Successful Supervisor Part 4 – The Role of Trust

December 11, 2016

The topic of trust in organizations has been my life’s work over the past 45 years, and it will be until I am no longer able to communicate. I have written four books and produced hundreds of articles and videos on various aspects of trust.

For this article, I will confine my comments to the role trust plays for supervisors. Obviously, the points made here extrapolate to leadership in general.

Since the supervisor is the link between upper management and the first line employees, she needs to consider the impact of trust and how to achieve it in both venues, and they are substantially different.

First I will cover the bond of trust with her direct reports, then I will reverse the logic and discuss trust with peers and upper management.

Trust with Subordinates

My observation is that without trust between workers and the supervisor, people spend a lot of energy playing games with each other. You can observe all types of childish behaviors on the part of people who want all the goodies they can get with the least amount of effort.

They form cliques in order to protect themselves and work to undermine other people as they jockey for favor with the supervisor.

The majority of people in production jobs have been abused by at least one tyrant manager in their career, so it is easy to mistrust anyone who is perceived as “management.” The suspicions are easily confirmed, as some heavy handed managers in the hierarchy shoot themselves in the foot with respect to trust on a regular basis.

This situation creates numerous headaches for the supervisor, because to the front line employees, she represents “management” and is painted with the same brush as all managers.

If some manager up the chain commits a bonehead move, the credibility of the supervisor will go down, even if she did not agree with what the upper level manager did.

It is critical that the supervisor establish relationships of trust with people in her group. This is often accomplished one person at a time or perhaps with small groups. Since people are predisposed to be suspicious, any misstep or perceived false statement (even if it has been misinterpreted) only makes the problem worse.

There are literally hundreds of behaviors the supervisor needs to exemplify if trust is to be achieved, maintained, or in some cases, repaired. It is not in the scope of this article to list all of the necessary behaviors, as I have written about these in my books. For this article I will mention the most powerful way a supervisor can build trust and apply it in her daily work.

Best Way to Build Trust

The supervisor needs to build a safe environment where people recognize they will not be punished when they bring up perceived problems or things that appear to be inconsistent.

She needs to work tirelessly to instill a fair workplace where people see her as impartial and approachable. It is a tall order to create such an environment, since some individuals will try various tactics to advantage themselves in comparison to their peers.

The Role of Alignment

The best approach for the supervisor is to create full alignment within the group. Everyone needs to know the values of the organization and also the vision: what the group is trying to accomplish.

Each person must buy into the mission and recognize that by accomplishing the mission he or she will be better off. The role of the supervisor is to create this alignment by constantly reminding people that what they are working for is a better future for themselves.

Operating under Different Conditions

The supervisor needs to be the “head cheerleader” when things are going in the right direction and the “coach” when things get off track. She needs to insist that everyone on the team pulls his or her share of the load and not tolerate selfish behaviors. Basically, the supervisor needs to constantly build the team.

Building Trust Upward

At the same time, the supervisor needs to support high trust with her peers and upper management. The origin of trust in any organization starts at the top and flows down throughout the whole organization.

It is the behaviors of the senior-most leaders that normally determine the level of trust in an organization.

It is the role of the supervisor to support the vision of the entire organization through the efforts and activities of her group.

The most difficult conundrum for a supervisor is if she is asked to implement a policy that she personally believes is a mistake. To prevent this, the supervisor must have built up enough trust and stake with upper management to have a seat at the decision table and be listened to as a respected member of the management team.

Sometimes you can find a brilliant supervisor who has the “Midas Touch” for creating a great culture within her group, but that group is placed in a toxic environment from above.

When this occurs, the supervisor ends up trying to translate the needs of her team upward and the demands of the larger organization downward. It is a delicate balancing act, and those supervisors who can perform well in that dichotomy are scarce and precious.

Usually the supervisor ends up trying to influence the organization in both directions. She constantly works to build the culture of the group reporting to her while simultaneously trying to advocate upward for the needs of the group.

This is the reason that I believe the role of the first line supervisor is one of the most important and most difficult in all of management.

The role of the first line supervisor in maintaining trust within the organization cannot be overstated. If she loses the culture of trust, then the struggle will be one of various degrees of warfare, and productivity will be severely impacted.

I think the best approach is to have a solid training program for supervisors that continually builds the skills to manage in a complex world. If the supervisor is not provided with the training program at work, then she should start reading books and watching videos on the topic and gain skills that way.

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


Build More Trust with Your Boss

July 13, 2014

Threatening boss.How much better off would you be if your boss trusted you more in the future? There are literally hundreds of things you can do to increase the trust that your boss has in you.

Here are ten of my favorite ideas to consider. If you do all ten of these things, chances are you will enjoy a healthy trust level with your boss.

1. Be Trustworthy.

In every situation, you need to show integrity and commitment to do the right thing. If there is a lapse, the boss might not pin you down immediately, but each minor slip or major gaff is going into the cerebral cortex of the boss for evaluation.

You can tell when things are not going well by the way the boss acts toward you. It is almost like that instinctive feeling you have when your mate is angry with you.

Nothing needs to be said overtly; you just know. Pay attention, and if there is the possibility of damage, get some remediation going quickly.

2. Show More Trust.

My “First Law of Trust” states that if you want to see more trust coming your way in a relationship, you need to extend more trust to the other person.

Trust is reciprocal, and normally extending more trust will cause an automatic reaction in the direction of higher trust toward you.

3. Increase Communication.

Voids in communication work to deteriorate trust for several reasons.

First, the boss may become distracted by other things and not feel as close to you.

Second, if there is some doubt about how you are reacting to things, many bosses will assume the worst.

Third, the boss may hear things from others about you that are not true or are distorted in some way. You need to ensure there is enough air time to keep the relationship fresh and positive.

The caveat here is to avoid being a pest. It is a fine line from not having enough interface to over communicating.

If you are in doubt, just ask your boss if your pattern of communication is close to optimal.

4. Clarify Expectations.

You may be doing great work but not be dead center on the objectives of your boss. That actually puts your efforts slightly at cross purposes to the boss.

If you start getting some pushback or more micromanaging than in the past, you are likely off on a tangent relative to your boss’s desires. Get this corrected as soon as possible.

5. Don’t Assume.

When we presume to know what the boss is thinking, we sow the seeds of lower trust.

Human beings have a unique way of not divulging full intent, so by assuming you know exactly what the boss wants without verification, you are taking a big risk.

You may be able to get away with it for a while, but sooner or later you are going to disappoint. It is far better just to verify you understand the intent of your boss whenever there is a potential lapse.

6. Call Out Trust Issues.

Do it delicately so as not to offend. If your boss is taking shortcuts or doing marginal things in terms of ethics, it is important to have a channel to ask questions.

Use Socratic Questions rather than accusatory statements as a preferred approach.

For example, rather than saying, “I think you are wrong to move some of the inventory into the sales category for this month,” a far wiser approach might be, “In what ways might the auditors misinterpret our motive if they discover we moved some inventory into the sales category?”

7. Admit Mistakes.

Occasionally you will make a mistake. When you do, it is usually a good idea to admit it to your boss.

I learned that lesson early in my career when I made a serious blunder that my boss would not have known about if I did not reveal it.

I immediately blew myself in by saying,

“You would never know this if I did not tell you, but here is what happened…”

That little speech made a material difference in my career for the next 25 years. Nothing shows integrity and builds trust faster than to fess up to something that would never be discovered if you did not reveal it.

8. Watch The Body Language.

Most of the clues that you are going off course with your boss in terms of trust will not come verbally or even in e-mails.

The information will come “in between the lines,” and you must be adept at picking up the signals. Particularly watch for changes in body language.

In electronic communication, the body language is there if you know how to read it.

Watch for the use of pronouns and distribution changes. Those areas often contain vital information. Also watch the speed of returned messages.

A change there is a signal that needs to be understood. Sometimes it is a simple case of overload, but other times it is a manifestation of lower trust.

9. Show Appreciation.

Do not go overboard and become an overt sycophant, but do have an attitude of gratitude when the boss does positive things for you.

In this area, the observation of body language is particularly critical. Watch for changes in gestures to recognize if you are laying it on too thick.

10. Care About Your Boss.

In the hubbub of daily activities, it is easy to forget that your boss is a person with hopes and dreams.

Get involved in his or her personal goals in a prudent way. Find out about the family situation, if that is acceptable, and inquire about how things are going.

Do not do this in a manipulative way but in a sincere caring way. People do nice things for people they like. If you truly care about your boss, that will encourage a reciprocal feeling within that person, and the relationship will grow stronger.
There are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of other ways you can enhance the trust level with your boss and build a strong relationship that will endure.

Follow these ten rules and you will be well on your way to a healthy relationship. That philosophy the cheapest and most effective insurance policy you can acquire in any organization.


How to Build Trust if Your Boss Doesn’t

January 25, 2014

AccountableIn my work with leaders who are trying to build higher trust within their organizations, I often hear mid-managers say, “I really want to build trust, but my boss seems intent on doing things that destroy trust almost daily. How can I be more effective at building trust in my arena when the environment I am working in doesn’t support it?”

This is an interesting conundrum, and yet it is not a hopeless situation. Here are six tips that can help:
1. Recognize you are not alone. Nearly every company today is under extreme pressure, reorganizations and other unpopular actions are common.

There are ways to build and maintain trust, even in draconian times, but the leaders need to be highly skilled and transparent.

Unfortunately, most leaders shoot themselves in the foot when trying to manage in difficult times. During the struggle, they do lasting damage rather than build trust.
If your boss is destroying trust with other people in the organization, chances are the bond of trust between you and your boss needs some work as well.

Let the boss know you are concerned with the level of trust within your own area and ask for his or her assistance in improving the situation. Open up the dialog about trust often, but do so using yourself as the example of the leader trying to improve trust.

This way you get your boss starting to verbalize the things that build higher trust as he or she tries to be a coach for you. This gives you the opportunity to ask some Socratic Questions about how broader application of the ideas might be helpful to the entire organization.

2. Realize that usually you cannot control what goes on at levels above you. My favorite quote for this is “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.” The best you can do is point out that approaches do exist that can produce a better result.

Suggesting your leader get some outside help and learn how to manage the most difficult situations in ways that do not destroy trust will likely backfire.

Most managers with low Emotional Intelligence have a huge blind spot where they simply do not see that they have a problem.
One suggestion is to request that you and some of your peers go to, or bring in, a leadership trust seminar and request the boss come along as a kind of “coach” for the group.

Another idea is to start a book review lunch club where your peers and the boss can meet once a week to discuss favorite leadership books.
It helps if the boss gets to nominate the first couple books for review. The idea is to get the top leader to engage in dialog on topics of leadership and trust as a participant of a group learning process.

If the boss is especially narcissistic, it is helpful to have an outside facilitator help with the interaction.

The key point here is to not target the boss as the person who needs to be “fixed,” rather view the process as growth for everyone. It will promote dialog and better understanding within the team.

3. Avoid whining about the unfair world above you, because that does not help the people below you feel better (it really just reduces your own credibility), and it annoys your superiors as well. When you make a mistake, admit it and make corrections the best you can.

4. Operate a high trust operation in the environment that you influence. That means being as transparent as possible and reinforcing people when they bring up frustrations or apparent inconsistencies.

This can be tricky because the lack of transparency often takes the form of a gag rule from on high. You may not be able to control transparency as much as you would like.

One idea is to respectfully challenge a gag rule by playing out the scenario with alternate outcomes.

The discussion might sound like this, “I understand the need for secrecy here due to the potential risks, but is it really better to keep mum now and have to finesse the situation in two weeks, or would we be better served being open now even though the news is difficult to hear?”

My observation is that most people respond to difficult news with maturity if they are given information and treated like adults.

If your desire to be more transparent is overruled by the boss, you might ask him or her to tell you the words to use down the line when people ask why they were kept in the dark.

Another tactic is to ask how the boss intends to address the inevitable rumors that will spring up if there is a gag rule.

Keep in mind there are three questions every employee asks of others before trusting them: 1) Are you competent? 2) Do you have integrity? 3) Do you care about me?

5. Lead by example. Even though you are operating in an environment that is not ideal, you can still do a good job of building trust. It may be tricky, but it can be done.

You will be demonstrating that it can be accomplished, which is an effective means to have upper management see and appreciate the benefits of high trust. Tell the boss how you are handling the situation, because that is being transparent with the boss.

6. Be patient and keep smiling; a positive attitude is infectious. Many cultures these days are basically down and morose.

Groups that enjoy high trust are usually upbeat and positive. That is a much better environment to inspire the motivation of everyone in your group.

If your boss is not good at leading in a way that enables trust throughout the organization, you can still help get the benefits of trust if you approach the situation correctly using the six tips above. In doing so, you will be leading from below and helping your organization rise to much higher productivity and employee satisfaction.


Tips to Avoid Being Micromanaged

December 14, 2013

Stop doing thatMost of us have been in a situation where we have felt micromanaged. We were given something to do, but then badgered about exactly how to do it. This happens more in low trust groups, and it often creates a further degradation in trust.

We usually fault the manager for this problem because he or she is the one barking out the minute and detailed orders on how to do the job.

I have a theory on micromanagement. It is not entirely the fault of the leader who is intrusive into the workings of employees. I believe the employees are at least partly to blame in many cases.

Reason: I used to work for a leader who was known as the king of all micromanagers. He basically tried to run everything by telling people exactly how to accomplish their tasks. He was an excellent leader otherwise, but people always dinged him on being way too intrusive.

I learned about his reputation before ever going to work for him. During my first few weeks, I went way overboard in my preparation.

I would anticipate any potential question he might have and be prepared with data to support my conclusions. When he would suggest something to try, I usually could say, “it has already been done.”

I would communicate my plans to him every day (including weekends) and ask lots of questions about what was wanted.

He never had an opportunity to get to me because I always got to him first.

After a while, he basically left me alone and did not micromanage me very much for the next 25 years. We got along great, while he continued to micromanage others.

This experience led me to create a list of six tips you can use to reduce the tendency for a boss to micromanage you. Granted, this will not be 100% effective in all cases, but these steps can really help reduce the problem to a manageable level. Note: I will use the male pronoun here for simplification, but the same concepts would apply for both genders.

1. Try to anticipate what the manager will suggest

Work to understand the point of view of the manager, and figure out the suggested methods so when he says, “Do it this way,” often you can say, “That’s exactly how I am doing it. Or you might say, I tried doing it that way, but it created too much scrap, so I am now doing it a better way.

2. Be sure you are clear on the expectations

Often the manager has been somewhat vague on the precise deliverable. Before going off to do a task, take that extra time to verify what the boss really wants in the end. If it is a long or complex set of activities, see if you can get some sub-goals that you can deliver along the way.

3. Get to the boss before he gets to you

This technique really helps when you have a voice mail or text connection with the boss. Get familiar with the timing of communications and preempt the instructions with a note of your own. For example, if the boss has a habit of catching up on his micromanaging tasks during the lunch hour, simply provide an update to him at about 11 a.m. every day.

4. If the boss is getting intrusive, surprise him

It stops a micromanager dead in his tracks when he tries to tell you how to do step 3 and you tell him you are already on step 8. Step 3 was done yesterday, and the results were supplied to him in his e-mail inbox. The boss is blown away that you made so much progress.

5. Seek to build a trusting relationship with the micromanager

If the boss really trusts you, it means there will be less worry on his part that you will do things incorrectly. That means you are left alone to do things your way.

6. Call him on it

The boss needs to understand that for you to be empowered and give your best effort to the organization, you need to be free to use your own initiative. I knew one employee who brought a set of handcuffs into the office. Whenever his boss would try to micromanage him, he would just get out the cuffs and slip them on. The message was loud and clear, “if you want me to do this well, don’t tie my hands.”

My rule of thumb on micromanaging is that credibility and communication allow you to manage things as you see fit. Lack of credibility and communication often lead to being micromanaged.


Trust Withdrawal Ripples

August 10, 2013

water droplet emergingI liken the degree of trust between individuals in an organization to a bank account. There is a current balance of trust that is the result of hundreds of transactions (deposits and withdrawals) that occur between individuals on a daily basis. In my analogy, it is easy to make small deposits in the account. For example, doing what you said you were going to do is a small deposit in trust. Praising another person is another way to make a small deposit.

Large deposits are more difficult to make because they often require a special circumstance. For example, if I go into your burning house to save your dog, that is a huge trust deposit because I risked my life to retrieve something of value to you.

Making withdrawals, either large or small, is just as easy as the deposits. I call it “The Ratchet Effect,” when someone who had built up a large balance in the trust account wipes it out with a single major withdrawal. In this article I will share some observations on how trust withdrawals spread like the ripples in a still pond when you drop a stone in it.

A withdrawal is usually between individuals, although it is possible to make a withdrawal with several individuals with a single action. Let me use an example of a withdrawal to illustrate my point.

Suppose you are a manager of a group, and there is a need to appoint a new supervisor to work under you. You have asked several group members to interview candidate supervisors and make a recommendation. They spend a week interviewing five potential candidates: two internal to the organization, and three outside resources. The team comes back with a firm recommendation that Sally, one of the internal candidates, is by far the best match for the job. This puts you in a no win situation because your boss is demanding you appoint Mark, his son-in-law, from outside the organization. You make an announcement that Mark will fill the vacant slot, and the entire workforce is very upset.

They believe your willingness to have them interview candidates was just window dressing, and you knew all along who would be selected. In reality, until your boss spoke up yesterday, you also would have selected Sally for the promotion. Your boss demanded that you not tell anyone why you selected Mark or you would lose your position. What happens is a loss of trust for you on the part of most individuals on the team, but that is not the end of the damage in this case.

Without the ability for you to explain that the choice was out of your hands, but you did not know that until late in the process, the problem becomes bigger. The upset individuals will freely express their lack of trust in you. There will also be an undertow of resentment on the part of Sally, which may cause behaviors that lower her future potential. The ripple effect will carry over as Mark tries to gain credibility as the new supervisor. People will undermine every effort he makes regardless of his skill or sincerity. Your boss is going to be suspect, even though you do not tell people directly that Mark was his choice, not yours. Blatant nepotism is easy to spot, and people will figure out the connection quickly through online searches. You will be blamed for allowing it to occur.

Now the rumor mill picks up the chant, and the damage begins to spread throughout the organization and beyond. Incidentally, your sin usually grows in severity as the rumors persist. You may never know the extent of the compromise to your reputation from a single situation. It is vital to watch the body language of people with whom you interface to identify when something is wrong but they are not telling you overtly. You will sense a certain coolness and loss of eye contact. You may observe more side conversations than usual.

When you see signs of a change in attitude toward you, it is important to stop and ask questions until you get to the bottom of the issue. Usually you can get at least one person to open up in private about what others are saying. In this example, your hands were tied in terms of what you can say, but there is still the ability to observe people and ask questions. Then you can take some prudent mitigating actions as early as possible to preserve as much trust as you can. By taking humble corrective actions near the time of an infraction, you can prevent the ripples from spreading.


Mentor Power

July 29, 2012

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career. Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization.

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster

2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.

3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles than yours.

4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.

5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.

6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past so you can avoid them.

7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That is because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process. The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities. After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people. It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.

2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.

3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.

5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.

6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.


Don’t Tolerate Dud Managers

July 2, 2012

Look around your place of work and identify a manager who is clearly a dud. It is not hard to spot these individuals. Of course, you can find a spectrum of problem managers, from mildly annoying to completely abusive. These managers take advantage of people, work at cross purposes to their true objectives, destroy trust, beat down people, obliterate the culture, and habitually turn in poor or even disastrous performances. The simple question for this article is why they are allowed to continue.

Bosses have numerous reasons for leaving an incumbent dud manager in power. Below is a listing of some of the more common reasons. This is a representative list, and it is not an exhaustive one.

1. Nepotism in its various forms is one cause. If the boss’ son is a jerk, he will cause a lot of damage and still (usually) keep his job. Any kind of “fair haired” manager who has favor with the decision makers can remain employed while being a dud.

2. The halo effect can be in play if a manager had a wonderful opportunity and really did a great job when conditions were ideal. In a more challenging atmosphere, the manager could struggle, but the reputation from an earlier time seems to carry through.

3. If the manager’s boss is just weak or fails to hold the manager accountable, then the dud can remain in power for years with no corrections. In this case, you have a dud working for a dud of a different kind.

4. There may be no other candidate who is trained or has the desire to take the position. I recall one area that was particularly difficult for any manager. The environment had been abused for so long that the people were hardened and would “eat up” even excellent managers brought in to try to change the culture.

5. The dud manager may be a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is in position because he is the only one who knows the correct procedures.

6. The manager may be new and under extreme pressure from above to perform, so the abuse seems like the only way to manage. He or she does not realize this approach is really dysfunctional in the long term.

These are a few examples of why an incumbent manager who is not doing well may be allowed to sap the vital life force out of the workers. Let’s take a look at some ways to deal with this situation if you have a dud manager.

1. Some managers can be reformed and trained into being enlightened managers. This process takes good mentoring and patience from above. It is rare to actually change the stripes of a manager in place, but it can be done for some small percentage of the dud managers. Training and coaching are the answers.

2. Special assignments can help get this individual out of the environment long enough to create a transition to a new leader. The special assignment would be as an individual contributor rather than a leader of people.

3. Honest appraisal. Here, the senior manager needs to have the courage to let the dud manager know he is not cutting it. Often the dud realizes things are not going well but does not have the fortitude to change behaviors without a kick in the pants. He may not realize there are more productive alternatives.

4. Job rotation. Generally, it is not a wise idea to move problem managers around because they can contaminate other areas that were performing well. Occasionally a change of scene and the ability to work with a different senior leader can bring the manager around to perform better.

5. Removal is always an option. This tactic has a double benefit. First, the whole population breathes a sigh of relief and prays for a better manager coming in. Second, the actual performance of the unit will be significantly higher as a result.

Do not let a dud manager stay in an assignment. He or she is not going to improve over time. In fact, conditions will probably worsen. Since the capabilities of managers often follows a kind of “normal distribution,” there is always the opportunity to do some helpful pruning on the low end of the scale.