“When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive.” – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Have you ever noticed that its much easier to get things done when you are working with people you trust? I certainly have. There is ease, satisfaction, and sometimes even joy working towards a common goal with those whom you’ve developed solid relationships. I’ve also noticed that leaders who focus first on building relationships often are far more successful, than those who are singularly focused on getting things done. People naturally want to work with leaders who care about them and are invested in their success.
In their classic book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner relay numerous case stories and research studies that reinforce the importance of relationship-building skills for leaders. According to their 20 years of research, leaders who demonstrate strong social skills and get along well with others, take time to build relationships with their subordinates, and work to see a situation from someone else’s point of view, experience the most success.
Knowing how important social skills are, what can leaders do to enhance their ability to build solid, trusting relationships? Here are a few thoughts:
- Engage: Open up dialogue by asking good questions. Questions about people’s expertise and point of view are great starting points to build relationships. Just a simple, “What do you think?” question can be a good start.
- Listen: Let other people talk and then pay attention. Focus on what people are trying to convey and reflect back what you’ve heard. Take time to understand what other people do. Stay open to new ideas and embrace learning new things from others.
- Acknowledge: Value people’s contributions. Give credit to others for their contributions and successes. Celebrate accomplishments of your team. People are always more motivated to work hard and try new things if their efforts are acknowledged.
Most important, remember that relationships take continual care and feeding. It’s not a one and done proposition. Since I’ve returned from work after being on medical leave for a year, I’ve been working on rebuilding relationships with my team and others. It’s a work in progress. I’m holding regular 1:1 meetings with each of my staff and bi-weekly team meetings to build more collaboration and camaraderie.
What tips do you have for building solid, trusting relationships at work?
Devinder Malhotra, the new interim chancellor for Minnesota State, has stated that there has never been a better moment in time for our leaders to make a profound difference. Due to the challenges we face, the complexity of a system of colleges and universities, and the incredible difference our schools can make in the lives of the people of Minnesota, now is the time to be a leader.
One type of leadership Malhotra was highlighting is defined by Bernard Bass in his groundbreaking book, Transformational Leadership. Transformational leadership works well in exceedingly complex organizations made up of diverse and challenging work groups that need to feel empowered to succeed in times of great uncertainty. Sound familiar?
Transformational leadership is best recognized by the impact it has on people in the organization. This type of leadership causes people to trust, respect, and even admire, their leaders. Transformational leaders:
- Hold positive expectations for their people and show their people that they believe they will succeed.
- Focus on and demonstrate that they care about their people’s personal and professional development.
Can you picture the leaders who have made a difference in your life through their transformational leadership?
Posted in building teams, Engagement, higher education, integrity, Leadership, mission and vision, trust
Tagged engagement, higher education, integrity, Leadership, transformational change
As a kid the start of a new school year was both exciting and a little unnerving. A chance to build on what you did last year and a chance to make a fresh start!
Similarly, when you are a new leader or an experienced leader each day is a new start. A chance to build on your experience and the opportunity to make a fresh leadership start.
Amy Jen Su, author and co-founder of the executive coaching and leadership development firm Paravis Partners, encourages leaders to “step back and think about your leadership presence and if you are thinking, saying, and showing up as you most hope to and intend.” In her Harvard Business review article she highlights four key fresh start actions for both new and experienced leaders.
- Set or update a leadership values-based goal. Your people pay great attention to what you do and how you do it. Having an aspirational other-directed goal to guide your daily decisions and actions will directly impact the perceptions your team has of you and will strengthen your relationships at work.
- Continue to develop and increase your emotional intelligence and situational awareness. Leaders get work done through others and everyone on your team is different and every situation is different. Different motivations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences, and on and on. You need to be agile and adaptive. A starting point is to ask yourself the following questions before important interactions:
- Who is the other person or audience?
- What might their (not yours) perspective on this topic be?
- How are they best motivated or what is most important to them?
- What is unique about this situation, what variables are important here and now?
- What are the optimal outcomes in this situation, for these specific players, for our team, for our organization?
- Be clear and direct, with respect. Leadership is build on two-way dialogue and trust. Leaders need to be clear and open to other perspectives – at the same time.
- Know what you think and what is important to you – what are your convictions.
- Ask, listen and acknowledge – provide space and acceptance of other points of view.
- Share the WHY – include context, connection to personal and organizational priorities, and alignment.
- Be a stable and grounded presence in the face of change, stress, or difficult news. People need to feel safe bringing you news, even bad news. Otherwise you will end up in a vacuum with no information and no ability to make a difference. In addition, your team will look to you and mimic how you react to stress and changes. It is important to be genuine but prepared to demonstrate your leadership presence, even in tough times.
Fresh starts are exciting and a little scary. They give us an opportunity to reflect, build on what has worked and try something new.
Posted in building teams, change and transition, communication, Engagement, Leadership, leading authentically, trust
Tagged confidence, culture, feedback, motivation, purpose, stress, transparency, vision
“That’s crazy,” “I could never do it that way,” You’re wrong,” “No, listen to me!”
Are you hearing statements like these at work? When new ideas are introduced are you seeing battle lines drawn? How do you lead for the common good when it seems like your people have completely different goals in mind?
