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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.

Make Life More Fulfilling: Discover Your Life Purpose

Do you wake up each day dreading the idea of spending another day at work? You might even feel the need to be a part of something bigger and more meaningful. If you’ve failed to discover and build your life around your life purpose, you might feel dissatisfied with your life. Determining the purpose of your life can be a simple process.

It can take a bit of work to uncover the truth, but it’s within you. It’s waiting to be unearthed and utilized.

Living a life that’s congruent with your purpose will allow you to start each day with a smile, hope, and a plan. It’s a tool for connecting with something meaningful outside yourself. Everyone has a different “why”. The trick is to determine the “why” that fits your values and talents.

If your life is in a rut, discovering your life purpose is the first step to a life filled with passion and contentment.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

The Benefits of Discovering and Living Your Life Purpose

Maybe you hold the belief that work is called “work” for a reason. You might think that life is hard, boring, and that enjoyment is only for children and retirees. All stages of life can be meaningful and exciting. Knowing that you’re living the life that’s right for you is the key to finding enjoyment each day.

The advantages of knowing your life purpose are far-reaching:

You’ll enjoy focus and clarity. When you’re not spending your time and efforts on the things that matter to you, your focus is elsewhere. When you’re not clear on your purpose, it’s hard to make effective decisions.

Lacking direction, focus, and purpose is no way to go through life. Knowing your purpose makes life simpler.

Life will be more fun! When you know your purpose and live it each day, life has the opportunity to be more enjoyable. With your fears and doubts in the rearview mirror, you’re in a better position to enjoy yourself.

It enhances your passion for life. Spending your day on the things that are most important to you will release your passion. You’ll feel the enthusiasm you had as a child. With a compelling future and a high level of motivation, you become unstoppable. This is missing from a life without a clear purpose.

You become part of something bigger than yourself. You’ll have a sense of certainty that’s both comforting and peaceful. It’s a chance to make a big and meaningful contribution to the world.

Discovering the answer to the question, “What is the purpose of my life?” will change your life forever. How can you determine your life purpose?

As you’ll see, there are several strategies.

 “The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Questions to Reveal the Purpose of Your Life

It’s impossible to find your purpose without a degree of self-reflection. Answers are the result of asking questions. Asking the right questions will provide the answers you seek. When you ask yourself questions, it’s imperative to listen to the answers. The response you receive can be very subtle and quiet. Keep an open mind.

Be sure to record your answers!

Ask yourself these useful questions:

If you only had a year to live, how would you spend it? With the clock ticking, we’re much more able to focus on the important stuff and let everything else go.

  • The things that come to mind are worthy of further consideration. Could you spend your life engaged in one of these ideas?
  • Just reminding yourself that you’re going to die one day can be helpful. The reminder that your time is limited can reduce the habit of wasting time and being indecisive.

How do you want others to remember you? What would you like your obituary to say? How would you like your children, friends, and other family members to remember you?

  • Make a conscious decision about how you’d like others to remember you and put together a plan to live that life.

What did you love to do as a child that you no longer do? As children, we’re quite clear about what we like and don’t like. In addition, younger children aren’t concerned with the perceptions of others. We do things solely because we like them when we’re 6-years old. What have you given up over the years?

  • As we become teenagers, social pressure and the need to impress others can steer us away from the things we love.
  • In young adulthood, we become overly concerned with the practicality of our choices. “Can I make enough money at this to have a decent lifestyle?”
  • With a little thought, you can find a way to make a living doing what you love. Life is short. Consider what you once loved to do and find a way to incorporate it back into your life.

What type of discomfort can I handle? Everything is awful part of the time. Living your life’s purpose will have its disadvantages. What can you handle?

  • If you dream of being an artist, musician, writer, or actor, you’ll be rejected at least 95% of the time.
  • If you want to create a law firm, you’ll spend at least a decade working 80-hours each week.
  • Do you want to be a teacher? Can you handle the parents and the children that constantly disrupt class?
  • If you can’t handle the worst aspects of pursuing your purpose, consider reconsidering your choice.

