Leadership Barometer 145 Clear Vision

May 10, 2022

It is a universal vision; every leader would like to obtain higher trust within his or her organization. It stands to reason because trust links directly to the profitability and market value of an organization. 

When trust is high, people work together with high productivity toward the vision of the organization. Low trust groups waste time and resources in unproductive bickering and dysfunctional blind alleys.

I see a conundrum in many organizations. Leaders are often unable to see the connection between their own behaviors and the level of trust within their organization.  They feel somehow trapped by a system that demands herculean quarterly financial results while having to navigate through oppressive regulations. They try to motivate disinterested employees and keep up with a daily avalanche of information.

It seems impossible to achieve the expected results every quarter when dealing with the realities of leading an organization. Driving productivity is more of a challenge when many employees are working remotely.

The thought of trying to build a culture of high trust while constantly feeling like a gladiator in the lion’s den strains credibility. Top leaders try to survive, and that often means taking some actions that appear to compromise the trust.  This article shares a way out of the dilemma. I will share that the key to solving the puzzle is already in the hands of the senior leader. 

Leaders often cannot see how their actions prevent the very thing that will create a more successful existence for everyone.  They are effectively blind to what is causing their problems. If they would change their own behaviors relative to the culture in their organization, things would improve.

Helen Keller said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”    So how can a leader begin to see more clearly? Here are eight ideas that can improve your vision.

  1. Become a Level 5 Leader as described by Jim Collins in Good to Great (2001). Get some coaching on humility and begin using the “window/mirror” analogy. The leader looks out the window when things are going well, but in the mirror when there are problems. Less trust-building leaders do exactly the reverse. They congratulate themselves when things go well but blame employees or other managers when things go poorly.
  2. Reinforce Candor – Create a culture where people feel rewarded when they bring up doubts about the wisdom of an action or decision. That culture gives the CEO a new set of eyes to see clearly how his actions may be compromising trust.
  3. Become a mentor – Seek out several informal leaders in the organization and begin to mentor them. This practice allows the flow of critical information about whether the leader is sending mixed or incorrect signals.
  4. Do more “management by walking around” – Being more visible may seem awkward at first because the CEO may prefer the isolation of the ivory tower. That is one hallmark of the problem. Too many meetings and private lunches give rise to insulation that renders the top executive insensitive to organizational heat.
  5. Conduct a 360 Degree Leadership Evaluation – A periodic measure of high-level leadership skills is one way to prevent a top leader from kidding herself. There are numerous instruments to accomplish this. Doing an assessment is important, but taking the data seriously and creating a plan from the information is crucial.
  6. Get a good coach – Every leader needs a coach to help prevent myopic thinking. Seek out a trusted advisor for a long-term relationship that is candid and challenging. Coaching sessions can be efficient by doing them after hours on the phone or by using online technology.
  7. Develop a leadership study group – A leader can grow personally in parallel with others. Invest some time studying the inspirational writings of top leadership authors. Benchmark leaders from other organizations. There are literally thousands of resources available that can both inspire and challenge any group. These investments are very low cost.

Many leaders prefer the “lunch and learn” sessions. Some leaders work with a skilled facilitator to keep things on track. Other leaders prefer to proceed on their own without outside assistance. If face time is impractical due to travel, that does not prevent an online discussion on leadership concepts from literature.

  1. Subscribe to some Leadership LinkedIn Groups – There are dozens of excellent leadership groups on LinkedIn. These groups have tens of thousands of leaders who can benchmark each other and help resolve typical problems. There are also numerous local and national organizations on leadership development that can provide provocative ideas for growth.

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

Once a leader knows how his behaviors are impacting trust within the entire organization, then conditions start to improve rapidly. People are not playing games with each other, and productivity goes up dramatically. Everyone feels better about the work and the culture, so people feel empowered to go the extra mile. Performance goals are met and exceeded as the whole organization becomes aligned with a new vision.  Trust starts with the behaviors of the leader.

Ken Blanchard was asked what gives rise to incredible levels of improved organizational performance. He quipped, “It’s always the leader, it’s always the leader, it’s always the leader”  Ken Blanchard “It’s Always The Leader”

 

 

Bob 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 144 Measures

May 4, 2022

Having the wrong measures is a common and hurtful practice in many organizations.  The old adage is that “what gets measured gets done” is true. It is also very harmful to performance if the measures are not well constructed.  Reason: if you measure the wrong thing, it will drive people to do things different from your objectives.  If you are skeptical, consider the following real examples. 

Driving the Wrong Behaviors

In an effort to increase revenue, a computer company decided to measure the number of calls made by the sales force.  History showed that the level of sales was correlated to the number of calls.  When they instituted the measure, sales people realized they could make more money by making more calls. The quality of the calls became less important than the quantity. The result was a reduction in revenue. Make sure all your measures are driving the right behaviors.

Trading One Problem for Another

An organization was concerned that the “employee satisfaction” numbers were slipping in the Quality of Work-Life Survey. The HR manager read that satisfaction in many organizations is highly correlated to the amount of development conducted.  To improve satisfaction, they mandated at least 50 hours of training for every employee.  The measure caused them to do a knee-jerk reaction to the real problem.

The problem was that the managers implementing the training did not deploy it well. They forced people to go to meaningless training in order to make the 50-hour mandate. They did not backfill for employees when they were out for training. When the employees returned to work, they found a huge mess.  “Employee satisfaction” actually got worse, even though the measure (number of training hours) showed they met the goal. Make sure your program to improve one measure does not force a more important measure to get worse.

Focusing on the Wrong Things

A plumbing supply house was interested in improving customer satisfaction. They increased the lighting in the showroom and arranged for better snow plowing of the parking lot. Those measures had no significant positive impact on customer satisfaction.

It turns out the real customers were more interested in getting all of their parts delivered to the job site exactly on time.  If some parts were late or were the wrong parts, it had a huge impact on contractors doing the work. The store was measuring the wrong things.

Five Ways to Make Measures Work

It is so easy to fall into these traps when inventing measures. The antidote is to always verify that every measure is doing the following things:

  1. Actually measuring what is important
  2. Driving the right behaviors
  3. Not easy to manipulate or “game”
  4. Easy for people to understand
  5. Producing the desired results

Conclusion

The verification step is extremely important to do before, during, and after implementation of a new measure.  If you forget to do this, a well-intended measure may be working at cross purposes to your objectives.

Bob 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 143 Developing Leaders

April 26, 2022

Recently I was in a conversation about the importance of developing leaders in an organization.  I believe it is the highest calling for leaders to grow other leaders, hence the name of my company: Leadergrow.

This imperative is not a random idea.  It’s an observation after nearly 60 years in the study and application of developing leaders. I am not the only person to have found a connection between great leaders and those who grow other leaders. For example, Tom Peters once wrote, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”

Become a Teacher and You Will Learn Better

The best leaders create the right kind of culture for people to rise to their highest level of engagement.  As a side benefit, it is when we teach something to other people that we learn it best for ourselves.  I learned that lesson long ago in business school.

I was struggling in Macro Economics and failing. When called upon to help another student who knew even less than me, I started doing better. My ultimate grade for the course was an “A.” Something about becoming a teacher changes the ballgame in terms of our own ability to learn.  When we become the teachers of developing leaders, we are actually helping ourselves as much as the leaders we mentor. 

A Great Book on Developing Leaders

Bob and Gregg Vanourek have a term they use in their outstanding Leadership book, Triple Crown Leadership.  In horse racing, they have individuals called “stewards” who monitor the process of running a stable to ensure integrity.

Stewards in organizations are leaders who ensure people understand the desired culture and work to align the entire team.  Bob explains that “Triple Crown Leaders” act as stewards who envision that each person really has two jobs.

The first one is the functional job of running the business in whatever capacity is evident on the organization chart. The second job is to be a steward of the culture they are trying to build.  That means not only being a role model personally but also being a strong advocate and mentor for others. This practice helps the organization gain momentum, and trust grows rapidly.

Stewards have a mandate to be the preachers of the gospel of trust. They also must be the coaches and enforcers when they see some leaders not living up to the shared values.  When a leader has a problem with following the values, he or she needs to go. 

Compelling story from a CEO

Bob tells the story of when he interviewed Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox. He asked her what action they take when individuals do not follow the values. Before he had even finished the question, Ursula said, “We fire them.” 

When he asked about the warning process, she repeated, “We fire them.”  He gave her a third chance to equivocate, and she said, “Bob, you are not hearing me. If we find someone who does not live by our values, we fire the person.”

Leaders as Teachers Learn More

Ed Betof wrote a book, Leaders as Teachers, in which he describes the Leadership University at Beckton Dickinson. Rather than hire professional trainers to teach leadership development, they called upon the senior leaders to perform this vital task. 

They noted that people enjoyed the training much more, and the skills translated more fully into the developing leaders. They also noted that the senior leaders themselves seemed to benefit from the work. They became more familiar with the breadth of leadership and more cognizant of their own actions in modeling the way.

My Personal Habit

My personal habit was to find ways to devote 30% of my calendar time to developing and conducting leadership training activities. I was a Division Manager at a Fortune 500 Company. My observation was that developing leaders was a better use of my time than tending to the details of the business. There were experts who were better than me with the various aspects of supply chain, information technology, finance, benefits, maintenance, etc.

My expertise was in creating the right culture, so I spent a great deal of time doing that. It allowed me to have fun while making a contribution to the lives of others in my organization.

Conclusion

The other side of the equation was that helping to grow other leaders caused me to become a more effective leader myself as well.  It is like spreading pixie dust. It really works! In the end, you get a lot of dust on yourself, but who cares, it’s the right kind of dust!

Bob 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 142 Antidote for Executive Stress

April 19, 2022

If you are in an executive position, chances are you live in a very high stress world. Conditions and events in the world over the past few years have led to a much higher level of complexity and risk in everything we do.

Just trying to manage a business in a hybrid world creates a steady stream of conundrums. It seems there is no way of avoiding the incredible pressure executives face daily.

What if there was a way you could get out from under the immense pressure and have the ability to relax, even though the challenges at work often seem insurmountable?  Would that be helpful? I truly believe there is a pathway to this kind of existence. It is right under your nose.

Unfortunately, most executives do not see the wisdom or power in the method I am about to explain, so they go on with the same struggle, day after day, rarely gaining on the very problems that are making them sick.

The Antidote

The antidote is to carve out time to work with your organization to create an improved culture. This suggestion sounds impossible to most CEOs I interview, because they are  fully consumed just trying to survive.

How could they possibly create enough slack time in the schedule to actually work on the culture? This attitude means these executives are literally stuck in the rut they hate with no viable way out.

I call this phenomenon the “Executive Whack-a-mole Syndrome.”  When top executives spend 100% of their time dealing with crises and problems, there is no time left to develop a culture of higher trust where there are fewer problems to solve.

Investing in the culture means spending time with people learning how to work better as a team. It means documenting your behaviors or how you intend to treat each other so it becomes possible to hold each other accountable. It means learning to listen more often and more effectively, so the communication problems are reduced.

Learning to Trust

Also, it means learning to trust each other, so more delegation is possible and the micromanagement is not necessary. The perceived need to micromanage creates a significant percentage of executive stress.

Improving the culture means having the executive be more willing to be transparent and admit mistakes.  This practice makes him or her more of a human being: subject to being fallible, but willing to be vulnerable and human.

This behavior enables stronger rather than weaker leadership. It also leads to an environment that is more relaxed and healthy.  In this culture, the problems are reduced and replaced with sanity and the joy of achieving great goals together. If you know an executive who is playing the Executive Whack-a-mole Game, print this article out and leave it someplace where it will be read.

If you are an executive who has nearly reached the limit of endurance, you might want to try investing in the culture. You will find it to have a much higher ROI than any other activity you can envision. It could even save your life!

 

Bob 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 141 Continuous Improvement

April 13, 2022

To understand the value of continuous improvement, you simply need to verify that you are always going in the right direction. I like the following quote by Lao Tzu, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” 

Many groups get stuck trying to anticipate all of the twists and turns that are possible. They end up spending inordinate amounts of time ruling out things that are not going to happen in reality.

Pay Attention to Where You Are Going

As I reflect on the issue of change and continuous improvement, I have an additional insight that may be helpful. We do not need to worry about the myriad of decisions required to get where we are going.  Rather, all we need to do is verify we are heading in the right direction. That will free us from over-planning and allow our creativity to determine the exact pathway to our future. 

The wonderful thing about a vision is that it pulls us along from one revelation to the next one. We simply need to remain true to the vision and verify that each decision points in the right direction. The rest of the journey will take care of itself. 

What’s Important Now

Lou Holtz uses the word WIN, which stands for “What’s Important Now.” It allows him to focus on the vision and do the right thing at every step to take him in that direction.  He does not worry or hope or fret about all the details, he simply asks if what we are doing right now is consistent with the vision. If it is, then the step is correct.

Continuous improvement is the same way. We do not need to psychoanalyze all possible avenues ahead of time. We can take actions immediately as long as we are pointed in the direction we wish to go, and we will eventually achieve our goals. 

Avoid Analysis Paralysis

Some people will say, “Yes, but what if there is a better choice, then you might miss the opportunity to do that.” People who continually say “Yes, but…” can find themselves searching for the ultimate perfect path and die from analysis paralysis or starvation. It is far better to step out on the right path and keep moving toward the goal than spend years searching for the perfect route.

Example from Brian Tracy

In his video, “Success is a Journey,” the great Brian Tracy recalls how, as a young man, he traveled from Vancouver all the way to South Africa with some friends. It took them over a year to do it.  The most harrowing part of the journey was when he crossed the Sahara Desert in Africa.  For one 500 mile stretch called the Tanezrouft, the path was marked by oil barrels every 5 kilometers. It turns out that that is exactly the curvature of the Earth, so at any time he could see exactly two oil barrels: the one he just passed and the one directly in front of him. 

As soon as he would pass one oil barrel, the one behind him would disappear and a new one would pop up on the horizon in front of him.  The way he crossed the most dangerous desert on the planet was by taking it one oil barrel at a time. 

Conclusion

It is the same with reaching any difficult goal. You can do it by simply making sure you are heading in the right direction and taking it one oil barrel at a time. I believe that is a good way to visualize continuous improvement and a great model for achieving your goals in life.

Bob 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 140 Challenge Samers

April 6, 2022

I often hear a phrase coming from the lips of hiring managers that makes me cringe. “We want to hire someone who will fit into our group.”  They expend a lot of effort in screening candidates with personality tests, multiple interviews, even role-plays in order to determine that the new hire will be similar in thinking to the existing team. I think this practice is a huge mistake.

Diversity is Better

It is often the maverick or even outcast among a group of people who comes up with ingenious solutions to problems or creates entirely new streams of income. When we seek to have everyone “fit in” we lose the potential for diversity of thought that is a major part of the creative process.

In my leadership team, we had a mixture of line managers from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicity, and gender.  These were in a constant state of flux because all were growing and moving in their careers, creating slots for others.

Often, it was the minority representation that brought the group up short when we were off base.  They would help us realize that we should not trust our gut perspectives.  They would point out when we slipped into a dangerous “group think” or “monoculture” mentality.

Example From Nature

In “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership,” Steven Sample described it this way:

“A highly homogeneous organization is as susceptible to disease and infestations as a large biological monoculture.  Every farmer knows that when he and his neighbors plant tens of thousands of contiguous acres in a particular variety of wheat year after year, that variety will soon become vulnerable to new diseases or new strains of insects.  Ecosystems that are biologically diverse are much tougher and more resilient in the long run than monocultures, and so it is with organizations that contain a wide variety of people working toward a common goal.”

It was important to have a variety of people on the team and critical to listen when they pointed out our naiveté. It kept us growing and searching for a greater appreciation of diversity.  Although no group ever fully understands the issue, at least if we embrace diversity, we can be a little less blind.

Obviously, it is a good idea to avoid putting a person on the team who is a total misfit, is disruptive, or always brings up a contrary point of view creating dissent.  Instead, try to foster a mixture of ideas and points of view by following the actions:

Ways to Avoid the Problem

  1. If you use personality tests to screen candidates, seek to place people with different style patterns.
  2. During interviews, try to determine the level of independent thinking while also determining the candidate’s propensity for working well in teams.
  3. When asking about prior experiences and background, put a high value on skills that will add new dimensions to the existing team rather than map closely with existing team skills.
  4. Do not look for clones in terms of demographic and ethnic characteristics. Always seek to increase the variety of the team where possible.
  5. Seek to make strategic moves of people from one team to another that will add diversity of thought to both groups.
  6. Continually reinforce the idea that we can gain our greatest strength from diversity.

Conclusion

Building a strong team means not going the comfortable route where we hire and place people just like us.  That is a formula for mediocrity. Having diversity of thought is a major advantage for any organization.

 

Bob 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 139 The Strangest Secret

March 29, 2022

This rule for living comes from Earl Nightingale, a member of the International Speakers Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame up to his death in 1989. Earl produced several books on personal leadership and wrote over 7,000 radio and television commentaries on how we can lead better lives. His famous program “Lead The Field” is my all-time favorite program for inspiration. It is available through The Nightingale Conant Company.

The Pursuit of a Worthy Goal

Here is the secret to a long and prosperous life (in every sense).  When we are being “successful” is when we are pursuing a worthy goal.  Earl discovered this law several decades ago.  His famous “strangest secret” is only six words long….”We become what we think about.” As we put forth extreme effort in pursuit of our goals, that is what gives meaning to life. 

When we reach the goal, it is like a signpost along the road that we have arrived at that point in our life.  It is right and smart to take a deep breath and celebrate with our loved ones who have supported us in the challenging times.  Take some time to rest and to feel the great peace that comes from achieving your goal. Share the credit, because you did not do it alone.

Create a New Goal

Now comes the crucial part.  Do not let too many days go by before you set your next goal in life.  It may be completely different from the one just achieved. For example, someone who has studied for years to get an advanced degree may set a goal to climb a mountain or to become an excellent speaker or artist. 

The point is to not rest on the past achievement of a worthy goal too long. You must envision your next goal because that is how you get the most value in life.

Thornton T. Munger wrote, “There is no road to success but through a clear, strong purpose. Nothing can take its place. A purpose underlies character, culture, position, attainment of every sort.”

Lay out a Strategy

Once you have set your goal, it is time to lay out your strategy for achieving it. This strategy is so valuable because it will help you regulate your effort to focus energy on the necessary tasks to attain it and not become distracted with other activities that cause overload.

You know when you are stretched too thin if performance starts to lag.  It is really a fascinating area of life. You can always add another activity, but at some point you would be better off taking something off the plate.

If you create a solid strategy for your life, then you will know what things to add and what things to prune.  It is a really important concept in living well, and it is one that many people just arrive at by default. The most accomplished people do not leave it to chance, rather they own their destiny.

Conclusion

What you achieve in life is a function of how you run your life. Make sure you have a worthy goal at all times. Celebrate the achieving of one goal by setting a new one.  Combine the goal with a focusing strategy, and you will be amazed at the level of achievement and satisfaction you can pack into your precious years on this planet.

 

Bob 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 138 Turn It Around in Three Months

March 22, 2022

I once inherited a program that was struggling and told to “turn things around in three months.” The program was a new type of disk drive that did not work, and the current team did not know why. The project had been floundering for three years in the lab.

I took on the challenge and actually did deliver a remarkable recovery in 90 days, as the team launched a product that was up to the task including all the acceptance and reliability testing.

Looking back, there were several aspects that would have been smart to consider before accepting the initial challenge. This article is about the caveats of accepting a short-term recovery challenge.

Why Did the Prior Effort Fail?

The superior was literally saying that the performance of the group under the prior leader was inadequate. The team failed to deliver a workable product. It was important to know why the prior team failed.  Was it because the previous leader did a bad job, or was it for some other reason? Maybe the technology was just not there.

This is the Same Upper Leadership as the Last Try

The manager who wanted to hire me to turn things around was the same one in place when the prior leader failed.  I needed to know what contribution he made to create the problems that I was supposed to “fix” in three months. Chances were pretty good that he had a lot to do with the failure of my predecessor, but he may have been oblivious to that possibility.

The Same Team is in Place

What about the team I inherited?  Since the prior effort resulted in failure, there needed to be some rebuilding of the team. There were likely people among the group that were feeling like failures. Yes, a good leader can make amazing advances in the morale of any group, but some individuals needed to be replaced because they could not recover from former abuse.

What Was So Important about Three Months?

Why was I given only three months to turn it around? Was three months just an arbitrary figure, or was there some validity to the bogy? Why didn’t my new manager ask me to turn it around in a week?  What was magic about three months?  Was he expecting too much or too little?

Define “Turn it Around”

Finally, what does “turn it around” really mean? I needed a lot more specific goals than a hackneyed phrase if I was going to succeed. Does the boss expect me to double productivity, or was it more like just make people less frustrated at work?  Are there product performance or delivery concerns?  Was there a customer service issue, or perhaps there were safety issues?  I could not tell what to do until I knew the specific problem

In a situation like this, the best thing to do was to pin my future manager down on answers to all five of these issues before agreeing to do the job.  Accepting the challenge without understanding the above five issues was risky on my part. In this case, I inherited a fantastic group, and together we were able to pull off a “miracle recovery.” 

The coordination was difficult because the heads needed a new design, and they were manufactured in Taiwan. The media had problems, and it was made in San Diego. The drive hardware and testing site were in Rochester, New York.

We received the challenge to “turn it around” in September, and we were packing boxes of product for sale on New Year’s Eve. The team was elated but exhausted.

Conclusion

In situations like this, it is important to forge clear objectives and ground rules before agreeing to accept a position. It would also be logical to at least have a chat with the former leader about my future manager and team before accepting the position.

This whole experience was a great learning activity for me, and I truly enjoyed the challenge. Since the team achieved a successful outcome, it was a rewarding time in my life.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, 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 137 The Leadership Mirror

March 15, 2022

One of the most pervasive and vexing problems in organizations is that most leaders need a mirror to recognize the damage they are doing on a daily basis.

When leaders are blind to the trust withdrawals they make, there is little opportunity to create an environment of high trust. The problem is now more acute as people are running out of patience with all the stresses due to the pandemic.

I believe trust is the most critical element for any group, so this problem of leadership blindness holds back many organizations. Is there a way out of this conundrum? I think there is.

Leaders Need a Mirror

What we need is a kind of “mirror” for leaders so they can see their own contribution to the problems that they desperately want to solve. If such a mirror existed, how would we get a leader to use it daily? 

Brilliant leaders have already found the ability to see their own contribution to lower trust, and they are able to change things themselves. Unfortunately, the world is not full of brilliant leaders, so the average ones, and especially the poor ones, need some assistance. Even brilliant leaders have blind spots and flaws.

We have ruled out the individual leader as the person who has the ability to see his or her contribution to a poor culture, so it must fall to some other person or force to do it.  In the mind of most leaders, things would improve if only “they” (other people) would be more dedicated, smart, open, cooperative, cheerful, trustworthy, and a thousand other things. 

If we asked a random person from the organization to step up and be a sounding board for the leader, it would not work.  That person is part of the problem, in the leader’s opinion, so the information brought by the individual would fall on deaf and annoyed ears.

Use a Mirror Coach

A better approach would be to identify a “Mirror Coach.” This is an individual whom this leader really does trust. (There is always someone.) This person is the key to the leader beginning to see that she frequently is operating at cross purposes to her intent.

In most cases, leaders want higher productivity, greater teamwork, people showing initiative, good attitudes, a pleasant place to work, etc., but on a daily basis they do things that take the organization 180 degrees in the wrong direction, especially for people working remotely.

Once a leader begins to understand this paradox and is willing to ask, “What do I need to change in my own behaviors to have the kind of results I want from my team?” the door is open to better leadership.

There are four steps to create an effective Mirror Coach for leaders:

  1. Identify the right person

Identify an individual who has enough purchasing power with the leader to allow a series of frank conversations. The leader must not view this person as the source of the problem. It might be a kindred spirit within the organization to whom the leader has confided in the past.

It could be the leader’s own manager, if that person is not clueless also. It could be a coach or outside mentor who comes in to help clarify improvement opportunities. It really does not matter where this person comes from, as long as he or she has the ear and trust of the leader to discuss some uncomfortable topics without rejection. A trained coach is often the best solution here.

  1. Get the person to agree

The appointed individual needs to understand the peril of the assignment.  There is already some rapport established with the leader, and the education process requires some frank discussions that are not comfortable. Change is difficult.

The Mirror Coach must honestly believe that he or she is there to provide a crucial service to help the leader grow. Sure, there are going to be some tense moments, but if a stronger and more healthy organization is the result, the Mirror Coach can visualize the role as vital to the future of the organization as to the leader.  It is an ultimate challenge.

  1. Getting the leader ready to listen

This step is the hardest part of the process. The leader has believed for a long time that the problems reside with “them,” not “me,” so focusing energy on “how I can change my own behaviors” will feel misdirected.  It is an act of faith to take the first step.

One way to enable helpful dialog is to have the leader verbalize how things could be better for the organization. Bring in a coach who can work with the senior team (not just the boss) in a series of “lunch and learn” sessions. This strategy works in a hybrid situation. Eventually, the coach will earn the trust of the leader and gain the purchasing power to have some constructive, albeit difficult, conversations.

Once a leader is willing to get help in the form of a Mirror Coach, something magical happens. The stark realization of the unsuccessful nature of what has transpired up to now is a good place to start.  Also, the leader may have associates or mentors outside the organization who can advocate that a different approach is worth a shot.

  1. Reinforcing the leader for making behavior changes

By taking some baby steps to modify behaviors, the leader will be showing a different side, and the people in the organization usually will react very positively to it.  They have been living in a kind of tyranny for so long, any movement in a positive direction produces endorphins of positive energy that will be obvious to the leader.  Continual reinforcement of the small behavioral changes will persuade the leader to keep the momentum going.

After some initial cautious steps, the changes will come more easily.  The process becomes self-sustaining rather quickly. There is one caution during this transformation.

The behavioral changes needed to sustain a culture of higher trust likely are not the natural style for the leader, at least in the beginning.  There will be some relapses and false steps along the way.  The general population and the Mirror Coach must not lose faith when the leader hits a speed bump.  It is important to put any missteps into the perspective of what was already gained in order to recapture forward momentum.

Progress in the leader’s ability to see the trust problems as rooted in his or her own behaviors defuses the culture of blame. The leader no longer sees workers as the primary source of problems. While this may be unsettling at first, it is really liberating for the organization because significant progress toward higher trust is apparent every day, and productivity will skyrocket.

  

Conclusion

Having a Mirror Coach helps the leader shift focus from blame to one of behavior modification. This change creates more objectivity because the emphasis is on understanding cause and effect rather than witch hunting. The new habits will allow more heart-based communications to occur in contrast to the prior one-way directional communications. The leader will learn to relax and have more fun at work while getting much more accomplished.

Everyone in the organization stands to benefit from a better environment, so everyone needs to be a part of the solution.  With care and patience, the entire team can create a culture where behaviors support the values and vision, so it becomes a win, win, win. The organization wins due to better performance, the workers win due to fewer conflicts, and finally, the leader wins because he or she reaches the challenging goals more quickly and with less turmoil.

Bob 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 136 Improve Online Communication

March 9, 2022

Are you becoming a digital junkie? Between e-mail, texting, social networking, and remote working the nature of communication is ever more digital and less verbal. With the brevity and acronyms used in Twitter and text messages, we may be heading back toward some form of cave drawings to communicate. At least if we are going to be communicating online all the time, we should all do it skillfully.

The rules for communicating efficiently and effectively online are not complex; unfortunately many people do not remember to use the rules on a daily basis.  Here are ten specific points that can improve your communication online:

  1. Understand online text is different from conversation – When we use the old fashioned method of communicating (with the mouth and ears) we have the opportunity to modify everything we say, the pace, the tone, the content, the inflection, everything, based on the visual feedback we are getting real time from the other person. Instantaneous feedback is not in play with digital communication, so the potential to make corrections and stay out of trouble is just not there.
  2. Use the right mode of communication – For many applications, a digital note may be the expedient way to communicate, but it may well not be the best way. Consider whether having a face-to-face discussion or a phone or Zoom call might be the more efficient route in the long run. Having your cell phone in your hand is not a reason to use the wrong mode of communication for important messages.
  3. Choose the right time to communicate – Consider the state of mind of the receiver and make sure you are sensitive to the pressures on the other person.  If you try to communicate constructive feedback to a person who is feeling insecure or particularly vulnerable, it will likely not translate well.
  4. Get the right tone at the start – In any message, even a tweet, you need to set the tone at the very start so the other person understands your frame of reference. If not, the message can be read in a way that is totally opposite to your intention.  With longer e-mail messages, this is a critical element.
  5. Don’t play one-upmanship – Escalating e-mails in an organizational context are familiar with long strings of increasing rancor and expanding distribution. I call these diatribes “e-grenade battles.” The antidote here is to refrain from taking the bait. Simply do not reply in kind to a message that gets under your skin. Instead, pick up the phone or walk down the hall to clear up any misunderstanding.
  6. Keep the content brief – Twitter helps us in that regard, but the side effect is that sometimes the true intent can be lost in extreme brevity. With social networking and e-mail, less is more, because people do not take the time to wade through mountains of text to get the meat.
  7. Avoid Absolutes – If I write that you are “always late for meetings,” it is not likely an accurate statement. “You never call me,” is usually proven to be incorrect. Even if an absolute word is technically correct, it is an accusatory term that sets up a negative vibe in the mind of the reader who will try to prove the writer is incorrect.
  8. Read before sending – Depending on the gravity of the message, you should reread it at least twice before sending. With social networking this is also true. Make sure you attempt to put yourself in the place of the reader. Think about how the information might be misinterpreted, and make sure you spell things correctly.
  9. Recognize you cannot get them back – Most digital messages are permanent data. They do not atrophy with time like verbal communication does. You can apologize all you want, but the other person can demonstrate that you said this or that. Make sure you write what you mean to communicate. Emails never go away.
  10. Understand you lose control of the distribution – Once you push the send button, it is all over. You cannot easily get the message back or delete it. It is out there for the intended recipient and potentially any other person in the world to view. That includes your harshest critics or worst enemies!

There are numerous other ways to improve digital communication, but if you keep these nine concepts firmly in your mind, you will have a much more fruitful interface with other people online in the long run.

Bob 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, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.