Monthly Archives: May 2013

Building authentic relationships

Most people associate authenticity with being true to oneself — or “walking the talk.” But there’s a problem with that association; it focuses on how you feel about yourself. Authenticity is actually a relational behavior, not a self-centered one. Meaning that to be truly authentic, you must not only be comfortable with yourself, but must also comfortably connect with others.
— Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins

We’ve reached the end of our focus on the MnSCU competency of “Leader as Relationship Builder.” We talked about valuing diversity, communicating effectively, and most recently, building trust.

As we think about building relationships, it’s much more about who we are with other people than what we do.  Our actions come from our intentions, but other people give their own meaning to those actions.  Did I omit the director from the invitation list accidentally, because I was trying to protect her time, or because I wanted to have an important conversation behind her back? I know what my intention was, but the story she tells herself will be based on the relationship we’ve built.

I recently read a blog posting from Harvard Business Review that summarizes what it means to be a leader who builds relationships.  The authors, quoted above, described three areas of focus that can help:

  1. Point of view: Do others know what you stand for? Are you willing to discuss it with strength and flexibility?
  2. Positioning:  How do you gain support for your initiatives? Do you navigate organizational politics transparently?
  3. Personal history: Do people understand the events that shape who you are as a leader? Are you carrying old messages that get in your way?

Building relationships is my favorite part of leadership.  It’s also the most challenging.  Keeping these three points in mind helps me to value others, communicate clearly, and establish trust.

Dee Anne Bonebright


Trust and the stories we tell

painting-contractor-portland-orMy grandfather was a painting and wallpaper contractor who worked on his own. I had the good fortune of working for him for many years as I grew up and the stories he told as we worked together were more important than the money I earned or the painting skills I developed. He shared stories on building his customer base, on always putting in a good day’s work, and how to provide amazing customer service. In fact, he never had to advertise for business and always had jobs lined up and waiting. What I remember most were the stories that focused on the people we worked for and how he built relationships with each one of them. Relationships built on trust and a personal connection. We ended up being asked to watch young children if a parent had to run an errand, given keys so we could work in their homes when they were on vacation and often invited to their open houses to show off their new decorating! I have used those stories and the lessons I learned from them when I interviewed for my last two jobs and in my work coaching leaders.

At the ASTD – International conference last week I discovered a book titled “The Slice of Trust” (Link to book) that reminded me of how my grandfather built trust. David Hutchens, an organizational storyteller, and Barry Rellaford, are the co-authors and they bring to life Steven M.R. Covey’s the “Speed of Trust” through story and fables. You are introduced to Simon the Pieman and learn important leadership lessons on building trust with your people.


Simon tackles an issue that I know most leaders struggle with, how to extend trust to others at work, through the metaphor of sharing a pie. His story describes how my grandfather extended trust to me, his young apprentice. One piece at a time! Hutchens and Covey call this “smart trust.” As the leader you need to take the first step and extend trust, but, only one piece at a time! Not the whole pie, until you analyze how you and the other person enjoyed the single piece of pie. I was trusted to paint closets before I was trusted to paint living rooms!

Covey encourages leaders to read Simon’s story and then to reflect on how each of us extends trust in our organizations and to look for opportunities to share our pie.

Todd Thorsgaard

Memorial Day observance

memorial dayOn this Memorial Day, I would like to take a break from our normal blog posts to honor the men and women who have bravely served and died for our country. 

Kelly Strong wrote Freedom is Not Free as a high school senior in 1981. This poem is a tribute to his father, a career marine who served two tours in Vietnam.

Continue reading

The ABCs of trust

I just returned from the international American Society for Training and Development conference (ASTD-ICE) and my head is full of ideas and information! There were hundreds of breakout sessions and the Expo was filled with vendors and resources. It reminded me of the onslaught of information and the demands a leader faces each day at work. With that in mind, I spent some time looking for practical ideas on trust and leadership that I could share with you that are clear, concise and easy to try. I think I succeeded!

Ken Blanchard, Cynthia Olmstead and Martha Lawrence have a new book titled, Trust Works! that defines four attributes of trust, the A, B, C and D of trust:

Able – can you do your job and do you get results?

Believable – do you demonstrate integrity?

Connected – do you develop sincere two-way relationships with people?

Dependable – do you walk your talk and follow-through?

What I found most valuable were the behavioral descriptions they provide for each attribute. Building trust is all about action and interaction with people. The behavioral descriptions make it easier to look at our own interactions, with an unbiased eye, to assess how we are doing building trust. To help get started, here is a link to their website and a short self-assessment you can take to identify your demonstrated trust-building strengths and opportunity areas – ABCD self-assessment

I learned I have some work to do in the connection domain. As an introvert it is my most challenging area and I can often overlook it and miss the impact it has on the relationships I have at work.

Give the assessment a try. I bet the results will help you identify your trust-building strengths and remind you of potential blind spots or trust busters! As leaders, we need all four attributes to build trust with our people.

