Leadership Barometer 103 Span of Control

July 28, 2021

How much span of control should a particular manager have? Years ago, I was taught that any manager who has more than 6 direct reports cannot do a proper job of supervising the individuals.

On the other extreme, with a very flat organization and selfdirected work teams, it is possible for a manager to be directly responsible for over 100 people. This article describes some of the issues when considering optimal span of control and also shares some key behaviors that allow managers to broaden their span of control without loss of effectiveness.

The information is helpful for leaders because most organizations are heading in the direction of flatter structures.

An overarching question is why we call it “control” at all. The idea that one must have control over people in order to influence or coach them properly is outdated. I agree that the total entity needs to work together so the goals of the organization are met and the customer is well served, but the individuals within the organization do not need to be controlled like marionettes in order to perform well.

Most of my professional work centers around the concept of trust.  If an organization has a culture of high trust, then the individuals within it do not need to be controlled to be effective.

If upper management is transparent with information so that all workers at all levels know the goals and are trusted or empowered to do the right thing, then the conventional hierarchy of: group leader, supervisor, manager, vice president, group vice president, president, and CEO is way more structure than is needed.

Let us look at seven manager behaviors that will allow one individual to provide the needed guidance to numerous other people.

Delegate well

When managers back off and let people figure out the best way to accomplish the tasks required to meet goals, less direct supervision is required. The opposite of delegating well is micromanaging the work of others. Few people I have met appreciate, or even tolerate, being micromanaged for very long. Over-control is debilitating to motivation, and it drains the productivity from people.

Trust others

Most managers would like to see higher trust within their group, yet few managers realize the key to having more trust within the organization is to show more trust in the people within it. I hear all the time, “but what if my people are not worthy of being trusted.”  There is a simple answer.

If people are managed properly and are treated with respect and dignity, nearly all of them will be worthy of being trusted. So, a supervisor who cannot or will not trust the people in his or her group is really the person who needs to change, not the workers.

If someone is really not worthy of being trusted, then why are they tolerated in the workforce at all?

Fewer Rules

Standard operating procedures are really helpful guidelines for employee actions. They are vital whether you are preparing a detailed battle plan or trying to run an error-free hospital. But operating procedures should not be confused with constraining rules on how to react to circumstances that arise on a daily basis. 

Managers who attempt to figure out every possible challenge and invent rules to cover them will find themselves frustrated. You simply cannot anticipate all the things that can go wrong. Rather, it is better to have some broad operating principles and solid values but let people figure out how to react to each situation at hand.  Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos said (before his death in 2020), “We trust our employees to use their best judgment when dealing with each and every customer.” They do not need detailed procedures to figure out what is right.

Self Development

Much of the administrative and coaching energy that takes the time of managers involves the development of people. Many professionals have government mandated training requirements that cause supervisors to administer training classes for compliance reasons.

Beyond the legal mandates, many organizations insist on forced career development discussions and detailed forms to fill out along with specific training hours per employee each year.  These details are all well-meaning efforts to bring out the best in people.

What if we shifted the emphasis to recognize that most people have an interest in doing the best they can?  Given the right encouragement and support, people are fully capable of figuring out how they can be more valuable to the organization in the future. 

The concepts of coaching and mentoring will help encourage employees who are timid or confused, but we do not need mandated programs that paint all employees with the same brush.

Think of it this way. You can mandate 40 hours of training for each employee each year, but you are not going to be successful at building capability into an employee who does not see value in training. It is far better to encourage employees to become involved in the extent and types of training they receive because in choosing they will learn much more.

In turn, the organization will benefit much more as a result of employees using the new skills.

Reduce “Administriva”

Many of the supervisory functions that take time are really not necessary or at least could be made much more efficient. Have an audit of the forms and paperwork that managers are forced to fill out and seek to cut it by at least 50%

In most organizations that efficiency could be accomplished with no loss of vital information.  Cut managers free to do the vital face-to-face coaching by reducing the Mickey Mouse forms and procedures that leave little time for communication, strategy, and reflection.

Improve Online Communication

It is a rare manager who does not feel buried in the avalanche of e-mail, texts, and social networking notes. The load is way too much to allow time for walking around the area to actually interface with people live. It is possible to reduce the online load significantly without losing vital information. Get help from someone who specializes in efficient online communication and create a culture where these tools are useful but not albatrosses.

Clean house

One reason why managers can only handle a narrow span of control is because there is usually some dead wood in any group.  It is well known, by the Pareto Principle, that 20% of the individuals are going to take up 80% of the time of managers. Make sure to cull out the dead wood or disruptive individuals from the organization. That cleansing will create more time and allow the managers to serve more people better.

