Leading with Trust

Losing The Moral Authority To Lead – Three Lessons From The Penn State Scandal

This past week we’ve seen the tragic consequences of what can happen when a trusted leader loses the moral authority to lead. Yesterday was the first time in 46 years that Penn State University played a football game without Joe Paterno as the head coach. Paterno spent 62 years building his career at Penn State, only to see it crumble in an instant as a result of one critical failure of judgement.

Joe Paterno is a Hall of Fame coach for good reason: Two national championships; five undefeated seasons; 23 top-ten finishes; 24 bowl victories (most ever); 87% graduation rate for his players; 409 victories (most ever); and 548 games coached, second only to the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg (578).

Joe Paterno and Penn State have been known as a model of stability and ethical behavior. In this day and age of recruiting violations, player misconduct, and booster improprieties, not once has Penn State been under NCAA sanctions during Joe Paterno’s leadership. Since he joined the Penn State coaching staff in 1950 (12 U.S. presidents have served during this time!), Paterno has risen to demigod status within the state of Pennsylvania and in the world of college football. Given this background, you can see why the child molestation scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky, and Paterno’s role in not fully investigating and reporting the alleged crimes to the proper authorities, has shaken Penn State and the college football community to its core.

As a father of two sons, a coach of youth sports, and a student, practitioner, and teacher of trust-based leadership, I’ve been disgusted and disheartened by what’s happened at Penn State. The blatant abuse of power by those in leadership and the lack of concern for the children victimized is absolutely inexcusable. It’s been an utter failure of institutional leadership that warranted nothing less than the removal of those who presided over these events.

Contemplating the events of the past week have reminded me of three fundamental lessons for all of us in leadership positions:

1. Leaders are held to higher standards. The Holy Scriptures capture this idea perfectly in Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Joe Paterno’s error in judgement came in believing the extent of his responsibility stopped at informing his athletic director of the alleged illegal activities. It seems unfathomable that Paterno would not recognize the severity of the wrongdoing involved in the actions of his former coach, but it was his responsibility as the leader of the football program to personally see these allegations fully investigated. When one of our team members brings a problem to us, particularly one that may involve illegal activity, it is our responsibility to notify ALL the appropriate authorities, and not try to minimize our personal responsibility by passing the buck to someone else.

2. Leaders are accountable for what happens on their watch. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper. When a problem occurs on your team, you are ultimately accountable whether you were personally involved in the situation or not. Leaders don’t have the privilege of enjoying all the benefits of being in charge without accepting the responsibility that comes with it. This is the exact reason that it was appropriate for Joe Paterno to be fired (along with other university leaders). I’ve read articles that have tried to excuse Paterno’s accountability by justifying that he did his part by informing his athletic director. That is really beside the point when it comes to accountability. The football program and all the activities and people associated with it were ultimately under Paterno’s stewardship. The buck stops with him and it stops with all of us as leaders. It may not seem fair, but it’s reality.

3. Leaders have a moral obligation to protect those in positions of low power. The most disturbing issue in this whole scandal is the lack of concern given to the victims, those young boys powerless to protect themselves. I believe that being a leader, whether as a coach, parent, or manager on the job, comes with a sacred trust. Leaders are placed in positions of power that comes with a duty to protect and care for those under their charge. The leaders at Penn State violated this sacred trust. Power has the ability to cloud our judgement and cause us to misplace our priorities. One can surmise this was the case at Penn State. Those who were victimized were essentially ignored in an effort to protect the university’s reputation. Leaders have a moral obligation to give voice to those who don’t or can’t have their own.

A bright light in this situation is that the newly appointed president of Penn State, Rodney Erickson, recognizes the task of rebuilding trust that lays ahead of him. In both video and written messages to the Penn State community, Erickson has stated that he will lead the university to reorient its culture and restore the moral imperative of doing the right thing. He has expressed remorse and support for those victimized and has committed to actions that will lead to greater transparency and trust in the future.

What are your thoughts about the Penn State scandal and its implications for leaders? Feel free to leave a comment.

Courageous Career Coaching – Ten Questions Trusted Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Ask

“What would we need to do to keep you here?” If you’re like most leaders, chances are the last (and only) time you’ve asked that question is when one of your valued employees was about to resign. In a last-ditch effort to keep her from walking out the door, you ask the question that you should have asked long before she even started to contemplate leaving your organization.

Leaders are often afraid to engage in career development discussions because they feel unprepared to respond to the employee’s desires, or even worse, powerless to do anything about it due to organizational constraints. Yet in order to establish a high level of trust with those you lead, it’s critical your employees know you’re genuinely interested in, and committed to, their career growth.

Last week the Gallup organization reported that 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, and we know that disengaged employees are more likely to leave for other jobs, or worse, “quit and stay” at their current job. Research by The Ken Blanchard Companies has identified job and career growth as one of the 12 critical factors that create engaged and passionate employees, and it’s important for leaders to know that employees believe it’s the primary responsibility of their direct manager and senior leadership to influence and improve the environment for growth.

