Category Archives: Reputation Management

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.”

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion, Part 2 involving the destruction nature of alternative facts (lies), and Part 3 about deceiving with the truth.

Now that we’ve covered false opinions, lying with the truth (paltering), and lying without the truth (alternative facts), it’s time to discuss what we can do about it. According to Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust, trust is the most powerful form of motivation in organizations and is the ultimate source of influence. Therefore, to build and maintain a culture brimming with inspiration, engagement, and authenticity, we must embrace the truth.

It should seem easy to embrace truth, but how well is that message getting to those on your team? Are they sheltering you from the hard reality? Are they paltering to make it sound better then it is? Or are they lying by omission and commission because they are scared of the consequences associated with delivering bad news?

People are going to have to sit down and decide: Are we going to want to go over the moral consequences of telling an untruth? The mere fact of it being untrue? Or the fact that it’s bogus, baseless or groundless?—Geoffrey Nunberg, linguist professor at the University of California, Berkeley

Cultivating a truthful organization begins with us; we must lead with facts. To build up your level of trust through fact-based leadership, consider these ten ideas:

Pay Attention. You can’t define and confront reality if you don’t know what the team is feeling. Listen, show respect, and exhibit empathy for their opinions and emotions.

Lead with Questions. Instead of being the “answer guy/gal,” push, prod, and probe with questions. This Socratic style will enhance your understanding and provide a clear picture of reality and its implications.

Own Up.  The easiest way to build trust is the simple acknowledgement of what’s really happening. Don’t pretend things are better than they are, but to avoid spreading doom n’ gloom, back up the bad with what is being done to fix it.

Conduct Autopsies. When things go wrong, it’s easy to dissect until you know the person(s) responsible. Instead of blame, work on solving the problem. If you can do this consistently, your team is more likely to bring you the issues without fear of reprisals.

Avoid Loyalty Tests. Some employees believe that they’ll get ahead by agreeing with you, even when you’re wrong. If you can escape the ego trap, show the team that healthy dissent will be rewarded, whereas mindless obedience will not.

Drop the Two F’s. To reestablish trust, leaders may need to change the behaviors that have propagated the lack of trust. Fear and Force are a dangerous combination that squash the unpleasant truths. Control these behaviors and you’re halfway to Trustville.

Engage in Dialogue. If you want the truth, your go-to reaction cannot be defensiveness. Stifle your natural instinct to debate or argue so your team knows they are being heard.

Teach Debate. According to Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” To maintain truth, we sometimes need to fight for it. Show your team how to construct and defend their argument so they can effectively battle those who spread falsehoods.

Build “Red Flag” Systems. Develop a process where people can disagree in a safe way—no restrictions, no repercussions, no risk of alienation. These red flags can be used to challenge the team or the leader, share a personal anecdote, respond to a co-worker, present an analysis, make a suggestion, or ask a question.

Live it. Like every other leadership tenet, you have to model it before others will follow.

An organization based on lies will not last. An alternative fact does not increase your accounts receivable. No one needs your “opinion” about the effectiveness of the latest marketing campaign. And paltering can only result in decisions based upon faulty, incomplete information. Lead with facts and accept nothing less from your team.

Truth: So innovatively simple.

 

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

Luke Cage on Quantifiable Coolness and How It Can Benefit Leaders

luke-cageHave you ever considered whether others see you as cool? This may sound like a question more geared to your high school years, but being perceived as cool may be something to consider as a leader, as well. That’s why I strive to be like Luke Cage.

Luke Cage is the next superhero to get a Netflix miniseries. Set in the same world as Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Cage underwent body-wide enhancement that gave him superhuman strength and durability. While neat, this is not the basis for Cage’s coolness. First introduced in the 1972 comic Hero for Hire #1, Luke Cage is based upon the popular Blaxploitation films of the time. He’s like a bullet-proof Superfly or a super strong Shaft…and who is cooler than Superfly and Shaft? Cage has since protected the people of Harlem with self-assurance, style, and swagger.

It may sound ambiguous choosing Cage as a personification of cool, but until recently, this term has possessed an elusive, know-it-when-we-see-it quality. Recent advances in neuroscience have determined that cool is more quantifiable than previously believed. Steven Quartz and Anette Asp from the California Institute of Technology ran brain scans on people who viewed items that were deemed “cool” or “uncool.” The cooler the participant found the item to be, the more active the brain scan became. As a result, the researchers reason that the participants were responding to how they thought the product would boost their esteem in the eyes of others.

Cool turns out to be a strange kind of economic value that our brains see in products that enhance our social image. This abstract good—social approval, reputation, esteem, or status—plays a central role in our motivation and behavior, and it is the currency that drives much of our economy and our consumption.—Steven Quartz and Anette Asp, Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World

Additional research has narrowed-down the concept of cool to such socially desirable attributes as talent, influence, status, and being socially connected (Don’t these attributes also describe leaders?). These targets may be in constant flux, but the underlying idea remains that people want to feel accepted.

Speaking for myself, becoming cool is a ship that sailed long ago. The more I’ve tried to attain it, the less cool I feel. Thankfully, as leaders, we don’t have to be cool to help shape a cool culture. A few tips include:

  • Present yourself in a positive way. This includes owning your good and bad qualities.
  • Be mindful of how your actions influence others. Negativity compels others to suppress their true intents.
  • You know who people view as cool? The person they meet on their first day of work who makes them feel welcome. Be the leader who sets this tone.
  • Exhibit confidence through your actions, appearance, and body language.
  • While it may not have been cool for your high school teacher to praise your work, it is exceedingly cool for you, the supervisor, to heap acclaim.
  • Finally, and most importantly, there are few things less cool then pretending to be something you aren’t. Find your own style.

While we can’t all be as cool as Luke Cage, we can maximize the coolness of our workplace. Define the attributes that make someone cool in your company. Then act like it and encourage those who do the same. If you can manage it, “Sweet Christmas,” as Cage is known to say.

Weekender: Greg Fitzsimmons on Enshrining Your Legacy

Greg Fitzsimmons thumbWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a puppy of thought to start your weekend off with a positive mindset. Why just a puppy (versus a full size dog)? Because it’s the weekend!

I spoke with an accomplished entrepreneur recently who is contemplating retirement. The only thing holding him back, he stated, is his legacy. He feels the need to garner one more big win to solidify his place on the Mount Rushmore of Success. He went on to explain that this need to establish a lasting legacy weighs on him much more than any of the financial pressures he felt at the infancy of his career.

I use to dismiss this legacy-emphasis as nothing more than insincere actions taken in an attempt to preserve ego. Sure, I want to be remembered in a positive light, but my legacy does not guide my decision making. Then I heard Greg Fitzsimmons discuss this on his podcast, Fitzdog Radio.

You see Louis C. K. now and you see what he’s accomplishing, but he’s always wanted that. I remember him using the word legacy at one point, before things blew up. And I see guys like [Dave] Attell and I think he really cares. You know, alot of these are the guys people are watching. I don’t know that I ever cared about the legacy thing and maybe that’s been my downfall in a way. I always shot for what’s in the moment good, what situation comes up, and I grab it and react… But you know there’s an argument that if I had been focused on one thing, I maybe would have gone farther down a road.

Before hearing this, I never correlated legacy with focus. This is not the need to focus on legacy, mind you, but the legacy that results from remaining focused on a goal, collecting a congruent body of work, and fostering positive relationships with those who choose to follow your vision. With this understanding, many of us have been working towards a legacy without realizing it. Who knows, a little more focus and we may just get there.

Moral Outrage in an Election Cycle: Why You Need to Yell Louder

outrageDuring speaking engagements, I’m being asked more and more about the individuals running for President of the United States. This is not surprising since 1) I typically speak about leadership, and 2) we are in the midst of electing a new national leader. When these questions come up, I try to cover them with a nonpartisan response that discusses the candidates as more of a leadership case study versus delivering a political speech.

As much as I attempt to avoid focusing on a Presidential candidate’s ideological leanings, there are people who attempt to maximize their stage time during the Q&A segment with an impassioned lecture on the state of the country. They are then followed by an equally impassioned lecture on the opposite side of the issue. As their passion turns to outrage, I find my role shift from speaker to referee.

So much moral outrage. Its prevalent on the campaign trail, news programs, debates, and on the corner where people are holding signs in support of (or against) a candidate. This holier-than-thou indignation use to bother me; now I’m considering whether we should be harnessing it.

A recently published paper in the journal Nature has found that “people who invest time and effort in condemning those who behave badly are trusted more.” When denouncing wrongdoers, we appear to be vanguards of fairness and justice. Our vilification comes across as a selfless act thus, as the research shows, improves our reputation.

Our mathematical model shows that choosing to punish wrongdoers can work like a peacock’s tail — if I see you punish misbehavior, I can infer that you are likely to be trustworthy. – from the New York Times’What’s the Point of Moral Outrage?

marco-rubioshoesAccording to an article in Psychological Science, the term ‘moral outrage’ suggests a high degree of anger. However, to experience true moral outrage, you must also feel and express disgust. This disgust relates to situations that engage your moral sense and violate your beliefs. For instance, a few summers ago, President Obama had the nerve to wear a tan-colored suit to a press conference. Marco Rubio caused a similar outcry when the American public rallied against his shoe selection. I’m not exactly sure why these incidents sparked outrage, but I own neither a tan suit nor shoes with a high heel… not that I am taking sides.

obama tan suitWhether running for office or leading an organization, expressing moral outrage serves as a form of personal advertisement. You are advertising that you are not just anti “bad stuff,” but that you are taking a public stand against said “bad stuff” and are willing to take action to prevent it from happening again.

Ironically, the research also shows that the need to actually take action is not necessary. Your visible outrage is all that is necessary to bolster your trustworthy quotient; pursing punishment of those accused is perceived as a weaker signal of trustworthiness.

While I agree with the above research, I will not recommend that you forget about Mark Twain’s infamous, “Action speaks louder than words.” See how far you will get in your career if you are all talk with no action. At the same time, maybe expressing some of your moral outrage is not so bad. Just save it for issues that matter, be well-informed before speaking, and be prepared for some backlash by those who don’t agree…. unless you are speaking out against tan suits; some things cannot be condoned.