Leading with Trust

Spin Belongs in The Gym, Not The Workplace – 4 Ways to Increase Transparency

I have a motto when it comes to honesty and transparency at work: Spin belongs in the gym, not the workplace.

Spinning the truth is a way of shaping our communications to make our self, the company, or the situation appear better than it is in reality. It’s become so commonplace in the corporate world that many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We “spin” by selectively sharing the facts, overemphasizing the positive, minimizing the negative, or avoiding the obvious, all in an attempt to manipulate the perception of others. See if a few of these spins on the truth sound familiar:

  • “We are optimizing and rightsizing our human capital.” (aka, We are eliminating jobs and laying off people.)
  • “Quarterly revenue was adversely affected by marketplace dynamics.” (aka, We failed to hit our revenue goal.)
  • “Brian’s strength as a salesperson is developing creative business deals and client partnerships, as opposed to the tactical elements of his role.” (aka, We can’t or don’t want to hold Brian accountable for his administrative responsibilities as a salesperson because he brings in too much revenue.)

Spinning the truth is one of the most common ways leaders bust trust. It also leads to tremendous inefficiencies because people are confused about roles, they duplicate work, balls get dropped, and people resort to blaming others. Poor morale, cynicism, and political infighting become the norm when honesty and transparency are disregarded.

There are macro-level societal events and trends driving the need for greater transparency in the workplace. We’re all familiar with the digital privacy concerns related to the pervasiveness of technology in our lives, and we’ve witnessed the corporate scandals of blatant deceit and dishonesty that’s contributed to record low levels of trust. The global meltdown of trust in business, government, and other institutions over the last several years has generated cries for more transparency in communications, legislation, and governance. Oddly enough, research has shown that in our attempts to be more transparent, we may actually be suffering an illusion of transparency—the belief that people are perceiving and understanding our motivations, intents, and communications more than they actually are.

But at the individual, team, and organization levels, what can we do to build greater trust, honesty, and transparency? I have four suggestions:

  1. Provide access to information. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and misinformation which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.
  2. Speak plainly. Avoid double-speak, and reduce or eliminate the use of euphemisms such as right-sizing, optimizing, gaining efficiencies, or other corporate buzzwords. When people hear these words, their BS detectors are automatically activated. They immediately start to parse and interpret your words to decipher what you really mean. Speak plainly in ways that are easily understood. Present complicated data in layman terms and focus on having a dialogue with people, not bombarding them with facts. Our team members are big boys and girls, they can handle the truth. Be a straight-shooter, using healthy doses of compassion and empathy when delivering tough news.
  3. Share criteria for making decisions. When it comes to making tough decisions, I believe that if people know what I know, and understand what I understand, they will be far more likely to reach the same (or similar) conclusion I did. Even if they don’t, they will usually acknowledge the validity of my decision-making criteria and respect that I approached the process with a clear and focused direction. Unfortunately, many times leaders are afraid to share information or their decision-making criteria because they don’t want to be second-guessed or exposed to legal risk. We’ve become so afraid of being sued or publicly criticized that we tend to only share information on a “need to know” basis. Sharing information on your decision-making process will help people buy into your plans rather than second-guessing them.
  4. Create communication forums. A lack of communication is often the root of dysfunction in organizations. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing and no one seems to take ownership of making sure people are informed. Everyone likes to blame the Corporate Communications department for the lack of information sharing in the organization, but that blame is misplaced. Let me tell you who has the big “R” (responsibility) for communication—YOU! If you’re a leader, it’s your responsibility to create forums to share information with your team. Ultimately, this starts at the top. A President or CEO cannot delegate communications to some other function. It’s the top dog’s responsibility to ensure alignment all throughout the organization and the only way that starts is to frequently and openly communicate. The forums for communication are only limited by your imagination: town hall meetings, email updates, newsletters, video messages, department meetings, lunch gatherings, and team off-site events are just a few examples.

Spin is a great activity for the gym and it keeps you in fantastic shape. However, in the workplace, spin is deadly to your health as a leader. It leads to low trust, poor morale, and cynicism in your team. Keep spin in the gym and out of the workplace.

