Leadership Barometer 28 Lead Without Bullying

December 10, 2019

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some robins chase each other around the back yard. I started thinking of the various animal species and the fact that in every group of animals, a certain amount of bullying behavior goes on.

It is a “survival of the fittest” world in the animal kingdom. Maybe that is why we humans often exhibit some form of bullying behavior in order to get our way.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, from the boardroom to the barroom.

We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced unchallenged as adults.

We know the incredible destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, and we know it does not feel good.

We know it leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children, because they do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

It is also true that each one of us has been guilty of bullying another person at some point. If you wish to deny that, you need to think harder.

Some of us have played the role of the bully more than others. Some managers have it down to a fine art. Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying because it is a way to obtain compliance.

The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done.

Compliance leads to mediocrity rather than excellence.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers become so fixated on their own agenda that it renders them effectively deaf to the ideas or concerns of others.

They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think. In this area, there is a fine line between being a passionate, driving leader who really believes and advocates for the goal versus one who is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view.

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. If we use that power, we should realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

It may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

If you are an elk, you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking longer term about relationships and possible future alliances, nor do you care how your behaviors might inspire other elk to perform at their best.

The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.

Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple. Managers who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility.

While this behavior may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term. By taking a kinder approach, managers can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

Here are ten tips to reduce the tendency to bully other people:

1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way – Simply apply the Golden Rule.
2. Observe the reaction and body language in other people – If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.
3. Be sensitive to feedback – It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.
4. Speak more softly and slowly – Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice.
5. Ask for opinions often – Managers who seek knowledge as opposed to impressing their brilliance or agenda on others have less tendency to be bullies.
6. Think before speaking – Ask yourself if this is the way to gain real commitment or just temporary compliance. Is it good for the culture?
7. Reduce the number of absolutes you use – Saying “You never do anything right” cannot possibly be true. Soften absolutes to allow for some reason.
8. Listen more and talk less – When you are shouting at people you cannot possibly hear their rationale or their point of view. Hear people out; do not interrupt them.
9. Don’t attack or abuse the weak – Just because you know an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.
10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone?

My breakfast observation for today was that animals have a hard time following the Golden Rule, and there is a bully in every group.

We humans have the power to actually modify our behavior to think more strategically and do things that are not only right for now, but right for the long term. Caring for people creates a culture of trust that is sustainable.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Body Language 57 Time Out

December 6, 2019

The time out signal is a common hand gesture that is rarely misinterpreted, yet there are some subtle differences in meaning to discuss.

Let’s focus in on the different meanings first and then cover a highly useful application of the gesture in an organization setting.

Please stop talking

If another person is babbling on in a private setting or in a group meeting, you can signal it is time to stop talking and start listening by using the time out signal. This is a helpful use when you are having a hard time getting your points out.

The caveat here is that you would use the gesture sparingly. If you made the motion two or three times, it would most certainly annoy the person who is speaking. It would seem like you are cutting off the person.

Also, this use would be ill-advised if you used it to shut up a superior. If the boss wants to talk, it is usually a good idea to allow it.

I need time to think

When a lot of information is being shared in a steady stream, people sometimes need a break for their brains to catch up with the content. The time out gesture would let the presenter know it is time to at least slow down so all people can understand and absorb the content.

This topic is dangerous

You might warn a fellow worker that to pursue a certain line of reasoning is going to backfire. Rather than interrupt the person verbally, the time out signal will call the question and let the speaker know it would be wise to change the subject. You could accompany the hand signal with facial cues that indicate caution, just be sure to verify the right message was received and was not misinterpreted.

Time for a counterpoint

If one person is landing multiple points in support of a one-sided viewpoint and you want to allow some balance, the time out signal will provide that opportunity without saying any words.

Need a break

If, during a long presentation, you or others need to take a bio break, the time out signal can let the facilitator know it is time to take care of the bodily functions. Also, maybe the group just needs to stretch and take in some oxygen.

Call for a vote

If several arguments have been given on a hotly divided topic and you want to call for a vote, the time out signal can get that message out, even while the conversation is continuing.

Need to caucus

During negotiations, it is often necessary to separate teams to discuss strategy. The time out signal is useful for letting the parties know they need to separate for a while.

We are wasting time

Perhaps the most helpful use of the time out sign is in a meeting situation where one person in the room feels the group is spinning wheels going over the same content or dwelling on trivial content when there are more important things to discuss.

This technique is an excellent way to prevent wasting time, but everyone in the group needs to agree ahead of time that nobody will be punished for showing the time out sign. The idea is to establish a group norm that allows the signal to be given by any individual with no negative repercussions.

It is then up to the leader of the group to acknowledge that at least one person has an issue. The first order of business is to thank the individual for expressing a concern, and then find out what the specific concern is.

It may be that the individual wants the group to take a break, or maybe the person feels the current content is not proper or redundant. Get an accurate description of why the person gave the time out signal. This is done by asking open-ended questions.

The leader would then check if others have the same feeling, and if so, make the change. If the person giving the hand signal is the only person interested in changing direction, then he or she needs to be treated with respect for the input but recognize there are other opinions among the group members.

The time out hand signal is a wonderful tool if used correctly, as described above. If used with a heavy hand or followed by ridicule then significant damage to trust is being done. It is up to leaders to set the tone for the correct usage so the method will be a way to enhance trust and transparency over time.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 27 Be a Mentor

December 3, 2019

There are several ways to tell how great a leader is. One true measure is how dedicated that person is to mentoring other leaders.

A favorite quote on my website is “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.”

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That’s because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process.

The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities.

After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better, because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people.

It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach with forced meetings and burdensome paperwork.

The protégé benefits in a mentor relationship in numerous ways.

Here is a list of some advantages you get from having a mentor:

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster if you are new to the area.
2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.
3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles from yours.
4. A mentor cleans up after you when you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.
5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you to encourage further progress.
6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past, so you can avoid them.

I contend that in any good mentor relationship both the mentor and the protégé benefit from the relationship.

How does the mentor gain from it?

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.
2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.
3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.
4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.
5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.
6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.

A good mentoring effort improves trust in both directions.

I believe there is a shortage of excellent leaders, but I also believe with the proper mentoring and support, a majority of professional people have the innate capabilities to become good, if not great, leaders. So what is missing?

The real shortage is a lack of mentors for future leaders. Reason: most highly effective leaders are consumed with trying to optimize things in their current environment, and they neglect the activities that would develop other leaders.

If you are not happy with the number of excellent leaders in your organization, ask why there are not more leadership mentors.

Get some help to train all leaders not only to be better at their function, but to step up to the challenge of growing other leaders for the future.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Body Language 56 Thumbs Up

November 29, 2019

The thumbs up gesture is very common and generally has a positive meaning, at least in Western cultures. There are many different interpretations of a thumbs up, so you need to pay attention to the context around the gesture.

Here are some possible meanings of a thumbs up and some contrasts with a thumbs down posture.

Way to go

A thumbs up signals approval of something said or done by another person. It is an affirming gesture that does not require words. The gesture conveys pride in what the other person has done.

I agree

When someone wants to signal agreement, the thumbs up movement will convey that message clearly. Of course, the opposite is true when the thumb is pointing down.

This meaning was evident in the famous “thumbs down” nay vote by John McCain in the Senate in July 2017, when he cast the pivotal declining vote on the Repeal of Obamacare. He said no words while casting his vote, but his thumb did the talking for him. Mitch McConnell was wincing in the background.

Go get ‘em

The thumbs up gesture is a way of encouraging an athlete or any person who is going into competition. The connotation is “I’m rooting for you.”

I’ve got your back

The gesture is often used to signal support for another person who is feeling unsure about doing an upcoming task correctly. The meaning here is “don’t worry, you will do great.”

Gratitude

The thumbs up sign can mean “thank you” when someone has done something special. It can also be a way of acknowledging a thank you from another person. Here the meaning is “you’re welcome.”

Comfort

When a person is hurting or grieving, a thumbs up gesture might be used as a show of support and empathy for the person. Obviously you need to consider the personal preferences of the individual and your relationship with that person before using the gesture in this way.

