Leading with Trust

The Incredible “Sulk” – Four Ways to Overcome Envy in the Workplace

The Incredible Hulk, one of the Marvel Comics superheros featured in the recently released film The Avengers, is a raging beast capable of great fury and destruction. Whenever the mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner experiences certain negative emotions like fear, anger, or terror, he succumbs to those feelings and transforms into the Hulk, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.

Envy has the same potential for damage in the workplace by transforming you into The Incredible “Sulk” – someone with a sullen, silent, inwardly focused negative self energy that wreaks havoc on yourself and others. Envy is a feeling of discontent or covetousness a person feels in regards to another person’s success, advantages, or possessions, and causes you to sulk, feel sorry for yourself, and make you downright miserable. If left unchecked, envy creates resentment toward others, leads to fractured relationships, and causes low morale and a loss of productivity in a team environment.

I coach others, and have personally used, the following strategies to overcome envy in the workplace:

  • Don’t play the comparison game—The number one way to make yourself miserable with envy is to compare yourself to other people. There will always be someone who appears to have it better than you, whether it’s that recent promotion, title, new office, or cool new project at work. In addition to not rightfully acknowledging the successes or achievements of others, when you compare yourself to others you’re actually denying or discounting all the wonderful gifts, talents, and abilities you bring to the table. Focus on “blooming where you’re planted” and don’t waste energy by obsessing about what other people are doing.
  • Count your blessings—I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Envy robs us of happiness because we get focused on what we don’t have, and that negative emotion leads to a downward spiral in our thinking. I’ve found it helpful to periodically make a list of all the things I’m grateful for in life because it’s an eye-opening experience to realize how good I’ve got it. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices is also helpful in combatting envy.
  • Avoid gossip—Gossip is the conduit for envy to poison a whole team. Human nature tends to gravitate toward the negative anyway, and gossip is an easy way for people to seek solace and comfort from others. Rather than being cathartic and healing, gossip is divisive and destructive and it doesn’t do anyone any good to talk about people behind their backs. We’d all be better off if we remembered and practiced some of the first words of wisdom from our parents: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Focus on personal growth—When feelings of envy start to crop up, it’s a perfect time for self-examination. Ask yourself why you’re feeling envious and don’t stop at the first answer; keep asking “why?” For example, suppose I’m feeling envious of my neighbors because they have an RV Camper and I don’t. Why am I feeling that way? Because I wish I could go on camping trips like they do. Why do I wish I could go on camping trips? Because I want to nurture and deepen family relationships. Why do I want to do that? I want my children to have great experiences and memories of their childhood. Ok, so that’s a great reason…now what I can I do to accomplish that? Maybe I can’t financially afford an RV, but I can certainly do other things to accomplish my goal of creating family memories. I’ve taken the negative emotion of envy that had the potential to damage the relationship with my neighbors and turned it into a positive step in my own personal growth.

Envy is an incredibly destructive force that leads to personal unhappiness and negativity within a team. Taking a positive, proactive approach to identifying and rooting out envy will help you lead a more satisfied and productive life at work and keep you from turning into The Incredible Sulk.

Have you dealt with envy in the workplace? What did you do? Feel free to share your experiences and comments.

Leading With Trust – Four Fundamentals of Success

I was recently talking with a friend about the critical importance of teaching the fundamentals when coaching baseball. Baseball is a game built on basic, fundamental skills. No matter the level at which the game is played — Tee Ball, Little League, High School, College, or Professionally — players continuously work on learning and refining the fundamental aspects of the game. From the proper way to field ground balls, the basics of a good batting swing, correct pitching mechanics, or smart base running techniques, there are certain skills and competencies that must be practiced and mastered for a player to achieve success.

The same is true for being a successful and trusted leader; you have to focus on the fundamentals. Perusing a list of book titles in search of the keys to effective leadership can leave you feeling overwhelmed and hopeless as to where to start. We’re encouraged to do so much: Lead with heart, lead with soul, get out of the box, find the leader within, follow the irrefutable laws, adhere to the timeless principles, leverage your strengths, eliminate your weaknesses, develop the right habits, start with ‘why’, start with ‘how’, lead with vision, lead from the trenches, etc., etc., etc.

