Before Trusting Someone You Must Confront These 4 Uncomfortable Truths

uncomfortable2No one disagrees that trust is an indispensable ingredient of strong, healthy relationships. In the workplace, high levels of trust increase productivity, efficiency, innovation, and profitability. When trust is low or absent, people avoid risk, decisions are questioned, bureaucracy increases, and productivity and profitability diminish.

However, there are some uncomfortable truths about trust we must confront. These difficult areas often hold us back from fully trusting others and enjoying the personal and corporate benefits of high-trust relationships. We often shy away from acknowledging or addressing these truths because they are exactly that – uncomfortable. But confront them we must if we are to grow in our capacity to trust others and be trustworthy ourselves.

Four Uncomfortable Truths about Trust

1. Trust exposes you to risk – Without risk there is no need for trust. When you trust someone, you are making yourself vulnerable and opening yourself to being let down. That’s scary! People are unpredictable and fallible; mistakes happen. We all know and accept that fact as a truism of the human condition. But are you willing to let the mistakes happen with or to you? Ah, now that’s where the rubber hits the road, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to be accepting of other people’s fallibility when it doesn’t directly affect you. But when it messes up your world? Trust suddenly becomes very uncomfortable and painful.

If you are risk-averse and slow to trust others, take baby steps to increase your comfort level. Start by trusting others with tasks or responsibilities that have no or minimal negative consequences should the person not follow through. As the person proves trustworthy in small matters, extend greater amounts of trust in larger, more important matters.

2. Trust means letting go of control – Most people assume that distrust is the opposite of trust. Not true. Control is the opposite of trust. When you don’t trust someone, you try to retain control of the person or situation. In a leadership capacity, the desire to control often leads to micromanagement, an employee’s worst nightmare and one of the greatest eroders of trust in relationships. Control, of course, is closely related to your level of risk tolerance. The lower your tolerance for risk, the higher degree of control you try to exert.

The truth is we really don’t have as much control as we think we do. I’m defining control as that which you have direct and complete power over. In many situations you may be able to exert some level of influence or control, but when you consider that definition, you really only have control over yourself—your actions, attitudes, values, emotions, opinions, and the degree of trust you extend to others. As I wrote about in this post, you can learn to let go of control and like it!

3. Trust requires a personal investment – Trust doesn’t come free; it costs you dearly. Whether it’s your acceptance of risk, loss of control, emotional attachment, time, energy, or money, trust requires a personal investment. Trust works best in a reciprocal environment. I trust you with something and in exchange you reciprocate by trusting me. It’s the very foundation of cooperative society and our global economy. Trust without reciprocation is exploitation. Whether or not you receive anything in return, trust requires a down payment in some form or fashion. From the perspective of earning trust from someone else, trust requires your investment in demonstrating your competence, integrity, care for the relationship, and dependability – the four key elements of trust.

4. Trust is a journey – Establishing trust in a relationship is not a destination; it’s a journey. It’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as you experience the highs and lows of building relationships and nurturing the development of trust. Trust isn’t something you can mandate. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Trust has to be given freely for it to achieve its fullest power. Who do you trust more? The person who demands your trust and allegiance, or the one who earns it by his/her behavior over time? Since trust needs to be given freely, you can’t put a timer on its development. Trust grows according to its own schedule, not yours. Patience is a prerequisite on the journey to high trust.

It’s human nature to prefer comfort and safety, however, trust is anything but comfortable and safe. Trust pushes us out of our comfort zones into the world of risk and uncertainty. Yet in one of the strange paradoxes of trust, confronting these uncomfortable truths allows us to achieve the very things we desire: safety, security, comfort, reliability, and predictability. Confront these uncomfortable truths about trust. You won’t regret it.

Posted in Trust | Tagged | 4 Comments

3 Big Problems with Failing to Use Your Power

power handsI have an uncomfortable relationship with power. We’ve known each other since back in the day, and over the years there have been times when we’ve barely said hello to one another, and other times when we’ve been best buds. Whether our relationship has been virtually non-existent or whether we’ve hung out quite a bit together, I’ve always felt a bit awkward around power. I guess you could describe my relationship with power as, well, complicated.

