I like to keep myself informed of the latest theories that accompany the science of management and leadership. It is part of a commitment to excellence in the field.
So sometimes it surprises me when I come across articles and research that demonstrate knowledge we’ve had for years about the challenges that leaders face, and it still has yet to penetrate the mass consciousness of business.
I came across just such an article, called The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact, written by Henry Mintzberg and published in the Harvard Business Review in the July/August 1975 issue.
It’s entirely possible that Mintzberg’s analysis was way ahead of its time. Harvard Business Review certainly felt it was important enough to publish it again in 1990 as the lead article for its compilation of the most influential articles on leadership.
For the first time, Mintzberg helped managers articulate what it is that they actually do, rather than what it is they think they do. In doing so, managers felt understood. More importantly, they had greater capacity to understand themselves.
He did this by creating a distinction between the cerebral manager and the insightful manager. Here’s what he distinguished.
Cerebral management is an approach to management that’s based upon a thought or an idea of what management could or should look like. Cerebral management shows up as typical responses from managers when asked what they do. Those typical responses include planning, organising, controlling and coordinating.
In theory, this is what managers do. The practice of management is very different. For example, people believe managers are reflective. Studies show that managers actually avoid tasks that require reflective work, like planning, in favour of short interval exercises and regular bursts of energy across different activities.
In realising this, you as a manager can be responsible for it and choose to perform your tasks differently. The key, though, is the willingness to bring insight to yourself as you fulfil your role. This can accompany huge resistance!
Often it feels as though there is no time for insight in business. When you’ve got a million-and-one things on your to-do list, taking a moment to consider if there’s a more effective way of getting the job done or looking at your own behaviour as the possible cause of the ineffectiveness is the last thing on your mind.
In many cases, pausing to reflect and listen to yourself first can elevate your performance. Imagine what your experience would be like if you could take yourself out of the chaos for, say, 5 minutes and assess your current approach.
What might you discover?
You might discover that all the effort you’ve been exerting could have been better spent elsewhere to achieve the same and likely better results. You might realise that you were limiting yourself and your team with your approach. You might even find that all the frantic activity prevented you from seeing the most obvious course of action.
Applying insight to your leadership enables you to adjust your course of action so that you stay in alignment with your vision, mission, values and goals.
Let me demonstrate how this works in practice. A client came to me, a fellow coach, who set up a practice to support women in business. She watched the marketplace, identified a gap in the market, and decided she would differentiate herself by positioning herself as an expert on money. The problem was, she was not getting very far with her business
Digging a little deeper, we discovered that money was part of a much bigger story. She was really about empowerment. By trying to force herself into a niche, she cheated herself, reducing what she could offer to one small slice of a very big pie. What she realised is that money, for her, is one of several enabling energies that provides the power required to accomplish great things in life.
In our discussion, her true purpose came to light: being powerful and responsible with money emerges when her clients value themselves. This is what she was really offering, and she recognised that this principle could be applied to many aspects of life that impact business success. Her own possibilities expanded, and she felt inspired to move forward again after having felt stuck.
This is true for you and your leaders, too. When leaders learn to bring insight to everyday tasks, they make better decisions. They discover how to say yes and no when appropriate. They delegate more effectively. They create space for deeper thinking that creates richer results. They develop wisdom. It is this work that makes the difference.
Taking time out in the short term pays of dividends pretty quickly. Delivering valuable results helps leaders learn to value themselves. When leaders value themselves, they deliver value to others. Valued leaders, in turn, make valuable leaders.
Brilliant ones, in fact.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which your message was interpreted in a way that surprised you? Did you receive unexpected backlash from your colleagues as a result?
This can be a humbling, unsettling experience that can leave you feeling unsure of yourself.
The good news is that it offers you a brilliant opportunity to hone your communications skills.
Like any skill, powerful communication takes practice, and it requires mindfulness or awareness of the situation you're in. There’s no one way to do it. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and vice versa. In fact, I see communication as less of a skill and more of an art form.
It’s your signature, an expression of you in the moment.
