Leading with Trust

6 Ways Leaders Build Trust During Change

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Death and taxes have traditionally been viewed as the two guarantees in life, but I think a third item has officially made the list: change.

The pace of change accelerates with each passing, day, month, and year. The exponential growth of technology has enabled new products, services, and businesses to rise to prominence in short order, and has caused others to become obsolete just as quickly.

Yet research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail, cost more, or take longer than expected. Leading people through change is not a natural-born talent for most people. It’s a skill that must be developed and practiced over time for leaders to become comfortable navigating the complexities of organizational change.

The one must-have ingredient of successful change efforts is trust. If the people in an organization don’t trust their leaders, they won’t buy-in to the change. They will question their motives, drag their feet, or actively work against the change. It’s critical that leaders foster a culture of trust before, during, and after a change effort if they want to have any chance of success.

Here are six specific steps leaders can take to build trust during organizational change:

  1. Set realistic expectations – One of the primary ways trust is eroded is a failure to meet expectations. Leaders can easily over-promise the benefits of the proposed change effort, and when those benefits aren’t achieved, trust is broken. Once employees lose trust, it’s hard to regain it, which handicaps future change efforts. Set clear and realistic expectations and then work hard to hit those deliverables.
  1. Address people’s concerns – Research from The Ken Blanchard Companies shows that people have predictable stages of concern when faced with a change. Leaders improve the chance of success if they proactively address those concerns, rather than finding themselves on their heels having to react to resistant employees. The first stage is information concerns. Your people need to know what the change is and why it’s needed. The second stage is personal concerns. Team members want to know how the change will impact them individually. Will I win or lose? What’s in it for me? Will there be new expectations of me? The third stage is implementation concerns. What do I do first? Second? Will the organization provide the necessary resources? Will I have enough time? Will there be new training involved? It’s critical for leaders to address these stages of concerns to alleviate fear and anxiety so their team can embrace the change effort.
  1. Make it safe – Employees will not embrace taking risks or innovating in new ways if they are fearful of being punished, criticized, or looked down upon for making mistakes. Leaders have the responsibility to create an environment of psychological safety where people feel safe putting themselves on the line, such as asking a question, seeking feedback, reporting a mistake, or proposing a new idea The three most powerful behaviors that foster psychological safety are being available and approachable, explicitly inviting input and feedback, and modeling openness and fallibility. People will embrace change more completely when they feel safe to express their true thoughts and feelings without fear of admonishment.
  1. Share information liberally – Ken Blanchard is fond of saying, “People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly.” Leaders can fall prey to not sharing information because they fear people won’t have the proper context to interpret what it means, or perhaps they feel that people may take information and act in irresponsible ways. The root of this fear is a lack of trust. The opposite of trust is control, so when leaders withhold information, they are showing a lack of trust by wanting to control what people know, when they know, and how they know it. In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth, and more often than not, that version will be a more negative view of the truth than what it is in reality.
  1. Admit when you don’t know – As a leader, admitting you don’t know something can be one of the most powerful trust-building behaviors you can use. It shows humility and honesty to admit you don’t have all the answers. It’s easy to let our egos get in the way and not want to appear incompetent or unable. Instead of spinning the truth, evading answers, or tap-dancing around difficult questions, admit you don’t know but commit to finding the answer. Your people will trust and respect your authenticity.
  1. Involve others in planning and implementation – One of my favorite sayings is “Those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.” People take ownership over plans they create and implement. Successful change efforts are those that are done ‘with’ people, not ‘to’ people. Involve your team in planning and implementing the change effort and it will go much smoother than if you try to force it upon them.

Leading organizational change is tough work! In my viewpoint, the biggest difference between being a “leader” and a “manager” is that leaders initiate change. That responsibility comes with the challenge of being in the line of fire. You’re under the microscope and carry the weight of making the change effort a success. Rather than carrying all that weight alone, why not spread it out among your team? Get them involved, make it safe for them to participate, address their concerns, be honest and authentic in your dealings with them, and be the torchbearer for leading with trust.

3 Assumptions That Keep Leaders from Building Trust

Building and maintaining trust is an issue that most leaders agree is critically important, but few have a plan to achieve it. A recent survey by YPO showed 96% of chief executives said building and maintaining trust was a high priority for their success, yet just 34% of the respondents said they had defined and specific plans for building trust in their organizations. It reminds me of the old project management adage: people don’t plan to fail; they just fail to plan.

Street sign of the word trust with a red circle around it

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

I’ve found that principle also applies in my work teaching leaders how to build trust in the workplace. Most leaders don’t plan to fail in building trust, they just fail to create a plan. I’ve observed three common assumptions leaders make that prevent them from building trust in a consistent and proactive way.

They assume trust “just happens.
Like some sort of relational osmosis, people figure 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. Building trust is a skill that can be learned and developed, and once you have those skills, you can be intentional about acting in ways that build trust with others.

They assume others view trust the same way they do.
When I conduct training workshops on building trust, I often like to ask participants to draw a symbol or picture that represents trust. I’ve seen hundreds of representations of trust: wedding rings, a cross, a child holding a parent’s hand, a bank vault, and people shaking hands, just to name a few of the common ones. I conduct this activity because it illustrates the point I mentioned earlier: trust is based on perceptions. Everybody has their own view of what trust means, based on their unique personal experience. This varied understanding of trust reminds me of the classic movie, The Princess Bride. The character Vizzini uses the word “Inconceivable!” as an adjective to describe just about any situation, even if it doesn’t quite make sense. Finally, Inigo says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” The same misunderstanding happens between leaders and their team members if they don’t share a common definition of trust.

They assume trust is only a “warm and fuzzy” concept.
When you discuss building trust, many leaders jump to the conclusion that you’re talking about building warm and fuzzy relationships. You know, the “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya” kind of warm and fuzzy. Well, trust does have a relationship component, and it’s the interpersonal connection that often sparks the development of trust in the first place. However, trust also has a hard, bottom-line impact on organizations. The research is clear that high-trust organizations have lower turnover, higher employee engagement, and outperform low-trust organizations on practically every measurable metric. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that pizza lunches, fancy off-site retreats, or ropes courses check the box for having a strategy of building trust in the workplace.

I’m sure you noticed I used the word “assume” in the three examples above; that was intentional. You’ve probably the heard the familiar warning about what happens when you assume, right? Well, when it comes to building trust, you don’t want to assume anything. Don’t assume trust just happens by chance. Have a defined plan for building and sustaining it. Don’t assume other people perceive trust the same way you do. Chances are they see it differently, and if you’re not on the same page as to what trust looks like in a relationship, your efforts in building trust will miss the mark. Finally, don’t assume trust is solely a “soft” relationship dynamic. Trust can literally make or break the success of your organization. To build trust, I’m reminded of another project management adage: plan your work and work your plan.

Saving Face – How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust

Everyone wants to be respected and valued. As long as you have a heartbeat and breath in your lungs, you will have the desire to be appreciated, honored, and trusted in your relationships with others. We all want to “save face.”

Saving face, the notion of preserving individual honor and dignity, is often associated with Asian cultures. Although having it’s cultural birth in China, saving face is a universal concept that transcends national culture. In her new book, Saving Face—How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust, Maya Hu-Chan examines face as a global concept that enables one to connect with people, break down barriers, and build trust and long-term relationships.

Face is important, says Hu-Chan, because it represents a person’s self-esteem, reputation, status, and dignity. She emphasizes that face is a form of social currency. The more face you have, the easier it is to accomplish things at work, the smoother your relationships, and the more social capital you have at your disposal.

Since saving face is human nature across cultures, generations, and genders, there are harmful consequences when it is lost or damaged. Losing face provokes shame, guilt, fear, vulnerability, and a wide range of negative emotions.

I find the concept of face to be interesting given its close connections to trust. Saving face is a means to building trust in relationships. In that regard, Hu-Chan suggests the BUILD model as a construct for developing and preserving face.

Benevolence & Accountability—I love the concept of benevolence because it’s at the heart of building trust. Benevolence is the desire to do good to others; it’s having another person’s best interests in mind. When people see that you care more about them than you do yourself, they are willing to be vulnerable with you and extend their trust to you. Accountability comes into the picture when you consider the two-way aspect of respect in a relationship. Face involves honoring each other. It encompasses acting in ways that preserve the dignity and respect of each party in the relationship, and for that to happen, each person must be accountable to the other. Face, like trust, requires reciprocity. Each person must give and receive it in order for it to grow.

Understanding—Hu-Chan shares that understanding is about putting yourself in the shoes of others and seeing situations from their perspective. Being able to see multiple perspectives of a given situation or problem allows you to act in ways and make decisions that honor and respect the positions of others. This ability is especially critical in the twenty-first century. Technology and globalization has made our world much smaller, and many times the decisions we’re facing have an inordinate number of dynamics that must be considered. A leader’s best move is to be understanding and tap into the viewpoints of others.

Interacting—This element encompasses your interpersonal and communication skills. Written and verbal communication skills are important for leaders, and even more so is emotional intelligence. Leaders who save face are those who are self-aware of their own and others’ behaviors, and the impact those behaviors have on the relationship. They know how to self-regulate the behaviors they use in relationships because they understand how the other person will be impacted. Hu-Chan states that “interaction involves both the message and the method of conveying the message. It’s also about creating the context in which clear conversations can be had. And of course, the ability to interact effectively creates an environment where face is protected and strengthened.”

