How much leadership is right during Change?

November 28, 2012

This month I joined my colleague Meg Salter at a workshop on change management for HRPA members. Several of the attendees had questions about the role of their business leaders during change. Frankly, the challenge for HR professionals is often that leaders are too involved, or are not involved enough, in the change effort. So this month I’m talking about what research says about change leadership and I’ll share some ideas on how to find just the right balance.

Leadership, many would argue, is distinguished from management by its focus on initiating and implementing change. While researchers theoretically separate an emergent, organic approach and a planned approach to change, I’ve found that organizations benefit from a blended approach, taking into account the culture and readiness for the change. Your change interventions may be recommended by a project team (targeting processes) and your HR department (targeting people), but leading the change requires something special of you.

1. Decide early what won’t change. Sometimes in the excitement of a change, there is an urge to cut loose from everything that represents the status quo. While there is excitement and stimulation in breaking free, leaders need to discern what their organization is ready for. It’s true that change efforts find their beginning in creating tension and destabilization. But by anchoring the changes in something familiar, you make it psychologically safe to innovate and try something new. Many leaders take care to frame the changes in terms of how they support and align to long-held values. Talk about what is not being abandoned. If you are interested in supporting emergent changes, set the boundaries of the playing field to open up lots of possibilities for imaginative change. Your job here is to create the space from which the unpredictable can emerge.

2. Get in up to your elbows. All change requires actual intervention into the human dynamics of your organization, and at-arms-length, objective leadership will not work. Using working teams at the implementation level is quite common. If you’re a sponsor of the change, make time to attend working group meetings, and to have casual drop-in conversations with staff at all levels. Your organization is a complex and constantly adapting system, which doesn’t stand still during change planning and implementation. All leaders need to increase their networks and access to communication, or what shifts beneath you will go unnoticed before it’s too late.

3. Be positive about the unknown future. Once you have created a compelling reason for the change, be sure that others see your enthusiasm for the future. Sometimes you are able to describe a compelling vision, with concrete deliverables and milestones along the way. At other times, the future will be less clear. Focus then on higher-order core values, and a few simple rules that will guide behaviour and decisions when things get foggy. Whatever works best, your role is to encourage people that what they are losing today will be worth it tomorrow. Find the words that are an authentic expression of your hope.

4. Encourage participative processes. It’s easier to try new things and act differently when you’re not alone. Emphasize the interdependency of your work and increase opportunities to participate. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that “too many cooks ruin the soup”. Yes, you should clarify accountabilities for decisions, and once that is done ask the decision-makers to inform, consult and generally stay engaged in the system as they decide. Many changes have failed because the project team developed their solutions in isolation and then handed it over. You may think you are protecting people from the noise of the change, but you are actually robbing them of early engagement and increased ownership to its success.

5. Balance tension with support. Proponents of planned change say leaders should remove barriers so the change can march on. Emergent change advocates say that leaders should create more tension and escalate natural conflicts. I’d say do both. Learn to facilitate conversations that are tough and where dissension is predictable. Act as a “sense maker” when diversity threatens alignment, and ensure that no one is humiliated in the name of progress.

6. Ask for personal feedback. Research into decision-making has uncovered an array of biases that are almost impossible to avoid. These include inappropriate self-interest, relying on misleading experience and making judgments based on emotional tags. Leaders of change may think that times of uncertainty and crisis are when they need to stand strong and confident in their decisions. Find a trusted advisor that you can test your assumptions and perceptions with. HR partners are ideal coaches as they bring sensitivities to these areas.

Need help figuring out how you want to lead the change? Jill Malleck, Epiphany at Work and Meg Salter ( are experienced OD consultants and Integral Coaches™ ready to support you and your team to accelerate positive change. Send us a note.


Team Coaching a great alternative to teambuilding

November 7, 2012

Recently I presented a workshop at the Grand Valley HRPA’s biannual conference called “An Alternative to Teambuilding.” For those who couldn’t make it, I’m happy to share the highlights of my topic here.

