Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-They Don't Lie

At first glance, this title might be self evident....of course you shouldn't lie as a leader and if you do, you will lose trust.  However, there are circumstances when it is not possible to reveal everything you know....even when directly asked.

Often a leader is included in conversations involving confidential information.  Confidential information that cannot be shared can take many forms.  Sometimes the leader is involved in commercially sensitive market information involving company performance and there are legal prohibitions from sharing that information.  There are also times when organizational changes are being considered, including those that involve downsizing or reductions in force, but no decisions have been taken.  Sometimes a leader is involved in decisions that have been taken but "embargoed" until an agreed public release date.  Sometimes a leader is involved in promotion or key position conversations and all parties have agreed not to discuss any candidate's selection or non-selection.  Sometimes a leader will be asked to help evaluate a merger or acquisition decision.

Early in a leader's tenure it's important to be clear with her team that there will be times when she's not able to share all the information she has.  Promising that she'll share what she can, when she can, helps create understanding.   Nevertheless, there are always rumors floating around every organization about sensitive subjects.  Leaders inevitably get asked to confirm or deny these rumors in team meetings or organization "town halls".  Good leaders have to develop honest responses to these questions without lying.  If you truly don't know, say so.  Sometimes it is enough to say " I know and I cannot discuss it".  At other times it's necessary to explain why it is you cannot discuss it; examples of honest responses might include:
"A decision has been taken, but is not releasable and I cannot comment on until the public announcement"
"That would be market sensitive information and I'm not able to comment one way or the other"
"As soon as any decisions have been taken that I can share, I will"
"I really can't comment on that one way or the other"
"I'm never going to be able to confirm or deny any question involving mergers or acquisitions, until a public announcement"

My point is there will be times when the leader cannot share everything she knows.  Being honest....not lying....especially when sensitive information is involved.... helps build trust.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust-Taking One for the Team

I define "taking one for the team" broadly as a leader taking personal accountability for team failure or under performance.  

There are always underlying reasons for failure.  Sometimes teams are under-resourced for the task.  There are often competing priorities. A "can-do" spirit....and previous success.... can cause a team or subordinate team leader to over commit.  It's the leaders job to properly resource teams, resolve competing priorities, track progress and intervene when necessary.  Given those leadership tasks, it is easy to conclude the leader should take personal accountability for a team or part of a team's failure.  Although this is easy to say, it isn't always easy for leaders to do in practice.

What makes it so hard?  In some organizations it is popular to establish stretch targets and then regard failure to reach the stretch target as under-performance.  Internal competition among business units, reinforced by variable pay systems, can lead to what amounts to a personal financial penalty to the leader for a team failure.  Some organizations even have a "zero defects" approach to performance where a single failure attributed to a leader is a potential career ending event.  I've even had situations where the manager to whom I reported didn't appreciate the professional competence or behaviour of one of my direct reports...either from a prior assignment or an interaction in the current assignment.  All of those situations can make it convenient for the leader to avoid "taking one for the team."

The best leaders recognize this is what you sign up for when you become a leader.  When things go well you put forward those on the team who did the work.  When they don't go well, you step up, take personal accountability, work with the team to diagnose the root causes of failure and formulate corrective action for the future.  Team members trust leaders who support them, even when things don't go well.


Friday, November 22, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust: Do What You Say

In many large organizations and institutions most leaders know the right things to say.  The leader development programs in these places are long standing and well developed and provide leaders with a good sense of what and how to communicate with staff.

When I was a battalion commander in the Army I used to tell new lieutenants that what they did was more important than what they said.  Most new lieutenants know the right things to say as a result of their
pre-commissioning training....and soldiers know it.  When a new officer arrives soldiers will shrug at what the new lieutenant says....and defer judgment about their trustworthiness until they see if their actions honor their words.

I found the same thing to be true in the private sector.  Here are some examples of how leaders can lose trust when their actions don't honor their words.

  • If you say you care about people..... and do nothing to develop others
  • If you say you value challenge and disagreement....and admonish those who disagree with you
  • If you say you value work-life balance....and send email or text messages at night or on weekends or during your holiday
  • If you say you value multiple cultures....and schedule meetings or require travel on holidays of other countries/cultures
  • If you are running a global organization and say you don't favor one region over another....and then all the most favorable actions are directed toward one country or region
  • If you say you value feedback....and then react angrily to any feedback that isn't favorable.
There are of course, many other examples I could give where leaders actions that don't honor their words erode trust.  The point of this blog entry is that actions matter....trust is generated when there is fidelity....consistency....between what a leader says and what they do.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Leaders Build Trust

In my last blog I mentioned that taking personal accountability for team failures and giving credit to those who did the work when the team succeeds are important trust building activities.  In intend to build on the subject of trust in the next few blogs.  Here's the list I'll build on in this series:

  • Do what you say-  Under promise and over deliver
  • Take one for the team when everyone knows you don't have to
  • Don't lie even when you have confidential information you cannot share.
  • Be willing to engage in difficult conversations.
  • Lead by example.  Don't ask anyone to do anything you aren't willing to do yourself
  • Be the voice of the person on the ground on messages up the chain.  Your staff want to know senior leaders understand "how hard it is down here"
  • Be clear when implementation is required and you don't agree...and do so without blaming the "guys up there".
  • Be really good at what you do.  People follow those who they believe know what they are doing.
  • People give trust when they get it.  Be a good delegator.
I'll expand on these themes over the next few days.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Leaders Get More Credit Than They Deserve

I was reminded of this topic recently while watching an interview with Alan Greenspan.  For my readers outside the US, Greenspan was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States for 18 years. He was appointed and reappointed by four different US Presidents of both political parties in those 18 years.  He received an enormous credit for the contributions he made regarding  monetary policy and fiscal policy and US economic growth during his tenure.  More recently, he has been roundly criticized for not recognizing the signs leading to the recession of 2008 and in fact directly sponsoring some policies that fueled that recession.  His legacy is mixed.

I saw him interviewed on a recent television news magazine show.  The interviewer asked him about the criticism..."Did it bother him?".  Greenspan's candid response was "Of course it bothers me.  I'm a human being."  He then went on to say :  "I got a lot of praise I didn't deserve as well."

This comment caused me to reflect on how true this is for all leaders.  All of us who have been leaders know that a team or organization's success is the product of the contributions of many people. When the team is successful, the leader gets a disproportionate share of the credit.  Likewise, when a team isn't successful the leader also gets a disproportionate share of the of the blame.

This is what you sign up for as a leader....you are accountable for everything that happens or fails to happen during your tenure.  When things go well great leaders understand they will be given more credit than they deserve and deflect praise to those who did the work.  Conversely, when they don't go well, great leaders step up and take the criticism.  Both actions generate trust....the currency of leadership.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Road Worth Remembering

In the far southern tip of the Limburger province of The Netherlands is a highway, designated as N278.  The N278 runs from Aachen, Germany to Masstricht, Netherlands.  It is actually part of a longer highway that stretches from Cologne, Germany to Boulogne, France.   This highway was built by the Romans and used by Caesar and his legions, marking the northern most point of the Roman Empire advance in Central Europe.
The armies of Charlemagne used this road establishing the capitol of his empire in Aachen around 790.  The armies of Charles the V, Holy Roman Emperor in the mid-1500's used the road as did Napoleon and his armies.  In the last century, the German armies in WWI and WWII used this road both in their advances into the Low Countries and in their retreats.

It's fitting then that the American Military Cemetery of The Netherlands is located along route N278.  It sits 10 km west of Maastricht and 22km east of Aachen near the village of Margraten.  Within the cemetery boundaries are the final resting places of 8302 Americans who died liberating this region of Europe.  Included among the 8,302 are seven Medal of Honor awardees.   On it's walls are etched the names of 1,723 others whose remains were never found.

Also etched on it's walls is a quote from their commanding general, later President Dwight Eisenhower:

     "All who hereafter live in freedom will here be reminded that to these men and their comrades
      we owe a debt to be paid with grateful remembrance of their sacrifice and with the high resolve
      that the cause for which they did shall live eternally."

The Dutch of the area certainly offer "grateful remembrance"  This clip is from Memorial Day but applies equally to Veteran's Day.

On this day may we all offer grateful remembrance of those who have served and those who continue to do so.