Learning—In order to build and preserve face, it’s important to be a lifelong learner. Face is not an outcome; it’s a way of being and relating to others. As such, you never stop learning how to improve your relationships. Hu-Chan offers four “P’s” about learning: passion, practice, persistence, and pattern recognition. Passion is pretty straight-forward. When you are excited about learning, it fuels the motivation to do so. Practice is putting in the work. It’s using what you’ve learned to become more skilled and proficient. Persistence is going the extra-mile. Inevitably you will encounter challenges that threaten to knock you off-track, but the most successful leaders are those who push through the barriers. Finally, pattern recognition. Once you’ve begun to master a particular skill or subject, you start to see connections and trends that others don’t see, which increases your level of contribution.

Delivery—This is putting all the elements of the BUILD model into practice. Being benevolent and accountable, understanding others’ perspectives, interacting effectively, and learning continuously are all well and good, but they don’t mean much if you don’t deliver and put those skills to use with your team. Delivery is about walking the talk.

One of my core values is respect. I believe everyone deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of their socio-economic status, color of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that identifies us. Respect is at the root of saving face. It’s a way of relating to people in a way that increases the level of honor, dignity, and trust. How can you go wrong with that?

Do You See Me? A conversation among friends about bridging the racial divide

Who do you see when you look at a black person? Do you see a husband, father, wife, mother, son, or daughter? Do you see a businessman, tradesman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, soldier, or educator? Do you see someone with hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and insecurities? Do you see a person who is very much like you?

Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, many of us don’t see those things. We see different. We see a threat. We see contempt. We see distrust. We see suspicion. We see fear. We see “less than.”

That needs to stop. If we are ever going to bridge the racial divide that separates us, we need to start trusting each other. The only way for trust to begin is for someone to take the risk of extending trust to another. It’s through that act of vulnerability that intimacy can develop and trust can flourish.

A few days ago I held a conversation with four of my friends, all African-American men, to learn more about their personal experience with racism. The discussion was rich, educational, humbling, and impactful. I encourage you to watch, listen, and reflect on what you can do to keep this conversation alive in your own sphere of influence.

If You Build It, They Will Come – 4 Characteristics of Trustworthy Leaders

I miss baseball.

By this point in the MLB season in previous years, I would have attended a few Padres games at PETCO Park (one of the best ballparks to catch a game, IMHO) and watched several more on TV. Instead, in the coronavirus lockdown world in which we currently live, I’ve had to make do with watching replays of classic Padres games. Recently, it was game 3 of the 1984 National League championship series, when the Padres found themselves down 2 games to 0 to the Chicago Cubs in the best of five series. The Pads came roaring back to sweep the next 3 games from the Cubs and made their first World Series appearance…where they were promptly swept by the Detroit Tigers 4 games to none. Oh well.

I’ve also been getting my fix by watching classic baseball movies like Field of Dreams. For those unfamiliar with the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) is a struggling Iowa farmer, who one day while walking through his cornfield hears a voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” This mysterious encounter sets Ray off on a journey that ultimately leads to him plowing over his cornfield to build a ballpark, where his deceased father, with whom Ray had a fractious relationship, makes an otherworldly appearance as his younger self before he became Ray’s dad. The two men have a game of catch that symbolizes the inner healing Ray experiences as he reconciles his past with his father.

The American Film Institute rated the “if you build it, he will come” phrase #39 on the list of 100 most memorable American movie quotations. It’s become a reliable catchphrase for business leaders to whip out whenever they’re trying to sell the merits of an idea. “If we build it (the latest and greatest product or service offering), they (customers, investors, the adoring public, etc.) will come!” Much of the time it’s overly simplistic hype, but there are a few instances where the saying holds true. One such case is building trust.

For trust to be established in a relationship, someone must first extend it. Trust doesn’t just one day magically appear. It begins by one person extending it and the other person proving themselves trustworthy, which in turn engenders more trust between the parties. When the trustee proves him/herself trustworthy, the trustor becomes more willing to extend trust the next time. Around and around it goes, as one trustworthy encounter begets the next.

But how do you know a leader is worth trusting? What does a trustworthy leader look like? There are four primary characteristics that distinguish high-trust leaders. Trustworthy leaders are:

Able—They 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—Trustworthy 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.

As I said earlier, “if you build it, they will come” is a catchphrase often overused and without much substance. However, when it comes to trust, it’s true. If you build trust, your team will come, and that’s what it takes to turn your field of dreams into reality.

10 Powerful Ways to Build Trust

Now, more than ever, leaders need to decisively and powerfully nurture trust in the workplace. Although much of what it takes to build trust is common sense, it’s not always common practice. In this short video, I share 10 practical ways leaders can immediately build trust with their teams and organizations.

