Leading with Trust

4 Ways to Get Your Followers to Know You as a REAL Person

keep it realIf you’re a leader, particularly in a large organization, the chances are your people don’t see you as a real person. They have a mental image of what they perceive you to be like, not who you actually are, says research by Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin.

This mental image is formed through random encounters with you such as emails, videos, speeches, meetings, and stories about you shared by others. Washburn and Galvin say employees follow four basic rules when forming a perception about their leaders:

  1. They judge a book by its cover. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we all tend to do the same thing. We take whatever limited information we may have and draw a conclusion of what it means.
  2. Employees look for answers to specific questions like: Does the leader care about me personally? Have high standards? Offer an appealing vision of the future? Seem human in a way I can relate to?
  3. People prefer the answers to these questions in a form of a story. Stories help string together and make sense of the limited facts at their disposal.
  4. Trustworthiness is the key factor employees pay attention to in the stories about their leaders and they tend to disregard the rest.

To effectively get people to follow you and rally around the goals you want them to achieve, you have to earn their trust. You also have to let them know you mean them no harm; you are behind them, supporting them, and have their best interests in mind. In order to get them to know you for who you are, you have to be REAL: reveal, engage, acknowledge, and listen.

  • Reveal information about yourself—Leaders often withhold information about themselves because they believe they have to maintain a safe distance from their employees; they can’t be friends. I believe that principle is misguided. As research shows, people want to have authentic relationships with their leaders. They want to know the person behind the title, and sharing information about yourself is a primary way to accomplish that goal.
  • Engage employees as individuals—Every employee wants to be seen and known as an individual and not just a number showing up to do a job. Knowing your employees on an individual level gets harder to accomplish the higher you move in the organization. It’s simply a matter of too many people to spend time with and not enough time to do it all. But it’s doable if you have a plan. Get out of your office and walk the hallways. Peek into cubicles and offices and ask team members how they’re doing. Inquire about how their kids are doing and what’s exciting in their lives outside of work. Be a guest attendee at department and team meetings so employees get some face-time with you and can relate to you in a small group setting. The more you can engage people on an individual level, the more they’ll understand you care about them on a personal level.
  • Acknowledge employee contributions—When I conduct training classes on building trust, I’ll often ask the group to respond to this statement: “Raise your hand if you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive at work.” No one ever raises their hand. People are starving for acknowledgement of their efforts and contributions, and you would be amazed at how much trust you can build by authentically acknowledging your employees. Leadership and management guru Ken Blanchard has said that if he could choose one lasting legacy of his work, it would be the philosophy of “catching people doing something right.” Authentic praise and recognition unlocks commitment, engagement, and passion in your team’s performance.
  • Listen to learn—Too often leaders think and act like they are the smartest person in the room. Thinking and acting that way leaves little room for you to learn from the people who usually know the most about what’s happening on the front lines of your business. When you have the chance to interact with employees, spend more time listening than you do talking, and look for ways to incorporate their feedback in your decisions and plans. The simple act of listening is a big trust booster in relationships because it signals to the other person that what they have to say is important, you care, and you value what’s being communicated.

Work, and life, seems to move at a frenetic pace these days. There are always urgent and important matters to deal with and it’s incredibly easy to develop tunnel-vision in regards to our projects and lose sight of our people. All of us leaders need to remember that our actions are under a microscope, and our people develop perceptions of our leadership through random bits of information that comes their way. We can’t lose sight that a fundamental element of successful team performance is developing personal and authentic relationships. A great way to do that is to show our people that we are REAL.

Try This One Simple Method to Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

goalLet me go out on a limb here. You’re probably reading this article because you’re contemplating resolutions you’re going to set for the New Year, right? You don’t have much confidence in keeping your resolutions because you’ve failed repeatedly in the past (surveys show only 8% of people keep their resolutions), so you’re looking for some game-changing advice.

Or maybe you’re thinking about the goals you’ve set for your team or organization and you’re stressed out about how you’re going to actually achieve them. If your experience is similar to mine, you’ve set goals for the year only to look back twelve months later to realize what you accomplished bears little resemblance to what you set out to do. For most of us the challenge is not in setting goals. I mean, we’ve got a ton of projects and priorities on our plates. We’ve got goals aplenty! The difficulty lies in prioritizing goals and staying on track to get them accomplished.