Yet beyond all the hyperbole, fluff, clichés, and modern-day snake oil leadership remedies, the most basic fundamental of becoming a successful leader is leading with trust. What does it mean to lead with trust? It means:

  • Lead competently — A fundamental of being a trusted leader is to be good at what you do, both in terms of developing your competence as a leader as well as being a high performer in your technical role. There are no shortcuts to success. It takes hard work, discipline, and constant growth and learning.
  • Lead authentically — Successful leaders embrace and build upon their uniqueness and don’t try to be someone they’re not. It’s wise to glean knowledge about what makes other leaders successful and to incorporate those practices into your own leadership philosophy, but don’t be a copycat. You’re not Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, General Patton, Mark Zuckenberg, or any other host of people who may be held up as different leadership models. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true what our parents have always told us – Just be yourself, there’s no one else like you.
  • Lead with integrity — Successful leaders know that at the end of the day the only thing they have left is their integrity. The fundamentals of successful leadership start here: Be honest, don’t lie, behave ethically and legally, keep your word, follow-through on commitments, be dependable. Get this wrong and it’s impossible to lead with trust.
  • Be other focused — To borrow Rick Warren’s opening line of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.” Leadership is about other people, not about yourself. Leading with trust means you realize that leadership is about influencing and developing the people around you. You invest your time and energy in helping them succeed, and when that happens, you succeed. Self-focused leaders erode trust and lose the commitment and loyalty of their people.

Leading with trust is a lifelong journey that plays out in the simple, everyday interactions leaders have with their people. Through practice and refinement of these leadership fundamentals, leaders will enjoy successful, strong, and lasting relationships built on trust.

I’ll be exploring this topic in more detail when I co-host the #LeadFromWithin TweetChat with @LollyDaskal on Tuesday, April 24 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific/8:00 p.m. Eastern. Feel free to join me, Lolly, and hundreds of other leadership practioners and teachers as we discuss what it means to lead with trust.

No Leadership Fear: Five Guidelines to Deliver Feedback for Results

Giving effective feedback on behavior or performance strikes fear in the heart of many leaders. This past week I spoke on this topic at the Ken Blanchard College of Business at Grand Canyon University, and when I asked audience members why this was the case, I heard reasons like this: fear of confrontation, a desire to avoid conflict, uncertainty about the way the receiver will react, or a lack of confidence and competence in their own abilities to deliver feedback in a constructive, positive way.

Receiving feedback is a natural part of life and it allows us to interpret our behavior and circumstances and make any necessary adjustments. If you touch a hot stove, what happens? You feel the heat and burn your fingers…that’s feedback! If you play golf and hit your drive into the pond…that’s feedback! If you make your wife angry and she forces you to sleep on the couch…that’s feedback! (And the subject of a different blog!)

Feedback is information about past behavior, delivered in the present, which may influence future behavior. Before you deliver feedback, you should assess the quality of the relationship with the receiver. Is there mutual respect and a good level of trust? Have you given feedback to this person before? If so, how did he/she react? Do you know their story – hopes, fears, struggles, family background – that influence the way they “show up” at work? If you don’t have a solid relationship with the receiver, the feedback will probably fall on deaf ears. Work on improving the relationship before delivering the feedback.

You should also check your motives before delivering feedback. Are you giving information, making a request, or making a demand? Are you hoping to improve the person’s performance or satisfying your ego by making a point? Make sure your motives are in the right place before delivering the feedback. Also, make sure there was clarity on the goals, roles, or expectations on the part of the receiver. It’s not fair to give someone feedback on their performance if they weren’t clear on what was expected in the first place. Leaders have to take responsibility for examining whether or not they set the receiver up for success or failure.

Once you’ve prepared, make sure you’re clear on the right type of feedback you need to deliver to produce the results you desire. There are four basic types of feedback:

  • Feedback on “What”—Feedback that provides objective information about results, end product(s), or outcomes
  • Feedback on “How”—Feedback that provides objective information about the process or way results are obtained
  • Praise—Emotion-revealing feedback designed to encourage certain desired behavior in the future
  • Disapproval—Emotion-revealing feedback designed to extinguish certain undesired behavior in the future

When you’re ready to deliver the feedback, it’s important you follow these basic guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality. For example, saying “Sally, the way you interacted with that customer was unprofessional” isn’t very helpful in allowing Sally to know what to do differently. “Sally, you need to say ‘Hello’ to each customer when they walk through the door, introduce yourself by name, and offer to answer any questions” is much more specific and helpful to Sally.
  2. Be specific and descriptive, don’t generalize. Think of giving feedback as the front page of the newspaper, not the editorial page. Keep it focused, concise, and to the point and avoid rambling or going off on tangents.
  3. If possible, give feedback immediately. Perceptions change over the course of time and opens the door to misunderstandings or different interpretations of events. The longer you wait between the time the behavior occurs and when you give feedback, you run the risk of the “leave alone, ZAP!” problem: the receiver thinks everything is fine until, ZAP!, he/she gets zinged with some feedback about something that happened long ago. That creates resentment, animosity, and erodes trust.
  4. Control the context. Choose the right time of day, a neutral location, be calm, keep your emotions in check, and regulate your body language to make sure you provide an environment that will support the success of your message and not hinder it.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward. Dwelling on past behaviors or events that are unlikely to reoccur damages trust and inhibits your ability to provide constructive feedback in the future. Keep the feedback relevant to the situation at hand and focus on what needs to change in the future.

