Category Archives: Building Relationships

Trust: If You Build It, They Will Come…and Stay

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Trust. It’s a small word and yet, it holds the key to success in just about every walk of life. And, it’s one of those things that is often hard earned yet easily destroyed. That makes it precious.

From a corporate perspective, we all pretty much know that building trust in organizations is key. But what does it look like when it’s in action? Well,

here are some ideas around what we might see in an organization that has successfully built high levels of trust.

As a Boss, people are open and candid with me. They trust that I’m not in the business of shooting messengers or punishing anyone for giving me straight and honest information about myself or anything else for that matter. People working with me, are not afraid to be creative or try new things. And, when they make mistakes, they own up to them and are willing to share their lessons with others. As a boss too, I strive for transparency in my dealings with others and that means I talk to them, ask for their opinions and listen to their advice. I feel well rewarded and highly regarded.

As part of a team, I don’t waste time engaging in gratuitous political maneuverings. I focus instead on building solid and positive relationships with my colleagues for my benefit, and for the team. I trust them to do the same. I make sure I fulfill my responsibilities to the team and the organization and take pride in both what I produce and what the team produces. My team and I enjoy working together and pitch in to do whatever work needs doing, even if it is technically “not my job”. I always get the credit I deserve for the contributions I make. I feel that I belong.

As an individual contributor, I make sure that I understand my role in the organization and if I am unsure, I ask someone who can teach me. Similarly, if I have knowledge that someone else does not have, but needs, I am not hesitant about sharing what I know. I trust that sharing will give us all the power we need to do our jobs well and succeed. I feel competent and important.

As a sales person, I believe in my product. My clients’ needs come before my own. Many of my clients have been with me for a long time. I continue to work to earn their ongoing loyalty. I am not afraid to approach my boss if I think my client has needs that could be met differently. I offer my ideas freely. I have earned my clients’ respect. I do not feel the need to compete with my colleagues except in a way that challenges us all to do better. I feel productive and successful.

As an organization, we continue to experience growth in our business. Our client base is strong and increasing. Our employees are actively engaged in building and supporting our business. We value their contribution and make every effort to acknowledge their accomplishments in a variety of ways that have meaning for them. We feel confident about the future.

Okay, so some of this might sound a bit utopian. I mean, I used to have a boss that hid around corners at lunch hour trying to catch people taking more than their allotted time for lunch. While hopefully, bosses who behave like that are going the way of the dinosaur, I suspect a lot of work has yet to be done to build the kind of trust it takes to bring all of the scenarios I describe to life.

Nonetheless it is perhaps something to strive for because the price of under-valuing, (or worse, not doing), the work of building trust in organizations is very high indeed.

I am reminded, strangely, of a little clip from the movie City Slickers where Jack Palance’s character, Curly, talks about the “one thing” that holds the secret of life. Here it is:

When it comes to the secret of successful organizations, I tend to think that the “one thing” is trust.

What do you think?

*Note: originally posted in February 2010

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The Practical Gift of Humility

freemanX-GiftsSome time ago, there was an online discussion that came about from a blog post published by Mary Jo Asmus.  In it, Mary Jo  outlined a number of important gifts people can give to those they lead; the more intangible ones that make a big difference when building a happy and engaged workforce.

At the end of the post, Mary Jo asked us to think about what other qualities leaders might bring and apply at work.

I offered the gift of humility.

Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”

Well, that started me thinking.  How indeed?  After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego.  And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either.  In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person.  Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?

I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects. Here are some that come to mind.

Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:

  • Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
  • Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
  • Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
  • Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
  • Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
  • Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.

Okay, all this sounds tough.  And it is.  It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry it off, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do.   It is that, which makes it a gift.

Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility?  Of course not.  Does it mean we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.  In truth, leading with humility is available to us all.  It simply (not to be confused with easily) takes practice and sincerity.

I’m still working on it. You?

