Leadership Barometer 56 Don’t Enable Problem Employees

June 27, 2020

In any organization, there are situations where supervisors accommodate problem employees rather than confront them. Ignoring wrong actions models a “laissez faire” attitude on problem solving and enforcing rules.

It also enables the perpetrator to continue the wrong behavior. In a typical scenario, the problem festers under the surface for months, even years.

Ultimately escalation of the issue reaches a tipping point when something simply must be done. By this time, the problems are so horrendous they are many times more difficult to tackle.

A common example is when workers stretch break times from the standard 20 minutes to more than 30 minutes actually sitting in the break room.

The total duration away from work is more like 45 minutes from the time work stops until it resumes. The supervisor does not want to appear to be a “by the book” manager, so the problem is ignored every day. When things get too far out of control, the unfortunate supervisor is forced to play the bad guy, and everyone suffers a major loss in morale.

I once worked in a unit where one person suffered from acute alcoholism. His abusive behavior was enabled because his supervisor did not dare confront him. The employee had an excellent grasp of the technology used in the process, so the supervisor did not want to lose the person.

Finally, the situation became intolerable. When they called him in to confront the facts, he had been out of control for 15 years. His reaction to the manager was, “What took you guys so long?”

Following months of treatment, he became sober and was able to go on with his life as a positive contributor. Unfortunately, he was old enough by that time to retire; the organization had acted too late to gain much benefit from his recovery. The problem was clear, yet for years nothing was done.

In every organization, there are situations like this (not just health issues – tardiness, too many smoke breaks, or abusing other people are typical examples). Leaders often ignore the problem, hoping it will go away.

The advice here is to remember the comment made by my example, “What took you guys so long?” and intervene when the problems are less acute and the damage is minor. In his case, that would have been a blessing; the man died a few months after retiring.

Taking strong action requires courage that many leaders simply do not have. They rationalize the situation with logic like:

• Maybe the problem will correct itself if I just leave it alone.
• Perhaps I will be moved sometime soon, and the next person can deal with this.
• Confronting the issue would be so traumatic that it would do more harm than good.
• We have already found viable workaround measures, so why rock the boat now?
• We have bigger problems than this. Exposing this situation would be a distraction from our critical work.

The real dilemma is knowing the exact moment to intervene and how to do it in a way that preserves trust with the individual and the group.

Once you let someone get away with a violation, it becomes harder to enforce a rule the next time.

The art of supervision is knowing how to make judgments that people interpret as fair, equitable, and sensitive. The best time to intervene is when the issue first arises.

As a supervisor, you need to make the rules known and follow them yourself with few and only well-justified exceptions. It is not possible to treat everyone always the same, but you must enforce the rules consistently in a way that people recognize is both appropriate and disciplined.

Be alert for the following symptoms in your area of control. If you observe these, chances are you are enabling problem employees.

• Recognition that you are working around a “problem”
• Accusations that you are “playing favorites”
• Individuals claiming they do not understand documented policies
• Backroom discussions of how to handle a person who is out of control
• Denial or downplaying an issue that is well known in the area
• Fear of retaliation or sabotage if rules are enforced
• Cliques forming to protect certain individuals
• Pranks or horseplay perpetrated on some individuals

These are just a few signals that someone is being enabled and that you need to step up to the responsibility of being the enforcer.

Sometimes supervisors inherit an undisciplined situation from a previous weak leader. It can be a challenge to get people to follow rules they have habitually ignored.

One idea is to get the group together and review company policy or simply ask what the rules are in this organization. Often people do not know the policies, or pretend they do not know, because the application of rules has been eclectic.

This void gives you a perfect opportunity to restate or recast the rules to start fresh. It can be done as a group exercise to improve buy-in. When people have a hand in creating the rules, they tend to remember and follow them better.

If you are not a new leader but are in a situation where abuse has crept in, using this technique and taking responsible action can help you regain control and credibility.

