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Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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One of the hardest things for leaders (and all people, for that matter) to deal with is criticism. We all want to be right, do right and have others consistently agree with and admire us. But every leader who has been around for even a short while knows that criticism is part and parcel of the experience. There is simply no way of avoiding it.

Consider all of history’s greatest leaders. Regardless of their era and role, every person that we would associate with positively changing the course of history was censured during his or her lifetime, often in scathing, relentless terms. It makes no difference whether they were people of great character or not. Nor did it matter if they were on the winning side of the argument or struggle. If they stood for a cause, led a nation or advanced a noteworthy agenda, then they were at times discouraged, condemned and perhaps even physically impeded from achieving their goals and aspirations.

If fact, why would anyone want to assume a leadership position when the potential for constant critique and pushback looms large? Why would anyone want to risk affecting their relationships with friends, colleagues, co-workers and other associates in order to assume a leadership post?

The answer, of course, is that leaders want to make a difference. They recognize that change is not easy for people and that any efforts that demand of others will invariably draw criticism. But they push forward anyway as they deem appropriate, knowing that criticism is simply society’s way of saying that what you’re doing matters and deserves attention.

Of course, there are many things that leaders could and should do to gain support and buy-in, such as building equity, developing a values system, and communicating (and listening) well. Still, there is no leader worth his or her weight in salt that can expect to adequately fulfill their responsibilities without experiencing meaningful criticism and backlash at times.  Change initiatives are in many ways similar. They can be painful at present, affecting staffing levels, roles, reporting, workloads, work processes or similar things. But often these changes are necessary to ensure the long-term health of the organization.  Sure, leaders need to account for what they do, how they do it, and the impact that it may have on their constituents. But they must also possess the courage and drive to advance change that they believe is proper and necessary. The backlash that they will invariably receive is not necessarily the result of anything bad that they did. Quite the contrary — it may, in fact, be the best indicator that they are on the right path and are doing what is necessary to genuinely fulfill their leadership duties.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston S. Churchill



Trust Builds Great Employees

The glue that holds all relationships together — including the relationship between the leader and those they lead is trust, and trust is based on integrity.

When employees do not trust managers and leaders, various forms of organizational fallout are likely, including low engagement (people seem like they don’t care), high turnover and reduced innovation (no creative solutions or ideas).  Rebuilding trust isn’t easy, just as with customers who lose trust.  If employees don’t trust their boss or their boss’ boss, they begin to question how they fit in with the company and will have less pride in the organization overall.

Individuals can enjoy their work and have a strong sense of accomplishment, but Trust has to be present for employees to do go beyond the call of duty, to be innovative.  The more groundbreaking the innovation needed, the more trust must be present. Trust is built over time as people get to know each other.  Employees must trust that their co-workers and direct supervisors are competent (head trust) and will do the employee no harm (heart trust).

A single triggering event, such as a restructuring or other organizational change, can reduce the level of trust employees have in leaders.  As can other single events, such as a manager who takes credit for an employee’s work or lies to them.

Most of the time, trust erodes as a result of small subtle patterns of behavior that employees experience on a daily basis that go unaddressed. For example, working with peers who fail to prepare for a meeting, are slow to respond to e-mail or who gossip regularly. While they don’t get addressed, they don’t go unnoticed.  The result of such unaddressed behavior is that employees leave the company or, worse yet, they stay. They become the working wounded – they stay, they complain, they do as little as possible, eventually bringing others down with them.

The Reina Trust and Betrayal Model describes three main types of transactional trust:

  • Contractual trust—trust of character. Do people do what they say they are going to do? Do managers and employees make clear what they expect of one another?
  • Communication trust—trust of disclosure. How well people share information and tell the truth.
  • Competence trust—trust of capability. How well people carry out responsibilities and acknowledge other people’s skills and abilities.

The key thing about transactional trust is that it is reciprocal in nature; you have to give it to get it.  There are specific, concrete behaviors that build trust.

  • Ability: the manager’s ability to do their job.
  • Understanding: displaying knowledge and understanding of employees’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Fairness: behaving fairly and showing concern for the welfare of employees.
  • Openness: being accessible and receptive to ideas and opinions.
  • Integrity: striving to be honest and fair in decision-making.
  • Consistency: behaving in a reliable and predictable manner.

So take a look at your employees, what does their behavior say about their trust in you.  If it doesn’t look good, take the steps now to begin the process of rebuilding trust.

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Leadership Lessons from Washington

If leadership is the capacity to take people where they need to go, whether or not they realize it or want it; then I think we can all agree we’ve had almost no leadership in these weeks of frustrating debate over the budget and debt ceiling.

As business leaders, there are some takeaways from this highly publicized discussion we can apply to our companies.  Making decisions and building consensus is really tough work. The length of time it takes to make a decision can have a significant effect on your business — both for better and for worse. A few key points to remember when you have to make a group decision for your business:

  • Include the right people in the process
  • Make sure everyone has the same information to work from
  • Keep everyone focused on what’s best for the whole organization

When building consensus within a group, the goal is not to have everyone love the outcome, or even like it for that matter–the goal is for everyone to be flexible, and to be able to live with the decision.

And one more thing, everyone involved has to realize when everything cannot be fixed in one step.  Sometimes you have to take a few steps at a time.  Create a plan that takes you in the right direction, measure the success of that plan often and make tough changes
(quickly if the plan isn’t working).

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Picking the right meeting approach

Decision Making Chart

Image by West Virginia Blue via Flickr

Effective meetings are so important.  But what’s the best meeting approach for your situation. Answers to certain questions will help you create better and more open decision-making processes,while also helping you create more effective and productive meetings.

An important reminder, if you have already decided which direction to go, or which course of action to take, do NOT ask for input.

It damages trust, wastes people’s time and is a dangerous manipulation.  The questions below assume your decision-making intentions are genuine and without thought of manipulation of other people.

How fast must this decision be made?

If the building is on fire, you don’t need to call a meeting or get people’s input into the best way to leave. It’s an extreme example; however, some decisions don’t require input or a meeting. In these cases, make a unilateral decision, communicate it effectively and get on with it!

Who has the information needed to make the best decision?

The people with the information are the people who should be consulted, inside or outside of a meeting. This helps you determine not only how to make your decision, but who to invite to the meeting. If their input can be received independently, then a meeting may not be needed.

Who needs to be engaged in the conversation?

The more engagement, input and ownership that is required, the more likely that a decision with greater collaboration is required. Again, your answer to this question informs you on who to invite to the meeting and what to communicate to them about their role in the meeting. If you want their thoughts, help them come to the meeting prepared to give them.

How important is the buy-in or commitment of others to the success of the decision?

This is similar to the previous question, but goes beyond it in an important way. How big of a decision is this? How will people’s work and lives be impacted? The larger the impact, the longer the repercussions and overall the bigger the decision, the more input you may want people to have. People will buy into decisions when they have had more true input into them – even if the final decision isn’t the one they would have made independently. Yes, more time will be involved; the balance between time and the importance of the input is the big consideration here. Important note – remember before deciding to gain lots of input. If you have already decided . . . don’t go here.

What is the trust level amongst the team members and with the leader?

Simply put, if trust is high, more decisions can be made with less input (as long as the right information is considered). At the same time, if trust is low or non-existent engagement will be more difficult. When this is true, as a leader you have bigger concerns than just how you make decisions, yet how you make them will affect the future trust between you and your team.

These five questions will help you make more effective decisions by focusing first on how you will reach the decision, instead of only focusing on the decision itself.

Use these questions as a leader, and then once you are clear, let the team know how the decision will be made. Let them know if you want their input or not, and if so, how engaged in the decision-making process you need them to be. Taking these steps will help everyone be clearer and feel better about the decisions that get made.

Oh, and you will have more productive meetings too.


Where are Company decisions made?

I think everyone who has ever worked, especially in some type of corporate environment can tell you a story or two about terrible meetings they have attended.  There are also many, many examples of meetings that, while not awful, are far from productive. One of the reasons for these experiences is that meetings are not often a place where decisions are made effectively – or even made at all.

Meetings, of course, aren’t the only place where decisions can and should be made, but in the context of meetings is one way to talk about how decisions can be made.

That discussion must start with the leader. The leader must consciously (better) or unconsciously (far too often) determine how a decision for any specific situation will be reached. The basic choices are:

An independent decision – one made by the leader alone. These decisions may be announced at a meeting, but by definition they don’t require any input from others; a meeting isn’t required to make them.

  • A decision with input – the leader wants input from others before making the decision; a perfect reason for a meeting.
  • A collaborative decision – more than just a bit of input, in this approach the group deliberates on the facts and other factors before a decision is made.
  • A consensus decision – a decision where the leader themselves isn’t making the decision, but truly the full group comes to the decision collectively.

Each of these decision-making types, including all of the nuanced versions of them, are valid and valuable in the right situation.

Next week I am going to provide readers with the best meeting approach for your situation. Your answers to certain questions will help you create better and more open decision-making processes, and in the meantime help you create more effective and productive meetings.

Oh and one very important reminder:

If you have already decided which direction to go, or which course of action to take, do NOT ask for input.

It damages trust, wastes people’s time and is a dangerous manipulation.  I have seen this far too many times.  You know who you are……

To be continued…..

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Leadership in the midst of Crisis

On January 9th, a day when people were relaxing and enjoying the weekend, millions of us were engrossed by the tragic shooting in a Tucson, Arizona shopping center.

Amongst all this horror, once again we saw heroes rising out of the chaos.  I don’t know why, but crisis and tragedy seems to bring out the best in us. We’ve seen this time and time again in crises over the years. As I hear about the actions and behaviors of those heroes, I can’t help but think we can all gain leadership insight even in the midst of crisis.

Although there were many people who stood out and made quick decisions that changed outcomes that day, one individual stood out for me.  About 30 feet away when shots rang out, Daniel Hernandez, a 20 year-old intern made a decision to run towards the shots and utilizing his previous training tended to Representative Gifford’s wounds and saved her life.  So I would say that one leadership lesson we can learn is that competence and courage transcends age and generations. In my opinion this young man has the ability to do great things, and with the right leadership and guidance he will.

Then you look at the medical team that attended to the victims.  Sure they have training, but without effective execution there could have been more casualties.   At times such as these, a leader’s job is to inspire his or her team to focus on doing their jobs as effectively as possible. During one of his interviews Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma at University Medical Center in Tucson said the medical center was able to save lives and attend to all the victims because, “the team dealt rapidly with a mass-casualty scenario.” He praised the work of paramedics and the emergency response teams who transported Rep. Gifford’s quickly with minimal intervention. The fast response of the entire trauma team is the reason she was in the OR so quickly. So I would add In addition to setting strategy and planning, success is about calm, flawless execution.

In our everyday lives there are examples of leadership and heroism that if we really take the time to observe, become obvious.