Leadership Barometer 91 Ten Hallmarks of High Trust Organizations

May 5, 2021

The advantages of working in a high trust environment are evident to everyone from the CEO to the shop floor, from suppliers to customers, and even the competition.

Building and maintaining trust within any organization pays off with many benefits. Unfortunately, not many organizations have been able to create an environment of high trust. The few that do have high trust enjoy an incredible sustainable advantage.

To understand why, we can contrast high trust environments with lower trust areas along many dimensions.

Solving Problems


In organizations of high trust, problems are dealt with easily and efficiently. In low trust organizations, problems become huge obstacles as leaders work to unscramble the mess to find out who said what or who caused the problem to spiral out of control. Often feelings are hurt or long-term damage in relationships occurs. While problems exist in any environment, they take many times longer to resolve if there is low trust. That is wasted time.

Focused Energy


People in organizations with high trust do not need to be defensive. They focus energy on accomplishing the Vision and Mission of the organization. Their energy is directed toward the customer and against the competition.

In low trust organizations, people waste energy due to infighting and politics. Their focus is on internal squabbles and destructive turf battles.

Bad blood between people creates a litany of issues that distract supervision from the pursuit of excellence. Instead, they play referee all day.

Efficient Communication


When trust is high, the communication process is efficient as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy.

In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction.

Trying to control the zapping information takes energy away from the mission and strategy.

High trust organizations rely on solid, believable communication, while the atmosphere in low trust groups is usually one of damage control and minimizing employee unrest. Since people’s reality is what they believe rather than what is objectively happening, the need for damage control in low trust groups is often a huge burden.

Retaining Customers


Workers in high trust organizations have a passion for their work that is obvious to customers.

When trust is lacking, workers often display apathy toward the company that is transparent to customers. This condition undermines top line growth as customers turn to more upbeat groups for their services.

All it takes is the roll of eyes or some shoddy body language to send valuable customers looking for alternative places to do their business.

A “Real” Environment


People who work in high trust environments describe the atmosphere as being “real.” They are not playing games with one another in a futile attempt to outdo or embarrass the other person. Rather, they are aligned under a common goal that permeates all activities.

When something is real, people know it and respond positively. When trust is high, people might not always like each other, but they have great respect for each other. That means, they work to support and reinforce the good deeds done by fellow workers rather than try to find sarcastic or belittling remarks to make about them.

The reduction of infighting creates hours of extra time spent achieving business goals.

Saving Time and Reducing Costs


High trust organizations get things done more quickly because there are fewer distractions. There is no need to double check everything because people generally do things right.

In areas of low trust, there is a constant need to spin things to be acceptable and then to explain what the spin means. This takes time, which drives costs up.

Perfection not Required


A culture of high trust relieves leaders from the need to be perfect. Where trust is high, people will understand the intent of a communication even if the words were phrased poorly.

In low trust groups, the leader must be perfect because people are poised to spring on every misstep to prove the leader is not trustworthy. Without trust, speaking to groups of people is like walking on egg shells.

More Development and Growth


In low trust organizations, people stagnate because there is little emphasis placed on growth. All of the energy is spent jousting between individuals and groups.

High trust groups emphasize development, so there is a constant focus on personal and organizational growth.

Better Reinforcement


When trust is high, positive reinforcement works because it is sincere and well executed.

In low trust organizations, reinforcement is often considered phony, manipulative, or duplicitous which lowers morale.

Without trust, attempts to improve motivation through reinforcement programs often backfire.

A Positive Atmosphere


The atmosphere in high trust organizations is refreshing and light. People enjoy coming to work because they have fun and enjoy their coworkers. They are also more than twice as productive as their counterparts in lower trust areas.

In groups with low trust, the atmosphere is oppressive. People describe their work as a hopeless string of sapping activities foisted upon them by the clueless morons who run the place.

These are just ten contrasts describing the difference between high trust and low trust organizations. There are many more distinctions, some of them very subtle. No list of contrasts could be complete.

If you have an organization where trust is low, you are operating under such a huge disadvantage to your counterpart with high trust you cannot hope to survive.

Most top leaders understand all of the above. The conundrum is, they sincerely want to build an environment of high trust, but they consistently do things that take them in the wrong direction.

Many leaders end up hiring expensive consultants to help create a better environment within their organization. This rarely works because the leader does not realize the problem cannot be fixed by an outsider.

To fix the problem of low trust the leader needs to say, “The atmosphere around here stinks, and it must be my fault because I am the one in charge. How can I change my own behavior in order to turn the tide toward an environment of higher trust”?

With that attitude, there is a real possibility an outside coach or consultant can help the organization. Unfortunately, most leaders have a blind spot on their own contribution to low trust, so in those groups there is little hope of a lasting change.

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, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders.




Leadership Barometer 90 Use Your RAS

April 28, 2021

The human brain is a remarkable organ. It has many fascinating properties that can give us insights on how to live a better and more effective life.

One of these phenomena occurs at the base of the brain: the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

RAS is an incredible filtering system that allows human beings to sort out and pay attention to things that are important to us while disregarding the bombardment of other things that are not critical.

It is the mechanism that allows us to focus attention on the vital few and ignore the trivial many.

I will leave how the RAS works to the brain experts, but the impact of it is a wonder to behold. In this article, I want to explore RAS along with how you can use it to improve your life. The best way to appreciate the power of RAS is through examples.

Lobby Discussions

Imagine you are in a theater during intermission. The crowded lobby is abuzz with the cacophony of voices, and it is impossible to hear any conversation except the one closest to you. In the crowd, within earshot, someone mentions your name.

All of a sudden you are able to laser focus on that conversation, ignoring all the rest, and actually hear what that person is saying about you. If the person had not uttered your name, there would be no way you would hear what she was saying. That is RAS in action.

New Truck

Let’s look at another typical example. You just came out of a car dealership after having ordered a red Ford truck. On the way home, you start to notice red Ford trucks everywhere.

Driving into the dealership, you paid no attention and did not notice any trucks at all. Once the RAS is activated, it allows all kinds of miraculous things to happen.

Practice using your RAS

RAS is a very powerful tool, but we need to be continuously aware of that power if we are to harness it for use in our lives.

Try this little exercise. Try to identify 5-10 times in each day where you are applying the understanding of RAS to improve how you manage your life.

For example, you might be sitting in a cafeteria with hundreds of people. In the distance, you spot an old friend you had been thinking about recently and realize you have not spoken to him in over a year.

You resolve to call him that afternoon. Immediately you recognize that RAS helped you find that person and renew the acquaintance. That counts as one of the 10 opportunities to use RAS.

That evening, while scanning a magazine, out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of an ad for a boat and immediately remember that you had intended to buy a new fishing reel this week.

The association was made possible by RAS. That would be number two example. Try to find 5-10 examples a day.

By focusing your energy on understanding how you can use RAS to filter your thinking as opposed to following random thoughts, you will actually be doing a kind of “meta RAS” where the technique is helping you identify opportunities to use its power for you daily. It sounds complex, but it is really pretty basic.

Do not overlook the power of RAS to improve your life. The more you practice identifying the phenomenon within you and using it, the more creative ways you will find of having it guide you to a better life.

Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Leadership Barometer 89 Wag More Bark Less

April 22, 2021

I confess, this title was not made up by me. My wife saw a bumper sticker with this sentiment and shared it with me.

I think the basic wisdom in the phrase is genius and wish there was a way to get some leaders to understand the simple logic here.

Why is it that some leaders feel compelled to bark when wagging is a much more expedient way to bring out the best in people?

Barking

The barking dog is simply doing its job. The dog only knows that to defend his territory, he needs to sound off at anything that might encroach. The frequency of barking is an interesting aspect.

Why does the dog bark at intervals less than about 10 seconds? Is it because he has a short memory and can’t remember that he just barked? Is it because the potential invaders of his territory need to be reminded every few seconds that he is still around? Is it because he simply enjoys keeping the neighbors up all night? Is he showing off his prowess or having some kind of dog-world conversation with the mutt down the street?

I think all of these things could be factors in the frequency of barking, but I suspect the primary reason is a show of persistence. The message we get from the barking dog is “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance.”

In the workplace, if a leader sends a signal, “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance,” the workforce is going to get the message and comply. Unfortunately, group performance and morale are going to be awful, but the decibel level will at least keep everyone awake.

Wagging

When a dog wags its tail, that is a genuine sign of happiness and affection. You can observe the rate of wagging and determine the extent of the dog’s glee. Sometimes the wag is slow, which indicates everything is okay, and life is good.

When you come home at night and the dog is all excited to see you, most likely the wag is more of a blur, and it seems to come from way up in the spine area. The wag indicates, “I love you, I am glad you are here, you are a good person to me, and will you take me for a walk?”

Dogs are incredibly loyal, even beyond human reason. For example, I am reminded of the picture of a Labrador Retriever lying next to the coffin of his master who was killed in Afghanistan. The dog refused to leave the area.

Even when a dog is not treated well, it does not become critical or judgmental. The wag is not withheld because the dog had a bad day. The dog looks for the good and appreciates it. The dog is ever hopeful, ever optimistic, ever grateful. The wag is still there unless the dog is seriously sick. It is amazing.

A leader who wags more and barks less gets more cooperation. Life is better for people working for this leader, and they simply perform better. Showing appreciation through good reinforcement is the more enlightened way to lead, yet we still see many leaders barking as their main communication with people. Look for the good in people, and appreciate it. Try to modify your bark to wag ratio and see if you get better results over time.


Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with Kodak and with non-profit organizations. To bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763



Leadership Barometer 88 Read Body Language

April 14, 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.

 Read Body Language

Body language is extremely important when communicating with others and reading their emotions. This skill is critical for leaders to master. There is a ton of data on body language, and I have been studying the topic since 1977.  I still have much to learn.  The purpose of this article is to highlight some key ideas about body language in the hope that it will stimulate you to read more about it. 

Last year I wrote 100 blog articles on this topic.  Here is a list of the articles on Body Language. The list also has links to each individual article in case a particular title catches your interest.

Body Language is Ubiquitous

All people show body language in hundreds of ways all day long.  We reveal our emotions in ways we do not even realize ourselves.  For example, the dilation of your pupils has a wealth of information about your mental state, yet without a mirror, you have no way of knowing how dilated your pupils are.

In fact, most body language we display is subconscious, yet it is in plain sight for other people to see at all times. Reading the various signals accurately is a skill that is extremely helpful in all types of interfaces, especially for leaders. 

Body Language is More Powerful Than Your Words

Albert Mehrabian did a series of measurements over 50 years ago indicating that only 7% of the meaning we get in face-to-face conversation with another individual comes from our words. The remaining 93% of meaning comes from  tone of voice and body language. Mehrabian’s research focused on people who were speaking about their feelings or emotions.

When the words and body language do not agree, we always interpret meaning consistent with the body language rather than the words we use.

Body Language is Culture Specific

It is a mistake to rely heavily on body language cues when dealing with a person from a different culture.  Each culture has its own set of signals, and sometimes they are actually opposite. You need to be very careful when working in a mixed culture atmosphere that you are getting an accurate read of another person’s emotions. For example, if you are Inuit, shaking your head from side-to-side means “yes” and nodding it up and down means “no.” There are some good reference books that are helpful on this topic. One of my favorites is “How to Read a Person Like a Book,” by Gerard Nierenberg.

Look for a Cluster of Signals

One specific bit of body language is not enough to decode the meaning accurately.  It may be an indication, but to get a firm reading on the emotion, you need to see more than two synergistic signals indicating the same emotion. If you pick up a signal, check it out carefully before ascribing specific meaning.  

Avoid sending mixed signals.  When body language is incongruent, it confuses and often annoys people.  Trying to force a particular expression is dangerous because some of your natural signals will be fighting the opposing signals. For example, if you try to look happy when you really are not, it will show in many detectable ways.  Sending mixed signals also works against trust. Try to never put on a specific body language pose.

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 87 Clarify Values

April 7, 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.

          Clarify Values

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 notice every hypocritical action or statement that is inconsistent with the values.

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. In “The Leader Manager,” William Hitt describes the issue this way:

“The decisions and actions of upper management would strongly indicate that quarterly profits are the only real concern.  When it comes to setting actual priorities, it is obvious that employees and their welfare are nowhere near the top.”

Hitt points out that the hypocrisy is not lost on the employees, and it serves to lower their trust in upper management every time.

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.

Identify Your Values

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 it 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 a few hours, and more than one try might be necessary. Once you are comfortable with the process, ideas will flow rapidly.

Soak on the Data

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. 

You must capture this extremely valuable information. Keep a pad handy to jot down thoughts as they arise.

Do an Affinity Analysis

You should capture 40-50 items over a couple weeks, 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 and Focus

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.

After clarifying 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. Doing 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.

Use the 80/20 Rule

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. The words that are not as important as 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 implant it in the minds and hearts of everyone.

Only when the team internalizes them will the values do any good. People will need to model behavior consistent with the values at all times.

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.

Caveat

One caution: Values Clarification should be done with care and only when there is a proper rapport between people. 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 to do it.  In fact, that is one of my core values.”

Conclusion

Having a firm grip on your personal values is extremely important. Those leaders who take the time to follow the steps above will have a much better chance at living a fruitful life.

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 86 Better Teamwork

March 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.

Better Teamwork

The culture of a team governs its effectiveness. Most teams have a culture that allows adequate performance despite many unfortunate outbreaks of tension and sometimes childish behavior.

It is unfortunate that more teams do not experience the exhilaration of working in a supportive culture that produces excellent results. The methods of building teams into high performing units are well documented, but most teams do not go through the rigor required to get to that level.

This article blends well known processes with horse sense born of experience that will allow any team to perform better.

The Tuckman Model

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman described four stages that every team goes through. They are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.

Forming

A critical time for any team is when it is forming, when the team is trying to figure out its role and goals. Members are not sure of their status or contribution at this point, and personal bonding is a key element to the eventual success of the team.

It is advisable for the group to go offsite for some initial teambuilding activities. Many leaders avoid this step, because often team building activities involve a kind of game atmosphere that does not feel like “work.”

In fact, team building is real work that may be fun at the moment, but it is deadly serious business that can result in millions of dollars of profit if done well or millions of dollars in damage control if not done at all.

Storming

During the storming phase, there is some kind of power struggle where members vie for position and influence. It is up to the team leader to help the team move quickly through this awkward time.

Usually, the storming stage is short simply because it is painful. People want to get out of the rut of consternation and move on to getting the work done.

Norming

It is in the norming phase that the team decides the degree of effectiveness it will ultimately enjoy. If individual and team behaviors are agreed upon with conviction, the team will immediately begin to perform with excellence.

Included in this phase is identifying the individual skills brought to the team by the diversity of talent in the group, the goals of the team, the ground rules of expected behavior, and the consequences of failing to comply with team expectations.

Performing

This step is the logical consequence of the first three steps. The bulk of the time a team is together will be spent in the performing phase, and the quality of the work will be dependent on how the first three steps are handled.

Two Key Building Blocks

The two most basic things required for any team to become a high performing unit are 1) a common goal, and 2) trust. If you put these building blocks in place, all of the rest of the team dynamics (like excellent communication) will sort themselves out.

If either of these conditions is missing, the team will sputter and struggle to meet expectations.

Insist on Respect

A key rule fostered by most teams that is most often compromised is to treat each member with respect. There is a kind of disease that sets in most teams where members subtly undermine each other.

People often make jokes in team meetings. Keep your antenna up and you will discover that, for most groups, the majority of jokes are sarcastic digs about other people in the room.

Everyone knows the barbs are only jokes, and they laugh, but deep down there is always some damage.

Smart groups have a conscious norm that they will enjoy humor in meetings but never make a joke at someone else’s expense. It may seem like a small thing, but over time this practice can really help improve the function of any team.

Set the Expectation

Setting expectations is easy to accomplish. The leader just needs to insist on agreed-upon behaviors and remind people when they slip up.

In coaching some groups with a particularly bad habit on this, I have suggested that any time a person makes a joke that is a dig, he or she has to put $5 in a kitty. The money is used later by the group for a party. This small change can actually change the entire culture of a team.

Look for these behaviors and keep track in a few meetings with some hash marks on a piece of paper. You will be astonished how pervasive this problem is and also how some people are addicted to the practice. Then, solve the problem and begin enjoying the benefits of better teamwork.

I have coached hundreds of teams and find that there are patterns that lead to success and other patterns that lead to extreme frustration and failure.

Most Common Problem

There is one condition that rises above all the others when it comes to dysfunctional teams. When some members of the team believe other members are not pulling their fair share of the load, the team is going to have major problems.

This problem is so common there is even a name for it. The practice is called “social loafing,” where one or more people slack off and let others do more than their portion of the work.

Unfortunately, this situation is so common, it is almost universal, yet there is a simple cure that is about 95% successful at preventing this condition or stopping it if it happens. The cure is to have an agreed upon Charter for the team upfront, before behavior problems surface.

Create a Charter

During the forming stage of a team, there is an opportunity to document several critical parameters of how the team will operate. These include:

1. A list of the talents and skills each member of the team can contribute
2. A set of solid, measurable performance goals for the team
3. A set of agreed upon behaviors that the members pledge to follow
4. A statement of the consequences that will occur if a member fails to live up to the behaviors

When teams take the time at the start to document these four items, the chances of success are much higher than if this step is omitted.

The most powerful item is #4, and it is the one that is most often omitted from a charter. The reason it has power is that when the team is forming usually all members have good intentions to pull their weight for the good of the team.

If team members agree that letting the team down by slacking off and having others pick up the slack will result in some unhappy consequence (like being voted off the team, or having no points on an assignment, or having to do extra clean-up work, or some other penalty), they are far less likely to practice “social loafing.” If they are tempted to goof off, then the penalty they have already agreed to is applied, and the bad behavior is quickly extinguished.

Most teams without a good charter end up in the frustration of having one or more people believing that they are unfairly doing more than their fair share of the work. When a good charter spells out the expected behaviors and the penalty for non-compliance before the team experiences a problem, it greatly reduces this most common of all team maladies.


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 85 Humility

March 24, 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.

Humility

Humility is a key characteristic for everyone to embrace. True humility is rarely seen in the ranks of leaders.

Ego, rather than humility, seems to be the more common trait in leadership circles. Let’s examine why this is and suggest some ideas to modify the pattern.

Anyone who has reached a leadership position has a tale to tell. He or she got there through a series of steps and events, some of them deserved and some of them just being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people.

We can believe in synchronicity or nepotism, but still, it usually takes a lot of energy and talent to get ahead.

People in the organization may look at a newly appointed leader and remark how he “lucked into it,” but, as Earl Nightingale observed in Lead The Field, “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.”

Too much ego

There should be some level of personal satisfaction for a leader when he or she emerges from the pack and is elevated. It is a kind of milestone that should be celebrated.

Upon reaching a higher level, the leader quickly becomes aware of an increase in power and influence.

I once got a big promotion, and a young IT employee in the new organization started calling me “thou” and “thee” until I put an end to it.

It is very easy to let the trappings or perks of a higher level inflate one’s ego.

There is nothing wrong with appreciating one’s self-worth if it is kept in proper perspective and the person also appreciates and publicly acknowledges the worth of others.

Unfortunately, many leaders do lose perspective and start acting like jerks.

Scott Adams, inventor of the Dilbert Cartoon Series, would have needed to make a living in some other field if it were not for hubris on the part of pointy-haired leaders.

Level Five Leaders

The role of humility in creating and maintaining trust in organizations was well documented by Jim Collins in Good to Great. Collins identified passion and humility as two common traits of the most effective leaders. He called them “level five leaders.”

It is easy to see the impact of a conceited leader on the organization. If the leader is so brilliant, then nobody else needs to look out for the rocks under the surface. People lose heart and the will to help the cause.

This situation forces the leader to be more all-knowing and perfect because real support is not there.

Executive narcissism

Warren Bennis put it this way, “One motive for turning a deaf ear to what others have to say seems to be sheer hubris: leaders often believe they are wiser than all those around them.

The literature on executive narcissism tells us that the self-confidence top executives need can easily blur into a blind spot, an unwillingness to turn to others for advice.”

Loss of hearing

Leaders who are convinced they are so macho and smart have a difficult time hearing what people are really saying. I love James O’Toole’s observation, “…it is often the presence of excessive amounts of testosterone that leads to a loss of hearing.”

It would be easy to say “don’t be too full of yourself” and show the benefits of humility.

Unfortunately for the narcissist leader, changing the thought patterns and behaviors is extremely difficult. The problem is the blind spots that Bennis refers to.

Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman also noticed the same tendency when he identified that leaders with low Emotional Intelligence have the most significant blind spots. They simply cannot see how they are coming across to others.

The issue of leader hubris is perhaps the most common schism that exists between the senior levels and the workers.

If it is so important, what can we do about it? Is there a kind of anti-hubris powder we can sneak into the orange juice of over inflated executives? Oh, if it were only that easy.

How to be helpful

What we are talking about here is reeducating the boss with influence from below. We want to let him or her know that his or her own attitude is getting in the way of trust.

Reeducating the boss is always tricky. It reminds me of the adage, “Never wrestle a pig…you get all muddy and the pig loves it.”

What do the sailors do if they are facing a Captain Bligh every day? Mutiny is one option, but it can get pretty bloody.

The road to enlightenment is through education. One suggestion is to form a kind of support network with the employees and leaders on the topic of leadership.

Lunch and learn book clubs can begin a constructive dialog. This is where employees, along with their leaders, take a lunch hour once a week to study leadership.

You can’t just march into the boss’s office and say, “You are a total narcissist, knock it off and get down from your pedestal.”

You need to use a water drop treatment with lots of Socratic Questions. Shaping the thought patterns of a superior in the organization is a slow process, like changing the face of the planet in Arizona.

Drop by drop and particle by particle, the sand and soil have been moved to reveal the Grand Canyon.

Changing a leader’s approach might not take eons, but the slow shaping process is the same, only in human years.

Some leaders will remain clueless regardless.

I know one leader who will go to her grave totally blind when it comes to her attitude about her own capability and superiority. If she was reading this passage, she would be nodding her head affirmative and be 100% convinced that I was referring to somebody else, not her.

Perhaps the only hope for a leader like this is some form of radical shock treatment in the form of a series of pink slips.

If you are a leader, try this little test. If you are inclined to think you don’t have any hubris and are a humble servant leader all the time, chances are you have some serious blind spots. Get it checked out!

If your mental picture is one of an imperfect person trying to learn more about how to lead, then you are probably okay.




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 84 Use Data Correctly

March 17, 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.

Use Data Correctly

W. Edwards Deming had a lot to say about how leaders use data incorrectly and waste the resources of an organization. It was part of his philosophy of quality which he called “profound knowledge.”

He stressed a number of mistakes typically made by leaders when handling data. Here are some of the problems along with the antidote for each misuse.

Mistake 1 – Assuming variation is a result of special cause variability when it is really due to common cause variability.

Common cause variability is when a system is in statistical control with small random type variation going on.

The only way to tell if a system is in control is to consider all the data, usually by plotting it, and find out if the data variability is within certain defined bounds. If it is, then for leaders to ask people to explain the variation is simply a waste of time.

People will dutifully go off and try to find out what caused the variation, but the answer will be only a guess and not valid information.

When one or more data points go outside the bounds of normal variability, then there is a special cause. In these cases, it is not only possible but vital to determine what caused the variation so it can be controlled and eliminated in the future.

Most leaders fail to determine if a signal is due to special cause variation when they ask underlings to explain what happened. This causes a large waste of effort, morale, and time.

Mistake 2 – Assessing the capability of a process based on the most recent data point.

It is tempting to react to the most recent data and ask people to take corrective action based on that.

At home, we might say, it’s cold in here, why not turn up the heat? But just because it is cold at the moment does not mean the system needs to be adjusted.

It may be the low point of the cycle that is in common cause variation. In which case, if we turn up the thermostat, we are doing what Deming called “tampering.” Tampering is defined as moving the set point of a system experiencing common cause variation in an attempt to reduce the variability.

In fact, it can be demonstrated that “chasing” the perfect setting will result in a large increase in the variation of the process. It is better to leave things alone.

Many of us have experienced this when sitting in a meeting. All of a sudden someone will say, “Whew, it is very warm in here” and turn down the thermostat. Ten minutes later people in the room are reaching for their sweaters because they are chilled, so up goes the thermostat.

All day long people fiddle with the darned thermostat and swear at the heating system.

The problem resides in the fingers of the people playing with the setting, not the furnace control. They are tampering, which results in roughly double the temperature variation than if they just left things alone.

Mistake 3 – Interpreting two points as a trend

This flaw is ingrained so deeply into the fabric of our thinking that we rarely even realize how stupid most statements of movement really are.

Every day we read in the paper or hear on the news something like the earnings for Company X are up by 20%. We think that is a good thing. Rubbish!

All it means is that in comparison to four quarters ago the earnings are 20% higher. It says nothing about the actual trend of the data.

For knowledge of how the company is doing we need to plot the data and consider the quarterly earnings over something like 8 consecutive quarters. Then we can know what is going on.

Many advertisements for products are based on the faulty logic that two points make a trend.

When we hear that interest rates on mortgages are down by ½ point; that is a symptom of two points equaling a trend. We really cannot use that data to imply what has been happening to interest rates in the past or is likely to happen in the future.

Mistake 4 – Looking for blame rather than root cause

When something goes wrong, leaders often focus on who messed up and why rather than what aspect of the system was the root cause so it can be fixed.

They think if they can pinpoint the culprit and punish him or her that will eliminate problems in the future. Actually, the reverse is true.

By trying to find a scape goat, people tend to hide the truth and work to pin blame on other people to protect their own interests. That leads to infighting and other disruptive behavior.

Mistake 5 – Too much automation of process data

This issue is counter intuitive. One would think that data plotted and interpreted by computers would be superior to that plotted by hand.

In fact, data where people have been involved in the process is more useful because people have the ability to spot peripheral issues and correct them, where a computer will just keep logging rubbish.

When people rely on the machine always being right, there can be disastrous results because, at the root of it, people are in control of the machines, but once programmed, people tend to rely too much on the machine and forget to check for sanity.

That is how pilots occasionally fly into the side of a mountain, because they rely too much on the dumb auto pilot and forget to watch where they are going.

These five mistakes are the most common ones. There are other symptoms of how leaders use data incorrectly to the detriment of their organization and the people.

The antidote for each of these problems is to make sure leaders are educated on these flaws and modify their behaviors to avoid the pitfalls.




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 83 Leaders Create Winners

March 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.

Leaders Create Winners

On this dimension it is easy to see the difference between a good leader and a poor one. Just look at the faces of people in the organization as they go about their daily tasks. Do they look like winners or losers? This is the easiest and quickest way to measure the caliber of a leader.

Great Leaders Inspire People

Great leaders find a way to create a whole society of winners in their organization. Oh sure, 100% of the people are not going to feel great 100% of the time. That would be impossible, but the overarching mood is one of turned-on people who are really in control of their fate as much as society will allow them to be.

They feel good, and people who feel good work well. They are what Ken Blanchard refers to as “gung ho.” Coming to work is exciting and rewarding because they are making a better world for themselves.

That is the true definition of success as coined by Earl Nightingale. He said, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” People under a great leader are successful according to this definition because they are realizing their worthy ideal on a daily basis.

Contrast with a Poor Leader

The contrast here is pretty stark, because people who work for poor leaders feel trapped. They need a job in order to eat and support their family, but they are far more turned-on by organizing a Cub Scout picnic than by making cars or airplanes at work.

They live for the things they get outside work and tolerate the abuse on a daily basis to fund the next mortgage payment and buy the meat.

If you want to measure how good a leader is, just talk to the people and find out where on this spectrum most people live. If it is toward the empowered side and people feel like winners, their leader is a good one. If they feel like victims and work simply to get by, chances are their leader is not a very good one.

Caveat

We do have to be careful in these comparisons to take into account the time a leader has been around. You cannot expect a sick culture to be turned around in a couple weeks. But my contention is that it does not take years for a really good leader to turn around a tough situation. In my experience, a great leader can make a huge impact in even the most challenging organization within a year, often within 6 months.

Conclusion

Work hard at creating a great culture of winners at your place of work. Doing this will put you among the elite leaders in your organization.



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


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.