Why do some really big ideas fail to gain acceptance while others, seemingly less significant, flourish? If you want an example, think no further than a cat video on YouTube with 118 million views – really???
In recent writing, I’ve hypothesized about value and awareness as key drivers of traction. I still believe that to be true – but there are probably a couple of other factors that ultimately determine the reach of an idea.
Here’s one to consider: Approachability.
I think back to when I was serving as the head of our newly formed Quality team. This was a time when six sigma, a quality improvement built around statistics, was all the rage. Some assumed my newly formed team would begin teaching this very hot and trendy methodology to all of our people. We said no.
Why? Not because the tenets of six sigma were not valid; rather, I was concerned about the approachability of the concept. I could not see tens of thousands of teenagers around the country embracing something as academic and challenging as six sigma.
Often leaders make a mistake when they try to embrace someone else’s practices without first translating them into their own language and culture. I think this is one way leaders can add huge value…
Find truth and make it culturally relevant.
And, in the process of making an idea culturally relevant, you can make it approachable. Only when an idea is approachable, can it become transformational.
What are the chronic problems you and your organization face? What is required to resolve these issues? How can you make the “answer” approachable for your people?
About Mark Miller
Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.
After passing an extensive background check and being vetted by the CIA (Claus Intelligence Agency), I was granted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Santa Claus, one of the most legendary leaders of all time. I was eager to learn the secrets of his success. How does he maintain passion for his work after all these years? What’s the trick for keeping his team of elves inspired to perform their best? And the most nagging question of all: Does he have a dress code at the North Pole? I mean, I always see him and the elves wearing the same clothes. What’s the deal with that?
I admit I had trouble keeping the interview focused on leadership, seeing as how I had the opportunity to quiz Santa about all those strange gifts I’ve received over the years. (Like, why does my mother-in-law keep giving me those chintzy desktop bowling sets? Does she really think I have time to set up a miniature bowling alley and play while I’m at work? Is that a cruel prank by Santa or is my mother-in-law to blame?)
Below is an excerpt of the conversation I had with Santa.
Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be anxious and stressed about all the work you need to accomplish prior to Christmas.
Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy! I’m not stressed, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.
Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?
Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.
Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?
Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.
Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?
Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.
Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?
Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.
Me: Santa, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question: If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?
In 1997 I asked my boss to consider allowing me to telecommute on a part-time basis. My proposal went down in flames. Although the company already had field-based people who telecommuted full-time, and my boss herself worked from home on a regular basis, the prevailing mindset was work was someplace you went, not something you did.
Fast forward a few years to the early-2000’s and I’m supervising team members who worked remotely full-time. The exodus continued for a few years and by the mid-2000’s nearly half my team worked virtually. Nearly 20 years after I submitted my telecommuting proposal the world has become a smaller place. My organization has offices in Canada, the U.K., Singapore, and scores of colleagues work out of home offices around the globe.
My experience mirrors the reality of many leaders today. Managing teams with virtual workers is commonplace and will likely increase as technology becomes ever more ubiquitous in our lives. Here are three specific strategies I’ve adopted over the years in leading a virtual team:
Establish the profile of a successful virtual worker – Not everyone is cut out to be a successful virtual worker. It takes discipline, maturity, good time management skills, technical proficiency (you’re often your own tech support), and a successful track record of performance in the particular role. I’ve always considered working remotely a privilege, not a right, and the privilege has to be earned. You have to have a high level of trust in your virtual workers and they should be reliable and dependable performers who honor their commitments and do good quality work.
Have explicit expectations – There needs to be a clear understanding about the expectations of working virtually. For example, my team has norms around the use of Instant Messenger, forwarding office phone extensions to home/cell lines, using webcams for meetings, frequency of updating voicemail greetings, email response time, and out-of-office protocols just to name a few. Virtual team members generally enjoy greater freedom and autonomy than their office-bound counterparts, and for anyone who has worked remotely can attest, are often more productive and work longer hours in exchange. A downside is virtual workers can suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” so it’s important they work extra hard to be visible and active within the team.
Understand and manage the unique dynamics of a virtual team – Virtual teams add a few wrinkles to your job as a leader and a specific one is communication. It’s important to ramp up the frequency of communication and leverage all the tools at your disposal: email, phone, webcam, instant messenger, and others. It’s helpful to set, and keep, regular meeting times with virtual team members.
One of the biggest challenges in managing a virtual team is fostering a sense of connection. They aren’t privy to the hallway conversations where valuable information about the organization is often shared, and they miss out on those random encounters with other team members where personal relationships are built.