 

The Number 1 Way You Erode Trust Without Even Knowing It

Trust DissolvingBetrayal. Cheating. Embezzlement. Dishonesty. These kinds of extreme behaviors are what most people think about when it comes to breaking trust. There’s no doubt those will do the trick, but for the vast majority of people, these types of incidents will be few and far between, if they even happen at all.

No, the ways you lose trust with other people is more like the way soil erodes a hillside. Little by little, slow and steady over a long period of time, the soil breaks down and falls away. Then seemingly out of nowhere, we’re surprised with a major landslide when the ground finally gives way.

That’s the way it works with trust. We erode it over a period of time through careless and thoughtless behaviors. Those behaviors seem innocuous to us, but others may perceive them as being trust busters. Chief among those irresponsible behaviors is being late. Arguably, it’s the number one way we erode trust without even knowing it.

Why does being habitually late erode trust?

  1. It can cause people to question your dependability—Trustworthy people are reliable. They honor their commitments by doing what they say they’re going to do. Being on time shows you’re accountable and can be counted on to follow-through on a commitment.
  2. It can cause people to question your integrity—If you repeatedly commit to being somewhere at a particular time and then show up late, it plants seeds of doubt in the minds of others that you likely won’t uphold other commitments you make. Being on time demonstrates you are a person of your word.
  3. It causes people to feel disrespected—Habitual lateness sends the message to others that their time isn’t as valuable as yours. Others are inconvenienced while they sit around waiting for you to show up, and once you finally arrive, everyone has to work harder and faster in the remaining time.

Occasionally being late is no big deal. It happens to all of us and usually our friends and colleagues understand and react graciously. But as this video illustrates, your colleagues may be depending on you to be on time, and if you’re late, it just might cost them big time.

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.

Debunking 8 Common Myths About Trust

myth-v-truthWhen conducting training classes to teach people how to become more trustworthy and build trust in their relationships, I often have to address some common myths. There are commonly held beliefs about trust that aren’t quite as true as people believe.

Here are eight common myths about trust and my thoughts about the truth behind these misconceptions.

Myth #1: Trust takes a long time to build — You’ve probably heard this said before or maybe even said it yourself. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not altogether true. Yes, there are instances where trust can take a long time to build, such as relationships that have infrequent interactions or where one or both of the parties are trust-averse and uncooperative with each other, but in many cases trust is established quickly. When you walk in a doctor’s office and see diplomas on the wall from Harvard Medical School and John’s Hopkins, you have an immediate sense of trust based on the doctor’s expertise. The same is true for many professions where the individual’s expertise engenders immediate trust. A person’s reputation for being trustworthy also carries great influence when starting new relationships. Trust can be built very quickly.

Myth #2: Trust is lost in a second — This is the companion to myth #1. In relationships where a strong bond of trust has been formed, a single instance of violating trust rarely destroys the whole relationship. In fact, a high-level of trust in a relationship leads to the parties assuming best intentions about each other, so when a breach of trust occurs, the offending party is often given the benefit of the doubt. Instead of losing trust in a second, trust is more frequently lost when it’s broken repeatedly over a period of time. One party keeps making withdrawals from the trust account of the other party until eventually they start bouncing checks.

Myth #3: Trust is fragile — Because people believe the previous myth about it only taking a second to break someone’s trust, they assume that trust must be fragile. Wrong. Trust, true trust that has stood the test of time, is extremely resilient. Consider the most trustworthy relationships you’ve seen or experienced in life. They are probably ones that have endured their fair share of trust-busters, and yet because of the high level of trust between the parties, they addressed the challenging situations and moved beyond them in ways that continued to sustain and reinforce the trust between them.

Myth #4: Trust is soft — One of the most common myths I encounter, particularly from senior leaders, is that trust is a “soft” interpersonal issue. You know what I mean, the group hug, hold hands, and sing kumbaya kind of soft. Well, trust is anything but soft. Trust has hard, bottom-line impacts to people and organizations. Research has shown that high trust companies consistently outperform low trust ones. High levels of trust enables innovation, creativity, productivity, collaboration, and lower turnover, all of which directly impact an organization’s bottom-line.

Myth #5: Trust “just happens” — People assume trust just happens naturally, like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that can be taught, learned, and practiced. If you’re leaving the building of trust to chance, well, chances are you’re not going to be successful. Learn the specific elements of trust and how you can use their associated behaviors to become more trustworthy and develop high-trust relationships.