There’s a better way to work toward achieving your goals and it’s called the Six by Six Plan – the six most important priorities you need to accomplish over the next six weeks. It’s a method of goal prioritization and execution I learned from Bill Hybels.

It starts with asking yourself one critically important and fundamental question: What is the greatest contribution I can make to my team/organization in the next six weeks?

In answering that question, consider the decisions, initiatives, or activities for which only you can provide the energy and direction. You will likely generate dozens of items on your list that will need to be whittled down to the six that require you to take the lead in order to deliver the most impact.

There is nothing magical in having six priorities over six weeks. What’s important is having a manageable number of goals to accomplish over a relatively short time period. It needs to be a few goals that allow you to keep your energy high and a short enough time period that creates a sense of urgency. Setting big, broad goals for the year is like running a marathon. It’s too tempting to get overwhelmed, distracted, or lose energy on goals that seem so distant. It’s much easier to run a series of sprints by focusing on just a few key priorities for a short amount of time.

I think it’s important to emphasize the 6×6 method is a helpful tool for goal prioritization and execution. It’s not a way to set goals, which is an art and science unto itself. Check out this YouTube video of Bill Hybels describing the Six by Six Plan. Hopefully you’ll find it as helpful as I did.

(I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.)

Too Many Priorities? 3 Tips to Focus on What Matters Most

overwhelmed-350x350Do you feel like you have too many priorities to accomplish at work? Yeah, me too. It seems to be all the rage these days, although I think most of us would rather not be part of this popular cultural trend. Most professionals I speak with struggle with the same sort of issues: the rapid pace of change, tight organizational budgets that force us to do more with less, and trying to encourage the growth and development of our team members in flat organizations with limited mobility.

I took on an increased scope of responsibility this year, and as the year winds down and I reflect on how I invested my time and energy, I’ve realized my focus was diffused over too many competing priorities. It left me a bit unsatisfied with my level of effectiveness, so I want to enter 2017 with a renewed focus on channeling my efforts into the most important activities that will drive the highest levels of impact.

If you find yourself in the same boat as me, then maybe you can benefit from the following three steps I’m going to take to renew my focus in the coming year:

Acknowledge you’re not serving yourself or your team—It took me awhile to recognize this truth. I kept expecting the white water of change to smooth out at some point, and when that happened, I’d be able to refocus and feel more in control of my efforts. News Flash—change isn’t going to stop! The constant pace of change makes it even more important to be crystal clear on your top priorities. Having a fewclear priorities gives you the flexibility to deal with new ones as they arise without causing you to drown in a sea of work. You, and your team, deserves your full attention and focus. Taking on too much dilutes your leadership effectiveness.

Assess where to focus your energy—We need to focus our leadership on the most important areas that will have the greatest impact on our teams and organizations. Looking at importance and impact through the lens of a 2 x 2 grid can help us decide which priorities deserve our focus.

Obviously, our primary focus should be on those initiatives that are of the highest importance and carry the most impact. A prerequisite is to first determine what important and impact means for your particular situation. Your definition of important and impact will likely differ from mine depending on the needs of your team or organization. But whatever activities qualify for this quadrant, that’s your sweet spot. That’s where you add the most value as a leader.

The opposing quadrant, low importance/low impact, are activities you need to discard or delegate. Those are the projects that don’t warrant your time and attention. Getting rid of these activities can be challenging. They may be something you personally enjoy doing, are impact-vs-importancefun, and may have even served an important purpose at one time. If these activities still carry a modicum of importance and impact, delegate them to someone who can make them his/her primary focus. If not, jettison them. They’re holding you back.

The toughest ones to figure out are the other two quadrants: high impact/low importance and high importance/low impact. These require analysis and decision-making. If the activity provides a high level of impact, but isn’t that important, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. To help you make a decision, estimate the return on investment if you devote your energy to this activity. If the ROI is there (the impact makes it worth doing), delegate it to someone who can make it a primary focus. If the ROI isn’t there, discard it.

