Leading with Trust

You Might Be A “Frankenboss” If…

Frankenbossnoun; 1. A mean boss that terrorizes his or her employees; 2. A boss whose behavior closely resembles that of a half-brained monster; 3. A jerk.

With Halloween just a few days away, I told my wife that I wanted to write an article about the bad, clueless behaviors that make a leader a “Frankenboss” (see definition above). Sadly enough, it only took us about 3 minutes to brainstorm the following list. If any of these describe your leadership style, you might want to take a look in the mirror and examine the face that’s peering back at you…you might have bolts growing out the sides of your neck.

You might be a Frankenboss if you…

1. Lose your temper – Some leaders think by yelling or cursing at employees they are motivating them. Baloney! Losing your temper only shows a lack of maturity and self-control. There’s no room for yelling and screaming in today’s workplace. Our society has finally awoken to the damaging effects of bullying in our school system so why should it be any different at work? No one should have to go to work and fear getting reamed out by their boss. If you have troubles controlling your temper then do something to fix it.

2. Don’t follow through on your commitments – One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to not follow through on commitments. As a leader, your people look to you to see what behavior is acceptable, and if you have a habit of not following through on your commitments, it sends an unspoken message to your team that it’s OK for them to not follow through on their commitments either.

3. Don’t pay attention, multi-task, or aren’t “present” in meetings – Some studies say that body language accounts for 50-70% of communication. Multi-tasking on your phone, being preoccupied with other thoughts and priorities, or simply exhibiting an attitude of boredom or impatience in meetings all send the message to your team that you’d rather be any place else than meeting with them. It’s rude and disrespectful to your team to act that way. If you can’t be fully engaged and devote the time and energy needed to meet with your team, then be honest with them and work to arrange your schedule so that you can give them 100% of your focus. They deserve it.

4. Are driven by your ego – The heart of leadership is about giving, not receiving. Self-serving leaders may be successful in the short-term, but they won’t be able to create a sustainable followership over time. I’m not saying it’s not important for leaders to have a healthy self-esteem because it’s very important. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s going to be hard to generate the self-confidence needed to lead assertively, but there is a difference between self-confidence and egoism. Ken Blanchard likes to say that selfless leaders don’t think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less.

5. Avoid conflict – Successful leaders know how to effectively manage conflict in their teams. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our culture tends to have a negative view of conflict and neglect the benefits of creativity, better decision-making, and innovation that it can bring. Frankenbosses tend to either completely avoid conflict by sweeping issues under the rug or they go to the extreme by choosing to make a mountain out of every molehill. Good leaders learn how to diagnose the situation at hand and use the appropriate conflict management style.

6. Don’t give feedback – Your people need to know how they’re performing, both good and bad. A hallmark of trusted leaders is their open communication style. They share information about themselves, the organization, and they keep their employees apprised of how they’re performing. Meeting on a quarterly basis to review the employee’s goals and their progress towards attaining those goals is a good performance management practice. It’s not fair to your employees to give them an assignment, never check on how they’re doing, and then blast them with negative feedback when they fail to deliver exactly what you wanted. It’s Leadership 101 – set clear goals, provide the direction and support the person needs, provide coaching and feedback along the way, and then celebrate with them when they achieve the goal.

7. Micromanage – Ugh…even saying the word conjures up stress and anxiety. Micromanaging bosses are like dirty diapers – full of crap and all over your a**. The source of micromanagement comes from several places. The micromanager tends to think their way is the best and only way to do the task, they have control issues, they don’t trust others, and generally are not good at training, delegating, and letting go of work. Then they spend their time re-doing the work of their subordinates until it meets their unrealistic standards and they go around complaining about how overworked and stressed-out they are! Knock it off! A sign of a good leader is what happens in the office when you’re not there. Are people fully competent in the work? Is it meeting quality standards? Are they behaving like good corporate citizens? Micromanagers have to learn to hire the right folks, train them to do the job the right way, monitor their performance, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

8. Throw your team members under the bus – When great bosses experience success, they give the credit to their team. When they encounter failure, they take personal responsibility. Blaming, accusing, or making excuses is a sign of being a weak, insecure leader. Trusted leaders own up to their mistakes, don’t blame others, and work to fix the problem. If you’re prone to throwing your team members under the bus whenever you or they mess up, you’ll find that they will start to withdraw, take less risk, and engage in more CYA behavior. No one likes to be called out in front of others, especially when it’s not justified. Man up and take responsibility.

9. Always play by the book – Leadership is not always black and white. There are a lot of gray areas when it comes to being a leader and the best ones learn to use good judgment and intuition to handle each situation uniquely. There are some instances where you need to treat everyone the same when it comes to critical policies and procedures, but there are also lots of times when you need to weigh the variables involved and make tough decisions. Too many leaders rely upon the organizational policy manual so they don’t have to make tough decisions. It’s much easier to say “Sorry, that’s the policy” than it is to jump into the fray and come up with creative solutions to the problems at hand.

10. You practice “seagull” management – A seagull manager is one who periodically flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps all over everyone, and then flies away. Good leaders are engaged with their team members and have the pulse of what’s going on in the organization. That is much harder work than it is to be a seagull manager, but it also earns you much more respect and trust from your team members because they know you understand what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis and you have their best interests in mind.

I’m sure you’ve had your own personal experiences with a Frankenboss. What other behaviors would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

5 Ways You Undermine Trust in Your Leadership

For leaders, trust is a must. It’s the critical foundation for creating an environment where your team members can flourish, be engaged, and exercise their creativity and innovation to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Trust is the connective tissue in relationships and organizations, and it allows us to collaborate and achieve more together than we would independently.

But trust is under attack. Nearly everyday we hear or see reports of prominent leaders who have been caught in a scandal, violated the law, or broken trust with their followers in some form or fashion. Whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally, we act in ways that cause others to doubt our trustworthiness. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to undermining trust in our leadership.

What are the ways we undermine trust? Well, there are several, but five stand out above the others. These five ways have the power to destroy trust on multiple fronts. They can erode trust slowly over a long period of time, to where one day you wake up and realize the trust you thought you had in a relationship has disappeared. On the other hand, these enemies of trust can also destroy a relationship in one fatal blow, like a sledgehammer crushing a cement block. You must be on guard to constantly protect and nurture the most prized possession of your leadership—trust.

Five Ways We Undermine Trust in Our Leadership

  1. Self-Orientation – Self-oriented leaders place a higher priority on their personal needs and desires above those of their followers. They’re in it for themselves. They are more concerned with how they look to their higher-ups than how they’re viewed by their team members. Charles Green, co-author of the book The Trusted Advisor, uses a formula to describe how trust is built. His “trust equation” is Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) ÷ Self-Orientation. The more self-oriented (aka, selfish) you are, the greater you reduce the amount of trust you build with others. Self-oriented leaders are more focused on “me” than “we.”
  2. Control – Most people think distrust or mistrust is the opposite of trust. That’s not correct. The opposite of trust is control. That’s because trust requires risk, and you must give up a degree of control when you accept the risk of extending trust to someone. For trust to be established, someone must first extend trust, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first. Leaders who refuse to accept the risk of trusting others are forced to rely on controlling behaviors like micromanaging, not sharing information, or performing all the work themselves.
  3. Isolation – There are a few ways we let isolation undermine trust in our leadership. One is when leaders isolate themselves from others, either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional isolation happens when leaders move higher up in the organization and have less contact with their team members, become focused on other priorities, or simply get distracted with busyness to the neglect of connecting with team members. Another way isolation erodes trust is when leaders “freeze out” or intentionally ignore a team member. People trust leaders who establish a personal connection with them. They want to know their leader cares about them and their well-being. Distrust is born in the absence of connection, and isolation has a way of feeding upon itself and creating more distance in the relationship.
  4. Unreliability – Perhaps the most common way we undermine trust, unreliability slowly chips away at trust every time a leader fails to meet a commitment. Leaders are expected to be role models of accountability, and when they don’t keep their own commitments, it sends a message to the entire team that it’s OK for them to do the same. Unreliability is also a silent killer of trust. Most people are forgiving when small, inconsequential commitments are dropped. Being a few minutes late for a meeting, a slow response to an email, or canceling a meeting at the last minute are common examples of everyday behaviors that demonstrate unreliability. A few, infrequent occurrences of those behaviors don’t have much impact on trust, but when they happen often enough that the leader develops a reputation of being unreliable, a trust gap has developed that can be difficult to overcome.
  5. Dishonesty – Being dishonest is the cardinal sin of trustworthy leadership. Above all, trustworthy leaders are honest and act with integrity. That means keeping your promises, not gossiping, and telling the truth. Trustworthy leaders not only tell the truth, but they’re honest without spinning the truth. Spinning the truth is really mis-characterizing the facts of a situation in order to make yourself or the organization look good or attempting to influence people to interpret the truth in the way you want them to. Many people view integrity as the heart of trust, and if leaders are not honest, they have virtually no chance to win the trust of their followers.

