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.




Body Language 64 Hand Slap

January 24, 2020

The hand slap is a gesture that is normally exchanged between friends. It often takes place in two parts, especially if both parties are standing.

First the individuals slap their hands together at shoulder height or above (this is known as a “high five”), then one individual puts the same hand at waist level palm up and the other person slaps it with his palm down.

For this gesture to work as intended, it is imperative that both people have the palm of one hand engaged in the exchange. If a person slaps another person anywhere on the body without palm-to-palm contact, it is almost universally interpreted as a put down: like “a slap in the face.”

It is also possible to have both hands involved in the gesture. Some people prefer that method but the meaning is the same regardless of whether it is one or both hands.

There are numerous examples of when a hand slap might be the appropriate gesture to use. Let’s examine several situations and discuss how the slap works as a congratulatory gesture.

Cheering on a runner

Imagine your spouse is a runner in a marathon. You are standing on the sidelines, and there is so much cheering, your mate would never pick out your voice. But as she passes by you, she gives you a hand slap gesture as a thank you for your support.

An example in the work setting would be a worker completing a difficult assignment ahead of the due date. The manager might give this person a welcoming high five.

After a supervisor makes a great welcoming speech

Suppose a supervisor has just given an amazing onboarding talk to a group of 15 new hires. It is well known that getting new employees off to an excellent start emotionally does wonders for their successful incorporation into the organization. The manager, who was watching the training gives the supervisor a high five as he walks to the back of the room.

A speaker comes off stage

The person waiting in the wings gives the hand slap gesture as a way to indicate the speaker nailed the presentation. No words need be said for the meaning to come through loud and clear.

Manufacturing team does a product change in record time

Suppose a group of employees on a packaging line has taken on the challenge to make product changes more efficient. They try several new ideas and come up with a way to get the job done in half the time it normally takes. The supervisor does a high five with all of the team members as a way to congratulate them.

Slapping yourself

If a person slaps himself, it is normally a gesture of frustration rather than congratulations. Most often a person will slap herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand to indicate that she just made a bone-head move.

The only frustrating part of the hand slap gesture is if one person wants to do the two part variety but the other person only participates in the first half of the gesture. The cure for that kind of awkward situation is to take your cue from the other person. If you see no sign of the second half at waist high, then don’t offer it.

On flip side, if the other person sticks out her hand waist high with palm up, it is an indication that she wants to do the full double hand slap. You need to be alert to pick up the desire of the other person in real time.

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


Body Language 47 Conflict

September 28, 2019

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.

Anger

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.

Information

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.

Engage

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.

Blocking

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.

Safety

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.

Avoid threats

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.

Trust

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.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.


Body Language 32 – Using Volume

June 15, 2019

Volume is a type of body language that we often overlook, but it can be really important.

Actually, our natural instincts take us in the wrong direction, so it is important to grasp and internalize this information.

It is human nature that when a person is upset or otherwise agitated, the volume goes up. In the extreme, a person may be literally shouting at another person.

The irony is that if you really want to be heard, it is better to have a very low volume than a blustery overtone.

Professional speakers know that when they have something really important to share, they get maximum attention when they lower rather than raise the volume. Of course, the level of volume needs to be mindful of those who have difficulty hearing.

Speakers who bellow on and on lose the attention of the audience because it seems like every word is critical. I recall one speaker I heard once who put maximum energy into every word or phrase. He was actually a very boring speaker, and I checked out mentally about halfway through his talk.

To be a successful speaker requires compelling content with delivery appropriate to the audience and the ability to shift to meet their needs. Great speakers constantly read the body language of participants in order to determine if they are fully engaged in the content.

The best pattern of volume is to have a variety not only in intensity but in cadence. Slow down your pace, lower the volume and people will pay the most attention. However, be aware that overuse of this technique can be as annoying as just shouting all the time.

These tips for public speaking also work remarkably well when interfacing with an individual. If you and the other person are shouting at each other and talking over the other person’s points, there is actually very little communication going on. It is easy to break the tension and get your points heard by going low and slow.

The same thing happens when parents rant at their children in a loud voice explaining why it is important to not run with scissors. The problem is that the kid is internalizing only what a tyrant the parent is. There is not much teaching going on.

By toning the volume down to a loving and gentle tone, the child will be much more alert to the message and may even follow the rule next time.

You can try this technique in any setting and make much more progress than pushing back against the other person.

The next time a cop pulls you over for speeding, rather than give the officer a piece of your mind about how late you are and how other cars were whizzing by you, try a soft and humble approach. You just might find it’s more effective.

A similar technique worked for me last summer when I was pulled over for doing 46 mph in a 30 mph zone. It was just as I was entering a small town, and the officer was parked just beyond a little rise blocking my view so there was no time to slow down once I saw him.

By engaging the officer in conversation that my destination was a nearby camp that I attended when I was a boy and that I was not familiar with the speed patterns in his town and must have missed the sign, he let me off with a warning.

He might have attended that famous camp as well when he was a boy. By lowering my volume, the officer listened to my request.

It is human nature to raise our voice when we are upset. Since we communicate with people constantly: in a family setting, at work, or even when making a presentation, the success of getting our message across is a function of many factors, including our volume. If we think about the alternative to raising our voice, life can be a lot more pleasant for us and for others around us as well.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language 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.TheTrust 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


Andrew Brady Named one of 100 Top Thought Leaders in Trust

January 29, 2019

I am pleased to pass on that my friend Andrew Brady has just been named as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trust by Trust Across America.

The citation reads as follows: As CEO of the XLR8 Team Inc. Andrew is a tireless champion of excellence in culture, which includes an environment of high trust. He has been the principal consultant for the Award Winning Wegmans Grocery Chain, which typically scores in the top ten organizations to work for in the USA.

Andrew is well known in Rochester as an amazing positive force in numerous organizations such as:  The Rochester Chapter of Conscious Capitalism, Junior Achievement, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Young Professional Leaders, Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation, and ROC City Coalition.

Andrew’s first book “For the EVOLution of Business” is due to come out this year.  He was a member of the 2017 class of 40 Under 40.  Please join me in congratulating this amazing resource for the Greater Rochester Community and for the international Trust Community.


Successful Supervisor 69 Be You

March 17, 2018

Supervisors are not often required to make speeches before huge groups, but they do conduct shift meetings and other important communication methods with various audiences.

In these situations, the pressure is on the supervisor to be highly professional with delivery. I once saw a supervisor give a presentation for upper managers, and she flubbed it badly.

The reason was that she had tried to memorize her exact words. Basically, she over prepared for the event and put too much pressure on herself to deliver a perfect program. That strategy has been the downfall of many speakers.

If you have ever spoken in front of a large audience, you know it can be a terrifying experience. Studies have shown that fear of speaking in public is stronger than the fear of death for most people. It sounds impossible, but it is true.

In this article, I will explore why we put so much pressure on ourselves to appear perfect and offer some insight into an alternate path that leads to lower stress in life and better performance. I will use public speaking as an example and then generalize the concept to cover many other areas of our lives.

When we think about why people get nervous in front of a large crowd, it seems pretty obvious. We are afraid we are going to goof up, so we practice our part over and over, attempting to perfect and polish our delivery so we do not look stupid in front of others. The irony is that the more we attempt to perfect our speech, the more likely we are to actually flounder with our delivery.

I witnessed a professional speaker who was giving a presentation to over 1000 other professional speakers. Talk about pressure! She had practiced her speech so many times she was assured that she would not make a mistake.

But when she faced the stage lights, all of her preparation and build up actually made her goof up. Reason: when she got flustered and messed up a word or two, then she forgot her place in the memorized text and stumbled badly.

Finally, in desperation, she pulled out a typed paper with the words. After reading a few lines, she put the paper away and tried to go back to the memorized material. The same thing happened again; she totally blanked out at the first misstep and had to resort to her printed text again.

It happened a third time as well. I expect that day will live in her mind as the worst day in her life. The audience was uncomfortable as well, although we all supported her and had great empathy for her pain.

Think about the alternative, where she would know her content cold because it came from her heart, not her rote memory of specific words. All she needed were a few key points to recall the topic areas, and she could wax eloquent with no miscues.

It was her desire to be perfect that led to her being embarrassingly imperfect. The audience would have gladly forgiven a Freudian Slip or a stumble rather than watch her struggle to try to remember her memorized speech. She would have been even more forgiven if she added a bit of self deprecating humor if she misspoke on a point, because her sincerity and spontaneity would be on display.

Here is a stark contrast to the speaker described above. At that same speaker’s conference, Brian Tracy, the great author, speaker, and philosopher, was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the National Speakers Association.

The award is the highest honor a speaker can receive, and Brian proceeded to demonstrate why he was worthy of the award. He got up to give a 10 minute acceptance speech: one of the most important speeches of his life, out of thousands of speeches.

As he started the speech, he had no idea what was about to happen to him. His lavaliere microphone started to die, and the audience could only hear every other word. Horrified, the sound technician rushed on stage with another lavaliere mic, and Brian carried right on as if nothing had happened.

Two minutes later the replacement mic also died in the same way. Brian just stood there smiling at the audience until the technician came out with a hand held mic, and Brian was able to finish his speech.

He did not get flustered, or angry, or sad, he just stood there smiling until the situation had cleared. Doing that in front of 1000 professional speakers took real poise. Brian was even gracious to the bumbling technician, who was undoubtedly dying a thousand deaths over the incident.

Brian was sincerely grateful for the honor and was not about to let a cantankerous sound system mess up his moment.

My method of rehearsing a program is to mock up the platform and go over a program from my prepared key points a few times, but I make no attempt to memorize any part of the actual wording except for the very first sentence. Brian Tracy taught me that the first sentence should be memorized verbatim. His reasoning was that “well begun is half done.”

After the first sentence rings out, then it is as if I am having a natural conversation with the assembled group like I was talking with a friend over the kitchen table. This method allows me to be more authentic and relaxed. If I make a mistake and stumble, it is not the end of the world at all, I just look for ways to make it a funny goof.

Seth Godin had a blog entry I read recently about the same concept. He wrote, “Perfecting your talk, refining your essay, and polishing your service until all elements of you disappear might be obvious tactics, but they remove the thing we were looking for: you.”

He even implied that some top performers inject some kind of faux imperfection in their routine because it tends to endear them to the audience.

Personally, I don’t need to inject imperfections in my programs; they have enough of them naturally. I am okay with an occasional goof, because it makes me more human and credible to my audiences, and that is a very positive thing. Somehow having them join me in laughing at myself is a kind of bonding action with the audience.
The same kind of problem exists for all of us in many different areas of our lives. By trying to be perfect (which we are not) we put immense pressure on ourselves. We get uptight as we try to rehearse every possible situation and then lose our train of thought in the complexity of the moment.

For example, the other day I was at a very formal dinner, and I was trying to put on my best manners. In my attempt to be perfect and charming, I was paying more attention to the conversation than to what my hands were doing, and I spilled a full gravy boat of salad dressing all over the table. Oops!

When we put too much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, we tend to cause the very thing we are trying to prevent. The antidote is to simply be yourself with all your warts and problems. Relax and do not get flustered so you can roll with the situation naturally, and you will come out ahead most of the time.

I do not advocate being unprepared. Rather, I think we should avoid being over-prepared. That may seem to be easier said than done. The trick is to think in the major issues, but not try to work out the fine detail in advance. Let your natural self take care of the fine grain actions.

We need to understand that nobody goes through life without making some embarrassing gaffes. People are going to forgive us, even though we feel totally embarrassed at the time. What makes the difference is how we react when an unexpected snafu occurs. If we are calm and make light of our foible, the incident will pass, and our long term credibility will be intact with the embarrassing moment nothing more than a humorous footnote: like my spilled salad dressing.

Try this big-picture method of preparing yourself for your next important meeting, speech, or social event. If you prepare and then relax to present naturally, you will usually come out ahead.

If you are worried about coming up with a funny line after a mistake, then try taking some improvisation classes. They will help you become more spontaneous with humor.

Another organization that has great techniques is Toastmasters. Get involved with your local chapter. For any supervisor, the ability to speak clearly and be relaxed at the same time is an important 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