Leadership Barometer 76 Build a Reinforcing Culture

January 3, 2021

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

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

Here is one of my favorite measures.

Build a Reinforcing Culture

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

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

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

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

What are some tips to allow this to happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Leadership Baromter 75 Make Good Decisions

December 23, 2020

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.

Make Good Decisions

This measure sounds so trivial and axiomatic that you probably wonder why I list it at all. Unfortunately, many would-be great leaders make rather stupid decisions for one reason or another.

I often puzzle at how it is possible for a leader to do something that takes him or her in exactly the opposite direction he or she is trying to go.

That sounds illogical, I know, so let’s examine some of the forces that could allow this to happen.

1. Stupidity – This is a simple situation of making a bonehead decision. It is like the leader who intellectually knows it is better to admit a mistake than to hide it because that actually increases respect, but chooses to hide it anyway. Sad to say there are many stupid leaders out there who make wrong decisions rather consistently.

2. Too pressed for time – I had a teacher once tell me “You can write a term paper in 3 months or 3 hours, the only difference is the quality.” So it goes with decisions. Quality goes up with more thought, at least up to a point. After a while the old syndrome of “analysis paralysis” takes over, and the decision process becomes entirely too cumbersome.

3. Poor information from underlings – often decisions are based on input from others. If a leader blindly takes bad information and makes big decisions based on it, they will turn out bad. That was the problem when George Bush decided to invade Iraq to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction. After sifting the sand of that entire country for years, we never did find the problem we allegedly went in to eliminate.

4. Going along with bad advice from above – there are times when your boss will toss out a half-baked idea and say “Why don’t you try it.” Be careful to get good reasoned advice before taking the plunge.

5. Not accounting for risk – Every decision has an element of risk. If you make a decision based on optimism and faith but do not consider the potential downsides of it, you will eventually get caught in a nasty situation. Get the facts and consider what could go wrong as part of your planning process.

6. Sub-optimizing on only part of the story – it is really easy to please one constituency while alienating another one. You can please the shareholders by eliminating salary increases for a year, but the employees will suffer. There are numerous situations where there are tradeoffs. Go in with your eyes wide open on the holistic impact of your decisions on everyone.

7. Not thinking of the customer – for every action or decision, there is a customer. Make sure you know who the customer is and that the customer is well served by your decision.

8. Repeat of something that did not work before –Making the same bonehead move you have made in the past hoping for a better result should qualify you for a white jacket with very long sleeves. It is the classic definition of insanity.

9. Distracted by a bigger issue – often there are numerous decision processes going on simultaneously. You need to consider each one carefully and not put so much energy into one decision that you starve another. There is no forgiveness if you make a bad decision on the cart because you were focused on the horse.

10. Hubris – Decisions made to feed the ego can often lead to disastrous consequences. Try to not get married to your ideas too early. Think carefully about the full consequences before becoming an advocate of one approach.

11. Lack of communication – If you make a brilliant decision, but everyone else thinks it is stupid because you failed to explain your rationale, you are in trouble. You need to bring others into the process as early and completely as you can.

So, on first blush, the notion of making good decisions sounded trivial, but after considering some of the ways leaders get tripped up, the above checklist ought to be a good starter kit for a master list in your organization of how to make better decisions. I am sure there are several things I missed on my list that you can think of.

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


Building Higher Trust 3 Trust is More Complex Than We Realize

December 16, 2020

I start out every speaking engagement by asking my audience how they would define trust. It is an amazing exercise, because we all know what it is and experience it all the time, yet to define it precisely is a bit of a challenge.

Normally, the group is pretty quiet, then someone will say something like, “Trust is confidence.” Another person might offer, “Trust is integrity,” or “Trust is good follow up.” On and on it goes with adjectives that have a bearing on trust, but none of them come close to a robust definition.

More than just with people


I then share that nearly every one of the definitions offered had to do with trust between one person and another. In my previous article on Trust, I pointed out that trust is ubiquitous. It exists when we interface with any product or service. It is not just a phenomenon between people, it is a phenomenon between ourselves and every other thing we interface with.


Categories of Trust with People


Since the most familiar way we experience trust is in interpersonal relations, this article will amplify on that part of the general topic. Trust exists between people, but there are numerous different categories of trust in that realm. Trust is more like a mosaic; it has lots of parts and flavors.

For example, it I have confidence that you will do what you say, then that is one type of interpersonal trust. Trust is also a feeling that you will not hurt me in any way. It can also mean that you are looking out for my best interest. It might be that we share a common value of high trust in each other.

