a group either encourage or inhibit team member vulnerability. Are new ideas welcomed or discouraged? Are divergent opinions solicited or are they criticized? The interplay of team member roles and characters are also part of group dynamics. Have you ever noticed how people in teams tend to assume familial-type roles? You often have a father figure of a group that offers sage advice and direction. You may have team member who plays a mothering role, the favored son who can do no wrong, or even the black sheep of the team who tends to stir up trouble. The interplay of these roles has a direct impact on the level of safety within a team. Additionally, in-group and out-group dynamics and power distribution among team members influence psychological safety.Psychological Safety 5 Factors

The third area that influences psychological safety is Trust and Respect. There is significant overlap between trust and psychological safety as it relates to vulnerability. Trust can be defined as the willingness to be vulnerable based on perceptions of someone’s (or some thing’s) trustworthiness. If you don’t feel the leader or team is trustworthy, you won’t be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself at risk. Supportive and trusting relationships promote psychological safety, whereas lack of respect makes people feel judged or inferior, resulting in them keeping their opinions to themselves. Trust is at the heart of creating a safe environment.

The fourth area that contributes to psychological safety is the use of Practice Fields. Peter Senge coined this term in the 1990’s to describe one of the hallmarks of a learning organization. He made the point that unlike other fields, most businesses don’t employ practice and reflection to improve the skills of their employees. For example, what do sport teams do between games? They practice! Practice is a safe environment to learn, make mistakes, and work on skill improvement. Pilots train in simulators before flying a new aircraft. Surgeons observe, assist, and practice new procedures before leading an operation. Employing practice fields creates an environment where it is safe to learn and make mistakes without fear of being penalized.

Finally, the fifth area that contributes to psychological safety is having a Supportive Organizational Context. What does that mean? It means team members have access to resources and information to perform their best. When people have this level of freedom it reduces anxiety and defensiveness. Contrast this to being in a “need to know” environment where suspicion, tension, power, control, and territoriality are the norm. Organizations with healthy and ethical cultures of fairness and trust create the supportive mechanisms that allow people to feel safe, take risks, and innovate.

Results of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a win-win for both employees and the organization.

Safe environments allow people to seek feedback more often. Seeking feedback places a person in a position of vulnerability to hear negative criticism, however, when it is safe to do so, the sharing of feedback leads to improvements in quality and performance. Safe environments also encourage people to seek help from those who are in positions of greater power. It’s risky to ask for help from someone who judges your performance, but leaders who foster psychological safety make it easy for their team members to ask for help.

A culture of psychological safety encourages people to speak up about wrongdoing. It alleviates concerns about repercussions of calling out unethical or illegal behavior, which is critical in today’s low-trust environments of many organizations. Innovation is also a benefit of having a safe environment. Innovation is essentially about taking a risk and trying something new. It’s about offering new ideas and challenging conventional ways of thinking which can’t happen if people are afraid of being judged or punished for stepping out of line. Lastly, psychologically safe environments allow team members to work more effectively across boundaries. It increases communication and coordination with other groups in the organization. It lowers the interpersonal risk of asking for help, resources, seeking feedback, or delivering bad news.

It’s vitally important for leaders to establish environments of trust and safety so their people can step out, step up, and achieve new heights of accomplishments. It begins by being a safe leader who is trustworthy, respectful, and committed to prioritizing the well-being of his/her team members over his/her self-interest. It begins by leading with trust.

How Does Your Presence Affect Team Members? 3 Questions to Ask

leadership presenceTension. Dread. Nervousness. Anxiety.

Early in my working career, those are feelings I experienced when I would meet with my manager. The feelings stemmed from a variety of factors. I didn’t think the manager had my best interests in mind, so I constantly felt on guard, like I had to defend my decisions, actions, or my direct reports. I also didn’t believe the manager had the competence to really understand how the business operated. It was difficult to accept her direction or support when I felt it wasn’t based on a true understanding of our present reality.