Team building activities also look a little different with a virtual team. Potluck lunches work great for the office staff, but can feel exclusionary to remote workers. Don’t stop doing events for the office staff for fear of leaving out virtual team members, but look for other ways to foster team unity with remote workers. For example, when we’ve had office holiday dinners and a Christmas gift exchange, remote team members will participate in the gift exchange and we’ll send them a gift card to a restaurant of their choice.
For many jobs, work is no longer a place we go to but something we do; from any place at any time. Virtual teams aren’t necessarily better or worse than on-site teams, but they do have different dynamics that need to be accounted for and managed, expectations need to be clear, and you need to make sure the virtual worker is set up for success.
Developing a team of highly motivated and engaged employees is the holy grail for most leaders. We’re on a never-ending quest to help our people tap into their sense of intrinsic motivation that will kick their performance into high gear, allow them to derive greater satisfaction from their work, and help the organization reach its goals.
But employee engagement is a broad and complex issue that isn’t easily defined, as pointed out in a Bersin & Associates report. Definitions vary widely, with elements including commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment, and performance, just to name a few. Despite the fuzziness surrounding employee engagement, organizations spend more than $720 million dollars a year trying to solve the puzzle of developing a motivated and engaged workforce. It’s clearly a complex issue that seems to get more complicated by the day.
Focusing on the Basics
Trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship and it’s essential to your success as a leader. Research by Gallup has indicated that a person’s relationship with his or her direct manager is the leading factor influencing employee engagement and that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. The Great Place to Work Institute has documented that committed and engaged employees who trust their management perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. What does that mean for leaders? To a large extent, the way you lead your people has a dramatic impact on their level of engagement on the job.
Three Psychological Needs
Autonomy, relatedness, and competence are the three factors that shape a person’s motivation and the level of trust you have in the relationships with your team members has a direct influence on the quality of each.
Autonomy – Most people think distrust is the opposite of trust but it’s not—the opposite of trust is control. Leaders who compulsively try to maintain control erode their team members’ sense of autonomy and squash their sense of motivation. It’s human nature to desire independence and to feel in control of our lives. That desire doesn’t stop at the office door. You can develop peoples’ autonomy by helping them be clear on the goals they have to achieve and the boundaries they’re operating within and then giving them the authority and responsibility to get the job done the way they see fit. As much as possible, engage them in designing the work systems, creating the metrics used to manage their work, and evaluating the quality of everything they produce. When people are in control of achieving the goal they take more ownership and use their discretionary energy to help the organization succeed. Helping employees develop autonomy is not “letting the inmates run the asylum.” It’s giving them the space and freedom within defined boundaries to manage their work with an ownership mentality.
Relatedness – We are hardwired to have interpersonal connections with other people to one degree or another. Your people are much more than worker drones showing up to do a job for eight hours. They are complex, rich, dynamic people with amazing life stories and the relationships they have at work are primary threads in the tapestry of their lives. When it comes to trust, there are two layers of relatedness: proximal and distal. Proximal trust is the trust you have in your relationships with your immediate boss and co-workers, and distal trust is the trust you have with your boss’s boss or those at even higher levels. A primary way to foster trust with your people (in both proximal and distal contexts) is demonstrating care and concern for relationships. Praise, recognition, and building personal rapport are all great steps in building trust. Also, make the effort to share more information about yourself and the organization to increase transparency and authenticity with your team. The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself.
Competence – People have an innate desire to continually develop competence in their skills, talents, and abilities. Continuous growth and learning is critical to help people address the challenges and obstacles that come their way, and neglecting to develop the talents of your people is akin to leadership malpractice. Trust is also a competence that leaders develop; it doesn’t “just happen.” When leaders don’t establish high-trust relationships, their people feel unsafe and uncertain in their roles. They don’t take measured risks, innovate, or express their creativity. They hold back, withdraw, and begin to doubt their own competence. People who feel a lack of confidence in their competence are ill-quipped to handle workplace challenges. They quickly become overwhelmed and give up, while those who feel strong in their competence are able to flexibly adapt to changing business conditions.
Trust and motivation work hand in hand. Leaders who develop high levels of trust foster an environment where an employees’ autonomy, relatedness, and competence are allowed to flourish.
It’s late on a Friday afternoon and you are feeling spent. You feel like you’re fried crispier than a piece of bacon on a greasy hot griddle. You are mentally and emotionally drained after a long week of work, yet you still have one important task you need to finish before you can start a weekend of much-needed rest and relaxation.
Your boss is expecting the updated project budget and you know she’s not going to be happy when she sees it. Despite your best efforts in managing the team, the project is over budget and it looks like the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
As you review the budget for what seems like the millionth time, you realize you could fudge the numbers a bit and shift some of the costs from the Implementation Team to the Design Team and it would make the overall budget look better. Who’s going to know? Besides, the Design Team consistently runs over budget and you usually take the heat for their mistakes. You could make this budget change, save yourself an hour’s work, start your weekend now, and avoid the wrath of your boss on Monday morning.
