Leadership Barometer 67 Connects Well With People

October 9, 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.

Connects Well with People

A good way to evaluate the quality of a leader is to watch the way he or she connects with people both upward and downward. Great leaders are known for being real rather than phony.

People describe the great ones as being “a nice guy” or “an approachable woman” or “like a friend.” The idea is the leader does not act aloof and talk down to people. There is no pedestal separating the leader from people in the organization.

There are numerous ways a leader can demonstrate the genuine connection with people. For example, John chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems, worked from a 12X12 foot cubicle and answered his own phone. There was no executive washroom and no corporate plane.

Other leaders dress more like the workers in jeans and polo shirt rather than suit and tie.

Probably the most helpful way to be connected to people is to walk the deck often. There is a way you can tell if you are getting enough face time with people.

When you approach a group of workers on the shop floor, watch their body language.

If they stiffen up and change their posture, you know that your visit it too much of a special event. If the group continues with the same body language, but just welcomes you into the conversation, then you are doing enough walking of the deck.

They used to call this habit MBWA – short for “Management By Wandering Around.” It is, by far, the easiest way to stay connected with people. I tried to find at least an hour each day to do this, and I found it to be the most enjoyable hour of my day.

Being close to people has the added benefit of helping to build trust and improve teamwork. By sharing news or getting people’s opinions you show that you care about them. That works wonders for building higher engagement in the work,

Likewise, great leaders know how to stay connected with the people above them. In this case MBWA does not work too well because there is no real “shop floor” for upper management. Being accessible helps, so know the layout and drop by on occasion to check in. Do not be a pest – there is a fine line.

One suggestion is to experiment with the preferred modes of communication of your superiors. For example, I can recall the best way to keep in touch with one of my managers was through voice mail. Another supervisor would rarely reply to voice mail or e-mail, so I would make sure to stop by to see her physically.

One tip that was helpful to me was to arrive very early in the morning – before any of the upper leaders were present. Most executives arrive at work before the general population to prepare for the day and get some quiet work done before the masses arrive.

I would always be in my office working when my leader arrived. There were many occasions when something had to be done to help her very early in the morning. Since I was the only one around, I had the opportunity to do little favors to help her out. Over time that builds up a kind of bond. It is not being a suck up. It is just being available to help.

Beating the leaders in to work consistently demonstrates a kind of dedication. The manager has no way of knowing when you arrived. You could have gotten there just 5 minutes before her or already been hard at work for an hour. I always enjoyed having my car make the first set of tracks in the snow of the parking lot. Over time, that built up a helpful reputation for me that paid off.

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


Leadership Barometer 66 Builds an Inclusive Culture

September 29, 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.

Builds an Inclusive Culture

Organizations where people at all levels feel a part of the action and are appreciated for the diversity of talents they bring to the organization are run by enlightened leaders. You can observe the leader going out of her way to include as many people as possible in discussions about issues and decisions in the organization.

When I discuss diversity and inclusion, please understand that it includes racial and gender differences, and it also goes way beyond those dimensions. It includes age, ethnicity, background, religion, sexual orientation, different abilities, and a host of other variables.

True diversity is inclusive to all people because the benefits of diversity are obtained when all people in the organization give their best every day.

Less talented leaders surround themselves with a small clique of insiders who guide the fate of the rest of the organization. I visualize a shell around the anointed people on the inner circle. It is hard to communicate through the shell, and people who try to penetrate it are often repelled and scorned.

If you have a leader who operates from a small command and control type style, you can see the bunker mentality in most activities. This exclusivity leads to lower empowerment throughout the organization.

Having an inner circle of leaders may feel like an efficient way to make decisions, but it leaves so much useful muscle and energy off the table.

The bunker mentality means that if you are not on the inside then you are on the outside, by definition. You will comply with the rules, but you will not be engaged in making good things happen. The organization will suffer because of this impact.

To be a winning organization, all of the talents of everyone are required fully aligned behind the vision of the organization. Good leaders know this and instinctively get people involved as much as possible.

Oh sure, there are occasions when it is necessary to operate behind closed doors while decisions are being cast. That is no reason for the normal daily routine to mimic the College of Cardinals who have to send a smoke signal out to the masses when their deliberations are over.

Most activities can be visible, transparent, and inclusive of the general population. In return, people will give their best to accomplish the goals of the organization.

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


Leadership Barometer 64 Lack of Fear

September 9, 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.

Lack of Fear

Good leaders create an environment where there is less fear. That does not mean there is never any fear within the organization.

Sometimes scary stuff is needed in order for the organization to survive. But in those times of uncertainty, great leaders redouble their communication activities to keep people aware of what is going on.

In draconian times, it is the lack of solid reliable information that causes the most fear. When leaders are as transparent as possible, it leads to open communication. This means lower fear, and higher trust, even when things are not pleasant.

Nature hates a vacuum. If you have a bare spot in your lawn, nature will quickly fill it in with something, usually weeds.

If you take a bucket of water out of a pond, nature will fill in the “hole” immediately.

When you open a can of coffee, you hear the rush of air coming in to replace the vacuum.

So it is with people, if there is a void of information, people will find something to fill in the void – usually weeds.

That is why rumors attenuate in a culture of high trust. There is no fuel to keep the fires of gossip going. Leaders keep people informed of what is going on all the time. This helps people vent their fears and focus on the tasks at hand, even if they are involved with unpleasant things.

Great leaders also create a culture of psychological safety such that people know they will not be punished when they share their true feelings. In addition, great leaders foster emotional safety because they show empathy for what others are going through.

By creating a culture of excellent communication and low fear, outstanding leaders foster an environment where trust will grow, even if there are hard times.


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 7 Cultural Awareness and Inclusion

August 16, 2020

The topics of cultural awareness and inclusion are part of the ATD CPTD Certification model. Basically, this involves skill in integrating diversity and inclusion principles in talent development strategies and initiatives.

I had a recent wake up call on this topic because I had just finished a leadership course but failed to create enough discussion on the social unrest that occurred in the summer of 2020. I received a comment to that effect on a feedback report.

Since then, I have gone back and modified my course in several ways to elevate the topics of equity and inclusion. Here are six of the points I have added.

Point 1 – Diversity is an Asset

When you have a mixture of cultures and differing opinions, the team can come up with more creative solutions to problems. The ability to see issues from different angles enhances the quality of dialog as long as all individuals show respect and trust for each other.

At work, I made it a point to promote people so that my team was highly diverse. Of the (roughly 40) supervisors and managers reporting to me, they were 1) more women than men, 2) roughly 30% racially different from me 3) of different age groups and with diverse cultural upbringings. I always enjoyed the diversity of my teams because we were able to see things from different angles. We listened to each other and avoided a monoculture in my area.

In nature, a monoculture is a weakened state. If you plant the same crop on a plot of land year after year, it will become susceptible to disease and produce lower yields.

Point 2 – Silence is being Complicit

Discussions that include individual differences can become uncomfortable, so many leaders tend to avoid them. That is a mistake. If you try to ignore the topics of equity and inclusion, you actually become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Dialog is essential because it leads to higher levels of awareness. The most dangerous part of bias is unconscious bias, so it is essential to discuss differences, and be receptive when others point out how you are showing bias.

Point 3 – There is no Fence Anymore

You must take a stand and declare your posture on fairness and equity. It is not possible to sit on the fence and let others argue the fine points of racial injustice, or any other form of prejudice.

Point 4 – Do not say “I Understand”

There is no way that a person from a privileged class can understand what it is like to be from a disadvantaged group. The person from a disadvantaged segment will have endured far more pain and feelings of inadequacy every day of his or her life than you can possibly imagine.
Recognize the emotional load that others carry, but do not patronize by saying “I understand.” You don’t.

Point 5 – Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Many of the discussions on equity and inclusion will be challenging and difficult. Both sides of any issue will make false steps along the journey to understanding.

Recognize and factor in the difficulty of the challenge.

Point 6 – Don’t Hire with the Idea of Getting Someone to “Fit In.”

It is a mistake to bring in people who are just like the rest of us. Always seek to hire people with differing points of view and backgrounds. Note: that does not mean you should seek to hire people who will be disruptive or abrasive. Rather seek to diversify the points of view for various people on the team.

These are just six points out of thousands that could be discussed, but they do demonstrate that I am trying to address the issue of cultural awareness, equality, and inclusion more consciously in my leadership work.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, 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.


Body Language 88 Does Our Body Language Reveal Conscious or Unconscious Prejudices?

July 24, 2020

The social upheaval in 2020 triggered by the murder of George Floyd, and amplified by many other tragic situations, has changed the way we approach racial injustice as a society.

While some progress has been made over the decades, it is clear that more progress is urgently needed. As an older white male, I realize that I am caught in my own world view.

I am becoming more aware that many marginalized groups have a vastly different set of experiences about the impact of prejudice. I am seeking to learn more.

As a longtime student of body language, I have concluded that our gestures and other body language do reveal hidden feelings of prejudice.

When teaching body language, I stress that cultural differences are really important when interpreting signals from another person. You cannot assume you are interpreting a signal from someone of another culture is what you are used to in yours.

There is a wonderful resource book on this topic entitled “Kiss. Bow, or Shake Hands” by Terri Morrison, Wayne Conaway, and George Borden. My copy is a few decades old, but they have been issuing new editions; the most recent version was written in 2015.

It is important to keep things up to date, because customs tend to change with time. The book is a great way to read up on the culture of another part of the world when you travel internationally.

Even within a particular nation there can be large differences in body language signals depending on the differences that occur between groups of people.

For example, I am sure there are numerous issues where body language signals are different from one race to another. I have not found a lot of studies on this aspect, although there was a documented study at the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 relative to doctors being less empathetic with their body language when treating terminally ill black patients versus white patients.

The majority of the physicians were white men, so the team could not make any statistically significant conclusions about whether the physician’s race impacted his or her actions.

In a Tufts University study reported in Science Daily, “Subtle patterns of nonverbal behavior that appear on popular television programs influence racial bias among viewers. Black characters elicit especially negative nonverbal responses, such as facial expressions and body language, from other characters, and viewers exhibit more racial bias after exposure to such negative responses.”

The study found that characters on the shows exhibited more negative nonverbal behavior toward black characters than to white characters of the same status.

I also found an interesting study indicating “Some evidence for the nonverbal contagion of racial bias.” The study was done in 2015 by Willard (Harvard), Isaac (Princeton), and Carney (UC Berkeley). “Four experiments provide evidence for the hypothesis that we can ‘‘catch’’ racial bias from others by merely observing subtle nonverbal cues.”

The implications of this study are that it is likely we unconsciously pass on judgmental feelings about another group of people by our nonverbal behaviors.

I found several examples of specific scripted studies such as the ones above, but I have not found a meta-analysis or extensive controlled experiment reported in the literature.

I have a growing interest in the subject of the links between bias and body language. If anyone knows of a book, additional academic study, or video on this specific topic, let me know.

I find myself reading more on this topic and trying to learn how to become an “antiracist.”

I am currently reading the book “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram Kendi on this topic. He is a New York Times bestselling author and is Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.

He makes the point that “racism is steeped in denial.” He also points out that when a person says “I am not a racist,” it is an indication that the person likely is a racist.

Before this summer, I was not thinking about these issues as much as I should have. I thought of myself as unbiased and have volunteered in dozens of ways to help try to level the playing field, particularly for black folks in our community.

I now see my actions in a different light and feel that by not being more proactive in pursuing inclusive excellence, I was likely part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

I am attempting to remedy this situation by redoubling my efforts to become more educated about the issues and more active in fighting all forms of bias by reading and attending numerous programs on the topic.

It is an interesting area, because if you have unconscious biases, you are not aware of them, by definition. I think it is wise to explore in what ways you can become more aware of any unconscious biases you have.

We need to recognize that everyone is biased.

Discussions of this topic are challenging, because it is easy to offend a person who is different from you. Well-intended conversations can quickly become a minefield of potential problems.

Someone said that in order to make progress, we need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. There are many things we need to “unlearn” and learn in a different way.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”



Body Language 87 Zoom Boom 4 Administration

May 30, 2020

This is the last of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

There are lots of administrative considerations that can add to the quality of your virtual meeting.

First of all, if you are the host or co-host of the meeting, recognize that your view is different from the participants.

It is a good idea to have a second computer within eyesight where you are logged in as a participant (mute the mic and disable the live video so you show up as a gray rectangle.)

Having a second computer allows you to see the screen experience that all participants see. Often when doing screen share, breakouts, or polling, you can know if something is not working for the participants and fix it quickly.

It is a good idea to have someone serve as the co-host, but make sure this person is familiar with all of the controls. The co-host allows you, as the facilitator of the meeting, to pay full attention to the individuals on the screen and not be tied up mentally trying to follow the chat or question areas.

Also, the co-host can accept people who are waiting in the waiting room.

I picked up a neat trick a couple weeks ago that really works well. As facilitator of the meeting, I would always play the role of “host,” and I would let someone else be the co-host. I found that it is better to reverse roles and let the second in command be the “host” while I was designated the co-host.

The reason reversing roles works to my advantage is that only the host can assign people to the specific breakout room for them. All other functions can be handled equally well by the co-host.

If I, as facilitator of the meeting, am also the host, then I have to scramble around after people enter the meeting assigning them to the breakout rooms. Having my second in command take care of that task while I pay full attention to the participants works much better for me.

There is a method of preassigning people to breakout rooms, but I found that to be difficult because you never know how many no-shows there are going to be. When I use breakout rooms, it is often for role play exercises where each individual has a different set of instructions.

If the participants for your meeting are spread out geographically, you need to deal with the issue of time zones. Try to balance the timing of meetings so that certain members of the group are not always forced to participate at an inconvenient time.

Sharing your screen helps the quality of meetings greatly, but do take the time to practice and get used to this feature. I find it best to not allow all participants to share their screen because it can get a bit frantic going from one person to the next.

I avoid that problem by disallowing all participants from sharing their screens, at least while the meeting is getting started. You can always enable screen share later in the session if that would be helpful.

One detail to remember in screen share is that when you go to share a screen, you need to check the button labeled “Share Computer Sound” if you will be showing a video. Failing to so this will mean that the participants will not be able to hear the sound track.

The annotate button at the top is helpful to let people be engaged in the presentation. It allows participants to type messages on the screen or put little icons, like hearts or X’s. Play around with the annotate feature before using it live with a group. Familiarize yourself with how things work.

One precaution with annotation is that you need to clear all notations before advancing to another slide or the current annotation will be superimposed on the new slide.

It is best to have someone other than the facilitator of the meeting monitoring the chat room and the questions function. Dialog can become a big distraction if you are simultaneously trying to provide the content.

For larger events you may want to have two helpers: a moderator to handle the questions and chat and a technical expert to handle any possible glitches.

I hope these tips have been helpful to you. I have only been doing this work for about 5 weeks, so there are probably a lot more tricks I need to learn in the future.

Zoom is quite helpful with training, and there are a number of YouTube videos to explain the various features of this tool. I believe the new “normal” for how we work will include a lot more remote meetings, so it is best to invest some energy in learning how to do it well.


This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Body Language 67 Afraid

February 14, 2020

A person who is experiencing fear may show it in several different ways with his or her body language.

In this article I will highlight the most common ways people express fear without speaking. First, we need to understand that there are an infinite number of different sources and magnitudes of fear.

You might be afraid that the rumor you heard about a layoff this month could be true. Depending on your seniority and several other factors, you could be afraid of losing your job.

On the other extreme, I may be convinced there is a thief with a gun in my apartment about to enter the room where I am trying to sleep.

The type and intensity of the body language signals will depend not only on the reason I am afraid but also my current ability to tolerate uncertainty and not show it. This spectrum of signals makes the interpretation of one’s body language signals a chancy endeavor.

As with all body language, when trying to interpret what you see, you need to take into account several factors:

1. Is there a cluster of signals that all point in the same direction? If so, that will greatly enhance a correct diagnosis

2. Is this person from a culture different from the one I am most familiar with? Although fear is a primal feeling, how it is expressed in body language can be unique to a specific culture. The likelihood of misinterpretation goes up dramatically if you are observing a person from a different culture than your own.

3. Is the observed body language as a result of a specific stimulus or is it a habitual pattern for this person?

4. If there is a specific stimulus, is the reaction immediately following the stimulus, or is there a delayed reaction?

5. Is the person picking up and mimicking another person who is making an overt signal of fear? If so, the gesture may not be genuine; it could be an imitation.

6. Is the person making an attempt to hide the emotion, or is the reaction obvious to everyone?

7. Is the person consciously attempting to look a certain way or is the reaction an unconscious and authentic gesture, at least at first?

These are the main factors that will influence the specific gesture in reaction to fear. Here are some of the common facial and body reactions to fear that we have all seen at some point.

Contorted Facial Muscles

The narrowing of the eyebrows and wrinkling of the forehead is a pretty good give away that the person is experiencing fear. You need to be careful though, because the same facial contortions are common with anger. Look for more corroborating signals.

Hands to the mouth

Usually both hands will go to the mouth when a person is experiencing high fear. It may take the form of symbolically biting the nails, or it may be to actually cover the mouth and eyes. The person is trying to disappear from sight.

Arms outstretched

Another gesture of fear is a kind of blocking motion made by outstretching the arms in front of the person with palms facing the thing being blocked. Here, the idea is to put up a figurative wall between yourself and the offending person, animal, or thing. In this gesture, the head may be lowered and shoulders raised as we cower in fear. The posture is to make yourself a smaller target.

Behind an object or blanket

Children will often express fear by hiding behind something, like a couch cushion or a blanket, then the gesture is to peek out ever-so-slightly from behind the safety of the screen. Adults often hide behind other items or excuses. If one is afraid of the outcome of an effort, the fear may be manifest in procrastination.

Open mouth

The mouth is usually open when a person is experiencing high fear. The idea is to give a symbolic primal scream, even if the sound is inaudible. People in fear do not look tight lipped, instead they normally will be showing their teeth.

In a business environment, be alert to less obvious, but symbolically equivalent signs of fear in a person. Reach out to determine the nature of the fear and attempt to engage the person in some dialog about it.

The verbalization of fear and the brainstorming of ways to mitigate the angst are both ways to calm the person down. Helping another person who is in mild fear regain his equilibrium is an excellent way to build rapport and trust.

Adults develop patterns to help them deal with fear in ways that may not show in overt body language. They use compensating actions, and if you can recognize these signs, you can address the underlying cause to help the person, even though no specific physical signals are evident.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 37 Five Mistakes Using Data

February 10, 2020

The Great Quality Guru, W. Edwards Deming had a lot to say about how managers 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 managers 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 variation when it is really due to common cause variation.

Common cause variation is when a system is in statistical control with small random type variation occurring.

The only way to tell if a system is in control is to consider all the data, usually by plotting it, and finding out if the data variation is within certain defined bounds, called “control limits.”.

If it is in control, then for managers to ask people to explain the variation is simply a waste of their 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 control limits 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 managers 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 and time and it lowers trust.

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 variation. 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. Only then we can know what is really 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 is 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, managers 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 scapegoat, people tend to hide the truth and work to pin blame on other people to protect their own interests. That leads to infighting, conflict, 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, the machines are controlled by people, but once programmed, people tend to rely too much on the machine and forget to check for sanity.

That situation 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.

When we take the time to use data correctly, we normally build higher trust within an organization, because people are not being asked to resolve a figment or ghost of a real issue.

These 5 mistakes are the most common ones. There are other symptoms of how managers use data incorrectly to the detriment of their organization and the people. The antidote for each of these problems is to make sure managers are educated on these flaws and modify their behaviors to avoid the pitfalls.

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

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 63 Fist in the Air

January 17, 2020

The gesture of putting one’s fist in the air is a very common one, but it can cause misunderstandings if you do not couple it with corroborating signals.

Part of the confusion is that the different meanings are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. For example, the fist-in-the-air gesture at a football game would normally be a way to cheer on your team to victory, while if there were protesters outside the stadium, that same gesture could signify rebellion, hatred, or anger.

In order to ascribe the correct meaning to the fist-in-the-air gesture, you must factor in the context in which it is given and most importantly the facial expressions that accompany it.

When this gesture is seen in public, it is normally part of a group activity where many people are giving the same signal. It is possible to observe the gesture on the part of just one person, but that is rare.

In this brief article, I will describe several applications where the fist in the air might be observed along with the most likely message being sent.

A cheer of support

A fist in the air can be a supportive gesture among team members similar to a high five. It means we are all together, and we are united in a common cause. We support each other and cheer each other on with the gesture.

For example, you might see a sales team at their convention use this gesture when it is announced that the team met the aggressive sales goal for the year. Everyone would enjoy the year-end bonus as a result of reaching the challenging goal.

Appreciation

You can witness the fist in the air gesture among adoring fans at a rock concert. You will see many people in the audience highly animated jumping up and down with their fists in the air as they sing along to the lyrics.

Defiance

You can also see the fist in the air at political or social rallies. The connotation here is still that we are united in a purpose, but in this case it is often a negative form of protest.

In the Workplace

Workers can display their anger over a new policy being introduced by having many people in a meeting start showing their fists in the air.

At times like this, the leader who is conducting the meeting needs to see the anger building up and make a preventive statement before the gesture is taken up by most of the workers and it becomes like a mob scene.

For example, the leader might see one person starting to put his fist in the air and say something like:

“I know this is not going to be a popular move, but I wanted to share the information with you candidly as early as possible, because you have a right to be informed of the action. You also have the right to understand the reason this action was unavoidable. I will explain some ways we can get through this difficult time together.”

Warning

A fist in the air done by an individual may be a warning to keep physical or emotional distance. The idea here is to tell the other person to back off or face a possible sock in the jaw. The gesture may be accompanied by a shaking of the fist as the wicked witch did in “The Wizard of Oz.” As she shook her fist she cackled, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too.”

In a work setting, you can avoid this kind of acrimony by having acceptable behaviors identified in advance. If the whole team has agreed to treat each other respectfully, then the threats or warnings will be fewer.

Hate

When the gesture is coupled by a stiff arm, it is more serious and an indication of extreme prejudice against a person, group, or ideal. Another dead give away for this attitude is the facial expression. If the person looks angry, then chances are he is expressing some form of hatred.

The news showed an example of that at a White Supremacists Hate Rally at University of Virginia in 2017. Many of the marchers had their fist in the air as they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

I once witnessed a large group of union workers with their fists in the air to express frustration and lack of trust with the management group. This public display of extreme disapproval was a major setback for the organization. It took months of effort to rebuild the respect of these workers.

The lesson here is to intervene with corrective measures before the frustration boils up to the point where people are shaking their fists in the air. Once people start using this gesture, it is a long and expensive road back to stability.

There are numerous examples of organizations that have pushed workers too far experience the push back of rebellion. The antidote is to build and maintain a culture of trust so that people feel heard and appreciated all along. That way the resentment never builds up to the boiling point.

Resolve or unyielding

When coupled with a clenched jaw and slight scowl, the fist in the air signifies an unyielding posture to what is going on. I am reminded me of the lyrics to a song, “I Won’t Back Down,” by the late Tom Petty:

I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down.

You can see that there is a wide spectrum of possible meanings to a fist in the air gesture. You must be alert to the circumstances and the facial expressions to pick out an accurate meaning.

If you sense frustration building up, take special care to mitigate the damage before people start shaking their fists or you will be in for a long recovery. If you have managed to build trust by reducing the fear in your organization, you are less likely to need to take remedial actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Leadership Barometer 33 Downsizing Tips

January 13, 2020

Every organization deals with downsizing occasionally in a struggle to survive difficult economic conditions. These times are true tests of the quality of leadership.

In many cases, downsizing leads to numerous problems in its wake, especially lower trust.

The most crucial shortage threatening our world is not oil, money, or any other physical resource. It is the lack of enlightened leaders who know how to build trust and transparency, especially when draconian actions are contemplated.

We are in need of more leaders who can establish and maintain the right kind of environment. A serious problem is in the daily actions of the leaders who undermine trust, even though that is not their intention.

The current work climate for leaders exacerbates the problem. The ability to maintain trust and transparency during workforce reductions is a key skill few leaders have.

Downsizing is a unique opportunity to grow leaders who do have the ability to make difficult decisions in ways that maintain the essence of trust.

Thankfully, there are processes that allow leaders to accomplish incredibly complex restructurings and still keep the backbone of the organization strong and loyal. It takes exceptional skill and care to accomplish this, but it can be done.

The trick is to not fall victim to the conventional ways of surgery that have been ineffective numerous times in the past. Yes, if you need to, you can cut off a leg in the backwoods with a dirty bucksaw and a bottle of whisky, but there are far safer, effective, and less painful ways to accomplish such a traumatic pruning.

One helpful tool in a downsizing is to be as transparent as possible during the planning phase. In the past, HR managers have worried that disclosing a need for downsizing or reorganization might lead to sabotage or other forms of rebellion.

The irony is that, even with the best secrecy, everyone in the organization is well aware of an impending change long before it is announced, and the concealment only adds to the frustration.

Just as nature hates a vacuum, people find a void in communication intolerable. Not knowing what is going to happen is an incredibly potent poison.

Gossip and rumors generally make the problem bigger than it actually is, and leaders find themselves dealing with the fallout.

Human beings are far more resilient in the face of bad news than to uncertainty. Information freely given is a kind of anesthesia that allows managers to accomplish difficult operations with far less trauma. The transparency works for three reasons:

1. It allows time for people to assimilate and deal with the emotional upheaval and adjust their life plans accordingly.
2. It treats employees like adults who are respected enough to hear the bad news rather than children who can’t be trusted to deal with trauma and must be sheltered from reality until the last minute.
3. It allows time to cross-train those people who will be leaving with those who will inherit their work.

All three of these reasons, while not pleasant, do serve to enhance rather than destroy trust.

Don’t humiliate people

Another tip is how to break the news to someone who will be terminated. One way to handle the situation is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if the situation were reversed. Would you like to be paraded down the hall to pack a box with your possessions and escorted outside the gate and forced to hand over your keys and badge?

Many enlightened leaders have handled the separation in a more humane way. They break the news to the individual and share that the employee needs to find alternative employment. They may even offer assistance with ideas on where to look and offer for a reference.

Then, the employee is not immediately escorted off the premises, but is allowed to pack things up over the next several days and say good bye to friends and work colleagues. Some employers have even experimented with letting the impacted worker use the facilities and equipment for a short while during the job search.

HR managers will quickly point out the risks of having formerly employed workers on the premises, and it is true that the person needs to understand that if he or she is disruptive in any way, then the leaving will be immediate.

The idea is that when you treat separated employees with respect and kindness, even when the news is not good, they respond with a better attitude, which generally improves the outcome.

The more powerful result is that the employees who are not leaving are also impressed by the way these former colleagues were treated. That factor tends to bolster morale a bit for workers who are now asked to take up the slack.

Full and timely disclosure of information and thoughtful exit processes are only two of the many tools leaders can use to help maintain or even grow trust while executing unpleasant necessities.

My study of leadership over the past several decades indicates that the situation is not hopeless. We simply need to teach leaders the benefits of building an environment of trust and transparency and how to obtain them.

Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.