 

Note: this is a revised version of the original post published in 2010

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When the Grasshopper Teaches the Master

Little Man Business cut out 72dpi-resized-201.jpgThere is a lot to be said for learning from younger people. While we veterans can teach the invaluable lessons of the past, they can teach us the path to the future. And that is worth paying attention to.

For instance, people of my generation often grapple with the wonders of technology with varying degrees of success. Some of us are totally immersed and intrigued by what can be accomplished in a wireless world, (including all the cool toys that come along with it). Others of us are hard pressed to know how to turn on our computers, if indeed we even own one. But, no matter where we are on the technology learning curve, the one thing we know for sure is that to learn it, we have to consult those who have the skill and it’s highly doubtful that we will find this expertise in people older than ourselves.

That’s why I like the idea of mentorships in organizations working both ways.

It should be pretty simple really.

Take Young Person A, who knows about something and put him or her together with Older Person B who doesn’t know much at all about that particular something. Then let the learning begin.

All right, so it’s not that simple.

People of the older generation… well, we have our pride. We like the idea of mentoring someone younger because it seems to us to flow with the accepted order of things… you know, the Master and Grasshopper type of relationship. However, when it is the Grasshopper doing the teaching, it can make us feel somehow redundant, even stupid and that’s not something one willingly puts a hand up for.

Alternately, people of a younger generation may not see the benefits of slowing down to help us older ones learn things that are, to them, elementary my dear Watson. They may also feel they are carrying a load for someone who might even make more money than they do and from whom they see no reciprocal reward. There’s not much fun in that either.

So to begin with, I think that a successful Young master/Old Grasshopper relationship needs to begin with an attitude check on both sides.

And you spell that R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Of course along with that has to come a certain measure of empathy that allows the older to appreciate the skills and knowledge of the younger; and the younger to give credence to the lessons that only an older generation can teach.

With that established, I can think of a few practical steps that might help the Young Master/ Old Grasshopper set off on the road to building a mutually rewarding relationship. Here they are:

Determine a skill base line

There is nothing more counterproductive, or annoying, than making assumptions about what a person knows or does not know. Spending a little time determining current skill levels within the context of the subject matter is a good use of time.

Take time to set some goals

Technology, for instance, encompasses a huge body of knowledge. To make some headway and avoid being overwhelmed, discuss what you want to be able to do and how it might benefit your work before you start tackling applications that may, or may not, move you in the right direction. Goals will also give you benchmarks against which you can monitor progress. There is something very satisfying about that for both parties in the relationship.

Establish good communication habits

For the most part this means speaking plainly; being truthful; and regularly checking for understanding.

Have Fun

Working with someone to learn something new and seeing that new thing being applied in real time is exciting! Enjoy the journey and the person with whom you are taking it and my hunch is, you will both profit from the experience.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

 

* Note: originally posted in January 2010

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Perceptions of Leadership ~ Changing the Record

0716_Slide2_blog_inlineRecently, I  read an interesting article that started me thinking about the messages we send out to our children concerning what it is to be a manager. I was thinking too, or perhaps worrying, that in spite of herculean efforts on the part of many ‘experts’ to change the perception of what it takes to be a good manager, we seem to be failing to convey a more enlightened message than the one that prevailed at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

The Article, written by Hal Gregersen for Businessweek.com is entitled, “What Do Managers Do at Work?

Gregerson and his colleague, Warner Woodworth, collected data from one thousand children between the ages of five and eighteen years old. When asked, “What do Managers do at work?” the responses looked like this:

55%: Managers control people’s actions at work, making sure they do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it.

39%: Managers fix problems at work, any problem (and more often than not, they fix every problem).

6%: Managers develop people’s capabilities by coaching them to become better at what they do.

Less than 1%: Managers understand and serve customer needs.

Less than 1%: Managers make a profit for their companies.”

While I don’t think the sample size here can wholly represent the perceptions of all children in the five to eighteen age range, it appears that among these 1,000 children, the perception of management remains largely entrenched in a command and control model. And that is worrying enough to talk about.