What do you do?
Well, according to research, you are likely setting yourself up to cheat and be dishonest. In this study, Dan Ariely (who has written about this subject in several of his books) and a team of researchers illustrated the connection between our level of self-control, resource depletion (mental/emotional), and the likelihood to cheat.
The gist of the experiments showed that participants who engaged in activities that depleted their self-control resources were more likely to cheat on subsequent tasks (rewarding themselves more than they actually earned), and even more alarming, were more likely to place themselves in tempting situations that resulted in them cheating even more!
So how does this apply to us as leaders? Well, anyone who has experience leading groups of people knows that leadership can be an energy draining and resource depleting activity. As a leader, nothing is more important than your integrity. All it takes is one moment of weakness to compromise your ethics and you’ve torpedoed your whole career.
Here are three practical, commonsense ways to avoid this dilemma:
1. Be intentional about recharging your batteries – This research, along with our practical experience, shows we can make bad decisions when our self-control resources are low. It stands to reason that the best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure our self-control resources stay high. We have to keep our batteries charged. All the things your mom told you growing up apply: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, find a hobby, and engage in activities that nourish you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I can hear some of you saying, “Easy for you to say, Randy, but you don’t understand my work environment. I’m expected to work 70-80+ hours a week, stay connected to work 24/7, and do whatever it takes to get the job done.” If that’s your situation then I have empathy for you. It must be miserable and I can see how easy it is to feel trapped, especially if you’re beholden to the large paycheck that’s usually used as an incentive to get people in those kinds of jobs. But remember, you have choices. They may be tough choices, like scaling back your lifestyle, seeking a new job, or changing careers, but you do have choices. It will likely take time and require some tough decisions, but don’t fool yourself by thinking there’s no way out. You have a choice.
2. Don’t make decisions when you’re tired or hangry – It’s important to know yourself well enough that you can tell when your self-control resources are running low. For many of us, self-control goes out the window when we’re tired or “hangry” (hungry + angry = hangry). This is certainly true for me personally. I can see a clear pattern of making not-so-good decisions when I’ve been in this kind of state.
If this is true for you as well, then we both know what to do: don’t make significant decisions when we’re in this vulnerable state. If at all possible, delay making the decision until you’ve had a chance to recharge your batteries. There is wisdom in the old adage of “needing to sleep on it” when faced with a significant decision. We think more clearly and are in a better state of mind when our self-control resources are on full rather than empty.
3. Avoid tempting situations, especially when you’re running on empty – It seems too obvious to even mention but it has to be called out: avoid tempting situations at all costs, especially if your self-control resources are running low. The frightening thing about this particular research study is that people in a resource depleted state were even more likely to expose themselves to tempting situations. It’s as if our “temptation radar” is degraded when our self-control resources are low; we don’t fully recognize the danger of the situation. Using the project budgeting example above, it would be better to let that task go for the day and revisit it on Monday morning, than settle for the quick, easy, and unethical strategy of fudging the numbers…even if it means getting chewed out by your boss for being late with the report. There is never a right time to do the wrong thing, and it’s never the right time to make an important decision when you’re tired, exhausted, or feeling mentally or emotionally drained.
Leaders are givers. We give people our time, energy, support, guidance, coaching, and many other things that can leave us feeling like we’re running on empty. When our tanks are empty we expose ourselves to making decisions that can damage our integrity and erode the trust of our followers. We need to keep our own tanks full, not only so we can give to others, but also to protect us from ourselves.
Simple—When you break it down into its essential components of competence, integrity, benevolence, and dependability, trust is really pretty simple. Be good at what you do. Act with integrity. Demonstrate care and concern for people. Do what you say you will do. Simple.
Complex—There is a vast and complex set of variables that influence the development of trust with people and in organizations. The company culture, policies and procedures, governance systems, and the behavior of senior leaders are just a few of the organizational variables. Interpersonal variables include temperament and personality types, level of emotional intelligence, nationality, and life experiences all shape a person’s perception of trust.
Powerful—Trust is the fuel that powers personal and organizational success. With it, all things are possible. People are willing to take risks, reach for the stars, and invest their all. Without it, success moves out of reach. People pull back, productivity goes down the drain, and progress grinds to a halt.
Fragile—One careless act can instantaneously destroy trust that has taken years to develop, especially when the breach of trust involves a personal character failure.
Strong—Trust is one of the strongest forces on earth. When high levels of trust exist, relationships can endure the ambiguity and unknown of this world. Even if trust suffers a major blow, it can recover and be stronger than before if the parties are willing to work at rebuilding it.
