Leading with Trust

Six Ways to Power-Up Your Employees

Would your employees say their relationship with you makes them feel more powerful or powerless?

I’ve been pondering this question since I read a recent blog article from Liz Kislik on the topic of “speaking truth to power” where she made a statement that hit me straight between the eyes: “Leading — real leading — requires helping others find their power instead of squelching 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.

Here’s six 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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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.

Rebuilding Trust Starts With Forgiveness

Suffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.

Two recent news articles highlight the role forgiveness has played in the lives of two men who violated the trust of others. In one situation forgiveness has led to healing and restoration. In the other, the lack of forgiveness is continuing to haunt and hinder the forward progress of those involved:

• In 2008 Tim Goeglein was a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, responsible for working with faith-based organizations, when it was discovered that he had plagiarized articles he wrote for his hometown newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Goeglein resigned knowing that his actions were wrong and reflected poorly on the President, and he figured that he would be treated as persona-non-grata and be ostracized from the White House forever. However, within days of the incident, President Bush met personally with Goeglein with the express intent of extending forgiveness. Goeglein has gone on to have a successful career and currently collaborates with President Obama on his fatherhood initiative.

• Thirteen years ago Stephen Glass was a wunderkind journalist at The New Republic magazine. With his career on a meteoric rise, it was discovered that he had fabricated quotes, anecdotes, and even entire articles. From 1995-1998 Glass fabricated 43 stories appearing in several different publications. Glass has reportedly straightened his life out with the help of intense counseling, received a law degree from Georgetown, and passed the bar exams in both New York and California. However, his admittance to the California Bar has been delayed the last five years over ongoing concerns about his ethical standards. Forgiveness still awaits him as he currently works as a paralegal.

As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.
  • Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.
  • Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.
  • Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.
  • Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.
  • Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.
  • Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.

Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. Like the example of Tim Goeglein, forgiveness can lead to healing and success. On the flip side, Stephen Glass continues to struggle in overcoming his past breaches of trust because forgiveness has not been granted. The choice is yours. Will you choose to forgive?

Losing The Moral Authority To Lead – Three Lessons From The Penn State Scandal

This past week we’ve seen the tragic consequences of what can happen when a trusted leader loses the moral authority to lead. Yesterday was the first time in 46 years that Penn State University played a football game without Joe Paterno as the head coach. Paterno spent 62 years building his career at Penn State, only to see it crumble in an instant as a result of one critical failure of judgement.

Joe Paterno is a Hall of Fame coach for good reason: Two national championships; five undefeated seasons; 23 top-ten finishes; 24 bowl victories (most ever); 87% graduation rate for his players; 409 victories (most ever); and 548 games coached, second only to the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg (578).

Joe Paterno and Penn State have been known as a model of stability and ethical behavior. In this day and age of recruiting violations, player misconduct, and booster improprieties, not once has Penn State been under NCAA sanctions during Joe Paterno’s leadership. Since he joined the Penn State coaching staff in 1950 (12 U.S. presidents have served during this time!), Paterno has risen to demigod status within the state of Pennsylvania and in the world of college football. Given this background, you can see why the child molestation scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky, and Paterno’s role in not fully investigating and reporting the alleged crimes to the proper authorities, has shaken Penn State and the college football community to its core.

As a father of two sons, a coach of youth sports, and a student, practitioner, and teacher of trust-based leadership, I’ve been disgusted and disheartened by what’s happened at Penn State. The blatant abuse of power by those in leadership and the lack of concern for the children victimized is absolutely inexcusable. It’s been an utter failure of institutional leadership that warranted nothing less than the removal of those who presided over these events.

Contemplating the events of the past week have reminded me of three fundamental lessons for all of us in leadership positions:

1. Leaders are held to higher standards. The Holy Scriptures capture this idea perfectly in Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Joe Paterno’s error in judgement came in believing the extent of his responsibility stopped at informing his athletic director of the alleged illegal activities. It seems unfathomable that Paterno would not recognize the severity of the wrongdoing involved in the actions of his former coach, but it was his responsibility as the leader of the football program to personally see these allegations fully investigated. When one of our team members brings a problem to us, particularly one that may involve illegal activity, it is our responsibility to notify ALL the appropriate authorities, and not try to minimize our personal responsibility by passing the buck to someone else.

2. Leaders are accountable for what happens on their watch. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper. When a problem occurs on your team, you are ultimately accountable whether you were personally involved in the situation or not. Leaders don’t have the privilege of enjoying all the benefits of being in charge without accepting the responsibility that comes with it. This is the exact reason that it was appropriate for Joe Paterno to be fired (along with other university leaders). I’ve read articles that have tried to excuse Paterno’s accountability by justifying that he did his part by informing his athletic director. That is really beside the point when it comes to accountability. The football program and all the activities and people associated with it were ultimately under Paterno’s stewardship. The buck stops with him and it stops with all of us as leaders. It may not seem fair, but it’s reality.

3. Leaders have a moral obligation to protect those in positions of low power. The most disturbing issue in this whole scandal is the lack of concern given to the victims, those young boys powerless to protect themselves. I believe that being a leader, whether as a coach, parent, or manager on the job, comes with a sacred trust. Leaders are placed in positions of power that comes with a duty to protect and care for those under their charge. The leaders at Penn State violated this sacred trust. Power has the ability to cloud our judgement and cause us to misplace our priorities. One can surmise this was the case at Penn State. Those who were victimized were essentially ignored in an effort to protect the university’s reputation. Leaders have a moral obligation to give voice to those who don’t or can’t have their own.

A bright light in this situation is that the newly appointed president of Penn State, Rodney Erickson, recognizes the task of rebuilding trust that lays ahead of him. In both video and written messages to the Penn State community, Erickson has stated that he will lead the university to reorient its culture and restore the moral imperative of doing the right thing. He has expressed remorse and support for those victimized and has committed to actions that will lead to greater transparency and trust in the future.

What are your thoughts about the Penn State scandal and its implications for leaders? Feel free to leave a comment.

If You Need To Be In Power, You Probably Shouldn’t Be

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”
Thomas Jefferson

I recently had lunch with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in many years. My friend, Keith, was the pastor of my church during my young adult years and he was a profound influence on me, not only as a person of faith, but as a role model of a transformational and servant leader. As we reminisced old times and discussed lessons we’ve learned on our leadership journeys, Keith made a statement that I’ve been ruminating on for weeks. He said “Randy, I’ve learned that if you need to be in power, you probably shouldn’t be.”

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 he chastised two of his disciples for seeking positions of power and reminded them 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 them 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 good leader who knows how to use power wisely. A person that 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 and then went on a “power trip” which showed how ill-prepared they were to handle the power that was given to 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 Immersion 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 given, not earned. The power that I have as a leader is something that was given to me, first by my boss who put me in this position, and secondly by my followers who have consented to follow my lead, and it could be taken away at anytime should something drastic change in either of those relationships. 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.

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