Leading with Trust

A Study of Over 19,000 People Reveals The 2 Most Critical Factors of Highly Engaged Employees

ADP Research recently released the results of a massive global study on engagement that involved over 19,000 people across 19 countries and 13 industries. The study included full-time employees, part-time employees, gig workers, those with multiple jobs, and people with full-time jobs plus gig jobs on the side.

As my colleague Drea Zigarmi and I wrote in a March 2019 article for Workforce Magazine, employee engagement is a broad and complex problem that organizations spend $720 million a year trying to solve, according to a Bersin & Associates report. Yet when it comes to engagement there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition of the term. Descriptions vary widely, with elements that include commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment and performance, to name a few.

ADP Research and Marcus Buckingham define engagement as “a positive state of mind characterized by ‘vigor, dedication and absorption'” (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Vigor describes the willingness to invest all of one’s self into work and refers to high levels of conscientiousness, persistence, energy, and mental toughness. Dedication refers to being strongly connected to one’s work while experiencing a sense of significance, pride, enthusiasm, and challenge. Absorption implies being deeply involved in one’s work, such that time passes quickly and disconnecting from work becomes difficult.

So, what did the results of their research find? The two factors that stood out above all others that characterized highly engaged employees were:

  1. Being on a team increases engagement
  2. Trust in the team leader is the foundation of engagement

Workers who are part of a team are 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who are not. These results were consistent across country, industry, virtual workers, or those co-located. Too many organizations discount the power and importance of teams. Our own research at The Ken Blanchard Companies has shown that organizations charge teams with solving their most persistent and difficult problems, but few organizations support their teams with proper training and tools to be successful working as a group. ADP’s research indicated 64% of respondents worked in more than one team, and 75% report that their teams are not represented in their employer’s organization chart. Teams exist all across the organization, but they live in shadows and carry out their work without much official organizational support.

A worker is 12x more likely to be Fully Engaged if he or she TRUSTS the team leader.

ADP’s research also revealed that by far, the best explanation for employees’ level of engagement was whether the team members trust their team leader. Of those who strongly agreed that they trusted their team leader, 45% were fully engaged. Of those who didn’t strongly agree, only 6% were fully engaged. Team members who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged.

How can you lay the groundwork for teams to be successful and well supported in your organization? Here’s a few ways to get started:

  1. Officially endorse and charter teams—Most teams get started by a leader deciding to pull some people together to tackle a problem. Someone gets designated as the team leader and then the team gets to work. Instead, take the time to officially charter the team. Clearly identify its purpose, goals, norms, communication strategies, and decision-making processes. Provide the team with budget, manpower, and other organizational resources that will enable it to be successful.
  2. Establish a common language of trust—Trust doesn’t happen by accident and given the importance of team leaders having the trust of their team members, it’s critical that organizations take the time to train their employees on how to build trust. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. Each one of us has a slightly different idea of what trust means to us, and unless the team shares a common definition of trust, trust will be harder to build. Team leaders will be perceived as trustworthy if they exemplify the ABCD’s of trust—Able, Believeable, Connected, and Dependable.
  3. Help teams navigate conflict—Teams inevitably experience rough patches and must deal with conflict. Not all conflict is the same, so it’s important for team leaders to understand the different types of conflict and how to deal with each of them. Some conflict is over positions, strategies, or opinions. If handled correctly, this can be healthy conflict that leads to better decisions and outcomes. Other conflict arises from power issues, personal agendas, or lack of trust. This kind of conflict can poison a team from the inside-out and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. Check out 4 Types of Team Conflict And How to Deal With Each Effectively for more information.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy and vibrant relationship, so it’s not a great surprise to find that ADP’s research identifies trust in team leaders as the foundation of engagement. The answer is obvious, so now the question becomes what are you going to do about it?

Show and Tell – A Game Leaders Need to Play

Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.

The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!

My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.

I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:

Show
  • Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
  • Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
  • Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
  • Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
Tell
  • People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
  • People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
  • The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
  • Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.

Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.

Never Trust, Always Verify

No TrustNever trust, always verify.

