Leading with Trust

Trust Busters – The Top Five Ways Leaders Erode Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Every interaction leaders have with their followers is an opportunity to develop trust, and “trust boosters” are those behaviors we use that build trust with others while “trust busters” are those things we do that erode trust in relationships. Here are five common Trust Busters leaders commit that erode the level of trust in relationships:

1. Making promises you can’t keep – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

2. Not following through on commitments – This trust buster is clearly linked to the first one about making promises you can’t keep, but it also goes beyond to failing to live up to even the routine or mundane commitments you’ve made. Common examples include being habitually late for meetings and appointments, rescheduling deadlines because you haven’t finished your part of the assignment, and canceling meetings without explanation. Consistency and predictability in behavior is a fundamental aspect of being a trustworthy individual. If others cannot count on you to be consistent and predictable in following through with even the simplest responsibilities, they certainly won’t trust you with the truly important ones.

3. Not being good at what you do – This may be one of the most overlooked trust busters that leaders commit. Others trust you as a leader when they know you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise that’s needed in your role, both from a technical standpoint as well as a leadership standpoint. Many of today’s leaders face the challenge of not having the specialized technical skills of the people they manage, but they can still display competence in their role by mastering the fundamentals of their particular field and relying on the advice and partnership of team members who possess that technical knowledge. Leverage the technical skills of your superstar performers and continue to improve your own leadership skills so that you can effectively manage the entire operation.

4. Spinning the truth – Being dishonest is obviously a major trust buster, but sometimes a less obvious way leaders erode trust is by spinning the truth – intentionally trying to shape someone’s understanding or perception of the facts of a particular situation. Of course leaders want to be positive in the way they deliver news to support the goals and strategies of the organization, but when they fail to acknowledge the realities of the situation, don’t engage team members in authentic dialogue to address their concerns, and blindly tow the company line, that’s when trust is eroded because team members can clearly see through the leader’s charade. When delivering news about significant changes in the organization, leaders need to address the information concerns that people have (what is the change?), their personal concerns (how does this affect me?), and implementation concerns (how is this going to work?). Be honest, forthright, and authentic with your people and you’ll gain their trust and commitment.

5. Not giving credit where credit is due – This trust buster can manifest itself in different ways. One common occurrence is taking personal credit for the accomplishments of others. When speaking about the success of your team, check your language. Do you speak more of “we” or “me?” In my experience I’ve found that leaders who think and speak in terms of “we” are more trusted and respected than those who claim success for themselves. Another way leaders bust trust in this way is being stingy with praise. Some leaders believe that in order to keep their people motivated they have to keep them on edge, and if they’re given too much praise they’ll get complacent and won’t work as hard. In my own leadership journey and through the work I’ve done with clients I’ve yet to hear any employee say they’re having problems with their boss giving them too much praise.

I’m curious if you’ve experienced other trust busters that you think should rank in the Top Five. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust: Lessons From College Football Conference Realignment

This past week the landscape of college football conference membership shifted again when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced that they would be leaving the Big East to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The universities issued statements discussing academics, geographical relationships, and peer institutions as reasons for the switch, but everyone knows the motivation is money. Syracuse and Pitt believe they can make more money playing in the ACC than in the Big East.

Earlier this month Texas A&M announced they would leave the Big 12 conference in 2012 to seek a new conference affiliation, preferably with the SEC. In announcing this decision, university President, R. Bowen Loftin, said it was “in the best interest of Texas A&M” and that they were “seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M.” (Translation: We’re tired of playing in the shadow of the Texas Longhorns and we think we can make more money in a different conference.) The combination of Texas A&M’s decision, and the news this week about Pitt and Syracuse, caused Oklahoma to start shopping itself to other conferences as well. Oklahoma and the other Big 12 schools are envious of Texas’ move to create their own Longhorn TV network and keep most of the money for themselves. David Boren, President of OU, was quoted as saying that Oklahoma wouldn’t stay in the Big 12 and just be a “wallflower.” No ego in that statement.

