In every organisation I have worked with one of the biggest challenges for most leaders is with their staff. Lack of engagement, lack of accountability, inability to see the bigger picture, resistance to new ideas and change or lack of understanding -to name a few -are some of the issues off the top of my head. Most people view challenges like this as there being something wrong with the other person, which needs to be fixed. The challenge then is to figure out how to get the other person to change so that you can get what you want out of them. I would like to suggest that this is approaching the problem back to front.
It is a leader’s job to lead- as the title itself states! Lead-the definition of which is–“the initiative in an action; an example for others to follow.” Or “show (someone or something) the way to a destination by going in front of or beside them” (Oxford Dictionary). At no stage does it say use force to - fix them, change them, order them, manipulate them, motivate them, push them or convince them. Unfortunately however, in my experience these are the tools most people default to. A lot of leaders try to get their followers to do things by pushing (forcing) them and the picture that comes to my mind is of someone pushing a massive boulder up a hill. So why is this? Quite simply put, it is far harder for us to admit that we are at fault than it is for us to blame another and we think that it is easier to just tell someone to do something and then if they don’t listen -say it more forcefully or even threaten them, than it is to figure out what we are doing that is causing them to resist us.
Before you stop reading (as this is all a little harsh) I would like to say that I am not writing this as a judgement but from observation. I am not suggesting that most leaders are bad or nasty and I haven’t met one yet that fits this picture. I do however, believe that most leaders use force because they do not know how to use power and that if they did and they had a choice, power is the route they would take. When I speak of power I speak of inner power the power to create the circumstances you want.
This brings us to what power is. The power that I speak of is many things, but most importantly it is “being able to hold your own space so that you can be the person you aspire to be” and create the circumstances you want. This means finding ways of interacting that do not compel you to use force. I am still in the process of researching this and have certainly not got all of the answers -however I do have some and I will share them with you here. This week we will look at choice.
Choice - In the years that I have been coaching I have realised that most of us look outside of ourselves to fix a problem, be it staffing, financial, health, relationships etc. However the answer is never out there it is always inside you. So as leaders you will need to start to look inside yourself to find the answers. This is especially important if you are a leader -as it is this behaviour that will mean that you will be someone worth following.
Let me give you an example. I recently worked with a client (let’s call him Tsepo) who had trouble with a subordinate (let’s call her Janet). Janet was unreliable and kept promising to deliver but was not keeping those promises .This had led to a couple of instances where the company had been quite severely compromised. Tsepo had been advised by his superiors to let Janet go or face the consequences himself. When he and I sat down, Tsepo was in a dilemma -he had tried everything to get Janet to change and it hadn’t worked and furthermore Janet was old and near the end of her career so he didn’t want to just cast her aside as she wasn’t likely to find a new job. What Tsepo and I came up with was a very honest conversation where he would state that he did not want to let her go and also the position he was in. He would tell her that she had a choice; she could leave now if she wasn’t interested in the job or she could work with Tsepo and together they would get her on track.
There is a unique power in giving someone a choice or reminding them that they have a choice. It means that how well they do in their job is not up to someone else and they can choose if they want to work hard or not. You can lay out the consequences for their choice but then leave the decision up to them. I know that this could also come out as a threat but its power lies in who you are being when you talk to someone. If you come from a stand point that you are giving them a choice then you will find that they will take it this way and will feel liberated.
Tsepo updated me on the situation with Janet - after their discussion she now can’t do enough to support him in his role and she is so appreciative that he cared enough to come and speak to her.
When giving someone this choice it is important to 1st state what you want from the situation. 2nd state what behaviour is causing harm and how that affects the business and working relationships. 3rd state again what situation you want and that the person has a choice in the actions they decide on. 4th Ask them how they think they can rectify the situation or what they will need to rectify the situation. By asking them for their input they will have ownership for the outcome.
This is the first in a series of tools that you can use to become more powerful. When you are aware of them you can then choose to find new solutions that actually work. – “those that do not use power will use force” and force will be resisted. This is why it is always hard to change your employees because most people use force and then their employees resist it.
If you ever experience resistance to what you are doing; stop, pause and take a few minutes. If there is resistance then you are using force. You can choose to continue with this and you might get somewhere with it but it will be hard work and there will be resentment. To use power you will have to give up your need to be right and to lord it over others. You will have to step down from your pedestal and talk to people on their level. You will have to explain why and open up to them and you will have to trust and support those people and allow them to help you find the answers.
Wishing you every success and remember our business is your greatness.