Trust And Credibility Beats Vision And Strategy

Vision. Strategy. Roadmap. These are the words you hear often in corporate environment. They are supposed to help everyone, employees, customers, and other various stakeholders to understand why we are here. They are important, since without a clear direction and purpose nothing really great can be build.

In Strategy Is Overrated, Execution Is What Leads To Success I argued that even though strategy and vision are important what really matters is execution. Today I will look at these from another perspective. Have you ever wondered why even within out company with the same vision and strategy some teams vastly over-perform other team? Why some leaders are able to rally the team to execute on the strategy while others fail to do so?

Having a great vision

When you search the internet you will see many mission statements, bold visions of companies, growth strategies and worthy causes. But who really decides whether a certain vision, strategy or cause is worth following? It is you. And how do you make your decisions? Well, you may not like it but you decide based on the information you have about the cause and emotions it and people around it trigger in you. Just imagine this mission statement: “The company was founded to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

It is an incredibly bold statement and if I told you that I’m CEO of that company would you join me in this endeavor and help me to achieve that vision? Chances are that you would not. Why should you? I have no credibility with you, I haven’t showed you that I’m able to achieve that goal, I didn’t build enough trust with you and so you will not join me.

What if I told you that the name of the company in question is SpaceX and the leader to follow is Elon Musk? And to quote from SpaceX official website it is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth — a technically challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. And what if I told you that Elon Musk is also CEO of Tesla Motors building some cool cars? You would probably say, yep, I would follow that guy, because he has already shown he can do it. He has built enough credibility with you even though you never met him.

Trust and credibility must come first

John C. Maxwell coined the term The Law of the Buy-in, claiming that people buy into the leader and only then buy into the vision and strategy. And as we saw in the example above it makes a complete sense. But how do you build that trust and credibility when you don’t have massive rockets and electric cars to show off? You get back to basics and focus on your core values and the way you interact with the world around you. Just answer these questions and be brutally honest with yourself (or maybe ask some people who know you well to do it for you). And for every question the answer is not just yes or no, but try hard to come up with several examples to illustrate.

  • Do you know what your core values are? – This is a rather critical piece in the whole puzzle. How can you expect others to follow you and trust you if even you don’t know what you stand for? So the step number one is to identify what are your core values. What is really important to you? Who are you? How do you want to act? How do you want to be perceived? What you stand for? If you have no idea you can browse through The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe And Everything to get some tips on how to find out.
  • Do people around you know what you stand for? – I talked about this in Life is not fair! So what. The key is to be transparent and consistent. If you repeatedly show certain behavior people will associate it with you and will understand what you stand for and what is important to you. The worst thing you can do as a manager is to be erratic and unpredictable. No one can trust to or follow such a leader since it is just unclear where to follow and why.
  • Are you willing to fight for what you believe is right? – What is the point of having clear values and principles when you ignore them on the first sign of trouble? If you truly believe in something then you show it by being willing to put your skin in the game. From my own experience it is surprisingly easy to stick with your principles if people around you actually know what they are. I’m generally very open minded individual trying to find common ground in whatever situation but the moment someone stomps on my principles I get very black and white in my responses. In the rare situations when this happened my team or even superiors proactively disclosed their actions to me before I found out in other ways as they knew what my reaction will be. Related to this is also a willingness to fight for your team as I wrote in The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss.
  • Are you willing to admit when you are wrong? – It may be a bit counterintuitive. Why would anyone follow a leader who is wrong? Well, no one will follow you if you are wrong all the time, but chances are that is not the case. Unwillingness, to admit mistake even though everyone around you see that mistake was made is the easiest way to lose credibility with the team. At the other hand to be bold enough to get in front of the team and be very open about the mistake you made, what you learned from it, and how you fix it can boost the trust the team will have in you. At the end of the day we are all just humans and we make mistakes. Read through Real Leaders Own Their Mistakes and The Case Of Loyalty for more on the topic.
  • Are your words and actions aligned? – This one is obvious. You need to walk your talk, lead by example, and (fill in your favorite leadership cliché). It is great to be a great orator but ultimately the real trust and credibility is only build by being the first one to charge and show not by talking but by doing.
  • Do you trust others? – Trust starts with you. If you don’t trust your team you can hardly expect the team to trust you. For some people being trusting comes naturally, some are more cautious, some just don’t trust anyone at all. The fact is, if you are a manager and a leader trusting others is part of your job and you need to learn that if you want to be successful. You can read more on the topic in The Ugly Truth Behind Having Secrets.

