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Top 10 Essential Leadership Skills

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It’s all about skills in the modern world. It’s never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. Markets and entire industries are changing rapidly. For any leader to be successful, it’s important to have the proper skills.

There are thousands of books describing good leadership. You can find lists of skills and attributes in most of those books. But if you want to be a good leader, you need to find a solid list and get busy embracing what it says. Many of the names and terms are interchangeable. So find a good list and run with it.

Many of these skills are evergreen. For example, leaders will always need to be able to communicate well and delegate tasks. Some are table stakes. Take heart that your leadership skills will be valuable for a long time!

Here is a good list to start with.

Shore up these 10 leadership skills and protect your future:

The ability to motivate others. Great leaders are great motivators. Think about how you motivate yourself. It’s not that much different to motivate someone else.

Communication skills. Leaders must be excellent communicators. This includes public speaking, addressing small groups, and one-on-one. Remember to practice good listening skills. Fortunately, educational materials abound and there are plenty of willing victims to practice your skills upon.

Delegation skills. You can’t do it all alone. Many high-achievers have trouble letting go and giving up control. You must be able to trust others and use them in the most effective way possible. It’s not enough to just delegate, you must delegate assignments to the those who will excel in that particular task.

Create the proper culture. Leaders must create a culture that matches the industry and the employees. A Wall Street investment bank has a different culture than an elementary school or a pharmaceutical company. Even departments may have their own unique culture.

Adaptability. The challenges facing leaders change regularly. Industries change. Customers change. Economic conditions change. Technology is rapidly changing the way organizations do business. Leaders have to be able to evolve to meet the changing landscape.

Still more leadership skills to consider

Time management. Leaders are busy. There’s always more to do than there are hours in the day. Choosing the most important tasks and making the time to complete them is paramount. Time management skills are easily learned, but don’t come naturally to many people.

Relationship management. Great leaders have strong relationships with their direct reports, hourly employees, executives, and customers. The stronger your relationships, the more you can accomplish. During great challenges, your relationships can make you or break you.

Change management. Leading an organization or department through change is a valuable skill to develop. As companies add technology and reduce workforces, change comes more rapidly.

Be a good follower. Leaders have to follow, too. Leaders that don’t follow are considered dictators. Once you inspire a team, they become largely self-sufficient. It is then your job to follow and provide occasional guidance.

Poise. Leaders face challenges. Poise is a necessary trait for a leader to possess. Without poise, small challenges become bigger, and employees lose faith. When you’re stressed and panicked, your employees are uncomfortable. Build your poise if you want to excel as a leader.

How do your skills measure up?

You can try to predict your success as a manager from this list of skills.

Leaders are much more than Managers. Good managers run processes. Leaders inspire people.

Build your leadership skills and your long-term results will be enhanced. Even with all the big changes in modern businesses, leadership skills continue to be highly valued in the workplace. Great leaders are always in high demand.

If you need help working to understand these or any other leadership skills, I can help.

I offer a free, no-obligation, no upsell exploratory call so you can share your needs. Then we can talk about ways to help. Just click Https://DougThorpe.com/chat

More Than a Sales Trick – What is WIIFM?

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Many sales training programs teach a principle called WIIFM. Have you heard it? Know what it means?

It stands for “what’s in it for me?” The concept says a good salesperson must be prepared to answer that question on behalf of the prospect.

In other words, if I am the salesperson, it’s not about ME. It’s about my prospect. I’m supposed to get out of my own story and think about their story.

The prospect will ALWAYS be asking what’s in it for me? They don’t care how slick, smooth or smart you might be. (That helps for sure, but is not enough to win the deal.) You have to answer their questions using their terms AND their story.

It’s not your story.

It also applies to Leadership

I have discovered there is a similar powerful application of the WWIFM idea when coaching leadership development. Clients often ask, how can I be better at engaging my stakeholders or being able to influence ‘up’ the organization.

The answer? WIIFM.

Think about what’s in it for them. Why should they be listening to you? It’s not enough to try to impress people with your skills and knowledge.

You have to approach them on their wavelength, their mindset, using their standards for communicating. Some might call this “know your audience.” I like that too.

If you engage others using the WIIFM mindset, you can become more effective at delivering the value proposition you are responsible for executing.

