Leading with Trust

5 Signs You Need Some Time Off…Stat!

Human CannonballThe start of this year had me feeling a bit like I was shot out of a cannon. BOOM!

I hit the ground running with several important projects and I haven’t stopped. Not only has the pace stayed high, but the work itself has been arduous and energy-draining.

We can sustain a high volume of work for only a certain period of time before it starts to take its toll. I’ve been noticing a few warning signs in my own attitudes and behaviors that are signaling me it’s time to rest and recuperate. If you’re experiencing these symptoms or similar ones, perhaps you need a rest too.

  1. Irritability—I’ve found myself being irritable with loved ones for no apparent reason. Things I normally wouldn’t think twice about – comments, jokes, behaviors, or even facial expressions – are causing me to react in unpleasant ways. Nothing major, but just enough for my wife to call me “Mr. Grumpy Pants.”
  2. Impatience—I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling tired or stressed I usually become impatient. I don’t have energy reserves to call on to allow me to exercise patience. I just wish people would drive faster, lines would be shorter, and people would be less bothersome to me. Sound familiar?
  3. Loss of Perspective—Sometimes I get so far into the weeds of a particular project or issue that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I find myself stressing out over every little issue and decision, when in the grand scheme of things, those things probably won’t carry much value. If you find yourself willing to fight every battle and take every hill, you’ve probably lost perspective of the big picture. We have to pick and choose our battles wisely.
  4. Tiredness and Fatigue—When I’ve had the pedal to the metal for too long, I start to run out of gas. I get to a point where I want to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock, don’t feel energized about getting into the office, and generally just want to rest. Chronic stress will lead to these symptoms and we have to be careful to know when we’re crossing the line from normal tiredness to unhealthy levels of stress.
  5. Disengagement/Lack of Motivation—Past experience has shown me that if I don’t invest in rest and recuperation, I will eventually get to the point where I just “check out.” The major warning sign to me that I’m approaching this point is when I think to myself, “I just want to be left alone!” You know how it feels when you get to this point, right? You’re tired of all the demands on your time and attention and you just want to get away from it all. That’s when you need time off of work.

There is a distinct difference between running a sprint versus a marathon. As you know, sprints are short, fast bursts of energy followed by periods of rest and recuperation. Marathons are endurance runs, with a slow and steady pace to conserve energy over the long haul. You can’t complete a marathon running at a sprinter’s pace. You have to pick one or the other. The same is true with our work. We can run sprints or marathons. We can’t do both.

If you’ve been running at a sprinter’s pace and are experiencing these symptoms or similar ones, it’s a sign you’re due for a well-deserved break. What do you say we check our calendars and plan some time off?

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.

Performance Anxiety – Not Just a Problem in the Bedroom

Performance Anxiety 2Performance Anxiety…words often reserved to describe a person’s worrisome beliefs or fears regarding their sexual performance in the bedroom is now being used to describe the same debilitating effects on performance in the workplace. That’s the message from a recent publication by Vadim Liberman of The Conference Board, detailing the “performance anxiety” that has gripped many in corporate America. Years of corporate restructuring, shuffling people between positions, adding, deleting, and modifying roles, departments, and jobs has taken its toll on people. The mantra of “doing more with less” has become the norm as business continues a slow recovery from the economic recession of the last several years. Employees who once feared losing their jobs are now feeling insecure about keeping their jobs.

Liberman’s basic point is that people are having trouble keeping up with the amount of tasks added to their plates and the pace of change occurring in their organizations. Recession-driven layoffs, restructures, and job modifications have forced people to take on extra work, new job duties, or assume different roles and it’s taking a toll. As job scope increases, people feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to accomplish, and it leads even the most engaged employees to gravitate toward focusing on the least complex, simple tasks they can control, rather than focusing on the most important and complex issues that need to be addressed.

