Successful Supervisor 16 – Myths and Truths About Leadership

March 5, 2017

I want to share a few of my theories on leadership that may be helpful to supervisors. I believe there are misconceptions about what makes a great leader.

These myths are very common, and you will recognize all of them quickly. I will follow with some things that I believe are required for great leaders and explain the rationale for each one.

Myth 1 – You need to be brilliant

The capacity to be a great leader does not rest on intelligence. Of course, you do need some level of mental capability. Someone who cannot add numbers and comprehend or speak the language is not likely to make a strong leader.

On the other extreme, there have been many brilliant people who fail at leadership because they are aloof or have poorly developed social skills.
If you have a reasonably strong mind, that is sufficient to do well as a leader.

It is much more important to focus on developing Emotional Intelligence than it is to obtain a PhD.

Myth 2 – You need to be perfect

The best leaders recognize that they are fallible human beings. They work hard to develop and maintain a culture where people who work for them have high respect, but beyond that they do not lose sleep trying to be perfect.

When they make a mistake, they admit it and ask for forgiveness. This behavior endears them to their employees.

The opposite is true for poor leaders. They are bundles of nerves because they have not built a culture of trust, and employees are like coiled snakes just waiting for some kind of mistake so they can strike.

Poor leaders worry about “spinning” every statement just right so people will not nail them to the wall. Great leaders are able to relax and be authentic.

Myth 3 – You need to look the part

One of the best leaders I know you would not be able to pick out from how he dresses. On most days he is indistinguishable from the people who work for him. Oh sure, if there is a customer visit or a Board meeting, he will put on a jacket and tie, but he would rather be in jeans and a checkered shirt.

On the flip side, I recall one leader who was always dressed to the nines. He wore cufflinks and always had a silk kerchief in his jacket pocket. He did not connect well with his direct reports or others in the organization because he appeared to be (and was) aloof.

Myth 4 – You need to be a work-a-holic

Great leaders do work hard, of course, but they also value balance for themselves and for the people who work for them. These leaders put a high value on family relationships and also get to know the family members of people who work for them.

Myth 5 – You need a big ego

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins reported that the best leaders have two common characteristics. They are passionate people about what they are trying to accomplish, and they are humble. They are more like the “plow horse” instead of the “show horse.”

Now let’s take a look at some truths about being a good leader. Of course, many of the truths can be the opposite of the myths, but there are some other conditions as well.

Truth 1 – You must operate from a strong set of values

Leaders need to articulate a set of values for the organization and model them all of the time. If there is even a sniff of hypocrisy in terms of walking the talk on values, it will derail this person from being a successful leader.

Beyond that, the leader needs to preach why these particular values are important for the enterprise and insist that all people in the group model the values at all times.

Groups that report to a leader with weak or nebulous values often fall victim to unethical behaviors that pretty much guarantee failure.

Truth 2 – You must have high Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence allows the leader to understand how others see her with accuracy. Leaders with low Emotional Intelligence usually have blind spots and make incorrect assumptions about how they are coming across.

Further, leaders with high Emotional Intelligence rarely shoot from the hip. They take the time to understand situations well before reacting out of emotions. They also have the ability to read others well, so they make wise decisions on how to handle delicate or emotionally charged conversations.

Unlike raw intelligence (IQ) and leadership style, Emotional Intelligence is actually rather easy to learn. My favorite book on the topic is “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Bradberry and Greaves. The skills are easily understood, and the more you practice, the higher your Emotional Intelligence will become.

Truth 3 – You must operate with integrity at all times

Leaders are always under a microscope. They cannot hide their actions or even their intentions. People in the organization will find ways to test the level of integrity until they are convinced the leader can pass the test routinely.

Integrity also means treating people the right way for the right reason. It does not mean treating everyone the same way, because individuals have different needs. It does mean being fair and keeping each employee’s best interest at heart.

Truth 4 – You must communicate with precision

Every written and spoken word is subject to scrutiny and must pass the test for being congruent with the values and goals of the organization. It does not matter if you are texting an opinion or explaining a new policy in a Town Hall Meeting, the ability to communicate exactly what you mean is crucial.

Likewise the ability to listen to people deeply and grasp the full intention is essential.

Beyond written and verbal communications is a whole lexicon of body language cues that also must be consistent. This area is where many leaders fall short because they are not even aware of the signals being sent with their body language.

Few leaders understand the complexity of body language and the fact that the vast majority of body language is sent and read subconsciously. Doing well at body language is a challenge for most leaders, because they simply have not had much education on the science.

I cannot understand how an individual can get an MBA without ever having a single course in Body Language anywhere along the line. It is a crime. In my MBA curriculum there was no discussion of body language at all, so I have studied it on my own.

Truth 5 – You must build, maintain, and repair trust

I believe trust is the most important concept in leadership. Reason: In studying effective leadership for more than 40 years, I observe that those leaders who can obtain and maintain trust create a culture in which all of the other leadership skills work well to the benefit of the organization.

Without a foundation of trust created by the behaviors of the most senior leaders, the culture will sputter and struggle despite the best efforts of the remainder of the organization.

I have written about trust extensively in other articles, and an important ingredient is also repairing damaged trust. The element of trust is a fragile thing that can easily be damaged. Great leaders immediately leap to repair any damaged trust to make it stronger than it was before it was compromised.

These are just a few of the myths and truths about leaders that I teach in my leadership classes. There is an infinite supply of both of these, and I could go on for many more pages, but I believe the ones listed above are the most powerful ones. If you are on the right side of these 10 issues, chances are you are doing well as a leader and a supervisor.

This article is a part in a series 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


Teaming

October 17, 2016

If you have ever played a sport for a major university, you will identify with the concept of teaming. You may have also encountered great teamwork in a group within your community, church, or job. It’s the kind of thing we all recognize and appreciate.

Unfortunately, in the work setting, I often observe a kind of hollow team situation where people talk about a strong team but do not model team behaviors daily.

The good news is that really great teamwork only needs one ingredient. The bad news is that the one thing is great leadership, which is extremely rare. That explains why so few teams actually reach greatness. Let me explain why great leadership ensures an effective team.

Great leaders instinctively know that excellent teamwork requires four things and they do not rest until the team has all four elements in place.

1. A common goal. Every person on the team needs to buy into the goal 100%. The group needs a purpose, and that purpose must be evident in every activity.

2. Trust. People on the team must trust each other. This is where leadership is critical. First of all, an excellent leader will not allow a person on the team who will not participate fully in the work of the team. The leader recognizes that trust is built by him or her and always models trustworthy behavior.

3. Team Behaviors. All team members buy into the stated behaviors including the fact that they will contribute to the work of the team without fail. There is zero tolerance for “social loafing,” where some members let others carry most of the load.

4. Spirit – A great team exudes a kind of electricity that is amazing to watch. They know that they have found something extremely rare in this group, and each person crackles with excitement about what is being accomplished by the group. There is no hogging of credit, because each person knows it is the group performance that is creating the greatness.

Great team leaders are a rare breed. You will find all kinds of pseudo leaders who make feeble attempts at getting cohesiveness. They fail to produce the scintillating results because one or more of the critical elements above is missing.

The logical question to ask is why more leaders do not achieve the greatness that is available to them. Four typical excuses leaders use for lackluster performance

1. Time: The element of time is often used as an excuse. Leaders are so busy with tasks that must be done, and the complexity of a virtual world, that taking the time to do the simple blocking and tackling of setting up a great team seems out of reach.

The paradox is that the time investment really pays off in an easier life in the end. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not possible, but by pursuing perfection excellence can be achieved.”

2. Dedication: Another reason given for poor teamwork is that not all team members are dedicated. This is also a lame excuse that again comes back to leadership. Most team members will respond well if they are well led. The sheer joy and relief of serving on an excellent team is reward enough to make most people gladly toe the line with a smile on tasks to be done.

Occasionally you will run into a rotten apple, but a great leader sees this and quickly expels the laggard so he or she does not poison other members of the team.

3. Unrealistic Expectations: A favorite excuse for poor performance is that too much is expected of the team. The paradox here is that smart leaders set really aggressive goals for their teams.

Actually, great teams routinely accomplish feats that seem impossible. They rise up and astound everyone watching, including themselves, with what can be done with focus and the right spirit. Things that previously would take a year can be done in a matter of a few days, and the team revels in the glory.

4. Toxic Environment: Another favorite excuse for not performing well is a toxic environment at a higher level. Team leaders complain that there is so much micromanaging and confusion from above that the team is habitually demoralized.

This excuse is pretty handy, but it does not stand up to real scrutiny. Great leaders know how to advocate for the needs of the team and simply refuse to let upper management mess things up. Sometimes this means taking great heat, but excellent leaders do this gladly because they know team performance will soon provide all the cover they need.

There is a myth that achieving great teamwork is such hard work that you might as well give up at the outset. The truth is that achieving outstanding teamwork through excellent leadership is so joyful that the investment in some effort at the start is a small price to pay for the benefits that ultimately accrue to all team members once the group clicks.

It becomes easy rather than difficult to manage such a group to accomplish great things.

If you are the leader of a team that is not working well, I urge you to not make the excuses above or make up any others. Rather, seek to establish the four things in this article and reap the benefits of an amazing group of people that make up your team. It is the quality of your leadership rather than any other factor that will make the difference.

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: Hold Yourself Accountable

September 26, 2016

I work with leaders every day and focus on helping them build higher trust in their organizations. One observation I have made over the years is that nearly all leaders are passionate about accountability.

They do their best to make sure people in the organization produce the right things in the right ways and hold them accountable for doing so.

Unfortunately, I see very few leaders who are willing to step up to their own accountability. It is just not something that crosses their minds very often.

If something is wrong, they will blame the managers, or supervisors, or suppliers, or workers, or the government, or any other person or thing that is handy for the problems that hold the organization back.

The culture of every organization is created at the top and moves through the organization like water flowing down a mountain stream. If there are problems at any level of the organization, the top leader shares culpability because the buck stops at the top, where the source is located.

Case Example

Let’s take a case example and show the stubborn consistency of this theory. Suppose an organization has some delivery problems. They are making large engines to go into military vehicles, and they keep missing the deadlines.

The vehicle assembly company is missing their delivery dates because the engines are late. Financial penalties are imposed, and the profitability is impacted to the degree that the CEO is alarmed. He demands to know who is accountable for the delays.

He finds out that some of the suppliers have been sending low quality parts that require a lot of rework. The purchasing manager is called on the carpet for not creating a more specific quality specification. The incoming inspection manager is faulted for not catching the errors at the receiving dock.

The CEO calls in the production manager and demands to know why productivity on the line is down by 18% this year. The manager tells the CEO that people are really upset because of no raises in 3 years.

The CEO wanders out on the production line and sees 9 engines lined up to be reworked. He chews out the quality inspector who tries to explain that the finish on the cylinder bores is too rough.

He also notices that there is a lot more clutter than normal on the production floor and asks the supervisor why, only to find out the cleaning crew has staged an informal work slowdown. They take extended breaks and goof off, and their supervisor lets them get away with working only a couple hours a day.

By now the CEO is fuming. It is obvious why things are going wrong in every corner of the building. People at all levels are not doing the right things, and the whole organization is over budget, late, and producing a low quality product.

Now suppose this CEO decided to bring in a consultant to help get things back on track. He tells the consultant that all of the managers and supervisors need some basic training in how to do their jobs better and how to “motivate the troops.”

The consultant decides to do some checking before making a recommendation. She spends a few days looking at the data and talking with people all over the operation, then she reports back her assessment.

The CEO meets with the consultant, and is all ears on what needs to be done to bring the operation back into control. The consultant recommends that the CEO push his chair back from his desk, stand up, walk down the hall and go into the men’s room.

She suggests he take a good long look in the mirror at the source of his problems and ask himself some tough questions such as the following:

• Morale is terrible in this plant, and as the CEO, how have I been contributing to this problem?

• What is keeping me from fully holding myself accountable for this awful situation?

• In what ways have I been trying to lay the blame on the supervisors, employees, bad economy, suppliers, business downturn, competition, etc., and how can I deal with the current situations and business environment in a more empowering and effective way for all concerned?

• What fundamental changes in the structure, behaviors, values, and vision am I going to make to completely change the environment?

• What behaviors do I need to change at my level, starting right now, to build a culture of higher trust?

• In what ways can I change the attitudes of the workers by changing my own attitudes and behaviors?

• Since bonuses, or picnics, or parties, or hat days are not going to have much impact on long term motivation, how can I find out what really will inspire people and then implement the proper changes to the environment?

• How can I be a better mentor for my supervisors as well as train them to be better mentors to their own staff?

• How am I going to find a way to quadruple the time I have available to communicate with people?

• Do I need assistance to solve these issues? If so, what kind of help could I use and where can I find it?

• How can I know if, or when, it is time to pursue other opportunities and let someone with a different skill set handle the turnaround? Maybe someone else should be leading this company, since I have messed it up so badly.

Now the CEO is faced with an awful truth: the root cause of the problem is him. If he heeds the advice of the consultant, it means he needs to start by holding himself accountable, but that hurts too much.

It is so much easier to spot the symptoms and hold everyone else accountable. Unfortunately this CEO is not likely to hire that consultant, yet the advice he is hearing is spot on.

If we can get more top leaders to view their responsibility as creating a great culture where things work because everyone in the organization is turned on by the vision and trust in leadership is high, then excellence is possible.

It takes a wise and humble leader to view his or her role as creator and maintainer of the culture. Those who can do it will thrive, those who simply blame others will eventually fail.

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


End Manager and Worker Misalignment

May 21, 2016

Between my own consulting and online teaching of MBA students all over the world, I have been fortunate to study the cultures of literally thousands of organizations: large and small, profit and not for profit, government, and NGOs.

Once I get past the window dressing of how these organizations wish to appear to the outside world, I find some hurtful things that are common. One of the most frequent problems is a kind of “we versus they” thinking between the management levels and the workers. This article examines why this symptom is so common and suggests eight ways to mitigate the problem.

The fundamental cause of what I call the “two sides mentality” is a lack of true alignment. Most organizations have invested big bucks into developing a “strategy,” which includes things like Values, Vision, Mission, Purpose, Key Result Areas, Tactics, and Measures. These essential elements are usually developed by small teams of managers who cloister themselves away in a hotel or something for a few days to bang out the strategy.

Then, as the ink is drying on the pages, the discussion turns to how this brilliant plan is going to be communicated to the mass of workers in order to get “buy in” from the people “in the trenches.” Eventually there is a “roll out” of the information which inevitably is communicated BY the managers TO the workers. Notice the hackneyed expressions I used above are the actual words that are used, even today in the real world – amazing! If you listen, you will hear them.

The presentation is given to half-asleep people who are sitting in neat rows trying not to yawn. The data dump is followed by a few polite questions, and then everybody files out of the conference room and goes to lunch. The managers meet in their own dining space and congratulate themselves on clarifying the strategy and getting buy-in from the workers.

In reality, what happened is that the managers illustrated, once again, that they are clueless about how the culture is created by their actions, not their words. Their attempt to get everybody “on the same page” only served to drive the wedge between the management team and the people doing the work deeper. How is it possible for managers to miss the reality that they are doing the same thing hoping for a different result?

The fact that some organizations actually do achieve true alignment of purpose throughout the organization (my personal estimate is less than 20% do) gives me hope that not only is it possible, but with excellent leadership it is easier and faster than the conventional route. Organizations that achieve true alignment always blow away groups that have fractured perspectives.

In their book “Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations,” Bob and Gregg Vanourek have a whole chapter on alignment. It is an excellent model. One key point they make is that the elements of the strategy need to be developed collaboratively. Great leaders know that for people to truly embrace a concept, they must put their fingerprints on it while it is being developed. The authors write about how the alignment is a kind of cascade rather than a lay on. The principles and information are generated organically and developed carefully by the whole team over time.

