Leadership Barometer 122 Losing Control

December 1, 2021

Supervisors may have the feeling that they are losing control as more people are partially working from home. In reality, a more flexible work pattern offers a chance at high engagement without the constant need to try to enforce rules.

In earlier times, supervisors and managers had a fighting chance of enforcing the local rules.  Things like quitting time, length of breaks, and other mechanical rules were a little easier to enforce because you could see most people on most days.

Even then, people would test the supervisor by stretching the rules to see what the real limits were.  Those days are history, at least for many employees in the short term.  With people working hybrid schedules, it is difficult and intrusive to check up on workers. 

Supervisors should rely on different means to engage people rather than try to control them. Let’s start by examining the meaning of control to look for clues on how to accomplish it in today’s environment.

Webster defines “control” as a means of restraint. The implication here is that if there were no control then workers would goof off and not give their fair share of effort while still expecting full pay. I think the notion of control is antiquated.

If the supervisors and managers have set up the right kind of culture, then they should not need to play policemen in order to maintain productivity.  If people are treated like adults and are trusted to do the right thing, most of them will give not only the minimum effort required, but many of them will go beyond what is expected.

Workers may not adhere to a rigid schedule of start and stop because they have other constraints based on their current situation. The vast majority will give at least the minimum effort required, although the exact timing may be broken up by family needs.

The notion of holding people in control by checking up on them is now yielding to having people police themselves and their peers out of a sense of rightness and respect for their employer.  It is a very different dynamic. 

Leaders who try to check up on hybrid employees end up on the losing end because they send a signal of low trust, which usually begets bad behavior in return. In most cases attempts to maintain conventional control lead to lower rather than higher productivity.

The notion of control needs to shift the onus onto workers and their sense of rightness. Many remote workers indicate they are more productive because there are fewer interruptions or distractions, although family distractions can be formidable in certain situations.

Several other mechanisms allow for maximum productivity in a hybrid world.  The concepts of trust, innovation, inspiration, teamwork, engagement, and empowerment are more powerful ways to obtain maximum performance.

The whole notion of control needs to be recast in today’s environment.  It is time to focus on culture and trust to be the main control mechanism rather than a supervisor looking at his watch. 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 121 Follow Up on Commitments

November 24, 2021

In today’s environment, most leaders are over-committed, which can lead to mistakes and omissions. Following up on commitments is essential, but sometimes neglected by busy leaders.  It is so easy to say to someone, “I’ll get back to you on this,” and then forget it in the crunch of critical work or other distractions.

You may rationalize and say, “Well, it wasn’t really a promise and they know how busy I am. This is only a minor issue anyway.” That kind of thinking will harpoon your trust-building efforts. If building trust is all about consistency, nothing is more basic than doing what you say.

Whenever you make a commitment, no matter how small, make sure you do it. 

Tips on following up effectively:

When you promise something, put a time frame on it. Rather than “I’ll get back to you,” say “I’ll get back to you on this by the end of tomorrow. If I get derailed and you don’t hear from me by then, please give me a call.” The person knows you really do intend to answer their question.

Keep an action item list. Whatever form, whether a 3″x5″ card in your pocket or a text message to yourself, get the item written down along with a time frame to answer.

It helps to write it in front of the person with the concern. You can say, “Just a second – let me jot that down so I don’t forget to get back to you.” The person feels honored that you are considering the issue strongly enough to document it and will tell others about the exchange during the next break.

It is dangerous to have someone else follow up for you, but it can be done if you are careful. If you delegate the issue to another person for follow-up, make sure they preface their response with, “Bob asked me to get back to you on this question.”

Also, make sure your agent confirms with you when it is done. Cross it off your list when your agent tells you it is closed, not when you delegate it to him.

In some cases, you should circle back to the person with a note or call saying, “I asked Mike to get back to you on your concern about the slippery floors. Did you hear from him, and was his response satisfactory?” Doing that gives you the opportunity to jack up any agents that shirk their duty. 

In a staff meeting, you can say something like, “I have been following up when I ask some of you to get back to employees on their concerns. Some of them have complained that their concern is downplayed. When I ask you to act as my agent, I expect you will keep working on it until the situation is resolved satisfactorily to the employee. If you can’t resolve their concern, get back to me. Do not let it drop.”

