Dialogue. For many people, let alone leaders, this is a scary concept. However for a leader, dialogue is often the single most important activity that can establish your credibility, solve issues, pre-empt issues before they need solving, and bring a team closer together. In a team that is already close, regular dialogue is a key contributor to hitting the high trust or professional intimacy point.
In the wider organisational context, dialogue can do all of the above, especially when deployed throughout significant change events.
As a leader, consultant and facilitator I have used the power of healthy dialogue as a key contributor toward achieving team success, multi-country collaboration and organisational growth. Some of the most effective stories of team success and organisational growth I have read and heard of also have strong elements of dialogue attached to them. One example in particular that comes to mind was that of a regional CEO of a global pharma company who I heard speak at a conference a few years ago on how he turned his team, and business around. He employed a very simple technique from the very beginning of his tenure that was controversial at first, but well embraced in a short space of time. Dialogue. He learned very early that his regional executive team were not connected; they were not a team. The traditional silo's were in place, and this was reflected down through the organisation with poor collaboration and communication. One of his first team leadership tasks was to have the executive team meet for one hour...everyday. The purpose of the meeting was simply to talk. Sometimes there were specific topics, but mostly it was about the connection that comes with mature dialogue. In a short space of time his team went from begrudging the daily hour, to looking forward to it. This was simply due to the natural sharing, personal and professional sharing that occurred...everyday. Soon the silo's started to disappear, collaboration increased and natural solutions to problems started to occur.
So let's take a brief look at what I mean by dialogue, and some tips on how it can easily be used as an enabler of growth.
My final thought with regards to this technique relate to you; the leader. To use dialogue constructively you have to trust yourself as much as your team. Why? Because the agenda is unknown, and driven by the group. This can be seen as giving up the 'power' that comes with being a leader. The only thing you are controlling is the flow of conversation, and working with the energy in the room.
The risk with using this technique is potentially high, simply because it isn't what people are used to, and everyone is invited to be 'present' to the conversation in a largely non-traditional and non-structured way. And as mentioned above, the leader or facilitator, takes a slightly different approach to leading the meeting.
Having said that, the risks may be high, but so are the rewards. Give it a try sometime.
So you’ve taken on the leadership of a new team, or you are leading for the first time. Either way, you are presented with the challenge of making new connections, and winning the team over so you can collectively get ‘on task’. For many people this is one of the most daunting periods of time; but it doesn’t have to be. Below are four easy steps that will help you and your new team build a healthy rapport - quickly!
“I’m Ok – You’re Ok”. As Thomas A Harris wrote in his book of the same title, look at your own approach first. Are you coming from an authoritative position of one up, or looking to be on the same level as your new team members? In simple terms, let your approach and demeanor reflect a position of acceptance, and being "ok" with those in your new team, irrespective of factors such as their past performance or their working styles.
Build Rapport. Build individual relationships quickly. It doesn’t matter if you have two or twenty people in your team. Get past the point of ‘water cooler talk’, and seek to learn ‘who’ is in your team and what motivates them. It’s easier to inspire, and achieve quick wins, if you know who it is you are leading. At the same time, your team members get to know who it is that is leading them. I once heard a great definition of rapport; it went something like "...the seeking of sameness and reducing differences...". These first two steps are all about doing this...skip them at your own peril!
Trust your team. Don't wait to trust, just do it. This isn't so easy to do if you haven't heard great things about certain members of the team, or perhaps the team as a whole before taking on the job. On top of this you may not know the team at all if you are completely new to the department or company. And let's not even get into the whole discussion around whether you are someone who can trust others easily! Take my advice, and give your team the benefit of any doubt. Make your first mission to give them a chance to shine, and to help set them up for success. The trust you show in your team today will be returned in kind…often when you least expect it, or when you need it most. My experience has been that when it hasn’t worked out with a team member, the transition out of the team is far smoother, and seen as more of a win-win situation; because that’s how we started the relationship.
Balance. Your credibility is at stake; so balance the first three steps with getting across the technical aspects of the job. Don’t do one at the expense of the other. When you are a leader the best results come when you realize that making the time to regularly connect with your people is as crucial to success as the way in which they do their work. Make time for both.
Leaders who adopt these simple steps get rewarded far quicker with a team that wants to succeed, and not just for themselves. They are in it for you too.
There are many facets to the idea of resilience, and last week I spoke about an important starting point…managing your stress. This week I’m taking a look at another important skill that underpins resilience; effective self-management.
We see leaders and professionals applying effective self-management when they face issues in their personal lives, and yet they are able to remain highly effective in their roles at work and other parts of their lives. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t dealing with the problem at hand, it simply means that they are able to ensure that the problem is contained, understood and dealt with in such a way that the impact on other parts of their lives is minimised. To be clear though, this is different to those people who appear to be coping effectively on a social level, when the reality is that they are not managing, or dismissing the severity of, the problems they may be experiencing in other parts of their lives.
