Leading with Trust

3 Things About Leadership I Learned From a 1 Hour Conversation With President Obama

This past Monday I had the great fortune of sitting in on a conversation with former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Before I sound too prideful or self-aggrandizing, let me clarify something. I was in a room with 10,000 of my not-so-closest friends, and I wasn’t actually involved in the discussion, per se. I attended the Association for Talent Development 2018 Conference and Barack Obama was the opening keynote speaker. He engaged in a conversation with Tony Bingham, the CEO of ATD, and I got to listen in. But still, the former president was relaxed, open, and made all the attendees feel like they were part of the discussion.

The conversation was wide-ranging, covering the importance of values, inclusion, learning, diversity of perspectives, and many other topics relevant to leaders today. President Obama made three points that really caught my attention:

  1. Have high expectations for your people—In his first presidential campaign, Obama’s organization was hugely successful in leveraging the talents of young people in their early to mid-20’s. The former president reflected on how they challenged these young folks to rise to the occasion, even though many of them had not yet had significant job responsibilities. The Obama campaign enlisted their support, trained them, and trusted them to do good work, and the vast majority of the time they delivered. In my experience, I’ve found it’s common for leaders to under-challenge their teams. We talk a good game about setting BHAG’s—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals—but most of the time the goals we establish are pretty modest and achievable. I was inspired to set goals that challenge my team to not only stretch, but extend themselves out of their comfort zones.
  2. Call on the outer circle—In perhaps my favorite story, Obama shared a leadership practice he developed some time during his first term in office. When the President meets with the Cabinet, seated around the table are all the heads of the various federal departments and any other senior advisers the president wants in attendance. Seated behind all the principals at the table are their respective staff members, each bearing stacks of papers, briefing books, and any other relevant reports or data needed for the meeting. President Obama routinely observed all the principals being fed information from their staffers, so he decided to start randomly calling on the “outer circle” to solicit their opinions. He said it was surprising and awkward at first, primarily for those staffers put on the spot, but he continued with the practice because it brought diverse ideas and perspectives to the discussion. This story served as a good reminder about the importance of hearing and understanding points of view different from my own. How are you doing in this regard? Are you soliciting input from the outer circle, especially people who may see things differently than you, or do you only seek the input of those who you know will agree with you?
  3. Focus on what you want to accomplish, not a position or title—A recurring theme of President Obama’s talk was being of service. He encouraged everyone to focus on the impact they want to make in their work, and not be overly focused on a particular title or role. The titles and accolades will usually come, but only after we’ve made our impact seen and known. Although he didn’t use the words servant leadership, that’s exactly what Obama described. Servant leaders put the needs of others ahead of their own and they look for ways to be of service. Being of service does not equate to being a passive or milquetoast leader. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Servant leaders see a need and take action to meet it. Servant leaders are proactive and future-focused, and they look to make the world a better place as a result of their efforts. Our culture encourages us to glory in praise, titles, and fame, but the true leaders in life are those who look to serve others as a way to fulfill their greater purpose in life.

Most of us will never achieve a position remotely as influential as President of the United States. But all of us, regardless of our station in life, can apply these three common-sense principles of effective leadership to make a small dent in our corner of the universe.

4 Steps to Avoid a Leadership Meltdown Like Uber’s Travis Kalanik

kid-having-meltdownThe last few weeks have not been kind to Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanik. Revelations by former employees of the company’s toxic and abusive culture, a highly publicized video of Kalanik arguing with and demeaning a Uber driver, and a New York Times article of Uber’s aggressive and unrestrained workplace, all led to Kalanik’s public apology for his role in fostering this culture and his pledge to seek “leadership help” to make things better.

He doesn’t need “leadership” help. He just needs help. Period.

Through the experiences of my own leadership journey and in my work helping people improve their leadership impact by developing trust in relationships, I’ve come to believe that leadership is an inside-out proposition. If you get things right on the inside, the outside takes care of itself. The inside things—our values, beliefs, motivations, and purpose—drive our outward behavior. Being clear on the inner aspect of leadership will keep our outward actions on track and help us avoid a leadership meltdown like the one Uber’s Travis Kalanik is currently experiencing.

