Leadership Barometer 4 Absence of Fear

June 24, 2019

Here is a quick and easy way to measure the caliber of any leader.

Lack of Fear

Fear is the enemy of trust, and trust is what you must foster in order to be a great leader.  My favorite quote on this connection is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

In any group, if the leader creates an environment where there is very low fear, the trust will grow to a high level.  It is as reliable and unstoppable as the mold on last week’s bread.

Good leaders create an environment where there is less fear. That does not mean there is never any fear within the organization.

Sometimes scary stuff is needed in order for the organization to survive. But in those times of uncertainty, great leaders redouble their communication activities to keep people aware of what is going on.

In draconian times, it is the lack of solid reliable information that causes the most fear. When leaders are as transparent as possible, it leads to open communication. This practice means lower fear, and higher trust, even when things are not pleasant.

Nature hates a vacuum. If you have a bare spot in your lawn, nature will quickly fill it in with something, usually weeds. If you take a bucket of water out of a pond, nature will fill in the “hole” immediately. When you open a can of coffee, you hear the rush of air coming in to replace the vacuum.

So it is with people, if there is a void of information, people will find something to fill in the void – usually “weeds.”

That is why rumors attenuate in a culture of high trust. There is no fuel to keep the fires of gossip going. Leaders keep people informed of what is going on all the time. This transparency helps people vent their fears and focus on the tasks at hand, even if they are involved with unpleasant things.

Eliminating fear is much more than just sharing information openly.  Most fear in organizations comes from the feeling that it is not safe to voice a concern, especially if it is about something the leader wants to do.

There is ample evidence in most organizations that people who voice their concerns about what the leader is doing get punished in numerous ways. They learn to hold their observations inside rather than risk getting clobbered.

Trust cannot grow when people are fearful, so in most organizations, it is the lack of ability to be candid with the leader that hampers the growth of trust.

Contrast this pattern with one where the leader is enlightened to welcome and REWARD people for their candor, even if it is contrary to what the leader thinks is right at the moment.  In that kind of culture, trust grows because fear is extinguished.

If you see an organization where people know it is safe to express their opinions (in an appropriate way and time) it is the result of a great leader at work. If you see an organization where people are afraid to speak their truth, the leader of that organization is weak and has a potential to change and grow into a stronger leader.

 

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Impact of Loose Lipped Leaders

June 9, 2013

Secret of leader croppedA leader with loose lips is a real disaster. I recall early in my career overhearing a manager in my division going from one cubicle to the next, and saying to each person, “I heard this on the QT, so don’t tell anybody, but…” After hearing this manager share the same information with 3-4 other people asking each person not to tell anyone else, I lost all respect for that leader. Doing this in an area where there were cubicles rather than closed offices shows that this manager had a deficiency in intelligence as well as discretion.

Integrity is one of the most important characteristics for any leader. The idea of a leader who intentionally spreads gossip is repugnant. I can only imagine the motivation of the errant manager for his actions. I suppose he was attempting to buy loyalty by letting certain people in on the inside dope. The ploy backfired. He was quickly labeled as an individual who could not be trusted to keep private information confidential. A leader who in not trustworthy gains no trust.

It reminds me of the leader who tells one employee some negative information about a fellow employee. It might sound like this, “Confidentially, I am worried about Martha; I think she may have a drinking problem, but please keep that to yourself.” Any employee hearing such inappropriate information casually leaked by a manager would wonder, “What is he telling other people about me when I am not around to defend myself?” A manager with no integrity simply has no credibility. We all know this, so why do some leaders spread gossip anyway?

Depending on the topic and other conditions in the organization, it may be tempting at times to share privileged information based on some rationalism. For example, picture a work unit that will be experiencing a downsizing in the next quarter. The information has not been announced to the organization at this point, but the leader wants to be sure adequate cross training occurs for a particular individual who will replace one of the exiting employees. The manager may pull Martha, the employee who is staying, aside and say something like, “I need to share that Alice is going to be leaving in the RIF next month. This is not public information yet, so please keep it confidential, but you will be taking on her responsibilities. Please begin to pay attention to what she is doing with her clients, because there will not be much time for cross training once the layoffs are announced.”

Trying to mitigate potential problems by warning certain individuals of an action ahead of time may sound like a positive step, but it is a disaster on many levels.

Let’s examine the real impact of such a discussion.

• It will cause Martha to act in ways that tip Alice off that she is doomed.
• It plays favorites with one employee, which will leak out to others.
• Martha may also leak the information to others either unwittingly or on purpose.
• Other people may surface asking about their status in the RIF.
• The manager has lost the respect of Martha, at least, and many others as well.

A far better approach is to be transparent about the entire situation early to allow public discussions of how people can cope with this difficult transition. Even if the news is bad, you are better off making it public as early as possible, because then you can be more helpful to both the employees who leave and the employees who remain.

One way to build trust with people is to refuse to discuss information out of turn. One of the easiest ways to destroy trust is to show a violation of someone else’s trust when talking in private to another person. Don’t do it!


Rumors and Gossip – 7 Tips

May 15, 2011

Rumors and gossip can be debilitating for any organization. They create a kind of parallel universe that siphons vital energy away from important work. They cause a need for leaders to do the same damage control they would do if the rumors were actually true. Reason: What people believe is reality to them. If many people in an organization believe there is going to be a cut in salary, even if that is not the case, the leader must do the damage control as if it was actually going to happen. In the hyper-competitive global marketplace, organizations cannot afford to cope with distracting ghosts born through the rumor mill.

Let’s explore several thoughts about the impact of rumors and how to prevent them from starting in the first place.

Trust is an antidote

Trust and rumors are mostly incompatible. If there is low trust, it is easy for someone to project something negative for the future. When trust is low, these sparks create a roaring blaze like tinder in a sun-parched and wind-swept desert. If trust is high, the spark may still be there, but it will have trouble catching on and growing. This is because people will just check with the boss about the validity of the rumor.

When trust is high, the communication process is efficient, as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy. In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction. Trying to control the rumors takes energy away from the mission and strategy. Building high trust is not the subject of this article. I have written extensively on how to build trust elsewhere, and there are numerous other authors who write about it.

Rumors generate spontaneously

Just as a fire can be kindled spontaneously, so rumors and gossip can develop without any apparent external influence. I believe it is part of the human condition to speculate on what might happen. This tendency is greatly enhanced in a culture of low respect. Often it is a void of timely communication that causes a rumor to start.

Nature hates a vacuum. If you have a bare spot in the lawn, nature will fill it in quickly, usually with weeds. If you take a pail of water out of a pond, nature will fill it in immediately so no “hole” exists in the surface. We can hear the sound of air rushing into a coffee can when the opener first compromises the vacuum. So it is also with people. When there is a vacuum of credible information, people fill in the situation with information of their own invention – usually “weeds.”

Rumors wick energy away from critical work

Dealing with the reality and consequences of gossip is a significant tax that is paid by organizations that have a culture which breeds false information. My swimming pool is cloudy now because I did not maintain an environment inhospitable to algae. Now I must invest in pounds of expensive chemicals and do extra work that would not have been necessary if I had exercised the right ounces of prevention a few weeks ago.

Seven tips for leaders to reduce the impact of rumors:

1. Intervene quickly when there is a rumor and provide solid, believable information about what is really going to happen. It is best to have this intervention before the rumor even starts, but it is essential to nip the problem as soon as it is detected.

2. Coach the worst offenders to stop. Usually it is not hard to tell the 2-3 people in a group who like to stir up trouble. They are easy to spot in the break room. Take these people aside and ask them to tone down the speculation. One interesting way to mitigate a group of gossipers is to go and sit at the lunch table with them. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but it can be very helpful at detecting rumors early. Just as in fighting a disease, the sooner some treatment can be applied, the easier the problem is to control.

3. Double the communication in times of uncertainty. There are times when the genesis of a rumor is easy to predict. Suppose all the top managers have a long closed-door meeting with the shades pulled. People are going to wonder what is being discussed. Suppose the financial performance indicates that continuing on the present path is impossible. What if there are strange people walking around the shop floor with tape measures? There could be a consultant going around asking all kinds of probing questions. All these things, and numerous others, are bound to have people start speculating. When this happens, smart leaders get out on the shop floor to interface more with the people. Unfortunately, when there are unusual circumstances, most managers like to hide in their offices or in meetings to avoid having to deal with pointed questions. That is exactly the opposite of the most helpful suggestion.

4. Find multiple ways to communicate the truth. People need to hear something more than once to start believing it. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2011, nearly 60% of people indicate they need to hear organizational news (good or bad) at least three to five times before they believe it.

5. Reinforce open dialog. If people are praised rather than punished for speaking out when there is a disconnect, they will do more of it. That mechanism is a short circuit to the rumor mill. It also helps build the trust level, which is the best way to subdue the rumor agents.

6. Model a no-gossip policy. People pick up on the tactics of a leader and mimic them on the shop floor. If the leader is prone to sending out juicy bits of unsubstantiated speculation, then others in the organization will be encouraged to do the same thing. Conversely, if a leader refuses to discuss information that is potentially incorrect, then it models the kind of self control that will be picked up by at least some people.

7. Extinguish gossip behavior. This may mean breaking up a clique of busy-bodies or at least adding some new objective blood into the mix. It might mean having a “no BS” policy for the entire team.

In today’s climate, it is essential to mitigate if not eliminate the impact of rumors and gossip in the workplace. It takes a strong and vigilant leader to do this well, but it has potentially huge benefits to the organization.