Leading with Trust

Quit Babying Employees Through Change and Do This Instead

Hey leaders, let me ask you a question: Do you ever feel like the burden of successfully implementing an organizational change rests squarely on your shoulders? I know that I have frequently felt that way and I’m sure you have too.

Tell me if this sounds like your typical to-do list when leading a change effort:

  • Build the most persuasive business case to convince people of the need for change
  • Craft the perfect communication plan to address every possible question
  • Patiently address every concern with empathy so people “feel good” about the change
  • Make the change as easy as possible so people aren’t disrupted too much
  • Control the pace of change so people don’t have to change too much too fast

Notice the similarity in all those items? You, the leader, is responsible for everything related to the change effort. No wonder you feel exhausted.

These are all important items that need to be addressed when implementing change. However, the result of the leader assuming responsibility for convincing employees to change, getting their buy-in, and making change as easy as possible actually creates learned helplessness among employees. Leaders babying employees through change denies them the personal growth of developing resiliency and readiness to change.

In her book No Ego—How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, Cy Wakeman offers two commonly held beliefs about change that actually force leaders to shoulder all the burden and rob employees of personal responsibility in adapting to the change.

Myth #1: Change is Hard—Wakeman says that leaders who believe this tend to over-manage and under-lead. If the goal is to make change easier and more palatable for people, then leaders end up shouldering all the burden for the success of the change initiative (see the to-do list above). This creates a culture of learned helplessness, and when employees figure change isn’t their responsibility, they fail to develop resiliency and readiness for what’s next.

Myth #2: We Can’t Handle So Much Change—The marketplace never stops changing, Wakeman points out, and it’s indifferent to people feeling uncomfortable or disturbed. Resistance to change usually comes from those who find themselves unready and they fear being exposed. Instead of asking “How can we make this change easier for you?,” leaders should be asking “How can we build your skills to be better at change?” Effective leaders help people understand that change is inevitable, necessary, and neutral. They coach people through a process of incremental growth to build their skill at being ready for change.

So the next time you’re faced with leading a change effort, question your long-held beliefs about how you should lead. Your efforts to make change easier for employees, or to slow down the pace of change, may actually make the change effort more difficult. Instead, teach your employees how to exhibit self-leadership and take responsibility for developing their own readiness for change.

If You Want Employee Accountability, Keep Them IN the Box

“We want you to act like owners.” How many times have you heard that phrase thrown around in organizations? As a leader, you’ve probably uttered those words, or similar ones, many times in the past. We all want employees who live and breathe accountability. It’s one of the key factors that set high performers apart from low or average ones.

We want employees to act like owners, but many times we discourage their accountability by treating them like renters. How so? We discourage accountability when we micromanage. Telling people what to do, how to do it, and insisting they do it our way thwarts their autonomy. We also prevent accountability when we shelter people from the consequences of their actions. We’ve let the pendulum swing too far to the side of wanting everyone to feel good about themselves no matter their level of performance. Everyone should get a trophy just for giving a good effort, right?

So as a result, we have developed employees who have the mindset of renters, not owners. You know what that looks like, right? The employee waits around for the boss to make the decision, rather than stepping out on their own initiative. They do a decent enough job, but often nothing spectacular; just enough to get by. They are content to point out problems, but don’t take the extra step to solve the problem themselves or offer suggestions on how to do so.

In their new book, Counter Mentor Leadership—How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace, my friends Kelly Riggs and Robby Riggs define accountability in a straight-forward way: the process of taking a personal interest in—owning—the results, as opposed to making excuses for mistakes and looking for something or someone to blame. They emphasize that accountability is an attitude, one that is cultivated, modeled, and instilled in others by a good leader.

The Riggs duo suggest leaders can help employees foster a mindset of accountability by putting them back in the box.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Did you say back IN the box? Yes, that’s right. Back IN the box…the Freedom Box.

The Freedom Box is about setting a perimeter within which the employee has complete autonomy to roam. The size of the box is proportional to the employee’s individual competence and commitment to take ownership of producing results. By definition, the box will be a bit different for each person. Using language from our Situational Leadership© II (SLII®) model, on particular goals or tasks some people are Development Level 4 (D4) Self Reliant Achievers (highly competent and committed), while others are Development Level 1 Enthusiastic Beginners (low competence and commitment). The D4’s box is going to look a whole lot different than the D1’s box.

