Leading with Trust

Research Shows These Are The Top 5 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

In their academic paper Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership, researchers Adam Focht and Michael Ponton share the results of a Delphi study they conducted with scholars in the field of servant leadership.

A total of twelve characteristics were identified, five of which were agreed upon by all of the scholars polled. These five most prominent servant leadership characteristics were:

  1. Valuing People. Servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they give to the organization. Servant leaders are committed first and foremost to people—particularly, their followers.
  2. Humility. Servant leaders do not promote themselves; they put other people first. They are actually humble, not humble as an act. Servant leaders know leadership is not all about them—things are accomplished through others.
  3. Listening. Servant leaders listen receptively and non-judgmentally. They are willing to listen because they truly want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve, they must listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand, and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed.
  4. Trust. Servant leaders give trust to others. They willingly take this risk for the people they serve. Servant leaders are trusted because they are authentic and dependable.
  5. Caring. Servant leaders have people and purpose in their heart. They display a kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are here to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders truly care for the people they serve.

To a large degree, these findings mimic the results of polling that The Ken Blanchard Companies conducted with 130 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who attended a series of servant leadership executive briefings in cities across North America in 2018. Topping the list was empathy, closely followed by selflessness and humility. Also mentioned multiple times were being authentic, caring, collaborative, compassionate, honest, open-minded, patient, and self-aware.

Both lists can serve as good starting points for HR and L&D executives looking to bring an others-focused culture into their organizations. What’s been your experience?  Feel free to enter additional characteristics of a servant leader in the comments section below.


Interested in learning more about bringing servant leadership principles into your organization? Join us for a free webinar on November 15!

Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of Brilliance By Design, will conduct a presentation for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals on 3 Keys to Building a Servant Leadership Curriculum.

In this enlightening webinar, Dr. Halsey will connect servant leadership characteristics to competencies and share best practices on how to design a comprehensive curriculum for your organization. You can learn more here. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

This article was written by my colleague David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

The 5 Causes of Psychological Safety and Why You Need to be a Safe Leader

Reflective Listening

Psychological safety sounds like a complex academic topic, doesn’t it? It’s quite simple when you boil it down to its essence.

Amy Edmondson of Harvard University has pioneered the research on psychological safety. She says psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea.

When faced with these kinds of situations, we make micro-second calculations to assess the risk and likely consequences of our behavior. We make these decisions in light of the interpersonal climate we’re in, so we say to ourselves “If I do X here, will I be hurt, embarrassed, or criticized? Or will I be praised, thanked, or respected?”

Organizational Conditions for Psychological Safety

There are five areas that contribute to the establishment of a psychologically safe environment. The first is Leader Behavior. The leader is always being watched. What you say and do has a profound impact on whether your team members feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Research has shown that bad news is rarely transmitted up the hierarchy and team members are more likely to seek help from peers than their boss. But on the flip side, research has also shown that leaders who exhibit supportive managerial behaviors have positive effects on self-expression and creativity. Leaders must go out of their way to be open and use coaching-oriented behaviors. The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility.

The second area that contributes to psychological safety is Group Dynamics. The norms of a group either encourage or inhibit team member vulnerability. Are new ideas welcomed or discouraged? Are divergent opinions solicited or are they criticized? The interplay of team member roles and characters are also part of group dynamics. Have you ever noticed how people in teams tend to assume familial-type roles? You often have a father figure of a group that offers sage advice and direction. You may have team member who plays a mothering role, the favored son who can do no wrong, or even the black sheep of the team who tends to stir up trouble. The interplay of these roles has a direct impact on the level of safety within a team. Additionally, in-group and out-group dynamics and power distribution among team members influence psychological safety.Psychological Safety 5 Factors

The third area that influences psychological safety is Trust and Respect. There is significant overlap between trust and psychological safety as it relates to vulnerability. Trust can be defined as the willingness to be vulnerable based on perceptions of someone’s (or some thing’s) trustworthiness. If you don’t feel the leader or team is trustworthy, you won’t be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself at risk. Supportive and trusting relationships promote psychological safety, whereas lack of respect makes people feel judged or inferior, resulting in them keeping their opinions to themselves. Trust is at the heart of creating a safe environment.

The fourth area that contributes to psychological safety is the use of Practice Fields. Peter Senge coined this term in the 1990’s to describe one of the hallmarks of a learning organization. He made the point that unlike other fields, most businesses don’t employ practice and reflection to improve the skills of their employees. For example, what do sport teams do between games? They practice! Practice is a safe environment to learn, make mistakes, and work on skill improvement. Pilots train in simulators before flying a new aircraft. Surgeons observe, assist, and practice new procedures before leading an operation. Employing practice fields creates an environment where it is safe to learn and make mistakes without fear of being penalized.

