Category Archives: Leadership

Who are you?

The stressed-out demanding coworker, the skeptical regulatory agent, the overwhelmed student, the sick and crabby patient, the distracted team member, or the busy boss – what do these people all have in common? They are someone’s customer!

When I worked in health care we always had to stop and remind ourselves that the reason our customers (patients and their families) were acting stressed, confused, and unhappy was because they were sick or their family members were sick! Customer service can be easy when everyone is on their best behavior and interacting in a highly professional manner, but that isn’t reality. Leaders need to be able to listen and respond with respect even when people are being “difficult.”

Author Paul Meshanko in his book, The Respect Effect, highlights 12 Rules of Respect that can help you establish respect with your customers even in difficult situations. These rules are based on behaviors that have been shown to neurologically enhance human interactions even in stressful situations.

  1. Be aware of your nonverbal cues – are your behaviors supporting your desired message?
  2. Develop a curiosity about the perspective of others – actively demonstrate that you are interested in what or why or how others are feeling or thinking.
  3. Assume that everyone is smart about something – give people the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Become a better listener by shaking your “but” – using the word but dismisses anything said previously even if that isn’t what you mean.
  5. Look for opportunities to connect and support others – identify areas of agreement while acknowledging areas of difference.
  6. When you disagree, explain why – provide information that clarifies how you made a decision.
  7. Look for opportunities to grow, stretch and change – remind yourself that nothing is static and each of us has something new to learn.
  8. Learn to be wrong on occasion – consider other points of view, even when your idea will work, and demonstrate to others that it is ok to make a mistake at times.
  9. Never hesitate to say you are sorry – acknowledge when you have not been respectful. It happens!
  10. Intentionally engage others in ways that build their self-esteem – intentionally interact in ways that recognize the value others have.
  11. Be respectful of time – remember that other people have time commitments that you are not aware of, and they are important to them.
  12. Smile! – last but definitely not least. Even in difficult situations look for opportunities to recognize connection or forward movement with a genuine smile.

Customer interactions can be messy. Demonstrating respect gives you the foundation to move forward.

Todd Thorsgaard

Trust and change

Last week the Harvard Business Review blog included a case study that is a good summary to our discussion on building trust. It focused on the tech company Nokia and how it dealt with major industry changes and the resulting need to completely overhaul their business strategy.

The article described three important practices the company’s newly-appointed board followed to address the emotional side of strategic change. In order to move ahead, they focused on building trusting relationships among the leadership team and across the company.

#1 Increase trust by defining new conversational norms. The previous leadership made it uncomfortable for people to express their opinions and voice concerns. In contrast, the new board identified “Golden Rules” for board discussions that included showing respect to each other and assuming that people are speaking with good intentions. Following these rules created a culture where people felt free to express alternative viewpoints and generate more options.

#2 Reduce emotional attachment to the prevailing strategy by generating many new options, not just one alternative.  People are more willing to express concerns and identify weaknesses in organizational strategy when alternatives are available. As the board created a culture in which multiple options are considered, they were able to make more thoughtful decisions.

#3 Nudge top managers to pay attention to data that conflicts with their gut feelings. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful thinking. Paying attention to data helped the leadership to make better decisions and deal with their current reality.

Similar to the tech industry, higher education is in the midst of disruptive changes. I found these actions applicable to the work I do as a leader. What do you think?

Dee Anne Bonebright

The 3 C’s of trust

Today, on Memorial Day, as we honor our military men and women who have served and died for our country, I thought it might be apropos to share the 3 C’s of trust published by naval academy graduate and helicopter pilot Philip Gift in The Military Leader.

Gift says that building trust boils down to three fundamentals: 1) Competence;  2) Caring; and 3) Communication.   Here are a few insights that he shares about the 3 C’s:

  • If people are not competent, then no matter what is promised, they will not be able to deliver.
  • If people don’t care about the other members of the workforce, then there is no guarantee that they will keep their word when a better deal arises.
  • No matter how competent people are or how much they care, if they cannot communicate that information to other people, then trust will never grow.

