Many of us who have been promoted to a leadership role feel infinitely attached to the title. To be a offered a leadership role is the culmination of your career to date. You’ve worked hard to get where you wanted to be. It is a significant reward for your effort.
Likewise you may have been promoted with no conscious effort on your part. You just come to work and do your job well. The company believes that you have enough experience, knowledge and skills to be a leader and so they promote you.
And then you plateau.
You say that you’re not interested in a higher level leadership role. Unfortunately you are now one of the most common type of leader in businesses today. You have risen to the level of what you want to know and to the level of what you believe about yourself. You have stopped becoming the best you can be. In short you have become average.
As humans we are capable of continually growing, learning and developing. It is how we have evolved and created what we have today. There is so much untapped scope in our brains that gives us the capacity to move beyond what is known and towards what is possible. So what makes us decide to be average?
It is well known that fear is what limits us. It is also known that what we choose to do with the fear defines us. Being average is the result of fear defining us.
How do great leaders move beyond the fear? What is it that catapulted them into being exceptional?
Don’t accept that you are what you are. Only accept that you are what you choose.
Many leaders continue to down play the importance of visualisation in setting goals and strategy development. However our brains have highly developed visual systems that can help us move beyond fear and our limiting beliefs.
Examples of our visual system include
- being able to literally “see” past experiences as though we are right there.
- having vivid images triggered from just a scent or a tune.
- our ability to create a “movie” in our minds just by reading a story.
We seem to work best when we use the visual structures of our brain. We use it when we are innovating and creating and it is brilliant for strategy development. Remember that drawing was the way our ancestors communicated before they developed language.
It is sad that we continue to discredit a part of our brain that is so powerful and useful. Why do elite athletes use visualisation before they compete? Why do they imagine their plan, their moves, their strategy? The beauty of using visualisation is that your brain does not know the difference between a real image and one that you have created in your mind. It is all the same to the brain. It means that it treats the created images like memories and just repeats it.
So if fear is stopping you growing in your leadership role, why not create a different story? The world of neuroscience is discovering so much about the brain and its functionality. It has been found that visions and goals create neural pathways and networks in your brain and that these are strengthened by regular thinking and acting. By building these new networks you will weaken the beliefs and fears you previously held about yourself and your role. Here are six ways to help you become an exceptional leader using visualisation and a planned approach.
- Learn – about yourself, about your brain functioning, about your team. But whilst it is good to learn a lot, make sure you balance this by putting much of it into action.
- Create a vision – it doesn’t matter whether you draw or create a vision board to create your compelling vision. Don’t allow your career to completely define you. Make sure you take a holistic approach to your vision by including family, your values, holidays, health & wellbeing etc.
- Write it down – from visualisation comes aspiration for what you want to achieve in your career. Aspirations can be long, medium or short term. It might be to complete some studies or work for a particular company. Make sure your aspiration is clear, measurable and has a time frame attached.
- Don’t do it alone – all the great leaders in the world had great help. They have mentors, leadership coaches, role models, favourite authors. It may be your personal journey however it is best shared.
- Have a plan – treat your career like a business that you must work on rather than in. Building a career is not just about the work you do, it is how you achieve your strategies in a timely manner that makes the difference. Who do you need to know, what do you need to know, when and how, are all questions that you need to answer along your career path.
- Mistakes will happen – you learn and challenge your capabilities most when you make a mistake. Don’t choose inaction and procrastination over risk or change. The only bad decisions are those made without appropriate consideration. If a decision doesn’t work out then it becomes a fantastic opportunity to reflect, learn and decide on what needs to be done differently next time. Growth doesn’t happen in the safe zone.
Most companies offer a career development plan for employees and leaders however very few will result in significant change. These are often transactional rather than transformational in their design. Many plans are only looked at once a year and often consist of the promise of training, a project, or acting opportunity. They certainly do not encourage visualisation and aspiration. The biggest problem is that no one is really accountable for the results.
