Exploring leadership – one conversation at a time

Posts tagged ‘Organisational Development’

Who should be doing this thinking?

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How much of your time and energy in the workplace is given to doing the thinking that belongs to someone else? How much would be too much? It does not take long to realise that using even 5% of our time to do someone else’s work would be too much. And yet, most of the leaders I ask this question have said that they spend more time than this thinking through things that someone else actually has ownership of – many of them significantly more.  A crucial question that I encourage the leaders I work with to develop a habit of asking themselves has thus become, “Who should be doing this thinking?”

The answer to this question does not, on its own, create the shift required to ensure that we are able to work more efficiently. It does, however, open a window to thinking about some of the elements that are necessary to do so, and there are a number of these. We will explore a few in the following paragraphs.

Shifting Beliefs

To begin with, what role do our beliefs about what works in order to get things done play? What role do our beliefs about the capabilities of those I lead play? We know that beliefs drive behaviour, but we seldom spend time interrogating the validity of our beliefs. Where do our beliefs about what works in the workplace come from? I find that too many managers are stuck in paradigms that worked quite well 15, 20 and more years ago when the workplace was less complex, change did not happen quite as fast and the workforce was more compliant. Right or wrong, more autocratic styles which required little thinking from anyone but the person being reported to achieved fairly acceptable results in those contexts, and to some extent they still do.

Most managers in the workplace today have either always worked this way or have only seen this type of style in their role models. The truth is that we are still able to hit deadlines and targets with these styles, but at what cost? Besides the stress of constantly having to drive productivity and solve others people’s problems, we will seldom enjoy the benefit of the kind of performance that truly engaged people are able to deliver. Despite the fact that we have a deluge of books, white papers and dissertations that cite research showing  that today’s workplace calls for a very different approach in order to motivate employee engagement, the shift is slow. The underlying beliefs that drive our way of doing things are not challenged unless we actively engage in thinking to surface these and explore them honestly.  What will it take for you to do so? How will you follow through to make the shifts that will lead to better efficiency?

Create the setting

Another element that requires examination is what it will take to create the right kind of setting to ensure that everyone does the thinking that belongs to their role. At the top of my list here is the question of ownership. Only in a setting where there is both clarity and accountability with regard to the processes, etc. that everyone owns will it be possible to ensure that everyone is doing their own thinking. Questions that we as leaders need to explore here include: Who has ownership of which processes? To what extent does each person have clarity on what they have ownership of? To what extent are they clear on when and how they are required to give account for that ownership? To what extent are those processes aligned with our business objectives and how aware are those who have ownership of this alignment?

A vital aspect of creating the right setting is to make sure that we have truly entrusted others with that ownership. This implies letting go of any need or desire to control, resisting the temptation to solve other people’s problems and resisting the temptation to ‘do it myself’ to make sure it is ‘done right’. There is a real leadership challenge wrapped up in this as it calls for different behaviours to what many of us may be used to. We opt too often for managing people in an effort to ensure things are done the way we want them to be. What we really need to be doing is leading people and creating a setting that both empowers others and ensures that they are held accountable to manage those things that are theirs to manage.

Leadership conversations

A third element emerges as we explore all of this and that is the need to change the nature of our conversations in the workplace. I believe that a large part of the reason that we do not see significant shifts in style and culture in the workplace is because authentic leadership conversations are missing.  One mindshift that helps to correct this is to think more about the ownership we have entrusted others with than the tasks we want to them to complete. The days in which leaders knew everything that was necessary are gone. We are now called on to lead in a way that ensures that everyone is doing the thinking we need them to. An important part of our role is thus to make sure they are equipped and willing to do the thinking about the tasks.

What would an ownership conversation look like? As we explore this question it helps us to think about what truly belongs to our role. It will also help us to decide on what conversations are required in that role, when they are required and what approach to take. If we are not going to do the thinking that belongs to someone else then those conversations are likely to be far more about asking than telling. To what extent are you skilled in conducting that kind of conversation? What will it take to get there?

The question is…

What would happen if everyone who reported to you truly took ownership of their roles and you knew that they were carrying the accountability for every aspect of what had been entrusted to them? I hope that the picture that emerges as you contemplate the answer to that question will inspire you to take up this leadership challenge. The next time someone walks into your office and says, “I have a problem,” ask yourself, “Who should be doing this thinking?”

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What is Coaching?

What is Coaching?

Over the period of a year, David worked with a coach at least once a month. In the coaching conversations David was able to close the door on the normal demands of the day for a few hours and engage in some structured thinking. In this space he was able to reflect, stretch, clarify a vision for his new role as MD and the company and gain insights on how to get there. Early on in the coaching series he was able to develop a strategy that targeted the silo thinking and blame shifting that was prevalent in the company and, within his first year, he had provided leadership that created a significant shift toward a collaborative culture.

In David’s opinion, the level and quality of thinking he was able to do with the support of his coach helped him to grow into his new role fairly quickly. Coaching helped him to clarify key strategies in a short space of time and with greater accuracy and it helped him to take focused action to change what needed changing.

Coaching is in essence a conversation, or a series of conversations, that result in measurable and sustainable change for a coachee. Coaching engagements are, however, made distinct from other conversations by a clear definition of who owns what in the conversation. This distinctness has important implications for where a coaching conversation focuses and the manner in which it is conducted. It is also what enables coaching to produce an outcome that is different to other conversations, and often do so far quicker.

The power of coaching lies in its ability to produce a particular kind of synergy. The skill that a coach brings into this partnership has to do with a process and attitude that makes coaching what it is. Content is still vitally important in a coaching conversation. In fact, these conversations are content rich without being cluttered or stuck in detail. This is in part due to the clear distinction in ownership mentioned earlier.

In a coaching conversation neither process nor content dominate – both are essential. Primary ownership of each element is critical in a coaching relationship but is set up very differently to the way we normally do when we engage with each other. In coaching, the coachee has primary (not exclusive) ownership of the content in the conversation. This requires commitment and ‘coachability’ from the coachee, and respect and ‘faith’ from the coach. On the other hand, the coach has primary (not exclusive) ownership of the process in a coaching conversation. This requires skill, commitment and a true coaching attitude from the coach, and trust and wholehearted engagement in the coaching process from the coachee.

The ‘transactional’ journey (the one that relates to our ‘doing’) is often fairly obvious. What is not always as obvious is the ‘transformational’ journey (the one that relates to our ‘being’) that is intertwined with the ‘doing’ part of the process.  The following story highlights the transformational aspects of James’ journey.

As a technical person, James is exceptionally well qualified and has vast experience. He is already a high achiever in his own sphere and respected for what he has to offer in this regard. Besides his technical qualifications, James has also completed an MBA. Through coaching conversations James came to realise how much he had been relying on his technical expertise to create a platform for promotion. In the past this had always been sufficient but for the next level something more would be essential. Coaching helped James to confront the vital importance of being able to lead and work with people in a way that he had never done before. He uncovered patterns of thinking and habits in this regard that were holding him back and began to develop new ones.

Many of the internal shifts that surfaced in the coaching conversations are already embedded and are finding their way into his day-to-day behaviours. During the close out conversation of the coaching series after six months, James’ comment was that his whole life had changed.

What every coaching story will highlight is that the value of coaching does not lie specifically with what a coach does. The truth is that there is much that is a normal part of other types of conversations that coaches do not do. Coaches do not tell their coachees what to do, they do not rely on their own knowledge or understanding, they do not analyse problems and create solutions or develop plans for anyone. A coaching engagement may result in some of this happening, but the coachee does this work rather than the coach.

When we look to answer the question of what coaching is then, we need to start with the understanding that the real power of coaching lies in the specific kind of partnering that takes place when a coach and coachee engage in coaching conversations. To be a coach requires both the skill and the attitude that will ensure that both participants are able to fully and freely own their part of the engagement. As each does so, a synergy is released that produces extraordinary results.

Note: Names and certain elements of the stories in this article have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

A more detailed version of this article is available at www.transilience.biz

The Leadership Challenge

Communities of People

If we take the people out of our organisations what we have left is mostly just stuff.

People often join and leave an organisation without there being any discernable interruption in its existence. There is therefore room for the illusion that there is life in an organisation that does not depend on people. The truth is, however, that no matter how great the idea behind the organisation is, how good its processes are or how well resourced it is, nothing meaningful or sustainable happens without people.

If we think carefully about this then, it is important to acknowledge that organisations are really communities of people. This is something that we hear many Human Resources (HR) and Organisation Development (OD) practitioners saying these days.

It takes people behaving in a particular way that makes our organisation productive and profitable around its reason for being. These behaviours matter a great deal to how well an organisation performs. Some behaviours are simply better than others.

People friendly, adaptive cultures tend to produce these better behaviours – the kind that make the difference between producing bad, mediocre, merely good and great results.

Not surprisingly, these cultures are led mostly by leaders who know how, and want to, have a constructive leadership impact on those they lead. Their leadership has a balanced focus on developing people and teams on the one hand and inspiring commitment to high quality and excellence in the organisation on the other. How then do we grow better leadership?

True Transformation Required

How do we lead in ways that create opportunities for and inspire these ‘better’ behaviours in organisations?

It is not as if we do not know what is required. We live in extraordinary times where a wealth of understanding is available about what great leadership looks like, and yet a considerable gap persists between the real and the ideal.

The greatest leadership challenge is still in the doing rather than in the knowing. At the heart of the answer to these questions about becoming better leaders then, is the need for processes that produce transformation – authentic, positive and sustainable change.

Traditional approaches that depend heavily on the transfer of specialised information (training, consulting, etc.) simply do not go far enough to produce the level of transformation required. These approaches have a valid role to play, but this is not it.

For the full atricle see www.transilience.biz/resources/The_Leadership_Challenge.pdf