Leadership Barometer 43 Toxic Leaders

March 22, 2020

We are all familiar with the word “toxic” and recognize that toxic substances are known to cause human beings serious injury or death. We are also aware that some individuals have mastered the skill of being toxic to other people.

When a toxic person is the leader of an organization, the performance of that unit will typically be less than half what it would be under a leader who builds trust. There is documented evidence (see Trust Across America statistics) that high trust groups outperform low trust groups by a factor of two to five times.

Thankfully, the majority of leaders are not toxic. One estimate given by LTG Walter F. Ulmer in an article entitled “Toxic Leadership” (Army, June 2012) is that 30-50% of leaders are essentially transformational, while only 8-10% are essentially toxic. The unfortunate reality is that one toxic leader in an organization does such incredible damage, he or she can bring down an entire culture without even realizing it.

Why would a leader speak and behave in a toxic way if he or she recognizes the harm being done to the organization?

Is it because leaders are just not aware of the link between their behaviors and performance of the group?

Is it because they are totally unaware of the fact that their actions are toxic to others?

Is it because they are lazy and just prefer to bark out orders rather than work to encourage people?

While there are instances where any of these modes might be in play, I think other mechanisms are responsible for most of the lamentable behaviors of toxic leaders.

Toxic leaders do understand that employees are generally unhappy working under them. What they fail to see is the incredible leverage they are leaving off the table. They just do not believe there is a better way to manage, otherwise they would do that.

If you are in an organization, there is a possibility you are in daily contact with one or more toxic leaders. There are three possibilities here: 1) you have a leader working for you who is toxic, 2) you are a toxic leader yourself, but do not know it or want to admit it, or 3) you are working for a toxic leader or have one higher in the chain of command. I will give some tips you can use for each of these cases.

Toxic Leader Working for you

This person needs to become more aware that he or she is operating at cross purposes to the goals of the organization. Do this through education and coaching. Once awareness is there, then you can begin to shape the behavior through leadership development and reinforcement. It may be that this person is just not a good fit for a leadership role. If the behaviors are not improved, then this leader should be removed.

You are a toxic leader

It is probably not obvious to you how much damage is being done by your treatment of other people. They are afraid to tell you what is actually going on, so you are getting grudging compliance and leaving their maximum discretionary effort unavailable to the organization. Trust will not grow in an environment of fear.

The antidote here is to genuinely assess your own level of toxicity and change it if you are not happy with the answer. This can be accomplished through getting a leadership coach or getting some excellent training. Try to read at least one good leadership book every month.

You are working for a toxic leader

In my experience, this is the most common situation. It is difficult and dangerous to retrofit your boss to be less toxic. My favorite saying for this situation is, “Never wrestle a pig. You get all muddy and the pig loves it.”

So what can you do that will have a positive impact on the situation without risking loss of employment? Here are some ideas that may help, depending on how severe the problem is and how open minded your boss is:

1. Create a leadership growth activity in your area and invite the boss to participate. Use a “lunch and learn” format where various leaders review some great books on leadership. I would start with some of the Warren Bennis books or perhaps Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

2. Suggest that part of the performance gap is a lack of trust in higher management and get some dialog on how this could be improved. By getting the boss to verbalize a dissatisfaction with the status quo, you can gently shape the issue back to the leader’s behaviors. The idea is to build a recognition of the causal relationship between culture and performance.

3. Show some of the statistical data that is available that links higher trust to greater productivity. The Trust Across America Website is a great source of this information.

4. Bring in a speaker who specializes in improving culture for a quarterly meeting. Try to get the speaker to interface with the problem leader personally offline. If the leader can see some glimmer of hope that a different way of operating would provide the improvements he or she is seeking, then some progress can be made.

5. Suggest some leadership development training for all levels in the organization. Here it is not necessary to identify the specific leader as “the problem,” rather, discuss how improved leadership behaviors at all levels would greatly benefit the organization.

6. Reinforce any small directional baby steps in the right direction the leader inadvertently shows. Reinforcement from below can be highly effective if it is sincere. You can actually shape the behavior of your boss by frequent reminders of the things he or she is doing right.

It is a rare leader who will admit, “Our performance is far off the mark, and since I am in charge, it must be that my behaviors are preventing people from giving the organization their maximum discretionary effort.”

Those senior leaders who would seriously consider this statement are the ones who can find ways to change through training and coaching. They are the ones who have the better future.

Most toxic leaders will remain with their habits that sap the vital energy from people and take their organizations in exactly the opposite direction from where they want to go.

Another key reason why toxic leaders fail to see the opportunity staring them in the face is a misconception about Leadership Development. The typical comment is, “We are not into the touchy-feely stuff here. We do not dance around the maypole and sing Kum-ba-yah while toasting marshmallows by the campfire.”

The problem here is that several leadership training methods in the past have used outdoor experiential training to teach the impact of good teamwork and togetherness. Senior leaders often feel too serious and dignified for that kind of frivolity, so they sit in their offices and honestly believe any remedial training needs to be directed toward the junior leaders.

To reduce the impact of a toxic leader, follow the steps outlined above, and you may be able to make a large shift in performance over time while preserving your job. You can even use this article as food for thought and pass it around the office to generate dialog on how to chart a better future for the organization.




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.




The Link Between Trust and Motivation

March 19, 2019

How many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Those words and the actions they generate seldom lead to a sustained improvement in motivation. The above phrase is one of the most common phrases leaders or managers use every day. So what’s wrong with it?

Lack of Understanding

The phrase shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders make a mistake when they use perks to increase motivation by making people happier, like handing out free candy. They put a manipulative spin on the subject of motivation that backfires for several reasons:

1. Historical Research

The notion that improving things in the workplace will somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors”  (read that more candy) is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because things like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier, but they do little to impact the reason they are motivated to do their best work. That impetus comes from a different source.

2. Less is More

It is imagined that heaping nice things on top of people it will improve their attitude leading to higher motivation. The only lasting way to improve attitude is to build a better culture.

3. Bribery is not Motivation

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. Motivation is a Personal Choice

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of freebie the boss is willing to grant, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the goodie bag.

5. Focus on a Better Culture

Smart leaders focus on the culture first. They seek to build an environment of TRUST and improve the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility. With these precursors, motivation within people will grow. It will be enhanced if some nice perks are added, but the perks alone do not create motivation.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people. What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels.

6. Don’t use the Word Motivate as a Verb

How can you tell when a leader has the wrong attitude 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.” It is as if “motivate” is something a leader can “do to” the workers.

If you seek to change other people’s attitude about their relationship to work with goodies, you 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 more responsibility to make its own decisions.”

What an Environment of TRUST Feels Like

The way to create the best environment for personal motivation to grow is to create a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization. Doing this helps people become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.

• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work.

• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.

• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals because they know that when the organization does better, they do better personally.

• They truly enjoy the social interactions with people they work with. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except the physical work is different. They are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.

• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.

• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.

• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake – not the cake itself.

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in an environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. How do you achieve that kind of culture?

Tips to Achieve higher Trust

Building a culture of high trust requires that leaders stop trying to manipulate people and build a real environment. Excellent leaders create a solid framework of values, vision, mission, behaviors, and strategy.

The key to building trust is to allow people to point out seemingly incongruent behavior on the part of the leader without fear of reprisal. This requires leaders to suppress their ego needs to be right all the time and acknowledge their fallibility.

When people are reinforced for voicing their truth, even if it is uncomfortable for the boss, trust will grow. The quote I use to emphasize this is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

With this approach you have a powerful correcting force when people believe things aren’t right. If something is out of line, they will tell you, enabling modification before much damage is done. Now you have an environment where honest feelings are shared and there are no large trust issues. People in your organization will instinctively choose to become more motivated because they are working in the right kind of atmosphere.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons when you have special meetings, or by holding employee picnics. Consistently build higher trust by reinforcing people when they express themselves and you will experience higher and sustained motivation.

 

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 www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


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


Successful Supervisor 44 – Managing Change for Results

September 17, 2017

John F. Kennedy once said,

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

In any organization, change is a given, so every supervisor has a choice: she can either choose to endure the changes or she can learn to manage the changes in order to thrive.

This article is about the tools needed to manage change in a proactive and pragmatic way.

For the supervisor the challenge is to not only learn to manage change in her own mind but also teach the people who report to her how to deal with change.

Simply stated, there is no option to avoid change, but there are effective ways to deal with it. The following tips are things that I find helpful when teaching leaders to manage change.

1. Help people understand the need for change

The best way to describe this tip is the old “boiled frog” analogy. If you place a frog into boiling water, it will feel the heat immediately and jump out. But, if you put a frog into a pan of cool water and slowly heat it up, the frog will sit there and boil to death.

It becomes used to the heat and cannot feel the danger until it’s too late. Good supervisors make sure that people feel the “heat” early enough.

2. Communicate a compelling vision of the future

It is incumbent on the supervisor to not only let people know they will be better off once they reach the vision but that it is worth the effort to get there.

In other words, if the supervisor extols the benefits of the view that awaits from the top of Mount Everest, but fails to generate enough enthusiasm to make the arduous climb worth it, the vision is worthless.

I wrote in one of my books that

“Leaders are the artists who paint the vision of the future on the canvass of today’s paradigm.”

This means that not only must the image itself be compelling but the supervisor must paint a pathway to the future to make it real.

3. Build an environment of TRUST

Supervisors interact with many people and build trust-based relationships with each of them. Trust between people can be compared to a bank account, where actions consistent with shared values represent deposits and inconsistent actions represent withdrawals.

Every action, word, or decision between individuals either adds to or detracts from the balance. It is a very sensitive system that can be affected even by subconscious thoughts or small gestures.

Making small or medium deposits is easy, but large deposits are rare. I advocate a four-step plan to build trust with people that I call “reinforcing candor.”

a. Start by laying a firm foundation with your team. Identify the values of your group along with a clear vision, behavior expectations and strategic plan.

b. Encourage people to tell you any time they believe your actions are not congruent with your foundation.

c. Reinforce them every time they do it, no matter how challenging that is. Make them glad they told you about it.

d. Take appropriate corrective action or help people think through the apparent paradox.

4. Value diverse opinions

People closest to the work generally have the best solutions. Supervisors need to tap into the creative ideas of everyone in the organization to allow successful change initiatives.

This also allows people to “own” the change process rather than perceive it as a management “trick” to get more work for less money.

5. Ability to accept risk

No progress is made without some kind of risk. As a supervisor, you need to empower people so they feel free to try and not get squashed if they fail.

Tolerate setbacks along the road to success and don’t lose faith in the eventual outcome.

Try to manage the risk so the consequences are minor, if failure occurs. For example, have a back up plan in place for changes that involve risk.

6. Build a reinforcing culture

Many groups struggle in a kind of hell where people hate and try to undermine one another at every turn. They snipe at each other and “blow people in,” just to see them suffer or to get even for some perceived sin done to them. What an awful environment to live and work in, yet it is far too common.

Contrast this with a group that builds each other up and delights in each other’s successes. These groups have much more fun. They enjoy interfacing with their comrades at work. They are also about twice as productive!

You see them together outside work for social events and there are close family-type relationships in evidence. Hugging is spontaneous.

Let your reinforcement be joyous and spontaneous. Let people help you make it special. Reinforcement is the most powerful elixir available to a supervisor.

Don’t shy away from it because it’s difficult or you’ve made mistakes in the past; embrace it.

7. Integrate new methods into the culture

Document new procedures in a user friendly way; avoid long complex manuals that nobody has the time to read. Have a check list for new employees and make sure they understand the culture. Reinforce consistent behaviors.

8. Foster constancy of purpose

Effective change programs require constancy of purpose. Avoid the “flavor of the month.” Expect setbacks as part of the process and don’t jump ship to a new program when things get rough. Don’t call it a “program”. Instead refer to it as our culture.

9. Understand the psychology of change

If you think of change as a system, you can help people through the process more quickly. Recognize there will be times of confusion or anger, and use the energy to propel the process forward rather than slow it down.
I favor using the Kűbler-Ross Model of the five stages of grief to help teams move through the phases of dealing with change. The stages are:

1) Denial,

2) Anger,

3) Bargaining,

4) Depression, and

5) Acceptance.

I have found that using this model to explain why people are struggling at times with a change helps them move toward acceptance much faster.

Being a supervisor carries a mandate that you help manage the change process so improvements can be made without having the people become dysfunctional in the process.

It is your responsibility to accomplish change on a frequent basis. Using the nine tips above will make it possible for you to excel at this critical 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


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.


Smart Pill for Leaders

September 20, 2014

Smart Pill croppedOne of my leadership students laments that some of the decisions the leaders in his organization make relative to policies and size of workforce are not smart.

These decisions reflect a misunderstanding of their impact, so the leaders end up doing things that are at cross purposes to what they want to accomplish.

I told the student to buy some “smart” pills for the leaders to take, which will let them know when they do things that take them in the wrong direction.

Then I realized that I already had discovered the “smart” pill several years ago and have taught leaders how to administer this magic potion for quite a while.

Leaders need a way to determine the impact of their decisions on the organization at the time of making those decisions. This knowledge will reduce the number of wrong-headed actions.

Picture a leader of 90 individuals. There are exactly 90 people who are capable of telling her the truth about the impact of poor decisions before she makes them. They would gladly do this if the leader had established an environment where it is safe to challenge an idea generated in her mind. How would a leader go about creating such an environment?

If a leader makes people glad when they tell her things she was really not eager to hear, those people will eventually learn it is safe to do it. They have the freedom to level with the leader when she is contemplating something really dumb.

It does not mean that all dumb things the leader wants to do need to be squashed. It simply means that if the leader establishes a safe culture, she will be tipped off in advance that a specific decision might not be smart.

Sometimes, due to a leader’s perspective, what may seem dumb to underlings may, in fact, be the smart thing to do. In this case the leader needs to educate the doubting underling on why the decision really does make sense. Here is an eight-step formula that constitutes a “smart” pill.

1. As much as possible, let people know in advance the decisions you are contemplating, and state your likely action.

2. Invite dialog, either public or private. People should feel free to express their opinions about the outcomes.

3. Treat people like adults, and listen to them carefully when they express concerns.

4. Factor their thoughts into your final decision process. This does not mean you always reverse your decision, but do consciously consider the input.

5. Make your final decision about the issue and announce it.

6. State that there were several opinions that were considered when making your decision.

7. Thank people for sharing their thoughts in a mature way.

8. Ask for everyone’s help to implement your decision whether or not they fully agree with the course of action.

Of course, it is important for people to share their concerns with the leader in a proper way at the proper time. Calling her a jerk in a staff meeting would not qualify as helpful information and would normally be a problem.

The leader not only needs to encourage people to speak up but give coaching as to how and when to do it effectively. Often this means encouraging people to give their concern in private and with helpful intent for the organization rather than an effort to embarrass the boss.

The leader will still make some dumb decisions, but they will be fewer, and be made recognizing the risks. Also, realize that history may reveal some decisions thought to be dumb at the time to be actually brilliant.

Understanding the risks allows some mitigating actions to remove much of the sting of making risky decisions. The action here is incumbent on the leader.

It is critical to have a response pattern that praises and reinforces people when they speak the truth, even if it flies in the face of what the leader wants to do. People then become open and more willing to confront the leader when her judgment seems wrong.

A leader needs to be consistent with this philosophy, although no one can be 100%. That would be impossible. Once in a while, any leader will push back on some unwanted “reality” statements, especially if they are accusatory or given in the wrong forum.

Most leaders are capable of making people who challenge them happy about it only a tiny fraction of the time, let’s say 5%. If we increase the odds to something like 80%, people will be more comfortable pointing out a potential blooper. That is enough momentum to change the culture.

It is important to recognize that making people glad they brought up a concern does not always mean a leader must acquiesce. All that is required is for the leader to treat the individual as someone with important information, listen to the person carefully, consider the veracity of the input, and honestly take the concern into account in deciding what to do.

In many situations, the leader will elect to go ahead with the original action, but she will now understand the potential ramifications better.

By sincerely thanking the person who pointed out the possible pitfall, the leader makes that individual happy she brought it up. Other people will take the risk in the future. That changes everything, and the leader now has an effective “smart” pill.


7 Ways to Improve Your Integrity

August 12, 2012

Trust and integrity are inextricably linked. I believe before you can trust other people, you must trust yourself. That means you must not be fighting with yourself in any way, which is a pretty tall order. Integrity is about what you do or think when nobody else in the world would know. It is an interesting topic because it is very difficult to determine your own personal level of integrity.

We all justify ourselves internally for most of the things we do. We have it figured out that to take a pencil home from work is no big deal because we frequently do work from home. We drive 5 mph over the speed limit because not doing so would cause a traffic hazard while everyone else is going 10 mph over the limit. We taste a grape at the grocery store as a way to influence our buying decision. When we are short changed, we complain, but when the error is in the other direction, we pocket the cash. We lie about our age. We sneak cookies. If you have never done any of these things, let me know, and I will nominate you for sainthood.

There are some times in life when we do something known by us to be illegal, immoral, or dumb. We do these things because they are available to us and we explain the sin with an excuse like “nobody’s perfect.” I guess that is true that all people (except newborns) have done something of which to be ashamed. So what is the big deal? Since we all sin, why not relax and enjoy the ride?

The conundrum is where to draw a moral line in the sand. Can we do something that is wrong and learn from that error so we do not repeat it in the future? I think we can. I believe we have not only the ability but the mandate to continually upgrade our personal integrity. Here are seven ideas that can help the process:

1. Reward yourself – When you are honest with yourself about something you did that was wrong, that is personal growth, and you should feel great about that.

2. Intend to change – Once you have become conscious of how you rationalized yourself into doing something unethical, vow to change your behavior in that area.

3. Reinforce others – Sometimes other people will let you know something you did, or are about to do, is not right. Thank these people sincerely, for they are giving you the potential for personal growth.

4. Check In with yourself – Do a scan of your own behaviors and actions regularly to see how you are doing. Many people just go along day by day and do not take the time or effort to examine themselves.

5. Recognize Rationalization – We all rationalize every day. By simply turning up the volume on your conscience, you can be more alert to the temptations before you. That thought pattern will allow more conscious choices in the future.

6. Break habits – Many incorrect things come as a result of bad habits. Expose your own habits and ask if they are truly healthy for you.

7. Help others – Without being sanctimonious, help other people see when they have an opportunity to grow in integrity. Do this without blame or condemnation; instead do it with love and helpfulness.

We need to build our own internal trust so we can trust other people more. To do that, it is important to follow the seven ideas listed above. These ideas will allow you to move consciously in a direction of higher personal integrity.