4 Critical Needs of Employees During Coronavirus Lockdown

4 Basic Human Needs for Engagement

Thanks to Tanmay Vora at QAspire.com for the sketchnote

Now, more than ever, people need leaders to step up and lead from the heart.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down, and people are looking to their leaders for direction on how to move forward when it seems like life has ground to a halt. Sheltering in place and social distancing may be effective strategies for slowing the spread of coronavirus, but they can be recipes for disaster by creating isolation, fear, and loneliness. Millions of workers have been told to work remotely, often with little training on how to do so effectively. That leads to a loss of productivity, frustration, low morale, and disengagement.

In order to be fully engaged and bring our best selves to work, there are four basic human needs that must be met. Meeting these needs has become even more critically important during this time of uncertainty and change, and if we lose sight of them, we run the risk of losing our best people.

In conducting over 19,000 exit interviews of employees who voluntarily left their jobs, Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, identified four basic needs that weren’t being met that started people on the path to disengagement and ultimately quitting a job.

The Need for Trust — The number one priority for any leader is to build trust with his/her team members. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, and in the workplace it’s a non-negotiable if leaders desire to tap into the full effort and passion of their employees. Employees won’t give you their best if they don’t believe you have their best interests in mind. They will shy away from taking risks or making themselves vulnerable if they don’t feel safe and trusted. They expect company leadership to deliver on their promises, to be honest and open in communication, to invest in them, and to treat them fairly. The ABCD Trust Model is a helpful tool for leaders to understand what it means to be trustworthy and build trust with others.

The Need to Have Hope — I’ve had the privilege of meeting football legend Rosey Grier, a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” when he played with the Los Angeles Rams, and now a Christian minister and inspirational speaker. He said something I’ve never forgotten. When speaking about his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles, Rosey said “Leaders aren’t dealers of dope, they are dealers of hope!” So true…leaders are dealers of hope. We need to instill a sense of hope in the people we lead. Our people need to believe they will be able to grow, develop their skills, and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress. It’s our job as leaders to foster that hope and support our employees in their growth.

The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth — Despite its struggles and challenges, work is an intrinsically rewarding experience for people. We derive a tremendous amount of self-worth from our work, whether it’s something we’re employed to do or whether we volunteer our time and effort. Employees have a need to feel confident that if they work hard, do their best, and demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, they will be recognized and rewarded appropriately.

The Need to Feel Competent — Employees need to be matched in jobs where their talents align with the challenges of the work. If the work is too simple, then it’s easy for people to lose interest and become disengaged. If the employee is in over his/her head and the work is too challenging, it can lead to discouragement and frustration. Leaders are on a constant quest to find ways to place employees in that sweet spot where they are challenged at just the right level. But it’s not all on the shoulders of leaders to do this work. Employees need to take responsibility for their own development and learn how to manage their motivational outlooks.

These four needs – trust, hope, sense of worth, and competence – aren’t just needed during the coronavirus lockdown. They’re needed each and every day. Unfortunately, too many people show up to work each day and check their expectation for these needs at the door. They don’t think of work as a place where they should experience fulfillment. Isn’t that sad? If there is one good thing to come out of this global pandemic, I hope it’s the renewed focus that leaders have on the value of their people. Most business leaders spout the cliche that “people are our most valuable asset.” Well, now is the time to put the money where your mouth is. What are you doing to meet these basic human needs of employees during this unprecedented time?

4 Areas to Address in Your Coronavirus Working Virtually Strategy

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The desire to contain the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus has led many organizations to require their employees to work from home. For some, working virtually isn’t a big change. Many workers are already accustomed to working remotely on an intermittent or regular basis. It’s been reported that 43% of Americans work from home occasionally and at least 5.2% (8 million people) work from home full-time.

However, there’s a big difference between occasionally working from your kitchen table and setting up shop in your home for an extended period of time (or permanently).

Before you pull the trigger on sending your team members home to work virtually, I suggest you formulate a thoughtful strategy. Having led and been a part of virtual teams for many years, I can testify that working from home is not a panacea. It has its advantages compared to life in a cubicle, but it has its own unique challenges as well.

Incorporate these four areas in your strategy to have team members work virtually:

Clarity—Your team needs clear direction about the expectations and responsibilities of working remotely. Questions or topics to address include: Will team members be expected to maintain specific “office” hours? Does there need to be a different process for securing a backup if someone needs to be away from their desk or has a personal appointment? What technology platforms will you use, and when, to replace face-to-face meetings? If webcams are required for meetings, will be people be allowed to opt-out because they’re having a “bad hair day” (when, likely, they just didn’t feel like changing out of their pajamas)? Are there norms established that govern how the team makes decisions, communicates, and collaborates? Don’t assume the implicit expectations of a few team members working from home occasionally are explicitly known by everyone and that they apply to having the entire team function virtually.

Communication—Effective communication is the key to working successfully in a virtual team and of primary importance is establishing trust among team members. Trust is built through interpersonal interactions, and unfortunately, working virtually reduces the amount of interpersonal connection we experience compared to working in the office. We lose the random encounters in the hallway, break room, or at the water cooler that are so important in fostering personal connection. We also lose the visual cues provided by body language that place a person’s communications in context. The reliance upon email and IM in the virtual world easily leads to misinterpreting a person’s intent, usually in a negative fashion, so be proactive about using the phone and webcams to make communications more personal. Stay disciplined about holding one-on-one and team meetings to bring people together to combat loneliness and foster a sense of team identity.

Community—There are many benefits to working remotely. Included are increased productivity, a greater sense of autonomy and control over one’s work, and better work-life balance. But it comes at a cost—isolation and loneliness. Any veteran remote worker will tell you that loneliness is a frequent visitor to their home office and intentional effort is required to prevent that visitor from settling in permanently. Remote workers need to be proactive about reaching out to other team members to connect socially, even to just chit-chat for a few minutes. It’s also important for team leaders to create opportunities for team members to bond. Strategies can include having a virtual team lunch via webcam, have team members share pictures of their pets, or give virtual tours of their home offices. Shifting employees to work virtually, either temporarily in response to the coronavirus, or permanently as part of a larger strategy, requires leaders to increase the amount of training they provide the team. Whether it’s specific training on how to lead or work in a virtual team, or general leadership and other skill-building training, remote employees should not be treated differently from office-based team members. The out of sight, out of mind pitfall often befalls virtual workers, thereby limiting their personal development and advancement opportunities. Virtual workers must advocate for themselves and need their leaders to champion their efforts in being included in the broader organizational community.

Shifting employees to working virtually requires leaders to increase the amount of training they provide the team.

Care—Virtual workers need to take the lead in self-care if they are going to be successful over the long haul. In addition to the challenges of isolation and loneliness, virtual workers often end up working longer hours because work is ever present. It’s hard to resist the temptation of sending just one more email, writing a few more lines of code, putting the finishing touches on that critical presentation, or doing just a bit more data analysis when the glow of the laptop screen is beckoning. To combat this challenge, have a dedicated work space, preferably with a door, where you can leave work behind at the end of the day. Establish personal norms for yourself regarding work hours and breaks, just like you would have in a physical office. Establish boundaries with housemates about noise and activity levels in the house, and how household responsibilities are handled during the workday. Build routines into your schedule that allow you to connect with others and recharge your batteries. It may be going to the coffee shop in the morning, walking the dog around the block, eating lunch outside, or taking an afternoon walk at a local park. Treat working from home much the same way you’d treat working in the office. Getting dressed in office attire puts you in the mindset of being at work, and believe me, it works in your favor when you need to join an impromptu webcam meeting!

For many occupations today, work has become something you do, not somewhere you go. Requiring people to work from home in response to the coronavirus gives many organizations a chance to see that people can be just as productive, if not more so, working virtually as compared to working in the office. This is a fantastic opportunity for organizations to build trust with their employees by giving them the opportunity to work remotely, and it’s also an opportunity for employees to prove themselves trustworthy in response.

4 Ways Servant Leaders Use Power

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PowerThe word itself evokes a reaction. What thoughts or feelings do you have when you think of power? Perhaps you picture an organizational chart where the boxes at the top are imbued with more power than those below. Maybe you imagine an iron fist, representative of a person who rules over others with absolute authority. Or perhaps the word power conjures up feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or fear, based on negative experiences you’ve had in the past. On the flip side, maybe the word power emboldens you with excitement, energy, or drive to exert your influence on people and circumstances in your life.

I recently spoke at the Training 2020 Conference & Expo on the topic of Servant Leadership. After my presentation, a participant approached me to discuss how servant leaders use power. You see, she had noticed on one of my PowerPoint slides that I had said servant leaders “seek more influence.” That seemed contradictory to her. Servant leaders seeking more power? Why?

I explained that power is a dynamic present in all of our relationships and it’s one we need to properly manage to help our relationships develop to their fullest potential. In and of itself, power is amoral; it’s neither good or bad. The way we use power is what determines its value.

But what is power? How do we get it? And once we have it, how do we keep it?

In his book, The Power Paradox: How we gain and lose influence, author and U.C. Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner, shares twenty “power principles” that range from how we earn power, how to retain it, why power can be a good thing, when we’re likely to abuse it, and the dangerous consequences of powerlessness.

Keltner defines power as the capacity to make a difference in the world, particularly by stirring others in our social networks. Focusing on the needs and desires of others is key, and four specific social practices—empathizing, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories—are ways we develop power and sustain it over time. These four keys are in alignment with the benevolent use of power in a servant leadership context.

