Leadership Barometer 62 Victory

January 11, 2020

The common “Victory” gesture is well known to us all. Habitually, we interpret the signal as one of strength and impending or realized victory.

There have been times in history where the victory sign, made by showing the first and second fingers in the shape of the letter “V,” had a different meaning. It is important to know when you are dealing with the common gesture versus some more esoteric flavor.

For example, the familiar usage to indicate victory is normally made with the palm of the person making the gesture facing toward the viewer. When the palm is facing toward the person making the gesture, it can have a completely different meaning. When coupled by an upward jerking motion of the forearm, it means “up yours.”

In Sports

We see the Victory sign made by athletes in every facet of the sports world. It is normally directed at someone out of earshot, and it simply means “we won.” It can also be shown before the contest, and in that case it means “we are going to win.”

In Politics

People running for office will often flash the victory sign in rallies as a show of confidence that they are going to win the race. You often see the gesture used in Congress when one side of the aisle is intent on prevailing over those nasty people on the other side.

Who can forget how Nixon frequently used the Double V with both arms outstretched. He even used it as he was boarding his helicopter immediately after he resigned from the presidency.

In War

The victory sign has historically been used when one side has won a battle. Who can forget the US soldiers riding through Europe flashing the victory sign at the end of WWII. Similarly, we recall Winston Churchill showing the victory sign as a way to instill confidence within the people of England that they would ultimately prevail. His famous admonition given at the time was “Never, never, never, quit.”

In Klingon

Of course, there have been variations on the victory sign, like the one on Star Trek when Mr. Spock would show the “Vulcan Salute” with four fingers split two on each side of the letter “V.”

The meaning of that gesture was very different from the single victory sign. It meant “Live Long and Prosper.” One interesting thing about that gesture is that it can be hard for some people to make it. I believe that is why Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory” was so prone to use the gesture. It made him feel superior, because not everyone could do it. Can you?

In School

School children, and even adults often will use the victory gesture to signal another person across the room that they just aced a test.

Upside Down V

This gesture is not used a lot, but when you see it, the normal connotation is that our team was successful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There is no pride in this gesture at all.

It also has the negative connotation, because you have to make the gesture with your palm facing yourself. It is very uncomfortable to make the upside down “V” sign with your palm facing away from you. If you doubt that, try it now yourself.

The simple hand gesture of forming a letter “V” with two fingers is one of the most common forms of body language. Curiously, this gesture, unlike many others, is not highly susceptible to misinterpretation when going form one culture to another. You can use the signal often and anywhere, and rarely will you be misunderstood. In some parts of the world, the gesture is used a lot more than others.

For example, in Japan the gesture is used by young people who are being photographed. The gesture even has a name in Japanese: they call it “pisu sain.”

Go ahead and use this gesture freely, but just make sure your palm is toward the observer rather than toward yourself.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


The Golf Ball of Trust

May 4, 2013

golfball_fixedJust as a golf ball is completely different on the inside and the outside, so trust built by leaders has important characteristics inside that may not be obvious from the outside.

For any leader, the aspect of trust in the organization is a foundation for performance. Without trust, groups might look the same on the outside, just as a golf ball looks shiny and dimpled on the outside, but it is the compressed inner layers that give power and flight characteristics to the ball.

Actually, golf balls come in numerous designs from one piece (practice) balls to five piece balls: each design having different characteristics. For example, the two-piece ball is designed for low spin to allow excellent stoppage on the green and to minimize the magnitude of any slice or hook. Trust also comes in a variety of designs, and you cannot tell how well established the trust is by just looking at the outside. The striking difference between high trust groups and low trust groups can be seen on many levels. Let me name a few ways trust impacts how groups operate.

What people say

One good barometer of trust is to monitor what people are saying to each other in normal conversation. If you just walk around your place of work for a day and listen to how people talk, you will get a quick view of the level of trust. Mark an X on your score card every time you hear a conversation about pursuing the goals or vision of the group. Mark an O on the card every time you hear a conversation that is basically badmouthing other individuals within the group. If, at the end of the round, you have more X’s than O’s, then you are likely witnessing a high trust group. If it is the other way around, then trust is low, just like cheap “driving range” golf balls.

How groups deal with challenges

All groups have challenges from time to time. Groups with low trust get stopped in their tracks because the interpersonal problems make it very difficult to even figure out what is wrong. It is as if a golfer accidentally used the wrong style of golf ball off the Tee. The error would be evident from the results. Groups with high trust can resolve challenges quickly and easily because they communicate honestly. They deal with the root cause of problems rather than getting hung up on symptoms. They also frequently come up with more creative solutions to problems because they are free to explore out-of-the box ideas. Teams at work have a style of operating that works to produce the highest level of trust. Golfers find a type of ball they are most comfortable with, based on their swing and strength.

The level of people development

In high trust environments, the leaders are vitally interested in developing all employees to be the best they can be. Investment in people is a hallmark of high trust groups. In low trust organizations, you can find leaders who are less interested in training people for a few different reasons: 1) They are so busy trying to survive that they have no time to devote to training, 2) Leaders are afraid if people are properly trained the leader might be overtaken, or 3) There is so much apathy that nobody really feels like development would be helpful. Not investing in people would be the equivalent of using a cut ball where the surlyn cover has been damaged to the extent that the core is compromised.

Making ethical decisions

The study of ethics is very interesting because most leaders are convinced they are ethical, yet many of them find ways to shade things somehow when nobody is looking. We see this all the time in scandals that seem to come up like crocuses in spring. The important part of being ethical is not what you do when people will see it but what you do when nobody would know if you were cheating. Having two sets of books, one for public display and one that is kept hidden away is a good example of a kind of empty shell of a leader, like a golfer who is inclined to write a wrong number on his or her card if nobody is keeping track. For an honest golfer, it is annoying to have another person checking to see that the right number of strokes has been recorded for each hole. This verification step signals a lack of overall trust, and it can lead to hard feelings.

Exposing hypocrisy

When leaders talk a good game, but really do not act in ways that are consistent with their words, there is a falsehood that is obvious to everyone. It is like we all have x-ray vision and can see inside the ball. One good example of this is when senior leaders have a value like, “People are our most important asset.” It sounds really good until you realize that the decisions made on a daily basis rarely reflect that as a reality. If it was so, then when times were tough, the senior leaders would scale back by selling off buildings and equipment and keeping people on the payroll. Instead, they do the opposite. People notice the hypocrisy quickly, so the value becomes something we say but not something we back up with actions. We may look good on the outside but we are missing an important layer inside.

The analogy here may be kind of wild, but it is an interesting one because we rarely think of what is going on inside as being that important, but we sure would notice a difference on the links if we were using incorrectly fabricated golf balls. Likewise leaders need a firm foundation that is as true under the surface at it appears to observers.

Incidentally, the golf ball in the picture is real, not Photo-shopped.  I obtained it in the late 1970’s at the home of a relative who found the ball in his garden. He lived next to a fairway on the golf course at San Clemente, California, where Nixon lived at that time. The ball is a “Titleist 4” and is identified “K2 Acushnet.”  It is available, if anyone is interested.