If you are keen to develop and move up the career ladder you may need to take responsibility of your own journey. If you don’t know how or where to start call me to discuss. I offer free advice and guidance to get you on the right road for where you want to go. Dont delay!! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
A farmer ploughs a new field. He knows that there are large rocks and tree stumps that are just under the surface but he just wants his crop in the ground. He wants to make money so he doesn’t want to spend time and effort finding and removing them believing he will deliver a great crop anyway. So he sets his blades on the plough just high enough to rip the soil surface and travel over the buried problems. He ploughs his paddock and plants his crop. No one will see.
Are you the farmer and is does your team have hidden matters just under the surface?
Have you a team that is unable to solve their problems causing you to intervene and come up with solutions. Is there blame, and defensiveness within parts or all of your team. Are there team members who are creating a toxic or unhappy environment?
What impact is there on you, your career, and the organisation when your team is not functioning as you expect them to?
I think that all leaders aspire to have a team of people who are honest, trustworthy and treat each other with genuine respect. What would your team look like if they were all committed to a shared cause and willing to question and challenge ideas and suggestions?
What would your job be like if you had a team that operated like a well oiled machine and not the farmer and his plough?
Sometimes people think that a healthy functioning team doesn’t experience conflict or disagreement. That to be a good team member it is better to agree rather than challenge. Some teams and their leaders may prefer people to become virtually invisible like minions and slaves to the norms of the team. On the surface these teams appear to be functioning and delivering, but at what cost?
I believe this mindset of how a team should operate is damaging the fabric of functioning high performance teams. The damage comes from the conversations that need to be had but lay silent. It comes from the people who assume so much but ask so few questions. Collaboration is also suffering from the absence of understanding and dealing only with the surface level.
Innovations and adaptations occur best when ideas are challenged and when people offer and debate different perspectives. When trust exists in a team the members feel safe to disagree and debate without fear of reprisal because the team recognises that this level of discussion is healthy and solution orientated.
In this blog I want to provide you an alternative to the commonplace saying “there’s no “I” in TEAM”. I want to explain why it is important for the “I’s” to be encouraged and promoted in teams and how you can ensure your team “I’s” have a voice.
Why are the “I’s” important.
People have a very strong need to feel included and this can be a powerful driver in the workplace, particularly where teamwork is an integral part of the culture. This need can drive team members to tend to agree to whatever the collective agrees upon in order to maintain their feelings of inclusiveness. They will put their need to belong ahead of rational decision making processes. This happens at the subconscious level of the brain so you are not even aware it is happening. Group think for example is an extreme case of where the need to belong overrides the desire to engage in healthy debate and disagreement.
A strong team culture can create situations where an individual may feel unsafe to question or challenge the ideas of others. They fear the loss of relationships, status, and/or credibility if they did so. As a result the decisions and solutions can lack sufficient consideration of factors and impacts such as costs, risk, and safety. They may lack clarity, responsibility, and/or strategy when there is a lack of debate and inquiry.
Team players who are loud or opinionated may demand that their ideas are listened to, yet have no desire to listen to or consider the ideas of others. This can lead to the decisions and solutions coming from just one or two people in the team. When people feel that they are not being heard they will eventually stop offering up ideas. Their motivation decreases and so do their aspirations.
Do you observe any of these behaviours in your team? What do you think the impact would be if they did exist?
Team engagement is significantly affected when individuals are hamstrung by a strong culture of “we”. To improve team engagement individuals need to feel safe to take a stand, to speak up, and to feel heard. Focusing on the “we” in a team and ignoring the “I” can have harmful effects on team cohesiveness and capability.
We are social animals and we are hardwired to connect. There is a part of our brain within the prefrontal cortex that seeks to form bonds with others. We have survived as a species and evolved to what we are today as a result of forming relationships, groups, and communities.
For example if you were to observe tribal communities you are likely to see that when decisions are to be made the elders in the tribe come together to discuss the issues and agree on a strategy to solve the problem. All the elders are given the chance to speak and be heard. The decisions may take days or weeks because where time is not an important factor, honest consensus is. The decisions made are the result of a collective of minds. It has enabled us to grow and create. I sometimes feel that we have lost our “collective of minds” in our teams.
In today’s workplace we seem to be so focused on the team that we have overlooked the interactions at play at an individual level and the effects this has on team engagement.
We often assume so much about people within the team, transferring team behaviours, expectations and beliefs to all members without ever knowing the truth. This causes silos to exist and it breeds misinformation and miscommunication. This all changes when we operate in a climate where we can trust, share, and engage.
I will give you an example
Imagine that you are a project manager and have brought together a project team consisting of project engineer, as well as representatives from finance, supply, operations, OHS and quality.
As the project manager what is your intention for the project? Your response might be “deliver the project on time & on budget”. The finance person may say the same thing and, so too the supply and quality people. In fact everyone on the team agrees that the intention is to deliver the project on time and on budget. On the surface it appears that you have great team engagement.
During the project however tension arises between quality and finance over costs, and between supply and operations over delivery. OHS feels ignored and their audits show several breaches of policy. The team members start to form alliances and blame one another for problems and errors. The project falls into disfunction. What has happened?
Let’s go back and look at it in more detail to show how you can improve team engagement through encouraging trust and openness.
Intentions will always have underlying needs attached to them. Whilst everyone on the team can agree to the same stated intention “deliver on time and on budget”, the needs underneath this statement can vary for each person. For example the engineer may feel the need to boost their status in order to be considered for promotion, the finance person could have a need to demonstrate their recently implemented project costing software, whilst the supply people may feel the need to prove the benefits of their one stop shop supply process.
So while each of project team agree to the project intention they all have very different needs. It is the needs and not the intention that cause conflict and tension. If the needs of each of the stakeholder is assumed rather than shared, the team is setting themselves up for failure.
To overcome this problem identify the key words that will commonly be used as part of the project language and ask each member share what the terms mean to them and to do so without judgement. For example people will have very different meanings to words like collaboration, success, on budget, costs. Do not assume everyone on the team will have the same meaning. Once you have everyone’s own definitions create shared meanings for each of the terms and have these documented in the project scope.
- Set the rules of team engagement
Talk to the team about how they see the project operating. You want to move people into their creative mindset to get the best out of this session. Run activities that encourage sharing and opening up such as talking about their vision for the project and what they see as potential barriers. Use questions such as “what is possible”. These are great questions because no one will have the answer but by sharing and listening you will come up with a collective vision that is strong and enduring.
Create a shared set of rules that the team commits to follow covering off how to resolve a dispute, what are acceptable and non acceptable behaviours, how and when to catch up, and what to do if something falls off schedule. Follow this up with each member reflecting on and sharing what they will need to do differently in order to uphold these rules.
These types of activities will significantly increase team engagement by giving each member the permission to feel safe to speak up. You also remove the risks of assumptions leading to misunderstanding and miscommunication.
- Generating trust
A fully functioning team can only operate when there is genuine trust between each other. Without trust people will say only what they feel safe saying. They may decide not to speak up because they fear the consequences of doing so (real or perceived). When there is distrust people start blaming each other rather than seeking to solve the problem and move forward. Conversations to address issues become the elephants in the room not daring to be made visible.
You will need to take on a leadership role here and ensure that the team complies with their rules throughout the project life. Any actions, however small, that you condone will have a ripple effect on the success of the project. You need to be vigilant that the conversations that team members are having are about finding solutions and moving the project forward. You need to encourage the use of questions such as “what are our options?, or “what do you need to do next” that trigger the creative parts of our brain to think about how to move forward.
Finally, have a look at the way you run your meetings. Is the intention of the meeting just to confirm what everyone already knows (ie via reports, other meetings etc) or could they be used to explore questions that they haven’t yet an answer for? Some examples include “what should we do now? what are our options? what are your next steps? Questions like these are inclusive and encourage discovery and critical thinking that helps maintain team engagement.
What questions can you use to increase participation in your team?
Everyone who is part of a team needs to have a voice. When you silence the individual for the sake of the team you smother creativity, critical thinking and change. Don’t assume everyone in your team is satisfied and feels heard. As a leader you need to ensure the culture gives them permission to be authentic, to speak up and to have their say.
