Category Archives: Influence

Why the Attitude? The Business Case for Being Nice

I recently received a call from a frustrated CEO who had concerns about his COO. The COO was brash, antagonistic, and exhibiting a pervasively aggressive disposition. The culture was plummeting and his staff was on the verge of a coup. The CEO and I sat down with the COO to salvage and hopefully remedy the situation.

After I heard the COO’s frustrations, many of which had merit, I dug into why he chose the attack mode. He had excuses and the CEO had retorts, but both seemed to be missing the point. So I went to the heart of issue by asking, “And you couldn’t accomplish this by being nice?” Like many leaders, he equated “nice” with being “weak.” Being a staunch fan of the movie Road House, I could not disagree more.

Road House is one of the greatest films of all time. Starring Patrick Swayze, it’s the story of Dalton, a philosopher hired to clean up bars. This Zen Bouncer ends up at the Double Deuce where we needs to get rid of the sketchy clientele, upgrade the staff, and change the mindset of how to operate a saloon. When retraining the bouncers, Dalton bestows his threes rules.

One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.

Be nice? How can a bouncer enforce the rules with the lowlifes who reside in the Double Deuce and be nice? It’s actually a pretty easy, effective way to lead.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a [bad name], I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can’t walk him, one of the other [bouncers] will help you, and you’ll both be nice. I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

Do you notice that Dalton does not instruct his bouncers to let patrons do whatever they want? Nor does he ease up on the high standards he sets for a safe, family-friendly tavern. No, being nice is about the manner in which things are done, not what you are actually trying to accomplish. This isn’t soft; this is supported by science.

A study by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the most altruistic members of the team gain the highest status, are more frequently preferred as cooperative interaction partners, and receive greater rewards as their virtuous efforts increase.

A Research in Organizational Behavior study concluded that leaders who project warmth are more effective than those leaders who rely on force or competence—“warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.”

Research in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that when leaders display behaviors related to self-sacrificing, their employees feel more engaged, committed, and are more likely to go out of their way to support other members of the team.

comprehensive healthcare study found that a culture of kindness not only improves employee productivity but also improves client health outcomes and satisfaction.

All together, the research is clear that a leadership model of trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation can serve as a powerful basis for a company’s culture. Just be nice. Emulate the Zen Bouncer and say, “If somebody underperforms, I want you to be nice. Provide constructive feedback. Be nice. If he won’t take your feedback, be more stern. But be nice. If you can’t turn around his performance, one of the other leaders will help you, and you’ll both be nice.”

Are You a Victim of Gaslighting? How to Avoid Being Manipulated by an Unethical Leader

Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that the leader of a country stated his predecessor had committed a federal crime. Then, when asked to provide proof, he pivoted, declaring we misunderstood his blatant accusation. What about that same leader denying making statements when he’s been recorded making those very statements? Unlikely, right? What’s even more unlikely is that this guy has a loyal following who believes him. How does this happen? It may be a little psychological trick called gaslighting.

Gaslighting is a tactic in which the victim is manipulated into questioning their reality. Through methodical mental exploitation, the perpetrator is able to control the victim’s perceptions of themself and their environment, thereby providing control over the victim’s behaviors.

The term “gaslighting” originated with the play Angel Street and its subsequent 1944 film Gaslight starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, in which a husband attempts to convince his wife she is crazy by manipulating small elements of her environment. For instance, per the movie title, he dims the gaslights and then pretends that she’s the only one who thinks the room is getting darker. Slowly and steadily, the wife begins to succumb to the self-doubt created by the subtle changes.

In the beginning of the article, I loosely described a leader who refutes the reality we all see. You probably thought I was discussing President Trump and his endless supply of falsehoods (his ‘landslide’ election, Russian hacking, history of sexual harassment, border wall, ability to save jobs/healthcare/economy, etc and etc and etc). I was, but I also described the actions of many other ethically-dubious leaders.

Leaders (the ethically-dubious ones, not you) utilize gaslighting to gain a loyal following… and by “loyal” I’m referring to a cult-like culture where no one disagrees with, questions, or even considers doubting the direction of the leader. People adhere because they’ve undergone a form of mental abuse where their perception has been morphed into viewing the world through the leader’s reality. It is then reinforced when they witness the belittlement and banishment of those who dare to deviate from the party line.