Finally, the fifth area that contributes to psychological safety is having a Supportive Organizational Context. What does that mean? It means team members have access to resources and information to perform their best. When people have this level of freedom it reduces anxiety and defensiveness. Contrast this to being in a “need to know” environment where suspicion, tension, power, control, and territoriality are the norm. Organizations with healthy and ethical cultures of fairness and trust create the supportive mechanisms that allow people to feel safe, take risks, and innovate.

Results of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a win-win for both employees and the organization.

Safe environments allow people to seek feedback more often. Seeking feedback places a person in a position of vulnerability to hear negative criticism, however, when it is safe to do so, the sharing of feedback leads to improvements in quality and performance. Safe environments also encourage people to seek help from those who are in positions of greater power. It’s risky to ask for help from someone who judges your performance, but leaders who foster psychological safety make it easy for their team members to ask for help.

A culture of psychological safety encourages people to speak up about wrongdoing. It alleviates concerns about repercussions of calling out unethical or illegal behavior, which is critical in today’s low-trust environments of many organizations. Innovation is also a benefit of having a safe environment. Innovation is essentially about taking a risk and trying something new. It’s about offering new ideas and challenging conventional ways of thinking which can’t happen if people are afraid of being judged or punished for stepping out of line. Lastly, psychologically safe environments allow team members to work more effectively across boundaries. It increases communication and coordination with other groups in the organization. It lowers the interpersonal risk of asking for help, resources, seeking feedback, or delivering bad news.

It’s vitally important for leaders to establish environments of trust and safety so their people can step out, step up, and achieve new heights of accomplishments. It begins by being a safe leader who is trustworthy, respectful, and committed to prioritizing the well-being of his/her team members over his/her self-interest. It begins by leading with trust.

3 Things About Leadership I Learned From a 1 Hour Conversation With President Obama

This past Monday I had the great fortune of sitting in on a conversation with former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Before I sound too prideful or self-aggrandizing, let me clarify something. I was in a room with 10,000 of my not-so-closest friends, and I wasn’t actually involved in the discussion, per se. I attended the Association for Talent Development 2018 Conference and Barack Obama was the opening keynote speaker. He engaged in a conversation with Tony Bingham, the CEO of ATD, and I got to listen in. But still, the former president was relaxed, open, and made all the attendees feel like they were part of the discussion.

The conversation was wide-ranging, covering the importance of values, inclusion, learning, diversity of perspectives, and many other topics relevant to leaders today. President Obama made three points that really caught my attention:

  1. Have high expectations for your people—In his first presidential campaign, Obama’s organization was hugely successful in leveraging the talents of young people in their early to mid-20’s. The former president reflected on how they challenged these young folks to rise to the occasion, even though many of them had not yet had significant job responsibilities. The Obama campaign enlisted their support, trained them, and trusted them to do good work, and the vast majority of the time they delivered. In my experience, I’ve found it’s common for leaders to under-challenge their teams. We talk a good game about setting BHAG’s—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals—but most of the time the goals we establish are pretty modest and achievable. I was inspired to set goals that challenge my team to not only stretch, but extend themselves out of their comfort zones.
  2. Call on the outer circle—In perhaps my favorite story, Obama shared a leadership practice he developed some time during his first term in office. When the President meets with the Cabinet, seated around the table are all the heads of the various federal departments and any other senior advisers the president wants in attendance. Seated behind all the principals at the table are their respective staff members, each bearing stacks of papers, briefing books, and any other relevant reports or data needed for the meeting. President Obama routinely observed all the principals being fed information from their staffers, so he decided to start randomly calling on the “outer circle” to solicit their opinions. He said it was surprising and awkward at first, primarily for those staffers put on the spot, but he continued with the practice because it brought diverse ideas and perspectives to the discussion. This story served as a good reminder about the importance of hearing and understanding points of view different from my own. How are you doing in this regard? Are you soliciting input from the outer circle, especially people who may see things differently than you, or do you only seek the input of those who you know will agree with you?
  3. Focus on what you want to accomplish, not a position or title—A recurring theme of President Obama’s talk was being of service. He encouraged everyone to focus on the impact they want to make in their work, and not be overly focused on a particular title or role. The titles and accolades will usually come, but only after we’ve made our impact seen and known. Although he didn’t use the words servant leadership, that’s exactly what Obama described. Servant leaders put the needs of others ahead of their own and they look for ways to be of service. Being of service does not equate to being a passive or milquetoast leader. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Servant leaders see a need and take action to meet it. Servant leaders are proactive and future-focused, and they look to make the world a better place as a result of their efforts. Our culture encourages us to glory in praise, titles, and fame, but the true leaders in life are those who look to serve others as a way to fulfill their greater purpose in life.

Most of us will never achieve a position remotely as influential as President of the United States. But all of us, regardless of our station in life, can apply these three common-sense principles of effective leadership to make a small dent in our corner of the universe.

The 2 Beliefs That Derail Well-Meaning Leaders

Best-selling business author Ken Blanchard believes leadership is an inside-out proposition.

“It begins by asking yourself a tough question: ‘Am I here to serve or be served?’” he says. According to Blanchard, the answer to this question will reveal your fundamental approach to leadership.

“If you believe leadership is all about you, where you want to go, and what you want to attain, then your leadership by default will be more self-focused and self-centered. On the other hand, if your leadership revolves around meeting the needs of the organization and the people working for it, you will make different choices that will reveal a more others-focused approach.”

Blanchard believes the best leaders have a servant leadership philosophy. He explains that servant leadership requires a two-pronged approach that combines strategic leadership—vision and direction—with operational leadership—strong day-to-day management practices.

“At its core, servant leadership means that once vision and direction are set, the organizational pyramid is turned upside-down and leaders work for their people.”

There are two beliefs that can derail you from being a successful servant leader, according to Blanchard.

“One is false pride—when you think more of yourself than you should. When this occurs, leaders spend most of their time looking for ways to promote themselves. The other is fear and self-doubt—when you think less of yourself than you should. These leaders spend their time constantly trying to protect themselves.”

Surprisingly, the root cause of both behaviors is the same, explains Blanchard: “The ego. It’s just part of the human condition. Any time I hear someone say that their ego has never gotten in their way, that they are never prideful and never experience self-doubt, I usually say, half-jokingly, ‘I’ll bet you lie about other things, too.’ We all have times when we get off track.”

To help executives identify ways that ego may impact their leadership, Blanchard often incorporates an “Egos Anonymous” exercise into some of his work with clients.

“The Egos Anonymous session begins with each person standing up and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Ken, and I’m an egomaniac. The last time my ego got in the way was …’ And then they share a false pride or self-doubt moment or example.”

Egos Anonymous sessions have become so popular with executives that some use the technique to kick off meetings back at their workplace.

“They find it really helps their teams operate more freely,” says Blanchard. “It’s very powerful when people can share their vulnerability and be more authentic and transparent with one another.”

For leaders looking to get started with an inside-out approach to addressing and improving their leadership abilities, Blanchard has one final question: “What are you doing on a daily basis to recalibrate who you want to be in the world?

“Most people don’t think about that. This could include how you enter your day, what you read, what you study—everything that contributes in a positive sense to who you are.

“Consider your daily habits and their impact on your life. Take time to explore who you are, who you want to be, and what steps you can take on a daily basis to get closer to becoming your best self. Your leadership journey begins on the inside—but, ultimately, it will have a tremendous impact on the people around you.”

PS: Would you like to learn more about servant leadership principles and how to apply them in your organization?  Join Ken Blanchard for a free online event February 28.  The Servant Leadership in Action Livecast will feature more than 20 thought leaders and business executives sharing how they have successfully implemented servant leadership principles in their organizations.  The event is free, courtesy of Berrett-Koehler Publishers and The Ken Blanchard Companies.  Learn more here!

This article was authored by David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

The 1 Question All Leaders Must Ask Themselves

Are you here to serve or be served? That question gets to the heart of what motivates you as a leader.

Not to oversimplify the issue (although I’m going to!), but there are two basic kinds of leaders: those who are self-serving and those who serve others. The key difference is the mindset of the leader. The self-serving leader views her role primarily through a self-focused lens. She is motivated to lead as a means to accomplish her goals. She sees leadership as a way to obtain power, status, and influence, all valuable tools to help her make her way in the corporate world.

The serving leader, on the other hand, views her leadership as a way to help others. She is focused on facilitating the growth and success of her followers so they can accomplish their goals and those of the organization. She views her power, status, and influence as instruments to facilitate the success of others.

The majority of leaders I’ve encountered in my career have not consciously considered this question. I think it’s because most people fall into leadership positions without much forethought. They excel in their roles as individual contributors, get promoted to manager, and then learn on the job how to lead others. It’s the minority of leaders who intentionally consider this question, answer it, and pursue leadership positions with purpose and focus.

On February 28th you have an opportunity to ask yourself this question and to learn from others who have already answered it and experienced the success of servant leadership. Ken Blanchard will host the Servant Leadership in Action livecast and he’ll be joined by 20 other leadership experts who will do an in-depth examination of what it means to be a serving leader.

Our world is in desperate need of a new model of leadership. We’ve all seen the negative impacts of self-serving leaders and the harm they cause our organizations. Decades of research and experience have shown servant leadership is the way to achieve lasting success that brings out the best in people and organizations. I encourage you to attend the Servant Leadership in Action livecast and answer this question once and for all: Are you here to serve or be served?

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

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

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

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

Four Steps to Develop Inside-Out Leadership

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

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

Leading with Character – The Key to Servant Leadership

leading-jesus-wayThe following is a guest post by Mark Deterding, author of the newly released book “Leading Jesus’ Way: Become The Servant Leader God Created You To Be.

Ever wonder what makes a good leader great? The answer is character.

Character is what flows out of the heart. It is what defines us as a leader. People want to follow people they can look up to and trust. So to become an effective servant leader, we must get intentional about building character.

Personal character is the sum of all the qualities that define us as individuals and as leaders. Warren Bennis cited Harvard research that indicated as much as 85% of a leader’s performance depends on his or her character. My experience in 35 years in business tells me the same thing.

The personal character of leaders defines their depth and stability; it is what leaders are truly made of.

Recognizing Character

When you look at leaders, you see many things. You can tell easily if they are intelligent, whether they have good technical skills and how much they understand the business and the industry. What you don’t see, because it is below the surface in their heart, is their character. That’s what Dwight Moody meant when he said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

Servant leaders are defined and recognizable by their character. Servant leaders know that people will follow them only if they are trusted and trust is only developed through virtuous character.

Servant Leadership Character Traits

Key aspects of a servant leader’s heart that will separate them from the pack include:

  • A desire to serve others, above and beyond oneself
  • A desire for never-ending development of one’s ability
  • A desire to achieve one’s very best
  • A willingness to always accept responsibility for one’s actions
  • A commitment to being humble and vulnerable
  • A desire to make a positive impact on society

Issues of the heart don’t change overnight. We must first get intentional about positively developing all the areas of our character to become better servant leaders.

On-Going Development

This is not a matter that is looked at only once. It is something we must check up on from time to time. This can be done by asking others (truth tellers) what they think. But don’t just stop with the feedback – work to implement changes so you can grow and have a greater impact as a servant leader.

We can also start improving in this area from where we are today by identifying someone whose character you greatly respect. Write down what that person says or does that you admire. This will help you frame up areas that you want to focus on to enhance your trust and build your personal character.

Make the Commitment

Remember, building character and trust is a process that takes time. Make the commitment to start where you are and pray for guidance and stamina through the journey. In time, you will be blessed for your efforts, so stay the course and allow God to work through you to make an impact in this world.

Mark

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

Leaders – When Is The Last Time You Noticed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice to Leaders: Building Trust is a Journey, Not a Destination

Trust Compass“So, Randy, how long does this whole process take?”

That was a question from a senior executive with whom I was recently working. His company is proactively working to build a culture of trust and engagement, something few organizations do intentionally. Usually senior executives only start paying attention to trust when it has been broken and they’re in dire straits. This particular company is going about it the right way, taking a purposeful approach to building a high-trust organization that will continue to fuel its success well into the future.

However, his question clearly revealed his current mindset about this strategy of fostering trust and engagement. He considered it another item on the to-do list, something he would need to devote attention to for a few months and then move on to the next priority. That’s not the way it works.

Creating organizational trust and engagement is a journey, not a destination. It’s not a box you can check and say “Done!” It’s something you have to build and nurture every day of the week. It’s much more about who you are as a leader than what you do. It’s about being clear on your leadership point of view—your beliefs about leading and motivating people—and leading in a way that builds trust with others.

You’re never done building trust.

The presentation below, far from a complete treatise on the topic, lays the foundation of what it means to lead with trust. Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts about leading with trust.

5 Strategies to Cultivate a Healthy Leadership Spirit

OpennessLeading in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world takes its toll on the best of us. If we aren’t careful, the stress and difficulty of leadership can quickly become a burden that negatively shapes our perspective and causes us to lead in unhealthy ways.

