Leadership Barometer 82 – Leaders Empower People

March 3, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Strong Leaders Empower People

On this dimension there is a stark contrast between great leaders and poor ones. In organizations with great leaders, they empower people. They provide a clear and believable vision of the future that is truly compelling to the workers.

They provide the resources and support required to reach that vision. They encourage and enable people to put their best efforts into the journey toward success.

They celebrate the small wins along the way to reinforce the progress. If there is a problem, the leaders work to reduce or eliminate it quickly.

They communicate constantly how things are progressing toward the vision. People feel informed and motivated.

Weak Leaders

When leaders are weak, you see the exact opposite. Leaders are viewed by the employees as barriers. They get in the way of progress by invoking bureaucratic hurdles that make extra work or cause conflict.

They use a command-and-control philosophy that stifles creativity and empowerment. There is a foggy vision or the vision is not that exciting to employees. Like if they struggle to make it happen, the result will not be so great.

I felt that in my final years with a once-successful company. The vision was very clear; they had to shrink their way to success. This meant huge stress and more workers who would be let go year after year. What an awful vision! I left and never looked back.

In organizations that are led by weak leaders, people feel they are operating with both hands tied behind their backs. This condition leads to poor performance, and so the leaders put on more and more pressure to compensate. It is a vicious circle that reminds me of the water funnel in a toilet. In fact, it is very much like that.

Weak leaders also fail to communicate well, so quite often workers are left to create their own stories about what is happening in the organization. That condition will usually have a strong negative effect on morale.

Conclusion

If you want to measure the caliber of a leader, just start asking the people in the organization if their leader empowers people or is a barrier to progress. Their answer will tell you quickly how talented that leader is.




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


Leadership Barometer 81 Build a SAFE Environment

February 22, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Build a SAFE Environment

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

We have learned over the past decade that just because a company is great now is no guarantee it will even exist in a year or two. There is really no such thing as job security anymore. As an example, look at Circuit City. Back in 2002, it was on top of the heap, and even qualified as one of the “Great” companies in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. By 2008, the company was history. So, it is not surprising that few people feel the kind of job security that most individuals felt in the 80’s and 90’s. It is just a fact of life, and that kind of fear needs to be used to create the impetus to do better on a daily basis.

Create Psychological Safety

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

Great leaders create an environment of psychological safety, where this kind of fear is nonexistent. Reason: The lack of fear will allow trust to grow, and in a trusting environment the organization has a much better chance to flourish.

What is the mechanism by which great leaders create psychological safety? They do it by reinforcing candor. They let people know they will not be punished for speaking their truth.

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

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



Leadership Barometer 80 Lowers Credibility Gap

February 10, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lowers Credibility Gap

In any organization, credibility gaps exist between layers. These gaps lower the trust within the organization and make good communication more difficult. The credibility gaps may exist for a number of different reasons. I will share a few common examples for clarity, but recognize there can be hundreds of different causes for the gaps.

1. Managers may believe most of the workers are not working up to capacity in order to have an easier time. The manager perceives a lack of dedication by the lower-level workers.

2. Workers may not trust the managers because they believe the managers are insincere or really just don’t care about the workers. They are in it just to make more money.

3. Non-local workers, or those working remotely, may believe the people at the main office have built-in advantages and perks.

4. People may think they are not being given the full set of information and that some vital points have not been shared, like a potential plant shutdown.

5. Gaps in communication between on-site and remote staff can create mistrust.

Fill in the Gaps

Great leaders have a knack for lowering these gaps, first by recognizing their existence, and second, by filling in believable information in both directions, up and down the hierarchy.

These gaps form much more easily in an environment where some people are working remotely, so extra care must be extended during those interactions. The cure is to increase communication with people when they are working remotely.

When there is tension between one layer and another, great leaders work to find out the root cause of the disconnect. It could be a nasty rumor, it could be based on a prior breach of trust, it might be an impending reorganization or merger, it could be due to an outside force like a new government restriction. Whatever the root cause will determine how the gap can be eliminated.

Conclusion

Excellent leaders take steps to reduce the problem while the gap is a small crack and before it becomes like the Grand Canyon. They help people breach the divide by getting the two levels to communicate and really negotiate a better position. Weak leaders are more like victims who wait until the battle is raging and the chasm is too broad to cross without a major investment in some kind of bridge.




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


Leadership Barometer 79 Generates Passion

January 31, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Generates Passion

Great leaders are not only passionate people, but they have an uncanny way of igniting the entire population with that passion. This is a real gift.

Note that in the current times of many people working remotely, it is far more difficult to generate new passion. It requires extra effort to communicate more and more often. Enthusiasm and passion are easier to spread when you can be with people in person or one on one.

I believe most leadership skills can be learned, but the ability to spread one’s passion to others is different. Passion has to be genuine. Passion comes from within, and the key is to let it out and show it. Speakers, classes, and books can inspire passion, but you have to find your own authentic way to communicate it.

Most people do have the seed of passion in their DNA. They just need to hone their communication skills so they are optimized and available.

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

I think of people like Zig Zigler, Earl Nightingale, Warren Bennis, Napoleon Hill, Lou Holtz, or Vince Lombardi. There are literally hundreds of great role models, and they all have content on the internet or in programs that can be purchased or just viewed at no cost on YouTube.

You can find enough material to keep you learning about spreading passion for years. I know because I have most of the programs or DVDs with their content and listen to them often. I have memorized the key points and seek to apply them in my life.

For more contemporary content, you might tap into the daily blog of Seth Goden, or the weekly articles by Gary Burnison of Korn Ferry. Look around and find a few favorite authors who tend to inspire you and subscribe to their periodic publications on the internet.

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

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

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


Leadership Barometer 78 Handle Crises

January 21, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Handle Crises

One easy way to measure the caliber of a leader is to observe him or her in a crisis. Great leaders take command, but do so in a special way that weaker leaders try unsuccessfully to emulate.

In the first place they have the ability to diffuse internal crises and avoiding a kind of mob scene where workers gang up on the leader.

Secondly in an increasingly fragmented or virtual workforce, the ability to see a crisis coming is much more of a challenge.

Great leaders increase their communication with people who are working remotely to identify issues while they impending or very small.

The distinction begins even before the crisis is evident. It is a mindset.

Average leaders take a rest when things are going smoothly. They focus on the little fires and beat them down so they do not spread.

Other than that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the mentality. We might as well enjoy the way things are going, since it is smooth sailing.

Plan for Future Problems

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

In business, the magnitude or timing of the next storm is far less predictable than in nature. For example, in late summer, we can expect several hurricanes to crop up in the Atlantic and work their way toward the mainland U.S.

Once they form, computer models can predict, with various levels of accuracy, the strength of the storm and if, when, and where the storm will come ashore.

Most crises in business are less predictable. Some trends can be tracked, but usually the big disruptive events are things that are impossible to forecast.

For example, if we are manufacturing aircraft, we can plot the seasonality and long-term trends, attempting to anticipate peak loads. Then, a fire in the factory causes a crisis that is a total surprise.

The impact of the crisis on our business dwarfs anything we had been planning based on market projections, yet we are forced to deal with it immediately.

Also, note that when people are working from different locations, it is much harder to keep an eye on everything.

Problems may kindle from afar and grow into major disruptions before knowledge of them is evident to everyone. That is why additional communication is vital.

Leaders need to develop closer ties with remote workers than they might have had in the full office environment to keep two-way information flowing. It is tempting for people to “disappear” into their work and not want to “bother” the leader with issues.

When leaders work to develop these closer ties, it facilitates working together well during a crisis.

During the Storm

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

Communication channels have not been set up to handle the chaos, so instructions or intentions come through as garbled signals, especially for remote locations.

Think of the emergency responders in the World Trade Center after the first tower fell. Instructions were not getting through to all responders, and many additional lives were lost because of it.

The average leader somehow manages to deploy an effort to fight the situation, but it is often meager compared to the proportion of the disaster.

People wonder why there was not more specific leadership coming through when it was needed most.

Great Leadership Amid the Chaos

By contrast, the great leader has refined the procedures for communication and action ahead of time. Even though the exact nature of the crisis is not known, the preparation phase is an ongoing high priority.

There are often mock “fire drills” to practice damage control and hone communication procedures to be ready in case the real thing happens.

For example, a CEO might arrange to distribute a fake internal news release that a disgruntled customer is out on social media spreading false rumors about their products. This could force people to react with everything from retractions, to insurance negotiations, to legal briefings, to press statements, etc.

After practicing the mock disaster, they could hold a debrief meeting and might determine the internal communication between executives was practically nonexistent during the crisis. This debriefing effort needs to include all of the remote resources as well as those working in the central office.

