Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Leadership’

the decision to trust

One of the quickest ways to gain everyone’s focus is to say the word “trust” in any given situation: work, training, coaching – the workplace, community organization, or family. We know who we trust and want others to trust us. But we don’t spend much time thinking about how and why we trust others and how and why others trust us.

Have you ever extended trust and gotten burned? Distrust leads to anxiety, fear, and anger. These are associated with processes initiated by the amygdala – the “low road” of the brain. A judgment of distrust immediately sets up the fight – flight – freeze experience in a threat response.

How do you feel when you’ve extended trust and received trust in return? Neurological research suggests that trust is correlated with the presence of oxytocin. This hormone is associated with healthy personal connections demonstrated by reduced fear response and increased well-being. In a trusting environment of relationships, the high-level brain functions – critical analysis, logic, creative thinking, and verbal ability – are easily accessed.

From behind the desk as leaders and managers, we function every day in workplaces where there is never enough time to reach the end of the “to-do” list. We face an unending series of conflicting demands. We are forced to change priorities often, sometimes on the spot. We do not always have control over compensation or promotions. We try to be transparently honest, consistent in our actions, and caring about each person. Yet we wonder why at times people work with an air of resignation, with a lack of trust in our leaders and organizations.

Understanding trust in the workplace:
Trust in the workplace is about vulnerability. In the workplace we are vulnerable in the areas of money, role, or promotions. And vulnerable to intangible things like beliefs, a way of doing things, status, or reputation. We are vulnerable to other’s actions. When we trust, we hope their actions will support and, at least, not harm us.

Trust is the focus of safety, autonomy, and human dignity. When we trust, our reactions include: I am safe. I can be open and curious. I can handle what is happening. I communicate freely, offer ideas, and expect the best. The opposites are true for distrust: I am in danger and under threat. I need to protect myself. I can’t handle this. I complain, withdraw, and expect the worst. I experience fear, anger, and resentment.

When we choose to trust we are making a complex decision. Stating that we trust someone is based on our judgment in four areas: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

  • Integrity has become a buzzword. It is invisible. But at its core, integrity is honesty: telling the truth and leaving the right impression. Other qualities that are a part of integrity are: congruence – acting consistently from our values, humility – putting others first while being more concerned about what is right rather than being right, and courage – doing the right thing even in the face of challenges.
  • Intent is part of our character. At its core is sincerity and motivation. To increase trust, intent must be visible. We communicate openly about what we are choosing to do and why we are acting. We communicate that our motivation is to act for the genuine benefit of others. We seek ways to create “enough” rather than function out of stress and scarcity.
  • Capabilities are more than the traditional “KSA” – knowledge, skills, and abilities. They include “TASKS:” Talents – natural gifts and strengths. Attitudes – our map of the world and how we behave. Skills – what we do well, specifically ones that are relevant to our work. Knowledge – learning, insight, and awareness. Style – our unique approaches to work, our personality.
  • Results represent our track record in taking responsibility for accomplishing goals and getting the right things done.

Managing trust in the workplace:
Since trust is a complex decision, as leaders and managers we can begin to understand ourselves by asking, “How am I acting and communicating in ways that build trust in my integrity and sincerity? In my intent and care? In my capabilities and competence? In my results and reliability?”

We manage more successfully when we ask ourselves why we don’t trust someone before we begin having workplace conversations. What are we saying when we say that we don’t trust someone? Do we have issues with their integrity? Intentions? Capabilities? Or, results?

Then we begin the conversation with being specific about our concerns about what they have done, not focusing on what they are. Ask how they see the situation and listen carefully for issues of integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

Ask what they would do to restore trust. State clearly what actions and attitudes you need to experience from them in order to restore trust. Close by asking how they will commit to act in a trustworthy way.

On the flip side, if we have broken trust, the only antidote is to acknowledge and apologize. Acknowledgement means recognizing the betrayal of trust from the other person’s perspective – even if it was unintentional on your part. Be specific about how trust was betrayed: by integrity, intent, capability, or result. And apologize: take responsibility and state your intent to act with good motives and care for everyone’s benefit and well-being. It always includes not repeating the action and acting to correct the problem at hand.

Practicing trust in the workplace:
Observe your co-workers and begin to distinguish between different types of trust issues. Reflect on what others you trust are saying and doing that makes them trustworthy. Ask, “What do you entrust to others in the workplace? Why? What do your co-workers entrust to you? Why?”

Inspire trust by seeking to understand yourself and your own credibility, and then consistently behave in trust-building ways with other people. Consider how you can communicate so that others do not misunderstand you. Create and hold an intention to be trustworthy. An intention will bring clarity (why I’m doing this), meaning (why it’s important to me), and purpose (why this reflects my values) to everything that happens

Trust in the workplace takes an understanding how others judge trustworthiness, observing language and actions, and setting an intention to be a trusted leader, co-worker, and employee. Relationships based on mutual trust are the foundation for health in our companies, government, communities, and families.

What do you entrust to others in the workplace? Why? What do your co-workers entrust to you? Why?

I’m busier than you are!

Game on! “I’m busier than you are; I just worked five 24’s in a row; my budget is due on Monday; and I’m in training all day Saturday.”

We’re all “busy,” “buried,” “slammed,” … “tired.” We start our conversations by competing to see who has the most items on their calendar. Family engagement, work responsibilities, community activities – they all contribute to our experience of being overwhelmed.

The question: When is the last time you said, “No.”?

When I ask this question, people usually laugh – first in disbelief and again with a sigh. We all have the impulse to squeeze just one more thing into the day. Just one phone call. Just a last text. Just stopping by the store on the way home. Oh, it’s in the opposite direction? No problem.

We all have the impulse to agree to one more request. Just one meeting a quarter. Just a teleconference. Just a month-long project. Oh, it’s due at the end of this month? No problem.

And yet, at the end of the day, I ask myself, “What happened today?” And, I can often recall only two or three things, including, hopefully – what I ate for lunch! Life can seem like organized chaos and complexity.

There is a choice. It is the practice of saying, “No.” It is a difficult practice, perhaps harder than running a marathon for some of us. It is a voluntary practice where we each choose our level of participation. But it is an available choice.

“No” should be used carefully. I start by asking myself why I am saying it. Does the request fit in with my personal calling in the world? Do I have the energy and time to invest in making this successful? What impact will the request have on my time with my family and other commitments? Answers to these questions allow me to say an unqualified “yes” or a carefully considered “no.”

There is nothing passive about saying, “No.” The willingness to say, “No,” makes our choice to say, “Yes,” more meaningful and valuable. The practice is a part of managing ourselves first. It allows us to:

  • act from our guiding principles, keeping perspective on what matters most.
  • stay connected to family, friends, and co-workers, keeping important relationships close at hand rather than at the end of a cell phone text or call.
  • function with the most impact, neither under-functioning when we’ve added one-too-many things to the schedule nor over-functioning when we believe we have to do it all to be valued.
  • communicate our values, thinking, and decision making process, building capacity in those around us.

In the end, as leaders and managers, we don’t get to control everything in our schedules. But choosing our “yes” and “no” responses wisely, offers great freedom and the opportunity to discover that less may be more.

How would choosing “yes” and “no” more wisely create freedom and opportunity for you and your organization?

Originally published in the KEMSA Chronicle.

Provocative Leadership: Beyond “Best Practices” to “Next Practices”

Here is an excerpt from a longer article:

Have you thrown out your strategic plan yet? If you made one several months ago, I’m willing to guess that you have. The landscape of reality has already changed … . So now what? Here’s a story-poem, “Brief Thoughts on Maps,” to consider:

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who knew a lot about maps
according to which life is on its way somewhere or other,
told us this story from the war
due to which history is on its way somewhere or other:

The young lieutenant of a small Hungarian detachment in the Alps
sent a reconnaissance unit out into the icy wasteland.
It began to snow
immediately, snowed for two days and the unit
did not return. The lieutenant suffered: he had dispatched
his own people to death.

