Leading with Trust

How to Give Feedback That Builds Trust in a Relationship

feedback3Giving feedback to someone is a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you deliver the feedback with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

For most leaders, giving feedback is not our most pleasurable task. Having been on both sides of the conversation, giving feedback and receiving it, I know it can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, I’ve also come to learn and believe that people not only need to hear the honest truth about their performance, they deserve it. Most people don’t go to work in the morning and say to themselves, “I can’t wait to be a poor performer today!” We do a disservice to our people if we don’t give them candid and caring feedback about their performance.

The key to giving feedback that builds trust rather than destroys it is to have a plan in place and a process to follow. You want people to leave the feedback discussion thinking about how they can improve, not focused on how you handled the discussion or made them feel.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.      ~Maya Angelou

Before Giving Feedback

Before you have the feedback discussion, it’s important to do three things:

  1. Assess the quality of your relationship – What is the level of trust and mutual respect in your relationship? If the level of trust is low, work on building it. If there has been a specific breach of trust, work on healing the relationship before giving feedback. If the feedback receiver doesn’t trust and respect you, your message will be perceived as one more way “you’re out to get them.”
  2. Diagnose the situation and clarify your motives – Clarifying your motive for giving feedback and the results you want to achieve will help you give the right kind of feedback. Is your motive to simply give information and let the receiver decide what to do with it, or are you making a request or demand and expecting the receiver to do something different? Be clear on the outcome you’re trying to achieve, otherwise your feedback will be muddled and ineffective.
  3. Make sure there is/was clear agreements about goals, roles, and expectations – Did you fulfill your leadership obligations by setting the person up for success with a clear goal? If the goal isn’t/wasn’t clear, then reset or renegotiate the goal. If circumstances beyond the employee’s control have changed to inhibit goal achievement, work on removing those obstacles, revisit the goal, or engage in problem solving.

Feedback Guidelines

When you have the feedback discussion, you’ll be much more successful if you follow these guidelines:

  1. Give feedback on behaviors that can be changed, not on traits or personality – Behavior is something you can see someone doing or hear someone saying. Telling someone they need to be more professional, flexible, or reliable is not helpful feedback because it’s judgmental, nonspecific, and would likely create defensiveness. Being specific about the behaviors the person needs to use to be professional, flexible, or reliable will give the receiver a clear picture of what he/she needs to do differently.
  2. Be specific and descriptive; don’t generalize – Because giving feedback can be uncomfortable and awkward, it’s easy to soft pedal it or beat around the bush. Think of giving feedback as the front page newspaper article, not the editorial. Provide facts, not opinions or judgments.
  3. Be timely – Ideally, feedback should be delivered as close as possible to the time of the exhibited behavior. With the passage of time, perceptions can change, facts and details can be forgotten, and the likelihood of disagreement about the situation increases. Above all, don’t save up negative feedback for a quarterly or yearly performance review. Blasting someone with negative feedback months after the fact is leadership malpractice.
  4. Control the context – Timing is everything! I’ve been married for over 28 years and I’ve learned (the hard way) the value of this truth. Choose a neutral and comfortable setting, make sure you have plenty of time for the discussion, be calm, and pay attention to your body language and that of the receiver. Don’t let your urgent need to deliver the feedback overrule common sense. Find the right time and place to deliver the feedback and the receiver will be more receptive to your message.
  5. Make it relevant and about moving forward – Rehashing or dwelling on past behavior that isn’t likely to recur erodes trust and damages the relationship. Keep the feedback focused on current events and problem solving strategies or action plans to improve performance. Staying forward-focused also makes the conversation more positive in nature because you’re looking ahead to how things can be better, not looking back on how bad they’ve been.

Along with these five guidelines, it’s important to solicit input from the feedback receiver to hear his/her viewpoint. You may be surprised to learn new facts or gain a better understanding of the story behind the situation at hand. Don’t presume to know it all when having the feedback discussion.

Giving feedback doesn’t have to be scary and painful. Most people know if they’ve messed up or are falling short in a certain area, even if they don’t like to admit it. The way in which the leader delivers the feedback can have more impact than the feedback itself. You can deliver the message in such a way that your people leave the meeting committed to improving their performance because they know you care about them and their success, or your delivery can cause them to leave feeling wounded, defeated, and less engaged than when they arrived. Which will it be?

