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Leadership Priorities – the people or performance?

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I had one of those ‘I have a dream’ moments last week: I want managers and leaders to have more supportive conversations with their staff.  But I know that people tend to compartmentalise – people OR performance?

I had this lightbulb moment as we were driving to the country house hotel in the heart of England where we run our coaching skills courses.  A drive is a great way to explore and discuss ideas.

Why more supportive conversations?  The benefits are huge – both for achieving high performance and maintaining it.  leadership conversations

I know we all have to prioritise, or we’d drown in the million and one tasks.  But we have to find a way to balance people and performance.  Have conversations that genuinely support success.

My business partner, Bob, told me about an organisation he once worked for.  How he linked a regular task  to the payroll system.  Making it linked to the fact of receiving a monthly pay-check (or not) created a clear incentive.

I want to change the world of work.  By people have regular conversations that support their success – but I don’t have the same access to their payroll systems that Bob had.

I asked everyone I knew – “What would it take for leaders and managers to have more supportive conversations?” 

I received some great answers.  Some great theories.  And some great metaphors – apparently the distinction between ‘people people’ and ‘performance people’ is like the difference between cats and dogs!

The challenge is, that many people put themselves into boxes – “I’m a people person” (dog?) or “I’m task-focused” (cat?).

In the end, the conclusion I came to was that this is about incentivising ourselves.  It’s not just about finding the time.  Or the opportunity.

Leaders and Managers need to build a good habit.  So they need to be willing.  They need the desire.  And they need the ability.

We help our clients build these skills and their confidence.  The one thing I know is that people do put off having conversations if they believe they’re going to be ‘difficult’ in some way.  The other thing I know from my own experience is that the longer you put off any conversation, the more difficult we make it for ourselves.

So here’s the really simple steps we teach:

  • Get to know the people in your team; find out their strengths, ‘catch them at their best’ as Blanchard might say
  • Paint a picture of success and put them into the picture – show how they fit into your vision of success – link their strengths to what the team needs to achieve
  • Start every conversation by checking that people do have the skills, information and resources they need to be successful

Of course, things don’t always go to plan.  And the biggest piece of advice we give is don’t let issues bubble under the surface.

Attending a friend’s wedding recently, the Priest gave the couple this advice “Never go to sleep on a problem.  Always sort it out between you before you retire for the night.”

It’s as true in the workplace. So many people take their worries home and lose sleep over something that could be sorted out earlier.

So the role of the leader is to provide the external motivation to their team members by having those supportive conversations.

But who motivates the motivators?  This is where inspiration comes in.  When I work with leaders we look at their strengths through the lens of emotional intelligence. I typically ask 4 questions.

“Which of your strengths…..

  1. Build your self-awareness?
  2. Improve your self-management, resilience and self-motivation?
  3. Grow your relationships with others?
  4. Help you motivate others?”

Numbers one and two are vital – self-awareness and self-motivation are the building blocks for our own good habits. And these conversations are like the glue.  The mortar that holds these building blocks together.

Leaders can only expect high performance if they themselves are a model for effective leadership.  And that starts with supportive conversations that balance their priorities, people’s needs and the performance goals.  And the best answer I got by asking that question?  “Every time you need a cup of coffee, get out there.  Grab your brew and start listening.”  So thanks to everyone who responded – and I’d love to hear your own experience – so please do add a comment.

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Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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