The “I AM RIGHT” Paradox

February 6, 2019

One of my MBA students made a comment once that really caught me off guard. He said “I am the type of person who always does what he thinks is right.” The statement sounded perfectly logical until I thought about it a little more. I wonder if there is a person alive who could not make that same claim.

Invariably, people are going to do what they believe is right at that moment. If there is a better alternative action, then they will do that. Human beings instinctively rationalize all data to come up with the best option now, “all things considered.” In essence, we all wear an invisible “I AM RIGHT” button all day every day.

I started weaving this concept into my leadership classes, because it represents some insight that can help leaders build higher trust, if they understand it. The challenging part is to become smart enough to practice it in the crucible of everyday events. This article will describe the process to become enlightened and how to implement the concept in your life. The ideas in this paper can reduce conflict regardless of one’s position in life, but I will focus the remainder of this article on how leaders can use the concept to increase trust within their span of influence.

Sometimes I run into a leader who claims to not have this problem. He might say, “I have always been a highly participative manager and do not form opinions until I understand what my people are thinking.” Regardless of how much information is gathered in advance, once a leader reaches an understanding of the “right” decision, he then owns that point of view. (Note: In this article, I will use the male pronoun to avoid the awkward “he or she” language, but the logic is gender neutral.)

Another way leaders try to be participative is to send out “test balloons” that sound like this: “I am wondering what you all think about reducing the level of overtime for the next couple months.” The problem here that by simply broaching the question, the leader has put his thumb on the scale, so everyone already knows what he considers the “correct” answer.

Once a leader has reached a conclusion, regardless of how he got there, he owns that opinion, so if someone else has a dissenting point of view, the leader instinctively believes that person is “wrong.” Human nature then takes over, and the leader pushes back on the person who disagrees. This pushback is not reinforcing to the person who disagrees. The leader in some ways punishes the dissenter for having a different opinion.

According to behavior theory, being rewarded for an action will cause more of that behavior in the future and being punished tends to extinguish that behavior in the future. People quickly learn not to cross the leader once his opinion is known. It is just not safe to do it because the leader has positional power and the ability to inflict future pain in numerous ways. This is where the link to trust is critical.

In my leadership work, my favorite quote is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” My observation is that trust between people will grow easily in an environment of no fear. Creating a culture where people know the leader is not going to punish them for having an opposing view is the best way to reduce fear in an organization.

This is where the I AM RIGHT concept has so much power. If the leader can picture that the person who is not in agreement is also wearing the button, then it reminds the leader to modify his behavior when another person brings up an opposing point. The leader recognizes that he believes his way is right, but also recognizes the other employee believes his view is the correct one.

That understanding can change the conversation from one of defensive pushback and punishment to one of curious inquiry, deep listening, and understanding. The opposing employee will feel rewarded rather than punished. If the leader changes his stance based on the input, then the reward is direct. If the leader considers the alternate seriously but goes with his first instinct, the employee still feels he is rewarded because his points were heard, he was treated like an adult, and he was shown respect. So, regardless of the final decision, trust has been enhanced rather than reduced.

Leaders need to know that the first instinct to defend their initial position may be working against higher trust. They can modify the approach to suspend their own judgment when there is a question or alternate view and truly listen to the opposing view. Asking others what they think about the question will also help to reinforce the nay-sayer, and the trust will still grow. Discussion can also help the employees understand the full set of considerations that went into the decision and therefore appreciate the wisdom of a broader view.

The essential ingredient in this formula for building trust is for the leader to recognize he is wearing the I AM RIGHT Button, but that everyone else has on an invisible I AM RIGHT Button too. The ability to do that is a game changer for leaders who want to have a culture of high trust.

I call this skill “reinforcing candor,” because it is a key behavioral change that has huge impact on the culture. To be able to calmly accept a dissenting view and treat the employee with respect often goes against the gut instinct behaviors. That is why it is so uncommon in real life. If you can learn to do this, you will become one of the elite leaders of our time. It takes practice to do this, so start today and watch the trust level in your organization rise steadily.

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 600 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


Mistakes in Motivation

August 22, 2016

How many times a week do you hear, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” This is usually followed by an idea or two to try to entice people to be more productive.

Seeking to motivate employees is a thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way rarely get the increased motivation they seek.

Reason: Motivation is an intrinsic phenomenon rather than something to be impressed upon people. Motivation is not something managers “do to” the workers.

The only person who can motivate you is you. The role of leaders is not to motivate workers, rather it is to create the kind of culture and environment where workers are inspired and choose to motivate themselves.

An example is when a leader sets a vision and goals, then allows people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

Why do many leaders try to motivate people by using either incentives (like bonuses) or threats (like penalties)?

1. Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed.

Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the underlying reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. The most direct way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation; it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation; it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks

Individuals are willing to accept any kind of treat the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the carrot.

A better approach to create motivation is to work on the culture to build trust first. Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment for motivation to grow within people.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation?

A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.”

If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve the goal.”

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world.

The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully motivated is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings.

It is not generated by giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Describe motivation as a new way of life rather than a program or event. You should see evidence of motivation based on trust in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Focus on improving the culture rather than using carrots or sticks to create true motivation.

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


Leaders: Wag More, Bark Less

February 28, 2015

dogI confess, this title was not made up by me. My wife saw a bumper sticker with this sentiment and shared it with me.

I think the basic wisdom in the phrase is great and wish there was a way to get some managers to understand the simple logic here. Why is it that some bosses feel compelled to bark when wagging is a much more expedient way to bring out the best in people?

The barking dog is simply doing its job. The dog only knows that to defend his territory, he needs to sound off at anything that might encroach.

The frequency of barking is an interesting aspect. Why does the dog bark at intervals less than about 10 seconds?

Is it because he has a short memory and can’t remember that he just barked? Is it because the potential invaders of his territory need to be reminded every few seconds that he is still around? Is it because he simply enjoys keeping the neighbors up all night?

Is he showing off his prowess or having some kind of dog-world conversation with the mutt down the street? I think all of these things could be factors in the frequency of barking, but I suspect the primary reason is a show of persistence.

The message we get from the barking dog is “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance.”

In the workplace, if a manager sends a signal, “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance,” the workforce is going to get the message and comply.

Unfortunately with just compliance, group performance and morale are going to be awful, but the decibel level will at least keep everyone awake.

When a dog wags its tail, that is a genuine sign of happiness and affection. You can observe the rate of wagging and determine the extent of the dog’s glee.

Sometimes the wag is slow, which indicates everything is okay, and life is good. When you come home at night and the dog is all excited to see you, most likely the wag is more of a blur, and it seems to come from way up in the spine area.

The wag indicates, “I love you, I am glad you are here, you are a good person to me, and will you take me for a walk?”

Dogs are incredibly loyal, even beyond human reason. For example, I am reminded of the picture of a Labrador Retriever lying next to the coffin of his master who was killed in Afghanistan. The dog refused to leave the area.

Even when a dog is not treated well, it does not become critical or judgmental. The wag is not withheld because the dog had a bad day. The dog looks for the good and appreciates it. The dog is ever hopeful, ever optimistic, ever grateful. The wag is still there unless the dog is seriously sick. It is amazing.

A manager who wags more and barks less gets more cooperation. Life is better for people working for this manager, and they simply perform better.

Showing appreciation through good reinforcement is the more enlightened way to manage, yet we still see many managers barking as their main communication with people. Look for the good in people, and appreciate it. Try to modify your bark to wag ratio and see if you get better results over time.


Motivation Mistakes

February 4, 2012

How many times a week do you hear, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” This is usually followed by an idea or two to try to entice people to be more productive. Seeking to motivate employees is a thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way rarely get the increased motivation they seek. Reason: Motivation is an intrinsic phenomenon rather than something to be impressed upon people.

The only person who can motivate you is you. The role of leaders is not to motivate workers, rather it is to create the kind of culture and environment where workers are inspired and choose to motivate themselves. An example is when a leader sets a vision and goals, then allows people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

Why do many leaders try to motivate people by using either incentives (like bonuses) or threats (like penalties)?

1. Poor understanding of motivation – The notion that by adding perks to the workplace we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation. Why? – because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the underlying reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out – Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. The most direct way to improve the culture is to build trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

3. Using the wrong approach – It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation; it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation; it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks – Individuals are willing to accept any kind of treat the boss is willing to dish up, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the carrot.

A better approach to create motivation is to work on the culture to build trust first. Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment for motivation to grow within people.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.” If we seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, we are going to be disappointed frequently. Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team the ability to choose their own methods to achieve the goal.”

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world. The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully motivated is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings. It is not generated by giving out turkeys at Thanksgiving. Describe motivation as a new way of life rather than a program or event. You should see evidence of motivation based on trust in every nook and cranny of the organization. Focus on improving the culture rather than using carrots or sticks to create true motivation.