Leading with Trust

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.

Leaders Must Identify the Place, Clear the Path, and Set the Pace

bigstock_Sunrise_4172670If you think you’re leading and no one is following,
then you’re only taking a walk.

Leadership is about going somewhere. It’s about getting a group of people to mesh their talents, work together, and move from point A to point B. In order to do that, leaders need to identify the place, clear the path, and set the pace.

Identify the Place – Leaders need to identify where the team is headed. It may be a specific destination, a particular goal, an ideal to strive for, or a vision of the future state the team or organization is trying to achieve. Regardless of what the “place” is, your team needs to know it and you need to identify it. If the leader doesn’t identify the place, the team will wander aimlessly wasting time, energy, and resources on misguided activities. There is a scene from Alice in Wonderland that captures the danger of not having the “place” identified. On her journey Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat and asks him, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Clear the Path – Once the place has been identified, leaders need to clear the path. The path is the “how” – the strategies, tactics, and goals the team is going to employ to reach its destination. A common leadership pitfall is thinking that identifying the place and declaring the grand vision of the future automatically means people will know how to get there. Identifying the place is the easy part; clearing the path is where the hard work takes place. Leaders need to get their hands dirty by working alongside their team members to develop project plans, chart milestones, clarify roles and responsibilities, and monitor progress along the way. Clearing the path is easier when more people are involved so engage your team in developing the battle plan. Those who plan the battle are less likely to battle the plan.

Set the Pace – Leaders set the pace for the team. How fast or slow the team moves will largely be up to the tempo the leader sets from the front. But setting the right pace takes good judgment and discernment. Move too fast and you burn people out. Move too slow and your efforts fail from lack of momentum. Leaders need to make sure team members know the pace of the race. Is it a sprint, a marathon, or something in between? One of the primary reasons organizational change initiatives fail is leaders try to move too fast. Leaders, by their very nature, are often moving faster than the average team member, and they assume that everyone moves (or at least should move) at the same speed. Make sure you set the right pace so your team can keep up and finish the race strong.

The place, path, and pace. Identify it, clear it, and set it.

3 Requirements for Any Successful Virtual Team

virtualteam1If you don’t work as part of a virtual team on a regular or occasional basis, chances are you have colleagues or friends who do. Fifteen years ago it was a different story. I remember asking my boss at the time if I could telecommute one day a week. I have a 40 mile (one way) commute to the office and spend nearly two hours a day driving back and forth to work. I argued that I could spend those two additional hours working, not driving. The answer? A resounding “no.” Even though the technology at the time could support it, culturally our organization wasn’t ready. My, how times have changed!

There is a wide variety in the definition of what comprises “working virtually.” It can include those who work full-time from home, part-time telecommuting, and everything in between. Regardless of the amount of time you or co-workers spend working off-site, virtual teams have unique needs that need to be addressed if they are to reach their maximum potential and effectiveness.

All successful virtual teams have three common characteristics: trust, attentiveness, and communication.

Trust – Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship and it’s even more important when building relationships virtually. Without the benefit of regular face to face contact (or any face to face contact), virtual teams have to be much more intentional about focusing on building trust. There are four core elements of trust: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Virtual team members can build trust by demonstrating competence in their responsibilities, integrity in their actions, care by developing personal relationships with colleagues, and dependability by following through on commitments.

Attentiveness – It’s easy to “check out” or fly under the radar when working on a virtual team. Without the benefit of face to face communication, virtual team members have to work extra hard at being attentive through their verbal and electronic interactions. Leaders of virtual teams have to be diligent about encouraging participation, dealing with conflict, and appropriately rewarding and recognizing team members.

Communication – Body language adds tremendous context to communication with some studies suggesting it comprises more than 55% of the message transmitted…and virtual teams miss out on that (unless you regularly use webcams which I highly recommend). Virtual team members have to work diligently on their tone of communications (written and verbal) and learn to be more perceptive of the emotional content of the message being communicated.

