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Leading Change Through Faith, Hope and Tough Love: Part II

As we discovered in the first part of this two-part series (see, people are fallible, sometimes lessons aren’t learned, and improvements aren’t always made. This can leave leaders and team members feeling frustrated or apathetic because they don’t know how to right the ship. The simple truth is that your team should be able to succeed today and learn what they need to improve tomorrow. The simple solution is to speak from vision through faith and hope, and lead with tough love. However, simple rarely equals easy.

In the previous article, we discovered that if we have confident trust in our people, it leads to hope, which allows us to keep our current reality in proper perspective and stay future-focused – not yesterday-paralyzed. And with faith in our people solidified in our minds, we’re now free to focus on hope and tough love.

So, without further ado, let’s jump into the first part of the hope mindset.

Hope Mindset Part 1: Yesterday Matters
By reflecting on the past and applying lessons learned today, I see tomorrow through the lens of hope because I know that we’re on a path of continuous improvement.

How do we achieve a hopeful mindset?

Hope Action Item 1: Ask these four questions.
1. What’s good? It can be tempting to only focus on the negative, but our most significant gains and improvements often come from doing more of what’s already working well. Hope can be found by doubling down on that which has already created success. 

2. What’s missing? This may be a resource, procedure or some form of tool required to do the job right and go home unharmed today. Hope for a better tomorrow can be increased by providing what’s missing – the thing that’s preventing us from creating the success we seek today – making tomorrow a better day.

3. What’s confusing? One aspect of confusion is the result of expectations that are not clear, concise and/or relevant. Additionally, it could be that the clearly defined expectations don’t fit the situation or circumstances before me, and I’m confused about how to accomplish the mission. Hope is found in a clear message that aligns with the working reality and leads to continuous improvement tomorrow.

4. What’s broken? Broken things, whether equipment, materials or tools, can keep us from reaching our potential today. By taking the time to identify and fix that which isn’t operating as intended, we find hope in a tomorrow that will see greater efficiency and increased success.

As we ask, answer and address these four questions, please understand and respect one of the tenets of sustainable cultural change: meet your people where they are – not where you wish they were with the resources you wish they had – and don’t overwhelm them with change. Prioritize! One of the key reasons organizations fail in continuous improvement and cultural change efforts is that they short-circuit the system. I often think along the lines of a scale from one to 10. If the group I want to influence is a four on that scale, I might give them a glimpse of what nine looks like so they see where we’re heading, but we’re going to focus on creating a plan to become a five or a six – not a nine. Then when we get to six, we’ll see what we can do to move to seven, and so on. These incremental improvements create momentum instead of stress. They energize those you lead instead of burning them out.

Hope Mindset Part 2: Today Matters, So Act Like It

Hope Action Item 2: Remind your people that tomorrow’s success is written today but may not be realized for quite a while.
Tomorrow’s success is written today by taking what you can get, using what you have and executing like Tom Brady. Now, it doesn’t matter whether you like Tom Brady or even football in general – there’s a lesson to be learned. We often look at successful people, like Tom Brady, and just assume they’re not like us. “It was easy for them. They never faced any challenges like I do,” but Brady tells a story about his college days in his book “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.” To be brief, he was low on the depth chart when he joined the football team at the University of Michigan, and there were several others ahead of him on the bench, including the coach’s son. Brady was down in the mouth, complaining about his lack of opportunity to be recognized and move up. He thought he wasn’t getting a fair shot; he didn’t have the resources needed to create the desired success, so he was giving it a ho-hum effort every day because why even try? When did things turn around for him? Well, he complained to a psychologist about only getting three practice snaps per day, and the psychologist told him that he should take the available opportunities and make the best of them. Furthermore, if he didn’t make the most out of those three snaps, then shame on him for wasting what he had. That conversation changed everything. It was then that Brady realized if he wanted to be the starting quarterback, he’d have to start with those three snaps. So, he began treating each one like it was a crucial play in an actual game. The coaches noticed, and three snaps became six snaps – until Brady became the starter at Michigan and eventually transformed into the phenom we know today.

It’s critical to be focused on impact, not recognition. Too often, we stop treating today like it matters because we don’t see our labor’s fruit within the time frame that we set for ourselves. We stop planting, watering and fertilizing seeds because nothing seems to be sprouting. But consider the Chinese bamboo plant about which the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar told a story. For the first five years, the plant has to be tended with nothing to see in the form of results. Then, all of a sudden, it shoots up to 90 feet in six weeks. The question must be asked, did the plant really grow 90 feet in six weeks, or did it grow 90 feet in five years and six weeks? The point here is that you cannot and should not allow a lack of recognition – either externally or internally – to keep you and your team from making the most of today.

Hope Mindset Part 3: Tomorrow Matters, Too

Hope Action Item 3: Keep sight of your purpose.
Remember that people are counting on you to change their reality. They may not even know it. Those you lead and the industry you serve may not fully understand the vision for the future, but regardless of their level of recognition, that vision is the driving force for change leaders. Leadership expert Michael S. Hyatt reminds us that “You lose your way when you lose your why.” This dedication to staying the course on the path before you is an extension of being impact-focused. By keeping your team focused on the vision and realizing the benefits of the change, they will gain the strength to persevere.

Leading with Tough Love
When I say “tough love,” what likely comes to mind involves being brutally honest and maybe even harsh about the way you see someone else’s reality today. However, for us, tough love is about leaders doing things under stress that may go against their natural style, and it engages the team in positive conflict. Plainly stated, tough love creates transformation when we appreciate, encourage and empower our team, especially in difficult times, because that’s when they need our leadership the most.

Before we get too far into this section on tough love, there are two leadership action items that should be applied in the remaining mindsets:

  • Tough Love Action Item 1: See the best/don’t assume the worst. It’s funny how I judge myself by my intentions and others by their results. Tough-love leaders check the mirror before confronting their followers.
  • Tough Love Action Item 2: Have tough conversations/don’t shy away from conflict. This is crucial to continuous improvement and takes two forms: (1) providing clear direction and being open to questions and discussion, and (2) closing the performance gap between expected and actual performance.

Now, let’s move on to the first tough love mindset.

Tough Love Mindset Part 1: Respect
I will treat everyone with respect because I work with great people.”  

This is tough as a leader because when things go wrong, my natural inclination may be to become verbally and psychologically abusive and defensive toward those who caused the problems. However, I can overcome these tendencies by remembering that:

  • My people love, appreciate and are loyal to their families, co-workers and the company. They aren’t making mistakes on purpose.
  • My people perform demanding work in harsh environments, often with accelerated schedules and limited resources, which can lead to missed deadlines and increased stress and fatigue. The reality is that their failure and emotional instability may be due to the situations in which I put them.
  • My people do their best to understand the objectives I give them and accomplish the mission every day within our standards of values and principles. If they’re missing the mark, it may be because I gave them the wrong target and/or tools with which to accomplish the mission.

Tough Love Mindset Part 2: Patience and Kindness
“I will be patient and kind today, especially when mistakes are made, because I remember where I came from, and I believe that my people will make that same developmental journey if I persevere as a leader today.”

It’s tough as a leader to be patient and kind when my people make mistakes, but perseverance will help me maintain emotional control, which helps keep me in a respectful mindset. Here are some key items to remember when it comes to patience and kindness:

  • If my team failed, there’s a good chance that I have an issue in the mirror or a system fault that set them up for failure.
  • My people need to be met where they are, not where I think they should be, because only when I meet them where they are can I transform “I” and “them” into “we” and give my people a vision and a map that describe how to get from where we are to where we want to be.
  • My people are works in progress at different levels of development. Until I can match my leadership style and performance expectations to their level, we will never achieve our full potential.
  • My people are dedicated to continually improving themselves, the team and our company. If I provide the good seed, fertilizer, water and appropriate environment for growth, we will continually improve our working reality.
  • Some of my people could grow to be better, faster and smarter than I am right now because they are smarter and more dedicated than I was at their stage in the game. If I set them up for even greater success, we will all win as they rise to the top.

Tough Love Mindset Part 3: Focus on the Positive
“I will lead our continuous improvement process today, not by focusing on pulling weeds, but by watering and fertilizing the grass and allowing that good grass to spread and choke out any weeds that pop up.”

This is tough as a leader because my natural desire is to give my attention to problems – not double down on good practices and encourage team ownership of their problem areas. I overcome my natural tendencies here by realizing that my team owns their working environment, sets operational and social norms, and takes care of any deviations from the norm. I know I’ve achieved success here when my frontline leaders are willing to come to me and say, “Boss, I’m not saying you have to fire the new guy, but we’ve decided he’s not going to be able to work on our crew.”

Tough Love Mindset Part 4: Protectiveness
I will protect my people today – in real time as the need arises – by teaching, mentoring and coaching; assigning work to their capabilities; and interceding for them if things go wrong.”

This is tough because my natural tendency is to assume that my people know how to meet expectations and that they will improve on their own. When they make mistakes, I often want to blame them without first looking in the mirror to ask, “What’s my contribution to this?” I overcome this by remembering the following:

  • My people want to learn how to better accomplish the mission, and they look to me for guidance and resources.
  • My people deserve the time that I invest in them, and I will give them the time they need to succeed.
  • My people need me to assign them work that they’re capable of completing with success.
  • My people deserve and appreciate the difficult mentoring and coaching conversations I have with them to address performance expectation gaps, and they expect me to be honest.
  • When my people make mistakes, they expect me to intervene for them with management.

Tough Love Mindset Part 5: Serve as a Provider
“I will give my people the guidance, resources, encouragement and reassurance they need to succeed today.”

This is tough because I naturally want my people to do the work without requiring my time or resource coordination efforts. I can overcome this as a tough-love leader if I remember that:

  • My people will accomplish the mission today if I give them what they need.
  • The team wants my input about their reality, planning and execution. Although I tell myself that they know what they’re doing, and they would rather I just leave them alone, that usually is a belief that limits our success.
  • My people need and deserve regular encouragement and reassurance, especially when situations are difficult.

In closing, when it comes to leading change through faith, hope and tough love, these six key takeaways will lead to personal and organizational success:

  • Know your people. This aligns them with your vision and builds confidence that they’ll make decisions that move everyone in the right direction.
  • Speak from vision, not reality. This keeps you focused on where you want to go, not where you are.
  • Meet people where they are – not where you think they should be with the resources you wish they had. This keeps you from overloading your current operations and burning your people out.
  • Focus on impact, not recognition. This keeps you moving forward, even when you don’t yet see the fruits of your labors.
  • See the best instead of assuming the worst. This helps you focus on the good and not lose heart.
  • Have tough conversations. These conversations will help you define where you want to go and correct the course as you get lost along the way.

About the Author: Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP, is executive vice president of health, safety, environment and quality for Ferrovial Services (

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