Magic formula for an engaging leader | Daily News
Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 19

Magic formula for an engaging leader

In earlier instalments we showed you the four foundations for engaging your team members: (a) relating to people; (b) proacting to seek, share and critique each other’s thoughts; (c) sensing - switching on your senses to gather data and information; and (d) inter-interpreting - interpreting and reinterpreting together.

Let us now find out how to enhance and effectively deploy your skills in these four foundations, and how to engage people effectively.

Recognising Your Existing Skills

We explained earlier how the four foundations for engaging your staff are intimately connected with each other. They are sub-processes of the overall process or activity of engaging people, and to be brilliant at engaging people you have to become skilled in using these four sub-processes simultaneously.

Now try the following exercise

1. Get a notebook and divide the page into three columns. Write a brief description ofthe situation in which the first conversation occurred. (e.g., 150219 - Weekly team meeting in which I thought that we were, as normal, meandering off the topics and wasting time.)

2. In the second column, list the actions that you took - briefly describe what you did or said - to make a valuable and meaningful contribution to this conversation. (e.g., 170219 - I pointed out that we were going off-track and I questioned whether this way of holding meetings was the most effective use of our time.)

4. In the third column describe the effect that your contribution had on you and/or the other people involved, or the outcome of the meeting. (e.g., Some people were initially defensive about why they had introduced new topics, but my questions prompted the team to re-evaluate how well we were holding meetings, and we agreed changes to improve the productivity of the meetings).

Take a look at the notes you make in the second column: these comments are examples of the skills that you already possess in engaging people, and ones on which you can build to become an engaging leader.

Enhancing relating to people

As we revealedlast two weeks, most working relationships are less stable, and sometimes more fragile, than you and other people may realise; the way that you relate to, or connect with, each other changes due to your interpretations of your experiences of working together. You find out how to enhance your skills in relating to and connecting with your work colleagues in the next four sections.

‘Working with’ and not ‘doing to’ people

Generally, people want to make a positive difference or contribution to the organisation that employs them. We explainedearlier that, in trying to contribute, some people may be too helpful in working with their colleagues in the sense that they take responsibility off,or undermine, them. Let us check some examples.

(a) Interrupting a colleague and finishing his sentences by expressing what you think your colleague was going to say.

(b) Taking a task off a colleague, especially a less experienced one, because you know how to do the task better. You may indeed complete the task quicker, but your intervention stops the less experienced person from discovering how to do it correctly and may undermine his self-confidence.

These are examples of unintentionally ‘doing to’ rather than ‘working with’ people, but you may perceive that some people deliberately impose their views or actions!

There are ways you can work on improving your approach to working with your colleagues.Here are few of them.

(a) Show total respect for every individual and respect the rights that you and each person have such as: (1) The right to express your views and opinions, (2) The right to express individual feelings, (3) The right to be listened to and heard, (4) The right to change your mind.

(b) Strive to get to know and really understand them.

(c) Be empathetic: put yourself fin their shoes’ and try to appreciate things from the other person’s perspective.

(d) Have a genuine interest in others

You may sometimes find that showing a genuine interest in others is difficult. For example, in a work context you may have demanding targets or results that you have to achieve, and think that you have to focus all your attention and effort on achieving those results. Focusing in on your targets has a similar effect to looking down a telescope: you can clearly see your targets but you can’t see much else!

Remember, ‘silo management’ - which is when departments become inward looking and don’t consider the needs of, or how they impact on, other departments - tends to happen when managers of departments focus on achieving their own department’s targets. In doing so, managers tend to become blinkered to the needs of, or how their work affects, their peers in other departments.

Unintended side effects

An unintended side effect of focusing on your own targets is like putting blinkers on a horse to prevent it being distracted in a race: you stop noticing and showing an interest in what’s going on around you!

You need to practise developing a genuine interest in your work colleagues

Challenge yourself: ‘How well do I really know each person?’

Ask yourself how well you know each person who works with you, especially the people who report directly to you. Can youaccurately describe their personal circumstances, interests and hobbies, hopes and aspirations, any concerns about their work and so on? What makes them tick? If you don’t know, invest time in finding out by talking to them.

Asking members of your team about whether they think that you show enough interest in them. If your organisation has an appraisal process, invite each person who reports to you to give you honest feedback about how well you lead, support and work with them. If your organisation doesn’t have an appraisal system, take the initiative to have informal conversations with each person to obtain their views about you.

Check your plans.

Take a look at your ‘to do’ lists for the last month and estimate how much time or how many activities were focused on people: getting to know or understand them better, train, develop, guide and support them, and so on. What insights do your findings tell you about how much of a genuine interest you show in people?

Reflect on the benefits and consequences of how often you’re showing a genuine interest in people, especially if your initial assessment indicates that you’re thinking about people issues less than 20 per cent of the time - depending on the size of your team.

Build strong connections

When you build strong connections with your work colleagues, you also construct strong bonds and more stable relationships with them and throughout your team.

For each close connection that you have with a person ask yourself: (a) What are the reasons for this connection? (b) What have I done to create and develop this connection? (c) How much time do I spend with the person?

Repeat same steps for the connections that you have with other people who are less close.

When you show this kind of interest, they’re highly likely to reciprocate the interest in you, and the objectives and results that you’re trying to achieve.

Be non-judgemental

You may not realise, but being judgemental - that is, forming an opinion about whether a person is good or bad - is all too easy, as is then allowing that opinion to affect adversely or unfairly how you treat the person. Here is a simple exercise.

1. Take a few moments to think about the person you most enjoy working with: a person who perhaps does great work, is helpful, reliable, takes initiative and so on. Does the person’s face appear in yourmind?

2. Now think about the person you least like to work with: someone who perhaps causes you a lot of problems, is difficult to work with, causes you to worry about work, who you like to avoid if you can and so on. Can you see this person’s face?

3. Now reflect on how you work with each person, and question yourself about whether you’re always fair regarding how you treat these two people.

Virtually everyone who did this exercise will agree that they quickly see that they treat people differently. The problem is that you, if you also see different people, may unconsciously be carrying baggage about each person with you: views or opinions that prompt you automatically to treat people in a certain way.

For example, if you have an opinion that a person is difficult to work with, you may go into a conversation with the person about a problem with his work expecting to have a difficult conversation: you’ve already formed a judgement that the person is going to be difficult! If you do so, you’re likely to contribute to causing a difficult situation because you don’t have an open mind and may be less objective in asking questions about the problem and listening to what the person has to say.

Practise being non-judgemental

Recognise and appreciate that each person is unique and, therefore, different. The best teams are those in which members have different perspectives, styles and ways of thinking because such diversity enables people to make a wide range of contributions to solving complex problems.

Increase your self-awareness by noticing the thoughts and opinions you have, or assumptions that you’re making about individuals, and the implications of your opinions and assumptions for how you treat people.


(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer.)

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