For me, it begs the question: What must we do to change the record… to make sure upcoming generations of organizational leaders have the opportunity to think differently about the work of leadership and management long before they even get their first job?

It’s a big question. I don’t have the answer…just a thought for now, which is this:

Changing the way we talk about our own work experience might provide an opportunity for the next generation to think about work differently, not necessarily how it is, but how it could be or how we want it to be. ~ If we think young people are not listening when we talk about our jobs, our bosses, or our employees, we would be wrong. That means our experiences around leadership, control, problem solving, idea-generation, diversity etc. are, almost always passed along and absorbed.

So, here are a few questions to ask ourselves that might help us to think differently; to change the conversation; and perhaps too, the perception of what a good manager does at work:

What kind of boss would I like my daughter or son to be?
In what way can I champion a positive and collaborative leadership model?
Why is it important?
What opportunities might I provide now that will help my children develop 21st Century leadership skill?
What kind of role model am I?
Alan Keightley said, “Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t’ have to experience the world in the way they have been told to”

With that in mind, I assert that our children do not have to experience organizational life in the same way so many of us do, or have done. But, for a new vision of leadership to fully emerge, we have to start by breaking old patterns…and changing the record. Fortunately, there is some evidence of this happening.  Take a moment to listen to these children on the topic of leadership:

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

*Note: This post is a refreshed version of one written in October 2012

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When Empathy Leaves the Room

Empathy is a word being highlighted as an essential part of successful 21st Century organizations and a key element of good leadership. I think it is safe to say that we wouldn’t get too many arguments about that. And, I think that for the most part we also understand what the word empathy really means.

To  me though,  there is a great difference between understanding what empathy means on a between-the-ears basis and achieving an appreciation deep enough to more easily put ourselves in another person’s place and respond appropriately.

You may ask, why is it important to go deeper?  Well, let me try to address that question by describing a place where empathy did not live. I’m not sure if it ever lived there but if it did, somewhere along the way, it simply left the room… probably in disgust.

It was in the early seventies. I was a clerk for the foreign exchange Trading section of a major bank. I didn’t normally spend all of my day in the Trading Room. In fact, my desk was usually on another floor but, on this one occasion, the computers were down and I was required to actually sit in the Trading Room recording transactions manually and balancing them at the end of the day.

The Foreign Exchange Trading Room was a highly charged place. Split second transactions made the difference between profit and loss, win and lose. The atmosphere constantly buzzed with activity. I was there for a week and my job was mundane enough to afford me the luxury of sitting, mostly unnoticed, as the Traders went about their jobs and interacted with each other.

The Chief Trader was a middle-aged, somewhat round, somewhat balding fellow with a big booming voice and an ego to match. He shouted a lot. He swore a lot. His temper was unprecedented. I watched as he blasphemed and cursed his way from one end of the day to the next. I watched as he threw his telephone viciously against the console of his desk and launch himself into a full-blown temper tantrum because someone had failed to yield to his demand.

I watched as some in the room became withdrawn, trying to get through the day without being a target for a sarcastic or derogatory remark. I noticed too, those who followed the Chief Trader’s lead and behaved obnoxiously and without thought toward each other and people who entered the room simply to deliver things or take things away.

In among all of this toxic air was Elsie. Elsie was the Gold Trader. Her permanent desk was in the Trading Room along with the others. There were two other women in the room but Elsie was the eldest. I expect she might have been about fifty. Small and refined and perhaps a little plain (by Trading Room Standards anyway), she went about her work with diligence and in quiet dignity. During my stay in the Trading Room, hardly a day went by when someone did not make a deeply embarrassing remark toward Elsie, especially about her age and appearance. Elsie seemed to bear all of this abuse, allowing the words thrown at her to roll off her back. But looks are indeed deceiving and the words were wounding. No one seemed to understand or care how Elsie might be feeling. They expected her to go along with the “joke”. And she did. None of us really knows what it must have cost her.

