Leading with Trust

How to Talk About Your Crummy Ex-Employer in a Job Interview

My colleague, Madeleine Blanchard, writes a regular column for the LeaderChat blog titled, “Ask Madeleine.” She responds to questions from readers who are facing some sort of leadership/organizational-related predicament, and offers sound perspective based on her expertise as a master certified business coach. Mad is a legend in the business coaching community and one of the most thoughtful people I know.

I thought the Leading with Trust community would enjoy her recent article, not because it references me, but because it addresses a topic that many people are faced with as they seek new employment. Enjoy the following article and be sure to check out Mad’s work on LeaderChat.


Dear Madeleine,

If relationships fail and one decides to pivot away from a toxic organization or situation, what is the best way to tell that story in a job interview?      

For example, I may be asked “Why did you leave that company?” My true feeling is it was all about the toxic culture. The objective truth might be more likely that I failed—ran out of patience, failed to make breakthroughs in those relationships, etc. Ultimately, it was a personal decision to leave based on my mental, emotional, and professional health and career choice. 

What do you think?

Preparing for My Next Step

______________________________________________________________________

Dear Preparing for My Next Step,

First, congratulations for having the guts to jump ship. So many just suck it up and stay miserable. It takes real courage to recognize an intractable situation and do what is needed to take care of yourself.

I consulted our Trust expert and coauthor of the just-published book Simple Truths of Leadership (with Ken Blanchard), Randy Conley, on this one. He says:

“I’d encourage you to be honest in a respectful way that doesn’t disparage your former employer or boss. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and have heard the good, bad, and ugly from people sharing reasons for leaving a past employer. The people who impressed me the most have been those whose integrity shined through in the way they explained their departure.

“A good way to get the message across is by using ‘I’ language to take ownership of your decision to leave, while clearly and diplomatically explaining that there was a misalignment between your values and theirs or the culture didn’t provide the type of environment in which you could flourish.

“Yours is a very common reason why people leave jobs, so I wouldn’t get too self-conscious about discussing it in a respectful and professional manner. Remember, your response shapes your reputation.”

I really can’t say it better than that. The only thing I would add is that it might be a good idea to prepare in advance some brief concise remarks about what you are looking for in the culture of your next job. Also, maybe add a little more detail about what you learned about yourself from the experience and what you might do differently in the future should you run into a similar bind. Your last gig made you hyper aware of what you don’t want, so how exactly can you use that experience to define what you do want? And if you are ready to own your part in having to leave, how might you apply that knowledge to build stronger relationships in your next job?

That will keep things on a lighter note—a positive vision of the future is always attractive. And you are ready for the inevitable behavioral interview question: “How might you deal with a perceived lack of values alignment in the future?” It will also assist your interviewer in assessing culture fit for your next potential opportunities.

Both Randy and I wish you the best of luck finding the exact right spot for your next career chapter.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

4 Tips for Being a Trusted Servant Leader in a Toxic Culture

“How do you practice servant leadership and build trust in a toxic culture where servant leadership isn’t valued, and can even be looked upon as being a weakness?”

That was the question I received in a recent training class I conducted, and unfortunately, it’s a common one. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of high-trust and servant leader-led cultures (see here, here, and here), many still view it as being a “soft” management style or “letting the inmates run the prison” (which, by the way, isn’t that a telling metaphor for today’s workplace?!).

There isn’t a single, magic solution you can implement to address this challenge. Believe me, if there was, I’d be selling it door-to-door. However, there are some commonsense principles you can apply to help you influence your organization for the better. Here are four things to consider:

1. Be the trust you want to see in the world. Ok, I borrowed and modified the famous saying attributed to Ghandi—”Be the change you want to see in the world”—but you get the idea. All organizational culture change starts with one person. In cases involving trust, someone has to make the first move to extend trust to others. Until that happens, trust can’t grow. If you want your organization’s culture to be more trustworthy, you be more trustworthy. Don’t underestimate the influence you can have on others.

2. Build a coalition. The first coalition to build is with your team. Work with your people to create a high-trust, service-minded culture that sets itself apart from all the other teams in your organization. There’s nothing like creating a winning team that causes others in the organization to say, “Wow, look what they’re doing! How come my team isn’t performing that way?” Once your team becomes living proof of the benefits of servant leadership, start sharing your learnings with other open-minded leaders.

