Paint the picture

‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’ (John Kennedy)

‘A computer on every desk in every home.’ (Bill Gates)

Every leader-manager, at every level, needs a clear vision, a picture of how we are when we’re doing our best work. You can’t avoid it if you want to engage your team.

Vision literally means ‘seeing’ and the best visions help people ‘see’ the ultimate results of their efforts.

Here you are, leading a team of toy makers. Which vision should you offer them:

  1. Our toys make wide-eyed kids laugh and proud parents smile.
  2. Our toys are enjoyed by all our customers.

Research found, not surprisingly, that vision number 1 encouraged significantly better performance.

When I lead meetings of leader-managers to develop a vision, I ask them to think of a day when every operation and every team is working optimally. Absolute perfection. A dream come true. Then I ask them to describe that day in these terms:

  • What am I seeing?
  • What am I hearing?
  • What am I doing?
  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I saying?

They write it down and then share it with the others. Then we capture the key themes and develop a joint vision. The resulting visions are invariably amazing and they all paint a clear picture that can bring employees fully on board.

What is your clear, image-based vision that you use to bring people fully on board?

Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Three views of workplace relations

What is your attitude to workplace relations? What is it based on? Whatever it is and whatever it’s based on, it colours how you think about the workplace and even how you approach your own job.

There are three ways to think about workplace relations and most of your attitudes towards the workplace and your work stem from one of them. The three ways are called the unitarist, the radical and the pluralist views.

The unitarist view says employers and employees share the same basic goals – working together to create wealth, or value. This means that the workplace is essentially a harmonious place and any conflict that occasionally pops up will be short-lived and easily dealt with because employers and employees pretty much want the same thing.

The radical view is pretty much the opposite. It sees conflict between employers and employees as inevitable because they have, will always have, different needs and goals. That’s the way the system is set up: employers always want to contain costs, including wages costs, while employees always want higher wages.

The pluralist view also sees conflict as natural because management and workers have different needs and goals. But the good news is that these differences can be managed and contained by rules and regulations and we can all get along pretty well together when we put in a bit of effort and good will.

The particular view that rings most true for you directs your whole approach to the workplace and to your own job, whether you’re an employer or an employee. So which is it for you? Does it match the reality of your current workplace? Is it in accord with its culture and values? Is it helping you be the best manager you can be?

Which kind of boss are you?

Here I sit, typing awkwardly, nursing a smashed up collarbone held together by a steel bar and 11 pins. (Broken bones hurt a lot, by the way.) Even so, here I sit, doing my work thing.

How many people who work for you carry on, doing their work thing, when they’re uncomfortable, physically or psychologically? Maybe one has a kid at home who is a source of concern, another’s relationship is faltering, one has a cold or ‘flu coming on, another is irritated by colleague but is too polite to confront the problem and one has painful arthritis.

When you’re aware of the ‘whole person’, you can establish a strong and effective working relationship and help them be as productive as they can be. When people are just so many ‘pairs of hands’, it’s a different story.

Ah, but is getting to know the whole person worth the effort, when many employees readily move from one job to another and when others are contract and part-time employees?  Common sense says so, since the way you treat people day-to-day establishes the culture, which sets the pace for productivity.

And it goes deeper than that. How you treat people after they leave is important, too. Some organisations act as if departed employees never existed at all. That sends a strong message.

And then there are the organisations that make sure people leave on good terms. Some even treat former employees like alumni, staying in touch and even inviting them back for part-time or contract work or to mentor current employees. Former employees of organisations like these become ambassadors. They speak highly of their old organisation, building its reputation in the marketplace and strengthening its customer base.

Even when your organisation isn’t that sort of organisation, you can be that sort of boss. The organisation may reap some undeserved benefit, but you’ll reap a lot of deserved benefit: a happier, more productive work team and a strong professional network to stand you in good stead when you need it, to name but two.

Which kind of boss are you?

How to breed loyalty

Did you read my post How to Earn Your Team’s Devotion? I’d like to follow up on that today. It’s simple but not simplistic.

  • Be loyal.
  • Think of others as well as yourself.
  • Show you care about people.
  • Be considerate.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Be discreet.
  • Build people’s self-esteem, self-worth and dignity.
  • Tell people you appreciate them.

That’s all to do with trustworthiness, really, isn’t it. Trust is an absolute; you either trust someone or you don’t. Trust is fragile; it takes time to develop but seconds to destroy and once lost, it’s difficult to earn back.

I had a boss once who talked about trust like money in the bank. When you keep drawing on it without replenishing it, your account quickly empties. You make deposits with generosity, empathy, integrity and so on. When you don’t deposit enough, you can’t draw on it. (Unfortunately, it was just talk. I soon learned he didn’t keep his word and quickly lost trust in him. But that’s a different story and anyway, it’s a good analogy, that trust is like money in the bank.)

And then there’s competence. Can you deliver? You need be both trustworthy and competent to be an effective leader-manager.

 

The private, public and not-for-profit sectors are having a tough time of it, with layoffs, outsourcing, relentless change — in short, breaking the psychological contract, which looks a lot like not being loyal to employees. Not making enough deposits. Much of that can’t be helped. But the result is a trust account that’s in the red.

Except, that is, when the organisation has enough trustworthy and competent leader-managers. Then its trust account is likely to be in the black.

 

How to earn your team’s devotion

I’ve just read a great post by S Alexander Haslam (University of Queensland) and Stephen D Reicher (University of St Andrews in Scotland). They wrote the best sentence I’ve ever read about leadership:

A leader is not ‘the special one’, but ‘the one who makes us special.

True words. Who were your best leaders, the ones you would have walked over hot coals for? The ones who made you feel special. The ones who ‘polished your gold’ and brought out the best in you.

Here’s another great line from that post:

The task of leaders, then, is not to impose what they want on their followers,
but to shape what followers want to do for themselves.

To me, that’s about having a clear vision that people can buy into.

Haslam’s and Reicher’s research into leadership concludes that when you’re a leader, you need to communicate three things:

  • That you are one of us — you share our concerns and our values, and you understand us.
  • That you are doing it for us — your efforts are to advance us as a group.
  • That you are making us matter.

Back to servant leadership, eh?

Leadership isn’t about ego. We all know that. But sometimes, when you’ve been a leader for a while and your group is doing well, you start to believe ‘your own PR’. Bad move.

Instead, concentrate on showing that you are one with your team, that you’re advancing your team and that you make them matter.