Leadership Barometer 16 Reinforce Well

September 17, 2019

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. If you know how to reinforce people well, you are going to score well on any leadership assessment.

Build a Reinforcing Culture

Leaders who are good at reinforcing others well end up gaining substantial leverage. Simply put, people tend to perform better if they feel appreciated. Since the days of Pavlov, we know that conditioning leads to improved actions, so this is no surprise. Unfortunately many leaders do not know or appreciate that reinforcement is a minefield. There are numerous ways to reinforce poorly. I have outlined these in my books and in other articles. Four categories of poor reinforcement are:

• Reinforcing with trivial trinkets to extreme
• Not being sincere with reinforcement
• Having timing and method not feel reinforcing to the receiver
• Applying reinforcement that is perceived biased and inequitable

For this article I want to focus on the culture rather than just the reinforcement habits of the leader. It is one thing to avoid the pitfalls above as a single person. That action will have leverage, but it will not change the whole organization nearly as much as if the leader encourages everyone in the organization to become good at reinforcing. What are some tips to allow this to happen?

Model good reinforcement yourself – always take the opportunity to make people feel good when they do good things. Do not rely on trivial gifts like t-shits and pencils. Use a variety of techniques and use simple verbal or written praise for most of this work.

Talk about the technology and the pitfalls – discuss successes and failures openly. If an attempt at reinforcement backfires, hold a meeting to debrief what went wrong, how it can be corrected, and how it can be prevented in the future.

Reinforce people when they reinforce others – I know that reads like double talk or circular logic. The idea is that the leader needs to enhance the good feelings that people in the organization get when they take the time to say or write “thank you” to other people in the group. I would always get back to someone who wrote a thank you note to a co-worker thanking her for the help or whatever. The essence of my note was to make the originator feel great about taking the time to recognize the good deeds of another person.

Reinforcement by a peer is one of the most powerful ways to encourage people to do more good deeds.  By reinforcing the reinforcer, you encourage that behavior at all levels in the organization simultaneously. It builds trust and creates higher motivation.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


You Are Never Totally Objective

December 13, 2014

I am RightI originally intended to have the title for this article read “How Do You Know When You Are Biased.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is impossible to be totally unbiased on an issue. The most we can do is be conscious of our biases and factor that knowledge into our deliberations. We can also seek to replace hubris with humility.

To be totally objective, it would put us in the category of a machine or computer. Unless you are Mr. Spock, you have emotions and cannot separate your logical reasoning from your emotions entirely.

You also carry a set of beliefs that are made up of the sum of all the experiences you have had to date. You cannot detach yourself from your unique mindset any more than the earth can detach itself from the solar system.

With herculean effort you may be able to change your orbit a perceptible amount, but you will always be subject to the laws of physics in your corner of the universe. Notwithstanding another “big bang,” you are going to orbit around the sun forever.

One place to observe bias is when managers try to measure accurately the performance of people who work for them. Imagine a manager trying to write an objective performance appraisal.

Because the manager is a human being, he or she will observe performance through the lens of how he or she feels about the employee. It would be impossible to factor out personal biases, but by recognizing that there is the certainty of being biased, the manager can take that into account.

One tool is to use a correlation process where several managers review the appraisals each one has written.

If you have an environment of trust, groups of managers can discuss the objective observations about an individual without getting defensive. In this open discussion one particular manager’s biases can become more visible. This practice reduces the problem of favoritism and enhances the level of trust in an organization.

Another area where we struggle to be objective is when thinking about political issues. We are bombarded by information that is presented with strong biases already marinated in.

Most of us prefer to listen to the “news” that is slanted in the direction we habitually lean. That gives us a kind of affirmation that our biases are valid.

Just for fun I often listen to the news on a network known for having the opposite bias to my own. It is a kind of jarring exercise as I quickly see the how their biases are strikingly “wrong” only to realize that it could be mine that are so far off base.

One thing is for sure, when interpreting political forces, there is no such thing as objectivity.

Your opinion is a very personal thing, and the good news is that you can never get your opinion wrong. The bad news is that your opinion will never be totally objective, so factor that conundrum into your decisions and relationships with other people.

One tool to do this is to take off the “I AM RIGHT” button you wear every day and replace it with a button that says, “I have an opinion on that – what’s yours?”