According to Liberman, much of the fault lies at the feet of senior leaders. Whether it’s pursuing the latest management fad, reorganizing on a whim, or doing a poor job of managing change, senior leaders can be prone to lay the blame of organizational failure at the feet of employees who aren’t performing up to snuff, not taking into account those same employees are still trying to come to grips with the previous round of changes. Wharton professor Peter Cappelli says, “Today, work demands are through the roof. Not just the amount of work but challenges that employees do not know how to meet, in part because they may not be achievable.” Workplace frustration leads to insecurity which leads to a lack of trust and confidence in leadership.

I can identify with these conditions. The team I lead has experienced increased job scope and responsibilities over the years as our business has grown more complex and demanding in today’s global economy. “Task saturation” is a word we’ve used to describe this condition and the insecure, frustrated state of mind it induces. Here are six strategies I’ve found helpful to deal with this “performance anxiety” in the workplace:

1. Create a safe and trusting environment—The number one job of a leader is to build trust with his/her followers. Fostering a culture of safety is essential for trust to not only survive, but thrive. People need to know they can count on their leaders to look out for their best interests, protect them when necessary (even from themselves sometimes), and to genuinely care about them as people and not just worker drones showing up to do a job. Simon Sinek speaks to this truth in his insightful TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe.

2. Ask people for their opinions—One of the most tangible ways leaders can combat frustration and insecurity in the workplace is to ask people for their opinions. But asking is just the first step; you have to do something with what they tell you. The higher up a leader rises in the organization, the easier it is to lose touch with the daily frustrations and battles your employees face. It’s easy to oversimplify the problems and solutions our people face and dismiss their expressions of frustration as whining or griping. Listen with the intent of being influenced and be willing to take action on what you learn.

3. Start, stop, continue—As you consider your next round of corporate restructuring, job modification, or process improvements, ask yourself these three questions: What do we need to start doing? What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to continue doing? I’ve found it’s easy to keep adding new tasks while continuing to do the old tasks. It’s much, much harder to identify those things we should stop doing. We can’t continue to pile more and more work on people and expect them to perform at consistently high levels. There is only so much time to accomplish the work at hand. As an addition to the start, stop, continue strategy, I’m seriously considering adopting a strategy from the simplicity movement: for every new task I add for my team, we have to eliminate one task. Enough of task saturation!

4. Manage change, don’t just announce it—Managing a change initiative involves more than just announcing a new strategy. That’s the easy part! The hard part is actually implementing and managing the change well. People go through specific stages of concern when faced with a major change and leaders need to be equipped to address those concerns throughout the process. By addressing the information, personal, and implementation concerns of employees, leaders can be much more successful in helping their people adapt and endorse the change initiative.

5. Focus on development of boss/employee relationship—One of the primary factors in an employee’s success, satisfaction, and engagement on the job is the quality of the relationship with their boss. Intentional effort needs to be placed on cultivating high-quality boss/employee relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. Frequent and quality conversations need to occur regularly between the boss and employee so the boss is aware of the daily challenges faced by the employee and can work to remove obstacles.

6. Foster empowerment, control, and autonomy—People don’t resist change; they resist being controlled. Much of today’s workplace frustrations are caused by workers having a lack of empowerment in their role, little control over what effects them at work, and scant autonomy in how they perform their tasks. Leaders can build engagement by focusing on the development of these three qualities in the work people do.

Performance anxiety in the workplace is like organizational high blood pressure—it’s a silent killer. This silent killer is not always evident through outward symptoms, but it’s always lurking underneath causing damage day after day. We have a choice…will we do anything about it?

Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People

Walking on EggshellsHunting for hidden eggs is one of the great traditions of celebrating Easter. The fun and excitement of finding eggs can be tempered by the prospect of accidentally stepping on and breaking those delicate treasures. As a result, you end up cautiously tip-toeing through the hunt, afraid to move too fast or take any chances. After a while it takes the fun out of the whole experience.