Given the importance of competence, care, and communication in building trust, here are some questions for you to consider about your own leadership.

Competence: Are you competent in the job you currently hold? Do you understand your leadership role and your impact on others? What steps can you take to improve your effectiveness as a leader?

Caring: Do you care about your organization and the people who report to you? What do you do specifically to demonstrate that care? Do you listen to your employees and take time to learn more about them as whole people? How do you support them with the necessary tools and resources to accomplish their jobs? What growth opportunities can you give them?

Communication: How well do you communicate your ideas and decisions? Do you find that people understand what you are trying to convey? What do you do to ensure effective two-way communication? When do you opt for face-to-face meetings, email, memos, phone and online meetings? Do your communication strategies and modes seem to work well? What can you do to improve your communications?

While I work hard to demonstrate caring with my team members, when I’m overloaded, it sometimes falls by the wayside. The last couple of months have been so frenetic, that I haven’t had much time to check in with each staff member individually to see how things are going. This week I’m going take extra time to do just that.

In the next week, I challenge you to take one of the 3 C’s and see how you can work to enhance trust with your team as well.

Anita Rios

 

 

Insights from a trusted leader

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Hara Charlier, President of Central Lakes College about her onboarding experience as a new president in Minnesota State. President Charlier has a natural ability to connect with people and even over the phone, had me enjoying our conversation. During our talk, she shared some very useful insights about building relationships and trust on her campus. Knowing that other leaders would benefit from her wisdom, I asked if we could feature her on our blog this month.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

We talked about your onboarding experience as a new president at Central Lakes College in Minnesota State. During that conversation, you told me that your very first challenge was a cultural challenge around trust. Can you tell me more about that?

Sure. I think that trust can be challenged any time there is a leadership transition. People think about the new leader and ask: Can I trust him or her? Will he or she uphold the traditions of this college? Will he or she make decisions that are in the best interest of the college? Leadership transitions can shake the foundation of trust.

When I first came here, Central Lakes College was experiencing extensive turnover in leadership positions, from deans to directors and vice presidents. Issues of trust were evident from years of leadership transition. It was no reflection on the leaders themselves. It takes time to build trust and because of the continual turnover, there was no time to build trust with individual leaders.

What specifically did you do to build trust on your campus?

I believe that leaders should listen and learn first. So, as a part of my onboarding process, I conducted focus groups with all employees. I asked employees: What do we do well? What can we improve? What is our ideal culture? And how can we create our ideal culture?

That is when I realized there was a trust issue. People were fearful and did not feel heard. They were not trusting of administration.

The focus groups helped me to really hear employees’ voices and provided fabulous data to help us understand and begin to create the culture people wanted.

Based on the data, we formed a community-building team of volunteers to begin building the culture that people had identified…one where all employees are respected, feel heard, and care about each other. The team led an employee recognition day and created a calendar of social events with the goal of connecting people from different parts of the college so they could get know each other as people.

I also send out regular email newsletters to the campus community… helping them to see all of the terrific things happening on our campuses, thanking them, and letting them know that we value all that they do. This often takes the form of a top ten list. People report that they like hearing about the great work that is happening at CLC. It helps people feeling valued, contributes to the sense that we’re doing good work together, and helps to build trust.

Why do you feel building trust is essential to your effectiveness as a leader and to the success of your institution?

I believe everything we do is about “relationship,” which is the foundation of trust. It’s a personal value of mine, and it aligns with the values of the college. We are really in the relationship business.

It sounds so simple. As a public proponent of relationships, I talk about the value of people and relationships at every opportunity. We have been very vocal about how relationships are a top priority at CLC, and we work to share that message consistently across the college.

A college can’t do its work without relationships with students, each other, and with our community. CLC employees do that every day. They go above and beyond. I watch them. It is the cornerstone of what we do. We can’t get momentum without valuing and trusting one another.

How have you helped your team focus on relationships at Central Lakes?