Todd Thorsgaard

Get better

In his groundbreaking book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey builds a compelling case that we can all become skilled at building trust by cultivating 13 behaviors that focus on character and competence. Covey coins one of the 13 behaviors as “Get Better.” What he means is that we can and should continually improve at what we do to build on our competence and increase others’ confidence in our abilities.

This week I am doing just that. I’m spending a few days at ASTD’s International Conference and Exposition in Dallas, Texas with about 8,000 learning and development professionals from 72 different countries around the world. So far, I’ve been thrilled to hear from thought leaders that I’ve only seen on TED talks or YouTube videos like Sir Ken Robinson, who spoke about leading a culture of innovation and David Rock, who has pioneered the field of neuroleadership. I’ve also learned more about improving our training by using whole-brained strategies to meet all learner needs, especially in this evolving digital age where attention spans are reduced to eight minutes (the average time between television commercials). I’ve learned how leaders can influence others effectively and how to build engagement strategies into e-learning. (No more boring e-learning!) I’ve collected scores of new ideas, methods, and strategies that will take me weeks to process, incorporate into my work, and share with others.

It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. I am impressed by the deep knowledge and competence of my ASTD colleagues. And even though I know I’m at the point of information overload, I realize I haven’t learned much about building mobile learning from the ground up. Yikes!

Today the conference wraps up. I’ll return home to apply what I’ve learned and “get better” at what I do. Part of my plan is to expand my reading list, share my learnings with my team, and start a Talent Management version of Facebook’s monthly hackathons*, where we focus on greater collaboration and team learning to better serve the MnSCU community.

What can you do to build on your competence and “get better?”

Anita Rios

*Hackathon is a hack day where computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects.

Credibility and competence

There are many reasons for leaders to tend to their own professional development, not the least of which is that demonstrated lack of competence is the quickest way to destroy credibility and trust.

When I am building a project team, seeking participants for strategic planning, or figuring out who to include in a communications loop, one of my first questions is “who will bring professional knowledge and a credible viewpoint?”  Like most leaders, I reflect on past interactions and seek out people who consistently add value to projects.

One of the professional organizations I belong to is ASTD (American Society for Training and Development).  Just this morning I received an announcement of the next meeting, which has to do with strategic partnership.  The speaker is going to discuss four important aspects of partnering:

  • Technical/operational expertise in a specific discipline
  • Foundational concepts and skills
  • Understanding of the partner’s business
  • Partnering attitudes and behaviors

These aspects may look different in your professional field, but the basic idea is the same.  For many colleges and universities, now is the time for year-end performance review and planning.  I encourage you to take time to think about how you can intentionally build your professional competence in one of the four critical aspects.

grad balloonAnd speaking of professional development, congratulations to my colleague Todd Thorsgaard, who recently completed a master’s degree in human resources/industrial relations from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.  Well done!

Dee Anne Bonebright

Building trust from the middle

Leading from the middle of an organization can be one of the most difficult leadership challenges.  And I’ve discovered that almost everyone is in the middle.  Years ago I had a conversation with an executive vice president.  I thought she would be a subject matter expert to help me train middle managers, but then I realized that she thought of herself as being in the middle between the Board and her staff.

A recent research report from Harvard Business Review provided several good observations about what makes some middle managers more effective than others.  They identified the “Three A Model” of effective middle management.  At the core, I think the model leads back to building the credibility and authenticity necessary to be trusted by those above and below in the organization chart.

  1. Alignment
    Effective middle managers understand their own values and professional goals, and they are able to communicate how their values connect to organizational initiatives.
  2. Authorship
    Effective middle managers were the drivers of organizational change.  They used their positions and their 360-degree view of the organization to create cross-functional teams and champion solutions.  They took responsibility and identified what needed to be done.
  3. Action
    Effective middle managers were able to work effectively with other leaders to drive change.  They encouraged individual contributors to actively participate in change initiatives and removed barriers that kept others from being effective.  And they promoted the three A’s among those that reported to them.

By contract, the article said that ineffective middle managers:

  • Focused on pleasing people rather than doing their jobs
  • Procrastinated on decisions for fear of failure
  • Blamed others for mistakes
  • Were cautious and unsure of their authority; avoided taking risks

Following the Three A Model and avoiding the pitfalls of ineffective middle management can help us as leaders build the trust needed to be more effective ourselves, and to bring out the best in those around us.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Source:  Behnam Tabrizi, New Research: What Sets Effective Middle Managers Apart. HBR Blog Network, May 8, 2013.

