The concept of trust is closely linked to safety. We all know that when we do not feel safe, it is hard to trust in that environment. My favorite quotation for the link is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”
It is easy to buy into the concept, but we rarely go to the next step to dissect the different types of safety and provide tools that managers can use to instill more trust. Here are three main types of safety and the implications for each one.
The issue of physical safety is normally assumed in a professional environment. During the pandemic, we all experienced a huge degradation of safety in all aspects of our lives. We all went through significant pain in an attempt to mitigate the hazards that we faced. Of course, this disruption occurred in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.
People need to feel safe on the job. In the medical professions or in the trades, there are obvious precautions that must be taken every day to remain safe. These safety measures were significantly ramped up during the COVID Pandemic.
Now, the need to focus attention on physical safety is present in every workplace.
Having the ability to express one’s feelings or thoughts without having to worry about retribution is a key element of trust. In many organizations, it is not safe to voice a dissenting opinion once the boss has advocated his or her belief. Doing so will result in some form of ridicule or other retribution that will make the employee sorry to have brought up the issue.
Leaders who are smart enough to “reinforce people when they are candid” have a much easier time establishing and maintaining trust. I believe the practice of reinforcing candor is the single most powerful method of creating trust by demonstrating psychological safety.
People need to know they are going to be OK. In a time of extreme unrest and disruptions within all organizations and, even in family life, many people are suffering in these times of uncertainty. People need to reach out and know there is some help available to them.
There are a number of agencies and groups available to keep people from becoming desperate. My personal favorite organization that offers significant help for people who are suffering is “LifeGuides.”
This service organization pairs people who are suffering from personal stress with a trained “Guide” who has been through their same life challenge. By providing empathy, the guide helps the employee regain and maintain equilibrium. If anyone is interested in learning more about LifeGuides, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you in touch with someone who can help you.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website www.leadergrow.com BLOG www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind
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.
Firm but Fair
The book “Triple Crown Leadership” was coauthored by my friends Bob Vanourek and his son, Gregg. In the book, they stress that great leaders have the ability to flex between “steel” and “velvet.”
They are firm and unyielding on matters of principle or values, but they also display a softer more human side when dealing with some people issues.
Great leaders have this ability to flex, and they also know when to do it. If an issue has to do with certain characteristics (like integrity, safety, ethics, honesty) it is a mistake to bend the rules, even just a little. But, if the issue has to do with showing people you care and want to be fair to people, then on those issues you can flex to show you value these things too.
It is a mistake to take a hard line on every decision and always go “by the book.” Some leaders feel it is essential to maintain control by having a firm hand on the tiller. They often lose the respect of people because they show no human side.
It is also a mistake to be too soft and basically ignore important principles or rules. This posture will also cause a loss of respect.
To get the right balance, great leaders let people know they will be steel on some things and velvet on other things. This causes higher respect and also leads to higher trust within the organization.
One important caution on this philosophy is that you need to establish a predictable pattern for when to flex. If you do something for one person and not another, then you will be tagged as playing favorites, which always lowers trust. If it is unclear to people why you are being hard on one issue and soft on another, then you are going to confuse people, which also lowers trust.
I always found it helpful to explain to people why I am taking a hard line on some visible issue. For example, I might say, “We cannot allow this slitter to run with this safety interlock compromised. Even though we really need the production right now, we will never jeopardize the safety of our workers.”
Once you have established a track record for making the right choices, it is not as important to explain your rationale for each one. The way to tell is to watch the body language of people. If they look confused when you make a decision, then always explain your rationale.
If there is ever any push back on a hard or soft decision, listen to the input carefully before proceeding. Keep in mind that your perspective is not the entire story. There may be other worthy opinions.
Show by your consistent actions over time that you stand for certain things, but always be willing to listen to and consider contrary opinions. Then when you make a final decision, let people know why you went that direction. If you do that, you will grow trust consistently.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.
Section 3.1 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Business Insight. The first bullet reads, “A skill in creating business cases for talent development initiatives using economic, financial, and organizational data.”
In this article, I will describe the process I use to create, refine and present business cases to potential clients.
A proposal to do some training and development work has little chance of being approved unless you can identify the benefits that will accrue. One mistake that consultants often make is to consider only the tangible or visible benefits such as higher output, greater safety, or better quality.
Usually there are intangible benefits that are not immediately or easily measurable but that have a profound impact on the operation in the long run. These concepts might include the impact of training on trust, morale, or teamwork. Often these intangible benefits dwarf the more visible things that can be measured physically.
If the training is highly experiential rather than just reading and listening to lectures, the impact on personal growth will go well beyond what is in plain sight. This is why I design my programs to have a great deal of variety of experiences where the participants actually become part of the action.
These experiences include several role play activities, body sculpture, assessments, polls, breakout sessions, magic illusions, videos, group and individual activities.
My rule of thumb is to have some kind of hands-on activity for every 10-15 minutes of information sharing. That level of involvement allows the group to stay sharp through multi-hour sessions. I also provide a physical break every two hours and provide refreshments, if the session is in person.
I work from PowerPoint Slides but follow a rigid protocol to avoid “death by PowerPoint.” All slides are on a totally white background. Usually there are only 5-6 bullets with large text with less than 8 words per bullet. Each slide has a real photograph (not clip art) that I have downloaded and purchased. The photos are indicative of the content on the slide and are often whimsical in nature.
I never read the PowerPoint bullets verbatim. I discuss the content and let the participants read the actual words while I am talking. Of course, I share the slide program for later review and recall.
Considering these presentation details, there is a lot of team building going on while I impart the subject matter. That improved teamwork serves to enhance trust and build morale, which both translate into productivity for the group.
It is common to have productivity increase by more than 50% as a result of training a family group for just a few hours.
I also customize all training for the specific needs of the group. I have a survey instrument with about 100 different areas where training might be considered. The participants tell me ahead of time which items have the most value, so that I can customize the program to be focused on the areas of greatest return.
I determine any extant data that is available for the group. I will review things like Quality of Work-life Surveys, Turnover data, Grievance Reports and other data that is available on the prior state of the group.
I also customize all slides to be industry specific, so that the training will translate into the language the particular organization uses daily. I want all of the participants to get the feeling that this training was designed specifically for them, because it was.
Taking these steps allows me to present a business case to the organization that is thorough, balanced, and tailored to be laser-focused on the needs of the specific group.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, 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, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.
As a training and development professional, how many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Believe it or not, that phrase often leads to lower rather than higher motivation.
Seeking to motivate people is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?
Trying to motivate people shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved.
Leaders who think this way put the cart before the horse and do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation.
So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The cart is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The horse is how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.
. Why do leaders reverse the conventional order; try to motivate people by making them feel good?
1. Poor understanding of motivation –
The notion that by adding perks or benefits 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 sweeten things (reduce dissatisfaction), but a poor way to increase motivation.
Why? – because goodies like parties, bonuses, hat days, games, , etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the 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 only way to improve the culture is to build trust.
By focusing on a better culture, 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 will gladly accept any kind of perk the boss is willing to hand out, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the reward.
Putting the horse in front of the cart means working on the culture to build trust first.
Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment. Motivation within people will happen, and it will endure.
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. An example is when you set a vision and goals then allow people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.
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 having a picnic.”
If leaders seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, they are going to be disappointed frequently. To motivate is not something you “do to other people,” rather it is something that is always within people that only they choose to let come out.
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 autonomy.
An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in a healthy environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. The way to create this is to build a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization.
You accomplish this through consistency and by letting people know it is safe to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal. You work to inspire people with a vision of a better existence for them and by really hearing their input. Doing this helps employees 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, and that is what drives their behaviors. • 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. • They truly enjoy the social interactions with peers. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except 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 full meal.
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 engaged 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.
Describe it as a new way of life rather than a program. You should see evidence of this in every nook and cranny of the organization.
Do not put the cart in front of the horse by attempting to motivate people with special events or gifts. Instead, increase the motivating factors and build a culture of trust. The end result is that many people will choose to be highly motivated, and the organization will prosper.
Bob Whipple is known internationally as “The Trust Ambassador.” He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a leadership Development organization.
Over the past 20 years, I have taught Business and Leadership at seven universities, along with several hundred corporate and professional groups.
One thing that has disappointed me is the discussion of corporate culture in most of the MBA textbooks. They usually leave out the most important parts of culture. This topic has fascinated me for years.
The success and longevity of any organization is directly linked to its culture. We sometimes notice the parts that make up culture, but often they are transparent because they are just a part of doing business in a particular group.
If we stop to think about what defines culture and work to manage or influence it, we can uncover some powerful leadership leverage.
Most of the Leadership textbooks I have read describe the culture in terms of physical attributes that characterize an organization.
For example, here is a typical list of the things purported to make up a company culture.
1. Physical structure 2. Language and symbols 3. Rituals, ceremonies, gossip, and jokes 4. Stories, legends, and heroes 5. Beliefs 6. Values and norms 7. Assumptions
The above list is a montage of the lists in several textbooks. When you think about it, these items do go a long way toward defining the culture of an organization.
Unfortunately, I believe these items fall short, because they fail to include the emotions of the people. After all, organizations are made up of people, at all levels, interacting in a social structure for a purpose.
Let us extend the list of things that make up the culture of an organization to include how the people feel.
1. Is there a high level of trust within the organization? 2. To what extent do people have the opportunity to grow in this organization? 3. Do people feel safe and secure, or are they basically fearful? 4. How do people treat each other on their own level and on higher or lower levels? 5. Is the culture inclusive or exclusive? 6. Do people generally feel like winners or losers at work? 7. Is the culture one of reinforcement or punishment? 8. Are managers viewed as enablers or barriers? 9. Are people trying to get into the organization or trying to get out? 10. What is the level of satisfaction for people in this organization? 11. Can people “speak their truth” without fear of reprisal? 12. Do people follow the rules or find ways to avoid following them?
I could go on with another 20-30 things that relate to the human side of culture. I hope you agree that the items above are at least as important as the items on the first list in terms of describing the culture.
Why then do most textbooks on leadership not mention them when they discuss culture? It baffles me.
Perhaps the view is that these “people-centered” items are best discussed separately and only the “system-centered” items define the culture. Personally, I do not agree with that.
Let’s zoom in on just one item of my list above: item #1. The level of trust in an organization is actually the most significant part of the culture, in my opinion.
The reason I put Trust in the front and center of culture is that with high trust, all of the other things (rituals, ceremonies, values, language, etc.) work to engage people in the business. With low trust, you can have all the trappings, but people will laugh at you behind your back.
You are probably familiar with the CEO who spouts out the values at every chance, but does not live them, so there is no trust. The values are just a useless pile of words.
In fact, they are worse than useless, because every time the CEO mentions the values it reminds people what a hypocrite he or she is.
Why is Trust so powerful? Let’s contrast a few dimensions for a company with high trust versus one with low trust to view the impact.
All organizations have a steady stream of problems. If the culture is one of low trust, each problem represents a high hurdle to overcome. We have to stop everything and have a meeting to figure out who said what and try to unscramble the mess.
We also have to contend with the interpersonal squabbles that are part of a low trust culture.
If there is high trust, first of all there will be fewer problems, but then the remaining problems are easily overcome, like pebbles in the road we kick aside with our shoe. We can focus energy on the vision rather than the problems.
Any problems will be resolved quickly, and the solutions will be of higher quality, because people will not be afraid to voice their creative ideas.
In groups with low trust, trying to communicate is like walking on eggs. Every word or phrase is a potential trigger for a sarcastic remark. Things are frequently taken the wrong way and create damage to control.
With high trust, communication seems easy. People have the ability to “hear between the lines” and the instinctively know the intent of the message even if the words come out wrong. Employees are not coiled and ready to strike anytime there is an opportunity.
In areas of low trust, people are focusing on protecting themselves or bringing other people down. Most of the energy is directed inward to the organization in numerous battles that really don’t help the organization succeed.
If trust is high, people are feeling aligned, so their focus is outward at the opportunities (customers) or threats (competition). This shift in focus from inward battles to outward opportunities is huge in terms of organizational success.
When trust is low, rumors spring up due to poor communication. Since there is nothing to retard them, they take on a life of their own.
The rumors and gossip spread like wildfire all over the organization creating significant damage control for management.
In areas of high trust, there will still be rumors from time to time, but they will be easily extinguished before they do significant damage. This is because people believe management when they say something is not true.
Look at the people in an organization of low trust; what is their general attitude? Usually it is one of apathy. They need their job in order to live, but they dearly wish it wasn’t such a struggle.
Now look at the attitude of people in an organization of high trust. You will see passion and motivation to really help the organization succeed. The difference here is huge in terms of organizational survival.
For one thing, customers notice the difference immediately. You know the feeling of sitting in a restaurant where the trust level between management and the servers is low.
You get an uncomfortable feeling and may net even realize why you decide to not patronize the place again.
With these differences, the result when workers have high trust has been shown by several authors is that they are between 2-5 times more productive than low trust groups.
Think of the number of organizations where managers are constantly feeling under-staffed. “We need more people,” is the common phrase.
My retort is that it is a leadership problem. What you need is not more people, but better leaders who know how to build a great culture of trust.
We could go on with numerous more examples of the difference between a culture of high trust and low trust, and that is only the first item on the list above.
I hope it is obvious that having the right kind of culture makes all the difference in the ability to survive in business.
Take the time and energy to work on your culture; the ROI is astronomical.
The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com. Mr. Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, , 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.
Is employee turnover killing your company? Turnover is one of the most significant, and avoidable inhibitors of profit. The US national average for turnover usually runs between 2-3% per month, whereas the top 100 companies often have a turnover rate of only 2-3% in an entire year.
In this article, I put a spotlight on the turnover problem and offer some antidotes that are common sense but sometimes not common practice.
For professionals, the cost of replacing an employee is roughly the annual salary of the individual. That means a company with 1000 people, each with an average annual salary of $48K, will lose more than $17 million per year due to turnover. These costs go directly to the bottom line in good times and bad.
Even in periods of high unemployment, turnover is still a problem for most groups. When jobs are scarce, workers may not leave immediately, but they are quietly planning on exiting once the job market improves.
One recent estimate is that 40% of workers are unhappy and plan to move within the next year if jobs become available (National Labor Statistics). That would mean a dramatic rise in turnover costs and a significant shift of the best talent from organizations with poor practices to those with stronger cultures.
How can we fight this needless drain? Here are seven key factors that can help you reduce turnover in your organization:
When people decide to leave an organization, it is most often the result of dissatisfaction with their direct supervisor. The most important thing to improve is the quality of leadership at all levels. Teaching supervisors and managers how to create the right culture makes a huge difference in turnover.
Unfortunately, when money is tight, often the first thing that gets cut is training. Improving leadership at all levels needs to be a continual investment, not a one-time event when someone gets promoted to a supervisory role.
Supervisors who are well trained recognize their primary function is to create a culture where people are engaged in the work and want the organization to succeed. These people rarely leave because they are happy where they are.
Pay is often cited as a reason for people leaving an organization. Pay may be a factor in some cases, but it is often just the excuse. What is really happening is that the work environment is intolerable, so the remuneration for the grief to be endured is not a good tradeoff. We need to teach managers to improve the trust level within the organization.
High trust organizations can pay workers non-inflated wages and still have excellent retention rates. There are numerous examples of this. One of them is Zappos, where they have such a great culture, that when employees are offered $2000 to leave, they do not take it.
In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink points out that the relationship between pay and motivation is not what most people think. He cites several studies that show a pattern where higher pay can actually lead to poorer performance.
Pink advocates paying people enough so that the issue of money is off the table. Then three other conditions, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, will take over as the key drivers to satisfaction and motivation, and therefore, retention.
A better future
Another key factor that causes people to leave is lack of a path forward. Employees who can visualize some pathway to a better future will generally stick around to experience it. Training and development are a key enablers for people to know there is a brighter future. Cross training is a particularly helpful way to have employees feel they are being developed to be more important to their organization. Cross training also helps make the work environment more interesting.
A family atmosphere
If you read about the culture of the top companies worldwide, there are many common themes. One of these is that employees describe their work associates as their extended family. They cherish the relationships with their co-workers. Sure, there will be some squabbles and an occasional lecherous uncle, but the overarching atmosphere is one of a nurturing and caring group of people similar to a family. Who would want to leave that environment?
Enabling people to do their own work without being micromanaged is a characteristic of organizations that are good at retaining people. Nothing is more irritating than being ordered to do things in a certain way by a condescending boss who does not really understand the process as well as you do.
The ability to use one’s own initiative and creativity to get the job done right helps build self esteem, which is a key ingredient in the retention of people.
Knowing that someone cares about you and recognizes your efforts and accomplishments goes a long way toward building employee loyalty. A loyal employee is not out there looking for another position. Instead, he or she is thinking about how the organization’s success can be enhanced through even more effort. The collective muscle of thousands of employees who each feel that way is amazing to behold.
Many organizations live on the edge of impending disaster. The competitive world has forced legions of companies to downsize on a regular basis simply to survive. When employees witness the revolving door that occurs as a result of things they cannot control, you can’t blame them for wanting to find a safer mode of transport through their career.
If the other suggestions above are followed religiously, then the organization will have a lower risk of having to lay off people, so they will enjoy a lower turnover rate.
These seven factors are not an exhaustive list, but I contend that groups who focus on these seven conditions and understand the dynamics will have consistently lower turnover rates, saving millions of dollars each year. That advantage is sustainable and scalable. It just requires leaders at the top who are skillful and relentless at applying these principles.
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.
There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. Here is one of my favorite measures.
Strong leaders are enablers
On this dimension there is a stark contrast between great leaders and poor ones. In organizations with great leaders, people view their leaders as enablers. They provide a clear and believable vision of the future that is truly compelling to the workers.
They provide the resources and support required to reach that vision. They engage and empower people to put their best efforts into the journey toward success.
They celebrate the small wins along the way. If there is a problem, the leaders work to reduce or eliminate it.
Strong leaders also enable trust by creating a SAFE environment where people are not afraid to express their true thoughts.
Weak leaders are the opposite
When leaders are weak, you see the exact opposite. Leaders are viewed by the employees as barriers. They get in the way of progress by invoking bureaucratic hurdles that make extra work.
They use a command and control philosophy that stifles empowerment. There is a foggy vision or the vision is not that exciting to employees. Like if they struggle to make it happen, the result will not be so great.
Weak leaders destroy trust by creating fear within their organization.
A real example
I felt that kind of leadership in my final years with a company I once worked for. The vision was very clear; they had to shrink their way to success. That meant huge stress and more workers who would be let go year after year.
What an awful vision! I left and never looked back. In organizations with that kind of vision, people feel they are operating with both hands tied behind their backs. Fear lurks around every corner.
This condition leads to poor performance, and so the leaders pour on more and more pressure to compensate. It is a viscous circle that reminds me of the water funnel in a toilet. In fact, it is very much like that.
If you want to measure the caliber of a leader, just start asking the people in the organization if that leader is an enabler or a barrier to progress. Their answer will tell you quickly how talented that leader is.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at email@example.com or 585-392-7763.
Here is one of my favorite measures for the quality of a leader.
Build a SAFE Environment
In most organizations, there is a continual environment of fear. What we need to realize is that there are different kinds of fear. There is the fear due to market conditions or competition that may make a company go bankrupt.
We have learned over the past decade that just because a company is great now is no guarantee it will even exist in a year or two. There is really no such thing as lifelong job security anymore.
Longevity not guaranteed
As an example, look at Circuit City. In the early years of the 2000’s, it was on top of the heap, and even qualified as one of the “Great” companies in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great. By 2008, the company was history.
So, it is not surprising that few people feel the kind of job security that most individuals felt in the 80’s and 90’s. It is just a fact of life, and that kind of fear needs to be used to create the impetus to do better on a daily basis.
More common fear
The more crippling kind of fear is a nagging feeling that if I tell the truth about something to my boss, I am going to suffer some kind of punishment. It may not be an immediate demotion or dismissal, but eventually I will be negatively impacted in ways I may not even recognize.
So, I clam up and do not share thoughts that could be helpful to my organization.
Create the right culture
Great leaders create an environment where this kind of fear is nearly nonexistent. My favorite quote about this, that I note on my corporate website, is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” In a culture where there is no fear, trust grows spontaneously, much like the mold on last week’s bread, only in this case, the mold is a blessing.
So, what is the mechanism by which great leaders create this lack of fear? They do it by “reinforcing candor.” They let people know they will not be punished for speaking their truth.
Reward rather than punish
On the contrary, these leaders show by words and deeds that people who speak up are actually rewarded for sharing something scary or just not right. That safety gives these leaders the opportunity to correct small problems before they have huge negative consequences for the organization.
That is brilliant leadership!
If you are a leader, focus on one thing when someone tells you something you did not want to hear. Focus your actions on making the person glad he or she brought it up. That behavior is the most constructive thing you can do to build a culture of trust within your organization.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-392-7763.
Conflict brings out all kinds of body language that is rather easy to interpret. In this picture, we see one individual trying to make a point but the other person completely blocking out the information, at least on the surface.
There is a significant caution before I get into the analysis to follow. You cannot judge the totality of what is going on from a single picture or view of what is happening. The attached photo, may not tell the whole story.
One person is speaking in anger or frustration, and the other person is obviously shutting her out and rolling her eyes upward. It is clear that there is conflict going on, but it is not clear where, why, and how the conflict began. It probably predates this specific conversation.
Also, keep in mind that in any situation both parties are acting according to their own viewpoint of what is right to do. Each person is totally justified in her own mind, and each is frustrated.
When trying to assess what is going on in communication between individuals, you need a lot more background and information to figure out why each person is acting the way she is.
Is there a history of conflict between these two people? Does the speaker or listener have a history of conflict with others in the office? If a person habitually brings conflict to situations, others will not want to interact with her or will interact with her badly.
When a person is listening to another individual, he or she normally “attends” to the other person by looking at least in his direction and often making eye contact. There will also be some additional attending gestures such as head nodding or head tilting to indicate attention.
The listener may be day dreaming or totally focusing on what he or she is going to say next, but at least there is some attempt to look engaged in the conversation. There can be less overt ways a listener can show disinterest in the conversation. For example, the listener may start reading email on her phone or pick up a catalog and start leafing through it. Another common ploy is to just put a blank look on her face and show no emotion or connection to the conversation.
Occasionally, you will run into an individual such as in the picture who has no intention of listening and tries to show it as graphically as possible. Here we see the woman actually blocking eye contact with her hand and making a sarcastic eye roll to enhance the signal. She clearly does not want to listen, and the situation between the two people has escalated to a point where she has no qualms about sending strong signals.
When a listener withdraws, it can be a clue that the person does not feel safe in the situation or with the person who is speaking. The body language is defensive and may be a way of protecting the person from harsh or demeaning words.
Another reason for withdrawal may be that the listener knows from experience that the interchange will not be positive or productive. Negative interchanges can have long term repercussions.
Whatever the outward signal, if the listener is showing little interest in the input, it is best to think broadly about why you are getting this behavior or just go mute. As long as you are droning on, the listener is free to show absolutely no interest in what you have to say. Keep in mind that what the other person wanted you to do in the first place was shut up, so the awkward silence may get extremely long.
If the speaker is one who creates conflict and the listener wants to avoid it, there is probably nothing the listener can say that will be accepted by the speaker, so the listener has no real incentive to say anything.
One thing to avoid is saying something like “Why don’t you look at me when I am speaking to you?” A question like that can be interpreted as threatening. The same problem occurs with talking louder or faster. These actions will not remedy the situation, and they can even make the situation worse.
Situations like this point to larger or ongoing problems that have resulted in a lack of trust between people. The trust level needs to be addressed before open and meaningful communications can begin. It is wise for both people to think back on the progression of the relationship that brought them to this point.
Either person can act to improve the situation. Either can say, “It seems like we are not communicating well. I don’t want to be in conflict with you. What can we do to repair this situation?” However, if there is a persistent instigator of conflict, that is the person who has the most responsibility to repair the relationship and rebuild trust. The other person may have tried many things in the past to reach out or express herself, was shut down, and now has given up.
Each person needs to examine her contribution to the ongoing issues.
Obviously a good, constructive conversation requires that both parties participate roughly equally. If the speaker does not let the listener respond, it is not a real conversation and creates a breach of trust. If the listener withdraws from the beginning, even if it is a result of prior bad experiences, it does nothing to heal the relationship.
Bilateral trust is vital for mature conversation. When you run into a situation like the ones described above, don’t try to badger the other person into paying attention, and if you are the person listening, don’t withdraw. Work through the issues that you have. Investigate what may be causing the issues, talk it through, and and try to rebuild trust. It can take time, but reestablishing an environment of trust is well worth the effort for both people and the entire organization.
There are lots of ways you can assess the caliber of a leader quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.
Leads by Example
Leading by example sounds like a simple concept, yet many leaders struggle to do it in day to day operations. Reason: it is easy to fall into a trap of “do as I say, not as I do.” Of course, this is a deadly sin for any leader.
Most leaders would deny having a problem in this area, yet many of them really do not see how they often compromise their position. Here are three extreme examples by the same leader to illustrate my point.
Just a quick shortcut
I once knew a plant manager who was world class at this. He would rant and rave about following the “do not walk inside the barrier” signs when construction was happening in the plant. He wanted managers to consider firing any employee caught crossing a barrier.
Yet, I saw him coming to work early one morning and park in his special spot next to the building. He then stepped over a safety cone and chain to get to the main door rather than walk around to a side door.
He was aware of the fact that no work was going on at the time and was in a rush, but he was unaware that anybody saw his transgression. In other words, he thought he had gotten away with it, but he was wrong.
Wear your protective gear
This same manager insisted in having a shutdown and review any time there was a safety incident within the plant. That was laudable. During one such inspection following a safety incident, he was standing in the production area twirling the safety glasses we had given him around next to his face.
I politely told him to please put on his safety glasses. He did so but let me know by his body language that I had embarrassed him. My reaction? “Too bad!”
Show you really do care
A third incident with this leader that really fried my bacon was when we had a rather serious incident that could have caused a fatality. I ordered the operation shut down for a full investigation.
This was a large conveyor system for heavy materials that needed to be operated in complete darkness because the product being moved was photographic movie film. One of the interlocks to keep product separated had failed and an operator went in to clear a jam. He successfully cleared the jam but nearly got crushed by the incoming product afterward.
They reviewed the accident report with me and indicated they were ready to start up again. I asked how they could guarantee the same problem would not happen again in the future. Not receiving a suitable answer, I ordered a complete stand down of the operation and further fail safe measures. This was not popular with the employees who figured they could just be more careful.
After wrestling with the issues for a full day, the operations and maintenance personnel came up with a solution that really would guarantee the problem never happened again.
I called a special meeting with the production people and the Plant Manager to go over the problem and the resolution. We had the meeting, but the Plant Manager never showed up, even though his administration person said he was available at that time. What an awful signal to send the troops. Apparently he had something better to do.
After I wrote a blistering e-mail, I was on his “blackball list” until he was fired by upper management for insubordination and lying.
The point of these examples is that people really do notice what leaders do. When they say one thing and then do something more expedient, there is no way to command respect. It should be grounds for termination of any manager.
But lowly employees do not have the power to actually fire their leader, so they just do it mentally and write him off as a lost cause. There is no trust for the manager.
By the way, if you asked this Plant Manager if he had ever sent mixed signals on safety, he would totally and vehemently deny it. He was honestly unaware of his stupid actions, as is the case with most managers who are duplicitous.
Beyond these obvious atrocities, there are positive things leaders can do. When you go out of your own comfort zone to do something positive, people notice that as well. If a leader cuts her vacation short by 2 days in order to support an important plant tour with a new customer, that really registers with people.
If a manager goes out and buys a gift certificate with his own money to thank an employee who went way beyond the expected performance, word of it gets around. When a manager helps clean up a conference room after a long meeting, it sends a signal.
These ideas are not rocket science, yet many managers fail at this basic stuff. You need to seek out ways to go above and beyond what people expect of you and never, ever violate a rule you expect others to follow.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.