Cultural differences

Like most body language, the thumbs up gesture is culturally specific, so do not use the gesture in Australia, Greece, Russia, or the Middle East, because it may be interpreted as “up yours.” This is particularly true if the thumb is jerked upward, as in a hitch-hiking motion.

Be alert when you see a thumbs up gesture that it may mean many different things depending on the situation involved or the culture in which it is used. The interpretation is also highly dependent on the relationship between the two people. Use the gesture when it will be helpful and well received.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 26 Create an Exciting Vision

November 26, 2019

Normally, organizational visions are created by leaders because they have the best perspective and organizational scope to imagine what the organization can become.

For sure, a key leadership function is creating a vision for the organization and communicating it at every possible opportunity.

The mistake many leaders make is not involving the individuals in the organization more when formulating a vision. This is often done for expediency.

Gaining the input of a wide constituency is tedious and time consuming work that seems unnecessary. I believe it is necessary if the vision is to have the ultimate power required to make it a reality.

Individuals who work on the shop floor may not have all the fancy degrees as the boss, and they certainly do not make as much money. But people in the trenches have a unique perspective that no CEO can have.

They understand how things really work. CEOs believe they know, but in reality, they are often clueless about how the organization actually functions at the lowest levels.

The knowledge of ordinary people on what is possible and what would be wise is invaluable information to include in the visioning process. To do without it is sub-optimal.

Many a flawed vision has been perpetrated by leaders who thought they knew what was going on when they really had only a partial view. Their information was eclipsed by layers of middle management who filter information and spoon feed top leaders information that has a heavy agenda attached.

In addition to information, the shop floor people are often the most creative people in an organization. This is because they are unfettered by bureaucratic clap-trap and can think about problems more objectively.

They have a simple approach that looks at a problem and figures out ingenious ways to deal with it.

Finally, including all levels in the generation of a vision improves the ability to pull it off because when people are part of a process, they become emotionally attached to its success. They have trust that the vision is the right path for the organization.

This is the concept that Joel Barker called “The Vision Community.” The people in the organization have as much power as the boss to achieve or torpedo a vision. When the Vision Community agrees to support a vision because they were part of its creation, there is a much more robust pathway toward success.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Body Language 55 Evasion

November 23, 2019

When we were kids, and our mother asked us if we ate the chocolate chips, we would squirm and look away.

Our mother would say, “Look at me when you answer.” Of course, Mother could tell by the chocolate stains all over our lips that we had done it. We did not want to “get in trouble,” so we tried to evade rather than answer the question with a bold face lie.

Let’s start the discussion with a realization that not all evasive actions are the result of something sinister going on. There are plenty of times when it is improper, illegal, or unkind to answer a question directly.

Being evasive is not always a bad thing. It is highly situational and also highly personal having to do with the trust level between individuals.

For example, the question may come up relative to a rumor of a personal nature that needs to be kept private. It might be the result of a leak about a merger, where a direct answer would result in possible incarceration.

The rest of this article deals with a situation where an individual tries to get out of a tight spot by avoiding a direct answer to a question. Usually this condition is easy to detect, if you know the gestures and are alert to them. We used these moves as children, but in reality, they are practiced all of our lives.

The adult version of evasion goes on daily in organizational life and in many situations regarding public officials. If they are asked a direct question that they do not want to answer, the evasion is completely obvious by looking at their shifty eyes.

A perfect example of this body language was recently provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was asked on September 22, 2019 on camera by Martha Raddatz about a July 25th phone call between President Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine.

Martha asked the Secretary of State, “What do you know about those conversations?” Pompeo evaded, while lowering his chin, looking down, and shifting his eyes from side to side, “So…you just gave me a report about an I.C., about a Whistle Blower complaint, none of which I have not seen.” He did not reveal during that interview that he was actually on the phone call. That fact came out a couple weeks later.

Secretary Pompeo undoubtedly had a reason for not sharing everything at that particular moment on national TV. The point is that his body language made it obvious to people watching that he was evading or holding back something.

You also can see the evasive look in the eyes of CEOs who do not want to answer an embarrassing complaint brought up by an employee in a Town Hall meeting. You can witness it when a school board president tries to duck a question about some reported missing funds.

It is really a common human reaction when we get caught with our hand in the cookie jar to attempt to deflect attention in the hope that we can avoid having to admit the awful truth. Yet, in being evasive, we clearly lower trust and make it more difficult for people to believe us when we do ‘fess up to something.

In fact, the evasive gesture is so common that many of us just let it slide by and do not recognize we are getting at best a partial truth. You need to be alert to catch it because it goes by so quickly.

Look for this gesture when an individual is asked a direct question and hesitates before answering it. Particularly, watch the eyes to see if they are shifting back and forth or looking sideways. Also, watch the chin to see if it is lowered slightly.

When you see these two gestures along with a long hesitation in answering a direct question, it is likely the person is being evasive. Once you suspect that, you can probe carefully to find out what the person is trying to cover up.

Rather than take an accusatory stance by saying something like, “Okay, what are you trying to hide here?” give the person some leeway, but try to share the rationale and make the probe a positive thing. For example, you might say, “It is vital that we know what was going on with Jake if we are to be successful at helping him, so I would appreciate you being candid about what happened.”

This is a time to use your Emotional Intelligence to manage the specific situation well to obtain a positive outcome. The objective should be to come away from the conversation with an enhanced level of trust between you and the other person.

The specific approach will vary widely based on numerous factors, such as the incoming level of trust between you and the other person, the reason for trying to evade, the number of other people involved and their relationships. It is not the intent of this article to cover every possible scenario and give advice. The idea is to recognize the body language associated with evasion and be alert for it.

If the person does open up with more information, you can then reinforce the behavior with some kind words like, “Thanks for leveling with me on this, Mike. I know it was not easy for you to do it.” If an assurance of confidentiality about this issue in the future is appropriate, then state that as well.

In many cases it is possible to transform an evasive action into a trust-building exchange if you handle it well, depending on the circumstances and the relationship between you and the other person.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 25 Drive Out Fear

November 18, 2019

Number eight of Deming’s Famous 14 Points was “Drive Out Fear.” In just three words, the long-deceased quality genius put his finger on the most important concept in building and maintaining trust.

I have a favorite quote that I use on my website: “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” It seems a little backward to describe the lack of something to be the cause of something else, but I really do believe that is the case. When there is low fear in a culture, trust will grow spontaneously, like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case the mold is good.

If we turn the logic around, there are a number of positive leader behaviors that do cause trust to grow.  If you think about it, these behaviors are easy to name.  Consider the following (incomplete) list:

  1. Do what you say (walk your talk)
  2. Act in a consistent manner
  3. Treat people with respect
  4. Honor your commitments
  5. Be honest
  6. Be transparent
  7. Admit mistakes

We know all these things, and we could list hundreds of behaviors that contribute to building trust on a daily basis. They all work, and yet the power of each one is significantly blunted if the general environment is one of fear.

If you are a leader, of course you need to model the seven behaviors above, along with the others I did not name, but doing that alone will not get you to the promised land.

You need to create a culture of low fear, and you will see the impact of the other behaviors is like they are all on steroids. So the question becomes, how does a leader create a culture of low fear?  The answer is simple, but most leaders have a difficult time doing it, which is the reason trust is so low in most organizations.

You lower fear when you make people glad when they bring up a contrary opinion to what you thought was right. Of course, people need to bring up the disconnect in a respectful manner as opposed to an obnoxious way.  When you make people glad they brought up their concern and reward them for doing that rather than punishing them, it lowers fear within your group.

You make it safe for people to tell you things that you perhaps did not want to hear. I call the behavior “reinforcing candor,” and I believe leaders who have the ability to exhibit this behavior consistently will build the highest trust organizations.

Since high trust is linked to outstanding performance, morale, and low turnover, the benefits of learning how to reinforce candor are immense. This set of behaviors become the super sauce of excellent leadership.  Learn how to reinforce candor; for sure you will become an elite leader.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.