Untangle and grow

A blog by Alison Maxwell

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A bad case of binary thinking?

I spend a lot of my time teaching managers and leaders core coaching skills. They bit they most consistently struggle with is being non-directive - asking rather than telling. You can clearly see that this does not compute for many of them. "Isn't leadership about setting direction and providing clarity for others" is the direct or indirect challenge. "Why shouldn't I give them the answers if I know them?".

I think they have a point... up to a point. Leadership is indeed directive; its about providing others with a sense of where they are going, and it is about providing clarity. However leadership is also about bringing out the best in others, and developing autonomous contributors independent of the boss.

So I don't see this as either/or binary argument. Leadership has to be about asking and telling - and often all in the same conversation. Its just that many managers are much more skilled and familiar with the directive end of the spectrum than asking genuinely open questions, listening fully or delivering skilful feedback. Great leaders know when people need certainty and clarity, and when its best for them to figure it out for themselves.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Playing your own game or someone else's?

I had the pleasure of talking to a highly successful project leader today - the sort of guy who takes multi-million pound projects of frightening complexity in his stride and still looks around for a challenge. He'd found exactly that in his new appointment - taking over the leadership of a global transformation team - but to his surprise was finding it harder going than he expected and not a lot of fun.

Inventing your own game?
"I'm so used to playing on my own pitch" he mused " I was so familiar with how things were with my old team but now I'm having to fit in with this new lot". He was right at the start of his own change process, feeling the discomfort and uncertainty of change.

This got me thinking about what it takes to be playing your own game rather than someone else's. For some it is about picking their own team, for others it is about throwing out the existing agenda and bringing in their own. Others never get there and are forever dancing to someone else's tune... never a great place to operate from.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Niceness - an over rated virtue? Issues in Coaching

Is it possible to be too nice? I am lucky enough to work with some really nice people but sometimes wonder if it is a trait that some people take too far. Take Peter - he's a very successful senior manager on the brink of joining the executive ranks of his organisation. He delivers the results, has great relationships at work but his Achilles heel ... well... he's just too nice.

To Peter this is not a problem at all. He has very strong values about courtesy at work and will move heaven and earth to make sure everyone around him is happy and feathers remain unruffled. In short, he likes to be liked and probably, as a consequence, works too many hours and takes on too much. He's a nice guy to be around.

However, from his bosses perspective, Peter's niceness is the only question mark hovering over his further promotion. Does his niceness mean a lack of 'grit' and a reluctance to face into the difficult conversation or make the unpopular decision? Does he spend too much time trying to keep everyone happy? Peter in turn is adamant that his niceness doesn't mean he can't handle tricky situations... he just doesn't want to do it like Genghis Khan.

So is niceness for you a handicap or a sign of an evolved leader?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Talking strengths

I came across an amazing statistic yesterday - it was hidden in a paper by the Corporate Leadership Council on what drives individual performance... a subject dear to the heart of most learning and development professionals. The 2006 CLC's survey of 28,000 people, had distilled out what organisational 'levers'  impact individual performance and found that the vast majority of performance management practices make minimal positive difference. Shocking indeed!

However, stunningly, what did make a big difference was talking performance strengths - that's the conversation that helps employees to know what their strengths are in the first place and and secondly help them figure out how to use them. Conversations that emphasized performance strengths drove a 36.4% improvement in performance, a particularly amazing figure when the same data showed that conversations that emphasized weaknesses  lead to a 26.8% decline in employee performance.

Now I think this is big news for all of us involved in learning and growth in organisations and real affirmation for the positive psychology movement. Many managers and leaders I meet seem to have an assumption that development = fixing our weaknesses, and therefore performance management conversations must be about identifying our gaps and plugging them. This data would suggest that this approach is not only unhelpful but potentially detrimental. So are we teaching managers how to have strengths-based conversations or are we perpetuating the 'fix the fault' approach to development?

Corporate Leadership Council (2006) From Performance Management to Performance Improvement: leveraging key drivers of individual performance. For a copy of the paper click here.