January 19, 2018

Archives for January 2015

Are you leading with your professional paradigm?

Group discussionThey say the way we do anything is the way we do everything.

When it comes to leadership and management, we tend to lead and manage in a paradigm dictated by our professional or vocational expertise—our worldview, if you like. For example…

Scientists manage scientifically.

Engineers manage with systems and processes.

Academics lead academically.

Accountants manage financially.

Typically, the leadership culture in an organisation reflects the nature of what it does.

But actually…

There’s no good reason why it should; there’s an explanation, but not a reason.

Management and leadership are both different arts in their own right, generally requiring a much greater understanding of human beings and a deeper affinity with them—something quite different from a vocational expertise.

Worth checking whether we’re over-applying our professional paradigm in our leadership role.

Good to adopt a distinct model for that part of what we do.

And that might mean abandoning some certainties.

What really is the question?

Man thinkingMost of the time we focus on answering the question—or trying to.

But is it the right question?

Are we investing our energies in solving the right problem?

In my own (sometimes painful) experience…

We’re inclined to spend rather too much time trying to answer a question and not enough time making sure it’s the right question in the first place. We’re comfortable, in a sense, with the question as stated.

For example…

I once spent some considerable time trying to think of a way to repair a damaged piece of manufactured pipework in a remote location, with only limited resources. Only when someone asked “What does that pipe do anyway?” and I answered that it conveyed water from there to there, did I realise that implementing an alternative way of piping the water was much easier that repairing the damaged part. A piece of tubing and two jubilee clips would do fine and all were available.

To this day, I am in awe of the human propensity to fixate on answering the wrong—or at least not most helpful—question.

When actually…

As Einstein said, “The questions are more important than the answers.”

To avoid the trap, we need to be prepared to go in the direction of knowing less rather than knowing more, at first—to not only not know the answer, but to choose not to know the question either. We need to accept—even welcome—the discomfort that entails.

Where could you do with reconsidering the question?

Why relationship skills?

Networking groupSometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of our reasons for doing something.


Why focus on relationship skills, whether in a professional or a personal context?

After all, talking about the subject can seem a bit “preachy” if we’re not careful.

But there is a whole other way of looking at this…

Relating to other people is, at times, one of the most demanding and yet potentially enriching things we do. Doing a better job of that can unlock all sorts of benefits. It’s where the leverage is.

So the subject seems worthy of a little attention and focus—perhaps more than a little.

And perhaps a systematic approach.

There’s a bit more to this than communication skills: Getting one’s point across in the moment isn’t the same as successfully managing a relationship over time, which requires a little more sophistication.

I think so anyway. Don’t you?

The dog barks again

The dog barks againThe tea is poured. The seating is comfortable. The TV is OK.

But the biscuit isn’t wanted. No big deal. It’s set down on the coffee table.

The dog barks at the biscuit.

The dog is hushed.

The dog barks again, louder.

The dog is given a bit of the biscuit.

Soon, the barking resumes.

The dog is hushed again.

You know what happens next.

The owner is teaching the dog…

Bark, and you might get a bit of biscuit, and

If you don’t get a bit of biscuit, bark again, louder.

The owner is inadvertently “reinforcing” the behaviour he doesn’t want (barking).

What behaviour are you inadvertently rewarding—in dogs or people or anything else?

To illustrate with the dog… if you want a different outcome, you need to (1) refuse absolutely to give them the biscuit when they’re barking and (2) give them the biscuit when they’re not barking.

Sounds simple?

It’s not the pattern we typically follow.

Doing what you don’t have to do today

HourglassDoing what you have to do today is relatively easy. You have to do it after all.

Doing what you don’t have to do today is harder.

There’s no urgency: not today, not tomorrow, not even the next day. It’s easy to put it off, especially if the task is a bit of a challenge.

And then, of course, the year is gone.

So we need to make it something we have to do today: the one thing we chosen to do now that will make a difference in, say, a year’s time.

Just one thing—that’ll do for today. Tomorrow, it can be a second thing.

After 20 days, we’ll have 20 things done. Well, OK, maybe in 30. That’s still a lot better than none of them done in a year.

Part of the answer is to decide that it’s our job to do things that will make a difference in a year’s time—like developing some new marketing or a new product. Then it feels urgent. And it becomes something we have to do.

And it gets done.


What are you going to do today that you don’t have to do?

Are you at arm’s length?

Two doctors in discussionIt all depends on your perspective of course…

Who’s at arms length from who? We might feel more secure keeping uncomfortable (but needed) influences at arm’s length.

The thing is…

It’s tempting to keep people at that distance; to not let them in.

But it makes us hard to reach; at arm’s length from what we need.

Not so smart really.

Might be wise to let them closer.

The emotion and the numbers

Woman thinkingSometimes we avoid getting the figures together because we know we won’t like what they’re telling us.

Sometimes our people will avoid preparing information accurately because they’re scared of how we will react to it.

That’s a problem.

As W Edwards Deming said, “Wherever there is fear, there will be wrong figures.”

For our part, somehow we need develop the information dispassionately and then consider what it’s telling us. Focusing on the process we’re following helps. If we feel in control, that’s something.

With other people compiling information for us, we need them to know we will be calm when we’re given the results.

Otherwise, in either case…

We won’t really know where we stand. We will mislead ourselves or other people will mislead us.

How do you separate the emotion from the numbers?

The decision to buy – emotion or logic?

Three people, two shaking handsOur rational brain, and our education for that matter, would like us to believe that people make a decision to buy based on logic and the facts – that’s “buy” as in literally a sale, or perhaps just a decision to pay attention to someone or invest in their ideas.

In fact…

Rather more often than we might imagine, I believe, decisions to buy are based on emotion – how we feel.

Perhaps we might hide the emotional decision behind a veneer of logic.

The thing is…

How often are you handling a relationship thinking it’s a logical “sale,” when actually it’s more of an emotional decision, or perhaps vice versa?

How do you decide which you’re dealing with?

The reasons people buy from you might not be what you imagine at all.

The edge of expertise

Business People in a Board meetingWe tend to be most comfortable working in the centre ground of our expertise—where we’re really pretty sure of our ground.


That may not be what’s most useful to people, or to us. That may not be where we make the most difference, or learnt the most.

Often, other people want our help at the edge of their expertise and that’s likely to take us away from where we’re totally sure. Nevertheless, our insights, even if they’re tentative, may help them a lot.

Inklings at the edge of our expertise could be more valuable than certainty in the middle.

Sometimes, the more uncomfortable we are, the more useful our contribution is.

Maybe you need to go the edge more.

As Neale Donald Walsh said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Acting today to justify who we were yesterday

How others see us, and what to do about itWe tend to favour consistency. We act in a way that aligns with who we were before. Then everything is nice and tidy. It’s not embarrassing. It might be rather ineffective, or even plain wrong, but it’s not embarrassing to carry on in the same groove.

We do all this unconsciously: Without really thinking about it…

We act today to justify how we were yesterday, or who we were yesterday, or what we did yesterday.

But actually…

It might be smart to change; to do something different—especially if we’ve figured out that doing or being something different might work better.


It is embarrassing to make the change: We’re implicitly admitting we were wrong, or at least not the best we could be. Courage is definitely required.

It’s still the best thing to do though.

And we help other people grow by our example.


Which bits of how you used to be yesterday might it be worth leaving behind—or at least, making them part of your past rather than your present, perhaps remembered with a metaphorical photo in the album?