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.

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