The Three-pitch Rule of Communication Expanded

The post Say It Three Times if You Want Them to Remember has been very popular for the last several months. Communication is essential for leaders. If you search for COMMUNICATION on my page, you will find a number of posts on the topic. As a leader, communication is the base of the cornerstone of trust. You must consistently communicate well, verify people understood what you intend, be honest with people, and communicating often. This series covers how to communicate better in writing, such as letters and e-mail; verbally in-person, one-on-one, in small groups, and large; through text messaging and social media; and by phone. The thesis of Say it Three Times is simply to use three forms of communication to repeat important messages to those you lead if you want them to remember it. Learning to effectively use the five methods of communication listed above helps you influence others better so your organization, those you lead, and you succeed.

Pitching your message three times using three different means of communication improves the likelihood your message will be received and acted up appropriately.
-Photo by form PxHere

Writing ensures what you tell others is memorialized. Often leaders think a document is necessary to demonstrate they told someone to do something with the idea they will fail to comply. The document provides proof of their follower’s insubordination. There are merits for this, but if you are only providing written direction for the purpose of playing ‘Gottcha’, then you really need to work on all your leadership skills.

Written direction provides a reference for others to use as they complete the work. Without a document, those people must come back to you for instruction when ever they forget what you told them. Your document should serve as a guideline of the expectations and specifications of the work. Avoid passive voice as; it confuses readers. Active voice writing tells the reader who does what. Provide the reason for the task or a particular step to improve understanding. Remember, follow up to ensure the intended audience understands what you wrote. It is not enough to write it down, send it along, and assume the receiver read it, understood it, or understands why it is important. Written communication includes letters, memorandums, orders, emails, and instructions.

The bulk of leader communication is verbal. Most of us have been talking for longer than we can remember, yet not everyone we talk to uses the same language, even when it is all English. The listener may not understand unusual terms or jargon. A simple example is ordering lunch across the United States. In some part of the country, you order a grinder and a Coke. In other places, the same items are called subs and soda. Ensure people understand the terms you use in your verbal communication.

Communicating verbally to one person is different from communicating in small groups and large. In one-on-one conversations, you judge from how the other person reacts whether they understand what you said. Such judgments are harder in small groups. Large groups are extremely difficult. Leaders speak to individuals and groups regularly, so it is important to develop your skills in each area.

Yes, Virginia, you can really use your smartphone to make a phone call, and there are times you should.
-Photo by author

In the early days of social media, much of the communication was short text messages. With the addition of pictures and video, social media has changed the way we communicate with others electronically. Text messaging, regardless of the platform, is written communication. A big difference with text messages is its informal nature. Shortcuts are acceptable, including use of emojis. Use an emoji in your next job application cover letter and see if you ever receive a request for an interview. Yet in text messages and on social media, both text based and graphical based characters are acceptable and expected. Text messaging is much more like verbal conversation than formal written communication. Use caution communicating in text and on social media.

There was a time when phones tied you to your desk due to the cord. Now things are different. Even thought most smartphones provide an opportunity with apps to communicate by video, some people still prefer only voice. In a video chat, your observations of the other’s reactions allows you to judge understanding. Using the traditional voice application removes that feedback. While not as difficult as one-way written communication, voice only communication reduces the feedback to people on both end of the conversation.

You will find on most smartphones an app that allows you to communicate verbally with others in real time. This might be a messaging app or, wait for it … a phone app. It may allow a video connection of simply voice.

In the next few months, there is lots of ground to cover regarding improving communication skills as a leader. Learning to communicate better helps you become a better leader. Understanding the strengths and drawbacks of each medium helps you better apply practices to improve communication outcomes. The more methods you use to communication with others, the more likely you are to successfully transmit your idea, desire, or instructions to other people. Take time to send the message clearly with one form of communication. Use another to verify the message was received. Follow up a few days later with a third method to answer any questions the other person generated. Using three methods of communication improves understanding by the other and provides increased opportunities to engage with questions. Use the three pitch rule to improve your communication with others.

Reviewing Three Leadership Conversations

Taking time to counsel, coach, and mentor others improves performance. These behaviors build trust and demonstrate you value relationships and results.
-Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

This article wraps up the series on using counseling, coaching, and mentoring; three ways to lead others ethically and effectively. These methods of communication develop people in positive ways. Perfection of this skill is not required for others to benefit from your efforts. Using these communication methods reduces the need for difficult conversations because most people come to work with the intent of doing good work. Counseling is a process to improve performance and raise awareness of followers. Mentoring is a voluntary relationship outside the ordinary lines of authority, in which a trusted guide helps another grow. Coaching is an approach common to both processes. People working in organizations that provide positive counseling, coaching, and mentoring perform better, improving the success of those organizations.

These three conversations fall on a supervisory spectrum from more to less supervision.
-Diagram by author

Counseling is often used as a tool to correct poor performance. This is an appropriate use of this tool, however, leaders who fail to counsel people performing well miss opportunities to reinforce positive performance. Counseling others is probably more important when people are performing well because they know you are paying attention and what they are doing meets expectations. People walk away from these discussions energized, knowing their efforts are appreciated.

Counseling is a behavior exercised by supervisors leading others. It is a discussion that focuses on performance behaviors and outcomes. When used well, it develops positive relationships and results. It is not therapy. Most organizational leaders are not mental health professionals. If you determine problem performance behaviors are the result of mental health issues, you should refer the person to your employee assistance program or other mental health service provider.

Often leaders only use counseling as an influence tool when others are performing poorly. Counseling is most effective when used to reinforce positive behaviors. Reinforcing positive behaviors prevent slides into poor performance. With fewer issues of poor performance, there is less need for difficult conversations all leaders dislike.

During counseling sessions, leaders have the opportunity to review organizational vision, goals, and values. Structure your discussions about observed behaviors around how well or poorly those behaviors conform to the vision, goals and values. Using this approach reinforces those governing ideas, and ensures others understand how those ideas should influence their decisions and behaviors.

Mentoring is the process of an experienced guide helping another find the path to success. Ideally, this happens outside supervisory channels. Doing so allows the protégé to candidly admit mistakes that potentially violate organizational rules, resulting in exposure to punishment.

Mentors are trusted guides. Ideally, mentors are not in the supervisory channel.
-Photo by Andrew St. Cyr

Mentoring relationships are voluntary. Typically, they span an agreed period of time for the purpose of helping the protégé achieve a particular goal. While the last sentence implies the relationship is temporary, that does not have to be the case. A mentor can be someone known by the protégé for a long time. They may continue to associate after reaching the desired achievement. The mentoring part of the relationship ends with the achievement.

Mentoring relationships are structured by each participant to meet their needs. Typically, the first meeting or two sets out the expectations, and the goal. Participants agree to how frequently they meet and how meetings will be conducted. Each typically has some assignment to complete before the next meeting.

Coaching is a skill of helping others in counseling and mentoring processes of finding ways to solve their own problems. Through the use of skilled questions, the coach guides the other to examine knowledge about the topic to reach a decision. Sometimes the decision is the need to find more information about the topic or a requirement to develop a skill. Coaching continues in both processes as appropriate.

While leaders should work to be more coach like in their mentoring and supervisory sessions, they must also understand that professional coaching is hard work. The intent for most leaders is to be more coach like, helping people use what they already know to improve.

Workplace coaching commonly revolves around quality questions. Avoid why questions. They are frequently translated as casting blame. Better questions begin with what and how. Some include:

What is on your mind?

Questions allow the other person to identify what they already know.
-Photo by author.

What is going on when ______ happens?

What behaviors have you found effective/ineffective when ____ happens?

How do you like to be approached when ____ happens?

How can you communicate this preference to others?

What do you hope to achieve?

What are some solutions you already consider?

What do you need from me to move forward?

While not a question, “Tell me all about…”, or “Tell me more about…”, are two comments that help the other person expand on areas of the conversation. Asking for more allows them to make connections to issues they may not realize have important implications. They also help you understand more about the person’s responses.

Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are three conversations leaders can use to create positive performance and improve results. Leaders avoid difficult conversations because they are hard. Taking time to engage in activities that reinforce and promote positive behaviors reduces the number of hard conversations required. Realize, most people show up everyday expecting to do good work that provides some sort of meaning in their lives. Counseling, coaching, and mentoring conversations help people grow, including the leader. They provide leaders opportunities to communicate organizational goals, values, and its vision for the future. The mindful application of these leadership behaviors influences others in positive ways. That does not mean you need to spend days planning for the conversation. As you start using these conversations more, you grow as a leader and allow those you lead to grow as well. Start using counseling, coaching, and mentoring to influence others and fertilize growth to the fullest potential.

Buil, I., Martinez, E, & Matute, J. (2019) Transformational leadership and employee performance: The role of identification, engagement and proactive personality. International Journal of Hospitality Management. Vol. 77, PP 64-75.

Fitch, B. (2011). Focus on supervision; The two roles of supervision in performance counseling. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 1, 2011.

Hannang. A., Salju, and Qammaruddin, M. (2020). The effect of supervision levels on employees’ performance levels. Advances in Social Science, Education, and Humanities Research, vol 477. Atlantis Press.

Stanier, M. B. (2016). The coaching habit. (Kindle Edition). Box of Crayons Press and Bright Wing Books. Toronto, ON

Wise, W. (2016). Ask powerful questions; Create conversations that matter. Audiobook. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

3 Types of Questions to Become More Coach-like

I started exploring coaching as a leadership habit about ten years ago. I saw a need for mentoring and coaching of junior leaders in my team. Other senior leaders and I developed a coaching program for mid-level leaders. Coaching is about helping others achieve goals, so please take time to read the post on teaching others how to set goals.

Coaching is an important leadership skill because it allows those you lead to learn to solve their own problems. It takes longer in the beginning than giving advice or solving other people’s problems. Coaching reduces the number of problems you need to solve. Use coaching when counseling or mentoring others. Coaching others requires study and practice. Use this post as a starting point.

When I say coaching, I mean: the process of helping another discover things they know to help make betters decisions, solve problems, and grow as a person and leader. Amplify counseling & mentoring using coaching skills. Coaching identifies gaps in knowledge, skill and resources while creating motivation. Their learning sticks better when they are motivated to study. As a supervisor, when you do all the problem-solving, every problem becomes yours to solve. Instead, ask coaching questions when employees bring you problems.

As a mentor, it is easy to start offering advice in sessions. While this seems like the job of a mentor, it really is about helping the person discover things on their own. Coaching questions help identify what your protégé knows what they need to learn, and provides motivation to seek to acquire necessary skills and knowledge.

A few years ago, I took advantage of a leadership coaching exchange offered to members of a professional. It helped me understand how powerful coaching could be. My coach, Martha, was full of questions. Early in the process, I thanked her for her on issues. She always reminded me that I developed the answers to my problems; she simply facilitated the development. Martha may have been technically correct in her observation, however her skillful application of questions and bits of information were essential to that discovery.

Sometimes the only way to the top is to climb. A coach helps the climber see what is possible and allows the other person to make the journey.
-Photo by Allan Mas on

Good coaching questions are important for the process. As I researched coaching questions, I found three types: starting questions, process questions, and achievement questions. Starting questions help you find out about the problem, why it is a problem, and if it is within the control of the person to fix it (hint: there are lots of ways to fix a problem and that person probably has an answer to fix it). Examples include:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • It seems you need a hand; what are you expecting from me?
  • And what else? (forces them to talk about what they did not want or think to discuss).

Process questions can be used at different points in the coaching relationship. In the beginning you can use process questions to identify options the person already considered. Ask questions about how the process is working. Identify how well the results meet expectations. Other process questions include:

  • What is one thing you could change right now that would make a difference? (gives them control).
  • What is your biggest hang up (challenge, barricade, or similar word) about…?
  • Whose support do you need to change things? (helps them identify allies).
  • So you said…tell me all about that. (okay, not a question, but it requires the person to focus on issues).

Achievement questions are those that help the person have a better vision of success. These questions help the person begin with the end in mind, as Steven Covey discusses in his works. These questions help the person ensure they are solving the right problem.

A successful combination for almost any coaching situation is;

  • So, what’s on your mind?
  • I hear you saying…, tell me all about that.
  • What is your biggest challenge with this? And what else?
  • How can I help?

There are two measures to consider when evaluating success: process and effects. A coach helps establish measures for both. Process measurements deal with how well the person is applying the process, ensuring they understand the steps, and when to apply them; are they doing things the right way. Effects measurements determine if the process results in the desired outcome.

An example of process measurements is losing weight to improve overall fitness. You develop an eating and exercise plan. When you measure process, you compare how well your eating and exercise activities matches the plan. If you determine to eat 1800 low fat calories per day and alternate strength and aerobic exercise for 30 minutes for six days every week, you measure, or count, the number of calories and how many minutes of exercise you complete. Determine if you are meeting the steps in the process. Failing to accomplish the steps requires reviewing whether the process is possible to complete. This ensures you are doing things right

-Photo by form PxHere

Effectiveness measures how well the process is working to achieve the desired outcome. If you determine you are eating less than 1800 low fat calories every day and completing the exercise, you would expect to see weight lose. When your behavior matches the progress steps, but outcome measurements are not being met, it generally means the process is flawed; you are not doing the right things. A great effectiveness measures coaching question is, “How will you know you achieved what you envision?”.

When coaching, rather than give advice, ask questions. Approach failures and successes in process and effectiveness from a position of curiosity. Avoid offering advice. Instead, ask good questions. Dig deeper by asking them to tell you more about the topic.

I find conducting a coaching session with food and beverage is ideal. I can ask a question and stuff my face. While I chew on the food, the other can chew on an answer to my question. Neither of us can speak until we are done chewing, and I can chew a long time! Often coaches ask a question, hear silence, and then offer an answer to the question. Allow the silence to last. It forces the other to speak.

Coaching is a useful leadership skill. Great coaches learn the skill well and practice all the time. Most leaders do not have time to be full time coaches, however learning to be more coach like improves outcomes. Learn to ask questions to start a coaching session, develop understanding, establish a process and measures for success, and determine what the other really needs from you. Asking who, what, and how questions requires the person to examine knowledge they possess to determine how best to solve their own problem. When used with counseling and mentoring, coaching becomes a powerful leadership skill that achieves great results.


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

Elsey, E. (2021). 10 of my all-time coaching questions and why. The Coaching Tools Company. Retrieved 12/26/22

Hutchinson, D. (2022) Personal interview.

Lask, M. (2020) Leadership exchange and coaching. Cohort 12. Northeast Regional Children’s Advocacy Center, Philadelphia, PA

Orechwa, J. (n.d.). Effective coaching: Tips for coaching that works. IRI Consultants. Coaching Tips for Coaching that Works.htm. Retrieved12/10/22

St. Cyr, C. (2020). Leading others to success in four easy steps. Saint Cyr Training.

Stanier, M. B. (2016). The coaching habit. (Kindle Edition). Box of Crayons Press and Bright Wing Books. Toronto, ON

Wise, W. (2016). Ask powerful questions; Create conversations that matter. Audiobook. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Mentor; His Name Became Synonymous with Leading

In Homer’s classic tale, King Odysseus leaves on a quest, placing his son, Telecachus, in the capable hands of Mentor. As the boy grows, Mentor provides guidance on a variety of topics, often on things the boy could never ask, or discuss with his father. As a result of this ancient legend, a modern day leadership skill was created, mentoring.

Mentoring in today’s age means a person with greater experience guides a person of lesser experience. Like Mentor in the story, the guide is trusted but not someone the follower answers to, like a parent or boss. This misconception about mentorship results in potential proteges to regard appointed mentors with suspicion, reducing their growth.

Organizations encourage supervisors to mentor their direct reports, however, the best mentoring relationships happen outside supervisory channels. One of the reasons Telemachus was able to confide more in Mentor than his father was simple; Mentor was not his father. Likewise, employees get more out of this developmental relationship with someone not in a position to judge and evaluate performance, mentees execute new practices and fail.

Just because mentoring relationships occur outside the supervisory channel does not mean organizations cannot implement mentoring programs. Instead, they pair a protégé with someone who will not have a negative impact on employment for failing. Organizations accomplish this by aligning mentees with a mentor in a different department. It is vital that the mentor accomplished similar tasks as the person seeking a mentor.

There are times a mentoring relationship could occur in a supervisory chain. An example is a C-Suite executive mentoring a front line supervisor with several layers between them. After all, the mentee may not be directly supervised by the Vice President of Marketing, but if his boss is, then the relationship will be viewed suspiciously by the person in the middle.

Voluntary Relationship

Those in a mentoring relationship can use a variety of means to communicate to help the protégé accomplish the goal.
-Photo by Vanessa Garcia on

The relationship between the protégé and mentor should be voluntary, even in a work situation. A person may be directed to participate in a mentoring program, but both parties should have a say in the relationship to achieve best results. Many times others understand the need for a mentor when the program is explained well. Some people still participate unwillingly. A good mentor can bring positive change to reluctant mentees. Sadly, some still fail to see the opportunity mentoring offers, reducing the effectiveness of the program.

Mentoring relationships are voluntary. The terms of the relationship can be negotiated. The first meeting should establish the terms of the mentoring relationship. Both parties agree

  • how long the relationship will last,
  • how often meetings will occur,
  • boundaries expected by both,
  • how to deal with issues between meetings, and
  • handling confidentiality concerns.

In some workplace directed programs, some of these terms may be dictated.

It is nice to create a new friend in the mentoring process, but the purpose of the relationship is to help the protégé achieve a particular goal. Therefore, it is important for the guide and the person seeking a guide to understand what to look for in the other. Both the potential protégé and mentor should evaluate if the other has the skills to fulfill their role.

A mentor is only a trusted guide if they have done something similar as the protégé seeks to accomplish. Potential mentors should honestly assess their ability to dedicate the time & effort required to help guide the protégé. Determine if the mentor previously demonstrated the capacity to help others grow and learn, and accept that as they guide the protégé, they also learn and grow. Has the person shared experiences with others that helped them grow or avoid mistakes? The more skills possessed by the mentor in each area improves success rates.

Selecting the right person to mentor you is important. What proof exists demonstrating the protégé is committed to learning and achieving their goal? As a protégé, clearly articulate what help you seek from your potential mentor. Good mentees ask good questions about feedback provided by mentors. They complete tasks as promised. They show up at meetings ready to address the issues on the agenda, and they show up on time, whether it is a phone call, a video meeting, or emailing a report for review.

Mentors and proteges should seek these qualities in the other. Not every mentor – protege relationship works. Understanding this allows each person to know they can walk away on good terms. You may need that person in the future.

Process of Mentoring

Use the opening meeting to get to know each other, negotiate the terms of the relationship, and identify the goal of the relationship. Use this meeting to identify how each person is accountable to the other; wait, you mean the mentor is responsible to the protégé? Yes! If the mentor promises to provide something, they are accountable to the protégé to provide that resource. Figure out when future meetings will occur and how frequently you will meet. Most importantly, identify the conditions that signal the end of the mentoring relationship.

I suggested a few times that this relationship is about the goal, implying your mentor is a stranger. That is not always true. During my studies in the U. S. Army Sergeants Major Course, I had two mentors. The first retired halfway through my attendance. I had relationships with both of them before starting the course. I still have a social relationship with both of them, years after completing the course. Our mentoring relationship ended when I graduated, but not our person relationship.

Social relationships may continue after the mentoring relationship ends.
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There are many ways people can meet today. If possible, to meet face-to-face. You can use technology, just remember, relationships are better in person. Emails, video and voice calls, and in-person meetings are all good ways to check in and follow up on progress. Timing depends on the needs of the protégé and the availability of the mentor. Always follow up. Schedule your next meeting before ending the current meeting.

Closing mentoring relationship

Close the relationship when you achieve your goal. If you select a new goal and wish to re-establish a mentoring relationship with your current mentor, ask. If you are the mentor, be clear when you are done providing guidance to your protégé. Failing to do so ensures they will continue to think you are.

Mentor was a trusted guide for Telecachus. He set an example of how those with more experience can guide those with less experience. Ideally, mentoring relationships occur outside the organization’s supervisory channel. This allows the protégé to confess errors without fear of retribution. Mentoring relationships are voluntary. They have a beginning, middle, and end. Either party may terminate the relationship even before the protégé accomplishes his goal. The mentor and mentee agree how the relationship will work, the timeline to accomplish the goal, frequency of meetings, how each is accountable to the other, and the conditions that signal the goal is accomplishment, ending the mentoring relationship. Anyone seeking to accomplish tough things should have a mentor. Likewise, make yourself available to those seeking a trusted guide to success. Today, start the process to find a mentor, and someone to mentor. It is a great way to learn from others in both roles and is an important leadership skill.


  • Abbajay, M. (2019). Mentoring Matters: Three Essential Elements Of Success. Forbes (on-line edition). Retrieved from on 11/28/22.
  • Doby, J. (2022). Task force Spartan mentorship network. Task Force Spartan. Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
  • James, F. (2016). Becoming a mentor. Leadership Development Workshop at New Hampshire National Guard.
  • Martin, T. (2022) (CG). Developing leaders; FM 6-22. Headquarters, Department of the Army. Washington, DC

Four Conversations that Influence Others

Supervision meetings are not the same as counseling.
-Photo by Mizuno K on

Learning to counsel followers is a critical leadership skill. Even if you practice this skill poorly, following the steps and format will set you far in front of other leaders. Some organizations use a practice called supervision to meet weekly with employees to review work progress, quantity, and quality. Counseling is much more. It is a follower focused conversation, and performance is one area that has its own categories. Common types of counseling include:

  • Orientation or New Hire
  • Professional Development
  • Periodic Performance Counseling, and
  • Event Based Counseling.

Leaders select the type of counseling to match the circumstances. Each category requires a different type of conversation based on the follower’s situation. There are three options, directive, leader facilitated, and follower led. Follower-focused, servant-based leadership principles are important for all leaders. Understanding the types of counseling conversations helps effective leaders select the best option.

Counseling Options

The first and most commonly used counseling options is directive. From the leader’s perspective, this is the easiest, fastest method of counseling others. The leader does most of the talking. You may answer some questions, or ask follow up, back brief questions to ensure understanding, but this type of counseling is one way. The follower speaks little. Receives information provided by the leader and takes action. This option is necessary, but often is a lighter version of a drill sergeant telling privates to do push-ups.

The second option is leader facilitated. This method requires leaders to understand, especially when dealing with experienced people, that the led know some things about what ever prompted the counseling conversation to occur. The leader must think ahead about what information to provide in the way of telling, and what information should be provided by way of asking. The leader needs to understand what knowledge the other person reasonably has about the situation and how well they communicate. The leader must also think about how to ask questions in such a way to obtain narrative results rather than yes or no answers. Leaders who practice this option are more successful counselors than their peers who only use directive options. Practice is the key word, however. It is easy to ask a couple of questions, not receive the responses you expect, and return to a directive session. If you are not receiving the responses you expect, it is because you lack an understanding of the situation, have a different point of view of the situation from the follower, or you are not asking the right questions the right way. Learning to ask the right questions the right way requires practice, which can only be obtained by using this method for counseling followers.

Counseling conversations should be planned before the session using an outline format because you never know where the conversation will lead.
-Photo by RODNAE Productions on

The third option is follower led counseling. Typically, this occurs when an employee or other follower approaches you with a problem. The easy way to deal with this is provided an immediate solution. The hard way is to counsel the person. Start sessions like these with questions to help the other person think about the issues surrounding the problem. Help them start to understand how to ask questions and identify information they need to solve the problem. Colin Powell has been quoted as saying something like, “When people stop bringing you their problems, you stopped leading them.” While there is some truth in that statement, if you teach your people to solve their own problems, there will be no need for them to bring them to you. Instead, they will bring you stories of their successes from the skills you provided them.

