Tag Archives: Leadership

Leading Knowledge Workers

Peter Drucker announced the passing of the ‘command and control’ style of business leadership in the 1950s. He and others recognised it is an act of futility to tell a person she MUST come up with a bright idea to solve a problem; but this does not stop a lot of ‘C’ and ‘D’ grade mangers from exacerbating failure by trying to control everything and blaming everyone else when the inevitable happens. Knowledge workers need motivating, guiding and inspiring by their leader so they feel empowered to deal with the issue or challenge.

This is not a new concept, the military developed the concept of auftragstaktik at the beginning of the 19th Century (see: Command or Control). Ever earlier, Laozi said “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say ‘we did it ourselves’.” Laozi’s Tao Te Ching underpins Daoism, which in modern China is both a philosophical tradition and organized religion. He advocated humility in leadership and a restrained approach to statecraft. His emphasis on ‘naturalness’ translates into a way of life characterized by simplicity, calmness, and freedom from tyranny.

One way you can translate these concepts into the modern workplace is through the effective use of questions. Christine Comaford, an executive coach and author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together advocates asking five ‘teaching questions’ for every one piece of advocacy or instruction.

If you continuously give detailed orders, you are teaching your team dependence. Whereas asking questions encourages learning and development, and frees up your time as your team takes on the new skills.

The type of discussion recommended by Comaford goes like this: ‘George’ comes to you and says, “Hey boss, how should I process this order?” And you say, “Well, what would you do? … Okay, what else? … Who should we loop in? … What could go right? … What could go wrong?”

She has found that if you ask that person the five questions on three separate occasions; by the end of the third inquiry session, they are going to ‘get it’ and start to forge a new pathway, and they’re going to go, “Wow, whenever I go and ask the boss for orders, he actually asks me what I would do”. ‘George’ will come to you for one or two more validation sessions – then he’s off and running. He owns his area of responsibility.

The most effective intrinsic motivators are autonomy, authority and achievement (see more on Motivation), and the skilful use of effective questions is one effective way to crate these factors in your team (see more on Effective Questions).

And the really good news is that by teaching your team confidence and competence with questions rather than dependence with orders, they are more likely to have the ideas and skills that will help you succeed.

So what’s your ratio of orders given to questions asked?

It is OK to ask for help

Far too many people think that asking for help is a sign of failure or weakness. In fact the opposite is true. If you don’t know something and waste your time trying to find out, or worse still make an expensive mistake, no-one benefits least of all you! Effective leaders, managers and team members know what they don’t know and proactively seek help to build their knowledge and capability.

Most people seem happy to offer help when someone asks for it, but are shy or embarrassed to ask for help themselves. Rather than asking, they try to work out the answer, even when it’s clear that it is not possible; or hide and not tell anyone they’re wrestling with something; or just hope it goes away. By asking for information or help, rather than wasting time and energy trying to solve the problem, you move forward and the energy that was being wasted wondering and struggling can be used for positive purposes.

This will make you a better leader and will also show those under you that it’s OK to ask for help. Demonstrating to your team that you ask for help when needed encourages them to do the same and frees up communication, energy and the flow of information in a positive way. It seems obvious, but it won’t happen without a push in the right direction.

Things you can do:

  1. First, stop talking to yourself and decide that you are going to talk to someone else.
  2. Decide who that will be.
  3. Craft the conversation. Write down not only what you are going to ask them, but how you hope they will respond. The art of asking effective questions is outlined in our White Paper: Active Listening & Effective Questions
  4. Schedule a meeting and promise you will ask them for help.
  5. Tell someone of your intentions; someone who will hold you to account for having the meeting and asking for help.

Then be pleasantly surprised; most people are honoured to be asked to assist friends and colleagues – by asking for help you are showing them you respect their knowledge and abilities.

Rewards to Motivate Performance

When you do a good job, you like to feel appreciated and as a leader, rewarding good performance is one of the key ways to keep your team motivated. However, there is a significant difference in the way many businesses try to use rewards to motivate people and what scientific studies suggest are effective motivators.

The ‘carrot and stick’ approach has been shown to be largely ineffective. This is hardly new; Henry Gantt was advocating rewards over punishment as the most effective motivator as early as 1912. What is interesting though, is that providing transactional bonuses as the reward has also been shown to be largely ineffective. Simply providing a reward of ‘1’ if a person achieved 1X, and ‘2’ if they achieve 2X has little effect on motivation, particularly if the reward is money. If you don’t believe this watch Dan Pink’s TED presentation on the surprising science of motivation at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_pink_on_motivation.html or look up Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, wages are a hygiene factor, not a motivator.