I saw this tagline recently in an advertisement for a digital security product. The company’s message was straight-forward and clear—when it comes to digital security, you should never, ever, ever trust anyone or anything. Always verify.

Sadly, this advertising tagline struck me as ringing true for the way many people treat relationships in this day and age. Our current polarized political and social climate pits people against each other with little room in the middle. You’re either Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, patriotic or traitorous, a coastal elite or a fly-over country bumpkin.

This either/or mentality is shaping the way we build trust in relationships. In order for trust to be established, one person has to make the first move to extend trust to the other. It’s risky and there’s no way around it. If there wasn’t risk, there wouldn’t be a need for trust. How can you make the first move to extend trust if you believe you should never trust and always verify? You can’t.

If we hope to make any progress in finding common ground with each other we have to learn to trust. Trust isn’t all or nothing. Trusting someone doesn’t mean you trust them 100% of the time in all situations. Trust is situational. It’s contextual to the individual and circumstance. For example, I have a high degree of trust in Tim, my auto mechanic. Over the years he’s done quality work, charged a fair price, and been honest in his dealings. He’s earned my trust. Would I trust Tim to prepare my tax returns? No, I wouldn’t. He’s not a CPA.

So, if trust is situational, how do we know when we can trust someone? An individual is trustworthy when he/she is…

Able—An able person demonstrates competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their particular job. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions.

Believable—A believable person acts with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy people care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected person who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust those who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of a trustworthy person. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

Never trust, always verify. It’s a catchy phrase that plays well for a company advertising a digital security product, but it’s a relationship killer. There’s no way to have any sort of relationship with someone without a modicum of trust. Someone has to make the first move to extend trust, with the hope and belief the other person will prove him/herself trustworthy.

The 4 Behaviors Guaranteed to Destroy Relationships

men s black blazer

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Dr. John Gottman is world-renowned for his work on marital stability and is one of the top thought leaders in the field of marital therapy and psychology. Much of his research and writing focuses on the behavioral patterns that formulate healthy relationships, and conversely, the behaviors that destroy them. Through his research, he has been able to predict with 90% accuracy the four behavioral patterns that destroy relationships. He calls these behaviors the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The negative impact of the Four Horsemen behaviors is felt in all relationships, not just marriage. Being aware of these behavioral patterns, and how to prevent them, are key to establishing healthy and trustworthy relationships in the workplace. Let’s look at the Four Horsemen and their antidotes:

1. Criticism—Criticism is different from critiquing or voicing a complaint. Whereas critiquing/complaining is focused on a specific issue, criticism is directed at the person, not the behavior. Criticism is filled with accusatory language and “you” statements: “You always forget to complete your reports on time and don’t care about how it affects me. You’re so unreliable.” Criticism makes a person feel picked-on, rejected, and hurt, and opens the door for the other deadly horsemen to follow.
Antidote—Using “I” language is the antidote to criticism. Rather than blaming or criticizing another person, describe how you feel and its impact on you by using “I” statements. “I feel let down when you miss the reporting deadline because it forces me to work over the weekend to complete the reports.”

2. Contempt—When treating people with contempt, we are being mean and disrespectful. Contempt is demeaning others through sarcasm, ridicule, and body language such as eye-rolling or scoffing. The victim is made to feel “less than” and in a morally inferior position as the perpetrator. Contempt sounds like: “You think you have it tough?! You come into work, do a half-ass job all day, take long lunches, and then expect everyone to help you get the work done so you can punch out at 5:00 sharp! I’m tired of carrying you on my back around here. You have no clue what it takes to succeed!” Contempt is the single biggest predictor of relationship failure.
Antidote—The antidote to contempt is to treat each other with respect and appreciation. No matter the difficulties you’re encountering with someone, that person deserves to be treated with a modicum of respect and decency. Focusing your attention on the positive aspects of the relationship and expressing gratitude is a way to cultivate a culture of appreciation.

3. Defensiveness—People react defensively when they feel threatened and it’s often in response to criticism. Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. When we blame or criticize someone and they react defensively, we often respond in kind, leading to an ever-increasing level of conflict.
Antidote—Accept responsibility for your part in the conflict. Accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt or wrongdoing; it’s demonstrating that you value the relationship more than you value being right.