There are four primary boundaries of the Freedom Box:

  • Company values and/or guiding principles. Your values determine what behavior is or isn’t acceptable in the workplace. If you don’t have values with behavioral definitions, this is where you want to start. It’s the foundation of how you want people to perform.
  • Expectations. Ken Blanchard has long stated that “All good performance starts with clear goals.” If employees don’t have clearly defined goals, how are they supposed to know what a good job looks like? It’s hard to exhibit ownership over ill-defined, nebulous goals.
  • Level of authority. An employee’s level of authority in the Freedom Box should be determined by their demonstrated capabilities. Riggs and Riggs share four common-sense levels of authority:
    • Level 1—Check with me before you do anything. For rookies who are just learning.
    • Level 2—Make the decision, but check with me prior to implementation. For those still learning on the job and need practice.
    • Level 3—Make and implement the decision, but keep me in the loop. For employees who are experienced and demonstrate good judgment.
    • Level 4—The buck stops with you. Seasoned veterans who are highly trusted and experts in their domain.
  • Performance standards and metrics. Employees need standards of performance that defines the measure of success. Success should not be defined by solely what is achieved, but also how it is achieved.

Accountability is a mindset of people who are personally invested in their work. It’s not something the leader can force upon an individual. We as leaders need to be careful that we aren’t unintentionally hindering our people from developing their own resilience to be accountable. When we take away the pain, thwart initiative, don’t reward appropriate risk-tasking, and withhold honest feedback, we prevent our people from stepping into accountability. The Freedom Box is a helpful process for how leaders can put people IN the box in order to help them develop accountability.

What’s Your Leadership Promise?

promiseI recently stopped at Starbucks to get my morning jolt of caffeine on the way into the office. As I was sitting at my desk waiting for my computer to finish booting up (and wait, and wait, and wait….hey, I.T., I need a new computer!), I noticed a printed message on the side of the coffee cup. It read:

Our Barista Promise

Love your beverage or let us know. We’ll always make it right.

Now, I’m not sure how long Starbucks has been printing that message on their coffee cups. Frankly, I don’t often take the time to remove the heat shield (or whatever that protective sleeve is called that keeps us from getting 3rd degree burns on our hands) to read what’s on the cup. But for some reason on this particular day the message struck me.

The “P” word: Promise. That’s a heavy-duty word. And it shouldn’t be used lightly.

I learned a long time ago, first in parenting and then in leadership, to use the “P” word sparingly and only if I knew I could truly fulfill the commitment. Anyone who is a parent has probably encountered a time where you made a somewhat casual or flippant “promise”—“Sure, Johnny, I promise we’ll go to the beach next weekend”—only for it to not happen. What is the first thing the child says when you don’t deliver? “But you promised!”

As far as Starbucks goes, in my experience they keep their promise. If you don’t like your drink then they’ll remake it or make you a different one. My son’s girlfriend works at Starbucks and I hear the horror stories of how difficult some customers can be when they are holding the company to their promise.

So, what does this have to do with leadership? Well, it’s pretty simple: What is your leadership promise? What is it your people can expect from you or count on you to do no matter what?

Here are some possibilities I think would be good starting points:

My leadership promise to you…

  • I will always listen to your viewpoint with an open mind.
  • I will strive to be equitable and ethical in all of my decisions.
  • I will never belittle or demean you.
  • I will not hold you back from other job, promotion, or growth opportunities.
  • I will be trustworthy.
  • I will be honest.
  • I will care about you as a person, beyond just an employee showing up to do a job.
  • I will give you the direction and support you need to do good work.
  • I will make time to talk with you on a regular basis.

Those examples may or may not ring true for you. The point is, you need to be clear on your leadership promise(s), because even if you aren’t, your team members have ascribed them to you based on your past behavior. You are setting yourself up to break trust with your followers if their perception of your leadership promise doesn’t align with your own.

When developing your leadership promise, consider the following:

  • What are your non-negotiables as a leader? What values, responsibilities, or priorities will you never compromise?
  • In what realms of your leadership are you willing to have people call you out if you don’t deliver?
  • What is your comfort level in setting public expectations that you’ll need to live up to?
  • What are your core values and how do those influence the way you show up as a leader?

So what is your leadership promise? There’s no right or wrong answer. We are all unique individuals with our own talents, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and our leadership promise is unique to each one of us as well.

What your leadership promise says is less important than actually identifying it, and once you know what it is, there is only one thing that remains—deliver on it.

Please leave a comment and let us know if you’ve ever considered your leadership promise. If so, what is it? How did you develop it? What advice would you give to others?

Quit Using Your Personality as an Excuse for Behaving Badly

Personality2One of my pet peeves is people who use their personality as an excuse for their behavior. “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” is the phrase that’s often uttered to rationalize or justify an action, position, or attitude. In some ways it’s almost the perfect defense to any argument, isn’t it? “You mean you want me to change who I am?” How can you ask someone to change the very essence of what makes them who they are?

There’s no doubt that our inborn temperament and natural personality traits shape the way we perceive and react to our environment, however, we are in control of the way we choose to respond to situations. Part of being a successful and trusted leader is learning how to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and natural personality traits so that you can respond in a manner that is appropriate for the situation at hand. Using your personality as a crutch to stay in your emotional comfort zone will only limit your leadership potential and alienate those around you.

Your personality is not an excuse for…

Shirking job responsibilities – Every job has mundane or tedious tasks we don’t like doing or may not even be good at performing. However, it’s a cop-out to use your personality to shirk those responsibilities, or even worse, pass them off to someone else. “I’m not a detailed person” or “I have more important things to do than this paperwork” are examples of this kind of attitude. If you want to be a trusted and respected colleague, you need to take responsibility for all the areas in your job description and not ignore the others or push them off on someone else.

Being rude to people — If you frequently find yourself saying “I’m just being honest and telling it like it is,” then you’re probably relying too much on your default nature of being direct and to the point. Those are great traits to possess, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for being harsh or inconsiderate with people.

Not giving feedback when feedback is due — It’s difficult for most people to deliver constructive criticism to others, but people often hide behind their personality traits as an excuse to not give feedback. Whether you’re introverted and shy and find it difficult to engage others, or an extroverted people-pleaser that can’t stand the idea of someone not liking you, you have to learn ways to give feedback. You owe it to yourself and others.

Avoiding or inciting conflict — Along the same lines as giving feedback, dealing with conflict is probably the most common area where we stay in our emotional comfort zone. This is especially dangerous for people who tend to fall on the edges of the spectrum in dealing with conflict – either avoiding it or gravitating to it. Whatever your natural style of dealing with conflict, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to deal with it. Just as important as knowing your natural tendencies, it’s important to know how others tend to deal with conflict so that you can “speak the same language” when trying to resolve issues.

Blaming others — It’s easy for us to blame others for whatever shortcomings we may have in our life or career; it’s much harder to honestly examine ourselves and take responsibility for the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are today. For example, if you have a personality need to always be right, and you demonstrate that by constantly arguing and debating with colleagues, you shouldn’t blame others when people stop including you in projects, meetings, or decisions. “They don’t want my opinion because they don’t respect me and don’t want to hear the truth”…no…they don’t want your opinion because you always think you’re right and it’s annoying!

Our personalities are what make us the unique individuals we are, and the beauty of organizational life is that we’re able to take this diversity and blend it into a cohesive whole that’s more productive and powerful than the individual parts. Learning to be more aware of our own personalities and those of others, combined with a willingness to stretch out of our comfort zones and not always rely on our natural instincts, will help us lead more productive and satisfying lives at work.

A Father’s 10 Lessons about Leadership

Father's DayToday is Father’s Day, a time we set aside to honor fathers and the role fatherhood plays in our society. Being the father of two boys (Michael 22, Matthew 18) is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve tried to be a positive role model and demonstrate what good leadership looks like to my sons. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs over the years, but hopefully the ups outweigh the downs and my children have a fairly clear idea of what good leadership entails. By no means an exhaustive list, I’ve listed ten lessons about leadership I’ve tried to teach my kids:

1. Leadership begins with trust – If you want people to give you their full commitment and passion, you have to earn their trust. You can get people to follow you by virtue of your power or title, but they’ll only do so out of compulsion or fear. Trust is essential for long-term effective leadership.

