Leadership Lessons from the Navy

How to Earn Trust and Lead Teams

Whether you are new to studying leadership or have practiced and studied it for many years, I am sure you will benefit and enjoy the leadership lessons today’s post provides. Captain Mark Brouker, retired US Navy, is a wealth of practical leadership wisdom gained from his military career as well as his experience as a professor, executive coach, and speaker.

His book, Lessons from the Navy: How to Earn Trust, Lead Teams, and Achieve Organizational Excellence is loaded with advice to help all leaders aspiring to operate at the highest levels.

I recently asked him some questions based on his work.

 

“A subordinate’s trust in their leader is the most important factor in the success of any organization.”-Mark Brouker

 

One of your first leadership lessons is “A subordinate’s trust in their leader is the most important factor in the success of any organization.” What are some ways that leaders earn and lose trust?

Your question is at the very heart of effective leadership – Where are the opportunities for a leader to earn or lose trust? When I ask this question at my leadership seminars, participants inevitably reply with a host of answers – one-on-one meetings, social events, email, and so on – all of which, by the way, are absolutely correct! There is some very good news here. The good news – and the accurate answer to my question ‘where are the opportunities for a leader to earn or lose trust?’ – is this: All interactions between the leader and their subordinates are opportunities to build trust. In other words – and here’s the good news – there are hundreds of opportunities each day to impact trust. Certainly, some interactions will be more impactful than others. But each and every interaction should be considered an opportunity.

Think about the power of this maxim. A leader has hundreds of interactions with members of the team every day on an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, second-by-second basis. Opportunities are abundant, and all of them can incrementally earn trust and, consequently, improve workplace culture and team performance. How does this work? Team members observe the leader’s behaviors during interactions and consciously and subconsciously analyze each of them. The leader’s behaviors are constantly being scrutinized. Often, they are quietly discussed among team members. From this process, one of two conclusions are drawn: either the leader cares and more trust is earned, or the leader doesn’t care and trust is lost. The building or eroding of trust is volatile. While some interactions will impact this dynamic more than others, all will have an impact. The great leaders understand, respect, and embrace this maxim: their behavior during each and every interaction determines whether they will be perceived as caring and trustworthy. In fact, they leverage this reality and create more interactions between themselves and their team members. Great leaders recognize that team culture and, ultimately, team performance, will be driven accordingly. Unfortunately, not all leaders share this understanding. Even seasoned leaders get this wrong, and numerous opportunities to improve trust are lost. Let me give you a quick example of a leader who got it wrong.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were traveling in Europe and visited a close personal friend, Rick, who was employed as a public affairs officer on a U.S. military base. One evening my wife and I attended a spouse abuse awareness event that took place on the military base. Rick was covering the event to take photos and write an article for the base’s newspaper. The event, attended by about fifty people, began with a beautiful prayer delivered by the base chaplain. The base commander, an Army colonel with probably twenty-five years of leadership experience, was the next speaker. The colonel made appropriate remarks. However, in the middle of her remarks, she mentioned that, before the ceremony, she had reviewed the chaplain’s prayer and requested that the chaplain make a minor change to the wording of the prayer. I happened to be looking at the chaplain when these remarks were made. His face showed both embarrassment and resentment. Here was a very quick interaction that provided the colonel with an opportunity to say some kind words and build up the chaplain’s confidence, an act of caring that would have improved their relationship. Instead, she added a few words to make herself look smarter at the expense of the chaplain. Instead of improving the relationship, she damaged it. The culture moved toward one of fear because of this brief display of disrespect.

 

“Leadership is about showing patience, kindness, mercy, caring, and, yes, love.”-Mark Brouker

 

Most people think about the Navy and think “command and control” or “authoritarian” type of leadership, but you say compassion and caring is one of the major lessons you learned in the service. Talk a little about this misperception.

You are so right – most people’s general perception of military leadership is that it is a command and control philosophy. Interestingly, and perhaps paradoxically given this perception – in my experience, I’ve witnessed more command and control type leadership in nonmilitary organizations – academia, business, etc, than in the U.S. military.

Nevertheless, the crux of the issue is this – are leaders generally more effective when they lead by command and control or when they lead with care and compassion?  Is leadership about ordering your people around or is leadership about loving your people? Truthfully, I’ve been searching for this answer for the past 35 years. My conclusion –Leaders who consistently lead with care and compassion are more effective in creating high performing teams.

