Heretical Leadership

Leadership expert Barry Jackson carries on with his assessment of the challenges surrounding modern leadership.

 

While people who bring trivial problems to your door may be irritating, there are a number of crucial benefits to handling such problems in a sensitive way.
  1. First, people who are treated in a sensitive manner are going to tell the rest of the team what a kind-hearted, approachable person you are. This will pay huge dividends when problems arise which you would want drawn to your attention as a matter of urgency
  2. The reverse is equally true. I’ve known organisations get into huge difficulties simply because staff were afraid to tell their leaders things they might not want to hear. An abused car isn’t going to affect the performance of other cars. Abused people can affect the attitude of an entire team toward you; and they will. You can’t afford a reputation for being unapproachable
  3. If a member of your team is forever bothering you with problems he ought to be able to deal with himself, you need to discover why this is. Having identified the problem, appropriate training could turn him into a far more productive member of the team
  4. Finally, learning how to handle presenting problems, whether serious or otherwise will develop your own skills in what is one of the most important of all leadership skills, that of being a good listener.
Has it ever occurred to you that conflict in the workplace is hardly ever caused because someone was spoiling for a fight? Most conflict occurs in spite of the fact that neither party wanted it; so why does it happen so often? Conflict occurs when someone’s ego is bruised, someone’s identity was threatened or someone’s values were compromised. Unless you’re dealing with an exceptionally obnoxious individual, it’s unlikely to happen for any other reason. Bruised egos happen when someone is not being effectively listened to. Identities feel threatened when someone is not listening effectively. Values are compromised when someone is not listening.
“Has it ever occurred to you that conflict in the workplace is hardly ever caused because someone was spoiling for a fight? Most conflict occurs in spite of the fact that neither party wanted it; so why does it happen so often?

During my childhood, one of the things I can remember we used to do was to compare the scars we collected from falling off bikes or out of trees. A scar gave you street cred. The more impressive the scar the more credibility it gave you. It wasn’t good to have no scars at all. The other kids saw you as a bit of a wimp if you never bled. It’s not so very different at work. The world of work can be a bit of a battleground but we’re all kind of proud of the wounds inflicted on us in the course of winning that all important contract or avoiding that impending financial crisis (“I got there in the end but you wouldn’t believe what I had to go through!”) We hate people to think we achieved anything worthwhile without a struggle. But it saddens me to hear so many people talking about the wounds inflicted on them, not in the course of achieving something worthwhile, but by colleagues who ought to be on the same side. Scars collected in fights with colleagues are not even honourable scars.

The questions we should be asking ourselves when people behave in unexpected ways are pretty similar to the questions we ought to ask when a car starts behaving strangely.
  1. What are the presenting symptoms?
  2. Symptoms of what?
  3. Could they be symptoms of something more serious?
  4. What do I need to ask to find out?
Only when you have the answer to all four of these questions can you answer the all- important question, “what action do I need to take next?” and be confident that the action you take is going to be the right action.
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