Myth #6: Distrust is the opposite of trust — On the surface this seems to make sense, right? If we have a spectrum with trust on one side, then distrust must be on the other. Actually, the opposite of trust is control. Control? Yes, control. See, when you don’t trust someone you try to maintain control. Staying in control means less risk, and risk is required when trusting someone. Without risk there is no need for trust and trust requires that you give up control to one degree or another.

Myth #7: Trust is all about integrity — Integrity is one of the four core elements of trust and most people identify it as being the most important when it comes to building trust. However, integrity is just one of the building blocks of trust. Another is competence. People who have expertise, a proven track record, and are effective at what they do inspire trust. A third element of trust is connectedness, showing care and concern for others by building rapport, communicating effectively, and demonstrating benevolence. Finally, the fourth element of trust is dependability. You build trust when you are reliable, accountable, and responsive in your actions.

Myth #8: Trust is all or nothing; you either have it or you don’t — Trust is not a one size fits all proposition. There can be different levels of trust in relationships based on the nature of the relationship and context of the situation. For example, you may have a high level of trust in your plumber to fix plumbing issues in your house, but you wouldn’t trust him to repair your automobile because it’s not his area of expertise. Or, you may have someone in whom you confide your deepest feelings to because they have earned your trust as a close confidant, but their history of being habitually late causes you to not trust them to arrive on time for an appointment.

Many times we accept myths as truths because on the surface they seem pretty reasonable. That’s the case with these myths about trust. But when you dig a little deeper, you begin to see that trust is not quite as simple as we make it out to be. It’s actually quite complex and multi-dimensional.

I’m interested in your experience. What are other myths about trust you’ve encountered? Please take the time to share by leaving a comment.

6 Causes and Cures for Defensiveness In Relationships

defensiveness2Your defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

The Top 10 Ways Leaders Bust Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Trust Break
Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Now, I believe most people strive to be honorable and trustworthy in their leadership roles. There aren’t too many people who wake up in the morning and on their way into the office exclaim to themselves, “I think today is a fabulous day to break someone’s trust!” Most leaders unintentionally erode trust through what I call “trust busting” behaviors. Despite our best intentions, we sometimes get in our own way and bust trust without even realizing it.

I did a little crowd-sourcing with my team and asked them to send me a list of the most common trust-busting behaviors they’ve experienced from leaders in their career. The wisdom of the crowd was amazing! The behaviors on their lists were eerily similar. In classic David Letterman style, here’s the list of the Top 10 Ways Leaders Bust Trust:

10. Spinning the truth – Leaders erode trust when they try to shape or color the truth to their liking rather than being transparent and authentic in their communication. Spinning the truth is manipulation, just in a more socially acceptable manner, but it’s manipulation nonetheless. Save spin for the gym, not the workplace.

9. Not being available – If your schedule has you constantly booked in meetings and unavailable to the questions or concerns of your team members, you are sending the message that you don’t care about them. That may not be how you really feel, but it’s the message that’s being sent. Your schedule is a reflection of your values and priorities, so be sure to build in time for regular check-in meetings with your team members or just blocks of time where people can drop in for quick questions.

8. Not soliciting or listening to feedback – Believe it or not, your team members probably have pretty good ideas about how to improve your business if you’ll only ask. And if you do ask, make sure you do something with their feedback. Asking for feedback and then disregarding it erodes trust more than not asking for it at all.

7. Withholding information – Why do leaders withhold information? It’s because information is power and power is control. Most people think distrust is the opposite of trust. It’s not. Control is the opposite of trust. If you’re withholding information it’s likely because you’re trying to control your environment and the people around you. People without information cannot act responsibly, but people with information are compelled to act responsibly.

6. Taking credit for other people’s work – Leaders can easily fall into the habit of taking credit for work of their team members. Because it is work produced by their team, the leader rationalizes that it’s OK to take credit for it personally. Trustworthy leaders do the opposite. They call out the good performance of team members and credit those individuals for doing the work. Taking credit for the work of others is another form of plagiarizing. It sends the message to your team members that you don’t value their work and it’s more important for your ego to get credit than giving it to someone else.