Regardless of the cause of those feelings, I left meetings with my manager worse off than when I arrived. That’s not a good place to be.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

If you’re a leader, flip the situation and personalize it to yourself. Are your people better off because of your presence? When your people interact with you, do they leave as a better version of themselves or a less capable one? It’s a sobering thought to consider. When I take the time to reflect on interactions with my team members, I try to ask myself the following three questions:

  1. Did I make them feel more trusted? In order to build trust with your team members, you must first extend trust. You can extend trust by giving the team member an opportunity to demonstrate competence. Give her room to recommend decisions and implement plans. Trust her integrity to do the right thing and to follow through on her commitments. Resist the urge to steer the employee to your way of thinking so she’ll do what you want her to do (that’s manipulation) or to micromanage her efforts. That will cause the employee to leave the interaction with you feeling less trusted, not more.
  2. Did I make them feel more valued? Everyone wants to know they are valued and accepted as individuals, regardless of their job title, position on the org chart, or the number of digits on their paycheck. You can make employees feel validated by expressing encouragement, listening to their input, incorporating their ideas into decisions, and giving a voice to their questions, concerns, and ideas. Don’t ignore, dismiss, or demean their contributions.
  3. Did I make them feel more powerful? Real, effective, and authentic leadership involves helping people discover and capitalize on their power. Weak and egotistical leadership is about robbing people of their power so they feel more dependent on leadership. It’s only by giving power away do you unlock your own leadership greatness. Sharing information, letting people make their own decisions, and giving team members opportunity to take on new challenges are among the many ways to move employees from powerless to powerful.

Much of how team members perceive us as leaders has to do with how we make them feel. That doesn’t mean our job as leaders is to hold hands with our team and sing Kumbaya, or to coddle and baby our people just so they feel good about our leadership. That’s just as bad as being the hard-nosed leader who has a slash and burn style with no regard to personal relationships. It takes a blend of being a competent and focused leader who also attends to the relational needs of the team. It’s balancing people and results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Principles for Gaining and Retaining Power

PowerThe word itself evokes a reaction. What thoughts or feelings do you have when you think of power? Perhaps you picture an organizational chart where the boxes at the top are imbued with more power than those below. Maybe you imagine an iron fist, representative of a person who rules over others with absolute authority. Or perhaps the word power conjures up feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or fear, based on negative experiences you’ve had in the past. On the flip side, maybe the word power emboldens you with excitement, energy, or drive to exert your influence on people and circumstances in your life.

Power is a dynamic present in all of our relationships and it’s one we need to properly manage to help our relationships develop to their fullest potential. In and of itself, power is amoral; it’s neither good or bad. The way we use power is what determines its value.

But what is power? How do we get it? And once we have it, how do we keep it?

In his book, The Power Paradox: How we gain and lose influence, author and U.C. Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner, shares twenty “power principles” that range from how we earn power, how to retain it, why power can be a good thing, when we’re likely to abuse it, and the dangerous consequences of powerlessness.

Keltner defines power as the capacity to make a difference in the world, particularly by stirring others in our social networks. Focusing on the needs and desires of others is key, and four specific social practices—empathizing, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories—are ways we develop power and sustain it over time.

Enduring Power Comes from a Focus on Others

1. Enduring power comes from empathy—We express empathy when we focus on what other people are feeling. We attune ourselves to their mannerisms, language, expressions, and tone of voice to gain a sense of their emotions. This promotes a sense of connection and trust with others that allows them to be vulnerable and authentic in their behavior. We can promote empathy in several practical ways: asking open-ended questions, listening actively, asking others what they would do in a given situation before offering advice, and soliciting the opinions of those in less powerful positions.

2. Enduring power comes from giving—Giving, without the expectation of receiving something in return, is a tremendous trust builder and leads to people being willing to grant you power in relationships. Keltner focuses on a particular form of giving: touch. Whether it’s politicians shaking hands, athletes high-fiving each other, or a boss giving an affirmative pat on the back, there is tremendous power in the human touch. A reassuring touch on the shoulder or warm embrace causes the release of oxytocin in the brain, a neurochemical that promotes trust, cooperation, and sharing, and also lowers blood pressure and fights the negative effects of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. The overarching principle of giving is that it’s a way of providing reward and recognition to others that promotes goodwill.

The key to enduring power is simple: Stay focused on other people. Prioritize others’ interests as much as your own. Bring the good in others to completion, and do not bring the bad in others to completion. Take delight in the delights of others, as they make a difference in the world. — Dacher Keltner

3. Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude—Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation we have for things that are given us, whether it’s an experience, a person, an opportunity, or a thing. Importantly, it’s something that has been given to us, not something we’ve attained on our own. Expressing gratitude is a way to confer esteem on others and we can do that in a number of ways: acknowledging people in public, notes or emails of affirmation, and spending time with others. Expression of gratitude spreads goodwill within a team and causes social bonding.

4. Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite—Abraham Lincoln is an excellent example of a leader who used the power of storytelling to communicate important truths and unite people in working toward a common goal. Families, sports teams, businesses, and organizations of all kinds have a history that is communicated through story. Members of these groups establish their identities and understand their role in the group based on those stories. Stories enhance the interests of others and reduces the stress of working in a group. They also help us interpret the events going on around us and shape the way we deal with the challenges we encounter. Stories bring us together and foster the sharing of power that is necessary in organizational life.

Power is often perceived in a negative light. The natural reaction of many is to associate power with Machiavellian attempts at preserving self-interest and exerting dominance over others. It doesn’t have to be that way. The best use of power is in service to others, and the four principles Keltner advocates are an excellent way to develop and sustain power in a way that allows you to influence others to make a positive difference in the world.

3 Big Problems with Failing to Use Your Power

power handsI have an uncomfortable relationship with power. We’ve known each other since back in the day, and over the years there have been times when we’ve barely said hello to one another, and other times when we’ve been best buds. Whether our relationship has been virtually non-existent or whether we’ve hung out quite a bit together, I’ve always felt a bit awkward around power. I guess you could describe my relationship with power as, well, complicated.

I want to use power wisely and for the benefit of others, but at times I’m hesitant to fully embrace it for fear people will think I’m being egotistical or bossy. I’ve been learning I need to move beyond that self-limiting belief because neglecting to appropriately leverage power can lead to several unintended problems.

You sell yourself short – Most people don’t fully appreciate how much power they have. Power manifests itself in many different ways:

  • Knowledge – The power that comes from having a specialized knowledge base or expertise
  • Task – The power derived from being able to perform a specific skill, operate equipment, or perform a certain task
  • Relationship – The power you have from leveraging your personal relationships with others
  • Position – The power that comes from your position or title
  • Personal – The power of your personal character attributes such as strength of character, passion, interpersonal skills, and ability to communicate well with others

Failing to tap into your bases of power is like a boxer going into the ring with one hand tied behind his back. You’re limiting the value of your contributions when you fail to utilize the power at your disposal. It’s not being egotistical to humbly and sincerely bring your full skill-set to the table.

You shortchange your colleagues, team, and organization – Not only are you selling yourself short by not embracing your power, you’re short-changing everyone else of your valuable contributions. Your team and organization is relying upon you to perform at your best and that means using all the various tools in your toolbox. Being overly hesitant to walk confidently in your power means your team will likely produce a sub-par product because you didn’t offer your best.

You create a bad precedent – Our patterns of behavior dictate how people know us. We use certain behaviors on a consistent basis and people come to expect and rely upon us to always behave in that same manner. If you choose to never use your power then people figure that’s just how you roll. The problem comes when you decide you do need to play the power card. It catches people off guard because it’s inconsistent with your past behavior and it leaves them baffled about why you’re doing a sudden about-face. It’s important to authentically own your power and make it a regular part of your behavior so people come to expect it as a natural part of you being you.

Power accompanies leadership; there’s no getting around it. There are specific principles we can follow to guide our use of power and it’s critical we find a healthy way to express it. Otherwise we fail to live up to our own potential, we hold back from delivering our best to our team, and we create expectations with others that limit our influence.

The 1 Question All Leaders Must Ask Themselves

influence match sticksWhen you started your career, did you intentionally set your sights on being a leader or did it sort of, you know, just happen? For most of us, it just happens. We start out in an individual contributor role and soon find out the only way to gain responsibility and earn more money is to get promoted into a supervisory position. Suddenly we find ourselves responsible for leading other people and we probably never gave much thought about what kind of leader we wanted to be or if people would even want to follow us.

If you’re currently in a leadership position, or are thinking about moving into one, you should consider one very important question:

“Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you?”

Mel Lawrenz poses this question in his book Spiritual Influence – The Hidden Power Behind Leadership. The question contains several important truths:

  • Leadership is influence, not power or authority
  • People can choose whether or not they receive your leadership, you can’t force it upon them
  • The leader needs to have something worth giving

influence quoteIn an effort to help you answer that question, let me ask you a few more. Do you view your leadership role as a position, title, or form of power that will help you achieve your goals? Or do you view your leadership role as one of supporting other people to achieve their goals? Do you force your leadership influence upon people by coercing or demanding they follow your directives? Or do you earn the trust of your people by acting with integrity, being consistent in your behavior, taking a sincere interest in your people, and following through on your commitments? And what do you have to offer to your people? Do you have a track record of success and the expertise to share with others to help them in their own jobs? Do you have a desire to give people support, direction, and encouragement to reach their goals?