If an activity is important but carries low impact, it’s likely something that isn’t urgent but needs attention at some point in time. Prioritize these activities, get them scheduled out, and/or assign them to someone else to manage. These activities are important, but you have to keep your primary focus on those activities that are of higher importance and carry greater impact.

Act—This is the final step. Using the criteria above, you have to take action and make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. You may have to give up some pet projects in lieu of other initiatives that warrant more of your leadership focus. It may also involve some uncomfortable changes for your team members. Perhaps you may need to realign reporting lines or restructure your team to help you, and them, focus on the most important and impactful areas of the business. This isn’t a one and done process. Throughout the year you’ll need to periodically reassess your priorities and make necessary adjustments.

Feel free to leave a comment with your reactions or additional thoughts on how you handle the challenge of focusing your energies on the activities that drive the most value.

5 Characteristics of All-Star Leaders and Managers

ASG 2016 Logo2Many of the world’s greatest baseball players will put their talent on display in America’s Finest City on Tuesday, July 12th, as my hometown San Diego hosts Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. There are common traits and characteristics of the game’s best players. In baseball we call them “five-tool” players. That means they can hit for average, hit for power, run, play great defense, and have a great throwing arm. But having those tools alone doesn’t qualify someone to be an All-Star. They have to earn it through their performance on the field.

All-Star leaders and managers share common characteristics too. And just like baseball players, they have to earn their All-Star status through their performance at work over an extended period of time. Here are the “five tools” of All-Star leaders and managers:

1. They listen to learn and with the intent to be influenced — A common activity we do in our training classes is called the “Best Boss” exercise. We ask participants to write down the characteristics of the best boss they’ve ever had. Being a good listener is always near the top of the list. All-Star managers listen to learn and they have an open mind and a willingness to be influenced by others. Listening deeply and intently to others builds trust. It shows you value them and their opinion, and in that moment of time, you’re placing their needs and interests ahead of your own. Developing your listening skills is one of the quickest ways to move from being a so-so leader to an All-Star caliber leader.

2. They praise good performance — In training sessions I’ve conducted over the years I’ve asked hundreds upon hundreds of people this question: Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of all the praise your boss gives you. No one ever raises a hand. Why is that? Is there some unwritten code that says managers shouldn’t praise people because they might get too comfortable and stop performing? For whatever reason, many managers are as stingy with praises as they are with the last dollar in their wallet. Your people need to know that you notice and appreciate their efforts. They are seeking approval and acknowledgment for their achievements in the workplace, and if you can’t, or more accurately, won’t give it to them, they’ll eventually seek it out from another manager or organization.

3. They expect the best out their people — All-Star leaders expect the best out of themselves, and because they hold themselves to high-standards, it allows them to hold their people to them as well. The sequence is important, so don’t miss it. The leader goes first, sets the example, and then others follow. A leader who demands the best from his/her people yet doesn’t live up to those same standards is a fraud. Hold yourself to high standards and expect the same of your people. More often than not they will reward your faith in them.

4. They celebrate success — Leaders of winning teams know the importance of celebrating success, both on an individual level and team basis. Winning is so much more fun than losing, yet some leaders lose sight of that basic truth. They constantly push their team toward the next objective, never taking time to recognize accomplishments along the way. That style may work for achieving results in the short-term, but over the long-term it will burn people out and turn them away from you. Everyone has a need to have their accomplishments recognized and doing it periodically helps replenish their mental, emotional, and physical energy needed for their work.

5. They treat mistakes as learning opportunities — Even professional baseball players make mistakes. Have you seen how the vast majority of managers react when a player makes a mistake? Many times they don’t do anything. They know the player knows he made a mistake and there is little profit in reminding him of the fact. Sometimes the manager will discreetly sidle up to the player and have a quiet conversation about the play, and when they do, it’s almost always talking about what the player learned from the experience and what they’ll do differently in a similar situation in the future. You’ll rarely see a manager publicly chew out a player. So why do so many leaders in organizations think it’s OK to rant and rave at their people at work? You may think it allows you to look tough and display your authority. It doesn’t. It makes you look immature and unable to control your emotions. It also makes you a bully. No one arrives at work and says to himself “I think I’ll be a total failure today!” Mistakes happen. It’s part of being human. All-Star managers know their people are usually trying their best and they use mistakes as an opportunity to teach and grow their people; not as an opportunity to humiliate them.

