Successful Supervisor 22 – Foundations to Build Trust

April 16, 2017

We are all aware of things we can do that build higher trust. In my seminars on trust, I ask groups to name some things that build trust, and they quickly create a list of dozens of behaviors in just a few minutes.

For example, here are a few of the things typically named that will help to build trust:

• Operate with integrity
• Do what you say
• Use the Golden Rule
• Be respectful of others at all times
• Admit mistakes
• Be as transparent as possible

These actions and hundreds of others like them are needed to build and maintain trust at all levels of management. Each level has a different focus on why these things are important, and at the supervisor level employees look for these behaviors constantly.

Because of the span of control, supervisors must be alert to applying these behaviors in a consistent manner to avoid the perception of playing favorites, which is a major trust buster, especially among first level employees.

The conundrum is that while we know numerous things that will build trust within an organization, in most organizations there is still a serious lack of trust.

I believe the reason is that there are four conditions that form a foundation on which all of the other trust-building behaviors rest that makes them work. These four conditions provide a deep understanding of the nature of trust in an organization, so they act like the concrete blocks upon which we ultimately construct a lasting building.

This article will name these four conditions and describe why I believe having this foundation underneath the common behaviors gives them much more power to build trust. Then I will explain why these concepts are just as important at the supervisory level as they are at higher management levels.

Condition 1 – The First Law of Trust

Trust is reciprocal. You trust every person you know at some level, and that person also trusts you at some level. The levels are not always the same, and they fluctuate based on the transactions between you and the other person.

Any communication between the two of you will impact the trust level for both people. It may be face to face conversation, a phone call, e-mail or texting, or even body language at a meeting that impacts trust either positively or negatively.

Trust may go up in one direction but down in the other direction from the same transaction. It is a highly dynamic system.

When you extend more trust to another person, he or she will instinctively respond by showing more trust in you. This “First Law of Trust,” as I call it, is not true 100% of the time, but it is directionally right with such high frequency that it makes a pretty good law of nature.

If you want more trust with another person, find ways to show more trust first.

Condition 2 – Values-based Behaviors

When I begin work with new clients, I always ask if they operate from a set of values. Normally the senior leader is able to produce a list of some values that the group has adopted. Sometimes the values are on a plaque on the wall, and other times they are buried somewhere in a desk drawer.

I then ask the senior leaders point blank if they always follow the values, even when it means making a difficult decision.

The question is usually followed by a pregnant pause and finally someone says, “Well we try to follow the values at all times, but sometimes it is impossible.” While the answer is an honest one, it really signals a kind of hypocrisy that leads to organizational dry rot of trust.

The correct answer must be “yes” at all times in order to preserve trust.

When leaders adopt values they cannot abide by in all circumstances, they set themselves up for failure. That is why one tempting value: “People are our most important asset” is a dangerous one.

If people are really our most important asset, then when there is a downturn in business, we will keep the workforce and sell buildings or other assets to survive. Few companies actually do that, so it is unwise to adopt that phrase as a core value. You simply must abide by the values you advertise or trust becomes a casualty.

The specific values adopted at the supervisor level must mirror the values set at higher levels. There may be some different phrasing to make it apply to first line employees, but the intent needs to add up to the same conclusion or the organization will not be aligned.

Condition 3 – Balanced Accountability

The word “accountability” has become more popular in recent years. It is a shame that in most organizations accountability takes the form of a “gotcha” mentality where all accountability discussions are negative.

My observation is that most people on most days go to work intent on doing the right things for the right reasons. They need to be held accountable in a positive way for the things they are doing right and in a corrective way for the things that did not get done correctly or on time.

If the accountability discussions were not always focused on missed opportunities, then people would not get the impression that the only time they hear from supervision is when they mess up.

I invented the phrase “hold people procountable,” which means that we need to feedback performance that is directionally right as well as the corrective feedback. The nature of the feedback needs to be proportional to the holistic nature of the performance.

This philosophy should be spread across the entire organization, but it is particularly important for the supervisor, who is working at the critical junction between management and the workers. Negative accountability discussions are often the downfall of an inexperienced supervisor.

Condition 4 – Reinforce Candor

This fourth condition I believe has more power to create trust than any other leadership behavior. That is why it is one of the foundational conditions. It consists of creating an environment of low fear where people believe it is a good thing to point out areas where the behavior of higher managers is monitored for consistency.

If something appears to be inconsistent with our values or ethical standards, employees know they will be rewarded rather than punished for bringing it up.

I believe “the absence of fear is the incubator of trust,” and the logic holds at all levels of the organization.

Supervisors can improve the level of trust by making sure all employees know their observations are valued and appreciated. In practice it is not easy to reward someone who points out that some of your behaviors appear to be hypocritical.

Make a special effort to make sure when an employee questions a decision or action on your part that the employee walks away glad that he brought it up.

If the preceding four elements are in place, then I believe the foundation is laid where all the other things that create higher trust will be highly effective.

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


Reinforcing Candor: The Key to Building Trust

October 17, 2015

Whenever I hired a new manager in my organization, the very first conversation I had with that individual was about “reinforcing candor.”

Over a period of 30 years I’ve discovered that reinforcing candor is the single most powerful way to create trust within an organization.

For leaders, it is imperative for them to understand what this means and be able to practice it. The idea is, when an employee comes forward with a concern about something that the leader has said or done, rather than punishing the employee, the leader makes the person glad to have brought up the issue.

This behavior is not easy to do, because the leader does not see a problem with what was being done. In essence, everyone in the organization, including the leader, wears a button saying, “I AM RIGHT.”

If an employee challenges an action, then it’s only human for a leader to become defensive and punish the person in some way for bringing it up.

It takes superhuman effort on the part of leaders to consistently reinforce candor, but the impact on the organization is so great that those leaders who can understand the wisdom of this technique have a huge advantage in terms of building trust.

Without reinforcing candor, all of the other actions to build trust are somewhat blunted. They work a little bit but they are not very powerful.

Once the leader understands how to reinforce candor, a whole new world opens up, and all of the other actions to build trust work like magic.

Exercise for You: In your organization, work to reinforce candor the next time someone tells you something that you did not want to hear, but has some truth to it.

You will find it difficult at first, but the more you practice this technique, the easier it becomes, and soon you can change your entire pattern of behavior when you’re challenged.

The ability to reinforce candor is the most powerful method of creating trust, because it allows a safe environment where employees know they will not be punished when they bring up scary stuff. I call this skill the key for building trust.

What if you are not the top leader but wish to be a positive influence on that person? If you can get the top leader in an organization to reinforce candor more, trust will spread rapidly throughout the entire population.

The challenge is how to get the leader to develop the skill and patience to reinforce candor when he or she may not see the need to do so.

Here are six ideas that can help encourage a leader to practice reinforcing candor. Try to use these in the spirit of helpfulness rather than manipulation. The idea is to help shape behavior over time, so if any of these ideas are creating tension, back off and go slower.

1. Start by planting a seed in the leader’s mind that there is a potential for a much better culture if higher trust can be generated. Point out that trust grows when people are made to feel glad when they bring up their concerns.

2. All leaders want higher trust, so the opportunity to make things better by some changes in their behavior should be appealing.

3. Start small. The goal is for the leader to see the benefits of reinforcing candor and try to be less defensive when people push back on actions or statements.

4. Model the principle of reinforcing candor yourself when working with the leader.

5. Talk openly about how you are using the skill and ask how the leader is responding to it.

6. Catch the leader applying these techniques and praise the effort. Also make note of the positive response on the part of the person who was reinforced for being candid.

No leader will ever get to 100% perfection at reinforcing candor, but if the percentage can go from 5% (which is about what most leaders typically achieve) to something like 70% of the time, the culture will make a seismic shift toward higher trust in short order.

You can help shape the behavior of your leader toward the benefits of reinforcing candor. It may take a while for the concept to gain traction, but once the leader experiences the forward progress, he or she will be anxious to do more of it.

The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to http://www.avanoo.com/first3/517


Humble Leaders

May 2, 2015

HumbleHumility is a key characteristic for everyone to embrace. True humility is rarely seen in the ranks of leaders. Ego, rather than humility, seems to be the more common trait in management circles. Let’s examine why this is and suggest some ideas to modify the pattern.

Anyone who has reached a leadership position has a tale to tell. He or she got there through a series of steps and events, some of them deserved and some of them just being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people.

We can believe in synchronicity or nepotism, but still it usually takes a lot of energy and talent to get ahead. People in the organization may look at a newly appointed leader and remark how he “lucked into it,” but, as Earl Nightingale said in Lead The Field, “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.”

There should be some level of personal satisfaction for a leader when he or she emerges from the pack and is elevated. It is a kind of milestone that should be celebrated.

Upon reaching a higher level, the leader quickly becomes aware of an increase in power and influence. I once got a big promotion, and a Dilbert-like IT employee in the new organization started calling me “thou” and “thee” until I put an end to it.

It is very easy to let the trappings or perks of a higher level inflate one’s ego. There is nothing wrong with appreciating one’s self worth if it is kept in proper perspective and the person also appreciates and publicly acknowledges the worth of others.

Unfortunately, many leaders do lose perspective and start acting like jerks. Scott Adams, inventor of the Dilbert Cartoon Series would have needed to make a living in some other field if it were not for hubris on the part of leaders.

The role of humility in creating and maintaining trust in organizations was well documented by Jim Collins in Good to Great.  Collins identified passion and humility as two common traits of the most effective leaders – he called them “level 5 leaders.”

It is easy to see the impact of a conceited leader on the organization. If the leader is so brilliant, then nobody else needs to be vigilant. People lose heart and will to help the cause. This forces the leader to be more all knowing and perfect because real support is not there.

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

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

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

It would be easy to say “don’t be too full of yourself” and show the benefits of humility. Unfortunately for the narcissist leader, changing the thought patterns and behaviors is extremely difficult.

The problem is the blind spots that Bennis refers to. Goleman also noticed the same tendency when he identified that leaders with low Emotional Intelligence have the most significant blind spots.

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

What we are talking about here is reeducating the boss with influence from below. We want to let him know that his own attitude is getting in the way of trust. Reeducating the boss is always tricky. It reminds me of the adage, “Never wrestle a pig…you get all muddy and the pig loves it.” What do the sailors do if they are facing a Captain Bligh every day? Mutiny is one option, but it can get pretty bloody.

The road to enlightenment is through education. One suggestion is to form a kind of support network with the employees and leaders on the topic of leadership. Book clubs where employees along with their leaders take a lunch hour once a week to study the topic can begin a constructive dialog.

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

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

Some leaders will remain clueless regardless. I know one leader who will go to her grave totally blind when it comes to her attitude about her own capability and superiority. If she was reading this passage, she would be nodding her head affirmative and be 100% convinced that I was referring to somebody else, not her. Perhaps the only hope for a leader like this is some form of radical shock treatment in the form of a series of pink slips.

If you are a leader, try this little test. If you are inclined to think you don’t have any hubris and are a humble servant leader all the time, chances are you have some serious blind spots. Go and get it checked out! If your mental picture is one of an imperfect person trying to learn more about how to lead, then you are probably okay.


Negativity is like a cancer

May 17, 2014

SynapseI believe that negativity is a kind of cancer that occurs in many organizations. It has a growing and debilitating impact on any group where it is allowed to fester.

Stamping out all negativity is a daunting a task, just like trying to stamp out all diseased cells in a human body that has been infected with a cancer.

For the survival of the organism, it is important to try as best we can to get rid of the problems. This article suggests some possible treatments for a negativity disease that has taken root in an organization.

It is important to realize that the cause of negativity may or may not be legitimate. Some people are just negative by nature and will grumble even under ideal conditions, while others become negative only after years of what they perceive as abuse.

For example, if you are a leader and are faced with a number of people who poison the environment with toxic rhetoric daily, you need to consider whether you and your policies have done enough to create an environment of trust.

If you are a leader in a group where there are just one or two individuals that are usually the ones generating negativity, what strategies can you use to turn the situation around?

First, you need to identify the sources of negativity. You must find the tumor. This is a simple task. Usually people know which individuals instigate most of the negative energy in a group.

Often they are “informal leaders” to whom other people listen. Once you have identified the ringleaders of negativity, you need to establish a specific strategy to deal with these people, and, hopefully, turn them around.

There are many options to do this, just as there are many treatments for physical cancer depending on the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, and the physician doing the treatments. Here are a few possible tools to rid an organization of negativity.

Seek assistance through peers. The peers of the troublemaker have the ability to let the person know that the organization would be in better shape if this person could lighten up.

It could be that the peer pressure takes the form of some jovial ribbing about the propensity to be negative. (Note: I will use the female pronoun in the rest of this article, but realize the situation would be the same for both genders.)

Peer pressure might take the form of a group agreeing to make only positive comments for two days and see who breaks ranks first. The idea here is to expose the tumor clearly so treatment is easier and can be more focused.

Adopt the person. As a leader, you are free to “adopt” a troublemaker so you can open an ongoing dialog. Try to understand her psychological makeup to find out what drives her to be negative.

By listening intently to her message and reinforcing her candor rather than always fighting the message, you can gain a better understanding of her point of view, and she will trust you more. Learn her aspirations and dreams. Find out about her family life. Take a real interest.

This process is similar to all the diagnostic tests done on a cancer patient. Also, let her know that you value her ideas simply because she is an informal leader.

Bring her into the management circle as a resource. Seek out ways to involve her ideas in decisions that impact the group.

In some cases, you can turn the person completely around, and you have a super positive person who is also a natural leader. Wow! That changes the culture quickly. I have seen miracles like this happen.

Level with the person – You might take the approach to be logical with her. Take her aside and reflect that you know at least some of the negative energy that gives rise to low morale and rumors is coming from her.

Let her know that she is hurting this organization by doing this. Ask for her help to turn down the negative energy when talking with people. Set an expectation that she can change her mental process to be a better citizen.

Perhaps send her to a course like the Dale Carnegie Course. This strategy will not work with every hardened grumbler, but in some cases the gentle medication approach can cause the cancer to get better without more radical treatment.

This is especially true when the condition is caught early. In this case your own candor may help bridge a trust gap and be a kind of wakeup call this person was needing.

Isolate her by moving her to another area. This is a dangerous ploy, and it would backfire in all but the most extreme cases.

If it is either fire this woman or move her to a different environment, you can try the latter. You would need to couple this approach with a progressive counseling process, so she would be on Final Warning at the time of reassignment.

In the case of dual grumblers, sometimes by separating the individuals, you can divide and conquer, since they lose their synergy by not being allowed to inflame each other.

Often it is safer to just cut out the tumor and be done with it. That is an option, especially if the negativity is starting to spread to many others.

Do some team building – You might be able to impact the negativity by some simple team building techniques. Make sure the group shares a common goal, and work to build trust within the team.

It is hard to maintain negativity in an environment of high trust. Spend time documenting the behaviors that the group intends to follow. This will allow other members to call her on negativity once the group decides this is inappropriate behavior.

There are other ways to chip away at negativity in a work group. Use your imagination, and do not always use the same approach.

What works with one individual might backfire in another case, just as treating any individual with cancer needs to have a unique approach. Be flexible, creative, and persistent, and you will be able to turn around many of the cells of negativity. Do not expect to win them all. You cannot.

Finally, if there are several groups who are negative in your sphere of influence, you need to consider that the real problem might be you. Or it could be another weak link somewhere else in the management chain.

It could be that corporate communications or policies are inhibiting trust. In my leadership consulting experience, the problem of low trust can often be traced to a leader with low Emotional Intelligence. Investigate this possibility thoroughly without being defensive.

If there is too much negativity in your organization, what are you doing to change your own behaviors? People generally become negative when they feel abused over a long period of time. Look at your own policies and practices and figure out if you can reduce negativity easily by changing yourself than by trying to change them.

It is up to the leader to take responsibility for building an environment of trust.


Do You Have Low Integrity?

October 12, 2013

fuel gaugeMost of my writing is about trust and high integrity, but this article is about low integrity. We know it exists because there are numerous examples in our daily life that point to individuals doing something that they espouse is for the greater good, but is really to advance their own purposes.

I have been told to stay away from sex, religion, and politics in public writing, so I will not reveal any political bias here; however, it is easy to detect some pockets of low integrity in the government. What constitutes low integrity versus gamesmanship on any particular day depends on the issue at hand and which side of an issue a particular person sits.

In reality, we exist in a sea of low integrity, and this article is intended to make us more aware of the difficulty sorting through what is a problem with integrity and what was well intended but flawed behavior.

When we see flagrant violations of integrity, it is not hard to come to agreement that the person was duping the public. There are hundreds of examples of this from Bernie Madoff to John Edwards. In the extreme, some people just do what benefits them regardless of who it hurts.

The other extreme is also easy to spot. In any community you can find people who give amazing amounts of time and money to support causes while expecting nothing in return.

The extremes are easy to identify, but the majority of actions taken by people in routine business or personal decisions are somewhere between those extremes. At some point you cross the moral like between high integrity and low integrity.

It is not my desire to judge anyone in this article. I think each person has to decide on a case by case basis where the moral line exists. That decision tells a lot about the ethical fiber of the person, and yet it is not so simple to decide which activities are OK and which ones have crossed the line. For some people, anything short of saintly behavior is wrong while others will draw the line between good and bad just short of something being illegal.

At its core, integrity is about honesty. If we purport to be taking an action to advance a noble cause yet really are mostly trying to increase our own wealth, then we are guilty of low integrity?

To understand if an action is good or bad, we really need to dig deep into our psyche to understand our true motivations. For example, maybe we really did take that action to help reduce homelessness, and the improvement in our status was simply a by-product we obtained by networking with many new people.

The trigger for this article came from a discussion about the magnitude of low integrity in the world and that we only observe a tiny fraction of the deceit that goes on. Most of it goes undetected, because we are simply unaware that the person had an ulterior motive.

An even deeper question is how would the person himself come to grips with his own true intentions. In other words, where is the line of demarcation between doing something for others and helping one’s self?

It is fascinating to have the debate with myself trying to figure out if I have high integrity. Let’s examine a specific example for clarity.

I provide an excellent leadership assessment on my website free of charge. It really is totally free because I do not even ask people to register with their e-mail address when they take it, so I am not trolling for addresses. Furthermore, I offer a free consultation to suggest things that might be helpful to the person based on his or her specific profile, but only if that person contacts me, and even then I am giving but not selling. In other words, most of the experts would call me crazy for giving something away with absolutely no strings attached.

I chose to set it up totally free because of three statements in my own strategic framework. 1) I have a Value for my business that states “Give more than you receive,” 2) a second Value states “Giving away content is a good thing to do,” and 3) one of my corporate behaviors is “Go the extra mile to help others.”

That all sounds altruistic, but do I have some kind of ulterior motive in the back of my mind? Do I want to further the cause of my business? Of course I do! That is not a bad thing to do. But then am I giving away content not just to help other people but with some hope that the universe will find ways to return the favor?

You can go slowly insane trying to decipher motives, and nearly all of the time the true motivations are hidden from view. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing good just for the sake of doing good. Perhaps some of us actually do that. I will never know. I do a lot of volunteer work myself, but I could and should do more.

The “pay it forward” mindset is an approach to living that is highly appealing. It is fun to help other people, even when you know there will be no direct payback. In fact, there is a payback, and it happens instantly. It is called satisfaction or self esteem. So the person who says, “I volunteer to help out this cause because in the end it makes me feel good,” that person is not guilty of low integrity.

We need to realize that there is always a return for every good deed. It does not spell incorrect behavior to do good things simply for the joy it brings, but when we do something that looks good on the surface, but in reality we are raking in the cash from some unseen source, then we are guilty of low integrity.

The line between high integrity and low integrity must be drawn by each individual based on his or her level of morality. My hope is that more people will examine their true intentions rather than rationalize questionable behaviors.


Trust: Top Down or Bottom Up?

July 14, 2013

Top DownIn an organization, trust is generated from the top down rather than the bottom up. Sure, it is important for employees as well as leaders to be trustworthy, but the culture that allows trust to kindle and flourish is usually created by the leaders of the organization rather than the workers.

It is astonishing for me to see the blind spots that many leaders have about how pivotal their behaviors are to how trust is manifest in their entire organization. If the top leader or leaders do not act with integrity and consistency, it creates loops of “work around” activity in all of the other layers. There gets to be a kind of pseudo-trust where people look the part and act the part on the surface, but it is only skin deep. Under the surface, the ability to hold onto trust is as leaky as a bucket that has been used for target practice.

Of all the behaviors leaders display, I think one shines out as being by far the most powerful for sustaining trust, yet simultaneously the most difficult for leaders to master. That is the ability to create an environment free of fear for disclosing one’s opinions about the leader’s actions. In most cultures, people are punished if they express reservations about what the leader is saying or doing. Those cultures continually dampen the ability to sustain real trust, and you get the plastic variety that is evident in many environments.

In brilliant organizations, leaders encourage and reward sharing of scary stuff. I call this skill “reinforcing candor,” because it means the leader is not only open to criticism but actively seeks it. The few leaders who are able to understand the power of reinforcing candor have an easy time building trust and rebuilding trust that has been compromised. This trust is genuine and sustainable; it is not the faux-trust that is so common in most organizations.

If the generation and maintenance of trust is mostly a top down affair, the ability to destroy trust is more balanced. It is just as easy for the rank and file employees to destroy what trust is there as it is for leaders to do it. Acting in ways that show low integrity is the most common method of harpooning sincere efforts to build more trust. Leaders destroy trust when they are duplicitous and fail to follow through on promises. Employees trash trust when they act without integrity in numerous ways, like stealing from the company or spreading rumors.

The nature of trust is that it is always a relative thing. Trust fluctuates based on the situational context of current actions. One should not always expect to find high trust in any area, even the best ones. There are going to be peaks and valleys, and the smart organizations seek a good average and try to dampen out the spikes, both high and low. It is possible for most groups to make great strides in the trust level if they simply work to understand it and improve it daily. Leaders should not become discouraged if there is a lapse in trust; rather, they should redouble their efforts to maintain it.


A Mirror for Leaders

June 1, 2013

MirrorOne of the most pervasive and vexing problems in organizations is that most leaders do not realize the damage they are doing on a daily basis. When leaders are blind to the trust withdrawals they make, there is little opportunity to create an environment of high trust. I believe trust is the most critical element for any group, so this problem of leadership blindness holds back many organizations. Is there a way out of this conundrum? I think there is.

What we need is a kind of “mirror” for leaders so they can see their own contribution to the problems that they desperately want to solve. If such a mirror existed, how would we get a leader to use it daily? Brilliant leaders have already found the ability to see their own contribution to lower trust, and they are able to change things themselves. Unfortunately, the world is not full of brilliant leaders, so the average ones, and especially the poor ones, need some assistance.

We have ruled out the individual leader as the person who has the ability to see his or her contribution to a poor culture, so it must fall to some other person or force to do it. In the mind of most leaders, things would be vastly improved if only “they” (other people) would be more dedicated, smart, open, cooperative, cheerful, willing, trustworthy, and a thousand other things. If we asked a random person from the organization to step up and be a sounding board for the leader, it would not work. That person is part of the problem, in the leader’s opinion, so the information brought by the individual would fall on deaf and annoyed ears.

A better approach would be to identify a “Mirror Coach.” This is an individual whom this leader really does trust (there is always someone). This person is the key to having the leader begin to see that she is frequently operating at cross purposes to her intent. In most cases leaders want higher productivity, greater teamwork, people showing initiative, good attitudes, a pleasant place to work, etc., but on a daily basis they do things that take the organization 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Once a leader begins to understand this paradox and is willing to ask, “What do I need to change in my own behaviors to have the kind of results I want from my team?” the door is open to better leadership.

There are four steps to create an effective Mirror Coach for leaders:

1. Identifying the right person

We must identify an individual who has enough purchasing power with the leader to allow a series of frank conversations. This person must not be perceived by the leader as a primary source of the problem. It might be a kindred spirit within the organization to whom the leader has confided in the past. It could be the leader’s own manager, if that person is not also clueless. It could be a coach or outside mentor who is brought in to help clarify improvement opportunities. It really does not matter where this person comes from, as long as he or she has the ear of the leader to discuss some uncomfortable topics without getting thrown out of the office. A trained coach is often the best solution here.

2. Getting the person to agree

The appointed individual needs to understand the assignment is fraught with peril. There is already some rapport established with the leader, and the education process requires some frank discussions that are not comfortable. Change is difficult. The Mirror Coach must honestly believe that he or she is there to provide a crucial service to help the leader grow. Sure, there are going to be some tense moments, but if a stronger and more healthy organization is the result, the Mirror Coach can visualize the role as vital to the future of the organization as well as to the leader. It is an ultimate challenge.

3. Getting the leader ready to listen

This step is the hardest part of the process. The leader has been convinced for a long time that the problems reside with “them” not “me,” so focusing energy on how “I can change my own behaviors” will feel like it is misdirected. It is an act of faith to take the first step.
One way to enable helpful dialog is to have the leader verbalize that things could be better for the organization. Bring in a coach who can work with the senior team (not just the boss) in a series of “lunch and learn” sessions. Eventually, the coach will earn the trust of the boss and gain the purchasing power to have some constructive, albeit difficult, conversations.

Once a leader is willing to get help in the form of a Mirror Coach, something magical happens. The stark realization of the unsuccessful nature of what has been done up to now is a good place to start. Also, the leader may have associates or mentors outside the organization who can advocate that a different approach is worth a shot. All that is required is for the leader to be willing to examine his own contributions to his problems and be willing to explore possible alternatives.

4. Reinforcing the leader for making behavior changes

By taking some baby steps in the direction of modifying behaviors, the leader will be showing a different side, and the people in the organization will react very positively to it. They have been living in a kind of tyranny for so long, any movement in a positive direction will produce endorphins of positive energy that will be obvious to the leader, especially if the actions are encouraged by the coach. Continual reinforcement of the small behavioral changes will persuade the leader to keep the momentum going.

After some initial cautious steps, the leader will become more bold about changing his own behaviors to create the kind of environment where his goals are easily met. The process becomes self-sustaining rather quickly. There is one caution during this transformation.

The behavioral changes needed to sustain a culture of higher trust are not the natural style for the leader, at least in the beginning. There are going to be some relapses and false steps along the way. Both the general population and the Mirror Coach must not lose faith when the leader hits a speed bump. It is important to put any missteps into the perspective of what has already been gained in order to recapture forward momentum.

Progress in the leader’s ability to see the trust problems as rooted in his own behaviors defuses the culture of blame. No longer does the leader see workers as the primary source of problems. While this may be unsettling at first, it is really liberating for the organization because significant progress toward a higher trust environment is apparent every day, and productivity will skyrocket.

Having a Mirror Coach help the leader shift focus from blame to one of behavior modification creates more objectivity because the emphasis will be on understanding cause and effect rather than witch hunting. The new habits will allow more heart-based communications to occur in contrast to the prior one-way directional communications. The leader will learn to relax and have more fun at work while still getting much more accomplished. The source of a poor environment is always a mutual problem for everyone in the organization.

Everyone in the organization stands to benefit from a better environment, so everyone needs to be a part of the solution. With care and patience, the entire team can create a culture where behaviors support the values and vision, so it becomes a win, win, win. The organization wins due to better performance, the workers win due to fewer conflicts, and finally the leader wins because he or she reaches the challenging goals quicker and with less turmoil.