Leading with Trust

Want a Culture of Trust and Engagement? Get Back to Human

Technology and social media has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, yet our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. How is that?

Our technological tools have allowed us to be more collaborative, increase efficiencies, powered innovation, and allowed us to tap into information and knowledge at record speeds and levels. At the same time, those devices and technologies have given rise to a collective sense of distraction among its users, provided constant interruption, and replaced strong relational bonds with weak ties. It has also contributed to record levels of disengagement and low trust in the workplace.

In his newest book, Back to Human—How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, Dan Schawbel details how technology is isolating us at work, and he provides a road map for how we can develop more human-focused workplaces by fostering connected relationships on a personal, team, and organizational level.

In order to develop a connected and engaged workforce, Schawbel recommends leaders focus on four factors: happiness, belonging, purpose, and trust. Research has shown that employees who consider themselves happy at work are more likely to refer new candidates to the company, brag about the organization online, work harder, and are less likely to jump ship. Schawbel cites the research by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, who found that happy employees have an average of 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more creative. Simple acts of kindness, getting to know employees on a personal level, and helping employees with work-life balance are all ways to increase happiness.

Engaged employees also feel a sense of belonging to the organization. Humans are pack animals, and we like to be affiliated with organizations that appreciate our contributions and share our sense of values. So often we get focused on strategies and goals that we forget to develop a sense of community in our workplace. Studies have shown that when employees feel a lack of belonging, depression is more common, problem-solving skills deteriorate, and effectiveness on the job declines. Schawbel says leaders can foster belonging by scheduling social events, having team lunches, and creating an environment where people feel free to share information about their personal lives.

Purpose is the third element of engagement that Schawbel suggests leaders focus on. When you have a purpose, you feel that you matter and that you are contributing to something larger than yourself. Having a clear purpose provides energy and direction, and it’s the fuel that keeps you going when life is busy and challenging. The tips Schawbel offers for creating purpose include helping people connect their work to the benefit it provides your customers. Bring in a customer who has been personally affected by your team’s work so they can hear and see the difference they are making. Another strategy for creating purpose is help employees understand the why of their work and how it supports your organization, customers, or the world at large.

Finally, the fourth element of an engaged workforce is trust. Many leaders think by virtue of them being the boss they are trusted by their employees. Wrong. It’s not the employee’s job to give trust; it’s the leader’s to earn it. Establishing authentic, caring, and appropriately vulnerable relationships is a primary way leaders build trust with their team. You can be a technical genius at your job, honest as the day is long, and follow-through on your commitments every time, but if you don’t show any sense of personal care or connection with your team, they will always keep you at arm’s length. Trusted leaders behave in ways that demonstrate the four elements of trust, and when employees see their leaders have their best interests in mind, they will not only trust them, but will pledge their loyalty and commitment as well.

Schawbel makes the point that technology isn’t all bad, but we should be more human and less machine. If we want a workplace where people engage their hearts and minds, and trust their peers and leaders, then we need to leverage technology to develop more human relationships of substance rather than connections of convenience.

Research Shows These Are The Top 5 Characteristics of Servant Leaders

In their academic paper Identifying Primary Characteristics of Servant Leadership, researchers Adam Focht and Michael Ponton share the results of a Delphi study they conducted with scholars in the field of servant leadership.

A total of twelve characteristics were identified, five of which were agreed upon by all of the scholars polled. These five most prominent servant leadership characteristics were:

  1. Valuing People. Servant leaders value people for who they are, not just for what they give to the organization. Servant leaders are committed first and foremost to people—particularly, their followers.
  2. Humility. Servant leaders do not promote themselves; they put other people first. They are actually humble, not humble as an act. Servant leaders know leadership is not all about them—things are accomplished through others.
  3. Listening. Servant leaders listen receptively and non-judgmentally. They are willing to listen because they truly want to learn from other people—and to understand the people they serve, they must listen deeply. Servant leaders seek first to understand, and then to be understood. This discernment enables the servant leader to know when their service is needed.
  4. Trust. Servant leaders give trust to others. They willingly take this risk for the people they serve. Servant leaders are trusted because they are authentic and dependable.
  5. Caring. Servant leaders have people and purpose in their heart. They display a kindness and concern for others. As the term servant leadership implies, servant leaders are here to serve, not to be served. Servant leaders truly care for the people they serve.

To a large degree, these findings mimic the results of polling that The Ken Blanchard Companies conducted with 130 leadership, learning, and talent development professionals who attended a series of servant leadership executive briefings in cities across North America in 2018. Topping the list was empathy, closely followed by selflessness and humility. Also mentioned multiple times were being authentic, caring, collaborative, compassionate, honest, open-minded, patient, and self-aware.

Both lists can serve as good starting points for HR and L&D executives looking to bring an others-focused culture into their organizations. What’s been your experience?  Feel free to enter additional characteristics of a servant leader in the comments section below.


Interested in learning more about bringing servant leadership principles into your organization? Join us for a free webinar on November 15!

Dr. Vicki Halsey, vice president of applied learning for The Ken Blanchard Companies and author of Brilliance By Design, will conduct a presentation for leadership, learning, and talent development professionals on 3 Keys to Building a Servant Leadership Curriculum.

In this enlightening webinar, Dr. Halsey will connect servant leadership characteristics to competencies and share best practices on how to design a comprehensive curriculum for your organization. You can learn more here. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

This article was written by my colleague David Witt and originally appeared on LeaderChat.org.

50 Practical Ways to Build Psychological Safety in Your Team

Last week I wrote about the five factors that foster psychological safety in organizations and why it’s important to be a safe leader. Creating an environment of trust and safety where team members feel secure in being vulnerable and taking risks can seem like an overwhelming task. How does one actually going about doing that?

A safe and trusting team culture is the result of a series of decisions and actions that build upon each other. The behaviors and strategies used to build psychological safety aren’t rocket science, but they require a leader’s commitment, focus, and energy. Here’s a list of fifty practical ways you can build a team culture of trust and safety:

  1. Ask, “What can I do to help?”
  2. Say, “I trust your decision.”
  3. Ask, “What can I do differently?”
  4. Ask, “What do you think is the best course of action?”
  5. Admit your mistakes.
  6. Treat mistakes as learning moments.
  7. Don’t treat everyone the same.
  8. Put employees ahead of customers.
  9. Promote learning opportunities.
  10. Be securely vulnerable.
  11. Follow the Platinum Rule – Treat others the way they want to be treated
  12. Welcome curiosity.
  13. Promote healthy conflict.
  14. Give employees a voice.
  15. Extend trust.
  16. Be trustworthy.
  17. Promote effectiveness, not efficiency.
  18. Encourage creativity in problem solving.
  19. Establish accountability with clear expectations.
  20. Share your intent.
  21. Be present; don’t multitask.
  22. Control your temper.
  23. Build rapport.
  24. Tell the truth.
  25. Follow through on commitments.
  26. Walk the talk.
  27. Solicit feedback from others.
  28. Use the feedback from others when making decisions.
  29. Listen without interrupting.
  30. Take responsibility for your actions.
  31. Share your expertise with others.
  32. Be a mentor.
  33. Keep confidences.
  34. Recognize and reward good behavior.
  35. Don’t bend the rules.
  36. Avoid gossip.
  37. Speak positively about others and the organization.
  38. Address behavior not in alignment with organizational values.
  39. Show care, concern, and compassion for others.
  40. Put others’ needs ahead of your own.
  41. Share information about yourself and the organization.
  42. Establish clear norms for your team.
  43. Develop and implement a clear decision-making process.
  44. Encourage responsible risk-taking.
  45. Encourage diverse points of view.
  46. Celebrate achievements and have fun.
  47. Promote autonomy and freedom.
  48. Implement health and wellness strategies.
  49. Conduct team-building activities and events.
  50. Provide training on communication, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, building trust, etc.

The 5 Causes of Psychological Safety and Why You Need to be a Safe Leader

Reflective Listening

Psychological safety sounds like a complex academic topic, doesn’t it? It’s quite simple when you boil it down to its essence.

Amy Edmondson of Harvard University has pioneered the research on psychological safety. She says psychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in his/her work environment. It consists of taken-for-granted beliefs about how others will respond when one puts oneself on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea.

When faced with these kinds of situations, we make micro-second calculations to assess the risk and likely consequences of our behavior. We make these decisions in light of the interpersonal climate we’re in, so we say to ourselves “If I do X here, will I be hurt, embarrassed, or criticized? Or will I be praised, thanked, or respected?”

Organizational Conditions for Psychological Safety

There are five areas that contribute to the establishment of a psychologically safe environment. The first is Leader Behavior. The leader is always being watched. What you say and do has a profound impact on whether your team members feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Research has shown that bad news is rarely transmitted up the hierarchy and team members are more likely to seek help from peers than their boss. But on the flip side, research has also shown that leaders who exhibit supportive managerial behaviors have positive effects on self-expression and creativity. Leaders must go out of their way to be open and use coaching-oriented behaviors. The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility.

The second area that contributes to psychological safety is Group Dynamics. The norms of a group either encourage or inhibit team member vulnerability. Are new ideas welcomed or discouraged? Are divergent opinions solicited or are they criticized? The interplay of team member roles and characters are also part of group dynamics. Have you ever noticed how people in teams tend to assume familial-type roles? You often have a father figure of a group that offers sage advice and direction. You may have team member who plays a mothering role, the favored son who can do no wrong, or even the black sheep of the team who tends to stir up trouble. The interplay of these roles has a direct impact on the level of safety within a team. Additionally, in-group and out-group dynamics and power distribution among team members influence psychological safety.Psychological Safety 5 Factors

The third area that influences psychological safety is Trust and Respect. There is significant overlap between trust and psychological safety as it relates to vulnerability. Trust can be defined as the willingness to be vulnerable based on perceptions of someone’s (or some thing’s) trustworthiness. If you don’t feel the leader or team is trustworthy, you won’t be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself at risk. Supportive and trusting relationships promote psychological safety, whereas lack of respect makes people feel judged or inferior, resulting in them keeping their opinions to themselves. Trust is at the heart of creating a safe environment.

The fourth area that contributes to psychological safety is the use of Practice Fields. Peter Senge coined this term in the 1990’s to describe one of the hallmarks of a learning organization. He made the point that unlike other fields, most businesses don’t employ practice and reflection to improve the skills of their employees. For example, what do sport teams do between games? They practice! Practice is a safe environment to learn, make mistakes, and work on skill improvement. Pilots train in simulators before flying a new aircraft. Surgeons observe, assist, and practice new procedures before leading an operation. Employing practice fields creates an environment where it is safe to learn and make mistakes without fear of being penalized.

Finally, the fifth area that contributes to psychological safety is having a Supportive Organizational Context. What does that mean? It means team members have access to resources and information to perform their best. When people have this level of freedom it reduces anxiety and defensiveness. Contrast this to being in a “need to know” environment where suspicion, tension, power, control, and territoriality are the norm. Organizations with healthy and ethical cultures of fairness and trust create the supportive mechanisms that allow people to feel safe, take risks, and innovate.

Results of Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is a win-win for both employees and the organization.

Safe environments allow people to seek feedback more often. Seeking feedback places a person in a position of vulnerability to hear negative criticism, however, when it is safe to do so, the sharing of feedback leads to improvements in quality and performance. Safe environments also encourage people to seek help from those who are in positions of greater power. It’s risky to ask for help from someone who judges your performance, but leaders who foster psychological safety make it easy for their team members to ask for help.

A culture of psychological safety encourages people to speak up about wrongdoing. It alleviates concerns about repercussions of calling out unethical or illegal behavior, which is critical in today’s low-trust environments of many organizations. Innovation is also a benefit of having a safe environment. Innovation is essentially about taking a risk and trying something new. It’s about offering new ideas and challenging conventional ways of thinking which can’t happen if people are afraid of being judged or punished for stepping out of line. Lastly, psychologically safe environments allow team members to work more effectively across boundaries. It increases communication and coordination with other groups in the organization. It lowers the interpersonal risk of asking for help, resources, seeking feedback, or delivering bad news.

It’s vitally important for leaders to establish environments of trust and safety so their people can step out, step up, and achieve new heights of accomplishments. It begins by being a safe leader who is trustworthy, respectful, and committed to prioritizing the well-being of his/her team members over his/her self-interest. It begins by leading with trust.

25 Ways to Immediately Build Trust at Work

Most people assume that trust “just happens” in relationships. Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure that trust just naturally develops over the course of time, and the longer you’re in relationship with someone, the greater the likelihood you’ll build a strong bond of trust.

Well, if you believe that, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. Trust doesn’t work that way.

Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors you use. If you use trustworthy behaviors, you’ll be trusted. If you use behaviors that erode trust, people won’t trust you. It comes down to those simple and routine behaviors you use every day at work.

If you need help building trust at work, here are 25 specific ways you can start:

  1. Follow-through on your commitments.
  2. Take a genuine interest in your colleagues.
  3. Mentor someone.
  4. Strive to be the best at what you do.
  5. Tell the truth.
  6. Don’t gossip.
  7. Keep confidences.
  8. Listen well.
  9. Incorporate the ideas of others.
  10. Praise people for a job well done.
  11. Be responsive to requests.
  12. Under-promise and over-deliver.
  13. Walk your talk.
  14. Stand up for what is right.
  15. Admit your mistakes.
  16. Apologize when necessary.
  17. Constantly build your expertise.
  18. Build rapport with others.
  19. Be inclusive and appreciate diversity.
  20. Be on time for meetings and appointments.
  21. Demonstrate strong organizational skills.
  22. Say please and thank you.
  23. Go out of your way to help others.
  24. Be receptive to feedback.
  25. Be friendly.

Of course those are just the tip of the iceberg. What other key behaviors would you recommend to build trust? Please share your feedback by leaving a comment.

Even In This Cynical World, Trust Is Worth It

You’ve been betrayed by people you trusted and it has shaken you to the core. Time and time again you’ve opened yourself to the risk of trusting, only to be disappointed repeatedly. You’re hurt and bruised; mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe even physically. You question if trust is worth it.

You’re trapped in a downward spiral of distrust. Doubt and suspicion permeate your relationships, causing you to keep others at arm’s length. You fall further into states of anxiety, fear, and self-protection, until the only solution you see is to build walls around yourself to keep the pain out. It works. Your walls keep the pain out, but trap the loneliness inside. You question if trust is worth it.

You know that life without trust is unfulfilling and you want more. You deserve more. The safety, strength, freedom, joy, and happiness that comes with trust is waiting for you, so you resolve to try again. Baby steps perhaps, but you will start again. You believe that trust is worth it.

3 Words That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership

Hemingway Quote - Trust Someone“I trust you.”

When it comes to building trust in relationships, someone has to make the first move. One person has to be willing to step out, be a little vulnerable, and place trust in another person. Is it risky? Yes! Without risk there isn’t a need for trust.

So in a work setting, who makes the first move, the leader or the follower? Some would argue that trust has to be earned before it is given, so that places the responsibility on the follower to make the first move. The follower needs to demonstrate trustworthiness over a period of time through consistent behavior, and as time goes by, the leader extends more and more trust to the follower. Makes sense and is certainly valid.

I would argue it’s the leader’s responsibility to make the first move. It’s incumbent upon the leader to extend, build, and sustain trust with his/her followers. Why? It’s the leader’s job to create followership. It’s not the follower’s responsibility to create leadership. In order to create followership—influencing a group of people to work toward achieving the goals of the team, department, organization—trust is an absolute essential ingredient, and establishing, nurturing, and sustaining it has to be a top leadership priority.

When you make the first move and say “I trust you,” through word and deed, you accomplish the following:

  • You empower your people — Being trusted frees people to take responsibility and ownership of their work. Trust and control are opposites of each other. We don’t trust others because we want to remain in control, which results in over-supervising or micromanaging employees and crushing their initiative and motivation. Extending trust means letting go of control and transferring power to others.
  • You encourage innovation — When employees feel trusted they are more willing to take risks, explore new ideas, and look for creative solutions to problems. Conversely, employees that don’t feel trusted will do the minimum amount of work to get by and engage in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior to avoid catching heat from the boss.
  • You tap into discretionary effort — Trust is the lever that allows leaders to tap into the discretionary effort of their people. People who feel trusted will go the extra mile to do a good job because they don’t want to let down the boss or organization. Being trusted instills a sense of responsibility and pride in people and it fuels their efforts to succeed.
  • You free yourself to focus in other areas — What happens when you don’t trust your people? You end up doing all the work yourself. Leadership is about developing other people to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Does it take time? Yes. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely! Develop and build trust with your team so that you can spend time on the critical leadership tasks that are on your plate.

Let me make an important point—I’m not suggesting that leaders extend trust blindly. It’s foolish to give complete trust to someone who isn’t competent or hasn’t displayed the integrity to be trusted. I’m talking about extending appropriate levels of trust based on the unique requirements and conditions of the relationship. Leaders have to use sound judgement in regards to the amount of trust they extend and it usually begins with small amounts of trust and grows over time as the person proves to be trustworthy. But the point is, someone has to make the first move to extend trust in a relationship.

Leaders—It’s your move.

The Leadership Superpower That Builds Trust and Connection

If you could have any superpower in the world that would help you be a better leader, what would it be?