4. Stonewalling—This behavior is usually in response to contempt. Stonewalling is when an individual withdraws from the interaction, goes quiet, doesn’t respond or engage, and essentially shuts down. Instead of actively participating in resolving the situation, the stonewaller retreats and isolates himself. Gottman says this is usually the result of the individual feeling physiologically flooded, and when in that state, the person literally may not be capable of responding in a productive manner.
Antidote—The way to address stonewalling behavior is to take a timeout. Give each other at least 20 minutes to calm down and process the situation before re-engaging in conversation. Having time and space to process your feelings allows you to gain perspective which often isn’t visible when you’re in the heat of the conversation.

The Four Horsemen can be defeated with conscious effort. Early diagnosis of these negative communication patterns, and replacing them with positive ones, will help you develop healthy and productive relationships.

5 Ways Servant Leaders Stand Out From The Crowd

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a scientist running a grand experiment on leadership. Your laboratory is an organization with hundreds of leaders at varying levels, and with technology, you can watch and listen to them 24-hours a day over an extend period of time. Sort of like the TV show Big Brother, except corporate style (and minus all the drama-filled antics). Essentially you get to observe the species Homo Sapiens Laederes in their native environment.

Your quest is to learn the behaviors that make servant leaders stand out from the crowd. In a noisy world where a few celebrity leaders grab the headlines, and everyone tries to copy-cat their way to becoming an overnight leadership success, servant leadership has withstood the test of time as a tried and true approach to effectively leading people and organizations. You would observe at least five key ways servant leaders are different from their counterparts.

Servant leaders…

  1. Listen more than they talk—A servant leader is much more interested in hearing the viewpoints of others than having their voice be the loudest in the room. Make no mistake, servant leaders clearly articulate their point of view and cast a vision for the organization, but they do so after they’ve spent plenty of time hearing from others, incorporating their ideas, and enlisting others in their cause. As Larry Spears observed in the book Servant Leadership in Action, listening is one of ten key characteristics of a servant leader. Listening involves paying attention to what is said and not said, identifying the will of the group, listening to the leader’s own inner voice, and coalescing that input into a clear plan of action.
  2. Say we more than meWhen servant leaders do talk, they focus the attention on their team by speaking in the collective we, rather than the personal me. Servant leaders know that leadership isn’t about them; it’s about others. Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of the modern servant leader movement, said the motive of a servant leader is to serve first, and out of that desire to serve rises a conscious decision to lead. Servant leaders are driven to improve the welfare, contribution, and autonomy of others, not to garner fame, attention, or status for themselves. Their focus is on we, not me.
  3. Flex their leadership style to meet the needs of their followers—Since servant leadership is about doing what’s best for others and helping them to realize their full potential, servant leaders adapt their leadership style to provide the right amount of direction and support their followers need. There is no one best leadership style. If someone is new to a task, the leader provides higher levels of direction to teach the how, what, where, when, and why. If the follower has a moderate level of competence but is unsure of himself, the servant leader uses a supportive style to build the follower’s confidence and help him problem solve. Servant leaders understand their followers have varying levels of competence and commitment on their tasks or goals so they adjust their leadership style to the situation.
  4. Look for opportunities to shine the light on others—As you observe leaders in this mythical experiment, you’d notice that servant leaders make an intentional effort to give people the chance to be in the spotlight and to praise them for their accomplishments. Servant leaders don’t care who gets the credit; they care about helping people and the organization succeed. Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous process that servant leaders look to perpetuate.
  5. Treat failures as learning moments—Failure is inevitable; learning is optional (click to tweet). Servant leaders view failure as an invaluable teaching tool, and rather than punish or demean people for making a mistake, they turn it into a positive and make it a learning moment. This is possible because servant leaders have a high level of trust with their followers. When people are trusted, they aren’t afraid to take risks and try something new. They know that if they fail, their leader will partner with them to use the opportunity to grow, learn, and do better next time. My friend and fellow servant leader, Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, embodies this philosophy. He believes that creating a culture of learning has been one of the pillars of WD-40’s success, an organization with 93% employee engagement.

Although it would be cool to take part in this kind of mad scientist experiment, it really isn’t necessary. Research about the effectiveness of servant leadership is plentiful and the traits of a servant leader are common sense, albeit not common practice. If you look around and see people engaging in these five behaviors and others like them, chances are they’re servant leaders who are bringing out the best in their people and organizations.

Strong Winds Make Strong Trees – 3 Ways to Develop Resilient Team Members

My little tree growing strong without the help of a stake.

A few years ago, my father-in-law passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. My wife decided that she wanted to plant a tree in our backyard as a way for us to remember the good memories of his life. Watching a young sapling grow into a healthy and strong tree evokes positive emotions and a sense of well-being. Focusing on the growth of new life is cathartic and healing for the soul.

When we purchased the tree from the nursery, it was staked to a large wooden pole to help it stand upright. That’s a common practice with young trees. Sometimes they need additional support along the trunk of the tree while they establish a strong network of roots. I had every intention of removing the stake after the tree became rooted where it was planted, but…life happened, I got busy with other priorities, and before I knew it, two years had passed by and I had forgotten to remove the stake. As I researched this topic, I learned that a tree needs to bend and sway in the wind for it to develop a strong trunk and root system. The wind forces the tree to entrench itself further into the earth to withstand the forces of nature. Leaving a tree staked too long can weaken it and prevent it from reaching its full potential. Strong winds make strong trees.

The same principle is true in our personal and professional lives. Experiencing the strong winds of life makes us strong and resilient…if we choose the path of growth. The strong winds can also break us and stunt our growth if we stake ourselves to people, places, or things that provide a false sense of support and stability.

In the workplace, leaders can unwittingly shield their team members from strong winds. We can engage in behaviors that appear to be helping or protecting our people, but are preventing them from becoming resilient and strong contributors. Here are three strategies we can pursue to develop resilience in our team members:

  1. Facilitate problem solving—Developing resilient team members includes teaching them how to solve their own problems. This can be one of the hardest challenges for leaders because most of us have risen to our positions by being great problem-solvers. However, that very strength can be a weakness when it comes to developing resilient team members. Resist the urge to rescue team members by providing them the answers to their problems. Instead, rely on asking questions to lead people through the process of solving their own problems. Ask them to define the problem in one sentence. Help them brainstorm options of addressing the problem. Ask them to list the pros and cons of their various courses of actions. Initially it takes an investment of time to help people develop their competence in solving problems, but it saves you time down the road from having to be the answer-man and it results in having stronger, more resilient team members.
  2. Let them make decisions—In order to do this successfully, a leader needs to diagnose the competence and commitment of the team member on the specific goal or task in question. The leader needs to know if the team member is a learner or doer. If the person is a learner, then the leader must take the lead in making decisions. It would be irresponsible to have a team member decide about something she doesn’t know. In that case, it’s the leader’s job to develop the team member’s competence so she can make her own decisions in the future. If the person is a doer, then the leader needs to let the team member make her own decision and experience the positive or negative consequences. Micro-managing, questioning decisions, or removing decision-making authority from a team member squashes her self-confidence and stunts her growth.
  3. Don’t overreact—A tree needs to sway in the wind to develop strength. For a human muscle to grow in strength, it needs to experience micro tears in the muscle fibers from stretching and contracting in opposition to a force. To become resilient, people need to fail. A leader’s job is to find purpose, growth, and learning in the failure. When a team member fails, the leader should not overreact, criticize, or blame the person for failing. The leader should facilitate learning by asking questions like What did you set out to do?, What actually happened?, What did you learn?, and What will you do differently next time?

Back to my tree…I removed the stake and have been closely monitoring the tree as it has weathered some recent stormy weather. I’ve noticed the width of the trunk expanding as the tree has learned to rely on its own strength rather than the help of the wooden stake. I had to trim some branches back, so the tree isn’t so top-heavy and to give the trunk and roots time to catch-up in their growth. I’m confident the tree is going to continue to thrive for years to come. 

Strong winds make strong trees. Let’s not deny our team members the opportunity to experience their own challenges and the growth it affords.

7 Ways to Tell If You’re a Boss or a Leader

“You’re not the boss of me!” That was the phrase my younger sister would frequently yell at me during our youth when I was being the domineering big brother. If you’ve had kids, been around kids, or were a kid (that qualifies all of us), then you’ve probably heard the phrase too. Whether it’s the older sibling who thinks she knows better, the playground bully establishing his dominance, or the teacher’s pet who somehow always gets her way, kids enjoy bossing others around.

Strangely enough, adults seem to like it too. We see it all the time in our workplaces where supervisors or managers create toxic environments because of their need to exert authority and control. The only one who wins in this type of culture is the boss. The people and the organization as a whole suffer.

So how do you know if you’re a boss or a leader? Here are seven simple ways to tell:

Bosses rely on the use of “hard” power / Leaders leverage the use of “soft” power — Bosses use hard power like their title, positional authority, or ability to give/withhold rewards as weapons to control the behavior of others. Leaders use soft power like their interpersonal skills, communication, values, and appeals to common interests as a way to enlist the support of others.

Bosses demand respect / Leaders earn respect — Bosses believe others should respect and follow them because of their position. They believe the title of boss demands instant respect. Leaders, on the other hand, know they have to earn the respect of others. They know their walk has to match their talk and their consistent behavior will garner respect from those they lead.

Bosses require compliance / Leaders invite collaboration — Bosses don’t really care what you think or feel, just as long as you do what you’re told, when you’re told, and how you’re told to do it. Leaders understand you have to manage the whole person; their heart, head, and hands. Leaders invite collaboration by soliciting input, listening to concerns, and incorporating team member feedback into decisions and plans.

Bosses focus only on results / Leaders focus on people and results — Bosses tend to have a win-lose mentality. Nothing else matters except the final score on the scoreboard. Leaders value results just as much as bosses, but they don’t sacrifice their people in order to achieve them. Leaders know people are the path to results and they treat them as valuable resources needed to accomplish the mission.

Bosses are concerned with looking good / Leaders are concerned with giving credit to others — You’ll often hear bosses use “I” or “me” language when describing their team’s accomplishments. They like the spotlight and aren’t afraid to take the credit for their team’s performance. Leaders are the opposite. You’ll hear them say “we” and “us” when referring to the team’s achievements. They deflect the spotlight and shine it on their team members instead.

Bosses push people / Leaders lead — It sounds rather simplistic but it’s true. Bosses stand behind the team, barking out instructions and pushing them to move forward. Bosses say “Do as I say.” Leaders are out front saying “follow me” as they work together with their team members to achieve the goal. Leaders say “Do as I do.”

Bosses inspire fear / Leaders cultivate trust — Bosses manage through fear and coercion. If you don’t do what the boss requires then you know some form of punishment will ensue. Leaders inspire trust. They grant people appropriate levels of autonomy and authority and let them do their jobs. If mistakes happen, they treat them as learning moments and coach team members to higher performance. Leaders establish an environment of trust and safety.

If you found yourself identifying more with the characteristics of a boss instead of a leader, don’t lose heart because you can change. It will take time and intentional effort, but you can make the transition. Seek out leadership training opportunities, find a mentor, and learning from others are all ways to get started. Being bossed around as a kid wasn’t a pleasant experience and it’s even worse as an adult in the workplace. We need less bosses and more leaders.

Confronting Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come on, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow. The following steps can help you capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, and resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receive coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

3 Reasons Why Leaders Should Pause and Take Notice

I have to admit, it’s easy for me not to notice. I get focused on my own goals and priorities and everything else around me seems to fade from view. That focused attention is a good thing when I need to meet a deadline or accomplish an important task, but when it comes to leading people, it’s a deadly mistake. I can get so wrapped up in my own agenda that I neglect to notice the needs of my team members.

