Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Ask and never Tell?

One of the questions I am consistently asked on coaching skills programmes is if it ever ‘right’ to give answers or solutions. Surely there are times when it is right just to tell them and stop dancing round the handbags with all these questions??

This is an interesting one to tease out and doesn’t have an easy answer. Pure non-directive coaching takes a stance that we ‘ask rather than tell’ but this can be a heck of a stretch for managers who’ve spent their working lives fixing problems for others  and a) quite like doing it and b) are quite good at it. Consequently ‘Ask rather than tell’ all too often seems to get translated into ‘Ask and never Tell’ in the minds of novice coaching managers.

Managers and leaders obviously have to tell at times – it is after all their job to provide clarity, structure and direction for others. I think we do managers a disservice if they take the message from out training programmes that ask= good and tell = bad. The most helpful conversation I can facilitate therefore is the ‘when to coach and when not to’ debate, and help managers get clear on the range of their responses. Managers have complex jobs and need to be able to choicefully meet that complexity with a repertoire of responses – not just ‘ask or tell’.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Charismatic leadership … ultimately disempowering?

Do we confuse charisma for genuine leadership? 

My experience of charismatic leaders is a bit like a chinese meal – great at the time but ultimately insubstantial and a bit unsatisfactory. While charismatics are wonderful to be around - at least for a while - we are in danger of giving too much of ourselves away to these sorts of leaders – we disempower ourselves when we put others on a pedestal.

The most powerful leader I have ever met was also one of the least assuming. What made him great was not his ability to charm an audience but his ability to help his team to tap into their own talents and self-belief . In other words he grew leadership in others and didn't need the focus on himself.

So.. what are you leading for.. yourself or others?

The trusted leader

I met a really great leader last week – lets not worry about his name. What made him special for me was not his intellectual horse power (considerable) or his technical expertise (also impressive) but his humility and integrity. Caught in the middle of an organisational mistake not of his making, he did what few leaders seem to do ...he put his hands up and apologised unreservedly. The result .. a difficult situation was diffused and everyone could move on.  How refreshing.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Do you have time to think?

I don’t know if you have come across Richard Feynman – the chances are if you have you will be a fan. He’s credited as one of the 20th century’s most brilliant physicist and original thinkers winning the Nobel Prize for all but rebuilding the theory of quantum electrodynamics .... we are not talking an intellectual slouch here! Most people first learned of him when he proved – live on TV- how the space shuttle Challenger met its untimely end, but you might not know he also studied Maya hieroglyphs, was a prankster, juggler, safecracker, bongo player, and a proud amateur painter. The Guardian simply described him as ‘probably the coolest scientist who ever lived’.

When asked for advice from his students he would always reply “Don’t you have  time to think?” and encourage them to carve out some time for themselves. Still a great question for leaders trapped in the constant busy-ness of the day to day.

So ... have you got enough time to think? What is stopping you putting more time aside for some quality thinking time?