January 19, 2018

Archives for November 2014

How challenging can we be?

Three in discussionWhen it comes to stimulating change in other people, how challenging can we be?

How far and fast can we push?

How can we best tell when we need to back off?

Well, of course, it depends…

It depends on the nature and quality of our relationship: Is it a boss-subordinate relationship, or a coach-client relationship, or a peer-to-peer relationship? And how strong is that relationship? Is there enough “fuel in the tank” of trust and confidence to cope with the disturbance and get the best result?

It also depends on our presence: How grounded and resourceful do we seem? Are we coming from a place of personal authority? Or are we relying on our formal position?

There’s a sense of right timing too—a sense of things in motion. Maybe we need to bide our time for the big intervention. Maybe we need to wait for the “planets to align.” Patience may get us to the end result more quickly than haste.

But we do need to be challenging in some way in the meantime—and also supportive.

Otherwise what we’re doing won’t pass the “so what?” test.

Holding back completely doesn’t work.

You need to not know

Three senior managers talkingOr rather, you need to know you don’t know. And you need your team to know you don’t know and want their help.

How else can they know they need to look out for missing information?

They need to know that you will welcome them saying you might have overlooked something, made an error, or not noticed something important – or at least not bite their head off when they tell you.

That’s the difference between the professional and the amateur: The professional doesn’t let the issue land in their ego.

This principle is rather obvious skippering a yacht, for example. Get it wrong and you usually get immediate and probably uncomfortable feedback from your environment. You need the crew to tell you things before you make a mistake, not after.

Otherwise you might hit the rocks.

Running an organisation, the principle is even more true, just a bit less obvious.

If you give people the same facts…

If you give people the same facts...… you might think they would come to the same conclusions.

Actually, of course, maybe they won’t…

They might have a different world-view, causing them to interpret the information in a different way.

They might have different values, causing them to weigh different aspects differently.

They might feel personally threatened and so resist accepting their own logical analysis.

But the thing is…

Unless we make sure they have the same facts, there’s really no chance at all.

The necessary pest

The Necessary PestHow do you tell the difference between the troublemaker and the necessary pest?

The thing is…

We don’t have all the answers. We need other people to tell us when we’ve over-looked something, or need to take a different perspective.

Of course, we tend to get this kind of input at what feels like the most inconvenient moment.

And the person delivering it can present a challenge.

Now they might just be a troublemaker, intent on making difficulty for their own reasons.

Or they might be a necessary pest.

It’s worth getting good at telling the difference.

We need the pests…

…the trouble-makers, not so much.

You can’t really assess your staff…

Four business people in a discussion… unless you’re sure you’ve provided effective leadership.

If you’re looking for the people who work for you to be self-motivated and highly productive, you can’t sensibly begin to assess whether they are or not, unless or until you’re sure you’ve provided good leadership.

Otherwise your actions (or inactions) are a bigger factor than their character.

And it’s probably not a question of just telling them what to do.

Yes, you may well need to be demanding, but the key point is, is the direction you are providing clear, or at least are any ambiguities clearly understood and balanced?

If not, the inertia caused by lack of direction will be the dominant factor.

And you won’t really know whether your people are any good or not.

And, of course, with the right leadership…

Ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.

An intervention needs to be an intervention

Group in discussion at computerIt takes a certain intensity to make something different happen. Merely exposing people to new ideas probably isn’t going to be enough if the hoped-for change is in any way an uncomfortable or unfamiliar one—the issue could be out of conscious awareness apart from anything else.

So we need someone to show us how the learning connects with us—how it applies.

Sending people on courses will only take things so far.

For an intervention to be an intervention, somebody needs to intervene. There needs to be a change agent—someone who can deliver help to the system from outside, as W. Edwards Deming might have put it, because “a system is not capable of understanding itself.”

Somebody needs to be close enough to say “this is how the issue applies to you and here’s what you need to do.”

Interventions need an intervener.

Only the best survive

Tao Te ChingThere’s a reason why the classics are the classics – they’re good stuff.

We tend to favour the modern – and yes, we do need progressive ideas – but for some questions, the answers were plain 2,500 years ago. And often, there’s less clutter. Back then, we maybe had fewer distractions and more time to contemplate.

Worth paying some attention to then.

I’m thinking of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, and Taoism, for example.

Here’s a line I particularly like…

“Someone must risk returning injury with kindness, or hostility will never turn to goodwill.”

The longer an idea survives the ravages of time, the more likely it is that it has value. Everything else has fallen by the wayside.

An obvious point perhaps…

But how often do you look back instead of ahead for the answer to a challenge? Might be worth doing so more often.

Sometimes, the old ones are the best.

Accurately discerning responsibility and authority

Three senior managers talkingEvents of last week—featuring, in particular, some troubles my son is having with another boy on his school bus—showed just how important it is to discern accurately who is best-placed to take which action: Us as parents, the bus driver, the parents of the other boy, or the school staff.

I believe, a lot of the time, we get this wrong. We take actions or say things which aren’t really for us to take. They’re somebody else’s piece of the puzzle. We could suggest they might choose to take a particular action, but we need to signal it’s their choice, when truly it is.

That way, our influence is maximised.

Over-reaching our authority, and telling other people what to do, or doing their job for them undermines our influence.

Much better to have the patience to do our bit, and let other people do theirs, using our influence to guide. If we give them their space, there’s a better chance they’ll accept our influence and do what we hoped for in the first place.

It’s all about the egos, as usual.

Sounds pretty obvious, I suppose. But is it common practice?

Accurately discerning who has responsibility and who has authority is worth the effort—as is designing the system right, when we have that role.

In short, as we might have said to the other family involved: You parent your son, and we’ll parent ours.

Applies to work situations too, of course.

What’s your vision for yourself?

Woman reflectingYou may be familiar with the idea of having a vision for other people—other people you work with, individuals you lead or coach, either formally or informally, or perhaps family members. That vision is your guiding image of how they could be or who they could become—something you mostly keep to yourself and use merely as guide to “hold the space” for them to develop into. You might also suggest experiences that would open doors in the direction you perceive would be useful.

Such a vision is a frame for nurturing other people.

The thing is…

What’s your vision for yourself?

Who would you like to see yourself become?

If you were working with someone else, you’d be thinking about what limiting beliefs are holding them back.

And what possibilities they’re not seeing.

And what they’re not noticing about themselves.


What limiting beliefs are holding you back?

And what possibilities are you not seeing?

And what are you not noticing about yourself?

When it comes to it…

What is your vision?

Once seen, you could choose to move into it now.

Are you a carrier of non-verbal confusion?

GatheringWe’re accustomed to making sure we don’t send mixed messages…

As long as we don’t actually say anything contradictory, people around us won’t be confused and will instead move forward on the basis of what they hear us say. So the thinking goes.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

We send our mixed messages non-verbally and unconsciously more powerfully than we do in the words we speak.

And that’s very confusing.

If those we influence are to have the clarity which leads to powerful action, we need to resolve our own inner tensions first, or else hold the ambiguity of both one consideration and another honestly and transparently.

Then our non-verbal communication will match our words, the confusion will lift, and the people around us will move forward, with new energy.

…even if the message involves contradiction, funnily enough.