Developing Competence: The Third Facet of Trust

Competence is the third facet of the Cornerstone of Trust.
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Developing competence as a leader is a hidden facet of the Cornerstone of Trust. Competence is the result of continuous, daily improvement and learning. New Lieutenants in the military are often the subject of much ridicule. They received lots of education on leadership yet lack practical leadership experience. These new leaders often make book smart, life stupid decisions. Like a toddler learning to walk, new leaders watched others, but learning to balance and move requires stepping outside your traditional supports. However, both Lieutenants and toddlers learn how to successful balance through weeks and months of practice. They have become competent and trustworthy. There are five areas all leaders can work on to become and remain competent leaders and improve their trustworthiness.


Self-discipline requires individuals to identify actions and practice that help them succeed. Discipline requires regularly executing those actions without prompting from others. World-class athletes have coaches. Only the athlete can actually complete the work. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about self-discipline as sharpening the saw. These are habits of successful people practiced regularly. For example, you probably know reading helps you learn. Only you can make yourself select something to read and then pick up that reading every day.

The routines of trustworthy people are different. Every routine has common attributes. An example of daily activities may include a few minutes of stretching in the morning followed by some reading, On the way to work, you might listen a reading from scripture and meditate for a few minutes before entering the office. You might seek at least one opportunity to express gratitude to build relationships. These things seem simple and small. They are effective.

Life-long Learning

Being a life-long learner involves more than reading a page or two from a novel daily. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore proposed that the every two years, the number of transistors on a given medium would double and that the price for this increased productivity would fall by 50%. At that time, computers were very basic. Now, almost 60 years later, there are 32,000 more changes per cycle compared to 2 in 1965. The Mad Hatter said something like “We must run Alice as fast as we can just to keep up. If we want to get ahead, we have to run even faster!” There are a variety of ways to keep up with the changing pace of the world.

The most familiar method of learning is formal education from an educational facility such as a college or organizational professional development program. There was a time a liberal studies degree was valued because you learned to think rather than about anything in particular. Companies are filling the gap with professional development programs so their employees remain current.

Conferences offer the dual benefit of keeping up with changes in your field and provide opportunities to increase your professional network. With good notes, the knowledge remains with you. Become a member of an association related to your work. Professional associations provide opportunities for continued learning by offering information in periodicals, conferences, website discussion boards, and other means.

Know Systems & Processes

Knowing how things work helps leaders influence others.
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Technical knowledge provides you expert power you can use to influence others. However, this power dwindles as you move up and away from the processes. As a front-line leader over the warehouse movement section, knowing all the details of the System 2100 Conveyor Belt is very helpful. Once you become the sift supervisor for the whole warehouse, that knowledge is less important. Becoming the expert in the systems and processes for your level ensures you are trusted by those you lead and follow.

As you rise closer to the top of the organization, understanding the business model and business principals increases in importance. Learn to read financial reports. Understand how your organization processes accounts payable and receivable. Understanding the business process help increase trust with vendors and clients.


Taking initiative is a great way to establish trust. If your are a leader and understand your organization’s mission, there is no need to wait for instructions. Go out and identify problems. Develop a means of solving those problems. Within your authority, implement those solutions. Doing so improves trust with your boss. Having meaningful work motivates your followers and solving problems is one way to provide them meaningful work.

Influencing and Developing Others

You are not a leader if you lack the ability to influence others. Good leaders are measured by the number of other leaders they develop. In order for you to do accomplish either, you need to be trustworthy. You become a trustworthy influencer and developer of others by building your team, valuing results and relationships, how you approach conflict, and creating a culture of service.

Teams are central to accomplishing group work. There is lots of research surrounding how effective teams are built. If you do not learn to build a team, you are a doer, not a leader. Building teams is an important leadership task that builds trust. In this model, team building has its own facet covered in the next installment.

Relationships are critical for building leadership trust. While relationships are important for leaders, so are results. One of the most important balancing acts leaders perform is that between results and relationships. Organizational leaders must achieve results. However, relationships are required to achieve results.

Conflict in teams in inevitable. It is a sign people are thinking independently. Good leaders encourage conflict in a respectful fashion that builds trust. Professionals disagree about things. Because they are professionals, they disagree in ways that demonstrates respect and builds trust. Trust helps people find the middle ground and ease tension over disagreements. Leaders help those struggling to agree find mutual points of agreement and build from there.

Competence means you know a good idea when one is presented. It also means you know enough to share the credit with the people generating good ideas
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Demonstrating a service mindset creates trust by showing others you value others, their ideas, and the work they do. Service leadership is not slave leadership. As a servant leader, you build trust by creating circumstances that ensure team members have everything they need to excel and succeed. When they do, you bask in the reflected spotlight of their glory. Servant leaders build trust by showing off the positive performance of others. As a result, people are willing to do more because they come to trust the leader will give them all the credit they deserve for a job well done.

Demonstrating competence is an important element in developing trust. As a leader, you show competence beyond the technical skills to to a specific task. You demonstrate the skills necessary to lead others and improve trust in your team and for your team. Leader build trust in their competence by. Being self-disciplined, continually learning, knowing and understanding systems and processes in the organization, taking initiative, and influencing and developing others through ethical means. Competence as a leader goes beyond knowing the torque specifications for lug nuts, or which section of a military regulation governs VIP visits. Competence as a leader means you understand people, the jobs they do, and how to set up the environment so they can achieve the results necessary to succeed and receive the recognition they deserve. Competence is not about being in the spotlight; it is about knowing how to shine the spotlight on the good work of others.


Carroll, L (1865) Alice’s adventures in wonderland. MacMillan Publishers LTD, London, UK.

Covey, S. (2013) 7 Habits of highly effective people. 25th Anniversary Ed. Simon & Schuster, Inc. New York, NY

Covey, S. & Merrill R. (2018) The speed of trust. Free Press. New York, NY

Hunter, J. (2013) The servant leadership training course. Sounds True. United Kingdom. Audio Book

Intel (nd) Fueling innovation we love and depend on Intel Corporation. Retrieved from March 28, 2022.

(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr

Responsibility: the Top Facet of the Cornerstone of Trust

Leaders develop trust by demonstrating they are responsible. They do what they say they will do and account for the people and property entrusted to their care. The best way to build trust is to accomplish those things your promise others you will do. Responsible leaders understand it is important to know their people in order to provide appropriate, challenging work for them. They know they must keep track of property and other resources in their charge to ensure their team has the resources necessary to accomplish assigned tasks and accomplish their mission. Responsibility is the top facet of the cornerstone of trust because it covers all the other aspects of trust. The top facet is hidden until it fails to hold the load over it. Likewise responsible leadership actions are done out of the sight of others and only become apparent they are not being done well when things fall apart.

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Taking Responsibility for Yourself

You demonstrate responsibility by doing what you say you will do. When you promise to do something, others count on you to do it. For many, simply developing discipline to attend to personal tasks is a challenge. Think about the people around you that are late, fail to return calls as promised, show up for meeting unprepared, or fail to complete simple tasks well. Now think about people who push back on tasks yet consistently complete tasks well, are prepared for meetings, keep everyone informed about their progress, and complete things on time. Who is trusted more? People who cannot lead themselves are rarely selected to lead others. Learn how to improve your personal responsibility before seeking leadership responsibility.

A leader was assigned to present to a senior leader in the organization. She researched long and worked hard to prepare. She often backed up her work. A few days before the presentation, her computer crashed. Nothing on the hard drive could be recovered. Her supervisor thought she was sunk until she asked for a computer and some workspace. He thought she was going to pull some all-nighters. Instead, she pulled out a thumb drive, inserted it into a USB port and opened older copies of her work. She completed the presentation, on time, as promised because she anticipated total computer failure.