But the third day the unit came back.
Where had they been? How had they made their way?
Yes, they said, we considered ourselves
lost and waited for the end. And then one of us
found a map in his pocket. That calmed us down.
We pitched camp, lasted out the snowstorm and then with the map
we discovered our bearings.
And here we are.

The lieutenant borrowed this remarkable map
and had a good look at it. It was not a map of the Alps
but of the Pyrenees.

Goodbye now. 1

When faced with an unfamiliar situation, the soldiers discovered that “any map” can be useful. Why? A map leads to confidence and action. You take steps forward, re-check the map, learn, make adjustments, and take more steps. As you re-check the map, you look around, surveying the environment. You re-orient to the reality that is. You learn, assess, and consider options. You make decisions about what to try next. You embrace error and uncertainty; yet you still chose to take the next step.

Provocative leadership is not about authority. Provocative leadership is about …

Click here to read more about Provocative Leadership

What are your ideas about “best practices” vs. “next practices?”

Imagining New Maps

1Holub, M. (1977) ‘Brief Thoughts on Maps’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 4, p. 118.

fearless leadership

Here are the opening paragraphs of a longer article:

Organizations are only as good as the people inside. Yet the organizations and the people are under increasing stress. Do more with less. Cut costs. Do the same work with fewer people. Order supplies “just in time.” Skip training – there’s no time or money. Check your email, texts, and social media 24/7. We have entered a time when managers can be asked repeatedly to cut costs, people, and resources without loss of quality.

Many people in organizations that I work with can no longer tell me when the workday ends or even when the workweek begins. The main behavior at lunch or in meetings is the head bent down to check the latest electronic message. The pressure increases as boards and agencies create unfunded mandates and demand measureable results in shorter timeframes. Complexity increases as decisions made across the street and around the world have equal impact on operations. Forget what you know about employee engagement, the value of training and development, about making decisions from core values. Just get it done.

In the face of pressure and uncertainty, leaders want to solve, fix, and inspire. Many believe that if only they work harder or learn the latest management techniques, they can address the difficult challenges. They act from a genuine desire to help, to save the system and people around them. They fight the urge to revert to command and control management. But they end up exhausted by demands from above and dissatisfaction below.

But there is a choice: to be a fearless leader.

Click here to read more about fearless leadership.

What’s your story about leadership in the face of complexity and uncertainty?

decide: to cut off

Decision-making can be one of the most challenging parts of leading and managing. The root of the word decide comes from the Latin decidere, literally, to cut off, from de- + caedere to cut. When I make a decision I “cut off” other options. Perhaps that is why it is sometimes easier to put off decisions until tomorrow.

Organizations teach and use decision-making methods from facilitation strategies to formal Six-Sigma processes. There are personal methods like pro/con lists. I’ve recently been reading about and experimenting with the Cynefin Framework.

The Cynefin Framework (pronounced “key-nevin”) asks decision makers to assess context patterns and ask ourselves how we learn and what we know in five different domains. With the domain identified, we can choose questions, analyze the issue, and create an action plan. It enables us to include linear decision-making processes and expand beyond them when the context demands it.  It asks us to integrate what we know about our expertise, management theory, psychology, and complex adaptive systems.

Here is a short summary of the five domains:

  • Simple, where the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense – Categorise – Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, where the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense – Analyze – Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, where the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe – Sense – Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, where there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act – Sense – Respond and we can discover novel practice.
  • Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. (1)

And, from Snowden and Boone, developers of the Cynefin process:

In the complex environment of the current business world, leaders often will be called upon to act against their instincts. They will need to know when to share power and when to wield it alone, when to look to the wisdom of the group and when to take their own counsel. A deep understanding of context, the ability to embrace complexity and paradox, and a willingness to flexibly change leadership style will be required for leaders who want to make things happen in a time of increasing uncertainty. (2)

What methods do you use when making decisions? What questions would you find most useful in each of these domains?

Cognitive-Edge Methods (free)
Harvard Business Review: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making

(1) Cynefin retrieved from on January 28, 2013.
(2) Snowden, D. J. & Boone, M. E. (2007) “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making.” Harvard Business Review, 85(11), p. 69-76.

following by leading by following

We all have multiple roles that we play. Sometimes we lead. Sometimes we follow. The hierarchy that used to define our systems is disappearing. Our systems are evolving in a constantly changing environment. August Trank offers 11 stories illustrating how great followers are leaders. The story themes:

  1. Seize the Initiative
  2. Create their Own Job
  3. Are Coachable
  4. Anticipate
  5. Are Great Communicators
  6. Are Goal Driven
  7. Show Don’t Tell
  8. Earn Trust
  9. Offer Solutions
  10. Are Compassionate
  11. Are Loyal

If this seems like a list of leadership traits, I agree. The two that connect with me today are #1: Seize the initiative. It’s everyone’s responsibility to offer their best, creative ideas in support of the organization. #8: Earn trust. Saying what you’ll do and doing what you say, keeping promises is foundational to relationship.

Which of these traits do you see in yourself? In your organization?

Just tell me what to do
Passionately curious

Imagining new maps

How do we create the maps that we use to navigate everything from the work environment to our relationships to the grocery store? What happens when change, either gradual or catastrophic, requires us to re-imagine our maps? These questions re-emerged as I began with reflecting on a blog post by Shirley Showalter, writing about memoir and walking in the city.

And, the questions appeared in recent conversations with leaders. The conversations about navigating organizational waters roiled by the economy, a new generation of workers, and shifts in how people communicate and connect. Thomas Friedman’s recent column asks us to re-imagine the map we call leadership, “The role of the leader now is to get the best of what is coming up from below and then meld it with a vision from above.”

So here, to stimulate your map-making imagination, is an excerpt from The BFG, by Roald Dahl:

In the leading machine the Head of the Air Force was sitting beside the pilot. He had a world atlas on his knees and he kept staring first at the atlas, then at the ground below, trying to figure out where they were going. Frantically he turned the pages of the atlas.

‘Where the devil are we going?’ he cried.

‘I haven’t the foggiest idea,’ the pilot answered. ‘The Queen’s orders were to follow the giant and that’s exactly what I’m doing.’

The pilot was a young Air Force officer with a bushy moustache. He was very proud of his moustache. He was also quite fearless and he loved adventure. He thought this was a super adventure. ‘It’s fun going to new places,’ he said.

‘New places!’ shouted the Head of the Air Force. ‘What the blazes d’you mean new places?’

‘This place we’re flying over now isn’t in the atlas, is it?’ the pilot said, grinning.

‘You’re darn right it isn’t in the atlas!’ cried the Head of the Air Force. ‘We’ve flown clear off the last page!’

‘I expect that old giant knows where he’s going,’ the young pilot said.

‘He’s leading us to disaster!’ cried the Head of the Air Force. He was shaking with fear. In the seat behind him sat the Head of the Army who was even more terrified.

‘You don’t mean to tell me we’ve gone right out of the atlas?’ he cried, leaning forward to look.

‘That’s exactly what I’m telling you!’ cried the Air Force man. ‘Look for yourself. Here’s the very last map in the whole flaming atlas! We went off that over an hour ago!’ He turned the page. As in all atlases, there were two completely blank pages at the very end. ‘So now we must be somewhere here,’ he said, putting a finger on one of the blank pages.

‘Where’s here?’ cried the Head of the Army.