So how is a leader supposed to know what employees want or need in order to be engaged, committed, and grow in their work and career? Here’s a revolutionary idea: Ask them. Regularly.

Career growth discussions should occur on a regular basis, not just once a year when a performance review is conducted (and even then “career planning” is often just a euphemism for next year’s goal setting). Margie Blanchard advocates that leaders engage in “courageous career coaching” with employees and created 10 key questions to facilitate the process (see below)¹. It takes courage to ask and act upon these questions, but when you do, it sends a clear message to employees that you are committed to helping them grow in their jobs and careers.

Have you asked your staff any of these questions? Are there other questions you would add to this list? Leave a comment to share your thoughts and experiences.

Courageous Career Coaching Questions

  1. Why do you stay?
  2. What might lure you away?
  3. What did you like about your prior job (where you stayed several years)? What kept you there?
  4. Are you being ____ (challenged, recognized, trained, given feedback) enough for now?
  5. What would make your life here easier?
  6. Are things as you expected they would be?
  7. What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?
  8. What would we need to do to keep you here?
  9. What is most energizing about your work?
  10. What about your job makes you want to take a day off?

¹Adapted from Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans

Leadership Zombie Apocalypse! Four Signs You May Be Infected

Organizations around the world are reporting their leaders are turning into zombies at an alarming rate. Formerly healthy, productive, and capable leaders are falling victim to the Zombie Plague, the deadly disease that has spread uncontrollably during the global economic recession the past three years.

Leadership development experts recommend that leaders be on alert for the symptoms listed below. If any of these are present in your current leadership practices, please consult a professional immediately.

1. You’re running on autopilot – Zombie’s are empty vessels with no willpower or mind of their own. They wander about aimlessly with no clear purpose other than to satisfy their basic needs for survival (mainly terrorizing and eating humans!). Zombie leaders have become complacent and stopped investing in their own growth and learning. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep the ship afloat and they’ve stopped pushing the boundaries to innovate and adapt to new realities in the marketplace. If you’re content with doing the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, you might be infected. Get it checked out.

2. You’re a doomsdayist – Healthy leaders are purveyors of hope and positive energy. They cast a compelling vision of the future that inspires their followers to commit to the goal, team, or organization. Zombie leaders tend to have a sense of doom and failure. They waste their energy focusing on all the reasons why something can’t be done rather than working to find new solutions. They’re often heard saying “Why change? That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”

3. Your relationships are strained and difficult – Zombie leaders tend to have a low EQ (emotional quotient) that makes them ill-prepared to develop strong interpersonal relationships. They fail to build rapport with their followers, don’t collaborate well with colleagues, and have a low self-awareness about how they “show up” with other people. In fact, zombie leaders reading this right now probably fail to identify with any of these qualities and instead are muttering to themselves “I wish my boss was reading this article.”

4. You’re in a “trust-deficit” – Leaders infected with the zombie virus are notorious for breaking trust with their followers. Failing to follow through on commitments, taking credit for other people’s work, not “walking the talk,” and withholding recognition and praise from others are all ways that zombies erode trust. The low-trust relationships that zombie leaders have with their followers results in reduced productivity, gossiping, questioning of decisions, and low levels of employee morale and engagement.

Various remedies are available to prevent leaders from contracting the Zombie Plague or to treat those already infected. The therapy plan extends over the course of a leader’s lifetime and requires constant diligence to ensure the disease stays in remission. Treatments include ongoing learning and self-improvement, building trust in relationships, and adopting a servant-leader philosophy.

Are Your People Ready to Stage an “Occupy” Protest? Four Ways to Build a High-Trust Culture

If given the chance, would the people in your organization stage an “Occupy” protest? Do they have feelings of inequity, spawned by the perception that the top 1% in your organization receive a disproportionate amount of the rewards at the expense of the 99%?

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last few weeks, you’re probably familiar with the “Occupy” movement that has spawned social protests on Wall Street and various cities and venues around the world. Underlying these protests of social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of money and lobbying in politics, is a profound lack of trust between leaders and those being led.

What can we learn from the Occupy movement to help us build organizational cultures of high-trust? I think the following four areas are good places to start:

1. Share information liberally
We live in an information age, where just about anything we want to know is but a few keystrokes or mouse-clicks away. Yet in many of our organizations, leaders withhold information as a way to maintain power and authority over others.

A lack of information sharing about the compensation system at the Mayo Clinic had created perceptions of inequality and just a 17% satisfaction level in 1999. By increasing the frequency, clarity, and transparency of communication about all compensation related matters, the Mayo Clinic was able to raise the level of satisfaction to 82% in 2011, with very little change to the fundamental structure of the compensation system itself.

In the absence of information, your people will make up their own version of the truth. Share information openly so that your people know the facts about what’s going on in the organization and trust that they will use and respond to that information responsibly.

2. Increase employee involvement in decision-making
My friend, colleague, and organizational change expert Pat Zigarmi, likes to make the point that contrary to popular opinion, people don’t resist organizational change; they resist being controlled. When people are shut out from contributing to decisions that will directly impact them, they develop a sense of distrust and skepticism toward the decision makers.

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, my organization suffered a loss of over $2 million dollars of booked business due to clients eliminating corporate travel. Our company had to make immediate moves to reduce expenses, but rather than making the easy and obvious decision to layoff staff, our leadership engaged everyone across the organization to generate ways to decrease costs or increase revenues in order to avoid layoffs. Hundreds of ideas were surfaced and many were implemented which resulted in the company being able to not only survive the economic downturn, but continue to make a profit and avoid eliminating jobs.

Involving your people in making decisions will lead to higher levels of trust and commitment. Remember, those who plan the battle rarely battle the plan.

3. Give people what matters most – your time and attention
Google is legendary for the perks that it offers its employees. At the Googleplex, Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, CA, team members have unlimited access to free haircuts, massages, meals, dry cleaning, and even on-site medical care.

Yet when Google undertook a study to determine what employees valued most, they overwhelmingly said “even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

Just like workaholic parents who fool themselves into believing they can make up for their lack of presence in their kids’ lives by spoiling them with all the latest toys and gadgets, leaders often fall prey to the same line of thinking by believing corporate perks and benefits can make up for the lack of intimate one-one-one leadership. Developing genuine and authentic relationships is a primary way to build a culture of trust.

4. Have an ethical and equitable compensation system
Economic inequality is one of the primary platforms of the Occupy protest movement. According to research done by Kevin Murphy at USC’s Marshall School of Business, in 1971 the ratio between the average CEO’s salary and that of an employee was 30.6 percent (averages of $212,230 vs. $6,540). In 2009, the last year of his research, it was 264.4 percent ($8.47 million vs. just over $32,000).

Although research has consistently shown that money is usually not a primary motivator for employees, it would be a huge mistake to discount the negative effect of unfair compensation. In a recent HBR blog article, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle, make three excellent points about the importance of fair compensation.

First, compensating your employees fairly is simply the right thing to do. Second, fair compensation creates a more positive “inner work life effect” – the positive flow of emotions, thoughts, and motivators about the employee’s perception of their work. It’s confirmation of Ken Blanchard’s old saying that “people who feel good about themselves produce good results.” And third, compensation is more than a paycheck. It’s a signal to employees about their value to the organization and the importance of the work they do.

If we’re willing to pay attention, we can learn several important lessons from the Occupy movement. Sharing information liberally, increasing employee involvement in decision-making, nurturing one-on-one relationships, and compensating people fairly will lead to higher levels of trust, commitment, and engagement in our organizations.

Build Trust Through Professionalism – Seven Mindsets for Success

Do you consider yourself a professional? Or do you think professionalism is reserved for those occupations that require a special degree or qualification, such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant?

Being a professional has nothing to do with a particular job, title, or degree. It has everything to do with the mindset you choose to hold in the way you approach your work, argues Bill Wiersma, in the Fall 2011 issue of the Leader to Leader Journal. In Fixing the trust deficit: Creating a culture of professionals, Wiersma makes the valuable point that adhering to professional ideals builds trust with others and he offers the following seven mindsets that are characteristic of trusted professionals.

  1. Professionals have a bias for results, knowing that they are counted on to achieve results by using their knowledge, expertise and skills. They develop a track record of success and a reputation for getting the job done, no matter what it takes.
  2. Professionals realize (and act like) they are part of something bigger than themselves. They understand that true success is measured beyond their own personal interests, are good collaborators, and are committed to the goals of their organization. In the world of sports, they say this is being more committed to the name on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back.
  3. Professionals realize that things get better when they get better. They are engaged and committed to improving their craft, always looking for opportunities to personally get better. When it comes to being a professional, it’s not just business; it’s personal.
  4. Professionals often have standards that transcend organizational ones, because they are motivated by a core set of values that compels them to do the right thing rather than what’s expedient. They keep focused on the long-term goal and don’t get wrapped up in the daily drama.
  5. Professionals know that personal integrity is all they have. Following through on commitments, being honest, authentic, and not violating the trust that has been extended to them is a reflection of their character.
  6. Professionals aspire to master their emotions, not be enslaved by them. Dealing diplomatically with difficult people, rising above the fray, and remaining objective in emotional situations are key skills for trusted professionals.
  7. Professionals aspire to reveal value in others by keeping their ego in check, celebrating the success of others, and valuing the contributions that other professionals bring to the table. Professionals understand that no one of us is as smart as all of us.

One of my pet peeves is when I hear people describe their work by saying “I’m just a ______” (insert title or job). You are not just anything. Don’t discount yourself or your work by qualifying it with the word “just.” The work you do is valuable and important! Elevate the value of your work and your own self-image by approaching your job with these professional mindsets. You will be more satisfied in your work, perform better, and build higher levels of trust with others.

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