Learning to listen to ourselves

Perception.

It is a word that comes up often in coaching and helping people develop a real knowledge of themselves.  When we are able to step back from our perceptions and consider other options, we gain the flexibility as people and leaders to deal with a variety of new situations.  Here is what it might sound like in a coaching situation.

  • Leader:  I cannot believe they made that decision without asking.  They think they are above process and team, and this action just proves it.
  • Coach:  What are some other posibilities for their motives?
  • Leader:  What do you mean?
  • Coach:  You have years of experience leading and working in a similar situation.  How might they view their actions?
  • Leader:  Well, they have been pushing really hard to solve this problem.  We all have actually.  This week we did not have our normal leadership team meeting, so they were probably just trying to move things forward.
  • Coach:  What is another possible motive?
  • Leader:  Well last month I gave him some feedback around being more decisive and making some difficult decisions.  One of the things I have been working on with you is turning my business back over to my team because these last three years have dragged me back into focusing on day to day issues like cash flow and sales, when I need to be more strategic.
  • Coach:  How has your view of this action changed with this question?
  • Leader:  I am calmer now, I see some other possibilities, and I realize how I have probably contributed to it.
  • Coach:  How do you move forward?

Resilience is about Hope > fear + anger + frustration + worry + mistrust + hunger + ________ (you fill in the blank).

Part of resilience as a leader is to step back when we see ourselves feeding the right side of the equation, and seek the Truth before guessing it.  When people see us genuinely trying to understand their perspective/truth, the conversation changes.  Even in conflict we Build Trust because people see us listening and caring first.  This impacts their Resilience equation . . . and so on . . . and so on.

How much energy would this habit save you?  Where else could you use it?

I look forward to spending time in Wisconsin with their SHRM members talking about resilience.

The Resilience Formula – for Leaders . . . for Followers

I grew up in a community of scientists. I went to school with lots of engineers.  While science is not my passion, connecting the dots for people by finding a way to simplify big things is how my brain is wired.  I see a need to understand what stress looks like for leaders in transition, people trying to self-manage through over promised and under resourced projects, individuals starting a new company, and a host of other situations.  More than understand, a key life skill is to figure out how to get unstuck and moving forward.  This is resilience.

Through personal trials, coaching, walking with friends, leading, and a host of other experiences I’ve settled on an equation I use to represent resilience.  

Hope > Fear + Anger + Despair + Frustration + Worry + Hunger + Mistrust + (Fill in the blank)

When the > (greater than)sign switches and the right side takes over our personality changes.  Is it normal for the equation to change on occasion?  Yes.  That’s life.  Is it healthy to let the right side dominate too long?  No. 

This has been talked about before.  In Good to Great Jim Collins talked about the Stockdale Paradox.  Admiral James Stockdale’s(a prisoner of war) presented the survival method of acknowlodging the brutal facts of a situation but never losing faith that he would prevail.  This is resilience.  

As leaders, we need to take care of ourselves.  Exercise.  Prayer.  Vacations.  Healthy Diet.  Reading.  Naps.  All of the above. 

Remember that your resilience will rub off on your organization.  When you are leading from the right side your stress behaviors come out and your ability to react/flex your leadership style to manage others goes away.  The Birkman Method assessment identifies these as stress behaviors.  When we name them, we have a chance to manage them.

In a slow economic recovery, resilience becomes as important as cash.

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Leadership and Followership: A simple habit around Building Trust

I teach a class that brings leaders and followers into a room and they learn about great leadership and followership together.  During a class a couple of weeks ago, when we were talking about Building Trust, I asked the following questions:

Followers:  What do you think the leaders need from you to Build Trust?

Leaders:  What do you need from your followers in the area of Build Trust?

The general answers from the followers (on what leaders needed from them to Build Trust) leaned towards work getting done.  Statements were made like “Doing what you say you will do” and “Following through on your work”.

When I asked the leaders a similar question, the first answer was from someone new to leadership.  He raised his hand and said “Telling me that I am doing things well, along with letting me know what I am doing wrong.”

It is in moments like these that both sides of the performance equation realize they do not always understand each other. 

It is in these moments that just a little sharing helps us understand what we need to provide to others to help them be successful.

Followers:  What if you committed once a week to seek out your leader and ask them “What do you need from me this week?

Leaders:  What if you did the same, and said thank you when you saw your people looking out for you.

Initiatives become necessary because we forget about simple habits that help create success for people and teams.  Commit to this simple habit.

The Law of Leadership Transparency – 3 ways to apply it

 A business owner shared his survival story from the latest downturn.  When I asked him “What is different about your business now versus three years ago?” his answer made me step back.  He said “Now, my business comes before my people.”  He went on to explain when he hires he tells people up front that he is doing everything he can to keep them busy, but if the business drops off he will have to  send them home.  He also makes it clear that his best people, regardless of tenure, will be kept on as long as he can.

He learned the law of transparency, which is Be open and honest about things you want to face with someone if you expect/need them to help.  

Here are three ways to apply this law:

  • Performance discussion – If this does not feel like a conversation the law is not being applied.
  • Making a sacrifice to manage through a negative event – If people have to sacrifice then they need to know what is happening.
  • Recruiting – What is broken that this role needs to be fixed?  Say it and ask for the help before you offer the job.

Transparency can be taught, but it first has to be valued. 

Leaders who use it effectively are rewarded with trust and respect.

We are in this together . . TrustBUSTER#10 – Asks team to make sacrifices, but does not follow

TrustBUSTER #10 – Asks team to make sacrifices ($ / time), but does not make same sacrifices

Something good came out of the most recent recession – shared pain.  When organizations have to cut as deep as they did, people saw the ‘shared’ part of it.  Money and other perks went away, so the pain from all parties was shared in most cases.  Here are three things that causes this TrustBUSTER and two ways to make it go away.

What causes it?

  • Executive – Sees the perks as entitlements.  Cars every two years, club memberships, assistant to pick up dry cleaning, or maybe the box at the local sports venue.  Is it part of your base compensation?  No.  Is it a performance bonus? No.  Is it something that is earned because of the stress and personal sacrifices made for work?  Probably the closest thing to a reason there is.  What employee will empathize with the last reason?  Enter TrustBUSTER #10.
  • Employee – Sees their work as the hard stuff and wonders what their boss actually does to earn their money.  Printing executive pay scales sells papers.  Piling on the working class for spending too much time complaining does not.  Studies have found that compensation is not a motivator, but can be a demotivator if there is a perceived inequality.  The only wisdom I can offer is my experience hearing leaders wish for their old job back.  It is not as easy as it looks.
  • Both – “If you could only walk in my shoes for a day!”  There is a TV show called Undercover Bosswhere the owner of a company spends a week doing frontline jobs in their company as an anonymous new hire.  I am not sure if it is all real, but it shows the impact of leaders getting their hands dirty once in a while.  Sam Walton was famous for visiting Walmart stores to interact with people directly.  I am guessing this one was not as much of a problem for him.  Too bad there is not a show allowing people to be a leader for a day.

Two solutions:

  1. Leader – get out of your office and talk to people – A chief nursing officer once shared conversation she had with a new nursing graduate.  The RN asked “Who drives you to work?”  An innocent perception of inequality.  Makes you wonder how many people thought that but were afraid to ask?  It is impossible for a CEO to know everyone, but the more you focus on people seeing you in normal situations the more you will be seen as a person and not a primadona.  Being seen in the cafeteria or the lunchroom a couple of times a week makes you  accessible and normal.  Take it to the next level and try sitting with non-executives when you eat.
  2. Look for chances to get to know your leaders – Your leader asks you to lunch?  Go.  Is there a corporate function?  Go and seek out leaders to meet and hear what they are thinking about.  When you get a chance to ask them questions, here are a few:  What have you learned lately?  What are your favorite things to do what you are not working?  What are the things that keep you up at night?  What do you want me losing sleep over?  

This trustBUSTER goes away when leaders and followers get to know each others.  For leaders, it is harder to implement a one-sided sacrifice when those on the short end actually have a name.  For followers, seeing leaders as people helps to alleviate some of the us versus them thoughts that fuel this TrustBUSTER.

I know I said I would do that, but . . TrustBUSTER™ #9 – Four common causes and solutions

TrustBUSTER™ #9 – Does not consistently follow through on commitments

It was a team of eight people and we had just gone through a DiSC assessment and were discussing the results.  One of the individuals was particularly stressed out, and as we were talking through strengths and weaknesses she had an epiphany.  She said “I am overwhelmed with my work and exhausted.  I have too much to do because I cannot say no, and as a result I am missing deadlines.”

