Leadership Barometer 54 The Impact of a Culture of High Trust

June 9, 2020

Over the past 20 years, I have taught Business and Leadership at seven universities, along with several hundred corporate and professional groups.

One thing that has disappointed me is the discussion of corporate culture in most of the MBA textbooks. They usually leave out the most important parts of culture. This topic has fascinated me for years.

The success and longevity of any organization is directly linked to its culture. We sometimes notice the parts that make up culture, but often they are transparent because they are just a part of doing business in a particular group.

If we stop to think about what defines culture and work to manage or influence it, we can uncover some powerful leadership leverage.

Most of the Leadership textbooks I have read describe the culture in terms of physical attributes that characterize an organization.

For example, here is a typical list of the things purported to make up a company culture.

1. Physical structure
2. Language and symbols
3. Rituals, ceremonies, gossip, and jokes
4. Stories, legends, and heroes
5. Beliefs
6. Values and norms
7. Assumptions

The above list is a montage of the lists in several textbooks. When you think about it, these items do go a long way toward defining the culture of an organization.

Unfortunately, I believe these items fall short, because they fail to include the emotions of the people. After all, organizations are made up of people, at all levels, interacting in a social structure for a purpose.

Let us extend the list of things that make up the culture of an organization to include how the people feel.

1. Is there a high level of trust within the organization?
2. To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization?
3. Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful?
4. How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels?
5. Is the culture inclusive or exclusive?
6. Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work?
7. Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment?
8. Are managers viewed as enablers or barriers?
9. Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out?
10. What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization?
11. Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal?
12. Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?

I could go on with another 20-30 things that relate to the human side of culture. I hope you agree that the items above are at least as important as the items on the first list in terms of describing the culture.

Why then do most textbooks on leadership not mention them when they discuss culture? It baffles me.

Perhaps the view is that these “people-centered” items are best discussed separately and only the “system-centered” items define the culture. Personally, I do not agree with that.

Let’s zoom in on just one item of my list above: item #1. The level of trust in an organization is actually the most significant part of the culture, in my opinion.

The reason I put Trust in the front and center of culture is that with high trust, all of the other things (rituals, ceremonies, values, language, etc.) work to engage people in the business. With low trust, you can have all the trappings, but people will laugh at you behind your back.

You are probably familiar with the CEO who spouts out the values at every chance, but does not live them, so there is no trust. The values are just a useless pile of words.

In fact, they are worse than useless, because every time the CEO mentions the values it reminds people what a hypocrite he or she is.

Why is Trust so powerful? Let’s contrast a few dimensions for a company with high trust versus one with low trust to view the impact.

Problems

All organizations have a steady stream of problems. If the culture is one of low trust, each problem represents a high hurdle to overcome. We have to stop everything and have a meeting to figure out who said what and try to unscramble the mess.

We also have to contend with the interpersonal squabbles that are part of a low trust culture.

If there is high trust, first of all there will be fewer problems, but then the remaining problems are easily overcome, like pebbles in the road we kick aside with our shoe. We can focus energy on the vision rather than the problems.

Any problems will be resolved quickly, and the solutions will be of higher quality, because people will not be afraid to voice their creative ideas.

Communication

In groups with low trust, trying to communicate is like walking on eggs. Every word or phrase is a potential trigger for a sarcastic remark. Things are frequently taken the wrong way and create damage to control.

With high trust, communication seems easy. People have the ability to “hear between the lines” and the instinctively know the intent of the message even if the words come out wrong. Employees are not coiled and ready to strike anytime there is an opportunity.

Focus

In areas of low trust, people are focusing on protecting themselves or bringing other people down. Most of the energy is directed inward to the organization in numerous battles that really don’t help the organization succeed.

If trust is high, people are feeling aligned, so their focus is outward at the opportunities (customers) or threats (competition). This shift in focus from inward battles to outward opportunities is huge in terms of organizational success.

Rumors

When trust is low, rumors spring up due to poor communication. Since there is nothing to retard them, they take on a life of their own.

The rumors and gossip spread like wildfire all over the organization creating significant damage control for management.

In areas of high trust, there will still be rumors from time to time, but they will be easily extinguished before they do significant damage. This is because people believe management when they say something is not true.

Attitude

Look at the people in an organization of low trust; what is their general attitude? Usually it is one of apathy. They need their job in order to live, but they dearly wish it wasn’t such a struggle.

Now look at the attitude of people in an organization of high trust. You will see passion and motivation to really help the organization succeed. The difference here is huge in terms of organizational survival.

For one thing, customers notice the difference immediately. You know the feeling of sitting in a restaurant where the trust level between management and the servers is low.

You get an uncomfortable feeling and may net even realize why you decide to not patronize the place again.

Impact

With these differences, the result when workers have high trust has been shown by several authors is that they are between 2-5 times more productive than low trust groups.

Think of the number of organizations where managers are constantly feeling under-staffed. “We need more people,” is the common phrase.

My retort is that it is a leadership problem. What you need is not more people, but better leaders who know how to build a great culture of trust.

We could go on with numerous more examples of the difference between a culture of high trust and low trust, and that is only the first item on the list above.

I hope it is obvious that having the right kind of culture makes all the difference in the ability to survive in business.

Take the time and energy to work on your culture; the ROI is astronomical.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Mr. Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, , and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.
Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Leadership Barometer 3 Growth and Development

June 17, 2019

Here is another one of my quick and easy measures for the quality of leaders.

Growth & Development

Good leaders focus on the growth and development of people. If you want to test the caliber of a leader, just measure how much energy she spends on developing people. The concept is that there is vast reservoir of talent in all people that is ripe for development.

I estimate that all but the very best organizations typically get around 30% of the available energy and talent of their workforce. My estimate may be a bit off, but not too far.

Think of this. It would mean that we can double the productivity of the workforce and still have people working at roughly 60% of their capacity. Wow, what a great way to improve output and lower costs!

Of course you cannot achieve 100% of the energy of all people all of the time. That would require so much Adrenalin it would kill everyone. But we really don’t need the 100%. I contend there is so much pent up potential in most organizations, the upside is huge.

What holds us back? Well, it is a lot of factors I am describing in this series. One of the key ones is whether people have been given the skills to do their best work. Good leaders know this and put a lot of emphasis in the development of people.

Interesting Contrast

You can contrast a development oriented leader with weaker leaders who do not seek to do much development. Weak leaders may be afraid that if they develop outstanding raw talent, they are in danger of being passed over by the newly-developed worker.

They may be too ignorant to realize that 1 hour in a good training program brings more than 3 incremental hours of productivity to the organization.

It may be that the organization is in such a state of panic, there is simply no time to develop people for the future. They simply need all hands on deck. This myopic viewpoint is similar to the orchestra playing their final numbers on the Titanic.

Look for the Following Important Signs

Another aspect of development is the degree to which the leader seeks to grow herself as an individual.

  1. Does she have a personal development plan that has been reviewed with her superior?
  2. Does she have discussion groups around some leadership or inspirational books?
  3. Is she enrolled in several professional organizations outside of work?
  4. Does she spend time going to at least one professional conference per year?
  5. Does she listen to recorded programs while driving?
  6. Does she regularly interface with professionals outside her organization on social networks?
  7. Does she have an active reading list?

All of these behaviors are signs of a person who is really interested in growing as a leader. When you see these signs, you know the person understands the value of continuous learning.

Leaders who want to develop others need to consider if they are modeling the above behaviors themselves.

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.


Successful Supervisor 99 – Develop a Growth Mindset

October 27, 2018

In Dr. Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset,” she contrasts a fixed or limited mindset with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the positive belief that hard work and a desire to stretch your personality, ability, and talent will result in a marked improvement.

I absolutely relate to this message and have a formula for applying it in your life.

For most of us, we are our own worst critic. We beat ourselves up over all kinds of things. I ask the question in all my seminars “Who is your worst critic,” and out of the thousands of responses I have received, all but one said “myself.”

The holdout was one honest man who instantly blurted out “my wife.” We have the power to change our mental pattern if we wish. It is a simple five-step process that you do over and over for 30-60 days until it forms a new habit.

When we engage in negative self talk, even at the unconscious level, it often undermines our self esteem and can lead to physical and mental ailments.

Supervisors operate in a kind of caldron every day and can be susceptible to running themselves down. It is good to be realistic about our shortcomings so we can improve performance as we learn and grow, but it is not a healthy thing to constantly beat up on ourselves for not being perfect.

If you are 48 years old, you have likely spent 48 years forming a habit of negative self talk that limits your performance and may even shorten your life.

The good news is that we humans have a remarkable ability to retrain the brain in a short period of time to form new habits. Research has shown it takes less than a couple months of conscious effort to permanently change a lifelong habit. Here is a simple five-step process that can quickly change the quality of your life, if you give it an honest try.

Step One – Catch it

My mental image here is that we all have a kind of beehive of thoughts about ourselves in our subconscious mind. Many of these thoughts are negative. This mass of energy is whizzing around all the time, and we are not even aware of it.

Every once in a while, often for no reason we can identify, one of these negative thoughts about us jumps up into our conscious mind. We are aware of our inadequacy and thinking about it.

For most of our lives, these thoughts have made us feel kind of sick as we muse on why we are not more perfect. Finally the thought is supplanted by some other thought or a phone call or some other interruption, and the episode is over.

What if we decided to have a growth mindset and actually catch the thought when we are first aware of it? My mental image here is one of reaching up with a catcher’s mitt and catching the thought˗˗plop˗˗ there it is. We have it firmly in hand now. Step one is completed.

The fascinating part of step one is that by simply reading this article, you will have increased your ability to catch the thought while you are having it. (That is the key.) In essence, this article is giving you that catcher’s mitt.

As of now, if you start a stopwatch it will be less than one hour until you have caught your first negative thought using this procedure. By the time you go to bed today you will have caught from three to 12 of these in your mitt. Wow, that is three to 12 opportunities to go on to step two!

Step Two – Reject it

Here I use the mental image of hitting the thought with a tennis racket back into my subconscious mind. I reject the thought, just like a tennis player returns the ball over the net. I often verbalize while doing this using the words “No! I am not doing that any more!”

I only utter the words verbally when I am alone, like in the car or out mowing the lawn. If I am with people, I utter the words silently, but I actually use the words just the same. This has a profound effect, because I am training my mind to form a different thought pattern: a growth mindset.

Step Three – Replace the bad image with a positive one

Now that you have rejected the limiting image of yourself, it is important to replace that thought with an affirming image that you know to be true. You might say, “I am better than this, and will prove it in the future.” In doing this step you are enabling a growth mindset.

Step Four – Reward Yourself

This is an important part of the approach, because this one gives you the impetus to do more of it in the future. Think to yourself, “Hey, that was a good thing. I am actually growing here in my capacity to think more positively. That feels great!”

Step Five – Move on

Here the magic is to put the negativity for this moment behind you and move forward with the affirmative positive and rewarding image solidly in your mind.

That is all there is to this simple method of self improvement. Now you just wait for the next negative thought to come along and repeat the process.

The impact of doing this

At first, this will feel awkward or hokey. Do it anyway because you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you can do it for one day, that will give you enough momentum to do it on day two.

Similarly, by the end of day two you will feel some exhilaration as you praise yourself and continue through day three. By day four it will be pretty easy to keep doing it. If you persist using this method for between one and two months, you will have permanently changed your thought pattern about yourself. You will use this method instinctively for the rest of your life.

Here is my guarantee to you. If you can do this for 30-60 days, sometime during that process someone you love or work with will say something like this, “You have changed. I can’t put my finger on what is different, but you really are a changed individual and you wear it well.” If you are like me, several people in your life will notice a difference.

The most important person to notice a difference is you. You feel better because you really are better. You have beaten a life long habit of thinking negative thoughts about yourself, yet you still maintain the ability to see your true flaws accurately and learn from your mistakes. It is just that you have stopped punishing yourself over and over for not being good enough. What a burden lifted.

I urge you to try this simple five step approach. Look at it this way, it takes almost no time to do this, it costs you nothing, it is uplifting and fun, it improves the quality of your life, it is easy to do, and you can do it privately so nobody else has to know. So, for no expenditure of cash or even effort, you will be shaping yourself into a new person. Once you see the benefits of this method, don’t hoard it for yourself. Teach others the wonderful relief of this technique, because as you help others you also help yourself.

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


Chances: Give Them and Take Them

September 2, 2012

I saw something in the social media a while ago, that said “Give chances: don’t take them.” I propose a different slant on the topic; I replace the word “don’t” with the word “and.” Since I am rather risk averse, the notion of not taking chances has a comforting ring to it. On the flip side, none of us can make progress in life without taking some kind of chances. Finding the right balance between taking calculated and strategic risks versus foolhardy ones is worthy of some analysis.

The trick is to determine the difference between smart risks and dumb ones. We need a system that helps us sort them out. Stop reading for a moment and focus on a personal risk that you have taken in the past year. Think about the process you used to sort through the risk/reward ratio and how you ultimately decided to make the plunge. In retrospect, would you do it again? Do you thank yourself for taking intelligent risks, even if sometimes they do not pan out?

My system is to have a good strategic plan for my life. It covers my professional as well personal life. Every year I renew the plan and refresh what I plan to do for the next year. Having a written plan allows me to turn down some tempting things without feeling guilty for missing something.

For example, this year I made a strategic decision to back off on some teaching to allow more time for product development. That meant sacrificing current income in order to have the potential for a better future. The result is not guaranteed, but the risk vs. reward tradeoff was a good one for me this year. I have also made some heavy investments in my speaking career that are already starting to pay off and are bringing me more speaking engagements on my topics of trust and leadership.

Having a plan helps me know which calculated risks might be the best moves to make. The plan is never perfect, nor do I adhere to it with shackled rigidity. I believe we need to be flexible and alert to possibilities we may not have considered before. Still, operating with a backdrop of a well-considered plan has been quite useful in my life. I recommend the practice to you, and I will send you my detailed system if you request it.

On giving chances, allowing ourselves and others to try things is a formula for enabling growth. We need to feel empowered to take a chance when it is prudent and encourage others to take responsible risks as well. Sometimes we also need to give second chances in order to reap the payoff.

If we are too quick to pull the plug when an attempt at something goes sour, then we limit the learning experiences that come from overcoming failures. I believe we learn as much from our failures as we do from our successes. We need to fail more often and make corrections to maximize the life lessons. It is all about learning.

For example, walking and talking are easy for most people. Recall what it is like for a child to learn to walk or talk. It is simply a series of numerous failures followed by support and more chances that allow the eventual learning to take place. But what if you had a stroke and had to learn these skills all over again? Thankfully, most of us never have to endure that agony. One person who did, and wrote insightfully about it, was Jill Bolte Taylor.

Jill wrote a wonderful book entitled, “My Stroke of Insight.” As a practicing brain surgeon, she suffered a massive stroke that destroyed the left side of her brain. In her book, she described the painful process to regain full control of her functions, with the dedicated help of her amazing mother. She literally had to relearn how to walk and talk while using only the right side of her brain. In the process, she discovered a kind of inner peace that is available to us all if we simply train ourselves to access it. I recommend this book to anyone who struggles with depression. It is not only about getting a second chance, but about the amazing personal skill of modifying our own thought patterns.

Giving second chances to ourselves and others is also an empowering activity. We allow the person to take ownership of the situation and figure out how to do better in the future. With this approach, people can take a creative and uplifting road to improvement rather than dwell in defeat.

In summary, if each of us would concentrate on taking intelligent chances with the right strategy and then extend chances if things go wrong, we would find the world to be happier and more productive.