The Quiet Power of Selflessness

To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless ~ Mike Krzyzewski

Much continues to be written about what marks out successful teams from those that fail. Most of us can think about our own experiences of both, and, no doubt, recall factors that contributed to both positive and negative experiences.

source: thevalleys.co.uk/

source: thevalleys.co.uk/

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have been providing us with thrilling achievements, but while they shine a light on athletic stars and big names such as Usain Bolt, Simone Biles and Laura Trott, I am fascinated by the armies of unsung heroes. Team members who are vital parts of the success but who do not receive the same media attention. This can be coaches, trainers, physios and sometimes fellow athletes, who sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They may not receive the Olympic medal or the adulation, but their contribution is vital, often displaying a level of selflessness that appears extraordinary. I have touched upon the role of the ‘domestique’ in team cycling in previous posts, which illustrate this point further.

But, let’s take a closer look at this. The mental state required to achieve this is one of ‘selflessness’. And, to exist happily in this state, one must be more concerned about achieving the eventual outcome than about personal recognition for it being achieved. In other words, the outcome is the most important thing, not your own psychological state.

Let’s think Continue reading

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The Case for Humble Inquiry

“Humble Inquiry is the skill & art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity & interest in the other person.”  ~ Edgar H. Schein

                               

Doing and telling are valued more in western, industrialised societies than asking and relationship building.  We hire and promote people who can get the job done. Asking for help and admitting that you don’t know are considered taboos to striving and ambitious people.

However, one quality of great leaders that comes out consistently close to the top in studies of leadership is the ability to master ‘humble inquiry’. Leaders who ask questions, who do not pretend to know answers, and who recognise that their people are the real experts, inevitably command greater respect and are considered to be more effective leaders.

RelationshipBlogImage1

And why should this be so? Well, consider the charismatic, know-it-all boss who operates by telling. They may command a type of respect, possibly grounded in fear or concerns of inadequacy.  But, will people be prepared to approach them with problems, issues or concerns?  If relationships have not been established that make it easy for people to share problems, there is a danger that critical information could be withheld, even safety critical or life-and-death information may be held back.

Continue reading

Sporting Lessons

alipanettarorybrailsfordRegular readers will know that sport features extensively in the leadership lessons & metaphors that I allude to.  I’ve decided to compile these sporting examples into book format and, should there be sufficient interest, I will aim to publish.      

. I would be delighted if you would care to take the time to                                                  look over either a sample chapter or, for the seriously dedicated amongst you, a draft of the entire book.

barca

You can get a copy of a sample chapter easily by using this link.

The full draft is available at this link but you will need to drop me a request for a password to allow you to download the PDF.  Just send me a request either through a comment to this post or by using the contact us page.

ferguson

I hope you enjoy what you read.  I have just one small request to make in return.  I would love to have your feedback. All comments are welcome.  Any suggestions you have for improvements, for inclusions, for removals, or any other thoughts or comments will be very much appreciated.  Do you think this concept or format will have appeal?  If so, to whom?

murray wigginsOf course, whether you choose to read just one chapter or the entire compilation, I will be happy if you enjoy it, even if only to relive some great sporting moments.  

If you extract even more value than that, then I will be delighted. Do let me know.  

Happy New Year for 2014.   woodward

 

 

‘Fly on the Wall’ consultancy

I thought I’d share with you this week one of the most effective, yet simplest, consultancy techniques I have seen used.  It does not involve great expense, or even take a great deal of time. It does not involve reading lengthy consultancy reports or attending turgid feedback sessions.  In fact, it uses the resources and brains you already have at your disposal in your teams today.

fly-on-wallGather together a good cross-section of people  (but no more than about 8-10), from up and down the organisation,  ideally with different perspectives of your business, from both an internal and external facing focus.  Invite the ‘owner’ of the business problem or issue that requires ‘consultancy’ to spend 5-10mins (no more) outlining the issue. No prolonged explanations about why things won’t work, or haven’t worked. Just a simple, easy to understand, explanation of the facts, what is trying to be achieved, and what the business benefits will be once realised.

The collected group then have 5 mins to Continue reading

Resilience in the moment

“A good half of the art of living is resilience.” ~ Alain de Botton.

As companies embark on another tough year ahead in 2013, and a climate of ongoing uncertainty, they are increasingly placing ‘resilience’ as one of the most important qualities they are looking for in their people. But, how do you recognise resilience in people, and how do you help people develop it further?

