Leadership Barometer 28 Lead Without Bullying

December 10, 2019

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some robins chase each other around the back yard. I started thinking of the various animal species and the fact that in every group of animals, a certain amount of bullying behavior goes on.

It is a “survival of the fittest” world in the animal kingdom. Maybe that is why we humans often exhibit some form of bullying behavior in order to get our way.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, from the boardroom to the barroom.

We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced unchallenged as adults.

We know the incredible destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, and we know it does not feel good.

We know it leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children, because they do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

It is also true that each one of us has been guilty of bullying another person at some point. If you wish to deny that, you need to think harder.

Some of us have played the role of the bully more than others. Some managers have it down to a fine art. Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying because it is a way to obtain compliance.

The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done.

Compliance leads to mediocrity rather than excellence.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers become so fixated on their own agenda that it renders them effectively deaf to the ideas or concerns of others.

They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think. In this area, there is a fine line between being a passionate, driving leader who really believes and advocates for the goal versus one who is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view.

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. If we use that power, we should realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

It may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

If you are an elk, you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking longer term about relationships and possible future alliances, nor do you care how your behaviors might inspire other elk to perform at their best.

The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.

Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple. Managers who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility.

While this behavior may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term. By taking a kinder approach, managers can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

Here are ten tips to reduce the tendency to bully other people:

1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way – Simply apply the Golden Rule.
2. Observe the reaction and body language in other people – If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.
3. Be sensitive to feedback – It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.
4. Speak more softly and slowly – Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice.
5. Ask for opinions often – Managers who seek knowledge as opposed to impressing their brilliance or agenda on others have less tendency to be bullies.
6. Think before speaking – Ask yourself if this is the way to gain real commitment or just temporary compliance. Is it good for the culture?
7. Reduce the number of absolutes you use – Saying “You never do anything right” cannot possibly be true. Soften absolutes to allow for some reason.
8. Listen more and talk less – When you are shouting at people you cannot possibly hear their rationale or their point of view. Hear people out; do not interrupt them.
9. Don’t attack or abuse the weak – Just because you know an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.
10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone?

My breakfast observation for today was that animals have a hard time following the Golden Rule, and there is a bully in every group.

We humans have the power to actually modify our behavior to think more strategically and do things that are not only right for now, but right for the long term. Caring for people creates a culture of trust that is sustainable.

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


Body Language 57 Time Out

December 6, 2019

The time out signal is a common hand gesture that is rarely misinterpreted, yet there are some subtle differences in meaning to discuss.

Let’s focus in on the different meanings first and then cover a highly useful application of the gesture in an organization setting.

Please stop talking

If another person is babbling on in a private setting or in a group meeting, you can signal it is time to stop talking and start listening by using the time out signal. This is a helpful use when you are having a hard time getting your points out.

The caveat here is that you would use the gesture sparingly. If you made the motion two or three times, it would most certainly annoy the person who is speaking. It would seem like you are cutting off the person.

Also, this use would be ill-advised if you used it to shut up a superior. If the boss wants to talk, it is usually a good idea to allow it.

I need time to think

When a lot of information is being shared in a steady stream, people sometimes need a break for their brains to catch up with the content. The time out gesture would let the presenter know it is time to at least slow down so all people can understand and absorb the content.

This topic is dangerous

You might warn a fellow worker that to pursue a certain line of reasoning is going to backfire. Rather than interrupt the person verbally, the time out signal will call the question and let the speaker know it would be wise to change the subject. You could accompany the hand signal with facial cues that indicate caution, just be sure to verify the right message was received and was not misinterpreted.

Time for a counterpoint

If one person is landing multiple points in support of a one-sided viewpoint and you want to allow some balance, the time out signal will provide that opportunity without saying any words.

Need a break

If, during a long presentation, you or others need to take a bio break, the time out signal can let the facilitator know it is time to take care of the bodily functions. Also, maybe the group just needs to stretch and take in some oxygen.

Call for a vote

If several arguments have been given on a hotly divided topic and you want to call for a vote, the time out signal can get that message out, even while the conversation is continuing.

Need to caucus

During negotiations, it is often necessary to separate teams to discuss strategy. The time out signal is useful for letting the parties know they need to separate for a while.

We are wasting time

Perhaps the most helpful use of the time out sign is in a meeting situation where one person in the room feels the group is spinning wheels going over the same content or dwelling on trivial content when there are more important things to discuss.

This technique is an excellent way to prevent wasting time, but everyone in the group needs to agree ahead of time that nobody will be punished for showing the time out sign. The idea is to establish a group norm that allows the signal to be given by any individual with no negative repercussions.

It is then up to the leader of the group to acknowledge that at least one person has an issue. The first order of business is to thank the individual for expressing a concern, and then find out what the specific concern is.

It may be that the individual wants the group to take a break, or maybe the person feels the current content is not proper or redundant. Get an accurate description of why the person gave the time out signal. This is done by asking open-ended questions.

The leader would then check if others have the same feeling, and if so, make the change. If the person giving the hand signal is the only person interested in changing direction, then he or she needs to be treated with respect for the input but recognize there are other opinions among the group members.

The time out hand signal is a wonderful tool if used correctly, as described above. If used with a heavy hand or followed by ridicule then significant damage to trust is being done. It is up to leaders to set the tone for the correct usage so the method will be a way to enhance trust and transparency over time.

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


Leadership Barometer 27 Be a Mentor

December 3, 2019

There are several ways to tell how great a leader is. One true measure is how dedicated that person is to mentoring other leaders.

A favorite quote on my website is “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.”

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That’s because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process.

The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities.

After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better, because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people.

It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach with forced meetings and burdensome paperwork.

The protégé benefits in a mentor relationship in numerous ways.

Here is a list of some advantages you get from having a mentor:

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster if you are new to the area.
2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.
3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles from yours.
4. A mentor cleans up after you when you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.
5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you to encourage further progress.
6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past, so you can avoid them.

I contend that in any good mentor relationship both the mentor and the protégé benefit from the relationship.

How does the mentor gain from it?

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.
2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.
3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.
4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.
5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.
6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.

A good mentoring effort improves trust in both directions.

I believe there is a shortage of excellent leaders, but I also believe with the proper mentoring and support, a majority of professional people have the innate capabilities to become good, if not great, leaders. So what is missing?

The real shortage is a lack of mentors for future leaders. Reason: most highly effective leaders are consumed with trying to optimize things in their current environment, and they neglect the activities that would develop other leaders.

If you are not happy with the number of excellent leaders in your organization, ask why there are not more leadership mentors.

Get some help to train all leaders not only to be better at their function, but to step up to the challenge of growing other leaders for the future.

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


Body Language 56 Thumbs Up

November 29, 2019

The thumbs up gesture is very common and generally has a positive meaning, at least in Western cultures. There are many different interpretations of a thumbs up, so you need to pay attention to the context around the gesture.

Here are some possible meanings of a thumbs up and some contrasts with a thumbs down posture.

Way to go

A thumbs up signals approval of something said or done by another person. It is an affirming gesture that does not require words. The gesture conveys pride in what the other person has done.

I agree

When someone wants to signal agreement, the thumbs up movement will convey that message clearly. Of course, the opposite is true when the thumb is pointing down.

This meaning was evident in the famous “thumbs down” nay vote by John McCain in the Senate in July 2017, when he cast the pivotal declining vote on the Repeal of Obamacare. He said no words while casting his vote, but his thumb did the talking for him. Mitch McConnell was wincing in the background.

Go get ‘em

The thumbs up gesture is a way of encouraging an athlete or any person who is going into competition. The connotation is “I’m rooting for you.”

I’ve got your back

The gesture is often used to signal support for another person who is feeling unsure about doing an upcoming task correctly. The meaning here is “don’t worry, you will do great.”

Gratitude

The thumbs up sign can mean “thank you” when someone has done something special. It can also be a way of acknowledging a thank you from another person. Here the meaning is “you’re welcome.”

Comfort

When a person is hurting or grieving, a thumbs up gesture might be used as a show of support and empathy for the person. Obviously you need to consider the personal preferences of the individual and your relationship with that person before using the gesture in this way.

Cultural differences

Like most body language, the thumbs up gesture is culturally specific, so do not use the gesture in Australia, Greece, Russia, or the Middle East, because it may be interpreted as “up yours.” This is particularly true if the thumb is jerked upward, as in a hitch-hiking motion.

Be alert when you see a thumbs up gesture that it may mean many different things depending on the situation involved or the culture in which it is used. The interpretation is also highly dependent on the relationship between the two people. Use the gesture when it will be helpful and well received.

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


Leadership Barometer 26 Create an Exciting Vision

November 26, 2019

Normally, organizational visions are created by leaders because they have the best perspective and organizational scope to imagine what the organization can become.

For sure, a key leadership function is creating a vision for the organization and communicating it at every possible opportunity.

The mistake many leaders make is not involving the individuals in the organization more when formulating a vision. This is often done for expediency.

Gaining the input of a wide constituency is tedious and time consuming work that seems unnecessary. I believe it is necessary if the vision is to have the ultimate power required to make it a reality.

Individuals who work on the shop floor may not have all the fancy degrees as the boss, and they certainly do not make as much money. But people in the trenches have a unique perspective that no CEO can have.

They understand how things really work. CEOs believe they know, but in reality, they are often clueless about how the organization actually functions at the lowest levels.

The knowledge of ordinary people on what is possible and what would be wise is invaluable information to include in the visioning process. To do without it is sub-optimal.

Many a flawed vision has been perpetrated by leaders who thought they knew what was going on when they really had only a partial view. Their information was eclipsed by layers of middle management who filter information and spoon feed top leaders information that has a heavy agenda attached.

In addition to information, the shop floor people are often the most creative people in an organization. This is because they are unfettered by bureaucratic clap-trap and can think about problems more objectively.

They have a simple approach that looks at a problem and figures out ingenious ways to deal with it.

Finally, including all levels in the generation of a vision improves the ability to pull it off because when people are part of a process, they become emotionally attached to its success. They have trust that the vision is the right path for the organization.

This is the concept that Joel Barker called “The Vision Community.” The people in the organization have as much power as the boss to achieve or torpedo a vision. When the Vision Community agrees to support a vision because they were part of its creation, there is a much more robust pathway toward success.

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


Body Language 53 The Tongue

November 9, 2019

The tongue is actually used a lot in body language. We often do not realize it, but that part of the body is highly visible and capable of sending all kinds of messages because it is easily manipulated.

Sticking out the tongue is an obvious signal. That is the most common gesture, and it normally is an insulting or mocking gesture.

Be a little careful here because sticking out the tongue can have several different meanings in itself and have various meanings in different cultures.

Neah Na Na Neah Neah

This is the classic tongue gesture intended to mock another person. Often you will see the tongue in a round configuration jutting out as far as the person can manage. A person will usually not have the tongue flat when making this kind of gesture, although sometimes you may see that done.

Awful taste

If someone bites into something spoiled or bitter that tastes horrible, then the tongue might come out flat like, “This tastes awful.” The gesture usually is accompanied by a puckering of the entire face and tightly closed eyes.

Tongue curl

You may see a person stick out her tongue and then curl the tip of it upward. There are numerous interpretations of this gesture all the way from obscene suggestions to beckoning, or pleading.

Tongue in cheek

When a person thrusts his tongue into his cheek so it bulges out, the common interpretation is that what has just been said or done is a spoof. The same gesture can indicate puzzlement, like the person is trying to interpret what just happened.

The common expression for someone fabricating a story is that he was speaking “tongue in cheek.”

Clicking tongue

This gesture is rare, but you will encounter it at times. It is usually a way to draw attention to something significant that just happened. The audible clicking sound with no specific words is an indication to pay attention to something important.

The same gesture is also used by children as a way to get attention or just to annoy other people.

Licking lips

When the tongue is used to lick the lips, it is a signal of desire for something. It usually has to do with food, but it can also take on a social connotation of desire.

Concentration

Children will stick their tongue out of the side of their mouth and cover their upper lip when they are concentrating on an art project, puzzle or other challenging activity.

Lust

When the tongue is extended downward from the side of the mouth it is often a sign of extreme attraction or lust.

Making a straw

You can curl your tongue lengthwise forming a kind of tube. The concept here is wanting to drink in what is being discussed. It is also a facial expression used by children to make a funny face.

Biting the tongue

When a person bites his tongue, it usually is a negative sign. It may be a signal to shut up, or it may be a sign that what is going on is highly distasteful. The implication is that the person is inflicting self-pain in order to block the pain that is coming from what he has seen or heard.

Another interpretation of biting the tongue is to prevent a person from talking. You may hear the expression “bite your tongue,” which means “do not speak.”

Since we can manipulate our tongue in many ways that are perfectly visible to other people, it plays a huge role in body language. Be alert to the signals being sent to you by others with their tongue. See if you can spot some different meanings I have not covered in this article. It’s kind of fun.

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


Leadership Barometer 22 Be an Enabler

October 29, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. 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.

Strong leaders are enablers

On this dimension there is a stark contrast between great leaders and poor ones. In organizations with great leaders, people view their leaders as enablers. They provide a clear and believable vision of the future that is truly compelling to the workers.

They provide the resources and support required to reach that vision. They engage and empower people to put their best efforts into the journey toward success.

They celebrate the small wins along the way. If there is a problem, the leaders work to reduce or eliminate it.

Strong leaders also enable trust by creating a SAFE environment where people are not afraid to express their true thoughts.

Weak leaders are the opposite

When leaders are weak, you see the exact opposite. Leaders are viewed by the employees as barriers. They get in the way of progress by invoking bureaucratic hurdles that make extra work.

They use a command and control philosophy that stifles empowerment. There is a foggy vision or the vision is not that exciting to employees. Like if they struggle to make it happen, the result will not be so great.

Weak leaders destroy trust by creating fear within their organization.

A real example

I felt that kind of leadership in my final years with a company I once worked for. The vision was very clear; they had to shrink their way to success. That meant huge stress and more workers who would be let go year after year.

What an awful vision! I left and never looked back. In organizations with that kind of vision, people feel they are operating with both hands tied behind their backs. Fear lurks around every corner.

This condition leads to poor performance, and so the leaders pour on more and more pressure to compensate. It is a viscous circle that reminds me of the water funnel in a toilet. In fact, it is very much like that.

If you want to measure the caliber of a leader, just start asking the people in the organization if that leader is an enabler or a barrier to progress. Their answer will tell you quickly how talented that leader is.

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.