Types of Counseling

New Hire and Orientation

Most larger organizations leave this task to HR. Most smaller organizations may provide a brief tour and show people how to answer the phone. As a result, most leaders never think they should spend time with their new employee or volunteer to orient them to their section. This counseling typically is directive. The new person lacks knowledge and the leader possesses it. The leader uses the session to establish expectations for the employee. Setting expectations should include what the employee expects of the leadership in the organization, not just what the leader expects of the new person. This session can be standardized to ensure everyone receives the same information when they first start. In my organization, an orientation is provided to all new employees, volunteers, and even members of the Board of Directors. The Executive Director counsels each person and identifies what the other expects of the organization. There is a checklist of tasks for new hires to complete, and the counseling is one of those tasks.

Professional Development

A professional development counseling session, is either leader facilitated or follower led, depending on who starts the conversation. If you want to develop your people, this conversation is necessary. Use this time to find out what personal and professional goals the person has. If they do not have goals, work with them to set professional goals that support the organization’s mission. Find out what things interest the person. Identify talents they possess. Learn about their experiences. Use this knowledge to develop a professional development plan that involves formal education or training; self development through reading, self study, or difficult growth tasks; and by establishing a path for success in successive assignments. Write it down on paper or word processor. Keep a copy for you to review with them later, and ensure the employee has a copy to review periodically to align their discretionary time to complete these growth tasks.

Periodic Performance Counseling

This is a leader facilitated event. No employee should ever be surprised by their annual review. Their leaders should take time throughout the rating period to review and discuss their professional conduct. If you really care about those you lead being successful, these conversations are absolutely mandatory. People will only really know if they are doing the right things the right way if you tell them they are. Using probing questions during this conversation allows the employee to express the quality of their work from their understanding of what they believe has been asked of them. As a result, you better understand why someone is working well, or has room for improvement. Use these sessions to ensure you communicate the standards and the person’s progress in complying with those standards, so they can continue to improve.

Event Based Counseling

Counseling guides a person to find identify the quality of their performance, and how to improve or maintain good work.
-Photo by William Fortunato on

These sessions should be used to identify the causes of exceptionally great or poor performance for a given event. Examples might include a fantastic presentation a worker made to the Board of Directors, or how someone lost an important and expensive piece of equipment. These sessions all start with a directive tone. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to switch to a leader facilitated session to better understand what happened and why. This is true for positive and negative events. Knowing what went well, so it can be repeated is just as important as understanding what caused things to go wrong, so they can be avoided. Always document these sessions. The documentation helps justify future rewards or punishment for continued similar behaviors.

Counseling followers is a critical leadership skill developed over time with practice. However, if you take the time to conduct orientation, development, performance, and event-based counseling, poorly, those you lead will still perform better than those with a leader who conduct no counseling. As you practice, your skill improves, allowing you to better match your skills to situation and person. Counseling is one form of influencing others. It is not a supervision conversation. Counseling helps others grow professionally and personally by learning to use directive, leader facilitated, and follower led conversations. Plan now for your next session with someone you lead. Doing so helps both of you grow.


Blanchard, K, Zigarmi, P, and Zigarmi D. (2013) Leadership and the one minute manager. Epub Edition. Harper-Collins e-books. New York, NY.

Duckworth, A. ( ). Grit; The power of passion and perseverance. Publisher. City.

Stachowiak, D ( ). Coaching for leaders podcast. Ep 161, How to Address Difficult Conversations with Bonni Stachowiak

Three Ways to Develop Others

Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are three leadership skills that allow you to influence others with their explicit permission.
-Photo by author

An employee knocks on your door. After inviting her in, she tells you about some issues she is having understanding an aspect of her job. You take time to instructor her how to do what needs to be done.

A few minutes after she leaves, a peer calls asking for some help with a problem. After listening, you realize it will take a few calls to discuss and review the matter to help him develop a solution. You develop a plan to show him how you solved a similar problem a few months ago.

After lunch, one of your top-performing, subordinate supervisors emails you asking for some time to talk. She says she is creating a development plan for a new employee and needs some help. You reply with a time to meet. Next, you create a series of questions to help this high performer navigate the process of creating a new employee development plan.

While each of these situations appears similar, there are differences. The differences require you, as a leader, to approach each with a different mind set. In the first situation, you provide counseling to a direct report. In the second, you become your peer’s mentor, navigating the problem he faces. The third, the top-performing supervisor needs a little coaching to hone her counseling skills. Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are three separate skills used at different times and different ways. The three are often confused. As a result, inexperienced leaders apply the wrong style to the situation, which fails to provide the influence necessary to adequately solve the person’s problem. Counseling, coaching, and mentoring are big enough topics to devote an entire post, therefore this serves as the introduction to a series on the three development skills for leaders.

Counseling is a process initiated by leaders in supervisory positions. Use counseling to orient newly assigned people, provide feedback on current performance, and to correct poor performance or inappropriate behaviors. Every new employee deserves a welcome counseling as part of their orientation. During this session, the direct supervisor reviews the job description with the employee and how their performance will be measured. The supervisor tells the employee why the work they do is important and how it supports the overall work of the organization. Wrap up by telling the employee what support she can expect from you as the supervisor.

While a mentor may be part of your organization, it is important that person is not in your ‘chain of command’ so you may speak freely about your issues with less concern for retaliation or other repercussions.
– By Pablo E. Fabisch –, Public Domain,

Periodic performance counseling serves to let employees know how they are doing. Focus these sessions on performance of work and ensuring the follower prioritizes the correct tasks. Use corrective counseling with those who fail to meet expectations. Explain the standards and have concrete examples where they failed to meet the standards. A huge mistake leaders make with this counseling session is putting it off for too long. The list of failures is long and overwhelming, crushing the worker.

