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.


Leadership Barometer 62 Victory

January 11, 2020

The common “Victory” gesture is well known to us all. Habitually, we interpret the signal as one of strength and impending or realized victory.

There have been times in history where the victory sign, made by showing the first and second fingers in the shape of the letter “V,” had a different meaning. It is important to know when you are dealing with the common gesture versus some more esoteric flavor.

For example, the familiar usage to indicate victory is normally made with the palm of the person making the gesture facing toward the viewer. When the palm is facing toward the person making the gesture, it can have a completely different meaning. When coupled by an upward jerking motion of the forearm, it means “up yours.”

In Sports

We see the Victory sign made by athletes in every facet of the sports world. It is normally directed at someone out of earshot, and it simply means “we won.” It can also be shown before the contest, and in that case it means “we are going to win.”

In Politics

People running for office will often flash the victory sign in rallies as a show of confidence that they are going to win the race. You often see the gesture used in Congress when one side of the aisle is intent on prevailing over those nasty people on the other side.

Who can forget how Nixon frequently used the Double V with both arms outstretched. He even used it as he was boarding his helicopter immediately after he resigned from the presidency.

In War

The victory sign has historically been used when one side has won a battle. Who can forget the US soldiers riding through Europe flashing the victory sign at the end of WWII. Similarly, we recall Winston Churchill showing the victory sign as a way to instill confidence within the people of England that they would ultimately prevail. His famous admonition given at the time was “Never, never, never, quit.”

In Klingon

Of course, there have been variations on the victory sign, like the one on Star Trek when Mr. Spock would show the “Vulcan Salute” with four fingers split two on each side of the letter “V.”

The meaning of that gesture was very different from the single victory sign. It meant “Live Long and Prosper.” One interesting thing about that gesture is that it can be hard for some people to make it. I believe that is why Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” was so prone to use the gesture. It made him feel superior, because not everyone could do it. Can you?

In School

School children, and even adults often will use the victory gesture to signal another person across the room that they just aced a test.

Upside Down V

This gesture is not used a lot, but when you see it, the normal connotation is that our team was successful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There is no pride in this gesture at all.

It also has the negative connotation, because you have to make the gesture with your palm facing yourself. It is very uncomfortable to make the upside down “V” sign with your palm facing away from you. If you doubt that, try it now yourself.

The simple hand gesture of forming a letter “V” with two fingers is one of the most common forms of body language. Curiously, this gesture, unlike many others, is not highly susceptible to misinterpretation when going form one culture to another. You can use the signal often and anywhere, and rarely will you be misunderstood. In some parts of the world, the gesture is used a lot more than others.

For example, in Japan the gesture is used by young people who are being photographed. The gesture even has a name in Japanese: they call it “pisu sain.”

Go ahead and use this gesture freely, but just make sure your palm is toward the observer rather than toward yourself.

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


Leadership Barometer 21 Build a Safe Environment

October 18, 2019

 Here is one of my favorite measures for the quality of a leader.

Build a SAFE Environment

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

We have learned over the past decade that just because a company is great now is no guarantee it will even exist in a year or two. There is really no such thing as lifelong job security anymore.

Longevity not guaranteed

As an example, look at Circuit City. In the early years of the 2000’s, it was on top of the heap, and even qualified as one of the “Great” companies in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. By 2008, the company was history.

So, it is not surprising that few people feel the kind of job security that most individuals felt in the 80’s and 90’s. It is just a fact of life, and that kind of fear needs to be used to create the impetus to do better on a daily basis.

More common fear

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

So, I clam up and do not share thoughts that could be helpful to my organization.

Create the right culture

Great leaders create an environment where this kind of fear is nearly nonexistent. My favorite quote about this, that I note on my corporate website, is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” In a culture where there is no fear, trust grows spontaneously, much like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case, the mold is a blessing.

Reinforce candor

So, what is the mechanism by which great leaders create this lack of fear? They do it by “reinforcing candor.” They let people know they will not be punished for speaking their truth.

Reward rather than punish

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

That is brilliant leadership!

If you are a leader, focus on one thing when someone tells you something you did not want to hear.  Focus your actions on making the person glad he or she brought it up. That behavior is the most constructive thing you can do to build a culture of trust within your organization.

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


Leadership Barometer 18 Handling a Crisis

October 1, 2019

There are hundreds of ways to test the greatness of leaders.  Here is one of my favorite measures.

Handling a Crises

One easy way to measure the caliber of a leader is to observe him or her in a crisis. Great leaders take command, but do so in a special way that weaker leaders try unsuccessfully to emulate. In the first place, they have the ability to diffuse internal crises and avoiding a kind of mob scene where workers gang up on the leader.

The distinction begins even before the crisis is evident. It is a mindset. Average leaders take rest when things are going smoothly. They focus on the little fires and beat them down so they do not spread. Other than that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the mentality. We might as well enjoy the way things are going, since it is smooth sailing.

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

In business, the character or timing of the next storm is far less predictable than in nature. For example, in late summer, we can expect several hurricanes to crop up in the Atlantic and work their way toward the mainland U.S.. Once they form, computer models can predict with various levels of accuracy if, when, and where the storm will come ashore.

Most crises in business are less predictable. Some trends can be tracked, but usually the big disruptive events are things that are impossible to forecast. For example, if we are manufacturing aircraft, we can plot the seasonality and long-term trends, attempting to anticipate peak loads. Then, a fire in the factory causes a crisis that is a total surprise. The impact of the crisis on our business dwarfs anything we had been planning based on market projections, yet we are forced to deal with it immediately.

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

Communication channels have not been set up to handle the chaos, so instructions or intentions come through as garbled signals. Think of the first responders in the World Trade Center after the first tower fell. Instructions were not getting through to all responders, and many additional lives were lost because of it.

The average leader somehow manages to deploy an effort to fight the situation, but it is often meager compared to the proportion of the disaster. People wonder why there was not more specific leadership coming through when it was needed most. When a leader appears to be unprepared for the disaster, then there is a loss of trust.

By contrast, the great leader has refined the procedures for communication and action ahead of time. Even though the exact nature of the crisis is not known, the preparation phase is an ongoing high priority. There are often mock “fire drills” to practice damage control and hone communication procedures to be ready in case the real thing happens.

For example, a CEO might arrange to distribute a fake internal news release that the toy being sold by his chain was causing deaths in children. This would force people to react with everything from recalls, to insurance negotiations, to government briefings, to press statements, etc.

After practicing the mock disaster, they could hold a debrief meeting and might determine the internal communication between executives was practically nonexistent during the crisis. All of the managers were doing their best to keep a lid on the damage, but the total effort was not well coordinated. This debrief would allow the team to design an information dissemination process, so if a crisis ever surfaced, they would be in a far better position.

I know one college president who had to endure three different embarrassing public issues in just a few weeks time. None of the problems were caused by the president, and none of them could have been predicted, yet he had to deal with them in a way that upheld the values of the college and gave all stakeholders confidence that the institution was not out of control.

If you are the head of an organization, you need to be prepared for these kinds of disruptions. You know there is a comet or two heading your way, you just don’t know specifically what it will look like or when it will arrive. Warren Bennis, my favorite all time leadership author, put it this way:

Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, so problems make leaders.

The best leaders look at these kind of crisis situations as a way to test themselves and their teams.  The best advice is to keep practicing your response and communication methods. You cannot anticipate the nature of the comet that is heading your way, but you can prepare your team to deal with anything.


Leadership Barometer 8 Not Playing Games

July 23, 2019

Here is a quick way to assess the quality of a leader.

Build a real environment

Many people describe the actions and decisions of their leader as a kind of game.  There is an agenda going on in the head of the leader, but the true intent is often hidden from view.

This situation is common in all parts of our society from C-Level executives, to politicians, clergy, academics, lawyers, accountants, law enforcement, and really every corner of society.

Another symptom is that the story changes from day to day without any apparent provocation or believable explanation. People try to guess what the leader really wants, only to be embarrassed or disappointed when they make a wrong assumption.  It is a common break room discussion for people to speculate what the leader is trying to accomplish by the latest pronouncement.

The contrast with this pattern when there is an excellent leader at the helm could not be more clear.  Great leaders do not play games. They build a culture of trust, where people know the objectives, and all actions are in alignment with those objectives. Workers know what is going on in the mind of the leader and are expected to point out anything that would seem to deviate from the plan.

This condition leads to maximum engagement of everyone because there is no need for second guessing.

Do not assume people know

It is important for any leader to not assume people know the intent.  Since all actions are totally rational in the mind of the leaders, it is a simple leap to figure that other people can connect the dots as well.  You can tell when people are confused by their body language.

A puzzled look on the face is the easy way to spot the confusion. Great leaders are constantly trying to sniff out any possibility of misinterpretation, so they can take immediate corrective actions.

Poor leaders go ahead blindly, assuming that everyone will figure out why a certain action was taken. Sometimes they are astonished to discover significant confusion and wonder why motivation is so low.

That disconnect becomes the acid test of a good leader on this dimension. If there are rarely or never any need to go back and explain an action or statement, then this leader is communicating well and not playing head games with people. In that environment, trust will grow strong, and it will endure.

Put a high premium on direct information, and always verify that people understand not only what you are advocating but why you think that is the wise path. That verification allows people to challenge anything that seems to be out of the expected so that corrections can be made before damage is done.

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

 


Didn’t You Read My Email?

May 21, 2019

My work on leadership development often focuses on communication. Reason: Poor communication is the #1 complaint in most employee satisfaction surveys.

One cause of the problem is that many managers think they have communicated when they send out an email.

In a recent edition of the Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman measured that about 60% of workers say they need to hear information about a company 3-5 times before they are likely to believe it.

The implication is that the bar has been raised on the number of times managers need to communicate a consistent message before people are likely to internalize it.

The sad truth is that many managers put information in an email and honestly believe they have communicated to people. Hogwash! Let’s examine some of the reasons this opinion is incorrect.

People rarely read long and complex emails

Managers who put out technically well-worded messages have a vision that the employees will hang onto every word and absorb all the careful “spin.” It’s just not true.

If it takes more than about 30 seconds to read a note, most people will only skim it for the general topic and assume they understand the message.

If a manager puts out a note that is 3 pages long and takes 15 minutes to read, I suspect not 1 in 10 people are going to internalize the meaning.

In fact, when most people open a note and see that the text goes “over the horizon” beyond the first page, they either delete the note without reading it or close the note and leave it in the inbox for a more convenient time.

Naturally, a more convenient time does not surface, so the note is allowed to mold in cold storage like last week’s opened cheese.

Written information needs to be augmented with verbal enhancements

The written email should contain simply an outline of the salient points. True meaning should be obtained by reinforcing the key points face to face.

This vital step would also include the opportunity for personal involvement or at least dialog, so people can ponder the meaning and impact. Questions for clarification will enhance understanding.

Sensitive topics need a third exposure (and maybe a fourth)

Use some form of summary hand out, YouTube video, voicemail, text, Skype, conference call, newsletter, or podcast to solidify the information.

Make action items clear

If action is required, the succinct message of who, what, and when needs to be highlighted in bold text.

Formatting is really important

Email notes should be as short and easy to digest as possible. Aim to have the message internalized at a glance and with only 15-30 seconds of attention.

• State the objective and main point up front
• Use bullets for key points
• Avoid long complex sentences
• Summarize in a brief statement at the end

Note the use of bullets eliminates wordy construction. Use the “Golden Rule” for writing e-mails; “Write notes that you would enjoy receiving,” and utilize many different forms of communication rather than relying on just email.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind