It all starts with trusting yourself

trust 3

When I started out on this class project, I really wasn’t sure where I was going. Having worked in community management for over five years, I knew trust was a significant part of the equation for employee participation, but I didn’t really have much external reinforcement to back up the anecdotal evidence I was seeing. I was very curious to see what I’d find when I went looking. And thankfully I took my instructor’s excellent advice to heart. I didn’t necessarily rely on only scholarly texts, but took inspiration from many places. For this post, I’m pulling from many very disparate sources, and I think perhaps viewing them from different perspectives than the authors. As we’ve all heard repeated, you often see what you are looking for.

Oddly, the first time the idea of trusting yourself really struck home with me in the context of this blog post series was during a sermon at my church. It was about having the strength to face very difficult circumstances, and trusting that you won’t be given a task so difficult that you can’t overcome it. The latter bit is so very important – if you don’t believe in yourself, trust that you can do it, you are already defeated. That was where the pastor’s first story started – with a woman who was so overwhelmed that she no longer believed in herself, instead choosing to take her own life. The story ended at the cemetery, with a picture of her children looking skyward, afraid to face their future. If we go back to my original definition of trust as a lack of fear, what I see here is a struggle with trust in oneself. Those poor kids had seen that mom wasn’t up to the task, and this might logically make them lose faith in themselves – trust themselves a little less.

I had also reached out to John Stepper, who I knew was close to publishing his book on Working Out Loud. I had no idea if it contained anything about trust, and to be honest, when I talked to him he said he didn’t think he reference it directly. None the less, he was happy to give me a pre-release version if I thought it would help. I love John’s work, so I dug right in. And I was far from disappointed! He tells a story in Part 1 – For a Better Career and Life about a woman, Mara Tolja, who was in a job she hated. Seemingly by accident, she found something that spoke to her by using the her corporate collaboration system. By focusing on that, and working hard in to also help others in that arena, she ended up carving out a niche and creating a job for herself that she loved. Again, to me this spoke of trusting in herself. Mara didn’t walk away from the challenge when she felt inexpert. In her words,

“I didn’t feel like an expert. Who am I to speak to these people? But when I talked to
more people, I realized I knew more than I gave myself credit for.”

So she trusted in herself, speaking at major conferences all over the world, including some for her firm, and now has opened up a whole host of new opportunities that would otherwise have eluded her.

Beyond this specific example, the people who John has coached trusted in themselves enough to start his coaching program. In a similar way, entrepreneurs exhibit significant belief in themselves. Thinking about all of this, I then went looking for quotes on self trust, and so many great authors and thinkers have spoken eloquently on the topic. For example, Norman Vincent Peale says,

“What the mind can conceive and believe, and the heart desire, you can achieve.”

and Jane Austen,

“We all have a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

and Unarine Ramaru,

“If you seek happiness through someone else’s perspective, you might as well get comfortable with sorrow.”

Finally, in my program at Northwestern, Christina Pedulla’s graduate capstone (as referenced in the Jive Community), says:

“the most cited reason for sharing knowledge was to help others….”

While she states that personality traits don’t influence sharing behavior, this reasoning still presupposes that one trusts in ones own knowledge enough to feel sharing it would be helpful to others.

Unfortunately, I’m not really sure where all of this leaves me in terms of my originally stated goal of creating a roadmap to help people feel comfortable contributing to a corporate social network. It is helpful to understand that trust to participate begins with trusting oneself, but how do you go about helping others to develop trust in themselves? The only thing that comes to mind is to model it as best you can yourself, and to reinforce it when you see others exhibiting it; to appreciate the gift you’ve been given, both in the form of the knowledge as well as the act itself.

I guess as with so many things in life, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers. But I’ve uncovered some great wisdom in my pursuit, and hope that having shared that will help me trust myself a little more.

Weekends mean … Running!

017656fa799311a8ebef33ee672bfedf306ca2ba17

I don’t spend much time thinking about it, but I’d guess weekends have a different meaning for everyone. For me, it is about meeting up with my running friends and enjoying the wonderful outdoor sights we have here in northeast Ohio. All the photos (so far) that grace my blog page have been taken on local runs. And most of the pictures I take are, now that I stop to think about it.

Running gives me time alone, or with friends. It allows me to experience the changing seasons. I appreciate where I live much more because of it. I’ve made so many friends because of it. It keeps me fit, both mentally and physically. Well, sort of physically.  🙂  I’ve had lots of inspiration while running; great ideas suddenly occur because they’ve had time and space to gel.

So without more ado, I’m going to call it a day in terms of writing, and go wrap up my chores so I can have more time to run!

Why trust is so important in employee engagement

As I struggled with deciding what article to read, what book to focus on, or where to take my next post, Simon Sinek‘s most recent TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe, was posted in my company’s enterprise social network (ESN). And every bit of it speaks directly to my heart, to concepts I’ve struggled with long before I chose this topic to blog about for class. As he says,

“When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.”

He also gave a remarkable example of how this played out, in a real company. When Barry-Wehmiller was hit hard in the recession in 2008, instead of laying people off to make up the $10 million shortfall, the CEO decided on a novel approach:

Every employee, from secretary to CEO, was required to take four weeks of unpaid vacation. They could take it any time they wanted, and they did not have to take it consecutively. But it was how (the CEO) announced the program that mattered so much. He said, it’s better that we should all suffer a little than any of us should have to suffer a lot, and morale went up.

