Tips for new leaders Part I

From the moment you take up a leadership role, people are watching you. You are leading by example and the only question is: Is it the example you want to set?

As a leader-manager, you’re no longer a ‘me’ working on getting great results as an individual performer (even though that might be what earned you the promotion). Your job is now ‘we’ – getting great results from others by harnessing the power of collective effort. It isn’t your job to impress your new team. Your job is to get to know them and find out how you can help them do their jobs well.

Build a culture that strives for high productivity and quality and one that is enjoyable and personally rewarding for your team members to work in. You’re only as good as your followers’ performance, individually and as a team, so set high standards and insist on peoples’ best efforts. No one will thank you for mediocrity. That doesn’t mean micromanaging, but finding out what people need, procuring it for them, and standing back while they get on with it, ready to help when they need it.

Australians don’t like a ‘task master’ boss, one who is autocratic, results-driven and provides little feedback. People whinge and ultimately do the bare minimum and ‘the numbers’ crash. Concentrate on your team and helping them hit ‘the numbers’, not on bossing people around.

Good leadership, for Australians, is based on quality relationships and we’re either ‘full on’ or ‘full off’ in terms of engagement and motivation. This means that the little things really count, like saying ‘G’day’ and using a person’s name. Open communication, without compromising confidentiality, is seen as a sign of trust and inclusion. In contrast, ‘mushroom management’ – keeping people in the dark – is definitely not appreciated. Make sure you include all team members when you share information, too, not just a favoured few.

Stay visible and talk – and listen – to people face-to-face. Don’t retreat behind your desk and fire off emails and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Spend time building relationships with your team and across the organisation.  Jot down a few notes to make sure your memory isn’t selective and stay alert for feedback, especially the non-verbal kind that can tell you what team members and colleagues really think of you. Keep your problems – work and personal – to yourself.

Most employees today aren’t too fazed by your place in the hierarchy but they’ll work for you as best they can when they respect you for your personal qualities, know what you stand for and know they can rely on you to ‘do the right thing’. But you need to prove yourself first and earn peoples’ trust and respect by demonstrating your character first and later, your competence.

Australians want positive feedback and recognition, but give it sincerely and keep it low-key. (‘Employee of the month’ schemes may work in the US but tend to flop in Australia.) We also respond best to clear and precise operating guidelines and are powerfully motivated by a clear vision and purpose. So get good at communicating and communicate them often (through different mediums and in different ways to avoid sounding like a galah). And tell the truth – Australians have finely tuned ‘bullshit detectors’.

When the results are good, step back and let your team share the glory. Remember, though, that the buck stops with you and you may occasionally need to take the blame for team mistakes.

Your role is probably more than helping your team succeed. It’s probably also helping your organisation succeed by innovating improvements that help your team work more smoothly, easily, economically, quickly, reliably, safely and sustainably.

Leadership is a big undertaking. It’s a huge responsibility as well as a privilege. Stay tuned for more tips next week.

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?

The lights are on but no one’s home

Years ago, I participated in a training exercise I’ve never forgotten. To this day, it makes me queasy with discomfort!

The trainer asked us to pair up and one person in each pair was to leave the room for a couple of minutes. I went out. While we were out, the trainer instructed those remaining that when their partners returned, they were to engage us in conversation and listen. BUT – they were to offer no sign whatsoever that they were listening. No eye contact, no nods, no grunts, no nuffink.

I can tell you, I found the absence of those non-verbal ‘encouragers’ not only extremely off-putting, but actually quite distressing.

Two things happened very quickly:

  1. I reached the firm conclusion that my partner was an absolute dork.
  2. I dried right up.

Normally, as those of you who know me know, I can talk the hind leg off a donkey, but with someone sitting opposite me, just sitting there like a lump and doing absolutely nothing, I completely lost my train of thought. I began rambling wildly. And then I ground to a halt. I was most uncomfortable to say the least.

That made me realise, in a very visceral way, how important it is to not just ‘sit there’ and listen. We need to do something.

So here are six small but crucial things to do when you’re listening to someone:

  1. Make eye contact.
  2. Nod.
  3. Say ‘uh-huh, ‘I see’ and ‘mmm’ a lot.
  4. Repeat a key word or phrase.
  5. Orient your body towards the speaker.
  6. Lean slightly forward towards the speaker.

That way, you won’t find your conversational partner drying up and thinking you’re an absolute dork.

How to prevent people from lying to you

People lie. Some people tell the odd white lie; some lie so they don’t have to tell a difficult truth (to themselves or someone else); some people lie habitually.

Most people don’t become habitual liars because telling a lie, at least for personal gain, causes the amygdala, which lies (no pun intended) deep in the brain, makes them feel bad about the lie. But the more lies a person tells, the more the ‘feel-bad-about-the-lie’ response fades. As that response fades, it becomes easier, and easier, and easier, to lie. And the bigger the lies become.

Lying is a slippery slope. Habitual liars become habitual liars because they lie a lot.

You may know an habitual liar. It might someone you work with, someone you negotiate with, someone you ‘meet’ on the Internet, a neighbour or even a friend.

You probably can’t do much to stop a chronic liar lying to you. But you may be able to head off other people’s lies.

Here are two easy ways:

  • Tell the truth yourself. Since people tend to respond in kind, truth-telling encourages truth-telling.
  • Get to know people, because people are less likely to lie to someone they know, like and trust than they are to a stranger.

Here are three slightly more complicated, but also effective, ways to ward off lies:

  • When you make an assumptive statement or ask an assumptive question, put a negative, or pessimistic, spin on it. When the spin goes against the interests of the other person, they’ll disagree with it. When it’s the truth, they’re like to agree with it rather than tell an outright lie by contradicting it.The reason this works is that people tend to agree with assumptions and assumptive questions, which means they’ll agree with an incorrect assumption when it’s in their interests to do so. But when the assumption is incorrect and goes against their interests, people are willing to disagree with it and set the record straight.
  • Don’t let spin and articulate avoidance fool you. Inarticulate honesty is always preferable to articulate lies and confuscations.
  • When you as a question or make an assumptive statement, make sure the question is answered and the assumption isn’t artfully avoided.Bamboozling people with eloquence and avoiding answering questions are two other ways people skirt the truth. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, remember your assumptive comments and questions and make sure they’re addressed. Write them down if you need to and don’t move on until you have your answer.

Encouraging the truth isn’t only in your own best interests. It also helps others by making the slippery slope of lying harder to slip down.

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.

How to get what you want without nagging

Would you rather I asked you:

  • Reader, remember that you promised to exercise more this year.
    or
  • Reader, are you going to exercise this year?

How about this:

  • Reader, you really ought to think about recycling.
    or
  • Do you recycle, Reader?

And here’s one more:

  • Reader, healthy eating is good for you, you know.
    or
  • Do you eat healthily, Reader?

When you want to influence someone’s behaviour, it’s better to ask a question than make a statement. That’s what researchers found in a meta study led by Professor Eric Spangenberg published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (‘A meta-analytic synthesis of the question-behaviour effect’, Dec 2015) that reviewed over 40 years of research in the area of influencing. That’s fantastic news for parents and managers everywhere. Teachers and trainers, too. Anyone, really, who wants to get people to do something.

The researchers think that the reason questions are better than statements for persuading people to change their behaviour is that a question subtly reminds people what the best thing to do is without being pushy and telling them. A question about exercising, recycling or eating healthily can lead the person to feel a bit uncomfortable if they don’t do those things. As a result, they’re more likely to do them in order to ease those uncomfortable feelings.

So teachers might ask: Are you planning to finish your project in plenty of time?

Parents might ask: Are yu taking your turn at washing up tonight?

A manager might ask: How is your XYZ coming along? (The XYZ being something you want the employee to work on but the employee isn’t that keen.)

Professor  Spangenberg says that questions are great at encouraging people to behave in socially acceptable ways. Questions can sway customer purchases, reduce gender stereotyping and influence all sorts of other behaviours, too. And you don’t have to ask the question in person, either. You can ask it in an advertising flyer or brochure, a radio advertisement, put up a poster with your question, or ask your question on-line on social media, for instance.

There are two big buts:

  1. Don’t ask a question when the person reliably does whatever it is you’re asking about because they’d be miffed.
  2. Don’t ask a question about unwanted behaviour, because your question could encourage it–the opposite of what you want. So you wouldn’t ask your teenager as he’s heading out on a Saturday night: ‘So, will you be doing a lot of drinking tonight, then?’

Ask don’t tell. Question in the positive to get what you want. Without nagging. Simple, really, isn’t it?

What time spells

A child asks Dad to play Scrabble or play catch and but he’s too busy. An employee stops by a manager’s desk for a quick chat and she carries on with what she was doing while listening with half an ear.

How aware are you of the messages you send people? Do they ever say ‘You’re an interruption’ or ‘I don’t care’, even when you don’t mean them to?

Everyone’s time is precious and that means everyone needs to choose how they spend it. And those choices are important.

Children spell ‘love’ differently that adults – they spell it: t-i-m-e. And to employees, ‘time’ can spell ‘I c-a-r-e’.

So this week, pause and give some thought to whether you’re spending enough of your time on what, and who, are most important to you. What you were doing can often wait when giving the gift of time spells ‘love’ to a child, or ‘I care’ to a friend or employee.