When leaders are trusted by their followers, anything is possible. Research has consistently shown that high trust leaders have teams that are more productive, innovative, and have higher levels of engagement. The best way to build trust is to avoid breaking it in the first place, and to do that we have to quit sabotaging ourselves by acting in ways that undermine trust.

The 1 Thing That Makes Feedback Work and 4 Ways to Get It

Feedback Book CoverFeedback has become the dreaded and dirty “F” word at work. No one wants to receive it, most fear giving it, yet everyone needs it in order to grow and improve. So, what do we do? Abandon feedback altogether or fix the way it’s used in the workplace?

M. Tamara Chandler and Laura Dowling Grealish make the case we need to fix the way feedback is viewed, delivered, and received in their book, Feedback (and Other Dirty Words)—Why We Fear It, How To Fix It.

Chandler and Grealish wisely point out that trust is the one thing that will fix the foundation of feedback. Trust is the must-have ingredient for open and honest communication, and feedback isn’t possible without it. When you receive feedback from someone you don’t trust, you question their motives for giving it. Since you don’t trust their intentions, you are likely to immediately discount or disregard their feedback, even if it is true and could help you grow or improve. If you try giving feedback to someone who doesn’t trust you, you are likely to trigger their “fight, flight, or freeze” response and your feedback won’t accomplish anything.

Trust acts as the grease for the gears of feedback. When trust is present, feedback can be given frequently, received generously, and produce powerful change. When trust is absent, the gears of feedback produce friction, give off sparks, and eventually grind to a halt. The lack of effective feedback flowing across the organization leads to siloed thinking and behavior. Individuals and teams get stuck in patterns of dysfunctional and unproductive behaviors that effectively act as a brake that slows down or prevents the organization’s success.

So, if trust is the foundation for feedback, we must make intentional effort to build it. Trust doesn’t happen by accident; it’s a direct result of the behaviors we use, or don’t use. Chandler and Grealish offer four ways you can build trust in a way that fosters healthy feedback.

1. Be Human. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our power, position, and influence. When we do that, we tend to stop viewing others as individuals with hopes, dreams, and feelings. We start to treat people as things instead of human beings. The authors offer the following examples of ways to demonstrate your humanity:

  • Admit mistakes
  • Be authentic; let your values show
  • Get personal; share your thoughts and feelings
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously

2. Do What You Say You’ll Do. One of the four key elements of trust is dependability. Right, wrong, or indifferent, if you aren’t consistently reliable, people will be hesitant or downright resistant to trust you. Examples include:

  • Keep your promises
  • Don’t over-commit
  • Be consistent and reliable
  • Don’t lie, conceal, or exaggerate

3. Be Kind. Trust flourishes in an environment of safety. If you are unpredictable, uncaring, or uninterested in others, they will be fearful and skeptical of your intent. Ways to demonstrate kindness include:

  • Encourage others
  • Speak kindly; eliminate criticism, defensiveness, blame
  • Be available and present for others
  • Value the needs of others as much as your own

4. Connect. Personal connection enhances trust, and good connection requires an investment in time and effort. This means we:

  • Spend time with others and are fully present when doing so
  • Seek win-win outcomes
  • Relinquish control and allow for collaboration
  • Honor others’ viewpoints and listen without judgment

Giving and receiving feedback doesn’t need to be a dreaded experience. It can, and should be, a normal and healthy free-flowing exchange between people. Trust is the foundation of feedback, and unless that foundation is rock-solid, feedback will continue to be a dirty word in organizations.

25 Simple Ways to Build Trust at Work

Trust Under ConstructionMost 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 simple and 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.

A Study of Over 19,000 People Reveals The 2 Most Critical Factors of Highly Engaged Employees

ADP Research recently released the results of a massive global study on engagement that involved over 19,000 people across 19 countries and 13 industries. The study included full-time employees, part-time employees, gig workers, those with multiple jobs, and people with full-time jobs plus gig jobs on the side.

