Leading with Trust

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.

We vs. Me – Lessons from USA Women’s World Cup Soccer

The USA Women’s World Cup soccer team had an amazing and entertaining run through the 2011 FIFA World Cup tournament. Despite their heartbreaking loss today to Japan, their tournament run was filled with dominating performances, miraculous comebacks, and several nail-biting contests.

I found that one of the most interesting aspects of their journey was the intense focus on teamwork versus reliance on a single individual to carry the team. This team clearly understood the value of “we” versus “me.” This stands in stark contrast to the narcissistic attitude that seems to prevail in not just sports, but in much of our culture today. Bill Taylor recently wrote an excellent article, Great People Are Overrated, that discusses our faulty perception that a superstar performer will help an organization be more successful than having a whole team of talented contributors.

Practicing a “we” mentality builds trust and commitment with those you lead. When team members know that their leader cares about them as individuals, will get in the trenches to co-labor with them, and help secure the resources the team needs to succeed, they will devote themselves to following the leaders’ vision and accomplishing the goals set for the team.

Here are a few tips for building trust and commitment with your team that will lead to the fostering of a “we” versus “me” mentality:

  • Communicate your leadership point of view – Your team members want to know what motivates you as a leader. They want to know your core values and how they guide your decisions, because after all, your decisions have a direct impact on their experience at work. Team members also want to know what you expect from them and what it takes for them to be a success in your eyes. Communicating your leadership philosophy and expectations establishes a fair playing field for the team.
  • Share information openly – Hoarding information breeds mistrust. Keeping your team members informed of organizational strategies and decisions, sharing data about the team’s performance, and regularly fielding the team’s questions and concerns lets team members know that you have nothing to hide and you trust them with the same information you’re entrusted with as a leader.
  • Get to know your team members as people, not just as employees – Every team member wants to be known as an individual, not just as another cog in the machinery of the organization. All of your team members have stories that accompany them to work: caring for an elderly parent; a child who has run away from home; a spouse who recently lost a job; or maybe something as routine as having a terrible commute into the office. Leaders who routinely take the time to engage their people in conversations and listen to their concerns, hopes, and dreams will build trust and commitment.
  • Verbally recognize good performance – Ken Blanchard likes to say that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” Praising team members for good performance is the fuel that keeps that cycle in motion. Praisings don’t have to be saved up until performance review time. Dish them out whenever you notice praiseworthy performance! Specifically tell team members what they did right, why it’s important, how it makes you feel as their leader, and express your trust and confidence in their continued good performance.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the acronym T.E.A.M.: Together, Each of us Achieves More. Fostering trust and commitment through a “we” mentality will help leaders transform a collection of individuals into a true TEAM that achieves more together than they would separately.

Derek Jeter – Five Lessons for Leadership Success

Yesterday Derek Jeter became the 28th player in the history of Major League Baseball to reach the 3,000 hit milestone in his career, the hit coming on a home run in the third inning against David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. To top it off, he drove in the winning run with an eighth inning single and finished the day having gone 5 for 5 at the plate with a home run, double, 2 RBI, 2 runs scored and a stolen base. Not a bad day at the office.

Having coached youth baseball at all age levels over the last 15 years, I’ve always told my teams that one of the reasons I love the game of baseball is because it teaches us lessons about life. A look at Derek Jeter’s journey to 3,000 hits teaches us five things about becoming a trusted and successful leader:

