Leadership Barometer 54 The Impact of a Culture of High Trust

June 9, 2020

Over the past 20 years, I have taught Business and Leadership at seven universities, along with several hundred corporate and professional groups.

One thing that has disappointed me is the discussion of corporate culture in most of the MBA textbooks. They usually leave out the most important parts of culture. This topic has fascinated me for years.

The success and longevity of any organization is directly linked to its culture. We sometimes notice the parts that make up culture, but often they are transparent because they are just a part of doing business in a particular group.

If we stop to think about what defines culture and work to manage or influence it, we can uncover some powerful leadership leverage.

Most of the Leadership textbooks I have read describe the culture in terms of physical attributes that characterize an organization.

For example, here is a typical list of the things purported to make up a company culture.

1. Physical structure
2. Language and symbols
3. Rituals, ceremonies, gossip, and jokes
4. Stories, legends, and heroes
5. Beliefs
6. Values and norms
7. Assumptions

The above list is a montage of the lists in several textbooks. When you think about it, these items do go a long way toward defining the culture of an organization.

Unfortunately, I believe these items fall short, because they fail to include the emotions of the people. After all, organizations are made up of people, at all levels, interacting in a social structure for a purpose.

Let us extend the list of things that make up the culture of an organization to include how the people feel.

1. Is there a high level of trust within the organization?
2. To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization?
3. Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful?
4. How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels?
5. Is the culture inclusive or exclusive?
6. Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work?
7. Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment?
8. Are managers viewed as enablers or barriers?
9. Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out?
10. What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization?
11. Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal?
12. Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?

I could go on with another 20-30 things that relate to the human side of culture. I hope you agree that the items above are at least as important as the items on the first list in terms of describing the culture.

Why then do most textbooks on leadership not mention them when they discuss culture? It baffles me.

Perhaps the view is that these “people-centered” items are best discussed separately and only the “system-centered” items define the culture. Personally, I do not agree with that.

Let’s zoom in on just one item of my list above: item #1. The level of trust in an organization is actually the most significant part of the culture, in my opinion.

The reason I put Trust in the front and center of culture is that with high trust, all of the other things (rituals, ceremonies, values, language, etc.) work to engage people in the business. With low trust, you can have all the trappings, but people will laugh at you behind your back.

You are probably familiar with the CEO who spouts out the values at every chance, but does not live them, so there is no trust. The values are just a useless pile of words.

In fact, they are worse than useless, because every time the CEO mentions the values it reminds people what a hypocrite he or she is.

Why is Trust so powerful? Let’s contrast a few dimensions for a company with high trust versus one with low trust to view the impact.

Problems

All organizations have a steady stream of problems. If the culture is one of low trust, each problem represents a high hurdle to overcome. We have to stop everything and have a meeting to figure out who said what and try to unscramble the mess.

We also have to contend with the interpersonal squabbles that are part of a low trust culture.

If there is high trust, first of all there will be fewer problems, but then the remaining problems are easily overcome, like pebbles in the road we kick aside with our shoe. We can focus energy on the vision rather than the problems.

Any problems will be resolved quickly, and the solutions will be of higher quality, because people will not be afraid to voice their creative ideas.

Communication

In groups with low trust, trying to communicate is like walking on eggs. Every word or phrase is a potential trigger for a sarcastic remark. Things are frequently taken the wrong way and create damage to control.

With high trust, communication seems easy. People have the ability to “hear between the lines” and the instinctively know the intent of the message even if the words come out wrong. Employees are not coiled and ready to strike anytime there is an opportunity.

Focus

In areas of low trust, people are focusing on protecting themselves or bringing other people down. Most of the energy is directed inward to the organization in numerous battles that really don’t help the organization succeed.

If trust is high, people are feeling aligned, so their focus is outward at the opportunities (customers) or threats (competition). This shift in focus from inward battles to outward opportunities is huge in terms of organizational success.

Rumors

When trust is low, rumors spring up due to poor communication. Since there is nothing to retard them, they take on a life of their own.

The rumors and gossip spread like wildfire all over the organization creating significant damage control for management.

In areas of high trust, there will still be rumors from time to time, but they will be easily extinguished before they do significant damage. This is because people believe management when they say something is not true.

Attitude

Look at the people in an organization of low trust; what is their general attitude? Usually it is one of apathy. They need their job in order to live, but they dearly wish it wasn’t such a struggle.

Now look at the attitude of people in an organization of high trust. You will see passion and motivation to really help the organization succeed. The difference here is huge in terms of organizational survival.

For one thing, customers notice the difference immediately. You know the feeling of sitting in a restaurant where the trust level between management and the servers is low.

You get an uncomfortable feeling and may net even realize why you decide to not patronize the place again.

Impact

With these differences, the result when workers have high trust has been shown by several authors is that they are between 2-5 times more productive than low trust groups.

Think of the number of organizations where managers are constantly feeling under-staffed. “We need more people,” is the common phrase.

My retort is that it is a leadership problem. What you need is not more people, but better leaders who know how to build a great culture of trust.

We could go on with numerous more examples of the difference between a culture of high trust and low trust, and that is only the first item on the list above.

I hope it is obvious that having the right kind of culture makes all the difference in the ability to survive in business.

Take the time and energy to work on your culture; the ROI is astronomical.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Mr. Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, , and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.
Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 52 Leading Without Bullying

May 28, 2020

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some squirrels 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 top levels of the government, 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. We need engagement and excellence, which are far different concepts than compliance.

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 bullying 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 engagement of 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 and insecurity.

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. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Body Language 86 Zoom Boom 3 Distractions

May 25, 2020

This is the third of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

Distractions during a virtual meeting are inevitable, but there are many steps you can take to minimize them.

The first rule is to keep yourself on mute when you are not actually talking. That way, if the phone rings or the dog barks, the other people in the meeting will not be aware, and you will not have caused an interruption.

If you are participating from home, let other people in your house know you are having a meeting or have some kind of signal so other people do not inadvertently cause an interruption. In our home, we shut the door to our office as a signal we are busy and do not want to be disturbed.

Try to anticipate your needs for the meeting time. Go to the bathroom, if possible, before starting a meeting and make sure you have some water or coffee available so you do not need to get up and leave the room.

Have any props you want to use at hand so you don’t have to go off camera to hunt them down during the meeting.

Plan to arrive at the meeting 5-10 minutes early so you can deal with any technical challenges from your end before the meeting starts.

It is unfair to others to arrive 5 minutes late and then have a problem getting your microphone to work properly. Check things out yourself before the meeting starts.

If you have a camera, it is best to use it unless bandwidth is a problem. Some people would rather not show their face because they might be having a bad hair day.

Keep in mind that when people cannot see your face at all, it is rather like a conference call for them. You may have the advantage of being able to see the other faces, but they cannot see you.

Make sure you allow roughly equal air time for all participants if it is a meeting format. Don’t forget to include people who are phoning in. Just because you cannot see their faces does not mean you can ignore them.

A webinar format usually implies that the person or panel in charge will be doing most of the communicating. Just be sensitive to the need for others to have adequate airtime and don’t monopolize the conversation.

A huge distraction for any meeting is a phenomenon called a “Zoom Bomb.” This is where someone who is not part of the meeting breaks into the format and puts up some obscene or hurtful information.

I have experienced this, and it is completely disruptive to the meeting. It literally sickened me.

Zoom has done a good job of providing tools to prevent a meeting from being bombed. They are a little more cumbersome than to operate without the tools, but they are well worth using because of the magnitude of the hurt a bomb can cause.

Here is a list of the tools available at this time.

1. Have people register for the meeting, so you know who to expect.
2. Always use a system generated meeting address and a password. You can select any password you wish.
3. Enable the “waiting room” feature so that people do not enter the meeting without the host giving them access.
4. Disallow screen share for all participants to start out, You can enable all to share the screen once the meeting is locked.
5. Once people have all arrived, lock the meeting. This will prevent anyone else from entering.
6. The host or co-host can dismiss any disruptive person, so be prepared to use that feature if need be.
7. Keep your software up to date.

If you use care, the meeting disruptions will be minimal. The few that do happen will be cause for laughter rather than frustration.

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


Leadership Barometer 51 Attitude

May 22, 2020

The one thing you really can control in life is your attitude, yet most people view their attitude as the result of external things happening to them rather than a conscious decision.

In this article, I would like to explore some ideas that can help make your choice more intentional.

These ideas are not new or unique; they have been expressed by numerous authors or scientists over centuries, and yet they are easily forgotten by anyone in the heat of the moment.

Several philosophers have expressed the same ideal, “what determines the quality of your life is not what happens to you but how you react to what happens to you.”

As we were forced to change our way of life in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had a classic example of how external conditions beyond our control can force us to do things that are uncomfortable and challenging.

Many people became depressed and withdrawn during the shutdown of much of our society: some resorted to suicide. Some people found joy and opportunity by focusing on the one thing they really could control: their mind.

If you choose to change conditions for the better, get some material on mental imaging and start changing your life. The more depressed you are, the more you have to gain.

Most of the time you cannot change the conditions being presented to you by the world, but most of the time you can control your attitude or reactions so that your state of mind is much more enjoyable.

This philosophy is not that profound, and we have all heard some form of it numerous times before. Some people call it “mind over matter.” Norman Vincent Peale called it “The Power of Positive Thinking,” while Earl Nightingale made the observation that “We become what we think about.”

One helpful book is the classic, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (1960). Maltz became fascinated with the process of setting goals for his plastic surgery patients. He learned that the power of self-affirmation and mental visualization techniques were enabled by the connection between the mind and the body.

Maltz taught how developing a positive inner vision was a means of developing a positive outer vision. This led to the idea that a person’s outer success almost never rises above the one visualized internally.

Many other philosophers such as Zig Zigler, Tony Robbins, Earl Nightingale, and Brian Tracy have based much of their work on the theories developed by Maltz.

Unfortunately, when we are miserable, it is hard to remember that we can be in control if we want to assume that control. When you get depressed, try the visualization techniques and set a positive goal. They can make a big difference in your life. Paradise is not as far away as it seems.

There is a wonderful TedTalk on this topic by Colin O’Brady. His legs were severely burned in an accident, and the doctors said he would never walk again. But with grit, determination, and the help of his exceptional mother, he went on to become a triathlon champion and set two world records for completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam (climbing the highest mountain on the seven continents in record time).

There are stories of POWs who have achieved a state of joy and gratitude for life even as they were being starved and tortured. One such individual was Viktor Frankel during WWII in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Viktor was a psychologist in Vienna living a comfortable life when he was nabbed by the Nazis and brought to the camp. He was treated with disdain and was starved and beaten, like most POWs.

He was curious about why some people survived, while most others quickly died. He described the survival instinct as the realization that there was something significant to live for, or something yet to do in their life. Once they were reminded of their purpose for living, they were empowered to endure their hopeless situation and survive.

In Viktor’s own situation, he was able to use the power of visualization to rise above the incredible conditions of the moment and feel peace and joy, even among the dying and hopeless people. After the war, he wrote a book on his observations entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

What prison do you live in? Does it sometimes feel like you are suffering needlessly at work or at home? Are the managers in your organization kind of reminiscent of prison guards, or at least schoolyard bullies?

Do you feel there is little hope to be happy or content with the conditions that exist around you? If that describes you, then realize you are making a choice. You are choosing to not live in paradise when the opportunity is there for you to do so, or at least to improve your frame of mind significantly.



The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 85 Zoom Boom 2 Lighting

May 18, 2020

This is the second of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

The topic of this article is the lighting and background that is evident in the picture when you are using your video camera.

A common mistake is to sit between the camera and a window, especially on a sunny day.

You will show up as a dark blob in the foreground, and no facial detail will be available to the other participants.

If you have too much light in front of you, either from a window or the computer screen, it can reflect off your glasses and make it hard for people to see your eyes. The cure for this is to screen out the excess light or purchase anti-glare glasses. Another solution to this problem is to wear contact lenses.

I have made videos using the rims of glasses with no lenses in them. That is a good solution when you are alone and just talking at a screen, but when you want to participate with other people in a meeting, you need to be able to see them clearly.

If you have an overhead light, it can be overpowering and make you look washed out or reflect off a bald head so you look like a light bulb. Here again, the solution is some form of light screen so you are surrounded by indirect, but adequate light.

It is important to experiment with the lighting so that other people in the meeting can see your face. Try to create a professional looking environment rather than an obvious bedroom, basement, or attic when working from home. The same rules apply when you are working in an office setting.

Avoid overly complex or messy backgrounds that distract attention from the facial area. Whether at work or at home, try to avoid having the camera pointing toward a high traffic area behind you.

Sometimes having other people in the background is unavoidable, because you are supporting a meeting while in a coffee shop or at the airport. In these situations, people will understand your dilemma.

Many people choose a virtual background, but these do not work particularly well unless you are using a green screen behind you. The picture you input will show as a still or moving image, but when you move, the shape of your head will be grossly distorted until you remain motionless for a few seconds. This movement can be very distracting, although it sometimes provides some comic relief.

What to do

The best approach is to spend time and energy on your setup so that it shows you in the kind of way that reflects professionalism. Have an area set up with the camera and proper lighting and background. Make provision for having meetings in the morning or the afternoon where the challenge of sunlight can be dealt with easily.

For example, I have a window above my work table. If a meeting is in the morning, the shade I use provides just the right amount of light. In the afternoon, if it is a sunny day, there is too much light, so I have a sheet of feather board I can quickly place in front of the window to block the excess light.

Recognize that not all participants may have access to good quality bandwidth where they are located. Expect that some members of the group will need to call in. In these cases, you will have to go by tone of voice and the words that are used to determine the mental state of the individual. There is no video image.

In some cases people will have a picture but use the phone for audio.  Remember to assign the phone number to the appropriate breakout room or the person will not be heard in the breakout.

Consider also your attire. You want to dress as you would if you were at work in a meeting. If you would not wear a colored polo shirt to a meeting in your office, then don’t show up in one for a virtual meeting. If you dress down just because you are working from home, it does not reflect well on you for business discussions.

Even though the Zoom environment seems more informal, you always want to look your best and display a professional demeanor.


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


Leadership Barometer 47 More Delegation

April 24, 2020

I work with leaders on a regular basis, and most of them wish they were better at delegating. I have yet to meet a person who believes delegating is a bad thing to do.

Granted, it is possible overdo the technique and get into trouble, just as one can overdo any good thing, but for most of us, we would be far more effective if we did more delegation rather than less.

The reason for not delegating stems from each person’s desire to have things done well. We want things to be done the way we would do them, and are afraid that some other person will not live up to the standards we have for ourselves.

The excuse often given is “it is much easier to just do it myself than to teach the other person to understand how I want it done and make sure he does it that way.” That thinking sounds like just being honest, but it is not a helpful way to think.

The fear is not just about getting the work done the “right” way. It is also a sociological fear that if we need to have the work redone, then we have made an enemy or at least have to do some coaching to calm the other person down.

The dread of having to deal with the consequences of a failed attempt and the rework involved is very real and makes us feel like the time is better spent just doing the job ourselves. That approach will also prevent the time pressure if there is an urgency to the task.

You cannot use the “Law of Leverage” to multiply your good influence in the world until you let go of the idea of perfection and grab onto the concept of “excellence by influence.”

By trusting other people to figure out the best way to do something and leaving them alone to do it “their way,” you unleash the power of creative thinking and initiative in other people. They will often surprise you by delivering work and solutions that are far better and arrive sooner than you would have done yourself.

To have subordinates perform as you wish, it is first important to ensure you have defined the desired outcome. Make sure they can recite the objective back to you before they go off to accomplish the task.

This is also a great time to verify they have the resources needed to accomplish the work. Many managers fail to provide the time, money, or other resources that will be needed to do the job and then become frustrated when an employee tries to improvise a sub-optimal solution.

A typical problem is that managers have a preconceived idea of what the ideal solution will resemble. When we see the result of the work done by a creative and turned-on individual, it just does not look like the solution we envisioned, so the “not invented here” syndrome takes over, and we send signals that the work is not good enough.

It is hard to admit that the solution we are presented with is, in many cases, a superior one. Here are some ideas that can help you lower this rejection reaction and be more accepting of the solutions others present.

1. Does it do the job?

In every task there are countless ways to achieve a result that actually does the job intended. When you see the work of another person, try to imagine that the solution you see is one of hundreds of alternatives, including the one you had in mind.

2. Did it help the other person grow?

Our job as managers and leaders is not only to get everything done according to some standard. Our primary purpose is to help people grow into their powerful best, which means putting higher value on what the person is learning than on the particular solution to a specific task. Even if the solution turns out to be flawed, it still is a success in terms of helping the person learn and grow.

3. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill?

We often get so intense about how things are being perceived by our own superiors that we lose sight of the bigger picture. By showing high trust and enabling more people to leverage their skills, you are going to be perceived very well, even if there is an occasional slip.

4. Who is the judge for which is the best solution?

Clearly if you have a preconceived idea of what the solution looks like, you are not in a position to be objective. You are already biased in the direction of your vision.

5. What kind of culture do you want?

To have an engaged group, you need to empower people by giving them tasks and trusting them to use their initiative and creativity to find their own solutions. If you want everything done “your way,” you will end up getting what most organizations typically do, which is roughly 30% of the discretionary effort that is available in the workforce. You end up with compliance rather than excellence.

6. What are you really risking?

When you stop and think about it, the risks involved are really quite small. Even if something does not work out, it will be of little consequence in a week or two. The risk is even lower if people are becoming more engaged in the work and more skilled over time through trial and error.

7. What is the best for you?

Realizing that you have a choice to micromanage or not and choosing to be an empowering rather than stifling manager lets you sleep a lot better at night. That is a huge advantage and well worth having to endure a serviceable solution that is not exactly what you had in mind.

The benefits of good delegation are well documented. Few people would vote for less delegation by any manager, so why not learn to set good objectives and trust people to come up with good solutions? You will find it is not as hard as you imagine, and your overall performance will go up dramatically as you leverage resources better.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Body Language 83 Handshakes Post COVID-19

April 13, 2020

I am having to modify my leadership training material as a result of COVID-19. I do a section on the impact of Body Language on trust between people.

Historically, I have discussed the handshake at length because how you do it impacts the first impression people have about you, which has a huge impact on the trust you can achieve with the other person.

We may get back to shaking hands post COVID-19, but it will likely be quite a while before people are comfortable doing it.

Every culture has some form of touch ritual for people when they first meet. I suspect they will all be impacted by the pandemic we have experienced in 2020.

In western cultures, and several others, the handshake is the preferred method of greeting a person you are just meeting. What are the options, and how will they impact the ability to bond with the other person?

Fist bumps

The fist bump is assumed to be far less contaminating than a full handshake for two reasons. First, the contact area is much less, and second, the duration of the contact is far less. Still, if I am going to be uncomfortable with a full hand shake, I am also going to be a bit leery of a fist bump for quite some time.

Elbow bumps

Having the elbows touch is suggested as an alternative, but it is a really poor one because it is difficult to maintain eye contact when doing it, and the intimacy is destroyed by the awkward position required to do it. When watching two people try to do an elbow bump, I usually see it followed by an awkward kind of laugh as if the whole thing is some kind of joke. This could become less of an issue in the future, but I really doubt it.


Thumbs up

Here you can maintain a good distance from the other person. It is a positive and friendly gesture that sends a good signal. There is no touching at all, so the possibility of contamination is greatly reduced. Unfortunately, the intimacy of the handshake is lost with a thumbs up.

Wave

A cheerful wave may be as good as a thumbs up gesture. Here you can combine a facial expression of gratitude for being able to meet the other person. That is the most important ingredient that made the handshake so valuable in the past.

We have to modify our habitual touch ritual that we learned as children and have been using all our life, up to this point. That’s too bad, because the handshake was a powerful way to show your eagerness to meet the other person. In my programs, I stress that it is possible to plant a seed of trust in the first 10 seconds, and a large part of doing that was a proper handshake.

The substitute greeting gestures are never going to replace the value of a handshake as a way to have two people bond when first meeting. That is an unfortunate reality, which means we will need to work extra hard to demonstrate our emotions without touching in the future, at least for a while.

Pay attention to how you greet new acquaintances in the future and select a method that you feel conveys the right spirit and that you can apply consistently. We may return to the handshake someday in the future based on some kind of immunization program, but I believe the scars left by this huge disruption of COVID-19 will have a long memory in the minds of most people.



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



Building Trust When Operating from Home

April 2, 2020

In the current environment, many teams are forced to operate remotely. This article is based on one that I wrote with Nancy Settle Murphy in 2013 and recently modified to apply in today’s pandemic conditions.

I think Nancy is one of the most effective consultants to help build more cohesive remote groups. Her blog “Communique by Guided Insights” is normally centered on how to operate effectively with a virtual team.

Today’s astonishing economic and social distancing situation affects virtually every working individual around the globe. As organizations are forced to make drastic cuts and other difficult changes to remain viable, the need for competent, credible, trustworthy leaders has never been greater.

At the same time, the very nature of our global pandemic and economic collapse has bred deep distrust for many business leaders, money managers, politicians and others who contributed or are reacting to the current morass.

Leading an organization through turbulent times requires an uncommon ability to inspire trust. But when people are geographically dispersed, especially in scary times, they are far more likely to be fearful, suspicious and immobilized in the absence of trust.

Industry studies show that in the best of times high-trust teams are between 200-300% more productive than low-trust teams. In tough times, that delta is likely to be even greater. That’s why organizations that operate virtual teams need leaders who know how to earn and cultivate trust among teams that feel increasing pressure to perform.

Here are nine practical tips for leaders who struggle to maintain trust in these troubled times.

1. Verify a vision and goals eye-to-eye.

Without a shared vision and focus, conflict and distrust become frequent and harder to resolve. Virtual teams have few opportunities to test for shared meaning, validate assumptions, and spot disconnects before they become problems.

Arguably, this alignment might be achieved through a series of superbly-executed team calls and online conferences; but in reality, the surest and easiest way to galvanize a team is to bring people together face-to-face, if not in person, then virtually live.

Once coalesced, the team can then modify goals and verify buy-in from afar on a regular basis. All team members need a palpable connection with the root vision. Without it, the best intentions of team leaders are likely to fall short.

2. Agree on a shared set of team principles, behaviors and norms.

To build trust, all team members need to hold each other accountable to some standards of behavior. If these principles are nothing more than vague intentions or fuzzy “feel good” rules, they won’t provide the specificity members need to call each other out in case of a transgression.

When leaders permit some members to violate agreed-upon norms, they risk their credibility with team members who expect them to enforce the rules.

An example of team behavior that can help enforce desired behavior: “We will eliminate ‘silent no’s’ from our conference calls.” (A “silent no” is when a member of the call does not agree with the conclusions but does not voice objections and instead works to undermine the decision, destroying solidarity and trust in the process.)

3. Reinforce candor.

To foster a culture of trust, the leader needs to ensure people are not worried about being punished for voicing their reservations or concerns. The ability of a leader to encourage and reinforce candor lies at the heart of the trust-building process.

When people are naturally paranoid about their longevity in an organization, they will stifle any misgivings unless the leader is explicit about the safety of voicing concerns. Trust cannot grow in an environment where people are scared to speak their truth.

4. Anticipate and address stress points.

When people feel pressured to perform, unattractive behaviors such as finger-pointing and defensiveness can emerge. When team members can’t have face-to-face conversations to smooth ruffled feathers, such behavior can quickly derail even the most well-aligned team.

By creating a culture of mutual support and respect, team members can minimize the fall-out after a misstep. Establishing ground rules related to giving and taking responsibility, solving problems and escalating issues can help.

Creating norms around communications during times of conflict or dissension are essential. The leader’s behavior sets the stage for all members. If lapses should occur, the leader needs to acknowledge them as such, lest team members assume they can follow suit and violate other norms.

5. When in doubt, reveal more rather than less.

Team leaders are often privy to inside information to which others don’t have access. Err on the side of being more transparent rather than less, providing you don’t violate any policies.

Even in the best of times, remote team members may feel left out of the communication loop. But when futures seem uncertain, remote team members may feel even more discomfited and disconnected.

Team leaders might open each Zoom by asking members what rumors they’ve been hearing, and then address each point with the latest, most accurate information they have.

If team members seem reticent, open an anonymous virtual conference area where team members can pose questions or express concerns, to which team leaders can respond to the team as a whole.

6. Celebrate the small wins.

Especially in these difficult times, it’s important to highlight the good things that happen in small ways on a daily basis. In addition to recognizing achievements and milestones, team leaders might also acknowledge instances of collaboration or creative use of resources.

Leaders might establish a program where members can recommend other team members for a reward based on behaviors or actions that contribute to the success of the whole team.

For example, members might earn rewards doing more than their share to keep the project on track or finding “free” resources. Rewards can include a gift certificate for an online store or a personal note sent to the person’s home.

When setting formal team goals, make sure that the team has many opportunities to celebrate milestones and that the goals always have the appropriate amount of reach.

7. Encourage creativity and reasonable risk taking.

Surviving in today’s tough climate requires courage, creativity and a certain amount of fearlessness. This is particularly true for health workers or other vital service providers.

Team leaders need to be clear about the type of risks that are allowed, versus those the organization cannot afford to take. Once ground rules are in place, team leaders can find ways to move creative ideas into action.

For example, brainstorming sessions can be set up via phone or virtual conference area where all team members can easily contribute a volley of ideas, which can then be vetted and acted upon.

Even when new ideas don’t pan out as planned, team leaders should congratulate team members for their creativity, helping to cultivate an innovative, energized, and supportive environment that is so important in difficult times.

8. Keep an eye out for the small problems.

In some remote teams, members may have never even met each other or may have only a superficial relationship. As a result, it can take a long time to cultivate trust, especially when in-person interactions are limited.

When team members don’t feel entirely comfortable having candid conversations, little annoyances can lead to big problems. Since people may be feeling near their endurance limit with personal issues, they may be more short-tempered than normal.

Team leaders need to be vigilant about addressing small rifts and immediately bring team members back to the sense of purpose. In some cases, this requires an open conversation with the whole team, and in others, a private phone conversation may be more appropriate.

If turf battles become too much of a distraction, it may be time to bring all or some team members together on one Zoom to settle differences and repair relationships. The way leaders can prevent silos from forming is to continually remind the groups that they share a common goal at the next higher level.

9. When draconian actions are required, let people grieve.

Nearly all businesses will need to make increasingly difficult decisions to remain viable. Layoffs, salary freezes, pay cuts, forced furloughs, divestitures, and mergers all take a huge emotional toll on the workers who remain.

Leaders should encourage team members to discuss their sense of loss and talk about their grief rather than giving members a cheerful pep talk or ignoring the pervasive sense of loss.

In the wake of each such change, leaders can start team calls by asking people how they are feeling. Remember that individuals need to go through the stages of the grieving process (anticipation, ending, transition, and beginning) in their own way and time.

Having time to grieve allows people to become fully functioning players in the new order rather than continually mourning for what was lost. When individuals are part of the rebuilding process, they’ll be more emotionally committed to the success of the team.

Keeping a team motivated, energized and productive during times like these will test the mettle of even the most accomplished leader. But when team members work remotely, team leaders must take extraordinary measures to cultivate mutual trust and a truly level playing field among everyone on the team.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations



Leadership Barometer 44 Rapport

March 29, 2020

 

We all know that the first few seconds when meeting a new person or client are critical to the relationship.

Malcolm Gladwell referred to the “thin slices” of meaning we interpret subconsciously when meeting someone new. His contention is that a relationship is basically established after just a few seconds, so it is important to know what to do and what to avoid doing in this critical period.

While we know the vital importance of body language and tone of voice, few of us have received any formal training on what things to do and to avoid to maximize the potential for good rapport and trust.

The overarching objective is to let your natural personality and essence shine through as well as be sincerely interested in learning the qualities of the other person. This means making sure all the signals you send are congruent with your true nature and being alert for the full range of signals being sent by the other person.

While there are entire books on this topic, I wanted to share six things to do and six things to avoid from my own experience and background.
Note these items are somewhat mechanical in nature. They are not intended to replace the good judgment in any instance but are offered as tips that can help in most cases.

Things to do:

1. Be yourself

Trying to force yourself into a mold that is not your natural state will not translate well. Regardless of your effort, you will unwittingly send ambiguous signals that will subconsciously be perceived as you trying too hard to establish rapport.

2. Shake hands (assuming you are not in the middle of a pandemic).

In most cultures, the hand shake is the touch ritual that conveys major content about both individuals.
Each person is sending and receiving signals on several different levels in the few moments it takes to shake hands.

Learn how to do it right, and do it with the right attitude. The handshake should project what is in your heart.

Note, there are many myths about handshakes. For example, a “firm” handshake has historically been thought to send a signal of competence and power.
If the firmness is amplified to a bone-crushing clamp, it actually sends a signal that the crusher is insecure, because why else would someone crush a hand unless he thought it was necessary to appear powerful.

Remember this simple rule of thumb, if the person can feel the handshake after it is over, you have gone too far.

3. Make good eye contact

We communicate at many levels with our eyes. It is important to really see the other person in a natural and pleasing way.
Here is a tip about eye contact while shaking hands. Try to see through the eyes into the soul of the person you are meeting. Inside the other person’s head is a wonderland of possibilities, and the window to that information is first through the eyes.

4. Smile

Make sure it is appropriate to smile (although sometimes a somber expression is more appropriate – like at a funeral). The caveat here is that the smile must be genuine, not phony.

Learn to smile from the eyes by picturing an oval from your eyebrows to your lips. Show your teeth, if they are in good shape. This really helps the warmth of a smile.

Be sure to maintain eye contact while you are smiling. The peripheral vision of the other person will allow him or her to appreciate the smile. Consider the duration of the smile, because too short or too long of a smile can send mixed signals.

5. Give a genuine greeting

Most people say “how are you” or “nice to meet you.” Those greetings are not bad, but they do pass over an opportunity to show real enthusiasm for meeting the other person. Reason: these greetings are perfunctory and overused.

They accomplish the greeting mechanically, but they do not establish a high emotional engagement.

You might try a variant like “I am excited to meet you” or “how wonderful to meet you.” Be careful to not get sappy: see caveat number five in the second list below.

6. Ask the other person a question

The typical and easiest thing to do is say “tell me about yourself,” but you only would use that if there was adequate time for the individual to take you from grade school to the rest home.

A better approach is to consider the environment around the person. There will be a clue as to what the other person might be experiencing at that moment. If you link in to the emotion with a question that draws out the other person, you have established dialog that is constructive.

For example, if you meet a person in a hotel lobby who is dragging two suitcases with his left hand, you might say while shaking the right hand, “have you been traveling all day?” or “can I help you with one of your bags?”

Doing these six things will set you up for a good first impression provided they are consistent with the situation and your persona, but there are extensions of these same six things that should be avoided or you may blow the opportunity.


Things to avoid:

1. Do not work too hard

Other people will instantly recognize at a gut level if you are putting on an act to impress them. If your natural tendency is to be a slap happy kind of salesman when meeting people, try to turn down the volume on that part while maintaining a cheerful nature.

2. One handed shakes only

The two-handed shake, known as the “politician’s handshake,” is too invasive for a first meeting. It will cause the other person to emotionally retreat as a defense mechanism.

It gives the impression that you are trying to reel in a big fish. Speaking of fish, also avoid the dead fish handshake. A firmly-flexed vertical hand with medium modulation is the best approach.

Be sensitive to the fact that some people avoid handshakes due to physical reasons and do not force the issue or embarrass the person.

Other than the handshake, there should be absolutely no touching of any other part of the body. This means, do not grab the elbow as you walk toward the elevator, do not put your hand on or playfully punch the shoulder of the other person, even if he is a “good guy.”

Obviously, stay away from touching the legs or knees of any other person when sitting.

3. Avoid too much eye contact

Anything over 70% of eye contact during the first few minutes will cause great anxiety in the other person. A fixed gaze will send signals that are ambiguous at best and threatening at worst.

The best approach is to lock eyes for a few seconds, then move your gaze on something else, perhaps a lapel pin or name tag, then return eye contact for a few seconds more.

If you are a male meeting a female, avoid giving the up and down “checking her out” pattern, as most women find that highly offensive.

Another caveat with eye contact is to avoid looking around the room during the first moments of meeting another person.

Make sure the person recognizes you are focused 100% on him or her, even if the timing is fleeting.

4. Do not smile as if you are holding back gas

If you try to force a smile, it will look as phony as a bad toupee. If you have a problem warming up to a new person with a genuine smile, try envisioning the person as having a check for a million dollars in her purse that she is about to give you.

In reality she may have things inside her head that could be worth much more than a million dollars to you. Consider that possibility and be genuinely happy to meet the person. It will show on your face.

Do not go over the top with enthusiasm in your greeting – The greeting must come straight from the heart to send the signal you want. Your greeting should not gush or be drawn out like an Academy Award performance like, “Oh darling, how simply marvelous to meet you” – kissy kissy. You could make the other person want to vomit.

5. Avoid talking about yourself
Hold up on discussing your interests until cued by the other person. The natural tendency is to think in terms of this new person’s relationship to your world.
Try to reverse this logic and think about wanting to know more about his or her world, so you can link in emotionally to the other person’s thoughts.

If you ask two or three questions of the other person, he or she will eventually ask a question about you.

6. Listen more and talk less

Try to keep the ratio of listening versus talking to roughly 70-30% with the weight of your attention on listening. The highest rated conversationalists are the ones who say the fewest number of words.

By doing the six steps I have outlined while avoiding the extremes on the second list, you will have a good start to a new relationship. You will have planted the seeds of trust well. After that, you need to nurture the relationship continually to allow the seeds to grow to maturity.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.























Leadership Barometer 43 Toxic Leaders

March 22, 2020

We are all familiar with the word “toxic” and recognize that toxic substances are known to cause human beings serious injury or death. We are also aware that some individuals have mastered the skill of being toxic to other people.

When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust. There is documented evidence (see Trust Across America statistics) that high trust groups outperform low trust groups by a factor of two to five times.

Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. One estimate given by LTG Walter F. Ulmer in an article entitled “Toxic Leadership” (Army, June 2012) is that 30-50% of leaders are essentially transformational, while only 8-10% are essentially toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.

Why would a leader speak and behave in a toxic way if he or she recognizes the harm being done to the organization?

Is it because leaders are just not aware of the link between their behaviors and performance of the group?

Is it because they are totally unaware of the fact that their actions are toxic to others?

Is it because they are lazy and just prefer to bark out orders rather than work to encourage people?

While there are instances where any of these modes might be in play, I think other mechanisms are responsible for most of the lamentable behaviors of toxic leaders.

Toxic leaders do understand that employees are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table. They just do not believe there is a better way to manage, otherwise they would do that.

If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself, but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.

Toxic Leader Working for you

This person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role. If the behaviors are not improved, then this leader should be removed.

You are a toxic leader

It is probably not obvious to you how much damage is being done by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. Trust will not grow in an environment of fear.

The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. This can be accomplished through getting a leadership coach or getting some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month.

You are working for a toxic leader

In my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.”

So what can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking loss of employment? Here are some ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open minded your boss is:

1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

2. Suggest that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how this could be improved. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.

3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. The Trust Across America Website is a great source of this information.

4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then some progress can be made.

5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.

6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.

It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.”

Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who have the better future.

Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go.

Another key reason why toxic leaders fail to see the opportunity staring them in the face is a misconception about Leadership Development. The typical comment is, “We are not into the touchy-feely stuff here. We do not dance around the maypole and sing Kum-ba-yah while toasting marshmallows by the campfire.”

The problem here is that several leadership training methods in the past have used outdoor experiential training to teach the impact of good teamwork and togetherness. Senior leaders often feel too serious and dignified for that kind of frivolity, so they sit in their offices and honestly believe any remedial training needs to be directed toward the junior leaders.

To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.




Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.