I brought my seven year old daughter to the movies at the weekend and afterwards we were looking around the shops. I told her she could have $10 to spend on anything she liked. So after returning to the first of the four shops we visited and ninety minutes later my patience was wearing a little thin…there are only so many barbies and trinkity toys I can express an interest in in an afternoon! At that point I told her that she had 10 minutes to make her decision or we would be leaving whether she bought something or not. I could see the immediate panic this caused in her and I knew I had upset her. This snapped me out of my ‘just get on with it’ mind-set that I was drifting into. I stepped back a moment and asked myself, what is it that is preventing her making up her mind?
I knelt down beside her as she picked up some other trinkety little thing and I asked her a few questions to help clarify what gift she’d be most happy with. I asked what she spent most of her time doing at home and what she enjoyed doing the most. She answered that she loved doing arts and crafts so we made our way over to that part of the store. Five minutes later I left the store with a happy little girl by my side chatting about all the cool things she could do with her new present.
It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. ~ Nelson Mandela
This experience got me thinking about the similarities of leading a team or an individual who is going through a tough time. My daughter wasn’t just wasting time by wandering around and around, she had difficulty making a decision and, with all the distractions, couldn’t focus. Have you ever experienced frustration with a team member who just couldn’t get it? If you find yourself in that situation now, perhaps it’s time to, as Jim Collins puts it, stop ‘looking out the window’ and start ‘looking in the mirror.’ When Collins wrote about this concept in his ground-breaking book, Good to Great, he wrote that Level 5 Leaders look out the window to give credit to their teams when things went well and look in the mirror when things were not going so great. Poor leaders do the opposite, when things weren’t going so well they looked out the window to apportion blame and when things did go well they wallowed in the credit.
It’s my personal view that when you take up a leadership position you take on the responsibility for helping to grow others. “But coach,” I hear you say, “what if your workload is already too heavy? How can I spend the time helping them solve their problems? We expect our people to lead themselves, we don’t have a hand-holding culture around here.” Great point! People should step up. I believe we are all leaders, even if we don’t have a title we should be leading ourselves. We should all take a proactive approach to solving problems, admitting when we make a mistake and take whatever action is needed to resolve it…even if it’s asking for help. But what if they don’t know how to fix the problem themselves…what if, like my daughter, they don’t even know how to articulate the problem?
If you’ve ever found yourself in the position of feeling frustrated with a team member it’s likely that there’s something going on under the surface. If they’re not fully engaged it’s easy to ‘look out the window’ and come up with all the excuses in the world as to why they’re not a good employee. However, if you take a moment to ‘look in the mirror’ and ask yourself, what can I do differently? Perhaps you could flex your communication style to better meet their needs? Perhaps you could ask some targeted questions, with a high dose of empathy, to get under the hood to find out the root cause of the problem and help to turn them around. What are their personal values? What are their drivers? What are their hobbies and interests? What are their aspirations, their desires? Understanding these about your team will help you tap into what’s important for them and when you can do that you can align your communication to inspire and motivate them or, at the very least, learn how you can best support them through a tough time they might be going through. Even if supporting them means helping to align their skills in some other area of the organisation or outside of it…sometimes that’s the hard truth. But if your intent is to support them and you show this through empathetic listening, they’ll either find the answer themselves or be guided by your advice.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou
If you’d like to know more about creating awareness and coaching your team to a successful outcome, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you lead your team more effectively, or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.