3. Practice shuttle diplomacy. If you’re not familiar with the term, shuttle diplomacy is when a third-party acts as the mediator or conduit between two other parties who are reluctant to hold direct discussions. If you’re faced with senior leaders who aren’t sold on the idea of servant leadership, it can be helpful to enlist the advocacy of a third-party who is trusted and respected by those senior leaders. If you struggle with gaining credibility of senior leaders, gain the confidence and support of individuals who already have that credibility and get them to lobby on your behalf. Yes, it can be tiring and frustrating to influence indirectly, but sometimes it’s a reality of organizational politics. By the way, organizational politics is really just “relationship management.” Rather than thinking of it in negative terms, think of it as a necessary strategy for navigating organizational life.

4. Choose your playground. Remember what it was like as a kid playing on the playground at school or at the park? Sometimes there would be a group of kids that “didn’t play well with others,” and after trying to gain their friendship for a period of time and failing, we’d move to another playground and find a crowd that was more welcoming. In a sense, many workplaces are just adult playgrounds and that dynamic still exists. Some people “don’t play well with others” and aren’t open to changing their ways or trying new things. If you’ve been giving your best effort to positively influence your organization and nothing is changing, you may need to consider finding a new playground. I’m not encouraging you to fire off a resignation email to your boss, but I am reminding you that you have a choice. Invest your time and energy where you feel it can have the greatest impact.

One of my favorite truths from my new book with Ken Blanchard, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, is

Simple Truth #32 – There’s no trust without us.

Trust is a team sport, not a solo endeavor. You can build a high-trust, servant leadership culture by modeling the kind of behavior you want to see, creating a winning team, and building a supportive network. If your efforts aren’t being rewarded, you may need to find a different audience who is more receptive to your message. But don’t lose heart! The world is in desperate need for leaders who put the needs of others ahead of their own and your efforts will eventually bear fruit.

You Can Lead…Believe It! (free book giveaway)

Leave a comment on this guest post by Jim Dittmar and John Stanko to be eligible for for one of three complimentary copies of their new book, “The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders.” Deadline for entry is February 22, 2022.

When you hear or see the word leader, do you think of yourself? Your initial reply to this question may be, “I’m not in a position of authority or supervision. How can I consider myself to be a leader?” Such a response is not uncommon. For some years, we have been taught to believe that leaders are people who have a title or position within an organization that speaks to any and all that they are a leader, such labels as manager, supervisor, vice president, and the like. Those without these titles are the “employees” or other organizational “representatives” whose responsibility, we are told, is to listen to the leaders (those with the position or title) and “do what they are told to do.” 

The truth is that anyone can assume leadership roles and responsibilities regardless of their title or position in an organization, and irrespective of the type of organization in which they work or with which they are associated. Leadership is not just about power or position, it’s about relationships. As our friend Ken Blanchard has said, “Leadership isn’t something we do to people but with people.” More specifically, leadership occurs when we engage others in an “influence relationship” that moves those individuals or groups toward the achievement of a particular goal or objective. In that context, leaders are the people who work to establish influence relationships because they know that’s the best way to lead.

In our book, The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders, the L stands for leadership. It may seem redundant to include the word leadership in a model spelled out by the acronym LEADERS, but when you stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense. Leadership starts with accepting the fact that you are a leader and the rest of the acronym that stands for ethics, alignment, decision making, engagement, resilience, and stewardship follow that acceptance. Those other six practices speak to the nature of your influence relationship with others, things that will enhance or undermine your effectiveness. When members of the team accept that they are leaders based on their skills, expertise and experience, regardless of title, then everyone is starting from the same admission: I am a leader.

Consider the effects of everyone accepting the fact that leadership flows through influence relationship. Leadership becomes the responsibility of everyone in the group or organization. It is not always up to the leader in the traditional sense to make sure that a particular task or goal is achieved. Everyone in the group or organization is responsible to establish positive, influential relationships with other individuals or groups so the organization’s mission can be fulfilled in a meaningful way. This type of leadership is empowering and transformational for all who are involved.

Accept the fact that you are a leader, regardless of where you stand on the traditional org chart. Then seek to cooperate with and establish influential leadership relationships with others without regard for hierarchy or protocol. When you do, “leadership” will happen, not because it’s mandated but because everyone is pulling in the same direction. When that happens, there’s no telling what good things will emerge as everyone answers the questions, “Am I a leader?” with a resounding, “Yes!”

For more than 30 years, Jim Dittmar has served in the field of leadership development as a practitioner, teacher, consultant, researcher, and author. He is the founder, president, and CEO of 3Rivers Leadership Institute. Prior to this, Jim was the founder and director of the Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program. He is the co-author of the recently released book, The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders

John W. Stanko is the founder of Urban Press, a publishing service designed to tell stories of the city, from the city and to the city. John is the author of 50 books, including The LEADERS Model: Essential Practices for Today’s Leaders, which he co-authored with Jim Dittmar.

5 Commonsense but Uncommon Practices of Successful Leaders

Effective leadership is an influence process where leaders implement everyday, commonsense approaches that help people and organizations thrive. Yet somehow, many of these fundamental principles are still missing from most workplaces.

In our new book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, Ken Blanchard and I share fifty-two Simple Truths about leadership that will help leaders everywhere make commonsense leadership common practice.

The book covers a wide-ranging list of leadership skills certain to bring out the best in people. One of the things that make our approach different is the down-to-earth practicality of what we recommend. Instead of outcome or trait statements, the authors share leadership behaviors that get results.

How about you? What day-to-day leadership behaviors have made a big difference in your effectiveness as a leader?

Below are five examples of commonsense practices from our book. Are any of these on your list of simple leadership truths? Which of these have been powerful in your life as a leader? Which do you wish you would have learned earlier? What else would you include?

1. See Feedback as a Gift

Giving feedback to the boss doesn’t come naturally to most people, so getting honest feedback from your team members may be difficult. They may fear being the messenger bearing bad news, so they hesitate to be candid.

If you are lucky enough to receive feedback from one of your team members, remember—they’re giving you a gift. Limit yourself to three responses. Make sure the first thing you say is “Thank you!” Then follow up with “This is so helpful,” and “Is there anything else you think I should know?”

2. Help People Win

It’s hard for people to feel good about themselves if they are constantly falling short of their goals. That’s why it’s so important for you as a leader to do everything you can to help people win—accomplish their goals—by ensuring the following:

  • Make sure your people’s goals are clear, observable, and measurable.
  • As their leader, work together with your people to track progress.
  • When performance is going well or falling short of expectations, give them appropriate praising, redirecting, or coaching—or reexamine whether your leadership style matches the person’s development level on a specific goal.

3. Admit Your Mistakes

If you make a mistake, own it. Admit what you did, apologize if necessary, and then put a plan in place to not repeat the mistake. Here are some best practices you can follow:

  • Be prompt. Address the mistake as soon as possible. Delay can make it appear you’re trying to avoid or cover up the issue.
  • Accept responsibility. Own your behavior and any damage it caused.
  • Highlight the learning. Let your team know what you’ve learned and what you’ll do differently next time.
  • Be brief. Don’t over-apologize or beat yourself up. Mistakes happen.

4. Extend Trust

Many leaders are afraid to give up too much control for fear that something will come back to bite them. They think it isn’t worth the risk to give up control. Are you willing to give up control and trust others? If you struggle to relinquish control and trust others, start with baby steps:

  • Identify low-risk situations where you feel comfortable extending trust.
  • Assess a person’s trustworthiness by gauging their competence to handle the task, integrity to do the right thing, and commitment to follow through.
  • As you become more comfortable giving up control and learn that others can be trusted, extend more trust as situations allow.

5. Rebuild Trust When Broken

Leaders inevitably do something to erode trust—and when that happens, it’s good to have a process to follow to rebuild it. Trust can usually be restored if both parties are willing to work at it. If you have eroded trust in a relationship, follow this process to begin restoring it:

  • Acknowledge. The first step in restoring trust is to acknowledge there is a problem. Identify the cause of low trust and what behaviors you need to change.
  • Apologize. Take ownership of your role in eroding trust and express remorse for the harm it has caused.
  • Act. Commit to not repeating the behavior and act in a more trustworthy way in the future.

Interested in learning more? Join Ken and I for a special webinar on January 26 where we will be highlighting key concepts from our book. The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies. Use this link to register.

Are You a Serving or a Self-Serving Leader? (free eBook)

Effective leadership comes down to implementing everyday, commonsense practices to help organizations thrive—and yet so many leaders are still missing these fundamental principles from their personal and professional lives. That’s why Ken Blanchard and I wrote Simple Truths of Leadership—52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, being released February 1, 2022.

We believe that leadership is an inside job; it’s a question of the heart. If you have the right character and intention, the right leadership actions will follow. You can’t “fake it ’till you make it” in leadership. People see right through the outward facade into the motivations of your heart.

The most persistent barrier to becoming a trusted servant leader is a heart guided by self-interest that looks at the world as a “give a little, take lot” proposition. Self-serving leaders put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are impacted by the leaders’ thoughts and actions.

The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is a change of heart. If leaders don’t get the heart right, they will never become servant leaders. A misguided heart will color their thinking, impact their behavior, and cause them to begin every day by asking “What’s in it for me today?”

Our friend and best-selling author Jon Gordon says, “You don’t have to be great to serve, but you do have to serve to be a great leader.” The key to being a successful leader is pretty simple when you get to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is the heart is the issue.

Is your heart motivated to serve others or to serve yourself?

Download this free eBook to get an excerpt of some of the simple truths we discuss, see the full table of contents, and learn more about the story behind why we wrote the book.

Simple Truths of Leadership Turn Common Sense into Common Practice

Leadership is a complex endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

We often tend to make things more complicated than they need to be and that’s true in the field of leadership. To prove my point, go to Amazon.com and search their book listings for the word “leadership” and see how many returns you get (but wait until you finish reading this article!).

What if I told you the key to being a successful leader was to make common sense common practice, and to do that, you need to remember and follow some important simple truths?

Ken Blanchard and I hold that belief and we’ve seen it proven throughout our careers. In our forthcoming book, Simple Truths of Leadership—52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust (February 1, 2022, Barrett-Kohler Publishers), we share a collection of simple truths that reflect common sense practices people can use to make their work and life—as well as the lives of the people they care about—happier and more satisfying.

Effective leadership is an inside job. It is a question of the heart. It’s all about a leader’s character and intention. Why are you leading? Is it to serve or to be served?

The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self-interest. Self-serving leaders put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of others who are impacted by the leaders’ thoughts and actions.

The shift from self-serving leadership to leadership that serves others is motivated by a change of heart. If leaders don’t get their heart right, they will never become servant leaders.

The following are two critical simple truths and suggestions on how to be a trusted servant leader.

Simple Truth—Servant leadership is the best way to achieve both great results and great relationships.

Organizational leaders often have an either/or attitude toward results and people. For example, leaders who focus only on results may have trouble creating great relationships with their people and leaders who focus mainly on relationships may have trouble getting desired results.

Yet you can get both great results and great relationships if you understand the two parts of servant leadership:

  • The leadership aspect focuses on vision, direction, and results—where you as a leader hope to take your people. Leaders should involve others in setting direction and determining desired results, but if people don’t know where they’re headed or what they’re meant to accomplish, the fault lies with the leader.
  • The servant aspect focuses on working side by side in relationship with your people. Once the vision and direction are clear, the leader’s role shifts to service—helping people accomplish the agreed-upon goals.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

This one-two punch of the aspects of servant leadership enables you to create both great results and great relationships:

  1. Let your people know what they’re being asked to do by setting the vision and direction with their help. In other words, vision and direction, while the responsibility of the leader, is not a top-down process.
  2. During implementation, assure your people you are there to serve, not to be served. Your responsibility is to help them accomplish their goals through training, feedback, listening, and communication.

Servant leadership is the vehicle to building trust. Servant leaders act in ways that inspire trust in their followers. They are distinguished by putting the needs of their followers ahead of their own.

When team members believe their leader has their best interests at heart and is there to support them in achieving their goals, trust in their leader grows by leaps and bounds.

Trust is an outcome. If we act in trustworthy ways, we build trust. If we behave in an untrustworthy manner, we erode trust. It’s common sense—but not always common practice.

Simple Truth—Leadership begins with trust.

Some leaders charge headlong into setting strategies and goals for their teams without giving much thought to building trust. Yet trust is the foundation of any successful, healthy relationship. When you have the trust of your team, all things are possible. Creativity, innovation, productivity, efficiency, and morale flourish. If your team doesn’t trust you, you get resistance, disengagement, apathy, and, ultimately, failure.

The most successful leaders realize their number one priority is to build trust with their team. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate competence in their roles, act with integrity, show care and concern for team members, and honor their commitments by following through on their promises.

Making Common Sense Common Practice

Does your team perceive you as trustworthy? If you’re not sure, ask them. Here are a few sample questions:

  • Do you have confidence in my leadership/management abilities? Where or how can I improve?
  • Do I walk my talk? Where can I be more consistent in my behavior?
  • How well do I listen to you? Do our interactions leave you feeling heard, valued, and supported?
  • Am I dependable? Do you trust that I’ll follow through on my commitments?

Demonstrating your vulnerability by having a discussion with your people about trust is a powerful way to introduce servant leadership in your workplace.

Leadership is complex but we don’t need to make it complicated. Following simple truths of leadership is the way to turn common sense into common practice. Keep it simple!

First published on SmartBrief.com.

You Must Address These 3 Things if You Want to Restore Broken Trust

Trust is often one of those things we don’t think about until we don’t have it. Much like oxygen, we take it for granted, but once it’s gone…YIKES! We suddenly realize how critically important it is and we’ll do just about anything to get it back.