It is not normal behavior to not complete tasks on time.  We are not all task focused people first, but under normal circumstances we should all be capable of hitting deadlines.  So what gets in the way?  Here are the four most common causes of TrustBUSTER™ #9:

  1. Ignorance – In his Situational Leadership Model, Ken Blanchard called the initial development stage the enthusiastic beginners.  Remember when you would say yes to things, even though you had no idea how to complete the task?   Also, remember that ignorance is only a temporary condition. (hopefully)  Solution:  Recognize ignorance and either shorten the performance leash (check in frequently) or offer to partner/coach through the task the first time. 
  2. Trying to please – There are many different situations that contribute to this problem.  Fear from seeing people lose their jobs that results in feeling that yes is the only answer.  A high performing team of highly driven individuals and you want to do your share.  A leader that puts in 70 hours a week, and there is an expectation (real or imaginary) to keep up.  Solution:  Focus on having conversations  that define expectations and reveal how people are feeling about tasks.  In addition, self-awareness and understanding how teammates are wired so the situations above can be addressed openly.
  3. Big eyes / little stomach – We have all been there.  The buffet looked great and a little bit of everything is the decision.  The certain outcome is feeling sick and dissatisfied.  Some enjoy the challenge of too much or feel they are at their best when overwhelmed.  Even the best take on too much sometimes.  Solution:  Make it a habit to have frequent discussions about priorities to make sure expectations are clear.  Individuals have to learn to recognize limits and how an overloaded task list can negatively impact the overall team.
  4. Not enough time – There are people in every group that have time boundaries.  Whether it is someone working part-time, a single parent, or maybe someone who has learned through a heart attack that they need to keep their stress levels down.  Solution: Talk about it.  Not everyone wants to live a life of too much to do at work.   If it does not fit the culture (ex.  a startup company) then get that on the table and make the decision that is best for the individual AND the organization. 

How can a leader proactively address this TrustBUSTER™?  First of all, leaders need to be fanatics about making it safe to question priorities.  Secondly, making accountability a norm within the team is critical.  Mistakes will happen, but missed deadlines have to be discussed openly and the problems/barriers have to be named and addressed.  Always have the questions in hand “What will it take to get things back on track?” or “What has to change or fixed?”

I care… really! TrustBUSTER™ #8

TrustBUSTER™ #8 – Shows little concern about me a person

When I stand in front of a room of leaders and ask the question “How many of you care about your people?”, 100% of the people raise their hands.  I believe that 99.9% of leaders care about their people.  (I will save a discussion about that .01% for later)

Recently, I led a group discussion around trust that divided 30 people into four groups based on personality type.  I provided them with the TrustBUSTER™ list and asked them to identify one behavior on the list they saw most frequently from the other three styles.  One group received feedback from all of the other groups that #8 was the behavior that tripped them up.  The group receiving this feedback was the task focused/achievement oriented group.  This is the same group that 60+% of executive teams fall into based on my past experience.

Why does this happen? A manufacturing supervisor once shared this wisdom with me, “Intentions without action equals SQUAT”.  In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey makes the point that “We judge ourselves on our intentions.  We judge others based on their actions.”  Both quotes lead to the same conclusion, if people don’t see it they don’t believe it.

As a leader, how do you bridge the gap between your actions and the perception of the people reporting to you?  Here are three ways to keep this TrustBUSTER™ from tripping you up:

  • Self Assessment: Test your knowledge of your people by asking these questions.  What are the names of their spouse/children?  Where do they live?  What non work activities are most important to them?  What is the biggest event going on in their life right now?  Take a moment to evaluate how you answered these questions.  This is pretty basic stuff, so if you missed anything you need to spend more time with your people.
  • Monday/Friday rule:  Spend time on Friday connecting with people to hear about their week or upcoming weekend activities.  Spend Monday hearing how the weekend came together or what they are looking forward to during the week.  (take a few notes after each conversation if you are like me and forget things)
  • Find a partner to help:  If you are an executive chances are you have way to much to do and connecting with your people is not a strength.  Find someone around you that will remind of key dates for your people(birthday, anniversary) and keep a pulse on what significant things that are happening with those in your team or department.  Enlist their help to remind you of opportunities to connect.

TrustBUSTER™ #6 – Criticize decisions AFTER the team made them – How to handle the 3 most common situations

TrustBUSTER™ #6 – Criticizes decisions AFTER the team has discussed them and the decision has been made

I still remember the situation vividly.  Early in my career I went to a meeting, listened to the discussion, and heard the decision.  I went back to my desk and did some more analysis(things I should have done before the meeting), realized that I had a different opinion, and went back to the leader with my concerns.  He was visibly frustrated and let me know that we had already discussed it.  It was a lesson in being present for a discussion vs being engaged in a discussion.  I had been there, but not contributing like I should.

