When I tweet on Twitter and comment on Linkedin I tend to share what I’m seeing in the world of change and leadership. Sometimes it’s happening in a client space or a training space and sometimes a coaching space.
I recently commented on linkedin “don’t ignore those who helped you get where you are“. It was a simple thought as far as I was concerned, nothing really earth shattering. In no time at all it had 138 likes and 16 comments. This might not be an incredible number if you are Justin Bieber but for someone whose space is the targeted worlds of change and leadership and whose audience doesn’t tend to shout ‘Yay’ at everything you say, it was quite a surprise.
What was even nicer and more interesting was that people began to use it to thank those that had helped them on their journey, and those people obviously felt humbled by the thanks. It was nice to see and it was also nice to have initiated something positive for a few people, even though Justin Bieber saying it would have had half the planet thanking each other and not just a few.
And yes there were people who jumped on to advertise things like central heating (which I guess warms your heart in other ways) and spurious websites, but that too is just part of the world we live in. I’m sure they were thankful too.
It all came from a conversation with a group of managers whose direct reports were about to go through a development programme with myself and a colleague. I’ve noticed that if the manager is committed to the outcomes of these programmes then the direct reports seem to get more out of them and not just because committed managers don’t demand you come to a meeting on the day of your course. To help the managers engage we asked them to think about people in their past who had helped them get where they were today, and from their to think about what they could do to have a similarly big impact on their direct reports during the programme. It stirred up some great thoughts for some, so I passed the idea on via LinkedIn and Twitter.
The response struck a chord with even more people so it seems to me that when most of us think of people that have helped us we feel good and lift our game, as no doubt they do when we thank them for their help. The hashtag I gave it was #bethankful and hasn’t quite become a meme but I wonder what would happen in your workplace if it did?
Maybe you could pass it on and see what you get back?
I don’t watch that TV show ‘ undercover boss’, largely because I think TV likes to produce its own reality, and I can’t cope with the heavily emotional reactions at the end. But I wonder if every manager should?
I work in a role where its regularly my job to help people face up to reality about themselves, the way they operate, or the way their team operates (and often its an interconnection of all three!). Not everyone likes that, but those that face reality and take action often to on to bigger and better things.
For those that don’t, I can well understand why. It’s tough to hear what you don’t want to hear. It’s tough to have someone tell you things that you maybe know, but don’t want to look too hard at. It’s even harder to face the idea that these may be the very things that are stopping you from achieving what you want (and its not those difficult employees after all!)
I remember my corporate career with fondness, as it taught me lots and gave me lots of opportunities to experiment with change on the way. But I do remember when I began to operate in closer proximity to incredibly senior people and began to notice how many of them had lost touch with the reality of the operation that that they were ultimately responsible for. I was lucky in my final years to work for an incredibly grounded and experienced boss who regularly coached me to work around people who had power but a detached view of our reality. But I still found it scary how wrong they could often be, and how many would broach no argument about that view.
It seems that the further up the tree some executives get, the more they are convinced that they must be right because of that very seniority. But time and again we see organisations failing because the assumptions made on data, numbers, projections turn out to be as removed from the reality of the business as the offices that these assumptions can be made from.
As a change agent I see people stumbling when it comes to telling the boss that their view is flawed. I see bosses talking when they should be asking, and people nod to confirm to the boss that what they say is true. I see plans being built based on a senior assumption, while corridor talk says ‘it can’t work because..’ I see bosses saying what they want from a report instead of asking what they need to hear. I see managers with subordinates rather than advisors. I see workplaces being tidied up to hide problems so that the visiting dignitary doesn’t see them. As a change agent people tell me things because I’m there to change things, and when I raise them the boss has never heard them before.
I often wonder if our hierarchical naming of roles (chief executive with focus on chief, senior this, President, Vice President) brings with it a built in hierarchy, subordination, or fear to speak out? But there is more to it than that.
But if there is some reality in this, it’s no surprise that some executives need to go undercover to find out the real reality of their world. So thats why I wonder if every executive should put on a wig and a pair of fake glasses, grab a broom and go for a walk around their workplace now and again, and just listen and watch the face of reality.
Between the 12th and 15th Centuries the Feudal system was the dominant form of social structure in Europe. Feudalism relied on an idea that a lord or baron had power over the people within their domain. Their word was quite literally the law.
You might ask ‘where is he going with this?, we threw off the shackles of the Feudal system centuries ago’.
Indeed we did, Feudalism died out as other philosophies of social structure came into being and over the years since, more of us began to live under systems that espoused, protected and advocated our freedom as individuals.
And yet, all around the western world, we get up on a Monday, go to work and willingly put on the structures and behaviours that a 10th century baron would recognise.
Every day people are unwilling to question their manager, challenge that managers reasoning or decisions, and even in some cases putting up with behaviour from their manager that is domineering at best. People can treat CEO’s with the kind of deference that a Frankish lord would expect of those around him (indeed we even have magazines that laud praises on CEO’s of major corporates). People can turn off their intellect, experience and capability because someone ‘on a higher pay grade’ expresses an opinion.
Yet, when you ask many modern leaders whether this is what they expect or want from people, they would say that they want openness, honesty, challenge, discussion and advice and insight from the people around them. The shackles are often self imposed.
As a leader and as you get promoted up the ladder, you will get used to making a lot of correct decisions. Thats why you get promoted. You will get used to people agreeing with you because you are right or showed some insight that no-one else saw. You can get used to the idea of people asking for your view or your opinion. But when does that sway to ‘hierarchical deference’ or ‘positional power’?. Is there a possibility that at some point, your voice is listened to ‘just because you are the boss’?(and if you are reading this and thinking that this is only right and proper you may want to get in a time machine and go back to the 12th century!).
If you truly want to be the kind of leader who has open conversations, can be challenged, and gets the most out of other peoples knowledge you may have to set a few things in place to make that happen.
Who speaks first: CEO’s, Chairmen, GM’s who speak first on every point in a meeting may find that they are setting up a situation where people have to ‘disagree with the boss’. Hold your peace and encourage others to express their view first.
Sudden silence: When you say something, watch for peoples expressions or reactions. If they close down or look away then it may be possible that they don’t actually agree with you even if they are nodding.
Routine agreement:If you find that people agree with you more often than not then you might want to check whether they are agreeing with what was said or who said it. Try saying something you don’t actually believe in and see what response you get.
Establishing conditions: When you are throwing ideas out, let people know that is what you are doing. When you do decide that want something done a certain way, then make it clear that this actually is a decision that you are taking that is not up for debate, so that people understand the difference.
Rewarding the brave: Do you recognise when someone has has questioned your view at a meeting? Or do people have to sidle up to you and whisper their concerns? Do you reward the ‘deviant view’ the questioner and the one who actually does what you ask people to do? If not, why not?
Being a leader is full of challenges. Being the leader you say you want to be is even harder. To be a 21st leader may require you to help your people throw off the mental shackles of the last 900 years!
I was recently appointed as a referee at a nationwide junior football tournament. Two hard days running, with 16 games and 750 kids between the age of 10 and 14 but it was good fun. At these events you have volunteer mums and dads acting as your assistant referee (linesmen in old language) and you get varying degrees of capability as you would expect, often meaning you are coaching them in the signals you need and want throughout the game.
In one of my later games I had a ‘Dad’ who did not keep up with play, was often talking to people or players and at one occasion wasn’t even in the right half of the field. As such his flagging was inconsistent and often inaccurate. As a referee at such events you get used to that and knowing that in the end the call is yours you decide how far you can trust the signals you do get.
Most parents go along with that, but at the end of the game this Dad came over and said to me ‘what is the use of me being there if you don’t agree with my flag. I definitely saw a foul and you did not blow for it’. So I told him what I observed in his positioning and attention and said to him that as a referee I have to use those observations to decide how far I trust the signals that he did give.
It occurred to me that this is not dissimilar to workplace situations for many managers and leaders. Your credibility is a function of how attentive you are to the business of your business.
As a leader of others, do you ensure that they know what signals are important to you and what is expected of them? Do you give them feedback when they miss something or their attention wanders from the main objective of their role? Do you recognise them when they do give sound advice and do bring important things to the table? Do you give them airtime so that they can build up credibility with you? Do you ensure that they know how far you trust them? And what it takes to grow that trust?
And what about you?
Do you see issues coming in advance because you are keeping an eye out for them and are positioned to see the trends in your game? Do you pay attention to what you should or can you get distracted by other things and take your eye off the game at times? Do you let your leader know what they need to know in a timely way so that important calls can be made? When you do speak up, have you built up a reputation that means what you say is listened to? When you speak do you make sure it is worth listening to? Have you built up rapport and a relationship with your manager so that you are listened to when it matters? Or do you have a reputation for some bad habits to come out in certain situations, under stress or with certain people?
Credibility is a cornerstone of your reputation. What are you doing to maintain that?
This might sound like a weird title for someone who blogs about change and is always writing about doing more, getting results, being pro-active, but thats my question for you;
Do you know when its time to take time out?
I don’t necessarily mean not working at the weekend, not working at night, taking your lunch-breaks or having a coffee (but if you do any or all of these on a regular basis you might need to pay attention here).
Every manager that I know is very busy. I don’t even bother asking that when I meet them any more. Its just a fact of life in our modern, high pace world. You throw in a period of change and all of a sudden you are juggling a few extra balls along with the many things that you were working on all ready. Its no surprise that many change initiatives fall down as a result of managers de-prioritising their change actions. Business as usual throws new challenges, new deadlines, urgent reports, urgent requests and those all need done now, and by the time you get to the end of the day, thats all your day has been.
But I didn’t ask whether you were busy, I asked if you knew when to take time out.
Do you regroup your busy managers when you see that initiatives are falling to one side?
Do you take a bit of time out to check whats not happening and why?
Before you leap in to a new initiative do you take the time to consider whether your team can handle it on their own or whether you need an extra set of hands to help you?
Do you recognise the symptoms of your business reaching breaking point and know when to call a time out, time to take a break, re-energise, breath?
And what about you?
Do you recognise your own need to take a time out?
Do you know the signs that you are feeling the pressure of deadlines, to much to do, feeling out of control, or things not going your way?
Do you know when you are not in the best frame of mind for a meeting?
Do you know when to go for a walk, take an afternoon to play golf or even do something that is not that urgent or important but it makes you feel good or clears your mind? (thats where I and the time-management gurus disagree by the way. I think we all need the odd moment of doing a task because you like it, just to build your feel good factor or let your brain wander).
When you get on an airplane, the flight attendants run you through a safety briefing. Part of that briefing is to put your own mask on before anyone else’s.
You figured out why? Apply that principle at work yet?
If you are a leader, you are a leader of change. Change brings extra pressure for leaders and teams.
Your people take their cue from you. You are the one that they look to say ‘time out’, ‘lets reflect’, ‘lets kick back and think about this another way’, ‘lets prioritise’
Your people take their cue from you. If you aren’t at your best, what does that say to them? If you have a bad mood, bad moment what is the impact on the culture?
If you don’t put on the oxygen mask yourself then who’s going to make sure that the rest of the organisation does?
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