Walking on eggshells around temperamental people at work takes all the fun out of your job. We’ve all probably had the experience of knowing or working with someone who blows up without any warning or at the slightest provocation. It can be intimidating to work with someone like this, and if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to get trapped in relating to this person in unhealthy ways. You can find yourself constantly bowing to this person’s wishes, avoiding the person, or actually believing you’re at fault for this person’s reactions.

Here are four suggestions to help you deal with this kind of situation:

1. Realize it’s not you – Your behavior isn’t the problem. The problem is the emotional instability of the other person. You are not responsible for how another person reacts, even if they blame you for their behavior (e.g., “You make me so mad!”). The truth is that each of us has to take responsibility for our own behavior, not that of other people.

2. Don’t cater to their demands – There is a reason the U.S. government has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and it should also be your policy with the office tyrant. Negotiating or catering to the demands of someone does nothing to change their behavior over the long-term and only works against you. They get what they want by having you modify your behavior to suit their needs and you get nothing…except walking on eggshells.

3. Set and maintain boundaries – Healthy boundaries are the key to relating to difficult people at work. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat for them. It’s completely appropriate for you to set boundaries with difficult people, and most importantly, consistently maintain those boundaries. It will likely mean some uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations with the offending party.

4. Seek help if needed – Handling this kind of situation directly with the other person will often solve the issue, but sometimes you may need to call in reinforcements. Don’t hesitate to ask your manager to help address the problem. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you weak and sometimes the offending party won’t change his/her ways until the boss addresses the problem.

Three Critical Skills for Managing the Overextended Workforce

DoingMoreWithLess“Doing more with less.” I cringe whenever I hear that phrase because it feels so punitive and unsupportive, and if you’re a leader, I suggest you completely eliminate that phrase from your vocabulary. Whenever you utter those words to your team, your people feel like you don’t understand their circumstances and it erodes trust and confidence in your leadership. They think you just don’t get it.

I’ve found three strategies helpful in dealing with the challenge of doing more with less:

1. Communicate the reality to your team – Share all the information you have about your business, including the good, bad, and ugly. Let people know what’s going on. Information is viewed as power, and if you withhold it from your people, they view you with suspicion and think you’re untrustworthy and power-hungry. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act in the best interests of your organization.

2. Create a high-involvement strategy – If you’re sharing information with your team, the next step is to solicit their involvement in helping solve your business challenges. Ask for their ideas and gather their input. Who knows better how to solve your pressing business issues than the people who are doing the work on the frontlines? There is an old saying that goes “People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” Get your people working with you, not against you.

3. Dial up support for your people – Listening is a great first step in letting people know you care. Take time to understand their frustrations and challenges so you can make better informed decisions. Another way to support your people is to jump in the trenches with them and help them get the work done. Why do you think the President always tours disaster areas, picks up a shovel, and helps workers for a period of time? He does that to send the message that we’re all in this together and he’s not too busy to lend a hand. Being visible and present is key to supporting your team. There’s no way your team is going to follow you if you’re missing in action when the bullets are flying.

On Wednesday, May 8th, 9:00-10:30 a.m. PST, I’ll be one of three speakers conducting an online workshop on this topic of “doing more with less” and managing the overextended workforce. Motivation expert Susan Fowler will be speaking on “Motivating Yourself and Your Team During Stressful Times” while leadership speaker Ann Phillips will address “What Leaders Can Do To Recognize and Head-Off Employee Meltdowns.” I’ll share “How to Become the Kind of Leader that Others Trust.” I hope you’ll be able to join us!

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Seven Gifts for Every Leader This Christmas

Gift BoxSanta is making his list and checking it twice. He’s going to find out which leaders have been naughty or nice. Actually, I think any person willing to step into a position of leading and managing others deserves whatever he/she wants for Christmas! (Try selling that to your spouse or significant other and see how far it gets you!)

