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Monday, April 18, 2011

"Trust Me, I’m a Leader" boosts team spirit

Why Building a Culture of Trust Will Boost Employee Performance—and Maybe Even Save Your Company
"Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership, " a new book by John Hamm

 San Francisco, CA (April 2011)—Do your employees trust you? The brutal truth is probably not. It may not be fair, and you may not want to hear it, but chances are that previous leaders have poisoned the ground on which you’re trying to grow a successful business.
Why is trust so pivotal? According to John Hamm, it’s a matter of human nature: When employees don’t trust their leaders, they don’t feel safe. And when they don’t feel safe, they don’t take risks—and where there is no risk taken, there is less innovation, less “going the extra mile,” and therefore, very little unexpected upside.
“Feeling safe is a primal human need,” says Hamm, author of Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, February 2011, ISBN: 978-0-47092843-1, $24.95, www.unusuallyexcellent.com). “When that need isn’t met, our natural response is to focus energy toward a showdown with the perceived threat.
Hamm calls trustworthiness “the most noble and powerful of all the attributes of leadership.” He says leaders become trustworthy by building a track record of honesty, fairness, and integrity. For Hamm, cultivating this trust isn’t just a moral issue; it’s a practical one.
The first step starts with you, Hamm notes. As a leader, you must “go first”—and model trustworthiness for everyone else. Being trustworthy creates trust, yes. But beyond that, there are very specific things you can do to provide Unusually Excellent, trust-building leadership at your organization:
First, realize that being trustworthy doesn’t mean you have to be a Boy Scout. You don’t even have to be a warm or kind person, says Hamm. On the contrary, history teaches us that some of the most trustworthy people can be harsh, tough, or socially awkward—but their promises must be inviolate and their decisions fair.
“As anachronistic as it may sound in the twenty-first century, men and women whose word is their honor, and who can be absolutely trusted to be fair, honest, and forthright, are more likely to command the respect of others than, say, the nicest guy in the room,” says Hamm. “You can be tough. You can be demanding. You can be authentically whoever you really are. But as long as you are fair, as long as you do what you say consistently, you will still be trusted.”
Look for chances to reveal some vulnerability. We trust people we believe are real and also human (imperfect and flawed)—just like us. And that usually means allowing others to get a glimpse of our personal vulnerability—some authentic (not fabricated) weakness or fear or raw emotion that allows others to see us as like them, and therefore relate to us at the human level.
No matter how tempted you are, don’t BS your employees. Tell the truth, match your actions with your words, and match those words with the truth we all see in the world: no spin, no BS, no fancy justifications or revisionist history—just tell the truth.
Never, ever make the “adulterer’s guarantee.” This happens when you say to an employee, in effect, “I just lied to (someone else), but you can trust me because I’d never lie to you.” When an employee sees you committing any act of dishonesty or two-facedness, they’ll assume that you’ll do the same to them. They’ll start thinking back through all of their conversations with you, wondering what was real and what was disingenuous.
Don’t punish “good failures.” This is one of the stupidest things an organization can do—yet it happens all the time. A “good failure” is a term used in Silicon Valley to describe a new business start-up or mature company initiative that, by most measures, is well planned, well run, and well organized—yet for reasons beyond its control (an unexpected competitive product, a change in the market or economy) it fails. In other words, “good failures” occur when you play well, but still lose. Don’t squelch the flow of “bad” news. Do you (or others under you) shoot the messenger when she brings you bad news? If so, you can be certain that the messenger’s priority is not bringing you the information you need: It’s protecting her own hide. That’s why in most organizations good news zooms to the top of the organization, while bad news—data that reveals goals missed, problems lurking, or feedback that challenges or defeats your strategy—flows uphill like molasses in January.
“We must install a confidence and a trust that leaders in the organization value the facts, the truth, and the speed of delivery, not the judgments or interpretations of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and that messengers are valued, not shot,” says Hamm. “Make it crystal clear to your employees that you expect the truth and nothing but the truth from them. And always, always hold up your end of that deal. Don’t ever shoot the messenger and don’t ever dole out some irrational consequence.
Constantly tap into your “fairness conscience.” Precise agreements about what is fair are hard to negotiate, because each of us has our own sense of fairness. But at the level of general principle, there is seldom any confusion about what fair looks like. Just ask yourself: Would most people see this as fair or unfair? You’ll know the answer (indeed, as a leader, you’re paid to know it).
“If you treat your followers fairly, and do so consistently, you will set a pattern of behavior for the entire organization,” says Hamm.
Don’t take shortcuts. Every organization wants to succeed. That’s why, inevitably, there is a constant pressure to let the end justify the means. This pressure becomes especially acute when either victory or failure is in immediate sight. That’s when the usual ethical and moral constraints are sometimes abandoned—always for good reasons, and always “just this once”—in the name of expediency.
“Sometimes this strategy even works,” says Hamm. “But it sets the precedent for repeatedly using these tactics at critical moments—not to mention a kind of ‘mission creep’ by which corner-cutting begins to invade operations even when they aren’t at a critical crossroads.”
Separate the bad apples from the apples who just need a little direction. The cost of untruths to an organization can be huge in terms of time, money, trust, and reputation. As a leader, you have to recognize that you are not going to be able to “fix” a thief, a pathological liar, or a professional con artist—all of these must go, immediately.
“In my coaching practice, there are three failure modes that I will decline to coach: integrity, commitment, and chronic selfishness, that is, manipulating outcomes for individual gain at the expense of the larger opportunity,” says Hamm. “These are character traits, not matters of skill, practice, knowledge, or experience.
“That said, one huge mistake leaders make is to doubt or distrust someone because their work or performance disappoints us,” he adds. “Performance problems should be managed fairly and with little judgment of the person’s underlying character, unless that is the issue at the root of the trouble. Ultimately, unlike my failure modes, improving performance is often merely a matter of feedback, course correction, and some coaching.”
“Trustworthiness is never entirely pure,” says Hamm. “Everyone fails to achieve perfection.

 “A working environment of trust is a place where teams stay focused, give their utmost effort, and in the end do their best work,” he concludes. “It’s a place where we can trust ourselves, trust others, trust our surroundings, or—best of all—trust all three.”

About the Author:
John Hamm is one of the top leadership experts in Silicon Valley. He was named one of the country’s Top 100 venture capitalists in 2009 by AlwaysOn and has led investments in many successful high-growth companies as a partner at several Bay Area VC firms. Hamm has also been a CEO, a board member at over thirty companies, and a CEO adviser and executive coach to senior leaders at companies such as Documentum, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, TaylorMade-adidas Golf and McAfee. John teaches leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.
About the Book:
Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, February 2011, ISBN: 978-0-47092843-1, $24.95, www.unusuallyexcellent.com) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.


Submitted by Dottie DeHart, DeHart & Company Public Relations

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