Taking Responsibility for the People in Your Team

Tracking and taking care of your people is an important leadership responsibility. You are only a leader if other people follow you so it is important to track and care for them. Tracking people is not a creepy internet stalking thing. Rather, it means you track things like where your people are during working hours, what their working hours are, what projects and activities they are working on during work hours, what training they have and require, any family issues distracting them during their work, and that they are being paid for the work they are doing. That is a long sentence. When you lead people, there is much to keep track of to ensure people continue to follow you.

There was a time that knowing where people were during working hours and what they were doing was pretty easy. Since the pandemic, it has become a little harder to do. Remote workers could choose to work on a different country. Many decide to break up their work day around person activities. Given you cannot stick your head in their office or cubical, it is hard to know what things they do while they are working. Just because it is hard does not absolve you of your responsibility to know these things. Develop practices that allow you to be able to check in with your workers during their work day. Find out what is going on in their work and personal lives. You can only help them be successful if you understand what hurdles stand in their way.

Want to find out how good a leader is? Find out how many people have pay problems and then ask the leader about them. If people are working for you, they deserve the pay promised them. Nothing builds trust more than asking your new employee if they received their first paycheck and that it was correct. You maintain trust by asking newly promoted employees if finance provided the correct pay increase. People know you care about them when you ask about their pay.

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Training is an under used tool to improve performance and provide motivation. In many organizations, people dread being selected to attend training because it means someone thinks they are failing to measure up to expectations, therefore, they are in trouble. You should never let your people step so far into the pool that they are that far over their head to be in trouble. You avoid such situations by providing people training, so they are better prepared to face and overcome the challenges they will likely face. Training is something every one of your followers should look forward to, not suffered through. If you do not ensure your people are well-trained in all aspects of their work, you are not entitled to expect quality results! Quality results come from workers who are educated, trained, and motivated to a better job than they do now. They understand their shortcomings and have a plan to fix them. They can answer their own questions because they were trained to solve problems related to their job.

Engage your employees about their lives for the purpose of understanding them. Many employees enjoy talking about aspects of their lives. Asking about those things shows you care. Listening well in their happy times and asking appropriate questions develops trust. When bad things happen, employees are more likely to share those stories as well. You have the opportunity to help them in these hard times and increase your trustworthiness with all your followers.

Tracking Resources

If you do not keep track of the resources under your control, you may find you and your people no longer have what you need to what you need to do. Resources includes time, property, etc. Of these, time is the most important because once lost is it impossible to create more. Books and articles are plentiful on controlling and managing time. Many focus on efficiently using time. Efficiency is important but effectiveness is more important.

In the small non-profit I run, we often discuss finding the balance of efficiency and effectiveness creating social media posts. As an unsavvy social media person, I can create a post in 60 seconds or less.. It is efficient but not effective. The person that does our posts invests more time than I did, ensuring we have a captivating image that aligns with our mission and values, and supports the words in the message. Her posts generate more attention. The result is more engagement compared to my 60-second sentence.

Tracking property is an important leaderships task. In the past, property tracking was considered a management issue, not something for leaders. Leadership is a task of management, not the other way around. Traditionally, tracking property involves doing inventory to ensure everything you are expected to have is present. There is more to this task than counting. For example, you have ten employees and ten computers, it seems like life is good. If five of those computers are running Windows 3.0, five of your people probably are not working on their computers (note, at the time this was written, Windows 3.0 was nearing its 30th anniversary as an operating system). From this example, we see that tracking property means ensuring you have all the property you are supposed have, AND that it is in proper working order.

When I first started identifying the elements of trust, I originally called this side accountability because I focused on property. As I reflected more on what leaders track, I realized responsibility is a better word for this facet of the Cornerstone of Trust. Responsibility reaches beyond physical property and includes caring for people and other non-tangeable recourses such as time, bandwidth, people, your personal actions, and reputations. You start developing trust in the area of responsibility by creating the discipline to do the things you say you are going to do. Once you can control yourself, you begin to develop influence over others and start the leadership journey. As others follow you, you become responsible to ensure they are trained, paid, and complete important, meaningful work. You know where they are and the things they do. Of course without resources, the right resources that work, people can do nothing. Learning to act responsibly as a leader covers many of the other aspects of creating trust. It all begins by doing what you say you will do.

Communication: The Base of Trust

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“Grab a bite tomorrow?”

“Sure, what time?”


“Regular place?”


“Great. See you then.”

Seems simple enough, two people getting together at the regular place for a bite at 7:00. Let us see what happens the next day.

Phone rings at 7:15. “Hello.”

“Hey man, where are you?”

“Heading out the door for work. Why?”

“Uh, we were grabbing a bite!”

“Ya at seven; it’s not even noon.”

Well, it seemed simple enough. The two failed to effectively communicate the simple idea about what time they would meet to eat. As a result, one arrived in the morning while the originator of the idea clearly intended to meet at the later 7:00. This little story may over simplify the complexities of effective communication, but if you think about it, how often have misunderstanding been as simple as this? Learning to communicate more effectively is one way leaders can build trust. That is why communication is the base facet of the Cornerstone of Trust.

Communication runs through all the qualities in the Cornerstone of Trust I introduced in November 2021 (Link here). Communicate consistently up, down, and across your organization. When communicating with your boss, or her boss, ensure you provide all the information they really need to support your work. While it is important to ensure your boss has all the information necessary to support your work, remember not to provide unnecessary details. Provide the right information at the right time to lighten your leader’s load.

Communicating down seems pretty easy. Gather the masses for a meeting and put out the word. Wait, send and email! While both of these options provide leaders with platforms to communication, they should never be the only conduit of information with your people. There are times you need to communication one-on-one with people. There are other times that mass communication is necessary. Follow up with your subordinate key leaders to answer any question they have. Too often, leaders think communication is telling other people information. Listening is also an important communication skill. It provides you more information, allowing you to make better decisions. It shows those who follow you, you care. We will discuss more on listening later.

Communicating across ensures your team’s efforts complement the efforts of the other teams in the organization. Pillars, silos, and bubbles exist in many organizations that impede peer-to-peer communication. As a result, many efforts are duplicated by systems that are not comparable. Improve your communication with the leaders around you by investing in your relationships with them. That does not mean you have to become drinking buddies or join their country club. You do need to create a relationship that allows easy flow of information possible.

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Earlier, I said listening was an important communication skill. In order to listen, you must be present. Back in the day…I learned the technique of Management by Walking Around. The thesis was that if managers walked around the plant floor, employees would recognize the opportunity to approach and speak to them about issues. While there is some validity in this theory, leaders gain more information by asking appropriate, probing questions. Asking questions works well whether you are communicating with your boss, a peer, or someone you lead. It shows others you are paying attention and that you care about them and their message.

Appropriate, probing questions are the key. Appropriate questions build on the information you received from the person talking, even if it is via text message or email. While the pair in the opening dialog asked questions about getting together, the questions were not appropriate because they failed to elicit the required information for the pair to meet at the same time and place for their common purpose. Appropriate questions fill in those information gaps.

Probing questions dig deeper into an idea. Use these types of questions when brainstorming or someone shares a suggestion or introduces a solution to a problem. These questions are ideal to aid problem-solving and focus your team. As a police interviewer, I learned to ask more than questions which could be answered yes or no. Eventually, my favorite questions started with, “Tell me more about (what ever it was we were discussing). I found bringing that type of question into my relationships helped improve communication because people knew I was listening and that I cared about their idea. Later, if another idea was selected as the course of action, people who presented alternate ideas still knew their input and ideas were valuable.

Be honest in your communication inside and outside your organization. How often have we heard the public official, charged with an accusation, or appointed to look into a wrong doing respond with, “No comment.” The result of such non comments is suspicion. More trust is created by saying you are looking into matters and will share appropriate information as it becomes available. This is true whether you are facing a crowd of raucous reporters or irritated employees.

When you do speak, do all that you can to ensure what you say is true. Sometimes facts change. New information becomes available. If you’re as honest as you can be up front, most people will understand.

Honest communication includes having those tough conversations with people about performance and other disappointments. Often, leaders project ill will on the actions of those they lead. Few people come to work, join a club, or participate in a team expecting and trying to fail. No, they want to do well. Sometimes sitting down and pointing out where their performance is lacking is all that is necessary to turn around someone’s efforts. You might find they are doing something on purpose because that is what they thought was the right way. Perhaps no one ever took the time to show them how to do the thing correctly.

Recently I was reviewing employee records. I found one file that lacked lots of information. The person started with us as an intern. At the end of our fiscal year, we had some funding left in our salary line, so I kept him on as an employee to work on a project. We failed to attract an intern for the summer and asked our temporary worker to stay on and increased his responsibilities. As a result, we failed to train this person for the job they were doing. That was why there was no documentation of the training in the file.

By Billmckern – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I once worked for Thomas Spencer. He eventually became the commanding general for the 42nd Infantry Division. He shared a model for communicating with the acronym TIPS. TALK to your people about things in their life. Keep them INFORMED about what is happening in the organization. Be PREDICTABLE in your reactions to good and bad news. Be SENSITIVE to their needs.

When you work to communicate better, people will tell you things you never would have known otherwise. People will pay more attention to what you say because they know you value them as people. Remember, there is more to communication than broadcasting your message. Listening to others is just as important. It shows you care. You know if people understood what you said. You gain new information to make better decisions. As your communication ability improves, your trust score increases. Learn to communication better to develop trust.


Beebe, S. & Masterson, J. (2006) Communicating in small groups: Principles and practices. (8th Ed.) Pearson Education Inc. Boston, MA

Bratton, W. with Knobler, P. (1998). Turnaround: How America’s top cop reversed the crime epidemic. Random House. New York, NY

Maxwell, J (2005). The 360 degree leader. 2 Best-Selling Books in 1 Volume Edition. Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN

Spencer, T. (unknown). Personal communications with author.

(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr

Achieving Goals: Measuring Successful Processes and Outcomes

As the New Year approaches, people take time to reflect on past successes and failures. Learning to measure the difference between successful processes and effective outcomes helps you determine if you are achieving the success you envisioned.
-Photo from cropped and modified by author

At the end or beginning of the last several years, I posted ways people can effectively set goals and devise plans to achieve them. New Years is a time when people think about making changes in their lives. Goal setting is an effective method to achieve those changes. Learning to measure performance and effectiveness provides objective quantification of your progress and success. Measures of process and effectiveness also provides the data necessary, so you know when and how to adjust your plan.

There are two types of measurements to understand. The first is a measure of performance. The second in a measure of effectiveness. Often leaders confuse these measures and draw incorrect conclusions about the situation.

When setting a goal, identify task steps required to accomplish the goal. Task steps are the processes required to complete your state objective. For example, you set a New Year’s Resolution to become more physically fit. One of your task steps is to run two miles, four days per week. The acts of running, four days each week for two miles are three different processes that can be measures. The first process is the act of running. You can measure your run.

The next process is the distance you run. Your goal is two miles each run. It is possible to measure the distance with a variety of tools. Measuring a two mile distance means you are completing the distance requirement.

A process is a series of repeated steps. Like a waterwheel, it spins around as long as necessary to complete the task. You can use appropriate measurements to determine if your process is working correctly.
-Photo from Cropped by author

The third process is frequency. In this case, the task is repeated four times over each week. At the end of any given week, the number of days in which you ran two miles can be measured. This measurement lets you know if you are meeting your frequency process.

Each of these processes can be measured against specific criteria established in the goal. Likewise, a leader in the work place can establish a goal or a requirement for each member of her sales team to contact four customers every hour and accumulate $2,000 worth of sales each week. There are processes for each of these tasks that can be enumerated, counted, and measured.

Often, process measurements are created as part of the M in developing a SMART Goal. Many people fail to understand the difference between measures of process and effectiveness. If we go back to the getting fitter goal, the goal is to be more fit. Running is a process of achieving that goal. There are other elements of fitness such as body mass, blood pressure, mental well-being, and similar measures. The big goal is not to be able to run eight miles per week. The goal is to become more fit. With that in mind, you have to decide how to measure the level of improved fitness desired. This measures effectiveness.

Measures of effectiveness are those things that determine if the processes are having the desired outcome. For example, you run two miles, four days a week for four weeks but find you added five pounds, your resting heart rate has increased by five beats for minute, and your blood pressure is up ten points, you are not being effective. Measures of effectiveness tell leaders if the right processes, performed correctly, are having the desired results.

If you find you are not having the desired results, you need to reevaluate your processes. Recently I heard Tim Ferriss quote Arthur Jones of Nautilus as having said, “If you cannot measure it, you do not understand it. Do you and your people really understand what you are trying to achieve? Are you or your people really doing the right things? Have those activities shown the ability to achieve the results you seek? Are those processes being done correctly as indicated in the measures of performance? Are there interactions between the processes canceling out each other? Correct your processes or your measures of performance and repeat.

Making quality measurements of processes and results improves your understanding of the situation. As you collect more data, refine your processes to determine the impact on your results. People frequently neglect to reflect on the meaning of measured results. No goal or project goes as planned. Circumstances change. Leaders need to understand the effects of those changes on goals. Measuring and monitoring both performance and effectiveness provides data enabling improved adjustments which enhance effectiveness of performance. As you tweak a process, you should be able to observe a change in effectiveness.

A police officer struggled to pass the annual fitness test. His weakest event was the run. After several months of trying different running plans, he found it did not matter how far he ran any given day. What mattered was running at least six miles each week for at least four days. He learned that if he was not able to run one day due to court appearances and shift work, it was not a big deal. He could schedule runs around that day, so he had four days. Some days he ran three miles. Other days he would only run ½ mile. By the end of the week, the total had to equal six miles. At the next fitness test, his run was his strongest event, and he easily passed the test.

With a ruler, you can measure distance. Learn to use different tools to measure other dimensions of success.
-Photo by author

A team I worked with struggled with a trust after two members clashed over how to handle a case. Morale declined over months. We do an annual survey of the team as a regular course of business. The year of this event, there were significant decreases on measures of trust and teamwork. We worked to bring in some trainers and coached the individuals over several weeks. We conducted the survey a few months after these interventions to determine if our efforts were effective. The measures of trust and sense of teamwork improved. The end of year survey showed even more improvement as we continued processes determined to be the most effective for improving trust and teamwork.

As you plan your resolutions for the New Year, keep in mind the importance of measures of success. If you do not understand how to measure your processes and effectiveness, you lack complete understanding of the goal. Learn to measure both performance and effectiveness. Collect good data so you and your people know they are doing the right things, the right way, for the right reason. Measures of performance and effectiveness allow you to see how different processes interact. As you make changes in processes, you should observe changes in effectiveness. Take time to carefully consider measures of performance and effectiveness as you prepare your goals and resolutions for the New Year.