Mentoring is a voluntary relationship between a leader with a skill and another person seeking to develop that skill, who is not supervised by the mentor. The leader does not have to be a formal leader in the same organization or any organization. In Greek mythology, Odysseus appointed Mentor to care for his son Telemachus while he was gone. Mentor served as a wise guide for Telemachus because he could talk with Mentor about a range of topics he never felt comfortable talking with Odysseus. For that reason, a work place mentor should not be a person’s boss or boss’s boss. To work well, the voluntary nature of the relationship is questionable when your mentor is also your boss. The mentor may even be younger than the protégé; age is not a requirement, only that the wise guide actually walked the path before the novice.

Coaching is a skill used in both counseling and mentoring, characterized by processes to develop self awareness necessary for the other to solve their own problem and create capacity for growth. One can counsel or mentor another without using coaching skills by doing most of the talking and feeding the other information. When leaders (not necessarily a boss) use coaching, they create a space within the counseling or mentoring relationship for the other to learn truths from their own experience. The coach asks questions and provides activities that change the focus of the other, creating a paradigm shift for that person. This in turn, helps they become more self-aware in areas requiring improvement. A coach does not necessarily need to be a person who possesses the skills for success. There are plenty of examples in the world of sports of people who successfully coach athletes to accomplish great feats that the coach would never be able to execute. Having accomplished things does lend the coach credibility, and that is why it fits well into counseling and mentoring.

Counseling, coaching, and mentoring help others accomplish great things when their leader employees this important skills.
– Courtesy Andrew St. Cyr

Over the next few months, we will explore the leadership skills of counseling, coaching, and mentoring. While counseling and mentoring tend to be functions of a supervisory and non-supervisory relationship, coaching is a skill that improves outcomes in both practices. Counseling is a skill used by supervisors to orient, direct, and correct employees. Mentoring is a practice used by non-supervisory leaders to help another direction, and receive advice from a wise guide who made the journey before them. Coaching is a skill used by leaders alone, or along with counseling and mentoring, that focuses on self-awareness and discovery. Knowing more about each skill assists leaders employ the right practices at the correct time to help those they lead succeed. The reader must remember that not all leaders are bosses. One is a leader anytime they apply influence to another to help them achieve an organizational mission or goal while working to improve themselves and the organization. Given none of us knows when we may be called to act as supervisory or non-supervisory leader, all leaders must be prepared to use the right practice of counseling or mentoring along with the skill of coaching.


  • Brown, J. (2008). A leader’s guide to reflective practice. Trafford Publishing. Victoria, BC.
  • Lask, M. (2020). Leadership exchange and coaching; Cohort 13. Northeast Regional Child Advocacy Center. Training Workshop. Philadelphia, PA
  • Phillips, D. (1992). Lincoln on leadership. Grand Central Publishing. New York, NY

The Trust Cornerstone: 6 Ways to Create Leadership Character

For the last several months, this blog focused on trust, the cornerstone of character because character is the foundation of all leadership. Trust allows others to make the things they value vulnerable to your actions based on their belief in your character. As a leader, you and your team fail without trust. Trusted leaders create empowered people. Empowered people make important decisions at the right level and time, and create the greatest impact on mission execution . This series examined six facets of the Cornerstone of Trust; communication, responsibility, team building, developing proficiency, respect & empathy, and setting an example. As leaders develop competencies in each of these areas, they improve their leadership skills, develop character as an individual, and create trust with their followers, their peers, their leaders, and people outside the organization. This series closes with a short review in each area.

Communication is the base of the Trust Cornerstone. Communication supports all the other areas of trust as leaders communicate up, down, and across their organizations.
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As the base of the cornerstone of trust, everything rests on strong communication skills. Leaders must communicate consistently, frequently, and honestly with their followers, their peers, their leaders, and other stakeholders. Consistency provides predictability from others that you will be in touch. Frequency ensures you are in contact often enough to fix communication errors and identify other issues. Honesty requires time to respectfully tell others how they are doing and inform stakeholders how you are meeting their needs. The acronym TIPS is a great way to remember the important parts of communication. Talk to your people; keep them Informed; be Predictable in your communication and responses; and be Sensitive to their needs.


Responsible leaders do what they say they are going to do and manage people and property. The first part of this sentiment is simple, if you make a promise, keep it. While it is not always easy to keep promises, doing so establishes that you are a reliable person and leader. Managing resources is next. A common distinction between leadership and management is that leaders lead people and managers manage things. While there is lots of truth to that statement, people are a resource that must be led and managed. Ensure you have the right people in the right seats, that they have meaningful work, get paid, and are well trained. Managing property seems simple, know what you are supposed to have and where it is. Ensuring it is well maintained is an overlooked part of this quality. 

Build Your Team

Hard work builds strong, trusting teams. Like pilots flying in close formation, team members rely on one another to do the right things, the right way, at the right time. This hard work also develops individual and team proficiency.
Photo by Pixabay on

You are not a leader if you are not followed. You build your team by working them hard. That means you provide meaningful tasks for your followers that are not easy but can be accomplished. Whether you are developing a new product, running a service, or solving a problem, hard work builds strong teams. People will absolutely complain. However, once the job is done, they obtain bragging rights by accomplishing something difficult. That creates the shared team history and identity that attracts others to join you.

Build Proficiency

This applies to you as a leader and to the skills of your team. Ensure you know how to do the tasks you must accomplish and develop the skills necessary to complete them. You may need to find a mentor or take some classes. Being a leader requires you know more than just how to do the job your people do; it requires you to know how to lead. Influencing others to accomplish your organization’s mission may be the most difficult part of your job as a leader.

Ensuring your people are competent means investing in their education and training. If you fail to ensure your people are well trained, you have no right to expect quality results. As you move up to higher levels in an organization, you will lead a wider variety of people completing tasks you lack expertise. You must know enough about the work to recognize deception. You do not have to know how to complete every task. You do need to know how to tell if someone is skilled in their work.

Act Respectfully

Up front, this means you use your manners. Say please and thank you. Open the door for other people. Stand when someone enters your office, not just the boss or your most valued client. Ask questions about things people tell you. Speak positively about people not present. Be on time for meetings and meet deadlines for products. Doing these simple things communicates loudly that you value people regardless of their perceived position. 

Set an Example

The Cornerstone supports the rest of the structure. Everything comes together at the corner. Strong cornerstones create long lasting building. In life, trust serves the same purpose in our relationships and supports all our work. Care for your cornerstone as you grow as a leader.
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Tied closely with acting respectfully is setting a good example. You do this living the standards you set which should be the same for you and your followers. When you model expected behaviors, people will copy your behavior. Live your values in a consistent, disciplined fashion; it is the single best way you build character and establish trust. When you are willing to walk the talk, others notice and you know what you ask of others is possible.

As a leader, character is the foundation of your leadership. You build character one day at a time with every action you take. Trust is the cornerstone of that foundation. There are six areas leaders can focus and grow to improve trust: communicating better, acting responsibly, developing proficiency (personally and for your teams), building your team, acting respectfully with others, and setting a trusting example. The actions you take in each of these areas builds character and develops trust with others. With increased trust comes increased power and influence. With greater influence enables you and your team to attempt bigger and greater things.  Without trust you fail as a leader and so does your team. Increased trust inside and outside our organization provides you and your team the power and influence necessary to accomplish anything.  As we close this series on trust, be disciplined and identify how you can carve your cornerstone of trust.


  • Blanchard, K. & Miller, M. (2014) The secret. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA. Kindle Ed.
  • Covey, S. & Merrill, R. (2008) The speed of trust. Free Press. New York, NY
  • Feltman, C. (2008). The thin book of trust: An essential primer for building trust at work. United States: Thin Book Publishing.
  • Re:Work (ND). How to foster psychological safety on your teams. Re:Work PDF
  • Spencer, T (ND). TIPS. Personal conversation with the author.
  • Willink, J. (2016). Good. The Jocko Podcast YouTube Channel. Retrieved from: on 15 Jun 2022
  • Willink, J. & Babbin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership. St. Martin’s Publishing Group. New York, NY.

(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr

Four Ways to Set the Example

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You crawl out of bed to begin another day. In the last few months, you noticed you work later each day to accomplish tasks to achieve your goals. As a result, you have been sleeping later and getting to work later. You also notice that others seem to be working later because they do not use their time well during the day. The poor time management starts first thing, as many seem to start their day after the expected reporting time.

Thinking back to when you built this team, people arrived early. They worked hard during the day, focusing on important tasks. In turn, people often left on time and sometimes a little early, including you. The team would meet at least once per week after work to talk about home, family, adventures, and hobbies. The team was strong; people cared for one another. Now things so different and you wonder why.

Setting a good example of expected behaviors is the single, biggest action you can take as a leader to develop character and establish trust. Live the standards you expect of others. They will model your example. In the introductory story, while fictional, it is based on observed behaviors from personal and researched experience, the leader established a standard of hard work during the day and returning people to their families at a decent hour. The team socialized after hours periodically, which helped create a shared experience. Slowly, the boss started working later and showing up later in the morning. Others did the same, resulting in a slow change in culture. Setting a good example by living your personal and organizational values establishes expected behaviors for everyone.

Four things are required to live expected standards. Know the standards and values. Understand what they mean. Use the values and standards in decision-making situations. Have the discipline to apply them in your personal and professional lives consistently. People you lead will observe and copy your behaviors. That is why people in the story started showing up and working later; they copied your example.

It is one thing to live the example, but communicating the standards is important. Find ways to tell people what your organization values. That means you must learn the values first and internalize them. Use posters to define what the words mean, so others have a shared understanding. Tell stories of team members who succeed by using the values. Never miss an opportunity to connect expected behaviors to your organization’s values.

Setting a good example helps leaders establish trust by showing others they know what they are asking others to do can be done. Your actions demonstrate you are willing to walk the talk in a consistent, disciplined fashion. Your behaviors create a pathway for others. You become the guide for your followers. That is the very meaning of leadership, being out front, doing what you expect of others.

Photo by Jopwell on

Of course, setting the example also includes all the behaviors discussed for the other five facets of the Trust Cornerstone; communicating respectfully, consistently, and truthfully; responsibly accounting for people and property; building your team; developing proficiency in your area of responsibility; and treating everyone respectfully.

How you communicate with others shows your level of respect for that person. The information you provide tells others the level of trust you have for each of them. The words and stories you choose establish expectations for all communications.

Leaders cannot be everywhere all the time. The old expression, “What the boss checks is what gets done” is true. People understand the things you check are important. You do not have to verify every employee’s time sheet, but if people know you check them, they will be neat, complete, and accurate. The same is true of everything else you are responsible for in the organization.

Leadership is about people. People become teams only if leaders develop people as teams. Working as a team is hard. Hard work is what makes teams work well. You will never climb far up any organizational ladder unless you learn to build effective, respectful, working teams.

Proficiency as a leader means you know how to lead. You understand the work that has to be done. As a police supervisor, I was responsible for things that happened even when home in bed. I could not know everything the other supervisors and officers knew. I had to know enough about each of their jobs to recognize failures and successes. Most of all, I had to demonstrate the ability to influence others; that was my job as a leader.

People outside the Army think military leaders stand around all day barking orders and others jump to their commands. Some days and in certain situations that is true. Most of the time it is not. Respect is a foundational Army value. Leaders are directed to treat their Soldiers with dignity and respect. Only in those small units, where Soldiers feel they are respected and listened to in low stress situations, do Soldiers jump when orders are barked in combat. The respect earned in peace creates instant obedience in war. The leaders and the led have mutual respect established by the leaders in everyday situations.

Photo by Arthur Brognoli on

Demonstrating each of these traits and living the organizational values in a consistent, disciplined fashion sets an example for those you lead. None of us will ever accomplish this example perfectly. In fact, it might be better to be flawed. Making mistakes and admitting them to your followers sets another important example; it is okay to make mistakes. The people we lead are no more perfect than we are. When they know we make mistakes and seek their forgiveness, they know their honest mistakes will also be forgiven. Knowing this, they are willing to take risks in uncertainty instead of seeking permission for every decision. That allows your organization to be more responsive to changing circumstances. Increased responsiveness ensures your organization remains on the cutting edge, ahead of your competition. The pay-off for living the example is greater trust, increased influence, and improved outcomes in all areas.

