Leadership Barometer 10 Lead by Example

August 19, 2019

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.

People notice

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.

Positive side

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.


Leadership Barometer 2 Level of Trust

June 11, 2019

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.

Level of Trust

Good leaders create a legacy of trust within their organization. I have written elsewhere on the numerous hallmarks of an organization with trust as opposed to one that has no trust. But is there a quick and dirty kind of litmus test for trust? Think about how you would know if an organization has high trust.

You can do extensive surveys on the climate or call in an expensive consultant to study every nook and cranny of the organization, but that is not necessary.

All you need to do is walk into a meeting that is going on and observe what you see for about 5 minutes. You can get a very accurate view of the level of trust in what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “thin slice” of a few minutes watching a group.

1. Overall Body Language

Look at how the people sit. Are they leaning back with arms crossed and rigid necks, or are they basically leaning either in or toward the other people next to them?

2. Facial Expressions

Observe the look on the faces of people in the meeting. Can you see pain and agony, like they do not want to be there but are forced to endure the agony till the boss adjourns?

3. Tone of Voice

Listen to how people address each other. Is there a biting sarcasm that seeks to gain personal advantage by making other people in the room look small or do the people show genuine respect and even affection for each other?

4. Respect for the Leader

See how individuals interact with the leader. Is it obvious that everyone is trying to help the leader or are they trying to trip her up or catch her in a mistake? Do the participants show a genuine respect for the leader?

5. Lack of Fear

Is there a willingness to speak up if there is something not sitting right – for anyone, or is there a cold atmosphere of fear where people know they will get clobbered if they contradict the leader?

6. High Initiative

If there is work to be done are there eager volunteers or does everyone sit quiet like non-bidders at an auction?

7. Attitude

Is the spirit of the meeting one of doom and gloom or is the group feeling like masters of their own fate, even when times are rough?

These are just seven signs you can observe in only a few minutes that will tell you the level of trust within the group. That trust level is an accurate reflection of the caliber of the leader.

I used to tell people that I could tell the climate of an organization within 30 seconds of watching a meeting. You can actually see it in the body language of the participants. Would you agree with this assessment?

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 bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Trust is a Mirror

May 7, 2019

Here is an interesting conundrum. Everyone else on the planet knows how you are coming across to them. The only person who really does not know how you are coming across is you.

Basically, we cannot see ourselves the way others do.  You know how other people are striking you, but you are really blind to what others are thinking about you in the back of their minds.

Of course, you can learn to infer how your actions and words are being received as you listen to others and observe their body language. However, both of those things can disguise what the other person really thinks about you.

Would it be valuable to have a way to see yourself clearly as other people do? I think that would be incredibly valuable.

I believe there is a kind of “mirror” that will allow you to see yourself as others do. When you develop a relationship of high trust with another person, you create a mirror where you can accurately know how you are coming across at any point in time.

With trust, you will have the blessing of knowing, real-time, when you are coming on too strong, when you are being too pedantic, when you appear uncommitted, when you seem duplicitous, and any number of other maladies or admirable actions.

Why does trust enable this kind of magic feedback that is so powerful? Trust allows other people to feel safe telling you what they are thinking without fear.

In normal relationships, people are on guard, because giving direct feedback will often lead to unintended consequences, and that means damage control. Trust allows people to give you feedback with love and care that prevents the need to protect themselves from your reaction.

I believe that trust and fear are incompatible; when you remove the fear between people, trust will grow spontaneously. My favorite quote on this phenomenon is,

“The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

Key Point:

Once true trust is established, then you have the gift of knowing how you are coming across to other people.

We are all a work in progress. Nobody is perfect as we exist today. In fact, a major part of life is learning and growing. I have always believed that when you stop growing, it is time to order a pine box.

If you believe what I have written thus far, then the obvious question is, “How do I go about building relationships of higher trust?” The answer is as simple as the question. You build trust by creating a safe environment for the person who would share information with you.

If, by your past reactions, you have convinced the other person it is safe to share things that may be difficult to say, then you have enabled trust between you and the other person to kindle.

The analysis may sound like circular reasoning, but it has the simplicity and validity of all truly universal laws.

When you take a baseball and drop it out of a window, the result is without question due to a law we call gravity.

Trust is the same way, if you create an environment where people feel safe sharing difficult messages with you, then you develop trust. That trust means that you will now have the ability to see yourself the way other people do. This knowledge will allow you to take corrective or preventive actions that you would otherwise not even consider.

An additional benefit is that by creating a “real” environment with other people, where you are not playing games, you now have the ability to tell them things that will help them improve. That reciprocal relationship is the basis on which two people can help each other on the journey that is life.

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


Tap Into Trust

April 21, 2018

I am associated with a group called Trust Across America: Trust Around the World. This week, Barbara Brooks Kimmel, our CEO, announced an initiative to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the group. The initiative is called “Tap Into Trust.” We invite you to participate in the program at the attached site: You and your group can “Tap Into Trust” by following these principles and behaviors:

 

Truth

We are honest and humble – we put the truth ahead of personal gain.

Accountability

We hold one another accountable – we each take responsibility without regard to level or role.

Purpose

We engage our stakeholders to build shared purpose – we avoid short term “wins” that undermine future success.

 

Integrity

We do what we say – our everyday actions and talk are consistent.

Notice

We seek out and listen to diverse perspectives – every voice can matter.

Talent

We reward moral character – we hire and promote in alignment with our purpose and values.

Openness

We are open and ready to learn – we can be vulnerable and not have all the answers.

 

Transparency

We reject hidden agendas – we are transparent wherever and whenever possible.

Respect

We respect each other – we encourage questioning and create a “zero fear” environment where innovation can thrive.

Understanding

We celebrate our successes – we acknowledge and examine our failures with empathy, and learn from both.

Safety

We call out unethical behavior or corrupt practices – we make it safe to be honest with no fear of reprisal.

Tracking

We define and scorecard our performance against our value and values – we measure both.


It’s Faux Trust

September 28, 2013

?????????????????I get a lot of gift catalogs and always chuckle when they advertise the “faux plants.” Why they do not call them “fake plants” is pretty obvious. Nobody would want to buy something fake, so they give the items a fancy name as if that is really going to fool anyone. They keep doing it, so the method must be working for them.

I work in the arena of trust, and I think the notion of “faux trust” is one worth exploring. Stephen M.R. Covey dealt with the topic of faux trust behaviors very well in his first book, The Speed of Trust. Stephen identified 13 key trust behaviors and then identified the opposite behavior and also what he called the “counterfeit” behavior: one that looks real but is not genuine. Here is the list from Stephen’s book.

Trust Behavior –  Opposite –  Counterfeit

1. Talk straight –  Lie or deceive –  Withholding information
2. Demonstrate respect –  Not respect –  Faking respect
3. Create transparency –  Cover up –  Hidden agendas
4. Right wrongs –  Justify wrongs –  Covering up or hiding
5. Show loyalty –  Take credit yourself – Being two-faced
6. Deliver results –  Perform poorly –  Doing busywork
7. Get better –  Deteriorate –  Eternal student
8. Confront reality –  Ignore reality –  Evade reality
9. Clarify expectations –  Leave undefined –  Guessing
10. Practice accountability –  Not taking responsibility –  Blaming others
11. Listen first –  Speak first –  False listening
12. Keep commitments –  Violate promises –  Overpromising
13. Extend trust –  Withhold trust –  Extend false trust

In this article, I will pick up where Stephen’s list leaves off. I want to explore the issue of false trust and see what it looks like. If you look at a faux potted plant very closely, you can determine that it is plastic rather than real leaves and stems. Often the one thing that gives away the ruse is that the “Faux plant” is too perfect. Real plants have some imperfections or dead parts that show up under close examination. So it is with faux trust; the appearance is too perfect for the real world, and that becomes one of the telltale ways we can identify the fake. Let’s look at 10 examples:

1. The issue of risk. Real trust involves a willingness to take some calculated risks. Actually, that is one of the ways trust is defined. If I really do trust a person, then I do not need to see whether he is sneaking behind my back. When Ronald Reagan uttered the words “Trust but verify,” he was revealing a kind of faux trust toward the Russians. It sounded too perfect, and it was.

2. The issue of safety. True trust means the absence of fear. If I trust my boss not to clobber me when I have a contrarian opinion, that means I believe he will not find some way to get back at me. Too often leaders indicate that it is safe to challenge the boss, but end up punishing people when they do it. People quickly learn the plea for openness is really a smoke screen, and they clam up.

3. The issue of hypocrisy. Real trust means the leader always does what he says he will do. It is easy to spot the faux variety of trust when the boss rationalizes why he is bending the rules in his favor. It is always possible to explain away the situation, but the damage done to trust will remain like the smell of a skunk long after the animal has left the area.

4. The issue of favorites. Trust is built on a sense of fairness where people recognize why things are being done a certain way. Ironically, it does not rely on treating everyone the same way. In fact, the late John Wooden, former basketball coach for UCLA, made a remarkable statement about favorites. He said, “The surest way for a coach to play favorites is to treat every player the same way.” That sounds like doubletalk until you realize that each player has unique needs, so treating each player the same as every other one will inevitably advantage one player over another.

5. The issue of the Golden Rule. Faux trust relies on treating people the way you would like to be treated. Some people like to use the “Platinum Rule,” which states “treat other people the way they would like to be treated,” but that one does not work either. The true trust relies on treating every individual the right way, not always how you or they would like to be treated.

6. The issue of accountability. Faux trust means holding people accountable when they do something wrong. True trust means giving feedback when an employee does something right as well as when she does something wrong.

7. The issue of sustainability. Faux trust means giving lip service to the environment and doing so to be politically correct. Genuine trust means always displaying a deep respect for the implications of one’s actions on the planet and acting that way always.

8. The issue of values. True trust means actually living the values each day and explaining to people why certain actions are consistent with those values. Faux trust means there is a set of values on the wall, but we really do not act consistent with them in some cases.

9. The issue of care. Faux trust means leaders talk a good game about really caring for employees, but tolerate huge multiples of more than 500 times between their salary and those of the workers. Real trust means not giving lip service to the issue of caring for others.

10. The issue of admitting mistakes. Faux trust means finding ways to hide the mistakes, pretend they did not happen, blame them on circumstances or other people, and find ways to understate their significance. True trust behavior readily admits mistakes because the leader recognizes that to admit a mistake makes her more human and therefore nearly always increases respect and trust.

I could go on with dozens of additional examples of faux trust versus the real thing. People in any workforce pick up on any inconsistency on the part of leaders. Their eyes are well trained to spot the plastic trust. Once they see the shrub as a fake plant, then from that point on, they will see the decoration for what it is. True, they do not need to water and tend the plant and it will always look reasonable, just as people in a low trust organization will dutifully comply with whatever rules the boss mandates.

The true test of leadership is to have the courage and strength to deliver genuine trust in every case. Let the competition deal with the faux variety of trust.


Turnover – 7 Tips

October 21, 2012

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 have a turnover rate of only 2-3% in an entire year (Fortune 2012). 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 reputations.

How can we fight this needless drain? Here are seven key factors that can help you reduce turnover in your organization:

Supervision – 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, 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.

Compensation – 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?

Freedom – 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.

Recognition – 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.

Safety – 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.


The Synapse of Trust

December 26, 2010

Trust is the glue that holds any organization together. Trust can exist at all levels because it is fundamentally a kind of synapse between two people. In the body, the synapse enables life by transmitting electrical signals between nerve cells. A similar pattern exists within organizations, where trust facilitates quasi electrical interactions between people. Where the synapse does not happen, trust is thwarted, and fruitful interaction is blocked. This barren condition is common, and it results in people “playing games” with each other in an effort to gain political traction for their own agendas.

I visualize trust as existing in the “white spaces” between thoughts and activities. Trust enables the flow of ideas and concepts in an environment free of fear. That condition is vital to creativity in any group endeavor. One of my favorite sayings is that the absence of fear is the incubator of trust. Lack of fear is not the only condition for trust to grow, but I believe it is a necessary precursor.

The benefits of trust have been well documented by many authors and researchers. For example, Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust stresses that as trust increases costs go down and things move faster. Dennis and Michelle Reina’s book, Trust and Betrayal, shares research on the process of healing broken trust relationships. In my own books, I seek to highlight the nature of trust and how to achieve it every day.

My thesis is that the heart of building trust is making people feel safe enough to share uncomfortable thoughts without fear of retribution. This atmosphere is accomplished when leaders praise people for being honest and open, even when the message is difficult to hear. I call this technique, “reinforcing candor,” and I believe it is one important way leaders build trust.

Warren Bennis is a true master of leadership and trust. He has written numerous insightful books on the importance of trust and how to help it grow. In, On Becoming a Leader, Bennis wrote, “It became clear that the ability to inspire trust, not charisma, is what enables leaders to recruit others to a cause.” In a recent article for Leadership Excellence Magazine, Bennis recalls the lesson given by Jim Burke, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, who, in 1982, boldly recalled $100 million of Tylenol because some tainted pills had been discovered. His candor by personally going on national television to announce the recall was unprecedented, and it is at least partly responsible for saving the entire brand equity.

Candor is not always a pleasant experience because the truth is sometimes repulsive to behold. Individual differences allow one person to think a situation is perfectly acceptable while another individual may see it as intolerable. Revealing the truth about an issue leaves one vulnerable to scorn if there is a disconnect with the perceptions of another. The ability to withstand differences of perspective and still maintain respect is what makes trust so precious. The synapse of real trust is enabled by honesty and candor. In the void between souls, these quasi electrical connections allow a strong bond of mutual care and support.

Raw candor is not always the best approach, as we must apply it with judgment, tact, and care. We all know situations where it is wise to avoid blurting out our unvarnished thoughts. Within an organization, our reactions to activities or situations begin as private thoughts. They are not malicious or offensive; they are simply our beliefs. The ability to share this information with leaders in a constructive dialog is important.

If we feel stifled out of fear of retribution, then our private information will remain hidden. The withheld information is lost to the organization, and we suffer frustration and loss of morale by feeling muted. Conversely, if we know it is safe to express our thoughts in a mature and helpful way and that leaders will listen, we feel more attachment to our work, and the organization benefits from our viewpoint. It is up to the leaders to enable this flow of information through the behavior of reinforcing candor. Further, it is essential that leaders hear and understand the input and be willing to consider it seriously through dialog and actions.

We must teach leaders the power of this fundamental law: without trust, little real progress is made in any society. Candor is the enabler of trust. Leaders need to embrace and reinforce candor as much as possible. This behavior is not easy, as it is much more comfortable to become defensive or aggressive when facing a contrary opinion. The best leaders make people glad when they bring up difficult discussions because it enables the synapse of trust to flow.