As my colleague Drea Zigarmi and I wrote in a March 2019 article for Workforce Magazine, employee engagement is a broad and complex problem that organizations spend $720 million a year trying to solve, according to a Bersin & Associates report. Yet when it comes to engagement there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition of the term. Descriptions vary widely, with elements that include commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment and performance, to name a few.

ADP Research and Marcus Buckingham define engagement as “a positive state of mind characterized by ‘vigor, dedication and absorption'” (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). Vigor describes the willingness to invest all of one’s self into work and refers to high levels of conscientiousness, persistence, energy, and mental toughness. Dedication refers to being strongly connected to one’s work while experiencing a sense of significance, pride, enthusiasm, and challenge. Absorption implies being deeply involved in one’s work, such that time passes quickly and disconnecting from work becomes difficult.

So, what did the results of their research find? The two factors that stood out above all others that characterized highly engaged employees were:

  1. Being on a team increases engagement
  2. Trust in the team leader is the foundation of engagement

Workers who are part of a team are 2.3 times more likely to be fully engaged than those who are not. These results were consistent across country, industry, virtual workers, or those co-located. Too many organizations discount the power and importance of teams. Our own research at The Ken Blanchard Companies has shown that organizations charge teams with solving their most persistent and difficult problems, but few organizations support their teams with proper training and tools to be successful working as a group. ADP’s research indicated 64% of respondents worked in more than one team, and 75% report that their teams are not represented in their employer’s organization chart. Teams exist all across the organization, but they live in shadows and carry out their work without much official organizational support.

A worker is 12x more likely to be Fully Engaged if he or she TRUSTS the team leader.

ADP’s research also revealed that by far, the best explanation for employees’ level of engagement was whether the team members trust their team leader. Of those who strongly agreed that they trusted their team leader, 45% were fully engaged. Of those who didn’t strongly agree, only 6% were fully engaged. Team members who trust their team leader are 12 times more likely to be fully engaged.

How can you lay the groundwork for teams to be successful and well supported in your organization? Here’s a few ways to get started:

  1. Officially endorse and charter teams—Most teams get started by a leader deciding to pull some people together to tackle a problem. Someone gets designated as the team leader and then the team gets to work. Instead, take the time to officially charter the team. Clearly identify its purpose, goals, norms, communication strategies, and decision-making processes. Provide the team with budget, manpower, and other organizational resources that will enable it to be successful.
  2. Establish a common language of trust—Trust doesn’t happen by accident and given the importance of team leaders having the trust of their team members, it’s critical that organizations take the time to train their employees on how to build trust. Trust is based on perceptions, and those perceptions are formed by the behaviors we use. Each one of us has a slightly different idea of what trust means to us, and unless the team shares a common definition of trust, trust will be harder to build. Team leaders will be perceived as trustworthy if they exemplify the ABCD’s of trust—Able, Believeable, Connected, and Dependable.
  3. Help teams navigate conflict—Teams inevitably experience rough patches and must deal with conflict. Not all conflict is the same, so it’s important for team leaders to understand the different types of conflict and how to deal with each of them. Some conflict is over positions, strategies, or opinions. If handled correctly, this can be healthy conflict that leads to better decisions and outcomes. Other conflict arises from power issues, personal agendas, or lack of trust. This kind of conflict can poison a team from the inside-out and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. Check out 4 Types of Team Conflict And How to Deal With Each Effectively for more information.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy and vibrant relationship, so it’s not a great surprise to find that ADP’s research identifies trust in team leaders as the foundation of engagement. The answer is obvious, so now the question becomes what are you going to do about it?

Show and Tell – A Game Leaders Need to Play

Did you ever play the game Show and Tell when you were in elementary school? It wasn’t really a game in the traditional sense, but more like story-time or a group activity to help the whole class learn more about the presenter.

The premise of Show and Tell is a student gets to bring something from home to show the class and then tells them why it’s important to them or what it represents about them as a person. I remember looking forward to Show and Tell days with great excitement!