2. Be a person of integrity – Leadership flows from who you are as a person; your values, beliefs, and attitudes. All the leadership tips, tricks, and theories won’t do you a bit of good if you aren’t a person of integrity. Get clear on your values, live them out, and don’t ever stray from them.

3. Be dependable – People want consistency from their leaders. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t make promises you aren’t absolutely sure you can keep and always follow-through on your commitments.

4. Care about others – Leadership is all about relationships. Take a genuine interest in others and get to know them as individuals, not just as teammates or employees. Your success in life will be dependent on your ability to relate effectively with others, regardless of how smart you may be. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

5. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer leader – Leaders are responsible for setting the tone for their team. Just like a thermostat controls the temperature of a room, and not merely reflects it like a thermometer, so leaders need to be proactive in creating the environment for their team to do their best work.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail – Failure is part of the learning process. There is no shame in putting forth your best effort and coming up short. The important thing is to take what you learn from the experience and use it to do better the next time. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

7. Adjust your leadership style – You can’t be a one trick pony when it comes to leadership. You have to learn to flex your leadership style to the situation. Sometimes people will need more direction and other times they’ll need more support. It all depends on the task at hand and how capable and committed the person is to perform it. Learn to be flexible in your approach with people and you’ll be much more effective as a leader.

8. Start by being a good follower and teammate – The best leaders have learned what it means to be a good follower or teammate. They’ve worked in the trenches, earned the respect of their colleagues, and learned to work with leaders who have different styles. You have to earn the right to have people follow you, and the first step in that process is to learn what it means to be a good follower and teammate.

9. Keep your sense of humor – Take your work seriously but take yourself lightly. Learn to laugh and have fun with your team, and use humor to build relationships, earn people’s trust, and keep morale high. A good laugh can make hard work easier.

10. Develop other leaders – Good leaders give their people opportunities to shine. Your job as a leader is to develop the leadership potential of everyone under your charge. Your success is reflected in the success of others, so give your team members autonomy over their work and give them all the credit when they succeed. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead.

To all the fathers out there…what leadership lessons have you tried to pass on to your children? To all the children of fathers (yes, that’s you)…what leadership lessons did your father pass on to you? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Happy Father’s Day!

“Get Lost in the Game” – 6 Ways to Perform Your Best

“I told him to get lost in the game.”

That was Kentucky coach John Calipari’s advice to one of his star players, Julius Randle, during half-time of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game this past Monday night. Coming into the game, Randle had been averaging over 15 points and 10 rebounds, yet entering half-time he had scored just 6 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and was clearly fazed by the pressure-packed environment of the championship contest. Calipari knew his player was out of rhythm, trying too hard to contribute and forcing the action, rather than relaxing and letting the game come to him. Calipari wanted Randle to get lost in the game, to be in the flow.

The flow is the metal state you’re in when you’re fully immersed in an activity that consumes your entire focus, energizes your attention, and produces a deep level of satisfaction and joy through the process. In the groovein the zonewiredin the momenton fire…and my personal favorite, beast mode, are all ways of expressing this condition. It’s when we do our best work and experience the most fulfillment in our activities. It’s also a rare and fleeting circumstance to be in the flow.

How can we be in the flow more often? How can we get “lost in the game?” First, we have to understand the conditions that lead to flow experiences. Second, we have to take steps to create the environment for us to get in the flow.

Conditions for Flow Experiences
There are three basic conditions you need for flow experiences:

  1. A clear goal – This is why you often hear athletes talk about being in the zone or having tunnel focus when it comes to their activities. Whether it’s trying to hit a pitched ball, complete a pass, score a goal, make a last second shot, or cross the finish line ahead of others, there is a clear goal that lends purpose, structure, and process to the task at hand. A lack of clear goals is why we often don’t experience the flow at work. Unclear goals make it difficult to narrow our focus and attention and leaves us feeling stuck or overwhelmed with the work in front of us.
  2. A balance between your skills and the challenge of the task – If you perceive you have the skills to meet the difficulty of the challenge ahead of you, it’s easier to get in the flow. If you believe you’re ill-equipped or don’t have the talent to accomplish the goal, anxiety and stress will prevent you from achieving a flow-state. Conversely, if you believe the goal is not challenging enough given your experience and skills, you’ll encounter boredom or apathy. You need the goal to be challenging enough to capture your attention, while simultaneously having enough skill to give you the confidence that you can tackle the situation.
  3. Real time feedback on your performance – You can feel when you’re in the flow. It’s those occasions where you lose track of time because you’re completely immersed in an activity and things just, well…flow. And when you’re not, you feel like you’re trudging up a muddy hill, taking one step up and sliding back two. Flow is sustained by receiving feedback on your performance. When you see you’re performing well, it increases your confidence and desire to stay in the flow. When you see you’re off course, you can make adjustments to get back on track and in the flow.