People want leaders who are authentic, genuine, and trustworthy, not those who play politics, are insincere, or out for their own gain. People want to know their leaders are invested in helping them succeed and will have their backs when times get tough, as opposed to hanging them out to dry when they make mistakes.

Why should people allow themselves to be influenced by you? Answer that question and you’ll reach a deeper level of insight into your leadership motivations than you’ve ever had before.

8 Ways to Move Your Employees from PowerLESS to PowerFULL

power giantWould your employees say their relationship with you makes them feel more powerful or powerless? Leadership – real, authentic, people-focused leadership – involves helping others discover their sources of power, not suppressing it.

So how can I…how can WE as leaders…help others find their power? I think part of the answer lies in helping our employees find autonomy and control in their work and self-confidence in their abilities. It also requires the leader to be self-assured in his/her own abilities and not afraid to give power away. It’s only by giving power away to others do we unlock our own leadership greatness.

Here are eight practical ways we can help our people move from feeling powerless to powerful:

1. Give them public opportunities to shine — It’s easy to get trapped in the daily grind and just let people toil in the shadows. Leaders should look for opportunities to sing the praises of their team members to other leaders in the organization or let them showcase their talents in cross-functional teams, projects, or public presentations.

2. Share information — It’s a cliche because it’s true; information is power. Leaders tend to withhold information because they want to retain power and control. It makes them feel valuable, needed, and in charge. However, it also creates a passive and reactive team who sits around waiting for the leader to tell them what to do rather than being assertive and proactive on their own. People without information cannot act responsibly, but people with information are compelled to act responsibly. Liberally share the information your team needs to act responsibly and watch their power and confidence rise to new levels.

3. Let them make decisions — Don’t micromanage your employees. There’s no quicker way to make people feel powerless than to rob them of their ability to make decisions over their own work. Constant micromanaging develops a mindset of learned helplessness among your employees and inhibits their ability to learn and grow in their role.

4. Ask for and incorporate their feedback into your decisions — Simply asking others for their thoughts and opinions signals that you respect what they bring to the table and you recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Contributing to decisions and the direction of the team allows your employees to feel they have power to influence their own work environment.

5. Be a straight shooter — Being evasive or vague in your communications can create the perception that you’re trying to hoard  information, power, and control which leave people feeling powerless about their situation. Giving and receiving honest feedback builds trust and confidence with others because they always know where they stand with you and that gives them a measure of power and control over their current reality.

6. Give them leadership opportunities within the team — Whether it’s formal or informal, giving employees a chance to experience leadership positions is a positive step toward empowerment. I’ve seen a number of instances where someone who was thought to not be of “leadership caliber” was given the opportunity to lead and turned out to be a fantastic leader. Sometimes people just need a chance.

7. Let them fail — It’s easy to want to protect our people from failing. Whether we want to spare them from the pain or we’re reluctant to let go of control in the first place, we often don’t let our people get in situations where they have the potential to fail. Part of empowering our team members is letting go of control and allowing them to experience success and failure. Failure is a great teacher as long as we’re willing to learn, and that’s a key role of a leader – helping your people learn from their mistakes.

8. Let them clean up their own messes — Building on the previous point, when your people fail, let them pick up the pieces on their own. Don’t swoop in to pick up the pieces, no matter how tempting it is to play the role of the hero who is arriving to save the day. If you’ve given your people the responsibility and freedom to make their own decisions and succeed or fail on their own, then you need to let them figure out how to clean up the mess if they happen to fail.

It’s our job as leaders to find ways to “power-up” our employees so they gain that sense of control and ownership of their work which leads to higher levels of commitment and engagement. What are some ways you’ve helped your people develop and embrace their personal power? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

After Your Trust Has Been Broken – 5 Ways to Avoid a Victim Mentality

I Am Not A VictimHaving someone break your trust is a painful and inevitable fact of life. There will be a number of situations during your lifetime where people will let you down, whether it’s something as innocent and unintentional as forgetting a lunch date, or as major and hurtful as a spouse seeking a divorce. You will have your trust broken. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s important is your response after trust has been broken. You have two choices: victimization or resiliency. Victimization is characterized by an attitude of powerlessness, blaming others for the negative situations in your life, believing that everyone else has it better than you, and a constant seeking of sympathy for your lot in life. Either you’ve experienced it yourself or you’ve seen it others. It’s characterized by statements like: Why me? People can’t be trusted. I can’t change my circumstances. Why is everyone against me? It’s not my fault.