What modern research has shown is the type of rewards that are effective. We all have a deep need for autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, mastery, the urge to get better at doing our work and to feel successful, and purpose, the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

If your leadership provides your team with these elements, you are likely to have satisfied and motivated people working together. Some of the key elements to integrate into your leadership include allowing team members the freedom to define their work within appropriate boundaries*, providing opportunities to develop new skills and linking their work to the objectives of the organisation and where possible benefits to society at large. Your job is to ‘join the dots’ and make the linkages: If we create a more efficient process, consumption will be reduced and there will be a benefit in the reduction of our organisation’s carbon footprint.

Rewards do not need to be large, but it helps if you can create a series of short, medium and long term aims to allow successes to be recognized regularly. Then provide rapid, frequent and clear feedback linked to graduated and scaled rewards for appropriate effort. The rewards themselves should reinforce the three elements above. Rewards that offer more autonomy or more control over a person’s work, or the opportunity to learn something new or polish an existing skill are far more likely to be effective than a transactional payment such as time off work. This is particularly true if the group as a whole can join in to celebrate the success.

So where can you start? One simple thing to try is the next time you need to direct a person to do a job, rather then telling them what to do and when it has to be finished, ask them how they can best achieve the objective of the task and how quickly do they think they can accomplish it. You may be surprised at the positive reaction.

* for more on bounded initiative see: https://mosaicprojects.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/command-or-control

The Planner as a Leader

With New Year resolutions in mind, the power of a written plan to influence outcomes cannot be underestimated. This works at the personal level and the business level. The only requirement is the people involved in making the plans happen need to be committed to the planned outcome.

Barbara Anderson, from Shire Coaching a long term friend and colleague who specialises in executive, business & personal coaching quoted the following survey in her New Year e-zine.

HARVARD STUDY – Evidence that writing down your goals works

Students in the 1979 Harvard MBA program were asked: ‘Have you set and written down goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?’
–   Only 3% had written goals.
–   13% had goals but hadn’t written them
–   84% had no specific goals

10 years later the same students were interviewed. The 13% of the class who had set goals were earning twice as much on average as the 84% who didn’t have goals.

The 3% who had written goals – were earning 10 x as much on average as the other 97%, and also reported better health, better relationships, and overall happiness and success.

The message is clear, from New Year resolutions, to life goals, to project goals having a written plan makes a huge difference. But achieving the required effect is not so simple. The minority of MBA students who had taken the trouble to write down their goals, and their plans to achieve them, were most likely committed to the plan. The challenge for project goals written into a project plan is developing the same level of commitment.

I have posted numerous blogs discussing ways to make the project plan and in particular the schedule into an effective document for communicating the agreed goals and plans, but on its own a well crafted document is still of little use (click on the ‘Scheduling’ category to see the posts). Creating buy-in and commitment to the project plan is a leadership role and requires the project planner to act as an effective leader, supporting their project manager.

Leadership is a learned skill, based on personal integrity. Some of the key learnable skills of a leader that directly relate to the roles of the project planner as a leader include:

  • Interpreting situations and information that affect the project, including:
       –   Seeking information from multiple sources
       –   Knowing how the project fits into the organisations overall strategy
       –   Analysing how resources and team members work together and understanding their capabilities
       –   Knowing your own capabilities and motivations
  • Shaping a strategy for the work (the traditional planning function), including:
       –   Involving the right people at the right time
       –   Standing up for what is important
       –   Keeping the plans relevant by appropriate updating and statusing
       –   Communicating the plan effectively and showing how it fits into an overall organisational strategy
       –   Remaining positive
  • Helping mobilise resources to work the plan, including:
       –   Communicating clearly the results expected from others
       –   Leading people towards the planned ways of working
       –   Demonstrating caring and confidence in the capabilities of team members and resources.
       –   Letting people know how they are progressing towards achieving the plan
  • Inspiring others to achieve results:
       –   Recognising the contribution of others
       –   Helping them to feel and act as leaders in their section of the project
       –   Stimulating the thinking of others
       –   Contributing to the building of the group’s commitment and enthusiasm for the project’s objectives.

Obviously the project planner cannot accomplish all of this alone; support is needed from project management. Helping the project manager help the planner to be successful requires a different skill set, ‘advising upwards’ but that is the subject of another paper (see Managing Upwards from our publishd papers).