Four Steps to Develop Inside-Out Leadership

  1. Know Your Core Values—Leadership is an influence process. As a leader you are trying to influence others to believe in certain things and act in specific ways. How can you do that if you aren’t clear on your own values? What drives your own behaviors? You have to be clear on that before you can expect to influence others…at least in a positive way. In the absence of clearly defined values, I believe people tend to default to the more base, self-centered values we all possess: self preservation, survival, ego, power, position. As an example, my core values are trust, authenticity, and respect. I look to those values to guide my interactions with others. Just as river banks channel and direct the flow of rushing water, so values direct our behaviors. What is a river without banks? A large puddle. Our leadership effectiveness is diffused without values to guide its efforts.
  2. Develop Awareness of Yourself & Others—The best leaders are acutely aware of their own personalities and behavioral patterns and the effect they have on others. Having self-awareness is good but it’s not enough. We also have to be able to self-regulate our default behaviors and learn how to dial them up or down depending on the needs of the situation. Effective leaders also develop awareness of the behavioral styles of those they lead, and they learn how to adjust their behaviors to meet the needs of others. Being a leader requires you to be a student of people and human behavior. You can’t be a bull in a china shop when it comes to human relationships and only rely on your default modes of behavior. It’s a leadership cop-out to use your personality as an excuse for bad behavior.
  3. Be Clear on Your Beliefs About What Motivates People—I believe most people want to contribute to something bigger than themselves. I believe they want to learn, grow, and be the best version of themselves they can possibly be. I believe they want recognition for a job well done and want to be rewarded appropriately. I believe everyone who works at a job wants to be fairly compensated, but at the end of the day, money is not their primary source of motivation or satisfaction in work. When people have dinner with their family after a day at work, I believe they want to talk about how their boss helped them become better that day, or about a new accomplishment they achieved. I believe people don’t leave their personal cares and concerns at home when they arrive to work, and they want to be valued as individuals with hopes and dreams, and not viewed as nameless or faceless drones showing up to do a job. That’s what I believe and it dictates how I relate to others as a leader. What do you believe about others? The answer is to take a look at how you behave. That will tell you what you believe and why it’s so important to get clear on this aspect of inside-out leadership.
  4. Live Out Your Leadership Purpose—My leadership purpose is to “Be a servant-leader and a model of God’s grace and truth.” Being a servant leader means I strive to be other-focused, putting the needs and interests of those I lead ahead of my own. It means I set the vision for my team (the “leadership” aspect) but then turn the pyramid upside-down (the “servant” part) to help my team members achieve the goal. Being a model of God’s grace and truth guides my behaviors with others. It drives me to give others the benefit of the doubt and forgive when mistakes are made. It also drives me to be truthful and honest with team members, delivering candid yet caring feedback or redirection when the situation warrants it. Hopefully through this example you can see the importance of having a leadership purpose. It’s the driving force of how you “show up” as a leader. If you find that your leadership is inconsistent, unfocused, or lacking impact, revisit (or establish) your leadership purpose.

Leadership is as much about who you are as it is what you do. But in order to do the right things, you first have to believe the right things. If you place a priority on developing your inner life as a leader, the outward actions will follow suit and you won’t have to worry about experiencing a leadership meltdown.

5 Ways to Turbocharge Development of Trust in Relationships

trubochargeWe live in an instant gratification society. One-click purchases, overnight or same-day delivery, self-checkout lines at the grocery store, microwave ovens, and real-time global communications in a 24/7 world—whatever we want, when we want, and how we want it.

When I conduct training sessions on building trust I often get questions from participants along the lines of “How can I build trust quickly with someone?” The questioner is often a time-crunched manager struggling with a low-trust relationship and is looking for a quick and easy solution to his “trust issue.” Trust is a multi-dimensional construct that doesn’t fit easily into our desire for quick and easy solutions. It’s a relational dynamic that is constantly ebbing and flowing with each trust-building or trust-eroding behavior or situation we experience. However, there are key behaviors a person can use to turbocharge the development of trust in relationships. Here are five important ones to consider:

1. Admit Mistakes — It’s inevitable; we all make mistakes. The key to building or maintaining trust is how you handle the situation. If you make excuses, try to shift the blame, cover it up or pretend it didn’t happen, the trust others have in you will plummet. If you readily admit the mistake, stand up and take responsibility for your actions in a sincere and humble way, trust in you will sky-rocket. People yearn for authentic connections in relationships, and in order for that to happen there has to be a level of vulnerability. Admitting mistakes is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate vulnerability, and as a result, the development of trust.

