Building Trusting Teams

As trust grows between members of your team, you will find your team functions better. As teams function better, trust grows. It really does not matter where the leader inserts team building in this cycle, only that s/he does. Communication is a key aspect to building trust in teams, described in an earlier post. Creating channels of open communication between team members about more than just work helps all the team members understand each other better. Engage your team in challenging work. Great challenges create a shared team identity and history. Challenging work develops confidence in team members, improves trust, and encourages greater positive risk taking because team members know they are supported.

A smart phone representing communication
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While communication was discussed in the second post of this series, there are some specific aspects of communication to help improve team development. During Project Aristotle, Google researched why some of their teams were more effective and productive than others. One of their first reported findings was that teams that permit everyone about equal say are the most productive. They found such teams have the greatest teams had emphatic communications which created a culture of psychological safety. Google found that teams with these characteristics tended to allow about equal time for communication from all members.

Leaders start the discussion by opening up, so others see their vulnerabilities. They insist on respectful descent. They present a future that is hard but achievable. Leaders encourage the team to attempt difficult tasks and support them when they fail by examining what happened and how to improve. These behaviors support disciplined risk taking. A leader’s vision for the future is, “Like water in a bucket, vision evaporates and must be constantly replenished – that is, communicated.” (Blanchard)

As you project your vision for a better future, you begin to paint a picture of something that does not yet exist. Your vision should invite your teammates to join you on the achievement adventure. While the vision you present should be hard to achieve, it should not be impossible. People bond when they accomplish hard things.

Stephen Ambrose documents the trials and tribulations of a company of infantrymen from WWII in his book Band of Brothers. Easy Company was a well respected company because of the many victories it earned. The men of Easy became life-long friends. It is unlikely these Soldiers would have every known each other outside the war. However, their leaders trained them hard which built their confidence. Their battles were difficult, testing those bond, hardening them like steel. Each man trusted the other with their own lives. Imagine what it is like to work in a team like that.

Formation of Soldiers graduating.
Photo courtesy of NHRTI.

It is easy to point to any number of military units to illustrate the point that hard work builds a team. There are plenty of examples of teams outside the military that worked hard, build trust, and accomplished great things. Jocko Willink wrote, “Combat is a reflection of life, only amplified and intensified,” in his book Extreme Ownership (p.12). As a result, there are many successful teams where the leader established an expectation of success and provided support. The leader understood when teams take on difficult tasks, failures will occur. That leader knew every mistake was a learning opportunity to be shared across the team. Those teams earned bragging rights when they accomplished things others thought impossible. Their successes, not their failures, are what others noticed and remembered. They attracted others who wanted to do great things because of the shared history and team identity. Trust grows in these teams, allowing them to function better.

An example is the child advocacy center movement. There are over 900 child advocacy centers across the United States recognized by the National Children’s Alliance. Each consists of a team from several organizations that serve abused children such as law enforcement, child protection services, medical and mental health providers, prosecutors, and advocacy programs. The team leader does not supervise any of these people.

The problems are real. The work is difficult and challenging. While it seems all these people are working towards a common goal of protecting children, each has their own view of how to approach the problem of child abuse. Sometimes these organizations have rules that make communication difficult. Often there is a great deal of friction between the organizations the team members represent. Yet, the team leader is trained to create trust between team members by facilitating meetings that create bonds between members. The leader asks team members questions to find the common ground between competing interests.

Man constructing furniture
Photo by Ono Kosuki on Pexels.com

Over time, team members create strong bonds that inspire collaboration and cooperation. The result is, offenders are held accountable for what they have done. Child receive appropriate services to deal with their traumatic experiences, allowing them to heal and lead more normal lives. Team members often become friends because of their common history. As these teams grow, they find people want to belong rather than go it alone.

Team building is a core leadership competency. Building trust is an essential element of that process. Leaders build their teams by ensuring everyone has a voice, challenging them with hard work, and creating a culture of learning by allowing mistakes and providing support. These teams have shared experiences they value, a history of success, and create space others want to join. Building teams is a cycle to creating trust and improving performance. Pick an activity that does either, build on it, and before long you will find you have a trusting, highly functioning team.

References

Developing Competence: The Third Facet of Trust

Competence is the third facet of the Cornerstone of Trust.
Photo by Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

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

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.
Photo by Ali Arapou011flu on Pexels.com

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.

Initiative

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
Photo by Clement Eastwood on Pexels.com

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.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

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 https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/silicon-innovations/moores-law-technology.html March 28, 2022.

(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr

Communication: The Base of Trust

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

“Grab a bite tomorrow?”

“Sure, what time?”

“Sevenish?”

“Regular place?”

“Yes.”

“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.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24768325

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.

References

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 PXHere.com 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 PXHere.com. 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.

References

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 https://saintcyrtraining.com/2014/01/01/time-to-reflect-plan-act/ 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 pxhere.com

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 pxhere.com

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.

References

  • 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

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 PXHere.com

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

References

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. http://police.uw.edu/faqs/the-peelian-principles/ Retrieved 10/27/21

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

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 Pexels.com

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 – http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?808641, 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.

References

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, https://benningtonbattlemonument.com/battle.html. Retrieved 25 August 2021

National Park Service (2018). Burgoyne’s campaign: June-October 1777. Fort Stanwix National Monument. https://www.nps.gov/fost/learn/historyculture/1777-campaign.htm. 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 Pexels.com

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36772

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.

The Art of Planning

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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.

Photo by author

Caring Leaders

Funny thing about leaders…even when they lack a title, they still influence others to become better people and improve their organizations. These leader care about their people so they will achieve the organizations mission. As a result, their followers remain their followers months and years after their formal relationship ends. The best leaders often find themselves providing purpose, direction and motivation to former followers. Many of those followers exceed the leader’s success. Plenty of people smarter than me have filled books discussing how these bonds form and stay strong over many years. This blog will hardly scratch the surface. Instead, I simply seek to encourage readers to evaluate their own leader-follower relationships to find ways to become better leaders.

Take time to read books about leadership. Studying other leaders help you become a better leader.
-Photo by Author

Strong leaders know making an organization successful requires them to hire, develop, and retain high quality people who are dedicated, knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated. They communicate the organizational goals. They provide an inspiring vision for the future that turns employees into fans. In turn, those they lead independently use their skills and abilities to accomplish great things that move the organization in the direction of success.

Once one goal or a set of goals are accomplished, the leader points to the next hilltop. The journey begins again. The workers are ready to proceed because their leader publicly acknowledged their great work and sacrifices to achieve their current successes.

The leader creates opportunities to become familiar with employees, their families, dreams, hopes, and needs. S/he teaches and mentors others to align their personal values with the guiding principles of the organization. As a result, employees feel an increasing sense of success and fulfillment as the organization achieves success. These feeling create a deeper dedication to the leader, the organization, and the mission.

Washington is an example of a leader others followed long after he surrendered his official titles to lead others.
-Painting by John Trumbull – Public Domain

As a leader, you have to develops your own personal style to learn about those who follow you. Learn to communicate how their desires and abilities intertwine with those of the organization. Some leaders throw parties for their employees on their birthdays. Others use group training activities. Some dedicate a few moments each day to speak to their people and ask about important personal and professional issues. In every case, the interaction between the leader and follower is personalized in some way. The follower believes the leader personally cares for them and their situation. If faked the facade quickly tumbles causing major problems for the organization. However, even the most socially awkward leader appears caring just  by going through the motions.

History is filled with examples of leaders who remain engaged with those they led long after their business relationship ended. George Washington certainly sets that example. After the War for Independence, he returned to his simple life only to find those he led in battle and their families still needed him to lead the new nation. Omar Bradley was well liked and selected to run the Veteran’s Administration in part because so many veterans trusted him. Both of these men achieved the difficult tasks assigned them. However, each showed concern for Soldiers individually and collectively. They gained the reputation doing what was necessary to accomplish the mission by being sensitive to the needs of those who would be tasked to actually do the work. They gained life long followers.

Take time to meet with your people so you understand what motivates them, what skills they have, and issues in their lives that may interfere with their work. It shows you care, which makes them care about the job.
– by unknown from pxhere.com CC0

Great leaders have two important concerns. Success of their people and success of their organization. They understand that unless the aspirations of employees are tied to the vision of the organization, neither will be truly successful. Leaders inspire their employees to succeed by learning their dreams, concerns, and desires. Strong leaders find ways to create a culture that cares for people, so those people care enough to make the organization successful. Quality leaders do this by creating a vision of a future that does not exist but appears to those s/he leads.  S/he creates a culture learning, persistence, and innovation by sharing inspiring stories about the successes of teams and individuals.  They align people’s values with those of the organization. Great leaders extend their influence long after formal relationships end because they genuinely care for the people they lead. As a result, those people are more successful and work hard to make their organization successful. Care about your people, and they will care enough to accomplish your mission.


© 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Discipline of Leadership

Setting a disciplined example establishes your leadership credentials. People who follow you know you share the burden and rewards.
Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com

Leaders talk about the importance of maintaining discipline. As we have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, not all leaders discipline themselves. Reporters had field days with several well known political leaders who failed to follow the safety rules. They lost respect from many when they violated travel restrictions while the rest of us were barricaded in our homes. People watch their leaders. When they say they are going to do something, they better do it. When they tell others they need to do something, the leader better set the example. Setting an example by doing what you tell others to do is the fastest, most effective way one develops character and builds trust.

Setting the example creates humility.

Setting the sample means you understand other’s limitations.

Setting the example means sometimes making a mistake and learning from it.

Setting the example means celebrating another’s success the way you want others to celebrate your successes.

Setting the example means you know you are still learning and so is everyone else.

When you do the things you ask of others as a leader, you bring yourself down to their level. As a result, you can better see the world the way they do. I am not stating that I expect leaders to dig ditches, answer the switchboard, wash cars, or execute data entry all day everyday. I am saying that sometimes it is a good idea to grab a broom and sweep up the floor at the entry to your office suite, answer you own phone when you are able, and let one of your people show you how to process an order for a customer. Doing these things reminds you that those who follow you are special people with unique skills and talent. There may be parts of the organization no one knows better than you. Never forget there are people who know more about important parts of the organization than you will every be capable of knowing. They contribute as much to your success as your own actions. When you remember those who follow you are impressive people, it is easier to be humble.

When you begin doing and understanding the work of others in your organization, you learn both the strengths and limitations of the people, processes, and equipment. Knowing the edge of those limits helps you as a leader create realistic expectations. Turning back to the pandemic, government at all levels ramped up slowly to establish testing sites. As vaccinations became available, many found the challenges for putting shots in arms were not the same as sticking swabs in noses. Sites were scheduled to operate at maximum capacity then ran into problems about a month later as people needed second shots while others were trying to schedule their first. Some places adapted quickly by adding people, locations, and clinic hours. Others dragged their feet. Leaders must understand the limitations of their people, processes, and equipment in order to avoid similar mistakes.

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People make mistakes. Letting those who follow you know you are not perfect and learn from your mistakes means they do not need to hide their mistakes. Open mistakes allow everyone to learn.
Photo by author

Speaking of mistakes, as you wonder around setting an example you will make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Those who are less well-trained, new in positions, or inattentive will make more mistakes. Those with more training and experience make fewer mistakes. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. However, in order to learn a lesson, you first must acknowledge a mistake was made. We all worked for that leader with the zero defect mentality. Were mistakes made under those leaders? Absolutely! Sadly, it is likely the same mistakes were probably made frequently and covered up. Understand there is a difference between a mistake and deliberate misbehavior. We all recognize the difference between someone knocking the table inadvertently resulting in hot coffee spilling into your lap compared to the person who turns over the hot coffee directly onto your lap. Learning to deal with mistakes so others learn and become better performers is a true test of a leader. When others know honest mistakes result in retraining and forgiveness, people will be forth coming with mistakes so they can become better. You can share those mistakes across the organization after anonymizing the details so others learn too.

Celebrating success is an important leadership ritual. When you share the spotlight, others work harder because they know they will be recognized. Those in leadership positions who never shine the spotlight on others soon find they are working alone, or are often training new people because their good workers keep leaving. Patton once made a comment like, “Soldiers will do incredible things for a little piece of colored ribbon to affix to their uniform.” When celebrating success, make it about the contributions of the team, not you. Make sure the rewards for excellent behavior match the level of contribution. I am sure many readers remember (or not) receiving “Participation Trophies” during their early years of team sports. The problem with recognizing everyone is that you recognize no one. Some people think that doing the bare minimum means they should receive awesome amounts of recognition while others that go above and beyond blush at being recognized. Both people contributed differently. Both should be recognized according to their contribution.