Ferriss, Tim (Sep 15, 2021) The Tim Ferriss show; # 532. Overcast Podcast App

National Resource Council (2013) Making the soldier decisive on the future battlefield. The National Academies Press. Washington, DC

St. Cyr, Christopher (Dec 2014) Time to reflect, plan, & act. Saint Cyr Training & Consulting. Lancaster, NH. Retrieved from on 12/27/2021

(c) 2021. Christopher St. Cyr

Trust, the Cornerstone of Leadership

One has to build bridges to build trust. Bridges require strong foundations. Trust is the cornerstone of any strong leadership foundation.
-Photo by author

A few years ago, I found myself struggling to repair trusting relationships between members of a team I lead. While my relationship was still good, some team members had a spat that reduced trust and increased friction. We invited a consultant to do a training event focusing on improving trust in professional relationships. As this drama unfolded, the leader of a different organization asked me to provide as short presentation to the other senior leaders in that team on the importance of trust for leaders. A few months later, was in a leadership seminar and trust was a key discussion topic. As I reflected on the things I learned from these opportunities, I started rethinking my position that character was the foundation of leadership. As I worked though the connections of leadership, character, and trust, I realized my initial impression of character as the foundation of leadership was correct. I also realized that trust was the cornerstone of character, and therefore the cornerstone of leadership.

As I continued to reflect on the cornerstone analogy, I found six areas leaders can work on to develop trusting relationships with their followers, peers, senior leaders, and people outside their organization. Those areas include communication, being responsible, building your team, developing proficiency, demonstrating respect, and setting an example. Over the next few months, I will post examining each of these areas in more detail. The balance of this post focuses on introducing each of these topics.

Character is the foundation of leadership. One develops character by the way they live their personal and organizational values in a consistent, disciplined fashion. Living a life of character creates trust. Trust enables leaders to know that what they ask and expect followers to do will be done, even when they are not there. Followers do what is expected and make important decisions when the leader is not around because they trust their leader will support them.

Everyone thinks they know what trust is. If I asked you to provide a definition, how long would it take for you to formulate one? After some reading and reflecting, I define trust as: a choice to risk something you value to the actions of another based on your belief in their character. A quick analysis of this definition shows you have to value something, whether it is time, money, property, or a relationship. You have to be willing to allow someone else to access an item of value in such a way they can either add, subtract, or protect the base value through their actions. You use your knowledge and understanding of their perceived capability to decide if the risk is reasonable. The basis of your judgment is your observed ability of the other to accomplish things, and their record of virtue in their personal and professional life.

Character is the foundation of leadership. Foundations must be strong or things collapse. Strong cornerstones hold more weight. Trust is the cornerstone of character.
– photo from

Leaders are trusted to provide valuable guidance, actively pursue goals, use resources effectively, and treat others respectfully. The supporters of the organization, such as board members, stockholders, customers, and employees, decide to trust a leader based on their perception of how well the leader competently executes with available resources and cares for people. Leaders earn trust by communicating, acting responsibly, building the team, demonstrating proficiency, acting respectfully, and setting a good example.

Leaders are in the communication business. They must communicate consistently up, down, and across their organization. Honesty is important. Without honest communication, there can be no trust. Honest communications reduce anxiety in stressful times. When leaders develop a reputation for honesty, others tolerate the absence of communication on a subject or topic on occasions when a leader indicates she cannot speak on it. Even in those cases, it is critical for a leader to disclose the constraint and when they will be able to discuss the matter.

There are several aspects to being a responsible leader. You must do what you say you are going to do, and keep track of the people and property entrusted to you. The first part of this quality seems simple enough, if you say you will do something, do it. However, it is not always easy. Sometimes life gets in the way of what you promised to do. When you find a way to accomplish all you promised, you will be trusted as a reliable leader.

The next part of this quality is tracking people and things. When I say it is important to track people, I do not mean creepy internet stalking stuff. You must know where your people are during working hours, what they are working on, that they are being paid properly, they take adequate time off to remain fresh and avoid burnout, and that they are well-trained. In fact, if you do not take care of all of these things, you do not deserve to expect to attract and retain quality people nor expect quality results.

Turing our attention to tracking property, there is more to it than just knowing the numbers. If you lose track of property entrusted to you, you and your people will not have the resources to work. Equally important to having the right numbers of things is that the property is operational. If you have 20 widgets, but only five are working, you only have 5 widgets.

The next facet is building your team. You do that by working them hard. Whether it is a challenging problem to solve or developing a new product or service, nothing builds that team like hard work. It creates a shared team identity and history.

Proficiency ensures you know what right looks like. As a result, you know when people are doing the right things, the right way, for the right reasons.
– photo from

Be proficient in your field. You do not need to know how to operate every machine, or generate every report, but you need to know enough, so you know what is and is not real. Others judge your competence by your demonstrations of skill, knowledge, time, and capacity to complete a given task. If you lack something, you build trust by admitting it up front and solidifying a plan to overcome the shortfall.

Act respectfully of others all the time. There are several ways you can do that. Speak positively about others when they are not present. Be punctual. When you are late, you send a clear message that you do not value other people’s time. Be empathetic. Sometimes connecting someone with a mentor or asking about a family problem shows you care.

Set the example by living the standards you set. Model expected behaviors. Others will follow your example. Setting an example by living your values and the values of your organization is the most demonstrative way you build character and establish trust. It shows you are willing to walk the talk and know that what you expect of others can be done.

Leaders build character and develop trust with subordinates, peers, senior leaders, and leaders outside your organization by improving in each area. You build character one day at a time with every single action you take. As your character grows, the trust others place in you grows. Increased trust provides greater influence. Bigger and better opportunities become available to you and your team. Character is the foundation of leadership. Trust is the cornerstone of that foundation. The cornerstone must be solid or everything else collapses. Without trust, leaders and their teams fail. With trust, you and your team harness the power and influence necessary to accomplish anything. Now that you are done reading this, pick up your hammer and chisel, and begin carving your cornerstone of trust.


  • Covey, S. & Merrill, R. (2008) The speed of trust. Free Press. New York, NY
  • Feltman, C (2008). The thin book of trust. Thin Book Publishing. Bend, OR

Thank a Vet by Hiring a Vet

Cha-BOOM! Another morning starts with mortars landing on the roof. Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap. The M-240 machine gunner on the observation post over my head fires at someone or something as I roll out of bed and turn on the radio. I hear the Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) informing the operations center that we are receiving direct small arms fire and indirect mortar fire. I think, “No $#!7, we can hear it!” As I pull my body armor on, I hear the SOG directing one of the posts to fire on a position believed to house the forward observer for the mortars. He controls the fire of that position by calling in small corrections, allowing the gunner to zero in on the forward observer. As he radios each correction, we can hear shots cracking around him and the mortars continue to rain down.

Making life and death decisions under pressure creates a level of character for all Veterans, a quality adaptable to any job.

By now I am racing to the operations center to check in, receive accountability from my other squads, and coordinate a counter-attack. Cha-BOOM – another round lands on the roof, shaking the building. “I’ve been hit!”, the SOG yells into the radio. “Tweak it down one more notch,” he directs the machine gunner as they continue to zero in on the observer. “You got him. Now find that RPK.” directs the SOG. The mortars stop and soon, so does the small arms fire. The insurgents melt back into the city before we can roll out the gate and engage with them.

The one thing that stands out in my mind after nearly two decades since this battle occurred was the way the Sergeant of the Guard skillfully directed the fires of the fighting positions while under direct fire. What still amazes me however is that had he not announced on the radio he had been injured, no one listening would have any idea he was wounded. He continued to direct the battle and move from position to position like he was doing a little fitness training in his hometown.

I have heard people say that leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield. The leadership provided by the Sergeant of the Guard on that June morning directly resulted in the enemy lose of their eyes directing the mortars being used against us. Because they lost the ability to control their fires, the others fighters gave up the fight. The SOG’s cool reaction under fire, and while wounded, set an example of how good leaders instill confidence, provide guidance, and create trust under pressure.

This Field Artilleryman spent a year serving as a Military Police Soldier and helped train thousands of local police.

Most leaders in the most work places will never face such a life and death situation. However, many react like minor things are life and death events and engage in seagull management. The term comes from The One-Minute Manager. Ken Blanchard shares the story of a manager flying over his workers. When she catches someone doing something wrong, she swoops in, flaps her wings, makes lots of noise, and on the way out dumps on the people as they sort out the confusion.

When an employer hires a veteran, they gain an employee that knows what crises look like. Most know what an appropriate response is to given situations. Too often, employers look at a veteran’s employment history and sees they served in one of the combat arms, infantry (queen of battle), field artillery (King of Battle), armor, or carvery and has no idea what their real skills are.

National Guard member working a COVID Vaccination Site.

The military makes leaders of young people. A 20 or 21-year-old Soldier might be responsible for the very lives of four or five other people, like the Sergeant on the roof during the mortar attack. Even if that Soldier makes a text book correct decision, the Soldiers he leads might still die. How many life and death decisions do leaders in your organization have to make on a regular basis? I suspect in most cases, the answer is few. Yet the very people who are qualified to recognize and make those decisions are placed at the bottom of hiring lists because they do not appear to have skills.

If you are an employer that values leaders who can work independently, create a positive work environment, motivate people with a variety of skills, and accomplish things, you need to look at that veteran a second time. Lots of people now feel free to walk up to a person in uniform and thank them for their service. What are you really thankful for? If you are grateful they provided leadership in tough circumstances, offer them a job or connect them with someone who can.

Veterans have demonstrated the capability to learn new things under pressure. They know how to work in teams. They understand you do not have to like the other person in your foxhole, but you need to know how to work with them so you both survive. Veterans value loyalty, duty, honor, and service. They know what hard work is because for them, and eight-hour day is only the first part of the work day; many have worked 20 or 30-hour days

Veterans worked a variety of jobs in the military. Often, what they are tasked to do is not aligned with what they are trained to do but they figure out how to complete the mission.

As a job interviewer, you may not understand all the jargon veterans use. Ask them to clarify what they mean. Even the most junior leader in the military creates mission orders for their team based on what their boss needs. Veterans learn to understand the intent of the mission, which in the business world is a job or project. They develop plans to accomplish their part of the project. They communicate their plan with their bosses and their team. Veterans learn to coordinate their actions with the teams operating to their left, right, and rear, basically, all around them.

Veterans may not know how to operate your Black Hole Client Management System, but they know how to gather information. They may not be able to operate your particular milling machine, but they learn to operate lots of different military equipment. They may not know your particular protocol to deal with a crisis, but they know how to quickly make decisions based on the available information, their understanding of the intention of the project, the guiding principles of the organization, and then how to execute in a calm, disciplined way. Every organization needs people who can make decisions under pressure, inspire others to be more than they are, and complete important work with little supervision. Those are normal days in the military, and that is why veterans make good hires. Do not just thank a vet this Veterans Day; hire one.


Blanchard, K, & Johnson, S (1983). The one-minute manager. Berkley Books. London, UK.

Marshall A. (2019). Baqubah: Bones and blood. Baqubah Press. Barrington, NH

Willink, J, & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY.

Top photos by author

Bottom photos from New Hampshire National Guard

Learn More

These are a small number of organizations looking to help employers find and hire Veterans. Selecting these sites for sharing here is intended only to raise awareness for employers and Veterans of some ways they can connect. Their selection is not an endorsement.

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Power of Example for Leaders

Sir Peel meet Lord Wellington
Sir Robert Peel knew the importance of police setting positive examples in their communities. Leaders are judged by their example, just like police are judged by their communities
-Painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter; retrieved from Wikicommons.

Police work is a career field that relies on apprenticeship in order for new people to learn skills and become highly qualified. In the last few years, our nation saw several examples of bad things that happen when police departments choose the wrong people to lead new officers. What we rarely see are the great examples of leaders who understand their role in the communities they serve. These corporals and sergeants do more than lecture to new officers about the importance of respect and community oriented responses to situations. Rather, these police leaders show their trainees how to interact with the public in a positive way that fosters cooperation instead of resistance. Police departments with quality leaders create trust in their communities based on mutual respect. These leaders walk the talk that Sir Robert Peel introduced in the 1800s. In these departments, officers do the right things because they see the rewards of treating people with respect, listening to people’s concerns, and their actions align with what they say they value.

Setting an example is a powerful tool that establishes trust with others. Your actions broadcast to how you expect your followers to behave. When your actions align with your personal and organizational guiding principals, you begin to create a culture of character that speaks louder than anything you, or your organization says. People judge us not but what we say is important; they judge us by what we show them is important through our actions. As a leader, your example should be your sharpest tool.

There are several ways leaders can sharpen their tool of positive example. Start by remembering the power of your example. As a leader, people emulate your behavior, which becomes the organization’s culture. If you treat others with honor and respect regardless of job, title, or position, those who follow you will act respectfully as well. When you keep your work space neat and tidy, it tells others your value order over disorder. Others will notice those times you step up to lend a hand with the dirty work demonstrating servant leadership. Your example builds a stage from which you project the values and guiding principals others come to know are important. When your behavior is aligned with organizational principals, you speak with authority when you both recognize the good work of those who follow you as well as those times you make corrections.

Man sharpens tool like leaders sharpen their abilities.
When leaders model expected behaviors, they sharpen trust with their followers, peers, their leaders, and others outside their organization
-photo by CD-X from

Another way to sharpen your example is to listen to what others say about your behavior. Others will talk about your behavior. Their comments let you know if you are engaged in behavior that sets a good example. Behavior that is out of line will be the subject of jabs in meetings, or sarcastic remarks over lunch. When you implore others to complete job performance evaluations on time and your direct reports’ evaluations are all over due, you might hear things like, “About that, when will my eval be completed?”, or “You mean like the way you finish evaluations?”. These comments may be said in a way that sounds funny. The real message is you need to set the example and complete the evaluations for your followers on time. They notice when you do not.

Your boss and peers are other vehicles for information about your behavior. They may comment your behavior seems off track. Even when you are a highly competent leader with good character, you will have days that are hard. In those times, your boss will likely cut you some slack. Your peers may express concern. As you continue to allow those difficulties to effect your behavior, you will find your peers express disdain and your boss becomes frustrated. Listen for those little clues for those you trust to change what is becoming unacceptable behavior back to actions aligned with the organization’s values.

Learning is another way to sharpen your tool of example. Whether it is a professional development event hosted by your employer, or a book you read and apply, when others see you learning, they know it is important for them to continue learning as well. By applying what you learn, you become a stronger leader and a better person. You reinforce the importance of learning by taking time to chat with those who recently attended a training event or other development task. Approach the conversation as a learner rather than a boss checking up on whether the person attended the seminars or spend the day on the beach. Doing this shows others you understand anyone can learn something from everyone. As a result, your power to influence others increases.

Setting an example is the single biggest thing you can do to develop character and demonstrate competence. Setting a good example shows others you know what you are asking them to do can be done. Good examples provide leaders power to influence others because they treat people with respect, ask questions that acknowledge their skills, and demonstrate the leader is willing to engage in the painful and enjoyable activities every organization has. These behaviors create trust with those who follow and lead you. You know if your example is aligned with organizational guiding principles by listening to others. Whether it is a direct report, a peer, or your boss, each provides clues about your behavioral alignment. Sometimes the feedback is direct and sarcastic. Other times, the feedback is received from another’s observations about the team’s performing. Learning provides you opportunities to demonstrate to others the importance of learning, and also provides tools to help you better evaluate your leadership actions. Learning also provides you the opportunity to acquire new skills to become a better leader. Model the behaviors you expect of others, and soon you will find they follow the example you set. Your example becomes the basis for trust with others.

Row of beach huts aligned like leader behaviors are aligned with organizational principals
A leader’s example must be aligned with the values of the organization
-Photo from PXHere


Grinston, M. (Ed. 2020). TC 7-22.7 The noncommissioned officer guide. Department of the Army. Washington, DC.

UW Police (2021), The Peelian principles University of Washington. Seattle, WA. Retrieved 10/27/21

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr. Contact author for permission to reuse text.

The Secret to Success In Leadership and Life; Persistence

Engaging in the right actions, completed the right way, consistently begins a cycle to achieve success.
-Photo from PxHere

Doing anything for 60 years is hard. At a 60 year wedding anniversary party, the husband was asked what the secret was to staying married for so long. His response, “Don’t get divorced!” Simple right? Simply work persistently on your marriage for 720 months and you too will stay married for 60 years. The principal of persistence is the secret for staying married for 60 years, succeeding in life, and leading others well.

While the principal of persistence implies success through repeated efforts, it is important to understand that persistence along does not guarantee success. In order for your persistent efforts to achieve success in some area of life, you have to execute correct behaviors, in the proper fashion, completed in the right order, on a consistent basis. Doing the right things at the wrong time, or without consistency, reduces the effectiveness of your behavior.

The Correct Behaviors

There are several acceptable ways to build a roof for one’s home. Many modern homes rely on trusses to hold the sheathing. Back in the day, builders used hand hewn beams to create the rafters. Prairie dwellers used thatching instead of traditional shingles. All work well to their purpose in their location, so long as you completed the right tasks.

Applying trusses requires different steps and skills than if a carpenter is applying a rafter structure. Trusses come preassembled, ready to lift to the tops of the walls to be secured appropriately. There are steps building crews take to secure the trusses to the walls and to the other trusses. Failing to complete any step of the installation correct means the roof is not completely sound. It may survive a normal rainstorm and carry the load of a winter’s worth of snow, but the first big wind that blows, the residents may find they are exposed to the elements.

Consistent behavior that is out of line with required behavior is not persistence. Persistence repeats appropriate behavior.
-Photo by Julia Volk on

Along the same lines, a thatched roof may work well to keep the rain off your head on a tropical island. If you build the same home in a cold climate that receives snow, however, you may need to learn to build an igloo! The grass that shed rain lacks the strength to hold solid precipitation.

You can persistently build homes in Canada with perfectly executed thatched roofs, but it is unlikely you will sell many. Correct behavior means not only executing what you know to the best of your ability, but also that the action is appropriate for the circumstances. It is a twofold test to determine correct behavior.

The Proper Fashion

The nation cringed every time the news played clips from the arrest of George Floyd. Two rookie and one veteran police officer struggled to arrest him because they did not understand the proper way to restrain and escort a resistant person. In the case of rookies, one expects them to learn from those with experience and according to one clip, one of the officers questioned the tactic but lacked another solution because of his lack of experience. There are effective techniques to control resistant people. Other police officers around the nation encounter resistant people and for the most part, those resisters are successfully placed in police cars, brought to police stations, and live to tell their side of the story. While most people will not find themselves in situations where the proper or improper actions result in the death of another, when someone fails to execute a behavior in the correct way, there eventually are negative consequences. You may persistently execute that behavior and experience some success, but failure is a more likely outcome.

An example is of the pilot who flew antique WWI airplanes. The particular plane he flew required someone to spin the propeller two times before attempting to start the engine. This procedure had something to do with moving oil or something like that, which prevented the pistons from seizing during operation. This pilot admitted he rarely completed this step and never had a problem except once. As he tells the tale, shortly after take off, the engine seized, causing the propellers to stop turning. He was able to turn around and land safely. He says he never skips the step now. The moral is that persistently following the wrong way to do things eventually results in failure. You may succeed in the short term, but the odds grow against you with time. Do the right things the right way long enough, and you are more likely to succeed.

The Correct Order

Sometimes the order one completes tasks is of little consequence. I was observing a class on preparing a radio for use in the field. The instructor told the students to insert the battery and then turn over the radio and attach the antenna. The point was that before you attach the antenna, the user has easier access to the battery. The instructor was teaching a class of people learning to become instructors. One student assembled the radio by first attaching the antenna and then placing the radio on its side and sliding in the battery. Following this method was typically slower and made it more difficult to align the pins in the battery compartment with the slots in the battery, which could damage the pins and render the radio inoperative.

The instructor trainer failed the student and explained he failed to complete the steps in the correct order. The student replied, “Doesn’t matter; it works!” The instructor trainer explained the reasons for assembling the radio as instructed and directed the student to complete the task again. Again, he did with the antenna first. Eventually the student was removed and spoken to by the headmaster of the training program. The student passed but received poor comments on his evaluation.

While the student’s point about the radio operating by assembling it his way was true, it was not the correct order. The order directed by the instructor reduced the risk of damaging the radio. Just because there are no consequences for failing to follow the order of directions in one iteration does not mean there are never consequences. If the student instructor taught all his people to assemble the radio the way he did it, the likelihood of damaged radios increases. The cost for repairing the radios increases, reducing funds available for other activities. Most importantly, the radio is not available for the operations conducted by the organization. Even if a replacement was immediately available, that may not always be the case.

Taking shortcuts may seem like it saves time in the short run. In the end however, the cost can be great. One may not break a radio pin, but what if an employee fails to follow a procedure and as a result people are injured or killed?

Consistent Action

Consistency is synonymous with persistence. However, they are not exactly the same. Consistency is the principal regular adherence to a course (derived from and Persistence is consistency without stopping until you reach the objective. It is possible to be persistent without being consistent. Your results will take longer to achieve. Depending on how inconsistent your persistence is, you may find achievement not possible.

You do not run a marathon without some practice. However, you do not finish a marathon with making consistent, persistent steps for 26.2 miles!
-Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on

Consistent action goes a long way to improving attainment and speed of results. It is better to do a little bit on a regular basis than trying to complete a long list of tasks a single time (See Ten Minute Rule). Acting consistently allows you to determine how to adjust actions. You can beat your head against a brick wall for years hoping to break through it. If you bang your head against that wall five times every day, you will realize sooner that there is probably a better way to break down that wall and waiting until Saturday and banging your head for an hour without evaluating your results.

Persistence is an important principle of success. It implies you do not stop until you achieve your goal. However, repeating unsuccessful habits do little to move you forward. As you travel down the path toward your goal, it is important to do the things that work, effectively, in an order that builds on previous successes, consistently. That means you stop periodically to evaluate that you are doing the right things effectively in the right order on a regular basis. Persistence is more than never quitting. It means you evaluate to avoid making the same mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. Persistence requires periodically stopping to apply the lessons you learn so, you do the right things more effectively. If you are persistent and do not occasionally stop to evaluate your progress, you may find you ended up someplace you did not want to go. Take a breath, look around to see where you are, then adjust so, you stay on the path as you persistently move forward!

Small Adjustments, Like Compound Interest, Equal Big Change

Looking before leaping ensures you have a good understanding what lies under the surface. This understanding allows you to make small adjustments to meet conditions and improve success.
-Photo by Lucas Allmann on

As a young man, I was approached by an insurance salesman about the miracle of compound interest. The theory is sound. With a little discipline, a little luck, the right investment vehicle, and the right advisor, saving a little on a regular basis with the compound interest added over a period of time, one ends up with a good-sized bankroll. In an earlier post, I introduced the concept of the ten-minute rule; taking ten minutes each day to dedicate to an activity that will make tremendous improvements in your life. The discipline required to dedicate to ten minutes every day is the same as that for saving. Six Sigma and Total Quality Improvement both tout the importance of making small changes to make products and services better. Do you remember the old adage, “Look before you leap”? Small steps may be a better, safer way to descend from or climb up a mountain.

Change is coming. We all know it. Change is at the very heart of leadership. Without change, there would be no need for leaders. Too often organizations make broad, sweeping changes. We all know that a new broom sweeps clean but how many new brooms can an organization afford to buy, use, store, and maintain? Sometimes sweeping changes are necessary like when a wildfire burns down your whole town, your biggest customer goes bankrupt, or your CFO suddenly resigns to move to his new home in the Caribbean purchased without authorization from your company’s funds. Those kinds of changes are rapid and wide-spread. The stimulus for those kinds of changes are difficult to predict. Good leaders should look to the future in order to make predictions and decisions about the future. With a vision toward the future, leaders develop plans to implement changes preparing for the future. People adapt to smaller changes easier. Smaller changes allow leaders to observe responses before fully committing to bigger changes. Small changes are the little peeks before the big leap.

When implemented well, little changes result in big differences that are not often understood at the time of the change. Small, successive changes help leaders understand if their theory is valid. It is easier to take a few steps down a path to see what lies ahead than to blindly start off only to learn you are going the wrong way. Incremental changes allow us to do just that.

Small decisions frequently make the difference between success and failure. The decision by Stark to attack surprised the British defenders near Bennington, VT. Few recognized the importance of this small engagement at the time it occurred. It became the turning point in the American Revolution.
-Engraving of a painting by Alonzo Chappel –, Public Domain,

An example of small decisions that lead to big results is the battle that occurred outside Bennington, VT in August 1777. The British were attempting to cut off the New England Colonies from the rest of the rebels. Armies were to march north from New York City and south from Canada. The General in NYC thought he had an opportunity to fix and destroy George Washington’s main army after the isolation plan started. He started moving his army to close with Washington without consulting the army from Canada. British and Colonial forces clashed at Saratoga, NY.

Facing dwindling supplies and seeking a way around the Continentals, the British commander sent a small party towards Bennington. The commander knew the rebels established a base of stores there. Additionally, this course presented a possible route around the opposing forces. Word reached the militia commanders John Stark and Ethan Allen. Both independently sent small detachments to Bennington. Stark found the British forces on a hill west of Bennington and defeated them. After a rapid march from New Hampshire, a soggy night, and a muddy, bloody battle, his men were spent. Instead of pursuing the beaten British, Stark reassembled his men to return to New Hampshire.

About that time, Col Seth Warner showed up with his regiment of Green Mountain Boys. After exchanging information with Stark, they decided to pursue the enemy. Instead of finding a bunch of stragglers, the Green Mountain Boys encountered fresh British troops sent to reinforce those sent to Bennington. Warner had the element of surprise and defeated those reinforcements. This small skirmish was later recognized as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. The war moved south, but the Brits never were able to pin down the Americans to obtain a decisive blow.

Understanding levels of complexity helps leaders make incremental changes that allow them to determine if those changes affect the problem in the desired fashion.
-Cynefin Model from Clear Impact Consulting Group.

If we relook at Cynefin Model of understanding problems, we find that simple problems are the only kind that call for the application of best practices. The others call for examination and exploration in order to determine what practices to apply. Complected, Complex, and Chaotic problems require leaders to analyze situations, probe for causes, or take novel action to gain a sense of the problem. In each case, taking small steps allow leaders to determine if they are moving in the right direction or if they have yet to establish a good understanding of the problem and require a different solution. Even when it seems everything is falling apart, small incremental changes allow leaders to test solutions, looking before they commit fully to a course of action. Yes, the time may be short and leaders may only be able to test one or two possible solutions, but they can determine if those actions will work, or if they need to continue to identify better answers.

The world can be a big, scary place, even with today’s advanced technology. Not all problems and change are easy to anticipate and respond. Leaders who understand the principal of compound interest know that series of small actions help determine if something will work or if they need to look for other solutions before committing to a particular course to deal with change. Small steps taken at the beginning of the problem-solving cycle gives leaders opportunities to look on the other side of the wall before jumping over the wall. As a result, s/he knows whether there is a little ledge or a huge drop off on the other side. Change is ever present. It is the key reason organizations need leaders. Most change is incremental, therefore, so should the leader’s response to change also be incremental. Learning these skills helps leaders make better decisions when rapid change occurs. Do not knuckle under the pressure to make a big decision up front. Find ways to make a series of little decisions when confronting a problem. Doing so puts the power of incremental change to work for you and your organization.


Clear Impact Consulting Group (2018). Complexity theory: The cynefin model. Clear Impact Consulting Group. Edmonton, AB.

Friends of the Bennington Battle Monument (N.D.) The battle of Bennington: the turning point of the American revolution. The Battle of Bennington Monument, Retrieved 25 August 2021

National Park Service (2018). Burgoyne’s campaign: June-October 1777. Fort Stanwix National Monument. Retrieved 26 August 2021

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Three Ways to Mine Great Ideas

Good ideas are like gemstones. If you have one or two, things seem pretty good. Often leaders need to follow the miner’s lead and dig up good ideas from those they lead.
-Photo by Dids on

We recently finished the annual report for the nonprofit I operate. I say we because it is always a team effort. There were several changes I wanted to make in the annual report to communicate better who we are, what we do, and how well we perform. I wanted to show data in ways that communicated important fact quickly and show off the accomplishments of our team. There is no need for leaders if everyone does their own work, so I leaned on others to make this report the best we ever issued. When I sat down with my team, I pointed out the things I disliked in our older reports, most of which I created. I showed them some ideas from other annual reports I liked and challenged them to find ways to integrate those ideas to tell our FY 2021 story. George Washington said, “When a leader cannot generate important ideas himself, he must look elsewhere.” In order for us to develop a better annual report, I as a leader, had to rely on others for ideas to tell our story better. Here are three ways you can inspire your people to generate good ideas.

Tell them Why

Simon Sinek said it best, start with why. Tell others why the project is important. How does it support the work you do to relieve other people’s pain. Who benefits from the project, not just the intended audience, but your vendors, other teams in the organization, and even the team members. If the goal of the project is to change something, explain why changing is important. Taking time to explain why you are asking for the ideas of others creates a culture of learning. You demonstrate the value of ideas regardless of their origin. You show them you care and respect them enough to listen to their ideas, which reinforces your organization’s principals surrounding integrity, trust, loyalty, and respect.

