Leadership Barometer 20 Lower Credibility Gap

October 16, 2019

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Lowers Credibility Gap

In any organization there exist credibility gaps between layers. These gaps lower the trust within the organization and make good communication more difficult. Great leaders have a knack for lowering these gaps by filling in believable information in both directions: up and down.

When there is tension between one layer and another, great leaders work to find out the root cause of the disconnect.

It could be a nasty rumor, it could be based on a prior breach of trust, it might be an impending reorganization or merger, it could be due to an outside force like a new government restriction. Whatever the root cause will determine the key to elimination of the gap.

Use your nose

Excellent leaders have a nose for these problems and head them off while the gap is a small crack and before it becomes like the Grand Canyon. They help people breach the divide by getting the two levels to communicate and really negotiate a better position.

Weak leaders are more like victims who wait till the battle is raging and the chasm is too broad to cross without a major investment in a bridge.

Silo thinking vs. Team mates

The insight that usually helps is to remind the differing camps that they are really on the same team.  Silo thinking leads to animosity between groups.  Great leaders remind people that they share common goals at a higher level. There is no need for warfare.

A leader who has this skill is easy to spot because there are few paralyzing situations that have to be resolved. If you are one of those leaders, it will be evident. If you are not, it will also be evident. Seek to knit the organization together at every opportunity.

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


Leadership Barometer 19 Generates Passion

October 8, 2019

A really good measure of the skill of leaders is how much passion they are able to generate in the organization.

Generates Passion

A hallmark of great leaders is that they are not only passionate people themselves, but they have an uncanny way of infusing the entire population with that passion.

That ability is a real gift. I believe most leadership skills can be learned, but the ability to spread one’s passion to others is usually an inherited trait.

If there is no seed, you cannot get it from reading textbooks or from going to courses. The good news is that most people do have the seed of potential in their DNA. They just need to hone the skill so it is optimized.

Get a great mentor

So, how does a leader develop this skill? One way is through a great mentor or a role model. If you do not have any charismatic leaders in your organization that can teach this skill, I recommend you go online and look up some of the great people from history or present who are particularly good at this skill.

I think of people like Zig Zigler, Earl Nightingale, Warren Bennis, Napoleon Hill, Lou Holtz, or Vince Lombardi.

There are literally hundreds of great role models, and they all have content on the WEB or in programs that can be purchased. A great source of inspirational tape programs on this topic is the Nightingale Conant Corporation.

You can find enough material to keep you learning about spreading passion for years. I know because I have invested in most of the tapes in their library and listen to them often. I have memorized the key points and seek to apply them whenever I can.

Passion is closely aligned with the sense of ownership. If you can get people to recognize the quality of their life is really more in their own hands than they realize, you are on the right track.

Teach people to reject being victims and to take control of their situation. Once that is accomplished, it is easy to generate passion because passion is all about an intense desire to achieve something because it will improve the quality of one’s life or help other people.

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


Leadership Barometer 18 Handling a Crisis

October 1, 2019

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

Handling a Crises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Body Language 47 Conflict

September 28, 2019

Conflict brings out all kinds of body language that is rather easy to interpret. In this picture, we see one individual trying to make a point but the other person completely blocking out the information, at least on the surface.

There is a significant caution before I get into the analysis to follow. You cannot judge the totality of what is going on from a single picture or view of what is happening. The attached photo, may not tell the whole story.

Anger

One person is speaking in anger or frustration, and the other person is obviously shutting her out and rolling her eyes upward. It is clear that there is conflict going on, but it is not clear where, why, and how the conflict began. It probably predates this specific conversation.

Also, keep in mind that in any situation both parties are acting according to their own viewpoint of what is right to do. Each person is totally justified in her own mind, and each is frustrated.

Information

When trying to assess what is going on in communication between individuals, you need a lot more background and information to figure out why each person is acting the way she is.

Is there a history of conflict between these two people? Does the speaker or listener have a history of conflict with others in the office? If a person habitually brings conflict to situations, others will not want to interact with her or will interact with her badly.

When a person is listening to another individual, he or she normally “attends” to the other person by looking at least in his direction and often making eye contact. There will also be some additional attending gestures such as head nodding or head tilting to indicate attention.

Engage

The listener may be day dreaming or totally focusing on what he or she is going to say next, but at least there is some attempt to look engaged in the conversation. There can be less overt ways a listener can show disinterest in the conversation. For example, the listener may start reading email on her phone or pick up a catalog and start leafing through it. Another common ploy is to just put a blank look on her face and show no emotion or connection to the conversation.

Blocking

Occasionally, you will run into an individual such as in the picture who has no intention of listening and tries to show it as graphically as possible. Here we see the woman actually blocking eye contact with her hand and making a sarcastic eye roll to enhance the signal. She clearly does not want to listen, and the situation between the two people has escalated to a point where she has no qualms about sending strong signals.

Safety

When a listener withdraws, it can be a clue that the person does not feel safe in the situation or with the person who is speaking. The body language is defensive and may be a way of protecting the person from harsh or demeaning words.

Another reason for withdrawal may be that the listener knows from experience that the interchange will not be positive or productive. Negative interchanges can have long term repercussions.

Whatever the outward signal, if the listener is showing little interest in the input, it is best to think broadly about why you are getting this behavior or just go mute. As long as you are droning on, the listener is free to show absolutely no interest in what you have to say. Keep in mind that what the other person wanted you to do in the first place was shut up, so the awkward silence may get extremely long.

If the speaker is one who creates conflict and the listener wants to avoid it, there is probably nothing the listener can say that will be accepted by the speaker, so the listener has no real incentive to say anything.

Avoid threats

One thing to avoid is saying something like “Why don’t you look at me when I am speaking to you?” A question like that can be interpreted as threatening. The same problem occurs with talking louder or faster. These actions will not remedy the situation, and they can even make the situation worse.

Situations like this point to larger or ongoing problems that have resulted in a lack of trust between people. The trust level needs to be addressed before open and meaningful communications can begin. It is wise for both people to think back on the progression of the relationship that brought them to this point.

Either person can act to improve the situation. Either can say, “It seems like we are not communicating well. I don’t want to be in conflict with you. What can we do to repair this situation?” However, if there is a persistent instigator of conflict, that is the person who has the most responsibility to repair the relationship and rebuild trust. The other person may have tried many things in the past to reach out or express herself, was shut down, and now has given up.

Each person needs to examine her contribution to the ongoing issues.

Trust

Obviously a good, constructive conversation requires that both parties participate roughly equally. If the speaker does not let the listener respond, it is not a real conversation and creates a breach of trust. If the listener withdraws from the beginning, even if it is a result of prior bad experiences, it does nothing to heal the relationship.

Bilateral trust is vital for mature conversation. When you run into a situation like the ones described above, don’t try to badger the other person into paying attention, and if you are the person listening, don’t withdraw. Work through the issues that you have. Investigate what may be causing the issues, talk it through, and and try to rebuild trust. It can take time, but reestablishing an environment of trust is well worth the effort for both people and the entire organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.


Leadership Barometer 17 Optimize Communication

September 23, 2019

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Optimize communication

All of us communicate all of the time. When you add the body language to what we say, there is a steady stream of communication all day, every day. So why does communication always surface in the top 2 of every employee satisfaction survey as the most significant problem facing an organization?

The sad fact is that most leaders are not that good at communicating, even though they work very hard at it. Let’s first look at the symptom from two vantage points.

The leader feels nearly overwhelmed with the need to communicate. In fact, the leader is communicating from the moment she logs on in the morning until she turns out the light exhausted at the end of the day.

All work is a steady stream of explaining what is happening, reinforcing good work, explaining how poor attitudes are not helping, discussing the new product roll out, etc. So it is a frustration when people feedback that there is “never any communication” going on. Wow, what a slap in the face.

From the worker’s perspective, the signals that are coming through are not consistent and often incomprehensible. They long for information in a format and frequency that computes to them.

The messages heard are not consistent with the messages sent by the leader. There are frequent surprises where a vacuum in communication is followed by a “gotcha” announcement.

The battle for excellent communication rages every day in every organization. Let’s take a look at some of the root causes of poor downward communication to uncover some opportunities for improvement.

1. Frequency – the span between communication on key issues is more tricky than meets the eye. The old rule of “the more the merrier” is really not the best policy.

When you constantly say the same message in the same format, eventually people tune it out, and you might better not have said anything because nobody is listening anymore. Yet, the other extreme is worse, if your touch points are so infrequent that people have forgotten the context of the message, then they will listen and hear, but not understand.

So what is the antidote? How do leaders find the sweet spot? You need to let feedback from people be the volume control on your outgoing communication. Most of this feedback comes in body language – often in group settings.

2. Boring Message – I have seen really good leaders who tend to drone on in a monotone style that puts everybody to sleep. So, all the information is given, but everyone is zzzzd out, and there is poor communication.

The best way to avoid this is to watch for the MEGO effect (short for My Eyes Glaze Over). When people get that look, you need to stop and ask a question. Get the audience back with you.

Change the cadence, even use 5 seconds of silence to get the group conscious again. Get people up on their feet or engaged in a question for discussion among small groups. The energy needs to be on a conscious level for people to grasp meaning.

I know the CEO of an organization that communicates with a deck of 50-100 PowerPoint slides. After the third slide, everybody in the audience is politely staring at the screen with the facial appearance of listening when in reality they are absorbing none of the information.

The antidote here is to get the CEO some basic training on PowerPoint no-no’s and make sure he doesn’t sleep through the class.

3. Not what I said – Some people hear what they think you are going to say, even if you say something else. Their predisposition leaves them incapable of absorbing the actual words and meaning.

It reminds me of the old Archie Bunker quote, when he says to his wife, Edith, “The reason you don’t understand me, is because I’m talking in English and you’re listening in Dingbat!” During any presentation, test with your audience if you are getting through the fog. You may need to learn to speak in “dingbat.”

4. Too complex – In an effort to be complete with communications, many leaders are their own worst enemy. People can only absorb and internalize so much information at one time.

Exactly how the information is conveyed has a lot to do with how much can be presented at any one time. Make sure each communication effort has only two or three key points and these are repeated at least three times in the presentation.

Test afterward if people really understood those three key points. Use illustrations when possible, and consider the different learning styles of your audience.

5. Management Speak – Leaders often talk in a kind of language I call “management speak.” They need to understand that the average shop floor person does not relate to ROI or references to Maslow. Make sure your communication is on a level where people can readily grasp the message.

However, be very careful to not “talk down” to people on the shop floor. They are not dumb; in fact they are incredibly smart. They just use different words, and you need to use their language as much as possible when communicating messages to them.

Resist the temptation to “dumb down the message” so they can understand. Instead think of using the right language. Just because they do not know Latin is no reason to treat them as ignorant.

6. Shifting messages – It is not a static world, so a valid message on Wednesday may be the wrong one on Friday. The problem here is that leaders are cognizant of what transpired as the current message morphed into something different.

Unfortunately, the shop floor people are not up to speed on the shifting sands. All they experience is a confusing message that is not consistent. Actually, this problem is more pervasive than leaders recognize, and it is a key reason why there is such a disconnect.

The antidote is for leaders to be extremely cognizant of any small change in the message over time. Make sure you bring people up to speed on the background for the change if you want them to grasp the true meaning.

7. Electronic Communication – Leaders have shifted to a much higher percentage of communication virtually. It is not in the scope of this short article to go over all of the gremlins in this mode of communication. It took me 300 pages in a book to describe how leaders fail to navigate the minefield of successful online communication.

Suffice to say this is an area of great peril. Unfortunately, most leaders think there is little difference between communicating face to face versus online. There is a huge difference (I outline 8 major differences in my book).

An example may help here. Most people view an e-mail like a conversation. You have information coming in, you process it, and then send information out. Just a conversation, right? Wrong! When we talk to people face to face, we are constantly modifying the message, cadence, body language, and the words based on the real-time feedback we are getting.

Online, there is no feedback while the message is being sent. It is all blind, and we have no way to correct things if we are off track. Thinking of online communication like a conversation is extremely dangerous.

8. Communicating at the head level – Good communication does not occur at the “head” level. Sure, we use the mouth to speak, the ears to hear, the brain to interpret, the eyes to see, etc. Real communication is deep in the gut.

When you have internalized the message fully, it goes well into the body. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have communicated with someone because you have talked and they appear to have heard it. Verify what was taken in at the gut level.

Those are just 8 ways of improving communication. Actually there are hundreds of them, this article only scratches the surface. But, if you focus on these few important considerations, you can really improve your communications with people.

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


Body Language 45 Children

September 13, 2019

The study of body language would not be complete without drawing specific attention to the amazing movements of children.

As we mature, human beings pick up all kinds of norms and inhibitions. We no longer exhibit the reckless freedom expressed by young children. Most of that restraint is brought about by adults who teach us to “fit in” and not be wild.

The cultural differences are one sign that a good portion of body language is learned from elders. Young children do not have caution baked into their movements; they are free to express how they feel at any moment, and really don’t care about being “normal.”

If you ask an adult to mimic the movements of a child, you will see it is nearly impossible to do it. Here are some specific ways children’s body language is unique:

Facial delight and wonder

Kids find it impossible to suppress their glee in their facial expressions. They also have no inhibition for expressing hurt or sorrow.

Adults have learned to partially hide their true feelings most of the time. Still, when conditions are extreme, like in grief, or when winning the lottery, we revert back to wearing our emotions on our faces.

Wiggling

Kids do not stay still. They need to be moving every part of their body in reaction to what is going on around them.

You can witness the erratic and joyful movements of kids when hearing a jig played on the violin for the first time. The upbeat music translates into their movements by instinct, and their facial expressions display sheer delight with no inhibitions.

Arms

Children fling their arms out to the extended position at the drop of a hat. It is just part of expressing their feelings with everything they have. Most adults are more restrained with their arm movements, but there are some exceptions, like Elizabeth Warren.

Legs and feet

Particularly in reaction to upbeat music, kids shuffle their feet wildly and get a lot of movement in their rear end. It is as if the music is emanating directly out of the child. They only stop when the music does or when a parent tells them to knock it off.

Tumbling

Since kids are low to the ground, they have no compunction about rolling around on it or the floor. It doesn’t matter if it is a type of somersault or a primitive form of break dancing, since kids don’t worry about dirt or grass stains, they are free to show emotions by interfacing directly with terra firma whenever they feel like it.

Swimming

Most children love the freedom of swimming or frolicking in the water. The joy comes from the buoyancy of a lower gravitational pull. They act as if they are gliding in space where there is no gravity and they love to discover all kinds of weird positions, much to the alarm of worried parents watching from the side of the pool.

So what is the point of this article? First of all, you can gain a lot by noticing the difference in body language between children and adults. Ask yourself if it would be fun to be as uninhibited as a child, at least in some circumstances.

Don’t mock an adult who occasionally reverts to a childlike movement. Celebrate the person for having the courage and flexibility to enjoy life the way a child does. Also, try to allow your children the freedom to move like kids from time to time without imposing adult rules at every moment.

The significant benefit to you is that you have the ability to regain some of the pure joy of living if you allow yourself become unshackled and practice some childlike body language on occasion.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.


Leadership Barometer 15 Quality of Decisions

September 10, 2019

Here is a good indicator of the quality of a leader.

Make Good Decisions

This measure sounds so trivial and axiomatic that you probably wonder why I list it at all. Unfortunately, many would-be great leaders make rather stupid decisions for one reason or another. I often puzzle at how it is possible for a leader to do something that takes him in exactly the opposite direction he is trying to go. That sounds illogical, I know, so let’s examine some of the forces that could allow this to happen.

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

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

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

4. Going along with bad advice from above – there are times when your boss will toss out a half-baked idea and say “Why don’t you try it.” Be careful to get good reasoned advice before taking the plunge. If you find yourself on a wild goose chase, don’t forget to ask who let the goose out of the cage to begin with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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