Smart leaders excel in handling difficult people | Daily News
Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 23

Smart leaders excel in handling difficult people

Being a leader is difficult for many reasons. I can give you 5 good reasons.

(1) Your time is no longer your own. People from employees to customers, media, peers, etc will want a piece of your time.

(2) Meetings will become a way of life for you.The key is to stay away from the ones that provide no value and to ensure the ones you attend are on point and productive. Try to keep them to information meetingsand decision-making meetings only.

(3) You are no longer the subject matter expert. What got you into the leadership position no longer matters. You are no longer responsible for your own work. You are responsible for your teams work as a whole.Hard skills got you there, soft skills will keep you there.

(4) Your outcomes are dependent on other people. Instead of individual work you are responsible for the outcome of a company or team or department. All the people involved are responsible for your outcomes. You are judged on the work others are doing for you.

(5) At the end of the day, the final decision is yours. You can collaborate and get multiple opinions but the ultimate decision falls on you. At the end of the day if you are right 66% of the time, then you are doing well.

Remember - the first leadership role is intimidating. Each time you get promoted or move up you are learning new skills. The higher you go, depending where you are, the more impact your decision make. If you are a CEO your decisions can impact your entire company and customer base. Think about that for a moment. Your decision can impact hundreds of people. Reminds you of your pressure cooker. Isn’t it?

Having accepted the need to adapt your leadership approach as necessary, one question that then arises is: how can you remain authentic and act with integrity while also modifying your leadership style to suit the different requirements of different situations? This dilemma confused me in the early stages of my management career, when I experienced problems involving people, and today and next two weeks r I help you find out how to handle it.

Appreciating the need for a range of styles

Many factors impact on the attitudes, behaviours and performance of the people who report to you and they may also have implications for your choice of leadership style. These factors include: (a) People themselves. Every person is unique, each having a different personality, preferred ways of working, needs, hopes, concerns, range of competences and so on. (b) Nature of the work. The work that your team does may be,for example, extremely varied or repetitive in nature, or involve members of your team working in close proximity to you or out of your sight for most of the time. (c) Culture of your organisation. Culture is often described as ‘the way things get done around here’, but essentially culture is the prevailing values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of people within your organisation. (d) Your boss. Your boss’s leadership style and how it impacts on you and your team. (e) You. How you feel (that is, your current emotional state), your attitude towards each person and how you’ve treated people in the past.

Although you may have a preferred or natural leadership style in working with your colleagues, you need to be conscious of that style and display flexibility in your approach:

Be aware of the impact that your preferred style has on the attitudes, behaviours and performance of your work colleagues. Work on developing an engaging leadership style that enables you to modify your approach to working with colleagues, in order to gain their commitment to working with you to achieveobjectives.

When you do find that you need to change your style, make sure that you do so without compromising your integrity or the overall quality of your working relationships.

Wondering why you seem to get the problem-people

You may have accepted a job and then subsequently found out that you’ve more than your fair share of people reporting to you who aren’t behaving or performing to the standard you expect. Such a situation probably reflects that those people haven’t been led or managed well in the past: the leadership style of your predecessor was inappropriate! You may well come across situations in which people think that they’re performing their job well because they’ve never been told otherwise.

You may inherit people problems that were caused by your predecessor mis-managing people, through perhaps having standards that weren’t good enough for the work your team does or giving inappropriate feedback (that is, leading people to believe that they’re doing their jobs well when they’re not!).

If you’ve been leading the people for several months and some of them aren’t performing or behaving to the standards you expect of them, ask yourself the following question:

What am I doing or not doing that’s contributing to the current problems regarding underperformance or unacceptable behaviour?

(In subsequent instalments we will discuss the dangers of delaying taking action on behavioural and performance problems that you experience with your staff.)

Choosing horses for courses

Have you ever experienced a situation in which you treat two people the same way and find that they react differently to you? The same leadership style or approach may be effective in working with one person and less effective in working with another, which is just one reason why leading people can be difficult!

Consider modifying your leadership style when working with different people based on each individual’s interests, needs, motives, preferred ways of working, skills and so on: all these attributes may affect theperson’s willingness and ability to do a required task.

Some Leadership gurus describe this approach to leadership as situational leadership (in Management of Organizational Behaviour. They explain that leaders need to modify theirdirective and supportive styles of leadership to reflect the commitment and competence of each person who reports to them to do a particular task.

As well as the reasons given in this section, other factors can also affect your choice of leadership style:

(1) How you’re feeling at a given time and your attitude to work and each person who works for you. Past three weeks we spoke about the problems that being judgemental of people can cause for you, and how to become non-judgemental. ((2) Your own boss’s style. You may have a similar or different style of leadership compared to that of your boss, and any significant differences may cause tension or even conflict between you about how you need to be leading your staff. You may sometimes decide to modify your leadership approaches to reinforce each other, such as when you both want to propose enthusiastically a change in an organisational structure or process to senior managers.

When you experience tension or conflict with your boss due to significant differences in your styles, try to influence your boss to, for example, accept your approach to leading your team or even to modify her leadership style, and in doing so work better together.

Past weeks we also studied how to enhance your skills in engaging people, including developing the courage to speak your mind, on increasing your sphere of influence.

Working with chameleon people

Not only do you have to lead people who are different to each other, but you also may find that individuals change over time but, fortunately, not as quickly as a chameleon can change its colour. People’s personal or work circumstances can change, which directly or indirectly affects their attitude to work, their needs, motives, performance and so on.

Understanding different styles of leadership

In this instalment, we look at two basic approaches to leadership - one challenging and focused on targets and the other supportive of individual people - and the need to be flexible as a manager.

Modifying your leadership style helps you to engage your staff. Successfully engaging the people who report to you enables you to gain their commitment to work together towards achieving the objectives that contribute to your organisation being successful. It will enable your ream-members to fulfil their needs through working towards achieving those objectives.

To be brilliant at engaging people, you need to be skilled in the following: (1) Relating to and connecting with people by having a genuine interest in them and their needs. (2) Speaking your mind and asking searching questions. (3) Noticing subtle differences in your own and other people’s emotions, behaviour, enthusiasm and emphasis on words and language.

Interpreting information together to create mutual understanding about, and commitment to, acting to achieve objectives, solve problems and so on.

When you’re skilled in engaging people, you can modify your leadership style without undermining your integrity because you’re simultaneously focusing on achieving your team’s objectives, being sensitive and responsive to the needs of each member of the team, and consistently acting authentically in accord with your values.

(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. He could be contacted on [email protected])

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