Whether you’re just starting out in a role that requires powerful communication, or you have been in a leadership role for a while, there is always room for improvement. Like learning any skill, improving your communication is a step-by-step process that requires you to:
If you’ve had an experience when your communication fell on deaf ears or landed with people the wrong way, try following the steps below to bring greater mindfulness and power to your communication.
Step One - Learn to Love Your Communication Style
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to communicate. Your style will work best for you when it is in alignment with who you are as a communicator. A way to determine your style is to understand and live by your values.
How does this work in practice?
I will use myself as an example. I am a coach, trainer and business owner. My career relies heavily on my communication skills.
My core values are integrity, wellbeing and leadership. I bring these values to my communication style. I do what I say I’m going to do, and I aim to make my communication clutter-free. I check in on the wellbeing of customers, partners and associates. I guide people to discover new ways of being that leave them with power and possibility.
Doing this repeatedly creates trust when people see that my communication style reflects my values. Test it out by asking yourself if you can see these values reflected in this article.
Step Two - Understand That People Listen Through Filters
People receive information through filters of understanding, filters they’ve created as a result of past experiences or learning. Some communication styles trigger past experiences that cause people to label you or your message in a certain way.
Can you be responsible for their filters? No, you can’t. Your message will be received and interpreted in ways you can’t always predict. It is, however, helpful that in a conflictual situation, you demonstrate a willingness to understand the other person’s viewpoint.
Making someone feel wrong for their way of seeing the world won’t help your cause. Being curious about their way of seeing things enables you, as a leader, to create a bridge that will foster greater understanding.
Step Three - Manage People’s Expectations
While you cannot be responsible for other people’s filters, you can be responsible for your own. Sharing your values and acknowledging how you communicate will help people understand you.
If you value integrity, for example, your commitment to integrity will have you hold yourself and others to account for their behaviour. This can be uncomfortable, but consider that what is even more uncomfortable is knowing that you have eroded your own value system for the sake of avoiding conflict.
By consistently being a stand for values like integrity, you give your colleagues the opportunity to meet your expectations. Knowing what to expect from you reduces the inclination for inaccurate interpretation and upset.
Step Four - Clarify Your Communications Objectives
Before you hit send on the team email or spend hours working on your presentation, know what result you want to deliver. Consider:
When you’ve identified your objectives, state them right at the beginning of your communication. Make the purpose of the exercise clear. Craft the piece to fulfil the outcomes you want to generate. Seek feedback to discover if your communication had the desired effect. Find out what you can do to accomplish your objectives with more power and purpose.
Step Five - Speak to Your Audience
Always know your audience and address their needs. Tailor your message to speak to your audiences's needs and concerns directly.
It can be tempting as a time-saving measure to send out the same email or deliver the same presentation to everyone concerned. Be warned. Irrelevant communication annoys people and negatively impacts you in the process.
When you take the time to demonstrate an understanding of your audiences’s concerns, they feel as though you are offering them real value without wasting their time. The fact is, you are delivering real value without wasting their time.
Building a perception of you as a partner who delivers value will work wonders for your future career potential.
Step Six - Check Your Language
It is a good idea to check your language, in particular the choice of words you use. Is your communication factual, or is it emotive? Is it hypothetical or is it practical?
In dealing with conflictual situations, avoid inflammatory words that fan the flames of intense emotions. Words that seek to soothe are useful, but ensure that you are communicating from a genuine desire to resolve the conflict. Otherwise, you can come across as manipulative. Asking questions that seek to understand and guide rather than interrogate is a good place to begin.
Step Seven - Deliver the Message Through Story
Storytelling is a buzzword in business circles because it is highly effective at illustrating a point. A good story gives your point life by making it real. This helps your audience to embrace the message.
A client expressed dissatisfaction with some honest feedback I provided about a video she created. It was a bone of contention until I shared a personal leadership development experience, during which I spent three months refining and rehearsing a presentation before I was given the go-ahead to deliver it.
Through the sharing of my story, she understood that trying to create the perfect video in one take was unrealistic and, in her words, ‘lazy.’ She was able to accept the need for rehearsing the script a few times before recording.