Of course, conference realignment isn’t anything new. It’s happened over the years to varying degrees, but these recent developments clearly point out the hypocritical nature of college athletics. University Presidents and Chancellors can talk all they want about the student-athlete experience and academic integrity, yet it’s clear that each school is out to get the biggest piece possible of the multi-billion dollar pie. Former Big East Commissioner, Mike Tranghese, stated in an interview this week that he believes these decisions are clearly motivated by greed, money, and display an extreme lack of honor and loyalty by the leaders of these schools.

I considered Tranghese’s words in relation to leadership in general and the effects that greed, ego, and a lack of loyalty have on trust.

Greed is the excessive desire to possess wealth or goods. Although we most commonly associate greed with money, in the organizational leadership context I think greed rears its ugly head when we strive for excessive power, position, or authority. Power, position, and authority are amoral; there is nothing right, wrong, good, or bad about them in and of themselves. In the hands of an authentic and virtuous leader, power, position, and authority are tools for doing more good for their followers and the organization. In the hands of a self-serving leader, they can become objects of worship. People will not have high levels of trust with leaders who are greedy because they know that those leaders value fulfilling their selfish needs more than they value serving their followers.

Ego is the shadow side of leadership. Being in a position of power and authority can be a heady thing. You often have access to privileges and opportunities not afforded to others and over the course of time you begin to think you’re entitled to these benefits, rather than recognizing them for the gifts that they are. The opposite of being an egotistical leader is being a leader of humility. Ken Blanchard likes to say that being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. Humble leaders tend to have a stewardship approach to leadership. They understand that their position of leadership is something that they’ve been entrusted with to use to the best of their ability, not as a right that has been given to them to use as they please.

Loyalty is a primary characteristic of trustworthy leaders. Why is that? It’s because loyal leaders are predictable and consistent in their behavior and that creates a level of security and trust with followers. Trustworthy leaders display loyalty when they assume best intentions of others, don’t automatically place blame when mistakes are made, and advocate for the best interests of their followers. Being loyal doesn’t mean turning a blind-eye to bad performance or troubling situations; that’s negligence. Loyal leaders are committed to helping their people and organizations realize higher levels of performance and success.

As you would expect, the university leaders of these college football powerhouses are smart people. They definitely have this equation down pat: Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust.

Randy Conley – Live Interview Today on Trust Across America Radio Show

I’m honored to be interviewed today at 9:00 a.m. PST by Jordan Kimmel, host of the Trust Across America radio show. We’ll be discussing how people can build trust in relationships and strategies for repairing broken trust. Log on to VoiceAmerica to listen to the live broadcast.

A Brain, a Heart, and Courage – Three Requirements for Rebuilding Trust

What does the Wizard of Oz have to offer us when it comes to rebuilding trust? Three things: a brain, a heart, and courage.

During a recent TrustWorks! training class for a client, I was leading participants through a process of crafting an outline for holding a conversation with someone to address the state of low trust in their relationship. At one point a participant asked, “Do people really do this? I can’t imagine having a conversation with someone and saying ‘I don’t trust you.'”

That question prompted a rich discussion on the emotional courage and personal maturity it takes to address issues of low or broken trust in a relationship. As I’ve thought about courage, the image of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz keeps popping into my mind. Not to over-simplify the complex and difficult issue of rebuilding trust, I think the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion offer some insights into what it takes to address issues of trust in relationships.

Dorothy: “How can you talk if you don’t have a brain?”
Scarecrow: “I don’t know…But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking…don’t they?” 

A Brain – You need to be smart about the way you approach the situation when you’re rebuilding trust. I wouldn’t recommend opening the conversation by saying “I don’t trust you.” Before engaging in a conversation, you should think through the reasons why you don’t trust someone. Ask yourself a series of “why” questions to narrow down the cause of low trust to specific behaviors. When you do have the conversation, use “I” language to take ownership of your own feelings and to lower defensiveness with the other person. Keep the conversation focused on the specific behaviors that are causing low trust rather than attacking the character of the other person. Going into a conversation to discuss trust issues without being prepared is a recipe for disaster.