When you continue to learn, others value continuous learning too. If your followers say things about you like, “She forgot more about that than both of us will ever know.”, and yet they still see you learning more, you send the message that learning is important in your organization. I met a person at a training one time that had a really bad attitude about being there. We had lunch together and I asked him why so blue. He told me that obviously he was going to get fired soon because his boss did not trust him regarding the topic of the training. I learned that in his organization, they only sent incompetent people to training to justify firing them. I suspect the organization had lots of leadership problems. People should know when you send them to learn new things it is not punishment but rather a reward for using what they already knew.

Your actions serve as a beacon for others to follow. Your example is the light others use to illuminate their path.
Photo by Casia Charlie on Pexels.com

Disciplined leadership means setting a good example. As you walk the talk, you demonstrate and state your expectations of those you lead. When you do fail to live the expectations you set, you lose respect in the same way political leaders do when they travel during a pandemic. When you live your values, you become known as someone who walks the talk, understands and respects reasonable limitations, expects mistakes and the learning that goes with mistakes ,and establish your exception people are continuous learners. You stay humble because you understand as a leader your success results from the work others do on your behalf. You make better decisions and when you make a mistake, people follow your lead and forgive you too. Do not be like too many of our political leaders. If you establish a rule, follow it too. If it is good enough for those who follow you, it is good enough for you. Your disciplined example is a beacon of character in a world of dark, sneaky secrets. Use your beacon as a guiding light for others to follow.


  • Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. Random House, New York, NY
  • Covey, S. (1989). 7 Habits of highly effective people, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Sharpening the Saw; Building Leadership Resilience

Building resilience helps leaders lead effectively regardless of the challenges they face and builds a network they can rely on when they need to bend and ear.
Photo by the author.

The field exercise was drawing to a close. I had lost lots of sleep keeping up with the demands of my new position. I was dragging and making mistakes. Mid-morning my boss pulls me aside and asks, “What is going on with you today?” In a gruff voice, he began listing all the mistakes I made so far.

“I am beat and having a bad morning,” I replied. He stared at me, arms crossed, brow furrowed. He was not happy.

“You’re a senior leader now! You can’t have bad days. Even in training, when you have a bad day; people could die!” He was right. We launched bullets a dozen or more miles down range. A small error made the difference between hitting the target or the projectile landing outside the impact area potentially killing or injuring others.

The boss directed me to go back to my area, clean up, eat, catch a nap and then meet him at the command post in an hour. We met at the command post and he spend the next hour telling all the little tricks that allowed him to succeed as a senior leader. He showed the systems he used to keep track of people and property. He told me about the importance of catching cat naps. He shared that when he had my job, checking the perimeter was about more than checking on security; it provided him daily exercise. He opened a green notebook revealing daily entries he said were his reflections on his past performance and adherence to values so he could identify and learn from his mistakes. I learned a lot that morning. Leaders cannot have bad days.

As we wrapped up the hour, he shared a story his father told him. His father was a logger back in the days before skidders and chainsaws. His father started every morning sharpening his saw. That meant to start cutting on time, he had to wake up a bit earlier. There were some men in the crew who would not sharpen their saws daily. They ended up worker later into the day to cut their quota of wood. Because his father sharpened his saw everyday, he was able to cut trees faster than the men who would not. He would finish before them and have time to attend to other matters which allowed him to crawl into the sack a little earlier. He received plenty of sleep each night even though he woke early. He was able to slow down a little bit just because he sharpened his saw.

There is an old maxim that it is lonely at the top. Leaders often shield their followers from certain unpleasantries in order to maintain high morale. It is not that they hide bad things from them. It is more that the Good Idea Fairy stopped by corporate headquarters, sprinkled some Good Idea Dust on the CEO, then left the building. The CEO had a GREAT idea that really was not so great. Other senior leaders stopped the Good Idea before any damage was done. Yet they cannot share their hard-earned victory news with their followers because it will cause more problems by doing so. There are plenty of other battles leaders fight to protect their followers that only they know about. As with any warrior, failing to recognize the stress that accumulates in these battles creates problems. Leaders need to learn how to create and develop resilience by maximizing their whole person fitness.

Let us start with the concept of whole person fitness. We all know about the importance of physical fitness. People measure their physical fitness by watching what they eat and monitoring and engaging in physical activities. Whole person fitness however can be defined in four dimensions, physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual. Leaders need to be healthy in all four areas to sustain the resilience required to lead others.

Physical Fitness

I am NOT an exercise or nutrition expert. If you are having health issues, consult your primary care provider. You should also consult with an appropriate professional before engaging in any major changes in your diet or exercise. The examples discussed here are only intended to propose possible answers to apply the basic principles introduced here.

Diet and exercise are the two foundational actions regarding physical fitness. It is important to eat well and exercise often for a given amount of time. There are untold numbers of books regarding both topics. Many require extreme actions. I suggest that diets and exercise programs that encourage extreme changes in behavior such as eating 52 pounds of raw beef daily or running a marathon every morning and evening probably will cause more harm than good and simply will not work for most people. There are some general rules that have demonstrated success for many people. In the nutrition realm, eating more fresh vegetables and lean meats instead of fats, starches, and processed foods.

Learning to deal with adversity helps leaders lead more effectively. Facing danger, adversity, and discomfort help create the emotional fitness required for leaders to remain positive and optimistic.
Photo by mohamed hassan form PxHere cco

Likewise in exercise, walk more; sit less. Many studies show most people require 150 to 200 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Consider a variety of activities that strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance and aerobic fitness, and flexibility. An example of an easy yet effect exercise regimen might look like 15-20 minutes of walking at a fast pace (fast for you), 5-10 minutes of stretching, and about 10 minutes of some sort of strength exercises each day. That works out to about 30 minutes. Do that six times each week and you have 150 minutes.

Emotional Fitness

Emotional Fitness is demonstrated by the ability to deal with problems in a positive, optimistic fashion. You demonstrate self-control in the face of adversity. Your stamina allows you to think well and make good decisions which creates quality character.

Emotional fitness relies on having a steady mind and spirit. Both factors are other facets of fitness. Sleeping, exercising, and reflecting on the greater good all help achieve a level of emotional fitness. Both facets allow you to effectively evaluate your performance. You identify successes and failures which allow you to devise methods to improve. With greater emotional fitness comes the calmness envied by others seen in good leaders during a crisis.

Interpersonal Fitness

Interpersonal fitness is sometimes called emotional intelligence or emotional quotient, EQ. EQ is the measure of how well a person can gauge and respond to the feelings and needs of others. In order to be influential as a leader, you need to understand other people and their emotions. This provides you power to select the right tools of influence to provide appropriate motivation, direction, and purpose.

People follow leaders they like and respect. I know many leaders, including myself, that have said silly things like, “I don’t care if they like me so long as the do what I tell them.” That kind of supervision is not leadership. You can supervise that way for a time but even in the military, people abandon those types. Military members eventually reach the end of their contract and just like in the rest of the world, if they do not like their bosses, they leave the job. Building relationships with others helps you become a better leader and reduces the loneliness at the top.

Spiritual Fitness

One can be a regular church goer and still have poor spiritual fitness. Spiritual fitness involves much more than attending regular religious services. There are plenty of people who never attend services yet experience a rich spiritual life.

Spiritual fitness is all about understanding the things you value. Take time to examine the roots of those values. Learn why those values are important to you. Figure out what areas you claim to value yet act against that value. An important part of spirituality is understanding there is more to the world, more to life than just you. Those who are spiritually fit know with every action they take and every word they speak makes a difference in the worlds of others. They choose to make a positive difference.

Sharpen your saw every day. Exercise. Eat healthy, Reflect and learn. Build strong relationships with others. Do good in the world.
– Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay /cco

A few years after that bad day in the field, I was leading Soldiers in combat. We did have bad days. By then, I started using some of the ways to control those days better. My bad days were those that despite my best efforts to accomplish any number of missions we were given without injuring my Soldiers or the civilians we encountered, people did get hurt and did die. We were expected by both our military and our enemy to perform at high levels everyday and we did. There were days I had time enough to only sharpen a few teeth on the saw. However I pulled out the file any time there was an opportunity to sharpen even one tooth on days like that. As a result, we succeed, not because of any one thing I did. No we succeeded because those who followed me accepted our unified purpose, accepted my directions, and remained motivated.

Keeping your saw sharp as a leader can mean the difference between success and failure. With a sharp saw you have the ability to work faster and accomplish more with less effort. There may be days that taking time to exercise, eat well, consider your values and actions, or build your relationships seems like a waste of time. Those are the days that those activities are the most important. Develop strategies to accomplish each of these important tasks regularly and your will find you are a more effective leader.


References

Covey, S. (2004) 7 habits of highly effective people.Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.

Love, S. (July 14, 2009) Comprehensive soldier fitness. U.S. Army. Washington DC. Retrieved from https://www.usar.army.mil/CSF/

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(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr