Are you a Trusted Leader?

Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. Their character determines the character of the organization.” (today we would say “person” instead of man but the point remains the same) 

 

So how would you answer the following two questions? Are you the person in your organization that Emerson was talking about? If you are then is your integrity always above reproach? By the way, I should probably point out that you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at any time. Integrity is not a part time job.

     

If your integrity is indeed above reproach then you have the opportunity to lead others, really lead. Maybe before you answer those two questions you should consider a little research: Only 45% of 400 managers in a Carnegie-Mellon survey believed their top management was always truthful; a third distrusted their immediate bosses. Current research says that 85% of employees across all businesses and industries are actually demotivated by their “leader.” 

 

What does that survey have to do with you?  Maybe nothing, but maybe, just maybe, you could consider it a wake-up call. A call telling you that you must be especially diligent in making certain that you live by the high standards that you expect from those who you hope to lead. Perhaps the survey results can serve to remind you that you have to work every day to earn the trust and respect of your people. You should never lose awareness that your people are always watching to see if your words match your actions. 

     

Consider as well this fact: Integrity results in a solid reputation, not just an image! Before you answer the questions above, ask yourself these questions: Are you the same person no matter who you are with? Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you? Are you quick to recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? (In writing?) 

     

You see, image is what people think you are, integrity is what, and who, you really are. Asking yourself these three questions can help keep you on track and ensure that your image reflects who you truly are.

     

Here is one reason integrity is so important for a leader: Integrity has high influence value, if you have the ability to influence others than your ability to lead is unlimited. Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever. Effective leadership is not based on being clever; it is based on being consistent. No one can fool all of the people of all of the time, insincerity can’t be covered up. Leaders who are sincere don’t have to advertise the fact.

   

Integrity is a hard-won achievement, it takes a long time to establish it with your team and you never fully complete the task. Your team expects four things from you on a consistent basis: honesty, competence, vision and inspiration. Those areas all impact your integrity. 

     

Ask something who knows you well what areas of your life they see as consistent (you do what you say) and what areas they see as inconsistent (you say but don’t always live.) If you don’t like their answer remember, you can change, you can become the leader you want to be, but also remember, you will only become what you are becoming right now.

    

So, now it’s time. Go ahead, answer the two questions in the first paragraph and then do whatever it takes to be certain your answer is always, always, yes.

What is This Integrity Thing?

Honesty. Credibility. Integrity. Many so called experts seem to think they are all basically the same thing. A horse a piece. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Apples to apples. No difference at all. 

I disagree. 

Integrity is deeply personal, it is who you are, inside. 

If matching your words and actions lead to credibility, as I believe they do, then integrity is when your words and actions BOTH match your deepest held beliefs. ALWAYS!

You see, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at all. I completely understand that by that definition very few people truly have integrity. I also understand that I am NOT among those few. 

I’m a work in progress… deal with it.

I’m not writing this post to admit to or announce my shortcomings. Those who know me best are fully aware of my foibles of which there are many. 

I’m writing this so that whoever reads it can understand that they too are a work in progress and that it’s okay. While it doesn’t make you perfect it does make you human and that’s a good thing. There is no need to pretend that you are perfect, in fact, pretending that you are actually subtracts from your integrity.

 As I plan some personal goals for 2016 I’m going to work hard to see everyone else as the same work in progress that I am. I’m going to assume that they also want to be better and I’m going to cut them a whole lot more slack than I have in the past. I’ll bet I will be happier then when I hold others to standards that I can’t meet.

Never use the fact that you don’t have integrity all the time as an excuse for not having integrity at all. Fight to be the person you would admire, the person you can admire in every circumstance. You will fall short at times but don’t use that as an excuse for not trying. 

You and I may not have integrity according to my very tough definition but that doesn’t mean we can’t come closer to it than most. Do what you truly believe to be right, live your values, makes the tough, often less fun choices and you’ll be on your way to being the person you truly want to be.

Why 360 Reviews Seldom Work

imageFor those of you unfamiliar with the term “360 Review” let me explain. A 360 review is a tool that companies use to evaluate their employees at various levels of the organization. A mid-level manager for instance will be provided feedback from their own direct reports, from colleagues at a similar level within the organization and from their direct supervisor. They may or may not receive feedback from others higher within the organization as well.

The idea is to get a well rounded “picture” of the person from different levels of the organization. A person who interacts well with people above them in an organization may be a horrible boss to those below them. That’s why a review from just one part of an organization provides an incomplete view. You need feedback from all around an organization, hence the term “360.”

Once this complete picture is developed the individual being reviewed should have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses, other people’s perception of them, and a good understanding of where their developmental opportunities are.

The key words in that previous sentence are “should have.” The concept of 360 reviews is great, the execution seldom is. In fact, the execution of these types of reviews is almost always lacking. They nearly always fail to accomplish the intended objective. 

They fail for two primary reasons. First, many people will not provide honest, open, and sincere feedback. While nearly every company claims that the feedback is anonymous it too often isn’t. Either the person being reviewed figures out where the feedback came from by what was written or the review is so bad that the Human Relations Department gets involved and inadvertently “exposes” the reviewers. 

When word gets around that one person’s feedback wasn’t in fact anonymous then it is assumed that nobody’s feedback is anonymous. From that point forward all 360 feedback is tainted… and far less valuable. 

In a very unscientific survey I asked about 30 people from a dozen or so companies if they believed the 360 review process was truly anonymous in their organization. The answers ranged from “they hope so” to “absolutely not.” Not one could say with certainty that their name wouldn’t eventually be attached to the feedback they provided. Not one said they would provide completely open and honest feedback either.

The other primary reason 360 reviews fail is that way too often the person being reviewed has no real interest in getting better. They claim to want to get better and are even willing to get better so long as they don’t actually have to change any of their behaviors. Unfortunately getting better means something must change and if it is you who needs to get better then you MUST accept some change in your life.

Thankfully there are some people who really do want to improve themselves and they will use what they can from the feedback to actually try to improve. But in an environment where the quality of the feedback is suspect even they will take it with a rather large grain of salt.

All change is hard but personal change is the hardest of all. When the change is driven by perceived negative feedback it can be nearly impossible to change. That’s why feedback from a 360 review so seldom leads to real change; the person being reviewed too often perceives even well-intended comments on improvement opportunities to be negative feedback. 

There are certainly other issues with the 360 review process but those are the big ones. Once broken the 360 review process can be nearly impossible to fix.

Just so we’re clear, I am most certainly NOT an HR professional. I can’t say with certainty that there are better developmental tools available than the 360 review. I just know that without a doubt that there needs to be. 

Truth, Honesty and Brian Williams

If you like your insurance, you can keep it, period.

Seems like a pretty straightforward and simple sentence, but as it turned out… not so much. President Obama made that statement countless times through the past several years as he campaigned for the Affordable Care Act. I have no way to know whether it was an honest statement, but it clearly was not the truth.

Obviously, The President did not tell the truth when he made that statement, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t an honest person. He simply could have gotten it wrong. He and virtually no one else involved in the crafting of the law truly understood what it was. Everybody is still learning it’s impact even today.

Just an aside, that isn’t necessarily bad leadership, The President may have just decided to get passed what he could get passed and figured he could and would fix it later. Sometimes when we wait for perfect we end up with nothing. You can argue all you want that in this case nothing would be better than what we got but those kinds of differences of opinion are what got horse racing it’s start.

Which brings us to one Mr. Brian Williams, the anchor for a major network’s nightly news broadcast. For the last few years he has been telling the story of his time in Iraq early during the U.S. invasion. As he tells it, or told it, the helicopter he was riding in came under enemy fire and was hit by an Iraqi Rocket Propelled Grenade. He said their “bird,” as the military pilots call it made a swift and hard hard landing.

He told the story with emotion and intensity and who wouldn’t – that has to be a life experience that would never be forgotten. Or confused.

It seems the other people on the helicopter, and the other helicopters in the formation remembered those events differently. Quite a bit differently.

When confronted with the “inconsistencies” in his version of events his response was something along the lines of “oh yeah, that’s right it was the helicopter in front of us that was hit. He said he wasn’t lying it was just a simple mistake, one caused by time and the fog of battle.

I’ve never been in battle but I was robbed at gunpoint a couple of times when working in my Grandfather’s grocery store. I can still see the rifling in the barrel of the gun as it was up against the bridge of my nose. There is no way I would confuse that, there is no way the kid next to me would ever think the gun was actually against his head. No way!

There is a difference between truth and honesty. We can be honest and still not tell the truth. Being mistaken doesn’t make us a liar, it might make us incompetent but incompetence doesn’t make someone a liar either.

Brian Williams is a very competent news professional. We can’t really know if he was purposely lying. He really may have been confused, he may have actually thought he was shot down, maybe he thought he was the first man on the moon too. Or maybe he was just lying through his teeth.

There is no way to know what he was thinking but I do know which option is easiest to believe.

Which brings us to you… and all leaders.

Credibility is a fragile necessity of leadership. Credibility is required to lead and while it’s obvious that being caught in a lie can destroy it we forget that a “mistake” can destroy it too.

We don’t know what was in Brian Williams’ heart as he told his story of Iraq but as leaders we know that even if it was an honest mistake his credibility is gone. It’s way too hard for way too many people to believe it was a simple mistake. He is a person who works in the credibility business and his credibility is shot even if his helicopter wasn’t.

As a leader you are in the credibility business too, your business may not be as public as Brian Williams’ but to the people you lead your credibility is every bit as important.

Never forget, you can be an honest person and still not be telling the truth. If you’re not sure about something then say you’re not sure. When you are careless with the truth your people will soon care less about following you.

People Really Do Follow the Leader

Follow the leader isn’t just a children’s game. It’s a fact of life.

People really do follow the leader. They do what the leader does. They behave as the leader behaves. They act the way the leader acts.

They don’t very often do what the leader says, unless of course what the leader says is the same thing the leader does. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Your people watch you constantly, they are watching to determine if you’re the type of leader they can trust. 

Here’s the most basic leadership equation of all: trust = follower-ship. Where there is no trust there can be no true following. True following comes from commitment and while a leader’s position may get them the compliance of their people only trust can earn commitment.

If a leader isn’t trusted by their people then don’t be surprised when the people aren’t trusted by the leader. People really do follow the leader.

Everything a leader says and does either adds to or subtracts from their “credibility bank.” Almost nothing is credibility neutral, everything matters. Authentic leaders know that and work to make certain that their words match their actions as much as possible. 

Let me say this as clearly as I can; if your credibility sinks low enough you may have a title or position of leadership but you’re not leading anymore. You can’t be leading because people can’t follow a leader with low credibility. If you have no followers then you’re not leading no matter what your business card might say.

People do follow the leader but only if that leader is a person they can trust. If you can’t pass the trust test then all your leadership efforts will come up short. Your vision will never be realized, your influence will be limited, and your success will be in doubt. 

If you want to be a leader that people will follow then don’t work for a position or title that people will “have to” follow. Instead work to become the type of person they will want to follow. 

Be the type of person they can trust! 

The Two Types of Truth

When what you do and what you say don’t match which one is the truth? Which one is the real you? How are people supposed to know? Do you even know? 

Is there a professional you and a personal you? A public you and a private you? Why are there two of you? 

I think we become two when we forget our Core Values, or worse, when we don’t know what they are to begin with. Just to be clear, Core Values are those values we hold which from the foundation of who we truly are. These are the values that are so primary and so important that even in a constantly changing world we still abide by them. These values determine how we work, how we interact with people and even which people we allow into our lives. They are the principles we use, or more likely, should be using everyday to determine how we live our lives. 

They also determine who we truly are. Truly!

It is far easier to talk about our Core Values than it is to put them on display. That’s why too often we appear to present two sides of truth: what we say are our values and what our values appear to be to others. 

Most people who see the two sides of your “truth” will just wonder which one is real. That “wonder” can cause doubt and doubt for a leader can be deadly. When your people don’t know which is real, what you say or what you do, they lose faith in your integrity and you lose the opportunity to lead. 

Authentic leaders live what they say. They know there is no stronger credibility than Core Values in action. Like my mom always said, “seeing is believing.” Once again this is where a mentor comes in handy, they care enough about you to call you on your two sides of truth. They won’t judge which one is right but they will cause you to choose between them.

Living our values is not easy, even our Core Values. No one is perfect and at times we will all slip. Core values, may not be at the top of our mind at all times but under pressure and duress they must be there.

As you decide to lead today, ask yourself which side of truth you will present today, the one you believe or the one you say you believe. The closer they are to one and the same, the closer you are to being an authentic leader. 

Let’s Be Honest

Can I be honest with you for a moment? 

Don’t you just love it when somebody says that to you? It may just be my perception but salespeople seem to say that kind of often. It’s as if they are asking for permission to tell you the truth, if only for a moment, and then they will go back to being lying scoundrels. 

Another one of my favorites is “is it okay to be honest with you?” That what would seem to indicate that lying is normal and being truthful is unexpected. 

I don’t know about you but I expect the truth from people, in any situation, 100% of the time. Even when I don’t like it. Even when it hurts. 

I expect it, but I don’t give it.

Neither do you, at least not all the time. The average person lies 7 times a day. I’d guess little stuff mostly, you know the kind of little white lies we tell to “protect” someone we care about. 

The problem is lying can become habit forming. The “little” white lies get a little bigger as time goes by. Pretty soon we can lose perspective on what exactly the truth is and then, well then, we have big trouble.

Many people are quoted as having been the first to say “honesty is the best policy.” I suppose it was first said so long ago that no one is certain who said it first but I’d say that through the years someone has even lied about that.

I don’t necessarily know if the truth will set you free but I do know that the truth will always find a way to be set free. With that in mind it seems the best policy would be to always tell the truth, even when it seems as if it would be useful to tell a lie.

Don’t ask for permission to be honest, not for a moment, not for a lifetime. Just be honest. 

Now, a special note for you “leaders” out there, especially those of you at the top of your organization. If your people are afraid to be honest with you then YOU have a big problem. If they feel that they must always tell you what you want to hear then you have a leadership issue in your organization and the issue is likely with you.

YOU must make certain your people feel safe when telling you the truth. You must provide a culture where honesty is rewarded and recognized. 

The moment one of your people feel criticized, punished or worse, humiliated for telling you the truth YOU are toast as an effective leader. You’ll never get the insights you need to truly lead. 

Honesty begins with ourselves. Do you allow your people to be honest with you? Really?

Remember, if you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t be honest with anyone.