The good news about broken trust, if there is any, is that it can be rebuilt in most circumstances. Trust is incredibly resilient when it’s been properly nurtured in healthy relationships. With the exception of the most willful, intentional acts of betrayal, trust can usually be rebuilt if both parties are willing to put in the effort. However, in order to rebuild it, you must address three important things.

The first thing to deal with to restore trust is the past. As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.

The second thing to address in restoring trust is the present. You can reconcile the past with the present when you apologize. The apology is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.

The third thing to address when restoring trust is the future and you do this by determining how you’re going to act moving forward. This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.

Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We must deal with the past and acknowledge we did something wrong, address the present and apologize for our behavior, and move into the future and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.

Your Return-to-Office Strategy Is an Opportunity to Build Trust With Employees

Enjoy this article that was recently published in Ignite!, the newsletter of The Ken Blanchard Companies. I was interviewed about the opportunity to build trust as organizations develop plans to return workers to the office.


Organizations have an opportunity to intentionally increase trust with their people by the open and collaborative way they handle plans for people returning to the office, says trust expert Randy Conley.

“As a leader, you have a choice on where to invest your energy. You can do it through micromanaging and strictly enforcing everyone’s work schedules—or you can spend your time empowering your people, investing in them, trusting them, and helping them achieve their goals, regardless of whether they’re sitting in a nearby office or joining a Zoom call from home.

“A large percentage of people have enjoyed the freedom and work-life balance that working from home has provided. They are concerned about losing some of these positive changes as companies begin to roll out their plans for returning to the office.”

Sending people home at the start of the pandemic was a great trust experiment, says Conley.

“Organizations were forced to extend trust to their people. There was no more physical monitoring. The norm of everyone showing up at the office at 9:00 a.m. was broken.

“The good news is, by all accounts we’ve seen, the ‘experiment’ was a great success! Leaders and their teams found new ways to work and were amazed by not only the increase in productivity but also the satisfaction with their life and work situation.”

So what do organizations do now? Continue to build in that direction—or collectively exhale that it went well, bring everyone back to the office, and return to the old ways?

“I think that train has left the station,” says Conley. “Employees have had a taste of a new way of working and they want certain aspects of it to continue. They’re not willing to go back to the old life. If their organization doesn’t want to make a change, many will look for something else or stay only until a better opportunity comes along.”

This has employers worried about losing their best talent as well as finding new talent in the future, says Conley.

“It’s a very practical concern. I think a lot of old-school mentality leaders still believe the office is where people need to be to do their work.

“It’s dangerous to generalize around this topic. Leaders have a lot of sticky issues to work through. It’s important to take some time to think things through, be open, share information, and make decisions based on data—not on old-school mindsets or ideas.

“If you have data points that support onsite collaboration and productivity, make sure your team understands that. Conversely, if your data supports remote work, share that. Have an open dialogue about it. Involve people in the change and the decision-making process.”

The key to creating this atmosphere of open dialogue is building a culture with high trust. That begins with connectedness, says Conley.

“Go slow. Tread lightly. Unless you have a rock-solid reason for bringing back people immediately without their feedback, take it slowly and involve them in the process. Let them know you’re hearing their concerns.”

Another leader behavior that builds trust is having clear expectations, says Conley.

“Be explicit about what the hybrid work model will look like for your team. How many days per week are people expected to be in the office? Are some days mandatory? The more you can spell out the details, the more confident people will be about complying with team norms.

“During times like these, it’s important to build on the trust we extend to each other in how we get our work done. By setting clear expectations, involving everyone in the process, soliciting feedback, and staying flexible as leaders, we can better enjoy the progress we’ve made and will continue to make as we move into the future.”


Would you like to learn more about building trust in your organization? Join us for a free webinar!

Accelerating Trust During Times of Change

Wednesday, July 21, 2021, 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Trust is critical anytime an organization is embarking on great change. To ensure high levels of organizational performance, leaders must tackle trust head-on by demonstrating the behaviors people most associate with trust.

People need to know they can trust their leaders in four key areas. In this webinar, Blanchard trust practice leader Randy Conley will show you how to improve the levels of trust in your organization by identifying potential gaps that trip up even the best leaders. Participants will learn how to:

  • Recognize the warning signs when people lack trust in your leadership.
  • Purposefully engage in four trust-building behaviors.
  • Create strong, long lasting, trust-based relationships.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to raise the level of trust in your organization by increasing the “trust-ability” of your leaders.

Register today!

I’ve Led Hybrid Teams for 15 Years – Here’s the Truth About What Works

Many organizations are embracing hybrid teams (a mixture of onsite and remote employees) as a model of working in the post-COVID19 world. Hybrid teams are not new, but this model of working is new to many organizations and leaders.

I’ve been leading hybrid teams for 15 years, so I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned a lot over this time, mostly through trial and error. I thought I’d offer some straight-up, real talk about what it’s like to lead a hybrid team, so that you can learn from my experience and possibly avoid some of the mistakes I made.

Work From Home (WFH) and In-Office Schedules

Years ago, when I decided to allow team members to work from home a few days a week, I worked with my managers to create an elaborate schedule of the days team members would WFH and be in the office. We wanted to maintain at least 60% of our team in the office on any given day and we also wanted to limit people working from home on Monday or Friday (because, you know, those untrustworthy workers would use their Friday/Monday WFH day to make it a long weekend). To limit time out of the office, we had a policy that team members were to schedule personal appointments on their WFH days.

Life doesn’t happen according to our neat little plan. Legitimate circumstances would arise that caused a team member to shift their schedule – a sick child, a broken water pipe at home, or an impromptu meeting at the office that required the employee to come in on their normal WFH day. We quickly found ourselves spending more time and energy managing our team member’s whereabouts than the important work we needed to accomplish. I eventually decided to leave it to the employee’s discretion of when to WFH and when to be in the office. They came into the office when they needed to be there for meetings or to collaborate with others.

Team Meetings

The first few years of leading a hybrid team, I had less than a handful of team members who worked remotely (full-time), while everyone else was in the office. Our team meetings would consist of everyone gathered around a conference table with a polycom in the middle, and the remote people joined in via conference call. Of course, the experience for the remote people was horrendous.

As my hybrid team grew and more people worked remotely, we started using Zoom for our team meetings. We were doing Zoom calls years before anyone had ever heard of Zoom (weren’t we progressive!). However, we still gathered everyone in the conference room, hooked a laptop to the LCD projector, and showed the remote people on screen. Of course, they were still connected via the horrendous polycom conference phone, so really the experience didn’t improve much for the remote folks. They were still second-class citizens when it came to team meetings.

We finally got smart and started holding our team meetings all-virtual. Everyone, including the entire team in the office, got on Zoom from their individual offices. Compared to our previous meeting formats, the experience was night and day better for everyone! All-virtual meetings level the playing field for everyone because each team member has equal opportunity to participate.

Clear Expectations

Make the implicit, explicit. That’s what I learned, and that’s what my colleague, John Hester, calls out as one of the key skills to leading a hybrid team. Document expectations so there isn’t any room for confusion. Everything from working hours, response times, technologies to be leveraged, backup plans, and communication norms should be clear, regularly communicated, and most of all, followed.

Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a hybrid team.

Foster a Connected Community

My friend, Michael Stallard, is an expert in this area. He emphasizes that a culture of connection meets the seven universal human needs at work for respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, meaning, and progress. I’ve found this to be true in leading hybrid teams. My managers and I found we had to work differently, and more intentionally, to foster relationships with team members. Team members themselves must be more intentional about being seen and heard when they aren’t in the office. Many leaders fall into the trap of proximity bias, which is giving preferential treatment to those in their immediate vicinity. Leaders need to be conscious of that bias, work to eliminate it, and employees need to know that it’s a factor that may impact their personal situation.

Hybrid Teams Are Different from Co-located Teams

In the early days of leading a hybrid team, I thought something was wrong because it didn’t feel the same as when everyone was in the office. I learned that nothing was wrong, it was just different. Hybrid teams “feel” different, both from the leader and team member perspective, than teams that have everyone physically located together. As mentioned previously, everyone needs to be more intentional to foster connected relationships in a hybrid team. Hybrid teams miss out on those chance hallway encounters, the lingering conversation after a meeting ends, or the chit-chat in the office lunch kitchen. You have to make up for those times by planning them into your online team meetings and specific events to build team camaraderie.

In-Person Meetings

Face-to-face meetings are critically important for building relationships. I learned the importance of scheduling periodic meetings to bring the team together, usually for non-work, social activities. I would organize regular team lunches in the office and invite everyone to come in (free food always attracts a crowd!) or plan a cook-out at a team member’s house and then let them take the rest of the day off work. I leveraged yearly all-company meetings to bring the entire global team together, and the agenda for those meetings would be roughly 1/3rd work-focused and 2/3rd team-building focused.

Performance Management

There will be some team members who turn out to be ill-suited to work remotely. Some people have challenges staying focused and productive when working from home or don’t have the technical chops to effectively self-manage the technology required to be productive. I learned you have two choices: either require them to be in the office full-time (which often creates resentment because they feel they are being treated unfairly), or share them with your competition. Whichever route you choose, deal with it promptly. Don’t let it linger because it will eventually need to be dealt with, and it’s much easier for everyone involved if you act quickly.

Trust is the coin of the realm

Most importantly, trust is the foundation for leading a successful hybrid team. If you can’t trust an employee to do a good job when they WFH, then they probably shouldn’t be on your team. As a leader, you must take the risk of extending trust to your team, which is exactly what you did last year when you sent your team to WFH during the pandemic. Why would you want to pull back on that trust now by trying to run your hybrid team with an iron fist? Don’t do it.

I love leading and working in a hybrid team because it provides people the autonomy they need to do their jobs in the best possible way. I think most organizations have learned during the pandemic that there are tremendous upsides to remote work. Are there challenges? You bet. Are they manageable? Yes, they are.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water by returning to the old ways of work just because it’s familiar and comfortable. Hybrid teams work. Make them work for you.

Build Trust by Sitting on The Same Side of The Table

By their very nature, unionized workplaces and industries often promote a culture of distrust between stakeholders. Each party is suspicious of the other and is afraid of being taken advantage of, so they hold their cards close to their vest and try to cut the best deal possible for their stakeholders. It’s us on one side of the table versus them on the other.

Must it be that way? I don’t think so. I think both sides can build trust by sitting on the same side of the table.

First, let’s talk about why we don’t trust each other. We refrain from trusting because it involves risk. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.

Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.

In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.

Trust cannot begin to grow until one party extends it to the other. Trust must be given before it can be received. It really is that simple.

Once you understand someone must make the first move to extend trust, how do you get both parties on the same side of the table? I think it involves have a common mindset and skillset about trust.

The trust mindset is understanding the fates of each party are intertwined. All successful relationships are built on a foundation of trust. It doesn’t matter the type of relationship—husband/wife, parent/child, boss/employee, or union/labor–trust is what binds us together. Operating from this mindset eliminates the fear of being disadvantaged by the other party and allows you to work toward solutions that provide mutual benefit. In a relationship of trust, both parties are searching for win-win solutions, not win-lose or win-break even.

The skillset of trust involves behaving in a trustworthy manner. Sometimes this is challenging because people have different perceptions of what constitutes trustworthy behavior. That’s why it’s helpful to have a common definition of trust.

Research shows there are four key elements of trust. Since every language has an alphabet, we’ve created the ABCD Trust Model to define the language of trust. You build trust with others when you are:

Able—You demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for your role or profession. You achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. You show good planning and problem-solving skills and make sound, informed decisions. People trust your competence.

BelievableActing with integrity. You tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit your mistakes. You walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with your personal values and those of the organization. You treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are applied fairly.

Connected—You care about others. Connected people 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 individual who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust others who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do—is a hallmark of dependable people. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and are responsive to others.

Building trust is not a one and done proposition. Trust is not a destination you reach, but rather a journey that never ends. Extending trust, embodying a mindset of trust, and using the skillset of trust will transform distrustful relationships into trust-filled partnerships that promote the growth and well-being of both parties.

This article was published in the March 2021 issue of Partners in Progress magazine.

Does Forgiveness Need To Be Earned?

While watching a college basketball game today, I saw this statement in the scrolling news ticker at the bottom of the television screen: “From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it.”

Uh…what? Forgiveness has to be earned? Since when?

Let me tell you the backstory. Gregg McDermott, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Creighton University, recently stuck his foot in his mouth, big time. In delivering a post-game speech to his team in which he was trying to emphasize the importance of team unity, he used a racially insensitive analogy that was completely inappropriate. He recognized his mistake and quickly apologized. Last week the university suspended him indefinitely while they investigated the incident. Today, Creighton athletic director, Bruce Rasmussen, issued the following statement:

“Through his immediate apology, ownership of his actions, difficult dialogue with his team, and more, Coach McDermott has demonstrated a commitment to grow. I believe his apology, his commitment to grow from this, to learn, and to regain the trust of his student-athletes and others impacted by his words. From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it. His actions during his career reveal an individual committed to his team and his community. As such, coach Greg McDermott has been reinstated for all team activities, including this week’s Big East tournament.”