The other response to having your trust broken is resiliency. Resilient people choose to embrace the power they have to make the best of their circumstances, to learn from their experiences, grow in maturity, and move toward healthier and more satisfying places in life. Statements that reflect the attitudes and beliefs of resilient people include: This will make me stronger. This hurts but I’ll deal with it and move on. I’ve got so many good things to look forward to in life. I’m not going to let this get me down.

Here are five concrete ways you can move from having a victim mentality toward an attitude of resiliency:

1. Own your choices – You can’t control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you respond. You can choose to wallow in self-pity, depression, anger, or resentment, or you can choose to grant forgiveness, experience healing, and seek growth moving forward.

2. Quit obsessing on “why?” – Rather than asking “Why me?” when someone violates your trust, ask yourself “What can I learn?” Many times it will be impossible to know exactly why something happened the way it did, but you can always choose to view challenging circumstances in life as learning opportunities. Did you trust this person too quickly? Did you miss previous warning signs about this person’s trustworthiness? What will you do differently in the future?

3. Forgive and seek forgiveness – Years ago I heard a saying about forgiveness that has stuck with me:

Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past.

We often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. If you are the one who has broken trust or played a part in the situation, do what you can to seek forgiveness and bring healing to the relationship. It’s the right thing to do.

4. Count your blessings – People with a victim mentality often gravitate toward absolute thinking. Words like never and always frequent their conversations: I’ll never find someone I can trust. People always let me down. Life is rarely so absolute and one way to remind ourselves of that truth is to count our blessings. In the big scheme of life, most of us have many more positive things in our lives than negative. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for and you’ll realize how fortunate you really are.

5. Focus forward – Victims tend to live in the past, constantly focused on the negative things that have happened to them until this becomes their daily reality. Resilient people keep focused on moving forward. They don’t let circumstances hold them back, and they embrace whatever power they have to learn, grow, and take hold of all the good that life has to offer.

Having someone break your trust, particularly if it’s a serious betrayal, can be one of the most painful experiences in life. The easy path is to let it take you down the road of victimization where everyone and everything else becomes responsible for all the pain you encounter. The harder path is resiliency, choosing to acknowledge the pain, process it, deal with it, learn from it, and move on toward healing and growth.

Feel free to share your comments about how you’ve chosen resiliency over victimization. I’d love to learn from your wisdom.

4 Principles for Using Your Leadership Power

Power“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Great men are almost always bad men.”
~ Lord Acton

Power accompanies leadership. No matter how lofty or humble your title, whether you manage 3 people or 3,000, if you lead a girl scout troop or you’re the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, you will be faced with choices on how to use your power.

You’re probably familiar with the above quote from Lord Acton. Unfortunately, there is much truth in his quote and one only has to look at the news headlines for the latest example of a leader who has misused power for his/her own personal gain.

A good friend of mine who has spent his entire career developing other leaders once shared a keen observation with me. He said that people who need to be in power probably shouldn’t be. His learning was that those people who craved power, who had an inordinate desire to be in control, were the ones most likely to use power in unhealthy ways.

Of course my friend’s statement caused me to wrestle with the concept of power. Do I need to be in power? If so, why? Is it because of ego, status, or enjoyment of the privileges it affords? Is it a bad thing to want to be in power? Would I be unhappy or unfulfilled if I wasn’t in power? One question begets the next.

As I’ve pondered this question, the following ideas have become clearer to me:

1. The best use of power is in service to others. Being a servant leader, rather than a self-serving leader, means giving away my power to help other people achieve their personal goals, the objectives of the organization, and to allow them to reach their full expression and potential as individuals. I love the servant leadership example of Jesus. When two of his disciples came to him seeking positions of power and authority, he chastised them and challenged them to remember that “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Mt. 20:26-27) One of the paradoxes of leadership is that by placing others before ourselves, and using our power to serve, rather than dominate, actually brings us more power, respect, commitment and loyalty.