My favorite Show and Tell was in 6th grade when Simon Mattar’s uncle showed us his tricked-out 1950’s era ambulance that had been converted into an all-purpose rescue vehicle. This thing was so cool that you could change a flat tire on the vehicle while it was driving down the road! That’s the day Simon Mattar became a legend at Avondale Elementary. I gained a whole new appreciation for who Simon was and what his family was about after that experience.

I think our workplaces would be more productive, humane, and empowering if more leaders played Show and Tell. Not in the same way we did as kids in elementary school, but in our everyday words and actions. Here’s a good place to start:

Show
  • Competence – Too often people stop focusing on their personal learning and development once they reach a leadership position. I would argue the opposite needs to occur – that’s when you need to ramp up your education. Showing your team that you prioritize ongoing education sends the message to them that they should do the same. It’s important to not just stay up to speed on the technical aspects of your team’s work, but also on general leadership and management practices. Being a manager or leader is a mindset and skillset unto itself, and the best leaders are lifelong learners.
  • Integrity – Integrity is about walking the talk. It’s about your actions aligning with your words, and when you’re a leader, you can be sure that your team members are watching your every move. The best leaders show they are worthy of the trust of their teammates. They do that by being honest, keeping confidences, and not playing favorites. At the end of the day, leaders are known by their integrity, and sadly, the lack thereof.
  • Care and Concern – It’s a cliché but it’s true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Expressing care and concern for others is one of the quickest and easiest ways for leaders to earn the trust and respect of their team. You can start by building rapport, which is simply finding common ground with another person. You can also express care by getting to know your team members as people who have lives outside of work. What are their interests? Hobbies? Kids’ activities?
  • Dependability – Leaders show they are dependable by following-through on commitments. They are responsive to their team members, respect their time, and are punctual for meetings (yes, showing up on time is still important!). Conversely, not being reliable erodes trust with others and shows that you can’t be depended on when it counts.
Tell
  • People they’re doing a good job – How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise you receive from your boss? Nobody? I didn’t think so. The truth is that most people are starved for a little bit of recognition from their boss. Take the time to verbalize your thanks and appreciation for the good work your team produces.
  • People how they can do better – Yes, you heard that right; tell people how they can do better (and show them how). A good coach is always encouraging his team members to improve their skills. Why do you think professional athletes still have coaches? It’s because they know that no matter how good they are they can still get better. I’ve learned through personal experience that withholding constructive criticism from a team member does them a disservice. People can’t improve if they don’t receive timely and accurate coaching.
  • The whole story – Too many leaders are selective story tellers; they only tell their people what they want them to know. In the absence of information, people make up their own version of the truth. It’s the leader’s duty to share as much information as ethically appropriate and then trust their people to act correctly. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.
  • Others about yourself – Leaders who share information about themselves, particularly their vulnerabilities, garner immensely more respect and trust from their team than leaders who don’t share personal information. I believe it’s a false notion that leaders must keep their business and personal lives separate. Today’s employee wants to have a genuine and authentic experience at work. They want to know they are valued and appreciated as individuals, not just workers showing up to do a job. Leaders must model that level of authenticity if they hope to attract and retain the best talent.

Show and Tell in today’s workplace isn’t quite the same as it was back in elementary school, but the outcomes are similar. It results in helping people to know each other better, foster team cohesiveness, and develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their teammates. Those sound like worthy goals for any organization.

Never Trust, Always Verify

No TrustNever trust, always verify.

I saw this tagline recently in an advertisement for a digital security product. The company’s message was straight-forward and clear—when it comes to digital security, you should never, ever, ever trust anyone or anything. Always verify.

Sadly, this advertising tagline struck me as ringing true for the way many people treat relationships in this day and age. Our current polarized political and social climate pits people against each other with little room in the middle. You’re either Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, patriotic or traitorous, a coastal elite or a fly-over country bumpkin.

This either/or mentality is shaping the way we build trust in relationships. In order for trust to be established, one person has to make the first move to extend trust to the other. It’s risky and there’s no way around it. If there wasn’t risk, there wouldn’t be a need for trust. How can you make the first move to extend trust if you believe you should never trust and always verify? You can’t.

If we hope to make any progress in finding common ground with each other we have to learn to trust. Trust isn’t all or nothing. Trusting someone doesn’t mean you trust them 100% of the time in all situations. Trust is situational. It’s contextual to the individual and circumstance. For example, I have a high degree of trust in Tim, my auto mechanic. Over the years he’s done quality work, charged a fair price, and been honest in his dealings. He’s earned my trust. Would I trust Tim to prepare my tax returns? No, I wouldn’t. He’s not a CPA.

So, if trust is situational, how do we know when we can trust someone? An individual is trustworthy when he/she is…

Able—An able person demonstrates competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their particular job. 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.

Believable—A believable person acts 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 people 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 person who cares about people.

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

Never trust, always verify. It’s a catchy phrase that plays well for a company advertising a digital security product, but it’s a relationship killer. There’s no way to have any sort of relationship with someone without a modicum of trust. Someone has to make the first move to extend trust, with the hope and belief the other person will prove him/herself trustworthy.

4 Principles for Building Trust in a VUCA World

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity…over the last several years, the term VUCA has gained momentum in everyday life as a way to describe the fast-changing, chaotic, and unpredictable global environment in which we live and do business. Everywhere you look in leadership circles it’s VUCA this or VUCA that. A recent internet search on “VUCA leadership” returned over 347,000 references! It’s clearly a dynamic that leaders must manage in today’s world.

When faced with complex issues or situations, a leader’s job is to simplify things down to a reasonable level that allows people to understand what’s going on and to act in ways that create positive, forward progress; not get stymied or stuck in complexity. Unpredictability and chaos breed distrust, so just by living in a VUCA world, distrust has the power to run rampant. It’s imperative for leaders to understand what VUCA means and how to nurture trust with their followers amidst change.

But what exactly is VUCA? And whatever it is, how can a leader build and maintain trust in a world that seemingly can change overnight?

In a recent Forbes article, author Jeroen Kraaijenbrink provides a helpful definition of VUCA. When you understand the individual components and their relationships to each other, it’s easier to know how to lead in such an environment. Within each VUCA element, I believe there are four principles leaders can apply to build trust with their teams and organizations.

Volatility has to do with the speed of change. A tweet from a world leader can set a new wave of change into motion. New markets emerge overnight, or business models appear out of nowhere that put other organizations out of business in a snap of a finger. The more volatility there is in the world, the faster things change. The trust-building antidote to volatility is for leaders to be reliable and consistent in how they respond to change. Freaking out, making rash decisions, or retreating into a shell to resist change will further erode trust in leadership. Steady, thoughtful, and predictable leadership builds trust. As my fellow trust activist Stephen M.R. Covey points out in his book The Speed of Trust, when trust is high, teams and organizations can move faster and adapt to change easier.

Uncertainty is the extent to which we can reasonably predict the future. With change happening so fast, this is a tremendous challenge for 21st century leaders. The trust-building corollary is to emphasize what is known and to keep teams focused on things under their control. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, leaders need to extend trust in times of uncertainty. Trust requires risk. If there’s no risk, there’s no need for trust, and risk and uncertainty are brothers in crime. Leaders must resist the urge to control and play their cards close to the vest. Control is the opposite of trust, so if leaders resort to controlling behaviors like micromanaging or withholding information during times of uncertainty, they’ll further erode trust with their teams and kill their ability to thrive during change.

Complexity is the number and variety of factors a leader must consider and their relationships with one another. Often, a leader’s challenge is not having enough information to make a decision, but having too much information. We are overwhelmed with data, and many times it is too vague or inaccurate to breed a sense of confidence. When dealing with complexity, a leader builds trust by leveraging the skills and abilities of team members. They involve others in solving problems, bringing their best and brightest to the table to help figure out these complex issues. Trustworthy leaders share information liberally and foster a culture of transparency, because they believe that people cannot act responsibly if they don’t have the right information. High-trust leaders know that the answers to their most frequent business challenges often lie with the front-line people who deal with them every day. To build trust, ask questions, listen to learn, and incorporate your people’s ideas into decisions. A good team axiom is no one of us is as smart as all of us.

Ambiguity refers to the lack of clarity about how to interpret something. Information may be incomplete, the truth may be indiscernible, or the data may be contradictory. Fuzziness, vagueness, and indecisiveness reign in times of ambiguity. To build trust, leaders must be clear on the vision and purpose of the organization. Proverbs 29:18 shares the ancient wisdom that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” When your team has a clear vision of where they’re headed, they can cut through the noise, confusion, and distractions swirling around them. The leader’s job is not just to articulate a clear vision, but also to equip team members with the necessary mindset and skillset to achieve the vision.

I believe that high-trust leaders are uniquely positioned to successfully navigate their teams through the waters of VUCA. People are craving leaders of integrity and truth. They are searching for anchors of confidence and hope during turbulent times. Leaders who act in trustworthy ways build trust with their teams and gain their commitment and loyalty. That is what’s needed to survive and thrive in a VUCA world.

5 Ways Servant Leaders Stand Out From The Crowd

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are a scientist running a grand experiment on leadership. Your laboratory is an organization with hundreds of leaders at varying levels, and with technology, you can watch and listen to them 24-hours a day over an extend period of time. Sort of like the TV show Big Brother, except corporate style (and minus all the drama-filled antics). Essentially you get to observe the species Homo Sapiens Laederes in their native environment.

Your quest is to learn the behaviors that make servant leaders stand out from the crowd. In a noisy world where a few celebrity leaders grab the headlines, and everyone tries to copy-cat their way to becoming an overnight leadership success, servant leadership has withstood the test of time as a tried and true approach to effectively leading people and organizations. You would observe at least five key ways servant leaders are different from their counterparts.

Servant leaders…

  1. Listen more than they talk—A servant leader is much more interested in hearing the viewpoints of others than having their voice be the loudest in the room. Make no mistake, servant leaders clearly articulate their point of view and cast a vision for the organization, but they do so after they’ve spent plenty of time hearing from others, incorporating their ideas, and enlisting others in their cause. As Larry Spears observed in the book Servant Leadership in Action, listening is one of ten key characteristics of a servant leader. Listening involves paying attention to what is said and not said, identifying the will of the group, listening to the leader’s own inner voice, and coalescing that input into a clear plan of action.
  2. Say we more than meWhen servant leaders do talk, they focus the attention on their team by speaking in the collective we, rather than the personal me. Servant leaders know that leadership isn’t about them; it’s about others. Robert K. Greenleaf, the father of the modern servant leader movement, said the motive of a servant leader is to serve first, and out of that desire to serve rises a conscious decision to lead. Servant leaders are driven to improve the welfare, contribution, and autonomy of others, not to garner fame, attention, or status for themselves. Their focus is on we, not me.
  3. Flex their leadership style to meet the needs of their followers—Since servant leadership is about doing what’s best for others and helping them to realize their full potential, servant leaders adapt their leadership style to provide the right amount of direction and support their followers need. There is no one best leadership style. If someone is new to a task, the leader provides higher levels of direction to teach the how, what, where, when, and why. If the follower has a moderate level of competence but is unsure of himself, the servant leader uses a supportive style to build the follower’s confidence and help him problem solve. Servant leaders understand their followers have varying levels of competence and commitment on their tasks or goals so they adjust their leadership style to the situation.
  4. Look for opportunities to shine the light on others—As you observe leaders in this mythical experiment, you’d notice that servant leaders make an intentional effort to give people the chance to be in the spotlight and to praise them for their accomplishments. Servant leaders don’t care who gets the credit; they care about helping people and the organization succeed. Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous process that servant leaders look to perpetuate.
  5. Treat failures as learning moments—Failure is inevitable; learning is optional (click to tweet). Servant leaders view failure as an invaluable teaching tool, and rather than punish or demean people for making a mistake, they turn it into a positive and make it a learning moment. This is possible because servant leaders have a high level of trust with their followers. When people are trusted, they aren’t afraid to take risks and try something new. They know that if they fail, their leader will partner with them to use the opportunity to grow, learn, and do better next time. My friend and fellow servant leader, Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, embodies this philosophy. He believes that creating a culture of learning has been one of the pillars of WD-40’s success, an organization with 93% employee engagement.

Although it would be cool to take part in this kind of mad scientist experiment, it really isn’t necessary. Research about the effectiveness of servant leadership is plentiful and the traits of a servant leader are common sense, albeit not common practice. If you look around and see people engaging in these five behaviors and others like them, chances are they’re servant leaders who are bringing out the best in their people and organizations.

Confronting Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come on, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow. The following steps can help you capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, and resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receive coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

3 Reasons Why Leaders Should Pause and Take Notice

I have to admit, it’s easy for me not to notice. I get focused on my own goals and priorities and everything else around me seems to fade from view. That focused attention is a good thing when I need to meet a deadline or accomplish an important task, but when it comes to leading people, it’s a deadly mistake. I can get so wrapped up in my own agenda that I neglect to notice the needs of my team members.