I know I’m not alone here. Many people fall into the same trap because they think that’s what leaders are supposed to do. Make decisions, be in lots of meetings, and wear our busyness like a badge of courage. Let me be the first to break the news to you—that’s not how you should lead. Great leaders make time for their people because they know a leader’s best ability is availability. (click to tweet)

You may not think being a good “noticer” is important but I’d argue otherwise. I think it’s one of the top priorities for leaders because it makes you other-focused rather than self-focused.

Being a good noticer builds morale. Being valued, understood, and appreciated is a basic human need, but unfortunately, too many leaders forget their people are actually human. They view people as utilitarian resources performing a specific job function and treat them as interchangeable parts. But taking time to notice people lifts their spirits. A well-timed praising, note of thanks, or even just a personal conversation can turn around a person’s day.

Noticing people also builds trust. It shows your people that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers showing up to do a job. Everyone has a story and good leaders take the time to learn the stories of their team members. I’m not talking about hugging everyone and singing Kumbaya, but simply building relationships. Asking about their kids, getting their input on new ideas, or eating lunch in the break room with your team members every once in a while. With the trust of your team you can reach new heights, but without it you’re dead in the water.

Finally, noticing others keeps your leadership on course because you’re in tune with the needs of your team. The higher up leaders move in the organization the easier it is to get disconnected from the realities of life on the front line. Being a good noticer means you have to stay engaged with your team. It means you are familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of what your team has to deal with daily. That allows you to make leadership decisions based on what’s really going on versus what you think is going on.

So I challenge you to make a commitment this week. Take 5 minutes each day to pause, consider your team, and notice what’s going on around you. If you see a person doing a good job, tell him/her so. If you see someone struggling, ask if they need help. If one of your team members seems downcast, ask if they’d like to talk. It’s not that hard; it just takes a little time and effort.

Feel free to leave a comment this week to let me know what you noticed.

3 Reasons to Apologize Even if You’ve Done Nothing Wrong

“I’m not going to apologize because I didn’t do anything wrong!”

I remember my kids uttering that phrase a number of times when they were young, and I’ve also heard it from adults in the workplace more times than I care to remember. No one likes to be wrongly accused and most people certainly don’t want to apologize for something they didn’t do. The thought of apologizing when we’ve done nothing wrong, or even worse, when we’re actually in the right, causes our blood to boil. We become indignant, defensive, or lash out at others, none of which does anything to improve the situation.

However, there is a time and place for apologizing even if you’re not guilty. It’s important to remember that apologizing is not an admission of guilt; it’s an admission of responsibility. (Click to tweet) You are taking responsibility for improving and moving past the situation at hand. Here are three good reasons to apologize even if you’ve done nothing wrong:

  1. Choosing relationship over being right—When difficulties arise in a relationship, it’s a natural human instinct to want to assign blame. If the other person is in the wrong, then we can gloat in the satisfaction of being right. It’s easy to dive into the deep end of the pool of self-righteousness. It takes emotional maturity to prioritize the health of the relationship over the ego-feeding need to be right. Apologizing for the pain and difficulty of the current situation, even if you didn’t cause it, shows you place a higher value on the other person than you do on the need to be right.
  2. Lose the battle to win the war—You need to have a long-range perspective when it comes to relationships. There are going to be lots of battles (e.g., differences of opinion, conflict, etc.) in our relationships at home and work, and we’d die of exhaustion if we fought tooth and nail to prove ourselves right in every instance. Sometimes it’s better to lose the battle and apologize even when you’re right, for the sake of winning the bigger war (e.g., maintaining peace, completing the project, etc.).
  3. Take one for the team—As the leader, there are times you need to take one for the team. You may not personally have been at fault, but if your team has dropped the ball, you should take the blame on their behalf. Weak leaders will often throw their team under the bus when they’ve made a mistake. The leader will absolve him/herself of any responsibility and blame it on the team acting carelessly. The best leaders, however, apologize for the mistakes their team make and accept whatever blame comes their way.