Forgiving—Trust assumes the best intentions of others and looks to forgive when someone falls short of expectations. Trust knows that people aren’t perfect and that mistakes will happen, but people will generally prove themselves worthy of the trust placed in them.
Essential—Trust is the foundation of any healthy, successful relationship. Whether it’s between people, organizations, or countries, trust is essential for mutual cooperation and respect.
Earned—If you want it, you’ve got to earn it. Trust is earned over time through consistent and trustworthy behavior.
Given—If you want it, you’ve got to give it. Extending trust to someone is a trust booster – it builds trust in a relationship. Someone has to make the first move so it might as well be you.
Exponential—Trust feeds on itself and grows exponentially over time. One trust boosting behavior begets another, and another, and another, and before you know it, you have a high trust relationship.
Behavioral—People need to see it to believe it. Words are great, but actions are better. Demonstrate trustworthy behavior in all you do and you’ll never have to worry about someone questioning your character.
Leadership—Leadership is about influencing others, and if people don’t trust you, you won’t be able to influence them. Leadership and trust go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.
What is trust to you? Leave a comment and complete the phrase: Trust is…
The coach of the opposing team at my son’s high school basketball game yesterday clearly tried to lead his team through fear and intimidation. His voice had one volume setting – LOUD! He wasn’t just speaking loud so that his players could hear him in the noisy gym. He yelled. He screamed. The entire game. He criticized his players for making mistakes and made sarcastic comments about their performance. He threatened them with time on the bench if they didn’t follow his instructions. I mentioned to some other parents that when a coach constantly yells and screams at his players, they eventually start to tune out, or even worse, become so afraid to make a mistake that they fail to give their best effort. That clearly was the case with this team.
Even if you aren’t the stereotypical gruff, volatile, loud, in-your-face type of boss, you may be casting a shadow of fear over your team without even realizing it. Your positional authority alone is enough to create a certain amount of anxiety and stress in the hearts of your employees. Add in some common fear-inducing behaviors leaders often use like hoarding information, losing their temper, and not protecting the interests of their employees, and you’ve got the recipe for creating timid and fearful team members.
Fear is the enemy of trust. In fact, if you have fear in a relationship, you can’t have trust. The two are polar opposites just like night and day, black and white, pain and pleasure, success and failure, or even Michigan and Ohio State (Go Blue!).
In order to become a trusted leader, you need to lower, and hopefully eliminate, the amount of fear in the relationships with those you lead. Here are six ways to lower fear and build trust:
1. Be consistent in your behavior – Unpredictability breeds fear. If your employees can’t reasonably predict how you’ll react in a given situation, they’ll be afraid to step out and take risks. They’ll always be on edge, not knowing who’s going to show up at the office, the “good boss” that will support their efforts and have their back should they make a mistake, or the “bad boss” that will fly off the handle and punish them for their failure.
2. Treat mistakes as learning opportunities – High-trust cultures give employees confidence to set BHAG’s – big hairy audacious goals – and risk failure by not achieving them. Rather than penalize your employees when they make a mistake, use the opportunity to coach them on how to do better the next time around.
3. Explain the “why” – Let your team members know the “why” behind the questions you ask or the decisions you make. It will help them better understand your thought processes and motivations and create more buy-in to your leadership. Failure to explain the “why” leaves people wondering about why you do what you do and sows the seeds of doubt and fear.
4. Share information about yourself – The Johari Window is a helpful model that illustrates how you can improve communication and build trust with others by disclosing information about yourself. By soliciting the feedback of others, you can learn more about yourself and how others perceive you. Check out one of my previous articles about how you can build trust by being more vulnerable with people.
5. Solicit and use feedback from others – Leaders who rule by fear generally don’t bother soliciting feedback or input from others when making decisions. It’s the boss’ way or the highway. Trusted leaders seek input from others and look for ways to incorporate their ideas into the decisions that are made.
6. Be nice – Say “please”… “thank you”… “you’re welcome”… a little kindness goes a long way in building trust. Simply making the effort to be friendly and build a rapport with others signals to them that you care about them as individuals and not just as workers that show up to do a job.
My son’s basketball team ended up winning the game quite convincingly, and in marked contrast to the other team’s coach, my son’s coach doesn’t lead by fear and intimidation. As a result, the players feel secure in the consistency of his leadership and perform without fear of how he’ll respond if they make a mistake. Give it a try with your team and watch the victories pile up.
I’m honored to be interviewed today at 9:00 a.m. PST by Jordan Kimmel, host of the Trust Across America radio show. We’ll be discussing how people can build trust in relationships and strategies for repairing broken trust. Log on to VoiceAmerica to listen to the live broadcast.