I know I’m not alone here. Many people fall into the same trap because they think that’s what leaders are supposed to do. Make decisions, be in lots of meetings, and wear our busyness like a badge of courage. Let me be the first to break the news to you—that’s not how you should lead. Great leaders make time for their people because they know a leader’s best ability is availability. (click to tweet)

You may not think being a good “noticer” is important but I’d argue otherwise. I think it’s one of the top priorities for leaders because it makes you other-focused rather than self-focused.

Being a good noticer builds morale. Being valued, understood, and appreciated is a basic human need, but unfortunately, too many leaders forget their people are actually human. They view people as utilitarian resources performing a specific job function and treat them as interchangeable parts. But taking time to notice people lifts their spirits. A well-timed praising, note of thanks, or even just a personal conversation can turn around a person’s day.

Noticing people also builds trust. It shows your people that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers showing up to do a job. Everyone has a story and good leaders take the time to learn the stories of their team members. I’m not talking about hugging everyone and singing Kumbaya, but simply building relationships. Asking about their kids, getting their input on new ideas, or eating lunch in the break room with your team members every once in a while. With the trust of your team you can reach new heights, but without it you’re dead in the water.

Finally, noticing others keeps your leadership on course because you’re in tune with the needs of your team. The higher up leaders move in the organization the easier it is to get disconnected from the realities of life on the front line. Being a good noticer means you have to stay engaged with your team. It means you are familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly of what your team has to deal with daily. That allows you to make leadership decisions based on what’s really going on versus what you think is going on.

So I challenge you to make a commitment this week. Take 5 minutes each day to pause, consider your team, and notice what’s going on around you. If you see a person doing a good job, tell him/her so. If you see someone struggling, ask if they need help. If one of your team members seems downcast, ask if they’d like to talk. It’s not that hard; it just takes a little time and effort.

Feel free to leave a comment this week to let me know what you noticed.

Just OK is not OK When it Comes to Being Trustworthy

When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.

You may have seen any number of AT&T’s “just OK is not OK” series of commercials touting their wireless network. Well, I’m a fan of creative and funny TV commercials, and the first time I saw one of these I immediately saw the connection to trust. 

People form perceptions of our trustworthiness based on our behavior. Acting in trustworthy ways creates the condition of trust in our relationships. When you look at what makes people trustworthy, you find they are:

Able: Being able is about demonstrating competence. Able people have the expertise, training, and qualifications to perform well in their roles. They also have a track record of success as they demonstrate the ability to consistently achieve goals. Able people are skilled at facilitating work getting done in the organization. They develop credible project plans, systems, and processes that help team members accomplish their goals.

Believable: A believable person acts with integrity by dealing with others in an honest fashion; e.g., keeping promises, not lying or stretching the truth, not gossiping, etc. Believable people have a clear set of values. They communicate these values to others and use them consistently as a model for their behavior: they walk the talk. Finally, treating people fairly and equitably is a key characteristic of a believable person.

Connected: Connected people show care and concern for people, which builds trust and helps create an engaging work environment. People can create a sense of connection by openly sharing information about themselves and the organization and by trusting others to use that information responsibly. Connected people also build trust by having a people-first mentality and building rapport with others. Taking an interest in people as individuals, not nameless workers, shows that these people value and respect their colleagues.

Dependable: Being dependable and maintaining reliability is the fourth element of trustworthiness. One of the quickest ways people erode trust is by not following through on commitments. Conversely, those who do what they say they are going to do earn a reputation of being consistent and trustworthy. Maintaining reliability requires people to be organized so that they can follow through on commitments, be on time for appointments and meetings, and get back to people in a timely fashion. Dependable people also hold themselves and others accountable for following through on commitments and taking responsibility for their work.

Growing in trustworthiness is a journey, not a destination. You never reach the point where you can say you are fully trustworthy. Trust in relationships is a living organism, constantly interacting with and adjusting to the dynamics of the situation and individuals involved. In order for trust to flourish, it’s important to behave in ways that demonstrate you are able, believable, connected, and dependable.

When it comes to trustworthiness, being just OK is not OK.

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