Ask Great Questions

One great way to inspire people is asking questions. For example, in our annual report project, I showed earlier examples of how we presented data. Originally it was straight out facts: $50,000.00 spent, 29 clients served, 1,200 hours worked, etc. Our next step was better, pie charts, but it was still weak. I asked the team how we could present the data, so people could grasp the important points quickly and understand the importance of those facts. Of course, I also asked if the information we were presenting was really important to our stakeholders? What information could we present that might tell the story better than the key indicators we previously selected? Where would we find that information? If we could not present some of these things this year because the information was not easily obtainable, what changes in the coming year do we need to make to our data collection? How would we accomplish those changes?

Asking good questions to start conversations is important. Listening to answers and demonstrating your listening by asking appropriate follow up questions shows respect and encourages participants to offer more ideas. One of my favorite responses to other people’s ideas is, “Tell me more about that?”

Allow Time to Create

Unlike data entry or parts production, creative endeavors do not fit neatly into time constraints. This blog is a great example. I try to publish around the 15th and 30th of each month. Sometimes the way I try to explain a concept, or my understanding of a leadership theory, is not fully formed. Often the act of writing helps me understand better. It enables me to make connections necessary to implement those ideas in my actual leadership practice. As a result, you may notice I revisit certain ideas again with a different understanding compared to when I first published a post.

Sometimes one has to lie on one’s back to create great ideas or enduring works of beauty. Ensure those you lead have time to develop creative ideas. Doing so encourages hard work & inspires them to stay.
-Public Domain,

You may have a deadline when you ask others for ideas, but ensure you provide them enough time to think and create. There are times you see someone sitting in their cubical or office listening to music or staring at a screen and it is easy to assume they are doing nothing. Sometimes that is true. More often, the gears inside that person’s head are turning, processing information, making connections necessary to develop a complete idea, and a way to explain that idea to others.

A great example of the hidden creative process appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni spent the better part of his life between 1508 and 1512 on his back. It would have been easy for the Pope to pass through and notice those periods when he did not have a brush in hand applying paint to the ceiling. However, one cannot argue with the results. Michelangelo’s work still amazes visitors 510 years later. Compare that to how long the paint job lasts on your living room ceiling. Creativity takes time. Not all of us are Renaissance painters. Most of our organizations cannot dedicate four years to the development of a product or service. However, recognize that the creative process does take some time. Ensure you allow enough time for it to happen.

Leaders provide purpose though their vision. They provide motivation and direction by creating plans to make their vision reality. Good leaders recognize they must use the good ideas others have to ensure their vision becomes a reality. No matter how good a leader is, s/he does not have all the good ideas. Developing creativity in others ensures there is a pool of talented thinkers with a proven ability to execute when an organization needs good ideas. Looking back to my example of the Annual Report story, as is often the case when I challenge others, my team rose to the challenge and created a great Annual Report. The ideas they put together to communicate key data amazed me. Your people will amaze you if you allow them the time and flexibility to create new ideas for improving processes, creating new products and services, or telling the world your organization’s story. Not all of us have Michelangelo working for them. If you did, under your leadership would he be able to create another masterpiece or be relegated to living with the status quo? Allow your people to reflect, create, and execute. You will be amazed at what they can do!

References and Additional Reading

Gardner, H. (2000). Gardner’s art through the ages. Vol II. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, CA

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why. Penguin Books. New York, NY

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr. Contact for permission to reuse text.

SOAR above the Problem, Don’t SWOT It

Like many other leaders and students of leadership, I learned and use the SWOT model to help analyze during change. For those who have never heard of SWOT, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can read more about it in my December 2018 post The Model is great to help organizations identify things that are wrong. However, the SOAR model helps leaders and organizations identify what is right. Using SOAR allows leaders to understand things that do not need fixing and should be preserved.

SOAR model can be used instead of or as a complement to SWOT as you and your organization plan future changes.
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SOAR is the model that helps leaders identify Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results (Moore, C. 2021). The model builds upon the idea of leading from strength discussed in the book Strengths Based Leadership by Rath and Conchie. As a result, leaders find themselves focusing on the important things to keep. It is equally important to know what works in order to keep it as it is to know what is broken in order to fix or replace it.

The SOAR model is based on a method called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry revolves around a series of questions pertaining to a particular topic such as organizational governance, or product and service line.  Examples sound like, “What is something that excites you about this widget?”, or “How does our current structure encourage creativity?” The purpose is to identify those things to save and bring forward as change happens.

Aspects of appreciative inquiry are described as a series of Ds depending on the source. Positive Psychology describes them as discovery, dream, design, and delivery (Moore, 2021). Forbes uses five Ds; define, discover, dream, discover, and deploy(Spavell,2021). 

Like SWOT, SOAR begins by examining strengths. In this model however you ask a series of questions that reveal strengths. Two examples of strength finding questions appear above. This process provides different points of view on those things that are strong. Those strengths allow us to lead from those points.

Opportunities is also a common point between SOAR and SWOT. How and what questions help leaders identify opportunities such as, “What does the future look like given current trends?”, and “How can we use our strengths to meet our clients’ future needs?” Opportunities give those in the SOAR model to see the future and develop possibilities.

Aspirations allow inquiries about things we as individuals, leaders, and organizations hope to be at our best. This step requires imagination. The conversation may begin with a prompt like, “In three years, our group is operating like a well oiled machine. Employees are excited to come to work. Peace and harmony reign. How did we achieve these ideals?” Of course, the answers to these type of prompts offer possible solutions to move from the good work you now do to great work you could be doing!

Results are important. Ken Blanchard said in his book The Secret, he proposes that both relationships and results are important. You may not always need others to achieve things, but you do if you are a leader. Ask other things like when they felt their talents were best used or what ways help you work better.

The SOAR model based on the appreciative inquiry process is different. Use opened ended questions to encourage others to respond with narrative answers. Create space for people to answer the questions by remaining silent(Miller etal, 2004). I have a professional coach who warned me at our first meeting that after she asked a question, she would not speak again until after I answered her question. She said it took a long time to get used to silence but learned important insights are born in silence. Crafting quality appreciative inquiry questions may seem difficult. Fortunately, there is help in the form of books and websites that offer examples. 

Appreciative inquiry is frequently used in groups. I found it a helpful tool in one-on-one situations. When I am trying to collect feedback about my performance as a leader from my boss, peers, or employees, using appreciative questions prompts people to provide better information. Remember that if you are asking questions, you need to accept the answers. Record them so you can later reflect on them and make changes as necessary, and of course identify things to keep with you. When you ask questions of others in an appreciative way, it inspires confidence in them as change happens.

Problems and change are difficult. As a leader, you can SWOT them or SOAR over them. Both models have advantages. When used together, there is an even greater potential for break through successes. Identify your strengths, find your opportunities. Dream of your aspirations, achieve results. When you use the appreciative inquiry process in the SOAR model, you find the good stuff to keep with you as you make changes. Don’t SWOT your problems; SOAR above them!


Miller, C, Aguilar C, Maslowski, L. McDaniel, D. and Mantel, M. ((2004) The nonprofits’ guide to the power of appreciative inquiry. Community Development Institute. Denver, CO.

Moore, C. (6/5/2021). What is appreciative inquiry? A brief history & real life examples. retrieved 6/16/21

Sparvell, M. (1/25/2021). Appreciative inquiry: Getting more of the good stuff. retrieved 7/16/21

The Art of Planning


Note: June has been crazy. As I attempted to post my end of month blog, I experienced some technical issues. This is a repost from 2014 on planning. Even though the content is from 2014, planning remains an important leadership function. The content is just as relevant today as then. Enjoy.

“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions, allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principles. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brainstorming sessions, although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas, may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them, whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principles, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage, you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated, the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions, but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing to understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling, even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is the only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move, it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs, you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives, selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end, you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.

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