2. Follow-through on Commitments — I believe that most people genuinely intend to honor their commitments. The problem is we often lack a plan for doing so. We over-commit ourselves or fail to sufficiently plan our course of action and end up dropping the ball. Few things erode trust more than not delivering on a commitment. If you want to build or sustain trust, make sure you do what you say you’re going to do. If something looks like it’s going to get in the way of you being able to deliver on your commitment, speak up early and reset expectations. Negotiate new deadlines or seek additional resources to meet the original commitment, and most of all, don’t use the “P” word (Promise), unless you absolutely know you can deliver on your promise.

3. Be Nice and Helpful — People want to do business with those they like and trust, and it’s amazing how much trust you can build by simply being nice and helpful to others. You learned the basics from your parents and it’s still true…say “please” and “thank you.” Look for ways to make your colleague’s job easier, and even more so, make it easy for others to work with you. Smile, laugh, and extend simple courtesies to others; it really does work in building trust.

4. Be Interested in Others — People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You may be extremely competent at what you do, but if you don’t take a personal interest in the welfare of others, people will withhold a measure of trust from you. You don’t have to be an extroverted social butterfly to be a “people person.” It only takes a little effort to build rapport. Ask people how their weekend went, inquire about their kids, learn their hobbies, and take a genuine interest in them as individuals, not just as co-workers doing a job. When you start to do that, and do it genuinely and authentically, trust will blossom.

5. Walk the Talk — Acting with integrity is the foundation of being a trustworthy person. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word integritas, meaning soundness, wholeness, or blamelessness.” When we say a bridge or building has structural integrity, we mean it’s sound, sturdy, and stable. So it is with a person of integrity. That person is steady and consistent in his behavior. Being a person of integrity means being honest, treating people fairly and respectfully, and acting in alignment with honorable values. If you say one thing and then do another you will severely injure trust in your relationships. Gossiping, spinning the truth to your benefit, omitting facts, or taking credit for the work of others are sure ways to diminish your integrity and the trust people have in you.

Sit down, buckle your seat belt, and consistently practice these five ways of relating to others and you’ll see the turbocharged development of trust in your relationships.

4 Steps to Develop Your Personal Brand at Work

Brand Me...PleaseWhether you realize it or not, you have a brand image at work, and if you don’t take charge of it, someone else will.

Your brand image is not only how people perceive you (your reputation), but also what differentiates you from everyone else in your company. When your colleagues think of you, what is it that comes to their minds? If you can’t answer that question, then you have a problem. A brand image problem.

Tom Peters, the guru of personal branding, says, “If you are going to be a brand, you’ve got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, what you’re proud of, and most important, what you can shamelessly take credit for.” Now, I’m not into shamelessly bragging about personal accomplishments, but I do think it’s important, and possible, to tactfully and appropriately share your successes. It’s part of what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace.

Forget your job title. What is it about your performance that makes you memorable, distinct, or unique? What’s the “buzz” on you? Forget about your job description too. What accomplishments are you most proud of? How have you gone above, beyond, or outside the scope of your job description to add value to your organization? Those are the elements that make up your brand.

If you’re not quite sure what your personal brand is, or how to go about creating a brand, here are four steps to get you started.

1. Identify your core values – Your values guide your beliefs and actions. A brand is a trusted promise which requires clarity on what motivates you from the core of your being. Consider popular brands like Apple or Nike. Apple’s brand conveys the values of being creative, passionate, and visionary. Nike’s brand of “Just do it” reflects the values of excellence and dedication. What values reflect the way you “show up” in the workplace? Mine are trust, authenticity, and respect.

2. Identify your strengths/personal attributes – A personal brand combines what you value with what you do well. What is it that you’re really good at? What unique personal attributes do you bring to the table? Maybe it’s courage, decisiveness, enthusiasm, patience, perseverance, or trustworthiness, just to name a few. There are a number of surveys you can take to help you identify your character strengths and attributes.