  1. The Value of Consistency – Derek Jeter shows up for work. Every day. Over the full 15 seasons of his career (not including his first season of 15 games and the current season), he has played in an average of 152 games a season (out of 162), not to mention the additional 147 postseason games he’s played in during that time. Achieving 3,000 hits in a career is a testament to not only longevity, but to the skill and effort required to maintain a high level of performance over a long period of time. Woody Allen was famously quoted as saying “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” While that may be oversimplifying it a bit, the most trusted and successful leaders are those who show up every day, establish a track record of success, and maintain consistency day in and day out. Jeter was quoted yesterday saying “Playing well gets you here; consistency keeps you here. That’s the thing I’ve always tried to focus on.” Overnight wonders or flashes in the pan need not apply.
  2. There’s No Substitute for Hard Work – Life in the 21st century has bred a level of impatience in our lives. We have become so accustomed to having what we want, when we want it, that the idea of putting in the long, hard hours to achieve career milestones is almost a foreign concept and a lost art. How many tens of thousands of ground balls do you think Jeter has fielded in practice? How many hundreds of thousands of batting swings has he taken over his lifetime? Truly successful leaders practice their craft. They keep learning new things to stay atop the latest trends in their field. It’s the hours of practice behind the scenes when no one is watching that determines how you will perform when it’s game time.
  3. Humility – I think Derek Jeter exemplifies the Level 5 Leadership qualities that Jim Collins discusses in his classic business book, Good to Great. Collins describes a Level 5 Leader as someone who has a blend of personal humility and professional will. No one has ever questioned Jeter’s will to win. He’s known as one of the most clutch performers in the history of baseball. When the game is on the line, there are few players other than Jeter that you’d want at the plate. Yet for all his skill and success, you’ll never hear Jeter disparage a teammate, fellow competitor, or boast about his personal achievements. He lets his play on the field do his talking. When trusted leaders experience success, they attribute it to the efforts of others and to factors beyond themselves, yet when things go poorly they take personal responsibility. People want to follow leaders who understand leadership is not about feeding the leader’s ego; it’s about facilitating the success of others.
  4. Love Your Work – If you don’t have a joy and passion for what you do, it will show sooner or later. Jeter clearly loves his work and it shows through the creativity, emotion, and passion he displays on the field. Leaders who love what they do convey a sense of authenticity to their followers that cannot be faked. Finding joy in your work allows you to tap into a deeper level of dedication and commitment that otherwise isn’t attainable. If you don’t have that now, find a way to get it.
  5. Team First – Derek Jeter knows that ultimately it’s not about him, it’s about the team. In a post-game interview, Jeter mentioned that what really made the day a success was that his team won the game. He said it would have been really awkward to celebrate his personal achievement if the team had lost. Hal Steinbrenner, the managing general partner of the Yankees said that “Derek has always played with a relentless, team-first attitude.” The most successful and trusted leaders understand that leadership involves letting go of your ego and putting the needs of those you lead ahead of your own. Reaching the mountain top is always more enjoyable when you bring others along for the journey.

Derek Jeter is certain to be elected to the Hall of Fame the first time he is eligible, five years after he retires. Most of us won’t make the mythical “Leadership Hall of Fame,” yet through application of these five lessons we learn from Jeter’s baseball career, we just might stick around the big leagues long enough to have a pretty decent career and earn the reputation as a person who played the game the right way.

Four Leadership Practices to Build a Culture of Trust and Openness

In today’s fast-paced, globally-connected business world in which we live, an organization’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many organizational leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimizing risk to the organization. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organizations to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness. Here are four suggested leadership practices to help in this regard:

  1. Encourage risk taking – Leaders need to take the first step in extending trust to those they lead. Through their words and actions, leaders can send the message that appropriate and thoughtful risk taking is encouraged and rewarded. When people feel trusted and secure in their contributions to the organization, they don’t waste energy engaging in CYA (cover your “assets”) behavior and are willing to risk failure. The willingness to take risks is the genesis of creativity and innovation, without which organizations today will die on the vine. Creating a culture of risk taking will only be possible when practice #2 is in place.
  2. Mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities – Imagine that you’re an average golfer (like me!) who decides to take lessons to improve your game. After spending some time on the practice range, your instructor takes you on the course for some live action and you attempt a high-risk/high-reward shot. You flub the shot and your instructor goes beserk on you. “How stupid can you be!” he shouts. “What were you thinking? That was one of the worst shots I’ve seen in my life!” Not exactly the kind of leadership that encourages you to take further risks, is it? Contrast that with a response of “So what do you think went wrong? What will you do differently next time?” Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40, characterizes these incidents as “learning moments,” where planning and execution come together, a result is produced, and we incorporate what we learned into our future work.
  3. Transparency in processes and decision making – Leaders can create a culture of trust and openness by making sure they engage in transparent business practices. Creating systems for high involvement in change efforts, openly discussing decision-making critieria, giving and receiving feedback, and ensuring organizational policies and procedures and applied fairly and equitably are all valuable strategies to increase transparency. On an individual basis, it’s important for us leaders to remember that our people want to know our values, beliefs, and what motivates our decisions and actions. Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, likes to say that “People will respect you for what you know, but they’ll love you for your vulnerabilities.”
  4. Information is shared openly – In the absence of information, people will make up their own version of the truth. This leads to gossip, rumors, and mis-information which results in people questioning leadership decisions and losing focus on the mission at hand. Leaders who share information about themselves and the organization build trust and credibility with their followers. When people are entrusted with all the necessary information to make intelligent business decisions, they are compelled to act responsibly and a culture of accountability can be maintained.

Please take a moment to participate in the Leading with Trust poll that appears below. I’d like to hear your feedback on whether or not these four leadership practices are present in your organization and I’ll share the results in a future article.

Do You Have Truth Decay?

Winston Churchill once pointed out that people occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. The great American author and humorist, Mark Twain, opined that many people must regard truth as their most valuable possession since they were very economical in its use. His advice was simply, “Always do right.”  Truth decay is the gradual erosion of honesty and integrity in a relationship, and if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can result in a complete loss of trust. Here are four warning signs of truth decay and suggestions for prevention and treatment.

