“Leaders are there to help us to discover the greatness within us.”
Mark Peter Kahn
I’ve been a management consultant for 20 years and I’ve been coaching executives and middle managers for the last 10.
I believe that the most useful thing learned by the people I have worked with, is their shift in attitude from tense, stressed, impatient and anxious and resistant to ‘trouble’, to still and calm and modulated.
A movement away from, “I’m not good enough for this job,” to “I’m ok, I don’t have to be perfect, I can get criticized and attacked and face problems everyday and that’s ok!”
Michael hammer, the Godfather of the re-engineering process says that two most important skills necessary for success in business are attitude and creativity.
I agree with him.
What do I mean by attitude?
The 3 Most Important Leadership Skills
There has been an awful lot written about leadership skill over the years but in my opinion, the three most important skills are:
- Getting yourself out of the victim position and into mastery as quickly as possible.
- Getting your people out of the victim position and into mastery faster than they can do it themselves.
- Teaching them how to do it for themselves – this being the most difficult of the 3.
Just today I was coaching a client who talked to me about one of the key things he has learned through the work we have done.
He was describing how he gets called into meetings where he feels he doesn’t really have much of an operational interest in what is happening, but what his people have learned to do, is bring him in because he has such a calm and emotionally regulating energy that he enables people to get out of conflict far more easily than they can do it on their own. Skills #1 & #2 above.
He says that very often he’s only invited to these meetings because there is conflict on the go and he is able to regulate this conflicted energy simply through his presence, through the energy that he emits, just sitting there saying very little.
So what did we do in the coaching work that enabled this?
He learned to let go of his need to fix others NOW and solve every problem NOW!
He learned to embrace problems rather than resisting and running from them.
Largely speaking we try to fix people, relying too much on rushing to solve problems. Henry Mintzberg, a fabulous writer, says that the greatest problem the manager has is that they only go 1” deep.
In my language what this means is that there is such a rush to fix the person or the problem that we don’t take the time to expand the issue and allow all of the factors to be explored.
If you only understand 60% of the problem, then you are likely to get a 60% solution.
My client let go of his need to be problem free ie to embrace the fact that his job involves solving problems and being creative. Most people are in the victim position in the sense that they are wishing they could live in a world without problems or when they are confronted with the problem all they do is try to get rid of it so that they can relax.
Zorba The Greek
Zorba the Greek had this beautiful line, he said: “Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.” This is a truly great leadership principle.
How many leaders and managers do you know who just want to get the problem out of their office or out of their inbox as quickly possible?
Back to my client.
He let go of the resentment he had about carrying all of the organisations problems on his shoulders. Associated with this he realized that he needed to let go of his resentment about the loneliness of it.
Just about every leader I’ve ever worked with has at some point in time said to me, “This is so lonely, it’s so difficult, I have no one to talk to about my problems and then most importantly why should I be the one who has to carry all of this responsibility?”
And my answer to this is, “That is what you are paid for and that is what you have the skills to do.”
“That’s why you’re in this position and the people reporting to you mostly do not have that skill. Would you rather give up the blessings and the benefits of having these incredible leadership skills and go back to being a follower without responsibility?” and without exception, they all say no!
This client learned to bring a slowed down brainwave pattern, calmness and a stillness to all of the problems that manifest daily in his organization and he did this through learning to meditate with his eyes open while sitting in meetings and letting go of his negative, resistant emotions!!!
This is doable and its transformational.
Strategic Leadership Questions
He learned to ask Strategic Questions which have multiple benefits for him and his people, namely:
- They do the work and carry the monkey rather than him doing the work and carrying the monkey. (I’ll explain this in a moment.)
- They become less dependent on him to solve problems.
- Asking questions reduces his anxiety, increases his communication skill and the resulting calmness increases his creativity – Michael Hammer’s point.
- Asking questions in a modulated way brings a lot more calmness to problem solving throughout the organisation.
- A learning organization truly involves asking more questions than jumping too quickly to finding answers.
Regarding ‘getting the other person to do the work,’ what this means is that when someone comes to the CEO and says, “We’ve got a problem with one of our main suppliers who is not delivering properly, what should we do?” If the CEO gives the answer, he or she is ‘doing the work’ and disempowering the subordinate. Instead he says, “Well what do you think we should do, or what have you tried?”
He is making subordinate do the work. If the subordinate says, “I tried everything and nothing works,” the CEO can still keep pushing by saying, what about getting together with your team and trying some more options and then you can come back to me?”
It’s much easier to give an answer quickly to get the problem sorted, but you are disempowering everyone around you and most particularly the burden of leadership becomes heavier and heavier because you are carrying too much of the responsibility.
What is really fascinating for me is that some of the smartest and highest paid leaders I’ve worked with really don’t know how to manage their emotions internally under pressure and learning to do this transforms how they work and whom they work with and what it feels like to carry the responsibility of leadership.
If you want to explore these issues with me one on one, drop me a mail at email@example.com