Trust earns you the right to give feedback, and trusted leaders have learned to deliver feedback in a way that enhances the relationships with their people as well as improves their performance. If leaders are committed to building trust and following these common sense guidelines, they need not have any fear about giving feedback.

Build Trust by Learning How to SPEAK – A Model for Handling Challenging Conversations

Whether you’re delivering a difficult message, giving tough performance feedback, or confronting insensitive behavior, handling a challenging conversation can strike fear and trepidation in the heart of a leader. If handled with skill and care, these situations are prime opportunities for leaders to build trust with those they lead.

The SPEAK model is a helpful tool to navigate challenging conversations.

S – State your concerns directly. Speak in private and face-to-face whenever possible and use “I” language to voice your concerns, thoughts, and feelings about the situation. A common myth about handling challenging conversations is that you should be objective and only stick to the facts. While you certainly want to be factual, you also need to share your feelings, without blame, so the other party understands the impact of the situation. Don’t make sarcastic or belittling remarks and be sure to share the consequences if the issue isn’t resolved. How it sounds: “Since we missed our deadline, I’m concerned that we may not meet our project goals.”

P – Probe for information to gain deeper understanding. Talk with an open and interested tone of voice and use open-ended questions to probe for more information to help you understand behavior that may seem incomprehensible. Pause long enough to give the person time to respond and listen with the intent to understand and be influenced by her point of view. How it sounds: “I’m confused about why we missed the deadline. Can you tell me more about what you thought our agreements were?”

E – Engage each other through whole-hearted listening. Be mentally present and intentional about listening. When people feel fully heard, they are more open to creative solutions, alternatives can be explored, wounds healed, and defensiveness lowered. Paraphrase to make sure you’ve heard and understood correctly and be sure to reflect the person’s feelings and values. How it sounds: “So you are saying that when I spoke with you about your performance that I was not clear about your goals and responsibilities?”

A – Attend to body language. Make sure that your body language matches your words. Sometimes leaders force themselves to be too relaxed when the situation is actually quite serious and that sends confusing signals to the other person. Pay attention to the other person’s body language and challenge inconsistent verbal and non-verbal messages with “I” statements. How it sounds: “I’m confused. I hear you saying that you think we don’t have a problem, yet I notice you sitting in a way that I’m interpreting as being angry.”

K – Keep forward-focused when possible. Once past issues have been addressed and the air cleared, focus the conversation on what each of you are going to do moving forward. Ask directly if the other person is ready to move forward, and if she isn’t, return to step E to explore any other issues or concerns that may be unresolved. How it sounds: “From my perspective, we have cleared up past misunderstandings. I am ready to move forward if you are. Is there anything on your end that we have not addressed yet?”

Working through difficult situations is an opportunity for leaders to build trust. It’s during these times that followers can feel most vulnerable to leaders because of the disparity of power in the relationship. Leaders who use their power in the service of others by demonstrating care and concern in handling challenging conversations will increase engagement, commitment, and trust with those they lead.

Face Time Builds Trust & Teamwork

Last week my organization conducted our annual all-company meeting, and for the first time in a few years, we were able to have a face to face gathering. Prior to the all-company meeting, I held a team-building event for my department, Client Services. Nearly 50 people from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Singapore gathered in Old Town San Diego for an “Amazing Race” kind of scavenger hunt that built teamwork, relationships, communication skills, and trust.

My experiences last week reminded me of the critical importance of face to face interactions to build a successful team. The prevalence and ease of use of video-conferencing technologies, webcams, and social media applications has caused many leaders and organizations to question the need for in-person meetings. Those are fantastic tools for many business meeting needs, but nothing can replace the value of “face time,” those personal interactions that form the cohesiveness and trust necessary for high-performing teams.

Regular face time allows for the building of personal rapport and trust at a faster pace than what can be accomplished in virtual mediums. Body language, facial expressions, speech patterns, and hand gestures can only be fully appreciated when observed in person. It also allows preconceptions about relationships to be broken down. It’s easy to form judgments about others when you only interact with them via electronic communications, but when you’re able to spend time together, you form a more personal and deeper relationship that provides a deeper level of understanding of each others’ behavior.

The deepening of relationships through in-person meetings provides a greater level of accountability among team members. It’s much harder to let someone down when you know them on a personal level versus a person you’ve only interacted with via email or the phone. Humans are social creatures and face time allows us to form complex social bonds that transcend simple mechanical work relationships. Learning about a teammate’s family background, hobbies, values, likes and dislikes, creates a more intimate, transparent relationship that greatly enhances teamwork. Perhaps most importantly, face to face meetings allows for the expression of fun and humor in a much richer setting than via technology. Fun is a dynamic condition created magically through personal interactions in a specific place and time that can only occur when people are gathered together. I believe a team that plays together is one that stays together.

Don’t neglect the opportunity to gather your team together for a face to face meeting or team outing. You’ll reinforce the important norms and values of your team’s culture and provide the opportunity for your team members to build higher levels of trust and commitment with each other.

Lose Control and Like It – 4 Ways to Handle Responsibility and Control

You really don’t have as much control as you think you do.

Leaders like to think they’re in control of a lot of things, because after all, that’s why they’re in charge, right? They’re responsible for making sure the work gets done correctly, on time, and on budget. So if they’re responsible, then dog-gone-it, they’re going to be in control! The reality is that responsibility and control are spread among all the team members you lead, and effective leaders learn to distinguish when they need to assume responsibility and control and when it needs to be left to the team member.

I recently read Losing Control & Liking It, by Tim Sanford. His book is specifically about parenting teenagers (I have two boys, 19 & 15), but speaking from experience, leading and managing people is often like raising teenagers so the principles definitely apply!

Sanford explains that when we look at our interactions with people and events, we can split them into two categories: What you can control and what you can’t control. We’re defining control as that which you have direct and complete power over. You may be able to control certain aspects of situations or influence people or circumstances, but when you consider that definition, you really only have control over yourself—your actions, attitudes, values, emotions and opinions. We like to think we have control over our employees, but that’s just an illusion. They are in control of themselves.

Another way to categorize our relationships with those we lead is by responsibility: What you take responsibility for and what you don’t take responsibility for. Responsible is a compound word: response-able, meaning “able to respond.” The only things you are able to respond to are those that you legitimately have ownership or control over. Friction develops in our relationships when we try to take responsibility for those things we don’t control or when we choose to shirk our responsibilities for those things we do control.

When you overlay these categories of control and responsibility you have a grid of four ways of interacting with others regarding issues of control and responsibility

TOSS – You could describe TOSSers as lazy, irresponsible, untrustworthy, avoiders, deniers, or blamers. These are folks who would rather “toss” responsibility to someone else, rather than assuming responsibility for behaviors or outcomes that are under their control. This is probably the most unhealthy of all the four styles and this type of behavior causes chaos and discord in organizations.

HOLD – HOLDers take responsibility for what is under their control. Trustworthy, honest, authentic, reliable, and dependable are all words that would describe these people. This is a healthy way to interact with others over issues of control and responsibility. No blaming. No excuse making. No shirking of responsibilities. Relating in this manner breeds confidence and trust in your abilities and in others.

GRAB – In an effort to control the uncontrollable, GRABers choose to take responsibility for people and things out of their direct and complete control. Micromanager, manipulator, intimidating, co-dependent, or martyr are all adjectives that describe a person who uses this style. Leaders often fall prey to this style of relating because they think they can “fix” people or situations. GRABing control may result in short-term wins, but over the long haul it stunts people’s development and creates a state of learned helplessness.

FOLD – FOLDing is a healthy way of relating to others regarding control and responsibility. When you practice this style it means you mind your own business, you’re honest with others about what’s your responsibility and what’s theirs, and your trustworthy enough to be counted on to respect the proper boundaries of control and responsibility. Relating in this style means you fold your hands and let the consequences fall where they may, even if it may be painful to stand by and watch.

Your goal as a leader is to influence your people, not control them. Provide them with the necessary training, tools, and support to enable them to be in control of achieving their goals. More often than not, those who are in control of their work will accept responsibility for what they produce. If you find yourself dealing with people who choose to “toss” responsibility of their shortcomings to others, resist the urge to “grab” control and try to fix the situation. HOLD your ground or FOLD your hands and let others learn from their experiences.