I advocate asking a lot of questions rather than just demanding everyone follow the rule. Here are some questions that can get a discussion going (note I will use the issue of break time here as an example):

• Do you understand the need for some limitations for the length of breaks?
• Do you think we are better off if we apply the rules the same way for everyone?
• Is it possible for the crew to enforce the rules without the need for a supervisor?
• Do we intend to follow the rules?
• What should happen to someone who does not follow the rules?

The reward for making the tough calls is that people throughout the organization will respect you. Problems will be handled early when they are easier to correct. The downside of procrastinating on enforcement is that you appear weak, and people will continually push the boundaries.


Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 79 Skeptical

June 14, 2020

There are many different ways we can express skepticism without using any words. This article will highlight some of the typical body language gestures that can be seen if a person is skeptical.

There are numerous facial cues you can use to identify a skeptical person and also some telltale hand gestures. We will start by observing the eyes.

Eyes

A skeptical person will often look at you with a sideways glance. The message is “do you expect me to believe this?”

Alternatively, the person may be squinting at you like what you are saying is painful or just does not compute.

A third option with the eyes is having them wide open in a somewhat surprised stance or looking over the rims of his glasses.

Eyebrows

The eyebrows will often be raised as the person contemplates what as just said. The connotation is – really?? Sometimes the eyebrows will be pulled toward the bridge of the nose as an indication of confusion, concern, or disbelief.

Head tilt

Often you will see a tilted head when observing a skeptical person. The message being conveyed is that the person is thinking something is definitely wrong with what you just said or did but cannot quite figure out what it is.

Mouth

The most often mouth gesture for a skeptical person is a kind of pout. Alternatively, you might see the mouth pulled slightly to one side and either be open or shut. The connotation is that the person is straining to believe what you just said.

Hand gestures

There are many different hand gestures associated with a skeptical person. A common one is stroking the chin area. The person is trying to rationalize what was just said, so he is pondering the meaning.

Another common hand gesture is with arms extended and the hands palm up and open. It is like the person is trying to feel the weight of what you just said.

You might see an extended index finger pointing at you or even a “time out” signal with the tips of one hand touching the palm of the other hand.

What to do

If you see a cluster of these kinds of gestures, you can be pretty certain the other person is skeptical about what is going on. The best approach is to invite dialog with a question. Here are a few examples of questions that may draw the other person out.

Do you find this hard to believe?
You seem doubtful – what’s wrong?
Can you tell me how you feel about what I just said?
Does this seem right to you?
Is there another way of looking at this?

Then, pay particular attention to the response you get and try to avoid getting defensive. The other person is entitled to his or her opinion, and you need to handle the conversation with tact in order to start rebuilding any lost trust.

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



Leadership Barometer 53 I’m OK – You’re Not OK

June 3, 2020

I have made an observation after listening to people vent about problem individuals at work or at home.

It seems most people have a rather long list of things that other individuals must do to improve but a rather short list of things they need to change in their own behavior.

It is human nature to excuse or rationalize one’s own shortcomings while focusing on the obvious improvement needs of others. Since nearly everyone practices this little deception, the world must be rife with almost perfect people who wish the other people around them would shape up.

Hmmm – something is wrong with this picture? Here are a dozen tips that can change the pattern for you. Print them out and post them at work. Feel free to add more concepts of your own, and let me know what you add.

1. Reverse the Roles

The other day a student was venting about a particular individual who was a major challenge at work. The student described in gory detail several behavioral things the other person constantly did that drove him up the wall.

I asked him to write an analysis about himself from the perspective of that other person. In other words, what would the other person tell me about him if he had the chance.

That brought the student up short, and he admitted it would be a rather humbling exercise to do.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is a well known fact that most married couples fight over the little things that become habitual annoyances on a daily basis. The position of the toilet seat is a great example. How come I can never get my wife to leave the toilet seat up?

It is not the 401K account that most couples argue about daily, it is who gets the remote control, or why the toothpaste tube is always topless. So, if we can just remember that the small stuff is really just that, then maybe we can relax a bit.

3. Live and let Live

If a cubicle mate hums when she is happy, it is no reason to have a coronary over it. This is her outlet and way to be cheerful.

Even though it curdles your skin when it goes on and on, why burst her balloon by pointing out her “problem”? If it is an unconscious habit, she will never be able to control it anyway.

Simply buy a pair of noise canceling head phones and play the kind of music you like. Let a happy person be happy or a miserable person be miserable. Focus your energy on creating your own sphere of cheerfulness rather than trying to change the rest of the world.

4. Punch Out Early, Don’t Punch Out the Person

Find some way to get away from the petty squabbles before they bring you to the snapping point. If you cannot actually leave without penalty, it does not stop you from mentally checking out. Just go for a little vacation in your mind.

Imagine smelling the giant pines if you love to hike. Feel the frost on your cheeks if you like to ski. Taste the chocolate chip cookie if you like to eat, or how about a relaxing hot tub while sitting at your desk?

Imagining happier places has kept many POWs alive for years; the same technique can keep you sane until 5 o’clock.

5. Share a treat

Just because someone drives you nuts by clipping his nails in the morning is no reason to hate him all day long. Find some symbolic olive branch and waive it around. Go get two chocolate bars and give him one.

Bring him in a bag of his favorite flavor of coffee. By extending kindness, we get kindness in return. Usually people know what they do drives us crazy.

If we change our body language rather than keep festering about “their problem” and learn to accentuate the positive, then the other person will likely respond in kind.

6. Extend Trust

The reciprocal nature of trust implies that you can improve another person’s trust in you by extending more trust to him or her.

When we build up a higher account balance of trust, the petty issues seem to melt away because we are focused on what is good about the other person rather than idiosyncrasies that drive us bonkers.

The best way to increase trust is to reinforce people who are candid with us about our own shortcomings. That takes emotional intelligence to do, but it works wonders at improving relationships.

7. Don’t Complain About Others Behind their Back

Speak well of other people as much as possible. The old adage “if you cannot say something nice about someone don’t say anything” is really good advice.

When we gripe about others when they are not present, a little of the venom always leaks out to the other person, either directly or indirectly. Never make a joke about another person at his or her expense.

A wise old pastor taught me that rule 40 years ago, and it is a great rule. If a person is doing something that really bothers you, simply tell him or her in as kind a way as possible why you find the action irritating.

8. Stop Acting Like Children

The lengths people go to in order to strike back at others for annoying them often takes on the air of a food fight in grade school.

Escalating e-mail notes is a great example of this phenomenon. I call them e-grenade battles. It is easy to avoid these squabbles if we simply do not take the bait.

When you find yourself going back and forth with another person more than three times, it is time to change the mode of communication. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall for a chat.

9. Care About the Other Person

If we really do care enough to not get bent out of shape over little things, then we can tolerate inconveniences a lot better. What we get back from others is really a reflection of the vibes we put out ourselves.

If we are feeling prickly and negative reactions from others, we need to check our attitude toward them. While it is convenient to blame them, often we are at least a partial cause of the negativity: they are simply a mirror.

10. Picture the other person as the most important person in your life

If all else fails, try to remember that life is short and to expend energy bickering and griping about others really wastes your most precious resource – your time.

How much better it is to go through life laughing and loving than griping and hating. We do have a choice when it comes to the attitude we show other people. Make sure your choice enriches others as well as yourself.

11. Have your own personal development plan

Start out each day with a few minutes of meditation on how you want to present yourself better to your co-workers. Have a list of areas you are trying to improve on.

This healthy mindset crowds out some of the rotten attitudes that can lead you to undermine the actions of others all day. Create a list of your personal improvement areas, and work on them daily.

12. Follow the Golden Rule

Finally, the famous Golden Rule is the most positive way to prevent petty issues from becoming relationship destroyers.

By simply taking the time to figure out how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, you will usually make the right choice for building and preserving great relationships.

Following these 12 tips will create a happier you and will mean that your interpersonal relationships will be much stronger in the future.



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.