January 21, 2018

Threatening with help

Three senior managersIt’s a curious thing…

People can be remarkably resistant to help: I suppose we all are, depending on the subject. “Help” can take us into painful contemplation, addressing issues that we might prefer to avoid—or at least put off to another time.

Perhaps that’s why “threatening” someone or a group with help can be so effective. Suddenly, when there is a real possibility of someone else getting involved and perhaps setting the pace and the agenda—taking the initiative away—we find it within ourselves to make a start; to tackle the issues we need to tackle.

Sometimes, I’ve been the “help” that is threatened. I don’t think I’m that scary but, even so, some people would rather take the suggestion as a prompt to galvanise themselves into action—independently.

Where are you on this…

Are you the help that is threatened?

Or are you being threatened by help?

Or do you put your pride aside and accept additional expertise into what you’re doing?

Or maybe you’re a leader using the threat of help to get others to take action, even if that isn’t what you originally intended.

Whichever of these apply, it’s a powerful effect.

Drop everything?

Four business people in a discussionWe need to get people’s attention from time to time…

We may well need them to accommodate what we need done, or what they need to do to give effect to what we’re offering them.

If we expect them to drop everything though, it probably isn’t going to happen.

I’ve made the mistake several times of agreeing to buy a service or product that’s been offered to me unsolicited and then found that I don’t have the capacity to follow through on the implementation.

So in change and growth, to drop everything isn’t a realistic option, and we’ll do better if we set the pace accordingly (and choose people who recognise that).

Less is sometimes more, especially in the long haul.

Leadership is contagious

Two doctors in discussionUnlike management, which doesn’t really spread from person to person, leadership is contagious. If one person is an effective and energetic leader, those around them are likely to pick up some of the traits too.

Management authority has to be arranged and people have to be appointed to roles.


Leadership authority can be developed independently of management structure and rub off from one individual to another, to be drawn on as and when circumstances require.

A good idea then to cultivate leadership skills in an organisation—they spread.

(Thanks to Geoff Crowley, Managing Director of Highland Colour Coaters, who prompted this piece.)

How fast can we go?

TeamTraditionally, we said “at the pace of the slowest man.” Nowadays, we’d say “person,” of course.

In times of change, is that really right? Do we need to go at the speed of the team as a whole?

Change does take time. We can accelerate it by providing suitable experiences, and instilling suitable tools and techniques.

But people need time to grow; time to process; time to come to terms with new information.

It’s not the same as figuring out something intellectual.

There’s a cooking time.

Allowing for it—within reason—will take us forward faster, not slower.

How do you decide the best speed?

Blending the intervention

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe don’t have all the answers. That’s true whether we’re on the outside of the issue looking in or on the inside looking out.

The leadership team knows its business, whereas the change agent knows something useful the insiders don’t currently have. Neither has all the answers, nor even all of the pieces available collectively.


The way forward needs to be a blend of both—both what the leadership team already has and what the change agent is bringing, but not usually all of either.

For the necessary co-creation to happen, both parties need to let go of something—to give up part of their model.

Are you ready to do that?

So you survived the recession…

Worried manSo you successfully steered your business through the recession—a significant achievement which no doubt took a lot of courage, determination and energy, and probably involved a fair amount of pain.

You learned a great deal. You established a tight grip. You had good governance.

You’re going to keep these disciplines going. (We may not be out of recession yet, so that’s wise.)

And yet…

You might need something different now, or perhaps more accurately, something else as well.

You might need some innovation and change if you’re not going to be left behind by more adaptable organisations. And if you need some innovation, you might need to loosen up. You might need to create some freedom.

You might need to find a way to balance disorder and order.

Do you know how to do that?

Top-down or bottom-up?

Balancing a baseball batWhich is the best way of running organisations?

Answer: Neither.

We need both, if we want the best results and an engaged team. Top-down for direction and accountability, bottom-up for energy and resilience and adaptability.

We need to keep the two in equilibrium, and that’s a bit like balancing a stick on our finger—not so hard if we concentrate, but let our mind wander and the stick is soon on the ground.

In many corporate organisations, the stick fell to the ground a long time ago, often on the side of autocratic top-down management, like some of the banks, but sometimes also on the side of excessively bottom-up arrangements with no coherence, like the Co-op in the UK perhaps, with its current difficulties.

So a function of leadership then…

Is to act, as if from outside the organisation, keeping the top-down and bottom-up in balance. Often we need to stimulate the bottom-up dynamic before we can event start.

How adept are you at acting in your organisation and on it at the same time?

Straightening out your business

Road into the distanceIn program and project management, people talk about “straightening out the program,” meaning to set it on an orderly basis, with dependencies between one task and another, and resource availability in the face of constraints, properly recognised.

Without that clarity…

The program has “kinks” in it and so seems shorter overall than it really is, and at the same time actually isn’t the quickest route between two points.

It’s not laid out in a line properly.

Proper development of a programme then, both increases the realism of the planning and finds ways to minimise the expected duration.

So the end result is a straight line of minimum possible length.

Developing a business or an organisation is like that too.

In that context, the question is: Are the actions we’re taking on the shortest path to the goal or the vision?

Or are they partly a side road?

In other words, are we truly doing what most needs to be done?

Does change come before leadership?

Professional man and womanIn the dictionary it does, of course.

And perhaps in real life too.

Certainly the two things are closely tied up with each other.

Is the need for leadership prompted by external change, or should we initiate internal change before the external world forces it upon us?

Perhaps leadership comes before change, despite what it says in the dictionary.

What about you—do you initiate your own change or does change initiate you?

Is your advocacy unbalanced?

Three senior managersIt’s very easy to make this mistake…

When advocating a change or something new, it’s very easy to miss out that part of the status quo that is also needed.

We’re so familiar—unconsciously familiar—with the way things are at the moment that we’re liable to forget which parts are still needed. We just don’t really see them.

Then in our advocacy we end up with an unbalanced message because it only has the radical component, not the whole solution.

And that means it doesn’t make sense. So the message is liable to be dismissed.

For example, we see the problems of structure and want to dismantle it. Yet we need the benefits the structure brings, or some of them anyway.

And it’s a lot easier to see what isn’t working than what is.

Paraphrasing the old saying…

How do you keep hold of the baby when you’re throwing out the bathwater?

You need to start by seeing the baby properly.