  1. Withholding information – This causes suspicion in the leader, a lack of empowerment in the followers, and wasted time and energy as people try to manage the business without all the right information at their disposal. People without information are incapable of acting responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly. Share information about yourself and the organization openly and in the appropriate formats and forums, and set the expectations of how the information should be used. Trust your folks to do the right thing.
  2. Not “walking the talk” – When leaders say one thing yet do another, followers quickly learn that the leader can’t be trusted. Leaders can not underestimate the power of leading by example. Get clear on what values are most important to you as a leader, communicate those to your team, and give them permission to hold you accountable to living those out.
  3. Dropping balls – Not following through on commitments is a leading contributor to truth decay. Make sure you under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t commit to do something unless you know you can follow-through. It can be tempting for leaders to think they have to say “yes” to everything, but if you don’t follow through on your commitments, then people begin to doubt that you are a person of your word. As the Scripture advises us “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’, ‘No.'”
  4. Gossiping – When you engage in gossip or talk disparagingly about a colleague behind their back, you demonstrate a lack of care and respect for others. Your followers observe this behavior and begin to wonder to themselves “If my leader treats others this way, is he/she doing the same to me when I’m not around?” Remember, one of your most precious assets as a leader and colleague is your reputation and good name.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis has noted, “So much lip service is paid to the issue of business ethics; but how do you in fact build an organization distinguished by tangible integrity, moral vision, and transparency? The key is a commitment on the part of the corporate leader to establish a culture of candor in which followers feel free to speak the truth to power, and leaders are bold enough to hear such truth and act on it.”

As leaders we are responsible for setting the example of ethical behavior for our team, and if we pay attention to the warning signs of truth decay and take actions to prevent its spread, we will build a culture of high trust, engagement, and productivity.

The Most Important Behavior That Builds Trust

In a webinar (Four Leadership Behaviors That Build or Destroy Trust) I conducted last week for The Ken Blanchard Companies, I asked the participants to select one of four leadership behaviors that influenced them the most in building trust.

With over 600 people responding, 57% said that “acting with integrity – being honest in word and deed” was the most important behavior that leaders should focus on to build trust. The second most important behavior identified by 26% of this group was “maintaining reliability – doing what you say you’ll do.” Other behaviors selected as the most important included “caring about others – showing care and compassion” (12%) and “demonstrating competence – being good at what he/she does” (5%).

So what does it mean for a leader to act with integrity? The word integrity stems from the Latin adjective integer which means “complete” or “wholeness.” Integrity in behavior means you act with a sense of consistency and steadiness that reflects an alignment between your espoused values and your actions. A leader with integrity makes promises that he or she can keep, is honest in dealing with issues and people, and treats others fairly and with respect.

Recovering from a breach of integrity is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges a leader can face because people perceive integrity to be about who you are as a leader, not just what you do. One only needs to look at today’s news headlines to see the devastating effects of these failures. Politicians resigning from office, corporate leaders arrested for wrongdoing, celebrities losing millions from lost endorsements, and spiritual leaders being disgraced are all results from not acting with a sense of integrity.

The value of acting with integrity is an important reminder for any of us in leadership positions. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, project team member, boss, or any other role that requires you to influence others in a leadership capacity, being consistent in word and deed could be the most powerful way to build trust with others.

Want to Build Trust? Speak Less and Listen More

“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”
Proverbs 18:13

It’s easy for leaders to fall into the trap of thinking they need to have the answer to every problem or situation that arises. After all, that’s in a leader’s job description, right? Solve problems, make decisions, have answers…that’s what we do! Why listen to others when you already know everything?

Good leaders know they don’t have all the answers. They spend time listening to the ideas, feedback, and thoughts of their people, and they incorporate that information into the decisions and plans they make. When a person feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and commitment in the relationship. Here are some tips for building trust by improving the way you listen in conversations:

  • Don’t interrupt – It’s rude and disrespectful to the person you’re speaking with and it conveys the attitude, whether you mean it or not, that what you have to say is more important than what he or she is saying.
  • Make sure you understand – Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase to ensure that you understand what the person is trying to communicate. Generous and empathetic listening is a key part of Habit #5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – of Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Learn each person’s story – The successes, failures, joys, and sorrows that we experience in life weave together to form our “story.” Our story influences the way we relate to others, and when a leader takes time to understand the stories of his followers, he has a much better perspective and understanding of  their motivations. Chick-fil-a uses an excellent video in their training programs that serves as a powerful reminder of this truth.
  • Stay in the moment – It’s easy to be distracted in conversations. You’re thinking about the next meeting you have to run to, the pressing deadline you’re up against, or even what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work! Important things all, but they distract you from truly being present and fully invested in the conversation. Take notes and practice active listening to stay engaged.

My grandpa was fond of saying “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.” Leaders can take a step forward in building trust with those they lead by speaking less and listening more. You might be surprised at what you learn!

%d bloggers like this: