How Leaders Break the Trust Barrier for High Performance

4 Elements to Creating A High Performance Team

 

Trust. Find any high performance team with sustained success and you’ll find it. It’s the glue of relationships. It’s the desire to serve the team over self.

As important as it is, you’ll receive little training on it in an MBA program. You may have experienced it, but it seems elusive. Few can describe it; fewer can teach it, and finding a leader who can create it multiple times seems like a dream.

Enter Colonel JV Venable. He’s a graduate of the USAF’s Fighter Weapons School. He commanded and led the USAF Thunderbirds and 1100 American airmen.

 

“Commitment is the demonstrated will to deliver for the people around you.” -JV Venable

 

Teaching trust is crucial. Think about the trust needed to fly within inches of another yet at over 500 miles per hour. You just can’t imagine doing it without the highest degree of trust. JV’s new book, Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance, shares lessons from his experience as a Top Gun instructor with all of us. I recently asked him about creating this level of trust and how everyone can learn from his experience.

 

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” -Helen Keller

 

Harness the Power of the Thunderbirds

What drove you to write this book?

Book CoverAs you might imagine, the insights and sensations that came with flying on the point of the Thunderbirds were pretty special. More often than not I got the feeling my jet was being furthered by the five jets on my wing.  I was convinced it was an emotional surge until I felt the shift on a particularly smooth day, half way through my first year on the team. In the middle of the demonstration, an unexpected but very real surge of energy hit my jet and it began to turn the entire formation — like a giant hand lifting up my left wing.  During the debrief it became obvious the surge came from the rate of closure and end-game proximity of my left wingman.  He was so close that he caused that wing to become more efficient and produce more lift than the one on the right.  That was the moment I realized it wasn’t just a feeling I was being carried by the team around me; the surge was real.  Just like stock car racers on the track at Daytona, we were drafting. The more I thought about it, the more I could see drafting’s effects everywhere, and the thought would change the way I looked at the world around me.

I wrote Breaking the Trust Barrier: How Leaders Close the Gaps for High Performance out of the passion borne from the physical and emotional surge that began that day on the Thunderbirds.  My goal is to share that passion with people just like you.  We need to spread the leadership bug, and this concept of drafting will make you a carrier.

 

“No team can excel over the long haul without trust.” -JV Venable

 

Leaders and the Drafting Phenomenon

How can understanding the phenomenon of drafting help a leader?

In racing, the concept of drafting is based on a leader cutting a path through the air for those behind him, and a trailer being close enough to the leader’s bumper to shift the drag from the leader’s bumper to his own.  That same concept was alive on the Thunderbirds in the air — and on the ground.

Every unit within our organization was minimally manned, and each relied on the others to help execute its role. Our amazing people were lined up, bumper to bumper, taking the weight, the drag off the individuals and elements in front of them, while they plowed the path for those in trail.

Once you realize the impact closure can have on your team, you’ll see drafting everywhere you look.  Cyclists in the Tour de France, the V formations of migrating geese, even ducklings on a pond will make you realize how your actions can cause gaps to close or expand, and accelerate or slow your organization down.  That dwell time will give you an understanding of the positive impact, or the repercussions of your actions, before you put them in play.

Drafting makes leadership something you can see.

 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln

2000 Pilots

Rewrite Code to Create Trust

12 Traits That Inspire Deep Loyalty

Your Team Will Go Through Brick Walls

Have you ever had a leader that inspires deep loyalty in you?

It’s that rare individual who not only inspires, but has an unwavering belief in you.  You don’t want to let this person down.  You go the extra mile because you want to prove you can do it.

 

“A leader must inspire or his team will expire.” -Orrin Woodward

 

 

You have certainly experienced the opposite.  The person who wears the title of leader, but you are unwilling to do more than the minimum.

What is it about a leader that makes you want to go through brick walls?  What can you do to become that person and inspire your team?

A leader who inspires performance is one who:

1. Believes

A leader who believes in you fuels the success engine.  When you put your belief in someone, he will generally rise to the challenge. Your belief acts as an inoculation against doubt.

“A leader who believes in you fuels the success engine.” -Skip Prichard

 

2. Cheerleads

A leader who is an encouraging force inspires. Cheer someone along and that person will want to win.

Leadership Tip: Double your encouragement and it’s likely to still not be enough.

 

3. Praises

Publicly or privately, when you praise someone, watch what happens. I’m talking genuine praise at just the right level and delivered at just the right time. Too much and it loses its power, but it’s next to impossible to hit a “too much” level.

“A ruler should be slow to punish and swift to reward.” -Ovid

 

4. Communicates

When you practice open, honest and direct communication, you increase trust. A lack of communication is the cause of more problems in an organization than you can imagine.

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 

5. Teaches

When you teach concepts and share examples, it makes a difference in your organization and in your people. The best leaders are teachers. Not always obviously or in your face, but everyone is learning because the leader is teaching.

Leadership Tip: the best leaders are teachers.

 

6. Models

When you model the way, it inspires everyone around you. You simply cannot say one thing and do another. Do what you say you will do. Don’t ask your followers to do one thing while you are doing another.

“Consistently doing what you say you will do is the foundation of integrity.” -Skip Prichard

 

7. Promotes

When you promote and advocate on someone’s behalf, it creates loyalty. That person knows you have her back and that you are advocating on her behalf. Publicly sharing successes and attributing someone’s good work makes a difference.

Leadership Lessons From the Unusual Story of Market Basket

An Uplifting Corporate Story

We often read stories about corporate greed, about slimy executives, about profits at the expense of people. These stories grab headlines because they hit a nerve and fuel anger. I have never read a story quite like We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business where employees and customers joined together to demand the return of a fired CEO.

The story may be unique, but it offers powerful lessons and insight into the changing nature of how we view corporations and what we expect as employees.

I recently spoke with the authors, Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker, about this story.

 

Loyalty is Demonstrated Every Day

This story has so many powerful lessons. One of those is about loyalty. What does the We Are Market Basket teach us about loyalty?

Arthur T. and much of the senior management team have been extraordinarily successful at engendering loyalty. But loyalty at this company tends to be viewed as a two-way street. Employees – they call themselves associates – we speak with tell us that they feel loyal to the company and top management because they feel a loyalty to them from that top management. So what we see at Market Basket is people who are reaffirming their commitment to each other over time. The result is these very strong bonds we see. The lesson for managers is that you can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself. You’re not going to gain loyalty just by changing the pay or the job responsibilities; it’s something that has to be demonstrated every day.

 

“You can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself.”

 

A Respect for Others

Why did Arthur T. inspire such passion and loyalty?

Arthur T. is beloved as the CEO largely because he gives all associates, customers, and vendors respect. He says explicitly that no one person is special at the company, and from what we’ve seen he walks the walk.

But it’s also important to point out his place in the protest. Bringing back Arthur T. was the central demand of protesters, but in our view, they were fighting to save the company’s culture. Reinstating Arthur T. became the critical step in making sure that this New England institution continued to serve those who have known it for years, and sometimes for generations.

Market Basket 

A Lesson for Boards and Corporate Leaders

What does the Market Basket experience teach boards of directors?

Most business schools today teach that the fiduciary responsibility of directors is to look after the interests of shareholders. However, this idea is simply not supported by the corporate code in Massachusetts and many other states. The code states explicitly that the board is to be a steward of the corporation, which includes customers, employees, shareholders, and others. We need to hold our boards to this higher standard.

Leadership lesson: A corporation’s duties extend beyond shareholders to the broader community.

 

A Commitment to the Community

12 Rules for Managing Your Employees As Real People

 

Think your people are your greatest asset?

Do you survey your employees but ask the wrong questions?

Is corporate engagement one of your goals?

 

Widgets, FTE’s and Assets

What I think I love most about Rodd Wagner’s new book WIDGETS: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People is his clear, unambiguous writing that calls it like he sees it. He upends common practices and wisdom, throwing out what you know and replacing it with what just makes sense. Our conversation is likely to change your position on a few subjects and have you rethink your practices. It did for me.

Why did you call the book “Widgets”?

If you spend enough time at enough companies, the bad terms used to refer to people start to accumulate. “Human capital.” “Full-time equivalents” or “FTEs.” “Headcount.” “Aprons” at a home improvement store. “Blue shirts” at Best Buy. I could barely contain my shock when leaders for one temporary staffing firm referred to the people they place as “inventory.” And the department responsible for people? In most companies, it’s called “Human Resources.” At one company, a mass layoff is called a “resource action.”

These are euphemisms, and euphemisms are most dangerous when used to refer to people, because they make it easier to disregard that we are talking about someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, and they deserve the respect and dignity of being referred to as people. I used the title “Widgets” to take a hard whack at these bad habits and all the dehumanizing practices that flow from that perspective.

 

“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.” –Rodd Wagner

 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

What is wrong with many employee engagement efforts today?

Employee engagement is in a rut. It’s become hackneyed. It’s routinized.

Commission a survey. Beg people to participate. Get the results back. Distribute scorecards. Train some trainers; unleash them on the company. Cajole the CEO into using the word “engagement” in his next speech. Ask managers to do some team sessions, which maybe half will do before tucking the forms in a desk drawer. Leave the way managers are selected, coached, supported, and held accountable untouched. Let the executives feel good that they checked the employee engagement box. Go quiet for 9 or 10 months until it’s time to start the Sisyphean cycle all over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

JacketBut the most pernicious problem with engagement initiatives today is the way some consultancies and companies talk about the people who are neglected and, when the survey comes around, tell the truth. So-called “disengaged” employees are vilified, their motivations and character questioned. They’re said to be “more or less out to damage their company” or trying to undo what the more “engaged” accomplish. Our research contradicts these assertions that those who are most frustrated are some kind of “cancer” inside the organization.

Of course, recognizing that they will be suspect if they give low marks to their company, many employees have realized it’s career suicide to tell the truth. So they don’t. Who would under those circumstances? “Just mark five to survive,” one admin advised her colleagues. In many places, it’s now difficult if not impossible to even get a true measure of engagement. That’s the mark of a fundamentally flawed and broken system.

 

If an employee does not give high marks on a survey, look first at the manager, not the employee.

 

Inside the Head

Getting inside their heads is your first rule. It’s individual; it’s unique; it takes up significant time. And yet, it’s the most important of all. Would you share why this rule is the first?

I’ve been fielding and analyzing employee surveys and other data from more than a decade-and-a-half. Every time I plot the numbers on a new study, the first thing that strikes me is the massive range in individual responses. You simply cannot predict how a person will feel about his or her job based on generation, age, gender, race, tenure, industry, company, or any of the other group statistics that are used so often to stereotype employees.

Engagement is an individual phenomenon. Everything – how much money people want, what they consider a cool place to work, how they like to be recognized, what they envision for their future – is unique to that person. Therefore, applying all of the other New Rules depends on first understanding that one person and responding to his or her personality and ambitions. This is the reason that every good piece of research on employee engagement finds that a person’s direct supervisor is one of the key players. That manager is in a unique position to know the employee well and match him or her with the resources and opportunities inside the company.

 

“When recognition is common, employees develop resilience against adversity.” –Rodd Wagner

 

Best Friends at Work

Having a best friend at work appears in most surveys, and we repeatedly hear that it is critically important. You argue otherwise. Help us understand.

First, asking about friendships – particularly sticking your nose in an employee’s “best” friendships – is quite intrusive when the relationship between company and worker is increasingly transactional. One week you’re asking about their best friends, the next week you’re sending a few thousand of them home with severance packages. So if they either had best friends at work or were the best friends of someone still there, you’ve opened yourself to some well-founded criticism that you abused their trust.

More important, in the studies my teams and I have conducted, the “best friend” concept does not hold up well in driving results compared with more

business-related questions such as trust in leadership, perceived future of the company, and collaboration. Asking about those is your business and is better connected to your results than asking what The Washington Post once called a “high school” popularity question.

 

“Transparency tells people you trust them and you can be trusted.” –Rodd Wagner

 

What can a professor teaching more on the left side of the classroom teach us about motivating teams?

The Best Book Covers of 2014

I love books.  In fact, I think I must confess that I have abiliophobia, the fear of being without a book or at least something to read.

In recent years, my career has me surrounded with books whether in a library, a book warehouse, a bookstore or my home.  And what captures my attention? Book covers.

Book Covers Pull You In

Do you ever buy a book because you are attracted to its cover?  Book covers do that.  A well-designed book jacket stops you. Maybe makes you squint or smile or pause for a second. It calls you to pick up the book and look inside.

Each year, I make a list of the best book covers.  And, it’s not only fun, did you know that book covers also offer valuable leadership and goal setting lessons?  (Click here to read more.)

If you want to compare this year’s list with previous years:

2013 Best Book Covers

2012 Best Book Covers

2011 Best Book Covers

Drum roll, please.  Announcing the Best Book Covers of 2014.

 

2014 Book Cover List

 

Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

9780374534493

 

Bad Teeth by Dustin Long

9780544262003

 

The Fracking King by James Browning

9780544262997

 

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

9780062024350