Delivering Value

You see, we all go to work to create and deliver value. It might be tangible goods, services, or more academic thinking, but it’s incremental value being added to the overall value chain of your business. Otherwise, why should you be there?

If you’re not delivering value in some form or another, you are expendable. The faster you figure out how to demonstrate that value-add to your business partners and stakeholders, the better you will be.

So stop trying to be the resident expert pushing the cart up the hill. Rather think first about what that stakeholder really needs. Get them to share with you the key questions in their mind. While these questions help resolve the WIIFM for your stakeholder, you also need to explore how they engage.

Recently a client was telling me about one stakeholder who never responds to their internal instant messaging system. I asked if anyone else experienced that pushback from the stakeholder. Sure enough, others also complained this person never responded to IM. That’s a clear signal they don’t like that tool. How about an old-fashioned face-to-face?

In the process of learning your audience, ask them how they prefer to engage. In today’s fast-paced world of slick tech tools, there are so many options.

Do they like internal messaging systems, emails, or periodic face-to-face meetings? Figure out the most desired medium for them to receive information. Then stick to that answer.

Senior Execs Need More

The more senior the person you need to engage, the more likely is their sense of WIIFM. They are making split-second decisions about how to spend their minutes each day. If they can’t see a quick and obvious WIFFM answer, they will cut you off and send you away. It doesn’t matter how slick your PowerPoint was going to be.

Plus you should never take that kind of rejection personally. It’s just their way of subtly saying, “…you didn’t answer my WIIFM. Get me a better answer for that and I’ll engage.”

I had a mentor who taught me the phrase “Be bright, be brief, be gone.” The better I perfected that technique the more often I was getting asked to the senior executive floor for consultation. It was obvious I was doing a better job of answering WIIFM.

You can too.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

meeting with the boss

There’s a subtle yet powerful way to make change happen. It involves doing your homework and some legwork before a big meeting. I call it the ‘meeting before the meeting.’

Larger businesses often rely upon leadership meetings or Board meetings to make big decisions. The person or teams bringing requests for approval have big challenges to get it right. Rather than waiting for the final big meeting to happen, you need to do prep work. You need to work the process.

The Back Story

I learned about this approach in my banking days. My bank was a bit old school. We had Loan Committees that approved big deals coming into the bank. By this, I mean the loan requests from customers. Millions of dollars were at stake.

Businesses needed the bank to help finance operations and growth. The bank had to make sound and solid loan decisions to keep the bank stable and profitable. It was a difficult balancing act. Loan officers worked very hard to build the banking relationships. When a customer decided to ask for help, it was important for the officer to be able to make things happen.

This meant going to loan committee.

The committee prep work was daunting unto itself. Analysts combed through spreadsheets and the customer financials. Proposals were carefully written and justified. But it would be certain death to go into the loan committee without doing something else first.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

This is where this special step became so important. The meeting before the meeting.

It meant a diligent loan officer would walk the proposal to every member of the loan committee for a one on one review and discussion. Basically the LO was having to lobby a vote from each member.

Our ‘big’ committee, where only the largest deals got done, had a single ‘no’ vote rule. One vote ‘no’ meant disapproval. The customer request would be denied and the LO would have to start over.

From a career standpoint, it was also death to an LO. Not literally, but figuratively. You couldn’t loose many and be considered a good credit person. Your career could hit a ceiling real fast.

However, using the meeting before the meeting helped grease the skids, oil the machine, and smooth the glide. LOs learned pretty fast how to get real good at lobbying their deals. They learned which senior officers asked what questions. They carefully crafted the right answer to persuade each committee member to vote yes.

On one hand, we were in the business to make loans, but we thought they needed to be good loans. There were plenty of ways to make sure that happened. By letting the committee members have a shot at the deal without risking the one no vote, LOs could make adjustments to the package. It helped them gain insights that could otherwise be embarrassing in front of the whole committee.

Then, when the big day came to actually present to committee, it was often more a formality rather than a process. Of course there might be group discussions, but usually everyone already knew what the vote would be. There were seldom any surprises.

Use in Your Business

Regardless of the business or industry you may find yourself, if you have these larger organizational meetings to make big decisions, you can take a page from this book.

By investing in the preparation and effort to garner support via the meeting before the meeting, you can greatly improve your chances of success.

I had a client recently who was responsible for a big organizational change that had been mandated by senior leadership. While the overall change was understood, there were strategic decisions that had to be made by a leadership council. These decisions drove P&L results and impacted vertical lines of business.

It was going to be vital that the council agreed to the plans that had been designed. Otherwise the whole change initiative would have to be scrapped and redesigned.

I recommended the meeting before the meeting. My client and her team got busy arranging the sessions. One by one they huddled with the individual members of the council. All of it was done before the big meeting.

When the day arrived for the vote, the presentation was made (with great edits and adjustments suited for exact satisfaction of various members). The vote was unanimous YES!

My client and her team came away victorious. Champions for the cause for change and recognized for great work to get there.

As we talked after the fact, she shared with me how powerful that little extra effort became. It helped galvanize the change effort. It crystallized the clarity and sealed the deal.

You should try this approach the next time you are trying to push through a big initiative at work. Take time to make these meetings before the meeting happen. You’ll be glad you did.

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Real Leaders Don’t Lose the ‘Person’ in Personality

Whether you own a business or run one for a bigger company, your role as manager/leader is in the spotlight. When people start searching for leadership development tools or management training, you often run into a large segment of the market focused on Personality.

The logic says ‘if I understand my personality, and the personalities of those around me, I can be better leader. Why? Because I can learn to meet them where they are, etc.’

Logic like that is like a 3-year strategic plan. It looks great on paper, it’s a cool workshop to sit in, but what do you really do with the information? Too often it gets implemented poorly and soon forgotten. (I happen to hold a strong bias on the use of common personality tools. Email me and I’ll share that discussion.)

For now I want to challenge you to think about something else.

What’s at the Core

Throughout my coaching career I have often found executives and business owners who struggle with their personality defining the person they think they need to be. Or vice versa. The person they believe they are does not show up when the work gets going. Instead, some different personality appears.

My challenge to you is to consider separating your thinking about the person you want to be from the personality that actually shows up.

Getting a solid grip on the person you want to be has nothing to do with title, role, and financial status. But it has everything to do with the kind of friend, neighbor, and fellow human being you believe you are. It’s about core values, principles, and beliefs. Most leaders, when asked, have a good list defining those things in their personhood.

And, ok, I’m going to say it….

There are some solid jerks in the world (keeping it PG-13). For me, the good news is, I just don’t get many of those folks reading my articles or asking me for coaching. And I’ll never take one as a client.

Instead, I talk with people who are already successful at some level and they want to do more, be more.

The Derailers

First, let’s talk about some common contributors for why personality may interrupt personhood. In the Hogan world we call these ‘derailers.’

One issue that appears most often is the idea that a strength used in excess becomes a derailer. For example, if you are naturally empathetic, you might not drive your team hard enough. Your personality shows up ‘friendly’ and well-intended, but when the going gets tough, people want direction and drive from their boss.

Next, you might be covering something. I don’t mean in a criminal way, but rather in a defensive way. If you are uncertain about a subject, your personality may be too comical, trying to laugh off the tension in the moment. This usually shows up as the boss who cracks jokes at inappropriate times, taking serious discussions off track.

Also, people with highly focused technical ability may come across as too robotic, not enough ‘people’ skill when interacting. Their personality is plastic. Yet when you peel the onion, you find a wonderfully motivated mind wanting to do great things.

The Options

While doing a ‘post-game interview’ wondering what went wrong with a particular situation, you likely may be thinking “I know what I wanted to say or do, but somehow it never came out that way.”

If that is you, then you, my friend, may be suffering from the conflict between person and personality.

First, doing the post-mortem on a meeting or a one-on-one interview can help tremendously to isolate the areas where you are disconnecting person and personality. Do your own analysis.

If it is possible, ask for feedback. Ask for specifics like “When I said ‘X’, how did that strike you?” When you think your personality usurped your personhood, then you have an opportunity to fix it.

When feedback highlights specific gaps, check first to see if the gap is properly covered by those core beliefs and key principles you claim. Not the other way around. Then search for reasons your personality may have thrown up a different solution in the moment. Here are some of those situations.

  • You cracked a joke when you should be serious.
  • You got technical when empathy would have been better.
  • You quoted company policy when a warmer more collaborative idea could have been put to play.
  • You genuinely love your team, but you go to performance issues too often when talking to them.

