Successful Supervisor 76 Building Trust for Life

May 13, 2018

Early in my career I learned a valuable lesson that is important for all supervisors to know. The circumstances will be different but the lesson is unmistakable.

I was sent to Japan to negotiate a deal on a large supply of high capacity floppy disks. I was nervous going over because my boss was busy preparing a law suit against many of the companies I would be negotiating with for dumping low capacity floppy disks on the US market.

On the flight, my buddy and I amused ourselves by making notes in a periodical that described the tension between our organization and the Japanese companies. We probably wrote some things that were too juicy for public consumption.

The trip went very well, and there was no acrimony with our hosts. Coming back from a long lunch on the final day, I noticed that I had left my briefcase open and the periodical was on top of the stack. I realized that someone could have read and copied some of the private information, which would have damaged our case. I was terrified that my actions could possibly turn into a major gaffe with my boss.

As soon as I got back I went to my boss immediately and told him that I did something really stupid in Japan the prior week. He said, “What did you do?” My reply was, “You would never know this unless I told you, but here is what happened…”

He looked up at me and said, “You know you are right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did. The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

From that day on for the next 25 years until he retired, I was golden boy to him. Reason: I blew myself in (admitted my mistake) when I didn’t have to. Essentially I earned his trust for life by owning up to my indiscretion.

The lesson that I learned was that even though I did something admittedly dumb, I was able to turn it into a major step forward for my entire career. Most of us intellectually know that admitting a mistake is usually a trust-building action. There are two kinds of mistakes where this would not be the case:

1. If the mistake is a repeat of one that was made once or many times in the past

2. If the mistake was so stupid that it revealed the person to be clueless

Most mistakes are things that simply did not go the way we planned, so they are easily forgiven when we openly admit to them. This method is particularly potent for people in supervisory positions. Reason: From past experience most of us view supervisors and managers as people having a hard time admitting mistakes.

Exercise for you: Look for opportunities to admit your own vulnerability. Obviously it is a silly strategy to create mistakes so you can admit them, but we all do have lapses from time to time. When you are smart enough to blow yourself in, it usually impacts your long term prognosis favorably. Try it and see if you agree.

Human beings normally have the capacity to forgive an occasional error if it was done with good intent. By admitting an error, you will give a powerful demonstration of your own personal integrity. That is a tangible sign of being a trustworthy person.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 75 Handling a Trust Betrayal by Upper Management

May 6, 2018

Last week I discussed a process of recuperating from a trust betrayal between a supervisor and an employee. This article deals with the situation where the supervisor has lost trust in upper management.

Unfortunately, this situation is common, and it can be as problematical as the downward loss of trust between the supervisor and employee.

Picture a loss of trust between a supervisor and her manager because she feels she is being required to support a policy or decision that she believes is wrong. What advice can we give the supervisor who finds herself in this common but delicate situation?

1. You must support the decision to your people even though you are trying to get it reversed. Reason: if you tell your people you are going along with it simply because it is an order but you think it is wrong, you are undermining the authority of your superior, and that is a certain black mark on your reputation.

Too many black marks and you will find yourself on the outside looking in. When you publicly support a decision that you privately don’t agree with, employees might sense a lack of transparency. I will deal with how to prevent the loss of trust in this case later in this article.

2. Seek to understand the nature of your disagreement. If it is a matter of style and you think there is a better way to handle this issue, then push back with your logic about why a different approach is wiser.

Be flexible and ready to negotiate to find a win-win way of framing up the problem. Often there is a third approach that will satisfy both you and upper management.

3. If instead you believe upper management is violating one of the values or advocating some policy that is unethical or illegal, then you need to decide if you are willing to die on that hill.

Point out the reason for your belief in clear but gentle terms to give your manager the opportunity to give a counter point.

Be willing to listen and be flexible, but do not bend on a matter of principle. In the end, you may have to indicate your desire to work somewhere else if an illegal policy is being contemplated. Just make sure of your facts before becoming adamant.

4. It is a delicate discussion to stand up to a superior in this way, so remain open minded for a solution that is a reasonable compromise as long as the values are not breached.

When arguing your case for why you feel uncomfortable with a decision, avoid the logic that it is not going to be popular with your employees. Supervisors are sometimes called upon to administer unpopular policies, and you need to step up to the challenge of doing that or leaving your position.

In trying to explain unpopular decisions, you must support the management position, even if you argued against it strongly before or after the decision was made. This is one of the most difficult challenges any supervisor will face.

You cannot say, “This is a really dumb decision but we are going to have to do it anyway.” Here are some considerations to think about when this situation arises:

1. You should tell your employees the decision with the sensitivity that you would want if the roles were reversed. Often people need to be reminded of the larger picture and that some sacrifices are required for the greater good. Say something like “There were other possible alternatives, but our management believes this path is the best one for all of us in the long run, so we are going with it.”

2. Often the organization is facing a decision that might temporarily disappoint employees but be beneficial to customers or some other stakeholder. Remind the employees that we cannot win every point and that the bigger battle is more important to their long term objectives.

3. It is important that you remember who is in charge and act that way unless the proposed action is illegal, unethical, or dumb. Which of those three problems are in play will determine the intensity of your push back on upper management.

When you took on the role of supervisor, you accepted a difficult position. You need to recognize the job is not always going to be an easy one and that you will be called upon to administer unpopular policies at times.

Think of this as a test of your ability to see the management perspective, but if the proposed action is unethical or otherwise violating the values, it is time to stand firm for your convictions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 73 Incentives

April 14, 2018

Is it ever a good practice for supervisor to bribe her employees? I recently asked that question in an online leadership class. We got into a very interesting discussion that highlighted the difference between four words that are sometimes confused by supervisors. Those words are bribe, incentive, reward, and reinforcement. The world will not come to an end if these words are mixed, but since they represent different concepts in motivation theory, it would be wise to use them correctly.

Before or After

All four of these words have the connotation of influencing people to do the things you would like to have them do. The distinction is that two words typically apply before an action is taken while the other two words usually apply after the action.

1. Bribes

The word bribe is a well-known and loaded word. In common usage, it means we are offering people something they want in pre-payment if they will do something that they would not normally do.

For example, in some cultures it is expected that airline passengers going through customs will give the customs officer some kind of “tip” in order to process their bags without hassle. That is a bribe, although we would never use the word in front of the customs officer.

We have all heard stories of individuals arguing with a policeman about a potential speeding ticket and trying to offer some kind of bribe to have the ticket waived. These individuals often find a bribe is not only unsuccessful, it can lead to jail time.

2. Incentives

The second type of pre-agreed payment is called an incentive. This is where a supervisor will challenge people to do more than expected, and they are promised a specific payment if they do it. For a supervisor, an incentive for her crew may sound like this: “If you beat the standard rate of production each day this week, I will give you a pizza party on Friday.”

Usually with incentives, there is no stigma associated with doing something wrong; it is merely an encouragement to do more of what is right.

Often the incentives are built into a compensation plan, such that they really don’t appear as separate incentives, but certainly have that same feel.

For example, commissions paid for certain levels of sales are types of incentives. They are a promise made ahead of time to pay a certain amount based on the employees performing at a certain level.

3. Rewards

When employees perform better than expected, for any number of reasons, but without a precondition agreement, supervisors may give them extra compensation after the fact. These payments are called rewards.

Often, the compensation is a token amount in recognition of the actions by the employees and are not intended to fully pay for the extra effort. Instead, they are a kind of “thank you” for going the extra mile.

The area of rewards can be a minefield, and there are numerous books on the potential mistakes when trying to reward people. For example, if a supervisor rewards an individual for a job well done, often other people feel slighted because they expended as much effort or provided more benefit to the organization than the person being rewarded.

There are numerous other problems that can be devastating. It is not uncommon for well intentioned supervisors to create ill will by applying rewards poorly or non-uniformly.

4. Reinforcement

A final category is called reinforcement. Like rewards, reinforcement is something that is usually applied after actions have been taken. Reinforcement is more general than rewards. It seeks to make people feel appreciated and thanked for the things they have been doing.

Usually reinforcement takes the form of verbal or written praise as opposed to tangible gifts or direct compensation. Reinforcement takes hundreds of different forms and can be as simple as a “thank you” or as complex as a group-wide celebration.

The words discussed in this article are sometimes used inappropriately by supervisors. One might refer to what was intended as an incentive to be some kind of bribe. Or someone might think of a form of reward as being simple reinforcement.

It is instructive to realize there is a difference in behavior modification between promising an incentive ahead of the act versus providing a reward after the act has been completed.

To be an accurate communicator, it is important to use the right words for each application. If one of the four words described above is used in the wrong context, it can send mixed signals about a supervisor’s intent. That action will cause a lowering of trust within the organization, and it will eventually show up on the bottom line.

Be careful when using these words to use them accurately. The concepts involved in behavior modification are critical to having people experience higher motivation as a result of incentives offered by leaders. These tools are powerful concepts, but they can be easily misused and end up causing damage.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 72 Didn’t You Read My E-mail?

April 7, 2018

My work with supervisors often focuses on communication. Reason: Poor communication is the #1 complaint in most employee satisfaction surveys. Habitually, communication has been a major bone of contention in organizations.

Even though communication tools have morphed into all kinds of wonderful technologies, the problem is still there and even is worse today because many managers tend to rely too much on electronic means to communicate information.

For the past decade, the majority of workers say they need to hear information 3-5 times before they are likely to believe it. The implication is that the bar has been raised on the number of times supervisors need to communicate a consistent message before people are likely to internalize it.

The sad truth is that many supervisors put information in an e-mail and honestly believe they have communicated to people. Let’s examine some of the reasons this opinion is incorrect.

People rarely read long and complex e-mails

Supervisors who put out technically well-worded messages have a vision that the employees will read every word and fully absorb all the points. Hogwash! If it takes more than about 30 seconds to read a note, most people will only skim it for the general topic and miss parts of the message.

If a manager puts out a note that is 3 pages long and takes 15 minutes to read, I suspect not 2 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 the inbox like last week’s opened cheese in the refrigerator. Eventually it is thrown out in some kind of purge when the stench becomes too much to bear.

Written information needs to be augmented with verbal enhancements

The written e-mail should contain simply an outline of the salient points. True meaning should be obtained by reinforcing the key points in other forms of communication. This 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.

Important conceptual topics need a third exposure (and maybe a fourth)

Some form of summary hand out, YouTube video, voicemail, text, Skype, conference call, newsletter, or podcast should be used to solidify the information. If action is required, this is a critical step that is often not highlighted. The supervisor assumes everyone got the message by an initial e-mail and is astounded that not one of his direct reports took the action he requested.

Formatting is really important

E-mail 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. Contrast the two notes below to see which one would be more likely to be followed by the sales force.

Example of a poorly formatted and wordy note:

I wanted to inform you all that the financial trend for this quarter is not looking good. In order to meet our goals, I believe we must enhance our sales push, especially in the South East Region and in the West. Those two regions are lagging behind at the moment, but I am sure we can catch up before the end of the quarter. Let’s increase the advertising in the local paper so that we get more buzz about the new product. The increased exposure will help now and also in the next quarter. Advertising has a way of building up sales equity. Also, I am cancelling our monthly meeting at headquarters in order to keep the sales force in the field as much as possible. This means you can give your full attention to making customer calls. I am available to travel to the regions next week if you would like to have me meet face to face with your customers. I look forward to celebrating a great success when we have our Fall Sales Meeting. Thank you very much for your extra effort at this critical time for our company… Jake Alsop: Sales Manager, Domestic

Improved format of the same content:

Let’s look forward to celebrating success at the Fall Sales Meeting. Since we are currently behind the pace (particularly in the South East and Western regions) I am asking for the following:
• Increase newspaper advertising to improve exposure
• Stay in the field this month; we’ll skip the meeting
• Request my help with customer presentations if you want it
Thanks…Jake

The second note would be far more likely to be read and internalized. When the sales force opens up the first note, they would see an unformatted block of text that is a burden to wade through. There are no paragraph breaks to give the eyes a rest between concepts.

It contains several instructions amid redundant platitudes and drivel. The second note can be internalized at a glance, and it would be far more likely to produce results. 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 e-mail.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 71 Building Trust When Your Boss Doesn’t

April 1, 2018

In my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, the most persistent complaint I run into is a supervisor who says,

“Your material is excellent. I know this can make a huge difference in our organization, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment we are in is habitually trashed from above?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help.

First, recognize you are not alone. Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, and restructuring or other unpopular actions are common. There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. They do lasting damage rather than build trust during the struggle.

Second, realize that usually you cannot control what goes on at levels above you. My favorite quote on this is,

“Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.”

The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire. Most managers with low emotional intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they have a problem.

One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to, or bring in, a leadership trust seminar and request the boss come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the boss can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books. It helps if the boss gets to nominate the first couple books for review.

The idea is to get the clueless boss to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process. If the boss is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key flavor here is to not target the boss as the person who needs to be “fixed,” rather view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

Third, avoid whining about the unfair world above you, because that does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well.

When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can.

Fourth, operate a high trust operation in the environment that you influence. That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies. This can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high.

You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like. One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes. The discussion might sound like this,

“I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks, or would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear. My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.”

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by the boss, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the boss intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them:

1) Are you competent?,

2) Do you have integrity?, and

3) Do you care about me?

Fifth, lead by example. Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done.

You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the boss how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with the boss.

Sixth, be patient and keep smiling; a positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically down and morose. Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to gain the motivation of everyone in your group.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 70 Reduce Drama

March 24, 2018

I participated in an interesting discussion in an online class on teamwork recently. The students were lamenting that drama in the workplace is common and very disruptive to good teamwork.

Drama on the shop floor can produce dangerous situations for the supervisor. While drama is just part of the human condition, I am sure you have experienced unwanted drama and wished there were ways to reduce it.

First, one precaution: There are various different kinds of drama and many different symptoms and sources. In this article, I am discussing the most common kind of drama in the workplace, where a person acts out his or her daily frustrations in ways that create chaos and loss of focus that hurt the productivity, effectiveness, and teamwork of the group. I am not addressing the serious drama caused by mental illness or tragic events.

Let’s take a look at the seeds of this problem to identify some mitigating strategies. Drama is usually a result of people who feel they are not being heard or appreciated. If an individual believes his or her opinions are valued and considered in the decision process, then there is less need for drama.

If the culture is real, and people are not playing games with each other, then the distractions of drama will be significantly reduced.

It is a function of leaders to establish a culture where people see little need for drama in order to be a vital part of the real action. Here are some tips that leaders can use to reduce drama in their organization:

1. Improve the level of trust. High trust groups respect people, so there is a feeling of inclusiveness that does not require high profile actions to get attention.

2. Anticipate needs. Be proactive at sensing when people need to be heard and provide the opportunity before they become frustrated.

3. Respect outliers. When someone’s view is contrary to the majority, there may be valid points to consider. Do not ignore the valuable insights of all people.

4. Hear people out and consider their input seriously. Positive body language is essential to show respect for all people.

5. Work on your own humility. Climbing down off your pedestal means that you are more willing to be on an equal footing with others.

6. Admit mistakes. You gain respect when you are honest about the blunders that you make. People will feel less like acting out in response to your foibles if they see you willing to be vulnerable.

7. Reinforce people well. Providing sincere praise is one way to show respect. This reduces people’s tendency to say “Hey don’t forget about me over here.”

We must also realize that some people are world class at creating drama. For these people it is a kind of sport. They do it to gain inappropriate attention or just to be disruptive. These people need coaching to let them know their antics are not really helping drive the goals of the organization.

The supervisor needs to provide feedback about the issue and set the expectation of improvement. If the drama continues and is disruptive, then the person may be better off in some other organization doing a different function.

Drama is all around us on a daily basis, but good leadership can mitigate the negative impact and keep bad habits from becoming an organizational albatross.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 69 Be You

March 17, 2018

Supervisors are not often required to make speeches before huge groups, but they do conduct shift meetings and other important communication methods with various audiences.

In these situations, the pressure is on the supervisor to be highly professional with delivery. I once saw a supervisor give a presentation for upper managers, and she flubbed it badly.

The reason was that she had tried to memorize her exact words. Basically, she over prepared for the event and put too much pressure on herself to deliver a perfect program. That strategy has been the downfall of many speakers.

If you have ever spoken in front of a large audience, you know it can be a terrifying experience. Studies have shown that fear of speaking in public is stronger than the fear of death for most people. It sounds impossible, but it is true.

In this article, I will explore why we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear perfect and offer some insight into an alternate path that leads to lower stress in life and better performance. I will use public speaking as an example and then generalize the concept to cover many other areas of our lives.

When we think about why people get nervous in front of a large crowd, it seems pretty obvious. We are afraid we are going to goof up, so we practice our part over and over, attempting to perfect and polish our delivery so we do not look stupid in front of others. The irony is that the more we attempt to perfect our speech, the more likely we are to actually flounder with our delivery.

I witnessed a professional speaker who was giving a presentation to over 1000 other professional speakers. Talk about pressure! She had practiced her speech so many times she was assured that she would not make a mistake.

But when she faced the stage lights, all of her preparation and build up actually made her goof up. Reason: when she got flustered and messed up a word or two, then she forgot her place in the memorized text and stumbled badly.

Finally, in desperation, she pulled out a typed paper with the words. After reading a few lines, she put the paper away and tried to go back to the memorized material. The same thing happened again; she totally blanked out at the first misstep and had to resort to her printed text again.

It happened a third time as well. I expect that day will live in her mind as the worst day in her life. The audience was uncomfortable as well, although we all supported her and had great empathy for her pain.

Think about the alternative, where she would know her content cold because it came from her heart, not her rote memory of specific words. All she needed were a few key points to recall the topic areas, and she could wax eloquent with no miscues.

It was her desire to be perfect that led to her being embarrassingly imperfect. The audience would have gladly forgiven a Freudian Slip or a stumble rather than watch her struggle to try to remember her memorized speech. She would have been even more forgiven if she added a bit of self deprecating humor if she misspoke on a point, because her sincerity and spontaneity would be on display.

Here is a stark contrast to the speaker described above. At that same speaker’s conference, Brian Tracy, the great author, speaker, and philosopher, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the National Speakers Association.

The award is the highest honor a speaker can receive, and Brian proceeded to demonstrate why he was worthy of the award. He got up to give a 10 minute acceptance speech: one of the most important speeches of his life, out of thousands of speeches.

As he started the speech, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. His lavaliere microphone started to die, and the audience could only hear every other word. Horrified, the sound technician rushed on stage with another lavaliere mic, and Brian carried right on as if nothing had happened.

Two minutes later the replacement mic also died in the same way. Brian just stood there smiling at the audience until the technician came out with a hand held mic, and Brian was able to finish his speech.

He did not get flustered, or angry, or sad, he just stood there smiling until the situation had cleared. Doing that in front of 1000 professional speakers took real poise. Brian was even gracious to the bumbling technician, who was undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths over the incident.

Brian was sincerely grateful for the honor and was not about to let a cantankerous sound system mess up his moment.

My method of rehearsing a program is to mock up the platform and go over a program from my prepared key points a few times, but I make no attempt to memorize any part of the actual wording except for the very first sentence. Brian Tracy taught me that the first sentence should be memorized verbatim. His reasoning was that “well begun is half done.”

After the first sentence rings out, then it is as if I am having a natural conversation with the assembled group like I was talking with a friend over the kitchen table. This method allows me to be more authentic and relaxed. If I make a mistake and stumble, it is not the end of the world at all, I just look for ways to make it a funny goof.

Seth Godin had a blog entry I read recently about the same concept. He wrote, “Perfecting your talk, refining your essay, and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.”

He even implied that some top performers inject some kind of faux imperfection in their routine because it tends to endear them to the audience.

Personally, I don’t need to inject imperfections in my programs; they have enough of them naturally. I am okay with an occasional goof, because it makes me more human and credible to my audiences, and that is a very positive thing. Somehow having them join me in laughing at myself is a kind of bonding action with the audience.
The same kind of problem exists for all of us in many different areas of our lives. By trying to be perfect (which we are not) we put immense pressure on ourselves. We get uptight as we try to rehearse every possible situation and then lose our train of thought in the complexity of the moment.

For example, the other day I was at a very formal dinner, and I was trying to put on my best manners. In my attempt to be perfect and charming, I was paying more attention to the conversation than to what my hands were doing, and I spilled a full gravy boat of salad dressing all over the table. Oops!

When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, we tend to cause the very thing we are trying to prevent. The antidote is to simply be yourself with all your warts and problems. Relax and do not get flustered so you can roll with the situation naturally, and you will come out ahead most of the time.

I do not advocate being unprepared. Rather, I think we should avoid being over-prepared. That may seem to be easier said than done. The trick is to think in the major issues, but not try to work out the fine detail in advance. Let your natural self take care of the fine grain actions.

We need to understand that nobody goes through life without making some embarrassing gaffes. People are going to forgive us, even though we feel totally embarrassed at the time. What makes the difference is how we react when an unexpected snafu occurs. If we are calm and make light of our foible, the incident will pass, and our long term credibility will be intact with the embarrassing moment nothing more than a humorous footnote: like my spilled salad dressing.

Try this big-picture method of preparing yourself for your next important meeting, speech, or social event. If you prepare and then relax to present naturally, you will usually come out ahead.

If you are worried about coming up with a funny line after a mistake, then try taking some improvisation classes. They will help you become more spontaneous with humor.

Another organization that has great techniques is Toastmasters. Get involved with your local chapter. For any supervisor, the ability to speak clearly and be relaxed at the same time is an important leadership skill.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763