Trust, attentiveness, and communication are essential characteristics of virtual teams and there are a number of strategies leaders can employ to develop these attributes in their teams. To learn more, I encourage you to download our free white paper, Achieving Excellence, Virtually.

Feel free to share your comments, tips, and suggestions on how you foster success in your virtual teams.

Quit Using Your Personality as an Excuse for Behaving Badly

Personality2One of my pet peeves is people who use their personality as an excuse for their behavior. “I can’t help it, that’s just who I am” is the phrase that’s often uttered to rationalize or justify an action, position, or attitude. In some ways it’s almost the perfect defense to any argument, isn’t it? “You mean you want me to change who I am?” How can you ask someone to change the very essence of what makes them who they are?

There’s no doubt that our inborn temperament and natural personality traits shape the way we perceive and react to our environment, however, we are in control of the way we choose to respond to situations. Part of being a successful and trusted leader is learning how to regulate your thoughts, emotions, and natural personality traits so that you can respond in a manner that is appropriate for the situation at hand. Using your personality as a crutch to stay in your emotional comfort zone will only limit your leadership potential and alienate those around you.

Your personality is not an excuse for…

Shirking job responsibilities – Every job has mundane or tedious tasks we don’t like doing or may not even be good at performing. However, it’s a cop-out to use your personality to shirk those responsibilities, or even worse, pass them off to someone else. “I’m not a detailed person” or “I have more important things to do than this paperwork” are examples of this kind of attitude. If you want to be a trusted and respected colleague, you need to take responsibility for all the areas in your job description and not ignore the others or push them off on someone else.

Being rude to people — If you frequently find yourself saying “I’m just being honest and telling it like it is,” then you’re probably relying too much on your default nature of being direct and to the point. Those are great traits to possess, but they shouldn’t be used as an excuse for being harsh or inconsiderate with people.

Not giving feedback when feedback is due — It’s difficult for most people to deliver constructive criticism to others, but people often hide behind their personality traits as an excuse to not give feedback. Whether you’re introverted and shy and find it difficult to engage others, or an extroverted people-pleaser that can’t stand the idea of someone not liking you, you have to learn ways to give feedback. You owe it to yourself and others.

Avoiding or inciting conflict — Along the same lines as giving feedback, dealing with conflict is probably the most common area where we stay in our emotional comfort zone. This is especially dangerous for people who tend to fall on the edges of the spectrum in dealing with conflict – either avoiding it or gravitating to it. Whatever your natural style of dealing with conflict, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to deal with it. Just as important as knowing your natural tendencies, it’s important to know how others tend to deal with conflict so that you can “speak the same language” when trying to resolve issues.

Blaming others — It’s easy for us to blame others for whatever shortcomings we may have in our life or career; it’s much harder to honestly examine ourselves and take responsibility for the choices we’ve made that have led us to where we are today. For example, if you have a personality need to always be right, and you demonstrate that by constantly arguing and debating with colleagues, you shouldn’t blame others when people stop including you in projects, meetings, or decisions. “They don’t want my opinion because they don’t respect me and don’t want to hear the truth”…no…they don’t want your opinion because you always think you’re right and it’s annoying!

Our personalities are what make us the unique individuals we are, and the beauty of organizational life is that we’re able to take this diversity and blend it into a cohesive whole that’s more productive and powerful than the individual parts. Learning to be more aware of our own personalities and those of others, combined with a willingness to stretch out of our comfort zones and not always rely on our natural instincts, will help us lead more productive and satisfying lives at work.

5 Benefits of Involving Your Team in the Hiring Decision

Thumbs Up GroupYou are making a big mistake if you aren’t involving your team members in the hiring decision of new employees.

Regular readers of my blog will know that over the last several weeks I have been knee-deep in the process of hiring a new team member (using my ten awesome interview questions as part of the process). Although I believe hiring a new employee is one responsibility a leader can’t delegate, I would be stupid not to lean on the incredible discernment and wisdom of my team members to help me make the decision.

I’ve found there are five key benefits of involving my team in the decision of hiring new employees:

1. It makes team members feel valued – Team members consistently tell me how much they appreciate being asked to participate in interviews and give their feedback on each of the candidates. By letting your team members have a voice in the hiring process, it signals that you value them, respect their feedback, and want the hiring decision to be a collaborative process.

2. It provides interviewing and decision-making experience for future leaders – Some of your individual contributors today will be your supervisors/managers of tomorrow. Having them participate in the hiring process now gives them training in interviewing techniques, experience evaluating candidates, and insight into how hiring decisions are made that will benefit them when they move into leadership roles. I’ve had it happen in my own team over the years and it has improved our success in hiring quality people.

3. It creates a sense of ownership in the success of the new employee – I’ve found team members take the responsibility of selecting a new teammate seriously. Because they are staking a bit of their reputation on the selection, they tend to be more invested in the success of the new employee and will work extra hard to prove they made the right decision.

4. It gives you a broader perspective on candidates – Hiring people is risky business. No matter how extensive the interview process, there is only so much you can learn about a candidate prior to him/her joining your team. Having more people involved in the interview process gives you a broader perspective and more insight into the candidate. Inevitably some of my team members see things in people I don’t, and likewise, many times they confirm the positive/negative qualities I’ve observed. Some of the worst hiring decisions I’ve seen in my career are those where the boss independently hired someone he/she was enamored with and didn’t seek the input of others. Leaders often aren’t aware of their blind spots, and getting more people involved helps prevent that problem.

5. It gives the candidate more insight into his/her future co-workers, team, organization, and culture – I view the hiring process as a two-way decision: I’m choosing a person to join my team and the candidate is making a choice to join my team/organization. Having exposure to more teammates allows candidates to get a broader taste of the type of people they’ll be working with and the culture of our team and organization. Candidates need to make an informed decision when joining an organization and interviewing with their future teammates is invaluable in that process.

I wouldn’t hire any new employee without the input of other people on my team. I pride myself on being a pretty good judge of character and talent, but I know better than to trust my opinion alone when making such a significant decision. I’ve found that involving my team in the hiring process has proven the truth of the adage that “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”

A Father’s 10 Lessons about Leadership

Father's DayToday is Father’s Day, a time we set aside to honor fathers and the role fatherhood plays in our society. Being the father of two boys (Michael 22, Matthew 18) is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve tried to be a positive role model and demonstrate what good leadership looks like to my sons. I’ve certainly had my ups and downs over the years, but hopefully the ups outweigh the downs and my children have a fairly clear idea of what good leadership entails. By no means an exhaustive list, I’ve listed ten lessons about leadership I’ve tried to teach my kids:

1. Leadership begins with trust – If you want people to give you their full commitment and passion, you have to earn their trust. You can get people to follow you by virtue of your power or title, but they’ll only do so out of compulsion or fear. Trust is essential for long-term effective leadership.

2. Be a person of integrity – Leadership flows from who you are as a person; your values, beliefs, and attitudes. All the leadership tips, tricks, and theories won’t do you a bit of good if you aren’t a person of integrity. Get clear on your values, live them out, and don’t ever stray from them.

3. Be dependable – People want consistency from their leaders. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t make promises you aren’t absolutely sure you can keep and always follow-through on your commitments.

4. Care about others – Leadership is all about relationships. Take a genuine interest in others and get to know them as individuals, not just as teammates or employees. Your success in life will be dependent on your ability to relate effectively with others, regardless of how smart you may be. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

5. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer leader – Leaders are responsible for setting the tone for their team. Just like a thermostat controls the temperature of a room, and not merely reflects it like a thermometer, so leaders need to be proactive in creating the environment for their team to do their best work.

