Leadership Barometer 8 Not Playing Games

July 23, 2019

Here is a quick way to assess the quality of a leader.

Build a real environment

Many people describe the actions and decisions of their leader as a kind of game.  There is an agenda going on in the head of the leader, but the true intent is often hidden from view.

This situation is common in all parts of our society from C-Level executives, to politicians, clergy, academics, lawyers, accountants, law enforcement, and really every corner of society.

Another symptom is that the story changes from day to day without any apparent provocation or believable explanation. People try to guess what the leader really wants, only to be embarrassed or disappointed when they make a wrong assumption.  It is a common break room discussion for people to speculate what the leader is trying to accomplish by the latest pronouncement.

The contrast with this pattern when there is an excellent leader at the helm could not be more clear.  Great leaders do not play games. They build a culture of trust, where people know the objectives, and all actions are in alignment with those objectives. Workers know what is going on in the mind of the leader and are expected to point out anything that would seem to deviate from the plan.

This condition leads to maximum engagement of everyone because there is no need for second guessing.

Do not assume people know

It is important for any leader to not assume people know the intent.  Since all actions are totally rational in the mind of the leaders, it is a simple leap to figure that other people can connect the dots as well.  You can tell when people are confused by their body language.

A puzzled look on the face is the easy way to spot the confusion. Great leaders are constantly trying to sniff out any possibility of misinterpretation, so they can take immediate corrective actions.

Poor leaders go ahead blindly, assuming that everyone will figure out why a certain action was taken. Sometimes they are astonished to discover significant confusion and wonder why motivation is so low.

That disconnect becomes the acid test of a good leader on this dimension. If there are rarely or never any need to go back and explain an action or statement, then this leader is communicating well and not playing head games with people. In that environment, trust will grow strong, and it will endure.

Put a high premium on direct information, and always verify that people understand not only what you are advocating but why you think that is the wise path. That verification allows people to challenge anything that seems to be out of the expected so that corrections can be made before damage is done.

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

 


Wickedleaks

November 13, 2016

I read Seth Goden’s blog every day and enjoy observing how his mind works. I am no Seth Goden, but I do admire how he comes up with interesting perspectives on the human condition daily.

His blogs are often very short, which I appreciate from a time perspective, but even in a few lines he can make me think. His entry for today (10/9/2016) was “Visualizing the Leaks.” It was about how organizations experience leaks all the time and often are not aware of them.

According to Seth, “The first step is seeing it, and then to refusing to go back to not seeing it.”

In this article, I will amplify on his observation about leaks in organizations and offer some ways to stop the hemorrhaging.

Webster defines the intransitive verb “leak” in two main ways:

1. to escape through an opening
2. to become known despite efforts at concealment

Both of these definitions have direct parallels in the business world, and each one has vast significance for the health of any organization.

The definition Seth was addressing was the first one, so let’s examine that first, then go on to some points about the second definition.

Organizations survive based on the nucleus of resources they have managed to amass and how well these assets are preserved. Whether we are talking about trade secrets, tangible assets, intellectual property, or key people, the organization becomes stronger when these elements are fostered and grow in number or weaker if they are allowed to leak out into the ether or become assets of a competing firm.

Here the concept of a vessel comes in handy as a metaphor because we can picture resources escaping through some hole or crack in the vessel.

Let’s focus the discussion here on the most important resource of all: people. The idea is to keep turnover to a minimum level and only lose those individuals who are dragging the organization down in some way.

Turnover is one of the most devastating costs for any organization, and it goes on in all groups. The antidote is to have such a wonderful culture, so far above what is available elsewhere that an individual would be a fool to pack up and go somewhere else.

To accomplish this requires leaders who know how to create great cultures. An example would be Tony Hsieh, who is the CEO of Zappos. In 2009 Zappos was acquired by Amazon because Jeff Bezos recognized the giant merchandiser could learn a lot from the smaller online retailer of shoes.

For years, Zappos had offered new employees a bonus of $4000 if they wanted to leave after their first year of training. Amazon upped the stakes with a program that they call “Pay to quit.” Amazon offers employees $2000 to quit after their first year and then an additional $1000 each year after that up to a maximum of $5000 that is offered each year of employment, if the employee wants to leave.

In explaining the philosophy to stakeholders of Amazon, Bezos said, “The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”

Other than a cash prize that tests loyalty, there are hundreds of ways organizations can create a fantastic culture where employees would be foolish to leave. Here is a very brief (and incomplete) list of examples:

1. Create a culture of high trust where people know it is safe to talk about their concerns without fear of reprisal.

2. Cross train people constantly. This encourages personal growth and adds bench strength. It is also a wonderful team building activity.

3. Set aggressive goals and keep people busy working toward the goals. Spend time and energy celebrating the small wins along the way. Make sure progress is reinforced.

4. Have specific values and insist that every employee, especially the managers, always live by them. It is easy to have a set of values but not always follow them when the going gets tough. Great organizations follow the values no matter what.

5. Have a culture where each person feels like a winner rather than a loser. This is done by creating a reinforcing culture that is real, not phony, and exists at all levels.

The idea here is not to create an exhaustive list of things that retain employees, but to give a few of the important examples as a reminder that the most important thing that will determine the culture of any organization is the behavior of its top leaders.

When you retain the best people, then you tend to plug up all of the other leaks that can occur, like intellectual property, physical assets, and many other intangible assets. Let’s shift gears and discuss the second definition of a leak:

The inadvertent or intentional disclosure of information that was meant to be kept private.

With the reality of Wikileaks as an example of what is going on, it has become obvious that keeping information from leaking is more difficult today that it was 15 years ago. This trend will continue without abatement as technology becomes more ubiquitous.

CEOs as well as all public figures are quickly realizing that we need to behave as if the microphone is always on, because for an overwhelming percentage of the time, it is.

Information will leak, period. The only way to run an ethical organization of high trust is to never talk or act in ways that are not consistent with what we would want plastered throughout the internet.

That is a tough standard for CEOs who live in the pressure cooker of quarterly pressures from Wall Street all the time. It is the only standard that is defensible or rational in our world today. Many organizations are finding out that doing things with integrity is the only formula for long term success.

Seth Goden is right, we need to see the leaks that are going on and rise to the challenge of ubiquitous information in every organization that intends to survive. The good news is that those organizations who get that message are not only surviving, they are thriving.

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


Leaders: Be Smart, Act Dumb

October 2, 2011

In 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.


E-Mail Announcements Are Not Enough

June 20, 2010

The number one complaint in most organizations is lack of good communication from management. Too many managers believe that putting out an announcement in an e-mail is adequate communication. Unfortunately it is not – not by a long margin.  Information needs to be communicated in numerous forums and in various ways to accommodate the learning styles of all people and reinforce the message. An e-mail announcement is  good thing to do because it is in writing and has a specific date for revision purposes. Beyond that, it is a mistake to think proper communication has happened by posting an e-mail. 

The hit rate of people actually understanding and absorbing the words in an e-mail is often below 50%.  Some estimates are as low as 10% in terms of getting people to absorb complex or detailed information. Reason: people tend to skim e-mail communication or not even open it due to the sheer volume of information flying by on the computer every hour (note, we used to say every day). So, when managers say, “I cannot understand why people are confused, I put out an e-mail explaining the process,” they reveal that their own clueless meter is running on empty.

In the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer, Richard Edelman points out that the trend is for people to insist on multiple exposures to information before they start to believe it. This is a result of the low level of trust in business worldwide fueled by confusing signals coming from management in the past. Smart managers communicate important information in 3-5 different ways, yet numerous managers continue to believe one e-mail is good communication. 

My good friend and communications expert, Tim Hayes, calls this phenomenon the “single cannon shot mentality,” or the idea that you can win a war with a single shot. Tim says,  “Communications professionals know better.  We know human nature.  We know that people just aren’t that perceptive.  Or alert.  Or interested.  Or smart.  You don’t win a war with a single cannon blast.  It takes lots of cannon, air cover, artillery and infantry.  It takes repetition.  Establishing the most relevant and persuasive messaging based on careful research and insightful writing, then sending it out to the most appropriate audiences over and over.  Consistency and constancy win this race”  ( T. Hayes, BLOG entry dated 9/28/2009). 

Below I identify some of the communications options available in addition to a standard e-mail announcement. Note, these are only a dozen of the possibilities. Creative leaders will think of unique ways of communicating that fit the individual situation. 

1. Short Informational Videos – These quick-hit communication bullets are super for amplifying a written announcement. For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8ycThI1Gcg   

2. Podcasts – These audio files allow the manager to give information in a more user friendly format that people actually pay attention to. For example:  www.leadergrow.com/Podcast-Upgraded-for-Article.mp3

3. Website references – Augmenting an e-mail with a website entry explaining the key points in another format gives the ability to highlight information in a corporate context. For example: http://www.leadergrow.com/TRUST9e.png  

4. Use graphics rather than words or use Attached files – A simple diagram can be an effective augment to an e-mail describing complex issues. If a diagram is not in the e-mail itself, an attachment is often an effective way to amplify the message in ways people can print out and remember better than a lot of text. For example:

5. Webinars – Interactive online conferences are becoming more prevalent for sharing information in a virtual world. They work well because they are real-time and can have a very broad participation.

 6. Voice Mail Meaasges – these can be quick and simple, but they allow another chance to amplify a message if done with care and infrequently. 

7. Conference Calls and video conferencing – Conference calls have been used for decades and are effective at getting dialog on the issues from a diverse and geographically decentralized population.  Adding video to conference calls is now available to the masses with services such as SKYPE. 

8. Hard copy memos – You might use a kind of post-card memo that contains the important considerations in an announcement. It is something that can be put on a person’s bulletin board for future reference. For Example:

9. Town Hall Meetings or other Physical Presentation Modes – These face-to face meetings allow for interaction on questions for clarification. 

10. Cascade communication in small groups. This format requires a kind of “press kit” to be prepared so all levels of management are giving the same information. Often these small group meetings allow for feedback up the chain on potential concerns. 

11. One-on-one discussions – In extremely complex or sensitive areas it may be best to meet personally with each individual in the group and explain the significance of an announcement. 

12. Feedback Surveys – This method gets tangible data on how well people have absorbed the message. Surveys should be quick, user friendly, and anonymous for the most accurate information. 

Good communication involves not only sharing information; it is about obtaining understanding and buyin. Using multiple forms of communication can help managers reach more people with a more complete package of information that will create a lasting and positive impression.