A couple of years ago I gave a leadership talk to a group of senior Naval Officers and was introduced by a good friend and colleague. In her remarks she stated that, prior to her assuming command, I gave her some simple advice.

She said, “Mark told me that leadership is about loving your people.” Given that my talk happened to take place on Valentine’s Day, the reference to ‘love’ seemed timely! By the way, subsequent to our discussion, she went on to be promoted to Admiral rank and is herself a tremendous leader!

The following was written by a person who, during a series of crucible experiences in a position of leadership, learned much about how best to lead:

“…Loving – something I so desperately hoped that I did – meant much more than simply feeling that I cared.

It meant patience when explaining something for the fifth time to a nineteen-year-old who just didn’t get it.

It meant kindness when an honest mistake was made while trying their hardest; mercy when deciding the appropriate punishment.”

Patience, kindness, mercy, caring, and, yes, love, is referenced in this emotional passage. One would think it came from a religious leader, a teacher, or perhaps a parent. Who wrote this, and under what circumstances?

The writer is a United States Marine Corps officer who wrote these words after reflecting on his experience of leading Marines during three very difficult combat deployments in Iraq, including an exceptionally arduous and grueling tour in Ramadi in 2004.

After graduating from Princeton in 2001, Donovan Campbell wanted to give back to his country, engage in the world, and learn to lead.  He joined the Marines and led a forty-man infantry platoon during his 3 combat tours.

What did this military officer learn? He learned that the secret to leadership is touching a heart before you ask for a hand. Leadership is about showing patience, kindness, mercy, caring, and, yes, love.  Leadership is about showing common courtesies, caring and encouraging the growth and development of those whom you lead.  Leadership is about care and compassion.

My experiences and studies during my 30-year Navy career led me to the same conclusion – the secret to effective leadership is trust, and the key to building trust is taking care of your people. When led by a leader who shows care and compassion, employees will trust them, work harder for them, and find more joy and satisfaction from their work. Care, trust, and effort are inexorably interlocked, and proportional. The more caring, the more trust, the greater the effort.

All leaders want their teams to be high performing. The data is irrefutable that the key attribute of a high-performing team is trust. When employees trust their leader, they perform at a higher level. The key to earning trust is for the leader to lead with care and compassion. As mentioned, this caring is displayed during the hundreds of interactions the leader has with employees each day. The leader can leverage each and every one of these interactions to earn an enormous amount of trust.

While busy leaders may be cognizant of the vital importance of building trust through caring, the truth is that most are not making it a priority. My book discusses the vital importance of caring. More importantly – and this is where my book is unique – it delineates specific behaviors that a leader can easily employ to show that they care.

While it may appear to be a misperception, the great military leaders that I worked for led with care and compassion. Is leadership about loving your people? Yes. To care for someone is to show love. The more a leader cares, the more trust, the greater the effort.

 

“Leadership is about showing patience, kindness, mercy, caring, and, yes, love.”-Mark Brouker

 

You talk about six critical behaviors that show leaders care. The very first one is to know your staff. I love the story of you in the classroom and your answer. Would you briefly share that because it is incredibly powerful?

Yes… of course! While the leadership behavior of “knowing your staff” does an amazing job of building a solid foundation of trust – in fact there is no more effective or efficient way – astonishingly it’s rarely used.  It only takes time and the ability to listen. This is a simple leadership behavior that can be leveraged to be a significant competitive advantage for any organization.

The story that you reference tells of how I learned of this powerful behavior. In fact, I learned of this while spending two weeks with fifty of the most impressive professionals I had ever rubbed elbows with. They were men and women who were at the very top of their leadership game, proven naval leaders who were hand-selected to lead naval commands from around the globe, including the world’s most lethal and sophisticated weapons systems – fighter squadrons, aircraft carriers, submarines, and warships. It was indeed a remarkable group and, at least for the next couple of weeks, I was one of its members. Their biographies, which I had perused the night before the class was to commence, were extremely impressive. Graduate degrees from Ivy League schools and other top universities were not uncommon.

A few months prior, I had been selected to be executive officer, or XO (Chief Operating Officer), of U.S. Naval Hospital Rota, Spain. All fifty of us were similarly selected for major leadership positions around the world. We were all in Newport, Rhode Island, to attend the Navy’s prestigious leadership development course known as Command Leadership School. While I was very excited to attend the class and embark on the most exciting professional journey of my life, I was also a little starstruck. My prevailing thoughts were “Wow, what an amazing group! How the heck did I get here?” Looking back, I guess I was a bit intimidated and probably questioned whether I was worthy to be among this group of leaders.

I arrived for the first day of class that Monday morning at 0750 (7:50 a.m.) – plenty of time to grab a safe seat in the back of the room for the 0800 start, or so I thought. All these super overachievers had arrived well before me. I’m convinced a few of them did push-ups and sit-ups earlier right there in the room to get the blood going. More concerning, they had taken the choice seats: those in the back of the class. I was stuck sitting in the very first row, which is not in my comfort zone. I really don’t like being toward the front, and I especially dislike the front row. But there I sat – front and center in the first row.

The first speaker arrived at exactly 0800 and immediately asked the class, “As a leader, when you meet a member of your team for the first time, what do you talk about?” I sat there, a mere few feet from the speaker, waiting for someone to chime in to answer what appeared to be a pretty simple question. Silence. Crickets. I started thinking about what I had done over the past twenty years when I had met new sailors. Given that I’d been relatively successful as a leader during those years, I started feeling a surge of confidence come over me. It was probably a caffeine rush from my third cup of coffee, but it felt like confidence. “Go ahead, Mark, enlighten them. Maybe even impress them. Yeah. I’ve got this!” were my caffeine-enhanced thoughts. I bravely raised my hand. “Yeah, go ahead. What do ya got?” the speaker said, pointing to me.

I cleared my throat and stated with as much poise as I could muster, “You talk about mission, you talk about your vision, you talk about guiding principles.” My bubble of confidence surged as I noted the speaker nodding his head up and down and that my voice, mercifully, didn’t crack. I continued with swelling confidence, “You talk about the hot button issues, the things that are important to mission accomplishment.” The speaker let me ramble on for another minute or so, head slowly but continuously nodding in apparent agreement. As I finished, I thought, “Wow, that was easy… I think I nailed it. I can hang with this crowd!” Then the speaker turned to me and said curtly, “That’s absolutely wrong. That’s not what you talk about.” My bubble burst. I instantly turned a deep shade of red that was impossible to stop. The more I tried, the more pronounced the redness became. And, oh yes, the blushing was combined with some sweat that appeared on my brow. My fears were realized. I couldn’t hang with this crowd. I regained my composure after a few seconds. My thought then changed to “What was so wrong with my answer?”

What the speaker said next transformed my behavior as a leader and has stayed with me ever since. He explained that what I had said was exactly what most people expected to hear during that first meeting with the boss. They expect to hear of the mission, vision, guiding principles, and so on. “Every fiber in your body will want to go there,” he said, “but resist the temptation. Instead, have them tell you their story.” He went on and spelled out in detail how this is best accomplished…which I delineate in the book.

This all piqued my interest. I reflected on the past leaders that I absolutely loved working for – the ones who I worked especially hard for. The ones that I trusted. What did all these great leaders have in common? They all took a keen interest in me as a person, and their interest was sincere. They knew about me in all my roles, including outside of work – as a husband, father, member of the command softball team. What impressed me about these great leaders was that they cared enough to take the time to get to know me. I grew to trust them earnestly, and I worked very hard for them. The more they cared, the more I trusted and the harder I worked.

The overall experience proved to me that the small investment of time and the all-important ability to listen required in getting to know your people, produces inordinate returns – it’s an extremely powerful leadership behavior. However, as mentioned, despite its profound power and ease of use, I find that this behavior is woefully underutilized. My experience, as well as solid research, shows that organizations that inculcate this behavior into their culture set themselves apart from others. It is a major competitive advantage for any organization. Proactively getting to know your staff is an extremely powerful behavior. The bottom line is – there is no faster way to help build a solid foundation of trust.

 

“Leadership is about showing patience, kindness, mercy, caring, and, yes, love.”-Mark Brouker

 

Being visible and staying in front of employees has been different during a pandemic. How are you advising leaders during Covid?

That’s certainly a timely question. In fact, I added the last chapter of the book –  “Leading in Crisis” – because of the numerous inquiries I was getting from leaders around the country at the onset of the Covid crisis. The fact is leadership is never more important than in times of crisis, whether minor or not-so-minor. Every organization at some time will face a crisis. They come in all sizes and often are completely unexpected. The only known is that they will come.

Early last year when it was becoming clear that coronavirus would be a serious threat, Kim Scott, a workplace consultant, wrote the following in a Wall Street Journal article: “Everyone will remember how their boss responded during this time.” Kim is absolutely correct. At any time – in crisis mode or otherwise – all behaviors of the leader mold team morale. However, during a crisis, the behaviors of the leader have enormous influence. As such, turbulent times are tremendous opportunities for leaders to influence morale – and consequently improve trust and team performance – in profound ways. However, before we talk about what leaders can do to build trust during Covid, I’d like to talk more generally about what leaders can do before the crisis, whether a global pandemic or any crisis.

While it’s essential that leaders proactively create contingency plans for the next crisis – identify vulnerable areas, analyze the organization’s state of readiness, provide appropriate staff training, among other important tasks – there is a famous military maxim that says, “Every plan is a good one – until the first shot is fired.” In large part, organizations will either weather the storm well or not based on what leaders do – more precisely how they behave – before the first shots are fired.

Whether in crisis mode or otherwise, team culture is a byproduct of the team leader. More specifically, the leader’s behaviors create either an environment of calm or an environment of unease. Further, trust is earned exponentially faster in the former case as compared to the latter. In other words, leaders who generally lead with care and compassion – leaders who employ behaviors that build trust (know their staff, don’t ignore good or poor performance, continuously learn the art of leadership, and are visible, respectful, and optimistic) will create calm and more easily earn trust. Leaders who generally lead with command and control, however, tend to create cultures of unease, and trust is more difficult to attain. This is not to say that these leaders are uncaring – they simply don’t make relationship building with team members a priority. Unquestionably, in times of crisis – when there is great uncertainty – those organizations that proactively build trust up and down the chain of command will weather the storm much better than those that do not.

Now, let’s talk about what leaders can do during Covid.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of people’s lives around the world like nothing in modern history. In the United States, as occurred after our Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II, it’s possible that this pandemic will end up impacting almost all aspects of our lives. As an example, in a blink of an eye, Covid-19 has already forced numerous institutions to go virtual – churches, schools, government, medicine, to name a few. The term “paradigm shift” is a well-worn term. Today, however, we are experiencing sweeping worldwide changes at a speed never before experienced in human history. Everything seems to be changing. However, are there some areas of life that shouldn’t change? What about leadership – do leaders need to change the way they lead in the wake of this pandemic? Given the challenges leaders will face in the ensuing months and years, it’s an extremely important question.

There’s good news here. Amid the turmoil of change that we’re experiencing and will continue to grapple with going forward, the behaviors that leaders need to employ to effectively navigate these challenging waters will not need to change.

As was true two thousand years ago, so it is still true today – the key to effective leadership is earning trust, and much more trust can be expeditiously earned through acts of caring. The more caring, the more trust earned, the greater the effort – this dynamic has not changed through the centuries. One crucially important behavior that shows that you care is being visible. While the way to lead need not change – what does need to change is that leaders need to employ more of it. In a crisis, the leader needs to be more visible. We need caring leaders – leaders need to be visible – more today than at any other time in modern history.

 

“By continuously learning the art of leadership, we’ll more likely practice it in our day-to-day life.”-Mark Brouker

 

Twenty thousand employees were surveyed and overwhelmingly picked “being treated with respect” as the most important leadership behavior. Would you share just one way that you’ve seen this done well?

Absolutely! Before I do, let me tell you a little more about that fascinating survey of the twenty thousand employees, conducted by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath for Harvard Business Review. The survey indeed asked what the employees considered to be the most important leadership behavior… but they were actually given five choices, of which “being treated with respect” was one possible choice. The other choices included the following: inspiring vision, providing useful feedback, recognition and appreciation, and opportunities for learning, growth, and development. The overwhelming choice was “being treated with respect”. Why was that the case? The answer is as simple as it is powerful – an employee can have a boss with a tremendous vision who provides useful feedback, recognition and appreciation, along with tremendous opportunities for learning, growth, and development. However, if that same boss provides all these wonderful perks in a demeaning and disrespectful way, you’ll soon find yourself miserable and looking for another job. The authors said it best when they concluded their study with this statement – “There’s one thing that leaders need to demonstrate: respect. No other leadership behavior had a bigger effect on employees.”

This survey, and many others with similar findings, strongly suggests that the leader’s level of respect toward employees during interactions has a significant impact on the environment that is created. Taking care of your staff by showing them respect significantly increases commitment and engagement.

For me – and most leaders – being respectful to your staff is easier when things are going well. The challenge is being respectful when things are not going well. As a leader, you’re guaranteed one thing: challenges, issues, and problems are coming your way. Getting bad news and facing adversity is a certainty – it’s not a matter of if, but when. These are gut-wrenching experiences that mold you as a leader. Getting bad news – and, more accurately, how you react to that bad news – has a significant impact on the culture you create – the culture that you own. While we cannot control the fact that we’re going to get bad news, we can certainly control our behavior when it comes. If you remain respectful and maintain your composure, not only will your employees have more confidence in you as a leader, but your calmness will also spread to them – which will optimize decision making. If you show anger or, worse yet, shoot the messenger, you’ll lose the respect of your employees, and your unease will likewise infect others – all of which will hamper decision making.

 

“It’s hard to lead people when you’ve lost control.” -Marshall Goldsmith

 

Great leaders are mindful of their impact on others during times of tumult and monitor or become even more intentional during their interactions. They appreciate these moments as tremendous opportunities to bring calm out of chaos. Leaders who remain calm, collected, compassionate, and respectful when the tempest comes garner trust and spread confidence. Great leaders remain respectful when the team is in troubled waters. While it’s easy to be respectful when all is going well, the test will come when adversity strikes.

Let me share with you a boss I had who always treated his staff with respect. That boss was Admiral Forrest Faison, and he was Commander, Navy Medicine West (NMW). He was responsible for ten hospitals spanning the West Coast to the Indian Ocean and health care for eight hundred thousand patients. We had fifteen thousand employees working for us. I was his chief of staff, equivalent to chief operating officer. Given that span of control, during the two years I was chief of staff, you can imagine the number of times I had to give him bad news.

On my first day on the job, Admiral Faison informed me that bad news does not get better with time. The message was clear: Don’t sit on bad news. He wanted to be informed sooner rather than later. It should be noted that the hospitals in our region were located in numerous time zones. As such, phone calls to the boss often occurred well after normal working hours. Regardless of how bizarre the news was, or when it was delivered, he never got angry. He was always respectful. In fact, it seemed the more outrageous the story, the calmer he reacted. I’d often start my conversation with “Sir, you’re not going to believe this, but…” …from which his go to response was always “Wow, I thought I’ve heard everything, but that’s a new one for me!” He’d continue with “Well, Mark, let me know what you find out. Thanks.” That’s it. “Well, Mark, let me know what you find out.” No anger. No outrage. While Admiral Faison was talented in many areas, what set him apart from other leaders whom I worked for was his ability to always remain calm, collected, compassionate, and respectful. He always brought order out of chaos and uncertainty. Consequently, despite his high rank, he was very approachable. We all trusted him and worked hard for him, and our confidence, focus, well-being, and overall performance excelled under his leadership. Our region consistently far exceeded all annual quality and workload goals and led the other two Navy Medicine regions in nearly all key performance indicators. Not surprisingly, Admiral Faison became the Navy’s thirty-eighth surgeon general. What was the key to his success? He always treating others with respect.

 

“When the boss ignores poor performance, employees will form negative opinions about their ability to lead.”-Mark Brouker

 

“Don’t ignore good or poor performance” is next and I love that you address both sides. I have seen some leaders who are great with the praise but are not sharp in handling the negative. And I have seen the reverse where a leader is overly critical and praise is rarer than water in the Sahara. How do you coach leaders to get the balance right?

That’s actually a great question. Interestingly, I’ve been asked hundreds of questions and that one has never been asked. To be a truly effective leader, of course you need to do both. The vast majority of leaders find giving accolades and recognizing good work far easier that having a difficult conversation with an employee about their subpar performance.

