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LEADERSHIP


Cast iron guarantees and bamboo scaffolding


History has given us many examples of leaders who’ve proudly embraced the metaphorical metallic epithet – we’ve had Iron Dukes and Iron Ladies – but the metaphor has always overlooked a weakness. Iron may indeed be strong – when it’s used in ways that best suit the material – but its inflexibility is also its downfall. Iron is brittle. Te haughty leader would be better advised not to stoop to conquer but to bend to convince. An approach to leadership devel-


The haughty leader would be better advised not to stoop to conquer but to bend to convince


❝ Tese approaches have a dual


benefit. Tey enlighten the individual not only to a picture of themselves but also that their actions, behaviours and thinking patterns are not fixed points but preferences on a range of axes. In other words, they have choices and they are free to take them. But they also provide an additional insight: other individuals have their own preferences, tendencies and favoured ways of operating. Tere are no rights or wrongs, but there are differences.


Sensitivity and situation


Tis existence of variety and difference – just as evident in working lives as private ones – is why sensitivity matters. It also explains why dystopian novels and films so often portray worlds that are grimly impersonal. Te indifference to difference is a key ele- ment of their horror. If leaders, acting or aspiring, wish to adopt a physical material as a guiding model, bamboo’s combination of strength and flexibility would make it a better choice.


34 | September 2016 |


opment that takes self-awareness as its first step might, perhaps, do just that. Te main tools for driving an interest in self-examination are usually drawn from an array of psychometric tools (including MBTI®, FIRO-B® and the Hogan suite of assessment tools) and from 360 degree feedback instruments.


Tere is a quote from the author


Leo Tolstoy that we might need to partly disagree with to illustrate the importance of sensitivity to situation. Te quote is as follows: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Te second part here is, if we are taking families as metaphors, undoubt- edly true. But if we pursue our compar- ison of organisations with families, the first part deserves a little unpicking. Organisational happiness, in


terms of employee satisfaction and sense of fulfilment, is something more likely to require creating than to be something that can be assumed to be a natural state of affairs. Even the most pleasurable and rewarding organisa- tional experiences must compete in our affections with our external lives. And creating happiness at work behoves an organisation’s leaders to demonstrate the empathy, active listening and sensitivity to appreciate that the triggers of a sense of satisfaction are as personal as a sense of disgruntlement. One of the key elements of lead- ership and management is feedback, offered to provide additional guidance to that provided when the task in question was originally set. While the adequate (and, more pressingly, poor) manager will consider feedback as something that they deliver, the effective and exceptional manager will have the sensitivity to understand that feedback should actually be a dialogue. Te point is to make a positive


impact, not to leave a dent. Tere is no value in using feedback as a method for underlining a status or authority that will already be clearly understood. If an employee’s performance needs address- ing urgently, immediate improvements are unlikely if the feedback you deliver leaves them feeling less competent, less supported or less encouraged. Te problem with the repeated message that ‘you are not good enough’ is not that it is not believed, but that it might be believed all too much. And those at the top of


organisational structures need feedback as much as those further down. If under-performance is a reflection of unclear objective setting or mismanaged delegation, this reverse feedback is essential if the problem is to be resolved. More basically, a


manager who is deaf to how their feedback is being received is unlikely to deliver it effectively. Sensitivity is vital to the process, especially with those who will take feedback badly. A manager who can adjust the tone


and message to the individual context is more likely to get their message both heard and accepted, but this requires listening as well as talking. Poorly delivered feedback builds barriers rather than performance. For managers, giving feedback is an opportunity to learn about themselves, their impact (good or bad) on others, and changes they might make to their own behaviour.


Keeping ears and doors open


So far, we have explored communi- cation – one of the five fundamental skills of managers identified by the ILM as drivers of trust, and shown by their surveying to be the second most important. While three of the others – competence, integrity and decision-making – might be considered ‘personal’ skills, the remaining skill of ‘being open and fair’ is not just, like communication, an ‘inter-personal’ skill but the one seen by their respondents as the single most important driver of trust. Tis emphasis is consistent across the responses of first line, middle and senior managers, and across the public, private and third sectors. Importance, however, is not the same as prevalence. Te ILM’s 2014 survey report, Te truth about trust: Honesty and integrity at work,3 shows that we trust those below us more willingly than those above us. Given the critical impact of line management, it’s also concerning that our tendency to trust increases with seniority, with junior managers having the least trust and faith. As far as openness and sensitivity


are concerned, managers must wrestle with a conundrum. Tere are, and always will be, times when it is appropriate for sensitivity to translate as discretion, but managers and leaders must remain mindful that a reluctance to speak out can also be a symptom of a dysfunctional organisational culture. Tis symptom


can express itself in several ways: ``


Not speaking out because doing so could leave the speaker tagged


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