Removing just one problem employee can make a huge difference in the entire atmosphere in a work group. It also shifts the balance of management attention from those who cause trouble to those who are doing great work. That will improve the quality of work-life for everyone.


Increasing the span of control is good for the efficiency of any organization. Following the seven tips above will shift the burden for most managers and allow them the time to have broader influence. This saves the organization money and provides a more rewarding environment in which managers and workers can thrive.

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 102 Leading Volunteer Groups

July 21, 2021

Most of my writing on the topic of leadership is centered on organizations (for profit and not for profit) where people are paid to work. The leadership dynamics often focus on the power implied in the hierarchy. When one person has economic influence over other people, it sets up some challenging dynamics.

There is another category of leadership that deals with people who volunteer to invest their time because they believe in a cause.  In every community there are numerous examples of this from the Boy and Girl Scouts to Rotary and a host of other volunteer or service groups.

My wife and I both have been leading volunteer organizations for years. She is involved with a large international group, while I am leading a local effort. We find that there are a number of different concepts to think about when leading a group of volunteers. Here are some of the obvious differences between volunteer groups and commercial or business groups.                                        



Volunteer Group

Commercial Group

People donate their time, talent, and treasure for a cause that is meaningful to them

People are paid to work and hope to advance to higher pay

Members often have other higher priority commitments: job, family, etc.

Employees often have a full time job and balance family life

Tenure lasts only as long as the interest is there and it fits the schedule

Tenure is often over a period of many years or a career

People perform well because they are highly motivated by the cause and the relationships/friendships they develop in the group

People perform well in order to advance to earn more money

Organizations are often made up of several teams or committees

Organizations often exist in a military style hierarchy

Organization is fluid and morphs to meet current needs

Organizations are more fixed and slower to change



Solidify Purpose, Mission, and Vision

In a volunteer organization, people are not paid to do this work, so keeping them fully engaged in the Purpose of the organization is essential.  Leaders must continually remind people why we do what we do. The purpose statement leads directly to the Mission statement, which gives a succinct statement of what we do. The Vision statement tells us where we are going and why it will be a better world when we get there.

Agree on a set of Values

Values give us a firm grip on how we behave in any situation. It is vital that the leader always model the values, especially when it in inconvenient or expensive to do it. This behavior allows trust to grow. Trust is just as important in volunteer organizations as it is in commercial organization.

Agree on a Set of Expected Behaviors

This aspect is critical for volunteer organizations because people (including the leader) need to follow the rules they have agreed to.  A lot of times groups skip over the documentation of behaviors. This is a big mistake, because it weakens the ability for all members to hold each other accountable. When behaviors get out of hand, volunteers sometimes leave rather than deal with it constructively.

In a commercial entity, the positional power of the leaders as a result of having control of the purse strings usually helps keep people doing the right things.

A volunteer organization rewards people in non-monetary ways, such as fellowship, pursuit of a cause, the joy of helping others, etc. People need to feel appreciated and should experience some fun with the activities. When people start feeling overworked, it is time to bring in more help so volunteers don’t burn out.

Create Strategies, Tactics and Goals

Strategies describe the main pathway from the current situation to the vision. We must do these things to reach our destination together. The tactics tell us who is going to do what by when in order to accomplish the strategies. The goals are how we measure progress on the journey. The best goals are called “SMART Goals (for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time- Bound). Volunteers need to be involved in setting the goals of the group.

Constantly Monitor the Succession Plan  

The pace of personnel moves in a volunteer organization can be more fluid than for a commercial venture. Reason: people can join and leave at very little personal cost and with very little warning.  It is critical to have good bench strength and be flexible to adapt quickly to changing conditions.  

I found out this aspect the hard way.  I am chair of the Board of Directors of an organization that reinforces ethical behaviors with an award program.  I had a successor all lined up to take over my position a couple years ago. Abruptly, she had to move out of the area due to her husband’s health, so I went back to the drawing board. The next year I had a wonderful replacement lined up and trained, but she was just offered a dream job in another state and will not be able to succeed me. So, once again I have to look for a successor.

You also need to be constantly recruiting people to replace the ones that end up leaving. I found that being involved in many different local organizations was the best way to meet good people who are looking for an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.  Often these people are gainfully employed with a commercial organization and are volunteering for your organization as a side interest.  That double allegiance really adds to the potential for volatility.

It is much more challenging to get national and international volunteers and incorporate them into the operation of the organization. The era of interactive virtual events that draw interested people from around the world makes it easier to connect. Also, proper utilization of social media can build interest in the organization and draw in both volunteers and donors.

When leading a volunteer organization, the cardinal rule it to expect the unexpected and remain flexible.  If you have put in place the elements outlined in this article, you will be more successful. 



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 101 Leaders Create Meaning

July 14, 2021

Too many people go to work each day in a zombie-like state where they go through the motions all day and try to stay out of trouble with the boss.

Work life is a meaningless array of busywork foisted upon them by the clueless morons who run the place.

They hate the environment and intensely dislike their co-workers. Their suffering is tolerated only because there is no viable option for them to survive.  What a pity that anyone would spend even a single day on this earth in such a hopeless atmosphere. 

We can fault the individuals who allow themselves to be trapped in this way, but I believe the environment created by leaders has a great deal to do with this malaise. Reason: if you put these same individuals in an environment of trust and challenge, nearly all of them would quickly rise up to become happy and productive workers.

Find Real Meaning

It is essential that each individual in the workforce find real meaning in the work being done, and the responsibility is on leaders to make that happen.

Some good research into this conundrum was presented by Viktor Frankl 75 years ago in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl posits that it “is a peculiarity of man that he must have something significant yet to do in his life, for that is what gives meaning to life.” 

Frankl discovered this universally human trait while surviving the most horrible of life conditions in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. One cannot imagine a more oppressive environment, but believe it or not, many people at work feel like they are in a kind of concentration camp. The antidote is for leaders to create something significant yet to do.


Dave and Wendy Ulrich, co-authors of The Why of Work put it this way. “In organizations, meaning and abundance are more about what we do with what we have than about what we have to begin with.”  They point out that workers are in some ways like volunteers who can choose where they allocate their time and energy.  For their own peace and health, it is imperative that workers feel connected to the meaning of their work.

What can leaders do to ensure the maximum number of people have a sense of purpose and meaning in their work?  Here are a dozen ideas that can help.

  1. Create a positive vision of the future. Vision is critical because without it people see no sense of direction for their work. If we have a common goal, then it is possible to actually get excited about the future.
  2. Generate trust. Trust is the glue that holds people together in a framework of positive purpose. Without trust, we are just playing games with each other hoping to get through the day unscathed. The most significant way leaders help create trust is by rewarding candor, which is accomplished by not punishing people for speaking their truth.
  3. Build morale the right way. This means not trying to motivate people by adding hygiene factors like picnics, bonuses, or hat days. Motivate people by treating them with respect and giving them autonomy. Leaders do not motivate people, rather they create the environment where people decide whether to become motivated.  This sounds like doubletalk, but it is a powerful message most leaders do not understand.
  4. Recognize and celebrate excellence. Reinforcement is the most powerful tool leaders have for changing behavior. Leaders need to learn how to reinforce well and avoid the mine-field of reinforcement mistakes that are easy to make.
  5. Treat people right. In most cases focusing on the Golden Rule works well. In some extreme cases, the Golden Rule will not be wise because not all individuals want to be treated the same way. Use of the Platinum Rule (Treat others the way they would like to be treated.) is helpful as long as it is not taken to a literal extreme.
  6. Communicate more and better. People have an unquenchable thirst for information. Lack of communication is the most often mentioned grievance in any organization. Get some good training on how to communicate in all modes and practice all the time.
  7. Unleash maximum discretionary effort in people. People give effort to the organization out of choice, not out of duty. Understand what drives individuals to make a contribution and be sure to provide that element daily. Do not try to apply the same techniques to all individuals or all situations.
  8. Have high ethical and moral standards. Operate from a set of values and make sure people know why those values are important. Leaders need to always live their values.
  9. Lead change well. Change processes are in play in every organization daily, yet most leaders are poor at managing change.  Study the techniques of successful change so people do not become confused and disoriented.
  10. Challenge people and set high expectations. People will rise to a challenge if it is properly presented and managed. Challenged individuals are people who have found meaning in their work.
  11. Operate with high Emotional Intelligence. The ability to work well with people, upward, sideways, and downward allows things to work smoothly. Without Emotional Intelligence, leaders do not have the ability to transform intentions into meaning within people.
  12. Build High Performing Teams. A sense of purpose is enhanced if there is a kind of peer pressure brought on by good teamwork. Foster great togetherness of teams so people will relate to their tasks instinctively.

This is a substantial list of items, but most of them are common sense. Unfortunately, they are not common practice in most organizations. If you want to have people rise to their level of potential, they must all have a sense of meaning. To accomplish that, focus on the above items, and see a remarkable transformation in your organization.

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 100 Leaders Made or Born

July 7, 2021

The question of whether leaders are made or born is one of the more common issues in the literature on leadership. So much has been written on this one topic, it seems like there should be no need for a new article.  However, I come at the subject from a different perspective and reach a conclusion about leaders and leadership that may surprise you.

Are leaders made or born?  When someone asked Ken Blanchard that question, he answered “yes.”  That is a great answer because, indeed leaders are both born and made.

Everyone is born with some level of “leadership genes” in his or her DNA. Most people have a modest level of leadership potential based on this God-given latent talent.

Some individuals are born into a long line of effective or powerful leaders and have a kind of gift for rallying people to their cause even at a very early age.  John F. Kennedy is an example of this type of person. If you study his life, you will see that it would have been difficult for him to not grow up into a powerful political leader.  The same could have been said for Bobbie, and Ted.  Many people believe Ted would have been president if it had not been for Chappaquiddick.

I like to consider the less famous people and ask a simple question. What percentage of the adult population would have the ability to become at least decent leaders provided they were paired up with a great mentor who took the time to teach them how to lead and provided them with opportunities to grow into the role?  That question requires some serious thinking to answer.

There are three types of people who probably would never make decent leaders regardless of who coached them. People with very low mental capacity or Emotional Intelligence would not have the ability to make rational decisions, so they would not make good leaders as few people would willingly follow them.

Another group we need to exclude is people who are lazy and have absolutely no desire to lead. These people make poor leaders because they do not have the initiative and drive to get up every day and do the work.

A third category would be those people who are not willing to accept mentoring.

I contend that most of the people who do not fit into the categories above have the potential of becoming decent leaders, if they were properly mentored. My guess is that this leaves 60-70% of the population with the potential. You might quibble about another category and take the estimate down to 50% or so, but I believe that is as low we should go.

The interesting thing is that there are so few really good leaders in the world. In fact, I believe the lack of good leaders is a critical shortage that is limiting our world today. Yet, if my estimates above are in the ball park, there is no dearth of candidates, so what is the problem? The problem is a shortage of great mentors!

Most leaders are so consumed just trying to optimize their own leadership performance that they give little thought to the development of other leaders.  In my book that makes them not such great leaders after all.  My favorite quotation is one of my own: “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.”  If more leaders understood this, we could greatly accelerate the growth of a new generation of leaders.

I am dedicating the remainder of my professional life to the cause of getting more leaders to step up to their mentor responsibilities. I will be starting another series of articles on the topic of mentoring. The series will be called “Mastering Mentoring.”

 John Maxwell calls the impact of mentoring, the multiplier effect.  If each great leader took responsibility for generating at least 10 great leaders for the next generation, our world would be a much better place.  If you are a leader, consider if you are leveraging your talents in this way.  If not, it is never too late to start.

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 99 Leading Without Bullying

June 30, 2021

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some birds 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. We need people to engage in the work because they want to, not because they are forced to.

Organizational bullying takes the form of 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. 

Bullying may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run. The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.

If you are an elk, you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your life, 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.

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 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 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.

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 98 The Synapse of Trust

June 23, 2021

Trust is the glue that holds any organization together. Trust can exist at all levels because it is fundamentally a kind of synapse between two people.

In the body, the synapse enables life by transmitting electrical signals between nerve cells. A similar pattern exists within organizations, where trust facilitates quasi electrical interactions between people.

Where the synapse does not happen, fruitful interaction is blocked. This barren condition is common, and it results in people “playing games” with each other in an effort to gain political traction for their own agendas.

White Spaces

I visualize trust as existing in the “white spaces” between thoughts and activities. Trust enables the flow of ideas and concepts in an environment free of fear.

That condition of low fear is vital to creativity in any group endeavor. One of my favorite sayings is that “the absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” Lack of fear is not the only condition for trust to grow, but I believe it is a necessary precursor.

The benefits of trust have been well documented by many authors and researchers. For example, my friend Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust stresses that as trust increases costs go down and things move faster.

Dennis and Michelle Reina’s book, Trust and Betrayal, shares research on the process of healing broken trust relationships.

In my own books, I seek to highlight the nature of trust and how to achieve it every day.

Trust and safety

My thesis is that the heart of building trust is making people feel safe enough to share uncomfortable thoughts without fear of retribution. This atmosphere is accomplished when leaders praise people for being honest and open, even when the message is difficult to hear.

I call this technique, “reinforcing candor,” and I believe it is one important way leaders build trust.

Warren Bennis, who died in 2014, was a true master of leadership and trust. He wrote numerous insightful books on the importance of trust and how to help it grow.

In, On Becoming a Leader, Bennis wrote, “It became clear that the ability to inspire trust, not charisma, is what enables leaders to recruit others to a cause.”

In an article for Leadership Excellence Magazine, Bennis recalls the lesson of Jim Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who, in 1982, boldly recalled $100 million of Tylenol because some tainted pills had been discovered.

His candor by personally going on national television to announce the recall was unprecedented, and it is at least partly responsible for saving the entire brand equity.

Dissecting Candor

Candor is not always a pleasant experience, because the truth is sometimes repulsive to behold. Individual differences allow one person to think a situation is perfectly acceptable while another individual may see it as intolerable.

Revealing the truth about an issue leaves one vulnerable to scorn, if there is a disconnect with the perceptions of another. The ability to withstand differences of perspective and still maintain respect is what makes trust so precious.

The synapse of real trust is enabled by honesty and candor. In the void between souls, these quasi-electrical connections allow a strong bond of mutual care and support.

Raw candor is not always the best approach, as we must apply it with judgment, tact, and care. We all know situations where it is wise to avoid blurting out our unvarnished thoughts.

Within an organization, our reactions to activities or situations begin as private thoughts. They are not malicious or offensive; they are simply our beliefs.

The ability to share this information with leaders in a constructive dialog is important.
If we feel stifled out of fear of retribution, then our private information will remain hidden.

The withheld information is lost to the organization, and we suffer frustration and loss of morale by feeling muted.

Conversely, if we know it is safe to express our thoughts in a mature and helpful way and that leaders will listen, we feel more attachment to our work, and the organization benefits from our viewpoint.

It is up to the leaders to enable this flow of information through the behavior of reinforcing candor. Further, it is essential that leaders hear and understand the input and be willing to consider it seriously through dialog and actions.

We must teach leaders the power of this fundamental law: without trust, little real progress is made in any society. Candor is the enabler of trust.

Leaders need to embrace and reinforce candor as much as possible. This behavior is not easy, as it is much more comfortable to become defensive or aggressive when facing a contrary opinion. The best leaders make people glad when they bring up difficult discussions because it enables the synapse of trust to flow.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://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 97 Blind Spots

June 16, 2021

In my classes and consulting work on leadership, I often discuss the concept of a blind spot where the worst leaders are often blissfully unaware of their problems.

My own observation in numerous organizations is that this is abundantly true. HR Managers and subordinates often are frustrated at not being able to communicate how leaders undermine the very cause they wish to pursue due to this blindness.

Daniel Goleman, who invented Emotional Intelligence, observed that leaders who are most deficient in EI are the ones who have the biggest blind spots.

They simply cannot see themselves as others do, so they are deceived into thinking incorrect thoughts about how they are coming across.

How can you remove the blind spot of a leader who has low Emotional Intelligence?

My own ideas on this topic are contained in this article.

You Need a Mirror

For many years, I have been intrigued that it is nearly impossible to see one’s self as others do. I focus on this conundrum from the standpoint of a leader, since leadership training is the center of my business.

Many leaders are unaware that they are deceiving themselves with ideas about how others are reacting to them. They need a better mirror.

I pondered the validity of Goleman’s observation for several years. Typically, when I asked leaders or students of leadership, whether Goldman’s observation is consistent with what they see in their environment, they enthusiastically agree, once they understand what Goleman was actually saying.

The idea is that leaders cannot know how others see them. Therefore, leaders with low Emotional Intelligence usually are unaware that they have this problem.

They believe people at work are enthusiastically behind them and have complete respect in them as their leader. Of course, when you talk to the people being led, the exact opposite observation is closer to the truth. They typically observe that the leader is simply clueless.

The Role of Humility

Why is it that leaders often are blind to their own incompetence? Is it hubris? Is it ego? Is it overdrive? Is it stupidity? I believe the truth is that all of these things are in play. For many leaders, the lack of humility is one of the most significant impediments to see themselves accurately.

In my work, I teach that the ability to build trust between people in an organization allows a leader to see him or herself more accurately than ever before. The reason is, when trust is high people are not afraid to tell the leader when he or she is acting like a jerk.

In fact, people understand the leader will reward them for pointing out foibles when they occur. That means leaders who are able to accomplish an environment of high trust have a major advantage. Trust is like the surface of the mirror that allows leaders to be able to see themselves accurately.

If you want to understand how you are coming across as a leader, your best bet is to work on building an environment of higher trust.

Reinforce Candor

In my book, I describe reinforcing candor as a key method for building trust. I believe if people feel it is safe to bring up scary stuff, they will be more inclined to share their truth on a daily basis. When leaders reinforce people for speaking out, it allows trust to grow and gives them the opportunity to be able to view themselves as they never have in the past.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://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 96 Leader Transitions

June 9, 2021

Maybe this leadership tip is in a book somewhere, but I have not run into it yet. There is a mistake that I have seen most leaders make multiple times and not realize the damage they are doing to their credibility.

It has to do with the delicate time when a leader is assigned a new position and moves into a new area interfacing with different people. The first few days are critical and set the stage for how smoothly (or not) the transition goes.

All signals sent during the first days and weeks are important as both the leader and the new constituents learn how to work together.


For illustration, let’s say our leader has just been promoted from the Printing Department into the Assembly Department. The new job is in a new physical area and has a different set of people involved.

The old leader has retired and left the scene, and our new leader has just brought in the first few boxes of possessions to set up his office. He is cordial to everyone and believes he is off to a great start.

This is an important job for the new leader, and he wants to carry on the fine team enthusiasm he was able to accomplish in the Printing Department.

During the first couple days, he attends the normal production meetings. He frequently mentions how delighted he is to now be working in the Assembly Department.

When a manager is discussing a safety issue, the new leader offers something like this, “We had the same problem over in the Printing Department, and what we did was set up a sub-team to come up with some excellent recommendations. That idea saved a lot of time because it could be done off line by a small group rather than have a bunch of meetings with everyone present.”

People in the meeting listened intently and nodded appreciatively that there was a fresh idea.

The next day, the leader was discussing the financial closing information and seemed a little uncomfortable. He said, “In the Printing Department we always just showed the data in chart form so everyone could grasp the information easily.”

Two hours later he was saying “In the Printing area we had special monitors to ensure the place was cleaned up well before we went home.” You get the idea.

All of the ideas and policies our new leader brought up during the first two weeks were logical and helpful. Nobody in the organization would dare question why they should do these things that the leader brought from the Printing Department.

However, by the end of two weeks, this new leader was so far behind the eight ball emotionally with people that it would take nearly a year to get people to really respect and trust him. Why? He was just too forthright with his innocent suggestions for improvements based on his experience in the prior job.

There is an antidote to this common problem. When I would promote or move a manager, I would ask him or her to refer to the prior job only one time in public. Once that chit was played, I suggested the new leader refrain from other references for at least 2 months.

This restraint gave the new leader the opportunity to appreciate the good things that were being done in the new area before giving a lot of suggestions for them to be more like his old area. The people never knew the difference; they just seemed to like the new leader quite a lot.

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 95 Clarify Values

June 2, 2021

A fundamental function of leaders is to clarify the values of the organization.

The starting point is to understand your own bedrock beliefs and have your actions flow from them. Congruity is a central issue to good leadership. People will quickly notice every hypocritical action or statement.

For example, if you claim “people are our most important asset” as a value, be prepared to defend all actions in light of that strong statement. Most leaders cannot pass this test. When sales go soft, they lay off people.

Mahatma Gandhi was a perfect example of congruity. His strength was derived from understanding his values and giving up all the trappings of conventional power. His objective was not to fix everyone else; it was simply to live a life consistent with his beliefs and stubbornly refuse to back away from that commitment, whatever the cost.

Gandhi ended up one of the most powerful leaders in history, having incredible influence on his nation and the world. He taught, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Transform yourself before attempting to influence others.

Start by creating a list of your deeply held values. These must be real beliefs and not just nice things to say, as they will be tested thousands of times. This first step is so critical, it is worth taking the time to do right.

Get away from distractions while attempting to extract your core beliefs. The key is to examine yourself very carefully. You may want to work with a facilitator or group of friends on this, but start the process alone. Bring in others once you have a first draft to share.

Brainstorming is a helpful tool for this. Sit alone in a comfortable chair with eyes closed and some non-intrusive background music playing, and let your mind wander on the subject of your core beliefs. Write down anything that comes to mind, exactly as you think it, without trying to make it politically correct. Just capture the thoughts. This may be difficult to do honestly. This exercise can take from two to eight hours, and more than one try might be necessary. Once you are comfortable with the process, ideas will flow rapidly.

When it feels complete, put the list away and do not analyze it until later. Resist the temptation to charge ahead to the next step. Allow your subconscious mind time to work on the list. Additional items will flow naturally over the next week or so, when you are in a meeting, in the shower, driving, or even sleeping. This extremely valuable information must be captured. Keep a pad handy to jot down thoughts as they arise.

After a couple weeks, you should have captured 40-50 items, and the list will feel more complete. Start the winnowing process by doing an analysis of similar items. Write each item on a card, and arrange them into piles with common themes. Consolidate the piles down to a handful of key values.

Four to six piles would be optimal, although you could have more. One pile might focus on your beliefs about what drives people, like: “I believe all people are basically good and want to do well” or “I believe people do their best work when they feel trusted.” Whatever your cards say will dictate the piles. Next, give each pile a name. In our previous example, the name would be “what motivates people.” Another pile might be “how to make our business prosper” or “what I want out of life.” Let the data speak for itself.

Distill the input in each pile down to its essence and express it in a single phrase or sentence. This may be challenging or frustrating but it is an essential part of the process. Keep working the cards until you get to a handful of key concepts central to your beliefs as a leader. If there are private beliefs not helpful to share in a work setting, you can cull these out before sharing, but understand these are also keys to what drives you.

It is insightful to compare your values to those of the parent organization. They may not be exactly the same, but they must be compatible. If you have been dissatisfied or uncomfortable in your job, this exercise may help you understand why. You may be better off leaving to find a more compatible environment if the organization’s values are not congruent with your own.

Now that you have clarified your values, let others reflect on them and do a similar process. Working with your team, repeat the same steps to construct a set of values for your group. Having done your personal homework ahead of time will make the process faster and easier.

The process of “wordsmithing” these lists can be frustrating. It is possible to have groups spend hours arguing over exact words for a values statement or a vision and get stuck on it every time it comes up. A professional facilitator can help streamline the process and avoid lengthy debate sessions.

If you are unanimous in spirit but hung up on words, get it roughly right and move forward. Use the 80/20 rule for this. (The 80/20 rule is derived from the “Pareto Principle,” which states that in any grouping of items, 80% of the value will be contained in 20% of the items.) Focus energy on the 20% of items that contain 80% of the value and table the others. It is not the words that are important, but the spirit and understanding.

The final result should be a set of values fully supported by your key leaders that grew out of discussions of everyone’s personal values. Putting this information on charts for the wall is helpful, but it is much more important to have it implanted in the minds and hearts of everyone. Only when internalized will it do any good.

If you are not in a formal leadership position, documenting your personal values is still important. Use them to chart your personal course. Sharing them with others in your group or with your boss shows maturity and facilitates communication.

One caution: this should be done with care and only when a proper rapport between people has developed. Sharing your personal values in the wrong way at the wrong time can backfire. It is better to weave the ideas into natural conversation than to force them on people. For example, you might say, “Let’s allow Sally to provide her own wording for the proposal. I believe people become more engaged in the work if they have the personal freedom to choose how it is done. In fact that is one of my core values.”

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind 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 94 Two Organizational States

May 26, 2021

With exceptional leadership, it is nearly impossible for an organization to fail. Eventually the unit will rise to stardom.

The rationale is simple: outstanding leadership is rare and, when present, the sheer power unleashed by this person in the organization will allow it to easily out-flank competition by creating a sustainable competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, the converse is also true; an organization reporting to a poor leader is almost certain to fail. Only incredible luck or windfall can prevent it.

The reason is the damage unwittingly done by this person to the soul of the organization. The lack of clear direction and poor morale mean no amount of cheerleading or other management techniques can bring this organization out of the mire.

The stock exchange floor is littered with horror stories of how the actions of poor leaders have brought companies, and even whole industries, to their knees.

Most leaders are somewhere in between these extremes. Imagine if you could improve your own leadership skills, along with the skills of those around you. The result would be incredible forward momentum in your organization.

This change would reinforce the good leadership and allow the recruitment and training of other outstanding leaders. All of a sudden, you would find yourself working in a more successful and rewarding organization.

The highest calling for a leader is to help groups move from one state of affairs to a better one. To illustrate, imagine two extremes.

State A is an awful condition found in many institutions today. There is little trust and even a decent dialog is lacking. Workers are convinced Management is only there for personal gain. Management tries to convince workers they want to help the organization survive in the competitive jungle. They explain that draconian actions such as downsizing or wage freezes are honestly in the best long-term interest of everyone.

The workers do not buy this at all, and Management continues to self-destruct. Most attempts to make things better backfire, as the emotions of people spiral into further decline.

When things get desperate, Management calls in the consultants with an improvement program, and the whole situation becomes fodder for another chapter in the Dilbert series. State A is common in work environments, and those who benefit from it most are the cartoonists.

I witnessed a vivid example of State A when soliciting a United Way pledge at a small manufacturing firm. I was in the office of a VP and overheard a public address announcement by the CEO. “Starting today nobody is allowed to work over the lunch break.” I asked the VP what that was all about. He rolled his eyes and said, “Don’t ask – you really don’t want to know. It has to do with some people working extra and wanting us to pay for it.” Continuing with the solicitation, we heard the CEO back on the bullhorn a couple minutes later. “Anybody who has trouble understanding my last message can come and see me in my office. I’ll explain it to you.”

My blood ran cold. How could such an atmosphere exist in today’s culture? Needless to say, I got no United Way contribution and left as soon as possible. That organization is in the process of going out of business. They have little chance to survive without a change in leadership because they are too far down the slide of morale decline.

The degradation of State A increases over time. As rapport diminishes, attempts to set things right with quick fixes and new improvement programs only speed the downward momentum. It takes a complete catharsis to reverse the damage. That process can take years and usually involves changing the leadership and the entire environment. Often groups do not have the patience for this radical surgery, nor the courage to attempt it.

The real heartbreak of State A is its expense to the organization. Nothing works correctly, and much of the energy is spent on damage control. How can a business hope to be competitive in that state?

It is also expensive in human terms, as people stoop to unimaginable levels. Ordinarily honorable hardworking people intentionally harpoon a process because they cannot bear the hypocrisy they perceive in Management. In other situations, these people may be pillars of the community, church leaders, or loyal volunteers, but at work they undermine initiatives put forth by the current administration due to the atmosphere. The management process is perfectly designed to get the awful results being obtained. What a tragedy!

State B is stimulating to describe because it is more fun for everyone. It is that wonderful state where people are excited about their jobs. They respect their leaders and feel fully engaged in the success of the business as owners. They will sacrifice personal comfort, and even security, for the good of the entity.

In State B, you see people coming to work early and doing activities to help the venture in their time off. Any time there is a nasty assignment, there will be many volunteers to get it done. There is a state of joy and fun at work, as these energized people delight in beating the competition. Their focus is on the customer and competition, not each other or the administration.

Management is different in State B. They are mostly there in an advisory role, to support, reinforce, and mentor. Their most significant function is helping people get more of what they want through the success of the organization. They take on the teaching or coaching role as described by Wellins, Byham, and Wilson in “Empowered Teams”:

“At no time does the leader take on the problem personally. Instead by coaching individuals through the possible steps for handling the problem effectively, the leader offers help without taking responsibility for action. This is the soul of empowerment because it creates a sense of ownership.”

There is little need for the leader to discipline people in State B because most situations are resolved at the lowest level. Occasionally, a problem employee needs to be weeded out, but that has the full support of the others, since they are tired of carrying the troublemaker.

There is a sense of vision in these groups. They know where they are and where they are going. They set aggressive goals and often exceed them. They are also guided by a set of values that are more than a chart on the wall. Values have been instilled into the workforce through the actions (not words) of their leader.

It is a kind of family atmosphere, but the kind of family that really supports and loves each other. Yes, in a State B environment the word “love” is often heard – in fact, that is one of the hallmarks of State B. It is hard to find words to express how deeply these people care about each other and what they are doing together.

It was the same result Lou Holtz achieved several times as a collegiate football coach. He inherited six teams, all with losing records. Each of those teams went on to a bowl game by the second season at the latest. In his famous videotape on leadership, “Do Right,” Holtz says, “The team came back, not because of a coach. They came back because the attitude was there.” What he modestly fails to point out is that the attitude came from his philosophies and leadership. Without intervention of excellent leadership, the teams that experienced dramatic improvements under Lou Holtz would likely have gone on losing.

States A and B are two extremes. Most groups are somewhere in between. Unfortunately the average tends toward State A. If State A gets exponentially worse, State B is more linear, but it requires constant tending to avoid atrophy.

This is the highest calling of the leader – to keep a finger on the pulse of the environment, to make small corrective actions whenever changes occur, and to relentlessly move groups toward State B. If this is the leader’s prime focus, all other parameters of measurable success, profits, quality, morale, etc., will take care of themselves.

Fortunately, there is an automatic correction mechanism. It provides constant insight and a kind of servo control, a mechanism that works like the cruise control of a car, to keep things moving toward the ideal state. This automatic correction means you must have an ideal state: a vision. Any time you are moving off the path, away from the vision, the control takes over, moving things back toward the ideal state.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind 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.