These are some of the basic questions that can guide you on your journey to find how credible and trustworthy you really are. They can also give you a feel on what areas you need to work on. The good news is that pretty much anything can be improved. The bad news is that when we talk about trustworthiness and core values we talk about something very personal, deeply ingrained and often impossible to change without lots of conscious effort and external help.

So what is the takeaway? If you are in any management or leadership positions don’t expect that all you have to do is to put on paper a vision statement and couple of pages of strategy and that people will buy into it and will follow. The very first thing you need to do is to build the trust of the team. Only when they believe you as a human being and when you show by your actions that you can be trusted, only then your vision and strategy will be credible for the organization and you will be able to rally the team around you to execute the vision.

 

What is your take on issue of trust and credibility? Do you believe that a rock solid vision and strategy communicated by a leader with trust issues will still work and bring the team together to execute on it?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

One question you should never ask

Why I wasn’t told?!

Have you ever got mad at your subordinates for not telling you something they were supposed to? Were you ever on the receiving end of such a wrath? How did you feel? I would bet that it triggered anger, frustration, possibly guilt but definitely not a need for better communication and cooperation. “Why I wasn’t told?” is a question that you as a leader should never ask your subordinates. Let me walk you through some of the actions that usually lead to this question and what you can do to never get to a point that you need to ask it. And even if you get to such situation, how do you reach the desired outcome without actually asking the question at all?

At the beginning let me make clear my position on the topic. If I have a manager on my team who comes to me and says that it is not his fault that something happened because he didn’t know about it and his team didn’t inform him, essentially implying that it is their fault, he is in trouble. It is solely and completely problem of the manager and not his team. In fact, because he blames the team it makes the whole situation also my problem as this guy obviously has some serious leadership issues that I need to go and fix.

What leads to this question?

Surprise – by the fact that something happened and surprise by the fact that you wasn’t told. It can happen but what does it really mean? Why should you be surprised? It is very likely that you either didn’t set the expectation with your team, or you don’t listen, or you have trust issues.

Expectations – you have set or most likely not set for your team. Is your team clear on what information they should pass on you? Do they know how to recognize critical issues you want to be informed about?

Listening – or rather lack of it. Do you actually listen when people tell you the information you requested? Do you reply back when you are getting reports to either inquire about details or at least say thank you? Because if people send you reports and never hear back they will stop sending it, or at least will not collect all the information and the reports will be of low quality. Why to spend time on a report that no one reads? And if your team talks to you and you ignore their comments and concerns than it is again a signal for the team not to talk to you at all.

Trust – does your team actually trust you? What did you do recently to win trust of your team? If you want the communication to flow you need to show to the team that you care, you trust, you are someone who can make things happen if provided by information.

Guilt – that you missed something and you feel it was expected from you to know. So now you are trying to find a scapegoat, someone you can blame. I hope this one doesn’t apply to you but sometimes we can act from guilt on subconscious level. You need to catch this as soon as possible and stop looking for scapegoats. If there was a communication issue between you and your team then it is completely your responsibility and as a leader you need to take it on your shoulders and not pass it on your team. It would destroy the trust as mentioned above.

Panic – did you actually really expect to get the information? Or was it just that some external pressure (for example from your boss) clouded for a minute your judgment so you started to act like you of course should have the information available even though a minute ago you couldn’t care less? If that is the case, just calm down, ignore your team and rather have a conversation with your boss about his expectations and what level of details he believes you should have or provide.

How to avoid the question?

What is done is done. No point of bothering your team with this question. Direct this question to yourself instead. Ask why you believe you didn’t get the information and try to analyze it from the perspectives mentioned above. And if you come to conclusion that indeed there was something more you expect from the team to do then sit with them and “set the expectations”, while doing it “listen” to their comments and ask what you can do to help them to provide what you need thus building the “trust”. And if you acted without thinking early on, then “apologize” for the rushed act.

Good leader knows all what he needs to know. People inform him about the right things at the right time because they trust him, know his expectations, and know he will listen and act when needed. Because of these traits, they bring to his attention issues and potential risks at early stages while it is still time to deal with them. If the leader doesn’t listen or doesn’t act then people stop coming.

At the end let me debunk the title of the article. Yes, you should never ever direct this question to your team, but it is somewhat fine to ask it your boss. If you are not getting the information necessary to get your job done then it is fair to ask why not. Though you may still want to be a bit more diplomatic and rather than yelling at your boss just remind him that in the future it would be beneficial for all if this sort of information somehow found its way to you.