Ask a mentor or a coach to help you make the distinction between the person you believe you are and the personality that often shows up instead.

Don’t lose the person in personality.

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Daniel Mueller on Leadership

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From time to time, anyone working as a manager needs to decide whether they really are a leader. Several years ago, I began an association with a long-time executive coach, Daniel Mueller. He’s a pioneer in the field of executive coaching having served senior executives across most of the Fortune 500 companies. Daniel has graciously shared some of his information with me. Here is a discussion about leadership.

Change Agents

A leader, by definition, is a change agent. Leaders have the ability to look beyond the status quo, determine the change needed, and introduce it in such a way that the organization successfully grows to the next level of effectiveness.

“Leadership . . . is the ability to step outside the culture to start evolutionary change processes that are more adaptive” (Schein, 1992).

Effective leaders are competent in gaining and maintaining followers. They communicate at an expert level, inspiring others to go in a certain direction while setting clear expectations of high-level roles and responsibilities. Leaders ensure that all employees understand the mission, vision, values, strategy, and overall direction of the company, along with their own area of responsibility.

They over-communicate, gain buy-in to key initiatives, and obtain strong commitment to achieving the organization’s mission. Developing and communicating the organization’s vision, philosophy, and values is an essential competency of effective leaders, who also model the right values by example, thereby gaining credibility and respect from others.

“Leadership is about articulating visions, embodying values, and creating the environment within which things can be accomplished” (Richards & Engle, 1986).

Developing Leadership Competentcy

Both nature and nurture play a role in developing excellent leadership competencies. It’s helpful, but not essential, to be born with the genetic predisposition toward leadership.

Nevertheless, leadership competencies can be cultivated and developed. Factors positively associated with the development of leaders include having at least one parent who is a leader; being the eldest child; taking opportunities to lead peers or siblings; having influential childhood role models (e.g., family members, coaches, mentors); holding leadership roles in high school, college, graduate school, or early in a career; taking leadership training programs; and undergoing leadership coaching.

It is useful for leaders to take regular behavioral assessments and to review their self-assessment reports with others who know them well. A spouse or significant other is a good place to start. This review may serve to further validate the report, as well as to remove blind spots that the leader may have.

Deciding on a Style

People tend to prefer their own styles, with a strong propensity to view the world through the filter of their behavioral styles, thus projecting those preferences onto others.

This tendency limits the ability to understand co-workers and others to the fullest extent possible. It is easy to see how this can lead to frustration with others’ behavior, which leads in turn to difficulty in developing high-performance teams.

Through the process of understanding their own leadership styles and being able to identify and understand those of others, effective leaders become more accepting of others’ styles, and others become more accepting of theirs. Each leadership style is valuable in the workplace.

People with the same narrow behavioral style will approach a problem in the same way, usually with sub-optimal results. A leadership team that encompasses a diversity of styles provides a diversity of thought, which leads to peak team performance. Leaders who understand their own behavioral styles are much better able to identify others’ styles.

As leaders grow in their understanding of, and their ability to control, their own styles, they may become more willing and able to adapt their styles to meet the needs of others and of the organization.

Being Adaptable

Demonstrated adaptability is a powerful approach, resulting in increased influence over others. In order to reach full effectiveness, leaders need maximum adaptability. An inaccurate understanding of their own behavioral tendencies will weaken the ability of leaders to effectively adapt their styles to the needs of others.

Effective leaders are able to develop or improve positive relationships in much less time than would normally be needed. Most effective leaders are unconsciously or consciously adept at identifying and adapting their leadership styles to the behavioral styles of the people with whom they work. The leadership quadrant comprises anything related to influencing people.

To Be a Great Leader, You Must Inspect What You Expect

Inspect Expect
Inspect what you expect and article from @dougthorpe_com

Inspect what you expect.

This is an old saying that I learned decades ago.

What does it mean, exactly? And what does it have to do with leadership?

Well…

Have you been guilty of spouting a directive then letting it die a natural death? We’ve all done it at one point or another—whether accidentally or intentionally, we’re all guilty.

When a leader sets out a goal or directive, that goal can only be achieved with good monitoring, or, inspection.

