Saturday, 1 October 2011

6 Tips - Navigate Your Leadership Minefield

All leaders (whether they be from small or large organisations) will recognise what is being described below and can take these tips and adapt them to their own needs and environment. I want to challenge your thinking and not your leadership style - I am not a coach, I leave that to the many very capable providers out there! 

A minefield is a place where explosions will occur but the location of the mines is unknown. You walk through with trepidation and the way ahead is pure luck. People and the perceived mystery of how they tick, how they will react or why they are reacting in a certain way, is what I call the People Factor. For a leader, life can be like walking through a minefield when it comes to things happening that involve human intervention. Reactions and behaviours are often un-expected and not understood. The People Factor is the main factor in any leaders world!

First some background to set the scene!
Prior to moving into my own brand of freelance support work, I had a diverse and often challenging career leading; business units, projects, business turnarounds and I even took on an MBO with my life's savings. I worked with some very fine and intelligent people who excelled in Processes and Technology, I also worked with hard-bitten front-line people, who lead teams of people for me and were trusted to deliver our plans and results. Yet despite solid; change processes, business processes, implementation processes and technological innovation, nothing worked without people's willing input and interactions.

During all of these times, I seemed to live on a roller-coaster of; sleepless nights, lost evenings on the mobile, weekends at the office and self-motivational ups and downs. I would often mull-over the following things:
  • People say one thing, do another!
  • I hear "can't" all of the time!
  • They don't know why it went wrong, they are guessing!
  • I was told the workforce were up for it!
I bet you recognise this, I know many people I have spoken to in the last 3 years do. So as leaders what can you do? Leaders rely upon solid due diligence and experience when working via delegation and wider deliver of personal responsibility areas and results.

Firstly, your leadership capability is not in question!
When leading, you motivate and energise those you touch. If you are lucky and have gravitas your touch is longer reaching. However, to improve the world you lead in a long-distance way you have to delegate and trust that there are solid processes, that technology operates to support people and that engagement is not just a text book word! Since starting my new journey in 2008, I find many leaders blame themselves and their leadership style for their People Factor (not being connected locally with the processes and technology to deliver stability, performance and change). Leaders simply are not provided with the correct due-diligence and their wider teams don't understand the link between engagement and results - often it is left to HR and referred to as a "fluffy"element of their roles. Your management people need to equip themselves with Local Intelligence, to be able to lead for you - your extended reach!

Here are 6 Tips for you!
Whatever industry, location and situation, to operate you need to connect to people. It is they who are the facilitators or inhibitors of performance, change, growth and stability. How many well structured projects or business models, equipped and automated with technology, fail to operate as expected... fail to deliver; ROI, quality or perhaps service levels.

Before you make up your mind, read-on and then ask yourself if you and therefore your team(s) are in possession of the following: 

(1) Do you factor behaviour into costings?
When planning a project, change, improvement or perhaps a turnaround, you build a business case and often an ROI (buy-in support, invest in technology, train or coach, etc). Many such business cases do not factor in the true cost of behaviour (this is where delays, absence or performance impacts financially), yet most incur exceptional costs and therefore need to be factored. But how do you do this?

Grass-roots, this is where you get into the thinking that already exists (fears, anxieties, disillusionment) and also the real motivators that drive this thinking (6 Human Needs). By better understanding the localised intelligence, you will factor in the true costs that will arise (absence, migration, delays, etc) and also build a contingency, hopefully also deploy remedies to counter what you find. Better understanding, helps you because it is you that signs-off on the initiative and ultimately will be expecting explosions that currently occur without notice and keep you on the phone for hours per week, or re-writing plans and explaining things to stakeholders, customers or perhaps shareholders. 

(2) Do your managers understand behaviour? 
Any leader, again irrespective of industry, relies upon managers and supervisors to lead for them in an extended way. These people are often well trained and experienced, with their own methods and thinking when it comes to interacting with your people. Many have pre-formed thinking and behaviour, often due to stress and pressure (imposed or self-imposed).

When it comes to decoding the front-line, where people think and behave independently or as groups, managers often feel lost as to what is going on around them (people are a mystery I often hear) and better still how to adequately deal with it. What results is confrontation, threats and stick and carrot interactions. For you the leader, they cannot provide you true insight to help with the design and delivery of objectives. Train and support managers to decode use of language, spot behaviour based upon already determined insight of individuals. Make "fluffy" a thing of the past and take a lesson from 50+ years of how the British Army uses expertise in "hearts and minds" to win trust, create buy-in and energise towards a common goal.  

(3) How do you create real buy-in to your vision?
If you look around your team, do you really know what drives them emotionally, what baggage they carry (have they ever undergone redundancy or TUPE for example), if they believe in what you need them to buy-into or are just nodding, do they have another agenda.... there are lots of dynamics. When you interact, are you really decoding what is going on?

