September 19, 2017

Much easier to shut down initiative than get it going

Group of colleagues

I think we underestimate this asymmetry.

The taking of initiative by team members can be a fragile thing. It’s much, much easier to shut it down than get it going in the first place. The truth is we really don’t need to worry that we can stop something if we need to do. That’s all too easy. The difficult part is switching people on in the first place. We need to nurture that.

It’s so easy to fall in to the trap of thinking we should be in control of what happens at all times. That may seem to be what’s expected of us, or so we think anyway. But that sucks the energy out of any initiative. The effort becomes just our energy then—ours alone. That’s a lot less than the energy of the group.

Instead, we need the art of the light touch and the continuance of trust.

Unless, that is, we believe a heroic, solo effort from ourselves is the right way—that we’ll somehow be stronger than a whole organisation full of people.

Most of the time, we won’t be.

It’s not so comfortable to allow something to happen and not be in full control, but for others to take and sustain initiative that’s the path we need to follow.

Be yourself: Chances are good that’ll work

Two business peopleWe’re inclined to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we might be judged. Holding back seems safer. A significant part of our being urges caution.

And yet…

The largest impediment to relationships of one kind or another developing is trust. In truth, we need to invest in the timeless principle of “know, like, and trust.”

And that starts with “know.”

Provided our values are wholesome, we genuinely care about people, and we diligently reflect on how we come across, we will most likely be accepted by others.

So it makes sense to be seen. Then people will get to know us more quickly. And trust will develop.

The beginning is convincing ourselves that we are likeable.

Sometimes that’s the part we make hardest. But it needn’t be so.

How direct can we / should we / must we be?

Mixed group of peopleIt depends, of course…

…on the situation, our formal role within it (if any), our personal power or authority in the specific circumstances, the personalities of other people involved, and what we want or need to achieve.

If our aim is to make a difference in a professional situation, then we may well need to be more direct than would generally be considered socially conventional.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on just how much that’s true—in my experience anyway. I’ve found I’ve benefited from being more challenging, as has the work, even though it can feel really uncomfortable to be so direct. Sometimes that’s what’s needed though.

Yes, of course…

We need to build a relationship, and that may require some caution and patience, but if that’s all we do, we probably won’t pass the “so what?” test. We might have to wait till next time for that. And the trouble is there might not be a next time.

Obviously, it helps if we can build trust and a strong relationship quickly—and, naturally, there are skills to that—and our reputation helps. Then we’ve more chance of success when we move into a more challenging part of the conversation.

But we do need to move into that more direct phase… if we want an outcome anyway.

How direct do you choose to be? Is that direct enough? Or sometimes too much?

There’s no single right answer here, but it’s worth thinking about.

Controlling everything isn’t leadership

Group in discussion at computerIt’s management.

They say the best leaders are the ones who develop the most leaders, not the most followers.

If we want to lead—as opposed to manage—we mustn’t control everything, because then there’s no opportunity for others to exercise their initiative and grow into leaders themselves.

Of course, there need to be checks and balances to pick up mistakes; to keep everything and everybody safe.

And the right relationship to make all this possible—trust.

How do you strike the right balance between freedom and control?

If you’re trying to nail down everything, you probably aren’t leading.

Fear

Three people in a meetingFear is an inhibitor, for the most part—an inhibitor of evolution and innovation. Sure, sometimes a bit of a fright helps us get moving, but if we’re too scared to take risks, we can’t develop.

So…

If fear is part of the climate you create, you might get higher productivity but you won’t get innovation. You’ll need to make those calls about direction and strategy yourself—quite a responsibility really.

Might be better to create a climate of trust, and, yes, high expectations, but not pervasive insecurity, not unless you want to shoulder the whole leadership burden yourself.

The more fear you create, the more you’re in sole charge (for a time), and the more you’re alone.

Ever wonder why some discussions go round in circles?

Three in discussion… and what to do about it?

You’ll have been there, I’m sure… The conversation waxes and wanes, ranges about, goes round and round, without anybody ever seeming to “nail” the issue. Nobody falls out, but they never quite seem to line up either.

Why is that?

There could be lots of reasons, but one of them is very common…

That’s the use of oh-so-familiar, seemingly very normal, totally acceptable abstract nouns like integrity, empowerment, engagement, mediation, globalization, manipulation, trust, leadership and so on—all activities with the verbs taken out.

Any conversation that builds on words like these is bound to be dissatisfying. It’ll seem inoffensive probably, but it won’t add much value either.

You see, the trouble is…

Every single person understands these words differently, so as we converse using them, nobody’s talking about exactly the same thing, and so the reality is, we’re trying to nail the proverbial jelly.

What’s to do?

To straighten it all out, we need to put the verbs back in and express the nominalizations, as they’re called, as behaviors. For example, “integrity” might be “always being and acting true to what you say.”

But you thought “integrity” meant something else?

Well exactly, that’s the point.

Until we nail “integrity” down as some observable behaviors, we’ll go round in circles trying to promote it.

Switch on to these abstract nouns and you’ll see this fog is everywhere.

Do you notice? It’s a big deal.

More detail in my book of course, available here http://amzn.to/ouLZgs (US) or http://amzn.to/vAaZMl (UK).

Or you could ask me to speak at your event or guest on your program.

Is trust an all or nothing thing?

Three people, two shaking handsOne idea leads to another. Quickly the project takes shape. It’s all quite unexpected and the end result is way beyond the initial starting point. Why? Because the individuals involved trust each other absolutely, not so much about money though that is important, but about sharing the risks of vulnerability and relying on the other’s support. And, by the way, they have never met face-to-face.

In contrast…

The parties cautiously suggest minor changes, protecting their position at all times, giving little away, trying various gambits, manipulating the numbers, always on their guard. The end result is an improvement on the starting point, but only just. And it’s slow. Being face-to-face doesn’t seem to help much.

In a workshop on “information overload”, participants seem to like the idea of deciding whether individual relationships are trusting or not, and dealing with them one way or another if they aren’t, because relationships without trust consume energy and generate excess information to be handled.

There’s no rocket science here, but I’ve been struck by what a huge difference absolute trust makes in a working relationship – not so much a factor of 2 as a factor of 10.

Of course…

Trust is one of these “be the change you want to see” things. If we want other people to be trustworthy, we need to be that way ourselves. We need to be on the high ground. No use trying to get other people to trust us, if we’re not trustworthy ourselves. (I’ve heard people say they don’t trust such-and-such a person, having just revealed how they’ve manipulated their own numbers. Funny that.)

But what about when it seems unclear?

Can you have degrees of trust? Can you half trust someone (or a business)? Or a quarter, or three-quarters?

Here’s an angle…

On-line, I believe it’s an absolute, more than off-line. On line, anything less than 100% trust is no trust at all. So our attitude to trust is increasingly important.

What do you think?