Whether you run a big business, a team, or are working on a small project, in order to achieve any sort of success, you have to be mindful of these simple words: inspect what you expect.

Here’s my story.

The Military Way

Great leadership principles you need to know. Leadership powered by common sense

The “inspect what you expect” principle takes many forms.

During my days as a second lieutenant, we conducted regular health and welfare inspections.

While the military inspects a lot of things, this was unique. Those of you who have served in the military know why.

Those of you who don’t: buckle your seatbelts.

To achieve the best results, you must inspect.

One early morning at 3:30 a.m., the entire cadre (all of the managers and supervisors) of our training unit surrounded a barracks where a portion of our troops lived.

We suspected drug activity coming from this barracks.

This “health and welfare inspection” was actually a search and seizure mission.

We burst into the barracks and surprised all of the soldiers sleeping there. They were ousted from their bunks and told to stand at attention beside their footlockers while we searched the premises.

Sure enough, we found a stash of drugs and some paraphernalia tucked inside one of the footlockers.

Our target was achieved.

We could have preached and threatened the law about drugs, but we had to inspect what we expected.

This principle also applies to the success of most businesses.

Why?

Because even the best strategic planning simply won’t matter without proper execution.

A great leader must push forward to make things happen. They cannot stand still; they must be in constant motion, pushing towards a goal to reach success.

They must be focused.

Every plan and strategy associated with a goal must always be monitored and inspected to ensure proper execution and achievement.

Good project management comes from inspecting what you expect.

Have you heard of Six Sigma or DMAIC?

“Six Sigma”

Six Sigma is a specific set of tools and techniques used to to help businesses improve their processes.

Inspecting what you expect is an integral part of Six Sigma. It is also an integral part of overall good project management.

For process improvement, a concept known as DMAIC is applied.

DMAIC

DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control

…or, simply inspecting what you expect.

With DMAIC, you analyze results as they occur, checking them against expected outcomes.

If you find yourself off the mark, adjust and do it all over again. In other words, you are staying alert—at all times—to the things happening around you that affect your process and your progress.

The devil is in the details.

There is so much more to being a great leader than stating your plans and giving directives.

Great leaders walk the floor.

If you’re not walking the floor, you’re not being a good leader. You’re doing it wrong.

Leaders who don’t walk the floor find that things are not happening as they expect. Always remember: the devil is in the details.

You have to constantly be checking in, seeing what’s going on—walking the floor. You have to constantly ensure the appropriate measures are being put in place to achieve the right outcome.

You have to constantly test and review events and circumstances.

For example: if your business enforces things like safety or regulatory compliance, your role as a leader is to inspect and review events and circumstances. You have to check work every single day to ensure proper compliance.

If you don’t, people could get hurt.

Three easy steps to inspect:

1. Expect

Set expectations; specific expectations.

When issuing a directive, always be clear about your expectations. Be as specific as possible.

Volumes, dollars, incidence rates, hours, cost saves, the list goes on. The expectation you give will determine the outcome.

2. Be Consistent

Constantly inspect, and keep your inspections consistent. Keep communication open and be consistent in everything you do. Be open and don’t beat around the bush. Share your results.

3. Stay Visible

People need to know you are engaged and involved in the review process. Don’t get stuck behind your office door. Show your team you are active in the process. Be around them. Answer their questions. Motivate them.

Remember: you are the leader guiding the vision to the final outcome. Be available to talk it through with those who have questions. Walk the floor.

If your team is spread out geographically, remain visible with the right frequency of check-in calls and team meetings.

Let your team know that part of executing the mission is routine reviews.

So…do you inspect what you expect?

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Have You Turned Away from Networking Groups?

networking

We are T-minus 2 weeks into 2021. Are you having fun yet? Have the New Year’s resolutions taken root or been abandoned?

People are still trying to make sense of the new normal we call COVID. I’m no different.

But today I want to drill down on a topic that has been recurring more and more often in my circle of business owners and corporate execs I talk to. That topic is business ‘networking’.

What Is Networking?

There are a lot of different meanings when you say networking. Most often in the business sense, it has to do with sales and lead generation; go to some event, meet people, and get new prospecting contacts.

However, the one I want to talk about is the mastermind, the roundtable, or peer-to-peer advisory type. Call it what you will. It’s the situation where a few people sharing the same general profile gather. There is a common thread reaching across the group. The meeting is usually facilitated by someone. The events can be paid for or free.

