Successful Supervisor 35 – Communicating with your Group

July 16, 2017

In my last article, I dealt with improving face-to-face communication with individuals using the VARK Model, but often supervisors are called on to communicate information verbally to their entire group.

The skills to do this successfully are different from the ones used to get a message across to a single person, because the group contains people with different communication styles.

There is a group dynamic that can create negative momentum that is not present when working with one individual. Normally, you can read the body language of one person rather easily.

When the information to share is good news, supervisors usually have no problem just getting everyone together and sharing the information. When the news is problematic for the workforce, supervisors often make mistakes that lower trust or even cause more angst than is necessary. It is this case that I want to explore in this article.

When the supervisors are faced with trying to explain information that people really don’t want to hear, it is a real test of their leadership ability and communication skills that many supervisors cannot pass.

Here are some tips that will be helpful to improve the results when communicating negative information.

Have a Plan

If the subject is difficult, it is worth the time to do some concrete planning. Don’t just call everyone together and “wing it.” Consider the reaction you are likely to get and think through how to keep things from spiraling out of control.

You may want to have an HR manager attend the meeting, or you may want to even have some security people available and ready just in case.

Outline the key points, and make sure the sequence is not confusing. Put yourself in the seat of a person who is known to react strongly and test the validity of your approach based on that insight.

Anticipate the issues, fears, and questions people might have and be ready to address them.

Use Different Forms of Communication

Each individual will absorb information most readily based on whether he or she is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic communicator. If the supervisor just speaks (auditory) the information, it will be picked up accurately by the auditory learners but often not by the people who have alternative styles.

Use a chart or a slide to illustrate (visual) your message visually and then get people to share their feelings about the message (kinesthetic).

It will not make the information any easier to take, but it will ensure a better understanding of the message by everyone.

Try Communicating with Smaller Groups

If the news is particularly bad, like an impending layoff, the supervisor would be smart to deal with small family groups rather than a large room full of all the people impacted.

For example, she might get together with the crews on a packaging line for a briefing early in the morning and have a separate meeting with the inspectors later that same morning. Recognize that the rumor mill will spread the bad news very quickly, so do not space out the small groups with a lot of time in between.

Since this communication is one person to many by design, it is important to keep people from shouting insults or derogatory comments and keep the focus on questions for clarification. The smaller group format will be particularly helpful for this.

Body language is extremely important to convey a calm demeanor, even though the topic is troubling. The tone of voice should be soft and low, and the information should be shared in its unvarnished ugliness, but avoid using inflammatory words in the description.

Rehearsing the delivery is important for very sensitive discussions. Trying to sugar coat bad news is a mistake many supervisors try to use in order to get out of a tough situation. It usually does not work.

Allow People the Opportunity to Grieve

Upon hearing bad news, people tend to go into shock. They need to go through the stages of grief in order to work their way through a transition. If you try to deny the grieving period by promising some good things to come, they will become hostile and make the situation worse.

Allow them to feel badly, if that is appropriate, and promise that you will be there for them as they work through the situation. By acknowledging the grief and showing you care about them as people, you will actually be helping them cope during the shock period.

Don’t Lie or Weasel

Often supervisors try to protect themselves by blaming other people or some situation out of their control in order to soften the blow. This strategy will usually backfire.

People have a keen ability to sniff out the BS, so be sure to tell the truth and do not try to weasel out with some lame excuse why it is not your fault. If they are going to blame you anyway, there is nothing you can say to stop that, and any attempt to deflect blame will make things a lot worse for you in the end.

Keep in mind that to these people, you represent the organization.

Set up an Open Channel for Future Communication

Most supervisors have an “open door” policy where people can stop in the office to chat whenever they need it. When there is bad news, it is smart to redouble the accessibility and make an overt attempt to be out there with people.

In doing so you will be one-on-one with individuals, so you can use the VARK Model to match your communication style to their preferred channel.

As a division manager, I noticed that when there was bad news in the air, supervisors tended to cloister themselves in their offices, thinking it would reduce exposure. That behavior only inflames the matter.

I always advocated that supervisors (and managers at all levels) consciously double the time they spend mingling with people in the difficult times. It allows people more opportunity to vent, which reduces the pressure.

In addition, you have the opportunity to squash any false rumors that happen to spring up. During difficult times, rumors seem to take hold and spread with ease.

Make Small Gestures that Show You Care

There is an old saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Look for ways to show empathy, but avoid saying something false like saying “I know exactly how you feel.”

I learned a long time ago to avoid saying that phrase to someone who just lost a loved one. It is better to say something like “I cannot imagine the pain you are going through now.” At least that is an honest statement.

The very best approach to use with people is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed. This “Golden Rule” approach normally is the safest one to use in sensitive times.

All supervisors and managers go through times where difficult messages need to be disseminated. If you approach this task delicately and with sincerity, you can get through it with grace, and your subordinates will appreciate it, even though they are not happy about the message.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 33 Passive Aggressive

July 2, 2017

I have mentioned all kinds of difficult employees in this series, but as yet I have not mentioned the “Passive Aggressive.”

On Wikipedia, the malady is described as “the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullen behavior, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.”

For a supervisor, dealing with a passive aggressive is particularly challenging because this individual will eventually do the work requested, but the supervisor has to deal with a lot of pushback and rotten attitudes on a continual basis.

This employee has a kind of disease that is like a cancer that will spread if left unchecked.

If the passive aggressive employee was operating in a vacuum, the supervisor might be able to endure the strain, but the impact this type of employee has on the whole team becomes a huge impediment to the culture of the organization, and thus he or she must be dealt with effectively.

To give you a sense of what a passive aggressive employee might sound like, consider a situation where the supervisor is trying to create some energy to tackle a particularly challenging task for her team.

The passive aggressive might listen with a bored look on his face and then utter one of his favorite expressions: “Whatever…”

Let’s look at some tips for dealing with a passive aggressive (PA) personality.

Tips for Supervisors

Call them on it

The PA employee appears to be uncooperative as a way of gaining attention. His ultimate goal is often to skate the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior with great care to remain employed but still make life miserable for his supervisor.

If she would simply indicate that his pushback has become an unacceptable level, then the PA employee is likely to change behavior, at least temporarily.

Once a change in attitude is obvious, the supervisor can give gentle but not effusive praise. In some cases, this shift in feedback is enough to make a more lasting shift.

If the employee falls back into a pattern of PA behavior, the supervisor can say something like, “Oh, you were doing so well with a more positive attitude; let’s not slip backward at this point.”

Take a direct approach

With some people, a direct approach of a heart to heart discussion with the employee will work. Simply point out your observations and let the employee know you are not going to tolerate his antics. In some situations that will be enough to bring the employee around.

You can ask the employee for help because of the negative effect his passive aggressive behavior is having on the operation.

In taking this approach, refrain from threatening the employee with an “or else” statement; simply put the request out there and appeal to his nobler side.

Work on Accountability

I have written extensively on Accountability earlier in this series, so I will not repeat the ideas here, but in the accountability discussions, the supervisor can gain some leverage with a passive aggressive.

Stress that it isn’t enough to be accountable for the work getting done. Each person needs to realize that he or she has an impact on other people as well.

The PA employee can reduce the effectiveness of any group by lowering the morale of everyone. That action will lower productivity and cause missed commitments.

A process of peer pressure that sends a signal of unwillingness of the group to let the PA employee hamper the success of the group can be very helpful.

Don’t Accept Excuses

Part of the way a PA employee gets to slack off without repercussions is to make lame excuses for not doing what was expected. The supervisor can thwart this kind of behavior by simply refusing to accept excuses for poor or late work.

Just be alert to the words being used by the employee and when the word “because” comes up, make a statement that you are not going to tolerate it.
Simply blow by the excuse as if it was not even stated, and get back to the requirements.

Soon, the PA employee will realize that the ploy does not work with you and stop trying to use it. Be vigilant, because he will continue to test you periodically to see if he can wear you down. The message needs to be that missed deadlines are not erased by cooking up some reason why the problem was not the employee’s fault.

Focus on reality

The PA employee lives in a kind of fantasy world of his own making. You can bring the conversation back to reality by simply restating the requirements. If the employee is resistant to this approach simply state “The situation is XYZ and you need to do ABC now.” You can also spell out the consequences of not complying with duties.

Hide Your Goat

Often the passive aggressive employee is just trying to push your buttons to see how far he can go before you get rattled. Basically, he is trying to “get your goat” to see what you will do about it.

Steve Gilliland, an acquaintance from the National Speaker’s Association, suggests that you can simply hide your goat.

You need to refuse to get upset and just turn the negative energy back at the employee with a comment like, “I know what you are doing, and it is not going to have any impact except to make you look immature in the eyes of your friends.” Now you are using a form of peer pressure to bring the employee back into line.

Confirm Established Goals

The PA employee is compromising the ability of the group to accomplish its goals. Point out that there is no relief from the pressures on the organization, and that the entire team is responsible for meeting the goals. Point out the employee’s contribution to the common goal and relate the situation to a sports analogy where the entire team needs to perform well for the mission to be accomplished.

Working with an employee who uses passive aggressive tendencies can be exasperating, but you ultimately can control the behavior and shape it to be acceptable. Use the tips in this article to help you win the battle and remain in control.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 32 – Generational Issues

June 25, 2017

Ever since we stopped obsessing about the Generation X individuals (born 1965-1980), we have seen an uptick of writing and energy having to do with Millennials (born after 1980).

At this point, we have an approximately equal number of Boomers, Gen X, and Millennial workers in the U.S. workforce. As a supervisor, you need to keep the built-in communication and style issues from causing problems within your group.

In my leadership classes, I hear a common lament, especially from supervisors, that it is so much more difficult to reach Millennials and to keep them on board than was experienced with the Gen X workers.

I am sure the phenomenon is true, and have some suggestions in this article that may provide some assistance.

Tips for Supervisors

Beware of stereotypical generalities

We often read that Millennials are lazy or less loyal than previous work groups. There may be some truth to the trend in specific cases, but individual differences make it dangerous to label everyone in a specific group as having specific traits.

It is important to understand each person as an individual and not deal with an entire generation with one technique and biased labels. Each worker is a person first and foremost and a member of a stereotypical age group second.

Understand the Generational Environment

Pay attention to the different environment that each person grew up in as a significant force in shaping the way a person thinks or acts.

Way back in the late 1980s Dr. Morris Massey, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, did a series of programs entitled, “What You Are is Where You Were When (you were value programmed).”

At the time, Dr. Massey was focusing on the differences between Boomers (born between 1945-1964) and Generation X (born between 1965-1980). His conclusion was that significant behavioral patterns could be explained by the environment that an individual grew up in, but we had to leave significant room for individual differences before trying to pigeonhole people.

Undoubtedly the most significant difference between Millennials and prior generations is in the area of communications. Millennials were the first fully digital generation, so their whole approach to interfacing with other people is different.

Curiously, the keyboard layout thumbed by all Millennials to “text” each other was invented by Christopher Sholes in 1867. You would think that their main mode of communication with each other would be voice and video.

While there is plenty of that, the preferred method of “conversation” (even when sitting right next to the other person) is by the juxtaposition of letters, spaces, and “emojis” projected onto a little screen.

Just because most Millennials have over-developed thumb muscles does not make them less capable to think or to be dedicated. It is only the vehicle by which they gain and share information that is different, although older generations are catching up in terms of comfort level with texting. Inside we are all people who have dreams and aspirations, regardless of our age.

Have a Concrete Development Plan

One generality that I believe is true is that on average, Millennials are less patient with a slow pace for their own development. This is a hint for all supervisors who are working with Millennials.

It is much more important for people in this group to have a concrete development plan, which includes milestones and projected advancement. The danger here is that advancement opportunities are not totally predictable and appear to be glacial to younger people. That could lead to frustration.

Cross Train

Once a person has gained the skills for the next level career position, it is tedious to wait in line until the next opportunity to move up appears. Hence, we see Millennials willing to job hop in order to move up if no opportunity is available in their current organization. The antidote here is to cross train the person on additional skills, so he or she becomes more valuable to the organization through the passage of time.

The lesson here is that if you try to keep a millennial static or keep promising movement that does not occur, you often are going to lose the person to another organization. That pattern leads to high turnover, which is a major cost problem for any organization.

If you have such a great culture that each employee, regardless of age, is convinced no other organization is going to be better, then retention takes care of itself.

The Wegmans Grocery Chain was recently awarded one of the best organizations for Millennials. They have been on the list of 100 Best Workplaces for the past 19 years.

The secret of their success is to train and cross train the young people constantly. It adds to bench strength and it allows Wegmans to operate with about 8% turnover in an industry that often runs in excess of 40% turnover. That is a huge financial advantage.

Be Principle Centered

Another way to appeal to Millennials is to have a principle centered business. These young people are highly interested in the social responsibility of the organization for which they work, because they are convinced that it leads to long term success.

The younger generation is less tolerant of hypocrisy and bureaucracy than more seasoned workers, because they see it as a conscious choice, and they want to work at a place that has staying power.

Make sure you let all employees know the purpose of your business and that you always act in ways consistent with that purpose.

Foster Respect in Both Directions

As a supervisor, you need to instill a culture of trust that is not dependent on the age demographics of different work groups. You need to teach younger people that the more established workers have vital process knowledge and a history of experience from which they need to learn.

Conversely, you need to work with the more seasoned workers to help them see the benefits that the younger generation brings to the equation and appreciate them in affirming ways. It is a two-way street, and you are in the middle directing traffic.

One frustration for supervisors is that younger generation employees often have less sensitivity when communicating with others. They share their feelings with unvarnished candor, which often can offend older workers.

Teach them to avoid addressing an older person the same way verbally as they would a peer in a 140-character “Tweet” or a “text.” Stress that to get the result they want, Millennials need to be tactful and respectful when addressing other people, regardless of their age.

In any organization, the culture is set from the top. As a supervisor, you need to foster an atmosphere of respect that is rarely taught in school anymore but that is needed to build an environment of trust between people, regardless of age.

Working with Millennials may seem frustrating, if you are trying to apply the operating philosophies that worked for the Boomers or Generation X. You cannot fight the trends, and they are not going away.

The best approach is to embrace the younger generation into the workforce and impress them with your operational excellence and vision for the future. Make sure your culture is the best one around, and you will have few problems with turnover.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 31 – Reducing Conflict

June 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appreciate Differences in People

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

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

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

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

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

Go Back to the Sense of Purpose

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

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

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

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

Build a Culture of Trust and Love

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

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

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

Eliminate Playing Games

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

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

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

Avoid Inter-Group Conflict

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

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

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

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

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor Part 30 – Finding the Key to Motivation

June 11, 2017

I love the study of human behavior and have been actively pursuing it for about 40 years. Maybe if the good Lord gives me another 30 years I will begin to understand the subject more fully.

Human behavior is as complex and far reaching as any topic I can think of, yet for any manager, and especially for a supervisor, the more insight she has the more effective she will be.

A few decades ago, I learned that the sources of motivation are intrinsic and each person is unique. We can see some general patterns in large groups, but the individual differences swamp any ability to understand what drives a person by looking at the group they belong to.

That is why I avoid trying to characterize people by their demographic.
When people ask me how to motivate a millennial, I tell them to stop thinking of the person as an age group and think of him as an individual.

When students get into arguments about whether men or women make better leaders, I tell them to forget the gender stereotypes and think about the unique gifts of each person.

I once had a wise mentor, as my direct boss who happened to be a volunteer fire chief on the side. He and I were walking through a manufacturing plant one day and said, “Do you see that inspector over there? He is a total slug at work. We have to light fire crackers under him to get him to even move. He has no motivation at all; but you should see the transformation when he walks into my fire station. He becomes a ball of fire who does extra duty without even being asked.”

That conversation has stuck with me for years. The key to motivation is to get to know what lights up a person and find a way to provide more of that element.

Using that method, I was able to turn around numerous people who seemed to be lost causes in terms of motivation. I just needed to find out what was in their firehouse and bring more of those elements into the workplace.

If you are a supervisor, try to avoid thinking of all your workers as basically the same. Study their body language and observe what is going on when they get fired up.

Talk to people about their hopes and dreams. Find out what they are looking for in life and show them how you can provide that better than anybody else can. You will see a metamorphosis of motivation that is truly amazing.

Looking for the particular key to a person’s motivation takes a lot of work, but it is like fun detective work, and the impact you can have as a supervisor will be huge if you master this skill.

Think of yourself as the “Columbo” of your organization; just forget about the cigar.

Don’t worry about converting every laggard in the organization. You cannot save everyone. Some portion of people just want to remain lifeless and miserable.

Focus your attention on the people you can fire up. In my experience, roughly half of the people who are underperforming can be super stars, if they are properly led. It is your job to make that happen.

When you can take an individual who is basically dead weight or a complete albatross and convert that individual to a sparkling example of motivation, your reputation of being exceptional about leading people will be assured.

Have fun with the technique, because only you will know the secret to how you are achieving such remarkable results.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor Part 29 – Coaching a Narcissist

June 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you recognize if you have the problem?

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

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

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

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

Why is narcissism a problem?

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

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

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

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

One approach to avoid

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

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

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

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

One possible solution: education

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

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

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

Try a slow shaping process

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

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

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

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

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

What if the Narcissist reports to the supervisor?

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

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

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 28 – Dealing with Bullies

May 28, 2017

In any group of people (or even animals) there is usually one or more bullies. For this series I will give tips for people, but if you spend much time watching animals you will see ample evidence of bully behavior.

For any supervisor, the bullies take up an inordinate amount of time and energy to keep in check. Reason: these people have found out that they can usually get their way by being the most formidable people in the group.

They learned that the technique works years ago on the school-yard playground.

In order to have peace in the valley, other people eventually learn to not challenge the bully, so it falls on the shoulders of the supervisor to maintain order. Sometimes it is the supervisor herself that exhibits the tendencies of a bully.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, from the boardroom to the barroom, and from the Waffle House to the White House. We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced every day 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 supervisors have bullying 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.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers or supervisors 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.

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

If you are an elk, I suspect 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.

Supervisors who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility. While this practice may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term.

By taking a kinder approach, supervisors can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

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

1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way – Simply apply the Golden Rule.

2. Observe the reaction and body language in other people – If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.

3. Be sensitive to feedback – It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.

4. Speak more softly and slowly – Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice. Keep in mind that the definition of what constitutes being yelled at is in the head of the “Yellee” rather than the “Yeller.” (My apologies to “Old Yeller”).

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 & Don’t be a “Steamroller” – Just because you know an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.

10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone, or even tomorrow?

Supervisors must recognize that when they are bossing people around, they are really working at cross purposes to the culture they would like to have in their area. It takes effort to retrain yourself to avoid bully-like behavior if you have been practicing it since you were a child. Following the tips above is a good place to start changing.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763