Later in my career I heard a different story from a senior executive.  He shared a decision that had been made by his peer that he did not agree with.  His comment was “It was his decision so I will give him some rope.  He will run into problems eventually, then we can discuss bailing him out.”  His strategy was to let his peer fail (without giving him the right kind of help) so that his plan would ultimately prevail.

In both cases it was not a lack of discussion, but a lack of open and honest dialogue by all the parties involved.  The result, people leaving the table with individual agendas that trumped the team agenda.  Nothing erodes trust faster than failure to listen, failure to share opinions, and failure to support decisions made by your team.  Here are the three standard situations you will see happen on a team, what the issue is, and what the leader should do to ensure the person stops doing this TrustBUSTER™.

  1. Openly criticizing people/decisions after the fact = criticizing = character issue = Action:  Direct warning (job loss)
  2. Questioning decisions after the fact = criticizing = character or self-confidence issue = Action: Need more info . . .
  3. Bringing more(new) data after a bad decision = criticizing = takes guts = Action: Thank them for finding the information, then explore – Why did we not have this information?

This is one of those behaviors that highlights something Stephen M.R. Covey shares in his book The Speed of Trust, which is “We judge others based on their actions and we judge ourselves based on our intent.”  This is an especially critical message for the kind but timid person on your team that does not speak up.  Their actions create trust issues with their teammates.

The key question for a leader when this happens – How can I lead differently so this TrustBUSTER™ never becomes an issue?  The key action is to deal with it quickly and directly because it will grow like cancer in your team.  Secondly, look also at your meetings and evaluate if you are creating time for key debates to happen or if decisions are just being unilaterally made and not discussed.  Finally, if you see this happening between two departments in your organization, examine the relationship of the leaders of those groups.  Likely the departments are mirroring the leaders.  In any case, address it directly and be willing to change the leaders if it does not stop.

TrustBUSTER #2 – Unwilling to admit mistakes or apologize

TrustBUSTER #2 – Unwilling to admit mistakes or apologize

There was an article in our local paper yesterday and it was about a 17-year-old swimmer who got caught drinking and had to miss part of her senior season because of her mistake.  She is a defending state champion and her team lost twice during her absence.  Why I think it is a significant story is that she openly talked about it in the paper and shared how she let her team down because of her choices.  I am sure she told them how sorry she was for letting them down.

This behavior is so important that Patrick Lencioni devotes two questions (out of 15) to it in the assessment he provides as part of his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  The questions are:

  • Team members quickly and genuinely apologize to one another when they say or do something inappropriate or possibly damaging to the team.
  • Team members openly admit their weaknesses and mistakes.

There are two aspects to this: personal character and company culture.  Character is simply about having the strength to recognize what you did was wrong and fix it.  There is lots of learning in and around mistakes.  Being able to see them, apologize, and get on with a different solution results in everyone getting smarter and more trusting in our character. 

If there is one thing a leader needs to remember it is this:  Culture will trump character.  If the culture punishes mistakes, then most will hide them.  A paycheck is a very powerful thing and preserving it will be a priority for many.  The return for an organization that makes it safe to own a mistake is that things get fixed faster and people are more likely to take risks that will be good for your business.  To test this yourself, write down 10 mistakes made people on your team in the last three months.  Then ask yourself:  What was the impact on the company?  What was the impact on the person?  How was it discovered and by who?  How was it resolved? 

When you look at the answers ask yourself – At my company does culture trump character or is character the culture?

TrustBUSTER™ #1 – Talking behind the backs of teammates

Cover of "Fierce Conversations: Achieving...
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TrustBUSTER™ 1:  Talks negatively about teammates behind their backs

Every leader has he said/she said stories where someone says something out of the earshot of another that is perceived as negative.  It is no wonder that Patrick Lencioni’s first two dysfunctions in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team are the absence of trust and inability to manage conflict.  So how can you prevent this in your team?

Susan Scott makes the point in her book Fierce Conversations that “As a leader, you get what you tolerate.”  Complaining requires a talker and a listener.  If you listen and let it go you are tolerating it.  The best way to stop it is to have zero tolerance for it.  When you hear it, encourage  the person to address their concerns directly with the person or drop it.  If it continues then it needs to be dealt with as a performance issue.

In addition, recognize that most teams and individuals are not skilled at directly giving or receiving negative feedback, which forces disagreements to be internalized or appear as complaints that are passed around people and not directly to them.  Make attainment of this skill a priority for your team.  Even just reading and discussing the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott will go a long way towards helping people learn the skills that will help bring complaints into the open.