Leadership Barometer 105 Invest in Your Culture

August 11, 2021

Culture is critical to the performance of any organization. When I advise CEOs how to improve the performance of their organization, I first analyze the situation, then report back to the top officer with some advice. Quite often my advice will sound something like this:

“There is low trust in this organization, and that is causing a lot of conflict. You and your top leaders are running yourselves into the ground trying to solve problems all day. It is like you are playing Whack-a-mole, and the problems keep coming faster each day, so you cannot catch up.

Many of these problems are of your own making. What you need to do is carve out some time to work with your entire organization on improving your culture, because that is the only way to get out of the Whack-a-mole Game.”

They often look at me in utter astonishment. They know what I am saying but just cannot imagine that it is possible to actually take time away from solving problems to invest in the culture. 

Some of these leaders blow up at me and throw me out of their office with words like, “You must be insane. You have no idea the issues we are resolving every day. If we took time off, we would be buried almost instantly. Get out of here and stop bothering me.”  I head for the door, and on my way out I say, “Well, then, I hope you enjoy your Whack-a-mole game.”

What they fail to see is that four hours of time invested in the culture will save them more than 8 hours of solving problems and conflicts later. The reason is three-fold:

  1. Taking time to improve the culture instantly reduces the most time-consuming problem any leader has. That is the inability for people in the organization to get along with each other. Most managers spend from 30-50% of their time dealing with interpersonal issues. If the culture were improved, much of that time would be reclaimed.
  1. When people work on the culture, they are also helping to chart the way forward for the organization. This means that the leader has many willing and eager hands to resolve technical issues. He or she does not have to solve every problem. Many issues can be delegated to other people in the organization who would be delighted, even thrilled, to help out. People in the organization will have higher buy-in, so they put more effort into their tasks. Presto-another 15-20% of time is reclaimed.
  1. The ability to get away from the constant mind-numbing pressure of the daily grind and think about how we can work better together is therapeutic. Working on the culture affords the opportunity to relax, recharge the batteries, and build a stronger team. That pays off in increased energy to resolve the few problems that remain.

Consider the return on investment of taking time regularly to improve your culture.  You will find the quality of your life to be significantly enhanced, and your organization will function more smoothly. The other benefit is that when you take a sick culture and turn it into one of high trust, productivity goes up by a factor of two or more. Leadership becomes a blast rather than a grind.

If you are an exhausted leader who is not happy with performance, try my prescription.  You will feel a whole lot better, and your organization will prosper.  

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

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

Talent Development 27 Change Management

February 27, 2021

Section 3.6 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Change Management. Section A reads, “A knowledge of change management theories and models, for example Lewin, Kotter, Bridges’ transition model, Kubler-Ross change curve, and appreciative inquiry.”

In this brief article, I will share three change models that I have found to be particularly useful in helping people accept and implement change at work.

Adaptation of Kotter’s Model

I found Dr. John Kotter’s theories of change to be most helpful. His eight-step change process was first described in his 1996 book, “Leading Change,” and he followed it up with a neat fable in 2006 entitled’ “Our Iceberg is Melting.” He also described change in his 2014 book “Accelerate.”

The eight steps proposed by Kotter were as follows:

1. Create a sense of urgency
2. Build a guiding coalition
3. Form strategic vision and initiatives
4. Enlist a volunteer army
5. Enable action by removing barriers
6. Generate short term wins
7. Sustain Acceleration
8. Institute change

In my own work in a manufacturing unit of a large company, I ended up adapting and adding to his steps so people would understand the concepts easier and adopt them in our specific environment.

I used the following nine-point list of steps to change:

1. Create the right environment
2. Demonstrate an urgent need
3. Carve out sufficient time
4. Create a compelling vision
5. Reinforce the small wins
6. Integrate the new methods in the culture
7. Develop a tolerance for risk
8. Demonstrate constancy of purpose
9. Understand the psychology of change

I found the final item to be particularly helpful for guiding groups through the change cycles much faster by using the grief-counseling model of change.

Grief Counseling Change Model

In 1969 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed the five stages of grief. These were as follows:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Her observation is that human beings go through the five stages whenever faced with extreme grief. Using the model as a pathway to a better future is one method of coping with loss and shortening the time to a return to a normal life.

Transition Model

William and Susan Bridges suggested a four-stage model for dealing with transitions at work. They included:

1. Anticipation
2. Ending
3. Transition
4. Beginning

I found this model to be particularly helpful at accelerating the time from an impending disruption to full acceptance of a change.

For example, I once was involved in shutting down an operation of nearly 300 people and moving it to a new location with much improved processes. The move had been anticipated by the production workers for a few months.

When the decision was announced, it represented the “Ending” stage, and the workers were dead set against the change, even though it meant a better existence on the other end. They described it as a “death.”

We used the transition model to help workers through the various transition stages of anger and bargaining and included them in visualizing the physical set up in the new plant. Their energy shifted from trying to preserve the old way to helping invent the new way.

We had expected the entire process to take over a year to accomplish, but by involving the employees in this way, we were able to accomplish the change in less than two months. The result was a huge cash savings, and people were happier all the way through the process.


Using a formal change model, like the ones mentioned in this article, to help people cope with difficult changes in life is an excellent way to mitigate the pain and return life to a good quality once again.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, 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, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Building Higher Trust 8 Trust and Focus

February 3, 2021

It is quite easy to determine the level of trust within a group simply by observing what the people in the group focus on most of the time.

High Trust Groups

I have observed that very high trust groups spend the majority of their time and energy on what they are trying to accomplish. Maybe it is because high trust groups have an exciting vision they are pursuing.

Let’s say the group is coming out with a new product. If you listen to the conversations members of the group are having, they are going to be centered on the new product. That is what they are trying to accomplish.

If they are trying to accomplish better customer service, then that dynamic will dominate the conversations.

Whatever the vision is will be the main topic of discussion, and people will do very little griping because they have good feelings about the other people in their group. Those good feelings and affection tend to raise the level of trust even higher.

Low Trust Groups

By contrast, people who work in low trust groups seem to focus their energy on each other. They are myopic and talk about the problems they are having getting along.

You might hear one person complain that another person spends too much time on the phone or is frequently late to Zoom meetings. You may hear people that are stationed in different countries complain that the time zone differences make life very difficult for their families.

The focus becomes “how can I protect my own interests from these other people who have their own agendas.” The conversations become mostly negative and often are hurtful.

That dynamic tends to perpetuate the lower trust atmosphere, so it becomes a vicious cycle of negativity.


Listen to the conversations that are happening in your organization and see whether they demonstrate low or high trust. It will be an accurate indication of the current level of trust inside your organization.

Bonus Video

Here is a brief video on Trust and Focus.

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 1000 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

Leadership Baromter 75 Make Good Decisions

December 23, 2020

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

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly.

Here is one of my favorite measures.

Make Good Decisions

This measure sounds so trivial and axiomatic that you probably wonder why I list it at all. Unfortunately, many would-be great leaders make rather stupid decisions for one reason or another.

I often puzzle at how it is possible for a leader to do something that takes him or her in exactly the opposite direction he or she is trying to go.

That sounds illogical, I know, so let’s examine some of the forces that could allow this to happen.

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

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

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

4. Going along with bad advice from above – there are times when your boss will toss out a half-baked idea and say “Why don’t you try it.” Be careful to get good reasoned advice before taking the plunge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 Articles on People Development

November 30, 2020

Sign up for the “Advent Calendar” by People Development Magazine. Starts December 1st.

“Leadership for Managers” Class Starts Sept 18

August 25, 2020

I wanted to let you know that I will be running a new section of my famous course “Leadership for Managers” through the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce starting on September 18, 2020. The course will run on five consecutive Friday mornings from 8:30 to 12:30 EDT.

The course is now done virtually, to be more convenient for people whether at work or at home. It also eliminates the need to travel to get to class, thus saving time and expenses.

I have added sections on how leaders can ensure a better culture following the COVID-19 pandemic and also the role leaders play in moving toward a more equitable society.

I hope you will pass this note on to people in your network who might benefit from this experiential training. I am attaching a current outline for the class and how people can register for it.


Interview with Jaime Saunders – CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester

May 26, 2020

If you want to hear an inspiring and uplifting response to our current crisis, view the short video below.

The United Way of Greater Rochester has stepped up big time in the COVOD-19 crisis. This 12 minute interview with their CEO and President Jaime Saunders describes their process for serving our community and bringing people together to support those less fortunate.

It is an amazing story of community cooperation and of outstanding leadership.

Here is the link  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XsVjDK_pqk&feature=youtu.be

Tips for Zooming

April 22, 2020

I was sharing a horrific incident with one of my friends recently. Last week I was on a Zoom Meeting with a professional group of about 28 people, and about 30 minutes into the meeting we were Zoom Bombed. I cannot describe the depravity of what we all saw without compromising my own professionalism. Suffice to say it made me totally sick, and I went into shock for several hours. The meeting host had taken precautions to avoid it, but they were insufficient.

Since I use Zoom a LOT these days, I studied up on the several layers of protection and will use these in the future. My friend suggested that I document the things I have learned in a blog. These things are all available from Zoom, but if I can spare just one person from going through what I did, it will be worth it.

Here are some of the tips I learned. If I have any of this incorrect, then let me know.

Use Registration

You can specify that only people who have registered can enter the meeting. That will prevent a random hacker from entering your meeting, but you need to be careful that someone intent on being disruptive does not register and come into the meeting by legal means.

Know the people in your meeting

If you are running a meeting with strangers who you do not know, recognize the risk you are taking. There are some very warped people in this world.

Enable the Waiting Room

This feature is located on the security icon on the host’s dashboard. When the waiting room is enabled the host has to allow each person to join the meeting consciously. If someone tries to crash the party, he will not get out of the waiting room. Of course, this protection will not work unless the host verifies that each participant belongs in the meeting.

Don’t allow participants to screen share

You can disable this protection once you know all the people there are safe and you have locked the room.

Lock the meeting once all participants have arrived

This feature will also keep predators from entering the meeting at all.

Remove any disruptive participants and lock them out

Participants can be ejected from the meeting by the host or the co-host.

Co-host cannot assign Breakout Rooms

Since you cannot enable the co-host to assign breakout rooms, if you use breakouts, you may want to reverse roles and let the meeting leader actually have the system consider him the co-host. That way, the second in command can assume the role of host and handle the breakouts.

I am sure there are other protections in the system that I have not yet discovered. If anyone reading this blog has any other tips, please comment on them so I can learn more helpful ideas.

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 34 Skip the Sandwich

January 20, 2020

There are literally thousands of leadership courses for managers. In most of them, one of the techniques advocated is called the “sandwich” method.

The recommended approach when a leader has a difficult message to deliver is to start with some kind of positive statement about the other individual. This “softening up” is followed by the improvement opportunity. Finally, the leader gives an affirming statement of confidence in the individual.

Some people know this method as the C,C,C technique (compliment, criticize, compliment)

The theory behind the sandwich approach is that if you couch your negative implication between two happy thoughts, it will lessen the blow and make the input better tolerated by the person receiving the coaching.

The problem is that this method usually does not work, and it often undermines trust along with the credibility of the leader. Let’s examine why this conventional approach, as most managers use it, is poor advice.

First, recall when the sandwich technique was used on you. Remember how you felt? Chances are you were not fooled by the ruse. You got the message embodied in the central part of the sandwich, the meat, and mentally discounted the two slices of bread.

Why would you do that? After all, there were two positive things being said and only one negative one. The reason is the juxtaposition of the three elements in rapid fire left you feeling the sender was insincere with the first and last element and really only meant the central portion.

A manager might be able to slip the sandwich technique past you at the start of a relationship. At that point, you do not have a pattern to guide your subconscious thought. Later, if the manager has a habit of using the sandwich, you will become so adept that you will actually hear the second and third part of the sandwich coming up before they are even uttered by your manager.

This interesting phenomenon also occurs in e-mail exchanges. Managers often use the sandwich approach in an e-mail. It might sound like this:
“Your review of the financial information this morning was excellent, Mike. The only improvement I can see is to use more charts and fewer tables of figures to keep people from zoning out. Given your strong track record, I am sure you can make this tiny adjustment with ease.”

If you know this boss well, you can anticipate there is going to be a “but” in the middle long before the boss brings it up. The last part is a feeble attempt to prop you up after the real message has been delivered.

If you received this message, chances are you would have internalized the following: “Stop putting everyone to sleep with your boring tables and use colorful charts to show the data.” You would probably miss the compliment at the start because it was incongruent with the second message, and you would certainly discount the drivel at the end of the message because it was insincere.

It is not always wrong to use a balanced set of input, in fact, if done well, it is helpful. If there really is some specific good thing that was done, you can start with that thought.

Make the sincere compliment ring true and try to get some dialog on it rather than immediately shoot a zinger at the individual.

Then you can bring the conversation to the corrective side carefully. By sharing an idea for improvement, you can give a balanced view that will not seem manipulative or insincere.

Try to avoid the final “pep talk” unless there is something specific that you really want to stress. If that is the case, then it belongs upfront anyway.
Examine your own communication with people, especially subordinates, to reduce the tendency to use the sandwich approach mechanically, particularly if you have to stretch to find the nice things to say.

You may find it hard to detect the sandwich in your spoken coaching, but it will be easier to spot in your written work. The habit is particularly common when writing performance reviews or when trying to encourage changes in behavior.

The sad thing for the boss is that he or she was actually taught that the sandwich technique is normally a good thing to do. That makes it easy to fall into a pattern of doing it subconsciously and not realize that it is actually lowering your own credibility, unless it is used very carefully, because you come across as insincere.

How can you reduce the tendency to use the sandwich approach if you already have the habit?

The first antidote is to become aware when you use it. That means you need to be especially alert when giving verbal input. It also means proofreading notes where you are rating people or trying to change behavior.

When you see the sandwich being used, change it. Give the request for modified behavior with no preamble or postscript in the same breath. Just frame up the information in as kind a way as you can, but be sincere in your words.

Do share a balance of positive and negative things as they apply, but do it naturally, not in a forced, 1,2,3 pattern.

A second way to stop using the technique is to teach others to stop using it. The best way to learn anything is to teach it to others. As you help others see their bad habit, it will remind you that it sometimes shows up in your own communication.

If you can reduce your tendency to use the sandwich approach by 50-80%, you will become a more polished and effective leader.

The third way to prevent this problem is to encourage the teachers of “Management 101” to stop suggesting this technique in the first place. It is not an effective method of changing behavior.

Instead teach leaders to give both positive and corrective feedback in a natural way and only include sincere and specific praise, never force something to butter up the other person.

People have a keen ability to sniff out insincere praise, especially if it is just after being corrected for doing something wrong.

Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust

Body Language 59 Okay???

December 21, 2019

Not all gestures are universal. Some of them have vastly different meanings in different cultures. Meanings can change over time and with political agendas.

In a multicultural world, it is increasingly difficult to know when it is wise to use a particular gesture. The gesture here is a good case in point.

The body language signal depicted in the photo is a very common gesture. In Western society, we know the meaning to be Okay. It is a sign of approval or one of general wellness. We see it all the time, and we use it often.

It was a sign that everything is fine and there was no need to worry. However, you need to be very careful when using the gesture in a crowd where you don’t know everybody.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the sign has recently (2017) been used as a symbol of white supremacy. The three fingers pointing out form the letter “W,” which stands for “White,” and the circle formed by the index finger and thumb signifies “Power.” Thus, for some people, the gesture has taken on the connotation of hate. It was originally the result of a hoax, but for some people the meaning continues as one of white supremacy, especially when used with furrowed eyebrows as in the attached photo.

Still, in the majority of cases in the USA, the gesture is intended to be affirming and serves to put people at ease, but it would not do that in several other cultures. Beware, the symbolic “O” actually has a long history, and it can mean very different things.

To arrive at an accurate reading, you also need to take the other body language cues, like facial expression into account and factor in the context in which the gesture is given.

I looked the gesture up on Wikipedia, and after many paragraphs explaining the different meanings, nearly 100 references were identified. You could spend years just reading up on the complex meanings of this one gesture.

This article identifies a few of the different meanings, and I leave it to you to look up the history and some of the more subtle meanings if you are interested.

For example, in Japan, the gesture is intended to mimic a person holding a coin, so the translation is a statement of wealth. For many people in Japan, the sign literally means “money.” Imagine how confused you would be if you asked another person how he was feeling and he responded “money.”

In France, the gesture is taken to mean “nothing.” It comes from the formation of the digit zero with the forefinger and thumb.

In Greece or Turkey, you really need to be careful using this gesture because it takes on a vulgar meaning, as the symbol is used to mimic the human anus. The gesture is often used to indicate homosexuality or sodomy. If you were in a rough bar in Greece, it would be wise to avoid this signal because it could lead to a fist fight.

Likewise, in Brazil, the gesture has a vulgar meaning equivalent to giving the other person the middle finger.

In many Arab countries, the gesture is intended to mean giving a person the “evil eye.” It is intended to be a type of curse. It is the same connotation as a verbal put down, like “damn you.”

In the Hindu and Buddhist religions, the symbol has a completely different meaning, mudra or vitarka mudra, which is recognized as a symbol of inner perfection.

Since the gesture is made by manipulating the hands, there are parallel meanings in sign language. Fer example, if the thumb and finger are tightly closed and moved around quickly, it would mean something very small, like a bee.

If the thumb and forefinger were symbolically placed into a hole formed by the fingers of the other hand, it would mean to vote or elect someone. The connotation is putting a small ballot into the box.

There are many other potential meanings when using the Okay sign. It is a good idea to use the gesture with significant care or completely abstain when interfacing with people you do not know well. Keep an eye out for a confused, shocked, or angry look on the face of the other person. If you see that, then it is time to explain what you wanted to convey verbally.

When speaking in public or dealing with groups of people, it would be wise to refrain from using the Okay sign at all to be on the safe side.

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