Searching for Answers…

One of the great things that a blog can do tell you exactly what people typed in their search engine to get to your site.

Yesterday two of the search items that led people to me were:

  • Can Managers Be Effective Leaders?


  • Are Leaders Always Managers?

In short I believe that the answers are Yes and No respectively. Let me say more:

Can Managers Be Effective Leaders?

Managers exist to ensure that ‘leadership’ happens. Managers are paid to make ‘the rubber hit the road’. Got a new strategic plan? It is worth nothing unless you have managers who implement it. Developed a new set of values? Again worthless without managers who can bring them to life in work. Been building a balanced scorecard or working on Lean systems? Pointless, unless you have managers that can and will implement change. Without management leadership is nothing.

The lack of management capacity to engage with and implement the products of leadership is in my experience frightening – certainly here in the UK. Sometimes the problem is lack of time. Managers are too busy keeping the current show on the road to really thing about the production of a new one dreamed up by the ‘leadership’. Sometimes it is lack of skill and will.

Are Leaders Always Managers?

I meet many leaders who fail to really engage with the problems of implementation and management. The strategies, plans, visions and values are published and the expectation is that things will happen. Accountabilities are not clear, progress is not monitored and support is not provided. At least not in the quantities or with the rigour needed to make leadership work. Leaders often fail to engage managers in the leadership process – leaving them detached and struggling to take ownership of the process.

In my experience the best results occur when good managers are trained to engage in the leadership process. If this is well planned then they own the leadership process and leadership is not invested a single charismatic leader. It is distributed throughout the management team.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honour and praise.
The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.
Lao Tzu

Communication: Companies need less . . . not more!

This is the title of a great post on the Slow Leadership blog. Dave Woods says:

‘I work with a large variety of CEOs, senior managers and key employees. If I ask about the needs and issues within the company, I almost always get the same response: “We need more communication.”

My reaction to that is that it is simply, WRONG!

Companies don’t need more communication. They need more clarity.

  • Clarity of the vision of the company.
  • Clarity of where the company is going (long term and short term).
  • Clarity of HOW the company will get there.
  • Clarity of individual roles and how those roles create value toward the vision.
  • Clarity of how roles must intertwine in order to achieve extraordinary results.
  • Clarity of how the company will hold itself and each individual accountable.’

Dave then goes on to argue that if you look at a great sports team they actually need very little communication from the coach. They know all the plays and they know what they have to do. In short they have clarity. Dave argues that it is not communication that we should be increasing – but clarity.

Amen to that!

However clarity only comes with communication that is frequent, 2 way and relevant to both player and coach; employee and manager. Surely there can be no clarity without communication?

When you watch a great team play what you are seeing is the result of dozens of hours of communication, practice, feedback, delegation and coaching. Typically tens of hours of this ‘management’ go into every hour of play.

Life in most businesses is not like that. There is no practice ground. It is always ‘game time’. And most managers find it incredibly difficult to pull players out of the game to them at all whether to clarify, give feedback, coach or delegate. It is all they can do to keep playing the game – never mind improve.

So I disagree with Dave – and agree with his clients. Most organisations do need more communication. But it has to be effective. It has to focus on performance and improvement. It has to be constructive. It has to keep both vision and values in the front of people minds. And it has to be frequent.

Sounds just like a recipe for 121s to me!

You Are a Superstar: 90% of Managers Are In the Top 10%

This from the ‘business pundit‘ blog recently:

″A new study shows that 90% of managers think they are in the top 10% at their workplace.

Believe you’re among the top performers in your office? You’re not alone.

According to a new survey, an impossible 90 percent of managers think they’re among the top 10 percent of performers at their workplace.

The number is highest among executives, 97 percent of whom consider themselves shining stars, according to a recent survey in BusinessWeek magazine.”

Read More

The sad truth is just how easy it is for most people to get into the top 10% of managers in just about any organisation.

By consistently doing some management basics such as:

  • communicating well (that’s listening as well as telling),
  • providing feedback,
  • coaching every team member – every week,
  • running effective (as opposed to frequent) meetings
  • delegating, and
  • keeping mission, vision and values in the front of every team members thoughts…

the vast majority of managers can massively improve their effectiveness and really stand out as high performers.

