Leadership Barometer 9 Admit Mistakes

July 29, 2019

Nobody likes to admit a mistake, but it can be a very powerful way to build trust, especially for leaders.

There are lots of ways to gauge the quality of a leader. One of my favorites is how readily the leader is willing to publicly admit a mistake.

Admits Mistakes

All leaders make mistakes. Few leaders relish the opportunity to publicly admit them. I think that is wrong thinking. For many types of mistakes a public “mea culpa” is a huge deposit in the trust account. Of course, there are types of mistakes that should not be flaunted before the general population.

For example, if a mistake is similar to one that a leader has made several times in the past, it is not a good idea to stand up in front of a group and say, “Well folks, I did it again.”

Likewise if a mistake is such a bonehead move it brings into question the sanity of a leader, it is not a good idea to admit it. But barring those kinds of issues, if an honest mistake was made, getting up and admitting it, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness is cathartic.

I once had the opportunity to call people together and admit a mistake I had made in a budget meeting the previous day. People were not happy to hear the news that I inadvertently gave away $10K, but I did have a steady stream of people come to my office later to tell me my apology was accepted and that my little speech resonated positively with my subordinates.

Reason: people do not expect leaders to apologize, because it is rarely done. You catch people off guard when you do it, and it has a major impact on trust.

Apologizing to your superior

Apologizing upward is another tricky area that can have a profound impact. The same caveats for apologizing downward apply here; if a mistake was plain stupid or it is the same one you have made before, best not admit it to the boss or some serious damage might result.

But if you have made an honest mistake, admitting this to the boss can be a big trust builder. This is especially true if the boss would never know unless you told her.

I recall a situation in my career where I had inadvertently divulged some company information while on a business trip in Japan. Nobody in my company would ever know I had slipped in my deportment, but it bothered me.

I took some special action to mitigate the mistake and then went hat in hand to my boss. I said, “Dick, I need to talk to you. I made a mistake when I was in Japan last week. You would never know this unless I told you, but here is what happened…”

I then described how I let a magazine be copied where I had written some notes in the margin. I described how I retrieved the copy and was given assurances that other copies had not been made.

My boss said “Well, Bob, you’re right, that is not the smartest thing you ever did.” He then said, “The smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”

That short meeting with my boss increased his trust in me substantially, and I received several promotions over the next few years that I can trace to his confidence in me.

Granted, his confidence was influenced by numerous good things I had done, but by admitting something that I did not need to do, the relationship was strengthened rather than weakened. This is powerful stuff, but it must be used in the right way at the right time for the right reason.

After making a mistake most leaders try to hide it, downplay the importance, blame others, pretend it didn’t happen, or use some other method to try to weasel out of it. Often these actions serve to lower trust.

Obviously it is a stupid strategy to intentionally make mistakes so you can admit them to other people. For all of us, mistakes will happen naturally from time to time.

Consider taking the opportunity to apologize publicly; often it is a great way to build trust. Use this technique carefully and infrequently, and it can be a positive influence on on your career and a verification of the quality of your leadership.

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


Ten Concrete Steps to Rebuild Trust

April 23, 2019

Several authors (including Stephen M.R. Covey) have suggested that trust between people is like a bank account. The balance is what determines the level of trust at any point in time, and it is directional.

I might trust you today more than you trust me. We make deposits and withdrawals in the trust account nearly every day with the things we say and do. Usually the deposits are made in small steps that add up to a large balance over time.

Unfortunately, withdrawals can be massive due to what I call “The Ratchet Effect.” All prior trust may be wiped out quickly. Nobody is happy when trust is lost.

I believe trust withdrawals can lead to a long term higher level of trust if they are handled well. Just as in a marriage when there is a major falling out, if the situation is handled well by both parties in a cooperative spirit, the problem can lead to an even stronger relationship in the long term.

Let’s investigate ten steps that can allow the speedy rebuilding of trust.

1. Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and the trauma needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need to be stopped after a major letdown. The situation is not going to heal by itself, so both parties need to set aside normal routines in order to focus significant energy on regaining equilibrium.

2. Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases there is a true caring for the other person, even if it is eclipsed by the current hurt and anger. It may be a stretch for some people to mentally set aside the issue, but it would be helpful to do that, if just as an exercise.

If the problem had never happened, would these people care about each other? If one person cannot recognize at least the potential for future care, then the remedial process is blocked until that happens.

3. Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are to be made, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust.

It may seem out of reach if the problem was a major let down, but it is critical that both parties really want the hurt to be resolved.

4. Admit fault and accept blame

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress can be made. Try to do this without trying to justify the action.

Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe. Often there is an element of fault on the part of both parties, but even if one person is the only one who did anything wrong, an understanding of fault is needed in this step.

Sometimes neither party did anything particularly wrong, but the circumstances led to trust being lost.

5. Disagree without being disagreeable

If both parties cannot agree on exactly what happened, it is not the end of trust forever.  The first rule is to disagree with a constructive spirit while assuming the best intent on the part of the other person.

Suspend judgment on culpability, if necessary, to keep the investigation on the positive side. This is a part of caring for the other person and the relationship.

6. Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process.

The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw. True and full forgiveness is not likely to happen until the final healing process has occurred. At this point it is important to affirm that forgiveness is at least possible.

7. Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible.

Normally, the main emotion is one of pain, but anger will often accompany the pain. Both people need to describe what happened, because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view.

Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened. Do not cut this discussion off until both parties have exhausted their descriptions of what occurred and how they felt about it.

Sometimes it helps in this stage to do some reverse role playing where each person tries to verbalize the situation from the perspective of the other.

8. Develop a positive path forward

The next step is the mutual problem solving process. Often two individuals try to do this without the preparatory work done above, which is more difficult.

The thing to ask in this phase is “what would have to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before.” Here, some creativity can really help.

You are looking for a win-win solution where each party feels some real improvement has been made. Do not stop looking for solutions just because it is difficult to find them.

If you have gotten this far, there is going to be some set of things that can begin the healing process. Develop a path forward together. What new behaviors are you both going to exhibit with each other to start fresh.

9. Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people.

Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to hold each other accountable for progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different.

10. Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day.

As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase. Make sure to smell the roses along the way. It is important to celebrate progress as it occurs, because that reinforcement will encourage continued progress.

If there is a another set-back, it is time to cycle back on the steps above and not give up on the relationship just because the healing process is a challenging one.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.

That outcome is really good news because it allows a significant trust withdrawal to become an opportunity instead of a disaster.

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 600 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


Pooper Scooper at Work

July 16, 2016

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint!

Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions.

When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and maybe we could be more effective if we eliminated the sources of the mess.

What a novel idea: prevent the doody in the first place, and it eliminates the requirement to clean it up. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting.

You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – I figured it was totally useless.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.

Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible.

It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors. Some Twitter exchanges come to mind when thinking about a food fight.

The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack. There is no need to toss those mashed potatoes.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem.

Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life: sort a reincarnation of Mary Poppins.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor.

With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet.

When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize.

When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance.

Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

Use Your Emotional Intelligence

Whenever someone says or does something that really pushes your buttons, try to take a step back and consider the implications of your reaction to the stimulus. By refusing to take the “bait” that was dangled by the other person, you are taking the high road, and you come out the winner.

Try to take greater pleasure in avoiding a nasty confrontation than you would by putting the other person in his or her place. The trick is to build in some dwell time and not flash a response when the bait is thrown your way. It takes great restraint and some practice, but the rewards are delicious.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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


Bilateral Nature of Trust – Restoring Lost Trust

February 2, 2014

StethoscopeTrust between individuals is bilateral. At any point in time, we have a balance of trust with every person whom we know.

Trust is also directional; I trust you at some level and you trust me as well, but not at the exact same level. In all our daily transactions with others, the trust fluctuates based on what happens, what is said, body language, texts, and even what other people are saying.

It is a very complex and dynamic system.

I believe that if the trust in one direction is very different from the reciprocal trust for a long period of time, that relationship will not endure unless it is forced to endure, or unless something happens to resolve the disparity.

Picture the situation between a parent and a child who has a habit of lying to keep out of trouble. The parent has low trust in the child because there is overwhelming evidence that the child does not have integrity.

The child may trust the parent at some level even if the relationship is a stormy one. The relationship is usually forced to endure because the child is too young to strike out on his own. Unfortunately with each low trust exchange, a kind of resentment builds up that may take years to resolve, if ever.

At work, we have a trust level with each person based on everything that has happened thus far in the relationship. My trust in you will be different from your trust in me, and it will fluctuate depending on what happens to us during the day. This is normal and not particularly damaging unless the rift becomes a major issue, or the pattern is a prolonged one.

Rebuilding trust is a situational thing, and not every situation calls for the formality offered below. These steps constitute a solid path toward reconciliation for a breach of trust between two people who have previously had a strong relationship that has been severely compromised.

The idea is to move swiftly and create an atmosphere of finding 1) the truth, 2) understanding of motives, and 3) a pathway to healing.

Nine tips to rebuild lost trust

1. Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and the trauma needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need to be stopped after a major letdown.

The situation is not going to heal by itself, so both parties need to set aside normal routines in order to focus significant energy on regaining equilibrium.

2. Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases there is a true caring for the other person, even if it is eclipsed by the hurt and anger of the moment.

It may be a stretch for some people to mentally set aside the issue, but it would be helpful to do that, if just as an exercise.

If the problem had never happened, would these people care about each other? If one person cannot recognize at least the potential for future care, then the remedial process is blocked until that happens.

3. Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are to be made, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust.

It may seem out of reach if the problem was a major let down or ongoing issue, but it is critical that both parties really want the hurt to be resolved.

4. Admit fault and accept responsibility

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress can be made.

Try to do this without trying to justify the action. Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe.

Often there is an element of fault on the part of both parties, but even if one person is the only one who did anything wrong, an understanding of fault is needed in this step.

Sometimes neither party did anything particularly wrong, but the circumstances led to trust being lost. In addition, the problem may be an act of omission rather than something that was done.

5. Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process.

The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw.

The loss of trust may be so severe that the injured party may not believe the person who is asking for forgiveness.

True and full forgiveness is not likely to happen until behavior has changed and the final healing process has occurred. It takes time to rebuild trust.

6. Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible.

Normally the main emotion is one of pain, but anger can accompany the pain. Both people need to describe what happened, because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view.

Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened. Do not cut this discussion off until both parties have exhausted their descriptions of what occurred and how they felt about it.

Sometimes it helps in this stage to do some reverse role playing where each person tries to verbalize the situation from the perspective of the other.

7. Develop a positive path forward

The next step is the mutual problem solving process. Often two individuals try to do this without the preparatory work done above, which is more difficult.

The thing to ask in this phase is “what would have to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before.” Here, some creativity can really help.

You are looking for a win-win solution where each party feels some real improvement has been made.

Do not stop looking for solutions just because they are difficult to find. If you have gotten this far, there is going to be some set of things that can begin the healing process. Develop a path forward together. Realize that it may be difficult to reach a compromise easily. One person may harbor a grudge for a long time, so keep looking for a win-win solution. What new behaviors are you both going to exhibit with each other to start fresh.

8. Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people. Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to verify progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different.

9. Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day. As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase.

Make sure to smell the roses along the way. It is important to celebrate progress as it occurs, because that reinforcement will encourage continued progress. If there is a another set-back, it is time to cycle back on the steps above and not give up on the relationship just because the healing process is a long one.

This process needs to be taken with a grain of salt and modified to fit the particular situation at hand. Every rift between people is unique, and the ideas here are directional, depending on the situation, rather than literal to be followed without reason.

Modify the process to fit your particular application and do not follow a get well plan blindly. If a step seems like overkill or is just not practical, then you can skip it, but for serious breaches, the majority of steps will help.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.

Achieving higher trust than before is really good news, because it allows a significant trust withdrawal to become an opportunity instead of a disaster.


Organizational Pooper Scooper

January 2, 2012

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint! Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions. When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and if people would stop and think before taking action, they could usually prevent the need for an organizational pooper scooper. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting. You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – it was a load of crap.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.
Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible. It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors.
The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem. Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor. With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet. When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize. When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance. Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.