How to Increase Flow Experiences
We can take concrete steps to help increase flow experiences at work that will allow us to perform our best. Here are six suggestions:

  1. Connect your work to the bigger picture – Too many of us view our work with a microscope rather than a telescope. A microscope allows you to zoom in on the details of a particular object, ignoring the surrounding area. A telescope, on the other hand, allows you to see long distances away—the big picture. Rather than being uninspired by the small tasks you have to do, connect them to the importance of the big picture. Figure out how your work contributes to the betterment of the world. How does your work help improve the lives of people by meeting their needs or desires? All work has redeeming value and it’s up to us to discover it. Tapping into the bigger picture will add motivation and commitment to your work and help you achieve flow in your activities.
  2. Clarify and prioritize goals – If your goals aren’t clear, work on gaining clarity. Figure out specifically what you’re trying to accomplish, what the standards are, the deadlines to meet, or the deliverables being produced. If you’re challenged with too many goals, work on prioritization. If you have conflicting priorities from multiple stakeholders, you may have to involve your supervisor to help you. Get clear on what you need to accomplish and then apply laser-like focus to your activities.
  3. View work as a game – Games in general, and video games in particular, lend themselves to flow experiences because they are immersive in nature. We get wrapped up in figuring how to reach the new level, unlock the next treasure, or beat the “boss.” You can apply the same principles to your work. Engage your mind in thinking about how can you accomplish things faster, better, or easier. Are there other ways you can approach tasks or activities that may bring more fulfillment? Look at work as a game you’re trying to master and let your creativity run wild.
  4. Seek out bigger challenges and/or improve your skills – Complacency, boredom, and apathy are flow killers. If you find your work lacking in challenge, seek out new ones. Work with your supervisor to see if there are increased responsibilities you can take on, project teams you can join, or other ways to add more challenge in your work. On the flip side, worry, stress, and anxiety are also flow killers. If you find your work is too challenging, explore skill development opportunities. Go back to school, read books, get a mentor, or seek out additional training to boost your confidence and capability to meet the challenges you face.
  5. Find your sweet spot – Your sweet spot is where your skills are matched appropriately to the challenge, and when you find that place, you have the greatest chance of achieving states of flow. Finding your sweet spot might mean following point #4 above, or it might mean transforming how you do your work by changing/improving processes, delegating it to someone, or collaborating with others.
  6. Choose your motivation – Your supervisor is not responsible for motivating you. You, and only you, control your level of motivation. You can choose to be disinterested in your work or feel like others are imposing work on you, or you can choose to shift your motivational outlook by focusing on areas of your work where you can exhibit autonomy in your activities, mastery over how well you do your job, and satisfaction in the relationships you build with others.

Kentucky ended up losing the championship to UConn and Julius Randle never really got into the flow of the game, finishing with just 10 points and 6 rebounds. However, it doesn’t negate the wisdom of Coach Calipari’s advice. We do our best work when we get lost in the game.

Don’t Feed The Monkeys! 3 Ways To Help People Solve Their Own Problems

Don't Feed the MonkeysIn my early days as a manager I used to love to feed monkeys.

“Monkeys” are the problems, issues, or challenges your employees bring you that somehow become your responsibility to manage and solve. Instead of the monkeys stopping by your office for a quick visit and going back home with their owners, they end up taking residence and you become responsible for their ongoing care.

I liked feeding monkeys because I thought I was helping people solve problems. Over time, I learned my good intentions were actually handicapping my employees from learning how to solve their own problems, resulting in me being overloaded with work.

There are three ways in which I developed that helped me stop feeding monkeys and I believe they can help you too.

1. Become a situational leader – There is no one best leadership style when it comes to managing people. People need different leadership styles depending on their competence and commitment on the specific goal or task at hand. Situational Leadership II teaches a leader to diagnose the development level (competence and commitment) of the employee and then use the appropriate leadership style (a combination of directive and supportive behavior) that will help the person develop from a beginner to an expert on the goal or task. If you don’t develop your employees’ competence and commitment in their job, they will always have to come to you to solve their problems.

Control and Responsibility Grid2. Don’t grab responsibility – One way to look at managing monkeys with your people is to examine how the elements of responsibility and control interact (see my post Losing Control & Liking It – 4 Ways to Handle Responsibility & Control for a more in-depth treatment of the topic). Managers make the mistake of grabbing control of a monkey even though they aren’t responsible for it. 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.

3. Facilitate self-reliant problem solving – Part of a manager’s job is to help people learn how to solve their own problems. Assuming the manager has been a situational leader and developed the employee’s competence, and isn’t grabbing control of something they aren’t responsible for, the next step is to facilitate the process of problem solving. First, it’s important to have a clear definition of the problem. Many times the symptoms of a problem are more evident than the root cause so it’s important to investigate the underlying issues. Second, ask open-ended questions to allow the employee to think through possible solutions. Many times people just need someone with an objective point of view to help them think through the situation.

In his book, The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, Ken Blanchard says “The best way to develop responsibility in people is to give them responsibility.” If you don’t let your people solve their own problems, they’ll always look to you to do it for them. Don’t feed the monkeys!

Forget Accountability – Follow These 5 Steps Instead

AccountabilityI don’t like the word accountability. It’s always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. I think it’s because it assumes the worst about people. When we talk about accountability, it always seems the assumption is a person is incapable of, or unlikely to, follow through on his/her commitments. So we spend a lot of time and energy creating systems, processes, or consequences to make the sure the person is held accountable.

I prefer the word responsibility. To me, responsibility has a positive connotation. It’s starting with the mindset that a person will be responsible if he/she is given the necessary tools and training. If a person is responsible, you don’t have to worry about him/her being accountable. Responsibility breeds accountability. Whereas focusing on accountability is only treating the symptoms of a performance issue, addressing responsibility is treating the root cause.

So how can leaders help their people develop an inherent sense of responsibility? Here’s five steps to get started:

1. Create a motivating work environment – You can’t motivate anyone. (What? Did he just say I can’t motivate anyone? Isn’t that one of my primary responsibilities as a leader?) Yes, I just said that. You can’t motivate anyone. Every person is responsible for his/her own motivational outlook. What you can do is create a work environment that allows your people to maximize their sense of autonomy, increase their level of relatedness with others, and develop competence in their work. Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are the variables that allow a person to be optimally motivated and it’s our jobs as leaders to foster an environment that brings out the best in our people.

2. Let your people take the lead in goal setting as much as possible – Think about your own experience. When have you felt the greatest sense of commitment to a goal? When you created it yourself (or had a hand in it), or when a goal was assigned to you? Most likely it was when you were involved in setting the goal because you had a sense of ownership. It was your goal, not someone else’s. Your people will exhibit more responsibility for accomplishing their goals if they are involved in setting them.

3. Be clear on expectations – If people are going to be responsible, they need to clearly understand the expectations of their commitment. Many times our frustrations with people not being accountable is due to a lack of clear expectations. Make sure people know why the goal is important, what the deadlines are, and what constitutes success. If the situation requires you to follow through with negative consequences, do so. Don’t make hollow threats.

4. Use the right leadership style – Your people have different levels of competence and commitment on each of their goals. It’s your job as a leader to flex your leadership style to provide the proper amount of direction and support your people need to accomplish their goals. If you don’t set your people up to be responsible and successful in achieving their goals, that’s on you, not them. (Hold yourself accountable…errr…responsible).

5. Let go – I’ve written previously about balancing control and responsibility. It’s easy to grab control from people when you see them underachieving or shirking their responsibilities. That doesn’t help your people develop responsibility and it only adds to your stress level and workload. If you’ve properly trained and equipped your people, you need to let go and let them succeed or fail on their own.

Starting with these five steps puts the onus on your people to live up to their responsibilities. It’s up to them to hold themselves accountable…to be responsible. The leadership mindset underpinning these steps is one of trust. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Trust your people to rise to the occasion, to be worthy of your trust. Odds are they will prove themselves to be responsible and you won’t have to worry about holding them accountable.

Riding Against The Wind – 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Lead Alone

Bicycle DraftingThe wind was against me and I was struggling to make headway.

A stronger rider passed on my left and I figured I would try to draft behind him to see if I could take advantage of him cutting through the wind ahead of me. It worked. My ride was noticeably easier.

After a short distance he noticed what I was doing, motioned for me to ride up alongside him, and suggested that we take turns drafting. Over the next 5 miles we took turns leading and drafting, sharing the work of riding against the wind and reaping the benefit of drafting in each other’s wake.

As a leader, have you ever felt like you were the only one riding into the wind? It seems like you’re always the one in front absorbing the full impact of everything the workplace throws against you and your team. You wish you had someone to cut the wind ahead of you, but you don’t, and it leaves you feeling battered, demoralized, and exhausted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

My recent bike ride reminded me that leadership, just like biking, doesn’t have to be an individual sport and often works better in a shared context. Here’s five reasons why you shouldn’t lead alone:

1. Share the burden – Sharing leadership can be more efficient and productive than leading alone. By drafting with the other rider, I increased my speed and lowered my time around the 5 mile course. You don’t have to be the only one in charge of everything, so leverage the skills and abilities of those around you to make your job a little bit easier. Many hands make the burden light.

2. Tame the ego – Power has an intoxicating influence that can easily ruin your integrity as a leader. All you have to do is examine the news headlines to see this happening everyday. Sharing the power and responsibility of leadership builds an accountability structure around you that keeps your ego in check and your leadership on course.

3. Better leadership – Sharing leadership can allow you to maximize complementary skill sets among people that leads to more effective leadership overall for your team, department, or organization. Some organizations intentionally pursue a Co-CEO model for this very reason. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing business climate, combining the efforts of leaders can result in powerful gains for the organization.

4. Camaraderie and support – I was alone and struggling on my bike ride, but when I started working together with a fellow rider, I immediately felt the camaraderie and support that encouraged me to keep going. Leadership can be a lonely trek, but sharing the journey with others allows for mutual support and encouragement that keeps everyone’s spirit and morale high.

5. Keep pace – Partnering with the other rider allowed me to maintain a faster pace than riding alone. When he was in the lead I fed off the challenge of keeping up with him so I could reap the benefits of riding in his slipstream. When it was my turn to lead, I didn’t want to disappoint him by slowing down the pace so I worked even harder than I would have if riding on my own. Sharing leadership can help everyone up their game and perform at higher levels than they would individually.

Before you string me up as a leadership heretic, let me say I’m talking more about the process of leadership rather than the actual position. In most situations there needs to be someone with the final responsibility to make the “go/no-go” decision, but the process – the way in which leadership is manifested in an organization – often works better when it’s shared among individuals.

What are your thoughts? Do you have experience with shared leadership models? Feel free to leave a comment.

Three Questions That Could Save Your Career

Three QuestionsThe question is not if you will ever face an ethical dilemma, the question is when. Ethical dilemmas come in all shapes and sizes and you will inevitably be faced with a situation where you find yourself at a crossroads. Do you choose to do something that is wrong in order to benefit yourself, even if no one will ever know, or do you choose to do the right thing?

“There is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

Last week I wrote about the five P’s of ethical power that Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale discuss in their book The Power of Ethical Management. In that classic best-seller they also offer an “ethics check,” three questions you should ask yourself when faced with an ethical choice point. Asking yourself these three questions could save you from making a decision that ends your career.

Is it legal? The first of the three ethics check questions goes right to the core of the matter. Is what you are going to do legal? Does it violate civil law, corporate policy, or your own code of ethics? If the answer is No then STOP! There’s no need to even ask the next two questions. To take it a step further, if choosing to proceed could even give the appearance of illegal activity, you should avoid that course of action.

Is it fair and balanced? Assuming you answer Yes to the legality of the decision, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not your action will be fair and balanced to the parties involved. Will your decision or action result in one party being taken advantage of by another to the point of their detriment? Is there a clear winner and loser involved? The parties can’t always win equally in every situation, but you should strive to avoid great imbalances in the fairness of your actions. Ideally you want to strive for decisions that promote long-term fairness and respect in relationships.