Leaders, despite some opinions, are only as effective as the people they lead through. These people are the public image of your values, visions and strategy. If you have watched reality TV shows like Undercover Boss" you will often see that the leader is shocked to see the end-result of what he/she has pushed-out for implementation (comments like "management says...." or "that is how it is").

By fully understanding your management team, you can connect on an emotional and commercial level. Once there, you get buy-in through that connection. Going back to #2 above, that needs to drive-down to the grass-roots and be replicated. That way, your visions, values and thinking, can become the "culture".

 (4) Are the blockers to progress really understood? 
I guess that you are now getting the theme, therefore, it is becoming easier to identify the benefits. What are blockers? Quite a generalistic word eh, but also a metaphor because when you think of a blocker in this workplace and leadership context you imagine something stopping progress. Progress can be affected in a number of ways, but to be blocked is quite a serious intention. How many organisations and indeed personal relationships are blocked from progressing, what is it that is blocking perhaps; fear, anxiety, or is it behaviour and therefore actions. There is a phrase "pure bloody mindedness" which I assume you are aware of. What causes someone or people, to be described like that and what are they doing to create that labelling?

When you are the leader, you often get second, third, or more hand feedback as to why something is being disrupted or failing in some way. BUT, to challenge the feedback, you no doubt will be given; vague and generalistic responses. By fully understanding what blockers exist for you, what has caused them, you will quickly know what to do. People do behave according to their view of the world around them, they carry fears, anxieties, and even prejudices that affect how they behave at work. Sometimes despite all logic levelled at them by well intentioned managers, they dig-in. By getting to the real thinking, understanding what really drives the behaviour, you quickly connect and "un-block" their resistance. 

(5) Are you correctly challenging the "Doubting Thomas"?
I wrote a post about this, which created quite a flow of feedback both directly and publicly. Doubt and the Britishness of it, is a good thing when presented without baggage or divisive intention. As a leader, you make and project difficult and often uncomfortable decisions, Doubting Thomases exists and you and your team need to know why they are doubting. 
Depending upon the human needs people have, they will welcome or fear things suggested to them. For change, when it is continually evolving, will force people to create a Reality for themselves that can make Doubt an instant and emotional reaction....blocking objectiveness, rationality and logic. For badly managed environments or where morale is low, people's Reality is palpable - but often overlooked. Doubt - when projected to wider groups of people, who themselves may have human needs not being met and  have Realities that create emotions by what they hear - is a demotivator. As a leader, to challenge Doubt is good. Not in a negative way, but to better understand the real thinking and drivers. To create a management culture in the same positive intelligence gathering way, helps to turnaround thinking and then doubt becomes and manifests itself as a safety valve rather than an inhibitor.

(6)What does absence, resistance and disillusionment really cost you?
There are many CIPD statistics and much industry thinking about the tangible cost to organisations of absence but, resistance and disillusionment often are a piece of insight that leaders ignore. All 3 do inhibit activity and performance, they affect other individuals and there is a direct cost correlation that is often overlooked and therefore missed from KPI in P&L's and ROI calculations.

Even if you discount the financial aspect and how to gather it, the human cost to your team and wider organisation is through engagement and behaviours. Motivation is often the first impact to spring to mind - management and employees - when these 3 elements are left un-analysed. As my previous posts have shown, people build-up their workplace Reality based upon what they see, hear and feel around them, which means that absence, resistance and disillusionment if widespread or un-analysed and un-controlled becomes a problem much wider. Leaders need to have the insight to not only spot (through wider management) these 3 elements but to then be able to intervene and change them through being better connected (engaged) locally.

To round off then!
Myself, I failed to accept until much later in my career that people affected my life in many ways as a leader. Directly by my managers and support colleagues, and indirectly by employees, where activities and behaviours were emotional, explosive and a "mystery". Fire fighting issues as all leaders do, I eventually ended-up finding a root cause being the People Factor that had ensured that I lost precious time, sleep and sometimes motivation, through the frustration of not understanding why behaviour and thinking was where it was. Let alone how to get managers to change it.

These 6 tips are valuable, as the theme that runs through here, challenges your current thinking and I dare say evokes emotions and memories. Many leadership tools and methods exist and are superb. What I aim to do here is help leaders to look beyond themselves and seek to drill-down to gain valuable grass-roots intelligence, then to change the management thinking around how to value this insight. It will de-mystify the People Factor and help you and them better engage. Better engagement gives buy-in, or at worst common understanding to build upon. Leaders need a range of skills, techniques and approaches to be successful. Leaders are the ones who lie awake at night, carry stress, because they are responsible and yet cannot clone themselves to make this cycle of events stop!

Until next time..... Jay

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