Our leadership team actively works on strategies to build relationships – how to ensure that employees feel supported, valued, and heard, how to have meaningful conversations, and how to nurture a culture of respect. This work happens through professional development and ongoing conversations about relationships and trust, so that it is instilled in the employees of Central Lakes College.

One of our key initiatives has been knowing people’s names. If we believe that we should know employees as whole people, we need to know their names. We ask people to wear name tags at college events to help people learn and remember each other’s names. We ask them to please know each other’s names and smile at each other. We are whole, complicated beings, with lives outside of work. Knowing each other’s names is the beginning to know people.

In your role as president, people are paying attention to you. How does that influence your actions every day as a leader?

I believe that it is important for leaders to be authentic. I think it is important to just BE me. I work hard to be authentic, vulnerable and let people get to know me. It is only when we know who people are and what values guide them that we can trust.

We also spend lot of time working to gather input about decisions and ultimately conveying the WHY we make decisions. Explaining “the why” is important so that we are all going in the same direction. That contributes to trust.

The most important time I spend is walking around our campuses, stopping by offices, labs, and having hallway conversations. It’s my opportunity to talk with and listen to students and employees. Through these casual, unplanned conversations, we get to know each other as whole people – and build trust. Of course, it’s challenging to find time to do this, but if we recognize it as critical, it becomes a priority. I schedule “walk abouts” on my calendar.

What advice would you give to other leaders to enhance their ability to build trust with others?

  • You can’t build trust unless you are authentic, vulnerable, and approachable.
  • It’s hard to find time to walk around and talk to people, but it is worth every minute.
  • Be yourself and let people see who you are (even your flaws).
  • Get to know employees as people. They will appreciate you taking the time, and you will gain so much from learning about the wonderful people that make things happen in our colleges.

Anita Rios

Of course I’m trustworthy, right?

I have to admit, as a leader it is natural to look outward and try to help other people succeed, or change, or improve, or tackle a sensitive issue. Yet, looking inward is the first step to take when building trust.

I was reminded of that when I took an “Am I Trustworthy”online quiz. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the quiz but I wanted to share some trust-building ideas I had discovered in this article.  The last tip was to “be courageous,” acknowledge you have blind spots, and uncover them. So I had to! But first, I will share all 7 tips from Michelle Reina, co-founder of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy, on how to earn trust.

Ask what you can give. Authentically support your people and ask them how you can help them succeed.

Facilitate breakthrough conversations. Pay attention and help identify miscommunication, misunderstandings and missing information. Help people stay on track and make a difference with their time and energy.

Let people know what they can count on. As we have talked about previously it is important to share information and context. Help people understand decisions and build clarity.

Provide whole person feedback. Let people know how they have made a contribution–and let people know what is getting in their way to further success. Everyone needs both.

Draw the line against gossip. Establish, reinforce and role-model a “no gossip” policy. Ensure that your work culture is a safe one where people don’t have to worry what is being said behind their backs or when they are not in the room.

Admit your own mistakes. Acknowledging and sharing your own fallibility demonstrates your authenticity and helps others feel safe and willing to share.

Know thyself. Good intentions don’t earn trust, actual behavior does. We have to examine our own behavior and assess how trustworthy we are. It is important to know what you do well–and keep doing it. Honestly recognize where you need to make changes to be more trustworthy. Here is a link to the short assessment in the article – How trustworthy am I?

I learned I need to do a better job in giving people authentic feedback. I didn’t like seeing my lower score but now I know what I need to do differently.

Todd Thorsgaard

Trust and failure at work

One of your employees made a major mistake. It cost time, money, and stakeholder goodwill. You made a major effort and repaired the damage. So what happens next?

Many of us like to think that we would expect the person to learn from the mistake and continue to be a high-performing part of the team. But it can be hard to trust that person with similar projects in the future.

Several years ago I read a book called The Set Up to Fail Syndrome. The authors made the argument that an employee’s poor performance is often directly related to the behavior of his or her boss.

As they explained in this blog post, the pattern is the opposite of the Pygmalion effect.  Rather than helping an individual live up to great expectations, the set-up-to-fail syndrome encourages people to live down to low expectations.

  1. An employee makes some kind of mistake at work.
  2. The manager decides to take a more hands-on approach in managing performance by providing extra feedback, adding approval steps, and watching the employee more closely.
  3. Even though the manager is well meaning, the employee interprets this behavior as lack of confidence and trust. This leads to second-guessing themselves, withdrawing, and making fewer autonomous decisions.
  4. The boss perceives this behavior as further demonstration that the person is not a strong contributor, and the cycle continues.

This can become a self-reinforcing cycle in which even high-performing employees are no longer able to bring their best to the work. And it’s not unusual. What stuck with me about the book was this quote:

Up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.

Some years ago I worked with a colleague that had very different personality preferences than our manager. She made several choices that were different from what the manager would have done. The manager interpreted her work style as problematic and quit including her in planning meetings or seeking her feedback about programs she worked on. The employee began to feel like she couldn’t do anything right. She quit trying, thereby making the manager believe that he was correct to doubt  her abilities.

Eventually the employee transferred to a different department and immediately began to thrive. She was put in charge of increasingly complex tasks and earned at least one promotion. Her basic work performance and style didn’t change. What did change was her relationship with her manager and her resulting self-confidence.

Re-building trust after a mistake, or even a difference of opinion, can be hard. Not doing it means that some employees are given assignments and flexibility while others are not. The consequences can be costly for the employee, the work unit, and the organization.

What do you do after someone makes a mistake to ensure you are re-building trust instead of setting them up to fail?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Photo: Untitled photograph (Broken red vase) by Sarah Charlesworth

 

 

 

How deep is your well of trust?

When I was growing up, my dad and grandpa dug the well at our cabin by hand. I still remember how deep they were, how they had to reinforce the dirt to make sure it didn’t collapse and and how scary it was. They had to keep digging deeper and deeper before they hit water. They had to have a deep trust in each other and in what they were doing to stay safe. After about 32 feet they struck water and 53 years later we still get our water from that well.

Leadership may not be quite so dangerous, but it does require trust. Diane Gray, owner of Grayheart Consulting, describes three levels or depth of trust that leaders need to build to be successful. As you get deeper, it gets harder, but the payoff is worth it.

One Strike and You Are Out Trust

This is the most shallow level of trust. It is transactional and exists when there is a punishment as a consequence for behaviors that break trust. Fear of reprisal and positional power are the basis for trust at this level. Trust is fragile and broken easily. While it is a tenuous trust, it can be successful when leaders act with integrity.

Knowledge and Understanding Trust

This is the mid-level of trust. It exists when people know and understand what they need to do and when others know and understand what to do. Interactions and behaviors are predictable and “make sense” so people trust each other. This level of trust takes time to develop since it requires multiple interactions and repeated behavior. It isn’t based on immediate transactions, includes forgiveness and a more complete understanding of behaviors, and thus is a deeper level of trust. Trust at this level creates loyalty and more engagement.

Advocating Trust

The deepest level of trust. Leaders develop this level of trust by demonstrating “they have their people’s backs.” When leaders are open, transparent, and willing to listen to their people they can build deeper relationships and deeper trust. Taking the time explore options, argue, share concerns and how decisions are made helps people feel valued and safe. They trust that their leader will advocate for them and are willing to fully engage in their work and the success of their organization. Gray suggests that this depth of trust includes:

  • Integrity
  • Competence
  • Consistency
  • Loyalty
  • Openness

How deep is your well of trust? Do you need to do some digging?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Assume good intent

Want to build trusting relationships fast? Start with assuming good intent! According to Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link, when people in one part of an organization are asked to interface with another part, they often start with assumptions of negative intent such as:

  • “Is there a hidden agenda?”
  • “What is her real motive?”
  • “Is he trying to position himself or his team to get more, so we’ll get less?”

Sound familiar? At times, I’m sure we’ve all had those assumptions of others that we need to work with. However, in their book Smart Trust, Link and Covey say, “…the best leaders, the best teams, the best companies start from that promise [of assuming good intent] and doing so creates the very behavior they’re seeking.”