The other two women in the room chose to behave like the men. They swore a lot too. They too, made sarcastic remarks to each other and to anyone else who was in range. People outside the Trading Room thought them hard and bitter and perhaps they were, but I suspect they were just trying to survive because they had no hope of ever being understood.

My time in the Trading Room ended with my feeling a great sense of relief. There were a lot of dysfunctional things going on in the room that week but I think the source of them all could easily be attributed to the fact that the working environment was devoid of any kind of empathy. And, when empathy leaves the room, it has a way of taking dignity, respect and civility with it.

In these times, there are rules and edicts meant to govern and guard against the kind of behaviour described here but, to me, 21st Century leaders can really only be truly successful if they are willing to stand in another’s shoes as a matter of common practice; seek to feel, understand and simply care, without the prod that such rules produce.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

 

*Note: This is a refreshed version of the original post written in 2010

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The Language of Leadership in the 21st Century

I’ve always loved language. Admittedly, my facility in it is sadly limited to English, a few French words and phrases, body language (on a good day) and oh yes, a little pig Latin. But, what I love about language is its power to shape ideas, create images, evoke emotion and give birth to new habits and traditions.

In organizations, language also has the power to determine what matters. For instance, the language of the 20th Century stressed, among other things, the importance of control, competition, individual targets, winning, losing and results. And while many of these words allude to activities that continue to be important, there is other language creeping into the 21st Century landscape that will affect our behaviour and change the way we go about things.

To some, this language is associated with the softer side of life. In the past, It has often been derided and dismissed as being too ethereal or without merit in the workplace. But, as this new century unfolds, language like this will re-shape what matters and reveal its harder edge as we put it into practice.

So, what specifically am I talking about? Well, no doubt you will have heard and used the words. But because I often think it’s easy to use words without really understanding what they mean or how they might be used in any sort of practical way, I thought I’d have a go at bringing them into the light if only for the sake of provoking your own thoughts about their applicability in these highly challenging times. Words, after all, have a way of being open to interpretation and I’m sure you will have yours. But, for what it’s worth here are mine:

The first word is Empathy. To me, empathy in action looks like this. You and I are sharing our viewpoints over a particular issue. It is a difficult conversation. What I’m hearing from you sounds foreign and unlikely and yet I want to make sense of what you are saying. So I stop. I let my ego and my belief that I am right go, and I step into your shoes. I do that by asking questions and exploring the issue from your perspective. I seek to see what you see. In so doing I search for what you might be feeling and when I find it, I begin to understand what it’s like to be there. In short, empathy is about understanding. But just to be clear, it is not necessarily about agreeing.

Here are some other key words that come to mind:

Inclusion is about creating an environment where people feel they belong; are valued and respected. Including people means asking their opinions frequently; trusting them to take the lead in situations where their strengths will better serve the purpose; acknowledging their contributions sincerely and often.

Self-awareness is about knowing our own strengths, weaknesses, behaviours and attitudes well enough to understand our impact on those around us and how effective, or perhaps ineffective, it is in certain situations.

Cultural awareness is about the values, beliefs and perceptions that are part of the organization and the people who work in it. Organizations with an enduring culture will be ones that align their activities and practices with their values and beliefs. These values and beliefs are brought alive through action and thought; in their approach to the customer; in their hiring practices and in the kind of business they choose to conduct.

Diversity is about achieving a real appreciation for the heterogeneous nature of the world and it’s people. To me, embracing diversity means appreciating, understanding, valuing and using our differences to enhance the work and create something greater than we might otherwise do by behaving divisively and out of ignorance or fear.

Openness is about being truthful and giving people the information and resources they need to do their jobs. It also reminds me of the critical need to be receptive to new ideas from a variety of sources and people. In the last century, information was often used as a power tool by a few against the many. Today, I think that power is at its most effective when it is collectively held and willingly shared.

