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Beating Procrastination at Its Own Game – and Ways to Thrive

People often ask me about ways to beat procrastination. I usually say “I’ll get back to you.” Just kidding.

Everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions—which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we’ll feel tomorrow, or the next day.

procrastinate1

If you do a Google search, there are over 380,000 references to “overcoming procrastination”.

Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off. The bright side? It’s possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.

Procrastination is not a problem of time management or of planning. Procrastinators are not different in their ability to estimate time, although they are more optimistic than others. “Telling someone who procrastinates to buy a weekly planner is like telling someone with chronic depression to just cheer up,” insists Dr. Ferrari (1).

I too struggle with procrastination. From my own observations with decades of clients behind me, plus my own ever-present struggle with it, here are the key reasons for procrastination.

  1. Desire to achieve perfection –  When a normally high energy, high achiever procrastinates, it’s usually due to the desire to achieve perfection. Perfection though is unachievable, especially in most business settings.
  2. Lack of direction –  You can’t leave for a trip if you don’t know where you’re going. Without a good sense of where you want to go with a project or a task, you likely wont want to start.
  3. Self-talk – Procrastinators tell lies to themselves. Such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow.” Or “I work best under pressure.” But in fact they do not get the urge the next day or work best under pressure. In addition, they protect their sense of self by saying “this isn’t important.” Another big lie procrastinators indulge is that time pressure makes them more creative. Unfortunately they do not turn out to be more creative; they only feel that way. They squander their resources.
  4. It’s unpleasant –  Not everything we need to do each day is fun and exciting. Things can be downright unappealing, so we put them off.

Here are the most popular ways to overcome procrastination (2).

STEP 1: Recognize you ARE A PROCRASTINATOR.

Here’s a fun little test for you to take. CLICK HERE

Here are some useful indicators that will help you know when you’re procrastinating:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List.
  • Reading e-mails several times without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee.
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important.
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
  • Waiting for the “right mood” or the “right time” to tackle the important task at hand.

Step 2: Work Out WHY You’re Procrastinating

Even if you’re organized, you can feel overwhelmed by the task. You may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need, so you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do. You may also fear success as much as failure. For example, you may think that success will lead to you being swamped with more requests to do this type of task, or that you’ll be pushed to take on things that you feel are beyond you.

Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies

Procrastination is a habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior. That means that you won’t just break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practicing them, so use as many approaches as possible to maximize your chances of beating them. Some tips will work better for some people than for others, and for some tasks than others. And, sometimes, you may simply need to try a fresh approach to beat the “procrastination peril”!

These general tips will help motivate you to get moving:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.
  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.
  • Work out the cost of your time  to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re procrastinating because you’re disorganized, here’s how to get organized!

Use Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Principle to help prioritize your To-Do List so that you cannot try to kid yourself that it would be acceptable to put off doing something on the grounds that it is unimportant, or that you have many urgent things which ought to be done first when, in reality, you’re procrastinating.

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If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

If you’re doing it because you find the task unpleasant:

  • Many procrastinators overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. So give it a try! You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought!
  • Hold the unpleasant consequences of not doing the work at the front of your mind.
  • Reward yourself for doing the task.

Here’s a bonus. Have you seen the story about rocks, pebbles and sand? Watch this video

(1) Quotes courtesy of Psychology Today and Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, and Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

(2) Other references courtesy of Mindtools.com

The Issue of Trust in Today’s Workforce

Employees in all job grades want to trust the people they work with. They want to trust their co-workers, their bosses, and the company leaders where they work.

Trends in recent employee engagement studies have revealed there is a declining spirit of trust. Actually the results are mixed in a strange sort of way.

In a recent study I conducted using my own base of social media followers, 63% of respondents said company leadership was trusted the least. The boss only got challenged by 16% while co-workers were mistrusted by 21% of the people answering the survey.

For many years, when employees were asked about trust at work, they pointed to their bosses as being the problem. Not so any more. Even co-worker trust was not a real issue.

The biggest gaps show up when talking about leadership at the top of the business. C-suite leaders are getting challenged by employees.

Internal and external surveys are showing that we have a growing chasm of trust between the top-of-house leaders and the employee masses.

How can that be?

First, it seems there is a credibility issue. Leaders may blame it on the pace of business. That means, things are moving so darn fast, decisions have to get made then changed right away.

However, workers see it as a flip-flop. The seeming flip flop of decisions cause employees to doubt the sincerity of what is coming from on high.

Next there is a reality issue. Workers don’t think senior leaders are adequately tuned in to the challenges on the front line. Budget cuts reduce jobs, leaving the survivors to struggle with doubled and tripled work loads to sustain revenue numbers that are not declining.