For the next three weeks I would like you to experiment with a different approach to your team meeting. I would like you to only ask questions and really listen without judging. I would love to hear your feedback on how your experiment went. Please send me an email at email@example.com
I am running a free workshop on how to improve team engagement one conversation at a time. I will present an understanding of how conversations trigger the brain to be either open or defensive and give you some tips on how to improve your conversations to build great team environments.
The webinar will be held at 10am WST on Tuesday 31 January. To register please click here. I look forward to you joining us.
Are people your biggest challenge? Do you believe that your job would be so much easier if it wasn’t for people? It’s not uncommon to think this way. Throughout my career I have heard statements like this on a very regular basis from leaders.
What is it that makes leaders think so poorly of them. To be honest I get it too. Some employees take up too much of the leader’s time. Some just can’t complete work without an error. Others don’t seem to apply the learning and your advice and expect you to find the solution. What can you do to improve employee engagement so that these issues hardly arise? In this article I will introduce the concept of values as being a key to engaging and motivating others.
It is still commonplace for great technical people to be promoted to a leadership role due to their technical expertise. After a career of learning and developing top rate and deep level expertise, all of a sudden they are promoted to a role looking after a team of people. In addition, as is often the case, they haven’t been too interested in developing skills in managing others such as communication, presence, influence etc. As a result they become frustrated because people do not operate the same as a computer program or a machine. They wish people were as predictable as machines.
What if a leader could predict the behaviours of their team members and thus be proactive and strategic in the way they manage and talk to them? What would that look like? You don’t need a magical power or have perfect employees in your team to have this. You need to understand their value set.
In 1960 G.W. Allport released his research on the core values which remains valid and relevant today. Allport found six core values that existed across all workplaces. These being
- Utilitarian – strong interest in the results and costs as well as outcomes focused for self and the bottom line
- Aesthetic – enjoys things to look and feel good
- Traditional – most comfortable working within structure, processes, and procedures
- Social – cares for the welfare of others, community, environment
- Theoretical – loves facts, figures and analysis
- Individualistic – loves to lead others and be involved in decisions
Allport found that employees, managers and organisations acted in accordance to their two top core values and do so at a subconscious level. Think about which are your two top values and how they express themselves in the work/job you do. What tasks align with your values and which don’t. How are your relationships with your team, your peers, direct manager affected by these values? What about the organisation? What do you feel are the core values here? Do they align with the value set that is published?
When the values between two people, within a team or between the indivual and the organisation are aligned then good things happen. People derive great satisfaction from the work they do. They feel a deep sense of connection and belonging with the company. They are motivated and productive, working with others in a supportive collaborative manner. Conflict and disfunction results when an individuals’ value set clashes with the organisation’s &/or their manager’s. The degree of disfunction is a measure of the length of time the problem has existed. I am sure you can think up people where this has been the case. The good news is that it can be turned around. What do you observe in your company? Is there harmony or disfunction. What impact does this have on profits and growth?
In addition to discovering that people act according to their top two values, Allport found that when people ranked Individualistic in their top three, it gave the other two values a greater boost. He found that people with the Individualistic value in their top three aspire to be a leader but is it their other two values that determine their actions. Think about a senior leader with high social consciousness vs a senior leader who acts with strong focus on the balance sheet, systems and processes. How would these two organisations operate? What would the culture be like? Which leader would be the most successful? We have seen countless “successful” organisations that suddenly disappear. Think Enron and Lehman Brothers. What value set do you think the senior executives had? What was missing?
On a local level, imagine that your values were strongly Social and Aesthetic, ie you gained satisfaction from helping others and working in a creative environment. However you worked in an organisation that had strong Traditional and Theoretical values. How successful would you be in getting your messages across? How comfortable and rewarding would it be for you working in such a structured and process driven organisation? What would be your frustrations? How would you behave?
There are many people who do not know their core value set. These people can work in jobs or organisations for years with little job satisfaction or motivation. These people are at great risk of having a value set decided by others and this does happen.
Imagine an employee in an organisation who is unaware of their core values. For the purpose of this exercise the employee has Social as their top value but doesn’t know it. The organisation is strongly Utilitarian and Traditional (think old school) and it expects everyone to follow the directives of the executive team without question. The executive rolls out a major change without consultation, appropriate training, and with an unreasonable time frame. The employee has worked in the company long enough to know that the process has been tried before and failed.
