Leading with Trust

5 Common Leadership Behaviors That Crush The Spirits of Employees

crushedI admit it. Sometimes when I’m under the gun at work and feeling the pressure of all my responsibilities, I can get tunnel vision about accomplishing my own goals and forget how my behavior is influencing others. It’s not that I’m trying to be insensitive to people, I’m just not being mindful or intentional in my actions.

I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. It happens to every leader from time to time when we’re under stress and reacting in the moment. It’s in these occasions that we have a tendency to focus on the objectives of the task and minimize the people concerns. Who cares how people feel as long as the job gets done, right? Well, consistently behaving this way may help you check items off your to-do list, but it can come at the cost of crushing the spirits of your team members in the process. Here are five common spirit-crushing behaviors leaders should avoid:

Micromanaging – Control is the opposite of trust, and micromanaging sends the message to your team members that you don’t trust them to do their jobs. It’s common for leaders to exert control when under stress because they feel more secure being able to directly influence the outcome. However, micromanaging saps the initiative of your team to the point where they stop taking responsibility because they know you’re going to step in and take charge.

Demeaning Others – Leaders demean others through careless comments that degrade their dignity, status, or character. An example is when a leader says or does things that communicates people are “less than” they really are. Stereotypical examples are asking an administrative assistant to pick up your dry cleaning or get you a cup of coffee, tasks clearly outside their job description.

Ignoring Others’ Contributions – We all have an innate need to be appreciated and it doesn’t take much for leaders to acknowledge the efforts of team members. Many times all it takes is saying thank you. A pattern of not recognizing the good work of others will eventually turn team members against you. People will develop a mindset of doing the minimum amount of work acceptable because “they don’t appreciate me going above and beyond.”

Intimidating or Coercing Others – This behavior is a holdover from the days of Command and Control leadership, but unfortunately, too many leaders still rely on this tactic to get work accomplished. I think there are two main reasons why this is the case. First, some leaders truly don’t know any better. They believe their job as the “boss” is to tell other people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Secondly, it’s the path of least resistance. When leaders are stressed and short on time and patience, getting work done by intimidating or coercing others seems the most expedient thing to do. It may work for you once or twice, but intimidating others will not only crush their spirits, it will create enemies that actively work against you and not with you.

Playing favorites – One of the most influential factors that crush a person’s spirit is being treated unfairly. We are hardwired with a desire for justice, and when we feel we’re aren’t being treated justly, it causes a variety of emotions ranging from defensiveness and anger to cynicism and despair. Leaders can be fair by treating people equitably and ethically. Being equitable means people receive what they deserve based on the circumstances, and being ethical means the leaders behavior is alignment with the values of the organization and it’s policies and procedures.

I believe most leaders have positive intentions. There are very few leaders who wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to crush the spirits of my employees today!” No, that doesn’t usually happen, but what does happen is we get so focused on our own agendas that we forget how we’re treating our team members. Being more mindful of how our leadership impacts others and avoiding these spirit-crushing behaviors will help foster an environment where our people feel safe, appreciated, and free to give their all.

Which of These 4 “Weather Conditions” Describe Your Leadership?

weatherSearching for safe cover, fearing damage and destruction, and expecting the worst…is that a description of East Coast residents preparing for this weekend’s immense blizzard or does it describe the way your team members react to your leadership style?

Your style of leadership – the way you speak, act, and relate to your people – can either build or erode trust. While this is a gross oversimplification that undoubtedly leaves out many leadership styles and patterns, which of these weather conditions describes your predominant style of leadership?

The Hurricane Leader

“I’m rolling thunder, pouring rain. I’m coming on like a hurricane.”
Hells Bells ~ AC/DC 

Hurricane Leaders leave a path of destruction in their wake. Team members duck and cover when the boss approaches and hope they survive the storm without any personal damage. The company grapevine serves as an early warning system – “Watch out! The Boss is on his way!” Hurricane Leaders aren’t too concerned with employee morale, engagement, or career development. Their primary concern is whether or not the work is getting done regardless of the human cost. This type of leadership may produce short-term results, but like any hurricane, its power will diminish over time and cease to be effective.

Employees have low trust with Hurricane Leaders because their behavior is often mercurial and unpredictable. Employees are also hesitant to be vulnerable with Hurricane Leaders because they aren’t sure if the leader has their best interests in mind. Hurricane Leaders can build trust by establishing consistent patterns of behavior and dialing down their gale force winds.

The Rainy Day Leader

“That woman of mine she ain’t happy,
unless she finds something wrong and someone to blame.
If ain’t one thing it’s another one on the way.”
Rainy Day Woman ~ Waylon Jennings 

Rainy Day Leaders perpetually sees the glass as half-empty. Either through ignorance, apathy, or being constantly beat-down by organizational dynamics, these leaders have surrendered their power and given up hope of a better future. People are not inspired by Rainy Day Leaders. Team members want and need a leader who sets a compelling vision of the future and rallies the team to achieve that vision.

I once had the pleasure of meeting Rosey Grier, the All-Pro NFL football player and member of the L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line in the 1960’s. He was speaking about his work in leadership development with inner-city youth and he made the comment that “leaders are dealers of hope, not dope.” That phrase has stuck with me and serves as a reminder that a primary role of leadership is to serve as a beacon of hope, especially during the dark and dreary rainy days.

The Sunshine Leader

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry. Sunshine on the water looks so lovely. Sunshine almost always makes me high.”
Sunshine On My Shoulders ~ John Denver

Sunshine Leaders are so pie-in-the-sky optimistic about everything that team members find it hard to completely trust them. Perhaps in an effort to constantly boost team morale, Sunshine Leaders can go overboard by not making realistic assessments of difficult situations around them and just “hoping” everything works out for the best. Team members want leaders with positive outlooks, but they also want leaders who acknowledge reality, admit when conditions are bad, and work to make things better.

Sunshine leaders can build trust by surrounding themselves with trusted advisers that are given permission to “speak truth” to the leader and hold him/her accountable to addressing the unpleasant issues of leadership.

A Leader for All Seasons

“To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”
Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season) ~ The Byrds

Leaders for all seasons recognize there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to leadership. The first step to being a trustworthy leader is to be true to yourself by having a deep understanding of your values, purpose, gifts, and abilities as a leader, and blending them together to create your leadership persona. People trust and follow authentic leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and live with a clear and purposeful mission.

All Season Leaders know they have to meet each of their followers at their own level, and then partner with them to reach higher levels of performance. These leaders flexibly use different amounts of direction and support to provide the right leadership style that helps their direct reports develop the competence and commitment needed to succeed in their roles. This investment in the growth and development of your people builds trust and identifies you as a Leader for All Seasons.

5 Warning Signs You’re Leading With a Wounded Spirit

Wounded SpiritBeing a leader can be rough business and it’s not for the faint of heart. You’re constantly in the line of fire, not just from those outside your team, but often from within as well. If there is a team member unhappy with something, who do they complain to? You. If your team doesn’t achieve an important goal, who does your boss come down on? You. If another department leader is frustrated about a perceived lack of collaboration from your team, who gets an earful of feedback? You.

If you aren’t careful, the toxicity of these negative situations can seep into your soul and cause you to lead with a wounded spirit. I firmly believe that effective leadership is about who you are as a person—your values, beliefs, and character—and much less about what you actually do in terms of leadership techniques or practices. Leadership begins on the inside, and what’s on the inside eventually comes out. If your inner life is in order, healthy leadership practices will follow. If you’re leading with a wounded spirit, that will be clear as well.

Unfortunately, we’re often blind to the reality that we’re leading in a wounded capacity. We are so close to it that we don’t see it, and it may take someone else calling us out on our behavior for us to realize what’s going on. But if we pay attention and look closely, we can detect these warning signs of leading with a wounded spirit.

Bitterness – A strong, unrelenting hostility or resentment toward someone is a sign bitterness has taken root in your soul. Bitterness comes from never fully processing and moving on from a situation that harmed us. The situations are common, everything from being passed up for a promotion, having someone take credit for your idea, or being blamed unfairly for something that went wrong. These things happen every day in the workplace. Do you find yourself ruminating over past hurts? Are you preoccupied with resentful thoughts about another person? If so, bitterness has gotten a hold on you and you need to shake it loose. Be bitter or get better; it’s your choice.

Un-forgiveness – When we’ve been wounded, we often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past. You can’t change what happened but you can control how you move forward. Holding on to past hurts keeps your leadership effectiveness stuck in first gear and diminishes the positive impact you can have on others.

Sarcasm – Sarcasm is one of the more subtle, socially acceptable ways wounded leaders express themselves. Often masked in humor, sarcasm can range from friendly little jabs at someone to full-on passive-aggressive attacks. We get the word sarcasm from the Greek word sarkázein which means to “rend flesh” – the ripping, pulling, or tearing apart of skin and flesh. Isn’t that a beautiful word picture! But that’s exactly the intent of sarcasm, to cut someone down, to tear at their self-esteem, or knock them down a notch to let them know you’re just a little bit better. Leaders should be focused on building others up, not tearing them down. If you frequently use sarcasm to express yourself, I’d challenge you to examine the thoughts, feelings, and motivations behind why you choose to express yourself that way.

NegativityNegative Nelly, that’s the term we use around the office for people who tend to see everything in a negative light. It doesn’t matter how good the idea might be, Negative Nelly always finds something to fault…it will cost too much, it will be too hard to implement, it’s not comprehensive enough, it’s too encompassing, it will take too long, it won’t last long enough…you know the drill. No matter what, you can’t please Negative Nelly. But more importantly, is that you? Are you Negative Nelly? Consider these questions to see if you might be letting negativity rule your leadership reactions: Is your first response to new ideas to find fault or explore how they might work? Is your default answer “no” or “yes?” Do you find yourself catching people doing something wrong instead of praising what they’re doing right? Critical, questioning, deep thinking and analysis should be a normal part of your leadership repertoire, but there is a time and place for it. If you find that negativity is your standard M.O., that’s a warning sign you haven’t dealt with underlying issues.

Apathy – Leaders can be wounded to a point where they give up. They may still show up to work and go through the motions, but their heart and soul is no longer in the job. They’ve quit and stayed. Apathy is contagious. It doesn’t affect just the leader, it affects everyone. Team members look at their apathetic leader and say to themselves, “If he doesn’t care, why should I?” I’ve seen once thriving leaders and teams slowly go downhill as the leaders experienced a series of challenges, dealt with them ineffectively, eventually grew tired and frustrated, then threw their hands up in resignation and chalked it up to “that’s just the way it is around here.” Apathy is the polar opposite of leadership. Leaders should be change agents, always on the lookout for how they can improve as individuals and how their teams can grow and become more effective.

All of us leaders are wounded in one way or another. Getting scarred from battle wounds is inevitable if you sign up for this leadership gig; you shouldn’t expect otherwise. That’s why it’s so important to find healthy, productive ways to process these experiences so you’re inner life as a leader is in good order…more on that in a future blog post.

Feel free to leave a comment and share your own experiences of leading with a wounded spirit.

How NOT to Lead – Six Lessons from Breaking Bad’s Walter White

Walter WhiteI’m a fan of the television show Breaking Bad. If you’re not familiar with it, the show chronicles the transformation of Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) from a mild-mannered, milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher who “breaks bad” and turns into a crystal meth-producing drug lord in order to finance his cancer treatments and provide for his family after his likely death.

The writing, story-telling, character development, and dialogue in the show are top-notch, and despite the edgy subject matter, I was hooked…addicted?…after just a small taste. As the series comes to a close tonight with the premiere of the final eight episodes, I reflected on some leadership lessons from Walter White. He’s an excellent study on how NOT to lead. If you employ these strategies you might achieve temporary success, as Walter White has, but eventually you’ll go down in flames…which is my prediction for Walt’s fate this season.

1. Don’t trust anyone – Walter White never fully trusts anyone, even himself at times. He only trusts people enough for them to do what he needs them to do, so he keeps people on a “need to know” basis, hoards power and information, and makes the final decisions. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and if you don’t have it, you’ll always be looking over your shoulder to see who’s on your trail and your relationships will always have an air of suspicion and doubt surrounding them.

2. The end justifies the means – Walt started with the noble, yet morally ambiguous, goal of wanting to provide for his family. His odds of beating cancer were slim, and with a son starting college and a baby daughter on the way, Walt saw the cost of his cancer treatments leaving his family in financial ruins. What started as a quick-hit scheme to meet the financial needs of his family quickly devolved into Walt being willing to do anything – lie, cheat, steal, murder – to protect his drug empire and meet the dark and desperate needs of his shadow self. This strategy is particularly useful for leaders who view people as objects, just mere speed-bumps on the road to success, and are willing to run over anyone at anytime in order to get what they want.

Pyramid of Choice3. Erode your morality and integrity one choice at a time – Walter White didn’t become an evil mastermind and drug kingpin overnight, it was a series of small choices that led him down the road to destruction. The work of Dan Ariely and Tavris and Aronson provide insight into this slippery slope of human behavior. Tavris and Aronson use the “Pyramid of Choice” to illustrate the “what the hell effect,” which explains how our rationalizations of wrong choices makes it easier for us to make further wrong choices that continually erode our integrity. Moral of the story? Every decision counts. Make good ones that reinforce your integrity.

4. Intoxicate yourself on powerStudies have shown that money and power can make you less empathetic toward other people and Walter White’s experience illustrates that phenomenon. As Walt gains money and power in the drug world he quickly loses sight of his original goal. Jesse, Walt’s former student and partner in crime, points out that Walt originally said he needed to make just shy of $1 million to provide for his family, and now that he had $5 million stashed away it still wasn’t enough. If you’re in a leadership role to fulfill your needs for power, position, and status, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Get out now!

Say My Name5. Let your ego drive your actions – Over the seasons we learn that Walt co-founded a company called Gray Matter Technologies, sold his share for $5,000, and now the company is worth over $2 billion. Walt never reconciled his ego-needs with the direction his life took, and now that he’s got money and power from his drug business, his ego runs wild and manifests itself as “Heisenberg,” Walt’s street name. In one memorable scene where Walt is arm-twisting a rival drug dealer into becoming the distribution arm for Walt’s superior product, he not only revels in revealing his identity as Heisenberg, he forces his competitor to pay homage to him by demanding that he “Say my name.” Use that tactic in your next team building meeting and see how far it gets you.

6. Manipulate people to get what you want – Walt’s relationship with Jesse is a picture in manipulation. Walt goes so far as to poison the son of Jesse’s girlfriend and convinces Jesse to break up with her so there would be no one competing for Jesse’s time and attention. Jesse is ultimately a pawn in Walt’s strategy to build his drug empire. Demonstrating care and concern for people is a key factor in building trust, and if you aren’t genuine and authentic in wanting to be in relationship with people, others will quickly see through your facade.

It will be interesting to see how the character of Walter White fares over the last eight episodes of this series. We’ve seen plenty of real-life examples of prominent leaders who display these traits and characteristics and their fate isn’t pretty. Will Walter White fare any better? I don’t think so.

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