It may be counterintuitive, but according to Barry Kaplan and Jeff Manchester — who have decades of experience as entrepreneurs and advisers to hundreds of companies — the the best way to lead is to step back. The more that you as a leader open your heart, reveal your fears and show your authentic self, the deeper the connections among your team members will be, and the more the team will achieve.
We are taught and then hard-wired to believe that showing vulnerability is a weakness. The fear, of course, is that if we demonstrate vulnerability, others will be able to take advantage of us. This, however, is far from the truth. The reality is that, by sharing our vulnerability, we lay the groundwork for truly connecting with others – which is incredibly powerful. We need to relearn that vulnerability is gateway to authenticity, connection and ultimately power.
When is it wrong to be vulnerable and can you be too vulnerable?
Despite the power vulnerability can bring, if you’re not in a safe environment where you can leverage its power, exhibiting vulnerability may be a mistake. Safety is a necessary predicate to being able to open up, show up and co-create trust.
Leaders play a key role in creating this safe space, particularly by role modeling. As a leader, it is up to you to step in first. Show up with your real story that will disrupt the typical pattern of hiding behind the veil. By taking action, you are giving your team a real case-study of how — and more importantly, why — it works.
“The HEIGHT of a team’s performance compared to its potential is directly related to the DEPTH of connection among its members.”
Leadership is not a position. It’s not a title. It’s not a job. Leaders are people who make an impact, influencing others to action.
That’s why I was intrigued to read a new book by Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch, and Sean Lynch. Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success recognizes that leaders are found almost anywhere in the organization. I recently spoke to Sean about their new book. He is a senior consultant at Lead Star and specializes in designing and delivering leadership programming. He holds a BA from Yale University and served as a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force.
“A leader is someone who influences outcomes and inspires others.”
A Spark is someone who doesn’t just accept what is given to them. Sparks realize that they can do things differently to create the change they’d like to see. Sparks understand that they have both the ability to influence and inspire, and they look to influence and inspire those around them. Sparks create their own opportunities and are identified by their actions, commitment, and will, not by a job title. Sparks choose to lead.
“Credibility is the foundation of your leadership style.”
At times, we place leaders on a pedestal. We think they are larger than life or different from us. But leaders are people. We have relationships with people, and trust is a foundational component of all relationships.
We can all be better leaders in the various roles we fill. Leaders influence and inspire others to work together toward a common goal. In order to be influenced and inspired, we must trust the leader’s competency, character, and intentions.
“Leaders influence and inspire others to work together toward a common goal.” -Sean Lynch
Character and credibility are two keys to creating trust.
Character is important because, before we can lead others, we must lead ourselves. We must get in touch with our most deeply held values and intentionally act in accordance with those values. If we talk about work-life balance, and then regularly call co-workers after hours and email them on weekends, others will see that our actions are at odds with what we say we value. People will question who we are, how we might act in the future, or how we might act under pressure. They will lose trust in us.
Determine your most closely held values and what matters most. Honestly assess where you have compromised your values, and identify ways to lead more consistently with your values.
“Character and credibility are two keys to creating trust.” -Sean Lynch
You can’t force people to trust you. You have to earn trust in ways that are meaningful to others. Credible performance builds trust. Here are some examples.
Start by understanding and meeting the standards of others. We usually strive to meet standards that we think are important. Yet, every time we interact with others, we are being judged. And the standards others judge us against may be very different from our own standards. If timeliness is important in your organization and you are constantly late for meetings, you are not meeting the standards of others and demonstrating credible performance.
Maintain a narrow “Say-Do” gap. Keep the difference between what you say you’re going to do (or what you are supposed to do) and what you actually do as narrow as possible. Be consistent. When you promise the report by Thursday, do you follow through? Or do you let it slide and hope no one will notice?
Clearly communicate intent and expectations and ensure people understand. Often we assume that people know what they are supposed to do. Don’t assume. Communicate what to do along with expectations and intentions. Bring clarity and focus by constantly, continuously communicating expectations and intent. Ensure everyone is on the same page so that people can act in ways that are consistent with intent even when you’re not around.
Finally, hold people accountable to those clearly communicated and well understood standards, intent, and expectations. Holding others accountable isn’t personal. With clear, well-communicated standards, intent, and expectations, holding people accountable is merely comparing their performance to the standard, intent, or expectation.
My whole life I’ve been a student of success. Many people are surprised to learn that it’s not always technical expertise, extensive training, or even the highest I.Q. that creates sustainable success. There are a range of other skills that are critically important.
Author Judith Glaser is an expert in conversations. Her new book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results makes the latest research from neuroscience accessible and practical for all of us to apply immediately. Judith is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. whose clients range from American Express to IBM. She helps people boost Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ). I reached out to her to learn more about her work.
“Everything happens through conversations!” -Judith E. Glaser
Most of us think of conversations as casual, but you reveal that they are much more than what they appear. What has your research revealed about the power and importance of conversation?
Conversational Intelligence is the intelligence hardwired into every human being to enable us to navigate successfully with others. Through language and conversations, we learn to build trust, to bond, to grow to each other, and to create our societies. There is no more powerful skill hardwired into every human being than the wisdom of conversations.
Conversations are not just the words we use when engaging with others. Our 35 years of research shows that conversations are the golden thread that keeps human beings connected relationally, neuro-chemically, and energetically. Our brain has the ability to ‘signal’ us when the connection feels like ‘distrust’ or when we feel ‘trust.’
Conversations happen like this:
Our conversations take place against the backdrop of our brain chemistry. Our state of mind – and our level of trust and distrust – directly impacts what kinds of conversations we have and how we interpret them. Equally so, our conversations impact how much we trust someone, or don’t.
Brain chemistry is like a symphony, moving us to higher or lower levels of trust or distrust as we converse with others. The brain is where trust lives or dies, and if we are threatened during our conversations, we activate the distrust networks, and if we are feeling trust, we activate the trust networks. According to Angelika Dimoka, Temple University, Fox School of Business, distrust takes place in the lower brain (the amygdala and limbic areas) and trust takes place in the higher brain (the prefrontal cortex).
In other words, the distrust, or fear network, closes down most of our thinking brain, giving power to our emotional and action brain, while the trust network opens up access to our executive brain – the neo-cortex and prefrontal cortex.
“Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” -Carl Jung
All human beings, from the time they were born, can access 3 Levels of Conversation. We are hardwired for all 3.
Level I: Informational conversations are transactional – we are most interested in giving or receiving information. These conversations remain at Level I, and don’t activate fear networks, stimulate questions about the impact of the transaction, nor lead to deep exploration of consequences or building strategies and plans. This level is informational.
Level II: Positional conversations are designed to bring clarity, understanding and influence how the other person feels and thinks. We advocate our own opinions and inquire into others’ perspectives. If this inquiry is based on shared curiosity and respect, conversations will be healthy, and the networks of trust will be activated.
But if one or more participants are more focused on making a point or taking a stand, conversations turn to debate, signaling to our brain that we are dealing not with a ‘friend’ but a ‘foe.’ In response, the brain releases cortisol and closes down, or the amygdala becomes hijacked.
Copyright Judith Glaser. Used by permission.
Conversational Intelligence enables us to learn to control this release. Rather than jumping to conclusions, we can instead “wait and see” how the other person reacts. If the other person shows trust, fairness, or reciprocity, then we can sustain healthy brain chemistry and build trust, creating a culture where people are open to share, discover and co-create.
Level III: Relational Conversations build meaning and create connections, which release oxytocin, the bonding hormone. When we care about what others think and feel, our brain senses not only safety; the prefrontal cortex ‘reads’ oxytocin as a signal to trust and open up. As a result, our conversations become innovative, co-creational and energizing. These conversations are the most likely to result in higher levels of partnering, trust, and innovation.
“Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -J.F.K.
If you’re a leader, you know how important it is to create and maintain a culture of trust. But knowing it and doing it are different. How do leaders at all levels of an organization make this a reality?
“Trust is the operating system for a life well-lived.” –Joel Peterson
JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson’s career has provided him a window into the importance of trust. In addition to his role at JetBlue, Joel is a consulting professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and chairman of an investment firm. His new book,The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds that Make a Business Great, is an exceptionally great read.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Joel about all things “trust.”
“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” –George MacDonald
Empowering and turning over control to another person. It takes the same leap of faith as when we trust a pilot to fly a plane or a surgeon to operate on us. We give trust in increments, measure results, assess risks and grant more trust until we find we’ve extended our reach, expanded our horizons and found greater joy in our interactions with others.
“Accountability is the requisite companion to empowerment.” –Joel Peterson
You’ve seen the inside of many organizations and leadership teams from your vantage point as Chairman, as professor, as an investor, as a CFO, etc. When you first walk into an organization, what signs do you see that would lead you to say, “This is an organization with a high degree of trust?”
Surprisingly, high trust organizations are ones with conflict – with respectful disagreements that are ventilated, addressed and put to bed so they don’t fester underground. The best ideas win, not the most powerful or senior people. And they’re typically places where there’s humor, self-deprecation, stories, traditions and people who genuinely like each other.
“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be a man nobody trusts.” –Harold Macmillan
What’s a leader’s role in cultivating a culture of trust? How have you seen this go wrong?
The leader’s role is vital. An EVP at Cisco once told me that she found she couldn’t be happier than her unhappiest child. In like manner, an organization’s boundary of trust is set by its leader. It’ll never expand beyond the leader’s trustworthiness. If he or she has a big “say-do gap,” the contagion will spread. If leaders compartmentalize their lives and file violations of trust under the “private label,” they’ll be mistrusted. People are smart. They’ll figure it out, and it’s not long before their wariness infects everyone and everything. As fear takes over, people become less likely to innovate, to take risks, to trust. This can either explode in trust-destroying outcomes such as the recent VW scandal or end up in bureaucratic inaction, caution and failure to perform such as at the Veterans’ Administration.
“In difficult times, trust is a leader’s most potent currency.” –Joel Peterson
How is respect linked to trust? How do you show respect?
Respect is the medium of exchange between parties that are building trust. A failure to show respect is a trust show-stopper – even if you’re not the person who is being treated disrespectfully. This extends from teammates to suppliers to lenders to shareholders to customer. Nothing shows greater respect for another than listening to them. It’s at the heart of customer service and team-building. I think of it as listening without agenda, listening to understand, not to respond, to agree or disagree, not until there’s a break so I can respond.
“In a trust-driven culture, respect is prized at every level.” –Joel Peterson
Befriending our bodies is foundational to the practice of authenticity. I define authentic leadership as the fullest expression of “me” for the benefit of “we.” In order for us to fully express our true selves, we need to know who we are – to experience what brings us joy, when our fears hold us back from full self-expression, and know what triggers prevent us showing up in our authentic selves. The truth of all of these questions lies in our bodies. In my executive coaching work, I use Whole Body Leadership ™ to get us connected to our bodies to give us answers to these questions. Our bodies can be great enablers because they can help us move in a direction that we know is right by transcending our fears and discomfort through breath, posture, and movement.
“Authenticity creates trust in teams.” -Henna Inam
Staying curious is critical in a world that is rapidly changing. Our brain likes to operate on assumptions to make the decision-making process easier. We make assumptions about people in the form of quick judgments. We often only see what we believe. Staying curious is about constantly asking ourselves and others broad, open-ended questions such as, “What’s happening now?” or, “What do you see here?” or, “What’s new? What’s changed?” and being open to new learning.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu
Letting go is not always easy. What tips do you offer to let go of what is limiting us?
The first step to letting go of what limits us (often our inner saboteur thoughts and behaviors) is to practice staying curious about ourselves. Once we’ve identified a place we’re stuck, we can ask ourselves, “Who am I being here?” Often it is a certain perspective on a situation or an attitude we are holding that keeps us stuck. It’s often based on assumptions we weren’t even aware of. Once we’ve identified these, we can consciously choose a different perspective, assumptions, or way of being that will get us closer to our goals. Neuroscience shows us how our body can be used to help us change our minds, so moving our body can help us to let go.