Dorothy: “Goodbye Tinman. Oh, don’t cry! You’ll rust so dreadfully.”
Tinman: “Now I know I’ve got a heart ’cause it’s breaking…”

A Heart – Trust is built when you demonstrate care and concern for others. If you don’t care for the quality of your relationship with someone, it will be tough to build or rebuild trust with that person. I’m not saying it’s a requirement to have a deep, personal relationship with someone in order to have a high level of trust, but you do need to recognize and appreciate the value of the relationship, both to you and the other person. As part of your preparation to address an issue of low trust, make a list of qualities you appreciate in the other person and reasons you value your relationship. When dealing with trust issues, it’s easy to only focus on the negative aspects of the relationship and disregard all the positive things that may exist.

Cowardly Lion: “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
Tinman, Scarecrow: “What’s that?”
Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”

Courage – Addressing an issue of low or broken trust can be a daunting task that requires a high degree of personal maturity and emotional courage. Courage can come in many different shapes and sizes. When speaking of this topic, Winston Churchill said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Depending on your role in the situation, you may need to muster up the courage to do the speaking, or you may need to humble yourself to do the listening. If the situation is just too sensitive for you to address on your own, seek out the help of a qualified third-party to help mediate or facilitate the discussion.

We all wish that rebuilding trust was as simple as seeing the Wizard of Oz and having him bestow on us a medal or proclamation that solves our problem. Rebuilding trust isn’t that easy, but it is possible if we courageously and intelligently approach the situation with care and concern to restore the relationship on solid ground.

Leading in the Post-9/11 World – It Begins with the ABCD’s of Trust

In the ten years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, trust has taken a hit. The mental and emotional effects of living in a world of suspicion and wariness, combined with global economic meltdowns fueled in part by faulty and unethical leadership practices, has left many people in a perpetual state of distrust with leaders in government, business, and organizations of all shapes and sizes.

The restoration of confidence and faith in leadership begins with trust. Trust is the foundation of all successful and healthy relationships, and without it, the very fabric of our society begins to fray. Trust is what allows for commerce among nations, business between organizations and individuals, and cooperation among community members.

We don’t often pause to think about the elemental nature of trust, yet it drives most of our basic interactions with each other. Driving on the road requires we trust each other to stay in our lane of traffic, obey traffic rules, and operate our cars in a safe manner. When doing business with each other we trust that we’re paying a fair price in exchange for a quality product or service. We trust that the doctor, attorney, plumber, auto-mechanic, or business consultant is skilled in their particular field and operates honestly and ethically and won’t take advantage of us. Trust or the lack thereof, is the basis of the quality and nature of our relationships.

So how can we lead with trust? I think it starts with the ABCD’s of how leaders build and maintain trust. Leaders are trustworthy when they are:

Able – Leaders build trust when they demonstrate competence. People trust you when you have the knowledge, skills, and expertise to competently lead in your chosen role or profession. Able leaders produce results by using strong problem-solving and decision-making skills that allow them to set and achieve goals that produce a track record of success. People don’t trust incompetent leaders, no matter how lovable or respected they may be.

Believable – Leaders are believable when they act with integrity. Behaving in an honest and ethical manner, admitting your mistakes, and “walking your talk” are key ways that leaders build trust. Treating people ethically and equitably through fair policies and not playing favorites builds trust and confidence in a leader’s character to do the right thing.

Connected – Trusted leaders connect with their followers on a personal level. They use good communication skills to establish rapport and they take the time to appreciate and recognize the good work of others. Connected leaders understand that leadership is about relationships. They understand that every person has a story – their life experiences, hopes, dreams, and fears – and they make that personal connection that lets their followers know they are valued and respected.

Dependable – Being reliable and dependable builds trust. Following through on commitments, doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking accountability for your actions (and those you lead) is all part of being a dependable leader. Dependable leaders have an organized system that allows them to follow-through and meet deadlines, and they are timely in responding to others and don’t drag their feet when making decisions.

We are in desperate need for a new leadership model in the post-9/11 world, a model where leaders operate at a higher level, strive for the common good, and maintain trust with those they lead. Learn the language of trust – the ABCD’s – and start building trust today!