Adaptability in this century will be key to not only successful organizations but ones that simply seek survival as well. This is about learning to accept change as an every day occurrence as opposed to an event that must be planned and carefully managed. It speaks to the necessity to be continually reading, questioning and challenging the current environment. Today becomes yesterday in the blink of an eye. I think that those who learn fast and change faster will do better in these times than those who don’t.

Collaboration speaks to the need to work together for a common purpose. The 20th Century organization was rife with silos and walls that provoked, or perhaps encouraged, internal competition and rivalries. Now it’s time to build bridges between people and lines of business; to eschew hoarding behaviour and learn to share ideas and resources for a purpose that will be of service to everyone involved

These are just eight words that I think, when put into action, will define leadership, and organizational life, in the years to come. There are, of course, others. But, my point is that the more we use this language, and seek to understand its meaning and application, the better equipped we will be to meet the challenges that this century presents.

What do you think? What words come to mind for you when you think about leadership today? What do they mean to you? How will they affect the way we work?

Note: This post was originally published in October 2010

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Successful Leadership ~ The Story of a Man

I wrote this post in 2010.  Being part of this retirement celebration reminded me that when it comes right down to it, it is our humanity and what we do with it that makes the difference between success and failure.  Nothing else really seems to matter that much.

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The other evening I attended a retirement celebration for a former colleague.  It was a wonderful gathering, a room packed full of people who were there because they genuinely liked and respected the man who was about to embark on the next phase of his life.

In his business career, the man did not rise to the top of the executive ladder.  Nor, I would hazard to say, did he make lots of money or enjoy an opulent lifestyle.  He may not even be widely known to people much beyond his immediate sphere of influence.  But his impact has been felt. He is successful.  He is a leader.

Throughout the course of the evening, many people got up to speak.

His bosses praised his leadership in community activities; his ability to galvanize his local workforce; and his good humour and cheerful disposition.  Those bosses, who were younger than he, thanked him for his guidance and mentorship.

His colleagues spoke about lifelong friendship; told stories of the fun they had together and how they all managed to work hard in spite of their youthful exuberance.

His staff thanked him for his support and guidance.  While they were happy for him as he moved on to other things, they were sad too, as they told their own stories of meeting challenges together; overcoming obstacles; achieving goals; and yes, having fun all along the way.

His sons told stories of their life as they grew up.  The stories were witty and poignant and full of pride.  They were two young men who had grown up to be fine, funny and thoughtful, two young men who thanked their parents for giving them a good start in life.

When it was his turn, the man did not talk about his accomplishments at all.  Instead, he spoke with pride about the accomplishments of others, especially his children. He talked about the constant love and support he received from his wife. He talked about what he had learned over the course of his career and from whom.  He made many self-deprecating remarks.  And he said thank you…a lot.

Much has been written about the characteristics of successful leadership and while I certainly think there are core elements associated with it, there are other lessons in there somewhere. Like:

Successful Leadership is not formulaic.  It is open to interpretation and it requires the involvement of the whole self.

For instance, while we know that good communication is key to good leadership, how we communicate to get the desired result will vary depending on the leader. The man was successful because he did not pretend to be anyone else.  His communication style included fun, laughter and humility.  It worked for him simply because it is who he is.

And:

Successful Leadership is more about love than we would like to admit.

Okay, I can feel people cringing as they read this because injecting the word love into a business environment starts to feel a bit, um, ethereal.  But, there are all kinds of love…love of challenge; love of ideas; love of people; love of good honest work.  And, it is this love that carries successful leaders through thick and thin.

At this retirement party there was indeed love, and respect, for the man who for thirty-five years, took all of himself with him wherever he went.

So, imagine your own retirement party. What do you want people to say about you?  What kind of memories do you want to have? What do you want to give? What will it take for you to get what you want?

Think about it.  And, if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear what you come up with.

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