The Power of the Listening (Progressive) Manager

We need to stop being helpful.

Trying to be helpful and giving advice are really just ways to control others.

Advice is a conversation stopper…we should substitute curiosity for advice.

Do not tell people how you handled the same concern in the past.  Do not immediately offer the text book solution to the problem – unless you want to kill creativity, enquiry and insight.

Do not ask questions that have advice hidden in them, such as “have you ever thought of talking to the customers directly?”

Often people will ask for advice. The ‘request for advice’ is how we surrender our independence. If we give in to this request we have affirmed their dependnece on us; their belief that they do not have the capacity to create the world from their own resources; and more importantly, we have supported their escape from their own freedom.

For more on this I would recomend almost anyhtingby Peter Block – but especially:

Community – The structure of belonging – Peter Block

“One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness.”

Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Friere

“It was wonderful! Incredibly powerful – just to be listened to.”

Participant on an Introduction to Enterprise Coaching Programme.

Without Valleys There Can Be No Mountains

I am not sure where I first collected this quote but the more I think about it the more I see its relevance to effective management.

To me it means that wherever there is a great strength there is also a great weakness.  You cannot have one without the other.  Ying and Yang. I think this relates to a Jungian concept that whatever light shows us our way forward will always cast a corresponding shadow.

If this is the case then it becomes impossible to minimise a weakness without compromising the strength with which it is paired.

It also means that whenever we see a weakness we should look for the corresponding strength.  This is important because so many managers become almost obsessed by fixing problems rather than by celebrating and maximising strengths.

So when you find yourself recognising a weakness in yourself or others – spend a few moments looking for the corresponding strength.

Communication – whose job is it?

“I have worked here for 6 months now, and still no-one has told me about what other parts of this organisation do.”

This complaint was aired again at a recent organisational get together that I helped to facilitate.  It is a common complaint – very common.  In essence it says ‘you the management don’t give me the information I need to do my job well’.

But whose job is communication anyway?  Historically perhaps it has been the role of management to provide staff briefings, newsletters and other communication gizmos in an attempt to disseminate what they know.

These days though the emphasis has changed.  It is no longer about management pumping out generic, hopefully useful, pieces of information.  It is now on individuals and groups of employees in teams and departments to work out exactly what they need to know, and be able to do, in order to add more value.  It is then about them taking focused action to get what they need.  The role of management is to make sure that this can happen.

The first challenge in improving communication is often to be clear on exactly whose job it is.  And as a chalenge this should not be underestimated.  Especially if you employ staff who are used to working in much more traditional management hierarchies.

Changing the emphasis from ‘being told‘ to ‘finding out‘ will not only significantly improve communication – it is also likely to stimulate innovation, creativity and a range of other cultural changes.

The Many Roles of the Manager

“People placed in management roles must become translators, delegators, motivators, trainers, mediators, planners, listeners, organizers, problem-solvers, example-setters, cheerleaders, budgeters, ambassadors, regulators, counselors, and more, all while remaining diligent workers.”

Dan Bobinski

So it is no wonder that so many new (or not so new) to management roles find the transition hard.

You can read more from Dan here.

Managing in a Poor Culture

What do yo do when you are managing in an organisation that has a poor culture?

This is the subject of a great post by Miki Saxon.

She makes the point that the starting place has to be a conscious decision that this is a place where you want to be and do great work – in spite of the culture.  The alternative is to indulge in a ‘martyr complex’ the kind of ‘poor me’ response that I often hear.  This  usually appears as a belief that ‘there is nothing I can do to provide a great service and excellence until those above me get their act sorted’.

This is a convenient belief and a powerful one.  But it does little to help us make progress.  It lets us off the hook, allows us to avoid responsibility and put the blame elsewhere.  Once enough of us are doing this – and our beliefs are re-enforcing each other –  it can start to feel like a truth.  However it is still just a belief and we can choose to drop it!

So if you take a conscious decision to keep working in a poor culture you must try to reject this belief and take all the repsonsibility that you can for making things better.

You can read the full post here.

Putting it into Practice

The new year has started off with a couple of interesting management development contracts.  One in an FE/HE college and one in a housing association.

In both cases the reaction to the training has been very positive.  Managers have started using 121s which I am really pleased about – but once again – have found it difficult to start to give affirming or adjusting feedback.  The main barriers to giving feedback seem to be around ‘self-image’.

Perhaps it is a lack of confidence as a manager (it really is your job to give and get feedback if you are a manager – this is not negotiable!).

Perhaps it is fear of an emotional reaction (although we train feedback models that keep the chances of this very small).

It may be that managers are just not sufficiently clear about the behaviours they are trying to influence in pursuit of performance.

Or it may just be the fear of trying something new, of saying different words, of picking up on things that have historically been overlooked.

The one thing I do know is that once managers start to give and get great feedback rapid progress becomes possible.

2. Say ‘Thank You’ and Smile…

When someone pays you a compliment.

Most of us are lousy at taking compliments.

We often  respond by down sizing our achievements;

‘Oh really it was nothing’

or

‘I was just doing my job’.

This down sizing achieves nothing worthwhile.

First of all it negates the judgement and the goodwill of the person  who offered you the compliments making it less likely they will compliment you in the future.

Secondly it is a kind of powerful ‘self talk’ that is bad for own self image.  We really begin to believe that our efforts were ‘nothing’ or it was JUST ‘doing my job’.

So next time someone pays you a compliment just smile and say ‘Thank You’.

NB: Perhaps you should get in the habit of giving more compliments too – but you may find the process discouraging as many of those you pay compliments too will react by downsizing.  To avoid this you can tag a question onto your compliment that will prevent them from downsizing.  So instead of saying;

‘I love the hair cut.’

try;

‘I love the hair cut.  Where did you get it done?’.

This trivial addition prevents downsizing and helps to get through the embarrassing seconds of silence that might otherwise follow.