Leading with Trust

5 Leadership Lessons From a 100 Mile Bike Ride

Bike RidersYesterday I completed my first “century” (100 miles) bike ride…101.38 miles to be exact, but who’s counting? I took up cycling as a casual hobby a couple of years back, riding 10-30 miles at a time. Wanting to ride faster and farther, I purchased my first road bike 7 months ago and decided to set a goal for myself: complete a century ride sometime in the next year. Throughout the process of achieving my goal of completing a century ride, there were a few leadership lessons that emerged that may be helpful to you in your ongoing leadership journey.

1. You have to put in the training – In January I joined a training group sponsored by my local Trek bicycle store. Over the last 14 weeks we’ve completed a series of training rides over progressively more difficult terrain and distances, all working toward the goal of completing a century ride. Without this training I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish my goal. It prepared me physically and mentally to tackle the challenge of riding 100+ miles in a single day.

Becoming an effective leader requires training as well. Most people in leadership positions were promoted into their role because they were standout performers in their particular area of expertise as individual contributors. People leadership is a whole different ballgame that requires a different set of skills. You need a combination of formal and informal training as well as mentors to show you what it means to be a good leader.

Before training for my century ride I already knew how to ride a bike. I had even rode distances of 40-50 miles on my own. But I had never ridden in large groups, rode in a peloton, worked in rotating pace lines, or knew the in’s and out’s of proper nutrition and hydration on long rides. The proper training equipped me to achieve my goal. Don’t neglect your training as a leader. It’s essential to become the kind of leader others want to follow.

2. Pace yourself, it’s a long ride – Thinking about riding 100 miles can be overwhelming, especially when you look at the terrain on a map and see 5,000+ feet of climbing over the course of your ride. However, it seems much more manageable when you break it into four rides of 25 miles each. We had planned rest stops along the course where we could catch our breath, grab a bite to eat, and recharge our batteries for the next leg ahead.

Bike Riders 2Leadership requires you to have a long view of success. You can’t judge success solely on short-term results; you have consider long-term effectiveness. It’s tempting for leaders to rely on command and control leadership. “Do what I say and do it now!” We want results and it seems like the easiest and quickest way is to tell people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. However, that will only yield short-term results. Long-term success is achieved by developing your team members to have the skills and abilities to achieve success even when you’re not there to guide them. That takes time and patience on your part as a leader.

3. Rely on your team members to help share the load – It can be up to 30% more efficient to ride in a peloton than it is to ride on your own. A core component of completing a group century ride is learning how to share the workload among everyone. Riders take turns riding at the front of the peloton, absorbing the brunt of the headwind so that everyone behind can pedal a little easier and conserve energy. After a few minutes in front, the lead rider drops to the back of the line and enjoys the benefits of the peloton while another rider takes a turn in front.

We like to make successful leaders out to be icons of individualism and self-achievement. The truth is that leadership is a team sport. Leaders are only as successful as the people on their team. If you want to be a great leader, surround yourself with smart, trustworthy, capable people. Give them the needed tools, training, and resources and let them do their thing. You’ll notice that your job as a leader becomes a whole lot easier and you can accomplish much more together than you could on your own.

4. Endure – 100 miles is a long way! My average speed of 15.1 mph meant I was in the saddle for 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 13 seconds to be exact, but once again, who’s counting? (Obviously I am!) When you factor in times for rest stops and mechanical fixes, the entire day of riding was 8.5 hours. I’ve been experiencing tendonitis in my right knee the last several weeks and I battled it during much of my ride yesterday. However, the combination of prayer, ibuprofen, Bengay pain relief cream, and a jolt of energy from a tasty Snickers candy bar enabled me to push through even though I had lost all strength in my knee over the last 10 miles of the ride.

Our leadership journeys are the same way. The daily fire fighting we experience combined with the long-term pressures of leading teams and organizations takes its toll. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have anything left to give, but we dig down a little deeper and we keep on keeping on. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to rekindle your leadership spirit. Take those vacation days, attend conferences, read new books, seek inspiration from mentors, and practice times of solitude and reflection…whatever it takes to keep you energized for the journey ahead.

5. Celebrate wins along the way – Part of what makes it possible to endure climbing up a long mountain hill is knowing you’ll get to celebrate the reward of going down the opposite side. We also had a few friends and family members who positioned themselves along the course and cheered us on as we rode past which was great encouragement. And of course, I knew my wife had a great celebration dinner planned with our family that made the finish line seem just a little closer and attainable.

It’s easy to get burned out so it’s important to celebrate your leadership wins on a regular basis. It’s even more important for your team. Your people need to experience your leadership as more than just slave driving or a constant focus on results. That wears thin after a while and eventually you’ll lose the commitment of your team. Be intentional about planning celebrations, whether it’s as simple as a potluck lunch or extravagant as an offsite team building event. Your team will appreciate the consideration and will reward you with higher and sustained performance.

P.S. By the way, May is National Bike Month in the United States, so if it has been a while since you’ve experienced the joy of riding a bike, pull yours out of the garage and go for a little spin.

Duke’s Coach K’s Secret to Leadership Success

In the spirit of March Madness and taking the Easter holiday off from writing a new post, enjoy this article originally written in November 2011. It’s about Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the role trust plays in his success as a leader. Coach K has since amassed nearly 1,000 wins in his career and tomorrow night will play for a chance to win his fifth national title.

November, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Surefire Ways to Shatter Your Team’s Trust, Just Like the Chicago Bears

Bears OC Aaron Kromer

Aaron Kromer, Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator

A season that started with Super Bowl aspirations has devolved into one of dysfunction and disappointment for the Chicago Bears football team. The team hasn’t performed up to expectations, coaches and players seem to be at odds with each other, and an incident last week involving one of the Bears coaches brought everything to a head.

Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer publicly criticized quarterback Jay Cutler in an interview with a reporter. Though he subsequently apologized to Cutler and the team, only time will tell if this brings the team closer or pulls them further apart. However, the events with the Bears demonstrate four surefire ways to shatter your team’s trust in your leadership:

1. Talk behind people’s backs—Speaking negatively about someone to another person shows tremendous disrespect to the person you’re speaking about and a lack of integrity on your part. It not only erodes trust with the person you’re talking about, it causes distrust with the person to whom you’re speaking—“I wonder what he says about me when I’m not around?” The old adage “if you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything at all” is a good one to abide by. Even better, if you have something critical to say about someone, say it to that person. Muster up the courage to have those difficult conversations with the person involved and you’ll probably feel less frustrated and inclined to vent to other people.

2. Call team members out in public—Some leaders think by calling someone out in public it will motivate that person to perform better. It might work for a short while, but it only leads to resentment and bitterness and eventually performance will decline. No one wants to work for a leader who is willing to embarrass them in public. Team members want leaders who support them, encourage them, and have their back when times get tough. That doesn’t mean ignoring poor performance, coddling people, or not holding them accountable to high standards. It means leading them—setting goals, teaching, training, coaching, evaluating—not belittling and criticizing people. Remember, it’s better to reprimand in private and praise in public.

3. Don’t hold people accountable—It erodes the trust of good performing team members when they see their leader not holding poor performers accountable. In the case of the Bears, head coach Marc Trestman has repeatedly said Kromer’s behavior is being addressed and “handled internally.” Only those in the Bears organization know what that involves, but it’s important that team members see accountability being lived out within the life and culture of the team. The bottom-line is that holding team members accountable—in respectful, dignified, and equitable ways—is critical to maintaining high levels of trust within the team. Without accountability, team members feel as if “anything goes” and leads them to question who’s really in charge.

4. Fail to communicate openly—One of the most important truths I’ve learned in my leadership career is people deserve candid, yet caring feedback about their performance. Frequent, open, and trusted communication between the leader and team member is imperative to building and sustaining trust. If you are willing to communicate openly with a team member about something as important and personal as his/her performance, that person knows they can trust you to communicate openly and honestly about other areas of your leadership. Communication is a primary vehicle of transmitting trust. Openly and willingly sharing information about yourself, the organization, and the work of the team are all important ways to build trust.

Coach Kromer did the right thing by apologizing for his behavior. He recognized what he did was wrong and he addressed it with the people involved. Head Coach Marc Trestman seems to be trying to navigate this situation appropriately, a challenge in and of itself considering he’s operating under the spotlight of constant media attention. These events provide a lesson for all of us leaders about how easy it is to erode trust with team members through thoughtless words and careless actions.

3 Leadership Lessons from LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland

LeBron James

Over the last few weeks, fans of the NBA, and sports fans in general, have been eagerly awaiting the news of where LeBron James will be playing basketball next season. He chose to opt-out of his contract with the Miami Heat at the conclusion of this past season, and speculation has run rampant about whether he would stay in Miami or return to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he began his career 11 years ago, drafted #1 into the NBA as a 19 year-old kid just out of high school. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you know the decision: LeBron is going home to Cleveland.

James’ decision to return to Cleveland, presumably where he will finish his career, presents some interesting leadership lessons:

1. Move from success to significance – LeBron James left Cleveland 4 years ago in pursuit of success and he found it in Miami, winning 2 NBA titles and 2 league MVP’s. Despite that success, something was missing: significance. In his book, Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance, Bob Buford says at some point in life (often around middle age) you will have to transition from the struggle for success to the quest for significance. We spend the first half of our life striving to earn more money, get a better title, or gain more possessions. Despite our success, we begin to question the lasting value of our accomplishments and our desires turn toward wanting to leave a lasting legacy. James recognizes this is his opportunity for significance. It’s his chance to influence other players, the city, and the state. James said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” The transition from success to significance also involves the identification of what brings you true joy and happiness. James said it simply about why he is returning to Cleveland: “This is what makes me happy.”

2. Serve others and something greater than yourself – Part of moving from leadership success to significance is realizing leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you influence. LeBron James has grown to realize this truth. He said, “I know that I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.” Leadership is more than a job; it’s a calling. It’s a sacred opportunity to help other people grow into their full potential and achieve more than they could on their own. James said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”

3. Leadership wisdom involves learning the lessons of past experiences – When LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland four years ago, he made the announcement in an over-hyped ESPN television special called “The Decision.” He announced that he was “taking his talents” to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. People in Cleveland burned his jersey in effigy, called him a traitor (and much worse), and the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letter to the public where he described James as “narcissistic” and his decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal.” James has learned from his experiences and grown as a person and a leader. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently,” he said. “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. Without the experiences I had there (Miami), I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.” LeBron has also learned that leadership wisdom involves recognizing the mistakes you make and working to repair them. Regarding his relationship with Gilbert he said, “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron James entered the NBA with ridiculously high expectations, as evidenced by the moniker assigned him: The Chosen One. Being born in Akron, OH, he was Cleveland’s native son, the savior of the franchise, and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan as the world’s greatest basketball player. In spite of the unreal expectations placed on him and the inevitable bumps in the road he’s experienced, James has seemed to grow into a more self-assured leader who has gained clarity on his purpose on and off the court. That’s a worthy goal for leaders everywhere.

Tony Gwynn – 4 Lessons Beyond the Baseball Field

Tony GwynnTony Gwynn passed away today at the young age of 54 after battling salivary gland cancer the last few years. Tony was an inspirational role model to me. It wasn’t so much what he accomplished that inspired me…although his accomplishments are mind boggling…but how he went about it. Tony was always low-key and understated, never self-promoting, yet the consummate professional. I always admired how Tony handled himself, not just as a player, but as a man.

While in high school I followed Tony’s career at San Diego State University, where he was an All-America athlete in both basketball and baseball. I graduated high school in 1984, Tony’s first full season in the majors and the year he helped lead the San Diego Padres to their first World Series appearance. It was a magical time in San Diego and was the beginning of a love affair between Tony and the city. I, like so many other people, grew from childhood to adulthood watching Tony play baseball for the hometown team.

Tony went on to become the premier hitter of his generation and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. As a youth baseball coach for 15 years, Tony was my constant example to the kids of how to play the game the right way. I always told my players that one of the reasons I love the game of baseball is that it teaches so many life lessons. The long season, full of highs and lows, is a metaphor for our experiences in life. Tony taught me a number of lessons that I’ve tried to apply in my work and life:

  • Approach  your work as a craftsman – Tony was a master craftsman when it came to hitting a baseball. It was both an art and science to him and he studied it endlessly. Tony was a pioneer in the use of video to study his own at-bats as well as opposing pitchers. Tony has inspired me to approach my own career as a craftsman. Every day is an opportunity to improve my craft. Tony once said that “You can’t live on what you did yesterday. You have to go out and prove yourself every day.”
  • Show loyalty – Tony spent his entire 20 year career with Padres, a rarity in today’s world of superstar athletes auctioning their services to the highest bidding team. Tony knew what he wanted, where he wanted to live and raise his family, and he placed a higher priority on those goals than simply making a buck. Loyalty breeds trust, and Tony was trusted to always be loyal. He’s called “Mr. Padre” for a reason.
  • Be dedicated – Of course Tony is known as a great hitter, and rightly so. He was so dedicated that he would hit thousands of balls off a tee to hone the mechanics of his swing. But Tony also became a very good outfielder because of his dedicated work habits. He wanted to be known as an excellent defensive player and he worked hard at it, eventually winning five Gold Glove awards. Although he wasn’t blessed with outstanding arm strength or range in the field, Tony made up for it with expert positioning in the field and knowledge of opposing hitters. Tony displayed his dedication by working endless hours, always on a quest to be the best player he could be.
  • Have fun – Tony loved to play. He enjoyed the process of playing baseball, from practice, to the actual game, to post-game film breakdown, it was all fun to Tony. Tony always had a smile on his face and a laugh to share. His joyful, positive approach to life was the perfect antidote to a game predicated on failure. Even during his cancer treatments in the last few years of his life, he always had a positive outlook that tomorrow would be a brighter day

Tony was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, an honor worthy of being this generation’s greatest batsman. Today, Tony joined the eternal hall of fame, an honor worthy of a man who lived his life as a positive role model to me and so many others.

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