It’s no fun to apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. Every fiber of our being compels us to scream that we didn’t do it, and to blame someone or something else. Responding with righteous indignation often escalates the tension and does little to resolve the situation. If you value the relationship more than being right, are willing to lose a small battle for the sake of winning the larger war, or need to take one for you team, it’s OK to apologize—even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Rising Above the Mob: 5 Leadership Lessons from 1 Hawk and 3 Crows

A few days ago I was tidying up the back yard when the noise of several crows caught my attention. That’s not out of the ordinary for my neighborhood. Although I haven’t done an official tally, I’m pretty sure the ratio of crows to humans is 1:1 in my neck of the woods. Anyway, there was a real commotion going on.

When I looked up, I noticed there was a red-tailed hawk circling overhead and the crows weren’t too happy about it; hence all the racket. The hawk seemed to be minding his own business. He was majestically gliding through the air in circles, occasionally flapping his wings once or twice, but mostly being powered along by the air currents pushing him gently higher and higher into the sky.

The neighborhood flock of crows (or murder if you prefer the old-school term for a group of crows) had nominated three of their brethren to express their displeasure to the hawk about him invading their turf. The three delegates flew about the hawk in a menacing manner, dive bombing him from different directions and trying to knock him off course, all the while hurling bird epithets at him with their squawking and cawing.

Despite the crows’ ruckus, the hawk seemed to take it all in stride. Occasionally the hawk slightly deviated his course when he was closely buzzed by a crow, but for the most part he kept circling in a consistent pattern. The crows had to expend a lot more energy than the hawk to maintain their efforts. They furiously flapped their wings to match the speed of the hawk, forcing them to take turns in harassing the larger bird. Upward and upward the hawk climbed, and the more altitude he gained, the more difficult it was for the crows to keep pace. Eventually, the crows tired of their of their pursuit as the hawk soared out of reach.

I thought to myself, “Why were those crows harassing that hawk?” As with all of life’s existential questions, I turned to Google for help. It turns out those crows were engaging in what’s known in the animal world as mobbing behavior. The hawk represented a threat to the crows, so they cooperatively worked together to mob the hawk in an attempt to drive him away.

Mobbing behavior isn’t limited to birds; people engage in it, too. And sometimes being a leader can feel like being a hawk getting pestered by an angry mob of crows. I don’t think any hawks read my blog, but I know some leaders do, so here’s five lessons I think we can learn from our avian advisers:

  1. Expect to be crapped on—It turns out that one of the primary behaviors of mobbing birds is to defecate on the intruder. Nice, huh? Talk about dropping a bomb…anyway, leaders get crapped on, too. We should expect it because it comes with the territory. Gossip, backbiting, passive-aggressiveness, or outright resistance are all forms of crap leaders occasionally have to endure. Expect to occasionally encounter your fair share of crap so you aren’t caught by surprise when it happens. No matter how pure or noble your intentions, there will be people who don’t like what you’re doing and will let you know about it.
  2. Understand defensiveness—The crows didn’t mob the hawk for no reason; they mobbed him because they were afraid. It’s hard to get inside the brain of a crow (although I have been called a bird-brain before), but I imagine they were concerned the hawk might be looking for some delicious crow eggs for lunch, or maybe even a small baby crow if he was feeling extra hungry. In this way, people are similar to birds. When they perceive a threat in their environment, it creates fear and causes them to react defensively. If your people are starting to show signs of developing a mob mentality, figure out the root of their fear and address that issue. Too often we make the mistake of addressing the symptoms of a problem rather than the cause. Defensiveness can kill our relationships without us even realizing it.
  3. Check your motives—The hawk isn’t completely innocent in this situation. Why was flying in this particular area? Was he truly minding his own business or did he have ulterior motives? I don’t know. I asked but he didn’t respond. As leaders, we need to be clear on our motives. Are we behaving in self-serving ways, or do our actions reflect a desire to serve our people and organizations for the greater good?
  4. Don’t get distracted—Assuming your leadership behavior is driven by the right reasons, don’t get distracted by the critics in the mob and stay focused on your goals. The hawk wasn’t surprised by the mob of crows nor did he let them knock him off course. He stayed focused on doing his thing, knowing the crows would eventually get tired or bored and leave him alone. When you chose to be a leader, you chose to step apart from the crowd. You will be second-guessed and criticized, and with that will come lots of distractions. Stay focused on being a hawk and don’t worry about the crows.
  5. Rise above the mob—Ultimately the hawk flew high above and out of reach of the annoying crows. Leaders have to do the same when mobbed by their critics. I like the philosophy articulated by former First Lady Michelle Obama in response to how they tried to teach their young children to deal with the harsh criticism of her husband’s presidency: “…when they go low, we go high.” Leaders need to take the high road when responding to criticism—consider the source, learn from it what you can, and respond with integrity and decency. Keep soaring to greater heights and don’t get dragged down with the crows.

Now, being a hawk doesn’t necessarily make one a leader, just as being a crow doesn’t automatically condemn one to be an annoying pest. It just so happens I observed one hawk being mobbed by three crows, and out of that interaction drew five leadership principles. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if you’re a hawk, crow, or some other creature that represents your inner leadership spirit animal. Whatever you decide, follow these leadership lessons to rise above the inevitable mobs that will criticize and undermine your leadership and soar to the success you deserve.

Want a Culture of Trust and Engagement? Get Back to Human

Technology and social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, yet our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. How is that?

Our technological tools have allowed us to be more collaborative, increase efficiencies, powered innovation, and allowed us to tap into information and knowledge at record speeds and levels. At the same time, those devices and technologies have given rise to a collective sense of distraction among its users, provided constant interruption, and replaced strong relational bonds with weak ties. It has also contributed to record levels of disengagement and low trust in the workplace.

In his newest book, Back to Human—How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel details how technology is isolating us at work, and he provides a road map for how we can develop more human-focused workplaces by fostering connected relationships on a personal, team, and organizational level.

In order to develop a connected and engaged workforce, Schawbel recommends leaders focus on four factors: happiness, belonging, purpose, and trust. Research has shown that employees who consider themselves happy at work are more likely to refer new candidates to the company, brag about the organization online, work harder, and are less likely to jump ship. Schawbel cites the research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, who found that happy employees have an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative. Simple acts of kindness, getting to know employees on a personal level, and helping employees with work-life balance are all ways to increase happiness.

Engaged employees also feel a sense of belonging to the organization. Humans are pack animals, and we like to be affiliated with organizations that appreciate our contributions and share our sense of values. So often we get focused on strategies and goals that we forget to develop a sense of community in our workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel a lack of belonging, depression is more common, problem-solving skills deteriorate, and effectiveness on the job declines. Schawbel says leaders can foster belonging by scheduling social events, having team lunches, and creating an environment where people feel free to share information about their personal lives.

Purpose is the third element of engagement that Schawbel suggests leaders focus on. When you have a purpose, you feel that you matter and that you are contributing to something larger than yourself. Having a clear purpose provides energy and direction, and it’s the fuel that keeps you going when life is busy and challenging. The tips Schawbel offers for creating purpose include helping people connect their work to the benefit it provides your customers. Bring in a customer who has been personally affected by your team’s work so they can hear and see the difference they are making. Another strategy for creating purpose is help employees understand the why of their work and how it supports your organization, customers, or the world at large.

Finally, the fourth element of an engaged workforce is trust. Many leaders think by virtue of them being the boss they are trusted by their employees. Wrong. It’s not the employee’s job to give trust; it’s the leader’s to earn it. Establishing authentic, caring, and appropriately vulnerable relationships is a primary way leaders build trust with their team. You can be a technical genius at your job, honest as the day is long, and follow-through on your commitments every time, but if you don’t show any sense of personal care or connection with your team, they will always keep you at arm’s length. Trusted leaders behave in ways that demonstrate the four elements of trust, and when employees see their leaders have their best interests in mind, they will not only trust them, but will pledge their loyalty and commitment as well.

Schawbel makes the point that technology isn’t all bad, but we should be more human and less machine. If we want a workplace where people engage their hearts and minds, and trust their peers and leaders, then we need to leverage technology to develop more human relationships of substance rather than connections of convenience.

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