Basically, I believe interpersonal trust is a montage of concepts that weave together into a pattern that changes from moment to moment depending on what is going on at that time. Here is a link to a 3-minute video that expands on the concept of categories of interpersonal trust.

Bonus Video

Here is a link to a short video on this topic.



Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations



Leadership Barometer 74 Emulate Level 5 Leaders

December 13, 2020

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.

Emulate Level 5 Leaders

Jim Collins and his staff of MBA researchers did the business world a huge favor in 2001 when they wrote the book Good to Great. I consider that book one of the best business books of the past twenty years.

In looking at why some organizations consistently outperform others; the team came up with a model containing many new concepts.

None of the concepts were totally unheard of before, but the model packaged the concepts in a coherent process-oriented thesis that was, and still is, most helpful.

In case you have not read this book, I recommend it to be purchased, read, dog-eared, and put into active practice – not on the shelf.

The concept of level 5 leadership is one of the core elements in the book. Collins found that all of the organizations that met his rigorous standard for excellence at that time were headed up by exceptional leaders.

It is interesting that after studying hundreds of variables about what make these leaders so effective, they were able to boil them down to two common denominators. These were 1) a passion for the work, and 2) humility.

Level 5 Leaders are fanatically driven to produce results, and they produce consistently superior results. Self-effacing and modest, these leaders are workers rather than showoffs. They are more “plow horse” than “show horse.”

Window/ Mirror Analogy

An example of Level 5 Leaders in action is the window/mirror analogy. Level 5 Leaders look out the window and attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they see the window as a mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.

In comparison, many CEOs, not Level 5 Leaders, often do just the opposite – they look in the mirror taking credit for success, but look out the window assigning blame for disappointing results to others.

These actions help to increase the level of trust within the organization. They provide a culture of safety and security in which trust will grow spontaneously.

I believe there are very few level 5 leaders in the world today. If you happen to work for someone you can describe to that standard you are truly lucky. Study that person and see if you can recruit him or her as your mentor.

It will improve your rate of progress as a leader by 2-3 times your current rate. If you do not know of anyone who rises to that standard, the best you can do is read some of the biographies of leaders outlined in Good to Great. It will give you some specific habits of these outstanding leaders.



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.



Talent Development 19 Overcoming Barriers

December 10, 2020

Section 3.2 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Consulting and Business Partnering. Section D reads, “Skill in identifying, minimizing, and overcoming organizational barriers to implementing talent development solutions and/or strategies.”

I will discuss six of the main reasons for barriers and suggest solutions to each one.

Lack of Commitment

We see many examples of top leaders who talk a good game in terms of developing their workforce, but the level of commitment is mostly lip service. In the daily pressures for short term deliverables, many leaders fail to follow through with resources or emphasis to make their stated intentions into reality.

The cure for this is to have the courage to stick with programs, even if the pathway gets a bit rocky. Once leaders give the slightest hint of backing away from the agreed-upon path it is the kiss of death to enthusiasm for the program.

If this phenomenon occurs, the results of the training effort will be a tiny fraction of what was originally envisioned.

Too Many Surveys

When designing development efforts, surveys are used to determine which areas need the most help. Unfortunately, in many cases organizations have too many surveys and ones that are poorly designed. When this happen, people end up giving false or warped input or simply fail to respond.

If workers do not see a strong positive correlation between their input on surveys and the resulting training, they lose enthusiasm and become jaded. The cure is to have robust and infrequent surveys.

For the “how to” of doing surveys well, I refer you to my prior article on this topic.

Poorly Designed Training

When training programs are inconvenient, boring, or otherwise flawed, they fail to have the impact that was intended. If people are going to give their full effort willingly, the activities must be inspired and of top quality throughout.

Often organizations skimp on the resources needed to provide the very best training. When workers see this happen, they turn their energies to other more vital activities and put the training on the “back burner.”

One decision that needs to be carefully considered is whether the internal training staff is up to world class standards of design and delivery. If there is any doubt, it is a good idea to go with an external expert in the particular area that is being developed.

Many organizations shy away from outside help because it is perceived the result will be too expensive.

When organizations fail to provide top quality resources in order to save some cash, it severely undermines the entire training effort.

Lay-On Programs

If the program is a formality or lay-on type of training, then people are going to be less enthusiastic than is required for success. The cure here is to have good involvement by the people who will ultimately get trained in specifying and designing the program.

People need to see a very strong connection between the development plan and what the organization is trying to achieve. They need to feel that the training will benefit each one of them in their future.

You cannot expect people to participate with their full energy if they do not see a better future in it for them.

Antiquated Training Methods

Some organizations are still in the dark ages when it comes to the methods used to conduct the training. Not only does the material need to be fresh and up to date, but the tools used must be the latest technology.

Experiential learning always translates into real learning far better than just lecture or exercises following reading assignments.

Poor Follow Through

All training events have a finite schedule. Regardless of the topic being trained, people will normally get a lot out of the effort while the training is going on.

Many organizations fail to recognize that the half-life of the benefits is really quite short. For example, I do a lot of leadership training, and I believe the benefits atrophy in a matter of weeks unless I follow up with materials after the training.

For a training effort to produce lasting results, there needs to be a follow-on plan to keep the material fresh and being used until it has time to become habitual behavior.

For this aspect, I like to use follow on video programs that stretch the learning at least 30 days after the formal training is complete.

Supervisors should hold periodic review sessions where they ask people to describe how they are using the new knowledge in their daily activities. They should raise the consciousness of the new skills being used to the benefit of the organization.

Work to avoid these six pitfalls, and you will have overcome the most significant barriers with your talent development program.

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




Building Higher Trust 2 Trust is Everywhere

December 5, 2020

The word Ubiquitous means “everywhere at the same time.” It comes from the Latin root ubiq, which means everywhere. It was originally a theological expression used to describe the omnipresence of Christ.

I maintain that trust is ubiquitous, because it is all around us every day, like the air we breathe.

Trust is manifest in all aspects of life, not just in our relations with other people. We normally think of trust as between our self and other people, but consider any product that you use and recognize that you have a relationship of trust to some degree, or you would not use it.

In the pills you take

For example, you cannot take an aspirin if you do not trust the company that made it and the store that sold it to you.

In the car you drive

When you get in your car in the morning and turn on the ignition, there are thousands of explosions going on within the engine, but you are not thinking about that unless the “check engine” light comes on. When you come to a red light you step on the brake and the car stops. The only time you think about it is when the brakes squeak or otherwise let you know they need attention.

In your personal routines

You walk into the bathroom in the morning and flip the switch. The lights go on. You turn on the spigot and both hot and cold water come out. You turn on the TV and the news comes on. You just expect these things to work, so there is no recognition of anything going on unless for some reason the lights do not go on.

You pour yourself some cereal and get out the milk. You are not conscious of any trust validation going on. You just expect things to be OK unless you neglected to check the dating on the carton of milk.

On your way to your destination

You drive along and follow the traffic rules. You have no worry that other people will fail to follow the rules (at least most of the time).

You drive over a bridge without worrying about it falling into the river (except there are probably some bridges where you should worry, at least a little bit.)

Trust is ubiquitous

I contend that by the time you have yourself up and going in the morning, you have experienced trust several hundred times, but you don’t think about it unless there is some kind of failure. Trust is all around us every single day, but in our conscious thoughts it is the trust we have between individuals that draws nearly all of our attention.

Bonus Video

Here is a link to a three-minute video on this topic.



Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 73 Negotiate Well

December 1, 2020

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.

Negotiate Well

All leaders exist in a kind of sandwich. They report to someone at a higher level and also supervise other people at lower levels in the organization. Great leaders are experts at negotiating the needs of both groups.

They interpret the needs of the organization from above to the people below in a way that makes most of them understand and appreciate the policies of the larger group.

Simultaneously, great leaders advocate well for the needs of individuals reporting to them to levels above in the organization. It is this give and take role that requires constant attention and skill at negotiating well.

Learning to Negotiate

Effective negotiating is a science. You can take graduate level courses on this topic, or there are numerous books and seminars outlining the various stratagems.

You can study the tactics and countermeasures for months and still not be very skilled at negotiating well.

The most important ingredient for effective negotiating within an organization is credibility. Leaders who are believable to their people and to upper management have more success at negotiating needs in both directions effectively.

So, how does a leader become credible? Here are some tips that can help. (I apologize in advance for all the clichés in this list. I decided that using the vernacular is the best way to convey this information succinctly.)

1. Be consistent – people need to know what you stand for, and you need to communicate your own values clearly.


2. Show respect for opinions contrary to yours – other opinions may be as valid as yours, and you can frequently find a common middle ground for win-win solutions. This avoids unnecessary acrimony.


3. Shoot straight –speak your truth plainly and without a lot of spin. Get a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, but do it with compassion. Do not try to snow people – people at all levels have the ability to smell BS very quickly.


4. Listen more than you talk – keep that ratio as much as possible because you are not the fountain of all knowledge. You just might learn something important.


5. Be open and transparent – share as much information as you can. However, be careful to not divulge too much information too soon.


6. Get your facts right – don’t get emotional and bring in a lot of half truths to the argument.


7. Don’t be fooled by the vocal minority – make sure you test to find out if what you are hearing is really shared broadly. Often there are one or two individuals who like to speak for the whole group, and yet they may not share the sentiments of everyone.


8. Don’t panic – there are “Chicken Littles” who go around shouting “The sky is falling” every day. It gets tiresome, and people tune you out eventually.


9. Ask a lot of questions – Socratic and hypothetical questions are more effective methods of negotiating points than making absolute statements of your position.


10. Admit when you are wrong – sometimes you will be.


11. Know when to back off –pressing a losing point to the point of exhaustion is not a good strategy.


12. Give other people the most credit – often the smart thing to do is not claim victory, even if you are victorious.


13. Keep your powder dry for future encounters – there is rarely a final battle in organizations, so don’t burn bridges behind you.


14. Smile – be gracious and courteous always. If you act like a friend, it is hard for people to view you as an enemy.



These are some of the rules to build credibility. If you are familiar with these and practice them regularly, you are probably very effective at negotiating within your organization. Once you are highly credible, the tactics and countermeasures of conventional negotiating are more effective.





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


Talent Development 18 Consulting and Business Partnering

November 27, 2020

Section 3.2 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Consulting and Business Partnering. Section A reads, “Skill in synthesizing information to formulate recommendations or a course of action to gain agreement, support, and/or buy-in from stakeholders.”

To be successful at consulting, you must operate as a strong business partner with the client. The people involved in the training must be truly excited about the venture and anxious to have it work out well for them.

If you follow these eight tips, you should have agreement, support, and full buy-in.

1. Start with solid research

The way to gain commitment is to listen well to what the participants say they need. This sounds easy, but it is more difficult than it seems. I start with interviews of the key players in the organization. That sets the stage, but it is not enough because they may not be able to articulate the real needs.

2. Needs analysis

I do a survey of the people involved in which they select what topics would create the most significant payoff for them. The key here is to involve as many people in the group that will ultimately be trained so that each person recognizes he or she had real input into the topic selection.

3. Create a rough draft of the program

Based on the research, I put together a draft of the main topics to be covered as well as the delivery style to be used. Be sure to state the objective clearly and outline the deliverables in detail.

4. Review and gain commitment

This is a critical step that is often overlooked or short changed. Let me share an example of how this looks, if it is done well. I was doing a design for a CEO of a major training effort. I did the research, needs analysis, and a draft of the proposed program. I came back a few days later and shared a list of seven things the proposed program would accomplish. The CEO looked at the seven things and wrote BINGO in large letters next to my list.

5. Design the program in detail

In this phase it is necessary to customize the material so that you will be speaking “their language.” Do not offer the same program for a hospital as you would for a manufacturing plant. Make the entire program feel like it was made for that specific client. I normally use their logo and pictures that reflect their actual business.

6. Make sure the program delivery is user friendly

For people to be excited about the training, they need to have it done on a schedule that is most convenient for them, not you. They may want it delivered very early in the morning or even on weekends. Always bend to their needs.

7. Avoid “Death by PowerPoint.”

Only a few points per slide, and do not read the points. Instead, talk about the topic area letting them absorb the actual words on the slide. Always have a photograph (and obtain the license to use it) on each slide. Do not use clip art or cartoons. Make sure the photo is illustrative of the points you are making and has some element of creativity or twist to keep people interested.

8. Make the training experiential

Do not have just hours of lecture. Have an activity, like a role play or body sculpture every 20 minutes or so to break up the training. This keeps people from getting bored.

Following these eight tips will ensure your program has the full support of people in your client’s organization.

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


Building Higher Trust 1 A New Series

November 24, 2020

Having just completed a series of 100 articles on Body Language, it is time for me to start a new series of fresh content on my favorite subject: TRUST. I will write on all aspects of trust as I have come to know it.

About 30 years ago, I came to the conclusion that trust is the “golden key” to great leadership. We know it when we experience trust, but it is a bit elusive when we try to define it with precision. I intend to take the mystery out of the topic and discuss numerous aspects of trust and how they relate to leadership.

I will be covering:

1. The nature of trust in many dimensions
2. How leaders can obtain more trust consistently
3. How they can maintain and build higher trust over time
4. How they can leverage trust to improve performance in all dimensions of business
5. How they can repair damaged trust
6. How they can teach other leaders how to create a culture of higher trust

While the bulk of content in this series will be slanted toward business settings, the points and techniques will be equally valid for social groups, families, church congregations, university settings, hospital staffs, legal offices, and any other setting where human beings interact.

Layout of articles

I will do more than simply describe the content; I will give specific examples from my personal experience and suggest exercises you can do to increase your skills at building higher trust. As always, I invite dialog through comments to this blog or on my website.  For each article, I will include a Bonus Video that goes along with the content of that particular article. These videos are all very brief (less than 3 minutes).

An exercise for you

As a first exercise in this series, try to recall a time when you experienced a feeling of high trust. Recall the details of what was going on and how you experienced great security in that moment. Now go back and recall a time when there was a serious trust violation in your life. Recall the empty feeling of being let down. Were you able to rebuild the trust, or was it the end of that relationship? Later in this series I will deal with ways to repair damaged trust.

How trust works

In an organization, I think of trust as the lubricant that allows everything to work as it was intended. Without trust, we get friction and heat between people. In this series, we will focus on these aspects of trust and what specific thought patterns and behaviors that result in building higher trust over time.

Benefits for you

It does not matter what your position is; you can benefit from reading this series because it will help your life run much better. If you are a leader (and I contend that we are all leaders at some point: think about leading yourself) this series will be extremely valuable in that it will reveal many aspects of trust that you may not have been aware of that will enrich the quality of your life.

Bonus Video

Link to video of “Leadership and Trust”





Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Leadership Barometer 72 Listens Deeply

November 21, 2020

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.

Listens Deeply

It is said that managers have the worst hearing in the world. Many employees lament that trying to talk to the boss is like trying to reason with a rock. Yet most managers would put “listening skills” as one of their stronger traits. How come there is often such a wide gap between perception and reality? I believe leaders do not recognize that listening is a very complicated and multi-step process that starts in the mind of the speaker. Here are the steps.

1. Speaker’s mind has a thought
2. Speaker translates the thought into words
3. Speaker says the words
4. Words are conveyed to the ear of the listener
5. Words are heard or not heard as sent
6. Tone of voice and body language of the speaker are factored in
7. The message that was heard is translated into thought
8. The thought is translated into the listener’s mind

If any one of those eight elements is corrupted in any way, then the message has not been received accurately. Of those eight steps, which ones cause the most trouble in communication? It is steps 5 and 6. Reason: While most people are “listening” they are actually occupying their mind preparing to speak. So what actually enters the ear is not what the listener actually believes has been said.

The interpretation of the tone of voice and body language is a huge area of miscommunication. With a slight movement of the eyebrows, mouth or a tilt of the head, the meaning of the entire message can be misinterpreted.

Why the problem happens

The culprit here is that we have a disconnect between how fast a person can talk versus how fast we can think. We can think many times faster then we can talk, so the brain has excess time to process other things while waiting for the words to arrive.

We actually multi-task, and our thoughts zoom in and out of the stream of words heading toward our ears. We believe that we have caught all of the content, but in reality we only grasp part of it because we are occupied thinking up our response or trying to interpret why the speakers pupils were dilated.

The best defense for poor listening habits is what is called “reflective listening” or sometimes called “active listening.” This is where we force our brain to slow down and focus on the incoming words in order to give the speaker visual and verbal cues that we really understood the message.

The art of reflective listening is an acquired skill, and it takes a lot of practice and effort to be good at it. If you doubt that, just try listening to someone for 5 minutes straight and concentrate on absorbing every word such that you can reflect small parts of the conversation throughout the 5 minutes. It is exhausting.

For leaders, the need for listening is even more of a challenge. We have to not only hear and interpret the words, we have to understand the full meaning. This means not only must we take in the verbal input but also properly interpret the vast amount of body language that comes along with it. Since there is more meaning in body language than in words, it makes listening an even more daunting task.

Most leaders do not take the time and energy to internalize what is being conveyed to them because they are so preoccupied with getting their message out to others. This leaves them totally vulnerable to misunderstandings that cripple the ability to build trust.

When you add the ego response which most leaders have an ample supply of, it is no wonder employees feel they are not being heard. James O’Toole had a great line for this in the book Transparency. He said, “…it is often the presence of excessive amounts of testosterone that leads to a loss of hearing.”



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