Enduring Power Comes from a Focus on Others

1. Enduring power comes from empathy—We express empathy when we focus on what other people are feeling. We attune ourselves to their mannerisms, language, expressions, and tone of voice to gain a sense of their emotions. This promotes a sense of connection and trust with others that allows them to be vulnerable and authentic in their behavior. We can promote empathy in several practical ways: asking open-ended questions, listening actively, asking others what they would do in a given situation before offering advice, and soliciting the opinions of those in less powerful positions.

2. Enduring power comes from giving—Giving, without the expectation of receiving something in return, is a tremendous trust builder and leads to people being willing to grant you power in relationships. Keltner focuses on a particular form of giving: touch. Whether it’s politicians shaking hands, athletes high-fiving each other, or a boss giving an affirmative pat on the back, there is tremendous power in the human touch. A reassuring touch on the shoulder or warm embrace causes the release of oxytocin in the brain, a neurochemical that promotes trust, cooperation, and sharing, and also lowers blood pressure and fights the negative effects of the stress-inducing hormone cortisol. The overarching principle of giving is that it’s a way of providing reward and recognition to others that promotes goodwill.

The key to enduring power is simple: Stay focused on other people. Prioritize others’ interests as much as your own. Bring the good in others to completion, and do not bring the bad in others to completion. Take delight in the delights of others, as they make a difference in the world. — Dacher Keltner

3. Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude—Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation we have for things that are given us, whether it’s an experience, a person, an opportunity, or a thing. Importantly, it’s something that has been given to us, not something we’ve attained on our own. Expressing gratitude is a way to confer esteem on others and we can do that in a number of ways: acknowledging people in public, notes or emails of affirmation, and spending time with others. Expression of gratitude spreads goodwill within a team and causes social bonding.

4. Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite—Abraham Lincoln is an excellent example of a leader who used the power of storytelling to communicate important truths and unite people in working toward a common goal. Families, sports teams, businesses, and organizations of all kinds have a history that is communicated through story. Members of these groups establish their identities and understand their role in the group based on those stories. Stories enhance the interests of others and reduces the stress of working in a group. They also help us interpret the events going on around us and shape the way we deal with the challenges we encounter. Stories bring us together and foster the sharing of power that is necessary in organizational life.

Power is often perceived in a negative light. The natural reaction of many is to associate power with Machiavellian attempts at preserving self-interest and exerting dominance over others. It doesn’t have to be that way. Servant leaders know the best use of power is in service to others, and the four principles Keltner advocates are an excellent way to develop and sustain power in a way that allows you to influence others to make a positive difference in the world.

Not Sure Who to Trust? Start by Asking These 4 Questions

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It can be difficult knowing who to trust.

Most people think they have a pretty good “trust radar,” knowing who’s trustworthy, but studies show we aren’t that great at discerning who to trust. We tend to trust people whom we like on a personal level as well as those who are most similar to us even if it’s to our disadvantage. One study of hospital nurses showed the majority of them sought out advice from those they personally liked even though more competent individuals were available.

I misplaced my trust in a landscaper based on a personal recommendation from a friend. The landscaper (we’ll call him John) had done excellent work for my friend. John was personable, knowledgeable, and took me to see several of his recent projects for other homeowners. I paid John a decent sum of money to start revamping my front and back yards. Stamped concrete, landscape lighting, new sod, bushes, trees, plants…the whole deal. Well, you probably know where this story is going. John started the work, got it partially completed, but then faded out of sight. After nearly a year of constant badgering and threatening legal action, I finally got a partial reimbursement of money I had advanced John and we parted ways with one-third of my project still incomplete.

That experience was many years ago before I started studying and teaching about trust. I wished I had known then what I know now. If I had, I would have asked myself these four questions before I decided to trust John.

1. Is he a person of integrity? For me, this is the first and most important question. A person of integrity is honest, has honorable values, consistently lives by those values (walks the talk), is fair in their dealings with others, and always strives to do the right thing. Assessing someone’s integrity may require you to do some digging into their past, such as obtaining references from past employers or colleagues, checking their standing with organizations like the Better Business Bureau, or searching out online reviews. The best predictor of someone’s future trustworthiness is their past trustworthiness. If the answer to this question is no, then STOP. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Save yourself the trouble and heartache of trusting someone who isn’t worthy of your trust.

The best predictor of someone’s future trustworthiness is their past trustworthiness. (click to tweet)

2. Is he competent? Competence is having the demonstrated knowledge and skills to perform a particular task. Demonstrated is a key word in this definition. You want to trust someone who has a track record of success in relation to the specific goal, task, or project. It’s easy to mistake confidence for competence. People can talk a good game and convey the sense they are capable and motivated to do the job, but have they actually done it successfully in the past? Competence is relative to the context of the situation. It would make sense to trust your CPA to prepare your tax returns but not to diagnose and treat an illness. Make sure someone has the skills to do the job.

