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


Leadership Barometer 46 Addition by Subtraction

April 16, 2020

The title of this article came from a student in one of my online classes on Team Dynamics. He got the phrase from an “extraordinary” Chief Master Sergeant named Jim, currently serving at the Pentagon. I really love the phrase because it is so simple, yet so profound.

We are all familiar with some of the problems that occur when working in teams. In this article, I want to focus on the impact that can be made by a single person who is a misfit in the group and slows down all team progress.

I need to be careful to describe the phenomenon correctly. Normally, I am an advocate of having diversity of opinion and styles within a team. Reason: respectful differences in outlook or opinion are healthy because they usually lead to more creative and robust solutions.

If you have a team of clones who all think alike on most issues, you have a mono-culture that may seem to work well, but it will probably lead to myopic solutions. In general, having “different” people on a team is a good thing.

Unfortunately, we have all had the experience of being on a team where one individual simply stops forward progress on a regular basis. The root cause may be a personality deficiency or some kind of chemistry problem between members.

The person may become moody or bellicose and derail group processes at every opportunity. In rare cases there is an intent to stop the efforts of a team, sort of like a sport.

I am not writing about a person on the team who fills a Devil’s advocate role from time to time in order to prevent the group from slipping into a dangerous group think. Nor am I referring to the person with a concern or observation who voices it in a polite way.

The person I am describing is one who habitually takes a contrarian view and refuses to accept the fact that he or she is derailing conversation rather than fostering a balanced discussion.

I advocate that any team should have a written and agreed-upon set of expected behaviors. These statements indicate our agreement on how we will treat each other along with specific consequences for members who do not comply.

If peer pressure and body language fail to convince the person to stop the disruptive behavior, then it is time for the person’s manager to do some private coaching. Sometimes that can make at least a temporary improvement

However, some individuals just cannot or will not change. Stronger measures are required. The solution is rather obvious. The person needs to find some other way to get entertainment, and should be excused from the team.

This surgery is really “addition by subtraction.” Reason: once the problem person is removed, the entire team will breathe a sigh of relief, because now decisions and progress can occur more easily.

I recall removing a disruptive member of a team years ago. Grateful team members came to me with tears of gratitude in their eyes saying, “Oh thank you! Removing Frank from the team took some courage, but we are so grateful to have the ability to navigate without him. Life will be so much better for all of us because of your action.”

Removing a problem person from a team is often a painful process. Egos can get bruised or there may be an ugly scene. My advice is to take the action, but only after you have exhausted all remedial efforts.




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 74 Pondering

April 10, 2020

The body language gestures of a person who is pondering are rather easy to spot and there is not much confusion in interpreting this emotion.

Pondering is closely associated with puzzling, and the body language of one versus the other may be difficult to sort out. In reality, the mental activity for puzzling and pondering are virtually the same.

Gaze

A pondering person is usually looking upward. You see a kind of “far away” look in the eyes as the person contemplates something. The person is looking off into space with no particular energy given to focusing visually on anything.

If the person is actually trying to visualize something, then sometimes you can detect a slight squinting of the eyelids along with a lowering of the eyebrows.

Upper nose and eyebrows

There is often a slight wrinkle at the bridge of the nose as the person is contemplating what to make of the situation. The nose itself is not wrinkled but the eyebrows are pulled in slightly causing a vertical wrinkle

Head

The head will be slightly tilted as the person is deep in thought. Also associated with an upward gaze, the person’s head may be tilted backward. We see no indication that the person is getting ready to speak, rather the mind is completely occupied trying to figure out what is happening.

Hands and arms

Often one hand will be in contact with the facial region. Most commonly, as in the attached picture, the one hand is connected to the chin with one bent forefinger and thumb pinching the tip of the chin lightly. When making this gesture, it is common to see the other arm in support of the arm propping the chin.

Sometimes a finger may be extended to cover the mouth region as if to prevent the person from speaking too soon.

Alternatively, the one hand may be holding the head or even scratching the head in puzzlement.

Mouth

The mouth may be in a neutral position as in this picture or it may be pulled slightly to the side. If the issue being contemplated is a serious or dangerous matter, the mouth may be pulled further to the side as a signal of stress.

People who are pondering rarely show their teeth at the same time. The mouth is generally closed, but it is a relaxed closure and not pursed lips or grinding of teeth. If the subject matter has a tinge of danger associated with it, you may see the person bite the side of his lower lip in anxiety as he ponders.

What to do

The advice when you see a person showing signs of this gesture is to leave him alone. Do not interrupt his mental process unless there is a fire in the building. Let him work on the problem until he emerges from his trance with some clarity of thought. If you would interrupt the process, it would likely be highly irritating.

If the person appears to be just day-dreaming or procrastinating from something that he should be doing, then a gentle word to bring him back to reality may be helpful. Just be gentle and kind if you do have to interrupt a person who is pondering.

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



Leadership Barometer 45 Stop Micromanaging

April 5, 2020

Leaders who micromanage do so with the best of intentions. Unfortunately they seldom recognize that what they are doing is actually taking the organization in a direction they do not want to go.

The problem is that by micromanaging people, the manager is severely limiting performance rather than optimizing it, so the manager is operating at cross purposes to the actual goal.

Unwittingly the manager is removing incentive for effort and creativity on the part of the employee. We are so familiar with this problem simply because it is so prevalent in organizations. In this article, I seek to contrast micromanagement versus trust to give some insight on how the latter leads to greatly enhanced performance.

To micromanage someone implies a lack of trust. The manager is not confident the employee can or will do a job correctly, so the employee is besieged with “helpful” instructions from the manager on exactly how to perform tasks. At first, the intrusion is irritating to the employee, who has her own ideas on how to do the job. After a while, it simply degenerates into an opportunity to check out mentally and join the legion of disenchanted workers doing what they are told and collecting a paycheck. This leaves the employee’s power on the door step of the organization every day.

To trust an employee is to think enough of the person to treat him or her as a thinking person who can have good ideas if given a goal and some broad operating parameters. In an environment of trust, employees have the freedom to explore, innovate, create, stretch, and yes, sometimes make mistakes. These mistakes might be thought of as waste, but enlightened leaders think of them simply as learning opportunities.

Here are 9 ideas that can help leaders and managers reduce the tendency to micromanage, thus unleashing a greater portion of the power available to the organization.

1. Set clear goals and make sure your employees have the basic skills and tools to do the job
2. Be clear on the broad constraints within which the employee must operate. In other words, do not let the employee try to conquer the world with a tuna-fish can.
3. Express trust in the employee and encourage creativity and risk taking as long as the risks are well-considered and safe.
4. Reject the temptation to step in if the employee seems to struggle, rather make yourself available if there are any questions or requests for help
5. Provide the resources the employee needs to accomplish the tasks
6. Do not totally overload the employee with so many duties and projects that she cannot succeed at any of them
7. Express praise and gratitude for positive baby steps along the way
8. Give the employee time and space to try different approaches without having to explain why she is doing every step
9. If problems occur, consider them as learning experiences and ask the employee to describe how she would do things differently next time

These 9 ideas are all simple, but they are nearly impossible for a micromanager to accomplish without constant effort. The concept of trusting employees does involve some risk, but the rewards of having people working up to their full potential rather than just complying is well worth that risk. You will see better, faster, and more robust solutions if you trust people and let their natural talents surface in an environment of little micromanagement.


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.























Body Language 73 Coy

March 27, 2020

How can you tell if another person is being coy? In this article I will give some tips to recognize the body language gestures associated with being coy and give some ideas to deal with the situation.

I will start with being coy in a business setting and then cover the same topic from a social point of view. The former usually involves someone being somewhat evasive while being coy in a social setting runs the gamut between deception all the way to overt flirtation.

What is being coy?

The definition of coy is “pretending to be shy or modest.” Another definition from Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary is..”marked by cute coquettish or artful playfulness.” A third perspective of being coy includes a reluctance to make a commitment or give details about something regarded as sensitive.

Eyebrows

When a person is being coy, he will usually have one eyebrow noticeably raised. You do not see both eyebrows raised, because that gesture would normally be associated with the emotion of surprise or even shock.

The clandestine look is what gives the gesture the appearance of some mystery. That can be what creates the playfulness of the gesture. The uncertainty of what he is thinking enhances the effect.

Eyes

A coy person will usually be looking sideways. He does not look up or down, but the eyes are noticeably looking to the side. It is an evasive kind of movement, like he is making an effort to hide something.

He rarely will make direct eye contact when being coy because that would reduce the mystery effect.

Cheeks

When a person is being coy, you usually see only one cheek as he will turn his head and not look at you straight on. He may also have a tilted head to accentuate the expression.

Mouth

There is often a slight pulling back of the one cheek in an effort to make a mysterious smile. Alternatively, the mouth can also form a sober frown, as in the picture.

Chin

Often the chin is lowered a bit as if to hide something. It would be unusual to see a coy person with his head held high. Part of the secret look is to lower the chin.

In a Business Setting

Being coy in a business setting means that there is something a person wants to express but prefers to only hint at until the other person begins to get a message. It can also mean reluctance to give information the other person wants.

The desired outcome is rarely sexual, as in social expressions of being coy. Many of the body language signals will be the same, as is shown in the picture above of a male being coy in a work setting.

Perhaps he knows something, but he does not trust the other person enough to reveal it. Perhaps he is playing some kind of game where he wants to stall for time for some reason. This is not necessarily negative, since a person can have valid reasons for keeping something private.

One approach to break the tension is to ask the person if he is uncomfortable at the moment. If he agrees, then you have the opportunity to make open ended questions in an attempt to find out the root cause of the discomfort.

Being coy is also used in marketing when an organization wants to build anticipation for a new product but is not quite ready for the grand announcement.

The art of being coy is often seen in political situations where a candidate is not ready to announce his or her true intentions. This application often comes across as artful dodging, which tends to lower trust because people recognize they are not getting the full truth.

Being coy in a social setting

The most well-known examples of being coy occur in a social setting, rather than a business or political setting, as in the attached picture.

The gestures are usually intended to be provocative and involve another person. People would not make these movements if they were alone.

The smile may be slightly pulled to the side reminiscent of the Mona Lisa look. The half-smile is an indication of potential pleasure. She may also exhibit pursed lips as if in a mock kissing gesture.

Conclusion

When a person (male or female) is being coy, you have to recognize that there is some kind of agenda going on. Be careful to not misinterpret the coyness as attraction. There could be a number of things going on. The best advice is to remain unsure until you have other indications for why the person is making these gestures.

Look for the opportunity for some dialog. Observe more and try to ask open ended questions for more data. If the person begins to open up, then you can improve the accuracy of your understanding and not make unwarranted assumptions.


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



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.