All of the managers were doing their best to keep a lid on the damage, but the total effort was not well coordinated. This debrief would allow the team to design an information dissemination process so if a crisis ever surfaced, they would be in a far better position.

These preparatory actions are not rocket science, but they are usually neglected by weak leaders. The strong leaders take the time ahead of a crisis to get everyone prepared and thus come out a lot better when the real crisis hits; more preparation leads to less damage.

Strong leaders leverage the energy caused by a crisis so they end up better and stronger as a company than they were before the crisis occurred.



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




Leadership Barometer 77 Optimize Communication

January 12, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Optimize communication

All of us communicate all of the time. When you add the body language to what we say, there is a steady stream of communication all day, every day, so why does communication nearly always surface in the top two of every employee satisfaction survey as the most significant problem facing an organization?

The sad fact is that most leaders are not that good at communicating, even though they work very hard at it. Let’s first look at the problem form two vantage points.

The leader feels nearly overwhelmed with the need to communicate. In fact, the leader is communicating from the moment she logs on in the morning until she turns out the light exhausted at the end of the day.

All work is a steady stream of explaining what is happening, reinforcing good work, explaining how poor attitudes are not helping, discussing the new product roll out, etc. The challenge is compounded in recent times when a greater percentage of the work force is working remotely. Leaders need to redouble their efforts to communicate and use technology to be sure all people are informed, even if they are working remotely.

So, it is frustrating when people feedback that there is “never any communication” going on. Wow, what a slap in the face. Sometimes the opposite happens. There are a lot more emails in the COVID World. When people get too many emails, they can’t keep up and feel pestered or nagged.

From the worker’s perspective, the signals that are coming through are not consistent and often incomprehensible. They long for information in a format and frequency that computes to them. The messages workers hear are not the same ones sent by the leader.

There are frequent surprises where a vacuum in communication is followed by a “gotcha” announcement or people doing the wrong things.

The battle for excellent communication rages every day in every organization. Let’s take a look at some of the root causes of poor downward communication to uncover some opportunities for improvement.

1. Frequency 

The span between communication on key issues is trickier than meets the eye. The old rule of “the more the merrier” is really not the best policy.

When you constantly say the same message in the same format, eventually people tune it out, and you might better not have said anything because nobody is listening anymore.

Yet, the other extreme is worse, if your touch points are so infrequent that people have forgotten the context of the message, then they will listen and hear, but not understand. So, what is the antidote?

How do leaders find the sweet spot? You need to let feedback from people be the frequency control on your outgoing communication. Most of this feedback comes in body language – often in group settings in live or remote interfaces.

2. Boring Message 

I have seen really good leaders who tend to drone on in a monotone style that puts everybody to sleep. All the information is given, but everyone is zzzz’d out, so there is poor communication.

The best way to avoid this is to watch for the MEGO effect (short for My Eyes Glaze Over). When people get that look, (which is harder to detect accurately in a remote world), you need to stop and ask a question. Get the audience back with you.

Change the cadence, even use 5 seconds of silence to get the group conscious again. Get people up on their feet or engaged in a question for discussion among small groups. In virtual meetings, use the breakout rooms to accomplish this. The energy needs to be on a conscious level for people to grasp meaning.

3. Not What I Said 

Some people hear what they think you are going to say, even if you say something else. Their predisposition leaves them incapable of absorbing the actual words and meaning.

It reminds me of the old Archie Bunker quote, when he says to his wife, Edith, “The reason you don’t understand me, is because I’m talking in English and you’re listening in Dingbat!”

During any presentation, test with your audience if you are getting through the fog. If they are not with you, stop talking.

4. Too Complex 

In an effort to be complete with communications, many leaders are their own worst enemy. People can only absorb and internalize so much information at one time. Exactly how the information is conveyed has a lot to do with how much can be presented at any one time.

Make sure each communication effort has only two or three key points and these are repeated at least three times in the presentation.

Test afterward if people really understood those three key points. Use illustrations when possible and consider the different learning styles of your audience and where they are located.

5. Management Speak 

Leaders often talk in a kind of language I call “management speak.” They need to understand that the average shop floor person does not relate to ROI or references to Maslow.

Make sure your communication is on a level where people can readily grasp the message. However, be very careful to not “talk down” to people on the shop floor.

They are not dumb; in fact they are incredibly smart. They just use different words, and you need to use their language as much as possible when communicating messages to them.

Resist the temptation to “dumb down the message” so they can understand. Instead think of using the right language.

6. Shifting Messages 

It is not a static world, so a valid message on Wednesday may be the wrong one on Friday. The problem here is that leaders are cognizant of what transpired as the current message morphed into something different.

Unfortunately, the shop floor people are not up to speed on the shifting sands. Remote workers may have missed a key change that impacts everything. All they experience is a confusing message that is not consistent.

Actually, this problem is more pervasive than leaders recognize, and it is a key reason why there is such a disconnect.

The antidote is for leaders to be extremely cognizant of any small change in the message over time. Make sure you bring all people up to speed on the background for the change if you want them to grasp the true meaning.

7. Electronic Communication 

Leaders have shifted to a much higher percentage of communication via online means. It is not in the scope of this short article to go over all of the gremlins in this mode of communication.

It took me 300 pages in a book (“Understanding e-Body Language – Building Trust Online“) to describe how leaders fail to navigate the minefield of successful online communication.

Suffice to say this is an area of great peril. Unfortunately, most leaders think there is little difference between communicating face to face versus online. There is a huge difference (I outline 8 major differences in my book). An example may help here.

Most people view an email like a conversation. You have information coming in, you process it, and then send information out. Just a conversation, right? Wrong!

When we talk to people face to face, we are constantly modifying the message, cadence, body language, and the words based on the real-time feedback we are getting.

Online, there is no feedback while the message is being sent. It is all blind, and we have no way to correct things if we are off track. Thinking of online communication like a conversation is extremely dangerous. In Zoom or other remote platforms, it is far more difficult to read the body language of your audience.

8. Communicating at the Head Level

Good communication does not occur at the “head” level. Sure, we use the mouth to speak, the ears to hear, the brain to interpret, the eyes to see, etc.

Real communication is deep in the gut and the heart. When you have internalized the message fully, it goes well into the body.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have communicated with someone because you have talked and they appear to have heard it. Verify what was taken in at the gut level.

Those are just 8 ways of improving communication. Actually there are hundreds of them, this article only scratches the surface. But, if you focus on these few important considerations, you can really improve your communications with people at work.

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





Leadership Barometer 76 Build a Reinforcing Culture

January 3, 2021

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly.

Here is one of my favorite measures.

Build a Reinforcing Culture

Leaders who are good at reinforcing others well end up gaining substantial leverage. Simply put, people tend to perform better if they feel appreciated. Since the days of Pavlov, we know that conditioning leads to improved actions, so this is no surprise.

Unfortunately, many leaders do not know or appreciate that reinforcement is a minefield. There are numerous ways to reinforce poorly. I have outlined these in my books and in other articles. Four categories of reinforcement mistakes are:

• Reinforcing with trivial trinkets too much
• Not being sincere with reinforcement
• Having timing and method not feel reinforcing to the receiver
• Applying reinforcement that is perceived biased and inequitable

For this article, I want to focus on the culture rather than just the reinforcement habits of the leader. It is one thing to avoid the pitfalls above as a single person. That action will have leverage, but it will not change the whole organization nearly as much as if the leader encourages everyone in the organization to become good at reinforcing.

What are some tips to allow this to happen?

Model good reinforcement yourself – always take the opportunity to make people feel good when they do good things. Do not rely on trivial gifts like t-shits and pencils. Use a variety of techniques and use simple verbal or written praise for most of this work.

Also recognize that the huge changes in the way we work made necessary during the COVID 19 pandemic will make the way we work different in the future.

We will never go back to the way we worked before 2020. It is most likely we will have a much larger percentage of the population working from home. In that case, the tangible reinforcements will have less of an impact and verbal or written praise will be even more important.

Talk about the technology and the pitfalls – discuss successes and failures openly. If an attempt at reinforcement backfires, hold a meeting to debrief what went wrong, how it can be corrected, and how it can be prevented in the future.

Reinforce people when they reinforce others – I know that reads like double talk or circular logic. The idea is that the leader needs to enhance the good feelings that people in the organization get when they take the time to say or write “thank you” to other people in the group.

I would always get back to someone who wrote a thank you note to a co-worker thanking him or her for the help or whatever. The essence of my note was to make the originator feel great about taking the time to recognize the good deeds of another person.

If you are interested in specific leadership assessments, click on the link.

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