Leadership Barometer 26 Create an Exciting Vision

November 26, 2019

Normally, organizational visions are created by leaders because they have the best perspective and organizational scope to imagine what the organization can become.

For sure, a key leadership function is creating a vision for the organization and communicating it at every possible opportunity.

The mistake many leaders make is not involving the individuals in the organization more when formulating a vision. This is often done for expediency.

Gaining the input of a wide constituency is tedious and time consuming work that seems unnecessary. I believe it is necessary if the vision is to have the ultimate power required to make it a reality.

Individuals who work on the shop floor may not have all the fancy degrees as the boss, and they certainly do not make as much money. But people in the trenches have a unique perspective that no CEO can have.

They understand how things really work. CEOs believe they know, but in reality, they are often clueless about how the organization actually functions at the lowest levels.

The knowledge of ordinary people on what is possible and what would be wise is invaluable information to include in the visioning process. To do without it is sub-optimal.

Many a flawed vision has been perpetrated by leaders who thought they knew what was going on when they really had only a partial view. Their information was eclipsed by layers of middle management who filter information and spoon feed top leaders information that has a heavy agenda attached.

In addition to information, the shop floor people are often the most creative people in an organization. This is because they are unfettered by bureaucratic clap-trap and can think about problems more objectively.

They have a simple approach that looks at a problem and figures out ingenious ways to deal with it.

Finally, including all levels in the generation of a vision improves the ability to pull it off because when people are part of a process, they become emotionally attached to its success. They have trust that the vision is the right path for the organization.

This is the concept that Joel Barker called “The Vision Community.” The people in the organization have as much power as the boss to achieve or torpedo a vision. When the Vision Community agrees to support a vision because they were part of its creation, there is a much more robust pathway toward success.

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


Top Leader’s Role in Building Trust

November 9, 2013

CEO croppedI have never met a CEO, or other top executive, who does not desire higher trust within his or her organization. Perhaps there is one out there, but I have never found that person.

The enigma is that while the quest for higher trust is nearly universal, often the senior leader does not recognize that the power to accomplish it is within herself.

I have written about this phenomenon several times, as I believe that once we can accomplish wider recognition of the role of the senior leader in creating higher trust, we will have “cracked the code” that will enable the attainment in a significantly higher percentage of cases.

In my consulting work, I am often called in by senior executives (CEO, COO, or VPHR) to help them improve trust within the organization.

The conversation usually starts out with some form of description of a dysfunctional organization at the shop floor level or with the sales force or customer service, etc.. Often the lower level managers and supervisors are singled out as the culprits, and the top officers are asking me to come in and “fix them.”

This is a dilemma for me because if I say something like, “Have you considered what your contribution is to the problem?” I find myself out in the street on my butt.

If I do take the challenge to go in and “fix” the lower ranks, it is inevitable that these lower managers will tell me the main source of the problem is the senior leaders. I want to offer some ideas on the cause of this disconnect, because I believe it contains the seeds of a cure.

The CEO is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in an organization, but there is often great frustration because, while the top leader has set out a vision and tries to communicate it often, the rank and file keep accusing him of not communicating well.

Several studies have revealed that employees most often state “lack of communication” as either the number one or number two reason for employee dissatisfaction (Wiedmer, 2009).

This is extremely frustrating to many top leaders, because they are sincerely working hard to communicate every day. Given a choice between their own inadequate “mouth,” and the employees’ defective “ears,” most leaders would rather focus blame on the employees.

In most cases, the root cause of the frustration is neither defective outgoing communication nor listening prowess. It is a lack of trust. There is a cultural schism between organizational levels that is based more on fear than on lack of communication. Workers do not often verbalize the fear because, well, they are afraid. So the issues get reported as communication problems.

Top leaders are frustrated because they understand their own objectives clearly and are fully justified in their own mind for every action they take. Reason: it is next to impossible for a sane person to take an action different from what he or she believes is the best one at the moment.

If there was a better choice, that would be the one selected. So the CEO is doing the “right” thing in all cases in his or her own opinion.

If people interpret the CEOs actions as inconsistent with the values, then they must be wrong. Here is where we crack the code. It is the inability of leaders to make workers feel good when they verbalize the inconsistencies that blocks the building of trust.

If top leaders can understand that last point, things can change rather quickly, and higher trust can be developed in nearly every organization. The top leaders really do hold the key, yet they often do not recognize it. In the song “Already Gone,” The Eagles had a great lyric that applies here:

“Well I know it wasn’t you who held me down
Heaven knows it wasn’t you who set me free
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains
And we never even know we have the key”

Cracking the code for the development of higher trust in any organization means enlightening the leaders that they hold the key. It is as simple and as profound as that. Let me clarify what that key is again and associate it with a phrase: “reinforcing candor.”

The key is for leaders to make people feel glad when they bring up what appear to be inconsistencies. People may think an accounting practice is too near the ethical edge, they may think that a decision is not consistent with stated values, or they may believe a leader is shading the truth to get out of a tight spot.

These are just a few examples of the countless apparent inconsistencies people see happening every day at the senior levels yet are afraid to voice.

Top leaders need to reinforce employees when they have the courage to be candid about what seem to be wrong actions.

By reinforcing candor, leaders enable people to voice their concerns openly and know they will be rewarded, not punished. This practice forms a kind of mirror surface where the leader can actually see himself through the eyes of the people who work for him. What an amazing blessing that is! Imagine actually being able to see yourself the way others do.

Having the mirror to see one’s own actions accurately prevents leaders from getting on a slippery slope that ultimately leads to lower trust.

In most cases unethical or otherwise wrong behavior occurs because of a slow erosion of standards. The top leaders allow a slight timing adjustment in inventory valuation that is perfectly legal and it helps performance look better.

There is nothing wrong with this, except if we can do it this month we can do that plus just a bit more the next month and still feel right about it. Before too many months go by, we have walked ourselves into believing that unethical actions are okay.

That is how Enron and so many other organizations got in trouble.

When people are reinforced for their candor, if you have 100 employees, you have 100 people who will call you if the decisions are not really right. That keeps you from getting on the slippery slope, and trust is built on a consistent basis.

Cracking the code of helping top leaders build higher trust involves getting them to see that they have the key in their hand every day. The key is to foster an environment where people know it is safe to bring up scary stuff and know that will be rewarded rather than punished.

For a great compendium of articles on trust see “Trust Inc.: Strategies for Building Your Company’s Most Valuable Asset,” by Barbara Brooks Kimmel of Trust Across America: Trust Around the World.

Reference:
Wiedmer, Stacey M. (2009). “An examination of Factors Affecting Employee Satisfaction.” Missouri Western State University


Blind CEOs

April 3, 2011

In my consulting work, I am often called in by senior executives (CEO, COO, or VPHR) to help them improve trust within the organization. The conversation usually starts out with some form of description of a dysfunctional organization at the shop floor level. Often the lower level managers and supervisors are singled out as the culprits, and the top officers are asking me to come in and “fix them.”

This is often a dilemma for me because if I say something like “have you considered what your contribution is to the problem,” I find myself out in the street on my butt. If I do take the challenge to go in and fix the lower ranks, it is inevitable that these lower managers will tell me that the main source of the problem is the senior level. This article shines a light on the problem of CEOs (and other top leaders) being blind to their personal contribution to a toxic environment. I will offer some ideas on the cause and several antidotes that can be tried to achieve a more balanced, and hence more effective approach to reducing organizational problems.

The CEO is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in an organization, but there is often great frustration because, while the CEO has set out a vision and tries to communicate it often, the rank and file keep accusing her of not communicating well. Several studies have revealed that employees most often state “lack of communication” as either the number one or number two reason for employee dissatisfaction (Wiedmer, 2009). This is extremely frustrating to many CEOs, because they are sincerely working hard to communicate every day. Given a choice between their own defective “mouth,” and the employees’ defective “ears,” most CEOs would rather focus blame on the employees.

In many cases, the root cause of the frustration is neither defective outgoing communication nor listening prowess. It is a lack of trust. There is a cultural schism between organizational levels that is based more on fear than on lack of communication. Workers do not often verbalize the fear because, well, they are afraid. So the issues get reported as communication problems.

CEOs are blind because they understand their own objectives clearly and are fully justified internally for every action they take. Reason: it is next to impossible for a sane person to take an action different from what he or she believes is the best one at the moment. If there was a better choice, that would be the one selected. So the CEO is doing the “right” thing in nearly all cases in his or her own opinion. If people interpret the CEOs actions as inconsistent with the values, then they must be wrong.

Another cause of CEO blindness is lack of Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman(1997) described a phenomenon where individuals with low EI struggle because they have a blind spot and cannot see themselves as others do. A person with low EI will believe the problem exists with other people and not be aware at all of his or her own contribution to problems. One way to begin to see is to get some formal training in Emotional Intelligence.

What are some of the other ways a CEO, or other top officer, can begin to see his or her contribution to organizational problems more clearly?

Become a level 5 Leader – as described by Jim Collins (2001). Get some coaching on humility and try to begin using the “window/mirror” analogy. This is where a leader looks out the window at others in the organization when things are going well, but looks in the mirror at herself when there are problems.

Become a mentor – Seek out several informal leaders in the organization and begin to mentor them. The process of building trust with strong underlings will allow more flow of critical information about when the leader is sending mixed or incorrect signals. It is important to listen to these individuals when they give input. When the person giving input is candid, it is important that he is made to feel glad he brought up the issue. Many leaders punish people who bring up inconsistencies, which becomes a huge trust buster.

Do more “management by walking around” – This may seem awkward at first because the CEO may prefer the security and isolation of the ivory tower. That is one hallmark of the problem. Too many meetings and lunches in the Executive Dining Room give rise to insulation that renders the top executive insensitive to organizational heat.

Conduct a 360 Degree Leadership Evaluation – A periodic measure of high level leadership skills is one way to prevent a top leader from kidding himself. There are numerous instruments to accomplish this. Personally, I found the surveys to be similar and missed some of the more important aspects of true leadership. In frustration, I wrote my own assessment for top leaders. It is available at http://www.leadergrow.com/leadership-assessment. Doing an assessment is important, but taking the data seriously and creating a plan from the information is crucial.

Get a good coach – Every leader needs a coach to help prevent myopic thinking. Seek out a trusted advisor for a long term relationship that is candid and challenging. Coaching sessions can be efficient by doing them after hours on the phone, or by using SKYPE technology.

Develop a leadership study group – A leader can grow personally in parallel with underlings by investing some time studying the inspirational writings and video work of top leadership authors or benchmarking leaders from other organizations. There are literally thousands of resources already available that can both inspire and challenge any group. These investments are very low cost, and all that is required is to read the books and carve out some discussion time with direct reports in a group setting. Many leaders prefer the “lunch and learn” sessions. Some leaders work with a skilled facilitator to keep things on track; other leaders prefer to proceed on their own without outside assistance. If face time is impractical due to travel, that does not prevent an online discussion on leadership concepts from literature.

Subscribe to some Leadership LinkedIn Groups – There are dozens of excellent leadership groups on LinkedIn. These groups can have thousands or tens of thousands of leaders who can benchmark each other and help resolve typical problems. There are also numerous local and national organizations on leadership development that can provide provocative ideas for growth.

These are just a few ideas that can broaden the view of a top executive. Becoming less blind has the wonderful effect of helping a leader become more effective over time. I believe it is incumbent on all leaders to have a personal development plan and to give it a high priority in terms of effort and budget. Seeking to constantly grow as a leader is truly important, and growing other leaders should be the highest calling for any leader.