Leaders: If you Confuse, You Lose

There’s an old saying in the sales world. “The confused mind says NO.” Clearly that has big implications when trying to sell a product or service.

A prospect who gets confused by your sales pitch will revert to a NO answer all the time. On the other hand, a clear, concise explanation of the thing you are trying to sell will help close the deal.

The same is true of leadership responsibility. A confused mind says NO. If you confuse the people around you, the overall performance will be greatly reduced or even eliminated.

An employee’s willingness to perform is centered on their ability to clearly understand expectations and directions.

Clarity may be your best secret weapon to achieve better team performance.

It’s a Complicated World

There’s no denying the increased complexity in business these days. Whether you blame the exponential growth of technology or just the deeper understanding of things around us, it’s much harder to operate a business today than it once was.

Confused minds say NO

However, operating a highly specialized or technical business should not distract you from trying to make things simple for your team to comprehend.

Military people learned the KISS principle; Keep It Simple Stupid. When giving orders, it is the leader’s duty to make the instructions as simple to comprehend as possible. In combat, confused minds get people killed.

In business, the smartest guy in the room shouldn’t be rubbing that in, especially if they are the boss. Rather, if you think you truly are the smartest guy at the table, then you should be able to figure out ways to make directions and instructions easier to understand.

What To Do

Sometimes in figuring out what to do to make things more clear for your team, it is valuable to talk about what NOT to do. Here are a few big ideas to follow.

First, don’t be vague about directives. Masking your meaning immediately leads to confusion. The odds of your people going off in the wrong direction are far greater when you are unclear about your own expectations.

Think of 360 degrees on a compass (in a circle). The direction you need people to take is likely on one of a few degrees on that compass. If you are vague, your team has a minimum of 350+ other directions to go.

If you’re not exactly sure about the direction you want to take, invest the time and energy in getting your own clarity first.

Next, watch your communication style. In times of high stress and urgent deadlines, lookout for accelerating your own reactions to things going on around you. Create more measured responses.

Don’t react, respond instead. There is a big difference.

Lastly, remember the acronym FAST to increase your leadership effectiveness.

International leadership guru Gordon Tredgold coined the term FAST for his book by the same name and his teaching on effective leadership.

FAST is an acronym that encompasses all the best attributes for finding success. Whether your dreams are personal or professional, FAST can help.

FOCUS. You must be able to focus your vision and view of the goal you are trying to achieve. Too many business leaders are fuzzy on the exact expectation they have.

If you’re not clear on where you’re going most any road will get you there.

ACCOUNTABILITY. You must be accountable to the team, the cause and the process to get you to your goal.

Look at the organizational setup. Does everyone know what they are supposed to be doing, do they know what is expected of them, and do they have the right skills, tools, and training to be successful.

SIMPLICITY. You must find the simplest ways to make things happen.

It has been said complexity is the enemy of execution. Trying to reach the desired destination with too many complex and conflicting pieces of information or procedure can only interrupt the desired results.

TRANSPARENCY. Transparency allows the leader to be genuine and clear for the benefit of everyone around them.

Look at the progress tracking. How easy is it to check that progress is being made and was outcome-based rather than just recording effort spent? Is the information accurate and fact-based, or just based on gut feel? How often is it shared with the teams? Do they know how they are doing, or are they just running blind?

Eliminate Confusion

Eliminating confusion can bring greater results. Remember, the confused mind says “NO” every time.

Question: When was the last time you experienced being confused by what the boss said? Were YOU the boss creating confusion?

The Great Leadership Debate: Nature vs Nurture

Visit the best business schools on the planet and you are likely to hear a robust debate about the virtues of leadership. The central question is whether great leaders are born or bred; nature versus nurture.

One theory argues that true leadership is an inborn trait that few possess. The other popular and prevailing thought is that leaders can be developed. 

While certain natural talents afford some leaders with an innate sense of leadership, you certainly can train people to become better leaders.

The military does it on a regular and reliable basis. Whether you look at the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or commissioned officer corps, the development of leadership talent is a business for the military.

People who exhibit good leadership talent are promoted to progressively more significant leadership roles until their capabilities are maximized.

As an example, few officers make it to the rank of general. Typically, officers are promoted several times in their career before their maximum efficiency as a leader is determined and the promotion train stops. The same holds true in corporate circles.

Some call this phenomenon the law of maximum incompetence. John Maxwell calls it simply “The Law of the Lid”.

Everyone who aspires to become a leader has a lid on their ability to lead. You can start a career with some natural talent (i.e. born with it) and you can work toward increasing your leadership capacity by training and coaching.

Yet according to Maxwell, you still hit a personal lid that limits the level of influence you achieve as a leader.

It is not hard to see this concept in real life. Not everyone who tries their hand at business leadership becomes the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. In fact very few do it.

What to Do

So what is the mainstream business executive or company owner supposed to do with his or her current leadership capacity? Have you ever thought of yourself as a Leader?

Looking at blind spots

Seek valid and reliable feedback about your blind spots. This immediate and valuable insight that can vault your effort above what it is today. Knowing what you don’t know or can see is vital information with which you can make changes and grow.

Here’s a diagram that outlines the ways we see (or don’t see) our blind spots.

Hire a coach. Coaching for executives is growing in acceptance and popularity. People have used coaches at the gym and for special hobbies and interests for quite some time.

Why not use the same approach when seeking to increase your leadership influence?

An effective executive coach will help you design a growth plan; personal growth. There should be measurable and tangible outcomes expected.

Improve your circle of peers. Be open to networking with mastermind groups and coaching groups where you can work with peers to gain insight for best practices and have a personal board of directors to whom you report.

Read – it seems so simple, but the power of reading has been proven time and time again. Take recommendations from leaders you admire. Read their selections of books. Consume what they consume and you will begin to grow.

Every leader I have ever admired has his/her own list. As soon as I asked about their favorites, they would gladly share. Of course, some titles get repeated, but that just serves as proof of the impact of that book.

Leadership growth is possible.

The best and greatest leaders claim a rigorous routine of seeking knowledge and information about ways to grow as leaders.

Stephen R. Covey called it “sharpening the saw”. As you move through the phases of your career and life, things change. You can get worn down. There must be an ever-present desire to stay sharp and grow.

Building Team Trust When Some Don’t Trust Anyone

Dan was recognized as a strong and effective leader. He had earned the respect from the CEO and other senior leaders at his company.

In his newest assignment, he had been working hard to establish the framework of trust that he knew would be vital to the team’s success.

From the very first day as the new division head, he was speaking with his direct reports one-on-one and in small groups, using his best practices to tear down walls and create the right harmony he knew he needed.

Yet he could sense total pushback from two of his longest-tenured technical people. Sandy and Ted were not buying it.

Dan decided to take his concerns directly to both Ted and Sandy. One by one he called them in for a private chat.

He opened with acknowledging how important he thought their roles were to the team’s success. They each agreed with that. Then he asked a fairly pointed question.

co-workers not trusting

Ted Went First

Dan started “I’ve been watching the development of this leadership team. We’ve been working to understand the clarity of our purpose and align our resources for the best outcomes toward our goals. Yet I sense a reluctance from you. I’d really like to understand what it is that is blocking things for you.”

Ted was pretty quick to respond. He said “Dan, I haven’t been honest with you. I’ve been at this company for a long time. This latest change is too much for me. I’m eligible to retire and I think now is the right time to do that.”

Dan was not surprised, that made perfect sense. He responded “Ted, I’d sure hate to lose you, but I respect everything you’ve done here. Is there anything that might help you change your mind?”

Ted smiled a wry grin. “Thanks, but no. It’s time. This has nothing to do with you or the company. I just need to get serious with my own situation and quit holding you guys back. It’s been a good run. I want to leave a good legacy.”

Dan said “Thank you for that honesty. If there’s anything I can do while you get situated, let me know.”

On the Other Hand

Sandy’s talk didn’t go so well. Dan opened the same way but got a totally different reaction.

Sandy shook her head and replied “I just don’t trust these people. I’ve worked with a few of them before and know what they do behind people’s backs.”

Dan thought about how contrary this sounded based on his own history with the team from prior assignments. He knew about their performance elsewhere and the accolades they had gotten from others, both above and below them in the organization.

He simply said to Sandy, “Tell me more.”