Three Circles of Trust

If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents, you probably remember “the circle of trust.” Robert De Niro’s character, Jack, a former CIA agent and overly protective father, is obsessed with making sure his future son-in-law Greg is a trustworthy and honorable husband for Pam, his only daughter. From his point of view, a person is either in or out of his circle of trust; there’s nothing in between.

Effective leaders have learned to have multiple circles, each with varying degrees of trust, depending on the people, context of the relationship, and the circumstances involved. Consider these three circles of trust:

The outer most circle is the Community and is the group of individuals that you would consider your acquaintances. Perhaps you’ve met them a few times, may know their names, and occasionally interact with them such as the clerk you regularly see at the grocery store, your plumber, or the teachers at your child’s school. This circle is characterized by the lowest degree of trust which tends to be based on the norms of the context of your relationship. There tend to be  rules, policies, procedures, or contracts in place to prevent one party from taking advantage of the other. There isn’t anything wrong with this level of trust. It’s appropriate for the transactional nature of your relationships in this circle.

The Crowd circle contains those relationships that have a deeper level of trust characterized by personal knowledge of each party. A relationship moves from the Community circle into the Crowd by demonstration of trustworthy behavior over time to where the parties involved can reliably predict each other’s behavior. This is the circle where you would typically find relationships with your team members, co-workers, or social organization associates.

The innermost circle is the Core. This is the circle of trust reserved for the closest relationships in your life such as your spouse, family, and best friends. This level of trust is characterized by the parties knowing the hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities of each other. These relationships have the highest levels of trust because they also have the highest levels of vulnerability. Over the course of time these relationships have experienced increased amounts of personal disclosure and the parties have developed a history of respecting and protecting the vulnerabilities of each other.

Contrary to what’s portrayed in Meet the Parents, there isn’t just one circle of trust. Our relationships are too varied and complex to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach and successful leaders have learned to extend and cultivate the right amount of trust depending on the given circle of the relationship.

What are your thoughts? How would you categorize your circles of trust? Feel free to share your comments.

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?

Are You a Scary Boss? Six Ways to Lower Fear and Build Trust

The coach of the opposing team at my son’s high school basketball game yesterday clearly tried to lead his team through fear and intimidation. His voice had one volume setting – LOUD! He wasn’t just speaking loud so that his players could hear him in the noisy gym. He yelled. He screamed. The entire game. He criticized his players for making mistakes and made sarcastic comments about their performance. He threatened them with time on the bench if they didn’t follow his instructions. I mentioned to some other parents that when a coach constantly yells and screams at his players, they eventually start to tune out, or even worse, become so afraid to make a mistake that they fail to give their best effort. That clearly was the case with this team.

Even if you aren’t the stereotypical gruff, volatile, loud, in-your-face type of boss, you may be casting a shadow of fear over your team without even realizing it. Your positional authority alone is enough to create a certain amount of anxiety and stress in the hearts of your employees. Add in some common fear-inducing behaviors leaders often use like hoarding information, losing their temper, and not protecting the interests of their employees, and you’ve got the recipe for creating timid and fearful team members.

Fear is the enemy of trust. In fact, if you have fear in a relationship, you can’t have trust. The two are polar opposites just like night and day, black and white, pain and pleasure, success and failure, or even Michigan and Ohio State (Go Blue!).

In order to become a trusted leader, you need to lower, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of fear in the relationships with those you lead. Here are six ways to lower fear and build trust:

1. Be consistent in your behavior – Unpredictability breeds fear. If your employees can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to step out and take risks. They’ll always be on edge, not knowing who’s going to show up at the office, the “good boss” that will support their efforts and have their back should they make a mistake, or the “bad boss” that will fly off the handle and punish them for their failure.

2. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities – High-trust cultures give employees confidence to set BHAG’s – big hairy audacious goals – and risk failure by not achieving them. Rather than penalize your employees when they make a mistake, use the opportunity to coach them on how to do better the next time around.

3. Explain the “why” – Let your team members know the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions you make. It will help them better understand your thought processes and motivations and create more buy-in to your leadership. Failure to explain the “why” leaves people wondering about why you do what you do and sows the seeds of doubt and fear.

4. Share information about yourself – The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself. By soliciting the feedback of others, you can learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Check out one of my previous articles about how you can build trust by being more vulnerable with people.

5. Solicit and use feedback from others – Leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother soliciting feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.

6. Be nice – Say “please”… “thank you”… “you’re welcome”… a little kindness goes a long way in building trust. Simply making the effort to be friendly and build a rapport with others signals to them that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers that show up to do a job.

My son’s basketball team ended up winning the game quite convincingly, and in marked contrast to the other team’s coach, my son’s coach doesn’t lead by fear and intimidation. As a result, the players feel secure in the consistency of his leadership and perform without fear of how he’ll respond if they make a mistake. Give it a try with your team and watch the victories pile up.

Be Like Mike – Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski’s Most Important Leadership Trait

“In leadership, there are no words more important than trust.
In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”
Leading With The Heart ~ Mike Krzyzewski

This past Tuesday Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history when Duke defeated Michigan State 74-69. This was Coach K’s 903rd victory in a 35 year career that has included four national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, and just four losing seasons.

In a post-game interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis, Coach K was asked the following question: “What’s the single most important characteristic for a coach to have to achieve the things you’ve achieved?”

Mike Krzyzewski’s answer is simple, yet profound, and is one that leaders everywhere should take to heart if they want to maximize their leadership influence. Here’s what he said:

“I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each individual player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in, and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

When Coach K references his players “letting him in,” he points to the heart. It’s not just a casual, conversational gesture. He’s making a specific point about tapping into his players’ heart – the emotional core of who they are as a person. Coach K intentionally focuses on developing a trusting relationship with each of his players because he knows without that absolute level of trust, he won’t be able to teach them how to transform their potential into performance.

The same principle applies to leaders in any organization. In order to achieve success, you have to take the time to establish meaningful, trust-based relationships with your team members. If your people don’t trust you, they won’t be receptive to your coaching on ways they can improve their performance. If your team can’t trust that you’ll have their back when they fail, they won’t take the necessary risks needed to move your business forward.

Conversely, trust enables your team to confront the brutal facts of their performance and find ways to get better. Trust allows individuals to set aside their personal ego for the betterment of the team and commit wholeheartedly to pursuing a common goal. Trust is what allows leaders to tap into the hearts and souls of their team members and achieve greater levels of success together than they could ever reach individually.

Beyond the career milestones, and he’s had plenty, leading with trust is Mike Krzyzewski’s most enduring legacy. In that regard, we should all try to be like Mike.

Leadership Zombie Apocalypse! Four Signs You May Be Infected

Organizations around the world are reporting their leaders are turning into zombies at an alarming rate. Formerly healthy, productive, and capable leaders are falling victim to the Zombie Plague, the deadly disease that has spread uncontrollably during the global economic recession the past three years.

Leadership development experts recommend that leaders be on alert for the symptoms listed below. If any of these are present in your current leadership practices, please consult a professional immediately.

1. You’re running on autopilot – Zombie’s are empty vessels with no willpower or mind of their own. They wander about aimlessly with no clear purpose other than to satisfy their basic needs for survival (mainly terrorizing and eating humans!). Zombie leaders have become complacent and stopped investing in their own growth and learning. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep the ship afloat and they’ve stopped pushing the boundaries to innovate and adapt to new realities in the marketplace. If you’re content with doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, you might be infected. Get it checked out.

2. You’re a doomsdayist – Healthy leaders are purveyors of hope and positive energy. They cast a compelling vision of the future that inspires their followers to commit to the goal, team, or organization. Zombie leaders tend to have a sense of doom and failure. They waste their energy focusing on all the reasons why something can’t be done rather than working to find new solutions. They’re often heard saying “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

3. Your relationships are strained and difficult – Zombie leaders tend to have a low EQ (emotional quotient) that makes them ill-prepared to develop strong interpersonal relationships. They fail to build rapport with their followers, don’t collaborate well with colleagues, and have a low self-awareness about how they “show up” with other people. In fact, zombie leaders reading this right now probably fail to identify with any of these qualities and instead are muttering to themselves “I wish my boss was reading this article.”

4. You’re in a “trust-deficit” – Leaders infected with the zombie virus are notorious for breaking trust with their followers. Failing to follow through on commitments, taking credit for other people’s work, not “walking the talk,” and withholding recognition and praise from others are all ways that zombies erode trust. The low-trust relationships that zombie leaders have with their followers results in reduced productivity, gossiping, questioning of decisions, and low levels of employee morale and engagement.

Various remedies are available to prevent leaders from contracting the Zombie Plague or to treat those already infected. The therapy plan extends over the course of a leader’s lifetime and requires constant diligence to ensure the disease stays in remission. Treatments include ongoing learning and self-improvement, building trust in relationships, and adopting a servant-leader philosophy.

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