Seeing no actual decline in a company’s revenue leads workers to believe the leaders are not present, knowing what is really required to produce the outcome.

In addition we see a sociability issue. The younger workforce is asking their company to become socially responsible for social significance. Whether that is for carbon footprint reduction, social justice, or diversity, leaders are under pressure to perform. Those who turn blind eyes to these issues are not trusted.

What’s the Fix?

Building trust impacts all areas of our life. When we meet someone new, we start down the path for seeking trust by asking and answering questions.

The questions help inform us about the other party. Do we like the same things? Is there a common ground from which we can start building our relationship? The list of key questions can be long.

Employees do the same thing. We all show up to work with fundamental questions in our mind. The company leader/manager who does the best job of answering our questions gets our respect and trust.

My own experience as an executive and now, coach, has shown me six fundamental areas for the questions. All of the questions fall into one of these six buckets. I’m going to quickly list each section.

First, the People questions – do I even want to be here? Basic but powerful.

Next the Purpose – what is this team about and why do we exist?

Then the Plan questions – what is the plan we must follow to win?

Following those, there are the Practice questions – how do we operate? Systems, policies, and procedures can make or break our success.

Next you find Performance questions – how will I be scored and rated? Will the system be fair?

Lastly, we see Payoff questions – was it worth it? Should I do it over again?

Leaders Can Make a Difference

If you manage a team, think about any and all of the issues you face keeping the team inspired, motivated, and moving forward. I’ll bet you a nice steak dinner your team’s questions will fall into one of those six buckets.

Knowing these six secrets can radically improve your ability as a leader to increase the trust within your team. Answer the questions well and you will see your team transform.

Ignore the questions or give half-hearted answers and your trust scores will be very low.

I and a colleague, Roger Ferguson, have made a deep dive into this subject with our new book Trust at Work.” My coaching clients like ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and UPS have taken these directions and seen great results. You can too.

trust at work

The Keys to Becoming a Great Leader

Today it seems everybody knows something about leadership. 

But when I taught strategic leadership courses to MBA students at the University of Houston, in the beginning, my first question to the students was “who wanted to be a leader and a great one at that?”

There was always this look of bewilderment on their faces not knowing how to answer. 

Leadership can be puzzling and seems like a lofty aspiration as many times leaders are put on a pedestal.

Leadership does make a significant difference in the performance of an organization. Jim Collins demonstrated that in his well-researched book Good to Great. 

Normally, when people begin to talk about leadership, they start rattling off a long list of characteristics.

Well, I am not going to tell you my top ten characteristics of being a great leader as many articles do. 

But in my opinion, listing attributes is coming from the wrong starting place.

If you begin with characteristics and try to figure out who is great, you enter into a mindset of rating one leader against another based on the characteristics they possess.

The focus is all on the leader trying to find that special one. It’s grading on the curve.  You are better than that guy, but this other bloke is better than you.

When the conversation begins with the leader and their characteristics, it leaves out the other half of the equation.

What is really fundamental about leadership is that there are followers. There is no leadership without followers. You can be a great solo performer, but that is not leadership. Leadership requires followers. 

Think of the Other Person First

But why do people follow? 

They follow you because their needs are being fulfilled in some meaningful way.

In effect, the leader must provide a value proposition that fulfills follower’s needs as discussed in my other leadership blogs. 

This is the first key to becoming a great leader, you must start with the needs of the follower by developing a value proposition that motivates them to follow you.

That is what a company does with customers.  It provides a value proposition that causes people to buy. 

You must have a value proposition that potential followers can buy into.

What about the natural-born leader? Don’t people just want to follow them naturally regardless?

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t rely on whether you got that special leadership gene. 

In fact, most serious leadership authors advocate that leadership can be learned and dismiss this great man theory from days of yore.

Develop the We Mindset

Unfortunately, we grow up being graded solely on ourselves.  It begins in grade school right on through to high school, and then on to college.  It is all about me.

When I worked for Shell, there was a lot of emphasis on the qualities the leader possessed. I always felt under the microscope to be this superhuman leader with all these wonderful characteristics. 

I knew an awful lot about leadership theories, but it wasn’t until my later years in senior management that the second key came to light. 

A lot of my conversation had too much I.

To be a great leader you must shift your mindset from me to “we”, which is the second key to becoming a great leader.

That requires going out talking to people finding out what really drives them. Thinking in a “we” mindset opens them up to describing their needs.  People truly love to talk about themselves.

Leadership and Planning Go Together

Leadership is not a random hit or miss process. How do you figure out a value proposition that motivates people to follow you? This requires planning. 

