Almost 8 years ago I was trying to decide on a name for my new company. After several thousand hours working with leaders, it hit me that if I were going to tell leaders two things that they should focus on everyday it would be this: Always be building TRUST with the people around you and leverage that to get the TRUTH on the table. TrU in the name of my company is a daily reminder of what I believe and how I want to impact the leaders I work with.
Fast forward – When Harvard Business Review offered a free download of a new article, The Neuroscience of Trust: Management behaviors that foster employee engagement by Paul J. Zak, I immediately got it and read it. I posted about it, and this week I sent purchased copies to all of my EOS® partner companies and asked them to do a leadership study around it this summer. I want to share it with you because I believe everyone should understand how the brain works and how they can influence the FEELINGS that get generated by the brain each day. The feeling that I care about most because I believe in people-centered leadership is TRUST.
Here is the FREE study guide, and I believe it is $8 well spent to get a copy of the article. If you want me to help facilitate the learning at your company this summer I have special rate for my trUTips readers to do that – just drop me a note and mention you are on my trUTips mailing list. My guarantee is that if you don’t find the article helpful let me know and I will refund your $8 – personally.
Doug Fields, a blogger I follow, recently shared the statement, “Superficial relationships tend to focus on the obvious and inspire nothing new.” Recently a coachee shared some appreciation of our time together when he said, “It is nice to have a place where I can be myself and feel safe to share the things that are weighing on me.”
Leadership can be lonely. Leadership can also be a series of superficial relationships because we are busy, and going from meeting to meeting tends to keep us focused on the work while the relationships stay superficial. In leading and working with leaders, getting beyond the superficial requires the sharing of feelings. These cannot be seen as readily and are too often assumed or misinterpreted. Here are two techniques for doing this safely and effectively as a leader:
Tip #1: Getting beyond the superficial with others – One-on-one form
Great conversations start with a question. In my one-on-one form, I start and end with questions that invite people to share what is working and not working. The key to using this is to let people answer the questions they want and keep asking them so that, over time, people will get used to sharing what they are feeling. One leader confided that it took 3 months to get someone to start sharing their frustrations and giving the leader honest feedback about how the leader was making their job harder. For a deeper dive into this conversation, watch my JoHari Window video.
Tip #2: Getting beyond the superficial with ourselves – The Wheel of Life
This tool is designed for leaders to do some self-reflection on the balance in their own lives and what they can do to reset their priorities for areas that are important to them. Balance is a moving target, and doing this exercise and sharing it with someone else moves way beyond the superficial and into what really matters to us – and what is not working so well.
Superficial relationships tend to focus on the obvious and inspire nothing new.
Make some opportunities to move beyond the superficial this week.
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
The summary of our coaching work told a powerful, yet simple, story. “Scott, the biggest impact our time had was to take a deep breath when things got heated and keep my emotions more level so the conversation could continue towards a mutually agreed upon solution.” Breath = Pause. What situations do you get in where your emotion takes over and the pause button is needed for you to effectively manage your contribution to the conversation?
- Home improvement project with your spouse?
- Summer canoe trip where you are NOT in the back steering?
- Riding a tandem bicycle where you ARE in the back and not steering?
The brain is actually wired to react first and think secondly; it is called the amygdala, which is at the base of the brain and controls the fight/flight response. It is supposed to kick in to keep you alive. When humans lived in caves and were outnumbered by animals big enough to eat them, it was critical for survival. Since we have moved into dwellings with locks and walls and work in offices, it is not as critical, but it is still there.
Seth Godin calls the amygdala the lizard brain, and says this in his book Linchpin:
The lizard brain is here to keep you alive, the rest of your brain merely makes you a happy, successful, connected member of society.
People-centered leaders still speak up and disagree, and the reason for having meetings with agendas and frequent one-on-ones with their people is to create space where disagreements can happen and be managed.
Here are two tips for practicing the pause:
- Bring water to the meeting and drink when you get irritated or feel the need to offer a quick rebuttle to a comment.
- Commit to using the comment “Tell me a little more about that?” at least once in your next meeting.
Where can you practice the pause today? When you practice the pause, how effective are you at restarting the conversation and channeling that emotion into a better solution to the issue you are addressing? When you fail at the pause, how quickly do you apologize and restart?
Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!
I was recently asked to define people-centered leadership. This question came on the heels of 2 days with 13 leaders, as part of a leadership development program I designed and deliver once a year for a Michigan-based company. The timing was perfect, because the first task I give them is to finish the sentence, ‘Leadership is . . .’
So when the teacher (me) became the student, here are the 7 books that came to mind as having shaped my thinking on leading in all areas of my life:
- The Servant by James C. Hunter
- One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
- Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
- Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton
- Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Why Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx? As a parent and a leadership coach, I am often reminded of how both roles require the same skills and focus. I love this book because of the message and the wisdom it shares. It helped me define my own belief that I share in my book: I believe fear motivates for the short term and love motivates for the long term. I guess you could say I teach leaders how to love in the workplace. If that sounds risky, read my book – Chapter 1: ‘I Believe…’, point 4.
Why Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom? I coach leaders who are amazingly successful, but all the money and power in the world won’t make their sacrifices worthwhile. This book helped me seek a more balanced state before my death bed and is a constant reminder of the value of relationships.
What books on your list helped you define – Leadership is . . ? I would love to hear them.
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often! (This is at the core of people-centered leadership.)
Last week, I led a key note workshop on succession planning with 100+ community leaders from one of the premier counties in our state – Kent County. In the 90 minutes, we spent about 45 minutes learning and 45 minutes practicing the core skills needed to do it well.
What are the core skills?
Asking questions, listening, and creating a safe place for people to answer with the truth.
To practice, they were asked to do two conversations: one using the Team Member Fact Sheet, and one asking the 5 questions at the top of the Individual Development Plan (strengths, weakness, successes, short-term goals, long-term goals). For the latter conversation, I actually did a live, unrehearsed demonstration with a volunteer so they could see how I did things like create safety, gather information, and make it a simple conversation. It was powerful for me because it was so real.
Here are 3 reflections from learning with these leaders:
- Too often, succession planning = retirement. In a pre-conference survey, I asked what one word comes to mind when they hear ‘succession planning’. The top 3 answers were retirement, future, and replacement. One of the solutions I push is to stop referring to ‘succession planning’ and start calling your work a ‘strategic talent review’ – which is the focus of my solution.
- The fear barrier around the legality of the conversation can be overcome. At the end of the keynote workshop, the general counsel for the group told me, “You nailed your addressing of the legal issues and how to address it effectively.” It was high praise, because I preach a talent/people-centered approach to leadership and I believe in treating people with equality and truth. That endorsement was huge for me.
- ‘Listen, observe, do’ can be done with 100+ people! The fact that I went first, so people could see me doing it, helped the learning immensely. This was clear from the questions and observations people made about how to make things safe, how to ask follow-up questions, and what to say to invite openness and feelings of safety.
My bottom-line message was to approach the topic as a talent(i.e., people)-focused conversation and then use that information to understand plans for key roles and key people in your group.
My passion statement (from my own Entrepreneurial Operating System® VTO™) is maximizing individual growth and eliminating needless pain – moving to and past the tipping point of success. As I reflected on the day and how energized I was by my time with these leaders, it was clear what the reason was: I could see the hunger for learning in the group and feel the relief in hearing an approach many could see themselves leading effectively. I could also see several leaders moving toward that tipping point.
If you would like to learn more, here are links to the presentation and some of the free templates I shared:
- Presentation (on slideshare)
- Development Plan (used top 5 questions)
- Key Person / Key Role Worksheet
- And here are my top 4 blog posts addressing succession planning:
Last week I shared my Team Member Fact Sheet and 3 tips for using it to build healthy relationships with your team. Now, here are the 3 main reasons leaders will not use this with their teams based on my experience:
- No time in the agenda: I have gotten used to going to meetings with teams and having my time cut down with them because things ‘run over’ or hot topics appear. I once had a 90-minute key note workshop shrunk to 45 minutes because the speaker before me ran over. Front load this time and give it the time it deserves. Business issues will always be there, and imagine how much harder it will be to solve them if your best people leave because they have no connections with peers.
- Too nervous about the legality of asking these questions: I feel compelled to give the caveat that this sheet is a post-hire sheet because these questions are not considered legal if asked during the interview process (birthday and family, for example). I only say that because I know someone will use it as a pre-hire questionnaire if I don’t say it, and yet that is the only issue with asking these questions. Remember – the leader always shares theirs first.
- Resistance to the ‘squishy’ team building stuff: My experience is that adults complain about these activities like teenagers complain about family vacations, so push through the initial resistance and wait until after you’ve done it to evaluate. Every group has one voice questioning the value of doing this activity. As an experienced facilitator, I have learned to listen to them but move forward anyway. About 80% of the time, that same voice says they came into the activity skeptical, but were glad they took the time to do it because of what they learned. The other 20% are probably the one person on the team that needs to leave the organization.
Committed people-centered leaders inherently know that honest conversations followed by thoughtful actions lead to improved performance. Those of you that use the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS®) – this means you!
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
I have come to believe that there are two key sources of learning for leaders that will have the greatest impact on their performance: Harvard Business Review and TED Talks. There are certainly many places to learn, but the two of these provide quality, depth, and breadth that will ground you in key fundamentals of being a good person and stretch you in productive ways.
Here is a summary of an HBR article that grounded me in some timeless truths – The Neuroscience of Trust: Management behaviors that foster employee engagement by Paul Zak.
- Leaders know low engagement hurts the bottom line of their business (Gallup and others proved that) but don’t know how to fix it.
- There are eight behaviors that stimulate the generation of oxytocin, which is a brain chemical that facilitates teamwork. (I will have to trust the author on this one – I missed that class in college. 🙂 )
Be ready to NOT be blown away by these behaviors:
- Recognize excellence – When you see someone doing great work, tell them!
- Induce “challenge stress” – Provide people with challenging assignments and/or invite them to help you solve a significant problem.
- Give people discretion on how to do their work – Focus on defining the outcome of the project and give people space to get there (for my EOS® clients, this is when I ask “What does success look like for this rock?”)
- Enable job crafting – Allow people to volunteer for work, or add an accountability to their job that the organization needs if they have a passion for it; also allow them to delegate work they don’t like and depend on the team to do it.
- Share information broadly – Have a defined weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual rhythm of meetings where you talk to and listen to people beyond your immediate team. Protect that time like it is sacred, and especially don’t allow the customer to cause you to cancel it.
- Intentionally build relationships – See my Team Member Fact Sheet post . . . .
- Facilitate whole person growth – See my Development Plan post . . .
- Show vulnerability – See my Vulnerability post . . .
I appreciate the article because it provides the why behind all of the actions I promote as part of being a People-Centered Leader. The last chapter in my book is devoted to actions that hit most of these directly. I also recognize that teaching leaders the why – in this case, the science – behind trust-building leadership creates a higher level of commitment to the right behaviors.
If you are looking for a summer leadership book study, start here – and if you add my book to the second half of it, I would be glad to talk about showing up one or two times to help enhance your learning. The reason I say add my book is because leaders will all immediately agree these are the right actions to take, and yet we don’t do them – that is where my book kicks in.
This points out that leadership is that simple, and yet not that easy. Leadership is a journey that is best taken with company.
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
A friend recently emailed a group of us asking for icebreaker ideas. The group responded with many of the standards: 2 truths and a lie, 5 things we all have in common, and a few other ideas. All effective at getting people laughing and talking – but none can be taken back and used when the new VP walks in or you pull a project team together.
I shared my Team Member Fact Sheet™ – over the past 5 years it has become the only tool I use. My experience with adults is that too many barriers exist in the workplace (or in our cul-de-sacs for that matter) which prevent equal sharing of ‘what you need to know about me’.
Here are three ways to use the Team Member Fact Sheet™ at one of your upcoming team gatherings or EOS® Quarterly Planning Sessions:
- Ask everyone to fill it out and go around and share 2 to 4 facts with each other, then hand out their sheet. As the leader, send out your completed sheet first.
- Give everyone a blank fact sheet and ask them to meet people and take turns asking each other questions from the sheet. Spend 2 minutes per conversation, then move on. Keep it to 2 questions. Debrief by going around and introducing their current partner and sharing 1 new fact they learned.
- Advanced: Fill it out for your teammates. Hand a Team Member Fact Sheet™ to each person on the team. They write their name on the top and pass the sheet to the right. Each team member has 60 seconds to fill in as much information as they can about that person, then it gets passed again. Debrief by having each person share answers to 2 questions the team did not complete and 1 correction (where the team answered wrong). I give each person a different colored pen so their answers are color-coded – and watch as people look around the room to try and figure out who answered based on ink color. Laughter is generated.
Brain research tells us that getting people talking about themselves has the same impact as feeding them or handing them money. 98% of us want to be people-centered leaders, and this is a step toward doing that.
The form is free, and if you want more tips just email me. I love to watch this sheet travel!
Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!
I spent a day with a group of leaders last week, and one of our topics in management was walking around. Each person was given an assignment to go do it daily for a week and journal about it. Only a third of the class did it, but those who did had some great stories of what they heard and observed.
The rest missed an opportunity. If you believe in people-centered leadership and the basic belief that people work harder when they feel cared for/listened to (and when they care about/listen to the people around them), then showing up is what you do – always. Do any of these statements reflect your commitment to show up?
- You show up for potlucks or any event organized by your team around food
- You show up at wakes and funerals
- You send hand-written notes when there is a birth, death, or marriage
- You walk around the office routinely, with the single goal to listen to and learn what your people are thinking about
- You tell people what you are thinking about – both celebration and sorrows
- You show up at the fundraisers your people care deeply for
- You show up in the lunch room/break room and talk
- You complete evaluations on-time
- You show up for one-on-ones, or reschedule quickly
Showing up always starts as a physical presence. When it is done well, at some point it moves to a more emotional presence. This is where agape love kicks in. What is agape love? Read about it in People-Centered Performance.
I lost my father a couple of weeks ago after 90 years of life. As I thought about what I admired about him as a father, the top on the list was he showed up. Once I was challenged by a coach that showing up was not enough. I believe he was wrong, because when we show up consistently relationships are changed. When I look around at broken friendships, failed leaders, dysfunctional teams, and lonely people – it always seemed to start when someone stopped showing up.
I hope somebody writes the same thing about me someday. What about you?
Why don’t you try management by walking around for a week or so. Be part of the 33% that get it.
When you are ready – why don’t you try parenting by walking around and marriage by walking around?
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often!
Yesterday on my daily run with my golden-doodle, I ended up walking with a guy named Gary. We have passed each other on the trail for two years and never really spoken. Sometimes I realize it is time to walk and listen, and this was one of those moments.
As Gary told me about his journey across the 2000+ mile Appalachian Trail in 2008, I asked him this question (remember – great conversations start with a question):
“What is the trick to successfully completing the Appalachian Trail?”
Without much thought he answered,
“You just have to focus on the next town and not think about how far away Maine is.”
I thought of my EOS® (Entrepreneurial Operating System™) clients and how creating a vision for a company is critical, but establishing smaller goals and the disciplined execution of those goals is most critical.
Successful leaders learn to help their teams understand and stay focused on the next town. People-centered leaders invite their people into the process vs just sharing the goals.
Sometimes you just have to slow down and talk to the Gary’s you run into – they have a lot to share.
Listen . . . Lead. Repeat often.