February 21, 2018

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.

Don’t say you’re not breaching a confidence. Keep it to yourself

Three people in a meetingIf you state you’re withholding information, you create a barrier between yourself and the people you are with. You break the connection.

If you must have secrets, keep even that a secret.

Of course, you must respect confidences, and not share what you’re not meant to share. Actually I’d say avoid being in that position too much because it undermines your authenticity and disconnects you from other people.

They say “information is power.” Connection with other people is more powerful still.

Don’t be a keeper of too many secrets. Your friends resent it.

The power of exploring what they like

Three senior managersHe says that type of equipment “doesn’t cut it.”

So we ask “what’s wrong with that type of equipment?” The open question prompts him to expand on the problems. (Notice we didn’t ask why. More on that key piece below.)

But we soon realize we can do better. We’re learning about what he doesn’t like—bit of a waste of time, much productive to get the other person talking about they do like.

So, we interrupt—yes, we interrupt—and say, ”Hold on, let’s change the focus: What is it you do like about the other type of equipment?”

Now he’s off. His energy increases. He’s animated and talking articulately about what he likes. A couple more open questions to develop the theme and he suddenly realizes a deeper reason for his preference—quite a profound one in fact. Now, he has something he didn’t have before.

And we all have the shared pleasure of something discovered. Our relationship is strengthened, and rapidly.

So simple and yet so powerful…

Ask open questions, get people talking about what they like or want, and dig deep until something new emerges.

Is that a practiced part of your skill-set? I’d suggest it is.

The trouble with “why?”

The trouble with a question beginning with why is (1) it can sound judgemental and (2) it’s vague about what we are looking for. We give away control of the conversation by asking it.

We can always ask a better question than one beginning with “why” such as “what’s the reason for…?” or “what is you like about…?” That way we keep control.

That one piece of learning alone makes a big difference—another good one to practice.

Banter – Harmful or helpful?

Group of people listeningThe host pokes a little fun at the participants. It’s part of an elaborate pattern, you might even say a ritual, in some ways intended to lighten the mood. Trouble is, those at the receiving end feel a little intimidated and may think twice about contributing to the gathering. The end result is the banter inhibits the process, because it’s more about showing who’s boss.

In another place, the raillery seems to warm the mood of the meeting and put people at ease.

So what’s the difference?

And is banter a harmful or a helpful tactic?

Taking the second question first, I’d say be very careful. Banter, and humor in general, is very culturally dependent, and even if that aspect is OK, those less sure of themselves feel they can’t keep up. If in doubt, leave it out.

If you choose the riskier path, here’s what I think makes the difference…

There’s jocularity that puffs people up a little and there’s jocularity that deflates a little.


The quality of the meeting will be related to the self-esteem in the room. That seems likely, don’t you think?

So here’s my takeaway…

Keep ego and self-esteem in mind.

If you decide a little banter suits the circumstance and the people, reflect on this: Does your repartee build them up a bit, or does it knock them down a bit?

If you want a great meeting, I’d go for building them up.

That’s me.

What’s your take on banter?

How readily do you laugh at yourself?

Three smiling people(Occasioned by a certain politician failing to see the funny side of the routine humor dispensed on its cover by a well-known current affairs magazine.)

What do we do when someone attempts a joke at our expense? Fight back or just shrug it off? The choice we make says a lot about our maturity and affects how people perceive our presence.

If we protest at the kind of joke other targets regularly just ignore, we end up looking like we’re thin-skinned, can’t take a joke, and are overly precious about ourselves. Our complaining just makes fools of us. And we end up giving credence to trivia.

Better to just laugh it off, or ignore the humor altogether. Then we seem comfortable in our own skins, and so more influential, and the ones others follow.

Or even better, be the first to laugh at ourselves.

How do you make sure you rise above the cheap shots?

The head or the heart, where do you start?

Three people in a meeting, two shaking handsProgress on anything challenging typically needs a balance of head and heart perspectives; some emotional intelligence alongside the logic and rationale of the numbers and the processes. Neither on their own will be sufficient.

But where to start? Where to meet the other people involved?

With the head stuff, or the heart stuff?

With professional and business people brought up to “use their heads,” it often seems to make sense to meet them in that left-brain place that is so familiar, and then lead them to an emotional perspective once a level of trust is established.

With other individuals, less conditioned to be “professional”, beginning right from the heart might well work better. Or maybe that’s better in every case.

Does it depend on the context? The same individual in different circumstances might respond differently.

Perhaps the key is to connect with the person, one way or another, starting where they’re most comfortable, and then lead them to the other.

What do you think? Where do you begin—in your head or in your heart? It makes a difference.

Not where you’d like to be?

Bridge across a gapWe’re pretty used to being clear about what we want, what our vision is—clear enough that if it showed up, we’d recognize it.

But what if we can’t get to that straightaway?

That’s where “creative tension” comes in.

Creative tension is what Peter Senge (author of “The Fifth Discipline”) calls the gap between our vision and our current reality, which may not wholly fit with what we want.

Part of the practise of “personal mastery” is being able to sit with both a vision in mind, and a clear view of our current reality (and the emotions that go with it), and accepting the difference between them, and just being cool with it.

Now here’s the good bit…

If we hold this creative tension diligently, accepting the gap between where we are and where we want to be, and not stressing about it even as we work away to move toward our vision, it’s funny how our environment starts to rearrange itself in such a way as to close the gap. Things show up that help us move toward our vision; people get that we’re on a journey and support us; they accept that things are changing.

How does this work?

Well, we could go metaphysical about it and say that we manifest the change we want, but even at a prosaic level, somehow we just give off clear signals about what we’re looking for that others respond to, and, at the same time, we’re ready to recognize opportunity when it appears. They key is calmness. Nothing flows without the calmness.

Being OK with the creative tension of a gap between where we are and where we’d like to be not only helps us get there, but sets us free from stress in the meantime.

Pretty cool, I think.

And part of being an inspirational leader.

What’s your experience of this?

(With grateful thanks to Peter Senge and Robert Hanig for my own learning here.)

Who’s more conflicted—us or them?

Man thinkingOne day he says one thing; the next another. He just doesn’t seem to “know his own mind.” If only he would stick to what he said.

Frustrating, but are we really any different?

It’s a curious thing…

We’re well aware of our own uncertainty about our choices. We know we compromise in the face of complex circumstances, often inconsistently. We know we can be conflicted about issues in our lives, and moreover that it’s a lifelong journey to work these out.

And yet…

We somehow imagine others will be clear in their own minds; that they will be congruent in their behavior, and that they will have sorted out their inner conflicts, despite the evidence of our own experience. Then we’re surprised when it turns out they aren’t.

What changes when you allow people in your world the same scope for inconsistency you experience within yourself?

How congruent do you think we really are, day-to-day, and are others more or less conflicted than you? What do you think?

Is “tribal” behavior at work in your world?

Team supportersWe all belong to clusters of people with something in common: values, beliefs, aims, norms of behavior, and more. We could call these clusters “tribes,” and in fact, we belong to lots of them—families, friendship groups, workplaces, supporters of teams, members of on-line groups, and many more. Some exist in our face-to-face world, others are less tangible but just as real.

The need to belong is part of our human wiring—a deep-seated brain function. Prehistorically, if we didn’t belong to a group, we wouldn’t survive.


People behave in particular ways because they want to belong. They want to fit in. In fact, some also want to define themselves as against something else—some other tribe. That’s psychologically comfortable, if not very resourceful.

Here’s the thing…

In many situations, tribal behavior will be a powerful force, quite likely much more powerful than the explicit authority structures.

Tread warily when intervening. If you don’t understand the tribes in the game and the tribal behavior at work, you’re heading for a rough time. Take note of it and use it for good effect and you will harness a powerful force.

What unnoticed tribal behavior might be influencing your world?

If you want change, try fairness

Three people in discussionJoe is angry. He wants change. He cites all the things he doesn’t like about what the other guy is doing… and what he doesn’t like about the other guy, period. He wants upheaval. It’s a sustained attack. It seems overwhelming. Surely one of his points will hit home, and the other guy will crumble. Eventually, Joe stops…

But of course he’s over-stepped the mark. Somewhere in his flow, there was a clear untruth. Once this is pointed out, everything he said is dismissed as the rantings of an extremist. And that includes all the valid and uncomfortable points he made. Business as usual is resumed.

In contrast…

Peter sees precisely where the other side is weak, where they know their actions are out of kilter with their values. He points out accurately and calmly what is wrong and requests a change to address that point alone. The other side have no response. They could try to bluster, but that would only undermine their credibility further—better to accept the need to change and move on.

What’s the principle?

Well, I credit this to Elish Angiolini, former Lord Advocate in Scotland. Interviewed in one of the national newspapers, she said she was very influenced, perhaps oddly, by a well-known TV legal drama, “Rumpole of the Bailey”. She quoted a particular line…

“There is nothing so devastating to the defence as a fair prosecutor.”

So, here’s the thing…

When you hope to stimulate change, a fair case stands a much better chance than an extreme one. The more extreme you are, the more easily you will be picked off. The fairer you are, the harder you will be to resist.

Where might putting a fair case make a difference in your world?