Now, more than ever, leaders need to decisively and powerfully nurture trust in the workplace. Although much of what it takes to build trust is common sense, it’s not always common practice. In this short video, I share 10 practical ways leaders can immediately build trust with their teams and organizations.
Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.
The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!
My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.
I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:
- Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
- Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
- Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
- Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
- People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
- People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
- The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
- Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.
Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.
Few leaders wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I wonder how I can screw up today?” Most leaders have good intentions and earnestly try to lead in the right ways, but sometimes the actions they think are helpful to their team actually cause harm or frustration. They’re trying to lead right in the wrong ways.
Here are five common ways leaders try to do the right thing in the wrong way:
1. Valuing results at the expense of relationships—Leaders are responsible for achieving results, and a common mistake is to pursue those results at the expense of relationships. Meet the sales quota…close the deal…finish the project under budget, on time, and with top quality…all important goals to achieve in and of themselves. But how do leaders achieve them? Through the efforts of the people they lead. What good does it do to run roughshod over your people to achieve a short-term goal? It may produce immediate success but it will destroy your long-term effectiveness. Leading right in this instance means valuing results and relationships. Take care of the needs and concerns of your people and they will take care of your customers, projects, and business.
2. Treating everyone the same in order to be fair—Leaders have to balance myriad issues and one of the trickiest is treating people fairly. Playing favorites is a huge trust buster! It kills the morale of your team and makes people suspicious of your motives and decisions. One way leaders try to avoid this problem is by treating everyone the same, and quite frankly, it’s a leadership cop-out. Most leaders do this because it’s easy, expedient, and causes them fewer headaches. Leading right in this case means treating people equitably and ethically given the particular situation. Of course, there are some policies and procedures that need to be universally applied, such as health, safety, and operational business processes, but leaders have more opportunities than they realize to increase employee loyalty and engagement by treating them as individuals with specific needs rather than just another nameless face that needs to toe the line.
3. Not developing relationships in order to maintain professional distance—This can be a particular challenge for newly promoted leaders who find themselves leading people who used to be their peers. In an effort to establish leadership credibility, leaders become reticent to develop personal relationships with those they lead. This results in a lack of connection with people, lowers their trust, and reduces commitment and engagement on the job. Research has shown that one of the twelve key factors of employee work passion is “connectedness with leader.” People want to have a personal connection with their leaders. They want to know and be known. Learn what makes your people tick, what’s important to them, their hopes, dreams, and fears. Leading in this way will gain you trust, loyalty, and commitment in spades.
4. Hoarding information—Why do people hoard information? Because information is power, power is control, and leaders love to be in control. In a well-intentioned effort to maintain proper control of their team, leaders can lead in the wrong way by playing their cards too close to the vest. Lack of information sharing leads to suspicion and distrust. Leaders build trust by sharing information about themselves and the organization. On the personal side, sharing information about yourself allows you to be a little vulnerable with your people and they get to know you as a person, not just as a boss (see #3 above). Sharing information about the organization allows your people to make smart business decisions. People without information cannot act responsibly. In the absence of information people will make up their own version of the truth. However, people with information are compelled to act responsibly.
5. Micromanaging—Micromanagers are like dirty baby diapers—full of crap and all over your butt. Ironically, most leaders don’t realize they’re micromanaging. They think they’re helping someone out by telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. That’s fine when a person is first learning a task or skill, but once the person demonstrates competence and commitment in doing the work, the leader needs to back off and let the employee be in charge of the task or goal. Micromanaging competent team members kills their initiative and morale, and over time, creates a state of learned helplessness. They give up on using their brain because they know the boss is going to tell them how to do it anyway.
Most leaders have good intentions and want to lead right, but sometimes we go about it in the wrong ways. Take time to pause and think about your leadership behaviors before you jump into action. If you don’t, you might be causing more harm than good.
I have a motto when it comes to honesty and transparency at work: Spin belongs in the gym, not the workplace.
Spinning the truth is a way of shaping our communications to make our self, the company, or the situation appear better than it is in reality. It’s become so commonplace in the corporate world that many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We “spin” by selectively sharing the facts, overemphasizing the positive, minimizing the negative, or avoiding the obvious, all in an attempt to manipulate the perception of others. See if a few of these spins on the truth sound familiar:
- “We are optimizing and rightsizing our human capital.” (aka, We are eliminating jobs and laying off people.)
- “Quarterly revenue was adversely affected by marketplace dynamics.” (aka, We failed to hit our revenue goal.)
- “Brian’s strength as a salesperson is developing creative business deals and client partnerships, as opposed to the tactical elements of his role.” (aka, We can’t or don’t want to hold Brian accountable for his administrative responsibilities as a salesperson because he brings in too much revenue.)
Spinning the truth is one of the most common ways leaders bust trust. It also leads to tremendous inefficiencies because people are confused about roles, they duplicate work, balls get dropped, and people resort to blaming others. Poor morale, cynicism, and political infighting become the norm when honesty and transparency are disregarded.
There are macro-level societal events and trends driving the need for greater transparency in the workplace. We’re all familiar with the digital privacy concerns related to the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, and we’ve witnessed the corporate scandals of blatant deceit and dishonesty that’s contributed to record low levels of trust. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency—the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.
But at the individual, team, and organization levels, what can we do to build greater trust, honesty, and transparency? I have four suggestions:
- Provide access to information. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and misinformation which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.
- Speak plainly. Avoid double-speak, and reduce or eliminate the use of euphemisms such as right-sizing, optimizing, gaining efficiencies, or other corporate buzzwords. When people hear these words, their BS detectors are automatically activated. They immediately start to parse and interpret your words to decipher what you really mean. Speak plainly in ways that are easily understood. Present complicated data in layman terms and focus on having a dialogue with people, not bombarding them with facts. Our team members are big boys and girls, they can handle the truth. Be a straight-shooter, using healthy doses of compassion and empathy when delivering tough news.
- Share criteria for making decisions. When it comes to making tough decisions, I believe that if people know what I know, and understand what I understand, they will be far more likely to reach the same (or similar) conclusion I did. Even if they don’t, they will usually acknowledge the validity of my decision-making criteria and respect that I approached the process with a clear and focused direction. Unfortunately, many times leaders are afraid to share information or their decision-making criteria because they don’t want to be second-guessed or exposed to legal risk. We’ve become so afraid of being sued or publicly criticized that we tend to only share information on a “need to know” basis. Sharing information on your decision-making process will help people buy into your plans rather than second-guessing them.
- Create communication forums. A lack of communication is often the root of dysfunction in organizations. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and no one seems to take ownership of making sure people are informed. Everyone likes to blame the Corporate Communications department for the lack of information sharing in the organization, but that blame is misplaced. Let me tell you who has the big “R” (responsibility) for communication—YOU! If you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to create forums to share information with your team. Ultimately, this starts at the top. A President or CEO cannot delegate communications to some other function. It’s the top dog’s responsibility to ensure alignment all throughout the organization and the only way that starts is to frequently and openly communicate. The forums for communication are only limited by your imagination: town hall meetings, email updates, newsletters, video messages, department meetings, lunch gatherings, and team off-site events are just a few examples.
Spin is a great activity for the gym and it keeps you in fantastic shape. However, in the workplace, spin is deadly to your health as a leader. It leads to low trust, poor morale, and cynicism in your team. Keep spin in the gym and out of the workplace.
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.
Last week I shared four ways to tell if you inspire freedom or fear in your team members. You can tell you’ve created a culture of freedom in your team if you see your people taking appropriate risks, speaking truth to power, readily admitting their mistakes, and sharing their heart with you.
What if your team doesn’t display those signs? Does that mean you’ve done something wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. The more likely scenario is you just haven’t devoted intentional effort to building the culture of your team. Now that you have an idea that things could be better, here’s a way to get started fostering freedom within your team to enable them to perform at their best.
1. Be trustworthy – The bedrock of any successful leader or team is trust. As Warren Bennis said, it’s the lubrication that makes organizations work. It’s the oil that keeps your team’s engine humming at its best, and without it, your team’s production will grind to a halt. A primary component of your leadership role is to model trustworthy behavior. It sets the tone for how you expect team members to treat each other. Building trust is a never-ending quest. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a primer on being a trustworthy leader, see The ABCDs of Leading with Trust.
