Posted by: dstieglitz | July 31, 2013

People Aren’t Machines

“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did.

But people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Maya Angelou

       Justin, a group manager in a government technology firm, assigned writing tasks for a must-win proposal to key members of his billable staff and committed to do competitive research himself. He gave each person instructions on what he expected and provided a detailed schedule for preparing the proposal. At the first weekly review, Justin was disappointed by the mediocre progress – strategy questions were impeding progress. He responded to the questions as best he could and acknowledged that he hadn’t started his research because he “had high priority customer work.” The team felt like the extra hours they invested in the proposal weren’t appreciated and their pleas for help were falling on deaf ears.

      Tunnel Vision.  Some executives see their organization as a machine and people as the gears that make it run. With tunnel vision, they tell people what to do, how to do it, and when it must be done while missing feedback about how the objectives might be achieved more quickly and easily. Such executives implement procedures to maintain control and are surprised when people respond by waiting to be told what to do. In contrast, effective leaders understand that their organization is a collage of individual expectations connected by the promise of shared success. They reach out to build relationships and have conversations that motivate and inspire as well as direct.

      High Price of Ignoring Ideas.  One reason why coaches are brought into organizations is the inability of executives to treat peers, direct reports, customers and other stakeholders with respect – to value who they are as well as what they contribute. At one time or another, most of us have worked for a boss who discounted or ignored our ideas. Like me, you may recall those positions as the most frustrating and least rewarding segments of your career. By allowing people to give voice to their ideas – even ones that seem off-the-wall at first – you will have conversations that lead to more effective approaches, deepen mutual respect, and increase everyone’s commitment to the outcome.

      Common Myth. One common myth about being in a leadership position is that everyone will follow you merely because of your title. That belief often plays out when new leaders expect people to adopt new practices. “Now that I’m the boss, here’s how we’ll do things.” Instead, new leaders increase their chances for success by holding conversations that align everyone behind a change. “I’m glad to be here. How can we improve our results? What changes would you like to make?” A shared vision strengthens relationships and avoids resistance.

      People’s Expectations. You may have coached a sport, managed a project, and/or led a large organization. Those experiences share a key characteristic: the group’s objective was bigger than any one person could accomplish alone. When you were called to lead, people expected you to be an expert – even if you were not. They also expected you to tap their highest potential and mold them into a winning team. As a leader, your challenge was to get each person to perform at an optimal level in alignment with each other. That challenge required you to build a relationship with each of them, to talk and listen to them, and to inspire them to do their best.

      Comfort Zone. At the start each new challenge, the objective may have been outside your people’s comfort zone. While they were excited about the possibilities, their enthusiasm was diluted by their concerns. Such mixed optimism and fear are a natural part of anything new. Stepping through fear is what separates winners from losers. Empathize with your people as they experience feelings that may be similar to those you felt when you were in their shoes – and ones you are feeling or may feel yourself.

      Emotional Agility. Emotional agility is the ability to quickly achieve an effective emotional state under stressful circumstances. Like an athlete preparing for a playoff game, you must mentally prepare to motivate your people, calm tense situations, and address complex issues. Your emotional agility – or lack thereof – will significantly affect your performance and your team’s performance. The higher your leadership position, the wider the range of emotions you are likely to encounter in a single day – from celebration to condolences, from victory to defeat, from unexpected support to aggressive resistance. You must be able to quickly shift from the emotions you feel spontaneously to emotions that connect with people and motivate them to produce superior results in spite of difficult circumstances – like the today’s tight budgets and relentless competition.


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