Successful Supervisor 69 Be You

March 17, 2018

Supervisors are not often required to make speeches before huge groups, but they do conduct shift meetings and other important communication methods with various audiences.

In these situations, the pressure is on the supervisor to be highly professional with delivery. I once saw a supervisor give a presentation for upper managers, and she flubbed it badly.

The reason was that she had tried to memorize her exact words. Basically, she over prepared for the event and put too much pressure on herself to deliver a perfect program. That strategy has been the downfall of many speakers.

If you have ever spoken in front of a large audience, you know it can be a terrifying experience. Studies have shown that fear of speaking in public is stronger than the fear of death for most people. It sounds impossible, but it is true.

In this article, I will explore why we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear perfect and offer some insight into an alternate path that leads to lower stress in life and better performance. I will use public speaking as an example and then generalize the concept to cover many other areas of our lives.

When we think about why people get nervous in front of a large crowd, it seems pretty obvious. We are afraid we are going to goof up, so we practice our part over and over, attempting to perfect and polish our delivery so we do not look stupid in front of others. The irony is that the more we attempt to perfect our speech, the more likely we are to actually flounder with our delivery.

I witnessed a professional speaker who was giving a presentation to over 1000 other professional speakers. Talk about pressure! She had practiced her speech so many times she was assured that she would not make a mistake.

But when she faced the stage lights, all of her preparation and build up actually made her goof up. Reason: when she got flustered and messed up a word or two, then she forgot her place in the memorized text and stumbled badly.

Finally, in desperation, she pulled out a typed paper with the words. After reading a few lines, she put the paper away and tried to go back to the memorized material. The same thing happened again; she totally blanked out at the first misstep and had to resort to her printed text again.

It happened a third time as well. I expect that day will live in her mind as the worst day in her life. The audience was uncomfortable as well, although we all supported her and had great empathy for her pain.

Think about the alternative, where she would know her content cold because it came from her heart, not her rote memory of specific words. All she needed were a few key points to recall the topic areas, and she could wax eloquent with no miscues.

It was her desire to be perfect that led to her being embarrassingly imperfect. The audience would have gladly forgiven a Freudian Slip or a stumble rather than watch her struggle to try to remember her memorized speech. She would have been even more forgiven if she added a bit of self deprecating humor if she misspoke on a point, because her sincerity and spontaneity would be on display.

Here is a stark contrast to the speaker described above. At that same speaker’s conference, Brian Tracy, the great author, speaker, and philosopher, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the National Speakers Association.

The award is the highest honor a speaker can receive, and Brian proceeded to demonstrate why he was worthy of the award. He got up to give a 10 minute acceptance speech: one of the most important speeches of his life, out of thousands of speeches.

As he started the speech, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. His lavaliere microphone started to die, and the audience could only hear every other word. Horrified, the sound technician rushed on stage with another lavaliere mic, and Brian carried right on as if nothing had happened.

Two minutes later the replacement mic also died in the same way. Brian just stood there smiling at the audience until the technician came out with a hand held mic, and Brian was able to finish his speech.

He did not get flustered, or angry, or sad, he just stood there smiling until the situation had cleared. Doing that in front of 1000 professional speakers took real poise. Brian was even gracious to the bumbling technician, who was undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths over the incident.

Brian was sincerely grateful for the honor and was not about to let a cantankerous sound system mess up his moment.

My method of rehearsing a program is to mock up the platform and go over a program from my prepared key points a few times, but I make no attempt to memorize any part of the actual wording except for the very first sentence. Brian Tracy taught me that the first sentence should be memorized verbatim. His reasoning was that “well begun is half done.”

After the first sentence rings out, then it is as if I am having a natural conversation with the assembled group like I was talking with a friend over the kitchen table. This method allows me to be more authentic and relaxed. If I make a mistake and stumble, it is not the end of the world at all, I just look for ways to make it a funny goof.

Seth Godin had a blog entry I read recently about the same concept. He wrote, “Perfecting your talk, refining your essay, and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.”

He even implied that some top performers inject some kind of faux imperfection in their routine because it tends to endear them to the audience.

Personally, I don’t need to inject imperfections in my programs; they have enough of them naturally. I am okay with an occasional goof, because it makes me more human and credible to my audiences, and that is a very positive thing. Somehow having them join me in laughing at myself is a kind of bonding action with the audience.
The same kind of problem exists for all of us in many different areas of our lives. By trying to be perfect (which we are not) we put immense pressure on ourselves. We get uptight as we try to rehearse every possible situation and then lose our train of thought in the complexity of the moment.

For example, the other day I was at a very formal dinner, and I was trying to put on my best manners. In my attempt to be perfect and charming, I was paying more attention to the conversation than to what my hands were doing, and I spilled a full gravy boat of salad dressing all over the table. Oops!

When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, we tend to cause the very thing we are trying to prevent. The antidote is to simply be yourself with all your warts and problems. Relax and do not get flustered so you can roll with the situation naturally, and you will come out ahead most of the time.

I do not advocate being unprepared. Rather, I think we should avoid being over-prepared. That may seem to be easier said than done. The trick is to think in the major issues, but not try to work out the fine detail in advance. Let your natural self take care of the fine grain actions.

We need to understand that nobody goes through life without making some embarrassing gaffes. People are going to forgive us, even though we feel totally embarrassed at the time. What makes the difference is how we react when an unexpected snafu occurs. If we are calm and make light of our foible, the incident will pass, and our long term credibility will be intact with the embarrassing moment nothing more than a humorous footnote: like my spilled salad dressing.

Try this big-picture method of preparing yourself for your next important meeting, speech, or social event. If you prepare and then relax to present naturally, you will usually come out ahead.

If you are worried about coming up with a funny line after a mistake, then try taking some improvisation classes. They will help you become more spontaneous with humor.

Another organization that has great techniques is Toastmasters. Get involved with your local chapter. For any supervisor, the ability to speak clearly and be relaxed at the same time is an important leadership skill.

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


Successful Supervisor 62 – Admitting Mistakes

January 28, 2018

We all know that all human beings make mistakes. The real character of a supervisor rests with her ability to admit it when she makes a mistake. Trying to cover up an error almost always backfires. While the intention may be to preserve respect by her people, concealing a mistake usually results in lower trust and respect.

One of the most powerful opportunities for any leader to build trust is to publicly admit mistakes. The source of that power is that it is so rare for leaders to stand up in front of a group and say something like this: “I called you here today to admit that I made a serious blunder yesterday. It was not intentional, as I will explain. Nevertheless, I failed to do the best thing for our group. I sincerely apologize for this and call on all of us to help mend the damage quickly. Without being defensive, let me just explain what happened…”

In a recent blog by Daniel Coyle, he quotes Dave Cooper, a Navy SEAL, as saying “The most important words a leader can say is ‘I screwed that up.’” He points out that leaders who create a safe environment by admitting their own vulnerability create the highest levels of trust.

If you were in the audience listening to this leader, how would you react? Chances are your esteem for the leader would be enhanced, simply by the straightforward approach and honesty of the statements. Of course, it does depend on the nature of the mistake. Here are a few situations where an admission of a mistake would actually lead to lower trust:

• If the blunder was out of sheer stupidity.
• If this was the third time the leader had done essentially the same thing.
• If the leader is prone to making mistakes due to shooting before aiming.
• If the leader simply failed to get information that she should have had.
• If the leader was appeasing higher-ups inappropriately.

Assuming none of the above conditions is present and the mistake is an honest one, admitting it publicly is often the best strategy. There is an interesting twist to this approach that has often baffled me.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered 100 supervisors into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “If you had made a mistake, which of the following two actions would have the greater chance of increasing the level of respect people have for you? (A) You call people together, admit your mistake, apologize, and ask people to help you correct the problem. (B) You try to avoid the issue, blame the problem on someone else, downplay the significance, pretend it did not happen, or otherwise attempt to weasel out of responsibility.”

Given those two choices, I am confident that at least 99 out of the 100 supervisors would say action (A) has a much greater probability of increasing trust and respect. The reason I am confident is that I have run that experiment dozens of times when working with supervisors in groups of all sizes and in all industries.

The irony is that when an error is subsequently made, roughly 80% of those same supervisors choose action more consistent with choice (B). The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the supervisor on the shoulder at that time and ask her why she chose (B) over (A), she would most likely say, “I didn’t want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This pattern of response illustrates that in the classroom, all supervisors know how to improve respect and trust, but many of them tend to not use that knowledge when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, supervisors lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go.

I believe it is because the supervisors are ashamed of making a mistake. The irony is that when you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence. Intellectually, supervisors know the best route to improve trust, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk. When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

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


Avoiding Drama

March 11, 2012

I participated in an interesting discussion in an online class on teamwork recently. The students were lamenting that drama in the workplace is common and very disruptive to good teamwork. While drama is just part of the human condition, I am sure you have experienced unwanted drama and wished there were ways to reduce it.

First, one precaution; There are various different kinds of drama and many different symptoms and sources. In this article, I am discussing the most common kind of drama in the workplace. This is where a person acts out his or her daily frustrations in ways that create chaos and loss of focus that hurt the productivity, effectiveness, and teamwork of the group. I am not addressing the serious drama caused by mental illness or tragic events.

Let’s take a look at the seeds of this problem to identify some mitigating strategies. Drama is a result of people who feel they are not being heard. If an individual believes his or her opinions are valued and considered in the decision process, then there is less need for drama. If the culture is real, and people are not playing games with each other, then the distractions of drama will be significantly reduced.

It is a function of leaders to establish a culture where people see little need for drama in order to be a vital part of the real action. Here are some tips that leaders can use to reduce drama in their organization:

1. Improve the level of trust. High trust groups respect people, so there is a feeling of inclusiveness that does not require high profile actions to get attention.

2. Anticipate needs. Be proactive at sensing when people need to be heard and provide the opportunity before they become frustrated.

3. Respect outliers. When someone’s view is contrary to the majority, there may be valid points to consider. Do not ignore the valuable insights of all people.

4. Hear people out and consider their input seriously. Positive body language is essential to show respect for all people.

5. Work on your own humility. Climbing down off your pedestal means that you are more willing to be on an equal footing with others.

6. Admit mistakes. You gain respect when you are honest about the blunders that you make. People will feel less like acting out in response to your foibles if they see you willing to be vulnerable.

7. Reinforce people well. Providing sincere praise is one way to show respect. This reduces people’s tendency to say “Hey don’t forget about me over here.”

We must also realize that some people are world class at creating drama. For these people it is a kind of sport. They do it to gain inappropriate attention or just to be disruptive. These people need coaching to let them know their antics are not really helping drive the goals of the organization. The leader needs to provide feedback about the issue and set the expectation of improvement. If the drama continues and is disruptive, then the person may be better off in some other organization doing a different function.

Drama is all around us on a daily basis, but good leadership can mitigate the negative impact and keep bad habits from becoming an organizational albatross.


Fail More Often

January 29, 2012

In our society, it is considered a bad thing to fail. From our earliest memory, we are all taught to succeed at what we try. It does not matter if it is taking a few steps on wobbly legs or negotiating an international merger of two huge organizations, we are conditioned that success is the goal and failure is anathema. Through this conditioning, we are taught to feel great when we have a success and to feel awful when we fail.

Take away the stigma of the word, and a failure is simply an attempt to do something that did not work out as planned. In the learning process, we obtain more information, momentum, resolve, inspiration, insight, and knowledge when we fail than when we succeed. To succeed is to get something done, but we have not learned very much. For example, without the corrective adjustments by ourselves and our parents, we would never learn to walk or talk. It is the constant reshaping of past tries that cause our forward progress.

I think it is time to embrace failure and to stop feeling bad about it. What we need in life is more at-bats rather than more home runs. Each time we go for something new, we risk failure, but not taking that risk is a bigger problem, because we block our own advancement.

The most often-quoted example of this theory is the story of Thomas Edison, who found that carbonized bamboo filaments worked well for his light bulb. His most famous quotation is, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 things that won’t work.” He also acknowledged that by being creative while simultaneously inventive, he was able to develop things that seemed like serendipity, but they were really the culmination of a lot of hard work and numerous failures. He once said, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

The key to embracing failure is to let go of the stigma and seek out the learning potential in every activity. They ought to teach a course on failing in grammar school. Kids should be introduced to the theory that to fail, as long as something was learned, is the route to eventual success. Instead, we hammer home the idea that to fail is to not live up to expectations. Children learn to fear rather than embrace failure. That attitude permeates our society, and it has a crippling effect on every organization.

Another aspect of failure is the idea that we never really fail until we quit trying. As long as we are stretching to achieve a goal, we have the potential for success. I love the quotation from Vince Lombardi who said, “We never lost a game, but sometimes we just ran out of quarters.”

I believe there needs to be good judgment when deciding how long to persevere. I do not think Winston Churchill was right when he said “Never, never, never, quit.” At some point, it is time to learn a lesson and leave the battlefield. It is okay to have a discarded scheme or to recognize a blind alley and cut your losses. It is important to recognize when we have run out of quarters, but it is wrong to quit trying prematurely. I think the difference between those two mindsets is the difference between genius and mediocrity.

I am not advocating that we fail on purpose. Doing things right should always be the objective. What I want to champion is that the only thing to avoid is making the same mistake over and over again. Some people focus on being busy just to have something to do. Thomas Edison had a quote for that too. He said, “Being busy does not always mean real work.”

Try having a “Experience Award” at work for daring to risk. Honor people who stretch and try but fail, as long as they learn from the experience. Doing this will seem unorthodox and “over the top” to many stuffy managers who will not tolerate things that are irregular. Too bad these managers are leaving real creativity off the table.


Recovering After a Mistake

December 19, 2010

I have always been fascinated by mistakes. As human beings, we share several things in common; making mistakes is one of them. The vast majority of the time we blunder into mistakes innocently. Obviously, if we could see mistakes coming, we would take steps to avoid them. The mistake is usually like a mouse trap that is sprung on us while our focus was on something else.

The interesting thing is how we react after a mistake. It is here that I learned a great lesson in leadership and trust. The lesson came years ago when I was a young manager. I was in Japan negotiating a deal for some equipment. I had inadvertently left some material on a table while a group went out for lunch. Some of the material would have been damaging to our negotiating position if it were leaked to the other side. Upon returning from lunch, I realize that I had left things in a state where they could have been copied and later used against us. I did not know if anybody actually did copy some pages, but I felt horrible about my lapse.

Upon returning to the home office in the US, I immediately reported to my boss’s office and said, “Dick, you would never know this if I didn’t tell you, but I made a mistake when I was in Japan this week.” He looked up at me with a smirk and said, “Whatd’ya do?” I explained my lapse in detail. He said, “You’re right, Bob. That’s not the smartest thing you ever did, but I am very grateful you told me.” From that moment on, I felt a much higher level of trust and respect for me in the eyes of my boss. I believe it gave my career a significant and lasting boost.

The key point in the above lesson was that he really would never have known anything about it if I had not admitted the gaff. It was the unprompted admission that spoke much louder than the sin. Since then I have studied the impact of admitting mistakes for leaders, and come away with some observations.

Let’s suppose that I have gathered several leaders into a room and asked them to answer the following question: “After you make a mistake, in terms of maximizing respect for you, is it better to admit it or try to finesse it?”

Most leaders would say admitting the mistake has a much greater probability of increasing respect. The irony is that when subsequently a mistake is made, most of these same leaders choose to hide it or blame someone else. The real conundrum is that if you were to tap the leader on the shoulder at that time, you would hear “I did not want to admit my mistake because I was afraid people would lose respect for me.”

This situation illustrates that intellectually, most leaders know how to improve respect and trust after a mistake, but many of them tend to not act that way when there is an opportunity to apply it in the field. It seems illogical. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, leaders lose their perspective to the degree that they will knowingly do things that take them in the opposite direction from where they want to go. I believe it is because they are ashamed of making a mistake.

When you admit an error, it has an incredibly positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. Perhaps this is one of the differences between IQ and Emotional Intelligence. Intellectually, leaders know the best route to improve trust, but emotionally they are not mature or confident enough to take the risk. When you admit an error, it has a positive impact on trust because it is unexpected. As Warren Bennis in Old Dogs: New Tricks noted, “All the successful leaders I’ve met learned to embrace error and to learn from it.”

Respect is not always increased if a mistake is admitted. For example, here are three circumstances where admitting a mistake would reduce respect and trust:

1. If this was the third time you had made the same mistake
2. If the mistake was so stupid it reveals you as being clueless
3. If the mistake was made in an effort to hurt someone

If you find yourself making these kinds of mistakes, it would be wise to reconsider if you are right for a leadership position at all. The vast majority or mistakes are honest lapses where something unexpected happened. For these so-called “honest” mistakes, it is far better to admit them and ask for forgiveness than to try to finesse the situation or blame others or circumstances. It is a tangible demonstration of your integrity, and that improves trust.