Leadership Barometer 70 Lead by Example

November 3, 2020

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 measures.

Lead by Example

Leading by example sounds like a simple concept, yet many leaders struggle to do it in day to day operations. Reason: it is easy to fall into a trap of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Leaders have a tendency to rationalize their current actions based on the particular situation. Of course, this is a deadly sin for any leader. Most leaders would deny having a problem in this area, yet many of them really do not see how they are compromising their position. Here is an extreme example of a Plant Manager to illustrate.

I once worked for a Plant Manager who was world class at this flaw. He would rant and rave about following the “do not walk inside the barrier” signs when construction was happening in the plant. He wanted managers to consider firing any employee caught crossing a barrier.

Yet, I saw him coming to work one day and park in his “special spot” next the building. He then stepped over a safety cone and chain to get to the door of the building. He was aware of the fact that no work was going on at the time, and he was in a rush, but he was unaware that anybody saw his transgression.

This same manager insisted in having a shutdown and review any time there was a safety incident within the plant. That was laudable. During one such inspection following a safety incident, he was standing in the production area twirling the safety glasses we had given him around next to his face. I politely told him to please put on his safety glasses, and he did so but gave me a dirty look.

A third incident with this leader that really upset me was when we had a rather serious incident that could have caused a fatality. I ordered the operation shut down for a full investigation. This was a large conveyor system for heavy materials that needed to be operated in complete darkness because the product being moved was photographic movie film.

One of the interlocks to keep product separated had failed, and an operator went in to clear a jam. He successfully cleared the jam but nearly got crushed by the incoming product afterward.

The team reviewed the accident report with me and indicated they were ready to start up again. I asked if they could guarantee the same problem would not happen again in the future. Not receiving a suitable answer, I ordered a complete stand down of the operation until further fail-safe measures were in place. This was not popular with the employees, who figured they could just be more careful.

After wrestling with the issues for a full day, the operations and maintenance personnel came up with a solution that really would guarantee the problem never happened again. I called a special meeting with the production people and the Plant Manager to go over the problem and the resolution.

We had the meeting, but the Plant Manager never showed up, even though his administrative person said he was available at that time. What an awful signal to send the troops.

After I wrote a blistering e-mail, I was on his blackball list for the rest of the time until he was fired by upper management for insubordination and lying.

The point of these examples is that people really do notice what leaders do. When they say one thing and then do something more expedient, there is no way to command respect. It should be grounds for termination of any manager.

However, lowly employees do not have the power to actually fire their leader, so they just do it mentally and write him off as a lost cause. By the way, if you asked this Plant Manager if he has ever sent mixed signals on safety, he would firmly deny it. He was honestly unaware of his stupid actions, as is the case with most managers who are duplicitous.

Beyond these obvious atrocities, there are many positive things leaders can do. When you go out of your own comfort zone to do something positive, people notice that as well. If a leader cuts her vacation short by 2 days in order to support an important plant tour with a new customer, that really registers with people.

If a manager goes out and buys a gift certificate with his own money to thank an employee who went way beyond the expected performance, word of it gets around.

When a manager helps clean up a conference room after a long meeting, it sends a signal.

In the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, he described what he called “Level 5 Leaders.” They were passionate people, but they were also humble. They were “more plowhorse than showhorse.”

These ideas are not rocket science, yet many managers fail at this basic stuff. You need to seek out ways to go above and beyond what people expect of you and never, ever violate a rule you expect others to follow.


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


Leadership Barometer 64 Lack of Fear

September 9, 2020

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 measures.

Lack of Fear

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 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 helps people vent their fears and focus on the tasks at hand, even if they are involved with unpleasant things.

Great leaders also create a culture of psychological safety such that people know they will not be punished when they share their true feelings. In addition, great leaders foster emotional safety because they show empathy for what others are going through.

By creating a culture of excellent communication and low fear, outstanding leaders foster an environment where trust will grow, even if there are hard times.


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


Successful Supervisor Part 20 – Measuring Trust

April 2, 2017

Last week I wrote about the different kinds of trust. The essence of that article is that trust is far more complex, ubiquitous, and volatile than most of us realize. One question that often comes up is: how can we go about measuring trust?

For supervisors, it is vital that they build and maintain trust within their group, but how can they tell how well they are doing?

You could go out among the employees and simply ask how much they trust you, but most of them would return with a blank stare because they have no idea what scale to use.

I think a better method of measuring trust is how smoothly the operation is running. If trust is high, then most of the dysfunctional things people do other than work with high engagement will be absent. Here is a short list of the things you do not see people do when trust is high:

• Seek to get attention,
• Get away with goofing off,
• Cause disruption and trouble,
• Annoy their fellow workers,
• Undermine supervision,
• Blame others falsely,
• Skip necessary process steps, and
• Hundreds of similar maladies

If trust is high, then these problems are rare and productivity is high. There have been numerous studies that indicate high trust groups are two to five times more productive than low trust groups. Hence, one measure of the level of trust is simply how productive the work cell is working under the current supervisor.

Another interesting measure of trust is the level of turnover. All organizations face some level of turnover, and it can be devastating to the performance of an organization. It has been said that “Employees don’t leave the company; they leave their managers,” (Jim Goodnight) .

If a supervisor habitually has turnover higher than benchmark groups in the same industry, it is a sign of low trust. In organizations where trust is high, turnover is usually very low.

For example, Wegmans Food Markets work on a culture of high trust every day, and they typically score as one of the best places to work in the country. They enjoy a turnover rate usually lower than 8% in an industry that typically suffers more than 40% turnover annually.

Another way of describing the immense leverage of employee engagement as it relates to turnover is as follows: “It is not the employees who quit and leave that are the problem: it is the employees who quit and stay.”

Anytime a person is on the payroll and is not fully engaged in the work, it undermines the effectiveness of not only that person but everyone around him or her.

From a global perspective, Richard Edelman and his team distribute a study each year that measures the state of trust in 28 countries. They spend all year gathering statistics on trust and summarize them in the Edelman Trust Barometer every year. Trust is measured in four key areas as follows:

• Trust in Business
• Trust in Government
• Trust in the Media
• Trust in Non-Government Organizations (like the Red Cross, etc)

The Edelman Trust Barometer is a rich source of benchmark data that is available to supervisors to determine if their organization is doing well or not in the area of trust.

Since the Edelman Trust Barometer is a huge worldwide database, I am often asked if there are not simpler and local instruments to measure trust within any group.

There are numerous trust surveys that can be used. I have developed one of my own, that I call the “Leadergrow Trust Survey.” The survey is available for free online. I have been using it for over 15 years to help organizations not only measure the level of trust but also dissect the different areas where specific behavioral issues can be holding the organization back.

Another way to measure the level of trust is simply to determine how well the current culture provides positive answers to basic questions such as:

• To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization?
• Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful?
• How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels?
• Is the culture inclusive or exclusive?
• Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work?
• Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment?
• Are supervisors viewed as enablers or barriers?
• Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out?
• What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization?
• Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal?
• Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?

The supervisor needs to be aware that the level of trust in her work group is most impacted by her own behaviors. If she always models the organization’s values, is perceived as fair and compassionate yet disciplined about applying rules, then that is a good foundation on which to build.

Beyond that, being approachable, consistent, caring, flexible, open, energetic, positive, and many other adjectives will produce an environment in which trust can and will grow.

The ability to use a single instrument to measure trust and to apply that measure each year over a period of several years is a good way to track progress.

The caveat is to not have the instrument be too burdensome, because people tend to rebel at filling out the same questionnaire each year. If they do not perceive progress or changes are being made, they will begin to give lower scores out of frustration.

Every supervisor should be given periodic training on how to build a great culture of trust. It is especially true with new supervisors. It is a crime that many worthy individuals find themselves in the role of supervisor and have never been formally trained on how to do it well.

I believe no supervisor should be called upon to lead a group without at least 10 hours of leadership training. My own course is 20 hours, and I constantly struggle to fit in all of the content that needs to be shared with supervisors.

I believe the training should be refreshed at least every other year, because that prevents supervisors from getting stale or obtaining suboptimal habits.

If you are a supervisor, ask yourself seriously when the last time you were given training on how to do your job more effectively. If it has been a few years, or you actually never were trained, then speak up and take a course in supervisory leadership. It will help you in numerous ways.

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


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.


Creativity: 7 Pathways

September 16, 2012

I read a quotation in a student paper a while ago that was interesting, “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. I have been referred to as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that can be brought out if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This analysis provides some pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful. Here is a list of seven ways this can be accomplished:

1. Let people play – Natural creativity is closely linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not yet taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination.

2. Give them the tools – We typically use “Brainstorming” to get creative at work, yet the technique has been so watered down over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put Brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that we habitually ignore.

3. Do not legislate – You cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, you can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.

4. Create an environment of innovation – This is done by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.

5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.” Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. Workers were encouraged to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cut out and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.

6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes, because they uncover other ways it will not work. This points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. That kind of deep curiosity and dogged determination needs to be rewarded. Impatience and a short term mindset are the enemies of innovation.

7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where creativity is nurtured rather than forced. Follow the seven tips above, and soon your organization will be known as one of the most innovative ones around.