Successful Supervisor 79 Trust and Solving Problems

June 10, 2018

In his famous video series, “Do Right,” Lou Holtz, the master motivational speaker and football coach said, “One thing I know that’s universal is you are going to have problems.” For supervisors, many days seem like an endless stream of problems to resolve. This article links the solving of problems to the concept of trust.

Solving Problems if Trust is Low

When trust is lacking, problems are more difficult and time consuming to solve for several reasons:

1. Difficult to identify the real problem

When trust is low, people are working around the interpersonal issues, and often the facts are hidden from view. People will protect or horde information to protect their parochial interests.

You can observe people in lengthy and hot debates where they do not even address the real problem.

2. Solutions are not the most creative

People will not be willing to share their most creative solutions to problems because they are fearful of being ridiculed or ignored. They may only offer what they believe the boss wants to hear.

3. People playing games

Individuals are on guard and actually play head games with each other because they are not convinced the other person’s viewpoints are to be respected. They will put band aids on the symptoms to get out of a tight spot, but not take the opportunity to resolve the root cause.

4. Often problems recur

Since the real problem is often pushed aside, it may return again or even several times because the root cause is still in play. This is particularly discouraging to supervisors because there are not adequate resources to resolve the same problems over and over again.

Solving Problems if Trust is High

When trust is high, solving problems is both quicker and the solutions are more robust for the following reasons:

1. There is full data disclosure

People are not hiding information from each other to protect themselves. They freely share what has been going on so that a real and lasting solution can be invented.

2. People are interested in progress rather than finding a scape goat

With a culture of high trust, people want to get to an excellent resolution as quickly as possible. There is no desire to stretch things out, and there is no need to blame one person or group for the problems.

3. There is pride in solving problems well

High trust groups take real pride in being able to get past problems and enjoy fewer of them in the future. Creative solutions lead to permanent fixes to issues rather than the illusion of progress.

Solving problems if you have a culture of high trust is infinitely better and faster than if you work in a group with low trust. That impacts productivity and morale in a positive way every single day. Make sure to foster a culture of high trust and reap the benefits in your organization.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Smart is Dumb

January 3, 2015

Dud ManagerIn his famous program, “Effective Negotiating,” Chester A. Karrass, makes the observation that, in negotiations, often appearing dumb is a great strategy.

The idea is that acting naïve causes the other party to fill in some blanks with information that may ultimately be helpful to you in the negotiation.

Conversely, acting as if you know everything is usually a bad strategy, because you end up supplying too much information too early in the conversation. This habit gives your opponent in the negotiation a significant advantage.

As I work with leaders in organizations of all sizes, a similar observation could be made about leadership. Being dumb is sometimes smart, and being too smart is often dumb. Let’s examine some examples of why this dichotomy is a helpful concept.

To make enlightened decisions, leaders need good information. It sounds simple, but in the chaos of every day organizational issues, it is sometimes difficult to determine which set of information is true.

Rather than blurting out their preconceived notion of what is going on, if leaders would simply act a little confused, like the brilliant detective Colombo, they would elicit far more information from other people.

The way to execute this strategy is simple. Refrain from making absolute statements, and ask a lot of open ended questions. This draws out alternate points of view from individuals and allows the leader to hear many nuances before tipping his or her hand.

When leaders display hubris, and expound their perspective on every issue before others have a chance to voice their ideas, it stifles collaboration and creativity.

Therefore, being smart is often a dumb strategy. Of course, no rule of thumb works in every situation. Leaders need to know when the time is right to divulge their opinion.

Unfortunately, due to over active egos, most leaders like to weigh in on issues far too early. This colors objective conversation and cuts off interesting alternate perspectives.

The same logic holds when making decisions after the information has been gathered. If leaders would say, “I wonder what we should do,” instead of, “Here is what we have to do,” they would draw out the best ideas available.

Smart is dumb and dumb is smart in terms of getting a smorgasbord of options from which to choose.

The antidote to this problem is simple. Leaders need to understand this dynamic and catch themselves in the act. By being alert to the dangers of advocating too early, leaders can improve their batting average at allowing everyone to enter the conversation at an appropriate level.

Sometimes in a crisis situation, it may be necessary for a leader to be highly directive and quick on the draw. Usually, it is better for the leader to allow conversation around sensitive issues, and then work with people to find the best solution.

If you are a leader, it is important to catch yourself on this issue and begin to train yourself to have more patience and improve your listening skills.

It has been said many times that the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth, because we should listen twice as much as we speak. Many leaders do not understand this simple logic, and it works to their detriment.

They are dumb because they are too smart.

Creative Shinking

January 13, 2013

Brainstorm 2There is no need to clean your glasses; the title is correct. Something magic happens when we lose the bonds of rules and become free to explore beyond our habitual boundaries. Sure, we need some conventions in our world to have order and proper communication, but I shink there should also be a time for play and experimentation where some of the rules are suspended, at least temporarily.

I am sure there are few English teachers reading this (actually I probably stopped most of them with my title – bye bye now!). When we create a twist on convention, we invent uncomfortable mutations that jar our shinking process. We become like amoebas floating in some new concoction somebody spilled into the Petri dish. God knows what will become of us. Ah, but there is the genius!

The creative process is best when we upset the applecart and venture into an unsustainable place to push on the boundaries. The expectation is that we will eventually step back to a world of reality and stop shinking in dimensions that cannot be tolerated in the “real world,” (whatever that is) but, and this is a heavy but, we can bring back with us some new vision of the possible. We may be able to morph some of the limiting boundaries. What we need is the freedom to suspend rules and shink about things from an imaginary, unconventional place.

One technique I find that really helps is called “Morphological Analysis.” The method was invented by Fritz Zwicky in 1967. The idea is to put different concepts on a grid structure with one type of concept on one axis and the other type on the other axis.

The easiest way to explain the method is with a simplified example. I will use a basic three by three format to explain the concept. Typically, you would use at least a four by four grid. On the figure below we have the concept of different materials on the vertical axis (water, wood, and sand). Then, on the horizontal axis, we have a set of actions, (move bricks, compress air, and remove paint).

Creative Shinking illustration

The technique asks us to brainstorm ways we can use water to move bricks, or compress air, or remove paint. Then we do a separate brainstorm of ways to use wood to move bricks or compress air or remove paint, etc. We continue the brainstorm process until we have several ideas in each of the boxes. The shinking process is guided by the intersection of concepts we normally do not combine, and unusual ideas are generated.

Zwicky and others have discovered that the best way to get a good idea is to shink up a multitude of ideas (many stupid ones) and then combine or “morph” the shinking into something that has some practical use.

It is important to not shink about looking stupid in the process. Just go along for the ride and have some fun creating new ideas that have never been shought of before. You will be amazed at how liberating it can be to allow your magic brain to perform at this level. When you finally come back to reality, the world will look a bit different, and perhaps some helpful idea will be the result. If not, at least you had some fun along the way.

For those who say “You cannot allow rules to be broken or you will create chaos,” I agree whole heartedly. The creative process relies on a type of chaos where we are not confined by conventional shinking. We can dwell in La-La Land while we envision the possibilities.

Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a few hours shinking up all the ways we could find to get the US Congress to make decisions? Ouch, that one really does strain the bounds of sanity. Now there is a bunch of world class shinkers!

Creativity: 7 Pathways

September 16, 2012

I read a quotation in a student paper a while ago that was interesting, “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. I have been referred to as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that can be brought out if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This analysis provides some pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful. Here is a list of seven ways this can be accomplished:

1. Let people play – Natural creativity is closely linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not yet taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination.

2. Give them the tools – We typically use “Brainstorming” to get creative at work, yet the technique has been so watered down over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put Brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that we habitually ignore.

3. Do not legislate – You cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, you can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.

4. Create an environment of innovation – This is done by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.

5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.” Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. Workers were encouraged to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cut out and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.

6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes, because they uncover other ways it will not work. This points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. That kind of deep curiosity and dogged determination needs to be rewarded. Impatience and a short term mindset are the enemies of innovation.

7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where creativity is nurtured rather than forced. Follow the seven tips above, and soon your organization will be known as one of the most innovative ones around.

Getting Outside Your Box

January 22, 2012

If I hear the phrase “think outside the box” one more time, I’m going to blow. That old saw has been around for decades and is so hoary the cardboard has all rotted away. For purposes of trying to make a point, I am going to use the analogy one more time as it applies to people rather than ideas, then try to forget the phrase ever existed.

The concept I wanted to share is the question, “How can you know when you are operating in a box, and what steps can you take to get out of it?” Perhaps a corollary question might be, “Why would you want to get outside your box?” These questions sound innocent and easy enough to address, but the more you think about them, the more intriguing they become. To begin with, let’s define what being “in a box” means, in the context of this article.

You are in a box when you are imposing some kind of walls or barriers that contain you and prevent the freedom to do things that would enrich your life in some way. With that broad definition, I doubt there is a person alive who is not in some kind of a box every day of his or her life.

Here are some tips for recognizing the boxes you are creating for yourself and getting out of them.

Take Personal Responsibility

It is easy to blame circumstance, luck, situations, other people, low IQ, lack of money, and a host of other external factors for a feeling of helplessness. Blaming external factors is really taking the easy way out. The cold reality is that you almost always have the ability to at least influence external factors, and you always have the opportunity to choose your reaction to them. If you step up to the personal power that is built into every human being, you can find creative ways to eventually burrow through the sides of the boxes that constrain you.

Learn to Recognize Your Boxes

If you have a blind spot about the box that contains you, it is impossible to feel the anticipation of what it might be like to get rid of it. My grandfather made a plaque when he was a boy that now hangs in my shop. It reads, “Success comes in cans…failures in can’ts.” Whenever we think we cannot do something, that is a signal that we are in some kind of box. That may be a good or bad thing, but at least we need to be conscious of it.

Look For Creative Solutions

Looking for alternative solutions to the blockages that hold us back can be a kind of game that really pays off. The logical approach to take may be only one of numerous ways to break out of your box.

Let me try an example. Suppose I wanted to know what it is like to be a ballet dancer. If you could look at me, you would immediately giggle, because my build is the opposite of what is required. The straightforward approach would be to buy some of those tie-on slippers and sign up for ballet lessons. Just the thought of me trying to do a pirouette in tights causes me to hide under the bed.

Am I blocked from experiencing that aspect of life? Not at all! There are dozens of ways I can become more aware of what it is like to be a ballet dancer. Reading, watching documentaries, corresponding with dancers, going to the ballet, etc., are all alternative ways to have that life experience.

Listen To Your Inner Voice

If you have an inkling that you would like to try painting, why not give it a shot? My father was a businessman for his career. He was always on the road trying to make a living selling wire forms. It never occurred to him that he might like to paint. In his mid-50s he decided to give it a try and found that he loved to paint. When he retired at 70, he had many years of joy as a professional artist and painted over 2000 excellent watercolor paintings that kept him active and enjoying life until he lost his sight at 95. He is still going strong at 99 and enjoys the memories of a full life pursuing his passion.

Document Your Goals

If you have not documented what you would like to do, how can you tell what other boxes you might like to sit in for a while? Lou Holtz tells a cute story about how he lost his job one time and was really depressed being out of work. His wife bought him a book on setting goals. Without ambitious goals, the spark of life is missing, so Lou started writing down some goals. He wanted to go to the White House for dinner, he wanted to be on The Tonight Show, he wanted to coach at Notre Dame, he wanted to be Coach of the Year. After he got done writing down all his goals, he was pretty excited. He went to his wife and said, “Look at these goals, I’ve got 107 of those suckers and we’re going to do every one of them.” His wife replied, “Gee, that’s nice. Why don’t you add ‘get a job’?” So they made it 108. He said his whole life changed.

Just Do It

Too many people are living on a desert island called “Someday Isle.” Do you know how many people have started a book but never finished it? I know dozens of people in that circumstance. I also know others who say “I’ve got a book in me, and someday I am going to get to it.” Or someone else might say, “Someday I am going to take a cruise.” I think we need to be careful with the phrase “someday I’ll,” because it means we are content to sit in our box and perpetually dream about some other experience. What a tragedy to be lying on your death bed and regret not doing things that you always dreamed of doing. If you can no longer climb your mountain, at least you can go to the mountain, see it, and smell the fresh air.

Have the resolve to be some of the things that you have imagined in your dreams. If you are creative, there are ways to rip open the side of your box and perhaps create a bigger box or leave entirely for some period of time. What fun, and isn’t that what life is supposed to be all about?