2. Followership is just as important, if not more so, than leadership. Learning to be a good follower is an essential component of being a wise leader who uses power appropriately. A person who learns to submit to the authority of others, collaborate with teammates, and sees first-hand the good and bad effects of the use of power, will have a greater appreciation for how power should be used in relationships. We can all probably think of examples of people who were bestowed leadership positions without ever being a follower, who then went on a “power trip” and showed just how ill-prepared they were to handle the power given them. Followership is the training ground for leadership.

3. The ego craves power. My leadership experiences have taught me that I need to be on guard to keep my ego in check. The ego views power as the nectar of the gods, and if leaders aren’t careful, their ego will intoxicate itself with power. In Ken Blanchard’s Servant Leadership program, he does an “Egos Anonymous” exercise that helps leaders come to grips with the power of the ego to make them self-serving leaders rather than servant leaders. Effective leadership starts on the inside and that means putting the ego in its proper place.

4. Power is held in trust. The power I have as a leader is something entrusted to me, both from my boss who put me in this position and by my followers who have consented to follow my lead. This power is not mine to keep. I’m a temporary steward of this power as long as I’m in my leadership role and it could be taken away at anytime should something drastic change in the relationship with my boss or followers. We’re all familiar with “consent of the governed,” the phrase that describes the political theory that a government’s legitimate and moral right to use state power over citizens can only be granted by the consent of the citizens themselves. The same concept applies to organizational leadership, and the minute our people no longer support our leadership, we have a serious problem.

So, do I need to be in power? I don’t think I need it to be fulfilled in my work, but it’s a question I haven’t yet fully answered. Do I like having power? Yes, I do. It allows me to help others in significant and positive ways. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I struggle with the shadow side of power and the temptation to use it to feed my ego.

Let me ask you the question: Do you need to be in power? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

How NOT to Lead – Six Lessons from Breaking Bad’s Walter White

Walter WhiteI’m a fan of the television show Breaking Bad. If you’re not familiar with it, the show chronicles the transformation of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a mild-mannered, milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who “breaks bad” and turns into a crystal meth-producing drug lord in order to finance his cancer treatments and provide for his family after his likely death.

The writing, story-telling, character development, and dialogue in the show are top-notch, and despite the edgy subject matter, I was hooked…addicted?…after just a small taste. As the series comes to a close tonight with the premiere of the final eight episodes, I reflected on some leadership lessons from Walter White. He’s an excellent study on how NOT to lead. If you employ these strategies you might achieve temporary success, as Walter White has, but eventually you’ll go down in flames…which is my prediction for Walt’s fate this season.

1. Don’t trust anyone – Walter White never fully trusts anyone, even himself at times. He only trusts people enough for them to do what he needs them to do, so he keeps people on a “need to know” basis, hoards power and information, and makes the final decisions. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and if you don’t have it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder to see who’s on your trail and your relationships will always have an air of suspicion and doubt surrounding them.

2. The end justifies the means – Walt started with the noble, yet morally ambiguous, goal of wanting to provide for his family. His odds of beating cancer were slim, and with a son starting college and a baby daughter on the way, Walt saw the cost of his cancer treatments leaving his family in financial ruins. What started as a quick-hit scheme to meet the financial needs of his family quickly devolved into Walt being willing to do anything – lie, cheat, steal, murder – to protect his drug empire and meet the dark and desperate needs of his shadow self. This strategy is particularly useful for leaders who view people as objects, just mere speed-bumps on the road to success, and are willing to run over anyone at anytime in order to get what they want.

Pyramid of Choice3. Erode your morality and integrity one choice at a time – Walter White didn’t become an evil mastermind and drug kingpin overnight, it was a series of small choices that led him down the road to destruction. The work of Dan Ariely and Tavris and Aronson provide insight into this slippery slope of human behavior. Tavris and Aronson use the “Pyramid of Choice” to illustrate the “what the hell effect,” which explains how our rationalizations of wrong choices makes it easier for us to make further wrong choices that continually erode our integrity. Moral of the story? Every decision counts. Make good ones that reinforce your integrity.

4. Intoxicate yourself on powerStudies have shown that money and power can make you less empathetic toward other people and Walter White’s experience illustrates that phenomenon. As Walt gains money and power in the drug world he quickly loses sight of his original goal. Jesse, Walt’s former student and partner in crime, points out that Walt originally said he needed to make just shy of $1 million to provide for his family, and now that he had $5 million stashed away it still wasn’t enough. If you’re in a leadership role to fulfill your needs for power, position, and status, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Get out now!