I want to use power wisely and for the benefit of others, but at times I’m hesitant to fully embrace it for fear people will think I’m being egotistical or bossy. I’ve been learning I need to move beyond that self-limiting belief because neglecting to appropriately leverage power can lead to several unintended problems.

You sell yourself short – Most people don’t fully appreciate how much power they have. Power manifests itself in many different ways:

  • Knowledge – The power that comes from having a specialized knowledge base or expertise
  • Task – The power derived from being able to perform a specific skill, operate equipment, or perform a certain task
  • Relationship – The power you have from leveraging your personal relationships with others
  • Position – The power that comes from your position or title
  • Personal – The power of your personal character attributes such as strength of character, passion, interpersonal skills, and ability to communicate well with others

Failing to tap into your bases of power is like a boxer going into the ring with one hand tied behind his back. You’re limiting the value of your contributions when you fail to utilize the power at your disposal. It’s not being egotistical to humbly and sincerely bring your full skill-set to the table.

You shortchange your colleagues, team, and organization – Not only are you selling yourself short by not embracing your power, you’re short-changing everyone else of your valuable contributions. Your team and organization is relying upon you to perform at your best and that means using all the various tools in your toolbox. Being overly hesitant to walk confidently in your power means your team will likely produce a sub-par product because you didn’t offer your best.

You create a bad precedent – Our patterns of behavior dictate how people know us. We use certain behaviors on a consistent basis and people come to expect and rely upon us to always behave in that same manner. If you choose to never use your power then people figure that’s just how you roll. The problem comes when you decide you do need to play the power card. It catches people off guard because it’s inconsistent with your past behavior and it leaves them baffled about why you’re doing a sudden about-face. It’s important to authentically own your power and make it a regular part of your behavior so people come to expect it as a natural part of you being you.

Power accompanies leadership; there’s no getting around it. There are specific principles we can follow to guide our use of power and it’s critical we find a healthy way to express it. Otherwise we fail to live up to our own potential, we hold back from delivering our best to our team, and we create expectations with others that limit our influence.

Posted in Power | Tagged | 7 Comments

5 Characteristics of All-Star Leaders and Managers

ASG 2016 Logo2Many of the world’s greatest baseball players will put their talent on display in America’s Finest City on Tuesday, July 12th, as my hometown San Diego hosts Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. There are common traits and characteristics of the game’s best players. In baseball we call them “five-tool” players. That means they can hit for average, hit for power, run, play great defense, and have a great throwing arm. But having those tools alone doesn’t qualify someone to be an All-Star. They have to earn it through their performance on the field.

All-Star leaders and managers share common characteristics too. And just like baseball players, they have to earn their All-Star status through their performance at work over an extended period of time. Here are the “five tools” of All-Star leaders and managers:

1. They listen to learn and with the intent to be influenced — A common activity we do in our training classes is called the “Best Boss” exercise. We ask participants to write down the characteristics of the best boss they’ve ever had. Being a good listener is always near the top of the list. All-Star managers listen to learn and they have an open mind and a willingness to be influenced by others. Listening deeply and intently to others builds trust. It shows you value them and their opinion, and in that moment of time, you’re placing their needs and interests ahead of your own. Developing your listening skills is one of the quickest ways to move from being a so-so leader to an All-Star caliber leader.

2. They praise good performance — In training sessions I’ve conducted over the years I’ve asked hundreds upon hundreds of people this question: Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of all the praise your boss gives you. No one ever raises a hand. Why is that? Is there some unwritten code that says managers shouldn’t praise people because they might get too comfortable and stop performing? For whatever reason, many managers are as stingy with praises as they are with the last dollar in their wallet. Your people need to know that you notice and appreciate their efforts. They are seeking approval and acknowledgment for their achievements in the workplace, and if you can’t, or more accurately, won’t give it to them, they’ll eventually seek it out from another manager or organization.

3. They expect the best out their people — All-Star leaders expect the best out of themselves, and because they hold themselves to high-standards, it allows them to hold their people to them as well. The sequence is important, so don’t miss it. The leader goes first, sets the example, and then others follow. A leader who demands the best from his/her people yet doesn’t live up to those same standards is a fraud. Hold yourself to high standards and expect the same of your people. More often than not they will reward your faith in them.

4. They celebrate success — Leaders of winning teams know the importance of celebrating success, both on an individual level and team basis. Winning is so much more fun than losing, yet some leaders lose sight of that basic truth. They constantly push their team toward the next objective, never taking time to recognize accomplishments along the way. That style may work for achieving results in the short-term, but over the long-term it will burn people out and turn them away from you. Everyone has a need to have their accomplishments recognized and doing it periodically helps replenish their mental, emotional, and physical energy needed for their work.

5. They treat mistakes as learning opportunities — Even professional baseball players make mistakes. Have you seen how the vast majority of managers react when a player makes a mistake? Many times they don’t do anything. They know the player knows he made a mistake and there is little profit in reminding him of the fact. Sometimes the manager will discreetly sidle up to the player and have a quiet conversation about the play, and when they do, it’s almost always talking about what the player learned from the experience and what they’ll do differently in a similar situation in the future. You’ll rarely see a manager publicly chew out a player. So why do so many leaders in organizations think it’s OK to rant and rave at their people at work? You may think it allows you to look tough and display your authority. It doesn’t. It makes you look immature and unable to control your emotions. It also makes you a bully. No one arrives at work and says to himself “I think I’ll be a total failure today!” Mistakes happen. It’s part of being human. All-Star managers know their people are usually trying their best and they use mistakes as an opportunity to teach and grow their people; not as an opportunity to humiliate them.

Just like All-Star baseball players share common traits, so do All-Star managers and leaders at work. Listening with the intent to learn, praising good performance, holding their people to high standards, celebrating success, and treating mistakes as learning opportunities are all characteristics of All-Star leaders. How do you shape up? Would you qualify as an All-Star?

Posted in Leadership, Management, Success, Trust | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Elevate Your Leadership Focus and Enjoy These 4 Benefits

Manhattan SkylineSeveral years ago I was in a season of my leadership journey where I was consumed with addressing and solving day-to-day operational issues. Each day seemed to bring another problem to solve, a challenge to work through, or a fire to fight. The days became weeks and the weeks became months. My stress level kept rising, I kept working harder, and yet it seemed like I was running in place. After telling my sob story to my manager she made a simple, yet profound observation that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “It sounds like you’re spending all of your time working in the business and not on the business.”

What she was encouraging me to do was to take a helicopter ride. Speaking metaphorically, I was spending all of my time furiously driving up and down the highways and byways of our business trying to get stuff done, but it caused me to spend a lot of time in traffic jams and the progress was slow. What I needed to do was periodically rise above the daily chaos and take a helicopter ride to gain a different perspective of our work.

Taking time to work on the business…taking a helicopter ride…has several key benefits that will accelerate your productivity and passion for your job.

  1. It provides perspective — A few years ago I was painting several rooms in our house and I noticed a trend. The quality of workmanship of the trim at the top of the walls was less than stellar, but I hadn’t noticed it before because I rarely look up. That tends to happen when you live life at eye level. Spending all of your time working in the business can lead to tunnel vision and you run the risk of losing sight of the end goal. We can easily get distracted with fire fighting and stop paying attention to higher level priorities and metrics that drive the success of our organization. An occasional helicopter ride snaps you out of the day-to-day routine and forces you to view your business at a macro-level.
  2. It relieves stress — Each of us has a different level for stress tolerance but we all have one thing in common—we will eventually crash and burn when our tank reaches empty. The daily grind of work can be stressful and it takes its toll. Studies have shown that workplace stress is far and away the number one stressor we face in life. It’s imperative for your health to find productive ways to relieve stress and taking the metaphorical helicopter ride is an excellent way to accomplish that goal. Regardless of how you do it – devoting an hour a week to strategic planning, one day a month, or having a periodic retreat with your leadership team – the important thing is you do it. Helicopter rides allow you to clear your mind of pressing priorities and helps you re-calibrate your approach to work.
  3. It sparks creativity and problem solving — Many of my best ideas come to me when I’m away from the office. Whether I’m in the shower or cycling in the back country, the ideas flow when I’m relaxed and letting my mind wander. Helicopter rides afford you the opportunity to think in a different way, unencumbered by the routines and demands of the office. Constantly working in the business keeps your mind focused on the immediate and urgent problems, whereas working on the business allows you to creatively brainstorm new approaches to your challenges.
  4. It nourishes your soul — Leaders set the tempo for their teams. If you want a team that is engaged, energized, and committed to their work, then you need to model that behavior. That means you’re constantly pouring yourself out for others. If you aren’t replenishing your own energy you won’t have any left to give others. Sometimes helicopter rides mean getting away from work entirely by taking a vacation. Work can wear us down to the point where we develop an attitude of cynicism or a defeatist mentality. If you notice yourself going down that road then it’s a clear warning sign your soul needs some nourishment.

As leaders we are often motivated to always be on the go…get things done…make stuff happen. There’s a time and place for all that activity, but there is also a time and place for rising above the day-to-day and taking a helicopter ride to look at your business, and your leadership practices, in a new and fresh way.

Feel free to leave a comment about your own strategies for taking helicopter rides.

I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org under the title Leaders Should Take a Helicopter Ride Once in a While.
Posted in Leadership, Success | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Leaders – Quit Trying to be Fair and Do This Instead

Fair vs UnfairComplete the following statement: “I’m being fair because I treat everyone the ______ .”

You’ve probably heard this statement many times from the leaders you’ve had in your career and you’ve likely said it yourself from time to time. The statement is:

“I’m being fair because I treat everyone the same.”

The reality is that treating everyone the same can be one of the most unfair things you do as a leader. It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating everyone the same because it’s the easiest thing to do. Broad-brushing everyone with the same treatment is less work and causes fewer headaches for leaders. “Sorry, that’s the policy” or “I’m treating you the same way I treat everyone else” takes less mental and emotional effort than digging into the individual situations of our team members and formulating an appropriate response.

Frankly speaking, I think it’s a leadership cop-out to treat everyone the same. It’s the path of least resistance. Now granted, there are certain rules or policies, particularly those involving health, safety, and welfare, that need to apply to everyone equally. But generally speaking, when it comes to day-to-day employee relations, too many managers default to treating everyone the same as their method to ensure fairness.

There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals. ~ Aristotle

Instead of trying to be fair by treating everyone the same, try treating people equitably and ethically given the particular situation. Let’s drill into that a bit more.

Treating people equitably means being impartial, unbiased, and even-handed in your dealings with others. It also means you are concerned with people getting their just deserts; what they have rightfully earned or deserve. Treating people ethically means you hold them, and yourself, to the principles, standards, rules, or policies of right conduct.

Let me give you an example. My team has a policy that affords people the privilege to work from home two days a week if they meet specific standards of performance. Some people meet the standards and get to work from home while others don’t meet the standard and aren’t able to enjoy that privilege. Both sets of people are treated equitably because the policy is applied impartially and they receive what they deserve. They’re also treated ethically because they are being held to the same standard of performance. If everyone were treated “the same,” it would mean all or nothing—either no one is allowed to work from home or everyone is given the privilege. You can see why it would be easier to treat everyone the same instead of looking at each case individually and treating the person equitably and ethically given his/her unique situation.

Treating people equitably and ethically is closely tied to the concept of justice. Fairness and justice are often used interchangeably but they are separate constructs. (See here, here, and here for interesting reading on the distinctions between fairness and justice.) Without getting too far down a rabbit’s hole, there are two forms of justice leaders should pay attention to: distributive justice and procedural justice.

Distributive justice is concerned with the fair distribution of pay, rewards, and recognition within the organization. Procedural justice involves the policies and procedures of an organization being applied fairly and consistently across the organization. Treating people equitably supports distributive justice in that people are rewarded according to what they’ve earned, whereas treating people ethically supports procedural justice because everyone is held to the same standard and must play by the same rules.

Treating people fairly can feel like a no-win situation for leaders. There will always be someone who exclaims “that’s not fair!” which causes leaders to play to the lowest common denominator—treating everyone the same. As the quote above from Aristotle illustrates, not everyone is the same, and treating them the same can be one of the most unfair things you do. Instead, focus on treating people equitably and ethically. It takes more time and effort, but in the long run you will be known as a fair and trustworthy leader.

Posted in Ethics, Fairness, Leadership, Trust | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments