Leading with Trust

10 Questions Great Bosses Regularly Ask Their People

Great leaders ask great questions.

Too often leaders think they are the smartest person in the room, so they are quick to offer advice, give direction, and share their perspectives on how things should be done. Most leaders do this instinctively, because after all, it’s the type of behavior that caused them to rise through the ranks. But when you become the boss, your role shifts from being the one to make things happen to empowering your team members to get the job done. You can’t do that if you’re always dominating the conversation. You need to draw out the best thinking and performance from your team members, and the way to do that is through asking great questions.

If you’re not sure what questions to ask or where to start, give these a try:

1. What are you excited about in your job? The answer to this question allows you to understand what motivates and excites your team member. When you know the kinds of tasks, activities, or projects that energize your team member, it allows you to guide them toward current and future opportunities that are similar in nature. It results in team members playing to their strengths and interests which results in greater engagement and performance.

2. Why do you stay? This is perhaps the most important question that leaders never ask. Do you know why each of your team members chooses to stay with your organization? If you did, would it change the way you relate to them? I would hope so. Knowing the answer to this question will drive the way you structure job opportunities for those employees you want to retain. For employees who have “quit and stayed,” the answer to this question will give you insight into why they are choosing to remain stuck in their current position (usually fear of change, they’re comfortable, or they’re beholden to their current salary and lifestyle).

3. What might lure you away? This is the sister question to number 2. If you’re like most leaders, you probably don’t know the answer to either one. If you knew what would lure away your top performers, you would know what you need to do to get them to stay. Asking this question sends the signal to your team members that you know they are a valuable contributor and you’re not blind to opportunities they may have elsewhere. It lets them know you are committed to doing what you can to keep them happy and engaged with your organization.

4. What would we need to do to get you to stay? Don’t wait until your employee resigns and has one foot out the door to ask this question. By then it’s too little, too late. Ask this question on a regular basis as part of longer term career development discussions. Similar to questions 2 and 3, this question allows team members to express the things they think about their employment experience that they would never say to you in any other context. Just the very fact that the leader is willing to acknowledge the employee has the potential for other opportunities and cares about retaining him/her, causes the employee to feel valued and respected, which inspires loyalty and commitment.

5. What new skills would you like to learn? Most people want to keep learning and growing in their jobs, and in fact, this desire often ranks higher in surveys as being more important than getting a raise or other forms of recognition. Many managers are afraid to ask this question because they aren’t sure if they can deliver anything in return. Even the most mundane, clear-cut jobs usually have some room for creativity or improvement, but it takes a bit of work for the leader to think outside the box to uncover those opportunities. One good place for leaders to start is to examine their own jobs. What could you delegate or share with your team members that would allow them to learn something new?

6. Are you being __________enough for now? (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback, etc.) You’re probably starting to see a theme to these questions by now, aren’t you? Along with the others, this question allows you to probe into areas of performance that wouldn’t normally surface in your typical 1on1 conversations. We all fall victim to tyranny of the urgent and tend to focus on the immediate tasks and deadlines we face. We have to train ourselves to periodically step back from the daily grind and have discussions with team members about the bigger picture issues that define their employee experience.

7. What is making your job harder than it needs to be? The people who usually know best about what’s working and not working in the business are those on the front-lines of the action. Ask your team members about the things that are holding them back from performing better or experiencing more joy in their work, and then get to work on addressing those issues. Leaders can often make a greater impact on employee performance by removing obstacles that hinder productivity, rather than spending time on trying to create new systems, processes, or skill development programs.

8. What are your ideas on how we can improve things around here? Do you like it when your boss asks your opinion? Of course you do! It makes you feel like the boss respects your knowledge and expertise, and values your perspective on issues. Then why don’t you do the same with your employees? It’s a truism that no one of us is as smart as all of us. The power of a team is unleashed when the leader leverages the collective wisdom and experience of all its members.

9. What should I be doing more of? Unlike the other questions, this one is about you, the leader. It opens the door for you to hear from the employee about what you’re doing right, and obviously, the things you should keep doing. You may not see much value in asking this question because you believe you already have a good sense of the answer, but I encourage you to ask it anyway. You may be surprised that some of the behaviors you consider insignificant are actually the things that carry the most weight with your team members (like asking them about their weekend, how their kids are doing, taking an interest in them personally).

10. What should I be doing less of? It’s important you know this critical principle about leadership — most people won’t speak truth to power unless they believe it is safe and acceptable to do so. As a leader, it’s incumbent upon you to foster a culture of trust and safety that allows your team to give you honest and unvarnished feedback. You do that by explicitly giving permission to your team to give you feedback, and most importantly, receiving it with openness and a willingness to modify your behavior. Too many leaders only receive feedback from their bosses during the annual performance review, and although it can be helpful, it’s often from a limited and biased perspective. Great bosses seek feedback from where it matters most — their team.