Mind-control could be a good choice. Manipulating people’s minds to make them do what you want would certainly make your job easier. Or how about super-intelligence? If you were the smartest person in the room, you could shortcut all the inane problem-solving discussion and just tell everyone the answer. That would definitely improve productivity, wouldn’t it? Or maybe you’d like an out-of-this-world dose of charisma that would allow you to inspire your followers to charge through a brick wall to achieve the vision you laid before them. All of those abilities sound wonderful, but we know that superpowers don’t exist, right?

Well, according to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., we all have a very specific superpower, but most of us fail to recognize it as such. What is this leadership superpower? It’s your social skills.

What? Social skills are a leadership superpower? Are you kidding me?

Nope, I’m not kidding. And I believe it, too. In 22 years of working for The Ken Blanchard Companies, I can tell you that one of the top reasons organizations bring us in to work with their leaders is because they don’t have the social skills needed to lead others. To illustrate, let me ask you a question: Who is it that usually gets promoted to a leadership role? The star performer, of course. Well, just because someone is a superstar as an individual contributor, doesn’t mean she will be a superstar leader. Leadership is a whole different ballgame where success or failure usually hinges on a person’s social skills.

In particular, your social skills are critical to creating stronger bonds of relational connection that results in higher levels of trust with others.

There is an epidemic of loneliness in America, and our workplaces are in dire need of greater relational connection. My friend Mike Stallard, is an author, speaker, and expert on human connection in corporate cultures and how it affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He recently wrote about this challenge and the benefits organizations can achieve if they improve human connection. Stallard points out that stronger bonds of human connection in the workplace boosts the cognitive firepower of employees, increases employee engagement, tightens strategic alignment, improves decision-making quality and boosts the rate of innovation.

Connection not only addresses the problems of loneliness and its ill effects, it also builds trust. In fact, connection is one of the four key elements of trust in a relationship.

Connection is about caring for others. When people see that you act with goodwill, that you have their best interests in mind, they are more apt to trust you. They trust your intentions because they believe you won’t do anything to intentionally try to harm them. Connection also builds trust through open communication. Sharing information about yourself and the organization shows people that you don’t have any hidden agendas. People see that you don’t use information as power, and you don’t withhold it in an attempt to retain power over them. You can also build connection through rapport. In Stallard’s article, he cites the example of a Costco manager who builds rapport by making it a point to remember the names and something memorable about all 280 of his employees.

Trust is important because it’s the magic ingredient of organizational success. It acts as both the lubrication that keeps organization’s running smoothly as well as the glue that holds it all together. Research has repeatedly shown that high levels of trust in organizations lead to higher revenues, profit, innovation, engagement, and lower costs related to turnover, accidents, sick-leave, and employee theft.

So forget about wishing for the superpowers of mind-control, super-intelligence, or hyper-charisma. You’ve already got a superpower and didn’t even realize it. Now it’s time to put it to work.

Do Your Leaders Build or Erode Trust? #infographic

Trust is the absolute, without a doubt, most important ingredient for a successful relationship, especially for leaders. Unfortunately, though, most leaders don’t give much thought to trust until it’s been broken, and that’s the worst time to realize its importance.

According to a study by Tolero Solutions, 45% of employees say lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting work performance. A 2015 study titled Building Workplace Trust reported that only 40% of employees have a high level of trust in their management and organization, and 25% reported lower levels of trust in those two groups than they did two years before.

Many leaders think trust “just happens,” like some sort of relationship osmosis. These people often understand trust is important, but they don’t know what it takes to have their people perceive them as being trustworthy. There are four elements of trust in a relationship. Leaders demonstrate their trustworthiness when they are:

Able—Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions. Their people trust their competence.

Believable—Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected leader who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust leaders who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable leaders are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

Trust enables cooperation, encourages information sharing, and increases openness and mutual acceptance. It creates a culture of safety that leads to greater innovation and appropriate risk-taking. Trust also paves the way for unleashing employee engagement. A 2016 study we conducted showed leader trustworthiness is highly correlated to the five key intentions that drive employee work passion: discretionary effort, intent to perform, intent to endorse, intent to remain, and organizational citizenship.

Building trust is a skill that can be developed. You can learn how to become more trustworthy by being able, believable, connected, and dependable in your relationships, and therefore more trusted by your employees. Trust doesn’t happen by accident. YOU make it happen.

