Leadership Barometer 21 Build a Safe Environment

October 18, 2019

 Here is one of my favorite measures for the quality of a leader.

Build a SAFE Environment

In most organizations, there is a continual environment of fear. What we need to realize is that there are different kinds of fear. There is the fear due to market conditions or competition that may make a company go bankrupt.

We have learned over the past decade that just because a company is great now is no guarantee it will even exist in a year or two. There is really no such thing as lifelong job security anymore.

Longevity not guaranteed

As an example, look at Circuit City. In the early years of the 2000’s, it was on top of the heap, and even qualified as one of the “Great” companies in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. By 2008, the company was history.

So, it is not surprising that few people feel the kind of job security that most individuals felt in the 80’s and 90’s. It is just a fact of life, and that kind of fear needs to be used to create the impetus to do better on a daily basis.

More common fear

The more crippling kind of fear is a nagging feeling that if I tell the truth about something to my boss, I am going to suffer some kind of punishment. It may not be an immediate demotion or dismissal, but eventually I will be negatively impacted in ways I may not even recognize.

So, I clam up and do not share thoughts that could be helpful to my organization.

Create the right culture

Great leaders create an environment where this kind of fear is nearly nonexistent. My favorite quote about this, that I note on my corporate website, is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” In a culture where there is no fear, trust grows spontaneously, much like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case, the mold is a blessing.

Reinforce candor

So, what is the mechanism by which great leaders create this lack of fear? They do it by “reinforcing candor.” They let people know they will not be punished for speaking their truth.

Reward rather than punish

On the contrary, these leaders show by words and deeds that people who speak up are actually rewarded for sharing something scary or just not right. That safety gives these leaders the opportunity to correct small problems before they have huge negative consequences for the organization.

That is brilliant leadership!

If you are a leader, focus on one thing when someone tells you something you did not want to hear.  Focus your actions on making the person glad he or she brought it up. That behavior is the most constructive thing you can do to build a culture of trust within your organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Thanks and “Hats Off” to The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce

October 16, 2019

Over the past 20 years, my business has been helped constantly by the collective efforts of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

The entire staff of GRCC is highly professional and has an attitude that makes me feel a part of a winning team.  They have provided so many opportunities to enhance my business that it is hard do describe them succinctly.

The networking opportunities come by on a weekly basis through special events and the linking of people on the LinkedIn Group.  There have been many supportive comments to articles I post here on a regular basis.

The Chamber has supported a course that I have developed over the past couple decades entitled “Leadership for Managers.” That vehicle has reached close to 1000 leaders that work in our community and helped them create better cultures in their own environments. The Chamber helps me promote and conduct these courses three times every year.

The Chamber has afforded me the opportunity to speak in various forums connected with community activities and HR Groups. Those opportunities have led to many consulting activities with over 100 companies in our area.

I consider the family at GRCC as a part of how I connect with the rest of the business community here in Rochester, and my ability to provide some positive influence is greatly enhanced by my membership and participation in the activities of GRCC.

Thank you to Bob Duffy and the entire staff at the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce for being a vital partner and ally in my business pursuits.


Leadership Barometer 20 Lower Credibility Gap

October 16, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lowers Credibility Gap

In any organization there exist credibility gaps between layers. These gaps lower the trust within the organization and make good communication more difficult. Great leaders have a knack for lowering these gaps by filling in believable information in both directions: up and down.

When there is tension between one layer and another, great leaders work to find out the root cause of the disconnect.

It could be a nasty rumor, it could be based on a prior breach of trust, it might be an impending reorganization or merger, it could be due to an outside force like a new government restriction. Whatever the root cause will determine the key to elimination of the gap.

Use your nose

Excellent leaders have a nose for these problems and head them off while the gap is a small crack and before it becomes like the Grand Canyon. They help people breach the divide by getting the two levels to communicate and really negotiate a better position.

Weak leaders are more like victims who wait till the battle is raging and the chasm is too broad to cross without a major investment in a bridge.

Silo thinking vs. Team mates

The insight that usually helps is to remind the differing camps that they are really on the same team.  Silo thinking leads to animosity between groups.  Great leaders remind people that they share common goals at a higher level. There is no need for warfare.

A leader who has this skill is easy to spot because there are few paralyzing situations that have to be resolved. If you are one of those leaders, it will be evident. If you are not, it will also be evident. Seek to knit the organization together at every opportunity.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Body Language 49 Babies

October 12, 2019

In previous postings I have dealt with numerous aspects of adult body language, body language in children, and even the body language of animals. It is time to deal with the only remaining category of creatures: babies!

When we think of babies and their limited ability to move, ambulate, articulate, and communicate, it seems like there would be not much to report in terms of body language for babies. The exact opposite is true.

Babies have an amazing ability to let others know what is happening in their brain as well as all other parts of their bodies. This realization underscores that most of body language is instinctive, and we do it unconsciously.

For example, the baby in the above picture is curious about something. We can tell that by the shape of the mouth and the wide-eyed expression with the eyebrows held high.

The baby has no cognition of these signals, and is not doing them intentionally; they are just there.

Here is another typical baby expression that is pretty hard to misinterpret. The baby was not trained to make these expressions. The expressions in the two pictures are both unmistakable, and even though some things are the same, the messages we get are completely different.

Here is an interesting question to ponder. They say that a high percentage of body language is culturally specific. A person living in Eastern Europe will have different body language signals than a person from Canada. Do babies from different cultures have different body language patterns? If so, how did they come by these habits?

A more plausible explanation is that all humans are born with the same set of body language regardless of location and are conditioned as they grow to emulate the patterns of the specific culture in which they live.

The bond between a mother and the baby is particularly strong. The mother will know long before another person if the baby is hungry or wet. She will be able to interpret a runny nose far before things start to get messy. I suspect that the baby has a very good idea of the emotions of the mother without the ability to understand any words.

If the mother is sad or tired, the baby will know about that, at least to some extent.

I have no way to verify that and am reminded of the joke made by Steven Wright. He said that when he is with an infant, he writes down all the noises the baby makes so he can go back years later and ask the child what she meant.

Did you ever watch an infant communicating with a dog or cat? There is so much information being transmitted in both directions it is astounding. As adults, we have learned long ago to just absorb these signals and not think about them consciously. But the signals are still there throughout our lives, and we are constantly interpreting them in our subconscious.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.


Leadership Barometer 19 Generates Passion

October 8, 2019

A really good measure of the skill of leaders is how much passion they are able to generate in the organization.

Generates Passion

A hallmark of great leaders is that they are not only passionate people themselves, but they have an uncanny way of infusing the entire population with that passion.

That ability is a real gift. I believe most leadership skills can be learned, but the ability to spread one’s passion to others is usually an inherited trait.

If there is no seed, you cannot get it from reading textbooks or from going to courses. The good news is that most people do have the seed of potential in their DNA. They just need to hone the skill so it is optimized.

Get a great mentor

So, how does a leader develop this skill? One way is through a great mentor or a role model. If you do not have any charismatic leaders in your organization that can teach this skill, I recommend you go online and look up some of the great people from history or present who are particularly good at this skill.

I think of people like Zig Zigler, Earl Nightingale, Warren Bennis, Napoleon Hill, Lou Holtz, or Vince Lombardi.

There are literally hundreds of great role models, and they all have content on the WEB or in programs that can be purchased. A great source of inspirational tape programs on this topic is the Nightingale Conant Corporation.

You can find enough material to keep you learning about spreading passion for years. I know because I have invested in most of the tapes in their library and listen to them often. I have memorized the key points and seek to apply them whenever I can.

Passion is closely aligned with the sense of ownership. If you can get people to recognize the quality of their life is really more in their own hands than they realize, you are on the right track.

Teach people to reject being victims and to take control of their situation. Once that is accomplished, it is easy to generate passion because passion is all about an intense desire to achieve something because it will improve the quality of one’s life or help other people.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Body Language 48 Concentration

October 5, 2019

If you have ever watched a child at play with a complex set of toys or tasks, you will relate to this picture.

Here we see a young girl totally absorbed in the complexity of building a structure with Lego blocks. She is definitely not multitasking at the moment.

This ability is not universal, as there are some children with different abilities that may impact their ability to concentrate. For example, a child with ADHD might find it more difficult to focus for long periods of time.

As adults, we rarely show this level of intensity. That’s because we have other things that are allowed to distract our attention from the task at hand. If you would attempt to focus 100% of your attention on the task you are trying to perform the way a child does, you might just blow a fuse.

In his hilarious program “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage,” Mark Gungor cites some studies indicating that women are more adept at multi-tasking, while men are generally single tasking beings.

Mark did not share his source, and the research may be suspect due to changes in the technology people use to communicate. He is quick to point out that he speaks in stereotypical generalities and that not all men prefer single tasks and not all women are good at multitasking.

My own observations are that in some circumstances I do well with multitasking while most of the time I like to work on one thing at a time. It has to do with individual preferences and also the specific tasks involved.

For example, if I am working on projects where there is time required to let the paint dry on one area before proceeding, I like to have several projects going simultaneously, so I can keep busy in what would be the slack times.

Most of the time, like when writing or generating content, when I try to multi-task, I get confused and need to start all over, one thing at a time.

Does this make men better at concentrating than women? I think not. I think most women have the ability to handle different activities and concentrate on them all at once. Men may have the tendency to focus on one thing to the exclusion any distractions, but it is individual and situation specific.

What is it about kids that they have the ability to be so excited about creating something that they can shut out all forms of distraction? What is the process whereby that ability became diluted with the maturing process, and how can we resurrect it for brief periods of time the way a child does?

I believe the answer is in the child’s ability to imagine and be curious. The child sees the blocks (or crayons, or whatever the current vehicle is) as a form of reality in their minds. Certainly they are aware that the crayons are simply sticks of colored wax, but they take on the magic ability to actually create life in their hands.

Adults have a hard time forgetting that the creative tools are just surrogates for reality. Kids have no concept of what surrogates are.

There are some adults who can emulate the child-like concentration, at least for some periods of time. I am thinking of my now-deceased father (who died at 101), who loved to paint pictures for the last half of his life. He would paint mostly on location, all over the globe.

While he was actively creating the scene, he was almost oblivious to what was happening around him. A bull could sneak up from behind him, and he would not notice. If it started to rain, someone would have to drag him inside.

Over a period of 30 years, he painted roughly 2000 beautiful watercolor pictures that we are now blessed to enjoy and share with others.

I believe that many artists are so caught up in their creation that the scene becomes reality for them while doing the work. It is the same for programmers or writers who get caught up in the creative process.

So, my thesis is that highly creative people do have a greater ability to turn on and off their concentration and become more like children when they are doing what they love. Would you agree with this analysis?

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.


Leadership Barometer 18 Handling a Crisis

October 1, 2019

There are hundreds of ways to test the greatness of leaders.  Here is one of my favorite measures.

Handling a Crises

One easy way to measure the caliber of a leader is to observe him or her in a crisis. Great leaders take command, but do so in a special way that weaker leaders try unsuccessfully to emulate. In the first place, they have the ability to diffuse internal crises and avoiding a kind of mob scene where workers gang up on the leader.

The distinction begins even before the crisis is evident. It is a mindset. Average leaders take rest when things are going smoothly. They focus on the little fires and beat them down so they do not spread. Other than that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the mentality. We might as well enjoy the way things are going, since it is smooth sailing.

By contrast, the great leader sees the world as a series of calm times and storms, some of them hurricanes. The calm times are opportunities to sharpen our skills and reactions for the next storm. For sure, it will come, so we ought to be looking at our past successes or failures in prior storms to get ready for the next one.

In business, the character or timing of the next storm is far less predictable than in nature. For example, in late summer, we can expect several hurricanes to crop up in the Atlantic and work their way toward the mainland U.S.. Once they form, computer models can predict with various levels of accuracy if, when, and where the storm will come ashore.

Most crises in business are less predictable. Some trends can be tracked, but usually the big disruptive events are things that are impossible to forecast. For example, if we are manufacturing aircraft, we can plot the seasonality and long-term trends, attempting to anticipate peak loads. Then, a fire in the factory causes a crisis that is a total surprise. The impact of the crisis on our business dwarfs anything we had been planning based on market projections, yet we are forced to deal with it immediately.

Once the crisis hits, the average leader becomes unglued for a while. There are so many things to do at once, and triage in the business world is often a neglected skill, so the leader wonders whether to call a meeting or let the front line people work on the most urgent issues without interruption.

Communication channels have not been set up to handle the chaos, so instructions or intentions come through as garbled signals. Think of the first responders in the World Trade Center after the first tower fell. Instructions were not getting through to all responders, and many additional lives were lost because of it.

The average leader somehow manages to deploy an effort to fight the situation, but it is often meager compared to the proportion of the disaster. People wonder why there was not more specific leadership coming through when it was needed most. When a leader appears to be unprepared for the disaster, then there is a loss of trust.

By contrast, the great leader has refined the procedures for communication and action ahead of time. Even though the exact nature of the crisis is not known, the preparation phase is an ongoing high priority. There are often mock “fire drills” to practice damage control and hone communication procedures to be ready in case the real thing happens.

For example, a CEO might arrange to distribute a fake internal news release that the toy being sold by his chain was causing deaths in children. This would force people to react with everything from recalls, to insurance negotiations, to government briefings, to press statements, etc.

After practicing the mock disaster, they could hold a debrief meeting and might determine the internal communication between executives was practically nonexistent during the crisis. All of the managers were doing their best to keep a lid on the damage, but the total effort was not well coordinated. This debrief would allow the team to design an information dissemination process, so if a crisis ever surfaced, they would be in a far better position.

I know one college president who had to endure three different embarrassing public issues in just a few weeks time. None of the problems were caused by the president, and none of them could have been predicted, yet he had to deal with them in a way that upheld the values of the college and gave all stakeholders confidence that the institution was not out of control.

If you are the head of an organization, you need to be prepared for these kinds of disruptions. You know there is a comet or two heading your way, you just don’t know specifically what it will look like or when it will arrive. Warren Bennis, my favorite all time leadership author, put it this way:

Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, so problems make leaders.

The best leaders look at these kind of crisis situations as a way to test themselves and their teams.  The best advice is to keep practicing your response and communication methods. You cannot anticipate the nature of the comet that is heading your way, but you can prepare your team to deal with anything.