Successful Supervisor 16 – Myths and Truths About Leadership

March 5, 2017

I want to share a few of my theories on leadership that may be helpful to supervisors. I believe there are misconceptions about what makes a great leader.

These myths are very common, and you will recognize all of them quickly. I will follow with some things that I believe are required for great leaders and explain the rationale for each one.

Myth 1 – You need to be brilliant

The capacity to be a great leader does not rest on intelligence. Of course, you do need some level of mental capability. Someone who cannot add numbers and comprehend or speak the language is not likely to make a strong leader.

On the other extreme, there have been many brilliant people who fail at leadership because they are aloof or have poorly developed social skills.
If you have a reasonably strong mind, that is sufficient to do well as a leader.

It is much more important to focus on developing Emotional Intelligence than it is to obtain a PhD.

Myth 2 – You need to be perfect

The best leaders recognize that they are fallible human beings. They work hard to develop and maintain a culture where people who work for them have high respect, but beyond that they do not lose sleep trying to be perfect.

When they make a mistake, they admit it and ask for forgiveness. This behavior endears them to their employees.

The opposite is true for poor leaders. They are bundles of nerves because they have not built a culture of trust, and employees are like coiled snakes just waiting for some kind of mistake so they can strike.

Poor leaders worry about “spinning” every statement just right so people will not nail them to the wall. Great leaders are able to relax and be authentic.

Myth 3 – You need to look the part

One of the best leaders I know you would not be able to pick out from how he dresses. On most days he is indistinguishable from the people who work for him. Oh sure, if there is a customer visit or a Board meeting, he will put on a jacket and tie, but he would rather be in jeans and a checkered shirt.

On the flip side, I recall one leader who was always dressed to the nines. He wore cufflinks and always had a silk kerchief in his jacket pocket. He did not connect well with his direct reports or others in the organization because he appeared to be (and was) aloof.

Myth 4 – You need to be a work-a-holic

Great leaders do work hard, of course, but they also value balance for themselves and for the people who work for them. These leaders put a high value on family relationships and also get to know the family members of people who work for them.

Myth 5 – You need a big ego

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins reported that the best leaders have two common characteristics. They are passionate people about what they are trying to accomplish, and they are humble. They are more like the “plow horse” instead of the “show horse.”

Now let’s take a look at some truths about being a good leader. Of course, many of the truths can be the opposite of the myths, but there are some other conditions as well.

Truth 1 – You must operate from a strong set of values

Leaders need to articulate a set of values for the organization and model them all of the time. If there is even a sniff of hypocrisy in terms of walking the talk on values, it will derail this person from being a successful leader.

Beyond that, the leader needs to preach why these particular values are important for the enterprise and insist that all people in the group model the values at all times.

Groups that report to a leader with weak or nebulous values often fall victim to unethical behaviors that pretty much guarantee failure.

Truth 2 – You must have high Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence allows the leader to understand how others see her with accuracy. Leaders with low Emotional Intelligence usually have blind spots and make incorrect assumptions about how they are coming across.

Further, leaders with high Emotional Intelligence rarely shoot from the hip. They take the time to understand situations well before reacting out of emotions. They also have the ability to read others well, so they make wise decisions on how to handle delicate or emotionally charged conversations.

Unlike raw intelligence (IQ) and leadership style, Emotional Intelligence is actually rather easy to learn. My favorite book on the topic is “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Bradberry and Greaves. The skills are easily understood, and the more you practice, the higher your Emotional Intelligence will become.

Truth 3 – You must operate with integrity at all times

Leaders are always under a microscope. They cannot hide their actions or even their intentions. People in the organization will find ways to test the level of integrity until they are convinced the leader can pass the test routinely.

Integrity also means treating people the right way for the right reason. It does not mean treating everyone the same way, because individuals have different needs. It does mean being fair and keeping each employee’s best interest at heart.

Truth 4 – You must communicate with precision

Every written and spoken word is subject to scrutiny and must pass the test for being congruent with the values and goals of the organization. It does not matter if you are texting an opinion or explaining a new policy in a Town Hall Meeting, the ability to communicate exactly what you mean is crucial.

Likewise the ability to listen to people deeply and grasp the full intention is essential.

Beyond written and verbal communications is a whole lexicon of body language cues that also must be consistent. This area is where many leaders fall short because they are not even aware of the signals being sent with their body language.

Few leaders understand the complexity of body language and the fact that the vast majority of body language is sent and read subconsciously. Doing well at body language is a challenge for most leaders, because they simply have not had much education on the science.

I cannot understand how an individual can get an MBA without ever having a single course in Body Language anywhere along the line. It is a crime. In my MBA curriculum there was no discussion of body language at all, so I have studied it on my own.

Truth 5 – You must build, maintain, and repair trust

I believe trust is the most important concept in leadership. Reason: In studying effective leadership for more than 40 years, I observe that those leaders who can obtain and maintain trust create a culture in which all of the other leadership skills work well to the benefit of the organization.

Without a foundation of trust created by the behaviors of the most senior leaders, the culture will sputter and struggle despite the best efforts of the remainder of the organization.

I have written about trust extensively in other articles, and an important ingredient is also repairing damaged trust. The element of trust is a fragile thing that can easily be damaged. Great leaders immediately leap to repair any damaged trust to make it stronger than it was before it was compromised.

These are just a few of the myths and truths about leaders that I teach in my leadership classes. There is an infinite supply of both of these, and I could go on for many more pages, but I believe the ones listed above are the most powerful ones. If you are on the right side of these 10 issues, chances are you are doing well as a leader and a supervisor.

This article is a part in a series 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


Successful Supervisor Part 10 – Body Language

January 21, 2017

I have been fascinated with body language for several decades. I have studied it for countless hours and believe I have only scratched the surface of this complex area of communication.

We all are skilled at reading the body language of others. Another person does not need to talk to let us know she is upset, happy, tired, fearful, confused, and hundreds of other descriptors.

While we are all good at reading signals from other people, few of us have a really good working knowledge of some of the more subtle forms of body language.

This article shines a light on how supervisors who are skilled at reading the body language of others and controlling their own have a huge advantage in the workplace.

Decades ago, the behavioral scientist Albert Mehrabian did a series of experiments at UCLA. He tried to measure what percent of meaning comes from the words we use when we talk face to face with another individual about our feelings or emotions.

His famous experiments revealed that only about 7% of the meaning comes from the words we use. 38% of meaning comes from our tone of voice, and a whopping 55% of meaning comes from our body language.

The sad thing is that you rarely see a course in school, even graduate school, that deals with how to interpret body language. The topic is covered on some titillating websites that try to help people interpret the signals of possible mates in bars or other such entertaining information.

You rarely see the topic taught as a serious study for leaders. I find that strange and always include a heavy dose of body language awareness in my work with leaders at all levels.

The first thing to recognize is that the amount of body language that is available for interpretation is immense. Most people take in only a few percentage points of what they might if they were properly educated and paying attention.

The reason is that, for most people, the received body language is taken in subconsciously. Likewise, we are normally unaware of the majority of body language we are sending.

Facial expressions are the most intentional aspect of body language, and even there we send a lot more signals than we realize. If we could make it more intentional both on the giving and receiving end, we could improve communication between people an enormous amount with little extra effort.

If you study the Quality of Work Life Studies that are done in corporations, you can see that almost universally what employees feed back to managers is that the number one or number two deficiency in the company is COMMUNICATION.

Yet with all that obvious input, you rarely see leadership classes that specialize in body language or listening skills, which are two rich sources of communication improvement. It is really astounding.

For any supervisor, becoming more skilled at these elements of leadership is the fastest way to improve her performance. Unfortunately for me, these skills are not easily covered adequately in a blog article. I did one video on body language that highlighted how important it is when first meeting people. I call it “Planting the Seeds of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.”

I think for supervisors, the most important part of body language is to ensure the signals she is sending are consistent with her desires. I have no idea how she would do that if she has no education on the topic.

There are many good books on the subject, and of course I have a full program that I do with leaders in my consulting work.

There is lots of information online. One good test to see how well you interpret facial expressions is located at the site of the Greater Good. There is another good site on Business Balls that gives a lot of helpful information. I also happen to like a DVD Produced by Bill Acheson, a body language expert from University of Pittsburg. The title is Advanced Body Language.

One thing to be aware of is that body language is different for different cultures. You need to learn how people from the culture you are supervising send out signals.

You must not assume their signals are the same as yours. Be alert to misunderstandings due to this aspect and get some education. For example, if you are an American and you are supervising several people in a call center who are from the Far East, you need to take a lot more care to understand their points.

Probably the most significant help I can be in this brief article is to suggest the supervisor simply pay a lot more attention to the body language she is seeing with her people.

Learn to interpret signals more consciously and also pay attention to how you are communicating with people via body language. There is no substitute for specific knowledge, but awareness is always available and will help.

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


5 Rules to End Hurtful Jokes

March 5, 2016

Have you ever been hurt by a joke, even though it was offered in jest? I was having an online conversation in a class I am teaching about teams at work.

The discussion was relative to having online messages misinterpreted. Clearly we have all experienced this uncomfortable situation more than once.

I got so fascinated about this topic that I wrote a book on it a few years ago.

One student brought up a situation that is common in person as well as online, but the damage done online is usually much larger. This is when a person tries to rib another person with a joke, but the meaning on the part of the receiver is taken literally.

The writer is astonished when the reader takes umbrage at the barb. The writer says, “but I was only joking.”

When people say things in jest, there is usually an element of truth in them. Jokes are often just distortions of reality; that is what makes them humorous. The problem occurs when we make a joke where the punch line puts down another person.

This is so common you probably witness it a dozen times a day or more, and it hardly registers because it is ubiquitous. If you are listening for it, you will hear it often.

Unfortunately, when the joke is documented in online exchanges, there isn’t the opportunity for the writer to let the other person know through body language that the barb is totally in jest.

Actually, even in person there is usually a part of the barb that is for real. Online, the danger is magnified for two reasons,

1) the person cannot see the facial expression and emoticons often are misinterpreted as well, and

2) e-mails are permanent, so the person can read and re-read the joke. It becomes more menacing with each iteration.

The antidote for this common problem is to establish five behavioral norms in your work group as follows:

1. We will not make jokes in any forum at another person’s expense.

2. We will praise in public or online but offer constructive criticism face to face in private.

3. When there is a disconnect in communication, we will always assume the best intent and check it out.

4. If something in an e-mail seems upsetting, it is up to the person who is upset to meet face to face with the other person as soon as possible.

5. We will call each other out politely if we see violations of these rules.

These five rules are not difficult, but it does take some training and resolve to get all people in a population to comply with them.

It helps to get firm agreement among the entire group and to post the rules in the team meeting area. If you can get people to actually follow the five rules above, it will change the entire complexion of the work group.

If all this sounds like common sense, it is. Too bad it is not common practice in many organizations.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


A Dozen Leadership Tips

February 20, 2016

When was the last time you really enjoyed going to work? The unfortunate truth is that only about a third of people are engaged in their work, according to Gallup measurements, and the statistic is remarkably stubborn.

The other two thirds go to work each day in a zombie-like state where they go through the motions all day and try to stay out of trouble with the boss, their peers, or their subordinates.

Work life is often a meaningless array of busywork foisted upon them by the clueless morons who run the place. They hate the environment and intensely dislike their co-workers. Their suffering is tolerated only because there is no viable option for them to survive. What a pity that anyone would spend even a single day on this earth in such a hopeless atmosphere.

We can fault the individuals who allow themselves to be trapped in this way, but I believe the environment created by leaders has a great deal to do with this malaise. Reason: if you put these same individuals in an environment of trust and challenge, nearly all of them would quickly rise up to become happy and productive workers.

It is essential that each individual in the workforce find real meaning in the work being done, and the responsibility is on leaders to make that happen.

Some good research into this conundrum was presented by Viktor Frankl more than a half century ago in his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl posits that it “is a peculiarity of man that he must have something significant yet to do in his life, for that is what gives meaning to life.” He discovered this universally human trait while surviving the most horrible of life conditions in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

One cannot imagine a more oppressive environment, but believe it or not, many people at work feel like they are in a kind of concentration camp. The antidote is for leaders to create something significant yet to do.

Dave and Wendy Ulrich, co-authors of The Why of Work put it this way. “In organizations, meaning and abundance are more about what we do with what we have than about what we have to begin with.” They point out that workers are in some ways like volunteers who can choose where they allocate their time and energy. For their own peace and health, it is imperative that workers feel connected to the meaning of their work.

What can leaders do to ensure the maximum number of people have a sense of purpose and meaning in their work? Here are a dozen ideas that can help.

1. Create a positive vision of the future. Vision is critical because without it people see no sense of direction for their work. If we have a common goal, then it is possible to actually get excited about the future.

2. Generate trust. Trust is the glue that holds people together in a framework of positive purpose. Without trust, we are just playing games with each other hoping to get through the day unscathed. The most significant way leaders help create trust is by rewarding candor, which is accomplished by not punishing people for speaking their truth.

3. Build morale the right way. This means not trying to motivate people by adding hygiene factors like picnics, bonuses, or hat days. Create motivation by treating people with respect and giving them autonomy. Leaders do not motivate people, rather they create the environment where people decide whether to become motivated. This sounds like doubletalk, but it is a powerful message most leaders do not understand.

4. Recognize and celebrate excellence. Reinforcement is the most powerful tool leaders have for changing behavior. Leaders need to learn how to reinforce well and avoid the mine-field of reinforcement mistakes that are easy to make.

5. Treat people right. In most cases focusing on the Golden Rule works well. In some extreme cases the Golden Rule will not be wise because not all individuals want to be treated the same way. Use of the Platinum Rule (Treat others the way they would like to be treated) can be helpful as long as it is not taken to a literal extreme.

6. Communicate more and better. People have an unquenchable thirst for information. Lack of communication is the most often mentioned grievance in any organization. Get some good training on how to communicate in all modes and practice all the time.

7. Unleash maximum discretionary effort in people. People give effort to the organization out of choice, not out of duty. Understand what drives individuals to make a contribution and be sure to provide that element daily. Do not try to apply the same techniques to all individuals or all situations.

8. Have high ethical and moral standards. Operate from a set of values and make sure people know why those values are important. Leaders need to always live their values.

9. Lead change well. Change processes are in play in every organization daily, yet most leaders are poor at managing change. Study the techniques of successful change so people do not become confused and disoriented.

10. Challenge people and set high expectations. People will rise to a challenge if it is properly presented and managed. Challenged individuals are people who have found meaning in their work.

11. Operate with high Emotional Intelligence. The ability to work well with people, upward, sideways, and downward allows things to work smoothly. Without Emotional Intelligence, leaders do not have the ability to transform intentions into meaning within people.

12. Build High Performing Teams. A sense of purpose is enhanced if there is a kind of peer pressure brought on by good teamwork. Foster great togetherness of teams so people will relate to their tasks instinctively.

This is a substantial list of items, but most of them are common sense. Unfortunately they are not common practice in many organizations. If you want to have people rise to their level of potential, they must all have a sense of meaning. To accomplish that, focus on the above items, and see a remarkable transformation in your organization.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Trust and Micromanagement

November 28, 2015

Few things sap engagement and trust within workers as much as being micromanaged. When you are told what to do and then given explicit details about how to do it, all creativity and enthusiasm are snuffed out.

Furthermore you feel the boss does not trust you to do the job right, which is exactly the signal being sent to you. I learned a way to prevent being micromanaged early in my career.

At one point I was transferred to another division, and was very excited because my new boss was earmarked as a leader with a great deal of potential. I figured he would have good coattails.

He had a great reputation in the organization, but he did have one flaw of which many people complained. This leader was prone to micromanage the people who worked directly for him. The reputation was that he was the king of all micromanagers.

Knowing this, I set out on a course to accomplish two things in my early interfaces with him.

First I tried to anticipate what he was going to ask of me and tried to have an answer ready. For example, if he would say, “Why don’t you increase the temperature on the cooling cycle,” I would reply, “I did an experiment on that two days ago, and it made the product too brittle.”

In order to anticipate what he might suggest, I really had to do a lot of extra thinking about his approach to the process and what he could potentially request.

In doing so, I actually over prepared myself with knowledge about the process, which ultimately impressed him.

I recall at one point inviting him into a conference room on his lunch hour to show him several dozen charts of experiments I had already tried on the process.

He did not share many suggestions after that because he figured I had covered all the bases.

The second thing I did was to over communicate. He never wondered what I was up to and did not have a chance to get to me first because I always beat him to it. For example, I observed that he had a habit of leaving instructions for his staff by voicemail during his lunch hour.

Every day at about 11 a.m., I would send him a voicemail sharing my plans and ideas I was working on that day. After a few weeks, he basically a left me alone to do my work in my own way, and we got along very well for 25 years while he micromanaged the others.

Leaders who micromanage people are often not even aware they are doing it.

They prefer to call it “coaching,” but the impact can be quite negative on the culture.

Micromanagers are not well liked or well respected because they send signals that the workers are not trusted to do the work correctly without constant intervention. They sap the organization of vital enthusiasm and creativity.

You may be doing a lot more micromanaging than you are aware of. It becomes a habit, and it feels like the right way to get things accomplished. Yet in the end, it undermines the culture of trust and leads to low engagement.

Exercise for you: Today, make a special note of how you coach people to do their work in your organization. Try to be as objective as possible so that you’re not fooling yourself.

Make sure you are viewing your actions from the point of view of the workers rather than through your own filters. Ask yourself what would be the result if you were able to scale back your micromanaging tendencies by about 50%.

Increasing your awareness of the tendency to micromanage is really the best defense against overusing this hurtful practice.

You can improve not only your own productivity but also that of the entire organization by scaling back on your interventions and trusting others more. It is really just a bad habit, so it takes some real effort to change 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


The Link Between Trust and Communication

August 1, 2015

If you are the manager of a group where trust is low, people are likely to hear what they think you were going to say rather than what you actually said. It is critical to frame up the message in multiple ways to help people hear and absorb what you are really trying to convey.

A simple Town Hall Meeting is not sufficient to communicate sensitive information.

According to Richard Edelman in his “Trust Barometer,” people need to hear things from 3-5 times before they believe the information about a company is likely to be true. Here is a true story that illustrates the problem.

I once inherited a new group that did not have high trust in their prior manager. I could tell by their body language that they were skeptical of anything the managers said.

Before I had a chance to rebuild the trust, I had an occasion to communicate some good news to the workers. They were afraid that the operation would be shut down and moved to China.

I called a special meeting to tell them that the proposed outsourcing was not going to happen. Later that day, I heard that the workers thought I told them we would be shutting down.

Rather than hear what I actually said, the workers heard only what they thought I was going to say. This miscommunication happened because there was low trust in management, and I did not use multiple ways to communicate the message clearly enough.

Exercise for you: Today, test the level of understanding of some information from management. Ask some questions to see if people are able to understand and believe the input with just one exposure. It is more difficult than you think to get the message across in the first exposure.

Now begin to think of creative ways to get messages to people in different ways that really set the message.

Good communication requires consistency, and that often means repetition.

Get creative with the methods you use to communicate information to other people. It can be fun and it will really improve your leadership effectiveness.

 

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


Open Door Caveats

February 14, 2015

Listening 3If you are like most professionals, your company has an “open door” policy. This is one of the most commonly employed HR strategies to ensure individuals are not trapped under an ogre of a supervisor with no way to communicate their frustration.

Unfortunately, the strategy is often dysfunctional, and it can actually do more harm than good. Let’s put the “open door” policy under the microscope and see what makes it dangerous, then suggest an antidote that can help.

The Open door policy sounds so inherently right, few employees question it until they are embroiled in a problem and have to try to get the intended benefits.

It reminds me of an insurance policy. You think you are protected until you have a claim, then you find out what the fine print was all about.

Likewise many managers hide behind the open door as a kind of cure-all for organizational low trust. Both symptoms mask an underlying malaise that must be rooted out and destroyed.

On the surface, the open door leads to greater transparency and fairness, but in the real world there are several reasons it does not work that way.

1. The “Open Door” policy can be a sham – If an employee wants to use the open door policy it is usually because of some kind of rift with his or her immediate supervisor. There is something bad going on according to the employee’s interpretation, and the supervisor is unwilling or incapable of dealing with the situation.

During these times, trust between the individual and level-one supervision is at an all time low. Since talking it out with level one will only bring additional grief, the employee uses the open door and tries to clear the air by talking to level-two.

The level-two manager is not fully familiar with the issue, so the only recourse is to listen politely to the employee and then have a chat with the level-one supervisor.

In the process, the level-one supervisor immediately becomes aware that he or she has been “blown in” to the boss. Regardless of how professional both leaders are, this series of discussions usually results in a further reduction of trust between the three levels and the individuals involved.

Since trust was compromised to begin with, the poor employee is now under an even more ominous cloud.

2. The “Open Door” leads to games – I recall a discussion with my boss. He wanted to use the open door policy correctly and not jeopardize the employee, who was working for me.

So my boss told me one of my employees had complained that I was not treating the person fairly (he was careful to keep the discussion gender neutral to make it harder for me to guess who might have the issue).

I had taken over a new area, and the trust in me had not yet been fully established. My boss would not tell me who the individual was, or the specific area involved. He would only tell me that there was someone out there that did not trust me to treat him or her fairly.

He would not share the specific area of concern nor give me enough data to have a clue for how to fix it. This discussion served to put me on notice, but it caused me to start second guessing every interface or action attempting to uncover the problem.

In the end, I never did figure out who the person was or what the issue was. For months I went around like Sherlock Holmes trying to figure out what incorrect signals this one individual had been getting.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population, who were not concerned with my fairness, thought I was acting a little weird.

3. “Open Door” has a bad reputation on the shop floor – In many organizations employees are fully aware that the open door policy is something that makes management feel good and looks good in the employee handbook, but it is a poor vehicle to use if there is an actual issue on the shop floor.

If the symptom leading to the need for an open door conversation is low trust, then how can escalating the issue to the next higher level be helpful?

There are also folk tails of the poor soul who got so upset with a situation that he actually did use the open door and lived to regret it every day thereafter until he finally quit the organization.

Far better to suffer the current injustice than call in the big guns and ensure more pain.

4. “Open Door” failures lead to Ombudsmen – When the open door gets a reputation for causing additional grief and not resolving problems, organizations often resort to a third party grievance resolution mechanism called an Ombudsman.

Again, from an HR or legal perspective this practice seems reasonable and fair. It really can resolve some issues, but it is also fraught with cloak and dagger nonsense that usually further undermines trust as the clueless Ombudsman seeks to understand what is really going on without upsetting people.

Meanwhile the employee is on tenterhooks hoping the desperate action to call in a third party will not backfire.

Once again, since the root cause of the problem can be traced to a lack of trust, the Ombudsman approach is at best a last resort effort to save utter collapse.

5. What if the level-two manager is a jerk too? – If an employee has a problem with the integrity of the level-one supervisor, then the level-two supervisor is often in question as well.

From a shop floor perspective, all management is painted with the same brush.

Actually, there are situations where there is a bad apple in the middle and employees really do trust the second level more than the first level.

More often, all management is suspect if there are weak links. After all, if the big boss tolerates a bully in the supervisory ranks, then that manager is not doing his or her job either.

Why would employees feel high trust for that person? They more likely picture the big boss as a well intended but clueless manager who has no idea how miserable things are two levels below.

These are five very real symptoms of problems with the open door policy.

I am not saying it is a bad thing to have or that it never works. What I am suggesting is that there is a better way.

What if we taught managers at all levels to reinforce candor? Employees would learn that is not a career threatening opportunity to bring an issue to the immediate boss.

In fact, when they bring up scary stuff or perceived inequities, they are rewarded in some way. This would be regardless of the level. It would mean that the need for escalation would be significantly reduced in the first place, and for those few situations where a higher level discussion would be useful, then the employee is still reinforced.

Imagine the poor Ombudsman with less work than the Maytag Repairman.

Imagine an entire workforce concentrating on the mission of and vision of the organization instead of constantly negotiating their way through minefields of bureaucratic protectionism.

Imagine running an organization based on trust instead of fear. It is possible if we simply teach leaders to reinforce candor.