Musings on Trust and Father’s Day

cropped-trust-156270051.jpgRandom musings on trust and Father’s Day…

Dad’s have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to be a role model of trustworthy behavior. Let’s not blow it!…

Young children need an environment of safety and security to develop a healthy sense of trust. Dads can help cultivate that environment by keeping their commitments. Kids need to know without a doubt that if Dad says he’ll do something, it’s as good as done…

Dads, when was the last time you told your children you love them and are proud of them? Staying connected to your children emotionally is a critical aspect of building trust. Be sure to keep your “I love you’s” up to date…

When your children think of integrity, wouldn’t it be great if the picture they have in mind is of you, Dad? You can be that role-model of integrity by being honest, admitting your mistakes, treating others fairly, and being a man of your word. Don’t blow your integrity for short-term gain…

Feel like you don’t know how to be a good dad because you didn’t grow up with a healthy role-model of a father? I know you how you feel. Seek out others who are great dads to be your mentors and learn from them…

Don’t get down on yourself when you make mistakes. Being a dad is on-the-job training. Admit it when you mess up, apologize, and work to do better next time. Kids are incredibly forgiving…

Consistency is key to building trust. It’s the little things you do repeatedly over time that build a strong bond of trust with your kids. When it comes to trust, the little things do matter…

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Don’t take trust for granted. Remember, trust is not a destination, it’s a journey. Travel well!

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.

 

3 Proven Strategies for Leading Virtual Teams

Virtual Team CloudIn 1997 I asked my boss to consider allowing me to telecommute on a part-time basis. My proposal went down in flames. Although the company already had field-based people who telecommuted full-time, and my boss herself worked from home on a regular basis, the prevailing mindset was work was someplace you went, not something you did.

Fast forward a few years to the early-2000’s and I’m supervising team members who worked remotely full-time. The exodus continued for a few years and by the mid-2000’s nearly half my team worked virtually. A little more than 20 years after I submitted my telecommuting proposal, the world has become a smaller place. My organization has associates in Canada, the U.K., Singapore, France, and scores of colleagues work out of home offices around the globe.

My experience mirrors the reality of many leaders today. Managing teams with virtual workers is commonplace and will likely increase as technology becomes ever more ubiquitous in our lives. Here are three specific strategies I’ve adopted over the years in leading a virtual team:

Establish the profile of a successful virtual worker – Not everyone is cut out to be a successful virtual worker. It takes discipline, maturity, good time management skills, technical proficiency (you’re often your own tech support), and a successful track record of performance in the particular role. I’ve always considered working remotely a privilege, not a right, and the privilege has to be earned. You have to have a high level of trust in your virtual workers and they should be reliable and dependable performers who honor their commitments and do good quality work.

Have explicit expectations – There needs to be a clear understanding about the expectations of working virtually. For example, my team has norms around the use of Instant Messenger, forwarding office phone extensions to home/cell lines, using webcams for meetings, frequency of updating voicemail greetings, email response time, and out-of-office protocols just to name a few. Virtual team members generally enjoy greater freedom and autonomy than their office-bound counterparts, and for anyone who has worked remotely can attest, are often more productive and work longer hours in exchange. A downside is virtual workers can suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” so it’s important they work extra hard to be visible and active within the team.

Understand and manage the unique dynamics of a virtual team – Virtual teams add a few wrinkles to your job as a leader and a specific one is communication. It’s important to ramp up the frequency of communication and leverage all the tools at your disposal: email, phone, webcam, instant messenger, and others. It’s helpful to set, and keep, regular meeting times with virtual team members.

One of the biggest challenges in managing a virtual team is fostering a sense of connection. They aren’t privy to the hallway conversations where valuable information about the organization is often shared, and they miss out on those random encounters with other team members where personal relationships are built.

Team building activities also look a little different with a virtual team. Potluck lunches work great for the office staff, but can feel exclusionary to remote workers. Don’t stop doing events for the office staff for fear of leaving out virtual team members, but look for other ways to foster team unity with remote workers. For example, when we’ve had office holiday dinners and a Christmas gift exchange, remote team members will participate in the gift exchange and we’ll send them a gift card to a restaurant of their choice.

For many jobs, work is no longer a place we go to but something we do, from any place at any time. Virtual teams aren’t necessarily better or worse than on-site teams, but they do have different dynamics that need to be accounted for and managed, expectations need to be clear, and you need to make sure the virtual worker is set up for success.

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