What topics and activities make you lose track of time? Have you ever gotten so involved with a conversation or an activity that you missed a meal or were amazed by how much time had passed?

  • Maybe you lose track of time when you play the guitar. However, take another step in your thinking. Is it the guitar specifically or music in general? Is it the guitar or the process of competing with yourself and seeing improvement?
  • Make a list of the times you’ve been so focused that you forgot about everything else.
  • Imagine if you had a career that incorporated this phenomenon. You’d never have to “work” another day again!

What do you dream about doing but are too afraid of? Admit it. There’s something you fantasize about, but you can’t quite get yourself to take action. It might be climbing Mount Everest, writing a screenplay, or becoming a doctor.

  • Why haven’t you taken the first step? In many cases, you’ll find your resistance to trying something new is fear. Often, it’s the fear of failing, especially failing in front of others.
  • Keep in mind that the only way to become good at something is to work through the initial period of being bad at it. It’s unlikely that your first script will be purchased. In fact, it will probably be awful. But the next attempt will be better. It takes time to become good at a new skill.
  • The more embarrassment you can handle, the greater your ultimate success.

How could you best serve the world? Of all the challenges that exist in the world, how could you best solve one of them?

  • True happiness requires contributing to something outside yourself.
  • It’s not possible to solve any of the world’s problems alone. You’ll be forced to work constructively and creatively with others. This could be the kind of fulfillment you seek.
  • Make of list of all the ways your skills, interests, and talents could benefit the world in a meaningful way.

Did you ask yourself every question? Did you record your answers?

How can you use the answers to enhance your life?

Introspection is a necessary part of finding your life purpose. Ask yourself the important questions and listen to the answers.

“A small change can make a big difference. You are the only one who can make our world a better place to inhabit. So, don’t be afraid to take a stand.”

– Ankita Singhal

7 More Questions to Reveal Your Life Purpose

If the above approaches haven’t satisfied your quest, there are additional questions you can answer. While meditation and writing can be highly effective, some of us have greater success with more conventional means. Avoid giving up. There’s too much at stake to stop.

Spend a few minutes on each question before moving on to the next:

What are your greatest regrets? Which missed opportunities do you regret the most? Is there a skill you wish you had started learning years ago? What decisions would you change if given a second chance?

  • What career would choose if you could go back in time and be 18-years old again? Is it really too late now?

Who inspires you the most? Think about the people that fill you with feelings of respect and admiration.

  • What is it about them that inspires you? Could you incorporate some of these same qualities in yourself? Could you live a similar life?

What are your natural talents? In what areas have you always excelled? Do you understand complex ideas? Is it your social skills? Are you musically talented? Are you compassionate and considerate?

  • While you can learn to be good at anything, you can save a lot of time if you’re able to put your natural abilities to work. Imagine the progress you’d make after 10 years of effort using your natural abilities rather than starting from scratch.
  • If you believe that you were born with a particular purpose, it only makes sense that the necessary talents would be provided to you, too.

What makes you feel good about yourself? If you could spend most of your time doing things that make you feel great, your life would be pretty wonderful!

  • Create a list of all the things you do that make you feel good about yourself.

If you had to teach a subject, what would you choose? It’s only enjoyable to teach subjects that you like. The subject you’d like to teach is a good candidate for your life purpose.

In what areas do people ask you for help? Most of us wouldn’t ask a homeless person for stock tips. We ask people for advice that we believe have a level of expertise higher than our own.

  • Do others constantly ask you for relationship advice?
  • Do people ask you about spiritual matters?

Imagine you’re 80-years old, what memories do you want to have? Imagine you’re sitting on your front porch swing. What would you like to claim as your past? What type of relationships would you like to have experienced? What do you want to have accomplished?

  • How can you make this ideal past become your present?

You now have a good idea of your life purpose. The next step is determining how to incorporate the knowledge into your life. Ideas are the easy part. It’s the implementation that’s challenging.

“As the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

Make Your Purpose a Part of Your Life

It’s great that you’ve narrowed down your primary reason for living, but how can you use that knowledge? Knowing something has minimal value if you’re not applying the knowledge. Focus on making small changes to your daily habits. Slow progress is the most reliable way to create major change in your life.

Let’s suppose your purpose is to help illiterate adults to read:

Look to the future. What does the end of your journey look like? Are you sitting at the library, helping someone learn to read? Are you in charge of a charity that serves those unable to read? Are you asking Bill Gates for $10,000,000 to fight for your cause?

What can you do today to get started? Starting is always the hardest part. What can you do today?

  • Learn more about illiteracy. What are the statistics? What are the causes? What is the best way to teach an adult to read?
  • What local resources are available? Can you contact them for advice?
  • Could you put an ad in Craig’s List and get started helping someone today?

Remind yourself of your purpose each day. Each morning and evening, take a minute to remind yourself of your purpose. Look to the future and feel excited. This is especially important on those challenging days that inevitably happen from time to time.

Track your progress. Keep a journal and list your successes and failures. How can you experience more successes and prevent future failures? Appreciate how far you’ve come.

Spread the word. If you’ve found your purpose in life, it’s your obligation to let the world know about it. How can you communicate the importance of adult illiteracy to the world? You’re not just a worker on this project. You’re also a messenger.

Realize that making a big difference requires big effort and time. Avoid letting the magnitude of your dreams overwhelm you. A little work and attention each day are cumulative. Your progress will shock you.

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”

– Seneca

In Conclusion

Finding your life purpose changes the direction and emphasis of your life. If you haven’t taken the time to determine the purpose of your life, the quality of your experience on Earth has been limited. There are many advantages to discovering your unique purpose.

Introspection is a part of making this discovery. Self-reflective questions, meditation, and writing are all potential options. Use every method at your disposal until you’re satisfied with the answer you receive.

Today, more than ever, it’s possible to make a living doing a wide variety of things. You can live in Alaska and give tuba lessons to a student in Miami via skype. You can publish your own book without the need for a traditional publisher. There is a way to make a living while being true to your life purpose.

Find your purpose and reclaim your life.

If you need some help to explore these and other questions bout your personal purpose, I can help.

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

Lessons in Leadership: Soaring with the Winds of Life

windsock

 

In learning how to fly an airplane, one of the first lessons has to do with understanding winds. Winds come in basically three types;

  • Head winds – those hit you right in the face
  • Tail winds – those from behind
  • Cross winds – those at angles from the side

I believe the challenges we face in life and in business model these three types of wind as well. If we consider all the forms of challenge we face, we can boil it down into these three categories. However, it might be interesting to compare the pilot’s concern with each of these winds as we think about our daily responses to life’s winds…..

Head Wind

First, the head winds. Too often we might be prone to think of these negatively. As wind hits us in the face, it slows us down, forces us to press harder against the wind. Bob Seger wrote a great ballad titled “Against the Wind…stronger now still just running…against the wind”.

When a pilot encounters head wind during flight it can be a challenge. Fuel consumption is increased as air speed decreases. The time it takes to reach a destination increases. Stress and fatigue can set in. But did you know it is preferable to take off and land “against the wind”? Why? Because the increased force of that head wind causes “lift” on the wings which is the force that makes planes fly.

A good steady head wind actually makes take-offs and landings easier, more comfortable and effective. So the next time you sense a head wind in life, ask yourself whether it has been provided to allow more lift for a better take off to a new place in life or whether it is there to afford a safer, smoother landing from where you have just come.

Tail Wind

Next let’s talk about tail wind. This is just the opposite from a head wind. We tend to think of tail wind as favorable. During flight that might be true. It can serve to push us forward, reduce effort and speed the time towards the destination.

But did you know it is the most difficult force with which to reckon during take off and landing? At those times, it actually impairs control, reduces efficiency and creates danger.