“Well…..” and her list began. Interesting to Dan was the level of petty complaints he heard. He was shocked at just how petty many of these grievances sounded when compared to the duties Sandy had on her plate.

He had not known Sandy that well from before, but had always relied on her technical delivery of work product and was pleased. Yet hearing her voiced concerns about others made him realize one big thing about Sandy.

She really didn’t trust anyone.

The Leader’s Boundaries

In the effort to be an effective leader, there are many things you must do but there are some you cannot do.

Becoming a therapist for an employee who exhibits behaviors that are not conducive to good teamwork is just not something you should delve into.

We’ve all been there before, realizing you have an employee who has some psycho-emotional baggage that will not allow open and reliable cooperation on the team.

So what do you do?

First, don’t let it get personal. Stick to team outcomes when describing expectations. Make those expectations very clear.

Shifting the Spotlight

Watch for tell-tale signs of behavioral problems. An untrusting soul may often try to shift the spotlight away from themselves onto others.

anger at work

Examples include placing blame for minor matters and accusing others of “failing” to deliver properly. They somehow think that constantly churning the team around them will keep the focus away from their own issues.

Someone who is more trusting will accept responsibility and become vulnerable to things needing more attention.

I’ve seen situations where the highest performer on the team was actually the least trusting individual. Despite adding significant value to the team, they cause so much confusion and disruption, their actual worth starts to be questionable.

This latter situation may be the leader’s biggest challenge. If you’ve ever been frustrated by someone’s behavior yet asked yourself something like this “Can I afford to lose them?”, you should start the process to do just that.

Keeping a team member who will never trust the rest of the team will derail everything you may try to accomplish. It happens every time.

Question: When was a time that you had someone on your team who couldn’t trust others? Leave a comment.

Bubble-Wrapped Leaders?

If you sit in an executive seat whether CEO, owner or manager, are YOU bubble-wrapped? What is a bubble -wrapped leader?

For starters, they are not very good leaders. Bubble-wrapping insulates from all the things going on around us. I’ve seen key executives isolate themselves by layers of policy, procedure, and occasionally people.

There is one company I’ve worked with that is so traditional in their hierarchy that various levels are not encouraged to talk more than one level up without being accompanied by someone from the level in between.

In an age of fast-moving decisions demanding such a structure creates huge roadblocks and inefficiency.

However, there are more subtle ways we find ourselves bubble wrapped as leaders.

Here are a few to think about.

The Intentional

First, the very intentional. Like the antiquated hierarchy I mentioned above, some leaders consciously choose to build walls to keep others away.

If you’re in sales you know about the “gatekeepers” who defend the castle around the big boss/decision-maker.

While this kind of defense might make sense from outside the company, why should you allow it inside?

The Cerebral

Next, there are the more cerebral ways to get bubble wrapped.

Tangling yourself in technical jargon and complexity can bubble wrap you and isolate you from others.

I’ve worked with some pretty smart people in my day. Being truly the smartest guy in the room can have an effect of separating you from others around you.

The Policy

Then there is the leader who immerses him or herself in dogmatic policy, practice or tradition. As soon as someone brings an idea that runs counter to the main way of thinking, the leader quickly rejects the person and the idea.

I see this often with companies that have long-standing legacies. If the company is more than 20 years old, likely you will find practices and traditions that insulate the leader’s thinking.

In companies like this, I frequently hear emerging managers complain that their chief instruction when taking on new duties was “don’t screw it up.”

The Fix

Have you created any of the above situations that insulate and isolate your thinking, like bubble wrap protects delicate packages?

Leaders need fresh ideas to compete and stay relevant in changing markets.

In addition, changing trends in workforce management require constant vigil for workable new ideas.

The best way to avoid isolation is to actively encourage discussion within your team. Surrounding yourself with talented people is great, but you need to be sure the right things are being discussed.

Walking around the floor, shop, or workroom helps too. Engaging with employees at all levels keeps your sensitivity to the real truth of what is going on sharp and tuned in.

Lastly, you might want to check your attitude. One of the biggest hurdles the average entrepreneur faces is pride. If your little idea takes flight and becomes something successful you might deserve feeling good about it.

There’s is, however, a big difference between a healthy appreciation for what you have and a huge ego.

I’ve seen far too many owners get themselves in big trouble by living behind their ego.

You can also listen to this message on my podcast channel here.

Owners and Leaders: Why Live a Groundhog’s Day?

groundhog day

In his classic dramedy “Groundhog’s Day”, actor and funnyman Bill Murray plays a hapless TV anchor/weatherman named Phil Connors who gets stuck covering the annual appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary weather predicting groundhog.

If you aren’t familiar with the legend of the groundhog day tradition, the critter predicts whether there will more Winter or a warming Spring.

groundhog dayAs the story unfolds, we discover it is Murray’s character who must relive each and every day. He starts out being a very self-absorbed, full of himself person.

As the one 24 hour period starts replaying event by event, he begins to see the possibilities of becoming a better person. The inspiration is the “girl” played by Andie MacDowell aka “Rita”.

Phil realizes he must be a much better person in order to win Rita’s affection.

It’s a great story, worthy of adding to your leadership toolkit. Here’s why.

You Too Can Be Stuck

Face it, we all find ourselves occasionally reliving events and circumstances from our work and home lives. The same negative events repeat themselves without positive change.

Our occasional efforts to attempt change work sometimes, but not all the time. That is if your heart is not in the intentional change.

Yet when you commit to making permanent changes, you start making progress toward a better outcome. You might have to let cycles repeat a few more times, but the intentional change can take hold and turn things around.

Experience Drives Future Behavior

It is human nature to let prior experience become a heavy influence on future behavior. This is why behavior-based interviewing is so effective.

When I’m interviewing someone for a new job, I ask them to “tell me about a time when ‘blank’” and then I fill in the blank with an experience that is a key factor in my team’s success.

Examples might be:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to meet a large deadline.
  • Tell me about a time when your payroll system crashed 24 hours before your payroll.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to recover from a data breach.

Prior behavior is a big indicator of future performance. It is not the only indicator but can be a reliable one. For managers and leaders, your own record of achievement can work for you but can work against you too.

However, old solutions might not be suitable for new problems. If you approach things with a groundhog mentality, you might be surprised at how far off you can be.

That is, using the same old approach for a new problem may never make a difference.

Bad Habits Become Big Hurdles

In the case of Bill Murray’s character, his poor interpersonal skills became huge obstacles for winning Rita. She watched him belittle people and is very put off by his horrible demeanor.

It took several repetitions of the same circumstances for Phil (the character) to get it right.

As leaders, your own habits may be big obstacles too. Remember, people don’t really care what you say.

They focus on what you do. Take time to reconsider your approach. If the same old situations keep popping up, maybe it is your approach hindering the change.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

Living in a comfort zone, whether good or bad, makes for boring results. Repeating the same routine day after day, week after week, and year after year will seldom realize any growth or change.

Making progress toward new goals often involves some element of risk. A little risk might help move the needle.

Plus, we naturally hate change. So keep that in mind. As the leader, you are the catalyst for change. Being an ‘executive’ anything means you execute on the work. Making things happen is change, so learn to embrace it.

The Big ‘So What’

We’ve explored reasons we get stuck on groundhog’s day. What may be your next move?

Do you even know you’re there, stuck in some spin cycle? Why not make an intentional change for new outcomes?

You can make a difference right where you are. The difference can help you, your team, and your home or community. Let Punxsutawney Phil and Phil Connors have their Groundhog Day.

Stop living yours! 


Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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Leaders Must Impact the Networks Around Them

Spend any time at a particular company and you will find yourself part of an informal network. This network is above and beyond the boxes on the org chart.

Your ability to build and effectively manage the networks around you might just be the single biggest advantage you might have as a leader.

making the best of networking

Build the right networks and you will have a much easier time executing on your activity.

These networks form for many reasons

These networks spring up for many reasons; some intentional, others not so much.

You might build relationships with certain people based on the responsibilities you have. Because a particular project or work team has a unique set of objectives, you meet and deal with new people across the organization; people who can help you achieve those objectives.

Once your assignment is over, you retain those contacts in one degree or another. Sadly, many very successful relationships wither over time because the common goal has been accomplished and is no longer relevant. Rather than maintaining the working relationship, we merely “move on” to other things.

In popular terminology, we think of this relationship building as “networking”.

