What should leaders do in times of trouble?
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Actually, I don’t really believe you can empower anybody else, I think they have to do it for themselves. If you’re lucky as a leader, there are times when you might just be able to create the conditions that make it possible for someone to empower themselves.
I love the quote in the picture above. For me, it says almost everything about how leaders should go about creating those conditions – give away your own power.
I reckon there are two crucial ways that leaders ought to be giving away their power, if they do want others to empower themselves:
I’ve done plenty of leadership roles myself and I can tell you, when things really matter, when the outcome is an important one or when there are big things at risk, giving away power in those two ways can be absolutely terrifying!
It’s also the only way to absolutely get the best out of others, to stop feeling that you’re the only one who works at 100% and to grow beyond the limits of your own abilities.
If you’re a leader who would like to begin giving away more of your own power, so that you can get the absolute best from the people who work with you, have a ponder on these coaching questions:
I’ve often written here about our Inner Critics or Gremlins. These are the unconscious thought processes that act to keep us safe by sabotaging our attempts to change or to do something challenging or outside of our comfort zones.
Instead of keeping us safe, all this process really does is to maintain the status quo. And when things then change around us, as they inevitably do, instead of being ‘safe’, we’re left unprepared and disadvantaged. The very things our Inner Critics are fearful of tend to happen because of, not in spite of this process!
That’s why getting clear about and learning to live with the Inner Critic process is such an important part of leadership and personal growth.
But if you’re a leader, or anyone who really should be inspiring and developing the people around them, there’s another insidious aspect to this process. That’s when our Inner Critic is allowed to spill over and become our Outer Critic too.
I’m talking here about all the times when we’ve given voice to those small or large criticisms of the people around us. All the times we’ve said out loud (or just to ourselves), things like:
I’m sure there are many more examples.
Like the Inner Critic, the Outer Critic has a similarly important function. It’s intended to keep us from harm or to avoid a loss of some kind.
That’s why the times when we’re critical of others are usually when something that’s important to us is threatened by a shortcoming on their part. When their words or actions might lead to the loss of an opportunity or to some kind of ‘damage’ to a valued outcome, person or resource.
The great paradox of the Outer Critic is that just speaking our criticisms of others actually rarely even makes us feel better. And even less rarely does just speaking a criticism by itself actually make any difference to what’s happening.
I think our Outer Critic is a way of expressing our own fears, but without having to take any action that might put us out of our comfort zones. As my gran might have said: It’s all mouth, and no trousers.
One of the turning points in my own leadership journey was the realisation that you simply can’t complain people into changing. If you want something different from people, without having to do so every time, criticising just does not work.
So what should you do instead of criticising? Or if you’ve somehow go to a place where you realise you’re moaning, complaining about and criticising a LOT of people and things, how do you break out of that cycle?
In my experience, there are four important strategies for dealing with your over-active Outer Critic. All of these are crucial things for leaders to be doing anyway, so it’s no surprise that when you are doing these, it’s almost as if there’s no room, or maybe no need, for the Outer Critic to make itself known. Here they are, in descending order of positive impact:
1. Make sure you’re actively pursuing something positive that’s really important to you.
I can’t emphasise this one enough. Think back to the last time you were around someone on a mission. They might have told you about what was wrong with things, because ‘fixing’ something is an important part of some people’s missions, but I bet they won’t have moaned, complained or criticised. And when you’ve got something important to set your sights on, neither will you. There just isn’t time ☺
2. Either be prepared to get down in the arena and sort it out yourself, or walk on by.
There’s a great passage from a speech in 1910 by former US President Theodore Roosevelt, which is often referred to as “The Man in the Arena”. I’ve put the relevant extract in the picture at the top of this article, which you can download and save for yourself by clicking and then right-clicking. The message is essentially this: be the one taking action, or move on.
3. “Be the Change you Want to See”
This quote is often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see”. It’s a really resourceful way of dealing with your Outer Critic. There are times for all of us when we genuinely don’t have the means, power or resources to step-in and deal with a particular issue, in a particular place and time. For those occasions when you can’t take action on that specific issue, but are convinced there’s a better way of doing things, then instead of moaning, complaining or criticizing, show people how it could be done, in the areas where you do have choice and control. Don’t criticize what is, inspire what could be.
4. Learn to make specific requests.
One of my very early coaching instructors, the late Laura Whitworth, gave me this gem of advice: “A complaint is just an unvoiced request”. This is a fantastic discipline to practise if you find that your Outer Critic has made an unwelcome appearance.
Take your criticism and search out the request that’s buried away inside it.
For example, instead of saying to your companion in a restaurant: “I hate how they’ve given us a table in the draft by the door”, call over your waiter and ask to be moved.
I can tell you from personal experience, that this ‘make a specific request’ approach sometimes even works with your teenaged children!
As a leader, manager, colleague or supplier to other people, the personal impact that you have on others is perhaps the single biggest determinant of the quality of your relationship with them. And it’s that relationship which will make or break the success of what you’re trying to achieve.
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.
If you click the diagram at the top of this article you can download or save a copy. You’ll see that there’s two important aspects to the Impact that we have on other people:
For great self-awareness, we need to be conscious of both of these aspects of our impact on others. This article is going to look at 1.Intention, and I’ll cover 2.Result in a later one.
I like to break it down into those two steps because we’re often operating on a kind of autopilot when it comes to our interactions with others. But the issue here is that you can’t not have an impact on another person. They WILL notice how you made them feel, even if it was that you made them feel nothing.
If your relationship is a purely transactional one, no emotional content, no ongoing interactions likely, no need to trade favours or if they’ve no choice about helping you, then I suppose you could safely skip all of this stage. But how many purely transactional relationships can you actually think of? For most of us, and I would argue most of the time, the personal impact that we have on someone, even when we’re just asking for a task to be done, is hugely important to getting those things done well.
So be very clear about what your intention is before you start an interaction, or before you respond to one.
Sometimes leaders need a bit of a framework for their personal interactions. Below you’ll find my simplified cheat-sheet for the kind of impacts that leaders should be looking to create whenever they have an interaction with someone.
To boost your own self-awareness of the impact you have on others, start being really conscious about the intentions behind your interactions. The key question to answer is this:
“As I interact with [person], as well as the ‘transactional’ reason for doing so, what kind of impact do I want to have on them?”
I would argue that any leader should be intending to have one of these four impacts in each of their interactions with others:
How about you, what impact do you intentionally want to have in your next interaction?
The best starting point for any development and growth at work, whether as a leader, a team member or just as your individual self, is the place of “self-awareness”.
And I’m talking here of self-awareness in a wide sense.
If you’re looking at self-awareness just as an emotional intelligence tool, then you’ll be focussed too narrowly, just on the awareness of your own feelings. What I want you to get, is a self-awareness about the whole you. That’ll include your drives, flaws, experiences, ambitions, assumptions, patterns of behaviour, values, resourcefulness and more. But also, and maybe more importantly, the big picture of what it’s like to be you. And what’s it like to experience who you are.
This kind of deep self-awareness really is essential to any kind of development. It’ll answer questions right down at a tactical level about what you want to be doing with your time and effort and how best to interact with the world. And it’ll act as a kind of beacon, keeping you heading towards the more important, bigger picture of what you’re about.
Sometimes this kind of self-awareness is forced upon us when something we’re trying to achieve goes wrong. Then we have to re-assess things on a personal level. And at other times, self-awareness comes out of a ‘gap’, a sense that something’s missing or unfulfilled.
Overcoming the uneasiness and discomfort around this kind of self-knowledge is important both to make sense of what’s happened so far and to move forward.
One of the best ways is to pretend to be your own observer.
Check out the diagram alongside. (If you click it and then right-click it, you should be able to download a copy.)
First, imagine ‘seeing’ a version of yourself. Get a sense of who this person is, and what’s important to them.
Second, imagine you could observe how this person goes about interacting with the world about them and with other people.
There are many things you could be observing and getting a sense of, but to get you started here’s some of the things I’ll typically be asking my clients about to help them develop their self-awareness. We talk about them as if they were another person, so instead of saying “what’s important to you”, I’ll get them to practice being an impartial observer of themselves by asking, “what’s important to this person?”.
Here’s some of the aspects you might be considering as you pretend to observe yourself. It’s a fairly long and deep list, so don’t feel you have to get all of this straight away:
If you looked around the world of leadership and management at the moment, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s a real problem in the way that people born between the mid 1980s and the early 2000s – the ‘Millennials’ – are behaving at work and in how they need to be managed.
But actually, there’s a much simpler and lazier explanation as to why so much is being written about this generation and its leaders. Since April 2016 Millennials have been the largest demographic in the western world, in the USA for example, overtaking Baby Boomers (76m people) by at least a million. If you’re a member of or a manager of this generation, that makes you an easy marketing target.
Since I’ve been coaching different generations (from people in their 80s to their late teens and everything inbetween) for over 18 years now, I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to jump on this particular rickety bandwagon. So I’ve produced my own guide on how to manage the main generational groups.
You’ll see in the table below, that I’ve set out each generational group (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z) together with their: Wants, Needs, Flaws and Super Powers.
And I’ve also given a series of four Top Tips for the Leaders of each generational group.
I’ve based this analysis on both my years of experience in working with different people and on some of the actual real research into what motivates and makes people tick. The definitions of the generations are vague (it’s done by marketing people…), and the birth years tend to overlap quite a lot; sorry.
If you have several different generations in your workplace, or are struggling to successfuly lead people from the Millennial group, then I hope this will help.
Click the picture below and then right-click it and select “Save as…” to download your own copy:
Click the picture above to access the full handout and then right-click and select ‘save as’ to download your copy.
I’m often telling the leaders I coach with that they need to flex or adapt their way of leading to suit the people and situations they find themselves in. But this is easier said then done, so I thought it’d be helpful to show you how.
One of the things that makes it tough for people to adapt their leadership style is the (legitimate) concern that if they do things in a different way, it will be inauthentic, or just not the ‘real them’.
The way to overcome this, and reap the benefits of being a more flexible leader but without having to become someone else entirely, is to lead from your Values. Values are the ideas, beliefs and ways of being that are intrinsically part of and important to you. Stay true to these and you stay true to yourself.
In the handout (see the picture, above), I’ve set out 3 of the top Values that people often express at work: Excellence, Harmony and Creativity, I’ve also put four of the most common Leadership Styles and when they are best to use.
Then, I’ve given examples of how you might use each of those Leadership Styles to express each of those Values
Now it’s over to you. Can you adapt your style to suit the situation and still be ‘real’?
Click the picture above to access the full handout and then right-click and select ‘save as’ to download your copy.
Maybe I should start with a confession.
By nature, I’m actually a fairly nervous, cautious and uncertain person. People who know me well get this, and they also know that:
People who don’t know me that well tend to assume that I’m extremely confident because I choose to trust my instincts, I don’t let anything stop me, and I’ll take appropriately-managed risks in pursuit of what’s important.
But this is all learned behaviour for me.
I’ve written before about imposter-syndrome, about dealing with your gremlins and about other related topics. Explore my blog and you’ll see that this is an important area for me. Not just because it’s something I need to consciously and consistently manage myself but because it comes up again and again in my clients. Often people who are attracted to work with me because of the perceived confidence they see.
Helping people to trust themselves is a core part of my purpose.
I’m especially interested in helping those people to whom others look for inspiration. Call them leaders if you want (they rarely tend to use that term themselves, even when it’s on a nameplate outside their door). It’s just that there’s something extra about the need and responsibility to take charge of your own self-doubts when other people are depending on you. If you don’t do this, people will unconsciously sense it. They’ll be puzzled by inconsistencies in your behaviour, they’ll hesitate when you ask them to do something stretching, and they’ll be less compelling in their interactions with your clients, customers and colleagues.
If I could conjure up some kind of holy-trinity of ways to take charge of your own self-doubt, it would be the three, deceptively simple things I’ve set-out for you below. Of course there are other techniques and tools and ways of dealing with what is a natural part of the human experience, but if you can get on board with these three, nothing need ever hold you back again.
Also, I’ve set these out fairly simply, without much exposition or argument because I really want them to stand out as self-evident truths.
What I’d most like is for you to test them out in real life.
Take a couple of weeks to monitor the level and kind of self-doubt you’re experiencing. Score your self-doubts on a 1-10 scale, keep a simple journal or log, and see if your experience changes once you adopt these ideas.
Rule One: Self-Doubt has an important purpose; it’s meant to keep you safe
Your experience of self-doubt is a perfectly natural part of being human that evolved with us for a very good reason. It’s meant to keep you safe. To stop you from doing stuff that might get you killed or injured; or to stop you being ostracised from the support network of your friends, colleagues and family.
You are not wrong, stupid, weak or inadequate for experiencing self-doubt.
Rule Two: Self-Doubt is largely physiological and your body is the best tool for dealing with it
There are brain chemicals that mediate the functioning of our guts, our perceptions of the resources available to us and our moods – all at the same time. Each element of our mind-body system interacts with the others. The food we’ve eaten (or not eaten), the amount of sleep we’ve had (or not had), the movement of our bodies, the amount of oxygen in our bloodstream. It’s all in a complex and largely self-regulating system. Because of this, very simple physical changes on our part can shift our self-doubts extremely quickly. A brisk walk. A glass of water. Lifting the head. Looking at the sky. A simple meal. A few deep and controlled breaths. A chat with a friend.
If you’re experiencing self-doubt and want it to change, always, always, always start by shifting something physically.
Rule Three: Self-Doubt doesn’t go away, so learn to walk alongside it
I’ve heard people say stuff like: “You have to kill your doubts”, “You have to get rid of them, once and for all”. But if you understand the origins of this process (see Rule One, above), you’ll know that killing your self-doubts or trying to permanently get rid of them is pointless and even counter-productive. I believe it’s much better to treat your self-doubts like a kind of nervous friend. Someone who really has your best interests at heart, but maybe doesn’t quite understand everything that you want to do or achieve in your life and work.
I sometimes imagine I’m out on a hike with this friend and they’ll often point out where we might get lost, or where we might slip over. And because of them I’ll see the bit of tricky navigation, or notice the rough ground when I might not have seen or noticed that before. Then we can choose to carry on with the hike if we want to. Just helping each other out as we go.
Thank you for reading this. There is so much to be done in the way that some people lead and run businesses and organisations, that it really needs folks to spread the word about how things could be instead.
So many times I’ll be sitting in a work-group observing, or be finding-out second-hand about something a leader has said or done that just makes me cringe: “Ouch! Why did they need to say or do it that way?” You’ve probably seen or heard about something similar yourself?
I just looked back through my notes over the last few months to find these ten examples of what I reckon are the most important differences between Smart and Dumb leaders – it wasn’t hard to find these!
Please get out there and spread the word. Let’s have much more smart leadership.
|Dumb Leaders:||Smart Leaders:|
|Pretend to know all the answers||Are brave enough to ask the tough questions|
|Struggle to hide their weaknesses||Use their vulnerabilities as a chance to learn from and develop others|
|Never stop to see themselves how others see them||Take the time to walk in different worlds and explore multiple viewpoints|
|Inflict their mood-swings on everyone else||Successfully manage their emotions, to help read and influence the moods of others|
|Always look for the heroic, Hail Mary long shots||Make sure the daily grind is being done well, to make the most of the right opportunities|
|Will happily, noisily and frequently tell you what they think – and even what you think||Apply the principal of one mouth, two ears – seek to listen and understand before being understood|
|Don’t care who you are nor what’s important to you||See each team member as an individual deserving of their attention|
|Slap-down ideas and actions that don’t fit into their way of doing things||Encourage creative thinking and prudent risk-taking|
|Keep their plans secret||Know how to use their vision of the future to motivate and inspire people|
|Have low standards for their own behaviours and will justify doing as they want, when they want||Role-model the kind of high ethical behaviour that instils pride and earns respect and trust.|