On one hand, the concept here is a good one. “Iron sharpens iron” is a Biblical principle taught for 2000 years. Napolean Hill in “Think and Grow Rich” preaches the idea of the power in a Mastermind Group. That was 1920. It’s been around ever since.

So gathering with peers to share experiences and offer solutions makes sense, right?

Over my career I’ve participated in dozens of these group formats, logging hundreds of hours of participation. And yes, I’ve gotten great value. Hopefully, I’ve shared some value too.

Even today, I belong to or facilitate several.

The Rub

The concern I’m hearing from clients and prospects though is that in today’s business VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), the measurable value in these meetings is in doubt.

mastermind

I can honestly say, I have more clients exiting their groups than I do joining groups. Why is that?

Here are five BIG reasons I see today.

First, with the pivot to everything being virtual, you get a mixed reaction. While you’re saving time commuting to the breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting, you’re just tired of Zoom/Teams calls.

Having one more virtual gathering is painful. Plus the connection with the group may suffer by doing it virtually. Yes, we’re all getting better at communicating this way, but the deeper, more meaningful connection (like these should be) gets compromised.

Next, the group dynamic may be skewed. In almost every group, there will be one or two ‘know-it-alls’; people who have something to say about everything. You know in your gut they don’t really know it all, but these geniuses will convince you it’s true.

Having to spend a portion of your time with the group either debating or ignoring the know-it-all personality is unproductive.

Thirdly, the focus is unclear. If the organizer/facilitator is not skilled at bringing value to the group, then there may not be any sense of purpose. Who needs to spend an hour or more each month without focus? It just becomes a social event.

Likely you have other circles of friends and colleagues you’d rather spend your social time with, not a peer business group. And certainly not one you may be paying to attend.

Next, a sense of trust is missing. In any small group, especially one committed to sharing thoughts and ideas, there has to be a ‘cone of silence’ or TRUST. The group needs to be expressly committed to protecting trust with each other.

If you do not feel the trust in the group, the depth of the issues you open up will suffer. You’ll be more likely to skim along, never reaching deep into concerns and questions.

Lastly, do you struggle to fit in? Not all groups are created equally. Depending on the sponsor organization building the groups there may be little to no filter on the way groups are set. You can waste several months exploring the fit, only to find it’s not going to be good.

Issues like conflicts of interest, competing business markets, and company size can be alignment factors that impact the effectiveness of the mastermind.

These five reasons are the main objections I hear now. I am sure there are others.

But id this to say STOP all your group attendance? No, of course not. If you are finding value, then by all means stay with it. Just be certain you are receiving a meaningful return on invested time or money.

The Alternative

If you are still hungry for advice and counsel, what can you do?

The other choice apart from those networking groups is to engage a single advisor. This is someone who can be your personal, trusted guide. Just like a personal trainer at the gym or a yoga or golf instructor, having a business advisor makes sense.

With a single advisor or a small group of advisors, you get the exact attention your business needs. There are no distractions from others creeping in and consuming the time. It is YOUR time.

Selection of your advisor takes a little work though.

The market has been flooded with new, young professionals offering to be business coaches and consultants. Beware. The canned programs that many of these agents subscribe to are ‘business in a box’ solutions. One size does NOT fit all.

You need someone who has been there before, accomplished the greater things you want to achieve, and someone who knows the realities of running bigger businesses.

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Why not align with someone who has proven success at the higher level you want to go to? What could anyone possibly tell you about growing from $1,000,000 annual revenue to $5,000,000 or from $10MM to $25MM, if they haven’t already done it themselves?

If these thoughts resonate with you, perhaps we should talk. Click the button below to arrange a call. I look forward to hearing from you.

What is Trust Anyway?

You and I share many different things. As leaders, we share common needs, goals, and attributes. Depending on who you talk to, you and I score at different levels depending on the topic we choose to ask about. However, there is one key area frequently cited as a critical factor in determining whether a leader is effective or not. That factor is TRUST.

Business leaders don’t consciously go about their day specifically trying to build trust. This would be like having ‘building trust’ on your to-do list. Let’s see, go to the bank, check; wash the car, check; build trust, wait, what? No, that’s silly.

They will let their decisions and their actions impact the level of trust bestowed on them by others. Age-old wisdom says trust is earned. Children are taught at an early age. Leaders know it too.

A Manager’s Challenge

Anyone who has ever assumed management duties understands how critical trust can be in persuading a team to perform. The collective efforts of the team can be hurt if individuals on that team have doubts about the boss.

There is usually some kind of default mindset at work between employees and the employer. Workers often start out not trusting the boss. Sadly, too many bosses start out not trusting their teams either. It truly is a two-way street.

Experts found that trust, social connectivity, and a general sense of well-being are all intertwined. There are scientific studies revealing that two sections of the brain involved in sensing trust.

Based on perceptions of trust, the participants (in the study) reported positive interactions with the “close friend” to be more rewarding than interactions with a stranger—and were more likely to interact with this player. This illustrates our innate human desire to connect with others and create close-knit bonds even if these ties are based on blind trust or lead to [other bad outcomes].

Brain imaging of the participants showed that two specific brain regions were actively engaged when someone thought they were trusting a close friend. Increased activity of the ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex were correlated with positive social value signals when participants made decisions based on a belief they were playing with a good friend.

But science aside, what makes trust so hard to build? Think about all of your own experiences with friends, co-workers, bosses, and leaders. You likely watched three levels of interaction that factored into how deeply you felt you could trust the other person.

Technical Ability

In a work setting, the team leader must demonstrate a certain level of technical ability to begin earning trust from the team. New, first-time managers struggle with this because they might have been promoted in recognition of their skills in one area, but they lack comprehensive knowledge of the whole team’s scope of responsibility.

Lacking that technical knowledge, they are deemed incapable of performing as team lead, so trust is denied.

New bosses moved in from outside the department suffer this same kind of gap. Until they can prove they know their stuff, the team will be reluctant to give the trust that might be needed for respecting the ‘new guy’.

I once was a department head of a large administrative group supporting a $5 billion asset portfolio at a large regional bank. I had several teams reporting to me, responsible for 5 different lines of business. One day, while walking through the department, one of the administrators stopped me and asked a fairly technical question. I paused and began coaching him on the topic, explaining the process and the calculations he needed for the problem he presented. He seemed shocked. I asked why? He said, “I didn’t think the Big Dog would know this stuff.” To which I grinned and replied, “How’d you think I got to be the Big Dog?”

Cultural

The next level is what I will call cultural trust. After technical trust is established there is still a void at the cultural or corporate level. The key question here is whether you demonstrate consistent, reliable actions and behaviors.

No one can trust someone or something that acts inconsistently. Roger Ferguson, founder of ISI HR Consulting and creator of “Big Five Performance” talks about this corporate trust as whether a leader is known to be trustworthy, delivers as promised, and is generally known to be a person of character.

Being consistent in the way you act and interact creates a level of trust that grows with each passing day. As soon as you make a serious deviation from the pattern you start, trust takes a step backward. This is why it is so critical for leaders to be mindful of the direction they want to go, centered on core principles, and committed to consistent behavior as a leader.

Personal

This is the most intimate of trust levels. This is the deep, one-on-one trust. This kind of trust with individual employees has people thinking “I don’t care what others say, I know what I believe about this boss, and I am very good with it.” Further “I will follow them wherever they want me to go.”

Why would someone be willing to say that? Because the other two levels have been satisfied and now opportunities to deal personally with the person have proven to be reliable and solid. The pattern is there, the details are there, and, even more importantly, the experience is there.

Complexity

This is why trust cannot be won overnight. It has to be earned. All three levels have to be engaged. You cannot make it to the gold ribbon level of personal trust without first achieving the other two levels.

Think about personal relationships. These same three levels are at work. Anyone who starts dating someone runs the same sequence of steps trying to test for trust. When you are the person wanting to earn someone’s trust, you have to be faithful to build these stages, carefully and thoughtfully.

More relationships crater over breakdowns in trust at one of these three levels. Repeated disappointment is the reason for the eventual failure of any relationship.

We just don’t want to be around people we cannot trust. Certainly not for any meaningful reason.

Leadership Lessons

For team leaders and executives at all levels, I teach a program called Team Trust. In it, we explore ways that teams and their leaders can use a proven, reliable, and repeatable process to build trust, eliminate unneeded distractions, and improve performance.