Networking is not so new

For many years, whole industries have relied upon networking to grow and expand businesses. Trade associations number in the thousands. Annual conventions are held to allow industry participants to gather and exchange ideas or meet new people. Networking on steroids.

networking huddle group

Professionals rely upon networking outside the company to find new job opportunities.

But knowing when and how to grow a network inside your company can be a challenge.

Neural Networks

The inner workings of a high-value network can be explained by some mind science.

Let’s take a minute to talk about neural networks. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.

The principles of neural networking have formed the basis of artificial intelligence and machine learning. See the video link below to hear a basic explanation of neural networking.

The key takeaways here involve two important values. First, there is the value of the “node” or in the case of people, the person with whom you connect.

And there is the value of the connection itself. Think of the significance someone might add to your network if you are connected with them.

In simpler terms, a person might have great knowledge and experience to share, which is helpful. But it will be significantly more important to have them as a connection if their role is also of great value.

Applying the meaning of neural networks.

As you work to build and maintain your networks, think in terms of these two values.

Is the person of value to the effort? Ask yourself can I learn from them?

Is the role of important value? Can I gain from the influence this person might have at work?

Having said this, it all sounds a bit self-serving. But you too must provide value, both with you know and the role you play, in order to be a contributing member of a network.

Leaders learn how to deliver value for others first before asking for something in return. It’s similar to the old schoolyard adage about “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If you want a powerful network at work, become a powerful contributor to others.

A cautionary tale

There is one big caveat here. In addition to building strong, effective networks, you may need to rely on mentoring from those above you in the chain.

Senior leader mentoring younger employee

I’m not sure you specifically “network” with those who have seniority in the organization. You build connections for sure. But you may need some guidance and development from those above you.

While you may have plenty to offer others above you in terms of technical experience and knowledge, there may be more to learn than what you have to offer.

In that case, you need to find the right opportunity to explore the willingness of those more senior to mentor you. No need to fall on a sword about lack of something. Instead, present the idea as something of respect and admiration for their expertise.

Ask if they might be willing to become a mentor. A vast majority of senior grade employees I know love the idea of giving back by mentoring those elsewhere in the organization.

Great Leaders Don’t Set Out to Be a Leader

Seldom does an individual sense the call of leadership at an early age; as in “I’m going to be a fireman” or “I’m going to be an astronaut”.

“I’m going to be a leader” is not usually the designated path. People with innate skills and passions to make good leaders start out with a desire to make a difference. As the graphic says, “it’s not about the role, but always about the goal.”

Leader-role

I spent my early years pursuing a military career. It wasn’t because I liked war; quite the contrary. I wanted to make a difference by serving my country.

Without exception, the other military personnel I met and worked with had the same sense of purpose. They never wanted to GO to war, but they not afraid of the potential outcome should a war develop.

The Servant Leader

Since its inception, the servant leadership movement has been growing. Being a Servant Leader flips the script on traditional organization theory.

Instead of being a CEO at the top of the company pyramid with all the implications of power and authority, the true Servant Leader chooses to sit in that spot, but approach the job with a whole different mindset.

“The servant-leader is a servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

Servant leaders worry about the growth of the people who report to them. They expect growth of the enterprise through the well-being of the people on the team.

This is radically different from autocratic and benevolent dictator led organizations.

Servant leaders manage by asking questions like:

  • How are you doing (and mean it)?
  • What are the hurdles in your way?
  • What can I do to help?

Opportunity

Great leaders emerge from the dedicated effort to make a difference. As they go about their work, the sense of commitment, direction, and drive are recognized by those around them.

Opportunities open up. Others begin to say “I want that person on my team”.

Why do you think it is that CEO’s with good records move across whole industries to take on new challenges? The proven skills that come from the commitment to make the difference become hot commodities.

New Managers

As a young, first-time manager, your primary focus should be to define the difference you can make. You may have been selected to be a unit manager without ever first wanting the job.

New leader

Now that the role is yours, stop thinking about how to be a better manager and start thinking about the difference you can make for your team.

Leadership will emerge.

As you set about making the decisions needed to make the difference, your natural leadership tendencies will begin to take shape. Day by day, your leadership skills will evolve. Experience will become your best teacher.

When challenges arise (and they will), you can seek advice from those more senior, get a mentor or coach, and grow into the role.

Stay centered on the purpose for your role; the difference you can make.

For more ideas on ways to become a better manager, check out my new book “The Uncommon Commodity

I’ll show simple, common sense ways to build your management and leadership skill sets and grow your ability to make a difference.

Find a Coach or Mentor

For every new level in your career progression, you will need to grow into the role.  I firmly believe rising executives have  abit of fear in knowing they need something more to fit a new role they’ve been given.

mentoring

Few are the leaders who find an easy fit in a new role.

If you are wondering how best to achieve the growth you need, consider enlisting a mentor or engaging with a leadership coach.

Find someone who has been there before. Consult with them to plot your personal growth into the next role.

As you find leadership responsibilities being heeped upon you, take pride in being given that opportunity.

Likely you said you wanted to make a difference. Now the chance is yours.

You Might Have Focus All Wrong

When you feel distracted or unproductive, the first thing you might think about is focus; as in “I need to get focused.”

This conjures ideas of laser-centered attention to one thing. Actually, you may have the idea of focus all wrong.

Dr. Jim Taylor writes in Psychology Today:

“Let me introduce a term and then I’ll define focus for you. Attentional field is everything inside of you, such as thoughts, emotions, and physical responses, and everything outside of you, including sights and sounds, on which you could focus.

Focus is the ability to attend to internal and external cues in your attentional field.

Further, he states, Prime focus involves focusing only on performance-relevant cues in your attentional field. In other words, only focusing on cues that help you to perform your best.

Depending on the sport, performance-relevant cues can include technique, tactics, your opponent, the score, time remaining, and many other cues. Prime focus gives you the ability to adjust your focus internally and externally as needed during the course of a competition.”

The ability to properly focus on the right cues is what builds greater performance, not just centering on one thing.

The cues come at us in many different ways, so you must understand your focus style.

Again citing Dr. Taylor, “a focus style is a preference for paying attention to certain cues. Athletes tend to be more comfortable focusing on some cues and avoid or don’t pay attention to other cues.

Every athlete has a dominant style that impacts all aspects of their sports performance. This dominant style will surface most noticeably when they’re under pressure. The two types of focus styles are internal and external.

Internal focus style. Athletes with an internal focus style perform best when they’re totally and consistently focused on their sport during a practice session or a competition. They need to keep their focus narrow, thinking only about their sport.

These athletes tend to be easily distracted by activity in their immediate surroundings. If they broaden their focus and take their mind off their sport, for example, if they talk about non-sport topics with their coach during practice, they’ll become distracted and will have trouble narrowing their focus back onto their sport.

External focus style. Athletes with an external focus style perform best when they only focus on their sport when they’re about to begin a drill in practice or begin a competition.

At all other times, it is best for them to broaden their focus and take their mind off their sport. These athletes have a tendency to think too much, become negative and critical, and experience competitive anxiety. For these athletes, it’s essential that they take their focus away from their sport when they’re not actually performing.”

The Business World

In the business world, we need to focus in much the same way as the athlete. There are internal factors and external factors in constant movement within and around us. The best focus is not merely getting locked in on one thing or one objective, but rather the ability to grasp multiple things in better contrast.

Finding the key elements that are needed to achieve the best outcome require this multi-layered ability to focus, sifting everything in your attentional field to identify the right parts.

As a simple example, think about driving on a long highway. When we stare at the centerline of the road, we get hypnotized.

How often have you snapped out of that trance and thought to yourself, “Wow, how long have I been doing that?”

Yes, your motor skills may have sustained you during that trance, but you certainly were not at your peak performance despite the intense focus.

Focus on the Right Things

Running your business is much the same way. Your effectiveness as a leader is not just about your internal values and motivations. You must connect externally, taking in information and relating to the people around you.

By focusing on the things that matter most, you are not giving attention to one thing, you are assembling the right things to make the most of your current situation.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash and unsplash-logoPaul Skorupskas

Trust in the Workplace

“My employer” was named by 75% of those surveyed worldwide as the most trusted institution in the recently released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer. These findings from the annual report, now in its 19th year, reflect the significance of building and maintaining trust in the workplace.

workplace team in a meeting

As a manager, your role in leading your teams toward higher levels of trust is at a premium.

Modeling Behaviors

One of the most direct approaches to building trust in an organization is for the leader(s) to model the desired behaviors.

You need to be the one embracing and encouraging the shift in behavior if you want trust to grow.

All too often the simple “walk the talk” metaphor is ignored. If you stand up in a team meeting and deliver a beautiful speech about new goals and values, it means nothing if you turn right around and violate those principles.

I’ve seen companies who attempt to implement sweeping culture change yet allow individual executives to stay with old behaviors. The impact is significant.

When employees in lower levels of the organization see or hear about an executive violating the principles, the trust factor goes right out the window.

Setting and Managing Expectations

It’s really about defining and measuring expectations. If you say you want to build a high-trust workplace, then you need to paint the picture for what that might look like at your business.

Not all definitions apply to all companies equally. Yours needs to be tailored to your business.

There are, however, some common themes that can be used to improve your employees level of trust. I provide you with 6 key areas to explore.

Team trust model diagram

Each of the six topics is really a set of questions that each employee will ask. In order for them to feel a sense of trust, each set of questions must have a satisfactory answer.

For the highest level of team trust to emerge, the answer cannot be lukewarm. The employee must get wowed by the answers they receive to their questions.

More importantly, the leader must be able to clearly and reliably speak to each of the areas as they pertain to the team.

This model is an ever-present and on-going continuum of activity as the team evolves. Yet having the process in place to understand the effort toward greater trust, gives everyone a common language from which they can express doubts, fears, and concerns.

Back to Walking the Talk

Once the answers to the team trust questions have been shared, leaders must model their behavior accordingly.

If you say you want collaboration across teams, then be the one to start that process. As issues arise, suggest or direct collaborative effort with other teams.

As you describe team purpose, be proactive in enforcing that purpose with the decisions you make. When something comes up that is not aligned with your team’s purpose, either reject it outright or open the discussion about why it might not be a fit. Let others persuade you to change if a change is needed.

If you are the manager who needs to lead a team to higher levels of trust, look in the mirror. See if you are properly prepared to guide that effort.

If not, seek help in making the changes you need to make. A coach can always help.

Question: Are you modeling the behaviors that might increase trust in your employees?

Leaders – Where Are Your People?

Maslow helps us understand.

This question is not a literal one. You see your people daily. Rather it is a figurative idea.

If you manage and lead any part of a business, you likely have a team surrounding you. Regardless of them being co-workers, direct reports, peers, or superiors, they are fellow human beings.

They come to work, do their jobs, and go home to whatever personal life they have chosen.

During the “time on the clock” though, there is a state of mind that drives all of the potential within your team.

I challenge my coaching clients to become sensitive to this state of mind within their employees and peers.

Maslow’s Way of Saying It

Likely you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is loosely stated as there is a pyramid of human needs that progress from a very basic survival state all the way to enlightenment and self-actualization.

The stages are survival, security, belonging, importance, and self-actualization.

According to Maslow, we cannot operate at a higher level unless the lower levels are satisfied. Starting out with basic needs for food and shelter, you can not self-actualize if you are hungry and afraid.

We progress up the needs chain in the normal order of human existence.

Stephen R. Covey describes the hierarchy in more simple terms; live, love, learn, leave a legacy. Powerful.

Same Thing Happens at Work

I argue that this same principle applies to work. Each person comes to work operating somewhere within the same hierarchy of needs.

The shifts may not be too severe from day to day, but they do happen.

The person who has a big blow-up with their spouse right before leaving for work will approach the day in a different mindset than someone who left home with a warm hug and kisses.

Recently I shared this graphic across all of my social media platforms. I didn’t share any commentary, just the infographic.

Maslow applied to employee engagement

The reaction was widespread, near viral. So I thought we should explore it in more detail.

A person’s position on the hierarchy dictates their ability to engage at work. Plain and simple. As you move up or down the grid, you are either more or less likely to have the willingness to contribute any discretionary effort.

The lower you sit on the scale, the less likely is your voluntary contribution and connection at work. Conversely, the higher up the scale, the more likely you will be to engage and contribute “above and beyond.”

Question: Think about your own path at work. Are there days when you feel less engaged than others?