Setting a good example establishes leadership trust by showing others you are willing to walk the talk. Others see your example and model your behaviors. As a result, others do the right things for the right reasons. Your organization improves responsiveness as the world changes. Faster responses in times of change creates a competitive edge over others. Setting the example is the single biggest thing you can do to develop character and create trust as a leader. Set the example.


Blanchard, K. & Miller, M. (2014) The secret: What great leaders know and do. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA.

Feltman, C. (2008). The thin book of trust: An essential primer for building trust at work. United States: Thin Book Publishing.

Russell, N. (2012). 10 ways effective leaders build trust. Psychology Today. Retrieved from on 8/2/21.

Other articles in this series

(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr

Build Trust by Acting with Respect and Compassion

Showing compassion and respect builds trust with others as a leader
-Photo by Pixabay on

Treating others with respect and compassion helps leaders build trust. Respect is a public aspect of building trust, it is something everyone sees. Treating others respectfully builds trust and powers your ability to influence people positively. When you behave consistently, demonstrate courtesy, and are candidly compassionate, others perceive you as a caring leader that values relationships and results through respect.

Consistent behavior means respectfully consistent. Blowing up every time you receive bad news is consistent, but it fails to treat the messenger respectfully. When you consistently blow up, people stop telling you bad news. The news does not change. Delays reduce your ability to influence a positive outcome. You lack important information necessary to make good decisions. While consistency is important, so is courtesy.

Courtesy is simply using good manners. Say please and thank you. Show genuine gratitude when people do nice things for you. Open doors, stand when someone enters your office, put a smile on your face. Being grumpy does not improve situations; grumpiness aggravates situations. One expert leader greets bad news with one simple four-letter word, GOOD. He accepts bad news as good news because there is some positive aspect in every situation.

Imagine how your follower would respond if your consistent response to bad news is simply, “Good”. Your positive response to bad news has positive consequences. Your people are more comfortable knowing you will not destroy them, reducing their anxiety. You are in a better place, which enables you to see more positive responses to select. The positive view creates a better outcome.

Candor is often portrayed as a bad thing. Leaders are leery of telling others about their weaknesses because they become defensive. Followers take pride in their candor by bragging about how they, “Speak truth to power.” Many leaders lack the skills required to confront inappropriate behavior and performance. Instead, they avoid it, or they blow up on the person. These responses are inappropriate, show lack of trust in the other to receive bad news, and are down right disrespectful. If these conversations were easy, everyone would do it. What sets a leader apart is their ability to have tough conversations with people about hard topics in a way that builds trust rather than tearing down the person. These conversations include talking to leaders, peers, and followers. The best way to approach these conversations is to keep two goals in mind, building up the person and achieving the best positive result.

In order to have trusting conversations about difficult topics, leaders need to consider the issues before the conversation. That means you need to set aside time to evaluate the behavior against established standards. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Remember, most people come to work or volunteer for an organization because they want to do well.

Leaders have tough conversations, so others perform better, which results in earned respect and trust from their peers
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Likewise, when I sit down with a follower to discuss performance that fails to meet expectations, I have a plan to help them map a route to be successful. I sit with employees to discuss why they failed to receive a promotion, and even job applicants about why they did not receive a job. I coach them to prepare better for future opportunities. Taking this time shows you respect them as a person, even though their efforts fell short of the desired outcome. These hard conversations, executed skillfully, create trust because they hear the truth, at least from my point of view.

Leaders build trust by treating everyone with dignity and respect. A measure of a person’s genuine respect is the old waiter rule. The rule is, a person who treats a waiter like a respected member of the party s/he is dining with, likely treats all others with respect. People distrust others who only demonstrate respect when that person can do something for them. Genuine respect is shown even to those who can do little or nothing for you.

An often overlooked way to show respect is to be loyal to those who are not present. Keep their confidences. When others start to belittle and degrade others who are not there; you know, talking behind their back; do not engage. You have three choices that will build, or at least not decrease, trust. The first is to not participate in the denigrating discussion. The second is to stand up for the person in some way. If your first two actions do not discourage the conversation, leave.

These things are not easy. I learned the hard way why they are important. Eventually, word of this type of talk always finds its way to the subject of the gossip. I found even when not participating and just trying to be a good listener to someone venting ends up being portrayed as siding with the speaker. If someone genuinely needs to vent, and you need to be the person who listens, find a private place and keep it between you and the other person. Part by encouraging the person to find a way to forgive the other and find a positive way to engage the other in a conversation about the affront.

A final way to show respect is to keep confidences. In the communication post, I discussed having open, honest communication with people. I stand by that important value. There are times when information is not yours to share. Know when to keep your mouth shut. Someone should not have to tell you not to tell others what they are about to share. If you are trustworthy, you are a good judge about what to share and what to hold close. Close hold conversations include those venting sessions others have with you in private. When you rush back to tell the person discussed how the other feels, both know you cannot keep a confidence. You demonstrated you do not respect their privacy.

Feeling and emotions are irrational. They are real, even if the facts do not support them.
-Photo by Anni Roenkae on

A compassionate, respectful leader knows sometimes people have to express their feelings. Mature individuals understand there are times, their feelings are without merit. Feelings are funny things, they happen outside our conscious thought process. People who recognize their feelings are unjust still have those feelings. They also know that talking with a trusted confidant can help them make better sense of those feelings. When you violate that confidence, you hurt both people in addition to violating their trust.

You build trust when you treat others with respect and compassion. Your respectful behaviors are a public expression of the example you set and how you value others. Respectful behaviors provide increased influence because it builds trust with people. Consistent, predictable behavior that demonstrates compassion and respect shows you are a caring leader that values relationships and results. Work on improving your predictability and respectful actions, and you will build trust and influence.

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(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr

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
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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.


Developing Competence: The Third Facet of Trust

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

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
Photo by Clement Eastwood on

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

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