2. Be open – To infuse your team atmosphere with a sense of freedom, it’s imperative that you lead with a philosophy of openness. You demonstrate openness by sharing information freely because you know people need information if they are going to act responsibly in their roles. Openness also means being forthright and genuine when you share information or interact with team members. You don’t spin the truth to manipulate the way team members interpret information, but you share the truth candidly and appropriately. Openness means your team members know there are no hidden agendas with you. What they see is what they get (you’re authentic).
3. Establish clear expectations – Fostering freedom within your team doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility or accountability. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means everyone is clear on the expectations for their role. It means they clearly understand what’s in their lane and what’s not. Freedom results because within the boundaries that have been established, team members have the full reign to operate according to their best judgment. If boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, it leads to people being hesitant to act, duplication of efforts, or even worse, someone dropping the ball because they assume the other person is supposed to be responsible. Clear expectations through the use of job descriptions, establishing key responsibility areas for positions, and setting SMART goals are all ways to clarify expectations.
4. Be receptive to others – You cultivate freedom in your team by actively seeking the input of others, truly listening to their ideas, and incorporating their feedback into your decisions and action plans for the team. This isn’t the same as being open, as I mentioned above. Think of openness as what you communicate out to the team, and think of receptivity as what you take in from the team. Team members want to be invested and display a sense of ownership if only leaders will give them the opportunity. Availability is a key aspect to being receptive, because you can’t be receptive if you’re in meetings eight hours a day and never available to connect with your team members. When they do bring ideas or input to you, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t instinctively look for all the holes in their ideas, but explore ways to make their ideas (or parts of them) work.
5. Don’t micromanage – You can excel at being the most trustworthy and open leader, set clear expectations and be receptive to the input of others, but if you micromanage your team to death, freedom will never gain a foothold. Micromanagement creates discouragement and resignation on the part of team members. It beats down the spirits of your people to the point where they “quit and stay” on the job. They’re physically present but not engaged in their work. They eventually develop the attitude of just doing the minimum amount of work acceptable and nothing more. If that’s the kind of team you want, then be my guest. Micromanage away! If it’s not the type of team you want, then avoid the temptation to over control. Your team will thank you for it.
Five ways to foster freedom in your team: be trustworthy, open, establish clear expectations, be receptive to others, and don’t micromanage. By no means an exhaustive list but a good start nonetheless. Practice these big five and you’ll be on your way to developing a high performing team.
Toiling in anonymity for 364 days of the year in the far reaches of the North Pole is the highest performing team known to man. This team labors all year in preparation for the one night when their work is on display for the whole world to see. Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus and his team of elves. If there is anyone from whom you should take advice about building a high performing team, it is Santa.
Every year Santa is gracious enough to take time out of his crazy schedule to share some of his leadership wisdom with me. In previous years he’s shared five keys to effective delegation, three lessons about motivation, and the fundamentals of leadership success. In our most recent meeting, held at a local Starbucks over a hot cup of Christmas Blend coffee, Santa shared his seven secrets for building a high performing team.
Me: Hi Santa! I can’t thank you enough for meeting with me. You are always so gracious with your time.
Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy. I still owe you for that year you requested a bicycle and I delivered underwear instead. Even Santa makes the occasional mistake!
Me: No worries Santa, I really needed the underwear more than the bicycle anyway. I’ve always admired the team you’ve built at the North Pole. I can’t think of any team that performs better than yours. What is your secret?
Santa: Thanks for the compliment Randy. I wouldn’t say there is a single secret; there are seven! And they aren’t really secrets when you think about it, just common sense. The first secret of a high performing team is to have a clear purpose and values. The team needs to know why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve, and the values that will guide their actions. The team has agreed on challenging goals and deliverables that are clearly related to the team’s purpose. Each team member understands his role on the team and is accountable to other team members.
Me: I can see how that is evident in your team. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of your organization and how his/her role fits into the big picture. What is your second secret?
Santa: The second secret of a high performing team is empowerment. Each team member needs to have the responsibility and authority to accomplish his/her work. Information needs to be shared widely and team members have to be trusted to do what is right. Team members are clear on what they can or cannot do and they take initiative to act within their scope of responsibility. Empowerment is possible because of the third secret: relationships and communication. Trust, mutual respect, and team cohesion are emphasized and every team member has the freedom to state their opinions, thoughts and feelings. High performing teams emphasize listening to each other as well as giving and receiving candid, yet caring feedback.
Me: Empowerment, relationships, and communication are critical success factors for any team. What is the fourth secret of a high performing team?
Santa: The fourth secret is flexibility. Everything is interconnected in today’s global economy and change happens more rapidly than at any time in history. A high performing team has to be ready to change direction, strategy, or processes on a moment’s notice. Team members need to have a mindset of agility, knowing that change is not only inevitable but desirable.
Me: Considering your team pulls off the herculean feat of delivering presents across the world in a single night, I imagine your team has perfected the art of flexibility!
Santa: Do you know how many last-minute requests we get from children and parents around the world? Countless! Flexibility is part of our nature and it has led to us practicing the fifth secret of a high performing team: optimal productivity. The bottom-line for any high performing team is getting the job done. You have to achieve results – on time, on budget, with excellent quality. We are all committed to achieving excellence in everything we do.
Me: I know everyone appreciates you sharing all of this wisdom. How do you keep your team from burning out from all of their hard work throughout the year?
Santa: Great question! That leads to the sixth secret of a high performing team: recognition and appreciation. Our team places a high priority on celebrating our successes and milestones. We work hard but we have a lot of fun doing it! Individuals are frequently praised for their efforts and everyone feels highly regarded within the team. Rather than only focusing on catching people make mistakes, I make it a priority to catch the elves doing something right.
Me: So that brings us to the seventh and final secret of high performing teams.
Santa: That’s right. The seventh secret of high performing teams is morale. Team members are confident and enthusiastic about their work and each person feels a sense of pride in being part of the team. Team members are committed to each other’s success and to the success of the team. We fiercely protect the morale of the team by making sure we deal with conflict openly and respectfully. We may not always agree on each decision, but when a decision is made, we all agree to wholeheartedly support it.
Me: This has been a wonderful discussion Santa. You are truly a master at building a high performing team.
Santa: Thank you Randy! The credit really belongs to the entire team, not just me. We are all in this together. Merry Christmas to all!
Would your employees say their relationship with you makes them feel more powerful or powerless? Leadership – real, authentic, people-focused leadership – involves helping others discover their sources of power, not suppressing it.
So how can I…how can WE as leaders…help others find their power? I think part of the answer lies in helping our employees find autonomy and control in their work and self-confidence in their abilities. It also requires the leader to be self-assured in his/her own abilities and not afraid to give power away. It’s only by giving power away to others do we unlock our own leadership greatness.
Here are eight practical ways we can help our people move from feeling powerless to powerful:
1. Give them public opportunities to shine — It’s easy to get trapped in the daily grind and just let people toil in the shadows. Leaders should look for opportunities to sing the praises of their team members to other leaders in the organization or let them showcase their talents in cross-functional teams, projects, or public presentations.
2. Share information — It’s a cliche because it’s true; information is power. Leaders tend to withhold information because they want to retain power and control. It makes them feel valuable, needed, and in charge. However, it also creates a passive and reactive team who sits around waiting for the leader to tell them what to do rather than being assertive and proactive on their own. People without information cannot act responsibly, but people with information are compelled to act responsibly. Liberally share the information your team needs to act responsibly and watch their power and confidence rise to new levels.
3. Let them make decisions — Don’t micromanage your employees. There’s no quicker way to make people feel powerless than to rob them of their ability to make decisions over their own work. Constant micromanaging develops a mindset of learned helplessness among your employees and inhibits their ability to learn and grow in their role.
4. Ask for and incorporate their feedback into your decisions — Simply asking others for their thoughts and opinions signals that you respect what they bring to the table and you recognize that you don’t have all the answers. Contributing to decisions and the direction of the team allows your employees to feel they have power to influence their own work environment.
5. Be a straight shooter — Being evasive or vague in your communications can create the perception that you’re trying to hoard information, power, and control which leave people feeling powerless about their situation. Giving and receiving honest feedback builds trust and confidence with others because they always know where they stand with you and that gives them a measure of power and control over their current reality.
6. Give them leadership opportunities within the team — Whether it’s formal or informal, giving employees a chance to experience leadership positions is a positive step toward empowerment. I’ve seen a number of instances where someone who was thought to not be of “leadership caliber” was given the opportunity to lead and turned out to be a fantastic leader. Sometimes people just need a chance.
7. Let them fail — It’s easy to want to protect our people from failing. Whether we want to spare them from the pain or we’re reluctant to let go of control in the first place, we often don’t let our people get in situations where they have the potential to fail. Part of empowering our team members is letting go of control and allowing them to experience success and failure. Failure is a great teacher as long as we’re willing to learn, and that’s a key role of a leader – helping your people learn from their mistakes.
8. Let them clean up their own messes — Building on the previous point, when your people fail, let them pick up the pieces on their own. Don’t swoop in to pick up the pieces, no matter how tempting it is to play the role of the hero who is arriving to save the day. If you’ve given your people the responsibility and freedom to make their own decisions and succeed or fail on their own, then you need to let them figure out how to clean up the mess if they happen to fail.
It’s our job as leaders to find ways to “power-up” our employees so they gain that sense of control and ownership of their work which leads to higher levels of commitment and engagement. What are some ways you’ve helped your people develop and embrace their personal power? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent. It all depends on who you’re working with.
In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.
Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.
Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:
1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.
2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.
4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.
5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.
6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!
7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.
No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.
At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.
Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.
To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.
The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:
- Thank you.
- I understand.
- Is there more you would like to say about that?
- I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?
The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:
- Something I want you to know about me…
- Something that’s important to me is…
- Something that’s challenging for me right now is…
The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:
- Something I’ve been concerned about is…
- Something I need to say is…
- A feeling I’ve been having is…
- Something I’m afraid to tell you is…
The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:
- Something I appreciate about you is…
- Something I value about you is…
- Something I respect about you is…
The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.
As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.
In today’s fast-paced, globally-connected business world in which we live, an organization’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many organizational leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimizing risk to the organization. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organizations to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness. Here are four strategies to help in this regard:
- Encourage risk taking – Leaders need to take the first step in extending trust to those they lead. Through their words and actions, leaders can send the message that appropriate and thoughtful risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. When people feel trusted and secure in their contributions to the organization, they don’t waste energy engaging in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior and are willing to risk failure. The willingness to take risks is the genesis of creativity and innovation, without which organizations today will die on the vine. Creating a culture of risk taking will only be possible when practice #2 is in place.
- View mistakes as learning opportunities – Imagine that you’re an average golfer (like me!) who decides to take lessons to improve your game. After spending some time on the practice range, your instructor takes you on the course for some live action and you attempt a high-risk/high-reward shot. You flub the shot and your instructor goes beserk on you. “How stupid can you be!” he shouts. “What were you thinking? That was one of the worst shots I’ve seen in my life!” Not exactly the kind of leadership that encourages you to take further risks, is it? Contrast that with a response of “So what do you think went wrong? What will you do differently next time?” Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, characterizes these incidents as “learning moments,” where planning and execution come together, a result is produced, and we incorporate what we learned into our future work.
- Build transparency into processes and decision making – Leaders can create a culture of trust and openness by making sure they engage in transparent business practices. Creating systems for high involvement in change efforts, openly discussing decision-making critieria, giving and receiving feedback, and ensuring organizational policies and procedures and applied fairly and equitably are all valuable strategies to increase transparency. On an individual basis, it’s important for us leaders to remember that our people want to know our values, beliefs, and what motivates our decisions and actions. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that “People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities.”
- Share information openly – In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and mis-information which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.
Please take a moment to participate in the Leading with Trust poll that appears below. I’d like to hear your feedback on whether or not these four leadership practices are present in your organization and I’ll share the results in a future article.