5. Not keeping confidences – Integrity is the hallmark of trustworthy leaders. If someone tells you something in confidence then it should never be shared with someone else. Gossip, hallway conversations, or speaking “manager to manager” about something told to you in confidence should not happen. Above all, you should protect your integrity as a leader. At the end of the day it’s the only thing you have.

4. Playing favorites – Want to erode trust and divide your team from within? Then play favorites and watch your team burn. It’s a recipe for disaster. Now, treating people fairly doesn’t mean you have to treat everyone the same. Most leaders resort to this leadership tactic because it’s the easiest thing to do. In reality, it can be the most unfair thing you do. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” They key to fairness is treating people equitably and ethically given their unique situation.

3. Inconsistency – A key element of being trustworthy is reliability and predictability. Trustworthy leaders behave consistently from setting to setting. They don’t have wild swings of behavior, exhibit temperamental outbursts, or say one thing and do another. Inconsistent leaders keep their team members on edge because they never know who is going to show up. It’s hard to trust someone when you can’t rely on the consistency of their character.

2. Micromanage – As I mentioned in regards to not sharing information (point #7), micromanagement is about control. Micro-managers often rationalize their behavior by saying they’re trying to ensure high quality, or they have the most knowledge and expertise, or they are protecting their team members from failure. That’s BS. Hire smart people, train them properly, and then let them do their jobs. Trust requires risk and leaders need to be the first to take a risk, extend trust to team members, and let them succeed or fail on their own.

And the #1 way leaders erode trust…

1. Not keeping their commitments – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

P.P.S. I published the post last Thursday on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

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.

Defensiveness Is Killing Your Relationships – How To Recognize It and What To Do About It

DefensivenessYour defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

Leading Right in the Wrong Ways – 5 Common Leadership Mistakes

Right-way-wrong-wayFew leaders wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “I wonder how I can screw up today?” Most leaders have good intentions and earnestly try to lead in the right ways, but sometimes the actions they think are helpful to their team actually cause harm or frustration. They’re trying to lead right in the wrong ways.

Here are five common ways leaders try to do the right thing in the wrong way:

1. Valuing results at the expense of relationships – Leaders are responsible for achieving results, and a common mistake is to pursue those results at the expense of relationships. Meet the sales quota…close the deal…finish the project under budget, on time, and with top quality…all important goals to achieve in and of themselves. But how do leaders achieve them? Through the efforts of the people they lead. What good does it do to run roughshod over your people to achieve a short-term goal? It may produce immediate success but it will destroy your long-term effectiveness. Leading right in this instance means valuing results and relationships. Take care of the needs and concerns of your people and they will take care of your customers, projects, and business.

2. Treating everyone the same in order to be fair – Leaders have to balance myriad issues and one of the trickiest is treating people fairly. Playing favorites is a huge trust buster! It kills the morale of your team and makes people suspicious of your motives and decisions. One way leaders try to avoid this problem is by treating everyone the same, and quite frankly, it’s a leadership cop-out. Most leaders do this because it’s easy, expedient, and causes them fewer headaches. Leading right in this case means treating people equitably and ethically given the particular situation. Of course, there are some policies and procedures that need to be universally applied, such as health, safety, and operational business processes, but leaders have more opportunities than they realize to increase employee loyalty and engagement by treating them as individuals with specific needs rather than just another nameless face that needs to toe the line.

3. Not developing relationships in order to maintain professional distance – This can be a particular challenge for newly promoted leaders who find themselves leading people who used to be their peers. In an effort to establish leadership credibility, leaders become reticent to develop personal relationships with those they lead. This results in a lack of connection with people, lowers their trust, and reduces commitment and engagement on the job. Research has shown that one of the twelve key factors of employee work passion is “connectedness with leader.” People want to have a personal connection with their leaders. They want to know and be known. Learn what makes your people tick, what’s important to them, their hopes, dreams, and fears. Leading in this way will gain you trust, loyalty, and commitment in spades.