Well, not to ignore how hard it is but the place to start is with dialogue. Which means helping people actually listen to each other, even if they disagree with what the other person is saying. Your goal is to help people move from:
- persuading or telling
- focusing on differences
- talking at each other
All of which lead to frustration, lack of trust and either/or thinking.
And move to:
- talking with each other
- looking at options
That requires finding some sort of common or shared interests as a starting point for dialogue. Instead of focusing on the dangers of the other point of view and highlighting the positive of their own point of view, help people work on specific issues by looking deeper and identifying underlying values, goals, and concerns that both sides share.
We encourage the leaders we work with to ask these two straightforward questions to build trust and identify shared interests.
- What do we all want?
- We do we all fear or want to avoid?
It will take work to keep people from focusing on their initial points of view and look at the bigger picture, but facilitating this conversation will help you and your people find a common good you can all agree on, and that is a great starting point!
Posted in building teams, common good, communication, goals, polarities, trust
Tagged communication, culture, ego, innovation, purpose, transparency, vision
One of the best decisions a leader can make is to decide to let others make decisions and to create a decision-maker culture. That is what Dennis Bakke recommends in his book, The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time.
As a leader, you are ultimately accountable for how decisions turn out. That can cause many people to hold tightly to their decision-making authority. Instead Bakke reminds us that sharing decision-making responsibility actually can lead to better decisions, more employee engagement, develops employees expertise and supports professional development. To help leaders identify the best person, or group, to make different decisions Bakke describes a formal “decision-maker process.” Use the following four elements to guide your selection:
- Proximity – how close to the situation is the person and can they also see the big picture?
- Perspective – can the person bring a different point of view or utilize multiple points of view?
- Experience – does the person have enough experience in the situation to be able to actually make a decision?
- Wisdom – will you and others trust their decision?
From my experience, when a leader asks me to make a decision it can feel overwhelming and I may feel like I need to prove my worth by making the decision all on my own! If your people react in the same way sharing decision-making can actually backfire. To help address this issue Bakke encourages leaders to coach their people on how to seek out and take advice when making a decision. He also defines good advice as coming from people who have:
- Experience – they know or understand the situation.
- Different positions in the organization – they can provide multiple and diverse perspectives.
- Responsibility – they have an actual connection to the situation and the decision or outcome.
- Ownership – they will back up their advice and the ultimate decision.
It can be scary to relinquish decision-making responsibility but it is a risk worth taking!
Leaders have a choice to make. To grab a shovel and dig in or not!
Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, challenged us at the 2016 International Association of Talent Development conference to take on the tough work required to be leaders. He reminded us that being a leader is not a title but a result of choosing to dig deeper into the real issues people are facing. Only then will people trust that you are looking out for them and choose to follow. And only when people follow are there leaders.
What makes it even tougher is that trust is a feeling – an emotion – not a behavior or a skill. So we don’t know exactly what will build trust or how long it will take. Still, Sinek defines a leader as a person who is able to create the conditions inside an organization that cause people to trust. And when people trust each other they can do remarkable things.
Taking the actions to build trust requires both faith and risk. The faith to believe that the small daily actions you take with your people will make a difference to them, even when you can’t see the immediate results. It’s somewhat like the faith I had in my climbing partner this morning when we climbed to the top of the peak you see here. I had never used alpine touring skis to climb up a mountain but I trusted Bob based on the many small actions I have seen him take over the years that demonstrated his authentic concern for my well-being.
Leaders also have to take a risk and grab their shovels to dig into what their people are concerned about, even when they don’t have all the answers or know exactly what they may unearth. Sinek actually stated that he thinks the most important tool leaders need is their shovels, and the willingness to dig up the unknown.
Grab a shovel, trust your people and find out what matters to them and have faith that it will make a difference!
P.S. We carried our avalanche shovels and were prepared to use them but I only had to take it out for my blog photo.
Students at our colleges and universities are becoming increasingly diverse, and many of our schools are promoting diversity initiatives on campus. But how often do students get a chance for meaningful conversation with people from different backgrounds?
We’ve all heard that authentic conversation is one of the building blocks of trust. For our students, this may be the first time they have an opportunity to meet someone from a very different background. Developing curiosity and respect for other people’s traditions will help them succeed in school and also in the world of work. At the same time it can also present a challenge for faculty and staff who want to provide safe environments where students trust each other enough to engage in deeper dialogue.
I just attended our MnSCU Academic and Student Affairs leadership conference and heard about a creative idea to address this problem. Tiffany Korver and Jan Stanley from St. Cloud Technical and Community College have developed a collaborative partnership that builds cross-cultural dialogue into the curriculum.
Stanley teaches a course in cultural anthropology and Korver teaches an introductory writing course aimed at ESL learners. As part of each course, students meet together several times to interview each other and learn about a variety of subjects such as cultural traditions, work, family, and even religion. Students are then assigned to write papers that apply their experiences to the course content.
For the ESL students, it’s a chance to practice speaking, increase their vocabulary, and use their writing skills to explain aspects of their cultures. The anthropology students are able to develop curiosity and and apply textbook knowledge to real-life interviews. Both groups report that they recognized their commonalities and were able to develop a stronger campus community.
What examples have you seen of creative ways to create connections?
Dee Anne Bonebright