Before you pass judgment on these supposed weak-minded followers, its important to note that we are all susceptive to gaslighting. It takes place so slowly that we are often unaware we’ve been brainwashed. It can involve such truth-blurring techniques as:

Denying they said something even though you have proof. You heard them say they would do something, but now they deny it. It makes you start questioning your intellectual or moral validity. Maybe they never said it or you misunderstood. Either way, the more it happens, the more you blame yourself for being wrong and begin accepting their reality.

Telling you or others that you’re crazy or a liar. Not only is this dismissive and aimed to make you question yourself, it also creates a fear that others will side with the gaslighter to question your sanity and honesty.

Exploiting what is important to you. Gaslighters know what you care about and use it to make you doubt yourself. They then invoke your worst insecurities, intimidate you, and mock you under the guise of humor.

Wearing you down over time. Gaslighting typically starts small and gradually ramps up. It’s like the way you cook a crab; the heat is turned up so slowly that the crab never realizes the water is boiling.

Aligning people against you. Gaslighters know who will stand by them and they pit these people against you. As an FYI, they are pitting you against them, as well. Side comments like, “XXX doesn’t think you know what you’re talking about” are an effective way to isolate employees and create distrust amongst the ranks. It also forces people to rely on the gaslighter as the single source of “accurate” information.

Using occasional positive reinforcement. After a stream of criticism, slights, and insults, they throw in some praise. This can be confusing, but it can also make you feel just good enough to undergo more of their abuse and create an emotional opening for further manipulation.

I don’t list these techniques as a “how to.” With awareness, you can identify the signs and avoid the gaslighter’s trap. I stress avoidance because, according to the book The Gaslight Effect, this is the single most effective way to not be gaslit. Any attempt to prove the gaslighter wrong will most likely lead to you trying to prove the gaslighter right. That’s why they’re an effective gaslighter; they can turn your defense against you

No attempt to stop gaslighting will be effective unless the person being gaslighted is willing to walk away from the relationship. In other words, one must be willing to end the gaslighting relationship. In the arena that we are discussing; that means walking away from the wider culture at large.—Dr. Robin Stern, The Gaslight Effect

Whether it’s your supervisor or the President of the United States, we must remain vigilant against manipulation. Seek leaders whose actions match their words. People who do not feel the need to re-explain or re-clarify every statement. People who are more concerned with doing the right thing than with being right. People who can (and willingly) support their arguments with facts. People who exert more effort building you up versus pressuring you to follow them. This should be obvious, but gaslighting sneaks up on you; once you’re in, it is difficult to unwind.

Five Ways Leaders Can Harness Humility with Billy Eichner

In the pantheon of essential leadership traits, are you giving humility its due? It is easy to get caught up in the power associated with your position; after all, wasn’t your greatness validated when you were promoted into the leadership role? Sometimes that is why we need to be humbled by Billy Eichner.

If you aren’t familiar with Billy Eichner, he is the talented host of the show Billy on the Street. Part street performance, part game show, and part improv comedy drill, Eichner runs through the streets of New York City asking bystanders questions that are typically self-depreciating to the celebrity shepherding behind Eichner. It is frenzied and funny.

With the big names Eichner attracts to his show, it is fascinating to see how they react to negative comments or (even worse) indifference. Eichner discussed this in a recent interview.

The more famous you are, perhaps, the less time you’ve spent actually engaging with other non-show-business people on the street. You have a team of people around you keeping you from those people, not allowing them to get to you and ask for a selfie. I’m literally dragging you over to someone on the street who may or may not be a fan. And you don’t know what their reaction’s going to be. Chris Pratt, at the height of his breakout year, ran around with me and I literally went up to people and said, ‘This is the hottest star in Hollywood right now. Hollywood Reporter says X about him, Entertainment Weekly says this about him, who is he?’ And they didn’t know. They thought he was Chris Evans, Chris Pine, Josh Duhamel. He’s just standing there, and I think it took him by surprise. We played It’s Spock, Do You Care? with Zachary Quinto. ‘Miss, it’s Spock, do you care?’ Many people didn’t care. And Zach turned to me and said, ‘Every actor should have to do this.’ Because it’s humbling, and if you have a sense of humor, you’re not really offended. These actors are doing plenty well even if not every single person can get their name right. It pops that balloon in a nonthreatening, fun way.

As leaders, we must also be willing to pop our balloon of self-importance so we can retain a sense of humility. A recent study by Catalyst found that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an inclusive environment. In an extensive survey of more than 1,500 workers from six countries, employees observing selfless behavior in their managers were more likely to feel engaged with the team. These humility-based behaviors included:

  • learning from different points of view,
  • admitting mistakes,
  • empowering others to learn and develop,
  • taking personal risks for the greater good,
  • acknowledging and seeking contributions of others to overcome limitations, and
  • holding individuals responsible for results.

Employees whose managers displayed these altruistic behaviors reported being more innovative and involved. They were more inclined to take the initiative to propose new ways of doing work, partook in more team citizenship behavior, and were more likely to expense discretionary effort so as to meet workgroup objectives. A similar study in Administrative Science Quarterly also found that managers who exhibit humility resulted in better employee engagement and job performance.

For so long, we’ve talked about the power of persuasion and this over-the-top self-confidence in leaders, which is a very top-down style of leadership.—Rob Nielsen, coauthor of Leading with Humility

If this sounds like something that would benefit your organization (and who couldn’t), here are five ways you can harness your humility to be a more effective leader:

Put Others First. Humble leaders put the needs of their team ahead of their own. This is not purely altruistic; the teams’ success will lead to the leader’s success. Share the credit and provide team incentives.

Turn your mistakes into teachable moments. When we display our personal development it legitimizes and reinforces the growth and learning of others. Like most modeled behaviors, others are more willing to admit their imperfections if we do it first. They will also find us more relatable, influential, and “human.”

Ask For Help. Part of being humble involves not having all the answers. There is a level of vulnerability, but not acting “all knowing” shows your readiness to learn and become better.

Tend To Their Needs. Team performance increases when team members believe their leader is looking out for their best interests. Ensure they have the resources and support they need and be on the look out for new opportunities. This is not enabling or coddling; its showing how you invest in their success.

Embrace uncertainty. Many leaders want to control all aspects of the workplace. This is both unrealistic and unsustainable. We must be able to recognize when to take charge and when to let go. While the work may not get done the exact way we’d do it, the end product can end up even better.

Like Billy Eichner, we must self-regulate our humility and enforce it within our company culture. We cannot be afraid to ask, “It’s me, the boss, do you care?” If you are doing your job right, they may say, “no.” And yet it won’t matter—they respect you regardless of your title, not because of it.

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Remember that CEO I wrote about last month whose brilliant new project was derailed because she did not provide context? There was one more interaction from her launch party that bothered me. When she was defending the company changes via her charts, graphs and other quantifiable measures, an employee responded with a dismissive, “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion.” Is this a valid response or are we enabling ignorance? <spoiler alert: the answer is #2>

Let’s begin with the understanding that “I’m entitled to my opinion” is a logical fallacy. An opinion is a judgment that inherently involves a degree of uncertainty; therefore, using it as a defense only works in select situations. For instance, you can be entitled to your opinion if we’re discussing the latest Star Wars movie. Sure, critics, friends, and sheer sensibility will tell you it’s a fantastic flick, but there is no “right” answer about such a subjective thought.

You cannot, however, harbor a valid opinion when there is a provable, objective, verifiable fact contradicting your inaccurate thoughts. Going back to our Star Wars example, regardless of whether you enjoyed it, which you did, your opinion is irrelevant when discussing whether is was profitable. A simple internet search will tell you that this is a fact. As a result, you are not “entitled” to think otherwise.

Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.—Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary

So this leads to the next point—what if you don’t know the truth? Guess what, you still aren’t entitled to your opinion. A factually-based question demands a factually-based answer. You’re entitled to learn the truth. You’re entitled to speak with an expert. You’re entitled to pick up your smartphone and look it up. But you are not entitled to purposely remain ignorant.

When you allow your team the option of being entitled to their opinions, you are propagating a culture where thinking is optional, where individuals can reject whatever facts they do not find to be convenient or beneficial. As Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes said in a recent interview, “the problem with ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for ‘I can say or think whatever I like’ and, by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.”

Permitting your team to be entitled to their opinion creates a false equivalence between experts and non-experts, the enlightened and the naïve. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss what happens when a false opinion is turned into an “alternative fact” and how that affects your organization.

 

The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Trust is a One-Way Street: Why It Matters, How It’s Declining, and What Leaders Can Do About It

Leadership is built on one core concept—trust. Without it, you can forgo every other attribute espoused by management experts. Confidence without trust is an egomaniac. Charisma without trust is a charlatan. And vision without trust is a hypocrite. This was supported by a meta-analysis study from leading trust researcher and Georgetown University professor Daniel McAllister.

Published in the Academy of Management Journal, McAllister concluded that leaders viewed as trustworthy generate a culture where team members:

  • display greater innovation, agility, and responsiveness to changing conditions
  • take risks because they believe they will not be taken advantage of
  • do not expend needless time, effort, and resources on self preservation
  • go above and beyond to exhibit higher performing customer service, brand loyalty, and problem solving

This leads to a competitive advantage through significantly higher commitment, satisfaction, retention, and performance. Similarly, research from the Ken Blanchard Companies found a strong correlation between trust and the behaviors associated with highly productive employees—discretionary effort, willingness to endorse the organization, performance, and a desire to be a “good organizational citizen.”

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.—Stephen Covey

Before you get insulted that I’m explaining something as elementary as the benefits of trust, have you heard of the Edelman Trust Barometer? The ETB has surveyed tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries about their level of trust in business, media, government, and nongovernmental organizations. In its 17th year, this is the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four institutions in all 28 countries surveyed.

For leaders, one of the more disturbing findings of the ETB is the shocking lack of confidence in leadership—63% of participants said corporate CEOs are either not at all or somewhat credible. That means only 37% maintained the credibility of CEOs, a 12-point drop from last year, and this is consistent around the world. CEOs are more trusted than government leaders (29%), but that’s setting a pretty low bar. Plus, with this “trust void,” only 52% said they trust business to do what is right.

So if trust is important and society is not feeling it, what can we do? Good news: you can (re)build trust. Here are five techniques to consider:

  1. Recognition, Recognition, Recognition. To increases trust between leaders and employees, nothing does it faster than acknowledging their achievements. It indicates you are paying attention and reinforces positive behaviors.
  2. Show Compassion. Did I say recognition is the fasted way to build trust? It won’t mean anything if you don’t already have a foundation of respect. Just try influencing someone who doesn’t respect you; see how engaged they are in your ideas. Treat your team like real-life people—listen to their ideas, care about their feelings, and empathize with their concerns.
  3. Keep to Your Word. You can’t build trust without following through on promises. Your team needs to believe that what you say is sincere, so follow through on commitments.
  4. Don’t Hide Your Humanity. Being human means showing your imperfections. Your ability to discuss your mistakes and share what you have learned from it makes you more relatable. No one is concerned with transparency for the good stuff; they need you to fess up to faults, so show your vulnerable side.
  5. Smile. If you don’t want to do something substantive to build your trust and would prefer a gimmick, consider a recent study published in Psychological Science where convicted murders with trustworthy faces received more lenient sentences then their peers with untrustworthy faces. The key, it seems, is that a gentle smile increases how trustworthy others perceive you. Keep in mind, that it needs to be gentle—too big can be seen as duplicitous or insincere, while too small may be seen as sarcastic or leering.

I doubt that we can ever successfully impose values or attitudes or behaviors on our children certainly not by threat, guilt, or punishment. But I do believe they can be induced through relationships where parents and children are growing together. Such relationships are, I believe, build on trust, example, talk, and caring.—Fred Rogers

We live in untrustworthy times, but that does not mean we have to lead in an untrustworthy manner. Generate a culture where honesty, transparency, and truth are the basis of your organization. This must start at the top of the organizational hierarchy with you. The team will trust you once you establish that you trust the team. It may take time, but as Seth Godin says, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”