4. Hoarding information – Why do people hoard information? Because information is power, power is control, and leaders love to be in control. In a well-intentioned effort to maintain proper control of their team, leaders can lead in the wrong way by playing their cards too close to the vest. Lack of information sharing leads to suspicion and distrust. Leaders build trust by sharing information about themselves and the organization. On the personal side, sharing information about yourself allows you to be a little vulnerable with your people and they get to know you as a person, not just as a boss (see #3 above). Sharing information about the organization allows your people to make smart business decisions. People without information cannot act responsibly. In the absence of information people will make up their own version of the truth. However, people with information are compelled to act responsibly.

5. Micromanaging – Micromanagers are like dirty baby diapers—full of crap and all over your butt. Ironically, most leaders don’t realize they’re micromanaging. They think they’re helping someone out by telling them what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. That’s fine when a person is first learning a task or skill, but once the person demonstrates competence and commitment in doing the work, the leader needs to back off and let the employee be in charge of the task or goal. Micromanaging competent team members kills their initiative and morale, and over time, creates a state of learned helplessness. They give up on using their brain because they know the boss is going to tell them how to do it anyway.

Most leaders have good intentions and want to lead right, but sometimes we go about it in the wrong ways. Take time to pause and think about your leadership behaviors before you jump into action. If you don’t, you might be causing more harm than good.

Six Ways You’re a Workplace Bully Without Even Realizing It

Mike RiceBullying has been on primetime display this week as basketball coach Mike Rice was fired from his head coaching job at Rutgers after a leaked practice video showed him pushing, grabbing, throwing balls at players, and cursing them with gay slurs. As a youth sports coach for over 15 years and the father of a 20 year-old college student, I was sickened at Rice’s conduct. There is absolutely no room for that kind of behavior in sports, school, or the workplace. Leaders have to be held to a higher standard.

Bullying is not just verbal or physical intimidation of someone. Especially in the workplace, bullying can manifest itself in many subtle ways. Any behavior you use to intimidate, dominate, embarrass, harass, or purposely make someone feel inferior could be considered bullying.

Here are six subtle ways you may be acting like a workplace bully without even realizing it:

1. You are condescending – When you act in a condescending manner, whether it’s patronizing someone, being dismissive of a person’s contributions, or minimizing someone’s accomplishments in order to highlight yours, you are sending a message that you believe you are superior to the other person.

2. Wounding with sarcasm – I like sarcastic humor as much as the next guy, but there is a huge difference between sarcasm that highlights the irony of a situation and is self-deprecating, versus sarcasm that is intended to belittle and injure another person. Next time you’re ready to drop that witty, sarcastic joke, pause and consider if it will build up the other person or tear her down.

3. Being cliquish – Cliques aren’t only for high school. Unfortunately, many adults carry that same behavior into the workplace. Purposely excluding people from activities is a bullying behavior intended to send the message that “you’re not one of us” and “we’re better than you are.” Trusted leaders look for opportunities to include people so they feel valued and appreciated.

4. Thinking you know it all – Have you ever worked with a person who thinks she knows it all? How annoying is that?! Much like behaving in a condescending manner, acting like you are the all-knowing expert is a way to intimidate others to go along with your ideas or wishes. Just stop it! No one really believes you anyway.

5. Being passive-aggressive – Perhaps one of the most subtle forms of bullying and manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior poisons teams, departments, and organizations. A common trait of bullies is expressing aggression in order to intimidate another person. Passive-aggressive people are bullies who express aggression in indirect ways such as disguising hostility in jokes, stubbornness, procrastination, resentment, or giving just the minimum effort required. I perceive passive-aggressive people as double-agent bullies disguised as victims. Watch out for them!

6. Gossipping – Have you ever considered gossipping as a form of bullying? Probably not, but it easily could be considered bullying, and some experts even consider it a form of workplace violence because it’s intended to harm another individual or group. Why do people gossip? It’s to make themselves feel powerful. The gossipper believes she knows something that other people don’t and she uses that information as leverage to elevate herself above others.

Leaders are charged with bringing out the best in their people and I don’t understand how some leaders, particularly sports coaches, believe that bullying is an acceptable form of motivation. It’s not. It’s belittling, destructive, demeaning, dehumanizing, and does nothing but feed the power-hungry ego of the bullying leader.

If you’re a leader in the workplace, whether it’s in an office, factory, warehouse, construction site, or any other place, make sure you’re not being a bully without even realizing it. You’re better than that and your people deserve your best.

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!

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