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?

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?

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.

How to be a great boss at Christmastime

‘Tis the season to be jolly. and peaceful. The season for spreading goodwill. And for winding down for the summer holiday.

Now is not the time to be pushing your team for results or demanding blood, sweat and tears. No. It’s the time to lighten up and thank people for their efforts over the past year. It’s the time to let them know you’re looking forward to working with them again next year. In short, it’s the time to switch your attention from the task to the team and its individual members.

Extra time at lunch or letting people leave early to do some Christmas shopping are good ways to appreciate peoples’ hard work. Nice decorations and a Christmas tree show you care about peoples’ welfare. A handwritten card wishing each team member and their family a happy holiday and thanking them for a particular contribution they’ve made during the year builds goodwill and loyalty.

As I wind down for a short break, let me thank casual readers and subscribers to this blog. I’m looking forward to catching up with you all next year. Expect to see a spiffy new banner at the top taken from the cover of the 6th edition, which is just out and hitting the bookshops now.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a restful, happy and joy-filled Christmas season, a fabulous summer holiday, and happy, healthy and prosperous ripper of a New Year.

The art of subtle coaching

Coaching is one of every leader-manager’s most important activities. You’re probably most familiar with coaching to improve already-good performance by gently tweaking someone’s behaviour to further enhance their results. My Describe–Explain–Suggest model is one way to do this, and my Flag–Example–Benefit model is another. Also useful is the Intent–Outcome model, where you help someone compare and contrast what they intended by their behaviour or actions with the actual outcome and then help them find ways to bring their intention and outcome closer together. Socratic questioning, where you help people find their own insights and solutions is another powerful coaching technique. (You can find examples of these models and techniques in Chapters 16 and 26.)

There’s another, more subtle type of coaching that I learned by reflecting on the way a former boss, Chris (let’s call him), coached me. It was my first job out of Uni, where my referent group was still that of uni students and I therefore dressed in ‘student uniform’ rather than ‘business attire’. Not a good look; enough said.

When we went to industry meetings together, Chris would introduce me like this: ‘This is Kris Cole, our safety and training officer. She’s very professional.’ That’s all, ‘She’s very professional’.

Chris was embedding a description of myself in my subconscious as being ‘very professional’. It affected my behaviour and yes, it affected the way I dressed, too. Without consciously realising it, I gradually began to grow into Chris’s description of me.

(You may be wondering why he didn’t just tell me, ‘Kris, you look like a mess; please fix up your image’. Well imagine my reaction to that: I can tell you right now I’d have crossed my arms, stamped my foot, pouted a bit and said, ‘It doesn’t matter how a person dresses; it just matters how well they do their job!’ I’d probably have tossed my hair, too. No, the direct approach would definitely not have worked. The subtle approach did.)

Chris subtly coached me in other ways, too. He’d pass on rules of thumb that I could easily follow. He’d relate illustrative personal stories or examples that gave me mental scaffolds to generalise from, to use to analyse problems or to make sense of experience. He thought out loud a lot, giving me insight into a really smart manager’s thinking processes and showing me how to consider matters from various angles before reaching a decision.

That was all incredibly valuable. But what I most treasure was the way Chris highlighted the positive, so I felt good about myself and willing and able to do my best work. I would like to think that every leader-manager makes time to regularly highlight the positive in people and give them something to grow into.

Are you at risk of losing your best team members?

Paul (let’s call him) works in the finance sector. Not so long ago, he was very disillusioned with his job. Not his actual work, which he enjoyed thoroughly, but with his new boss who, to put it bluntly, was a bully. Team morale crashed, cordial working relationships took a dive, job satisfaction plummeted.

We caught up the other day and I asked him how his work was going. ‘Great!’ he said. Seeing my surprise, he explained that he had a new boss. The bullying boss had been moved to another state where, he said, the number of internally advertised vacancies had soared.

‘It’s amazing’, he said, ‘how one person can spoil the enjoyment and job satisfaction for thousands. I could earn lots more money elsewhere. In fact, I nearly took another position when the poisonous boss was around but I held off because I genuinely care about the bank and my customers. Now I wouldn’t even consider moving. I enjoy the people I work with, I respect and like my new manager and I have the opportunity to develop and mentor others, which I find hugely satisfying.’

Over the years, I’ve had many people on training programs who have stated they’ve been offered more money to work for the competition but have turned down the opportunity for similar reasons. They enjoy their work and workmates. They respect their boss. They feel invested in their organisation.

Treating people with respect. Coaching them and providing them with development opportunities. Assigning work they enjoy and feel pride in doing well. Building a strong team people want to be part of and making sure people feel proud of their organisation. These basic people management activities become even more critical when you’re in an industry with high employee turnover and when you depend on the contributions of individuals for the whole team’s success.

Yet, basic as they are, those vital people management activities can all too easily be neglected when you’re under pressure, tangled in continual problems and crises, and have a ‘to do’ list as long as roll of toilet paper.

That’s what reminders on your calendar are for. Diarise the basics. Chat informally with every team member daily. Catch up weekly or fortnightly with everyone to chat about how their jobs are going. Talk about important organisational achievements and events. Share a coffee and share a laugh.

It’s the simple things that count the most. Do you do enough of the ‘simple things’?