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Water Cooler Leadership

Fri,May 31,2019 @ 03:04 PM


I think every company has the role of leader by the water cooler at some point. What is meant by water cooler leadership? Water Cooler leadership is an event that occurs typically near the water cooler where people complain and gripe about a new policy or maybe even people at the organization. The water cooler is typically a resting place for the disgruntled, but rest assure water cooler leaders have an impact in the face of change and things people go through. People will gravitate naturally to the negative cause. Often the negative takes less effort. It's easier to complain then to overcome change and challenge and do the right thing. Every organization has water cooler leaders. Some people call them the elephants in the room, but there's an important question to ask. Why do people go to the water cooler versus just doing the right thing and going to the source and working through things or overcoming change and challenge?

The basic answer is they may not know how. They might be so well conditioned in complaining and becoming disgruntled they are highly skilled in it. It does not mean these people are bad people, but they might require the skills to confront issues thoughtfully and professionally or to have conversations upward with management that might feel uncomfortable or difficult. This might prompt people to talk directly to peers where they're having difficulty. The reason we have water. cooler leadership is it because people don't know what else to do so in the absence of knowing how to do things, it's easier to go to watercolor and recruit disciples and complain about decisions. People typically do not know how to overcome change and challenge. Rarely are people ever taught in the school systems how to face adversity positively and proactively and professionally. One of the tests I always do when I provide public speaking is I'll ask an organization and their leaders, is trust important to you? Typically everybody nods. On the other hand, I then ask them the following question. When somebody gets called into your office here at your organization, what's the typical response that goes through the employee's mind? Almost everybody to a person will say things such as, uh oh or what did I do wrong? I then wait, with a nice smile. And I look at everybody in the room and I say, do you think that builds or breaks trust if that's the only interaction our leaders have with employees?

People typically smile back and quickly realize that they have an issue. Trust is important, but to make the assumption that we do not have water cooler conversations occurring typically is the result of leadership being out of alignment. There must be an established leadership protocol and progression meaning what are the actions and behaviors ALL leaders need to take without exception? Every person, whether they have the title of manager or not, must have the ability to understand what is the proper steps to take in situations of change or adversity or challenge.


Tim Hagen

Written by Tim Hagen

Tim Hagen founded Progress Coaching, a Training Reinforcement Partner Company, in 1997. His entrepreneurial career began in college leading to positions in sales, sales management, and sales training for small and large corporations, and eventually ownership of several training companies. He possesses a unique combination of hands-on experience, academics, and innovative insight to solve the industry’s most common challenges. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in Adult Education and Training from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

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