Recognizing employees for good work, and proactively finding the good work, are extremely powerful behaviors that deliver a disproportionate return on investment. A great deal of trust is generated from an interaction that takes mere seconds. Overlooking this practice results in missed opportunities to foster and encourage motivation, creativity, and innovation. Be proactive. Find reasons to recognize your employees. They’ll be more engaged, more productive, and more trustful of you as a leader.

However, as mentioned, to be a truly effective leader we’ll also need to address the more challenging issue: the poor performer. This can prove to be quite stressful for any leader. Not surprisingly, most surveys conclude that the number-one stressor for leaders is having to discipline and, if necessary, terminate employees. Why? People generally don’t like confrontation. They don’t like giving bad news. Having a difficult conversation about an employee’s poor performance is challenging. This is tough stuff, and tough stuff just gets tougher the longer you delay addressing it. One can understand why ignoring poor performance is a behavior that a leader can easily fall prey to. I did just that during the first fifteen years or so of my Navy career. When one of my employees’ performance started to slip, I’d tend to ignore it. I’d convince myself that I was being hasty and the performance would improve with time. Unfortunately, it rarely did, and it usually worsened. By the time I did address it, out of frustration, I’d usually overreact.

Like all leaders, I always had a number of pressing issues that needed addressing. Frankly, the vast majority of these tasks were exponentially more enjoyable and rewarding than addressing someone’s poor performance. Consequently, taking valuable time for a difficult conversation with an employee would get delayed and continuously relegated to a lower priority in favor of a more “pressing” issue. What I failed to understand was that addressing poor performance is extremely important. I simply did not appreciate the enormity of what was at stake. Choosing to ignore and not actively address poor performance has dire consequences. Your employees are always watching you. They’re constantly forming and reforming their opinions of you as a leader. They’re observing very closely how you handle these difficult workplace situations. Everyone is aware of the level of effort each person on the team is exerting. There are no secrets in this area. When the leader ignores poor performance, often the good performers wonder if you recognize their level of effort. When the boss ignores poor performance, employees will form negative opinions about their ability to lead. They’ll say that the boss doesn’t care, and they’ll share these opinions with their coworkers. They’ll lose respect, confidence, and trust in the boss.

Fortunately, as a novice leader, I had a modicum of wisdom to know that poor performance would eventually need to be addressed. I was cognizant that if I continued to ignore the poor performance, other members of my team would certainly take note, and not in a good way—it would send the message that a lower level of performance was acceptable. How could one conclude otherwise? By definition, the fact that I didn’t address it indeed made such a lower level of effort acceptable. The performance level is not created by what you say; it’s created by what you tolerate. Tolerating poor performance makes it acceptable.

In regards to addressing a poor performer, the leader’s overall goal is to retain the employee, meet operational needs, and provide meaningful and rewarding work to everyone involved. The employee was hired because there was promise in their skills, motivations, and capability. The leader’s job is to search for the root cause of the poor performance, whether it can be found within your department or elsewhere, and find a solution. When done with openness, honesty, and empathy, it shows that you care. This creates trust because people feel supported to reach their performance potential. They feel valued, knowing that the organization wants to find a good fit for their abilities. Difficult conversations regarding performance are absolutely golden opportunities to earn trust. Take the time to gather your thoughts and practice for these difficult conversations.

Before we leave this question of getting the balance between addressing both good and poor performance right, it’s important to remember that trust in a leader is tenuous. It’s fickle. As a leader, you can diligently employ all other behaviors described in my book – know your staff, be visible, be respectful, give accolades and stay upbeat – but if you don’t address poor performance… if you don’t get the balance right – respect in you as a leader will erode significantly.

 

“Leading with pessimism demoralizes, demotivates, and undermines the effectiveness of the entire team.”-Mark Brouker

 

Optimism generates confidence and performance. Let’s talk about the flip side. If a leader is consistently pessimistic, what are the effects? What would you recommend a team do if they find the leader is always negative?

The truth is that it is difficult to convey the extensive damage that pessimistic leaders have on team performance. Leading with pessimism demoralizes, demotivates, and undermines the effectiveness of the entire team. Pessimism is a powerfully destructive power. Its power lies in its infectiousness. A leader’s contagious pessimism will infect those whom they lead. Employees will be less hopeful, focused, and motivated. The result is a cynical, demoralized, and deflated team that struggles to hit its stride. These teams woefully underperform. In the fog of malaise, helplessness, and passivity, they’re easily overwhelmed when faced with even a meager challenge. As this downward spiral escalates, trust in both their leaders and colleagues erodes.

The second part of that question is interesting – What would you recommend a team do if they find the leader is always negative? This brings up a much broader issue. Interestingly, and actually sadly, of the thousands of questions I’ve been asked in my leadership seminars, the most common question goes something like this – “My boss is toxic – what should I do.” “Toxic” can certainly include pessimism, or disrespectful behavior, or a host of other poor behaviors. The point is what should a team member do?

My counsel is to first give your boss some grace. You don’t walk in their shoes and have no idea the pressures they’re under. Support them to the best of your ability. Do your job and do it very well. If you think ‘coaching up’ will help, then calmly and respectfully convey how the leader’s behavior – in this case ‘pessimism’ – is negatively impacting team performance. However, proceed with caution. You need to be convinced that such a conversation has a good chance of actually changing the behavior. This is where it’s important to discern those things you have influence over and those you do not. In my experience, more times than not, the issue of your bosses’ poor behavior, pessimism for example, falls in the latter. If that is the case – that in fact there is nothing you can do to change the pessimistic behavior – your choice is to either soldier on or find another job. I am compelled to mention that I have counseled a number of people who were stuck working for a toxic leader to quit and move on – each is in itself a case study of the power of the leader’s behaviors. In these cases, their boss’s behaviors were impacting their emotional and physical health in very negative ways.

 

“Never miss an opportunity to say a word of congratulations on anyone’s achievement.” -Norman Vincent Peale

 

I’m passionate about life-long learning and was surprised and thrilled to see that continuously learning the art of leadership was the last one. I would love to know more about how and why this landed on the list.

Throughout the book I discuss how the leader’s behaviors are the key to earning trust, building teams, and creating organizational excellence. Our behaviors create the team culture, and team culture dictates team performance. I devoted a chapter to discussing the importance of continuously learning the art of leadership because, by continuously reminding ourselves of the profound importance of our behaviors, we’ll more likely – and consistently – act in ways that earn trust. Likewise, we’ll more likely proactively find opportunities to capitalize on the hundreds of interactions we have with our employees each day. These are behaviors that need to be learned and refined. By continuously learning the art of leadership, we’ll more likely practice it in our day-to-day life.

In the beginning of my speaking career, I was asked a question that I struggled to answer. I was bothered by the answer I gave, which prompted me to research the topic of the query. The question was this: Why don’t more leaders practice these behaviors? What did I find? Many leaders don’t appreciate that all their behaviors on a week-by-week, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, and second-by-second basis either increase or decrease their employees’ confidence in their ability to lead. As leaders, our behaviors engender either more trust or, worse, fear, and team performance will either soar or suffer. Even for those leaders who do appreciate this strong correlation, disciplining our behaviors is challenging, and even more so when life gets stressful. It’s much easier to harness our behaviors when everything is going well and far harder when we hit a rough patch. How can we remind ourselves of this strong correlation between our behaviors, culture, and team performance? More importantly, how can we increase the likelihood of employing the behaviors discussed in this book? By continuously learning the art of leadership. That is why I added this short – but extremely important – chapter.

 

“Leading with pessimism demoralizes, demotivates, and undermines the effectiveness of the entire team.”-Mark Brouker

 

What is your view of the next generation of leaders?

I’m extremely excited for the next generation of leaders! I believe these new leaders are better equipped to lead because there is more information on the topic of leadership that is practical, applicable and proven to be effective – than ever before. Equally important, these new leaders are very hungry to learn. As a consequence, they have to understand that, at the end of the day, the only things leaders control 100 percent of the time are their behaviors. These new leaders have to understand the incredible influence that their behaviors have on team performance. They generally are more focused on what they’re doing instead of on what others are doing – these new leaders are generally more mindful of their vitally important role in achieving the result as opposed to spending time watching for the results.

Additionally, they need to appreciate that the key to unlocking the power of interactions is in managing their behavior during the interaction, as well as a keener understanding that employees emulate their behaviors, which creates a culture, a culture that determines team performance. The bottom line is these leaders must understand, respect, and fully embrace the staggering power of their behaviors.

 

Image Credit: Stiven Sanchez

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