Doing otherwise and assuming negative intent can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and create the very behavior that is feared.  Think about it. Our assumptions are pretty powerful and influence how we behave AND the behaviors we elicit from others.

I had a recent experience where a partnering organization made an accounting error that negatively impacted the budget of a professional board that I serve. While leaders in the organization did acknowledge the error, they did not offer to remedy it immediately. In fact, they indicated that it would be a hardship to do so.  Assuming negative intent could have easily devolved into a very combative situation that could threaten both the partnership and the sustainability of the professional board. I’m glad to say that the board members and I worked hard to assume good intent and offered up several options for resolving the issue. That good will perpetuated a much better response.  I have now heard from the leaders that they are working on the issue and want to pursue a mutually satisfying resolution.

Thinking about your own experience, here are some questions from Covey and Link for you to consider:

  • Have you ever assumed negative motives on the part of someone else?
  • Have you ever been surprised to discover that your assumptions might have been wrong?
  • What has been your experience in working with others when people assumed good intent on the part of others? What was your experience when they didn’t?

While it is important to accurately assess situations or relationships where it may be smart not to assume good intent, Covey and Link argue that in most cases, assuming good intent with coworkers, teams, organizations, partners, suppliers, spouses, children and others is a more productive, positive, and prosperous place to start.

Anita Rios

 

Trust and culture

I recently listened to a TED talk by international consultant Jacqueline Oliveira. She had some very interesting observations about building trust in cross-cultural institutions. As our higher ed workplaces become more diverse, it was a great reminder that trust is shaped and colored by culture.

Oliveira said that  trust is a belief in the virtue, ethics, and honesty of another person. But she also pointed out that we don’t see beliefs, we see behaviors. Trust is related to our actions that show:

  • Competence – doing our jobs right
  • Integrity – sticking to a code of behavior
  • Caring – demonstrating that we care for our colleagues

“There are so many behaviors – some different, some similar, some contrary – all driven by these three attributes,” she says. “Imagine your multi-cultural colleagues behaving in ways that they were taught from childhood, and then being marginalized or even disciplined for behaving in this way.”

We rarely think about what we mean when we say someone is behaving in a trustworthy manner. It’s just the way things ought to be. When working with colleagues from different backgrounds we can increase trust by:

  1. Asking. What are the behaviors that show competence, integrity, and caring for you?  It can lead to a rich discussion about culture.
  2. Writing it down.  Keep the information somewhere where everyone can see it. When issues of trust arise, go back and review the list.
  3. Being flexible and willing to change.

Building trust can be complicated. Building trust across cultures is even more so. But the result is a stronger workplace where everyone feels included.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Why trust matters

Trust at work can be defined as the willingness to accept personal risk based on another person’s actions, according to an article on the Business-2-Community website.

That could mean that I’m willing to guarantee a deadline because I’m confident my team members will do their part on time. It could mean making decisions based on someone else’s data, because I’m sure the data is accurate. Or it could mean accepting a stretch assignment because I’m sure my supervisor will help me succeed and back me up when I make mistakes.

Developing that kind of trust between employees and leadership can be difficult. In fact, studies show that fewer than half of employees say they have a high trust in their leaders. But it’s important because:

  • It leads to greater productivity and employee retention. Forbes has measured 15-20% difference in profit and productivity when organizations put a priority on trust.
  • It leads to better outcomes on the job. One study found that 82% of employees said trust in their supervisors was critical to their performance.
  • It enhances engagement. Among highly engaged employees, 90%  say they trust their leaders.

How can we build this kind of trust? The article and a related infographic  gave the following advice.

  • Gather employee input when making organizational decisions.
  • Increase transparency by helping employees understand how decisions are made.
  • Tell employees what is going on, even when things aren’t going well.
  • Ensure consistency between leadership words and actions.

As employees, we want to work in environments where there is high trust. As leaders, trust will help us be more effective in meeting organizational goals. How have you been able to build trust with your work teams?

Dee Anne Bonebright