What big thing have you ever accomplished without a plan?  Planning sets a direction. 

Thus, the third key to leadership is planning and setting a motivating direction.

Execution is the Fourth Key

Planning by itself is not enough, even though it does set the stage. The plan must be executed achieving the desired results. People follow successful performance. 

Therefore, the way to measure a great leader is to look at the absolute results. 

If you want to be an effective leader, YOU must focus on results.

That is the mindset shift that makes all the difference. Look at the results, but what results are we talking about?

A leader has various stakeholders with different needs as set out in the first key. Targeting these needs means forming value propositions for each key stakeholder, and since every leader has multiple stakeholders, that means multiple value propositions. 

Great results come from satisfying these different value propositions that cause your stakeholders to follow you. 

Moreover, if you judge leadership on the basis of absolute results, it’s absolutely possible for everyone to become a great leader.  

Leadership Maturity develops a Situational Style

People have different needs; situations require different leadership, and things change over time. 

There is no cookie-cutter approach to being a great leader.

Thus, the fifth key is to recognize that leadership is situational depending on the world you and your followers face.

Look to Other’s Strengths

Next, you win by utilizing your and other’s strengths.

That is what companies do with their value propositions.  They capitalize on their strengths. 

 Great leadership is all about building a winning team, where people step up with their greatest strengths.  That is the sixth key.

You build a game plan that leverages and synergizes on these strengths.

Develop Specific Actions

Many plans fail for lack of execution as set out in the Fourth Key.

The plans must have executable components with specific actions and be constantly reviewed and revised as results dictate. 

Leadership is not about how many initiatives you can create.  It’s about how well did you deliver on your value propositions by taking well-defined actions. 

Thus, the seventh key to leadership is delivering on your value propositions with specific targeted actions.  

That creates authenticity.  Doing what you say you are going to do.

Those are my seven keys to becoming a great leader.

Develop your Leadership Plan

This is a prelude to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader that recognizes that your personal planning is the key catalyst for greatness.

Typically planning is done from the business perspective, at the corporate or business unit levels on what the company is going to do.

The leader needs to figure out how to integrate into these business plans with his or her leadership actions. Some of the leader’s value propositions to key stakeholders will be integral in the business plans. 

Other elements require the leader to formulate more specifically a leadership plan to fulfill those people’s value propositions. In developing these leadership plans, the focus can then turn to what strengths the leader needs to develop and what fatal flaws to correct. 

That requires the leader to fully assess his/her inner profile. 

What is your leadership style?  Which are your proficiencies, things you are really good at?  What are your values, beliefs, and character?  And fundamentally, what is your purpose in life? What legacy do you want to leave?

Weaving together the “outer” world of a leader’s work environment with their “inner” world of character, style, strength, and purpose brings a practical focus to leadership development efforts.

Inner Self

The leader can then reflect on those aspects of the inner self that more directly impact the outer world and pursue improvement in the areas that will make a significant performance difference, and much sooner.

In doing this, the chances of becoming a great leader go up significantly because there is a targeted focus on your actions and behaviors that will make a real difference in achieving great results.

That is the whole concept that led to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader. 

The quest for great results doesn’t end with one great achievement. It’s not one and done; it’s a marathon. 

People will follow the leader who consistently produces great results.  And when these great results occur, that is a great leader.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was contributed by Lane Sloan, former CFO at Shell Oil. Lane is semi-retired but teaches, coaches and provides business advisory services to small and mid-cap business.

Trust at Work

The great Resignation is fully underway. Companies of all sizes are experiencing employee exits at all job levels. Owners and executives simply wonder why?

There are great theories about work-life balance value shifts, government intervention, and ‘disincentives’ among many other plausible ideas.

Yet one area remains a big contributor. That area is TRUST.

There is a basic loss of trust in the workplace. Employees are feeling disenfranchised. They watch as CEO pay and other external factors impact their way of working. Decisions get made by the bosses, but little if any trust is displayed in the worker.

Why should they be the ones expected to remain loyal? And now, with the pandemic opening of Pandoras’ box about work-life balance, employees are leaving corporate America by the millions. Yes, millions, not just thousands.

Employers need to ramp up the game when it comes to building trust at work. There are proven, tangible ways to increase the levels of trust across your work team, but it takes leadership focus and energy to get there.

However, rather than delve into that alone, why not find a blueprint? One that has been used for decades with great success.

The Program is Now

My colleague, Roger Ferguson, and I have teamed up to present you with the full program for building trust at work. In fact, our book is titled just that “Trust at Work.

buy the book

In this book, we introduce you to the Team Trust Model, a six-step outline of key essentials for understanding where and how to address the main concerns your employees have. Face it. Employees show up every day with questions. Questions like ‘Do I even want to be here?’, ‘what’s the point?’, ‘What’s the plan?’ and many more.