It’s your moment of trust. Carpe Momentum! Seize the moment!

Try This One Simple Method to Achieve Your New Year’s Goals

goalLet me go out on a limb here. You’re probably reading this article because you’re contemplating resolutions you’re going to set for the New Year, right? You don’t have much confidence in keeping your resolutions because you’ve failed repeatedly in the past (surveys show only 8% of people keep their resolutions), so you’re looking for some game-changing advice.

Or maybe you’re thinking about the goals you’ve set for your team or organization and you’re stressed out about how you’re going to actually achieve them. If your experience is similar to mine, you’ve set goals for the year only to look back twelve months later to realize what you accomplished bears little resemblance to what you set out to do. For most of us the challenge is not in setting goals. I mean, we’ve got a ton of projects and priorities on our plates. We’ve got goals aplenty! The difficulty lies in prioritizing goals and staying on track to get them accomplished.

There’s a better way to work toward achieving your goals and it’s called the Six by Six Plan – the six most important priorities you need to accomplish over the next six weeks. It’s a method of goal prioritization and execution I learned from Bill Hybels.

It starts with asking yourself one critically important and fundamental question: What is the greatest contribution I can make to my team/organization in the next six weeks?

In answering that question, consider the decisions, initiatives, or activities for which only you can provide the energy and direction. You will likely generate dozens of items on your list that will need to be whittled down to the six that require you to take the lead in order to deliver the most impact.

There is nothing magical in having six priorities over six weeks. What’s important is having a manageable number of goals to accomplish over a relatively short time period. It needs to be a few goals that allow you to keep your energy high and a short enough time period that creates a sense of urgency. Setting big, broad goals for the year is like running a marathon. It’s too tempting to get overwhelmed, distracted, or lose energy on goals that seem so distant. It’s much easier to run a series of sprints by focusing on just a few key priorities for a short amount of time.

I think it’s important to emphasize the 6×6 method is a helpful tool for goal prioritization and execution. It’s not a way to set goals, which is an art and science unto itself. Check out this YouTube video of Bill Hybels describing the Six by Six Plan. Hopefully you’ll find it as helpful as I did.

(I originally published this post on LeaderChat.org and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.)

Exclusive! Santa Claus Shares His Leadership Secrets in Rare Interview

santaAfter passing an extensive background check and being vetted by the CIA (Claus Intelligence Agency), I was granted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Santa Claus, one of the most legendary leaders of all time. I was eager to learn the secrets of his success. How does he maintain passion for his work after all these years? What’s the trick for keeping his team of elves inspired to perform their best? And the most nagging question of all: Does he have a dress code at the North Pole? I mean, I always see him and the elves wearing the same clothes. What’s the deal with that?

I admit I had trouble keeping the interview focused on leadership, seeing as how I had the opportunity to quiz Santa about all those strange gifts I’ve received over the years. (Like, why does my mother-in-law keep giving me those chintzy desktop bowling sets? Does she really think I have time to set up a miniature bowling alley and play while I’m at work? Is that a cruel prank by Santa or is my mother-in-law to blame?)

Below is an excerpt of the conversation I had with Santa.

Me: Thank you, Santa, for taking the time to meet with me. You must be anxious and stressed about all the work you need to accomplish prior to Christmas.

Santa: Ho, ho, ho! It’s my pleasure Randy! I’m not stressed, I’m energized! I love the work I do and consider myself blessed to be able to bring happiness and joy to so many people.

Me: You are one of the most trusted and revered leaders in history. Why do you think that is so?

Santa: Well, I’m humbled by that compliment. I believe a large part of it has to do with my dependability. In all my years I’ve never missed a Christmas delivery. I know that millions of young boys and girls are relying on me to bring them gifts and I never want to disappoint them. If you want people to trust you, you have to be reliable and follow through on your commitments.

Me: How in the world do you manage to make all your deliveries in a single night?

Santa: I can’t reveal all my secrets, otherwise FedEx and UPS might give me a run for my money! Let’s just say that I have to be extremely organized. Any successful leader knows that you must have a clear plan of action. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. I maintain trust with kids and parents by being organized and methodical in my approach to work. It helps me stay on track.

Me: I’ve heard that you keep a list, you check it twice, and you know who’s been naughty or nice. Is that true? Why do you do that?

Santa: Of course it’s true! In leadership terms I consider it my way of “managing performance.” I like to stay in touch with how all the girls and boys are behaving and I think it helps them stay on their best behavior if they know there are consequences for their actions. The parents are the front-line “supervisors” in charge of their kids, so they send me regular reports about how things are going. I partner with the parents to help them set clear goals for their children so the kids know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s not fair to evaluate someone’s performance if they didn’t have defined goals in the first place.

Me: How do you keep all the elves motivated to work throughout the year?

Santa: I have the best team in the world! I’ve always tried to help the elves realize the importance of the work they do. They aren’t robots who work on an assembly line. They are fine craftsmen who are bringing the dreams of kids to life and that’s a very meaningful job. I also look for opportunities to praise their performance and encourage them to praise each other’s performance as well. It’s creates an environment in our workshop where we cheer each other on to greater success. Finally, I put them in charge of achieving the goal. I make sure they are sufficiently trained to do their particular job and then I get out of their way. The elves have a great degree of autonomy to do their work as they see fit.

Me: Santa, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate and eager to get back to the North Pole and Mrs. Claus, so I’ll ask this one final question: If you could give one piece of advice to leaders reading this article, what would it be?

Santa: I would encourage leaders to remember the purpose of their position – to serve those they lead. Leaders set the vision and direction for their team, provide the necessary resources and training, and then look for ways to support their team members in achieving their goals. Successful leaders remember that the most important thing they have is their integrity and the trust they hold with their followers, and they continually look for ways to build and maintain trust with others. If they focus on that, they’ll be successful in the long run.

Too Many Priorities? 3 Tips to Focus on What Matters Most

overwhelmed-350x350Do you feel like you have too many priorities to accomplish at work? Yeah, me too. It seems to be all the rage these days, although I think most of us would rather not be part of this popular cultural trend. Most professionals I speak with struggle with the same sort of issues: the rapid pace of change, tight organizational budgets that force us to do more with less, and trying to encourage the growth and development of our team members in flat organizations with limited mobility.

I took on an increased scope of responsibility this year, and as the year winds down and I reflect on how I invested my time and energy, I’ve realized my focus was diffused over too many competing priorities. It left me a bit unsatisfied with my level of effectiveness, so I want to enter 2017 with a renewed focus on channeling my efforts into the most important activities that will drive the highest levels of impact.

If you find yourself in the same boat as me, then maybe you can benefit from the following three steps I’m going to take to renew my focus in the coming year:

Acknowledge you’re not serving yourself or your team—It took me awhile to recognize this truth. I kept expecting the white water of change to smooth out at some point, and when that happened, I’d be able to refocus and feel more in control of my efforts. News Flash—change isn’t going to stop! The constant pace of change makes it even more important to be crystal clear on your top priorities. Having a fewclear priorities gives you the flexibility to deal with new ones as they arise without causing you to drown in a sea of work. You, and your team, deserves your full attention and focus. Taking on too much dilutes your leadership effectiveness.

Assess where to focus your energy—We need to focus our leadership on the most important areas that will have the greatest impact on our teams and organizations. Looking at importance and impact through the lens of a 2 x 2 grid can help us decide which priorities deserve our focus.

Obviously, our primary focus should be on those initiatives that are of the highest importance and carry the most impact. A prerequisite is to first determine what important and impact means for your particular situation. Your definition of important and impact will likely differ from mine depending on the needs of your team or organization. But whatever activities qualify for this quadrant, that’s your sweet spot. That’s where you add the most value as a leader.

The opposing quadrant, low importance/low impact, are activities you need to discard or delegate. Those are the projects that don’t warrant your time and attention. Getting rid of these activities can be challenging. They may be something you personally enjoy doing, are impact-vs-importancefun, and may have even served an important purpose at one time. If these activities still carry a modicum of importance and impact, delegate them to someone who can make them his/her primary focus. If not, jettison them. They’re holding you back.

The toughest ones to figure out are the other two quadrants: high impact/low importance and high importance/low impact. These require analysis and decision-making. If the activity provides a high level of impact, but isn’t that important, you have to ask yourself why that’s the case. To help you make a decision, estimate the return on investment if you devote your energy to this activity. If the ROI is there (the impact makes it worth doing), delegate it to someone who can make it a primary focus. If the ROI isn’t there, discard it.

If an activity is important but carries low impact, it’s likely something that isn’t urgent but needs attention at some point in time. Prioritize these activities, get them scheduled out, and/or assign them to someone else to manage. These activities are important, but you have to keep your primary focus on those activities that are of higher importance and carry greater impact.

Act—This is the final step. Using the criteria above, you have to take action and make decisions about where to invest your time and energy. You may have to give up some pet projects in lieu of other initiatives that warrant more of your leadership focus. It may also involve some uncomfortable changes for your team members. Perhaps you may need to realign reporting lines or restructure your team to help you, and them, focus on the most important and impactful areas of the business. This isn’t a one and done process. Throughout the year you’ll need to periodically reassess your priorities and make necessary adjustments.

Feel free to leave a comment with your reactions or additional thoughts on how you handle the challenge of focusing your energies on the activities that drive the most value.

Depressed Over Losing a Star Player? Consider These 5 Benefits

star-playerA few years back my team underwent a tremendous amount of change as several of our long-term, star players moved on to other opportunities both in and outside the organization. For several years the composition of my team had remained relatively stable, but we entered a new phase of growth, which was both scary and exciting. It seemed like each day I was having the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” conversation with my managers, as we tried to sort out who was going, who was staying, and how we were going to get our work done.

It’s easy to get discouraged when top performers leave your team. The immediate reaction is often to look at all the challenges that lay ahead — How do we replace the intellectual capital that’s walking out the door? Who is going to cover the work while we hire replacements? Will the new hires be able to match the productivity and contributions of the previous employees? All those questions swirl through your mind as you ponder the endless hours you’re going to have to invest in recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training new team members.

Rather than being discouraged, I get energized and look forward to the future because the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term difficulties. Here’s five benefits I see to losing top performers:

1. It proves you’re doing something right. Huh? Doesn’t it mean that something must be wrong with your leadership or team dynamics if you’re losing your top people? Well, if you’re a toxic leader and your team’s morale and performance is in the tank, then yes, there’s something wrong. But if you’re doing a good job of leading it means you’re hiring the right talent and developing them to high performance. I take pride in knowing that other leaders see the immense talent I have on my team and they want to hire them away.

2. Your team is better off for their contributions. The contributions of my star players have helped raise the level of professionalism, productivity, and capability of my team over the last several years. They have redefined what “normal” performance looks like and we’ll be looking to existing team members and our new hires to reach that same level. We are better off for having them on our team and I believe they are better off for having been on our team.

3. It provides a chance for existing team members to step up. Losing valuable contributors is an opportunity for other team members to step up their game, either by moving into higher levels of responsibility or by taking on short-term duties to cover the gap. When you have several high-performers on a team, it’s easy for other valuable team members to get buried on the depth-chart (to use a football metaphor). Losing a star player allows second-team players to step into the limelight and prove their capabilities.

4. You can bring in new blood. Having long-term, high-performers on your team brings stability and continuity. However, stability and continuity can easily become routine and complacency if you aren’t careful. Hiring new people brings fresh perspective, a jolt of energy, and a willingness to try new things you haven’t done before. Teams are living organisms and living entities are always growing and changing. I see this as a new era to bring in a fresh crop of star players that will raise our performance to even higher levels.

5. It facilitates needed change. Bringing in new team members is a great time to address broader changes in your business. You have new people who aren’t conditioned to existing work processes, systems, or ways of running your business. They aren’t yet infected with the “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here” virus that tends to infiltrate groups that stay together for a long time. It’s a time to capitalize on the strengths and ideas of new team members to help you take your business to new heights.

Losing high-performers is never easy but it doesn’t have to be devastating. I’m grateful to have worked with star players that are moving on to other challenges and I’m excited about developing a new wave of top performers that will lead us in the years ahead. It’s time for change…Bring it!

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