The Rubik’s Cube of Leadership
By Bernard Ross
The Management Centre
I’ve just finished another coaching session with a depressed CEO. I do a lot of coaching for depressed CEOs and other leaders. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good business for my company — and for Kleenex. But I feel like an ambulance chaser, surviving on the misery of others. Misery is a strong word. But many leaders, whether of a whole organisation or just a team, are depressed a lot of the time. Why? Because they feel they’re not living up to some leadership ideal they should fit into.
So much of the time I spend with my coaching customersclients involves explaining that this ‘ideal’ leadership archetype is a myth.
One part of the myth, for example, is the idea that your job as a leader is to ‘motivate’ staff. The one thing that almost every motivational expert agrees on is that you can’t motivate people. You simply try and create a context in which they decide to be motivated. This simple truth, that people are responsible for their own feelings including motivation, has important implications — not least of which is that as a leader you don’t have to spend your whole time trying to ‘inspire’ people and be charismatic.
Pressure off? Well not quite… the reality is that working out what your colleagues need and want is important. And that can feel like solving a Rubik’s Cube — you adjust one part of the people challenge to discover you’ve ‘unadjusted’ another.
So what are the basic things I advise you should do for all employees to deliver on a realistic leadership role?
Different employees need different things. And there is a skill to identifying these different kinds of stimulus and support. In my management coaching I suggest there are five things you need to do to enable most employees to succeed:
People want to work on an engaging and stretching projects that offer them maximum scope for freedom to make decisions de and succeed. And that helps them choose to be motivated. Obviously there are practical constraints within this autonomy. But in general you should look to give people the maximum degree of choice over their actions that you can. Done well this also frees them up you to work on your their key outputs.
Make Them Accountable
Part of the deal with autonomy is that people accept are accountability for the results. Holding people to account makes the relationship adult and reciprocal. (There is a right to fail — to try in a systematic way that doesn’t succeed — but not to poor performance.) Accountability also clarifies performance, of if what works and what doesn’t. This clarity is essential for employees who are trying to work out how they can ensure they are seen asto be recognised as successful.
People can only be accountable and work autonomously if they know really what their role is. This goes beyond the old-fashioned job description which is really just a list of tasks with a sense of priority. You need to be explicit with staff around what their mission or overall purpose is, who they are responsible to and what the key measures of success are. With this clarity they can act effectively.
One part of the myth is that you have to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to praise people. It’s true that everyone wants praise. But at least as important is the more general concept of being recognised. That includes telling someone when they’ve done something right and when they could improve. Effective management coaching motivates employees by highlighting their contributions — not focusing exclusively on positives or negative.
Finally, while roles and feedback are important you need to be able to step outside formal settings — boss/employee, supervisor/supervisee. It’s good to take time to relate to people- over a coffee or the water cooler, or even in the bathroom — and ask how they are, ask about their families, find out about their interests. Be prepared to share your own feelings, fears, and frustrations. This makes you human and encourages others to relate to you the same way.
Bernard Ross is a director of =mc. In 2013 he was voted most inspiring speaker in the USA by Fundraising Success magazine. He is an internationally recognised management consultant and author. His customers include some of the world's largest INGOs including International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Greenpeace International and UNICEF International.