They saved twice what they needed to, in part because on their own, the employees voluntarily started trading time off. Workers who could more easily afford it would take more time off so that those who could afford it less could take less time off. As Sinek predicted, remarkable things happened.

And I wonder why we all don’t instinctively know this; or if we do, why we ignore it. It is the same for us at home, in our social circles, or wherever we go. If we don’t feel safe, we don’t give our best. We might do our duty, or do what we need to in order to look good or to save face. But when we truly believe that the people around us have our back, we give it our all.

I vividly remember a situation I found myself in where I was really scared to take action. I knew many of the consequences of acting weren’t desirable; the consequences of not acting, worse by most accounts. But the decision in the end was not about weighing the consequences. It came down to trust; to knowing that if the tables were turned, the other person would have done it for me. And that gave me the courage to push past my fear and act.

So great, I now not only feel this viscerally, but can also name it. Describe what trust means, and why it matters. And I can absolutely see how and why a lack of trust detracts from engagement in an ESN.

  • If you don’t trust that your contributions will be appreciated, why bother?
  • If you don’t trust that your leaders have your best interests in mind, why put yourself on the line?
  • If you don’t trust that your co-workers also have your back, why chance that they will use what you post for personal gain?

I also have a much better appreciation for why community management is more about culture than anything else, and often involves culture change. Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely have engagement in a culture that is not based on trust. Fear of consequences can and does motivate people to act. But the kind of engagement you’ll get in that kind of culture will be unlikely to bring about results that are better than they were before the ESN was implemented. And it surely isn’t going to increase overall employee engagement in the deeper sense.

Now that I’ve nailed that part of it, I’m off again to start digging into how to deal with the problem. What can be done to move away from fear and toward trust so that employees

will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that their leader’s vision comes to life….

Or in this case, to feel free to contribute and participate in their company’s ESN to further the goals of their company.

Thoughts on working out loud

Any of you who follow Jeff Merrell (or me, on Twitter) by now know that last week, I participated in a WOL week as part of a graduate class I’m taking at Northwestern University. It was an interesting study in the benefits of working out loud, as well as how different platforms can serve different purposes and effect where the discussion goes. I missed part of the memo, and also started before the rest of the people in the program. So instead of doing my WOL in the program community, I took mine to Twitter. And once our class was onsite, many more from the class joined in the Twitter conversation. Jeff was posting stats, and the competitiveness of people came into play. We were trying to have more connections between us and others, and make sure our names showed up large enough that people could see. It would have been great fodder for a behavioral study! Jeff also created a Storify from most of the Tweets from days 1-2. Kind of fun to look back and remember how things unfolded.

In terms of what I’ve learned by practicing WOL, even for a short time:

  • I absolutely got some new ideas or perspectives on what I was thinking about.
  • It was also a great way to keep track of what we were discussing so that I can look back now and remember – online note taking.
  • And while I understand there is at least one study showing that old-fashioned note-taking (on paper, with a pen or pencil) is better for retention, I think there is something to be said for any activity where you actively paraphrase what you are hearing or capture an idea that is sparked by the discussions going on in a classroom.

Another takeaway – my team at work are going to try combining written and video WOL in coming weeks to see what impact that has. I’m hoping it will spark some more fraternity, as well as help me (us?) be less self-conscious about video posts. Perhaps we’ll even develop a model that we can share for use within other work teams. I’d love to make video a bigger part of what we do internally as a company, especially since I suspect it would help with building trust to facilitate more and better global collaboration.

Who are the real experts?

I’ve read a lot of posts about imposter syndrome, and theories about why so many people feel like they aren’t experts. But something I don’t remember reading about is how ludicrous this is at a time when there are so many people spouting off about things they know little or nothing about. A great example of this is the recent measles outbreak, due in no small part to a celebrity who didn’t do a good job fact checking and convinced a whole lot of parents that vaccines were very unsafe. She has since retracted her statements, but that is akin to newspapers running corrections on p10, or someone being released from prison after being found innocent – the damage is already done, and most people will never notice.

So why is it that many of us are so reluctant to embrace their inner expert? Are we afraid? And if so, of what? Many people are found out to be wrong, and rarely are they ostracized for it. In most cases, it is understood that new evidence has been found that sheds a different light on the facts. So they change their story and go on. Or cling to what they believe, assuming the next study that comes along will vindicate them. And so I ask again, what are we afraid of?

There are many examples of politicians and others saying absolutely ludicrous things, with a majority of the world looking on in disbelief, and yet those same people go on to represent us and make a lot of money doing so. There are also staggering numbers of people who don’t believe in undeniable facts – things proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Given this, we can’t possibly be afraid we’ll lead people astray by acting as an expert. Can we?

Come on folks, we live in a world where there are people who think reality TV truly is reality. It’s time to own your expertise! Recognize that no one is perfect or has all the answers. We are all learning together, all the time, and we need your expertise as much as the next guy’s. Tell us what you are good at, and why, and how we can be, too! And we’ll believe it, especially if you do. Or we won’t. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter if we believe you. If you’ve given honestly of your experience, it will matter to you, and to the people for whom your special expertise is most important.

Who are the real experts? We all are. Find what you are expert in, and embrace it!