In other words, Leaders who create clarity for each of these key questions will see trust building inside the team. More and more, employees will learn to trust the boss and the team.

It’s not easy, but it is achievable. Buy the book. Or subscribe to my newsletter. Better still, if you’d like to start immediately to explore ways your team can build trust, schedule a chat.

You can become a leader who builds trust.

trust at work

Accountability. What a Concept.

accountability

Yet who can really define it? Let’s take a look at leadership accountability.

Google the word and you get some interesting thoughts. Here are a few.

Accountability eliminates the time and effort you spend on distracting activities and other unproductive behavior. When you make people accountable for their actions, you’re effectively teaching them to value their work. When done right, accountability can increase your team members’ skills and confidence.

Accountability means living in integrity, with all your thoughts, words, and actions are consistent with one another and in alignment. Commitment is one thing, but accountability is vital to sustaining long-term success

In other words, the term doesn’t mean punishment; instead, it describes a willingness to accept responsibility for our own actions and their impact.

Henry Evans, the author of Winning with Accountability, defines it as “Clear commitments that — in the eyes of others — have been kept.” Here, the phrase “in the eyes of others” is key. In our organizations, accountability is not just about making and keeping commitments — it is also about transparency. When we make our commitments visible to our teammates, everyone is empowered to ask follow-up questions, check on progress, and help move work forward.

The Rub

Marine LTC Stuart Scheller has made news by denouncing his chain of command in Afghanistan for allowing the bombing at the Kabul Airport that resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. Service members. He has gone so far as to resign his commission and forego his full retirement after 20+ years in the Corps.

Scheller’s basic call to action is to return to accountability in leadership. From his view, commanders were demanding accountability from subordinate troops yet abdicating their own accountability…

..all the way to Washington, D.C. His contention is that leaders (anywhere) must themselves be accountable.

I happen to agree with Scheller. My sense is that our political leaders (all of them, both parties) have abandoned basic principles of accountability. They have built systems and agencies to shield their collective actions to cover up any true visibility of the ramifications of their choices and actions.

What is any American able to do to connect all of the dots? When an executive order is issued, how can any of us really know the impact it has, whether positive or negative?

If you happen to have voted for the party in office all you can do is hope they are doing the things you thought they promised you. But are they? Where’s the accountability?

In recent years I’ve heard frequent mention of how overwhelming various Bills that have come out of Congress may be. Speaker Pelosi herself was once asked, “Do you know everything in this Bill?” Her reply was “No, let’s see what happens.” Really? That my friends, is not much accountability.

Power Corrupts

There is an old saying “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I’ve experienced that myself on a very small scale. When I was a young Lieutenant in the Army, I was put in temporary command of a troop unit with some 450 soldiers who were assigned for training. Under the terms of the UCMJ (the Uniformed Code of Military Justice), I had simultaneous powers as prosecutor, judge, and jury.

If a soldier committed an infraction, they were brought to my ‘court.’ It became intoxicating for me. I could levy penalties, garnish wages, demote rank and impact a wide range of punitive actions. Unchecked I could seriously influence those under my command.

But for me, personally, I had a commitment to God. I was a Christian with real beliefs in a much higher power than my own. I was accountable to Him for what I might do to others here.

That accountability was called into action one day when I was feeling particularly smug about my command and the powers of the UCMJ. I won’t go into all the details, but the significance of the moment was that I checked in on my accountability. I was reminded of the vows and promises I had made to God about being the person He wanted me to be.

Invoking all the strength and might of a code written by other men (the UCNJ) was not the standard I was being called to honor. I changed my mindset about power. I was humbled to realize the code was important but had to be administered with honor and human decency. Yes, discipline could be applied, but the soldier who was subject to that discipline needed to be redeemed.

The Elected Career “Leader”

Anyone who has engaged in elected office as a career cannot possibly have the same sense of balance. How can I say that? I say it because I have known several Congressmen and Senators in my day. The ones who live by higher standards don’t make Washington a career. They go, serve, and try to impact the system. But in the end, they retreat.

They don’t run for re-election after a few terms. The system beats them down. They run headlong into the reality that to survive there, you must compromise everything. You cannot live by the higher standards. You cannot permit total transparency.

Why? Because deals must get made for the ‘system’ to work. Those deals are not always good for the constituents you say you represent. There is no leadership accountability. Those deals may not represent the real values you intend to live by.

This gets us back to leadership accountability.

Will your actions stand the test of the words you speak? Real leaders, elected or not, are accountable. In fact, they demand it. First of themselves and then from others.