3. Assess your current brand image – One of the best ways to understand your current brand is to ask those you work with to describe your brand image. In addition to asking others, you can use the following sentence starters to help you analyze your brand:

          • Inside the company I am known for…
          • Three things I’m really good at are…
          • Something about myself that I feel proud about is…
          • Some “WOW” projects I’ve worked on are…

4. Develop your brand – What if there weren’t career ladders, only great projects? What if you were your own brand manager? How could your career growth be different if the leaders you worked with were brand loyalists that backed you no matter what? What if you approached your performance review as a “portfolio” review where you highlighted your project accomplishments over the past year? If you viewed your job performance through these lenses, you would need to change the way you go about things. Set the following goals to develop your brand image:

By this time next year…

          • I plan to be known for these projects…
          • I plan to be known for these skills…
          • I plan to have added these contacts to my network…

And…

          • My principal resume-enhancing activity over the next three months is…
          • My public visibility program is…

Gaining clarity on who you are, what you love, and what strengths you bring to the table will help you understand your brand identity, while continuing to master your craft and assembling a portfolio of successes will fulfill the promise of you being a trusted brand that others can rely upon.

Advice to Leaders: Building Trust is a Journey, Not a Destination

Trust Compass“So, Randy, how long does this whole process take?”

That was a question from a senior executive with whom I was recently working. His company is proactively working to build a culture of trust and engagement, something few organizations do intentionally. Usually senior executives only start paying attention to trust when it has been broken and they’re in dire straits. This particular company is going about it the right way, taking a purposeful approach to building a high-trust organization that will continue to fuel its success well into the future.

However, his question clearly revealed his current mindset about this strategy of fostering trust and engagement. He considered it another item on the to-do list, something he would need to devote attention to for a few months and then move on to the next priority. That’s not the way it works.

Creating organizational trust and engagement is a journey, not a destination. It’s not a box you can check and say “Done!” It’s something you have to build and nurture every day of the week. It’s much more about who you are as a leader than what you do. It’s about being clear on your leadership point of view—your beliefs about leading and motivating people—and leading in a way that builds trust with others.

You’re never done building trust.

The presentation below, far from a complete treatise on the topic, lays the foundation of what it means to lead with trust. Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts about leading with trust.

Get Real! 7 Keys to Develop Leadership Authenticity

Get RealHey leader…get real! It’s time to quit trying to be something you aren’t. It’s time to be authentic.

Authenticity is an essential component of being a trustworthy leader. People are longing to follow leaders who are sincere and genuine, and when they find one, they will offer that leader 100% of their energy and engagement. You can be that kind of leader if you try and it’s not rocket science to figure out how. Start with these 7 keys:

1. Be humble – A recent study showed that only one out of four CEOs were described by their own executives as being humble. CEOs that were rated as highly regarded were nearly six times more likely to be described as humble (34% vs. 6%). Humble leaders use their power to benefit others, share the same values as their followers, and look for ways to empower others to reach their potential.

2. Be vulnerable – Take your work seriously but yourself lightly. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself every once in while, because when you do so, it shows your followers that you actually are a little human (and just like them). Fear holds us back from being vulnerable with others, but take a little risk and “get naked” with your staff sometimes.

3. Admit you don’t know – Admitting they don’t know something can be incredibly difficult for leaders. After all, isn’t that why they’re leaders? They’re supposed to have the answers for everything! Admitting you don’t know something shows you have a realistic appreciation of your own strengths and weaknesses. Being a leader doesn’t mean you know all the answers; it means you’re willing to work hard to figure them out.

4. Walk the talk – It’s easy to talk the talk but authentic leaders make sure they walk it as well. Consistency in behavior is imperative for authentic leadership. Your actions need to be in alignment with your words otherwise people will quickly see you don’t actually believe what you say you do.

5. Admit mistakes – If you messed up, own it. Don’t try to shift blame, make excuses, or throw someone else under the bus. If you made a mistake, admit it, apologize if necessary, and then work hard to repair any damage. Authentic leaders are secure enough in their identities to deal with mistakes in a humble, genuine fashion that results in actually increasing trust and respect with their followers rather than eroding it.

6. Do what you say you will do – Following through on your commitments is a must-have for authentic leadership. Maintaining reliability with others through consistent and predictable behavior builds trust and confidence in your leadership. Authentic leaders can be trusted at their word. If you say you are going to do something, then do it.

7. Act with integrity – Be honest, do the right thing, make ethical decisions, keep promises, treat people with respect, don’t lie, cheat or steal…pretty much everything you learned in kindergarten! Authentic leaders value their integrity above all else. When you leave the workplace each day, you should be able to hold your head high because you conducted yourself with integrity. A leader of high integrity stands out above all others.