The collaborative process allows all people in the organization to feel true ownership of the plan, which becomes the foundation for alignment. It is alignment that erases the feeling of one side versus the other, because we all understand what we are trying to do and are pulling in the same direction. So how can leaders create this kind of culture? Here are eight ideas that can help any organization reduce the “we versus they” thinking and thereby obtain the full energy that is latent in the entire team.

1. Leaders need to listen more

In the urgency to survive and the reality of a flat world, it is a real challenge to make the effort and take the time to engage people at all levels about the future direction. Of primary importance, it is necessary to agree upon a set of values that the entire team not only adopts but pledges 100% to live by, even when it is difficult. It is not enough to simply state the values. For true alignment, all of the values must be demonstrated by all people all the time.

Clarifying a compelling vision of the future is equally vital. If every person in the organization feels that he or she is going to be much better off once the vision is achieved, you have a powerful force multiplier for alignment.

2. Involve everyone in identifying the direction

As ideas are put forth, look for common themes and keep working the information into a model where each person feels ownership. Once people realize they are actually part of the generation process, they will be much more inclined to embrace the final product. When one part of the strategy seems impossible, don’t discard it. Rather, examine the blockage and get creative with a way to accomplish it anyway in an ethical, values-based way.

3. Don’t say things you cannot do

So often I see a values plaque in the lobby of a company indicating “People are our most important asset,” only to find the managers in the back conference room trying to figure out details of the impending downsizing. Once a stated value reveals managerial hypocrisy, it does more harm than good to put it on the plaque. It fosters a “They say it, but they don’t mean it” mentality that enables “us versus them” and works against the alignment.

4. Don’t “Roll Out” the “Program”

I have found that having a big roll out program is often the kiss of death. Employees smell a lay-on coming a mile away, and they will go to the meeting with earplugs firmly inserted. A roll out meeting may allow managers to check the box called “communicate” but it does little to build alignment. Instead of the big fanfare, share the information at small family groups with good opportunity for dialog, and indicate this was derived by all of us. Stress that the information on the strategy is how we intend to conduct ourselves from now on. Repeat that information at every possible point and illustrate it when decisions are based on it. For example, a manager might say, “We have recommended this vendor as the supplier for our parts because their demonstrated integrity matches our own value of integrity.”

5. Be willing to admit mistakes

In changing a culture, there will be small, or sometimes big, mistakes made along the way. The world is a messy place, and it is impossible to reach perfection. But, as Vince Lombardi once said, “If we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” When managers are willing to admit they made a mistake along the way, it demonstrates to people they are sincere about the culture change. Also when managers admit their vulnerability and do not punish people for pointing out apparent inconsistencies, it builds higher trust because it reduces fear in the workplace. Lower fear means less opportunity for “we versus they” thinking.

6. Build and value trust

Trust becomes the glue that holds the whole organization together in good times and in difficult times. The culture of any organization is a reflection of the behaviors of the senior leaders more than any other single factor. If the culture is split so the workers do not trust management, then every initiative, strategy, and outcome will be compromised. Leaders need to understand and step up to this incredible challenge. True alignment requires the attention and effort of everyone on the team, but the leaders set the tone and model the way.

7. Don’t get derailed by short term thinking

The daily and monthly pressures of any business will test the resolve of the team. In his program “Life is a Journey,” Brian Tracy points out that “obstacles are not put there to obstruct but to instruct.” The whole team needs to learn from the challenges and focus on the long term vision to navigate the speed bumps with grace. The very reason for having a strategy in the first place is to focus energy on the big picture when the vicissitudes of the real world try to blow us off course.

8. Celebrate the small wins as well as the big ones

The atmosphere can be moved from surviving an oppressive string of burdensome crosses to bear to one of hitting the tops of the waves as we water ski to victory. The trick is to recognize and appreciate all of the good things that are going on. Teach people that the reinforcement should come from all levels, not just the managers. Once the workers start practicing reinforcement of others, magic things begin to happen.

There are numerous other ideas and helpful tips that can add to the success of the team. The main point of this article is that it is possible to create real alignment where everyone in the organization is truly excited about what is being accomplished, and that culture eliminates the “we versus they” mentality between workers and managers. I wish more organizations could experience the fantastic boost to performance and the true joy of working in such an environment. It all rests on the quality of leaders to create that kind of culture.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Firm but Fair Leadership

April 16, 2016

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership.

There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite ways to measure a leader’s skills.

Firm but Fair

Great leaders know how to navigate the minefield of being compassionate but have a sense of discipline within the organization. It really is a delicate balance. You need to make accommodations in some circumstances and draw a firm line in others.

We have all seen leaders who are too eager to please. They bend over backwards to be accommodating to the needs of people in the organization. Their objective is to ensure everyone is “happy” almost all the time.

In return, people take advantage of the leader and make more requests for special consideration. Also, since people can observe the concessions made by the leader with other people, a sense of equity demands that when a similar situation comes up the same concession is extended to others.

Before long, the leader has lost all sense of control. In a desperate attempt to regain order, the leader tries to draw lines in the sand. This is annoying to people who have become accustom to a more lax interpretation of the rules. So, being too accommodating is dangerous. When you try to hold the line later, people tend to resent it.

On the flip side, going too much “by the book” gains one a reputation for being a hard ass. That reputation limits the amount of discretionary effort people are willing to expend. If a leader shows no compassion for the typical tight spots people find themselves in, he becomes an ogre that demands respect through command and control. Scrooge, before his transformation, was a good example of this kind of leader.

Neither of these extremes is desirable. The “sweet spot” is to have a reputation for being firm with application of the rules, but compassionate as well and willing to be flexible in extreme cases. Also, be cognizant of the need for fairness. This implies putting a damper on the issue of playing favorites. I have written elsewhere on the issue of favorites.

Briefly, we need to recognize that we cannot avoid having favorites within any population. We are human beings. What the great leader does is show in many ways that, even though there are favorites, he does not “play favorites.” To avoid this, the leader tries to treat each person as a favorite and operates outside his comfort zone for some small percentage of the time.

In their excellent book, Triple Crown Leadership, Bob and Gregg Vanourek use the analogy of “steel and velvet.” They point out that the best leaders flex between being firm like steel and showing care, like velvet. Their thesis is that being velvet all the time leads to weak leadership, but being steel all the time leads to disgruntled workers who comply but are not engaged in the work.

One obvious thing that some leaders miss is that being firm implies having standards. Neither of the extremes in this dimension is advisable. On the one hand, you can have a burdensome employee manual with thousands of rules that people find hard to remember. If you find yourself “hiding behind” the employee manual when making decisions on personal requests, you may be in danger of over doing the bureaucratic mumbo jumbo.

On the other extreme is the office where there are no formal rules, and “we just try to always do what is right.” That condition is a slippery slope, because without some form of standards people don’t know what to expect. They push the limits until things get way out of control.

The optimum position is to have a crisp and concise set of expectations, and everyone should know they are enforced. People should also be aware that there are emergency situations where a rule can be waived, but those situations are rare. Knowing when to grant an exception is what puts the art in leadership. In general it is best to lean toward the formal side but be willing to flex when required.

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.


5 Rules to End Hurtful Jokes

March 5, 2016

Have you ever been hurt by a joke, even though it was offered in jest? I was having an online conversation in a class I am teaching about teams at work.

The discussion was relative to having online messages misinterpreted. Clearly we have all experienced this uncomfortable situation more than once.

I got so fascinated about this topic that I wrote a book on it a few years ago.

One student brought up a situation that is common in person as well as online, but the damage done online is usually much larger. This is when a person tries to rib another person with a joke, but the meaning on the part of the receiver is taken literally.

The writer is astonished when the reader takes umbrage at the barb. The writer says, “but I was only joking.”

When people say things in jest, there is usually an element of truth in them. Jokes are often just distortions of reality; that is what makes them humorous. The problem occurs when we make a joke where the punch line puts down another person.

This is so common you probably witness it a dozen times a day or more, and it hardly registers because it is ubiquitous. If you are listening for it, you will hear it often.

Unfortunately, when the joke is documented in online exchanges, there isn’t the opportunity for the writer to let the other person know through body language that the barb is totally in jest.

Actually, even in person there is usually a part of the barb that is for real. Online, the danger is magnified for two reasons,

1) the person cannot see the facial expression and emoticons often are misinterpreted as well, and

2) e-mails are permanent, so the person can read and re-read the joke. It becomes more menacing with each iteration.

The antidote for this common problem is to establish five behavioral norms in your work group as follows:

1. We will not make jokes in any forum at another person’s expense.

2. We will praise in public or online but offer constructive criticism face to face in private.

3. When there is a disconnect in communication, we will always assume the best intent and check it out.

4. If something in an e-mail seems upsetting, it is up to the person who is upset to meet face to face with the other person as soon as possible.

5. We will call each other out politely if we see violations of these rules.

These five rules are not difficult, but it does take some training and resolve to get all people in a population to comply with them.

It helps to get firm agreement among the entire group and to post the rules in the team meeting area. If you can get people to actually follow the five rules above, it will change the entire complexion of the work group.

If all this sounds like common sense, it is. Too bad it is not common practice in many organizations.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Important Tip for Leader Transitions

January 23, 2016

No leadership position is permanent. There is always a transition to a new role coming in the future. This article is about a mistake I have seen many leaders make in the transition to a new role.

Maybe this leadership tip is in a book somewhere, but I have not run into it yet. A mistake is made during the delicate time when a leader is assigned a new position and first moves into a new area interfacing with different people.

The first few days are critical and set the stage for how smoothly (or not) the transition goes. All signals sent during the first days and weeks are important as both the leader and the new constituents learn how to work together.

For illustration, let’s say our leader has just been moved from the Design Department into the Manufacturing Department. The new job is in a new physical area and has a different set of people involved.

The old leader has retired and left the scene, and our new leader has just brought in the first few boxes of possessions to set up his office. He is cordial to everyone and believes he is off to a great start.

This is an important job for the new leader, and he wants to carry on the fine team enthusiasm he was able to accomplish in the Design Department.

During the first couple days, he attends the normal production meetings. He frequently mentions how delighted he is to now be working in the Manufacturing Department.

When a manager is discussing a safety issue, the new leader offers something like this, “We had the same problem over in the Design Department, and what we did was set up a sub-team to come up with some excellent recommendations. That saved a lot of time because it could be done off line by a small group rather than have a bunch of meetings with everyone present.” People in the meeting listened intently and nodded appreciatively that there was a fresh idea.

The next day, the leader was discussing the financial closing information and seemed a little uncomfortable. He said, “In the Design Department we always just showed the data in chart form so everyone could grasp the information easily.” Two hours later he said “In the Design area we had special monitors to ensure the place was cleaned up well before we went home.” You get the idea.

All of the ideas and policies our new leader brought up during the first two weeks were logical and helpful. Nobody in the organization would dare question why they should do these things that the leader brought from the Design Department.

However, by the end of two weeks, this new leader was so far behind the eight ball emotionally with people that it would take nearly a year to get people to really respect and trust him. Why? He was just too forthright with his innocent suggestions for improvements based on his experience in the prior job.

There is an antidote to this common problem. When I would promote or move a manager, I would ask him or her to refer to the prior job only one time in public.

Once that chit was played, I suggested the new leader refrain from other references for at least 2 months.

This gave the new leader the opportunity to appreciate the good things that were being done in the new area before giving a lot of suggestions for them to be more like his old area. The people never knew the difference; they just seemed to like the new guy quite a lot.

To refrain from offering suggestions based on one’s background sounds counterproductive, but it can go a long way toward knitting constructive relationships in the new area.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, 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