Being a great boss isn’t easy. If it was, the world would be full of them. Instead of relying on the natural tendency to solely focus on the here-and-now in your interactions with team members, take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Start incorporating some of these questions into your 1on1 meetings and watch for the positive impact it will have on your team members’ level of engagement and productivity.

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

Ken Blanchard Shares an Easy Way to Know if You Work in a Trusting Environment

Fingers Crossed Behind BackHow can you tell if you have a trusting work environment? By reading nonverbal clues, says Ken Blanchard in his March column for Chief Learning Officer magazine. “If people trust leadership, they’re willing to turn their backs to their bosses. In other words, they turn and focus on their own work because they know the leadership means them no harm.”

To illustrate his point, Blanchard shares a story about Horst Schulze, cofounder of Ritz-Carlton Hotels. During Schulze’s reign, after orientation and extensive training, every employee was given a $2,000 discretionary fund they could use to solve a customer problem without checking with anyone. They didn’t even have to tell their boss. As Blanchard explains, “Horst loved to collect stories about how people honored this trust by making a difference for customers.”

One story in particular that stood out for Blanchard was about a businessman staying at a Ritz-Carlton property in Atlanta during the middle of an extended business trip. After one night in Atlanta, the executive was flying out the next morning to deliver a major speech in Hawaii.

“The businessman was a little disorganized as he was leaving the hotel. On his way to the airport he discovered he’d left behind his laptop, which contained all the graphics he needed for his presentation. He tried to change his flights but couldn’t. He called the Ritz-Carlton and said, ‘This is the room I was in, and this is where my computer was. Have housekeeping get it and overnight it to me. They have to guarantee delivery by ten o’clock tomorrow morning, because I need it for my one o’clock speech.’

“The next day Schulze was wandering around the hotel as he often did. When he got to housekeeping he said, ‘Where’s Mary?’ Her coworkers said, ‘She’s in Hawaii.’ Horst said, ‘Hawaii? What’s she doing in Hawaii?’

“He was told, ‘A guest left a computer in his room and he needs it for a speech today at one o’clock — and Mary doesn’t trust overnight carrier services anymore.’ Now you might think that Mary went for a vacation, but she came back on the next plane. And what do you think was waiting for her? A letter of commendation from Schulze and high-fives around the hotel.”

That, says Blanchard, is what a trusting environment is all about.

What are the nonverbals in your organization?  Do people feel safe enough to turn their backs on their manager—or are they worried the manager will find fault with the work they’re doing or punish them if something goes wrong?

You can read more about Ken Blanchard’s thinking in the March issue of Chief Learning Officer.  Also check out this video of Ken Blanchard sharing about the importance of creating a trusting environment.

(This article was written by David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.)

4 Steps to Avoid a Leadership Meltdown Like Uber’s Travis Kalanik

kid-having-meltdownThe last few weeks have not been kind to Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanik. Revelations by former employees of the company’s toxic and abusive culture, a highly publicized video of Kalanik arguing with and demeaning a Uber driver, and a New York Times article of Uber’s aggressive and unrestrained workplace, all led to Kalanik’s public apology for his role in fostering this culture and his pledge to seek “leadership help” to make things better.

He doesn’t need “leadership” help. He just needs help. Period.

Through the experiences of my own leadership journey and in my work helping people improve their leadership impact by developing trust in relationships, I’ve come to believe that leadership is an inside-out proposition. If you get things right on the inside, the outside takes care of itself. The inside things—our values, beliefs, motivations, and purpose—drive our outward behavior. Being clear on the inner aspect of leadership will keep our outward actions on track and help us avoid a leadership meltdown like the one Uber’s Travis Kalanik is currently experiencing.

Four Steps to Develop Inside-Out Leadership

  1. Know Your Core Values—Leadership is an influence process. As a leader you are trying to influence others to believe in certain things and act in specific ways. How can you do that if you aren’t clear on your own values? What drives your own behaviors? You have to be clear on that before you can expect to influence others…at least in a positive way. In the absence of clearly defined values, I believe people tend to default to the more base, self-centered values we all possess: self preservation, survival, ego, power, position. As an example, my core values are trust, authenticity, and respect. I look to those values to guide my interactions with others. Just as river banks channel and direct the flow of rushing water, so values direct our behaviors. What is a river without banks? A large puddle. Our leadership effectiveness is diffused without values to guide its efforts.
  2. Develop Awareness of Yourself & Others—The best leaders are acutely aware of their own personalities and behavioral patterns and the effect they have on others. Having self-awareness is good but it’s not enough. We also have to be able to self-regulate our default behaviors and learn how to dial them up or down depending on the needs of the situation. Effective leaders also develop awareness of the behavioral styles of those they lead, and they learn how to adjust their behaviors to meet the needs of others. Being a leader requires you to be a student of people and human behavior. You can’t be a bull in a china shop when it comes to human relationships and only rely on your default modes of behavior. It’s a leadership cop-out to use your personality as an excuse for bad behavior.
  3. Be Clear on Your Beliefs About What Motivates People—I believe most people want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. I believe they want to learn, grow, and be the best version of themselves they can possibly be. I believe they want recognition for a job well done and want to be rewarded appropriately. I believe everyone who works at a job wants to be fairly compensated, but at the end of the day, money is not their primary source of motivation or satisfaction in work. When people have dinner with their family after a day at work, I believe they want to talk about how their boss helped them become better that day, or about a new accomplishment they achieved. I believe people don’t leave their personal cares and concerns at home when they arrive to work, and they want to be valued as individuals with hopes and dreams, and not viewed as nameless or faceless drones showing up to do a job. That’s what I believe and it dictates how I relate to others as a leader. What do you believe about others? The answer is to take a look at how you behave. That will tell you what you believe and why it’s so important to get clear on this aspect of inside-out leadership.
  4. Live Out Your Leadership Purpose—My leadership purpose is to “Be a servant-leader and a model of God’s grace and truth.” Being a servant leader means I strive to be other-focused, putting the needs and interests of those I lead ahead of my own. It means I set the vision for my team (the “leadership” aspect) but then turn the pyramid upside-down (the “servant” part) to help my team members achieve the goal. Being a model of God’s grace and truth guides my behaviors with others. It drives me to give others the benefit of the doubt and forgive when mistakes are made. It also drives me to be truthful and honest with team members, delivering candid yet caring feedback or redirection when the situation warrants it. Hopefully through this example you can see the importance of having a leadership purpose. It’s the driving force of how you “show up” as a leader. If you find that your leadership is inconsistent, unfocused, or lacking impact, revisit (or establish) your leadership purpose.

Leadership is as much about who you are as it is what you do. But in order to do the right things, you first have to believe the right things. If you place a priority on developing your inner life as a leader, the outward actions will follow suit and you won’t have to worry about experiencing a leadership meltdown.

On the Far Side of Broken Trust – Hope for Those Who Have Been Betrayed

Betrayal and broken trust brings immense pain.

I know. I’ve been there. And you probably have too.

When we talk about breaking trust, there is a continuum of severity of the offense. My fellow trust activists, Dennis and Michelle Reina, have an excellent way of expressing this concept. First, you can categorize offenses as either major or minor. Second, within those categories you can view the offenses as intentional or unintentional. The severity of the trust betrayal happens on a continuum, from those instances where a person unintentionally behaves in a way that erodes someone’s trust, to those instances where the person intentionally behaves in a way to deceive or betray.

Betrayal Continuum by Dennis & Michelle Reina

When we’ve experienced an intentional, major betrayal of trust, it can seem like all hope is lost of salvaging the relationship. After all, isn’t that the truth behind the cliché “trust takes a long time to build and just a second to lose?”

I’m here to tell you that there is hope on the far side of broken trust. If you and the other party are committed to restoring the relationship and putting in the necessary time and effort to rebuild trust, there is hope for the future. There are three important ideas to consider and remember:

1. Trust is incredibly resilient—Trust is much stronger than we give it credit for, as most people who have had long-term relationships can testify. Trust experiences ups and downs over the course of time, but if both parties learn to develop open and honest communication and practice forgiveness and restoration when minor trust offenses occur, they develop the strength necessary to weather a major breach of trust.

2. Trust can be stronger after a betrayal—Once a relationship experiences an intentional, major betrayal of trust, it will never be the same. But it can be better, deeper, and stronger than it was before. Betrayals of trust often cause the parties involved to realize the value of their relationship. Instead of taking it for granted, the parties can gain a new perspective on the importance and priority of the relationship and work to make it healthier than it was before the breach of trust.

3. It’s an opportunity for a new beginning…or a necessary ending—After experiencing a breach of trust, and before deciding to embark on the journey of rebuilding it, it’s important to consider if the relationship is worth preserving. For example, if your auto mechanic intentionally deceives you and charges you for repairs that weren’t needed, you may decide it’s better for you to end that relationship and find a new mechanic. That’s an easy choice with an impersonal service provider, but it’s quite another for a close personal relationship. Yet in spite of the pain caused by a betrayal in a close relationship, it presents an opportunity to pursue a new beginning. Both parties need to be absolutely committed to restoring the relationship in order to recover from a major betrayal of trust. Trust is a reciprocal process—one person gives it, the other returns it. You can’t rebuild it if only one party is committed.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy and thriving relationship. It may sound simplistic and perhaps counterintuitive, but the best way to build trust is to never break it in the first place. What I mean by that is trust is created through repeated interactions in a relationship where the parties prove themselves trustworthy to one another. The more trust is built over time, the stronger it becomes and is able to endure and persevere when a major betrayal occurs.

If you find yourself experiencing a betrayal, don’t despair. There is hope for having a stronger and deeper relationship as a result of going through the process of rebuilding trust.

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