I’m in the process of leaving a project this week and my successor has been coming up with suggestions on how to improve as the team goes forwards. It’s tempting sometimes to say, “I tried that already and it didn’t work,” but I stop myself if I can.
I have to remind myself that the fact that I tried something and it wasn’t successful is not an indicator of potential failure if someone else tries something similar. The project has continued to develop, the participants have changed, maybe the approach is slightly different – who knows? Maybe this time the outcome will be better.
This is not to say we should mindlessly repeat ourselves, expecting a different result every time, but we can sometimes be tempted to squash other people’s ideas on the basis of our own experience.
Let’s not do that.
You just don’t know what the future will hold for any attempt at a leap forwards. It’s better for everyone to stay positive on possible outcomes and avoid letting our own experiences jeopardize someone else’s opportunity for success.
I’m always interested in working with great coaches and am lucky to have found a few along the way. How do I recognize them? How do you know if you’ve found one?
Great coaches know that most people can’t take in a long checklist of improvements. When someone gives me too much to think about, I spend all my time checking each move and I lose the flow of what I’m doing.
Great coaches focus on one area of performance at a time. They give you one or two things to think about or correct, and what they give you often has an impact far beyond the immediate.
I practiced karate for years and noticed time and again how a good instructor would get a student to make a small adjustment that made a big difference. They’d ask a student to adjust their hip position slightly and that would affect their foot position, their leg, shoulder, their arm – you’d see a person’s whole body change as a result of one small shift.
Look for people who give simple instructions that have great effect, and maybe you’ll have found a great coach. Think about the same approach for yourself – the world can always use more!
I spent some time this week watching email fly back and forth between people at work and thought about how much of it wasn’t necessary. So much of the time – in written and spoken communications – people seem driven to have the last word on a subject. Which prompts someone else to have another last word, and so on and so on.
I suppose it’s a way of asserting your identity, of making sure your voice is heard and distinguishing yourself from the crowd. These are valid goals, but is it always necessary to pursue them in this way, in a work environment? Sometimes maybe yes, but I’d argue far less often than we see it today. When you’re dealing with a client it can be particularly unattractive.
Recently I saw a consultant argue with a client in a public forum, talking over them in an attempt to have the final say. I could feel my skin crawl as I watched this display and tried to think of a way to end it. Eventually the client did end it – by letting the consultant have the last word – but was this really a good idea? What is the eventual cost to that relationship?
So the next time you’re tempted to follow up, correct, talk over, disagree or say “me too!”, just have a little think about why you’re chiming in. Is it necessary, or is it just because you’re trying to one-up the competition, whoever that is?
A former colleague and friend of mine gave me a phrase a few years ago that I find I use all of the time.
I was speaking to her about a situation with a client in which I’d recommended one course of action and they took a different path. Now they were in trouble and I was saying what a shame it was that they hadn’t taken my advice. She said, “You know, after a while being right loses its impact.”
I realized then – and continue to realize every day – that you can’t tell people anything. You can only ever create the conditions under which they discover things for themselves. This is how we all really learn.
So ask questions, listen, challenge, seek to understand – all while keeping your objective in mind – and create the situation in which the client can make the right choice. Just don’t bother telling them. They won’t really get it unless they get to it themselves.
I really enjoyed re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” recently. He tells a lot of great stories about human beings’ ability to make quick decisions on limited information, but the phrase that stays in my mind comes out of one story about the military.
In the book, he relates a story about a war games exercise one of his subjects particpated in. Team A had lots and lots of sensors, advanced technology systems and defined processes for reaching decisions; Team B had standard information-gathering techniques and very little tech. The theory was that with lots of information and lots of processes to govern decision-making, Team A would naturally be the winner.
You can guess already that this didn’t happen, right? Once the games began, Team A received too much information, which they then spent too much time talking about. They weren’t set up to handle unexpected events or behaviours from the other side and as a consequence lost the game.
As an experienced battlefield commander, the leader of Team B knew that he didn’t WANT to know everything and that events often move too quickly for deep discussion. He wanted his people in the field to be able to address the situation in front of them effectively and tell him what he needed to know to forward the overall objective.
His expression for this was “in command and out of control,” which I thought was a great description of effective modern leadership.
It came to mind again during the recent floods in Calgary as we saw Mayor Naheed Nenshi do such a great job leading the city from disaster to recovery. He knew he didn’t need to know everything all of the time and he didn’t issue detailed instructions – he just said, “Help your neighbours,” which proved to be all people needed.
Are you in the same position? Can you give your team a broad directive like that and know they will perform effectively?