If You Need To Be In Power, You Probably Shouldn’t Be

“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”
Thomas Jefferson

I recently had lunch with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in many years. My friend, Keith, was the pastor of my church during my young adult years and he was a profound influence on me, not only as a person of faith, but as a role model of a transformational and servant leader. As we reminisced old times and discussed lessons we’ve learned on our leadership journeys, Keith made a statement that I’ve been ruminating on for weeks. He said “Randy, I’ve learned that if you need to be in power, you probably shouldn’t be.”

Do I need to be in power? If so, why? Is it because of ego, status, or enjoyment of the privileges it affords? Is it a bad thing to want to be in power? Would I be unhappy or unfulfilled if I wasn’t in power? One question begets the next.

As I’ve pondered this question, the following ideas have become clearer to me:

  1. The best use of power is in service to others. Being a servant leader, rather than a self-serving leader, means giving away my power to help other people achieve their personal goals, the objectives of the organization, and to allow them to reach their full expression and potential as individuals. I love the servant leadership example of Jesus when he chastised two of his disciples for seeking positions of power and reminded them that “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Mt. 20:26-27) One of the paradoxes of leadership is that by placing others before ourselves and using our power to serve them actually brings us more power, respect, commitment and loyalty.
  2. Followership is just as important, if not more so, than leadership. Learning to be a good follower is an essential component of being a good leader who knows how to use power wisely. A person that learns to submit to the authority of others, collaborate with teammates, and sees first-hand the good and bad effects of the use of power, will have a greater appreciation for how power should be used in relationships. We can all probably think of examples of people who were bestowed leadership positions without ever being a follower and then went on a “power trip” which showed how ill-prepared they were to handle the power that was given to them. Followership is the training ground for leadership.
  3. The ego craves power. My leadership experiences have taught me that I need to be on guard to keep my ego in check. The ego views power as the nectar of the gods, and if leaders aren’t careful, their ego will intoxicate itself with power. In Ken Blanchard’s Servant Leadership Immersion program, he does an “Egos Anonymous” exercise that helps leaders come to grips with the power of the ego to make them self-serving leaders rather than servant leaders. Effective leadership starts on the inside and that means putting the ego in its proper place.
  4. Power is given, not earned. The power that I have as a leader is something that was given to me, first by my boss who put me in this position, and secondly by my followers who have consented to follow my lead, and it could be taken away at anytime should something drastic change in either of those relationships. We’re all familiar with “consent of the governed,” the phrase that describes the political theory that a government’s legitimate and moral right to use state power over citizens can only be granted by the consent of the citizens themselves. The same concept applies to organizational leadership, and the minute our people no longer support our leadership we have a serious problem.

So, do I need to be in power? I don’t think I need it to be fulfilled in my work, but it’s a question I haven’t yet fully answered. Do I like having power? Yes, I do. It allows me to help others in significant and positive ways. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I struggle with the shadow side of power and the temptation to use it to feed my ego.

Let me ask you the question: Do you need to be in power? Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Hurricane Leadership – Does your leadership style wreak havoc & destruction?

Bracing for blustery winds, searching for safe cover, and fearing damage and destruction. Is that a description of East Coast residents preparing for Hurricane Irene or does it describe the way your team members react to your leadership style?

Your style of leadership – the way you speak, act, and relate to your people – can either build or erode trust. While this is a gross oversimplification that undoubtedly leaves out many leadership styles and patterns, which of these weather conditions describes your predominant style of leadership?

The Hurricane Leader

“I’m rolling thunder, pouring rain. I’m coming on like a hurricane.”
Hells Bells ~ AC/DC 

Hurricane Leaders leave a path of destruction in their wake. Team members duck and cover when the boss approaches and hope they survive the storm without any personal damage. The company grapevine serves as an early warning system – “Watch out! The Boss is on his way!” Hurricane Leaders aren’t too concerned with employee morale, engagement, or career development. Their primary concern is whether or not the work is getting done regardless of the human cost. This type of leadership may produce short-term results, but like any hurricane, its power will diminish over time and cease to be effective.

Employees have low trust with Hurricane Leaders because their behavior is often mercurial and unpredictable. Employees are also hesitant to be vulnerable with Hurricane Leaders because they aren’t sure if the leader has their best interests in mind. Hurricane Leaders can build trust by establishing consistent patterns of behavior and dialing down their gale force winds.

The Rainy Day Leader

“That woman of mine she ain’t happy,
unless she finds something wrong and someone to blame.
If ain’t one thing it’s another one on the way.”
Rainy Day Woman ~ Waylon Jennings 

Rainy Day Leaders perpetually sees the glass as half-empty. Either through ignorance, apathy, or being constantly beat-down by organizational dynamics, these leaders have surrendered their power and given up hope of a better future. People are not inspired by Rainy Day Leaders. Team members want and need a leader who sets a compelling vision of the future and rallies the team to achieve that vision.

I once had the pleasure of meeting Rosey Grier, the All-Pro NFL football player and member of the L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line in the 1960’s. He was speaking about his work in leadership development with inner-city youth and he made the comment that “leaders are dealers of hope, not dope.” That phrase has stuck with me and serves as a reminder that a primary role of leadership is to serve as a beacon of hope, especially during the dark and dreary rainy days.

The Sunshine Leader

“Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry. Sunshine on the water looks so lovely. Sunshine almost always makes me high.”
Sunshine On My Shoulders ~ John Denver

Sunshine Leaders are so pie-in-the-sky optimistic about everything that team members find it hard to completely trust them. Perhaps in an effort to constantly boost team morale, Sunshine Leaders can go overboard by not making realistic assessments of difficult situations around them and just “hoping” everything works out for the best. Team members want leaders with positive outlooks, but they also want leaders who acknowledge reality, admit when conditions are bad, and work to make things better.

Sunshine leaders can build trust by surrounding themselves with trusted advisers that are given permission to “speak truth” to the leader and hold him/her accountable to addressing the unpleasant issues of leadership.

A Leader for All Seasons

“To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”
Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season) ~ The Byrds

Leaders for all seasons recognize there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to leadership. The first step to being a trustworthy leader is to be true to yourself by having a deep understanding of your values, purpose, gifts, and abilities as a leader, and blending them together to create your leadership persona. People trust and follow authentic leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and live with a clear and purposeful mission.

All Season Leaders know they have to meet each of their followers at their own level, and then partner with them to reach higher levels of performance. These leaders flexibly use different amounts of direction and support to provide the right leadership style that helps their direct reports develop the competence and commitment needed to succeed in their roles. This investment in the growth and development of your people builds trust and identifies you as a Leader for All Seasons.

Defining Moments of Leadership – Will you define the moment or will the moment define you?

It’s inevitable. Through the course of your leadership journey you will be faced with defining moments. Defining moments are those situations that require you to make a tough decision or take a stand on a controversial issue.

Will you define the moment, or will the moment define you?

Consider the news headlines of recent events in society, politics, sports, and business that illustrate defining moments for several prominent leaders:

  • “Cameron vows ‘uncompromising measures’ in dealing with riots” – U.K. Prime Minister, David Cameron, faced the challenging situation of how to respond to rioting in the streets of London after a fatal police shooting. Was he too slow to respond? Is he properly managing the tensions between the government and police force?
  • “U.S. debt crisis: Is Obama’s leadership style suited to the moment?” – President Obama had to navigate rough political waters in route to getting the debt ceiling raised. Was he assertively leading the effort to bring the parties together to reach a deal, or was he too hands-off by leaving the negotiations and details to leaders in Congress?
  • “Shalala Breaks Silence Over UM Allegations” – University of Miami President, Donna Shalala (former Secretary of Health & Human Services under President Clinton), is currently dealing with an athletic department scandal involving a former booster who claims he provided athletes with cash, jewelry and prostitutes over an eight-year period, several of which were under Shalala’s watch. How will she respond?
  • “Gay advocates pressured Starbucks chairman to cancel church speech” – Last week Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, faced a defining moment when he decided to cancel his speaking appearance at the Global Leadership Summit, an annual leadership training event hosted by Willow Creek Church. His cancellation was prompted by an online petition signed by slightly over 700 people who expressed concern that he was speaking at a church that was “anti-gay” (see the response from Willow Creek’s Pastor, Bill Hybels). Did Schultz do the right thing or was his decision short-sighted?

The defining moments for most of us may not approach the scope or severity of the ones mentioned above, but the principles for handling them remain the same. I would offer the following suggestions to help you prepare for your defining moments of leadership:

  1. Be crystal clear on your personal values – Your values should serve as the primary filter in your decision-making process. If you aren’t clear on the values that motivate and guide your life and leadership actions, you’ll be like a rudderless ship tossed about on a stormy sea. When faced with difficult decisions, ask yourself if the action you’re about to take is in alignment with your values and if it will contribute to the growth and welfare of the stakeholders involved.
  2. Develop a Leadership Point of View (LPOV) – If you understand your LPOV – what motivates you as a leader, your life purpose and values, your beliefs about leading people, and the legacy you want to leave as a leader – you will be better equipped to sort through the complex issues that need to be addressed when those defining moments arrive. Instead of just focusing on the immediate impact of the issue at hand, understanding your LPOV helps you take a long-range view of the consequences of your leadership actions.
  3. Expect to be criticized – President Harry Truman is famously known for having a sign on his desk that stated The BUCK STOPS Here! Leaders will be faced with moments of truth when they, and only they, can make the decision. With that responsibility has to come the knowledge that there will always be some who disagree with you and won’t be afraid to say so! Keeping your eye on the goal and making your decisions in alignment with your personal and organizational values will keep you pointed in the right direction.
  4. Understand that there will be a personal cost – Rarely are there instances when defining moments do not exact a personal toll. The cost may be stress, popularity, fortune, or friendship. I suggest that leaders handle defining moments with contemplation and conversation. Making rash, snap judgments based on gut feel can be a leadership death knell. If possible, thoroughly vet decisions and seek input and guidance from trusted advisors.
  5. Learn from the past – It’s easier to recognize a defining moment after the fact. Unfortunately, that usually means you missed the opportunity to maximize your influence and the moment defined you. Review and assess previous defining moments you’ve experienced. What were the circumstances? How did you react? What could you have done differently? Just like a sailor learns to predict weather patterns based on the color of the sky, the type or movement of clouds, and the direction of the wind, leaders can become more aware of the conditions of defining moments by analyzing their past experiences.

“Great moments are born from great opportunity.”
Herb Brooks, Coach of 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

Have you had defining moments in your leadership journey? Feel free to leave a comment and share what you’ve learned.

Got Ethics? Three Questions Every Leader Should Ask

Acting with integrity; being honest in word and deed – 57% of more than 600 attendees in a recent webinar I conducted cited this as the most influential leadership behavior that builds trust. Making ethical decisions is a key component of being an honest and trusted leader, yet many of us don’t have a defined process or rubric for handling ethical dilemmas.


A simple, yet powerful process that I’ve relied upon is one that I learned from Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale in their book The Power of Ethical Management. Blanchard and Peale suggest that leaders ask the following three questions when making a decision about an ethical problem:

  1. Is it legal? The purpose of this question is to get you to look at existing standards. The legality of the decision should be examined not just from the civil law perspective, but also in regards to company policies or standards. If the answer to this first question is “no,” there isn’t much need to ask the following two. If your organization doesn’t have an ethics policy or company values that outline the behaviors desired by team members, check out a recent article from my friend and colleague, Chris Edmonds, that will help you get started.
  2. Is it balanced? The purpose of this question is to activate your sense of fairness and rationality. Will the decision be fair or will it heavily favor one party over another, in the both the short and long-term? Decisions that produce big winners, at the expense of making others big losers, often come back to haunt individuals and organizations. It’s not always possible to make decisions where everybody wins, but leaders should strive to avoid major imbalances over the course of their relationships.
  3. How will it make me feel about myself? This last question gets you to focus on your own emotions, standards, and sense of morality. How would you feel if what you were considering doing was published on the front page of your local newspaper or CNN.com? Would it make you and your family proud or embarrassed? If you’re losing sleep over the situation, it’s probably an indication that your conscience is wrestling with the decision and its alignment with your personal values. As John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach said, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”

Constant use of these three questions as an ‘ethics check’ can help guide you into a pattern of ‘right’ behavior that can become habit-forming and put you on the path to being an ethical and trusted leader.

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences in handling ethical dilemmas. Have you used this ‘ethics check’ process? Please leave a comment below.

Moving from Vendor to Partner – The ABCD’s of building trusted client relationships

“We’re re-evaluating all of our vendor relationships.” Oomph! It felt like a punch to the gut when our client uttered those words, especially the “v” word. For several years this organization had been one of our top 5 clients, and now this new client contact was replacing our previous partner with whom we had a trusted and successful relationship. He clearly had a new strategy that didn’t involve us and was looking to move his business elsewhere. Despite our best efforts, over the course of the next 18 months our business with this client evaporated.

How did we move so quickly from being viewed as a trusted partner with this client to a vendor who could easily be replaced? It had nothing to do with the quality of our products and services, our price, or our capabilities as an organization. It had everything to do with the level of trust in the relationship with our new client contact.

We had developed an extremely high level of trust with our original sponsor. She viewed us as a trusted advisor who looked out for her best interests. She knew that our primary aim was to help her succeed, not just to sell products and services. We collaborated on projects together, learned from each other, and were vested in creating win-win solutions.

This level of commitment was reflected in the language we used when speaking about each other. She was our client – a person who uses the professional advice of another – and we were her partner – a person in a relationship where each has equal status. Our new client contact clearly viewed us as a vendor – a person who sells something.

So how you do create a relationship with your clients that transforms them from thinking of you as a vendor to one of a partner? I believe you have to build a solid foundation of trust and you do that by being:

  • Able – Competence in your role is a prerequisite for building trust with clients. Do you know the details of your products and services inside and out? Do you know the business challenges your client faces and how your organization can help them be more successful? Clients value and trust the advice of competent professionals who have a track record of success and have taken the time to thoroughly understand their needs.
  • Believable – Are you a person of integrity? Do you admit mistakes and take ownership, or do you make excuses and shift blame? Clients want partners that act ethically, responsibly, and place their needs ahead of your own. Sometimes being a person of integrity means telling the client “no.” Trusted partners are willing to be honest with their clients and advise them when they can’t provide the best solution the client needs. Trusted partners look for creative ways to help the client address their issues and find solutions to problems that may or may not involve their own products and services.
  • Connected – No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent professional around, but if you don’t establish a personal connection with your clients, your efforts at building trust will be limited. Trusted partners know their clients as people, not just business associates. Get to know your clients by being genuine, authentic, and demonstrating care and concern.
  • Dependable – Simply following through on your commitments to clients goes a long way in building a trusted partnership. Maintaining reliability with clients involves having an organized approach to your work, only making promises you can keep, and doing what you say you will do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with clients is to over-promise and under-deliver.

Trust is the key ingredient that allows you to move your client relationships from one of being a vendor to that of a trusted partner, and it starts with learning the ABCD’s of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, Dependable.

Are You Playing Fair? You better be, because your people are keeping score

Coaching a bunch of energetic 5-6 year old kids in tee-ball is really just controlled chaos. Tee-ball is normally the introduction to baseball that children experience at age 5-6, and generally speaking, most leagues don’t keep an official score for tee-ball games. The purpose isn’t to win, it’s to teach the fundamental skills and rules of baseball. Notice that I said the leagues don’t keep an official score. I remember many occasions while coaching tee-ball that kids in the dugout would be tallying up the score to see who was winning and losing!

Fast forward 20 years or so to the workplace and we find that not much has changed. Adults are still keeping score, only now it’s about who received the new project, promotion, or corner office. And as soon as someone perceives that the leader made an unjust decision, the first thing we hear is exactly what five-year old tee-ballers say when they think another player has violated the rules: “That’s not fair!”

Leaders aiming to build trust in relationships need to pay particular attention to the issue of fairness. “No problem,” you may say, “I treat everyone the same, no matter what.” Actually, that can be one of the most unfair things you do! A quote from Aristotle speaks to this: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” People should be treated equitably and ethically, given their individual needs and circumstances, and the differences between people should be recognized and valued, not diminished.

In order to build and maintain trust with followers, leaders need to exhibit fairness through the distribution of organizational resources and application of policies to all team members. It’s helpful to understand exactly what “fairness” means in an organizational context. Fairness is composed of two main elements: distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice is fairness in the organization’s pay, rewards, and benefits for employees. Procedural justice is fairness in the organization’s decision-making processes of how those rewards and benefits are doled out. Of the two, procedural justice is the element most under control of individual leaders and is the aspect of fairness most closely linked with building or eroding trust with followers.

According to the results of a survey published in the July/August issue of Training Magazine conducted by a team of researches from The Ken Blanchard Companies, procedural justice was ranked as the most important organizational factor for employee retention. Additionally, over 60% of respondents believed the primary responsibility for influencing and improving procedural justice rested with their immediate supervisor.

So how can leaders be fair and build trust with their team members? Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Be transparent – Share information about the criteria and process that you use to make decisions. Putting all your cards on the table eliminates doubt and mistrust.
  • Increase involvement in decision-making – As much as possible, involve the people who will be affected by your decisions in the process. People who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.
  • Play by the rules – Clearly establish the rules, play by them, and hold others and yourself accountable to following them.
  • Listen with the idea of being influenced – Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you know it all. Ask others for their input and genuinely listen with an open mind and be willing to change course if needed.
  • Don’t play favorites – No one likes a teacher’s pet so don’t create one. That will eliminate a key source of jealousy.
  • Save spin for the gym, not the office – Be authentic and genuine in your communications. People see through the political spin.
Remember, your people are keeping score of your every behavior. Play fair!

Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust

I believe that most leaders strive to be trustworthy. There aren’t too many leaders who wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and say to themselves, “Hmmm…I think I’ll try to break someone’s trust today!” Yet even in spite of our best intentions, there will be times when we damage the level of trust in our relationships. Sometimes it’s due to our own stupidity when we make choices that we know are wrong or hurtful to others. Other times we unknowingly erode trust by engaging in behaviors that others interpret as untrustworthy. Regardless of how it happens, breaking trust in a relationship is a serious matter. When a breach of trust occurs, there are five steps a leader should take to repair the relationship:

  1. Acknowledge that trust has been broken. As we’ve learned from the success of the twelve-step recovery process, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to healing. Don’t use the “ostrich” technique of burying your head in the sand and hoping the situation will resolve itself because it won’t. The longer you wait to address the situation, the more people will perceive your weakness as wickedness.
  2. Admit your role in causing the breach of trust. For some leaders this may be a challenging step. It’s one thing to acknowledge that there is a problem, it’s a whole other thing to admit you caused it. Our ego and false pride are usually what prevent us from admitting our mistakes. Muster up the courage, humble yourself, and own up to your actions. This will pay huge dividends down the road as you work to rebuild trust.
  3. Apologize for what happened. A sincere apology involves admitting your mistake, accepting responsibility, asking for forgiveness, and taking steps to make amends to the offended party. Explaining the reasons why something happened is fine, but don’t make excuses by trying to shift the blame to something or someone other than yourself.
  4. Assess where the breakdown in trust happened using the TrustWorks! ABCD Trust Model. Did you erode trust by not being Able, Believable, Connected, or Dependable? People form perceptions of our trustworthiness when we use, or don’t use, behaviors that align with these four elements of trust. Knowing the specific element of trust you violated will help you take specific actions to fix the problem.
  5. Amend the situation by taking corrective action to repair any damage that has been done, and create an action plan for how you’ll improve in the future. Your attempts at rebuilding trust will be stalled unless you take this critical step to demonstrate noticeable changes in behavior.

You can’t control the outcome of this process and there is no guarantee that following these steps will restore trust in the relationship. However, the important thing is that you have made the effort to improve yourself as a leader. You’ll be able to lay your head on the pillow at night with a clear conscience that you’ve done everything under your power to cultivate the soil for trust to once again grow and flourish.

I recommend reading Ken Blanchard’s “The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager” as an elegantly simple reminder of the power of an effective apology.

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