Twitter type summary: “Why I wasn’t told?” is the single question a leader never asks his people as it transfers blame for failure from him to the team.

Have it ever happened to you that you blamed your team for note providing information you needed? In retrospect, what led to the behavior of your team? What let to your own behavior?

The ugly truth behind having secrets

Information is power. What information should you share with your team? What are the things that are better kept secret? And how does leadership fit into the picture? What secrets should you have as a leader and what things should you never hide? Being strong believer in transparency and honesty I don’t think there are many things that should be kept hidden. I can imagine there can be things that if shared would have legal implications but that’s it. Anything that doesn’t have legal impact should be in the open. Let me make my case.

Reasons to hide information?

I have often heard from managers that some information shouldn’t be shared as they would have negative impact on motivation of the team. The team would question some of the decisions, and people wouldn’t understand why something was necessary. Sometimes there is this fear that when you share information it can be used against you. Let me debunk some of these myths.

Sharing negative information will demotivate the team – why should it? Explaining the situation as it is will be seen as a show of respect and trust. After all, we are dealing with mature adults who know that life is complicated. And if you can follow up with a vision of the future you may even create a sense of urgency and make people act to change things for the best

Things can change – so sharing proposals that are not approved will create friction. People hate uncertainty. And people from most cultures also hate not being included in decisions that impact their lives. Keeping your team in the loop even during a decision making process will allow them to contribute and will create a feeling that their opinion matters. When you share the final decision it will be much easier to accept by the team.

People would question my decision if I share too much information – why should they? I assume you based your decision on a certain set of data points, information, values and beliefs. It is exactly the other way around. People will be more likely to accept the decision if they understand how and why it was made.

If I share this proposal someone may steal it finish and take credit – great! That would free your hands to do other stuff. Getting someone to take your idea and execute it is the best thing that can happen to you as I mentioned in Leave your ego at the door article.

If I share information with others I won’t have advantage over them – why should you have advantage over anyone? You work with the team towards a common goal. The moment you start playing office politics and trying to get advantage over others you no longer work towards that goal and will destroy your reputation as a leader in the nick of time.

I’m the boss, the team doesn’t need to know the details – you are right, they don’t need to know. But again, if you want them to follow you and work towards the common goal the more information you provide the bigger likelihood that they will have the sense of ownership and work to the best of their abilities to achieve the goal.

I’m shielding the team from too much information so they don’t get distracted – why did you hire bunch of legally insane people? And if you hired smart and adult individuals why do you believe you need to filter information for them? It is their responsibility to filter things they need and don’t need. By giving them the opportunity to decide what is important you treat them with respect and it is more likely they will follow you. I love this quote by Ricardo Semler “Workers are adults, but once they walk through the plant gate companies transform them into children.” Or something similar said by Jason Fried in his book Rework – “When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies and managers treat their employees.”

Why to share information?

And to share one more quote. Some time ago I heard this (not sure about its origin) “In absence of a good story someone else can make up a story of his own.” People love to speculate and imagine things, the less information they have the more wild things they will come up with and the more damaging these speculations will be. Being open and transparent pretty much prevents unwanted speculations and gossip and creates a culture of mutual trust and sense of ownership of the common goal and future of the company. Let us look at a manager who shares information and creates environment of transparency, inclusion and trust.

Transparency and trust – by being transparent you show a great deal of trust that your team will be able to handle the information like reasonable adults. When you trust people they will trust you back.

Inclusion and sense of ownership – by including people in decisions and sharing information with them you are making them part of the decision and you create a sense of ownership.

Honesty and human face – by being open and honest even at times when you are lost and unsure about the correct course of action and if you freely admit mistakes you put a human face on you and will be more acceptable for others. They will follow you because they will know that you won’t lie to safe your face.

Sharing and empowerment – sharing information, sharing responsibility and sharing the means to get things done leads to empowerment. Empowered teams will accomplish the goals, will stay together and will love their work without much external stimuli

What about compensation?

The ultimate test of open environment is sharing information about compensation of the members of the team or at least that of management. Compensation is one of the most emotional topics in the business environment and figuring out a way to get it out of the table can have a really positive effect on productivity and motivation of the team. If you hide the information, you have unclear rules on how are individuals compensated, you don’t communicate openly decisions why someone got increase of salary and why this particular number you create an opportunity for guessing, gossip and false beliefs. People are curious so they will try to estimate salaries of others, their own worth and will most likely create picture that is very far from the reality. Most of us have the tendency of overestimating our own value. At the same time we tend to believe that we are not compensated well enough and the others must make whole bunch more. Why else would they look so happy? Wouldn’t it make sense to introduce as much clarity and transparency so you align better the expectations and the reality?

In a book “Maverick!” Ricardo Semler describes some of the inner workings of Brazilian manufacturing company Semco. It is a workplace where he created completely transparent environment with very flat organizational structure and without hidden agendas and office politics. It is a place run by democratic principles where employees are truly empowered. For example, each of the executives could set their own salaries without any need of someone approving it. Of course, everyone in the company would know their salary so that created environment where people would set salaries for themselves that would be seen as fair by others. Or another example from Semco, before people are hired or promoted to leadership positions, they are interviewed and approved by all who will be working for them. Every six months managers are evaluated by those who work under them. The results are posted for all to see thus pushing the manager to constantly improve and make sure their teams are willing to follow.

Twitter type summary: “Information is power! Give as much power as possible to the team and create a sense of ownership and desire to reach the common goal.”

What is your position? What sort of information do you believe should be hidden from your team and why?

Looking at the world through the eyes of 5-years old

Have you ever wondered why some people walk through their lives always with a smile on their face and happy while others are constantly worrying and see only the problems and what can go wrong? Are you one of those who could use a little bit more optimism in your life?

Lots of that is given by genetics, our childhood, upbringing, life experiences and generally things in the past that cannot really be undone. I was a very serious child, always worried too much about everything and when I was growing up I always saw the glass as half empty, always had a plan B in case something goes wrong, and always had a rather pessimistic view of the world. And then something happened and I realized that I can change it all and I want to change it. Today, I’m the most optimistic person you could meet and I love it. So let me share with you some of the things that changed my mindset. I’m not saying they will work for you, but they can get you started. As I see it, these are the traits we are born with. These are the traits that every child has but somehow we forget them as we grow.

  • Be open – open to new ideas, open to new experiences, open with your thoughts, open with people around you.
  • Be curious – about things around you, about people you meet, about the world, and about yourself. Learn new things as much as you can and always try to experience something new.
  • Trust others – learn from past mistakes but don’t automatically assume bad intentions or ulterior motives. There is no reason to close down and hide everything from everyone and be on constant guard. It just focuses your mind on negatives. And remember your mind will provide you with more of the things you focus on.
  • Enjoy pushing your comfort zone and try new things – learn to constantly push the boundaries of what you can do and experience. It will prepare you for changes and surprises. Life is full of changes, challenges, and surprises so why not train to be able to deal with them with enthusiasm.
  • Enjoy what you haveDale Carnegie said “Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” Learn to embrace life you’ve got. Learn to be happy with things you have and don’t be envious or jealous, it will just make your life miserable.
  • Don’t live in the past – why to keep your mind occupied by something that has happened in the past and cannot be changed? Reliving the past will just make you miserable and will steal precious minutes from living now.
  • Don’t live in the future – it is great to have a dream. So yes, dream, but then go and take the first step to make your dream a reality. If you just keep dreaming without working on getting to your dream you will never get there and ultimately will be disappointed and unhappy with your life.
  • Don’t blame others – you and only you are responsible for your life. There is no point in blaming your parents, teacher, spouse, boss, or fate. We are all responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and destiny.
  • Don’t watch TV – what’s the point? You would just waste an hour of your life watching stories about how other people (often imaginary) live. Just go and live yourself.

And as we are no children anymore let me add two more points for us adults

  • Manage your expectations – set your expectations in such a way that you won’t be disappointed whatever happens. In fact, you may want not to set expectations at all and just enjoy things as they come. The worst thing you can do is overthinking everything. My grandmother who lived through WWII in Europe would even at the end of 20th century still say things like “You shouldn’t waste that food what if there is a war.”
  • See things in perspective – if you are reading this it means you have access to a computer, internet, you have a nice home or an office. Do you know how many people in the world don’t have electricity or even drinkable water? Travelling to some poor countries (for example in Africa) can really open your eyes and change your worldview pretty dramatically.

When I look at myself today I can see someone who is becoming increasingly cynical as I grow older. I do understand that not everything in life can be the way I want and there are many things I cannot really influence. If I would continue in that train of thought I would become really miserable and unhappy person. Isn’t it better to remember back when you were the 5-years old naive kid with short attention span who just enjoyed every day, always tried new things and was able to quickly recover from any mistakes by simply not overthinking them?

Twitter type summary: “To form a more positive view of the world don’t over-analyze everything and try to be a bit more open, curious, trusting and naive.”

What is your recipe for living every day with positive and optimistic mindset? What are the things that helps you achieve that?