Say My Name5. Let your ego drive your actions – Over the seasons we learn that Walt co-founded a company called Gray Matter Technologies, sold his share for $5,000, and now the company is worth over $2 billion. Walt never reconciled his ego-needs with the direction his life took, and now that he’s got money and power from his drug business, his ego runs wild and manifests itself as “Heisenberg,” Walt’s street name. In one memorable scene where Walt is arm-twisting a rival drug dealer into becoming the distribution arm for Walt’s superior product, he not only revels in revealing his identity as Heisenberg, he forces his competitor to pay homage to him by demanding that he “Say my name.” Use that tactic in your next team building meeting and see how far it gets you.

6. Manipulate people to get what you want – Walt’s relationship with Jesse is a picture in manipulation. Walt goes so far as to poison the son of Jesse’s girlfriend and convinces Jesse to break up with her so there would be no one competing for Jesse’s time and attention. Jesse is ultimately a pawn in Walt’s strategy to build his drug empire. Demonstrating care and concern for people is a key factor in building trust, and if you aren’t genuine and authentic in wanting to be in relationship with people, others will quickly see through your facade.

It will be interesting to see how the character of Walter White fares over the last eight episodes of this series. We’ve seen plenty of real-life examples of prominent leaders who display these traits and characteristics and their fate isn’t pretty. Will Walter White fare any better? I don’t think so.

Riding Against The Wind – 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Lead Alone

Bicycle DraftingThe wind was against me and I was struggling to make headway.

A stronger rider passed on my left and I figured I would try to draft behind him to see if I could take advantage of him cutting through the wind ahead of me. It worked. My ride was noticeably easier.

After a short distance he noticed what I was doing, motioned for me to ride up alongside him, and suggested that we take turns drafting. Over the next 5 miles we took turns leading and drafting, sharing the work of riding against the wind and reaping the benefit of drafting in each other’s wake.

As a leader, have you ever felt like you were the only one riding into the wind? It seems like you’re always the one in front absorbing the full impact of everything the workplace throws against you and your team. You wish you had someone to cut the wind ahead of you, but you don’t, and it leaves you feeling battered, demoralized, and exhausted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

My recent bike ride reminded me that leadership, just like biking, doesn’t have to be an individual sport and often works better in a shared context. Here’s five reasons why you shouldn’t lead alone:

1. Share the burden – Sharing leadership can be more efficient and productive than leading alone. By drafting with the other rider, I increased my speed and lowered my time around the 5 mile course. You don’t have to be the only one in charge of everything, so leverage the skills and abilities of those around you to make your job a little bit easier. Many hands make the burden light.

2. Tame the ego – Power has an intoxicating influence that can easily ruin your integrity as a leader. All you have to do is examine the news headlines to see this happening everyday. Sharing the power and responsibility of leadership builds an accountability structure around you that keeps your ego in check and your leadership on course.

3. Better leadership – Sharing leadership can allow you to maximize complementary skill sets among people that leads to more effective leadership overall for your team, department, or organization. Some organizations intentionally pursue a Co-CEO model for this very reason. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing business climate, combining the efforts of leaders can result in powerful gains for the organization.

4. Camaraderie and support – I was alone and struggling on my bike ride, but when I started working together with a fellow rider, I immediately felt the camaraderie and support that encouraged me to keep going. Leadership can be a lonely trek, but sharing the journey with others allows for mutual support and encouragement that keeps everyone’s spirit and morale high.

5. Keep pace – Partnering with the other rider allowed me to maintain a faster pace than riding alone. When he was in the lead I fed off the challenge of keeping up with him so I could reap the benefits of riding in his slipstream. When it was my turn to lead, I didn’t want to disappoint him by slowing down the pace so I worked even harder than I would have if riding on my own. Sharing leadership can help everyone up their game and perform at higher levels than they would individually.

Before you string me up as a leadership heretic, let me say I’m talking more about the process of leadership rather than the actual position. In most situations there needs to be someone with the final responsibility to make the “go/no-go” decision, but the process – the way in which leadership is manifested in an organization – often works better when it’s shared among individuals.

What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with shared leadership models? Feel free to leave a comment.

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