This article will focus on my experiences with those who self-manage in a healthy way. We will take a Self-Management 101 approach to stimulate your thinking around how you can integrate this skill into your life.
To start with, I’ll give you a tangible example of what’s meant by self-management in this context…
When we design an organisation, or when an engineer designs the building in which the organisation will live, there is an interesting principle applied. That is, to ensure that if one part of the business is impacted negatively, it has minimal effect on the other. For example, ensuring that if there is a fire in the storeroom, it won’t affect the server room nearby containing all of that valuable information. Or in an organisational design, ensuring that there is a contingency in place to ensure a division, function or an entire organisation can still be led despite the unexpected departure of a key leader. In both of these examples there are measures that ensure healthy continuity. The storeroom separate to the server room, and a talent and succession program that is conducted in parallel to the everyday leadership of the organisation.
So how does this apply to resilience? In simple terms, a resilient person is able to manage a crisis in one part of their life whilst limiting its impact on the other parts of themselves. Or, in a more proactive way, knowing how to use the unaffected parts of their life to help them overcome the crisis or at least provide some measure of compensation.
It may sound complicated, but it’s easier than you think. You are a system that is comprised of many interdependent parts, just as in the above examples. So how do you build in your own fail safe contingencies? Let’s look at it using three simple aspects, body, mind and career:
You rely on your body to get you around; if you are always down with the flu, having a sore back or injuring yourself it’s pretty clear what the flow on effect will be. Remember, your body is what people see first… first impressions count; not just in the job interview, but also as a leader your overall demeanour is critical. If you fail to look after yourself this can have a negative flow on to how you feel about yourself, how you see yourself and other internal factors.
Your body may be in great shape, but how about your general sense of self? Your ability to understand who you are, being aware of your knowledge gaps and continually seeking to close them is an important contributor to overall health and well-being. We have all seen the link between depression and lack of exercise or over-eating.
Your career may be doing ok…but for how long? What’s important to be doing today to ensure that your career takes you where you want to be? Importantly, you may be in a job that is uninspiring or miserable. You can self-manage here as well. If you can’t be in the job you want, seek the stimulation elsewhere; such as through increasing your skills and knowledge or improving your physical well-being.
So how can you work with these components to ensure you remain resilient when you need it most? Here are some ideas.
1. Prevent a physical problem from become psychological problem
If you get injured or suffer illness it’s easy to succumb to the downward spiral which can easily impact on how you see yourself and how you think others see you. This in turn can have a direct impact on the perception you have of your ability. However, if you self-manage, you can see the injury or illness for what it is and seek to understand why it happened, and what needs to happen for the illness or injury to be dealt with, without letting it slip into anything greater. You can also use the period of recovery to ‘sharpen the saw’ as Steven Covey would say and learn something new.
2. Prevent a psychological problem from becoming physical
If you failed in your last exam, or have been having a rough time at college with your latest subjects, self-managing can assist again. Most of us have been there, when our bodies seem to lack energy because we are struggling with an issue. This may seem a little more difficult to deal with, however if you sense that you are down or feeling challenged (emotionally or intellectually), using your body to do some exercise can be just the stimulus to help prevent the issue from having a negative flow on effect physically. That doesn’t mean that you dismiss the problem; not at all. Take a rational approach to analysing the what, why and how of the situation. The cause and effect. What do you own as opposed to what the other party owns? Keep your thinking in the here and now. Personally, I find that some physical exercise can be a perfect accompaniment to analysing the situation, and sometimes just the spark to finding the solution. At the worst, it helps ensure that my body and physical health doesn’t suffer at the hands of a problem…a problem that I may not even own!
Another aspect of self-management is to understand when your education or your emotional awareness needs a boost. Often, depending on the subject, developing one can positively impact on the other!
3. Optimise your career by ‘keeping it real’!
The same principles apply to your career. If your career isn’t delivering, then take a look at the other aspects of your life and seek to understand the inter-dependencies; could it be that your physical or emotional well-being is having a negative impact on your career? Again, it’s about the simple step of analysing the cause and effect. If your analysis points to the fact that your job is genuinely miserable then remember to see it as just ‘the job’. Strip the emotion away and see it for what it is. This may be difficult to do if you have invested much of yourself in the role; however it is the best way to take an objective look at what is needed to take that next step. I’ve seen many people get unnecessarily depressed in their role for any number of reasons, and the fact is this impacts on your ability to think creatively about your options. If you aren’t in a position to move on, consider looking to the other parts of your life to get the stimulus needed to keep you healthy; exercise, study towards the job you want, volunteer. There are ways to ensure that an unhappy job doesn’t have a significant impact on the other parts of your life.
Above all, remember that it is ok to be down from time to time. It’s natural. However, it’s also just as natural to bounce back. By being an effective self-manager you help to keep the victim in check, and increase your resilience despite the challenges you face.