Perhaps it was just an awkwardly worded press release, or maybe Bruce Rasmussen was simply trying to emphasize the importance of Coach McDermott working to regain the trust of those around him (which was explicitly mentioned), but the truth is this: Forgiveness can’t be earned; it can only be given. (click to tweet)

Forgiveness is not something under the control of the person who committed a breach of trust. Forgiveness rests solely with the person offended. The offended party has the choice to offer forgiveness or withhold it. What McDermott does, or doesn’t do, has no impact on whether his players, assistant coaches, university administrators, fans, or anyone else chooses to forgive him. There’s no way he can earn it. Don’t confuse forgiveness with making amends. Making amends is the responsibility of the party who committed the offense. Forgiveness is the responsibility of the offended.

If forgiveness had to be earned, it would also mean that forgiveness was conditional and could only be granted upon meeting certain criteria. How would that work? If Coach McDermott doesn’t say anything stupid for six months, does he earn 25% forgiveness? Maybe six months is worth 50% forgiveness? Or maybe it’s only worth 15% forgiveness if the offended party is still holding a grudge? Forgiveness is either given or it’s not. Forgiveness is not a weapon to be wielded to manipulate, coerce, or control someone into doing what you want them to do.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. I’ve written in-depth about the role of forgiveness in restoring trust. It’s the most powerful tool at your disposal to move beyond the pain and suffering of broken trust. Forgiveness is a soothing balm to the wounds of broken trust. It works best when applied liberally and frequently.

What are your thoughts about the role forgiveness plays in restoring trust? Do you believe forgiveness is earned or given? Please leave a comment and share your perspectives.

4 Ways Managers Cheat Their Employees

The legendary college football coach Woody Hayes once said there were four ways he could cheat his players: do for them what they can do for themselves, allow them to get by on less than their best effort, allow them to believe their athletic talent is the only education they will need, and allow them to believe that football makes them privileged.

As a manager you may have never thought of it this way, but there are times when you cheat your employees. You probably don’t do it intentionally, and in fact, I’d almost guarantee you don’t. However, we all get stuck in patterns of unexamined behavior which lead to unintended consequences. Here are four common ways manager’s cheat their team members:

1. Solving their problems. Prior to being a manager, the odds are that you were a top performer on your team. You likely developed a reputation as someone who could solve any problem that came your way and that ability probably helped you get promoted. Now that you’re the boss, you relish the opportunity to help team members solve problems. When they come to you for advice, you don’t hesitate to jump right in and solve the problem for them. Although you think you’re helping your team by doing this, the reality is you’re cheating them from gaining the competence and confidence that comes from solving their own problems. You’re also creating a sense of learned helplessness among your team members. Even if you have the noble intention of wanting to help your team, your efforts will have the unintended consequence of conditioning them to expect you’ll always be there to give them the answer. Instead, help them become self-reliant problem solvers. Practice asking open-ended questions that draw out their thinking, help them consider alternatives, and provide perspective to expand their approach to solving the problem.

2. Micromanaging. Lack of trust is at the heart of micromanagement. Although you may rationalize your behavior as helping a team member because you’re taking work off their plate, or wanting to make sure things are done right, the fact is you resort to controlling behavior because you don’t trust the abilities of your team members. Micromanagement kills the motivation of your team members, reduces their creativity, and stifles innovation. It leads to them checking their brains at the door because they know you’ll do all the thinking for them. Micromanagement cheats your team out of embracing their own knowledge and power that leads to them performing their best.

3. Not giving honest feedback. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news and giving feedback about poor performance is probably the most dreaded task of any manager. Too often we dance around the issue, talk in vague generalities, and hope the employee will somehow get the message that they need to improve. I’ve learned over and over in my career that people not only need honest feedback about their performance, they deserve it. As a manager, we should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to coach our team members in areas that need improvement. That doesn’t mean the feedback needs to be delivered in a harsh, in your face manner. It can be communicated with candor and care. The two are not mutually exclusive. Don’t cheat your team and stunt their development by sugarcoating performance feedback.

4. Not having high enough expectations. A hallmark of winning teams is having a leader with high expectations. People often perform to the level of expectations placed upon them. Good leaders know this and push their team to perform at the highest level possible. These leaders don’t just expect it, but they train, coach, equip, and encourage their team to reach heights they wouldn’t normally achieve on their own. It’s easy to get beaten down with the grind of everyday corporate life. We get so engrained in the mundane activities of keeping the business running that we neglect setting stretch goals for our team members. Don’t cheat your team by letting them stay comfortable with the status quo. Anyone can set the bar low and reach it. Great things are achieved when the bar is set high and the team works hard to clear it.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the coach of a sports team, a leader of a volunteer group, or a manager in the workplace, cheating your team members comes down to failing to act in their best interests. Always do what’s right and best for your employees, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable, and you won’t ever have to worry about having cheated your team, or yourself.

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