Maybe in life we need to be cautious of the perceived tail winds. Rather than gliding along with them, we need to watching for hindrances to gaining new achievement or resolving old challenges.

Cross Wind

The final force is cross wind. All things considered, crosswind is the most challenging of all flying situations. That is true in life and business too.

Crosswind means what it implies… a force crossing you at an angle to the direction you intend to fly. During flight, a cross wind will blow you “off course”. A constant watch must be given to direction and compass heading while flying in crosswinds. There is no cruising during crosswind conditions. It is a constant battle.

doug flying
Me piloting a cross country to Shreveport LA

Take off and landing is even more severe. Very special techniques are required to manage a crosswind situation. This is why you see planes doing a crab landing, angling sideways right before touchdown. In some situations the crosswind can be so severe that its force exceeds the designed strength of the air frame on the airplane, which makes the good pilot seek an alternative landing site, one where the winds are more favorable.

Life has crosswind too. It is the skill and grace with which we handle life’s crosswinds that determines our ultimate success. Failure to recognize and manage a crosswind can cause certain disaster. Either we ignore the presence of that crosswind or we acknowledge it but underestimate the consequences. Forging ahead means grave results.

So next time you feel a certain extraordinary force influencing your life, consider the pilot. Is the wind you feel one of these? If so, which one and how will you choose to handle it?

If you need help discerning the winds in your path right now or want to find better ways to navigate those winds, schedule a time for a free consultation.

Working the Plan – Step 3 in Team Trust

Leaders responsible for teams must cast a solid vision to define the purpose for their team. Your team needs to know why the team exists. Every good purpose needs a plan. How are we going to execute the vision we just agreed to pursue? Purpose and plan are critical parts of building team trust.

Leaders who have great vision need to translate the vision into a plan; an action plan. You can pull your team together to create the plan. That’s perfectly fine. But plan you must.

The plan helps map out the next steps, milestones, contingencies, and a host of other critical factors that cause your likelihood of success to rise. As the old saying goes, without a plan any road will get you there. You probably don’t want to travel some of those roads. That is why a plan helps.

Step 3

In the Team Trust Model, Step #3 is the Plan.

team trust model diagram showing all the steps

The questions your team members and employees may be asking about the plan include the following examples.

What are the steps to achieve results?

What does a ‘win’ look like?

Can I agree with what you think we’ll be doing to go from A to B to C?

Does the plan make sense to me?

Does anyone else think this plan is crazy?

Is there something we already know about a step in the plan that won’t work?

How can I comment on the plan?

Do you want my feedback?

A Story from the Field

During a coaching session on team trust, one client who was responsible for a large regional sales organization spoke about his plan. It involved a cradle-to-grave process for their sales cycle. The plan started with prospecting and funnel management, then went into client onboarding and order entry. Ultimately the plan ended with various aspects of client support and service obligations assigned to the originating salespeople.

After thinking about it, he said “Wow, I really should be doing more to look at this plan when I’m hiring people. I generally look for personality but having folks who can serve these other needs is very important too.”

Viola!

There’s another reason to have a well-articulated plan.

The plan gives you the path to get work done. You deliver on the plan. You work through the plan. Without a clear blueprint for success, your team will get stuck wondering what to do next.

Doing the Right Thing

There is one thing I’ve learned in all my years of executive leadership, it’s about the people. Assuming your hiring process is reasonably reliable i.e. identifying good talent suitable for what you need to do, then the team you build will want to do the right thing.

If you as a leader don’t show them what the right thing is, they freeze. Because they want to do the right thing, they definitely don’t want to do the wrong thing. Therefore they tread water, running in place not doing much of anything.

Your plan helps them understand the next steps that amount to the right thing to do. Then they can become effective at the work.

There is obviously a lot more you have to do managing the effort, but without clear definitions of what a win looks like and what success can mean, your team will struggle to move forward.

The more you can do to articulate the right plan for the work you need to be done, the better your chances of having a team that can trust the plan and is willing to commit their dedicated effort to get there. This is the way to build team trust.

trust at work