Leading with Trust

Connecting the Dots: Trust, Leadership, and Engagement

pexels-photo-681335.jpegThe ability to build and sustain high levels of trust and engagement is a critical competency for today’s leaders. In our technology-fueled, digitally connected world where new products, competitors, and business models seemingly emerge overnight, one of the few competitive advantages organizations possess is their people. The skills, talents, creativity, innovation, and passion of its people can be the difference between organizations achieving exceptional performance or wallowing in mediocrity. In order to come out on the winning side of this challenge, organizations must connect the dots between trust, leadership, and engagement. Trust is the foundation, leadership is the driver, and engagement is the goal.

The Foundation of Trust

Trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy, thriving relationship and it’s essential to your success as a leader. Without trust your leadership is doomed. Creativity is stifled, innovation grinds to a halt, and reasoned risk-taking is abandoned. People check their hearts and minds at the door, leaving you with a staff that has quit mentally and emotionally but stayed on the payroll, sucking precious resources from your organization.

Booster and Buster TableHowever, with trust, all things are possible. Energy, progress, productivity, and ingenuity flourish. Commitment, engagement, loyalty, and excellence become more than empty words in a company mission statement; they become reality. Trust has been called the “magic” ingredient of organizational life. It simultaneously acts as the bonding agent that holds everything together as well as the lubricant that keeps things moving smoothly.

Trust doesn’t “just happen” through some sort of magical relationship osmosis. It’s built and sustained through the use of very specific behaviors that align with the four core elements of trust: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Leaders who emphasize the use of “trust boosting” behaviors cultivate an environment where employees feel safe and want to invest their discretionary effort, whereas leaders who engage in “trust busting” behaviors foster an environment of distrust and fear that cause people to withdraw and only give minimal effort.

Leadership as a Driver

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.

According to Gallup research, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.

Situational Leadership® II (SLII®) is a model and methodology that fosters an environment of trust and engagement because it puts people first. SLII is a “people-centered” approach to leadership that looks at the needs of the follower to determine the leadership style used by the leader. The needs of the follower come before the needs of the leader. This altruistic approach by leaders builds trust because his or her followers see the leader has their best interests in mind.

sl2-situational-leadership-model-diagramLeaders who effectively use SLII also develop open, honest, and transparent communication with their people. With trust as the foundation in the relationship, employees feel safe enough to ask for the direction and support they need on tasks and goals. A team member who doesn’t trust his or her leader is not going to admit to being a “D2 – Disillusioned Learner.” Admitting you don’t know something is the last thing you’ll do with a leader you don’t trust. Conversely, leaders who foster trust and utilize SLII open up the lines of communication with direct reports and are able to talk objectively about developmental needs.

Engagement is the Goal

It would be overly simplistic to suggest that having a people-centered approach to building trust and employing Situational Leadership® II will produce an engaged workforce. Employee engagement is a broad and complex issue that organizations spend $720 million dollars a year trying to solve, according to a Bersin & Associates report.  Bersin also highlights that when it comes to engagement there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition of the term. Definitions vary widely, with elements including commitment, goal alignment, enjoyment, and performance, just to name a few.

Thumbs Up GroupHowever, it isn’t an oversimplification to state that a people-centered approach fosters an environment that allows trust and engagement to flourish and leads to organizational success. Research by renowned economist Laurie Bassi has proven that firms who put people first, as measured by the highest scores on the Human Capital Management (HCM) scale, have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 25 years in periods of financial prosperity as well as in more difficult times. Most notably, firms with higher HCM scores are able to endure and recover more quickly from cyclical downturns in the economy than are firms with lower HCM scores.

Simply stated, leaders of the best and most successful firms understand that all they have and all they hope for is due to their people, and as a result, they practice people-centered leadership.

4 Ways Santa Is A Great Leader, And How You Can Be Too

As I have in years past, I was able to catch-up with Santa Claus for an exclusive one-on-one interview. The jolly old man was kind enough to take a break from his final preparations on Christmas Eve to answer my questions about what makes him such a great leader. During our conversation, I learned that Santa believes trustworthiness is the number one key to his success, and he builds trust through four primary ways. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

Me: Hello Santa. It’s a pleasure to see you once again. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know you’re quite busy.

Santa: Hi Randy! It’s my pleasure to spend some time with you. I feel it’s the least I can do, considering all those years you spent on the “naughty” list as a child. Ha! You know I’m just pulling your leg.

Me: I love your sense of humor Santa! You of all people know how close I actually was to being on the naughty list. Thanks for the grace you showed. I know you’re busy, so let’s get right to it. What makes you such a great leader?

Santa: Well, leadership involves many things, but I would say the biggest key to my success has been being trustworthy.

Me: That’s music to my ears, Santa. You know how important I think trust is to effective leadership. Tell me more about what makes you so trustworthy.

Santa: I think there are four main things that make me trustworthy. First, it’s because I’m able. There’s a lot of moving pieces to this Santa gig, and I’ve had to develop the skills necessary to perform the job. I’ve mastered logistics, organization, sleigh-driving, reindeer development, elf management, toy production, and a host of other things. People trust me because they believe I know my stuff. And I do!

Me: No one knows santa-ing more than you, that’s for sure! What else makes you trustworthy?

Santa: A second aspect of my trustworthiness is that I’m believable. If I’m going to judge which children have been naughty and which have been nice, then I have to be above reproach myself. Nothing is more important to me than acting with integrity. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. I’m honest, stick to my values, and walk the talk.

Me: I couldn’t agree more, Santa. When I think of you, I have full confidence that you will always do the right thing. No one ever questions your judgment because you’ve been so consistent and steady in your behavior. You said there were four things that make you trustworthy. What are the other two?

Santa: The third factor that makes me trustworthy is that I’m connected with others through caring relationships. Children around the world know that I care about them deeply. I love all children, even the ones who find themselves on the naughty list (which between you and me, there are actually very few that ever appear on that list). All the elves at the North Pole know that I care about them as well. I make it a point to learn the first name and position of every elf on my team, and I frequently walk the shop floor to chat with them and connect on a personal level. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job.

Me: The love you have for the children of the world is evidenced by the joy you personify and the joy you give to others. What’s the fourth element of trustworthiness?

Santa: The fourth element that makes me trustworthy is that I’m dependable. Above all, I’m counted on to deliver presents around the world on Christmas Eve. A R O U N D  T H E  W O R L D (Santa says in a slow, drawn out manner). Can you recall a Christmas where I haven’t delivered? No, you can’t. All the children are depending on me and I’d never let them down. If I say I’m going to do something, by golly, I do it!

Me: That makes perfect sense Santa. You are trustworthy because you’re able, you have the skills needed to do your job well. You’re believable because you act with integrity. You’re connected with people on a real, authentic basis. And you’re dependable; you can be counted on to do what you say you’re going to do. Now that I think about it, the first letter of those four words form the acronym ABCD. The ABCDs of trust!

Santa: That’s right! The ABCDs of trust. It’s the alphabet or language of trust, isn’t it?!

Me: It sure is! I would also argue that it’s also the language of leadership. You can’t sustain long-term, effective leadership if you aren’t trustworthy. I think you’re one of the best examples of that truth.

Santa: Thank you, Randy. I’m humbled by your compliments. It truly is a team effort between me, Mrs. Claus, and all the elves on our team. Teamwork makes the dream work! By the way, all the sports stars and coaches today stole that line from me!

Me: Ha! You’re the best Santa. I know you have to be running. You’ve got a long night ahead of you. Thanks for spending time with me.

Santa: You’re welcome! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Where Did the “Us” in Trust Go?

Where’s the good in goodbye,
Where’s the nice in nice try,
Where’s the us in trust gone,
Where’s the soul in soldier on,
Now I’m the low in lonely,
Cos I don’t own you only,
I can take this mistake, but
I can’t take the ache from heartbreak

No Good in Goodbye ~ The Script

“Where’s the us in trust gone?” I was listening to this song this past week and of course that particular lyric caught my ear. The song describes a person who has done something to damage a love relationship and is lamenting the pain of the breakup. It got me thinking of the inherent one-to-one nature of trust.

Yes, trust can be applied on a generalized level such as the trust one has (or doesn’t have) in government, companies, or other entities. But in its purest form, trust is a psychological and emotional construct between two people and there are three important truths that apply to building trust in relationships:

1. Risk is required — You don’t need trust if there’s nothing at risk. That’s called certainty, a sure thing, a guarantee. But if there is risk, if there is a chance you might get burned extending your love, money, or faith to someone else, then trust is essential. A part of that risk involves someone making the first move in extending trust. Trust doesn’t happen by accident. In order for trust to develop in a relationship, one party has to make the decision to extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated. That’s the only way it happens. Ernest Hemingway summed this up simply yet eloquently when he said “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

2. Trust cannot be demanded; it must be granted willingly — Trust, just like love, commitment, loyalty, and other relationship dynamics cannot be forced upon someone; it must be given. Each person is unique in regards to how they grant trust to another. Some have the philosophy of “I’ll trust you until you show me I shouldn’t” while others have the approach of “I won’t give you my trust until you earn it.” Our propensity to trust is shaped by many factors including our level of psychological and emotional maturity, risk tolerance, the balance of power in the relationship, childhood experiences with trust, and our morals and values. Regardless of how a person is “wired” to trust, you can’t demand they give it to you. They must decide on their own to give it to you.

3. Trust must be nurtured — Trust is not a one and done sort of thing. You don’t give or receive it and then forget about it. You must constantly protect and nurture it in order for it to deepen and give life and endurance to the relationship. Trust sustains relationships through the tough times. It’s the element that breeds safety and security in a relationship so each person knows that no matter what happens, I can trust you won’t hurt me or take advantage of me. In the garden of relationships in your life, trust is the water that keeps them growing, blooming, and maturing to fullness. Without trust those relationships will wither and die. Unfortunately, too many people only think about trust when it has been broken. Don’t let that be you. Never lose sight of trust and keep working to make it stronger day by day.

There’s no trust without “us.” You and me. Two people willing to take a risk and make themselves vulnerable to each other with the expectation the other won’t take advantage. We don’t demand it of each other, but we give it willingly because the other person has demonstrated their trustworthiness over time. And we constantly nurture the trust in our relationship so it continues to grow over time and works in a reciprocal fashion to constantly strengthen itself. That’s the “us” in trust.

Making Wise Decisions – 5 Tips for Getting it Right

December 7th of this past week marked the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan. Every year around this time I’m reminded of the powerful, and sometimes largely unknown, consequences of the decisions we make. The reminder stems from a story that I heard my wife’s grandpa, Don Hadley, tell dozens of times about a decision he made 77 years ago that changed the course of his life.

In the summer of 1940, Don Hadley was a newly married U.S. Marine stationed in San Diego, CA. Returning from his honeymoon, he received a call from his Gunnery Sergeant informing him of his new assignment: Report to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor for a two-year tour of duty.

Not wanting to move his wife away from her Italian-immigrant family, Don asked if there were any other options. He was told he could go to Guam for 18 months, but it would be sea duty versus the two years of shore duty in Pearl aboard the USS Arizona. He chose Guam. Anyone familiar with the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor knows that the USS Arizona was sunk during the battle, resulting in 1,177 officers and crew losing their lives.

This one decision had a relatively few number of stakeholders directly affected by the outcome and the potential consequences seemed narrow in scope. Yet with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that generations of lives were impacted as a result of this one choice.

In a leadership capacity, this story has always reminded me of the importance of making good decisions. There may be consequences to our decisions that we can’t readily see on the surface so it’s vital that we make wise decisions. Here’s some tips and techniques to help you make good decisions:

1. Don’t overestimate your decision-making abilities – That fact is that most of us don’t receive much formal training in how to make decisions. Creating a list of pro’s and con’s is a good start, but there are many other decision-making tools that can help. Select the tools most appropriate for the decisions you need to make.

2. Be clear on the decision you need to make – There is a difference between problem-solving and decision-making. Problem-solving usually deals with a more complex set of variables whereas a decision is a subset of solving a particular problem. Dig into the root issues of the situation you’re involved with and determine what exactly it is you’re trying to decide. You don’t want to spend time making a decision about an issue that isn’t at the core of the situation.

3. Gather the facts – It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how many times we rush to decisions because we assume we know all the facts. Do research, talk to people familiar with the situation, and get advice from unbiased advisers. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your followers is to make rash decisions that come back to haunt you because you didn’t take the time to thoroughly vet the situation.

4. Understand the impact on the stakeholders – Consider the needs and desires of those affected by the decision. Does your decision promote the welfare of those involved? Is it fair and just? Is it in alignment with your personal values and those of the organization? Try to step into the shoes of those on the receiving end of the decision to understand how they may perceive the outcome, and if possible, solicit input from those affected and incorporate their feedback into your decision if it makes sense.

5. Make the decision and follow through – In their classic Harvard Business Review article, The Smart-Talk Trap, authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton explain that in business, “When confronted with a problem, people act as if discussing it, formulating decisions, and hashing out plans for action are the same as actually fixing it.” Trusted leaders do more than talk – they actually make a decision and follow through by implementing it. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in “analysis-paralysis,” always wanting to discuss it a little bit more or gather just a few more facts. At some point you have to make the decision and move forward. If it ends up being the wrong decision then change course and try again!

I’m glad that Grandpa Don made the decision to go to Guam. If he didn’t, I almost certainly would never have had the opportunity to marry my wonderful wife Kim and have the beautiful family that I’m blessed with today. Trusted leaders take time to make wise decisions and then move forward confidently knowing they did their best.

3 Levels of Trust You Experience in Relationships

I regularly work with individuals and teams to help them build trust in the workplace. Many people think trust just sort of “happens” in relationships, but there are actually four elements of trust you can proactively cultivate to have healthy and thriving relationships.

Because I’m an advocate for building ever higher levels of trust, participants in my workshops often assume I think trust is a one-size-fits-all proposition, that all relationships should have the ultimate, highest level of trust. But when it comes to trust, not all relationships are at the same level. Based on the context of the given relationship—professional, personal, family, social—each one can experience a different level of trust.

There are three basic levels of trust. The first level is deterence-based trust, or what I like to call “rules-based” trust. This is the most fundamental, base level of trust in all relationships. Deterence-based trust means that there are rules in place that prevent one person from taking advantage of, or harming another person. In society we have laws that govern our behavior in personal and business settings. When we engage in business we have contracts that ensure one party can trust another to hold up their end of the bargain. In organizations we have policies and procedures that provide boundaries for how we interact and treat each other, and if we violate those rules, usually there are consequences involved.

The second level of trust is knowledge-based trust. This level of trust means that I’ve had enough experience with you and knowledge of your behavior that I have a pretty good idea of how you will react and behave in relationship with me. Because my experience with you has shown that you have my best interests in mind and will do what you say you’ll do, I feel safe enough to trust you in our everyday dealings. This is the level of trust that most of our day-to-day professional relationships experience.

The third and most intimate level of trust we experience in relationships is called identity-based trust. This level of trust means that you know my hopes, dreams, goals, ambitions, fears, and doubts. I trust you at this level because over the course of time I have increased my level of transparency and vulnerability with you and you haven’t taken advantage of me. You’ve proven yourself to be loyal, understanding, and accepting.

Identity-based trust isn’t appropriate for every relationship. This level of trust is usually reserved for the most important people in our lives such as our spouse, children, family, and close friends. Yet with the proper boundaries in place, this level of trust can unlock higher levels of productivity, creativity, and performance in organizations. Imagine an organizational culture where we operated freely without concerns of being stabbed in the back by power-hungry colleagues looking to move higher on the corporate ladder. Imagine less gossiping, backbiting, or dirty politics being played because we knew each other’s hopes and dreams and worked to encourage their development rather than always having a me-first attitude.

Take a moment to examine the level of trust in your most important relationships. What level are you at with each one and how can you develop deeper levels of trust?

10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Your Employees

Since this is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., I thought I’d re-share one of my most popular posts about how to build trust through the power of telling people “thank you.” Saying “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, here are ten amazingly simple ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In classic David Letterman, Late Night style…10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Employees:

10. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

9. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

7. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

6. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

5. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

4. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

3. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

2. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

…and the number one amazingly simple way to thank employees is…

1. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

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