Leadership Behaviors That Build Employee Trust

It is said that trust is a lot like oxygen. Everybody knows when its present and everybody can
feel it when it’s not. It is also the main reason professional (and some personal) relationships fail. Trust is reciprocal, like a two-way street or bridge built to future predictability.

If we had an analogy to financial markets, it would be like the Dow composite. The market is efficient and discounts sentiment about future earnings. If the market believes the potential for future earnings are good, then share prices go up. Likewise, trust is also a reflective of the potential for future relationship interactions. We have a sort of “moving” average for organizational trust commonly referred to as “engagement” surveys. While they serve a purpose, they are not taken nearly frequently enough to accurately gauge “organizational sentiment”.

          Below are 5 behaviors to consistently engage in to keep your “trust average” up

1) Tell the truth. All Teams have Super Stars, Rising Start, Sedentary Stars, and Falling Stars. The
Team is watching how the leader leads. Spend more time with those who are getting things done
and less with those who are not.

2) Communicate roles and responsibilities. Provide consistent timely and accurate feedback. This is feedback that is not based on “noise’ or “half” a story but that has integrity and gravitas.

3) Create a workplace culture that values relationships. Relationships are “currency” that business is transacted in. Focus on maintaining good ones, come what may, with those who are performers. It is the leaders job to ensure that this happens by creating time and space to make it happen.

4) Be fair and open. Operate transparently to the extent you can. People need to trust what they see. When they don’t things crash. Can you say Arthur Andersen? This means no hidden agendas or favoritism or perceived favoritism, Nip that in the bud. People respond well to a basic social contract of “transparency” providing is more than just talk.

5) Model the behaviors you seek. It is the leader’s responsibility every day to act to model the types of behaviors that support the Team’s Mission and Vision. This is what achieving success with both is all about and you as leader have a “fiduciary” responsibility to make it happen.

The Pastor and the Comic

It is not every day you have a completely new experience. Especially once you hit midlife. (And often, in midlife, those new experiences are not mountaintop experiences, but instead new experiences like, “Wow, now I need to wear glasses if I want to read anything.” But I digress.)

Recently I had one of those completely new experiences. I spoke at an event in another city and shared the stage with a Stand-Up Comic turned Motivational Leadership Speaker.

Steve Rizzo has been on sound stages in LA and New York.

I have not.

He has been featured on television specials.

I have not.

He flies first class.

I do not. But I digress.

I met him when the car that was taking both of us (thank you Charles!) to our first event of the day pulled up. I walked out, hopped in the back seat and into my new experience:

My Pastor Meets Comic experience.

(Yes, I am a Pastor. I served as Senior and Executive Pastor of congregations in southern California, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon. Until I woke up one day and didn’t want to be paid for ministry any more. I seem to have too much candor and conviction and too little patience for the church. But I digress.)

Back to this week, this day in my life story. It was a great day.

I met a generous man with a big heart and a mission to make a difference and leave a wake of success in the lives of the people who cross his path. Steve spreads joy and laughter, as well as a bevy of tips and tales that help people to create success mindsets, so that they can find opportunity in the obstacles and options that lie before them.

Here are a couple of takeaways from my time with Steve (These are not quotes capturing what he said. These are things I saw him do.):

  1.      See the world through the eyes of the people around you as often as you can.
  2.      Act on what you see.

When I met Steve the first words out of his mouth after we were introduced were, “Why don’t you come sit up here and I’ll sit in the back. You are tall, and you need the room.”

I deferred and thanked him.

When we returned to the car after the first stop, he went directly to the back seat and sat down.

He didn’t ask. He acted. I enjoyed the legroom up front for the rest of the day. Thanks Steve!

When the leader goes first and acts with generosity, warmth and unrequested thoughtfulness, the leader earns something valuable: trust.

It was a small gesture with a big impact.  He demonstrated he cared about my experience, more than his own. It was kind, and I appreciated it.

People trust you when you notice and act on your observations about their situation.

I have a lot of stories that would make you laugh about my day with Steve Rizzo.

If you have a chance to hear him speak, do so! And know that a generous man is behind those words, listening to his audience, caring about how to best communicate what he’s learned about living a life that matters, and enjoying the moment we are living right now.

Leaders, we are at our best when we are generous advocates, both behind the scenes and onstage, caring about and equipping people to see and seize opportunities. We are at our best when we allow ourselves and others to savor the process of living our lives, as we travel through shared valleys of turmoil and turbulence to our next mountaintop moment.

So, be present. Notice others’ circumstances. Act on what you notice. And laugh some along the way.

Retention and Recognition Strategies

You get the knock on the door, “Got a minute”? One of your star performers walks in and starts telling you that they are leaving the organization. Ouch, this was quite unexpected and this person is an integral part of the team.  What should we do next? How can we prevent this of type of “bad turnover” from happening again?

Which comes first, employee retention strategy or recognition? Voltage CEO Jeff Smith and I did a recent radio show, Illuminating Leadership on this very topic. Below are some of the tips and tools we talked about.

For answers to the questions above and a deeper dive into Recognition and Retention Strategies please click this link:

                                                Recognition IS a Retention Strategy                                                                                             The Big “3” F-R-C

1.  Feedback – “Retained” employees want and need consistent honest feedback about how they are doing.

2.  Recognition – Ignoring star performers paves the way for them to be recognized by another employer.

3.  Caring – “Retained” employees feel a real sense of integrity from their reporting relationship.

                                     How to practice Recognition as a Retention Strategy

  • Find out what do employees want from their culture. It’s your job as a leader to create space for the retention discussion to consistently happen! Be inquisitive, get behind the Manager’s closed door and understand their satisfiers and dissatisfiers.
  • Don’t get hung up on trying to have the “perfect” retention program. Don’t delay on starting to recognize top performers and keep it simple. Even with little or no budget just do it.
  • Avoid the “Iceberg of Ignorance” - Ask staff and teammates, “what should we be doing differently”? Some data suggest that only 4% of “true” organizational problems are understood at the “C” level while 75 – 100% of the front-line managers and staff live with them every day!
  • Practice Re-Recruiting – Treat them as if you wanted to join your Team. What would you do differently?

Recognition ideas:

  • Lunch with the boss – Make it about them, not a defacto session
  • Don’t forget their birthday – simple, but many forget this simple opportunity
  • Peer to peer recognition – Build esprit ‘d corp by setting the example to follow
  • Hand written notes to the employee’s home / spouse, (with gift card / dinner etc)
  • The Travelling Trophy -Simple, fun and never goes out of style, (take their picture with                       it)
  • Give Time Back – ie, Time off to let them participate causes they care deeply about
  • March Madness – For fun only, tap the passion and excitement of the road to the final                       four
  • Let vacation be vacation -  And when they return, let them adjust a little as they                                        “re-enter”
  • Work from Home day – Trust them to do what they need to. Give them the freedom to be who they are.

What Do You See—Obstacles or Clear Sailing?

I have been working with many teams recently that are working on their vision and outlining their strategic goals for 2018. They know how to do a SWOT analysis, have a good sense of their customer base, and even take time to consider how they will communicate their messages. However, I see many of these organizations fail to hit the vision and goals they create in these sessions. Why? I believe the biggest reasons are:

           1.     Overly optimistic goal setting

           2.     Poor translation into action

           3.     Failure to understand how this impacts the daily lives of the team

           4.     It is an event, not a process

We use an experiential exercise we call the obstacle course with our clients. Here is the basic overview—we blindfold 3 people and then ask the rest of the team to get the 3 blindfolded people safely through the obstacle course and retrieve the 3 prizes and bring them back to the starting point safely! All three blindfolded people must enter and exit the course. The course is generally about 3 feet wide and about 6 feet long with foam letters and kids small toys in the course. The sighted people think that the course should only take 1-2 minutes to finish. We state that we will give them 10 minutes. Normally the sighted people huddle up without the blindfolded participants for about 2-3 minutes of planning time. Then they tell the blindfolded people the plan and they get started. Chaos ensues within one minute. There are often too many voices speaking at once, so it is hard to gather clear instruction.  In addition, trying to balance on 1 foot while blindfolded and stepping over kid’s toys is hard! So often, people get their left and rights confused when giving direction.

Does this sound like your workplace? This also sounds a bit like our strategic planning. We go off and brainstorm these great ideas with limited feedback from our employees. In the obstacle course debrief, I identify that the sighted people are the leaders in our organizations that can see what needs to be done and have to communicate the goals, but they are not the ones to do the actual work (these are the blindfolded participants—we call them employees.) From this activity, we see that the end goal does not look easy, but it does look like it can be executed. However, we rarely sit in the employee’s seat and look at it from their perspective. I encourage you to take time to ask your team members questions like:

1.     What inspires you about our vision?

2.     What barriers do you see blocking you from achieving our vision?

3.     What is one thing I could to do to help you achieve our goals?

4.     What is one thing that I am doing well that you want to keep doing?

5.     When we hit our goals, how do you want to celebrate?

Another common challenge is that as leaders we get distracted. We do this goal setting and then we go back to our daily lives. This causes confusion for our teams. Do we pay attention to the presentation we saw last month or do we just go with the status quo? Most people want to be led and they watch what gets rewarded. Thus, if they see you, the leader, go back to reinforcing the old strategies or goals, then they are going to deliver this to you. If you want to achieve the vision and new goals, it needs to be a process not a one-time event. One of my clients has started doing monthly virtual town halls to reinforce the new vision, key goals, and to celebrate successes. They are not over emphasizing the new vision and goals. Instead, they are saying this is the direction we are heading in and these are the type of behaviors we need to be successful. The leader also says what behaviors they are leaving behind. The energy in this environment is fantastic, and people are saying how transparent the organization is and that this is the most aligned they have felt in a long time.

So, what does your future look like—clear sailing or obstacles? It probably varies by the day. However, I encourage you to get curious, meet with your team members and listen to their feedback. Strategic planning is great but also remember to reinforce the goals and behaviors you desire on your team. Good luck and let me know how you are doing achieving your vision.


Have you been dreaming lately? Maybe about a new job, a promotion, losing weight, a new relationship or completing a marathon?  How is it going? If you are like most, the dream sounds great but finding the path and motivation can be a real challenge. Katherine Paterson said it well when she said “a dream without a plan is just a wish.” Scientific studies have shown that we can actually end up feeling worse about ourselves and our performance can decrease when we do not achieve our dreams. When we only dream about our positive outcomes and do not plan, the outcomes include:

1.    Sapped energy to reach our positive future
2.    Low physical and mental health
3.    Diminished well being

Yuck…what can do?

I recently read a great book I highly recommend from a colleague of mine, Alan Schlechter. The book is called UThrive and it is by Daniel Lerner and Alan. The book is based on learnings from a class they teach called The Science of Happiness which happens to be the most popular elective class at NYU. One of the tools Alan and Dan discuss is mental contrasting thinking. The tool they recommend to achieve this thinking is called WOOP.  Below is an overview of the framework.

Wish- What is the challenging goal you are aiming to achieve, whether today, next week, in a     month, or in a year?

Outcome- How would you feel if this goal were accomplished?

Obstacle- What is standing in your way? What assumptions or habits are holding you back?

Plan- What is one thing you can do to overcome your obstacle? Not just generally, specifically, in this very moment? If x (obstacle) happens, then I will do y (healthy alternative).  More information on pages 115-116 of UThrive!!! 

Here is what happens when you use WOOP. By clarifying each of the steps in WOOP, you:

Strengthen Mental Association….which leads to
Increased Energy…which leads to
Better Performance

By succeeding on your wish, this will also create a belief that you are capable of achieving future dreams. This reinforcing cycle gives you confidence to overcome setbacks and future barriers. This self-confidence also allows you to dream bigger dreams and not hold back. This confidence will help you reach your full potential and watch out for the places you will go!

So ask yourself, what is holding you back from fulfilling your wish? Find a place to write, follow the WOOP model and see where you can go!  Good luck and let me know what you achieve!