How will it make you feel about yourself? If your actions were published on the home page of CNN.com, how would you feel? Would you feel proud of the decision you made or cringe in embarrassment that your actions were on display for the whole world to see? Besides your behavior being publicized, how would your decision align with your own sense of right and wrong? Most of us have a pretty good sense of when we’re on shaky ethical ground, yet we often try to rationalize our behavior in order to feel good about ourselves. I love the quote from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. He said, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.” If your decision is legal and balanced, yet something about it just doesn’t sit well with your conscience, then it’s probably not the right decision to make.

I’ve asked hundreds of people this question: “What is the most important factor in building trust?” Overwhelmingly the response is “integrity.” Integrity is a leader’s most valuable asset and using the ethics check questions can help you keep it intact and avoid what could be a career ending decision.

Got Ethics? The Five P’s of Ethical Power

Got EthicsThere is but one place where people without any problems reside—the cemetery. The only people without problems are dead, otherwise, for people like me and you…we’ve got problems! The question is, do we have ethics? Do we have the moral principles or values in place to guide our decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas or difficult situations?

One of my favorite books is The Power of Ethical Management, written by Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale. In their book, Blanchard and Peale discuss the five principles of ethical decision-making which they call the “Five P’s of Ethical Power.” I find myself returning to these principles time and again when faced with challenging decisions. Hopefully they can be as helpful to you as they have been for me.

Purpose—Your purpose is the road you choose to travel, the meaning and direction of your life. It’s the driving force of why you do what you do. For some it may be rooted in their spiritual faith. Others may find their purpose is something they feel called to do, such as serving those in need, raising responsible children, or leaving the world a better place than they found it. Aligning the activities of your life according to your purpose gives you a clear sense of direction, so when you’re faced with challenging circumstances or difficult decisions, you’re able to filter those occasions through the lens of your purpose and make choices that keep you on track.

Pride—Unlike false pride, which stems from a distorted sense of self-importance that causes people to believe and act like they are better than others, a healthy sense of pride springs from a positive self-image and confidence in one’s abilities. A proper sense of pride mixed with a good dose of humility is the balance you’re seeking. Being driven by false pride causes you to seek the approval and acceptance of others which can overly influence you to take the easy way out when faced with a tough situation.

Patience—Patience is in short supply in our culture. We live in a hyper-connected, instantaneous world where virtually anything we want is just a click away. Blanchard and Peale describe patience as having a faith and belief that things will work out well, as long as we stick to our values and principles. Giving in to instant gratification is one of the biggest temptations we face and it causes us to make decisions that aren’t in alignment with our purpose and values. Enduring the struggles and challenges life throws our way helps develop the strength of our character. Much like prematurely opening a caterpillar cocoon leads to a weakened and under-developed butterfly, choosing the path of expediency leaves us with an under-developed character and weakens our ethical power.

Persistence—This component of ethical power is about staying the course, staying true to your purpose and values. Persistence is about commitment, not interest. When you have interest in something you do it when it’s convenient. When you’re committed, you do it no matter what! One of my favorite “Yoda-isms” from the Star Wars movies is “Do or do not. There is no try.” When it comes to making ethical decisions, there is never a right time to do the wrong thing. Persistence keeps us on the straight and narrow path.

Perspective—All the other elements of ethical power emanate from the core of perspective. Perspective is about having the big picture view of situations and understanding what’s truly important. Too often we make snap decisions in the heat of the moment and neglect to step back and examine the situation from a bigger perspective. Maintaining the proper perspective is also about paying attention to our inner-self and not just our task-oriented outer-self. Taking the time to enter each day with prayer, meditation, exercise, or solitude helps foster self-reflection which is needed to help us maintain the right perspective about life.

Many people believe there is a huge gray area between right and wrong and they use that as rationale to operate by situational ethics. What’s right in this situation may be wrong in the next. I don’t agree. I believe in most cases we can distinguish between right and wrong if we take the time to examine the situation and rely upon our ethical power.

So I ask you: Got ethics? Share your feedback or questions by leaving a comment.

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