How Your Comfort Zone May Be Hurting You

There is a story in the New Testament about one of Jesus’ disciples named Peter who walked on water. As the story goes, the disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee one night in high winds and rough waters. Jesus, who had stayed behind to dismiss a crowd and spend some time alone, came to them walking on the water. When they first saw him they were terrified, thinking it was a ghost. When Jesus reassured them he was not a ghost, and that it was he, Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” So, Peter climbed out of the boat and walked on the surface of the water for a bit. That’s what I call getting out of your comfort zone!

When Your Comfort Zone Helps You

I wonder what might have been going on in Peter’s head during that conversation. Everything in him would have been telling him to stay in the boat. Sure the boat was in high winds and rough waters, but inside the boat was the safest place to be. In that moment the boat was his comfort zone. He was a fisherman who spent most of his career in a boat. Rough waters and high winds were nothing new to him. “Stay in the boat!” is what I’m sure that voice inside his head was screaming.

A comfort zone is defined as “a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.” There is a part of us, sometimes called the “little voice inside our head,” that is very attuned to anything that threatens to disrupt our comfort zone. That’s what was screaming at Peter. When the things that threaten our comfort zone are dangerous, that little voice is very helpful. It keeps us from harm. Maybe you can remember a time, for example, when “something” told you not to do business with a certain person and you found out later they were a crook. Hooray little voice!

When Your Comfort Zone Hurts You

The problem with that little voice is that it’s programmed, not intelligent. By that I mean it reacts the same way to anything that might alter the status quo (comfort zone) whether the change would be good or bad. In the case of a challenge that might lead to great things, that little voice becomes an internal “saboteur,” that could destroy your future. It can’t tell the difference between good change and bad change.

Peter ignored his internal saboteur initially and got out of the boat. I say initially because the story continues. It goes on to say that when Peter saw what he was doing and then saw the waves, he began to sink and Jesus had to grab hold of him and pull him up to safety. We all know what happened. Peter was doing something extraordinary until he listened to his internal saboteur who said, “Look at the waves!” That’s when the extraordinary thing began to crumble.

The End of the Story

Now, let’s give credit where credit is due. Peter got out of the boat, which is more than many of us can say about the challenges or dreams we’re contemplating. What is your “little voice” saying to you about those challenges or dreams? “You’re not ready.” “You wouldn’t know what to do.” “You’ve got responsibilities.” “You can’t be serious.” Is your little voice helping or hurting? Only you can decide.

The twist to the Peter story is that the situation confronting Peter was, in fact, dangerous. In that case, his little voice was attempting to keep him from harm. Peter got out anyway. What he learned about himself and about his relationship with Jesus in those moments, could not have been learned any other way. What do we make of that?

Just after grabbing hold of him, the end of that story is Jesus saying to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When it comes to the challenges or dreams you’re contemplating now, what will be the end of your story?

What’s in the Box?

We have four people in our house who will order something on Amazon or through some other online source from time to time. So, you never know when a box or package may show up on the porch. When you see a box on the porch and you’re not the one who ordered something, the response is almost always, “Ooh, what’s in the box?” You get really curios really fast.

Curiosity is defined as “A strong desire to know or learn something.” It is the driving force behind innovation and creativity. Some of the smartest and most influential people have had these things to say about curiosity.

“I have no special talent, I’m only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein

“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” Albert Einstein

“Creativity is Intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein – Curiosity is the fuel of creativity

“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” Sir Ken Robinson

“The most important thing a teacher can do for students is to keep their curiosity alive,” Ken Robinson. [see his TED talk on the subject. It’s the most watched TED talk of all time]

“The future belongs to the curious, the ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it, and turn it inside out.” Unkown

If all this is true, I wonder why more of us aren’t more curious.

Semper Gumby

Several years ago I worked with a team that adopted the slogan “Semper Gumby.” Borrowing the Latin word “Semper” from the U.S. Marine’s motto meaning “Always,” we added “Gumby” to fill out the meaning “Always Flexible.” The idea first came up as a joke after a client had asked for yet another change in the program of services this team was offering. We later came to realize that the nimble flexibility the team provided this client was precisely why they did business with them. They saw flexibility as a differentiating strength.

Making it Personal

The first year we lived in China, one of the veterans of overseas living said to me, “to be successful living in Asia, you have to be willing to live with ambiguity.” He was right. I learned that the more of my western expectations I was able to let go, the more I enjoyed the experience of living there and the more I learned. Put another way, the more flexible I was, the more I was able to grow. We saw some people who came to live and serve who lacked flexibility. Their brittleness quickly became brokenness.

Ambiguity and Flexibility are similar in meaning. Ambiguity means, “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation, inexactness. Flexibility means, “capable of bending easily without breaking; ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.”

Microsoft developed a list of education competencies, one of them is “Dealing with Ambiguity.” They define that as: “Can effectively cope with change; can shift gears comfortably; can decide and act without having the total picture; can comfortably handle risk and uncertainty.”

If you’re familiar with the “True Colors” personality types, the above definition sounds like an Orange through and through. Our youngest son is an Orange. Ambiguity is his friend. He just returned from a three week trip to Europe with two of his high school buddies. They planned the trip almost as they went. He loved it.

Only 27% of the global population are Orange. Well over half of us have a personality type that prefers a more steady, measured approach to life. We don’t necessarily welcome change as a friend. On the other hand, most of us would acknowledge there are things we would like to get better at. We would like to grow. There is a well-known saying, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying” that has a lot of truth to it. Jack Welch put it this way, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

What Can We Do?

When you get up in the morning, or when you’re about to do something strenuous, what do you do? You stretch. Stretching loosens your muscles so you can use them without damaging them because they become more flexible.

The same thing is true with our minds. We can stretch them to become more flexible which will allow for growth. One simple stretch exercise I’ve done with people involves a mug. I pick up a white mug that has a logo on one side. I show it to the person or group across from me and ask them to describe it. From their point of view it’s a white mug with a handle on the left. When they’re done describing it, I disagree with them and describe the mug from my perspective. I describe the logo and the fact that the handle is on the right. You get the idea. We’re both right, it’s a matter of point of view. To expand on this idea, try using your imagination to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Imagine what it must be like to be (fill in the blank).

Stretching means getting out of our comfort zones. If you’re an analytical type, read some poetry. If you’re poetic, do some math!

In his book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John C. Maxwell writes about “The Law of the Rubber Band – Growth stops when you lose the tension between where you are and where you could be.”

Let’s stretch!

A Mile Wide

We used to live in the great state of Nebraska. It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people. We loved our years there. The Platte River runs through Nebraska. Altogether, including tributaries, the river runs over 1,000 miles. We had the chance to visit a riverside cabin with some friends on one occasion and we went “boating” on the river. I put quotes around the word boating because you can’t boat on the Platte in the conventional way. It’s too shallow. We skimmed the surface of the river on an air boat. It was so fun, fast with quick turns, a great time. The Platte river reminds me of the saying, “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

Although the Platte is beautiful and we had a great time, the saying “A mile wide and an inch deep” is derogatory when talking about people. It means the person may know a little about a lot of things but they don’t know much about any one thing. Or it means their knowledge or intelligence is superficial, shallow.

Another saying about water that’s used of people is “Still water runs deep.” That sounds like something you’d rather have someone say about you, until you look up what that saying originally meant. “Quiet enemies are more dangerous than shallower, more visibly turbulent enemies, so beware.” It’s come to mean something more positive like “a person who seems quiet or shy may surprise you by knowing a lot or having strong feelings.” This whole water/people saying thing has me thinking about the relationship between being still or quiet and being deep.

There is also the saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” So, quietness alone is not the indicator of depth.

Shallow or Deep

A deep person is someone respected as having profound insight, knowledge, and wisdom while someone with superficial understanding who is gullible is considered shallow. If Gallup conducted a poll, I wonder how many people would say they wanted to be known as shallow. Among leaders, especially, I’m sure they would prefer to be known as deep.

The question is, can someone become deeper? The answer is yes. No one is born deep. Anyone who is respected for their insight and knowledge was once a kid in elementary school learning to read and write just like the rest of us. They grew deep over time. How? Here are three things we can do to grow deeper.

Ask Good Questions

Sir Francis Bacon said, “A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.” Looking at it from another angle, Charles P. Steinmetz once wrote, “No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.” Good Questions are usually:

  • Purposeful – you ask based on what you want to learn about the person or the subject, not random or trivial
  • Open – they invite your conversation partner to talk rather that answer with a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • Focused – they ask only one thing at a time
  • Followed up – they begin in more general terms then become more specific to increase understanding

Here’s a post and a couple websites to explore good questions.


It doesn’t do any good to ask good questions if you don’t listen to the answers. Right? It is sometimes amazing how many people don’t get that.

It is said that LBJ had a plaque on his wall that read, “You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when you’re talkin'” Putting the point a little more eloquently, the Dali Lama said, “When you talk you’re only repeating what you already know. But, if you listen, you may learn something new.”

Knowledge, wisdom, and insight come from learning. Learning happens when you listen. Feel free to check out a few previous posts on listening. Scroll down on that page to the category “Listening.”


Asking good questions and listening are only two of the essential steps to growing deeper. We should take the time to reflect on what we’ve heard/learned. Earlier I mentioned the still water and wondered about a connection between quietness and depth. Here it is. We should take time to be quiet and let things marinate in our minds.

One of the greatest leaders of all time, Jesus, apparently made a habit of getting alone. In John’s gospel he writes, “Jesus, … withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” What would we do if we followed that example? I’m sure Jesus prayed. That might not be a bad idea. He probably also reflected on the interactions of the day. We could take time to think about what we’ve learned, perhaps connecting the dots to other knowledge.

An important element of reflection is quietness. Sometimes just listening to the quiet allows the “back burner” of your mind to make connections and suggest insights or understanding to your conscious mind. These flashes of insight, as they’re sometimes called, can be very exciting and are the stuff of being deep.

With water, the depth causes the quietness. With people it’s the other way around. Quietness contributes to depth. It’s difficult to be quiet and still in our culture with all the electronic devices and social media. But it’s worth it. Try to schedule some daily time to ask questions, listen, and reflect in quietness. You’ll feel yourself go deeper.

Are We There Yet?

I know you’ve either heard it or you’ve said it (or both!). You’re on a long road trip, driving for hours, and inevitably out pops the question, “Are we there yet?” You can hear the whiny voice, can’t you? When I used to fly a lot for work I had a love-hate relationship with that map. You know the one. It has your origin and your destination with a line connecting them and a little symbol of an airplane showing you how far you’ve come on the trip and how far you still have to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve checked that, especially on long flights, with the follow up question running through my mind, “How much longer?”

The obvious missing element in the above scenarios is patience. We get impatient with so many things,  traffic, in grocery store lines, in lines anywhere! But, we also get impatient with people, loved ones, co-workers, perfect strangers (and imperfect strangers!). Being impatient with situations is bad for us. It effects our blood pressure, heart rate, stomach, etc. Being impatient with people is also bad for us for the same reasons, but it’s bad for the other person as well. It can effect their body like effects ours. But it can also effect them mentally and emotionally to the point of inhibiting their growth.

Patience – Word Nerd Alert

So, what is patience? The English word comes from a Latin root that means “suffering.” One Greek word for “Patience” comes from two words, one meaning long and the other, temper, so it means taking a long time to get angry. Other words mean to bear a load for a long time or to endure hardship. One of my favorites is a Chinese expression. The characters for this “Patience” include one made up of the characters for “knife” and “heart” and one made up of characters for “and yet” and “small.” It seems to mean that patience is taking a knife to the heart and yet considering it a small thing. Wow!

Another, very simple definition of patience is “showing self control.” That seems appropriate when we consider some of phrases we use to express our impatience. “I lost my patience.” “I lost it.” “I went off.” Those expressions mean “I didn’t control myself.”

Patience is a Virtue

Whichever definition we choose, patience is good for everyone. That’s why the saying, “Patience is a virtue.” It keeps us calm which is healthier. But, and I would argue more important, it gives people room to grow. Patience allows people freedom to try things, experiment, make mistakes, fail, and ultimately succeed. Without it people become timid and fearful. With it they become creative and courageous.

Where does impatience come from? If you type that question into the Google search bar you’ll find some good articles on impatience from a psychological perspective. The depth of those articles is beyond my scope. I can say, though, that impatience comes largely from a belief that people and circumstances should align to my goals and timelines. When they don’t, I experience frustration which is akin to anger which is very similar to impatience.

How Do We Do It?

So, how do I become patient? It starts by remembering that the people around me are as interested in their goals and timelines as I am in mine. Are mine more important just because they’re mine? Hmmm, perhaps not. With that in mind, here are a couple things we can do to re-gain self control when we feel our patience running out:

  1. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
  2. Identify the source of your frustration, what goal is being threatened or what timeline might not be met?
  3. Think about the actual worst that could happen in this situation.
  4. If we can’t change the situation without showing impatience then find a way to make the best of it. We might check emails on your phone if you’re in a long line, for example. Be creative.

Showing patience makes for healthier, more productive relationships at home, at work, anywhere. Think about the last time you showed impatience. How did that go? What might you have done differently? Now, plan for the next time a situation like that may come up. How can you show patience?

Happy Anniversary!

It was one year ago today that I launched this blog. My first post went up on Sunday, April 15, 2018 and was titled “Star Performance.” Since then I have posted weekly, publishing every Monday. Although it’s been exactly one year, this is actually the 59th post because I published a few mid-week thoughts in addition to the weekly posts.

This blog has been primarily about elements of Employee Engagement. A few months ago I added a page to the website called “Posts by Category.” The categories listed are:

  1. Engager Dynamics
  2. Habit Formation
  3. Listening
  4. Words

That last one, “words,” may sound a bit strange, but I call myself a word nerd because I enjoy diving into the definitions of terms as a way of better understanding what I or someone else is talking or writing about. A few of the mid-week posts have been about words that have made a powerful impact on my thinking.

Engager Dynamics

These posts are specifically about those things “bosses” do that cause their people to give their discretionary talent and energy to the work. They are identified by a single verb, like “Expect,” then the post expands on what it means to set expectations. I’ve organized these “dynamics” into those that Challenge and those that Connect with people.

Habit Formation

So much of what we do is out of habit. That includes many of the ways we interact with each other. These posts revisit each of the Engager Dynamics from the perspective of how to make them your habit. The first in this series introduces habit formation under the title “How Does a Klutz Become a Dancer?


Arguably one of the most important and most underutilized skills in the human interaction skill set, listening is the focus of the next series of posts. I call it “The Super Power You Didn’t Know You Have.” Super Power listening allows you to see the world through other people’s eyes. That’s so cool, and cool things happen in relationships when you can do that.


I mentioned this series above but, to elaborate a bit, I posted a few “Word Nerd Alerts” by themselves. I’ve included in this category other posts that have word definitions as part of the content within that post. What can I say, I’m a nerd.

A Request

On the “Home” page of the blog website ( I wrote,

“Welcome to Engager! Thank you for visiting. We are having a conversation about what I call “Engager Dynamics. We are looking at Employee Engagement from a little different perspective.”

I would love for this to be a conversation, so I invite you to leave comments on any of the posts. Let me know if you agree, disagree, have additional thoughts, or suggestions on topics. I know we’re busy. If you don’t have time to leave a comment, would you let me know if you’ve read any of the other posts in a comment to this one? Thank you!

The Habits of Transformational Engagement Part 1

Several years ago I had the opportunity to step into an organization that had been under difficult leadership. All the people involved were good people but the employees felt disconnected from the leader. There was a lack of trust and all the corresponding baggage associated with that. The fact that this organization was overseas and that most of the employees were expats only exacerbated the situation. When the leader resigned I was asked to step in and try to “calm things down.” So . . . What now?

Employee Engagement

There is a lot of good discussion these days about it. Some are augmenting the idea by calling it “Transformational Engagement.” I’m part of this conversation and I love the concept of Transformational Engagement. Most of the dialog is about the benefits of Employee Engagement, what an Engaged Employee looks like, and/or the factors in an organization that contribute to or detract from Employee Engagement. This is very important to the conversation but it fails to zero in on the crucial factor . . . leaders. While some people naturally engage in their work because that’s the way they’re wired, in most cases the onus of engagement rests on the leaders. Leaders, managers, and supervisors need to be “Engagers,” people who engage others.


Studies have shown that as much as 45% of what we do each day is out of habit. So, I want to talk about the Habits of Transformational Engagement.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I like to say, “The beginning of Wisdom is the definition of terms.” So, before going any further, let’s define what we’re talking about. These definitions are taken from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Habit: An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
Transform: To change something completely and usually for the better
Engage: To induce to participate, to involve

My working definition of Transformational Engagement is: “Causing people to invest their best energy, creativity, and passion into improving the organization.”

When leaders engage people, transformation occurs at several levels. The leaders themselves are transformed, the people are transformed, the atmosphere of the organization is transformed, and the results are seen in the organization’s metrics. They improve, often dramatically.

The question is how do leaders engage people? What are the skills, I call them engager dynamics, required and can a leader learn them? There are several engager dynamics. Not only can leaders learn them, but they can become habits. In fact, they must become habits if the leader hopes to become an engager.


Back to the question raised at the end of the first paragraph, “What now?” In that situation I did a written survey of all the employees (at the time there were between 50 and 60). I compiled the data from the survey and then met one-on-one with each employee. In those one-on-one meetings I shared the results of the survey and then asked questions to get candid anecdotal feedback on their thoughts about the organization and its direction. From what we learned together through that process we implemented some changes:

  • Weekly open informational meetings to keep staff informed of milestones
  • Solicitation and implementation of quality and process improvement ideas from staff
  • Compensation validation for one of the departments
  • I kept my door open during the work day.

You read that last point correctly. No one had said anything about it specifically during the survey process, and I did it because it’s the way I’m wired, but I received more positive feedback on my door being open than almost anything else that was changed. People appreciated access to leadership and they appreciated being heard. It wasn’t long before the atmosphere changed. People began to have fun at work and our outcomes improved. Staff and customers alike often commented on the transformation.

[Note: this post and next week’s are re-published from a Linkedin article I wrote a couple years ago. I broke the article into two parts for readability]

How to Make a Habit of Love

There are three kinds of love. One is the “erotic” (from the Greek word Eros) or romantic love people often default to in their thinking when they hear the word. Another is “brotherly” love (the Greek word behind this is Phileo hence the city of brotherly love is Philadelphia). This is the kind of devotion you commonly see among close siblings and friends. Finally, there is the love that is a verb. It doesn’t depend on feelings. This love acts toward another person in their best interest regardless of emotional attachment.

In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Love I quoted from a book by James C. Hunter called The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. He describes the verb kind of love as having these components:

Patient – showing self control
Kind – giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement
Humble – being authentic, without pretense or arrogance
Respectful – treating others as important people
Selfless – meeting the needs of others
Forgiving – giving up resentment when wronged
Honest – being free from deception of all kinds
Committed – sticking to choices even with potential negative personal impact

Put the words “Love is …” in front of each of those character qualities and you’ll find it sounds pretty familiar. Hunter has paraphrased part of the Love chapter in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 13. You may have heard it read at weddings.

The interesting thing is that with most of the Engager Dynamics, what makes you a good boss also makes you a good human being. It makes sense, then, that we can look to places like the Bible to find clues on how to be a good boss.

Putting it to Work

“What does this have to do with work?” you may ask. I know of a company where the CEO signs off his emails not with “Respectfully Yours,” or “Sincerely,” but he says, “Love ya!” And the people in his organization believe it. What do you think the work atmosphere is like there? But it’s not just words. Look at the list above again. Every one of the descriptions begins with a verb, actions. Love is about how we behave.

Taking a cue from Stephen Covey where he suggested we begin with the end in mind, ask yourself, “is the above list of qualities how my team would describe me?” If so, that’s awesome! You probably have a great work environment where people feel loved and engaged. If the answer is no to one or all of them, that’s also great because you now have a road map to becoming a loving boss.

Love is the last of the Engager Dynamics because it is the foundation of them all. Love informs and infuses each of the others making them genuine and giving them their power to engage people and change the workplace. Love changes things. People often act certain ways because of how they feel. Interestingly, you can also begin to feel certain ways because of how you act. This is especially true of love. When you behave in a loving way, the brotherly affection begins to grow and that’s the best kind of working environment.

Making it a Habit

So, if your answer to the Stephen Covey question was, “No,” what do you do? Pick one quality from the list that you really want people to know you for and start there. Let’s use “Respectful” for example.

The Description of Respectful says “treating others as important people.” Who are the important people in your life and how do you treat them? Is it a spouse, child, parent. boss, official? What is it about the way you behave toward them that lets you know they’re important to you? Is it your words, your body language, your level of patience? What do you not want to communicate to them with any of those expressions?

Now think about each person on your team. What do they contribute to the team? More than that, to whom are they important in their lives? Do they have family and friends that care about them. Imagine them outside work with those people. How do you think they treat your team member? Imagine yourself as one of them.

These exercises help with the mindset that will enable you to show respectfulness. Now something practical; I love working around veterans and people who were raised in certain parts of the country. They consistently say, “Sir” and “Ma’am” when they address you. It may be too obviously awkward for you to start saying, “Sir” and “Ma’am” when speaking out loud to your team. Try saying it in your mind when you speak to your people. See what changes in your attitude.

One other way to show respectfulness is to stop interrupting people when they talk. Most of us do it. It is not very respectful. Focus on waiting until the other person is completely done with what they want to say before you speak. People will become more relaxed and open with you because they will feel more respected.

Love is the key that unlocks all the Engager Dynamics. Work your way through the list above, developing each of those qualities, and you will have created a loving environment. If you can do that, you will transform your workplace.

How to Make a Habit of Optimizing

I’m using the same picture for this post as I did for the Engager Dynamic called Optimize. I looked for a different one but this picture from the movie “Ben Hur” showing those beautiful horses aligned on a racing team according to their specific abilities tells the story of optimizing. Plus, I love the movie!

In my posts I’ve talked about Training and Evaluating among other things. These are one-on-one dynamics in many cases. In the analogy of coaching, these skills are about helping the individual player get better at their skills. Optimizing is more like what a coach does during a game. S/he works to find the best combination of skills for that situation against that opponent.

Putting it to Work

If your work is normally done in groups or teams this is easier. By team I mean the obvious group who work in close proximity to each other and focus on a task or set of tasks for which that team is responsible. There are other ways to think of teams as well. It could be a series of people each of whom hand off work to the next person in a system, adding their piece to it until the product or service is finished. These “teams” could even be across shifts where work is passed down from one to the next.

Look at your “teams” in whatever form they take. Evaluate the skills, talents, temperament, and pace of each team member and try different combinations like a basketball game coach looking for the right combination of ball handlers, defenders, height, shooters, etc.

If your work is not normally done in groups, that’s OK. Create a team. Find a work system that needs improvement. Put together a project team with the objective of studying the system to determine which component(s) and/or process(es) need(s) to be changed or removed to improve the system’s output. You could run several project teams at once or sequentially. If you run them one after the other, mix up the teams, game coach.

Making it a Habit

The definition of “Optimize” is “to make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).” In order to do that you need to clearly understand the work (situation, opportunity) and you need to clearly understand your people (resources). The team work mentioned above is designed to help you with both. The primary focus of this post, though, is to understand and engage your people.

In the movie, “Ben Hur” the main character puts his horse team together with the slower, steadier horse on the inside “to anchor the team in the turns” and the faster horse on the outside to bring the team around smoothly. That’s knowing your resources and deploying them to your advantage. Guess what. I don’t know about horses, but people are usually happier and more engaged when they are doing what they’re best at.

Think about your own work experience. When have you been most energized by your work and given extra effort and brought insight and creativity to it? Most likely it’s been when the work most closely aligned with what you are best at and therefore love doing most. Your people are no different.

The team suggestions above are intended to help you discover what each of your people is best at. Another way to do that is to ask them. I always have one-on-one conversations with my team early in the engagement. I ask several questions of each one and it’s always the same list. Here are a couple of the Optimization questions:

  1. What’s going well? – how people answer this will tell you something about how closely their job aligns with what they’re best at. The closer their answer touches the work they specifically are doing, the more aligned their job is with their talent.
  2. What are you best at? – there’s nothing like the direct approach. The quicker someone answers this the more likely their current work is what they do best. It comes to mind quickly because they’re doing it every day.
  3. What do you wish you could do? – If their answer is about another type of job, more than likely what they’re currently doing isn’t as close to what they’re best at as they would like. If their answer is “fly” or “be invisible” or “breathe under water” (actual answers I’ve received) or anything else non work related, they may be loving their work and not fantasizing about another job.

Develop the habit of knowing your people. When you can align their work with their best talents and skills, everybody wins!

How to Make Habit of Trust

Do you have a firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness, ability, and strength of your team members? Do they have a firm belief in your’s? That’s the definition of trust. If you answered, “Yes” to those questions read no further. If you have any question about it . . .

In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Trust, I wrote about the importance of trust in the workplace and about what the atmosphere is like without it. It might be worth a minute to follow the link and read that post.

When I talk about trust I don’t mean that we don’t “inspect what we expect” for example. Often trust is built by inspection. When you are the one who sets clear expectations, you are the one who can determine whether or not they’ve been met. You do that by inspecting the work. Inspection provides an opportunity for clarifying conversations that improve communication. It also provides a great opportunity to coach and recognize people for their work. These things build trust.

Putting it to Work

There are two fall-outs from lack of trust I want to highlight.

  1. Wasted Energy – When trust is low, time and energy are spent writing extra policies and work rules, and making sure they’re being followed by tracking discipline. People waste energy on CYA emails and conversations, and on trying to figure out what so-and-so is up to. All that time and energy slows down every process and raises cost.
  2. Misdirected Conversations – You might argue this is a subset of the first one but it merits its own space. If you get a lot of what I call “Tattletale” conversations, there is low trust on your team or in your organization. A tattletale conversation is when someone comes to you to let you know or to ask you about what someone else did or said. It may be cleverly disguised as an FYI or a CC or BCC on an email, but if it feels like you’re being asked to step in somehow, its a tattletale conversation.

Trust, by definition, is a belief . According to the book Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith, beliefs are derived from experiences. The people who waste energy and have misdirected conversations have learned from their experience that someone or some thing is not trustworthy. Find out about those experiences and you’ll be on your way to building trust. What caused them to lose trust?

Making it a Habit

It follows that once you’ve identified what experiences taught people not to trust, you need to change those experiences so they will begin to trust. Experiences come in the form of words spoken or actions observed. Here are three things you can do to make a habit of trust building:

  1. Use only constructive words – make sure that whatever you say is useful for building up the person who hears it. Words are rarely neutral. They either build up or tear down. Even corrective words can build up when they are about actions or behaviors and not about the person.
  2. Never speak behind someone’s back – it is unwise to talk negatively about someone who is not present. The person hearing it most likely can do nothing about what you’re saying and it leaves them wondering what you say about them when they’re not around.
  3. Guide directed conversation – turn tattletale conversations into constructive conversations by bringing together the parties and “refereeing” their discussion. The next time someone comes to you with a story about what someone else did or said, bring the other person into the room and facilitate their interaction. You might be surprised at how well things get resolved. This will signal people to stop talking behind other’s backs and teach them to directly interact with the person with whom they have an issue.

There is a principle called the “Law of Sowing and Reaping” which says, “You always reap what you sow. You always reap more than you sow. You always reap in a different season than you sow.” This wisdom applies to trust building. Though it may seem counter-intuitive if you’re a person not given to trusting people easily, how can you build trust if you don’t first learn to trust?

Start sharing knowledge you used to hold as power over people. Start giving out more responsibility. It may seem risky and people will let you down, but the crop you reap will be well worth the investment.