Successful Supervisor 48 Tips to Employ Six Sigma

October 15, 2017

The “Six Sigma” movement grew out of the Total Quality Revolution of the 1990s. It is a mindset to minimize variation in manufacturing or business processes.

The objective is to achieve processes that are nearly perfect, with a statistical approach that achieves less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

Having worked in the era of the Total Quality Revolution myself and studied personally with some of the great names such as W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Brian Joiner, and others, I built a strong foundation of knowledge that supports a six-sigma mindset.

Trying to employ this “profound knowledge” (a Deming phrase) in a real manufacturing environment allowed me to see some precautions or areas where significant care is needed to obtain the full benefits.

This article is written to help supervisors trying to implement a six sigma philosophy in a manufacturing operation. To be successful, one must begin by learning a new way of communicating information about the process.

Learn the jargon, but do not be a slave to it

The whole area of lean six sigma is rife with a special language that practitioners use to communicate with each other but which often confuses people who are less informed.

The processes are really pretty simple and logical, so try to educate people to avoid hiding behind a lexicon of acronyms or mathematical calculations that can confuse mere mortals.

Focus more energy on putting the ball in the hoop than figuring out how many standard deviations the hoop is from the foul line.

1. Understand the Six Sigma issue

The meaning of six sigma is that the process you are running is so close to perfection that it will produce less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. I am not going to go into the derivation of why that last statement is true (although I do know why).

If you are interested, go look it up. My struggle is that trying to measure either the numerator or the denominator of the equation is nearly impossible.

Just trying to define what a defect is can suck the life out of a technically oriented person. There are numerous different interpretations and lots of papers written trying to identify what a defect is.

If trying to pin down a “defect” is difficult, understanding how to measure what an “opportunity” is can keep you occupied forever.

You not only have to contend with the opportunities you can see and count, but you also need to conceptualize the missed opportunities that did not happen. Trying to understand the true level of opportunities is like trying to find the edge of the earth.

Since the real number of opportunities is infinite, an equation that puts this number in the denominator might drive mathematics graduate students to the local beer garden.

A much better way to think about six sigma is to focus on something other than defects per opportunity. Rather, picture a process so perfect that we just don’t have to think about it ever producing a defect.

We do not need to inspect the part because the process is so robust we never find any problems. As Joe Juran used to say, “You cannot inspect quality into a product.”

2. Support the “Black Belt” Program

The “Black Belt” program is a series of educational milestones that designate the knowledge and experience level of an individual.

A brown belt is better equipped than a yellow or green belt, and a black belt shows mastery level. The benefit of a black belt program is not that we have visible signs of the education level of a person.

What the program produces is a support system for educating people to become proficient with the tools. The stepwise program ensures that you continually invest in educating your people, which is a great way to improve engagement and reduce turnover.

3. Know what you are getting into

Get educated yourself on the philosophy and tools of Total Quality Management. I saw problems crop up when the supervisor was trying to direct traffic but did not understand the tools personally.

Continuous improvement toward process perfection is not a program for amateurs. You can create chaos and confusion if you seek to implement a program that has a lot of bells and whistles but is not grounded in “profound knowledge.”

4. Get real top level support

Make sure top management is truly engaged in the program. If they understand the incredible payback for a six sigma program, they should be easy to convince.

Unfortunately I have seen several instances where top managers give lip service to the program but starve the training or the resources. When that happens, the whole effort becomes a kind of sham where people go through the motions but do not make the gains.

Honor the experts and become a mentor

Most of the gurus of the Total Quality Revolution died in the 1990s. Their work revolutionized the world for the last half of the last century, but the gains can be easily diluted and lost. Implementing a successful six-sigma program takes strong leadership on the part of the supervisor.

There is a significant challenge here for all supervisors.

I once heard Deming express his personal concern that there are not enough leaders coming along to carry on his work. Here is a brief story of that event from my third book, “Leading With Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.”

By 1990, Deming was 89 years old and in failing health. You had to admire this old man with his trademark silver crew cut for keeping up a rigorous teaching schedule, even though he could no longer walk and could barely talk.

A nurse would roll his wheelchair up to the platform, and he would bend over a microphone and speak in a gravelly voice, just above a whisper.

The most poignant part came when he reflected on the gains made by manufacturing over his lifetime and attempted to project them into the future. Deming’s outlook for the last decade of the 20th century was grim. Unfortunately, it was grim for Deming since he died in 1993, but in 1990 the great man had a profound message to the audience of about 400 managers and engineers crammed into the huge ballroom.

At one point, he sat up straight; his voice rose up, becoming strong and clear as he asked, “Where are the leaders going to come from?” He paused and repeated himself, “Where are the leaders going to come from?” Then he said it again and again, gaining in volume and strength with each statement. I remember vividly his fist in the air almost yelling now, “Where are the leaders going to come from?”

People in the room became uncomfortable and started looking at each other. Was the old man insane? Did he need medical attention? What was this all about? His question was crystal clear, but what did it mean? I felt like yelling back, “from over here,” but I held my tongue. Finally, the old man stopped and kind of slumped down again. He muttered some additional points that nobody seemed to hear.

Why was this great man so interested in having the audience think about his question? He obviously knew he was dying soon and was desperately trying to send out a message with all the passion and urgency his feeble body allowed. With all the technology he taught the world for over 50 years, why was he dwelling on this point?

There was a good reason: he was right. Without enlightened leadership, his technology would atrophy and eventually amount to very little. Obviously he was doing everything in his power to get the audience to realize this.

The technological advances brought about by the Quality Revolution were no less dramatic than those of the Industrial Revolution 70 years earlier. For the first time, workers and managers really focused on their processes to identify which ones were in control and which were not.

People started paying attention to data in ways that were robust. Instead of chasing after a trend based on two points of data, control charts helped to identify situations that required explanation versus those that were basically in control.

Deming called this “profound knowledge,” and it transformed manufacturing worldwide for several decades.

As a leader, embracing leadership knowledge and passing it on to the next generation is not an onerous task, but an uplifting way of doing business.

When Deming asks, “Where are the leaders going to come from?” we all need to shout out, “right here!” Unfortunately, none of us in his class in 1990 got that message, and many leaders still don’t today.

Embrace the profound knowledge and pass it on to the next generation with urgency.

The Supervisor’s Role

The supervisor has a key role to play in any six sigma effort. In some organizations, the effort is spearheaded by staff people from a “quality” group.

I think it is fine to use staff people to help with some of the administration, but the passion to drive for process perfection needs to be owned by the line organization actually running the process.

Supervisors need to assume the leadership role in support of the six sigma thrust. When Deming asks “Where are the leaders going to come from,” say “right here!”

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Successful Supervisor 46 Mastering Work Life Balance

October 1, 2017

One of the most vexing problems faced by supervisors is the issue of work-life balance. Dedication to job and career is a critical element for any supervisor, and since the number of issues that need attention is seemingly infinite, there is a tendency to work too hard and too many hours.

This article will share some ideas that may be helpful at creating a better balance.

Keep Things in Perspective

It is easy to lose perspective and let work issues become an overwhelming commitment of your time. Actually, I believe it is a form of addiction that sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking.

It is all very well intended at first, but if left unchecked, it can take you down a dangerous road that can rob you of a vital part of your life. Here are some tips that may be helpful to remember.

1. Pay attention to what is going on

We can get sucked into a life of continuous overwork without even realizing it.

Recently I found myself way overloaded and quit a job when my employer proposed to double my already oppressive workload without any additional form of compensation.

The shock of it made me realize that I had long ago crossed the line of the work I am prepared to do for the benefits received. If I had not been shocked into that realization, I might still be working there.

The lesson is simple, but difficult to do. Take stock every year of the amount of time you are devoting to work and ask if it is reasonable. If not, take steps to correct the problem.

2. Don’t let them nibble you to death

If you are working 55 hours a week, it is easy to get you to extend to 57 hours. If you are working 80 hours a week, then 82 hours seems not so much of an added burden.

The way to prevent this kind of “scope creep” is to put a Stop Loss on your situation.

A Stop Loss is a term used in the stock market where you put in an automatic sell order in if the stock reaches a specific level. This rule helps you avoid a catastrophic loss when your attention may be diverted.

The equivalent of a Stop Loss with time spent at work might sound like this, “I realize there will be peak times at work where I need to put in more time in a particular week, but if it ever reaches XX hours a week, I am going to refuse the work.”

3. Go offline

Easy access to the internet has made it difficult to get away from work. Set some boundaries for when you are not accessible (even by phone) and stick to them.

If you consciously manage time for your personal life, then you will find it much easier to have one. If you ignore the issue, then you will likely slip toward overload a little bit each year until work squeezes out the vitality of life.

It is not uncommon these days to see a family huddled around the dinner table where everyone is looking down at their PDAs. It is equally common to have some members of the family texting each other rather than speaking out loud.

Try to avoid using devices during family time and actually speak to each other verbally. Kids may have a hard time with this one, but you may be able to hold a rule.

4. Don’t work when you are resting

We all need good interrupted sleep each day to be able to perform at our best. Shut off your phone ringer when you are sleeping and just let it go.

Supervisors do understand the need to rest, but sometimes they feel the world will quit turning if they are not personally involved in every action. If you allow abuse of your rest time then people will have no compunction about calling you at all hours.

The other half of this equation is that you need to delegate and have faith in others in your group to carry on without you when you are unavailable.

If you insist on being involved in every decision, not only are you failing to develop and trust your people, but you are losing a lot of sleep.

Make Sure You have a Variety of Interests

It is easy to become so fixated on work that other parts of our life are squeezed out. The antidote to this problem is to maintain a variety of interests and intentionally carve out time to feed each of them.

Sometimes it feels like if you could just focus exclusively on work, then you could get it all done. Unfortunately, this is a trap. The work is infinite, if you let it be. Here are some tips to keep you well rounded.

1. Give family issues a high priority

At the end of your life, you will not be counting the number of 90 hour work weeks you put in, or even what you accomplished with all your dedication.