The employee may outwardly appear to accept the changes and say nothing, or they may become belligerent because inwardly they become very conflicted and don’t know how to deal with it. They don’t talk about their concerns because they know from past experience that no one listens. They are seeing and hearing the impact the changes are having on the people, particularly those in their team. With this unresolved conflict the employee will act out in a way that is negative. They either put their head in the sand or become highly visible. These are the people that cause leaders most grief. There is little employee engagement with the individual and probably with the team. The environment can become toxic and unmanageable for the leader.
On the other hand if the employee was aware of their values and felt that they could express them, they may find people to talk to about their concerns about the impact on others. They may try to put forward an alternate proposal that achieves the same outcome with less impact. That is not to say that things will change however they stand up for what they believe in and they are honouring their core values. In this case they may decide that the values of the organisation do not match theirs and look for another job.
As a values based leader you would work with your people to help them find a ways to move past the conflict. You would have conversations about values and what is happening in the person as a result of the situation. You would help them decide on a solution. It might be to leave the company but chances are they will find a way to work that gives them enough satisfaction to remain effective and productive.
Lets be honest no organisation operates perfectly and there will be conflict and challenges. How you and your team deal with them is a sign of the strength of the leader. Recognising the role of values in employee engagement means that you have a simple concept that you can easily use in your conversations and decisions.
Below is a process for you to introduce an awareness of values into your team. It really is simple but it does require you having the right mindset.
Firstly, you need to believe in the goodness and capability of your people rather than believe your job would be easier without them. You need to trust them to do good things. This sounds simple but it does require deep reflection on your own core values. You cannot expect others to change if you are unable to change. You cannot lead people if you have little value attached to them. People pick up on authenticity and quickly see incongruence between intent and action/words. This occurs at a sub conscious level both in you and the other person receiving your messages. Our brains are highly developed to pick up on nuances in other people incredibly quickly. We had to in order to survive. Research has found that we decide if someone is trustworthy in 0.07 seconds!
Next, observe your people to discover patterns between the sorts of work team members do, how they do it, and the satisfaction they derive. This will provide some indication as to what motivates them, or not and is usually easy to spot. For example someone who has high attention to detail may be this way because they like things to look and feel good (Aesthetic) or they could love structure and precision (Traditional). Someone who likes to have points backed up with facts and figures is likely to have Theoretical as a top value. Your 2-IC is likely to have individualistic as one of their top three core values.
Thirdly, talk to your team both individually and as a group. It is a fantastic conversation to have and you will notice a change in the energy levels when you ask about what they are passionate about inside & outside of work. This often provides you and them insights into what motivates them. Often when we are asked about our values we say we value honesty, hard work, family etc. These are not what are considered the core values that drive how we act in the workplace. Be courageous enough to dig deeper. Use the six core values listed and ask people to rank them in order from one (highest/strongest) to six (lowest/weakest). Ask about how they express their top values in their job and what barriers do they feel exist. Ask when and how they are able to be authentic to their values.
Finally, learn to talk and ask questions in ways that connect with each person’s top values. If its Social use words around people and feelings etc, if it is Traditional use words that relate to process, rules, etc. As there will normally be a range of value sets in your team learn to use a variety of words and questions so you engage everyone. There are no right or wrong value sets and no set is better than another. The important thing is to learn to appreciate the value sets of each person and use them to motivate and engage.
Creating a culture within the team where they feel safe expressing their values in what they do will open up and unleash a level of creativity and production you did not believe possible. Employee engagement is at an all time low globally. It seems we have lost our way in connecting at a deep level with others in the workplace. A great leader creates high levels of employee engagement. Becoming a values based leader is a great way to achieve this for you, your team and the organisation.
This blog highlights that employees can be predictable like machines. By knowing the value sets of your team members you will know who likes what, how to speak to them, how to motivate them. You can expect the the team to operate like a well oiled machine. When there are signs of damage or misalignment you can talk to your team to realign their values, maintain the balance, and keep them and the team in top condition.
If you need assistance in introducing a values based culture contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org or download the free worksheet here