Leading with Trust

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.

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