Trust and the brain

David Rock and Matthew Lieberman have been studying the functioning of the brain and have some profound ideas that we can use in building trusting relationships with people on our teams. As Rock states, “the human brain is a social organ. Its physiological and neurological reactions are directly and profoundly shaped by social interaction.” (

In other words, the people on your team – and you – respond to social and interpersonal interactions at the same intensity level as when we physically interact with our environment. Like when you hit your thumb with a hammer, jump into a cold lake or enjoy a scrumptious dessert!hammer-on-thumb That helps explain why small actions by you, as the leader, can lead to significant, and often surprising, personal reactions by members of your team. The social interactions you create can directly, almost biologically, build trust or break down trust at work. And we have learned from this work is that people react much stronger to perceived social threats than we do to perceived social rewards.

To help leaders navigate this social minefield at work, Rock has defined five social domains (SCARF) that can be used to help build trust. Understanding the different threats and taking action to reduce the perception of a threat from your language or your behaviors will lead to enhanced social interactions and stronger trust. The five domains that trigger a threat response in social settings are:

Status – an individual’s self-perceived importance in relation to others.

Certainty – the degree to which an individual is able to predict the future.

Autonomy – perception regarding their sense of control over events.

Relatedness – perception of safety with others, of being associated with an in-group rather than an out-group.

Fairness – perception of fair exchanges between an individual and other people and/or the organization.

In my work with new leaders they are often surprised at the reactions of past colleagues who they now supervise. Understanding the “hard-wired” brain response to a change in status helps them better understand the reaction and identify new ways of interacting that minimize the threat and re-establish trust.

Yes, “my brain made me do it” may be true but by using SCARF, leaders can take action to build trust.

Todd Thorsgaard

Why good intent is not enough


“Having spent many years trying to define the essentials of trust, I arrived at the position that if two people could say two things to each other and mean them, then there was the basis for real trust. The two things were “I mean you no harm” and “I seek your greatest good.”  –Jim Meehan, British Psychologist

A few years ago, I was coaching a client I’ll call Sam.  Sam would regularly find himself embroiled in conflict with others in the workplace. He talked a good game, but Sam often had difficulty delivering on his promises. Over time, Sam’s colleagues trusted him less and less as his inspiring and visionary ideas hung in the air and weren’t translated into action.

I remember Sam saying, “My intent is pure, can’t they see that?” To which I responded, “Well, actually no. They can’t see that.”  I went on to explain that while we tend to judge ourselves by our intent, we tend to judge others by their behavior. Others were judging Sam on his ability to follow through on commitments AND attributing bad intent to his behavior. So relying on one of my favorite Covey principles, “you can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into,” we explored ways that Sam could behave his way out of his current problem.

While not all of us struggle with the same dilemma as Sam, it’s important for leaders to remember that people are constantly observing our behaviors AND are making assumptions about our intent. People often distrust us because of the conclusions they draw about what we do. Our perception of intent has a huge impact on trust. When thinking about the importance of intent and trust, here are some questions taken from Steven M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust, that I’ve found helpful to consider:

  • How often do I discount (or “tax”) what someone says because I am suspicious about that person’s intent?
  • What kind of tax is my organization paying because employees don’t trust management’s intent? What is the impact on speed and cost?
  • What kind of tax are we paying as a team because we are suspicious of one another’s motives?
  • What kind of tax am I paying because people question my own intent?
  • What can I do to improve and better communicate my intent?

Building off Jim Meehan’s insight into the essentials of building trust, how can I demonstrate “I mean you no harm” and “I seek your greatest good?”  In other words, how can I behave in a way that is consistent with the intent of genuine care for others?

Anita Rios

The benefits of transparency

Employees want to be a part of a workplace culture that puts a premium on delivering the truth.  They desire their leaders to be proactive in sharing where the company is headed and forthright about its future.   In other words, they just want transparency so they can plan and protect themselves.
–Glenn Llopis

Several years ago I was involved in designing a leadership development program.  Our team easily agreed on the behaviors we wanted to focus on and the key messages we wanted to give, until we got to the topic of trust and transparency.  That topic generated more discussion than any of the others.  We all knew transparency was important, but what does it look like?  How much vulnerability should a leader show?  Is it helpful for leaders to admit when they are uncertain?

The quote above is from an article in Forbes in which Llopis argued that employees want to relate to their leaders on a personal level.  He believes that the benefits of showing your human side as a leader are worth the perceived loss in status or power.  He recommended that leaders make time to connect with their employees in person rather than relying on email. Let them see your challenges and the obstacles you have overcome. Especially among the leadership team, be open about your leadership concerns and challenges.

When leaders are transparent, Llopis believes that the entire organization benefits because:

  1. Problems are solved faster
  2. Teams are built easier
  3. Relationships grow authentically
  4. People trust and respect their leader
  5. Higher levels of performance can be achieved

As my planning team learned, leaders have different comfort levels with showing their human sides.  It can be difficult for us as leaders to trust those around us with our concerns and to invite conversations about the ways our workplaces are less than perfect.  It may seem safer to present a confident public face in spite of challenges we are facing. But, ironically, showing transparency can be one of the best ways to build teams that can work together to achieve lasting results.

Dee Anne Bonebright