You will be thinking about the times you spent with family and friends, because those are the real meaning in our lives. Make sure you have at least one trip a year away from the hubbub of everyday life at work.

Make sure you participate in the activities of your kids and spouse. Sometimes you need to manage the time carefully, but it is important to participate.

2. Find ways to give back to your community

There are an infinite number of opportunities for you to help out other people. Find the equation that suits you and that you feel good about. I call this element your “give back ratio.”

You need to calculate how much time you are putting in exchanging your talent for money and how much time you are giving back to others.

There is no right or wrong answer to the calculation, but you have to ask yourself seriously if you are satisfied with your personal numbers. If the give back ratio is way too low, then you need to find ways to change it.

The same concept holds regarding money. You need to figure out whether you are giving back enough. It is a personal calculation that you don’t need to share with anyone else, but make sure you are in full agreement with your conscience.

3. Have a hobby that you really love

To fully get away from work, it is not enough to just turn off the phone. You need to find an activity that you enjoy so much that you become refreshed when you do it.

For me, mowing my lawn was always a great escape. (That may sound odd to some, but it is true.) Yard work for me has always been a way to get exercise while doing something that has an immediate payback.

It does not even need to be a physical release for you to benefit. Some people like to paint, or write, or sing. The idea is to have a few personal passions that you can indulge in to provide a balance from the constant grind of the job.

4. Make work into play

The old adage says, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I can mostly subscribe to that logic, although even if you love your work it can become a bit too much at times.

The basic idea is to find work that is intrinsically fun for you as well as challenging.

I know a CEO who calls this aspect her, “pants on fire – can’t wait to get to work” attitude. She works very long hours but has a ball doing it on most days. In fact, she has made “fun” one of the core values of her company. There is nothing wrong with that, because her company is incredibly successful.

Remember to Keep Yourself in Control

The bottom line of this article is that you need to be responsible for the balance in your own life. Don’t complain and grumble about the constant pressures of work crowding out the value from your life. Do something about it!

The world (and your boss) will gladly accept all of the “nose to the grindstone” work you are willing to put in. Just make sure you don’t grind your nose totally off!

Use the tips above to balance your life, and you will have many more fond memories when you are older. As a side benefit, you will likely live longer.

Recognize also that there are phases in life, and seek to manage your life for a good balance in each phase. You will likely ratchet up the percentage of time volunteering after you retire, for example, and that may present another challenge to get the right balance for your life.

In each phase of your life you need to test frequently if your various activities are in a healthy equilibrium.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Successful Supervisor 45 – Negotiating for Success

September 24, 2017

Supervisors do a lot more negotiating than they may realize. My observation is that supervisors negotiate all day every day.

If you want to be a more effective supervisor, study up on your negotiating skills.

For most supervisors, negotiations usually involve resources. Obtaining the right level of staffing or a specific piece of test equipment would be typical negotiation discussions.

Also, the budgeting process is always a time of great challenge for most supervisors.

In the day-to-day activities of the operation, getting people to do the right thing at the right time is a form of negotiation challenge. If the standard break time is 15 minutes, how are you going to get people to adhere to the rule?

This article highlights some tips I have learned over the years in courses and in practical applied leadership in a large organization. Before sharing some tips, let me dispel a myth; negotiating is not a win or lose situation.

Great negotiators realize that to reach an agreement, both parties need to believe the deal in question is better for them than no deal at all. Both parties must “win” to have a successful outcome, although both individuals may not get everything they wanted.

Basic Negotiation Principles

The objective of any negotiation is to reach a fair deal that is not abusive to either party, and it is accomplished by a process of discovery and revelation.

Let’s first look at a few basic principles and then describe some of the more popular negotiation tactics and their countermeasures.

1. You have more power than you think you have

Human beings have a habit of undervaluing their hand and overvaluing the hand of their opponent. Information is power in any negotiation, so seek to understand as much as possible the forces that are putting pressure on your opponent.

Withhold some of the critical points about your own situation so the other person is not aware of your constraints.

For example, if you share a time constraint that you need an agreement by the end of the day, your opponent can use that pressure to make you compromise just before quitting time.

Know as much about your opponent’s constraints as you can; and be judicious with sharing things that are impacting you.

2. Plan your strategy

In any negotiation, if you have a plan you will do better than if you play defense and simply react to the offers made by the other party.

It is amazing how many supervisors will go into a negotiation and simply “wing it” to see what the other person is proposing before formulating an offense.

There is going to be some give and take going on in any deal. Be flexible to move off an original plan if conditions warrant it, but at least have a null hypothesis or case to beat before going in.

3. Leave room for the other person to win

We all know that if we want to sell a car ultimately for $1000, it is best to price it at something like $1300 at the outset. This allows the seller to make some concessions and still arrive at an acceptable end point.

Recognize that both parties will be playing the same game on opposite sides, so test the validity of any offers along the way. Do not take at face value any statement made by the other person. Assume there is a lot more latitude available than the other person is willing to share initially.

4. Identify your “walk away” position and be prepared to use it

Your opponent will seek to maneuver you into a position that may be untenable. Identify beforehand what you are not willing to settle for, and do not budge off that position. The walk away technique is often very effective at gaining a concession.

5. Look for win-win and compromise ideas

Always ask, “What else will do the job here?” This technique is particularly useful when you seem to have reached an impasse.

Simply step back and look at the roadblock from a higher perspective.Often there can be a better solution that has not even been considered.

For example, suppose the supervisor is negotiating with another supervisor trying to transfer a key resource into her crew. The other supervisor is intransigent and the discussion gets heated. The supervisor might break the impasse by volunteering to take on some difficult tasks from her opponent.

Negotiating Tactics

Now let’s take a look at some typical negotiating tactics that people use. View these ideas as both offensive strategies but also be aware that they may be used against you and pay attention to the countermeasures, if you need them.

1. Use of time

Time is the ultimate scarce resource, and smart negotiators use it to gain advantage in a negotiation.

For example, if the supervisor is not having much luck selling her yearly budget to her manager, she might schedule a meeting with the manager to discuss the details.

When she arrives, she could mention that she has set aside three hours to go over the details of the budget for full understanding. This would normally put time pressure on the manager, or he could turn it around to put time pressure on her.

A good countermeasure for time pressure is to reverse the logic. In this case the manager might say to the supervisor, “Oh this is too important to limit the discussion to just three hours; I am prepared to work with you all day, if necessary.”

2. Good guy/Bad guy

This tactic is a version of the good cop/bad cop technique when interrogating a suspect. The bad cop is nasty and aggressive when interviewing the suspect, but the good cop comes in and is much more reasonable and often gains a confession.

Whenever you are dealing with more than one person, be aware of the tendency to use this technique to gain leverage.

The antidote to this tactic is to call the people on it directly. Say something like, “You guys seem to be playing good cop/ bad cop, and that doesn’t work at all with me.”

3. The Bogy

A bogy is a statement that we simply do not have the resources to give, so the point is moot. Suppose a supervisor is approached by a manager who insists that she loan the services of a mechanic for the remainder of the shift.

She could use the bogy and say, “But I only have one mechanic on duty today, and loaning her to you would leave me with no way to fix my equipment.” The implication is that I would like to help you, but the well is dry.

The most common bogy in any organization is the budget. Suppose the supervisor needs a new optical comparator for her inspection operation. She goes to her boss with her request and he says, “I would love to help you, but that is simply not in the budget.”

The countermeasure to a bogy is to point out the reality of a false constraint. The supervisor might say, “I know it is not in the current budget, but we need the comparator to do our job. Besides the budget is just an initial guess we made out at the start of the year. Surely we can move some items around in the budget when we need to, or maybe we have to overrun our budget this year and factor that in next year.”

4. Use of silence

Silence is an effective tactic in any negotiation. In western society, people become very nervous when the other party just stops talking.

We tolerate silence for about 30 seconds and then simply have to fill the void with some words, often they are concessions. If you are at loggerheads with another person, just stop talking and watch the person squirm.

The countermeasure to the silent treatment is to refuse to break the silence. After a while the stress will shift onto the other person.

I used this measure when negotiating with a Japanese businessman, and it worked like a charm. It was his turn to counter offer, but he just stopped talking.

Because I know the tactic, I just sat and looked at him, since it was his turn to speak. At first he thought he had me on the ropes, but after 2-3 minutes of silence, he realized I had out-silenced him and he made the concession.

Try this little trick with a car dealer sometime. It’s a riot, and it really works. Very few people can make it beyond one minute of silence.

5. Breaking an impasse

You will occasionally reach an impasse situation where it seems there are no further options. When this happens, simply change the time shape of money.

We are used to the logic in everyday life but often forget the tactic at work. You say “I cannot afford $10,000 for that car.” I ask if you can afford $5,000 and you agree to that figure. So I counter with “OK let’s do $5,000 now and $1,000 a month for 5 months.”

These are some of the more common negotiation tactics and the countermeasures. Make sure you are alert to when others are trying to use these on you and do hone your skill at using them effectively yourself.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Successful Supervisor 38 Maintaining the Ethical Edge

August 6, 2017

I spend a great deal of my time working to help organizations understand the benefits of running an ethical culture. Believe it or not, there are many highly placed leaders who believe that making ethical decisions means lowering the organization’s performance numbers.

The truth has been revealed in numerous books and articles that organizations that make the ethical choices, even though they may be difficult or costly in the short term, outperform unethical organizations by a factor of at least 1.5, often 2, or even more.

Producing an annotated bibliography is not the purpose of this article; if you want to read up on the topic, look up “Business Ethics” on Wikipedia. There are over 200 references listed.

As a “CliffsNotes” approach for this blog, I will refer you to the work of Raj Sisodia from his book “Firms of Endearment,” which is one data point among dozens that all point to the same conclusion: organizations that do the right thing, even though it is difficult at times, end up thriving.

I serve on the Board of Directors of the Rochester Business Ethics Foundation (RABEF), where we seek to celebrate local organizations that are running their businesses with high ethics and are benefitting from that practice. Rather than gripe about corner-cutting operations that sacrifice the long term health for short term gains, RABEF seeks to champion those organizations that are doing business the right way and gaining huge sustainable benefits, including higher trust for all stakeholders.

You may ask what has this to do with being a supervisor? Well, it has a lot to do with it. I will grant that the ethical tone of an organization starts at levels far above the supervisor, but dealing with ethical dilemmas occurs at all levels, and supervisors are not exempt from the pressures that sometimes lead to ill-advised decisions.

If you are a supervisor, I guarantee that you have to make many ethical decisions every day. You may not recognize them as such, but you are routinely confronted with the opportunity to make choices that support or undermine the ethical standards that are espoused by your organization.

The first, and most important, consideration is how you can tell if you are facing an ethical dilemma. Nobody is going to sneak up behind you, tap you on the shoulder, and whisper into your ear, “Pay attention Bub, this is an ethical choice you are making here.”

The answer is disarmingly simple: you are facing an ethical dilemma if it is unclear to you what the “right” decision is. There are positive and negative consequences for every course of action you might take. Think of it this way: if the “right” thing to do is evident, then you have no problem making an ethical decision.

Once you are aware that you have an ethical decision on your hands, you have arrived at the moment of truth. You can rationalize the situation and make the “easy” or “most popular” decision regardless of the ethical considerations and be done with it.

That action leads to a kind of dry rot within the group where you may actually be putting the larger organization on a slippery slope in terms of lost trust. Small unethical decisions often lead to larger ones, and at different levels, so the reasons why get obscured in the thinking process, and standards get lowered across the board.

Here are some suggested approaches that can protect you from making unethical decisions.

1. Clarify your values and make sure people know what they are

Values written on a chart on the wall are useless unless you follow them, even when it is difficult to do. By compromising on a core value when it makes you swallow hard to follow it, you show that the entire list is a sham, so not only do the values lack power, they actually reveal an hypocrisy that tells people we follow our values only when it is convenient to do so.

2. Consider the context and all stakeholders

Before wrestling with what the “right” approach is, you need to get the facts. Difficult ethical choices are contextual. For example, we would all agree that taking someone else’s property is an ethical violation, but if you find an interesting book someone left in a recycle bin, it would not be a violation to take it. Consider all of the stakeholders when gathering the facts around an issue.

3. Don’t deal with the decision in a vacuum

If you go through the logical calculation alone, you can often talk yourself into the expedient or less than ethical way out. That process ultimately leads to the need to explain your actions to others who can take pot shots at your judgment.

Once you recognize the “right” thing to do is hard to identify, get some help from others who might be able to add different perspectives to the discussion. This approach has the additional advantage of gaining buy-in of the decisions from others.

4. Look at the issue through different lenses

In ethics classes, we teach a whole array of methods to analyze ethical dilemmas. I will briefly outline just four of the more popular methods here, and you can look up about a dozen other ways in any ethics text.

o Utilitarian – Do the greatest good for the greatest number – Consider the whole population and do that which provides the highest value for most of the people.

o Limited Egoism – Attempt to help others and do not violate their rights – This method comes from your attitude in making a decision. You attempt to assist other people and do so with a sense of fairness.

o Kantian – All correct behavior must be reversible or reciprocal, i.e. follow the Golden Rule. If I take an action that impacts another person, would I be willing to have that action taken on me if the roles were reversed?

o Consistency – is a form of moral reasoning that employs counter examples. Explore some analysis of what would happen if conditions were different. For example, you might ask “would I make this decision if I was starving”?

Your decision could go one way when looking at the problem from a Kantian perspective but a different way if you focus on Utilitarianism. Having more than one perspective adds work and potentially confusion, but it does help with the depth of your analysis.

5. Make a concrete decision based on the logic you are using

Often supervisors will equivocate and postpone making a decision because of the difficulty. This is a trap. Kicking the can down the road to next month or delegating the decision upward because you cannot make a call are ways of procrastinating, but they lack commitment.

Make your decision once you have thought the problem through and consulted with others who might have alternate views.

6. Communicate your decision widely

Don’t just tell people what your decision was, but lead them through the logic you went through to make the call. It is usually good to go all the way back to one of your values, and then describe how your decision was based on adherence to that value.

You can share that other decisions were possible, but you feel, based on your analysis, that the one you made is the best long term course of action.

Leaders are faced with ethical dilemmas on a routine basis. It is how you react and deal with these decisions that will govern how well you do personally and how much trust your organization generates with all stakeholders. That increased trust is the basis for the productivity and profitability advantage of running an ethical organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Successful Supervisor 31 – Reducing Conflict

June 18, 2017

Conflict between people is simply part of the human condition. Organizations are a good place to observe conflict because they have all the ingredients that encourage people to bicker.

First of all, people are in close contact for many hours a day. It is a fact that if you put people together for a long period of time, they are going to end up driving each other crazy. It happens like spontaneous combustion at the bottom of a pile of oily rags.

The second condition that encourages conflict is stress. Organizations are constantly under stress to optimize performance of all their resources. The most typical stressor that causes conflict is time.

People tend to overvalue their own contributions and undervalue the contributions of their work mates. It is just the way we are programmed.

I got interested in this topic of conflict a couple years ago and actually wrote a 30 part video series entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” Each video is only 3 minutes long and each one has an exercise to instill a new habit that can reduce conflict between people. The series was produced by an organization called “Avanoo.”

Here is a link to a free sample of three videos from my series.

In this article, I want to give a few overarching tips that may be most helpful at the supervisor level. The subject is endless, so you may wish to contribute your favorite tips after reading mine.

Appreciate Differences in People

Each person is unique, so what works for one person may not be ideal for others. In addition, we each see the world through glasses that only we can see through.

When we witness another person doing something that does not look or feel right to us, we grit our teeth and instinctively push back, trying to get the other person to see it our way.

I call this phenomenon the “I AM RIGHT” condition, and I have purchased hundreds of three-inch buttons with those words on them. I give them out at all my seminars on trust.

The tip for the supervisor is to recognize that each person is wearing an imaginary I AM RIGHT button all day.Since each individual experiences every facet of organizational life through his or her own paradigm, it is no wonder conflict erupts.

The supervisor can help people recognize that we have no choice but to see things from our perspective, so it is perfectly natural that there will be tension at times. Try to see the other person’s perspective as being valid, and you will reduce conflict.

Go Back to the Sense of Purpose

Even though people may see things from different perspectives, we can usually get along much better if we remind ourselves that we share a common purpose.

We may have different functions, but we are all important parts of the process, and we are all needed to be at our best if the job is to get done well.

The supervisor is the main coach to help people understand the purpose and remember the larger mission when tempers flare about how to do things.

The supervisor paints the vision of the whole organization onto the canvass that represents her part of the whole and makes sure everyone sees that connection. When people recognize that they are all pulling in the same direction, the individual idiosyncrasies don’t have as much power to polarize them.

Build a Culture of Trust and Love

When a group of people trust and love one another, the seeds of conflict have a difficult time taking root. Building a culture is a daily task that never ends, but the task is a joyous one because the end result is a much happier existence, not only for the supervisor, but for everyone on her crew.

Building that kind of culture takes tending and constant effort. First of all, the supervisor must model the right kind of behaviors herself at all times. She must be the source of love and trust between people, even when things get tense.

It is her actions and words that make the difference every day. The most powerful thing a supervisor can do to build that kind of culture is to make the environment safe and not phony.

Eliminate Playing Games

If you observe most stressful groups at work, you can see that much of the time people are playing head games with each other in order to gain advantage. The environment is phony and full of intrigue. The supervisor needs to create a kind of culture that is real, where people are able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Hopefully the organization has a concrete set of values, and the supervisor must adhere to those values in every conversation and action (especially body language).

The workers are there to do a specific job, but that does not mean the atmosphere needs to be heavy. Great teams make the work light and fun, because they support each other and bring each other up. The supervisor needs to understand a great culture begins with her.

Avoid Inter-Group Conflict

Another common problem is that group cohesion can become so strong that silos begin to form. The workers bond together and against another group in the process as the enemy.

You can observe a kind of Civil War going on in many organizations on a daily basis. It is amazing to witness this hostility, because if you go up to the next level the warring groups are really on the same team.

It is up to the supervisor to keep her area from losing this larger perspective. One idea to accomplish this is to share resources with parallel groups. If team members see an unselfish person in their supervisor, then the ability to maintain proper perspective is easier.

These are just a few of the ideas in my series on “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” For the supervisor, these ideas may seem like a heavy load, but the joys of doing things in an uplifting way makes the work a labor of love.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Successful Supervisor Part 29 – Coaching a Narcissist

June 3, 2017

The definition of a narcissist is a person who has fallen in love with his own appearance and abilities. The etymology of the word comes from a Greek hunter named Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water.

Supervisors sometimes need to deal with a narcissist, and usually it turns out to be someone higher in the management chain than she is. I will give some advice for that situation in this article, although it is possible that the narcissist in the supervisor’s life could be one of her direct reports, or even herself. How you deal with it depends on who it is.

Narcissism is known in trait theory as a psychological disease, but it plays out in organizational life to varying degrees daily, and it can be a major headache to people who have to deal with the person who has it.

Warren Bennis put it this way, “One motive for turning a deaf ear to what others have to say seems to be sheer hubris: leaders often believe they are wiser than all those around them. The literature on executive narcissism tells us that the self-confidence top executives need can easily blur into a blind spot, an unwillingness to turn to others for advice.”

Leaders who are convinced they are so macho and smart have a difficult time hearing what people are really saying. I love James O’Toole’s observation,

“…it is often the presence of excessive amounts of testosterone that leads to a loss of hearing.”

How can you recognize if you have the problem?

If you have a problem with narcissism, then you are most likely unaware of it. If you have a particularly bad case of it, you are even more likely to be unaware of it.

One way to determine if you have narcissistic tendencies is to ask other people. You can ask your spouse, your supervisor, a good and trusted friend, or a mentor. If the input from others indicates you might be a narcissist, then at least you know about it now and can seek out some help to deal with it.

I suggest getting a leadership coach to listen to your story and give you some tips that are specifically designed to help you. I also recommend reading about Emotional Intelligence. My favorite book on the topic is Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Bradberry and Greaves.

It is common to find more tendencies toward narcissism as you go up the organizational ladder, so the next part of this article will include tips on what to do if your boss or some other higher leader is narcissistic.

Why is narcissism a problem?

For people in the organization, having a narcissistic manager somewhere in the chain above them can make life pretty miserable. They have to endure a manager who has an inflated view of his or her own wisdom and has little interest in the collective wisdom of the group.

A narcissist manager severely limits the creativity and engagement of the workers, and thus has a major negative impact on profitability.

Trying to point out the problem to a superior only makes matters worse, because the manager has no intention of listening. In many cases, employees suffer in silence for years rather than speak up and get decapitated.

Let’s look at one approach to avoid and follow up with some suggestions for positive things you can try.

One approach to avoid

It would be easy, but ineffective in most cases, to just tell the boss “don’t be so full of yourself” and show the benefits of humility. Unfortunately for the narcissist leader, changing the thought patterns and behaviors is extremely difficult. Besides, in most cases, the narcissist is blissfully unaware that he has a problem.

Daniel Goleman also noticed the same tendency when he identified that leaders with low Emotional Intelligence have the most significant blind spots.

So a direct approach to correct narcissistic tendencies is likely to backfire.
You can’t just march into the bosses office and say, “You are a total narcissist, knock it off and get down from your pedestal.” You need to use a water drop treatment with lots of Socratic Questions.

The issue of leader hubris is perhaps the most common schism that exists between the senior levels and the supervisors or workers. If it is so important, what can we do about it? Is there a kind of anti-hubris powder we can sneak into the orange juice of over inflated executives? Oh, if it was only that easy.

One possible solution: education

What we are talking about here is reeducating the boss with influence from below. We want to let him know that his own attitude and behaviors are getting in the way of trust.

Reeducating the boss is always tricky. It reminds me of the adage, “Never wrestle a pig…you get all muddy and the pig loves it.” What do the sailors do if they are facing a Captain Bligh every day? Mutiny is one option, but it can get pretty bloody.

The road to enlightenment is through education, but how do you get an unaware manager to warm up to being educated? One suggestion is to form a kind of support network with other supervisors and leaders on the topic of leadership. Book clubs where employees, along with their leaders, take a lunch hour once a week to study the topic can begin a constructive dialog.

Try a slow shaping process

Shaping the thought patterns of a superior in the organization is a slow process, like changing the face of the planet in Arizona. Drop by drop and particle by particle, the sand and soil have been moved to reveal the Grand Canyon. Changing a leader’s approach might not take eons, but the slow shaping process is the same, only in human years.

Having the boss select the books to review is a nice technique for getting him involved in the process in a positive way. Try to avoid singling out the offending manager for retraining. Express a need to improve the leadership capabilities of everyone on the team (and that includes the boss). That way, peer pressure among the other managers can help educate the narcissistic manager in a way that is artful and effective.

Some leaders will remain clueless regardless of any effort to correct it. I know one leader who will go to her grave totally blind when it comes to her attitude about her own capability and superiority. If she was reading this passage, she would be nodding her head affirmative and be 100% convinced that I was referring to somebody else, not her.

Perhaps the only hope for a leader like this is some form of radical shock treatment in the form of a series of pink slips.

If you are dealing with a serious case of narcissism, having a leadership coach can help a lot, but you first have to get the boss to agree to some coaching. Try suggesting some coaching for the entire leadership team, then that will cover the boss as well.

What if the Narcissist reports to the supervisor?

If the problem person is below you, then you need to coach the person yourself or get some outside help. I would start by having the employee work through the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book with you. That will form the basis of many substantive discussions and some significant growth.

The above tips may help you work out of a problem with narcissism, but do recognize the challenge is great. Narcissism is more common than we realize, and it is not easy to cure. It is something you need to work on if you are experiencing a problem in this area.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Successful Supervisor 21 – The Importance of Trust

April 8, 2017

In my seminars on trust, I always do an exercise that illustrates the pivotal importance of trust in any organization.

In this experiential exercise I split the group up into small discussion groups and give each group a different dimension to work on by answering the following question: for your dimension, can you contrast what it is like to try to accomplish it if you are working with a high trust group versus a low trust group?

I could think up dozens of dimensions to explore, but to keep the exercise bounded in terms of time, I use only nine dimensions with groups. Here is a list of the nine dimensions along with my comments on the contrast of trying to do them in a high versus low trust group.

1. Solving Problems

In organizations of high trust, problems are dealt with easily and efficiently. In low trust organizations, problems become huge obstacles as leaders work to unscramble the mess to find out who said what or who caused the problem to spiral out of control.

Often feelings are hurt or long term damage in relationships occurs. While problems exist in any environment, they take many times longer to resolve if there is low trust.

In addition, the creative ideas of people are more readily accessible to the group when people aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

Sometimes a lack of trust can cause small problems to bloom into first class disasters.

A good example of this progression is the Challenger Disaster in 1986. The Rogers Commission (1987) found that NASA’s organizational culture and decision making process were key contributing factors of the accident. Technicians who were aware of a problem did not feel it was safe to bring it up due to low trust levels.

2. Focused Energy

People in organizations with high trust do not need to be defensive. They focus energy on accomplishing the Vision and Mission of the organization. Their energy is directed toward the customer and against the competition.

In low trust organizations, people are myopic and waste energy due to infighting and politics. Their focus is on internal squabbles and destructive turf battles.

Bad blood between people creates a litany of issues that distract supervision from the pursuit of excellence. Instead, they play referee to a bunch of adult workers who often act like children.

Trust leads to constancy of purpose as well as focus. In Managing People is Like Herding Cats (1999), Warren Bennis wrote: “A recent study showed people would rather follow individuals they can count on, even when they disagree with their viewpoint, than people they agree with but who shift positions frequently. I cannot emphasize enough the significance of constancy and focus.” (p.85)

3. Efficient Communication

When trust is high, the communication process is efficient, as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy.

In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction. Trying to control the rumors takes energy away from the mission and strategy.

High trust organizations rely on solid, believable communication, while the atmosphere in low trust groups is usually one of damage control and minimizing employee unrest.

Since people’s reality is what they believe rather than what is objectively happening, the need for damage control in low trust groups is often a huge burden. Not only is verbal communication enhanced by trust, all forms of communication including e-mail, body language, and listening are improved by trust.

In A Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven B. Sample (2002) discusses the concept of Artful Listening which enables a leader to “…see things through the eyes of his followers while at the same time seeing things from his own perspective” (p.22). He calls this skill “seeing double.” Sample stresses that Artful Listening is enabled by trust.

4. Retaining Customers

Workers in high trust organizations have a passion for their work that is obvious to customers. When trust is lacking, workers often display apathy toward the company that is transparent to customers.

Most of us have experienced this apathy while sitting in a restaurant where the service is poor. If there is a low trust environment, we feel an uncomfortable tension that discourages our future return to that establishment.

All it takes is the roll of eyes or some shoddy body language to send valuable customers looking for alternatives.

5. A “Real” Environment

People who work in high trust environments describe the atmosphere as being “real.” They are not playing games with one another in a futile attempt to outdo or embarrass the other person.

Rather, they are focused toward a common goal that permeates all activities. When something is real, people know it and respond positively.

When trust is high, people might not always like each other, but they have great respect for each other. That means, they work to support and reinforce the good deeds done by fellow workers rather than try to find sarcastic or belittling remarks to make about them.

The reduction of infighting creates hours of extra time spent achieving business results.

6. Saving Time and Reducing Costs

High trust organizations get things done more quickly because there are fewer distractions. There is no need to double check everything because people generally do things right.

In areas of low trust, there is a constant need to spin things to be acceptable and then to explain what the spin means. This takes time, which drives costs up.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey relates that when trust is low, organizations pay a kind of “tax.” This tax increases costs and reduces speed (Covey, 2006).

7. Perfection not Required

A culture of high trust relieves leaders from the need to be perfect. Where trust is high, people will understand the intent of a communication even if the words were phrased poorly.

In low trust groups, the leader must be perfect because people are poised to spring on every misstep or misstatement to prove the leader is not trustworthy. Without trust, speaking to groups of people is like walking on egg shells.

The irony is that leaders should be glad when people are vocal about apparent inconsistencies between actions and values. People will not do so unless the leader has created an environment of trust.

This phenomenon was described by Noel Tichy (1997) in The Cycle of Leadership as follows: “The truth is that the leader gets nailed to the wall for failing to live the values only if he or she has created an open and honest shop. More often, people simply become demoralized and ignore the values just as the leader does” (p. 43).

8. More Development and Growth

In low trust organizations, people stagnate because there is little emphasis placed on growth. All of the energy is spent jousting between individuals and groups.

High trust groups emphasize development, so there is a constant focus on personal and organizational growth, as described in Treat People Right (Edward Lawler, 2003).


9. Better Reinforcement

When trust is high, positive reinforcement works because it is sincere and well executed.

In low trust organizations, reinforcement is often considered phony, manipulative, or duplicitous, which lowers morale. Without trust, attempts to improve motivation through reinforcement programs often backfire.

The trick is to get people to want to do the right thing through reinforcement.

Ken Blanchard (2002) in Whale Done wrote “Instead of building dependency on others for a reward, you want people to do the right thing because they themselves enjoy it” (p. 56).

Once groups wrestle with these nine dimensions and contrast what it is like to operate as part of a high trust group versus a low trust one, they understand the immense impact that trust has on every aspect of how an organization operates.

Simply put, if you have high trust, all aspects of the organization work well, but with low trust, nothing works as expected.

Seek to build trust at every level all of the time. If trust becomes compromised for any reason, move swiftly to repair it (the subject of a future article).

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763