Use handwritten notes to people.  A brief note, along with a “thank you for bringing this up,” will be prized by the individual and shared with others.

Be careful to use a tangible note only when the response is positive and difficult to misinterpret. Otherwise, you may find your note tacked to the break room bulletin board next to a Dilbert cartoon. For difficult issues, it is always better to deal face-to-face.

Closure on action items is not confined to personal discussions. The same logic holds when you promise something to a group. If you say, “I will make a decision on overtime by noon,” make sure they hear from you on that schedule. It is important to state a deadline or things tend to stretch out.

If, for any reason, you will be late with a promised action, make sure you get back to the person and explain the delay. You may think a week to unveil a new organization is reasonable, but for some people, it feels like, “he promised to do something about that but never got back to us.”

The best approach is to set a personal expectation that you will always be prompt and helpful with getting back to people. Think of it as a personal trademark that will set you apart from most other leaders.

This is not to say that you need to resolve every issue in the originally expected time frame. That would be impossible. Just do not leave people hanging wondering why you are not addressing their concern. It is a common courtesy that many leaders neglect.

 

 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 120 Blind CEOs

November 16, 2021

This article shines a light on the problem of top leaders being blind to their personal contribution to a toxic environment.  I will offer some ideas on the cause and several antidotes that can be tried to achieve a more balanced, and hence more effective approach to reducing organizational problems.

In my consulting work, I am often called in by senior executives (CEO, COO, or VPHR) to help them improve trust within the organization. The conversation usually starts out with some form of description of a dysfunctional organization at the shop floor level.

Often the lower-level managers and supervisors are singled out as the culprits, and the top officers are asking me to come in and “fix them.”  Sometimes it is that the different silos are not getting along at all.

This is a dilemma for me because if I say something like “have you considered what your contribution is to the problem,” I find myself out in the street on my butt. If I do take the challenge to go in and work to improve the lower ranks, it is inevitable that these lower managers will tell me that the main source of the problem is the senior level. 

The CEO is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in an organization, but there is often great frustration because, while the CEO has set out a vision and tries to communicate it often, the rank and file keep accusing him of not communicating well. Note: I will use the male pronoun here for simplicity, but the problem is gender-neutral.

Several studies have revealed that employees most often state “lack of communication” as either the number one or number two reason for employee dissatisfaction. This is extremely frustrating to many CEOs because they are sincerely working hard to communicate every day.

Given a choice between their own defective “mouth,” and the employees’ defective “ears,” most CEOs would rather focus blame on the employees. In many cases, the root cause of the frustration is neither defective outgoing communication nor listening prowess. It is a lack of trust.

There is a cultural schism between organizational levels that is based more on fear than on lack of communication. Workers do not often verbalize the fear because, well, they are afraid. The issues get reported as communication problems.

CEOs are blind because they understand their own objectives clearly and are fully justified internally for every action they take. Reason: it is next to impossible for a sane person to take an action different from what he believes is the best one at the moment. If there was a better choice, that would be the one selected.

The CEO is doing the “right” thing in nearly all cases in his own opinion. If workers interpret the CEOs’ actions as inconsistent with the values, then they must be wrong.

Another cause of CEO blindness is lack of Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman described a phenomenon where individuals with low EI struggle because they have a blind spot and cannot see themselves as others do. One way to begin to see is to get some formal training in Emotional Intelligence.

What are some of the other ways a CEO, or other top officer, can begin to see his contribution to organizational problems more clearly?

Double Communication with People Working Remotely 

In a hybrid situation, it is important to increase the flow of information in order to avoid isolation. Leaders need to take more time and intentionally ramp up communications in a hybrid or remote situation.

Become a Level Five Leader

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins described what he called a Level Five Leader. Get some coaching on humility and try to begin using the “window/mirror” analogy.  This is where a leader looks out the window at others in the organization when things are going well, but looks in the mirror at himself when there are problems. 

Become a Mentor

Seek out several informal leaders in the organization and begin to mentor them. The process of building trust with strong underlings will allow more flow of critical information about when the leader is sending mixed or incorrect signals.

It is important to listen to these individuals when they give input. When the person giving input is candid, it is important that he is made to feel glad he brought up the issue. Many leaders punish people who bring up inconsistencies, which becomes a huge trust buster. 

Do more “Management by Walking Around”

This may seem awkward at first because the CEO may prefer the security and isolation of the ivory tower. That is one hallmark of the problem. Too many meetings and too much time spent in the office give rise to insulation that renders the top executive insensitive to organizational heat. 

Conduct a 360 Degree Leadership Evaluation

A periodic measure of key leadership skills is one way to prevent a top leader from kidding himself.  There are numerous instruments to accomplish this. Personally, I found the surveys to be similar and missed some of the more important aspects of true leadership. In frustration, I wrote my own assessment for top leaders. It is available at www.leadergrow.com.

Doing an assessment is important, but taking the data seriously and creating a plan from the information is crucial. 

Get a Good Coach

Every leader needs a coach to help prevent myopic thinking. Seek out a trusted advisor for a long-term relationship that is candid and challenging. Coaching sessions can be efficient by doing them after hours on the phone, or by using remote technology. 

Develop a Leadership Study Group

A leader can grow personally in parallel with underlings by investing some time studying the inspirational writings and video work of top leadership authors or benchmarking leaders from other organizations.  There are literally thousands of resources already available that can both inspire and challenge any group.

These investments are very low cost, and all that is required is to read the books and carve out some discussion time with direct reports in a group setting. Many leaders prefer the “lunch and learn” sessions.

Some leaders work with a skilled facilitator to keep things on track; other leaders prefer to proceed on their own without outside assistance. If face time is impractical due to travel, that does not prevent a virtual online discussion on leadership concepts from literature.

Subscribe to Some Leadership LinkedIn Groups

There are dozens of excellent leadership groups on LinkedIn. These groups can have thousands or tens of thousands of leaders who can benchmark each other and help resolve typical problems.

There are also numerous local and national organizations on leadership development that can provide provocative ideas for growth. For example, the Association for Talent Development or the National Human Resources Association have many programs on leadership development.

These are just a few ideas that can broaden the view of a top executive. Becoming less blind has the wonderful effect of helping a leader become more effective over time. I believe it is incumbent on all leaders to have a personal development plan and to give it a high priority in terms of effort and budget.  Seeking to constantly grow as a leader is truly important, and growing other leaders should be the highest calling for any leader. 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 119 Get Out of Your Box

November 10, 2021

If I hear the phrase “think outside the box” one more time, I’m going to scream.  That old saw has been around for decades and is so hoary the cardboard has all rotted away.

For purposes of trying to make a point, I am going to use the analogy one more time as it applies to people rather than ideas, then try to forget the phrase ever existed.

The concept I wanted to share is the question, “How can you know when you are operating in a box, and what steps can you take to get out of it?”  Perhaps a corollary question might be, “Why would you want to get outside your box?” 

These questions sound innocent and easy enough to address, but the more you think about them, the more intriguing they become.  To begin with, let’s define what being “in a box” means, in the context of this article. 

You are in a box when you are imposing some kind of walls or barriers that contain you and prevent the freedom to do things that would enrich your life in some way. With that broad definition, I doubt there is a person alive who is not in some kind of a box every day of his or her life. 

Here are some tips for recognizing the boxes you are creating for yourself and getting out of them.

 Take Personal Responsibility

It is easy to blame circumstance, luck, situations, other people, low IQ, lack of money, and a host of other external factors for a feeling of helplessness. Blaming external factors is really taking the easy way out. 

The cold reality is that you almost always have the ability to at least influence external factors, and you always have the opportunity to choose your reaction to them. If you step up to the personal power that is built into every human being, you can find creative ways to eventually burrow through the sides of the boxes that constrain you. 

Learn to Recognize Your Boxes

If you have a blind spot about the box that contains you, it is impossible to feel the anticipation of what it might be like to get rid of it. My grandfather made a plaque when he was a boy that now hangs in my shop. It reads, “Success comes in cans…failures in can’ts.”  

Whenever we think we cannot do something, that is a signal that we are in some kind of box. That may be a good or bad thing, but at least we need to be conscious of it. 

Look For Creative Solutions

Looking for alternative solutions to the blockages that hold us back can be a kind of game that really pays off.  The logical approach to take maybe only one of the numerous ways to break out of your box. 

Let me try an example. Suppose I wanted to know what it is like to be a ballet dancer. If you could look at me, you would immediately giggle, because my build is the opposite of what is required. Besides, I have a fused ankle that does not allow me to point my foot at all.

The straightforward approach would be to buy some of those tie-on slippers and sign up for ballet lessons.  Just the thought of me trying to do a pirouette in tights causes me to hide under the bed. 

Am I blocked from experiencing that aspect of life?  Not at all! There are dozens of ways I can become more aware of what it is like to be a ballet dancer.  Reading, watching documentaries, corresponding with dancers, going to the ballet, etc., are all alternative ways to have that life experience. 

Listen To Your Inner Voice

If you have an inkling that you would like to try painting, why not give it a shot?  My father was a businessman for his career. He was always on the road trying to make a living selling wire forms. 

It never occurred to him that he might like to paint. In his mid-50s he decided to give it a try and found that he loved to paint.  When he retired at 70, he had many years of joy as a professional artist and painted over 2000 excellent watercolor paintings that kept him active and enjoying life until he lost his sight at 95. 

The day before he died at nearly 102, he told me that he was going to paint me some pictures from heaven. Every time I see a beautiful sunset, I am convinced that he is hard at work.

Document Your Goals 

If you have not documented what you would like to do, how can you tell what other boxes you might like to sit in for a while? 

The famous football coach, Lou Holtz, tells a cute story about how he lost his job one time and was really depressed being out of work.  His wife bought him a book on setting goals.  Without ambitious goals, the spark of life is missing, so Lou started writing down some goals.

He wanted to go to the White House for dinner, he wanted to be on The Tonight Show, he wanted to coach at Notre Dame, he wanted to be Coach of the Year. After he got done writing down all his goals, he was pretty excited.

He went to his wife and said, “Look at these goals, I’ve got 107 of those suckers and we’re going to do every one of them.”  His wife replied, “Gee, that’s nice. Why don’t you add ‘get a job’?”  So they made it 108. He said his whole life changed. In case you would like to hear the story from the master himself, here is a link to it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mo-CDpfQdI

Just Do It 

Too many people are living on a desert island called “Someday Isle.” Do you know how many people have started a book but never finished it? I know dozens of people in that circumstance.

I also know others who say “I’ve got a book in me, and someday I am going to get to it.”  Or someone else might say, “Someday I am going to take a cruise.”

I think we need to be careful with the phrase “someday I’ll,” because it means we are content to sit in our box and perpetually dream about some other experience. What a tragedy to be lying on your death bed and regret not doing things that you always dreamed of doing.

If you can no longer climb your mountain, at least you can go to the mountain, see it, and smell the fresh air.

Have the resolve to be some of the things that you have imagined in your dreams. If you are creative, there are ways to rip open the side of your box and perhaps create a bigger box or leave entirely for some period of time.  What fun, and isn’t that what life is supposed to be all about? 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 118 Load Rage

November 5, 2021

We all know what “Road Rage” is, but this article deals with “Load Rage.” That is the condition where we become angry or depressed because we have more work to do than can be accomplished in the given time.  I will explain my feelings on the topic and give some extreme examples here.

As organizations wrestle with global competition, economic cycles, and the ravages of a pandemic, the pressure on productivity is more acute each year.

I do not see an end to the pressure to accomplish more work with fewer resources. There comes a point when leaders ask people to stretch beyond their elastic limit, and they burn out. That is the reason many people are quitting their jobs recently.

As the constant requests for more work with fewer resources starts to take a physical toll on the health of workers at all levels, people become justifiably angry. I see evidence of what I call “Load Rage” in nearly every organization in which I work.

Percentage of True Capacity

An interesting flip side of this problem is the observation made by many researchers (such as the Gallup Organization) that working human beings generally operate at only a fraction of their true capability. I have read estimates of organizations extracting on average something like 30-50% of the inherent capability in the workforce; some estimates are even lower.