It is not about charisma, vision or flair.  It not about MBAs, strategy, long hours and inspiration.

It is about consistently doing the basics well.

Developing a Coaching Culture – A Big Mistake

It seems that every other Human Resources manager I meet these days talks about the work that they are doing to develop a ‘Coaching Culture’.

Now why would anyone (other than a consultant selling coaching) want to develop a coaching culture? A learning culture, maybe. A performance or achievement culture definitely.

But a coaching culture just seems to be putting one (admittedly fashionable) cart before the horse.

Now of course every manager should be coaching every member of their team. And they should be monitoring progress against a coaching plan every week to keep up the momentum. But this is not in order to establish a coaching culture – it is to establish a culture where everyone has the skills, passion and clarity that they need to do their best work. A culture where each manager can talk about what every member of their team is working on, this week and every week, to improve their performance at work and to enhance their career.  It is about setting an expectation that people will learn and improve each and every week.

Now that is a culture worth developing!

Feedback – Making it Work in the Real World

I recently had a meeting with a member of the Progressive Managers’ Network and he was asking me about a challenge he was facing in putting feedback into practice. I train people to use both affirming and adjusting feedback.

  • Affirming feedback is given when an employee exhibits a good behaviour at work and the manager wants to show that it has been noticed, recognised and appreciated.
  • Adjusting feedback is used when the work behaviour or product is not up to organisational standards and the manager wants the employee to consider ‘what they could differently next time’.

Providing more affirming feedback than adjusting feedback works in most organisations to build a culture that is open to feedback and builds relationships that means adjusting feedback, when given, is more likely to be accepted constructively and acted upon.

The manager I met was fine on spotting opportunities to give adjusting feedback but was finding it much harder to find opportunities to give affirming feedback.  He was rightly worried that if he did not keep a healthy balance then his feedback would become ineffective.

There are several reasons why some managers struggle with affirming feedback:

Many, perhaps most, managers are ‘tuned’ to look for and sort out problems. Good performance is taken for granted (indeed barely noticed) while any performance issues are recognised and corrected. This ‘management by exception‘ can be effective and efficient in the short term. However in the long term it leads to an unhealthy focus on performance problems and a culture where employees feel under-valued and taken for granted.  Force yourself to recognise, value and feedback on good work – reject the philosophy of management by exception.

Managers who are very task oriented and dominant tend to undervalue the power of affirming feedback in building relationships.  Force yourself to recognise and celebrate employee success with affirming feedback. You may not feel that this is helping with the task at hand – but it will help, if done well, to build a better relationship.  And this will have a direct impact on achievement in the longer term.

Some managers find it hard to recognise the kind of behaviours that should trigger affirming feedback because they have lost touch with the values, vision and mission of the organisation and their role in supporting them in practice.   If the organisation ‘values’ innovation and risk taking then it is vital that managers give affirming feedback when employee behaviours support these values.   Using affirming feedback to recognise employees who are supporting mission, vision and values and letting them know that their work is recognised and valued is important in building a performance culture and ensuring that those desired behaviours are repeated and spread.  This style of ‘appreciative management’  is incredibly effective in engendering a positive culture of performance and ensuring that organisational mission, vision and values are brought to live in day to day work. Look out for behaviours that bring mission, vision or values to life and provide affirming feedback. 

Some managers have become detached from the people management aspects of their role.  They manage task lists and performance metrics – but they don’t invest the time in seeing what their employees and team members actually do.   Tom Peters popularised the term ‘Managing by Wandering About’ – or MBWA.  If you are struggling to find examples of employee behaviour to provide the foundation for affirming feedback perhaps a little more time out of the office and working with the team might help.

There are no rigid rules on this – but most managers give way too little feedback.  Many give none at all outside of the formal performance review process.   For each report that you have you should be aiming to give on average at least 4 pieces of feedback each and every day.  Affirming feedback should outnumber adjusting feedback  in a ratio of 3 or 4:1.  If you can develop the volume of feedback that you give to this sort of level I guarantee that team performance will develop rapidly.

If you want to learn more about using feedback to improve performance check out this page.

The Team Building Away Day – And Why They Never Work


“In order to strengthen the concept of team working and/or cross sector team working, part of the awarding authority’s training budget is allocated to teams/regions for development days out of the office. Corporate training days for all the awarding authority’s staff are also held three times per annum, with the aim of promoting communication and sharing …”

I see this sort of thing on an almost daily basis – and it drives me mad!

An ‘authority’ with silos and poor cross-sectoral working thinking things will be fixed with some time out of the office teambuilding.

When teams start solving problems involving planks, barrels, rafts, pretend minefields/alligators/swamps and so on, team work will come shining through, because it will be incentivised, praised and rewarded. Trainers will look for behaviours that lead to good teamwork and cross departmental collaboration (open, honest communication, good listening etc) and will reward these behaviours with affirming feedback, praise and a warm cup of Bovril. Behaviours that undermine good teamwork will attract adjusting feedback and suggestions for behaviours that might work better. Team performance will be compared and clear winners and losers will be established – and no-one will want to lose.

The trainers will do what good managers would be doing every day. Observing what people do, comparing it to what the organisations requires from them and providing feedback and coaching.

Instead of burning the training budget with expensive off-sites and corporate training days the ‘authority’ should invest in setting up a process for clarifying the kinds of behaviours and outcomes that it wants to see in the organisation.

It should then set up a rigorous system of supervision and support (121s) so that every employee gets weekly feedback and coaching designed to encourage the desired behaviours and discourage the rest.

For a fraction of the cost of these ‘offsites’ the desired behaviours would become prevalent throughout the organisation within 6 months.


So the next time you find yourself asking your training department to set up a Team Building away day – just ask yourself if there might not be a better, more systematic and cost effective way of getting the results that you want.

Or better still – give me a call!

Progressive Managers Network partners with YMCA Training

YMCA Training, Harrogate

I am delighted to say that the PMN has established a new partnership with YMCA Training in Harrogate to add to existing partnerships with the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board and The Goodwin Development Trust in Hull.

PMN events will be available at YMCA Training from October. The first launch event is free of charge. Subsequent events carry a 50% discount for bookings taken before September 1st.

Brilliant One to Ones

  • 19th October 13.30- 16.30 – YMCA Training, Harrogate – FREE Introductory Event

Giving and Getting Great Feedback

  • 26th October 09.30- 13.30 – YMCA Training, Harrogate – Early bird discount of 50% on bookings received before Sept 1st

Practical Coaching for Progressive Managers

  • 2nd November 13.30 – 16.30 – YMCA Training, Harrogate – Early bird discount of 50% on bookings received before Sept 1st

Find out more about PMN events here.

Find out more about the Progressive Managers Network here.

The Truth About Performance Management

What is performance management about really?

  • Outputs?
  • Outcomes?
  • Impacts?
  • Measurement?

In truth performance management is a communication process that helps individuals learn and grow in their ability to connect with, and contribute to, the organisation’s priorities. This connection between the individual, their values, beliefs, skills and aspirations and the purpose or mission of the business is the real driver for performance improvement.

Just to repeat – performance management is a communication process that helps individuals learn and grow in their ability to connect with, and contribute to, the organisation’s priorities.

Too often I see organisations spending time and money developing processes for providing data on performance without investing in the communication processes (121s, feedback, coaching, delegation, priority management etc.) that turn the data into effective performance management and improvement.

Some More Great Questions for Managers

First posting for over 2 weeks – courtesy of a family holiday – with no laptop!

I have been reading Drucker, again, and found another really useful set of questions for managers to ask of themselves. They are also the kind of questions that you should be able to answer for each of your team members. You might consider exploring them in your 121s.

  • What is your task?
  • What should it be?
  • What should you be expected to contribute?
  • What hampers you in doing your task and could it be avoided?
  • What are your strengths?
  • How do you work most effectively? (Think about the personal style you bring to the work you’re doing. Are you best with a team or by yourself? Do you like structure or are you better at playing it by ear? Do you work well with the predictable or the chaotic?)
  • What are your values? Are you in the right place to express your values through your work?
  • Where do you belong? – What kind of work environment suits you best?

This is all about clarifying roles, contributions and opportunities for development and improvement.

All meat and drink to the Progressive Manager.