GlaxoSmithKline have defined ‘resilience’ as: “the ability to succeed personally and professionally in the midst of a high pressured, fast moving and continuously changing environment”.  

Traditional views are reflected in the language often used to describe resilient behaviour:

  • “Bouncing back after being knocked down”
  • “Taking the blows and coming back for more”
  • “Living to fight another day”
source: northjersey.com

source: northjersey.com

These expressions are adversarial and have their roots in war-like and conflict-driven situations. It is arguable that a mind-set of resilience, steeped in this language, is likely to generate more friction than collaboration.

  • What would it feel like to be resilient ‘in the moment’?  Not walk away to ‘re-group’ and then come back re-charged and ready for the fight.  Not retreat in order to re-think your strategy and make sure you win the argument the next time.  
  • But instead, there and then, you were to demonstrate emotional resilience, to really hear what was being said?
  • What if you could ‘flip’ the situation, get behind what was being said, and assess the dynamics objectively and not react?
  • What if you could show genuine curiosity in what’s happening, to hang around long enough to ask questions, to listen deeply, and to hear people out?
  • What might happen once they have been heard?  What different level of engagement might then be possible?

Continue reading

Enough v Perfect? You choose.

I am enough!

As a leader, would you ever tell your people they are “Already enough”?  What would stop you saying that?  Have you ever said to yourself, “I am enough”?

with thanks to: Hugh at gapingvoid.com

with thanks to: Hugh at gapingvoid.com

Doesn’t it amount to an admission of defeat? Isn’t it saying I can’t get any better? Where is the ambition in the word “enough”? It is surely the antithesis of everything we aspire to. To keep improving, to become more effective, to control, to perfect. To be perfect.

But, think again. We are a society riddled with uncertainty. As a result we battle against that uncertainty and it comes out as anger, as fear, and with bitterness. The more scared we get, the more certain we become in our beliefs. The angrier we get, because others just don’t get it, the more it results in increased frustration and fear. A vicious cycle of fear, anger and increasing uncertainty.The struggle to attain is driven by ever rising expectations. Expectations from where? From parents, from peers, from ourselves? The pressure to be the best you can be, to maximise your potential. They are well-meaning expressions, I find myself using them as self-motivators, what harm can they do? The trouble is, they don’t come with an instruction manual. No-one ever knows Continue reading

Stroke of Genius

I was intrigued by an article I read this week on 5 Reasons Your Top Employee Isn’t Happy. It got me thinking about how we manage talent.  And maybe there lies the problem – in that very word ‘manage’.  Talent is a precious thing, but should it be given ‘maverick status’ or does it need to be controlled?  Well, I guess the answer might well vary depending on the culture of the company, what period in the company’s development you are at, or what sort of leader you are?

source: bbc.co.uk

source: bbc.co.uk

I immediately thought about the football team analogy. I have played and watched football over more years than I care to remember, and the recurring debate about how teams should accommodate rare talent just never goes away.  What I have seen,  is that teams who are riding on the crest of a wave, winning everything in sight, and blowing the opposition away, can often afford the ‘luxury’ of the occasional ‘maverick’ or ‘outlier’.  Often described as a genius, these players entertain the crowds and keep the sports (and sometimes front-page) writers happy.

But, when the going gets tough, everyone is expected to put in a shift. Sulking on the wings with your hands on hips, complaining about not getting good service, doesn’t go down well – not with the crowd (or shareholders), team mates (or work colleagues) or coach (boss).

It’s a big issue for companies too. When someone is bestowed the title talent (or genius) – what is expected of them and of others?   Continue reading

When conflict works

It seems to me, from reflecting on the Olympics, that truly great performances benefit from having someone else to ‘bounce off’. On occasions this can be achieved by colleagues in the same team pushing each other to ever higher levels, as evidenced by the Jamaican sprinters, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. It may also be achieved by fierce but respectful rivalry, where the standards of excellence set by one player forces the other to have to raise their game to heights they would not otherwise have to. The phenomenal standards of performance displayed by the world’s top tennis players is evidence of this. It is debatable whether Nadal would ever have reached the level of peak performance he has, if he was not asked some extraordinary questions on the tennis court by Federer. Djokovic has since had to take his game to even greater heights to become World number one. Whether friendly or fierce rivalry, in elite sport, the tensions, pressures, and challenges set, help motivate participants to keep raising their game.

But it is not only sport that can benefit from rivalry, conflict and challenge. Used effectively, disagreements and tensions can be hugely important in driving up standards in all walks of life.

This is illustrated most powerfully in this short clip of Margaret Heffernan, describing the inspiring story of Alice Stewart, an epidemiologist who struggled against the medical establishment to prove that x-rays on pregnant mothers were responsible for childhood cancers. During a long, and often lonely battle, to prove her case, Alice relied heavily upon a colleague, who was quite the opposite from Alice in many ways. His job, as a statistician and as a friend, was simple. To try to prove Alice’s data and results wrong. His job was to create conflict around her theories. Subjecting her work to this level of challenge and scrutiny, provided Alice with greater confidence about the validity of her theory, and helped her to find the energy to persist against formidable opposition.

So, how willing are we in the business world to be so open to this level of ‘voluntary’ challenge and conflict? To what extent are we willing to invite disagreement in the interest of true collaboration?  Continue reading

From Conflict to Collaboration

Inter-personal or group conflict is an inevitable consequence of people working together in teams.  In fact, conflict can be a good thing, as it is a sign that people care and are passionate, and, if those energies are channelled correctly, they can be a great source of diverse ideas and solutions.

Too often however, conflict results in negative and damaging outcomes. It can hurt morale, suppress individual effectiveness, and, ultimately, destroy team productivity. Left untreated, it results in a downward spiral of negativity, emotions and blame.

A helpful starting point is to understand some of the theory, and to recognise that people have different (and preferred) styles of dealing with conflict.  There is no one style that will work best in every situation, but once you have an understanding of the different styles, you have the opportunity to step back and think about the most appropriate approach (or perhaps mix of approaches) that will suit the current situation. And, having a raised awareness of your own ‘natural’ style is a good first step to helping you learn and adapt when necessary, so that it does not remain your only style.  (For a deeper treatment of this area, see the work of Ralph H. Kilmann and Kenneth W. Thomas)

The list of styles identified through their work are:

  • Avoiding – Acting in a  way that does not address the conflict directly. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It can be a viable style to adopt when the issue and the relationship are of very low importance, but it should be used with extreme caution.  Avoiding a serious issue may make the conflict intensify, possibly damaging relationships further.
  • Accommodating – Involves accepting the other party’s position or interest at the expense of your own.  People who naturally adopt this style are not assertive but highly cooperative. It may be appropriate when the issue matters more to the other party and when peace is more valuable than winning. It can, however, be counter-productive as you may be seen as weak, especially if used repeatedly. Furthermore, constant ‘accommodating’ may lead to increased stress.
  • Competing – Working to have your position or interests take priority over those of the other party.  People who tend towards a competitive style take a firm stand, and know what they want, usually operating from a position of power (whether position, rank, expertise, or persuasive ability). It can be useful in an emergency when a decision needs to be made fast; or when defending against someone who is trying to exploit the situation selfishly. However it can leave people feeling bruised, unsatisfied and resentful when used in less urgent situations.  It is also not a useful style when it is important to generate diverse ideas or multiple solutions.
  • Compromising – Involves each party giving and getting a little in terms of position and interests.  People adopting a compromising style seek solutions that will to some extent  satisfy everyone. This approach depends on everyone being prepared to give up something. It can be useful when the cost of conflict is higher than the cost of losing ground, when equal strength opponents are at a standstill and when there is a deadline looming. It is unlikely to work successfully for issues of principle and may cut off opportunities for collaborative problem solving.
  • Collaborating – Parties attempt to meet all or most of the interests underlying their respective positions.  Collaborators can be highly assertive, but unlike the competitor, they cooperate effectively and acknowledge that everyone’s input is important. This is the most useful style when it is important to bring together a variety of viewpoints to get the best solution; when there have been previous conflicts in the group; or when the situation is too critical  for a simple trade-off.  It is most effective for generating ‘high-quality solutions’ but requires a very high level of trust between parties, and relies on the use of  considerable interpersonal skills (e.g. it is vital  to confront issues directly without threatening the other party). For some situations it may not be appropriate due to the fact that it can take considerable time and effort to implement.

‘True’ Collaboration is an often misunderstood and overused term.  It has been fashionable for companies to Continue reading