3 Mistakes of a New Leader

This week I was reminded of a favourite quote:

It happened when I was asked to give some 360 degree feedback* to a highly successful Director of a household budget supermarket chain.  I had worked with this Director on a couple of previous occasions and the feedback came as no surprise to me. The secret to his success so far has been the speed at which he can operate and the amount he can accomplish in the time it would take me to switch on my laptop and phone.  It is no surprise that he has been promoted to a very senior position on the record of his past achievements.  Proud of his scores on delivery and the comments about his passion we had to pause when we came across an unintended consequence of his pacey style.  His team felt stifled by his interference and criticism of their work.  In his attempt to help them move at pace he was falling into the age old trap of telling them what to do and “its quicker if I just do it myself”.  He was also unable to see the benefits of the diversity in his team, valuing only those operators who had a similar style to himself.  As a result, some of the team fed back that they felt vulnerable and at risk.  All of the team suggested that he was not getting the best out of them.

As we discussed it, he was clear that he was ‘over achieving’ and that this was having a detrimental impact on the performance of his Directors.  There were three fundamental mistakes he was making that I could spot:

Mistake 1: Speeding Everything Up

Working at pace is a necessity in the modern world.  Communications systems demand responses immediately, at most, within a working day.  This client was on a treadmill and had set off at a quicker pace than most, but with the extra demands of his promotion, instead of slowing down and considering the best approach, had responded instinctively by going faster, then faster and then faster still.  His treadmill was at maximum speed and he still couldn’t get everything done.  Even he admitted he was now fearful of falling off….

Psychology can help us understand why this approach might not be helping my client.  The July 2017 issue of the Psychologist has an article by Eloise Stark called “Is slowness the essence of knowledge?”  Her piece brings together writings and research popularised in the Daniel Khaneman book “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2011).

His central hypothesis is that we have two thinking systems.  System 1 is a fast, instinctive, emotional response to situations.  This is the system which might give the entrepreneur ‘a gut feel’ for what will work.  This system ultimately ensures our survival against danger.  System 2 is a slower more deliberate and logical processing of information.  With System 2 we might pause to consider our response from system 1.  Here is where the Entrepreneur might pause to reflect on what other information or options might be available before making a final decision.

Humans can only function effectively when we balance the use of these two systems, however with modern pace of life, we skew towards the fast paced system 1.  Ultimately this causes us to make mistakes, misinterpret information, miss opportunities and at worst, damage our own health and that of others.

CONCLUSION: Slower, system 2 thinking is essential when processing social, complex or tricky situations.

 

Mistake 2: Giving Feedback on Everything

Driven by a desire to do everything to the best of his abilities, my client was ensuring that feedback was given in a timely and appropriate way to every piece of work and interaction he came across.  Management training had taught him that this was the right way to go and that indeed, this is the only way that his direct reports would learn and improve.

Many of his feedback comments included “letting go” and “allowing people to find their own way”.  As we discussed them, he confessed that as he was now busier, to save time, he often gave feedback via email and in the form of bullet points or lists.  In addition, he gave feedback on every point he felt needed commenting on.  As someone with high standards I winced when he said this, and he suddenly realised that he was giving A LOT of feedback.

Putting aside, the unmanageable volume of feedback, what he hadn’t realised is that this form of feeding back is fine if you want people to copy or comply, but not when you want them to be high functioning decision makers in their own right.  The only way to develop his staff would be to take the slower road of exploring their thinking and intentions, then coaching them to notice other opportunities so that they learn and grow from the experience.

Going back to the Psychologist article on slow thinking, Stark discusses the process of reappraising.  This allows us to focus on our immediate response, to evaluate it, consider the facts, come up with more balanced opinions and adaptive solutions.  When we ask people to reflect on and learn from mistakes we are in effect carrying out a process aligned to reappraisal.  Higher incidents of reappraisal have also been linked to the ability to create longer term healthier responses to emotional life events (Dillon & Labar, 2005) (Ochsner & Gross, 2005).  In response to this one might agree with Kringelback (2015), who goes so far as to assert that slowness may be a hallmark of a ‘healthy’ brain.

But let’s be clear here.  We are not talking about slowness as the only way forwards.  We are talking about it as a balance to the skewedness towards fast thinking and acting which currently pervades our everyday working lives.  Only through slow thinking can we assess when it is appropriate to be fast and when it is appropriate to be slow.

CONCLUSION: If you give feedback on everything, how will people learn which are the important things.  If you give feedback in a ‘fast’ manner; people are less likely to learn how to become independent decision makers for themselves.

 

Mistake 3: Doing Everything

I guess you know what is coming next.  This clients lowest score was in relation to “getting so tied up in day to day deliverables that you lose sight of the priorities and strategic issues.”  A direct result of his fast response to speed things up in order to get MORE done, meant that he was not being clear about which were the IMPORTANT things to do.  When we get stuck in fast thinking, everything seems to have equal importance.  We saw this in his approach to feedback in Mistake 2.  All items, no matter how big or small were reduced to a bullet point in an email and conveyed in the same way.  How can his direct reports possibly tell which are the most important or essential points being made?

Going fast, meant that he was going alone.  His colleagues and direct reports were not aligned with what he was trying to create.  No one (including him) had any idea about the strategic priorities which meant that delegation was becoming difficult.  Building in time for slow thinking on a weekly basis will dramatically improve purposeful productivity at work.  The unintended consequence of staying stuck in fast is the creation of “busy fools”.  And yet so often, I hear people complaining they don’t have enough time, their health and family are suffering, and yet when suggested that they take half an hour or an hour a week to slow down and think about strategies and priorities they respond with, “I haven’t got time”.  Fast thinking means we are constantly working on emotional responses.  It erodes our resilience and our creativity.

I do believe that once we get stuck in fast thinking it becomes addictive.  It increases neural activity to 140ms, too fast for us to be consciously aware of it and it happens right in the reward centre of the brain (orbitofrontal cortex).  When we slow down thinking, MRI studies show that activity happens in the prefrontal and parietal regions, impacting on the parts of the brain that affect our understanding of meaning and perceptions (Buhle et al, 2014).  In effect we can alter the emotional significance of an event, just by thinking about it differently when we use slow thinking.

Helping to create safe, constructive environments, that support slow thinking is the craft of Coaches and Occupational Psychologists.  These findings could explain why coaching is so effective at helping address issues such as stress, wellbeing and balance, impact, strategic thinking, prioritising, conflict resolution; as well as deep learning and ‘aha’ moments in workshops and team events.  I have often described the value of my intervention as ‘slowing things down in a safe environment’ in order to get rapid results.

CONCLUSION: People who arrive in positions of leadership are often promoted for their fast thinking, is it any surprise that they then spend the first couple of years learning that they now need to think slow, and how to do it?  A coach will help accelerate this process and build sustainable skills for leaders.   

 

 

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The Power of Personality: unleash your potential in all that you do

Natasha Graham, Rachael Lewis and Angelina Bennet signing copies of The Power of Personality in London on Friday.

Natasha Graham, Rachael Lewis and Angelina Bennet signing copies of The Power of Personality in London on Friday.

Ever wondered how your personality affects your life? Three of the co-authors of  the newly published collaboration “The Power of Personality: Unleash your potential in all that you do”, were snapped signing copies of the books in London on Friday

Left to right is Natasha Graham, Rachael Lewis and Angelina Bennet.   The book is a collaboration of experts brought together by Gareth English to apply their leading edge experience and understanding of type and the MBTi to a variety of different aspects of life.

Chapters include parenting; shopping; managing stress and leadership.

Natasha Graham is leading the way on research into how personality impacts on the way you exercise;

Rachael Lewis lends some of her extensive experience in how personality type affects team performance and decision making;

and Angelina Bennet describes her insightful model and findings on how to avoid the dark side of your personality

Copies of the book are still available on amazon £12.99 – click on the image to find out more.

book on amazon

3 Things High Performing Teams Do

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High performing teams differ in 3 ways

Thanks to some pretty trail blazing research in 2004 (Losada & Heaphy) distilled the 3 things that differentiate high, medium  and low performing teams.

Firstly they analysed three important stats for these leadership teams:

1. profit and loss

2. customer satisfaction

3. 360 feedback

Only if a team performed well on all three measures was it assigned to the HIGH peforming category.  Those that had low scores on all three measures were deemed to be LOW performing teams and the rest (who had a mixed result) were MEDIUM.
They the proceeded to observe the meetings and analyse the behaviours of each of these teams and compare that to their performance category and they found some pretty interesting results…

1. SELF INTEREST

Members of poor performing teams were 30 times more likely to think about the impact of any decision on their own department than its impact on others.  This compared with medium performing teams who for every 3 times they thought about the impact on themselves, also considered the impact on others twice.

The Highest performing teams had a completely balanced consideration of impact on themselves against impact on others.  In effect, they were as concerned about the impact of their decisions on each other and their stakeholders as they were about the impact on themselves, showing a wider perspective on their decision making.

2. GIVING OPINIONS

Members of the lowest performing teams spent most of their time offering opinions and views on the issues being presented whilst the medium teams gave three opinions to every 2 views they sought from others.

The highest performing teams showed a complete balance between giving and seeking out the views of others, again demonstrating that they have a wider perspective on their discussions and decision making.

3. CRITICAL THINKING

Perhaps most importantly poor performing teams spent as much as twenty times longer making negative comments on each others’ ideas and pointing out potential problems. For the medium teams they spent just 8 times longer critiquing each other and pointing out flaws and problems.

Astoundingly though Losada & Heaphy observed the highest performing teams spending six times longer building on each others’ ideas, supporting and encouraging each other through positive contributions than they did make negative comments.

Summary

Whilst critical problem solving is important to leadership teams, it seems that the main differentiating factor in team performance is the ability to develop a trusting and creative atmosphere where there is real connectivity between the members and they are able to build on each other’s contributions.

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Can playing cards in the Board Room help strengthen your top team?

What does our natural, survival instinct to stay alive have to do with being a high performing team and a pack of cards?

Recently I was at the Association for Coaching (UK) The Business of Coaching Conference in Manchester.  My kind friends at Work Positive had booked me a free delegate pass in return for helping them out on their exhibitors stand talking about their fantastic new product, Strengths Cards.  This was a no brainer – the cards are a fantastic resource that I have been using with teams and in one to one coaching sessions, and the conference had some great speakers on offer.  It was a win win as far as I was concerned.

It was whilst I was contemplating the evidence about a strengths based approach in teams and listening to the likes of Amy Brann, Roger Steare and Jocelyn Brookes that a seed began to grow in the back of my mind.

The next day I was coaching a Senior Director of a Global Biotech business.  We’d met several times before and he is a great asset to the company.  He is quick to see the problem, astute and practical in his solutions with a real understanding of the business.  You know the type, the one who sees the solution before anyone else has even recognised there is a problem.  Not only that, but he is passionate about the business and understands it almost better than anyone else.  However, this causes him a problem as he becomes frustrated when his colleagues can’t see things as quickly and clearly as he does and his immediate response is to point out where they are going wrong.  They find him abrasive and aggressive.  Unfortunately, his desire to get the best outcome has the opposite effect on the team’s overall performance.

I realised that his impact is causing others in the team to experience stress which is holding the performance of the team back.  When we perceive a threat (not even a real threat) like someone criticising us, our brain stem or reptile brain takes over with our fight, flight or freeze response, causing us to become defensive or resistant.  This is designed to help us survive in the wild, but in the board room the result is that we lose the ability to think about the situation creatively.  This was happening whenever my client began to get frustrated causing the team stopped working to solve problems, but instead work reactively to protect themselves against the perceived threat.

Losada and Heaphy in 2004 found that high performing teams emphatically use positive interactions to create safe and supportive environments that mean when team members challenge each other it is not seen as a threat and the team can respond in a creative, solution focused way.  Challenges are outnumbered by a ratio of around 1:5 by positive, building or supporting comments.  This is because when we feel stimulated and free from threat the brain stem allows our neocortex to become fully active and engage in executive functions like solving complex problems and being resourceful.

Working with this client has helped him to understand his impact and how it is preventing him from achieving his ambitious goals to grow the company.

So where does the pack of cards come in?  This week I met with the team and we used the At My Best Cards to begin to establish how to make best use of the strengths within the team in order to create a more positive environment.  They have already grasped that using strengths is a great way to challenge themselves without activating the stress response.  As a result they are well on the way to finding ways to deliver their strategy to meet their ambitious plans for growth.

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