Last week I wrote about five warning signs that indicate you’re leading with a wounded spirit. Those warning signs serve notice that something is off track with your inner life as a leader. They signify your values, beliefs, and attitudes have taken a negative hit from the rough experiences you’ve had, and there is a need to adjust your mindset and priorities so you can get back on track to leading at your full potential.

Even more important than recognizing the warning signs something is wrong with your inner life as a leader, is pursuing strategies to prevent yourself from running off the rails in the first place. To cultivate a fertile soil for your life as a leader, or to apply a soothing balm to your wounded spirit, try following these five strategies:

1. Live and lead for something bigger than yourself – “It’s not about you.” Rick Warren’s famous opening line of his book, The Purpose Driven Life, simply and succinctly illustrates a universal truth: your life and leadership will experience greater joy and fulfillment when you realize you aren’t the center of the universe. If your life and leadership is all about you, you have no choice but to be severely wounded by the trials of life. But if your life and leadership is driven by a higher purpose, something bigger than yourself, you are able to place the difficulties of life in proper perspective. For me, it’s my faith in Jesus that drives my leadership priorities. It’s my True North, as Bill George says, that guides the beliefs, values, and actions that help me lead in authentic ways. Identifying your higher purpose and calling is the most important strategy to ward away the debilitating effects of wounded leadership.

2. Have an abundance mentality – We have Stephen R. Covey to thank for helping us better understand the power of having an abundance mentality. As Covey explains in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, healthy leaders are others-focused and understand there is more than enough power, resources, and authority to share among everyone. As opposed to having a scarcity mentality—a perspective that information, ideas, and responsibility need to be hoarded—well-grounded leaders know they are here to serve and meet the needs of others. When the wounds of life and leadership begin to accumulate, abundance-minded leaders keep giving themselves away because they know it will come back to them tenfold.

3. Surround yourself with truth tellers – Every leader needs a few close associates who aren’t afraid to speak the honest truth. These truth tellers keep you grounded in reality and hold you accountable to living in alignment with your leadership purpose. Most of our leadership wounds are self-afflicted. Especially as we move higher up in leadership positions, we become more self-focused and less sensitive to the needs of others around us. If we aren’t careful, we begin to slowly drift off course and gradually start acting in ways counter to our ideals. Surround yourself with people who will compassionately, lovingly, yet honestly and directly, tell you the truth even if it’s difficult to hear.

4. Guard your heart – “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) As the great proverb illustrates, everything you do as a leader flows from your heart—your emotional core, spirit, or soul. There are a number of ways you can guard your heart as a leader. Beyond the five strategies listed in this article, consider these others:

  • Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people who inspire you to be your best.
  • Stay away from negative people who bring you down or detract from your leadership purpose.
  • Read books, blogs, and articles that help you grow your leadership knowledge and skills.
  • Be purposeful about identifying your leadership point of view—the values, beliefs, and ideals that define your leadership philosophy.

5. Practice forgiveness – Refusing to forgive ourselves and others keeps us mired in our leadership dysfunction. As I mentioned last week, refusing to grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die; it does nothing but harm ourselves. Forgiveness grants freedom from past hurts. It serves as a regular cleansing of our leadership wounds, keeping them from getting infected and allowing them to properly heal. Yes, wounds can leave scars, but scar tissue is stronger and more resilient. Forgiveness makes you a stronger and more resilient leader.

Leadership is a demanding enterprise that requires our very best and it’s vital to have clear strategies in place that protect you from the inevitable wounds that will come your way. Feel free to leave a comment about the strategies you employ to help you lead at your best.

2014’s Top 10 Posts: Why You Don’t Trust People, When to Fire Someone, and More

Top 10 StampIt’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

10th Most Popular Post: 10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates – Creative questions that will help you make one of the most important decisions a leader faces.

9th: Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust – Originally published in July 2011, this continues to be one of the most widely read posts on Leading with Trust.

8th: 9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go – Sometimes firing an employee is inevitable. Learn the warning signs so you can address the situation quickly and respectfully.

7th: 3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate – You need to lead with a purpose and this post will help you understand areas in your life that could benefit from some healthy pruning.

6th: 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.

5th: Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.

4th: Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value – Each day at work is an interview for you to keep your job. This post will help you understand and adapt to the reality of today’s competitive job environment.

3rd: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” – This Thanksgiving-themed post from 2013 applies year-round. Telling employees how much they are appreciated is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and high performance in your team.

2nd: Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People – Dealing with temperamental people at work can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. Learn four tips to help you deal with this challenging situation.

and the #1 Most Popular Post for 2014…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

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