Teams are important, and yet many of us dread working in a group. The typical responses to strengthening a team – improving communication and seeking role clarity – are a good solid start, yet they are often inadequate for dealing with the inevitable conflicts and cultural dysfunctions. Leaders often find that even well-designed teambuilding sessions are not enough to shift the habits and character of the team on-the-job.

At the same time, many leaders who engage in personal coaching are able to make significant changes in their working lives. Integral Coaching™, the method in which I am trained, uses human development theory and real-life practices that allow us to work at multiple levels: Growing Up – advancing and maturing the skills and abilities already in place, and Waking Up – become more aware of oneself and making conscious choices about behaviour. With Integral Coaching, leaders demonstrate sustainable change in behaviours and results.

Yet, we shouldn’t give up on our quest to develop stronger teams. They are the DNA of most organizations. Our ability to work well in groups is critical in the complexity of our world. As Katzenbach and Smith say in their book The Wisdom of Teams, “Teams naturally integrate performance and learning…learning not only occurs in teams, but endures.”

Could the principles of coaching be applied successfully to a team? Yes, they can. I have found that by integrating group development theories and group experience into a human development-centred approach, teams can have the same success as individuals when being coached. In the past year I have seen the real progress teams can make when they are coached together; when they share the experience of growing up and waking up.

Why does Team Coaching work so well?
• When work teams learn together, the changes they make are more culturally sustainable. The team that is coached together supports and challenges one other to try new behaviours in the “real world”, not just during an experiential activity at an offsite. Peers help sustain commitment to the goal and provide support, so one isn’t ostracized for new behaviours.
• Personal accountability is enhanced with group accountability. The coaching topic is created together and each person is singularly accountable reaching the developmental objectives. The coaching results then become a shared work-product, something which everyone commits to. This provides a platform for teambuilding without disturbing the valid and normal attention given to our functional and operational agendas.
• Team coaching sessions provide a vehicle for what Chris Argyris calls “double loop learning”, with their focus on new behaviours, real-time inquiry and transparency and feedback amongst the team. The process itself builds the team’s capacity to work together, as well as each person’s skill in collective interactions.
• Coaching over a number of months gives the group a change to clearly see the myriad of ways they work together. There is awareness that the current reality is a starting point, not a problem to be fixed. Together the group is energized to move forward to a future that includes, and transcends, what they have today.
• Team coaching distinguishes between the awareness of what to do (cognition) and our ability to actually do it (embodiment). Brilliant leaders understand concepts quickly, but don’t assume actions will shift too. With the help of a coach, the team learns to be patient about their awkward, early attempts to change. Embodiment comes only after much practice and reflection, provided in-between meetings by coaching homework.
• Team Coaching gives leaders a concrete way to personally identify with the transformation they wish for their organizations. During the coaching program they are able to develop shared and consistent management practices that, in the long term, will institutionalize the desired cultural change.
A 2008 study by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that 46% of respondents thought their leadership teams could use team coaching to enable culture change. The researchers concluded, “Closing the gap is important because teams whose members focus on providing each other timely feedback, learning together and building upon their interdependent strengths typically show greater capacity to achieve organizational improvement than teams who do not follow these practices.”
Team Coaching, which requires a commitment from the group, a skilled Coach who can build a learning program for the group, and facilitated healthy conversations is a valid and powerful alternative to teambuilding.
For more about Integral Coaching for teams or individuals email

Smart Managers Don’t Play Monkey in the Middle

September 24, 2012

Do you remember playing that kid’s game, Monkey in the Middle where you were caught between two people (in my case, taller, older, teasing siblings) trying to catch what was being tossed back and forth? It was frustrating and often futile. I was reminded of this game recently by a client’s situation. The middle manager I coached really did feel frustratingly stuck in the middle. On the one hand, she had a team of professionals who were fatigued, unmotivated and disempowered. On the other, was the boss who’d hired her to breathe new life into the team? Within a few weeks she knew what she had to grab hold of. The boss, a dedicated professional who’d climbed the ranks, was constantly meddling in her team’s work. And, in an industry run on tight deadlines, he was notorious for making last minute changes.

What to do? She wouldn’t risk telling the boss to butt out – it really was obvious his aim was to improve quality and inspire people with his changes. Still, her staff would stay inertly frozen until she got this under control. After all, they reasoned, why try harder if it’s all going to be changed after all?

Leaders might make the mistake of playing monkey in the middle. In this scenario, the key is to avoid becoming the third party in a drama triangle. Already people are feeling victimized and vilified. If you become the hero, the victim and the villain roles are how the others will excuse their dysfunction.

Your best move is to step away from choosing sides, and take time to make visible the complex realities of the workplace. Become a bridge across – instead of a monkey in the middle.

Talk with your team in a way that acknowledges their frustration with last-minute changes, and get familiar with the real impact on workload and personal balance. It may frustrate them that hierarchy trumps, but remind them of a time the boss’s changes were professionally astute. Tell them you will be working on their behalf to ensure fewer interruptions. Ask them to talk more about the creative and solid thinking that powers their work so that you can firmly advocate “no change” with senior leaders. At the same time, be clear that a job requirement is that they be flexible and responsive, whether the change comes from the boss or from an important customer. You will not be able to stop all emergent change, and they need to be prepared to deal with it.

When you talk with your senior leader, be sensitive to possible causes of his disruptive behaviour. It could be a habit, born of disorganization and distraction. Maybe he’s not taking time to look at your team’s work until the 11th hour. Your solution is to schedule more formal “check ins” earlier in the process. In your one-on-one meetings, explain that you are committed to good planning so as to keep unnecessary stress and overtime out of the system. Discuss a mutually acceptable cutoff period for input. Be sure to draw attention to all the ways your team members demonstrate flexibility and responsiveness.

It may be that this leader feels obliged to add value by critiquing work, or offers opinions to prove he deserves top spot. Are there other avenues to showcase his brilliance? Perhaps you can schedule mentoring meetings with your staff.

Finally, learn to negotiate. The next time a last-minute request comes, stand up (in private) to challenge the wisdom of the change. Talk specifically about the negative staff impact and the risk vs. the perceived value of the change. Ask if it’s worth it. Strongly advocate for your staff’s work to stay unchanged, as a way to empower, engage and energize the team.

Over time, you will see that being a bridge-leader, instead of the monkey in the middle, will positively influence the workplace dynamics and politics.

Inspired by Curiosity (and the teams at NASA)

August 14, 2012

The first week of August 2012 was inspiring in many ways. We’ve been watching Olympic athletes give it their all. Then, last night NASA’s space lab/rover Curiosity landed successfully on Mars and began to beam images to earth. This sounds easier than it was, as the scientists and engineers involved called the landing on the Red Planet “7 minutes of terror.”(To see why, watch NASA’s explanatory video on YouTube called “Challenges of Getting to Mars”.)  It’s great when we can look at what’s happening in the world and focus on being inspired instead of being disenchanted. As leaders, your role is to inspire the best performance and outcomes from your team.  Here’s how the landing of Curiosity provided me with leadership inspiration:

  1.  Make ‘em believe it’ll work.  Obviously, the group working on this project had to share a collective belief in what was possible. They were building something based on theoretical knowledge and laboratory testing. There was no room for doubt.  Until she actually landed, Curiosity represented a wonderful innovative idea – one that many people wanted to see work. Path-goal theory tells us that followers need leaders to instill confidence that they will meet their goals.  What is it that your team needs to believe in? Perhaps you need to conduct a few small experiments to help turn doubt into belief. When someone says “That won’t work” your job is to say, “I think it will work. Let’s just try.”
  2. Include many solutions. The combined solutions used to slow down Curiosity included a heat shield, a parachute, rockets, and a  tethered sky crane. The combination was new, and much of the technology was new too. Wouldn’t it have been fun to be part of the brainstorming session on this? It looks like the team had a inclusionary attitude – even the video included many diverse voices. Most complex problems today would benefit from a more collaborative approach. Try it in your group. Instead of sorting through a million bad ideas for the one or two good ones, try coming up with a few really good ideas and then say to each other, “How can we use them all?”  
  3. Wait patiently for results. Curiosity was in space for 9 months before it landed. That’s a long time to wait for results of your hard work. In our society, we are used to quick fixes and quick results. Imagine that your work is going to enter the marketplace and hurtle through a vast darkness full of dangerous barriers and roadblocks. Are you still willing to launch it? I noticed that the engineers called it “7 minutes of terror” and not 9 months of terror.  I’m sure they have been busily working on other things while Curiosity was in transit. They focussed on the most crucial aspect of the voyage, and left up to fate that which they couldn’t control. In business, many good ideas are abandoned while still in orbit and never given the chance to land safely. How long are you willing to wait for success? Ask your team what they need to leave alone for a while.
  4. Invite cheerleaders and advocates. There was positive momentum created by NASA, as more than 226,000 people around the world watched on-line to cheer Curiosity’s landing. Had it not landed, however, we would have mourned along with the team. Curiosity’s engineers shared their challenges and were vulnerable enough to admit it might fail. Instead of hiding behind their expertise (it IS rocket science!) they opened themselves up by talking to us in plain language. In business, some teams are afraid of looking like losers, and they talk exclusively about success. Whether an experiment works or not is only a small part of the equation. Future funding and resources come faster when others know that you are dead-serious about results (NASA called it zero margin of error) and that you’ve put all you have to the test.  Who in your organization do you need to better engage with? How can you help your team to communicate to others the ups and downs of their work? 
  5. Get inspired by others. The Olympics and NASA both have rich histories of success and failure and they provide inspiration year and year. In many businesses, there are long-term employees, founders and others whose stories can inspire the most disenfranchised team. There is much to be learned from viewing the past retrospectively. Is there a team that is involved in crucial work which you have felt was too technical to learn about? Leaders can invite others to speak about their projects at a team meeting, or arrange a tour of another facility. Look outside your industry for inspiration too. At your next team meeting, why not watch the NASA or Olympic videos together? Talk about how they inspire each of you and how the lessons you’ve learned can be put to good use.

End Drama Triangles at Work

July 17, 2012

It’s frustrating for leaders to find themselves in conversations that don’t seem to end. These circular encounters, whether with a direct report, a peer or a boss (even a customer) waste your time, and leave you feeling unproductive.  You know there is problem when you actively avoid people. Notice your sinking feeling of déjà vu when certain people show up in your office. “Here we go again, the same old story.”

When the storytelling is prevalent and familiar, you may be caught in what is commonly called a drama triangle. This way of interacting is so prevalent that when you learn about it you see it EVERYWHERE. In the drama triangle there are three people (positions):  victim, villain and hero. And what happens interpersonally is that as one person takes on a position, the people around them jump right into the open spots.  You fall for this when an employee comes to you complaining about the latest change order from the top (victim of corporate villainy) and you jump in to become the hero. Or when a peer asks the boss for resources that sit in your budget, and you become the victim to their villainy, then going to your peers looking for a hero.

What’s interesting is that we each like one particular role in the triangle; it just comes naturally to us. And, the stories that we begin to spin from that place get in the way of our ability to have healthy and productive conversations.

This month I’d like to share with you a few tools that can help extradite you from triangular, unhealthy dramas, and also actually stop the cycle in its tracks. I want to give credit for these new learnings of mine to the brilliant Julie Westeinde of Breakthrough Learning Associates in Ottawa, who taught me the concept of Healthy Conversations based on her work around non-violent communications.

  1. Advocate for personal accountability.  Many leaders wish those around them would take more accountability.  Our ability to do that is actually predicated on if our leaders and peers allow us the space to do that.  If you agree that we are all responsible for our own well-being, you need to be more aware of leaving the space for people to step up to that. There are times when it’s a gift to help someone else. Often, though, our helping is not as pure as all that. When we become the Helper, we can create a role called the Helpless in the other person ((another way to express Hero and Victim.) Help is helpful when it enables another person, and when the option to refuse the help is also explicit.  
  2. Make requests, not demands. Remember that we all have choice. This sounds so primary, and yet it is a fact that people routinely forget. Listen to how many times people at work say, “I have to” or “I should” throughout the day.  In North America, we rarely are without choices (although our options may be limited).  Given certain options, we may decide to take no action or make a sacrifice. These are choices too.  Everyone you are in contact with is making choices. Speak to others with this knowledge.  Make requests instead of demands.
  3. Step out of the triangle. When you hear language that sounds like part of a victim- villain-hero story, be careful not to fall into it. You can even say to others “I’m not going to be the (role) here.”  As a leader, you can coach staff to move out of the triangle and be sure not to collude with them. Ask questions such as, “What if you weren’t a victim in this scenario – what would you do differently?”  or “What if you didn’t need to be the hero – what would change?”  
  4. Use healthy communication. If we move out of the drama triangle, we need to replace our drama stories with something else.  The best alternative to storytelling is truth-telling. Crisp, clear communication, which is authentic and rooted in personal accountability, works well. This means saying what you are observing, what feelings are created from that observation, and what you need. Take ownership for what you need by using the words “I” and “me” and “my”.  If you have been academically educated, you may find your training has stripped all the first-person voice from your messages. Write and speak in the first person.  It reminds you of your choices, it sounds more authentic and powerful, and it helps others to see that it is okay to take personal accountability.
  5. Listen for authenticity in others. Communication skills are hard won, and many people struggle to articulate their innermost feelings and needs.  Leaders who listen deeply and without judgment make it safe for honest discourse.  First be a model of healthy communication. Then look and listen for clues that tell you something important is being unsaid. Ask questions about the unspoken feelings and guess at what the unmet need is. Express appreciation when others take a risk and share their feelings, needs and requests. When you decline a request, do it respectfully and being authentic about why you choose to do so.

For more on this topic, read Marshall B. Rosenberg’s work on Nonviolent Communication. Special thanks to Julie Westeinde, Breakthrough Learning Associates at

How to Hire for Cultural Fit

May 24, 2012

Occasionally, I’ve sat down with a talented professional who started a new job, at a new company, not too long ago. “How’s it going?” I ask. “Weeelll” they hesitate, eyes down. “I’m feeling discouraged.” “Is it the job? Because to be kind, you are on a learning curve and sometimes expectations to jump right in are a little unrealistic,” I offer. “No, it’s that I don’t think I fit in here.”

Ah, the “not fitting in” problem. Something that usually shows up in the first six months of a new job, and can encourage an otherwise talented employee to leave before they’ve even had a chance to make a difference. Bad staffing decisions are one of the most costly for any organization, and not just by concrete visible metrics like the cost of sourcing, selecting, hiring, on-boarding and training. Quick and unexpected loss of talented staff costs the organization in more subtle ways, such as impact on morale of the team being left and reputation of the firm with customers and potential vendors and employees.

Hiring for fit is not a new concept. Yet it still tends to be a theoretical one, as evidenced by the number of people who find themselves misfits inside organizations. The surprise is that often these people have gone through rigorous interviewing and testing protocols, which makes not fitting in a harder pill to swallow.

Here are some ideas, inspired by my friend and colleague, professional recruiter Janet Wendell, on ensuring good cultural fit for new hires:

1. Don’t glamorize the job or the position. Many managers, especially those desperate to fill a vacancy and get resources back into the team, will make the job sound more glamorous than it is. They will talk about the ability to influence senior management, the ability to grow and develop. Some will boldly make promises about career progression in just a short time. Of course you want the person to see all the benefits of working for your company and your team. It’s also important to have them understand the challenges and pain that comes along with the joy. If you can’t bring yourself to be brutally honest, come up with one or two challenges that your team faced in the last year and share those stories. You need to see how the recruit will survive these unpleasant times. Another good idea is to let your favourite candidates have an informal coffee chat with a few team members. Give them permission to tell it like it is, and then don’t attend the meeting. There may be something about your leadership that the new recruit needs a heads-up on.

2. Ask about the candidate’s current culture. How would they describe their current organization in terms of team norms, acceptable behaviour and how things get done? Try to get a sense of how comfortable the candidate felt in that culture. Were they able to adapt to the cultural norms and were they able to integrate into the team? Ask them to identify what aspects of their existing company they found frustrating or that they disagreed with, especially at first. Ask what they did to fit in. You may find that the candidate doesn’t want to bad-mouth their organization, even if they are leaving it behind. A second interview is often a better place to ask these questions, as the candidate will know they are part of a smaller pool and they may be more open with their technical competence off the table.

3. Use a diverse panel to conduct the final interview. We often think of using a panel interview as a way of getting a broader perspective on the client, and to ensure fairness when scoring candidates. When putting together the panel you may want to diversify in terms of the panelists’ experience of your organization. A long-term employee, a newer employee, and someone who works with your team but not inside the team, are all good additions. Ask them to share something they personally know about the culture of the organization. Tell them you want to make sure that the candidate can fit-in and be successful. They can be coached (by HR) to ask a behavioural-event type question that probes how the candidate would cope in the real-world of work: “Tell me about a time when you worked on something and, at the last minute before delivery, additional demands were made. What did you do in that case? How did you manage last-minute changes?”

4. Ask directly about fit. Almost so obvious it’s not worth mentioning, right? Don’t forget to ask the candidate how they have gone about trying to ensure that a prospective company is a good fit for them. Don’t be surprised if they have instead focused on the technical aspects of the job – most of us want to make sure we are competent in a job before we apply. You can ask them to describe what value this type of job/role brings to the organization in their opinion. Before a second interview, suggest that they read up on your organization and give them any additional materials that they might not find on-line (internal newsletter, annual report), business plan, if it will help them understand the culture and the industry.

5. Ask references. This is an area that is often overlooked. As part of the reference checking process, design several questions to probe about how effectively the candidate “fit” into their previous organizations. Listen to the referee’s voice, inflection, hesitation and careful wording. If a red flag is raised you have a chance to check in with your candidate. It could be that they were “over sold” on that job, and that the recruiting process was not geared for fit-checking at all!

6. Extend your on-boarding and orientation efforts. You likely have an Orientation program, although many HR people say they would like to improve what is currently being done. Getting someone assimilated to the organization includes more than a few hours of training and pointing them to the internal website. Think about setting up an official buddy-program, where someone on your team helps the new employee for about a month. If the hire is in management, get them an experienced mentor right away, or ensure your HR business partners have time to provide cultural support. As a team leader, vocalize your expectations to the existing team – both before the new hire arrives and afterward in their presence. Tell team members it’s their job to help this person fit-in. While you may see some team conflict, be careful not to take sides or become part of a dysfunctional drama-triangle. Instead, gently guide everyone forward on a foundation of common goals and common interests.

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Janet Wendell, Staffing Consultant.
Find her on Linked In.

Building Trust at Work – It’s not as easy as it looks.

May 3, 2012

by Jill Malleck

Lately I’ve been hearing about the significant role of trust in the workplace: People follow leaders that they trust. High-performing teams trust each other.  New-comers must quickly spot allies and enemies – so they know who to trust.

Trust is one of those slippery conceptual words that evokes all kinds of emotional reactions. I think that’s because so many people carry personal stories of work place pain and betrayal. What is more insulting than to say someone “can’t be trusted”?  If you are gossiping, there is no better way to imply they are very, very bad without having to specify exactly what has been done.  Trust is also an insidious word that can quickly cause work place anxiety because it is so poorly defined.  I have had many people tell me about a new leader:  “I intuitively knew, right from the start, that I couldn’t trust them.” Now isn’t that a hard thing to overcome?

Let’s see if I can make the concept a little more concrete, along with giving you some tips on how to increase the trust others feel toward you.

Trust is an outcome in a relationship where several behaviours, characteristics and attitudes are being assessed.  What’s slippery is that each person puts different weighting on what particular aspect means most to them. For some people its technical competency, for others experience. Still others only trust those people whose personal life they admire. You may inadvertently be creating distrust in someone because they only trust people who (fill in their version of what trustworthiness looks like) – and you don’t. Until you figure out what they need to see demonstrated, you’ll never make their trusted list. It’s okay to ask someone: “What can I do to help you trust my actions in this?”

Research shows that several key factors can increase trust in the workplace.  Usually, we trust others when we share a common goal or interest. If that isn’t the case, and we can’t create a common goal, then we look to see if the other person has a high regard for us.  In other words, I want to see that you care about what I care about. And if that’s not the reality, than I want to see that you care about me. Being more transparent, sharing more information and disclosing something personal can often uncover commonality.  However, if we differ, your ability to show respect for my viewpoint and dignity may make up the difference.  Wise leaders learn that gestures of respect must be applied equally, regardless of  the other person’s status, if they are to be trusted.

Whatever gestures you make, remember that trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.

It’s hard to earn because trust takes time to build. One of the ways in which our brains work is to store memories about the people we work with, and over time we begin to notice patterns. This leads us to make inferences about how a person will act in the future. Of course, this brilliant cognitive ability saves us the trouble of trying to figure every one out each new day of work (remember the hilarious movie “50 First Dates”!) But it also creates problems, especially for long-term employees in one company. Even when you develop a new skill and more effective, healthier ways of behaving people will remember the “old” you, and they will expect and trust that you will behave as you have before. Leading well is a skill that is learned the hard way. Many managers have suffered from one embarrassing blunder early in their career, only to realize it can take months or even years to recover the team’s trust. Best thing to do is to confess your mistake and show confidence in your current self.

Trust is easy to lose because our pattern-making also relies on seeing consistency. Many staff say they feel better with a leader who is reliably the same day to day. Predictability has become so important in many people’s minds that any deviation from previous behaviour is immediately suspected. Yet, the human condition is ripe for inconsistency. As we grow, develop and learn new skills we change. As our situations and experiences impact us, we change. As our hormones, emotions, physical states and moods impact us, we change. One would wish for freedom and unconditional support when making change. Many leaders who are in Coaching and intensely working on new competencies are discouraged by the lack-luster support of those around them. “I can’t trust what they’ll do tomorrow” a staff person might lament. Yet, often we are forced back into the discarded behaviours that others expect, in order that they can relax around us. Many dieters are pulled back to the buffet table by well-meaning friends! It takes a lot of courage to sustain a change that others don’t yet trust. Leaders who are able to verbally link what they do to what they believe, to a stable set of core values, have a better chance. In this way, new behaviours while strange and awkward, will not seem illogical or arbitrary to others.

Focus on reliability instead of consistency. Especially in chaotic times, reliability  goes a long way toward building trust. In organizations that move at break-neck speed, where leaders are called upon to respond urgently, there is the fear that what was said today is forgotten tomorrow. Followers want to know that you will stand by your word and keep your promises.  That means you need to be careful what you say in times of crisis – never placating or creating false hope with empty promises. It also means you need a decent method for organizing yourself. Lost emails, lost files, missed deadlines are all deadly sins in the arena of reliability. It may seem a petty concern to someone dealing with high-stakes decisions, but sloppiness in reliability can be misconstrued as disrespect for others and it’s an Achilles heel worth fixing. Forgetting or misplacing a promise is one thing, but retracting it in the face of adversity is another. A leader must demonstrate the courage to stand up for their decisions, not quickly withdrawing at the first sign of trouble.