If I were to play Santa at the office Christmas party, I’d give the following gifts to leaders:

1. A Sense of Humor – I’ve noticed that a lot of leaders have forgotten how to have a good time at work. Managing people can be quite stressful and it’s easy to get focused on all the problems that have to be solved and the fires that need putting out. This Christmas I would give every leader a healthy dose of fun and laughter as a reminder that you should take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Play a practical joke on your staff, send a funny joke via email, or even better, laugh at yourself the next time you goof up in front of your team. You’d be amazed how a little bit of levity can go a long way toward improving the morale and productivity at work.

2. The Chance to Catch Someone Doing Something Right – Too often we’re on the lookout for people making mistakes and overlook all the times that people are doing things right. Of the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with over the years, not once have I had one say “If my boss praises me one more time I’m going to quit! I’m sick and tired of all the positive feedback I’m getting!” Unfortunately the opposite is true. Most workers can recall many more instances where their mistakes have been pointed out rather than being praised for doing good work. Be on the lookout this holiday season for someone doing something right and spread a little cheer by praising them.

3. An Opportunity to Apologize – Despite our best leadership efforts, there are bound to be times where we make mistakes and let people down. One of the surefire ways to lose trust with people is failing to admit your mistakes or not apologize for a wrong you’ve committed. Take some time this holiday season to examine your relationships to see if there is someone to whom you need to apologize. If so, don’t let the opportunity pass to repair your relationship.

4. A Challenge to Overcome – A challenge to overcome? Why would that be considered a gift? Well, my experience has shown that the times I’ve grown the most as a leader is when I’ve had to deal with a significant challenge that stretched my leadership capabilities and forced me to grow out of my comfort zone. I would bet dollars to donuts (and would be happy losing because I LOVE donuts) that your experience is similar. Challenges are learning opportunities in disguise and it’s these occasions that shape us as leaders.

5. Solitude – Everything in our society works against leaders being able to experience regular solitude in their lives. Technology allows us to always be connected to work which is just one click or touch away. If we aren’t careful it can begin to feel like we’re “on” 24/7. Regular times of solitude helps you recalibrate your purpose, relieve stress, and keep focused on the things that are most important in your life and work.

6. A Promise to Fulfill – Keeping a promise is an opportunity to demonstrate your trustworthiness. The best leaders are trust builders, people who are conscious that every interaction with their employees is an opportunity to nurture trust. This gift comes with a caveat – don’t make a promise that you can’t or don’t intend to keep. Breaking promises is a huge trust buster, and if done repeatedly, can completely destroy trust in a relationship.

7. Appreciation – Leadership is a noble and rewarding profession, yet leaders can go through long stretches of time without hearing a word of thanks or appreciation for their efforts. I would give every leader the gift of having at least one encounter with an employee who shares how much he/she has been positively impacted by the leader and how much the leader is appreciated by his/her team.

There are many more gifts that I’d love to give, but like most of us, I’m on a budget this year. However, I’m curious to know what other gifts you’d give to leaders if you were playing Santa. Feel free to leave a comment with your gift ideas!

Are You Suffering from FOMO? Five Steps to Restore Margin in Your Life

I was feeling stressed and overloaded last week. I had too many important things to do and the lack of margin (time & space) in my life was causing tension and anxiety.

There was the training class I was observing and co-facilitating, the important meetings with colleagues to figure out solutions to significant organizational change issues, last-minute details to iron out for my global team meeting of 50 staff members next week, the online college class I’m in the middle of teaching, the pending deadline for a magazine article, an upcoming client training event to prepare for, and as President of my local youth baseball league, getting a season’s worth of games scheduled and helping my 19 year-old son get the snack bar operation up and running.

It’s all good stuff that I enjoy doing and feel blessed to have the opportunity to participate in, and I have no right to complain since I made the choice to accept these various responsibilities. Many of these obligations are temporary, and once taken care of, I’ll have a healthy amount of margin restored to my life. Yet for many people, living life with no margin is a daily reality. Consider these statistics:

  • 26% of adult Americans report being on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown
  • 53% of employees would opt for a personal assistant rather than personal trainer
  • Compared to 1970, American managers are working an additional month per year
  • Americans are working more hours than any time since the 1920s. 63% of Americans log more than 40 hours per week at the office, and 40% log more than 50 hours per week
  • 62% of workers routinely end the day with work-related neck pain, 44% report strained eyes, 38% complain of hand pain, and 34% report difficulty in sleeping due to work-related stress
  • 66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day
  • 61% continue to check email while on vacation
  • 26% of Americans take no vacations at all
  • 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life
  • 70% of working fathers and working mothers report they don’t have enough time for their children

The sad thing is that many of us bring this problem on ourselves. The reason we have no margin in life is that we suffer from FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. Whether it’s our own competitive ambitions, workaholic nature, or the fear of economic uncertainty that drives us, we often feel the need to accept every opportunity that comes our way.

One of the biggest causes of FOMO is social media and our hyper-connected world of technology. I’m an advocate of the power of social media and the use of technology to improve our lives, yet it also has the ability to become a digital leash to work and rob us of margin. Daniel Gulati’s HBR blog article, Facebook Is Making Us Miserable, discusses how social media can create a culture of comparison which is a key driver of unhappiness. We see the posts  of our friends and colleagues (which are almost always positive in nature) and feel that if we aren’t experiencing the same level of success or happiness then something must be wrong with us. So FOMO drives us to keep up with the Jones’ and we cram more stuff into our already hectic lives.

Succumbing to the dangers of FOMO reminds me of the airplane scene from the movie Jerry Maguire. Single-mother Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) is in coach-seating, sadly gazing at Jerry (Tom Cruise) in first-class who is engaged in spirited conversation with a beautiful woman colleague who seems to have everything in life that Dorothy doesn’t. Dorothy’s toddler son asks “What’s wrong, Mommy?” She replies “First class, that’s what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal, now it’s a better life.”

So what can we do to help restore margin in our lives? Here’s five steps:

1. Be clear on your purpose and priorities — If you don’t have a clear purpose and priorities that guide your decisions, then other people will determine your course for you. Our current position and condition in life is the result of a series of small decisions we’ve made over the course of time. Sometimes there are big, life-changing experiences that cause stress and anxiety, but usually our feelings of being overloaded result from the accumulation of little commitments and obligations we’ve taken on without thoughtfully examining if they fit into our overall purpose and goals in life.

2. Say “no” — This is extremely difficult for many people! Most of us want to be helpful and serve others, yet every time we say “yes” to something, we are in effect saying “no” to other potential opportunities. Sometimes we say “yes” out of ego or pride. We think we can do the best job so we take on the responsibility. Saying “no” to opportunities that don’t fit your overall purpose and goal can give other people an opportunity to step up to the plate and experience growth and success.

3. Learn to be content with your limitations — We all like to think we can do anything we set our mind to, and it’s almost counter-cultural to suggest otherwise. The reality is that we can’t do it all. Those who are happiest in life are those that have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are, and to focus their time and energy in areas where they perform best. There’s a tremendous amount of relief that comes from being able to say “You know, I’m not the best at doing that. Why don’t you give someone else the opportunity?”

4. Plan for problems — One of the reasons we are over-stressed is that we don’t plan for problems. So when problems inevitably arise, we don’t have any margin to deal with them. We’re always under the stress of deadlines, limited budget, and few resources. When accepting responsibilities, we should plan for contingencies. What if it takes longer than expected? What if I don’t have all the right resources? What if the budget dries up? What if the client changes her mind?

5. Take your vacation days — This may sound mundane, but it’s a practical strategy to prevent burnout. If you’re fortunate enough to have paid vacation days, take them! Vacation days are part of your paid compensation, and neglecting to use them is giving away money that you’ve earned. You don’t have to wait for that dream vacation to the Italian Riviera to manifest itself before you take time off work. Make the effort to intentionally plan time away, and when you do go on vacation, leave the smart phone and laptop at home.

Relationships are developed in the margins of life, and leadership is about developing people. If you don’t have margin, you probably don’t have time to be a leader.

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