It would be impossible for anyone to continually operate at 100% of capacity because that would require the adrenal glands to secrete a constant stream of adrenaline that would kill the person. However, if the estimates of typical capacity used are accurate, there is still a lot of upside potential in people, so why the “load rage”?

The reason is that we base our perception of how hard we are working at any moment on a sliding scale. We base our feelings of load on how busy we are, not on what percentage of our capacity is being consumed.  Many of our activities are simply traps that we invent because of habitual patterns in our daily work. 

Time Wasters 

We tolerate a multitude of inhibiting actions that steal seconds from our minutes and minutes from our hours. We excuse these diversions as not being very important, but in reality, they are exceedingly relevant to our output and to our stress level. Let me cite a few examples.

Email Inbox 

Look at the inbox of your email account. If you are like most people, there are more than a few notes waiting for your attention. We have all kinds of reasons (really rationalizations) for not keeping our inbox totally cleaned out each day.  I will share that at this moment I have 5 “read” notes and no “unread” notes in my inbox, and it is causing me some stress. I need to get that down to zero within the hour, but right now I am consumed writing this article.

If we are honest, it is inescapable that having more than 2-3 notes waiting attention will cause a few milliseconds of search time when we want to do anything on email. That time is lost forever, and it cannot be replaced.

We all know people who have maxed out the inbox capability and have literally thousands of emails to chew through. These people are drowning in a sea of time wasters just like a young adult with 20 credit cards is drowning in a sea of debt.  It is inevitable.

Mindset

You know at least a few people in your circle of friends or working comrades who spend a hefty chunk of their day going around lamenting how there is not enough time to do the work. Admit it; we all do this to some extent.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Looks like I have plenty of time and not much to do?” OK, old geezers in the home have this problem and so do young children who are dependent on mommy to think up things to keep them occupied. 

For most of us in the adult or working world, our time is the most scarce and precious commodity we have, yet we habitually squander it in tiny ways that add up to major stress for us. I suspect that even the most proficient time-management guru finds it possible to waste over 30% of his or her time on things that do not matter.

Develop a STOP DOING List

One healthy antidote, especially at work, is to have a “stop doing” list. Most people have a “to do” list, but you rarely see someone crossing things off a “don’t do” list.  Think how liberating and refreshing it would be if each of us found an extra hour or two each day by just consciously deciding to stop doing things that do not matter.

Whole groups can do this exercise and gain incredible productivity. The technique was invented at IBM a few decades ago. It is called “work out,” where groups consciously redesign processes to take work out of the system.  If you examine how you use your time today, I guarantee that if you are brutally honest you can find at least 2 hours of time you are wasting on busy work with no real purpose.  Wow, two hours would be a gift for anyone.

Another technique is to really load up your schedule.  You think that you are overworked now, but just imagine if you added 5 major new activities that had to be done on top of your present activities.  That would feel insane, but you would find ways to cope. Then if you cut back to your current load next week, what seemed like an untenable burden a few weeks ago would feel like a cakewalk. 

An Extreme Example

I can recall a time several years ago when I was teaching 11 different collegiate courses at the same time. That was in addition to writing a book and developing a leadership consulting practice.

I will admit that was a little over the top but did I ever enjoy the load when I cut it back to only three courses at a time.

The Impact of Conflict

Another huge time burner is conflict. We spend more time than we realize trying to manage others so our world is as close to what we want as possible.  When things are out of kilter, we can spend hours of time on the phone or email negotiating with others in a political struggle to get them to think more like us.

In a typical professional setting, conflict can occur for a number of reasons. One usual source of conflict is when one person feels that he or she is shouldering more than his or her fair share of the load.

Summary

The point is that most of the time that we lose is unconscious. We have all figured out how to justify the time-wasters in our lives, and we still complain that there are not enough hours in the day.

There is no cure for this malaise. It is part of the human condition. I think it helps to remind ourselves that when we feel overloaded, particularly with work, it is really just a priority issue, and we honestly do have plenty of time to do everything with still some slack time to take a breath. If you do not agree, then I suspect you are in denial.

Now, I need to be excused to go clean out my inbox!

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 117 Please Help Me Understand

November 3, 2021

There are times in life where we really need help to understand the point of view of another person. On a daily basis, we experience situations where we are at odds with the actions or words of other people.  It is human nature to disagree with other people at times.

How we handle ourselves when this happens determines our quality of life, because it will establish how the rest of the world reacts to us. Extending hostility usually begets hostility in return.

The late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, used to challenge people to learn to “disagree without being disagreeable.” We need to find the words to signal a disconnect without short-circuiting relationships.

If you listen to people as they interface about their differences, you will hear all kinds of phrases that cause an increase in heat within the conversation. Here is a small set of examples you will recognize:

  • What makes you think that…
  • How could you possibly believe that…
  • Who died and made you the queen of…
  • You are not only wrong, you are stupid if you…
  • What part of “NO” don’t you understand….
  • Don’t you see! My way is better because…
  • You never listen to me…
  • If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you…

There are millions of ways to humiliate other people when we disagree with their words or actions.  Note that the statement may be current or past, written or verbal, and the action may be historical, or something that just occurred.

What we need to do is suppress the human urge to blast the other individual and seek a more politic way to have an adult conversation.  

Watch the non-verbals

The four-word phrase, “Please help me understand…” is an excellent one to use as long as it is not given with a sarcastic tone of voice or some aggressive body language, like pointing. Reason: The words do not start by putting the other person down.

The phrase “Please help me understand” indicates there may be a disconnect, or maybe there is just a misunderstanding. It signals that you are open-minded.

The phrase simply asks for more information and indicates that you are ready to listen carefully. It calls into question the action or statement without violating the other person.

The phrase may not work in every application, since we are all different. Some individuals might even read something negative into the phrase. I think it has a lot to do with what is in the heart of the sender. Keep in mind that body language speaks many times louder than words.

By sending a polite signal about a disconnection with the other person, it gives him or her time to rethink what was said or done to see if it was too edgy.  Often just this little nudge will cause the person to reframe the action or statement into something more reasonable.  It is also an honest and kind way to stop the conversation for a gut check on reality.

Conclusion

When you are tempted to blast a co-worker for something said, written, or done, think about saying, “Please help me understand,” and you will see a more helpful and constructive reaction in most cases.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 116 When to Expel

October 27, 2021

We are all familiar with some of the problems that occur when working in teams. Excellent teamwork requires some simple rules of respect. 

In this article, I want to focus on the impact that can be made by a single person who is a misfit in the group and slows down all team progress.

Diversity of Opinion is a Good Thing

 I need to be careful to describe the phenomenon correctly. Normally, I am an advocate of having diversity of opinion and styles within a team. Reason: respectful differences in outlook or opinion are healthy because they usually lead to more creative and robust solutions. 

If you have a team of clones who all think alike on most issues, you have a mono-culture that may seem to work well, but it will probably lead to myopic solutions. In general, having diverse people on a team is a good thing.

The Problem Individual

 Unfortunately, we have all had the experience of being on a team where one individual simply stops forward progress on a regular basis.  The root cause may be a personality deficiency or some kind of chemistry problem between members.

The person may become moody or bellicose and derail group processes at every opportunity. In rare cases, there is an actual intent to stop the efforts of a team, sort of like a sport.

I am not writing about a person on the team who fills a Devil’s advocate role from time to time in order to prevent the group from slipping into a dangerous groupthink. Nor am I referring to the person with a concern or observation who voices it in a respectful way. 

The person I am describing is one who habitually takes a contrarian view and refuses to accept the fact that he or she is derailing conversation rather than fostering a balanced discussion.

Have a Team Charter

 I advocate that any team should have a written and agreed-upon set of expected behaviors. These statements indicate our agreement on how we will treat each other along with specific consequences for members who do not comply.

An example of important behavior is how we agree to treat each other when we are in disagreement. If peer pressure and body language habitually fail to convince the person to stop the disruptive behavior, then it is time for the person’s manager to do some private coaching. 

Sometimes coaching can make at least a temporary improvement, however, some individuals just cannot or will not change. Stronger measures are required.

The solution is rather obvious. The person needs to find some other way to get entertainment and should be excused from the team.

Addition by Subtraction

This surgery is really “addition by subtraction.” Reason: once the problem person is removed, the entire team will breathe a sigh of relief, because now decisions and progress can occur more easily.