There are core disciplines that can be deployed to improve team performance by building trust at all levels of the organization.

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Change by Choice or by Chance

choice vs chance

As I look back on my career, the major milestones are combinations of things done by choice and some by chance.

I would like to claim I had made all of my decisions by choice, not chance. That simply would not be true. Regardless of the reason for making a move, in all cases, change was the common requirement.

Whether I made a job change or location move by choice, change was there. The occasional chance happenings still required some form of change on my part.

3c concept - choice, chance and change

Planning

You can try to plan your career (and I encourage everyone to do so), but some things happen by chance that alter the course of the best laid plans. Circumstances can change in an instant when companies get acquired or spun off.

Market crashes and economics alter what would have been the plan. Layoffs happen and lives are changed. Or you get unexpectedly recognized for an accomplishment and you are whisked off to another assignment.

Big change can occur almost instantly. The question is what are you going to do with such a change?

After my book “The Uncommon Commodity” was released, I got this note from a longtime friend and college buddy:

For some reason your book has pulled a one liner out of my sub-conscience, which is “if you don’t like the result, change something”.

My Dad hammered into my brother and me that one of the biggest constants in your life is CHANGE. The way he said it is “you will find the only thing that won’t change for the rest of your lives is CHANGE” or “the only thing in life that is constant is CHANGE”. He would follow that with “the better you are at adapting to change and solving problems, the better off you will be”.

Great principal no doubt, but I have found that effecting change within ourselves (I should just say within me since that is all I have control over) is very difficult. Sometimes we have to be inspired and sometimes we have been trying to make changes, but, for whatever reason, have not been successful in either making any change or in making effective changes. The human tendency to stay with or return to what we are comfortable with is a very strong instinct and quite often prevents us from making effective change.

And finally, sometimes we humans want to make changes, but don’t have the knowledge to make the best or most effective changes. That seems to be where encouragement, mentoring and life coaching stands to be most effective.

Change is a Brain Thing

When faced with change, our bodies go into a fight or flight mode. Using an extreme example, when our cavemen forefathers were surprised by a wild beast in the woods, THAT was an immediate change. In just a nanosecond, they had to decide whether to fight or flee.

Our bodies have a natural mechanism to react to sudden change. It’s part of our survival instincts. Our brains drive that response mechanism.

In our current more modern setting, science has proven we can alter our thought patterns to manage our response to many things, chief of which is our reaction to change.

In 1949, Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist known for his work in the field of associative learning, coined the phrase “Neurons that fire together , wire together.” Hebb’s axiom reminds us that every experience, thought, feeling, and physical sensation triggers thousands of neurons, which form a neural network. When you repeat an experience over and over, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.

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Awareness of the need for change can allow each of us to condition our thought habits to respond more positively in the face of change rather than negatively.

Old Habits Die Hard

Practical experience tells me that old habits die hard. I’ve coached way too many professionals who simply freeze like deer in headlights when major change comes their way.

Events happening more by chance than choice have a greater probability to triggering the wrong response.

At least when you’ve made a choice to do something, the change factor is mitigated by your own thought process to get there (through the change). However, an event happening by chance is a whole different story.

Therefore, when a sudden change happens by chance, your response mechanism needs to be trained to handle the change. People who perpetually struggle to accept change will be routinely thrown out of balance by the chance happenings in their life.

How are you equipped to deal with change in your life? Share some insights.

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Here’s a video I shot talking about this choice versus chance dimension.

Leaders: Are You a Pretender or a Contender?

If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.

However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.

After many years working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers and leaders who are pretenders versus contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.

Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.

In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.

BELIEFS

Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.

If a string of circumstance has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunity through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunity with a more optimistic mindset.

BEHAVIORS

Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.

If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.

RELATIONSHIPS

Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.

If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.

RESULTS

Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.

When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.

On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”

The Remedy

The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.

Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.

Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.

When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.

team building via trust

I’ve coached hundreds of business people helping them develop more effective leadership skills. Whether you own the business or you’re climbing the ladder in a larger corporate setting, you can benefit from finding a close, confidential advisor to help you develop the extra skills that make a difference. Use the contact forms here to reach out. Let me introduce you to my proven programs for leadership growth.