6. Don’t be afraid to fail – Failure is part of the learning process. There is no shame in putting forth your best effort and coming up short. The important thing is to take what you learn from the experience and use it to do better the next time. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

7. Adjust your leadership style – You can’t be a one trick pony when it comes to leadership. You have to learn to flex your leadership style to the situation. Sometimes people will need more direction and other times they’ll need more support. It all depends on the task at hand and how capable and committed the person is to perform it. Learn to be flexible in your approach with people and you’ll be much more effective as a leader.

8. Start by being a good follower and teammate – The best leaders have learned what it means to be a good follower or teammate. They’ve worked in the trenches, earned the respect of their colleagues, and learned to work with leaders who have different styles. You have to earn the right to have people follow you, and the first step in that process is to learn what it means to be a good follower and teammate.

9. Keep your sense of humor – Take your work seriously but take yourself lightly. Learn to laugh and have fun with your team, and use humor to build relationships, earn people’s trust, and keep morale high. A good laugh can make hard work easier.

10. Develop other leaders – Good leaders give their people opportunities to shine. Your job as a leader is to develop the leadership potential of everyone under your charge. Your success is reflected in the success of others, so give your team members autonomy over their work and give them all the credit when they succeed. Leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you lead.

To all the fathers out there…what leadership lessons have you tried to pass on to your children? To all the children of fathers (yes, that’s you)…what leadership lessons did your father pass on to you? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment. Happy Father’s Day!

Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader?

When it comes to leadership, are you a thermostat or a thermometer? Mark, my friend and colleague, posed that odd question to me this week. He went on to explain the difference between the two.

thermometerA thermometer reflects the temperature of the environment. It simply reacts to what’s happening around it. If the temperature is hot, it tells you so. If it’s cold, the thermometer reflects that reality as well. It’s a dumb instrument in the sense it doesn’t contain intelligent, multipurpose functionality. It has one purpose and one purpose only.

A thermostat, on the other hand, regulates the environment. It sets the desired temperature of the room and actively works to maintain it within a given range. If the temperature rises above the goal, the thermostat signals the air conditioner to crank up and cool the room down. If the temperature falls below the goal, the thermostat causes the heater to turn on in order to warm the room up. The thermostat is intelligent in the sense it’s always monitoring the environment, and if the temperature gets too hot or cold, it decides what to do to correct the situation.

Thermometer leaders react to their surroundings. When the tension gets high and people are on edge, these leaders are often seen losing their cool. They become irritable, harsh, demanding, critical, impatient, and maybe even lose their temper and yell or curse. Thermometer leadership doesn’t inspire trust and commitment with people, it erodes it.

thermostatThermostat leaders, however, constantly have a pulse on the morale, productivity, stress level, and environmental conditions of their team. When the temperature gets hot because the team is under pressure of a heavy workload, resources are scarce, or pending deadlines are causing stress, they cool things off by acting as the calming influence with the team. They take time to listen to the concerns of their team members and provide the necessary direction and support that’s needed to help the team achieve its goals. Thermostat leaders also alleviate pressure on their team by mixing in some lighthearted fun at opportune times.

Likewise, when work is slow and people are prone to just go through the motions, thermostat leaders get their teams refocused on the vision, purpose, and goals of the team. Because they are actively monitoring the environment of their teams, they know when the team needs to be challenged with new goals and priorities, or when they just need a friendly kick in the pants to stay focused on their current initiatives.

Thermostat leaders build trust and confidence with their followers, whereas thermometer leaders erode trust. When times get wild and crazy, people want to see their leaders react with calm, focused, and determined leadership. They want them to set the tone for how the team should react during tough times and navigate the rough seas ahead. That’s a tough challenge for leaders because they are team members themselves and are subject to the same, and often times more and different, stressors of those experienced by the team.

So, how would you respond to this question? Are you a thermometer or thermostat leader?

Five Keys to Being a Super Bowl-Caliber Leader

Jim and John HarbaughOne of the intriguing factors in the matchup of today’s Super Bowl XLVII is that the coaches of each team are brothers. John Harbaugh coaches the Baltimore Ravens and his younger brother, Jim, is coach of the San Francisco 49ers. It’s the first time in Super Bowl history that siblings have coached against each other. The chances are slim that a coach will reach the Super Bowl during his career, and it’s even crazier that in this case we have two brothers achieving this career goal simultaneously.

The coaching profession provides many wonderful examples of what it takes to be a successful leader in the workplace. If there was a “leadership” Super Bowl, what would it take for a leader to make it to that game? What characteristics, traits, or behaviors would transform an average leader into a Super Bowl-caliber leader? I thought of five important keys:

1. Integrity – Success starts on the inside by being a leader of integrity. We’ve seen numerous examples of people who have cheated their way to temporary fame, but lasting success comes from living according to a set of honorable values. Integrity displays itself when you make ethical decisions, follow through on commitments, treat people with respect, and are honest and trustworthy in your dealings with people.

2. A commitment to help others achieve their goals – The most successful leaders understand that their personal goals get fulfilled when they help their people achieve their goals. People don’t want to follow self-serving leaders. They want to follow leaders who empower them to achieve their own goals and the goals of the team. As one of my favorite coaches, Bo Schembechler said, it’s all about “the team, the team, the team.”

3. Communicate effectively – You can be an intellectually brilliant leader, but if you can’t communicate effectively with your team, your success will be limited. Great leaders share information about themselves and the organization on a frequent basis. They share information broadly and expect people to handle it responsibly, whereas insecure leaders hoard information in an effort to retain control.

4. Smart and disciplined – Super Bowl-caliber leaders are smart – they’re good at what they do. They constantly work to improve their craft and they take a disciplined, focus approach to applying their knowledge to their work (that’s wisdom – applied knowledge). You can’t reach the Super Bowl being content to rest on your laurels. You have to keep learning, adapting, and striving to be your best.

5. Rally people around a common goal – You’ve probably heard the saying that if you think you’re leading but no one is following, then you’re simply out for a walk. At its core, leading is about getting a group of people to move in a common direction to achieve a goal. It doesn’t really matter what the goal is – winning a football game, providing excellent customer service, or manufacturing cars on an assembly line – leaders have to channel the collective talents and energy of their team members into a common purpose.

Those are my five keys to being a Super Bowl-caliber leader. I’m sure there are many more that could be added to the list. What are your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment with you suggestions.

Enjoy the game!

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

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.

Three Priorities for Leaders Now That Summer is Over

Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer in the United States. Family vacations, picnics, and days at the beach give way to kids returning to school, cheering on your favorite football teams, and settling into the rhythms of the fall season. Depending on what business you’re in, the summer may have been a slow time that allowed you to disengage from work for a while and recharge your batteries. For some organizations, summer is the busiest time of year and you may be eagerly awaiting the fall season so that you can catch your breath. Regardless, heading into the autumn months is an excellent time for leaders to focus on three key priorities that will help them finish the year strong.

1. Review your team’s progress YTD and clarify your focus for the remainder of the year. When is the last time you looked at your strategic plan for the year? (You do have a plan, don’t you?!) If you haven’t reviewed it lately, now is a good time. With four months left in the year you still have time to make an impact. Over the summer it’s easy to lose track of your key priorities. The exuberance of the new year drifted into the promise of spring which eventually evolved into the dog days of summer and you find that you haven’t accomplished quite as much by this time as you had hoped for. Use this time to reevaluate your plan for the remainder of the year and put your energies and resources into the goals that will help improve your business today as well as set you up for a strong start for the next year.

2. Bring your team together to reconnect, reenergize, and refocus. Over the summer it’s common for your team to start to feel disconnected. People are in and out for vacations, team members are backing each other up, and it can seem like the “normal” routine of business gets thrown out the window. This is a great time of year to focus on team building. People have returned from vacation and are ready to settle into the familiar routine that the fall season brings, so take advantage of the change in seasons to hold a team lunch, have a potluck or cookout, and allow people to reconnect. It’s also the perfect opportunity for you to share with your team the top priorities for the rest of the year so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet.

3. Get back in the routine. Routines can provide security, stability, and efficiency…if they’re good ones! Some routines are just old habits that are a waste of time, so those are the ones you want to ditch and you want to focus on the ones that will help you achieve your goals for the year. Routines help your team know what to expect from you as a leader and what you expect of them as team members. Use this time to evaluate the routines you have in your organization and intentionally leverage the good ones to get your team focused on the key goals and priorities.

Each season of the year has its own vibe and autumn is one where we turn our attention to getting back to work and finishing the year strong. Set yourself up for a successful end of the year by reviewing your team’s progress, clarifying your goals for Q4, nurturing team relationships, and providing the structure and routine your team needs to finish strong.

Face Time Builds Trust & Teamwork

Last week my organization conducted our annual all-company meeting, and for the first time in a few years, we were able to have a face to face gathering. Prior to the all-company meeting, I held a team-building event for my department, Client Services. Nearly 50 people from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Singapore gathered in Old Town San Diego for an “Amazing Race” kind of scavenger hunt that built teamwork, relationships, communication skills, and trust.

My experiences last week reminded me of the critical importance of face to face interactions to build a successful team. The prevalence and ease of use of video-conferencing technologies, webcams, and social media applications has caused many leaders and organizations to question the need for in-person meetings. Those are fantastic tools for many business meeting needs, but nothing can replace the value of “face time,” those personal interactions that form the cohesiveness and trust necessary for high-performing teams.

Regular face time allows for the building of personal rapport and trust at a faster pace than what can be accomplished in virtual mediums. Body language, facial expressions, speech patterns, and hand gestures can only be fully appreciated when observed in person. It also allows preconceptions about relationships to be broken down. It’s easy to form judgments about others when you only interact with them via electronic communications, but when you’re able to spend time together, you form a more personal and deeper relationship that provides a deeper level of understanding of each others’ behavior.

The deepening of relationships through in-person meetings provides a greater level of accountability among team members. It’s much harder to let someone down when you know them on a personal level versus a person you’ve only interacted with via email or the phone. Humans are social creatures and face time allows us to form complex social bonds that transcend simple mechanical work relationships. Learning about a teammate’s family background, hobbies, values, likes and dislikes, creates a more intimate, transparent relationship that greatly enhances teamwork. Perhaps most importantly, face to face meetings allows for the expression of fun and humor in a much richer setting than via technology. Fun is a dynamic condition created magically through personal interactions in a specific place and time that can only occur when people are gathered together. I believe a team that plays together is one that stays together.

Don’t neglect the opportunity to gather your team together for a face to face meeting or team outing. You’ll reinforce the important norms and values of your team’s culture and provide the opportunity for your team members to build higher levels of trust and commitment with each other.

Leadership Wisdom From The North Pole – An Interview With Santa Claus

After finishing his whirlwind trip around the globe delivering presents, I had the opportunity to sit down with Santa for a one-on-one interview. I was interested in gleaning some wisdom from one of the most legendary leaders of all time and what appears below is an excerpt from our time together.

Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be exhausted after your long night of work.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy! I’m not exhausted, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.

Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?

Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.

Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?

Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.

Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.

Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?

Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.

Me: Santa, I know you’re tired and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question. If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?

Santa: I would encourage leaders to remember the purpose of their position – to serve those they lead. Leaders set the vision and direction for their team, provide the necessary resources and training, and then look for ways to support their team members in achieving their goals. Successful leaders remember that the most important thing they have is their integrity and the trust they hold with their followers, and they continually look for ways to build and maintain trust with others. If they focus on that, they’ll be successful in the long run.

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