I have had grateful team members come to me with tears of gratitude in their eyes saying, “Oh thank you! Removing him from the team took some courage, but we are so grateful to have the ability to navigate without him. Life will be so much better for all of us because of your action.”

Conclusion

Removing a problem person from a team is often a painful process. Egos can get bruised or there may be an ugly scene. My advice is to take the action, but only after you have exhausted all other remedial efforts. Also, never forget that having diversity of ideas on a team is an asset rather than a liability.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 115 Electronic Communication

October 20, 2021

I have been studying the difference between online and face-to-face communication for a few decades.  I still run into people who believe the two modes of communication are similar.  NOT SO! 

There are numerous differences in these methods of communication. The obvious one is the absence of physical body language in electronic notes.

Body Language Impact

When communicating with a person face to face, we normally keep out of trouble because we are getting feedback all the time.  We modify the words, cadence, tone, and our own body language moment by moment based on the feedback we can see. 

In email or when texting, we have no ability to see the reaction of the receiver, so we continue to push out the words with no ability to correct in real time. Many an e-grenade battle was started by people misinterpreting the intent of the writer.

Permanence

Another difference is that email is permanent, while face-to-face communication is temporal. What we said in a conversation will be forgotten, downplayed, muddled, or morphed by the passage of time and other events. 

Anything written online can be pulled up, even years later, and the person cannot deny what was written. The evidence is there.  This is often a good thing because we can prove what we wrote and when, but it can also be confounding when words are written in anger or haste. 

You can always apologize for something you wrote, but you can never actually take it back and erase it.

An Example

I came across another example of the differences where inaccuracies in how things are spelled can change the meaning of a note, and it would never happen in verbal communication. What if you received the following email, “What have you been up to lately, dud?”

I think most of us would be put off by such a note. Obviously, the writer has little respect for the reader. But what if the writer really meant to type, “What have you been up to lately, dude?” 

Now the question has a tone of chummy camaraderie. A single missing letter changed the entire meaning in the original note. The mistake would never have occurred in verbal communication. You would not inadvertently substitute the word “dud” for “dude” verbally.

Conclusion

Thinking of email or texting as similar to verbal communication is dangerous, yet we do it all the time.  Be aware when sending electronic notes of these differences, and treat this mode of communication with extreme care.

As the volume of notes becomes larger for most of us every year, it is easy to get sloppy. Try to remain vigilant because sloppy writing can lead to dangerous misunderstandings that would not happen in face-to-face communications. 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 114 What Your Manager Thinks About You

October 13, 2021

Sometimes it is easy to interpret what your manager thinks about you. The manager may be an open book and be totally transparent. In fact, you may be one of the unlucky people who wish their manager would be less vocal. You need to use all your senses and skill to interpret what is going on in your manager’s mind.

This article is intended to shed some light on a delicate subject and give you some tools to use.

Watch the body language 

We communicate emotional issues much more through body language than through words (more than five times the amount).  If you have not been exposed to the subtle clues to communicating through body language, get some training. There are numerous free resources online. Just type “Body Language” in any good search engine. 

The caveat with reading body language is that you should avoid taking everything literally. Use the 5 “C’s” method of identifying significant body language patterns:

  1. Context – What is the background activity that is happening?
  2. Clusters – Several discrete signals mean more than a single gesture.
  3. Congruence – Do words and body language agree? If not, probe for reasons.
  4. Consistency – What is the baseline behavior versus specific body language?
  5. Culture – Consider the social norms of the person.

Ask more questions

Rather than advocating your position on issues, probe and ask a lot of questions.  The Socratic Method is a great way to get your manager to open up about what he or she is thinking. Ask reasonable open-ended questions that form a pattern by which you can understand what your manager really thinks. 

Listen to the tone of voice

The tone of voice contains about 40% of total communication. You can detect anxiety or anger by noting whether the pitch is either much higher than usual (typical for anxiety) or much lower than usual (often the case if the manager is angry).

Cadence is also another clue. If the manager is speaking faster than usual, it normally signals anxiety, while an uncharacteristically slow cadence is often an expression of extreme frustration. 

Be alert to the grapevine

If your manager is having issues with you, sometimes the information will leak out to the grapevine.  While it is wrong to take all rumors and gossip at face value, it would be wrong to ignore signals coming from peers.  If something sounds ominous, get some time with the manager and check things out using open-ended questions. 

Cultivate a strong relationship with the Administrative Assistant

The administrative assistant to the manager often has inside knowledge.  Personal integrity will prevent this person from telling you information directly, but if you have built up a good relationship with this person, there are many subtle ways a personal assistant can discretely let you know when there are issues.

It is always a good strategy to be helpful (but not patronizing) with the Administrative Assistant to the manager. 

Communicate often

Keep the lines of communication as open as you can. One hint is to find the manager’s preferred mode of communication and use that most often. For example, I had one manager who preferred the use of voice mail. He found that more convenient than e-mail or texting. I would communicate with him daily on the voice mail for decisions, etc. I would downplay e-mail or real-time texting.

A different manager was strong on e-mail, so the majority of strategy questions went out in that form. 

Look for shifts in communication patterns

It is a danger signal if the manager changes frequency of contact with you. It may be easily explained by a peak workload situation, an upcoming trip, a special project, or several other logical shifts. 

The point is to find out if the change could be due to some frustration the manager has with you that is not being shared.  The manager may actually be avoiding contact with you. If so, you need to understand why. Don’t just assume it is because the person is busy. 

Practice reflective listening

When interfacing with the manager directly, it is a great opportunity to practice reflective listening. Human beings generally have a more difficult time with listening than with any other form of communication. That is because when we are “listening” much of our mental processes are tied up preparing to speak.

The technique of reflective listening forces you to really internalize the message, which is critical if you want to pick up on frustrations the manager is having with you.

One caution; reflective listening can be annoying if it is applied in a cumbersome way. You need to be trained on how to use this technique smoothly and naturally for it to be effective. 

Discuss any frustrations you have

Opening up about your own frustrations with other people or even the manager can help get honest dialog going. That is healthy because it establishes a safe environment for honest communication. 

I remember telling my manager once, “If you are half as frustrated with me as I am with Frank, I am in a lot of trouble.”  His silence let me know that he was indeed frustrated with my performance at that time. 

Volunteer to help out

Stepping forward to help out is a great way to let your manager know you care about improving conditions.  That may open up some lines of communication that were previously blocked.

Conclusion

Your manager is a human being (hopefully) and will often make a decision to vent frustrations about you to others rather than discuss them with you. Follow the ideas above and you will have a better track record of getting more accurate information directly from your manager. 

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.  

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 


Leadership Barometer 113 Building Trust When Your Manager Doesn’t

October 6, 2021

Sometimes building trust within your organization is difficult because your manager is not good at fostering trust in the larger organization.

 In my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, the most persistent complaint I hear is a mid-level manager who says, “Your material is excellent. I know this can make a huge difference in our organization, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment is habitually trashed from above?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help.

First  ̶̶   Recognize You Are Not Alone.

Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, and restructuring or other unpopular actions are common. There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. They do lasting damage rather than build trust during the struggle.

Second – You Have Limited Ability to Control Your Manager

My favorite quote on this is “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting that your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire. Most managers with low emotional intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they are causing the problem.

One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to some training, or bring in a leadership trust seminar and request the manager come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the manager can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books. It helps if the manager gets to nominate the first couple books for review.

The idea is to get the clueless manager to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process. If the manager is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key flavor here is to not target the manager as the person who needs to be “fixed.” Rather, view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

Third – Avoid Whining About the Culture Above You

Griping about the situation does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well. When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can. 

Fourth – Create a Culture of Trust in the Environment That You Influence

That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies. This habit can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high.

You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like. One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes. The discussion might sound like this, “I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks? Would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear? My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.”

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by your manager, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the manager intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them:

1) Can I trust you?

2) Are you committed to excellence?  

3) Do you care about me? 

Fifth – Lead by Example.

Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done. You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the manager how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with that person.

Sixth – Be Patient and Keep Smiling 

A positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically worn-down and morose. Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to gain the motivation of everyone in your group.

Great Additional Resource 

For additional information on this topic, call up the article “Leading From Below” by my friend Gregg Vanourek.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.

 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.