3. Is he dependable? Ask this question to understand if the person consistently follows through on his commitments. No one is perfect and there are times we all fail to meet a deadline, but what is this person’s history with being reliable? Does he show up on time for appointments? Is he responsive? Does he do what he says he will do? Does he hold himself and/or his team accountable? Or is he unpredictable, inconsistent, or reticent to make commitments? You could answer “yes” to the other three questions, but if the person can’t be depended on to actually do the job, does it make sense to trust him?

4. Does he care about me? This question is exploring the idea of benevolence—placing the interests of another ahead of your own. Benevolent people care about the well-being of others and act in ways to promote their welfare, not harm it. If someone cares about you, they won’t seek to take advantage of you. They will be open communicators, transparent, and authentic in their dealings with you. Although demonstrating care is an important consideration in deciding to trust someone, it may not be a deal-breaker. For example, if I need to have major surgery, I’m much more interested in trusting the surgeon who is an expert in their field, has a stellar reputation and a track record of success, regardless of their bedside manner. As I mentioned earlier, we are more inclined to trust those we like even if there are warning signs they may not be the best ones given the situation. Don’t let your heart overrule your head in this situation.

Getting back to my experience with John, the landscaper. He was very competent. I saw several examples of his work and definitely trusted his expertise in being able to do the job. He also appeared to be dependable, as far as I could tell. My friend had a great experience with John and didn’t mention any issues with his reliability. John also appeared to care. We hit it off on an interpersonal level, shared similar perspectives on faith, and he was initially very communicative and responsive. However, if I would have more deeply investigated John’s integrity, I would have quickly seen several red flags: his contractor’s license was expired; he had been taken to court several times; and he no longer maintained a physical office as indicated on all his paperwork.

If I had asked these four questions before I decided to fork over a bunch of money to John for my landscape project, I would have been much happier and my wallet a little thicker. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m grateful for the experience. Let my experience be a learning opportunity for you. Use these questions to help you make a confident and informed decision about another person’s trustworthiness.

5 Strategies for Building High Trust, High Performing Teams

Growing up playing sports, coaching my kids’ sports teams, and being a sports fan in general has taught me numerous lessons about life and leadership. A few that standout are the value of setting goals and working to achieve them, persevering through failure, and the importance of everyone knowing their role and working together to make the team successful.

However, the most important lesson I’ve learned about being part of a successful team, or leading one, is the need for trust. Great teams thrive on trust (click to tweet).

It doesn’t matter if it’s a sports team, a military team, a work team, or any other kind of team, the best teams have developed a high-level of trust among team members to the point that each individual knows they can count on each other to do their part. If someone is falling short or needs help, another team member will be there to fill the gap.

But how do you build that kind of trust in a team? Well, it doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentional focus and effort. It also doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and shared experiences for people to bond with one another. It’s the team leader’s job to structure the team and its environment in a way that allows trust to flourish.

Here are five strategies leaders can use to build high-trust teams:

1. Hire and develop great team members—You may be asking what this has to do with trust. Well, any leader will tell you that the team is only as great as its members. Team members need to be competent in their roles and dependable in their performance if they’re going to be trusted by their fellow team members. Of course, the best option is to recruit and hire top performers, but even if you can’t afford to pay top-tier talent, you can still train and develop team members to perform their best in their specific roles. As Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great points out, it’s not just about getting the right people on the bus, but getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.

2. Teach them about trust—One of the truths about trust is that it’s based on perceptions. My perception of what constitutes a trustworthy team member is likely different from your perception. Differing perceptions among team members is why it’s critical to establish a common definition of trust. I’m a proponent of using the ABCD framework as the “language” of trust. ABCD is an acronym that describes trustworthy team members. A team member can be trusted if he is Able (demonstrates competence), Believable (acts with integrity), Connected (cares about others), and Dependable (honors commitments). Having a common language of trust allows team members to identify actions that will build trust, and to discuss low-trust actions in an objective, behaviorally focused manner.

3. Have clear roles and expectations—One of the primary ways mistrust develops in a team is a lack of focus and clarity on the team’s purpose, goals, and roles of its members. This causes team members to step on each other’s toes and question each other’s motives. It drags down their morale and productivity and fosters disengagement. High-trust teams are crystal clear on their purpose and goals, each other’s roles on the team, and how they work together to make the team a success. A team charter provides this clarity from the get-go. Whether it’s a temporary ad-hoc team or a permanent, operational team, a team charter details the purpose of the team, the roles of team members, behavioral norms of how team members relate to each other, and how they’ll make decisions. A team charter functions like banks for a river. It provides direction and boundaries for the team to operate and channels their energy toward their goals. A river without banks is just a large puddle, and without a team charter, teams flounder and their productivity wanes.

4. Create an environment of psychological safetyPsychological safety describes an individual’s perceptions about the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in their 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. A safe environment cultivates trust because it allows team members to take risks and potentially fail without fear of punishment. If team members fear the consequences of being vulnerable, they will withhold their trust from others and won’t put themselves at risk to help their teammates. Team leaders set the tone when it comes to creating a safe environment. By role modeling vulnerability, authenticity, admitting their own mistakes, and treating team member errors as learning moments rather than opportunities for punishment, the leader gives permission for team members to do the same.

5. Let them experience challenges together—Part of astronaut training at NASA includes experiencing 7 to 10-day wilderness expeditions. NASA brings together a crew and puts them in an uncomfortable environment in the wilderness where they are forced to rely upon and trust one another. It’s the breeding ground for the trust they will need to have in each other when they are living and working together in space. The key variable in this exercise is dealing with and overcoming challenges together. Now, obviously, it’s not practical or possible for most organizations to send their teams on wilderness expeditions to build trust, but it is possible to structure other activities to accomplish the same purpose. Team building events like ropes courses often get a bad wrap as being gimmicky, but if done in the context of a broader, more strategic approach, can be helpful trust-builders. The key is to let team members experience challenge together, either on the job or off it, and let them work through it themselves. We do a disservice to our teams when we try to prevent or rescue them from hard times. It’s the perseverance through struggle that builds team trust and unity.

The most successful and high-performing teams are built on trust. I agree with Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team, who said in his book Leading With The Heart, “In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”

The 1 Thing Leaders Agree is Critically Important for Success, Yet Few Have a Plan to Achieve It

marketing school business idea

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Imagine, if you will, you are in a large hotel ballroom with nearly 3,000 leaders from 115 countries representing 38 different industry sectors. You’re attending a conference to discuss the most important leadership issues of the day, and 96% of the attendees agree that one specific topic needs to be a high priority in relation to all their other business priorities. You would guess the vast majority of leaders would have a plan in place to deal with such a widely accepted, high-priority business issue, right?

Wrong.

The high priority business issue that is critically important for success? Building and maintaining stakeholder trust.

The number of leaders who have a defined plan to address this issue? Just 34%.

Building trust starts with your most important stakeholders: employees. If your employees trust you and the organization, they are much more likely to go above and beyond to do good work, take risks that fuel innovation, and deliver excellent service to colleagues and customers. But as YPO’s Global Pulse survey reports, even though nearly all leaders say building and maintaining trust is important, it’s hard work to build trust with employees. In fact, survey respondents said it’s easier to build trust with vendors and suppliers than it is with employees. No wonder only a third of leaders have a defined plan for building and maintaining trust in their organization.

Building trust with employees isn’t easy because it never stops. It’s not like other business strategies that have a beginning, middle, and end. You don’t conduct a trust initiative by holding a few team-building events, hanging up motivational posters around the office, giving out t-shirts with pithy hashtag statements on them, and then consider the task done. Building and sustaining trust is part of your leadership and organizational ethos. It’s a way of being, not just doing.

So how can you get started in creating a high-trust culture? Here’s four key steps:

1. Start with You. The most important and impactful thing you can do to build trust is to be trustworthy. Leaders are always being watched, and your behavior sets the standard for what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace. It’s the little things that count when it comes to building trust, and those little things are your behaviors. Do you walk the talk? Do you use behaviors that build or erode trust? Building trust is a skill you can learn and develop, it’s not something that just happens automatically.

2. Create a Safe Environment. An environment of psychological safety is the fertile soil that allows the seeds of trust to grow and flourish. 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. Leaders can foster safety by encouraging and rewarding employees who demonstrate vulnerability.

3. Connect. In my experience, a primary cause of low trust between employees and their leaders or organization is a lack of personal connection. Connecting with employees involves building rapport, communicating, and acting with their best interests in mind. People trust those they know and like, and unfortunately, many leaders don’t take the time to foster personal relationships. Granted, in large organizations it’s not possible for senior leaders to have a personal relationship with every employee. But leaders can be more transparent in sharing information about themselves and the organization, interacting with employees in town hall meetings or company events, taking time to attend smaller department or group meetings, and generally making themselves more available and known to team members.

4. Foster Collaboration, not Competition. Research has shown that collaboration has more positive effects on team and organizational outcomes than competition. Unhealthy competition creates a scarcity mentality and perceptions of mistrust among team members, whereas collaboration encourages people to develop trust and reliance on each other to accomplish goals as a collective unit. At The Ken Blanchard Companies we have a saying that defines our philosophy about the power of collaboration in teams: No one of us is as smart as all of us.

Nearly every leader agrees that building and maintaining employee trust is a critical priority for organizational success, yet few actually have a plan to make it a reality. Building trust is not an easy-peasy, one-time effort. It takes constant effort and vigilance, however, the results are worth it because it’s the foundation of your personal leadership and organizational success.

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