Building Higher Trust 62 Engagement and Empowerment

March 11, 2022

Engagement and empowerment are two words that we hear in organizations and OD circles. These words are often confused. I have heard the terms used interchangeably, which is a mistake.

The best way to demonstrate the difference between these words is to contrast two scenarios. I will focus on a specific job (customer service representative) for the description, but you can easily extrapolate the concepts to any job once the distinction is clear.

Engaged but not Empowered

Here the customer service person is fully on board with the goals of the organization. She knows her job and wants to help the customer. Unfortunately, the organization constrains her by numerous rules that tie her hands from fully providing great service.  For example, she may not be able to issue a refund until the customer returns the incorrect merchandise.  She may have to get “approval” from her supervisor to authorize a shipping waiver.

Empowered but not Engaged

In this case, the customer service rep has the power to do anything she thinks is useful, but this particular person does not follow the business goals. She really does not care if the organization does well; all she wants to do is make the customer feel great. In this case, she might overcompensate the customer to the detriment of the organization.

It is obvious that neither of these conditions is the best situation for the employee and the organization.  We need to have employees who are fully engaged in the business and fully empowered to accomplish their tasks. Consider this 2X2 matrix to take all possible combinations into consideration.

  Let us take a look at the impact of these two words on the viability of an organization.


In “Smart Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey reported on some research showing that in the average company there are only two engaged employees for every one disengaged employee. In this case, much of the inherent power of the individuals is leaking out and not available to the organization.  Contrast that situation with world class organizations where there are nine engaged employees for every one disengaged employee. You can see the huge difference, and that difference goes quickly to the bottom line.

Having people engaged in the business means having them truly understand the vision for the organization and fully comprehend their role in making that happen. Beyond understanding, to be fully engaged, a worker needs to be fully committed to accomplishing her role, not just involved in the work. Someone once said that the difference between involvement and commitment is like the difference between eggs and bacon. In the case of the eggs, the chicken was involved; in the case of the bacon, the pig was committed!


Empowerment is more closely related to trust.  Employees bring their own internal level of empowerment and confidence in their abilities to do their jobs. Managers can increase empowerment through clear communication and a trust-building management style. Unfortunately, managers can decrease an employee’s empowerment and confidence level through negative communication or too many restrictions.

The extent to which people use their personal power for the benefit of the organization, and the level of freedom they have to do things right, will determine the level of empowerment experienced by the organization.  In OD circles, we use the term “maximum discretionary effort.”  The goal of empowerment activities is to solicit maximum discretionary effort from all people.  How can we accomplish that in the real world?

The secret sauce to create a culture of higher empowerment is trust.  As trust increases, people naturally feel more empowered because they can make decisions based on a firm understanding of the goals, but they can accomplish those goals in their own unique way.

In the environment of the past couple years, the ability to build and maintain trust is much more difficult. Many people are feeling frayed by the numerous pressures they face every day. It is more important that leaders show empathy and demonstrate they really care about their employees.  It is about how they do what they do and how they say what they say that matters in these times.


Try to avoid mixing the concepts of empowerment and engagement. They are two very different things, although they sound almost the same.  Seek to obtain both of them through the liberal application of trusting behaviors, and you will experience the best effort that people have to offer.


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. 

Simple Truths of Leadership

January 27, 2022

This outstanding book is being released in a few days. You will want to order your copy as it contains 52 ways of enhancing Servant Leadership and Trust in your organization.

The material is presented in a simple format that makes it highly accessible and especially memorable. Apply the techniques today, and your effectiveness as a leader will be enhanced substantially.

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  

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

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