Just like All-Star baseball players share common traits, so do All-Star managers and leaders at work. Listening with the intent to learn, praising good performance, holding their people to high standards, celebrating success, and treating mistakes as learning opportunities are all characteristics of All-Star leaders. How do you shape up? Would you qualify as an All-Star?

Elevate Your Leadership Focus and Enjoy These 4 Benefits

Manhattan SkylineSeveral years ago I was in a season of my leadership journey where I was consumed with addressing and solving day-to-day operational issues. Each day seemed to bring another problem to solve, a challenge to work through, or a fire to fight. The days became weeks and the weeks became months. My stress level kept rising, I kept working harder, and yet it seemed like I was running in place. After telling my sob story to my manager she made a simple, yet profound observation that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “It sounds like you’re spending all of your time working in the business and not on the business.”

What she was encouraging me to do was to take a helicopter ride. Speaking metaphorically, I was spending all of my time furiously driving up and down the highways and byways of our business trying to get stuff done, but it caused me to spend a lot of time in traffic jams and the progress was slow. What I needed to do was periodically rise above the daily chaos and take a helicopter ride to gain a different perspective of our work.

Taking time to work on the business…taking a helicopter ride…has several key benefits that will accelerate your productivity and passion for your job.

  1. It provides perspective — A few years ago I was painting several rooms in our house and I noticed a trend. The quality of workmanship of the trim at the top of the walls was less than stellar, but I hadn’t noticed it before because I rarely look up. That tends to happen when you live life at eye level. Spending all of your time working in the business can lead to tunnel vision and you run the risk of losing sight of the end goal. We can easily get distracted with fire fighting and stop paying attention to higher level priorities and metrics that drive the success of our organization. An occasional helicopter ride snaps you out of the day-to-day routine and forces you to view your business at a macro-level.
  2. It relieves stress — Each of us has a different level for stress tolerance but we all have one thing in common—we will eventually crash and burn when our tank reaches empty. The daily grind of work can be stressful and it takes its toll. Studies have shown that workplace stress is far and away the number one stressor we face in life. It’s imperative for your health to find productive ways to relieve stress and taking the metaphorical helicopter ride is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. Regardless of how you do it – devoting an hour a week to strategic planning, one day a month, or having a periodic retreat with your leadership team – the important thing is you do it. Helicopter rides allow you to clear your mind of pressing priorities and helps you re-calibrate your approach to work.
  3. It sparks creativity and problem solving — Many of my best ideas come to me when I’m away from the office. Whether I’m in the shower or cycling in the back country, the ideas flow when I’m relaxed and letting my mind wander. Helicopter rides afford you the opportunity to think in a different way, unencumbered by the routines and demands of the office. Constantly working in the business keeps your mind focused on the immediate and urgent problems, whereas working on the business allows you to creatively brainstorm new approaches to your challenges.
  4. It nourishes your soul — Leaders set the tempo for their teams. If you want a team that is engaged, energized, and committed to their work, then you need to model that behavior. That means you’re constantly pouring yourself out for others. If you aren’t replenishing your own energy you won’t have any left to give others. Sometimes helicopter rides mean getting away from work entirely by taking a vacation. Work can wear us down to the point where we develop an attitude of cynicism or a defeatist mentality. If you notice yourself going down that road then it’s a clear warning sign your soul needs some nourishment.

As leaders we are often motivated to always be on the go…get things done…make stuff happen. There’s a time and place for all that activity, but there is also a time and place for rising above the day-to-day and taking a helicopter ride to look at your business, and your leadership practices, in a new and fresh way.

Feel free to leave a comment about your own strategies for taking helicopter rides.

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org under the title Leaders Should Take a Helicopter Ride Once in a While.
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