The young pilot was still grinning broadly. He said to them, ‘That’s why they always put two blank pages at the back of the atlas. They’re for new countries. You’re meant to fill them in yourself.’

Where is your organization in uncharted waters? Is the way you lead changing?

a look AT the windshield
Turning off the autopilot

On Football and Credibility

Lou Holtz, football coach, talks about how he created a team year-after-year. His college football teams changed personnel every year. But, his questions* to each person were always the same: Do you care about me? Can I trust you? Are you committed to the success of the team?

Holtz believed the answers to these questions are best given through actions. When we consistently act in an authentic and trustworthy manner, we will gain trust. But what do those words mean? And, how can we develop authenticity and trustworthiness in ourselves?

Authenticity arises from being yourself, which comes from the story you’ve lived. Being authentic means knowing and living your story. Authentic leaders are steady, confident, and consistent. They are the same person day-in and day-out.

Trustworthiness is made up of several things: sincerity, reliability, competence, and care. Sincerity is honesty: you say what you mean and mean what you say. Your opinions are backed by the facts and sound thinking. Reliability means you keep your  commitments and promises. Competence says you have the knowledge, skills, and resources to do your job. Caring is keeping other’s interests in mind as you act and make decisions. When we say someone is trustworthy, we may mean one or all of these things. Likewise, saying that someone is untrustworthy may mean they have failed at one or more of these things.

Leaders who are authentic and trustworthy have the ability to create and manage teams for each season. They mentor and teach others, developing capacity and connection, calling each person to develop their gifts and skills. They work with individuals, creating a team identity and purpose. They inquire into their team’s experience in order to know and live the team’s story along with their own.

I’ve written a longer article that includes questions for reflection as you consider Holtz’s questions for yourself.

*Holtz quote from “The Art of Innovation” by Tom Kelley, p. 85

Resource: The Twelve Attributes of a Truly Great Place to Work

Tony Schwartz recently wrote a post worth reading on the HBR blog site: The Twelve Attributes of A Truly Great Place to Work. Since I’ve been teaching leadership and facilitation courses this fall, #9 stands out to me:

Hold leaders and managers accountable for treating all employees with respect and care, all of the time, and encourage them to regularly recognize those they supervise for the positive contributions they make.

People who choose to lead positively are what make a place somewhere other people want to work. Respect and care are attributes that have made Kouzes and Posner’s top 20 characteristics of the best leaders since their survey began in 1987. Perhaps it is because genuine respect and caring are critical ingredients of trust – a requirement for a successful organization.

Which of these attributes speak to you?

Resource: 40 Lessons to Learn from Southwest

Leadership legacy

Beginning with President Reagan, each U.S. President has left a private letter in the Oval Office for the incoming President on inauguration day. In the Leadership and Coaching course that we’re teaching, a student wrote an interesting post integrating this idea with organizational leadership. Here is the post, shared with permission:

Something the other day reminded me of the White House tradition of outgoing presidents leaving a letter in the oval office for their successor. As we lead from any level in an organization, I had to ask myself: What would this tradition look like at other levels of leadership? What would I write and leave behind for somebody taking over my role?

It didn’t take long to come up with an answer – now that I’ve thought of it, I can’t “not” do it. So, today I will begin a “working” letter that I will keep updated until I have the opportunity to pass it on. I want to leave behind a narrative about each member of my team … with a twist. It’s going to be 100% positive. Strengths only. I want to highlight successes, great moments, memories, and wins that each person has been a part of. Go to him for this, and go to her for that. I want any future leader of my team to have a feel for what is best about each person.

As far as the negatives and weaknesses, that can and will surface on its own energy (not to mention personnel records). I prefer that anyone taking my role discover those attributes without my input and bias. Who knows, maybe in a transition some leaves will be turned. Why bring up attributes that have potentially met their end?

What’s in your letter to your successor?

%d bloggers like this: