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.
All leaders make mistakes. Few leaders relish the opportunity to publicly admit them. I think that is wrong thinking.
For many types of mistakes, a public “mia culpa” is a huge deposit in the trust account. Sure, there are types of mistakes that should not be flaunted before the general population.
For example, if a mistake is similar to one that a leader has made several times in the past, it is not a good idea to stand up in front of a group and say, “well folks, I did it again.”
Likewise, if a mistake is such a bonehead move it brings into question the sanity of a leader, it is not a good idea to admit it. But barring those kinds of issues, if an honest mistake was made, getting up and admitting it, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness is cathartic.
I once had the opportunity to call people together and admit a mistake I had made in a budget meeting the previous day. People were not happy to hear the news that I inadvertently gave away $10K, but I did have a steady stream of people come to my office later to tell me my apology was accepted and that my little speech hit a home run on the shop floor.
Reason: people do not expect leaders to apologize because it is almost never done. You catch people off guard when you do it, and it has a major impact on trust.
Apologizing upward is another tricky area that can have a profound impact. The same caveats for apologizing downward apply here; if a mistake was plain stupid or it is the same one you have made before, best not admit it to the boss unless some serious damage would result. But if you have made an honest mistake, admitting this to the boss can be a big trust builder. This is especially true if the boss would never know unless you told him.
I recall a situation in my career where I had inadvertently divulged some company information while on a business trip in Japan. Nobody in my company would ever know I had slipped in my deportment, but it bothered me. I took some special action to mitigate the mistake and went hat in hand to my boss.
I said, “Dick, I need to talk to you. I made a mistake when I was in Japan last week. You would never know this unless I told you, but here is what happened…” I then described how I let a magazine be copied where I had written some notes in the margin. I described how I retrieved the copy and was given assurances that other copies had not been made.
My boss said “Well, Bob, you’re right, that is not the smartest thing you ever did, the smartest thing you ever did was to tell me about it.”
That short meeting with my boss increased his trust in me substantially, and I received several promotions over the next few years that I can trace to his confidence in me.
Granted, his confidence was influenced by numerous good things I had done, but by admitting something that I did not need to do, the relationship was strengthened rather than weakened. This is powerful stuff, but it must be used in the right way at the right time for the right reason.
After making a mistake most leaders try to hide it, downplay the importance, blame others, or use some other method to try to weasel out of it. Often these actions serve to lower trust. Consider taking the opportunity to apologize publicly. Often it is a great way to build trust. Use this technique carefully and infrequently, and it can be a positive influence on the quality of your leadership.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.
One of the capability areas in the ATD CPTD certification model is “Instructional Design.” I get a lot of mileage out of doing role plays with groups, whether the training is in person or virtual.
I find that the ability to work on a problem situation with another person in an unscripted format is a great mental break, so I insert several of these into my courses. People really love them and have a great time doing the role plays.
Here is an example of a brief video I shot in Jamaica when I was doing some leadership training for a group of talent development professionals a few years ago. Notice how the participants are having a rollicking good time while learning a significant point about trust.
The trick in designing role plays is to have a twist in the scene that is known by only one of the people involved and that the person is sworn to not divulge. The other person knows there is an elephant in the room, but that is not being shared for some unknown reason.
In this particular role play I pair up someone playing a middle manager with a quality group leader reporting to that manager. Each person gets a write up of roughly 200 words that explains the situation.
In this case, the manager has just promoted a different group leader to the manager level. The person promoted is inferior to the group leader who was passed over, but she is very attractive. The passed-over group leader is furious and wants to pin down the manager for playing favorites.
What she does not know is that the manager was instructed to promote the other person by the CEO and instructed to not divulge this to the disgruntled group leader who was passed over.
What follows is an exercise in what to say when your actions made no sense, but you must defend it on instructions from your boss. Of course, the debrief reveals that the real problem is that the CEO is the one who is playing favorites but he wants his role in the selection to remain hidden. That underscores a problem of integrity and accountability, which destroys trust.
Role plays seem to work to break up the instructional pattern, so people remain fresh for the major part of the content. I also use body sculptures, stories, magic illusions, physical demonstrations, and visual aids to add more spice.
Another technique is to post a photograph or cartoon and ask each individual to write a funny caption. Then they can read their captions to each other.
My rule of thumb, whether in person or virtual, is to not have more than about 15 minutes of content without giving the group a mental break of some kind. This makes the time fly by and keeps the group fresh, because they never know what is coming up next.
One precaution is that there needs to be a significant learning or point in each activity. The activity matters to the entire learning experience. Even though it is fun, it is not just for fun. During the debrief, you point out the main lesson and discuss the significance. For the participants, this allows experiential learning to occur in an atmosphere that is fun and lively.
The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.
Regardless of current position, every professional owns his or her future. Some people leave it up to fate or “the breaks” to figure out their pathway in life. That tendency is evident in all occupations, including supervisors.
In this article, I will explore why only a few supervisors take command of their forward path and offer some ideas that may be helpful at changing the pattern for those supervisors who want to move up.
Sometimes the role of Supervisor is a terminal role
One typical pathway to arrive in a position of supervisor is up from the ranks. This person has a great deal of process knowledge and has demonstrated dedication to the organization over a long period of time.
In addition, this individual has displayed some form of natural leadership characteristics. People within the crews seem to listen to what this person says and usually do what is suggested. This individual will often perform as a backfill for another supervisor who is out.
When conditions call for someone to be elevated to the supervisor position due to a retirement or termination, this individual is the natural and easy choice for the job.
Without a professional degree, she is not likely to be elevated into levels above supervisor and may not even want to move up further. She might be content to lead crews at the operational level.
In other cases, a person is brought into the organization with a professional degree with the understanding that gaining knowledge and seasoning as a leader will lead to higher positions in the organization. Sometimes these professionals can stay in a supervisory role for many years before moving on.
Let’s examine some situations where a worthy person might languish in the first line supervisor position far longer than necessary and why they do not take more control of their path forward. I will suggest some antidotes.
1. Becoming a Forgotten Soul
People who operate at the shop floor level daily tend to get caught up in the activities that are necessary to run the operation well. They become preoccupied with things like attendance issues or the struggle to have all people follow the stated rules (such as length of breaks).
As they work to survive on a daily basis and put off seeking longer term goals, their exposure at the higher levels is less, and they may be taken for granted or forgotten by higher management.
Often the performance goal line for supervisors can be moved from year to year. If a supervisor performs well during the current year, then the goals for next year may be increased in a never ending cycle of continuous improvement and higher expectations.
In that environment it is hard to step back and plot a pathway to a better existence, so some supervisors remain in the position longer than they really want to.
If you are in this position, the antidote is to put a priority on your long term goals and take the time to figure out where you wish to go next in your career.
This planning should include your supervisor and some concrete positive steps to take in the direction so you are ready to move up when a slot opens up. Try to include one or two development courses a year that will prepare you to advance.
2. Getting too embroiled in the turmoil
The role of supervisor is extremely challenging, even in the best organizations. Hourly people test the supervisor’s ability to maintain control on a daily basis.
It is important to establish a pleasant work environment where the workers are both empowered and engaged in the job, but inevitably the supervisor needs to play the role of enforcer in order to maintain control.
This tension between the ideal state and reality creates a kind of turmoil where the supervisor is compelled to be unpopular at times. In fact, it is a mistake to have an objective to be popular all of the time. It means the supervisor is weak and lets the employees abuse the rules to make life easier.
On the flip side, some supervisors revert to a command and control atmosphere where the workers will find ways to subvert the rules in ways that cannot easily be detected.
Some workers will become openly hostile when the supervisor tries to gain control of their behaviors. She will often spend inordinate amounts of time trying to deal with a few troublemakers while the more docile workers watch with amusement.
If you can relate to these symptoms, the antidote is to be both hard and soft at the same time. Show people you care about them personally, but stress that the organization requires that people follow the rules, and that you intend to have that happen.
In the crucible of trying to make the best decisions today, it is easy to lose sight of the longer term objective instead of continually seeking to leverage a positive reputation for performance into a pathway to the future. The cure is to keep the future in mind while striving to make excellent decisions today.
3. Getting a bad reputation
The role of a supervisor is like a juggling contest trying to balance all the needs of the people who report to her while simultaneously turning in impressive performance numbers.
Many supervisors fail to get the right balance and either appear to lose control or have sabotage crop up. Upper management sees only the result of the chaos and may not be sympathetic to the daily plight of the supervisor.
The antidote here is to manage your reputation with upper management. That is a tall order because of the balancing act previously mentioned. Since your reputation is mostly what people say about you when you are not present, it is necessary to be an expert at reading body language.
You can often learn more by watching your superiors than by what they tell you. Learn to be alert to signals that something has soured your reputation and find out what it is. Often the damage can be mitigated if you are aware of it.
4. Operating outside of the Supervisor’s control
There are a number of situations where the path to higher positions appears to be blocked, at least temporarily. Sometimes there is not much a supervisor can do but continue to shine in her role and be patient.
The politics of moving up in the organization can include things that are not easily understood, such as diversity issues or other forces that can impact organizational choices.
5. Failing to plan
Every person should have a plan for his or her life. I believe in setting aside a day each year to assess where I am and plot my own future. This simple practice has made a huge difference in my life, and it will do the same for anyone who expends the energy to do it.
No matter your situation, take the time to invest in your own future and do not be content to just do your best in your current role. We all need to grow and become more valuable to our organization. That is a formula for getting ahead in life.
Bottom line: Focus on the Next Step
The point of this article is to encourage supervisors to not get so focused on surviving the vicissitudes of current business that you neglect your path forward. Use the ideas above to keep an eye on your future every day. Do everything with a purpose to enhance your path toward your next step in your career.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.392.7763
Nepotism comes from a Latin root “nepos” meaning nephew. In ancient times, it was used to describe a process in the Catholic Church whereby celibate clergy would elevate their nephews to higher position because they had no offspring of their own.
In modern organizations, the practice of nepotism is alive and well, and it can have devastating impacts on trust.
It is interesting because in some cases we tolerate nepotism without question and in others we find the practice repugnant.
Several societies still have a monarchy whereby a person is born into the line of succession. We accept this practice in numerous legitimate societies without difficulty. We also usually accept the practice of passing on a family-owned business to the offspring of the owner.
In business many people struggle with the appointment of a close relative or friend of the family if the person appears to be under qualified for the position.
In most cases, the future of people working in an organization is at least loosely linked to the health of the entity, so when they see a poor match for the job get appointed as a leader simply because of a blood connection, it feels like a slap in the face at best.
The same helpless feeling occurs in the more common practice of cronyism, where an incumbent leader selects a favorite person based on qualifications other than how well the person is likely to perform.
I doubt there are many people alive who have not experienced some form of angst upon realizing they are now reporting to a supervisor who is a poor leader but a close friend of the big boss.
The sad truth is that there is no effective cure for this problem. It can go on at any level in any organization, and it usually trashes trust.
How can leaders do a better job of bringing along new talent if there is favoritism involved? First, you must realize it is a rare situation where there is absolutely zero favoritism.
Few top leaders will promote based solely on the credentials of the individual without regard to the chemistry fit between individuals.
Some form of advantage is at play in nearly every promotion.
I think it would a refreshing change if a leader got up and said, “I am appointing Mark to the job of VP HR. You all recognize that Mark and I have worked together in the past and he is one of my favorite people.”
Being upfront about a slanted call is far better than just ignoring the bias and expecting people not to care. They do care, and the honest approach will at least show some integrity along with a modicum of sensitivity.
One thing to avoid is trying to run a sham whereby the leader indicates several candidates will be interviewed by the team but has already chosen who is going to get the position. That practice is debilitating and is easily detected.
The leader who does this is going to suffer a huge loss in credibility and trust. If you have already made up your mind, do not run an interview process that looks like a fair one because you will be exposed more often than not.
There are exceptions where there is a legal precedent for interviewing several people even if the choice appears to be a foregone conclusion.
It may be an appointment in a government agency or simply an internal company rule that each position must have competition before a selection is made. In these instances, keeping an open mind that a better candidate may surface is the appropriate antidote, because it is often the case.
When trying to appoint a blood relative, it is crucial that the person have at least the potential to do well. There have been numerous examples of a leader bringing in a son or daughter where it led to the demise of the organization.
A classic example was when the brilliant and hands-on leader, Dr. An Wang, appointed his son Fred Wang to succeed him at Wang Laboratories in 1986. The company was losing its technological advantage, and Fred was unqualified to reverse the slide. By 1989, Dr. Wang fired his son, but it was too late to save the company.
Keeping the leadership in the family can work out well if there is adequate attention to the grooming of the individual and if the person has the requisite skill levels in terms of Emotional Intelligence and mental agility.
One thing is for sure, the practice is not going to end any time soon, so get used to that empty feeling of helplessness when you get wind of a future appointment in your organization.