The world is in desperate need for authentic leadership and you can play a part. Start with these seven keys and you’ll be on your way to leading with trust and authenticity.

Feel free to leave a comment and share additional keys to develop leadership authenticity.

Santa Reveals His 7 Secrets for Building a High Performing Team

santa thumbs upToiling in anonymity for 364 days of the year in the far reaches of the North Pole is the highest performing team known to man. This team labors all year in preparation for the one night when their work is on display for the whole world to see. Yes, I’m talking about Santa Claus and his team of elves. If there is anyone from whom you should take advice about building a high performing team, it is Santa.

Every year Santa is gracious enough to take time out of his crazy schedule to share some of his leadership wisdom with me. In previous years he’s shared five keys to effective delegation, three lessons about motivation, and the fundamentals of leadership success. In our most recent meeting, held at a local Starbucks over a hot cup of Christmas Blend coffee, Santa shared his seven secrets for building a high performing team.

Me: Hi Santa! I can’t thank you enough for meeting with me. You are always so gracious with your time.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy. I still owe you for that year you requested a bicycle and I delivered underwear instead. Even Santa makes the occasional mistake!

Me: No worries Santa, I really needed the underwear more than the bicycle anyway. I’ve always admired the team you’ve built at the North Pole. I can’t think of any team that performs better than yours. What is your secret?

Santa: Thanks for the compliment Randy. I wouldn’t say there is a single secret; there are seven! And they aren’t really secrets when you think about it, just common sense. The first secret of a high performing team is to have a clear purpose and values. The team needs to know why they exist, what they’re trying to achieve, and the values that will guide their actions. The team has agreed on challenging goals and deliverables that are clearly related to the team’s purpose. Each team member understands his role on the team and is accountable to other team members.

Me: I can see how that is evident in your team. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of your organization and how his/her role fits into the big picture. What is your second secret?

Santa: The second secret of a high performing team is empowerment. Each team member needs to have the responsibility and authority to accomplish his/her work. Information needs to be shared widely and team members have to be trusted to do what is right. Team members are clear on what they can or cannot do and they take initiative to act within their scope of responsibility. Empowerment is possible because of the third secret: relationships and communication. Trust, mutual respect, and team cohesion are emphasized and every team member has the freedom to state their opinions, thoughts and feelings. High performing teams emphasize listening to each other as well as giving and receiving candid, yet caring feedback.

Me: Empowerment, relationships, and communication are critical success factors for any team. What is the fourth secret of a high performing team?

Santa: The fourth secret is flexibility. Everything is interconnected in today’s global economy and change happens more rapidly than at any time in history. A high performing team has to be ready to change direction, strategy, or processes on a moment’s notice. Team members need to have a mindset of agility, knowing that change is not only inevitable but desirable.

Me: Considering your team pulls off the herculean feat of delivering presents across the world in a single night, I imagine your team has perfected the art of flexibility!

Santa: Do you know how many last-minute requests we get from children and parents around the world? Countless! Flexibility is part of our nature and it has led to us practicing the fifth secret of a high performing team: optimal productivity. The bottom-line for any high performing team is getting the job done. You have to achieve results – on time, on budget, with excellent quality. We are all committed to achieving excellence in everything we do.

Me: I know everyone appreciates you sharing all of this wisdom. How do you keep your team from burning out from all of their hard work throughout the year?

Santa: Great question! That leads to the sixth secret of a high performing team: recognition and appreciation. Our team places a high priority on celebrating our successes and milestones. We work hard but we have a lot of fun doing it! Individuals are frequently praised for their efforts and everyone feels highly regarded within the team. Rather than only focusing on catching people make mistakes, I make it a priority to catch the elves doing something right.

Me: So that brings us to the seventh and final secret of high performing teams.

Santa: That’s right. The seventh secret of high performing teams is morale. Team members are confident and enthusiastic about their work and each person feels a sense of pride in being part of the team. Team members are committed to each other’s success and to the success of the team. We fiercely protect the morale of the team by making sure we deal with conflict openly and respectfully. We may not always agree on each decision, but when a decision is made, we all agree to wholeheartedly support it.

Me: This has been a wonderful discussion Santa. You are truly a master at building a high performing team.

Santa: Thank you Randy! The credit really belongs to the entire team, not just me. We are all in this together. Merry Christmas to all!

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