Friday, 24 July 2009

Show Strength Without Power

Power; do you aspire to power or the idea of power? It’s true that the higher up in an organisation you rise the more power you generally have. Power in business is often associated with:

  • Decision making
  • Budgets and finances
  • Cost cutting or increased investment
  • Personnel decisions on salaries, bonuses, hiring and firing
  • Determining the overall direction and future of a business or division and the people who work in them
All this power comes with the position you hold. It’s not about YOU.

Power has two sides - good and bad. Bad when used for self-fulfilling purposes and the repression of others. Take for example the manager who has to make every decision, review all correspondence, or have the final word on how things are done. And what about those to whom the proverbial brown stuff just will not stick? This is fear based behaviour. Fear of a loss of control, being dispensable, fear of ones performance being scrutinised. Fear and the subsequent behaviours it generates can result in power being misused in an attempt to regain control.

The good side occurs when a leader shows strength and has sufficient self confidence not to control everything or everyone. This type of leader will use their hierarchical position to enable new or altered behaviours in peers and subordinates. The line between enabling and controlling is a very skinny one indeed and as a leader any position of power is a privilege, one that may exist one day and be gone the next.

The leader who is clear about their role and the role of others will achieve more by exhibiting behaviours of strength without the need for a power-trip. Understanding the true meaning of empowerment and openly inviting others to empower themselves doesn’t come by telling people what to do or controlling when and how they do it. This leader doesn’t need power to achieve great things and even though they know they have it they’ll use it only when necessary. Generally speaking power is low on the list of regularly wielded skills, tools and techniques for this leader. In fact the less frequently power is used the more impact it can have as it takes courage and strength to set boundaries, make tough decisions, and skill to know when and how to say No as well as Yes without relying on power.
Leaders who use strength without power will:

  • Inspire and motivate others
  • Be respected by their peers
  • Get things done with ease
  • Have people queuing up to work for or with them
  • Draw others to them through their positive energy
Are these skills that can be learned? We believe so. We also know that learning them is not enough. These skills have to be learned, practised and applied with a commitment for different behaviours and outcomes. Without commitment their application is un-believable for others. Once exposed the leaders’ fall-back position is what they know, their comfort zone - power. It takes strength to persevere with a new behaviour.

What type of leader are you? Take a look through the following questions and write down your immediate response to each one. When you’ve finished go back through your notes with an objective critical eye. Decide if your responses suggest you’re operating from a position of power or strength. Ask your colleagues what they think. Better still, ask us! We’re here to help.

Question 1:
Do you have a backlog of work because each member of your team seems to be in constant need of assistance or does everyone get on with their jobs only to request assistance or guidance when necessary?

Question 2:
Are the outcomes you and your team achieve the ones you expect or are they a bit like pulling teeth - difficult and painful?

Question 3:
In a conflict situation are you more likely to turn defensive in an attempt to deflect attention or acknowledge areas that are lacking and commit to collaborate so as to close the gap?

Our Assessment Wheel for Effective Change ( is a tool designed to evaluate 8 important areas of business operation. The responses to each question results in a spider web diagram graphically showing the level of maturity within a leader, team, process or organisation. However once the level has been evaluated it takes effort and commitment to improve it. Take your response to the above questions by doing the assessment, making the commitment and then a plan of action to change.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Philosophy - Dead Horse Management

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from one generation to the next, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. But in modern business (and education and government) because heavy investment factors are taken into consideration, other strategies are often tried with dead horses, including the following:

  1. Buying a stronger whip.
  2. Changing riders.
  3. Threatening the horse with termination.
  4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
  5. Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
  6. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
  7. Reclassifying the dead horse as "living-impaired."
  8. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
  9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
  10. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse's performance.
  11. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
  12. Declaring that the dead horse carries lower overhead and therefore contributes more to the bottom line than some other horses.
  13. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.
  14. And, as a final strategy: Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.
Amusing it may be but we see and experience this more often than necessary. We're regularly asked to 'sort out' projects to get them back on track and delivered due to the high levels of investment and stakeholder expectations. In some cases stopping and dismounting a project would make much more sense. This however takes real courage and strength but sometimes the pressure of budgets and expectations can override the sensible option.
What is your experience?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Make Ego Work For You

It would be impossible to count the number of times a day comments are made about one ego or another. There’s no denying every one has a sense of self; it could be high or low self-esteem, or an inflated or minimized sense of one’s own self-importance. Ego can be extremely constructive with increased self-esteem driving us forward to achieve better, faster, more. It can also be negative and downright destructive particularly when one’s own level of self-importance no longer exudes a natural level of confidence but rather is perceived by others as complete and utter arrogance.

An inflated sense of self-importance is neither collaborative nor adaptive. It already knows what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. There is no room for other ideas, opinions or input even if they’ve been actively asked for. Can this behaviour deliver the results? Sure, eventually and usually by default rather than by design. Often though it is after a long drawn-out process full of issues, disruption, lost time and increased costs. All things that could with a bit of effort and some different behaviour, quite easily have been avoided. Interestingly enough, Ego generally only cares that delivery has happened. It has little or no awareness of the carnage and anger (yes anger) it has left in its wake. If there is any spec of awareness Ego more often than not moves directly into a blame culture pointing fingers as others must surely be at fault. Does this behaviour make those involved excited and motivated about working with Ego again? (nanosecond pause for thought…) Nope! Be aware the pointing finger - when one finger is pointing out there are 3 pointing back!

We all see and experience this type of behaviour at work, in sport, in the community and in politics. If you say ‘I haven’t’ then you’re likely to be one of 3 things:
  • telling a toddy-hopper (fib)
  • your Ego's talking; or
  • you’re very lucky!
So, let’s see how, when Ego is left outside, a different behaviour can occur and different outcomes are realised.

Different Behaviours creating Different Outcomes…
A new warehouse management process is about to undergo the final stages of testing prior to being rolled out across all European operations and, while you’ve been praising everyone for their efforts to encourage a last push for the final delivery, a major problem has occurred. The RF Scanners purchased months ago will not work with the software and testing has ground to halt. What happens next?

When the behaviour of Ego is triggered this is what usually happens. Questions are asked for information to be gathered but the responses are paid lip-service because at the same time instructions are issued on what to do. There is likely to be escalation without qualified understanding, demands on the Vendor for immediate resolution, and various other actions that will be viewed as self-protection. The result is normally one of confusion, annoyance, long hours, lost time and demotivation.
When a different behaviour is triggered there’s room to collaborate. Where the possibility to adapt swiftly to the noise pollution and frustration exists and acts as a calming influence to all. Quick information gathering conversations are organised to get the information necessary for sufficient problem definition and clear communication across the organisation. Collaboration ensures people feel valued and are willing to participate. Short-term contingencies with sensible long-serving resolutions are organised appropriately. The result is normally one where those involved clearly understand the impact, are focused and willing to do whatever is necessary.

Through collaboration¹ and adaptation² the decision maker can ask questions that dig below the surface, involve the obvious people along with those less obvious with an equally valuable contribution to make, and gather the information necessary for an appropriate yet quick resolution.
Note the reference to an ‘appropriate’ resolution and not the ‘right’ one. Why? Because there is no right or wrong, there is only what is most appropriate at a given point in time with the current information available, the variables at play and what is known or projected at that moment about the future.

¹ collaboration -
² adaptation -

Friday, 3 July 2009

Open Your Ears

Hearing is one of our 5 senses and gives us the ability to perceive sound including speech. However the ability to perceive sound doesn’t automatically an active listener make! Have you observed people’s reactions when you speak? What about your own behaviour when someone speaks to you? Do any of the following sound familiar?

Does the speaker…

  • receive acknowledgement through a smile, an audible response, perhaps a simple nod of the head
  • receive no response at all
  • get interrupted as the ‘listener’ assumes complete knowledge before the speaker has a chance to finish
As technology makes the world ever smaller the opportunities for human interaction are reduced putting further pressure on listening skills. Technology such as Twitter, email and SMS messaging encourage, by their very nature, short fast messages and a type of language quite different to that we’ve previously been used to. Even the telephone has taken on a different role in business through conference calls intermingled with internet based net-meetings, and these tools along with mobile phones and blackberry’s allow a mobile workforce to be located anywhere in the world and available at any time.

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages with the constant evolution of technology. Business can use numerous tools and techniques to dramatically lower costs and shorten turn-around times adding positively to the bottom line. Remote working and outsourcing however brings with it new cross-cultural challenges and language differences that require quick learning of new listening skills. Active listening¹ can help significantly but to actively listen we have to stop; stop whatever we are doing and focus attention. If the speaker is physically with us we have the advantage of being able to look at them to see what is happening with their body language observing how that supports the words coming out of their mouth. If the speaker isn’t physically present we must work much harder by concentrating and paraphrasing to ensure clarity of understanding.

Active listening requires us to be present in the moment, pay attention and validate understanding. To be in the moment requires a mind that is empty of what’s gone before or what’s yet to come. This provides us a space within which we can focus on the speaker. We have room to listen without barriers, prejudice, or judgement. It helps increase our understanding and reduces conflict as we listen for underlying emotions. This establishes a totally different atmosphere and builds trust leaving the speaker with an improved sense of inclusion and increased willingness to contribute all boosting motivation and productivity.

Let’s see how in the following example the different behaviour of active listening created a different outcome.

Different Behaviours creating Different Outcomes…

XYZ Company has spent many months specifying their Supply Chain requirements and incurring significant costs during their search and selection process. Contract agreed and budget approved, they’ve been working with their supplier of choice and everything has been going well. Other than a few small issues they are now experiencing a serious problem that threatens to derail the entire project. Agreeing a resolution is proving difficult and has been further complicated by the parties involved being located across various time zones.

Tempers are beginning to flare creating conflict and mistrust amongst the teams. Matilda (not her real name) is involved and has highly developed listening skills. During a conference call she has picked up on a comment made by another junior person who is not a member of the core project team. With a desire to resolve the issue quickly Matilda asked some very specific pointed questions and paraphrased the responses for further clarification to lead the discussion and problem through to a sensible conclusion. By doing this everyone participating in the call has benefited. They have a better understanding of the problem, the technology involved, and increased awareness of expertise previously unknown. The team has developed greater cohesion and boosted their working relationship, which will directly influence how they address future issues. For XYZ Company the biggest benefit is that the project has kept on track reducing the possibility of delay and a budget blowout.

What's the lesson here? Even if you are listening you may be missing something. Check out of yourself and your own agenda for a while and check in to others. Pay attention to:

  • words
  • tone of voice
  • body language
  • silence
Adjust your own behaviour and watch how it changes other people's.

¹Active listening -