Believing great communicators deliver great communication off the cuff is a mistake a lot of people make. It’s not true! In fact, great communicators know the importance of mindfulness and practice. Being completely familiar with the flow of the material being communicated gives good communication the appearance of being seamless and natural.
The Benefit of Conflict
In accepting conflict as a natural part of life, you learn to treat conflict as an opportunity for understanding the people you deal with in more depth. The more you bring mindfulness to your understanding of yourself and the people around you, the better able you are to tailor your communications to have the desired outcome.
Being an effective communicator comes with practice. With practice comes confidence. With confidence comes experimentation. With experimentation comes authenticity. With authenticity comes clarity. With clarity comes a voice. With a voice comes influence. With influence comes inspiring leadership.
With inspiring leadership comes business brilliance.
Have you ever found yourself feeling stuck, your hands seemingly tied until decisions are made elsewhere? Is it compromising your ability to share your gifts and fully express yourself?
Feeling stuck is a frustrating place to be. Perhaps situations seem completely out of your control. Perhaps you’re reluctant to speak up and make demands upon people.
Heaven knows you wouldn’t want to appear pushy!
So, what do you do? Do you ride out the situation? Do you kick up a fuss? Do you walk away with head buried in hands?
You could do all of those things. People have responded to business impasses in these ways before, and it’s completely understandable. Familiar even. But, will it accomplish what needs to be accomplished?
No, and here’s why. Each of these strategies is based on fear. Yes, fear.
It’s a common misconception that fear is always an intense feeling. If you’re walking down a dark, deserted alley alone late at night, you’ll feel fear at its most potent, including the physiological symptoms associated with the release of adrenaline.
If you’ve ever had a racing heart and sweaty palms, you’ll know what I mean.
What’s not so common is the understanding that any thinking that limits you is based in fear. Your body may not react strongly to your fear-based thoughts. In fact, you may be able to rationalise these thoughts so convincingly that they seem the most obvious course of action.
And yet, you remain stuck.
To move things forward, it is important to recognise the role fear is playing with your thoughts. This will empower you to determine fear’s validity in a situation.
Let me share with you how this works in practice.
I worked with a team at a not-for-profit organisation. The organisation was undergoing a corporate restructure. This created considerable uncertainty for the employees at ground level. Lack of clarity and sporadic, unreliable communication from head office exacerbated the situation, leaving people concerned for themselves, their volunteers and their service users.
Understandably, employees felt concerned about the lack of decision-making, which threatened to undermine their ability to serve the community. A fatalistic mindset crept in. Frustration and anger were rife, and these feelings competed with compassion for the pressure the folks in head office were under to resolve the situation.
They were stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, and no one knew what to do.
We explored what was REALLY going on under the surface. Fears of being judged, of being out of control, of appearing pushy and of looking stupid for asking for help rose to the surface.
Interestingly, not a single person hyperventilated as they expressed these fears. What was even more revealing is that each person could see how their own unfounded fear stopped them from taking action.
It was fear that kept them in a place of stalemate as they waited for someone in head office to resolve the situation.
Here’s the good news. As soon as they brought their fears to the surface and assessed them logically, they were able to acknowledge the irrationality of their fears.
This one small act, of acknowledging what was at the base of their inaction, opened up new avenues of possibility for them.
They worked together to come up with solutions to the stalemate, seeing that their ideas could support the whole charity experiencing the same frustrations.
In less than an hour, the team moved from being stuck to feeling empowered to resolve the situation themselves, creating a list of actions they each could take to smooth the transition.
Flow returned. Possibilities for making things work presented themselves, in and out of the office. The atmosphere lightened up.
The team found their spark again, but they found more than that. They got in touch with the source of their power to make things happen. They realised that it wasn’t necessary to wait for orders. They could take initiative, be pro-active and resolve the situation not just for themselves, but for the organisation.
How did they achieve this? They achieved this by:
Did they produce results? They did indeed! In fact, one of the participants sent me a message a few months later to say that she had created the PERFECT role for herself. She was amazed by her own power.
How did she do it? She stepped out of the fear that kept her quiet and she asked for what she wanted. And she got it.
When things are going well, it’s easy to roll with the tide. When things aren’t going to plan, it’s very easy to slide into limited thinking.
In these moments, courageous leadership is what organisations need. To do that, a leader must be able to transcend his or her own limited thinking, all of which is rooted in fear.
Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear being present. Acting courageously when times are tough generates inspired decision-making. This, in turn, inspires others to act above and beyond the call of duty.
Courage is the fuel that fires authentic leadership brilliance. And courage is infectious. It ignites the flames of leadership and brilliance in others.
How will you express courageous brilliance today? How will you inspire others to be courageous?
Let’s start a revolution of courageous brilliance. Share what’s possible. Gotta start some time and somewhere. It may as well be right here, right now.
For more information, contact:
Lori West, Managing Director
Business Brilliance™ Professional Development Ltd
Brilliance is an elusive concept. It’s a concept applied to many objects related to light, but when applied to human beings, it generally refers to an exceptional talent or intelligence.
What’s interesting about the word brilliance and its relationship to human beings is the belief that some people have it, and some people don’t. A study published by a group of US scientists in the journal Science drew out some interesting findings, in particular the difference in attitudes towards brilliance between boys and girls.
The study showed that, as early as six years old, girls attributed their academic success more to hard work and less to innate abilities, believing that boys are inherently smarter than girls. While academic results demonstrate categorically that this is not true, something in the educational system implants the belief in girls to attribute their success less to intelligence and more to hard work.
Why the educational system? Well, it’s interesting that at the age of five, girls and boys are pretty much equal in terms of their views on innate intelligence versus hard work, and it’s at the age of five that boys and girls in the US, where the study was conducted, enter school. The situation changes significantly by the age of six, with girls eschewing skills deemed appropriate for “intelligent” people and identifying intelligence more with males than females.
The real issue is that this bias negatively impacts both boys and girls. Girls are given the false impression about their lack of intelligence in relation to boys, and this dents their confidence, which, in turn, prevents them from stretching themselves academically with subjects like science and maths. Boys, on the other hand, falsely believe that intelligence will see them through life, so it comes as a bit of a shock when they learn that success rarely comes without hard work. Secondary school results are a key indicator of the impact it has on boys’ educational accomplishments.
It’s of vital importance that educators tackle this situation now to ensure equal opportunity in the future. We need to understand the source of the bias so we can transform it going forward.
How do you correct the damage that’s already been done? Perhaps you are one of those people who have been affected by this gender bias, and it’s having a negative impact on your career.
It’s not likely to happen overnight. However, you can definitely begin the process by being in the inquiry. Here are the five steps, which I call the AEIOU Process, to help you reclaim your brilliance.
When you reach this point, what are you left with? A blank canvas! An open space on which you can create whatever you want. So, how do you want to approach your career? Do you want to keep working hard? Do you want to keep living under the delusion that the world owes you something? Or do you want to live a life that fills you up?
It's your choice. As your coach, I suggest you consider your future. How do you want your career to look? What kind of thinking will help you get there? Choose beliefs and attitudes that support you to fulfil your goals in a healthy way. Remember, your career is only one facet of a multi-faceted life. You want to ensure that your belief choices work for you, your career, your family, your colleagues, your health, your pleasure -- your entire life, basically. Pie-in-the-sky beliefs set you up for further failure. You don't want that.
I want to leave you with a word about brilliance. Everyone is imbued with brilliance. It can feel like a monumental task trying to draw this brilliance out of yourself, especially if it has been diminished by limited thinking like bias. Would it be satisfying if everything was easy, though? Probably not!
It is your job to own your own brilliance. Imagine what your life could be if you approach it as an adventure in discovering who you really are, without all the fluff you've gathered over the years. It sounds like a lot of fun to me!
Believe me. There is gold inside you, waiting to be discovered. It's your job to mine it and fashion into a life worth living.
And here’s the truth (in an age of post-Truth): brilliance knows no bias.