Lead by example is an easy phrase to utter. But living by it day by day is a much bigger challenge. We need leaders who are accountable.

LTC Scheller, I am with you Sir. Soldier on!

The Truth Is in the Middle

Conflict resolution is a natural part of running a business; any business. Conflicts happen with customers, colleagues, and employees. In your personal life, you see conflict popping up at home with your spouse or your kids. Family dynamics can be a big source of conflict. Simply said, conflict is eveywhere.

As a coach, I get asked about dealing with conflict on a regular basis. My first answer is an old saying I was taught many years ago.

“The truth is in the middle.”

Seldom are you perfectly right or wrong. It is not very often that you are completely spot on with a solution. Instead there are always other considerations to weigh.

When two opposing ideas collide, the moment can be emotionally charged. One side can feel indignant if the other has dared to oppose the idea. The situation becomes a fight to the death.

It simply doesn’t have to be that way.

Emotionally mature leaders learn to look at conflict more objectively. Rather than jump immediately to one side or the other, the smart leader hears the arguments, then weighs the merits of each before making a decision.

Really great leaders seek the truth in the middle first. But if a settlement is still not there, you can move to this next idea.

The Marriage Bed

No relationship in life can be more complex than the marriage of a couple. Two otherwise independent souls agree to join together to become one couple.

On one hand it’s the definition of compromise. I give something up and you give something up so we can be together. Said outloud it sounds very unworkable.

However, to better understand the ways to solve conflict at work, I am going to borrow a guide from the Gottman Institute, an organization dedicated to helping marriages and families.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman present this exercise will help partners to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems you face in your relationship. It requires compromise.

Therefore the real question is about how can we reach a compromise?

The Art of Compromise

Step 1: Consider an area of conflict where you and your partner are stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.

Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.

Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:

  • Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
  • What are your guiding feelings here?
  • What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
  • Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
  • How can I help you to meet your core needs?
  • What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?

Applying these principles to a business situation may take some other thinking.

From a career standpoint, compromise is something that one must become comfortable with, particularly in leadership roles. Whether it’s negotiating a new contract with a vendor, discussing a potential new business venture, resolving a complaint or trying to reach an important business decision, mastering the art of compromise is key.

Compromise 6

Here’s how to do so effectively without giving up too much or putting yourself in a bad position.

First understand what is at stake. Prioritize the key issues in your own mind. Evaluate the real significance of the issue first.

Next, determine the potential outcomes. What will ultimately happen if you give in or stand your ground? How much of an impact would compromising have on your business? In many cases, you’ll likely find that giving in won’t have many repercussions at all.

Draw a mental line in the sand. Know your limits, focus on what is key to your longer term goals and vision.

Next, Genuinely listen. Stephen R. Covey encouraged seeking the win-win position. You have to listen carefully to find the opportunities for the win for each party.

Then, give something worthwhile. Recognize that the other party is also going to need to compromise to some degree. To reach that middle ground, you’ll need to be willing to give your opponent something worthwhile.

Finally, always be professional. When it comes to compromise, there’s always going to be those situations in which the results aren’t as favorable as you’d have liked. Regardless of outcome, it’s imperative that you maintain the utmost professionalism at all times.

Leadership Values

Becoming a leader who is effective at managing conflict and achieving compromise is easier than you think. However, it takes intentional effort, focused on facts not emotions. Other articles in my blog address these topics too.

Be a leader who is dedicated to delivering value. Value your people. Provide them with value day by day. Enrich and influence the lives of those around you. Lead your people to overcome the conflicts. That will become your legacy as a leader.

Exploring the Real Meaning of Trust at Work

small team

Anyone who has ever been asked to lead a team knows something right away. Steering, guiding, leading, or managing people can be very difficult. It can feel like herding cats. Individual minds don’t fall in line very easy.

As the manager, you know where you want to go or at least you have some idea. Whether you are managing a team at a large corporation or guiding your happy little band of employees in a small business, having a team can be hard to do.

Gather a group of unrelated human beings, give them a task, and soon you have people veering off in various directions. Some are crushing it; producing amazing work. Others are hiding in plain sight, trying to scam the system. In between are souls who give the work a try, but often find ways, whether consciously or subconsciously, to make it look hard.

As a manager or leader of this cheery little assembly, you go home at night and bang your head against the wall.

Therefore, the really big question is ‘what can you do to make a difference?’

Introducing Trust

The longer I work with businesses of all sizes, the more I am convinced that TRUST is a big deal. Unfortunately, I don’t know any company owner or executive that starts with the idea of building trust as a key element of their team building effort.

Instead, managers usually focus on process. They have a vision and a plan that drives the idea of the right process to make a profit. Making money is the chief idea, right? Producing some meaningful product or service is the ‘thing’ that causes customers to pay us. It makes good sense to have a solid, robust process to produce that ‘thing.’

Designing the process then teaching it to your team requires a great deal of time and effort. Yes, we recruit people to join our teams who know things about our process. CPA firms will hire accountants. Engineering firms will hire certified engineers. Manufacturing companies will hire people who know something about the steps in the process or the equipment used.

To talk about hiring a little further, I am also convinced that if you are somewhat successful with your hiring, the people you select will want to do the right thing. The hiring process is a very big “if”, but if you have figured it out, you will generally have a team that is there to do the right thing.

Enter Trust

This is where trust appears, right at the start. As soon as that new employee is inserted into your team culture or situation, they will begin questioning things. The questions may not be outward. But internally, they are screening, evaluating, and judging what is going on. Why?

Why does someone do that? It’s human nature. To be safe in our surroundings, we must build trust with the people and things around us. It’s really pretty simple once you stop to think about it.

When you meet a stranger on the street at midnight, what are your first thoughts? Likely, you’re very afraid. All your defenses go up. It’s fight or flight time. We’re wired that way. It’s about our basic need to survive. We test and question the moment. We look for signs that a threat might exist.

Stranger Danger

If the stranger responds with a willing gesture of open hands, visible face, and cautious movement away from us, we feel just a little bit more secure. Once they speak our language and express apologies for frightening us, we feel even more secure, still on guard, but less afraid. Then, if they act true to that message by walking around us, never closing in, we feel more trust about believing they mean us no harm.

All of the observing, evaluating, testing, and questioning is exactly what a new hire will be doing. The team leader must be the one directing the effort to answer the questions, demonstrate safety, communicate the expectations, and deliver on actions that are consistent with the messages.

The Google Study

In 2018, Google released the findings of Project Aristotle. The basis of this project was the question ‘why do some teams perform so much better than others.’

Google has a rigorous hiring process. In fact, it is considered by many to be the most rigorous of all large corporate hiring programs. Yet when these best-of-the-best employees get assigned to work teams, not all teams perform as well as others. How could that be?

Google’s study took two years to complete. In the end, what they discovered is that ‘psychological safety’ was the number one reason high-performing teams exist. When you read the complete findings, you realize the term psychological safety is really nothing more than TRUST.

The Leader’s Secret Weapon

If you are new to leading teams, you likely struggle with confidence. You may even go so far as to think of yourself as suffering an “impostor syndrome.” You doubt your own ability to manage and lead.

Rather than focusing inwardly on those doubts, start by focusing outward. Talk to your team. Learn what makes them tick. Build an understanding of their strengths. Find out about the basic questions they may be asking as they search for ways to trust you and the rest of the team. They might even be questioning the company (if it’s big enough). You can help sooth those concerns.

Be more of a problem solver for the issue of whether your employees trust the team situation. Focus your time and effort solving that and you will discover you will rapidly become a leader people respect.

The respect you receive will be less about the technical skills you have and more about the ways you made your team feel connected. You too can build trust at work.

Ways to Be a More Effective Team Leader

Above all, the best way to be more effective in your leadership effort to influence and impact the trust factors within your team, is to look at the Team Trust Culture Model. My friend Roger Ferguson and I collaborated to write about this model in our latest book “Trust at Work.”

By following this model, you can become a Trust Builder. The model tells us we can organize all those questions people ask into six logical, connected areas. As a leader, you work your way through the areas helping your team get more comfortable with their understanding of all aspects of the company, the work, their fellow workers and YOU.

Therefore, Leaders who proactively attack these areas find tangible results. Teams do more because they want to do more. Once they elevate their level of trust, they become willing to give more at work; more effort, more energy, and more contribution to the outcome.

Google’s Six Steps

In addition, the six steps of the model address all the factors Google identified in high-performing teams.

Psychological safety: Psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of the consequences of taking an interpersonal risk or a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive.

In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.

Moreover, the Model exists to help leaders and their teams achieve high levels of psychological safety. It is the overall focus of the Model.

Dependability: On dependable teams, members reliably complete quality work on time (vs the opposite – shirking responsibilities).

The Model has delivered tangible results. Successful implementation of the Model within work teams has produced an environment where people want to work, take pride in the work, and desire to do more. This is called discretionary effort. The book talks about this in detail.

Structure and clarity: An individual’s understanding of job expectations, the process for fulfilling these expectations, and the consequences of one’s performance are important for team effectiveness. Goals can be set at the individual or group level, and must be specific, challenging, and attainable. Google often uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to help set and communicate short- and long-term goals.

Steps two, three, and four are ways leaders can address concerns and questions about clarity, expectations and results.

Meaning: Finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is important for team effectiveness. The meaning of work is personal and can vary: financial security, supporting family, helping the team succeed, or self-expression for each individual, for example.

Step five in the model addresses performance and an individual’s sense of purpose for participating in the team.

Impact: The results of one’s work, the subjective judgement that your work is making a difference, is important for teams. Seeing that one’s work is contributing to the organization’s goals can help reveal impact.

Step six is where we explore impact and significance of the team contributing to the greater good.

In Summary

Trust has been identified as a key driver for high-performing teams. Leaders can work on building trust at work by answering key questions all employees ask. To clarify, the more you do as a leader to respond to the questions, the more likely it will be to see trust grow within your team.

Trust is so vitally important. Why not add trust building to your goals as a leader? If you need help doing that, you can schedule a free consultation call to talk about your team and your company.

trust at work

5 Ways for Leaders to Inspire Their Team

There’s a big difference between being a boss and being a leader. Anyone can be a boss, responsible for guiding their team and assigning tasks to different members of staff. But it takes something special to be a true leader.

A genuine leader inspires their team and motivates them to accomplish amazing things.

Effective leaders get to know their employees, so they can understand their strengths and weaknesses. This allows for effective delegation and increases the chances of each employee achieving personal and professional goals with the assistance of that leader.

If you’re working to become a more effective leader for your team, the key to success begins with inspiration. Here are some ways that you can motivate and inspire your people.

Set Clear Targets

Employees need to know what they’re working towardsto ensure that they’re on the right path. As a leader in your organization, it’s crucial to have a clear idea of what the overall vision of the business is and what you need to do to get there.

Setting goals for each employee that will help to drive you towards your overall target will help to keep your people focused. Measurable goals are also much easier to track, ensuring that your staff members can measure their performance and see how far they’ve come in a specific period of time.

Excellent goals are specific, clear, and easy to understand. It’s also worth choosing goals for your teams that help them to identify their importance in the company.

Deliver Ongoing Feedback

Feedback has always been an important factor in keeping team members focused and inspired. Around 65% of modern team members wish they had more feedback from their leaders.

Effective feedback tells your employees what they’re doing right,so they know how to boost their chances of success. It can also be a tool in helping employees to pinpoint issues that might be harming their performance in some ways.

Remember, giving feedback doesn’t just mean telling your staff they’re doing a good job or a bad one. Be specific with the feedback you provide, so your people can really learn.

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your staff too. They could give you excellent insights into how to be a more effective leader.

Be Fair with Compensation

There’s more to keeping your team inspired than paying them the right salary. However, it’s hard for anyone to be invested in a job where they feel as though they’re not fully appreciated.

If you can’t offer the most competitive salary compared to the other companies in your space, ask what you can do to make their role more appealing to staff.

  • Can you deliver extra benefits and learning opportunities, so your employees feel like they’re accomplishing more when working with you?
  • Is it possible to provide more paid time off work, or more flexible scheduling, so your teams can arrange their days to suit them?

Think outside of the box when it comes to showing your teams that you understand their worth.

Create a Company to Be Proud Of

One of the biggest jobs many business leaders have is creating an image for the company. They need to be able to explain what the true mission and goals of the company are to team members, so they feel as though they’re a part of something important.

If you want your employees to feel inspired and motivated, then give them a target to get behind. Let them know how you’re making the world a better place, not just how you’re making as much money as possible.

  • Can you get involved with charities that your team members care about?
  •  Can you contribute to your community in a way that’s going to inspire team pride?

Find out what your employees care about and get involved.

Work on Communication

Finally, it’s hard for any team member to feel inspired if they don’t also believe that they have a voice in the company.They need to know that you take their insights and feedback seriously.

With that in mind, try to build a company culture around open communication and collaboration.

Ensure that your staff members can share their ideas on how to improve the business freely, without any scathing remarks or risk of negative feedback.

When your employees share their ideas on how to make things better, show them that you’re taking their ideas into account by highlighting the things you’ve done to see whether those ideas could work.

As a Leader, You Can Inspire Your Team

Employees are more inspired when they believe they have a significant ownership and investment in the company they work for.

Avoid making your employees feel like “just” a member of staff. They want to be a crucial part of the team. Build that feeling of comradery and see your leadership skills and team results soar.

If you have questions about any of these or would like to leave a comment, use the comment block below.

trust at work

Leading From the Front … or Not

Being an effective leader requires a keen awareness of the situation. One size never fits all. Among the many choices leaders have to make, a very pivotal one involves what leadership position to take. Therefore, today we explore the question of whether to lead from the front or lead from the rear.

To set our footing, let me define the two options.

Leading from the Front

This brand of leadership is the kind we see often depicted in movies. Mel Gibson, in The Patriot, grabs the flag and rallies the troops when there is a break in the front lines. He’s right up there, standing tall, waving the flag, yelling “follow me!!!”

In business, the follow-me style leadership is usually found in organizatinal cultures where there is a large dose of command and control thinking. Employees are programmed to wait for direction. There is very little empowerment. Seldom does anyone ‘step out’ to take a chance.

Often these cultures are found in large scale engineering or manufacturing environments. On one hand it makes sense. You wouldn’t want employees being creative at the controls of a refining process. Things need to be prescriptive for everything to operate smoothly and efficiently, not to mention safely. Plans and specs need to be followed or severe consequences may happen.

Leading from the Rear

This style of leadership is not really opposite in thinking, just different. Leading from the rear represents the situation where the workteam is fully capable, empowered, and somewhat autonomous in how things need to happen.

One exmaple might be a large regional sales force. Sales reps need to be out in the field making calls and meeting prospects and clients. They should know the guiderails, but are expected to operate with a degree of independence, only checking back in when a truly unique special request comes up.

The sales executive can lead from the rear, providing the guiderails and encouragment, but otherwise staying handsoff on the effort.

Where Things Get Tough

In larger companies, managers usually get assigned to lead roles. They get placed into teams that are already operating together. Sometimes there are company reorganizations where teams get scrambled, but even then, managers haven’t really picked their teams.

What this means is, you as the leader must evaluate what your team needs. Do you need to lead from the front or from the rear? Figuring out the best approach helps solidify your role and your effectiveness as the leader.

Executives who join a new company (new to them) must navigate this landscape too. Missing the mark can seriously delay your progress.

Here’s How It Plays Out

If your leadership style is to empower and naturally lead from behind, applying that to a team who craves leadership from the front can cause fear and doubt in your team. If they are waiting on being told what to do, your expectation that they figure it out only causes confusion.

The more you encourage them to choose their own path, the more likely they are to withdraw and shrink away from the work. If they want to do the right hing, but you’re not telling them what that might be via speciifc assigned tasks, they will freeze.

On the other hand, if you are more likely to opeprate with a command and control approach, leading from the front, independent thinkers and doers will balk at your authority. They will object to being told what to do.

It becomes a balancing act. Good leaders adjust their style to the situation. If your team needs speciifc direction (you leading from the front) but you’d prefer them to be more empowered, then you have to coach them there. You have to coax them into understanding being empowered.

There needs to be a demonstration of good permission and protection. The leader gives permission to try things new while offering protection if things don’t work out just right. That way, the employee is not penalized for agreeing to step out and try something foreign to them.

Choosing Right

In most cases the need to lead from the front or from the rear can be figured out by simply asking the team about how they like to operate. If however, the team is new (due to a reorg), they likely have not found their identity yet.

The leader can help cast that vision and purpose. Then the pieces may come together naturally. If however, it is not yet clear, then the leader must dig deeper into the talent they have around them. By having one on one sessions you can glean the best ideas for structuring the team, leveraging the expereince and motivation each member brings.

The core message here is to be nimble as the leader. Don’t force your will on the team either way. If you prefer leading one way, but they want something else, be agreeable to make that pivot. You can begin shaping them to go the other way in time. Take advantage of the growth opportunity in yourself.

Use the situation as a personal stretch goal. You might just realize you like the view.

trust at work

PS – My new book “Trust at Work” is available a popular retailers in print and online. In the book, Roger Ferguson (co-author) and I explore the Team Trust Model. We explain the model and share examples of when and how it can work. Plus there are over 30 tools manaegrs can use to help gain trust with your team.

Trust at Work – The Book

My new book “Trust at Work” has been released. Actually, I can’t take all the credit.

This project has been a collaborative effort with my frined, colleague and former fellow banker, Roger Ferguson. Roger introduced me to the Team Trust Model some 30 years ago. The book has been two years in the making.

It is packed with concepts, process, tools, and tactics to make trust bulding come to life. How to build trust is no longer the mysterious question. Now you have a practical process and the framework to actually attack the questions people bring towork; questions that block trust. Resolve your team’s questions and trust will grow.

The model has been a faithful go-to soluton that I have shared with hundreds of my clients. It helps business leaders at companies of all sizes tackle the issue of building trust at work.

Trust has been shown to be the #1 reason some teams perform so much better than others. If you want to imporve your team performance, morale, and commitment, you need Trust at Work.

For more information and to get the book, visit Team Trust or TrustatWork.online