Are you a back seat driver?

I’m staying with my sister and brother in law for a few days which means that for once, I am not doing the driving. It wasn’t until I got in the car sitting behind Alec that I remembered what a terrible passenger I am. I found myself looking over his shoulder, focusing intently on the road and the traffic, the voice in my head saying things like:

“I hope he’s seen that traffic build up ahead……

Alec, show me a sign that you have seen the brake lights going on……..


Oh thank god………… you’re braking………..

You brake a lot later than I do………”

Alec is a very competent driver; he just drives differently from me. It doesn’t matter whether I am with the best driver in the world, I find it difficult to hand over control. I have a burning desire to see signs that re-assure me that the driver is aware of any hazards and is ready to take action.

It can be a similar experience for managers who need to take a step back and let staff perform at their best and deliver the desired results, their own way. If you don’t, you’ll only make yourself nervous and create anxiety in them too.

I had a number of choices today. I could have continued to be hyper-vigilant, anxious and sweaty palmed and not say anything. I could have done what I’ve done in the past and told my brother in law I was feeling anxious and asked him to slow down, leave more space between cars etc., or I could do what I did which was to sit back and take in the scenery or focus my energy on something more productive like dealing with my emails.

As a manager, once you have allocated work, agreed deadlines, standards, reporting guidelines and everything else you need to put in place, how do you stop yourself being a back seat driver and hovering over the shoulder of your staff?

A Little Question with a Big Impact

When I’m delivering my “Coaching for Results” programmes, I’m often asked about my most effective or favourite coaching questions. I could roll out a string of quite long and impressive questions such as…

  • “If you had that in the way you wanted it, what would that do for you?”
  • “If fear wasn’t in your vocabulary what action would you take?”
    Or even the old
  • “If you went to sleep tonight and a miracle happened that resolved your issue or made your dream came true, how would you know it had happened?”

But my favourite questions aren’t big and they aren’t clever, and they really get below the surface and lead clients to dig deeper and get to the real nuggets. They are the questions that many people fail to ask at all, or don’t ask consistently and persistently enough to be effective.

Drum roll please…

I am now going to share a secret with you. The secret is that one of my favourite and most effective coaching questions is…wait for it…”What else?”

Okay, hands up if you feel let down or disappointed? Don’t be. Just try it.

  • When you are exploring how someone will feel when they achieve their goals, ask what else? And what else? And what else?
  • When you are considering the impact of not addressing a difficult issue ask what else? And what else?
  • When you are brainstorming options, or when you are considering all the things that could get in the way, ask what else?

You get the idea. At first it will feel uncomfortable and you may feel you can’t ask it again when you have already asked it twice in quick succession. Well that’s the time to ask just once more. I guarantee you, and more importantly the person you are coaching, will discover some hidden gems of insights, ideas, and solutions.

Next time I might introduce you to it’s cousins… “Because?…” and “Which means?…”

What are your favourite questions?

Lessons in Leadership

My 15 year old son Jack has just been permanently excluded from school. I never thought I would feel okay about that, let alone share it with the world. I am doing it because I admire the head teacher who has guided us through a potentially very negative experience in a positive way and I want to explore the leadership lessons here.

Jack has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He’s a bright, articulate, likeable and entertaining boy who can charm the birds out of the trees. He is also disruptive, impulsive and aggressive, which, at well over 6ft tall, can be seriously intimidating.

“Mr X. He’s a legend”

So what did this Head teacher do that resulted in me being so appreciative of his support and Jack calling him “a legend” and swearing never to hear a word said against him?

  1. He created a culture at the school where the teachers’ remained positive about Jack and didn’t lose sight of his ADHD. That’s no mean feat. If he had a broken leg everyone would remember and keep it in mind. With ADHD it’s easy to forget and judge him as purely badly behaved.
  2. As the situation escalated he took a personal interest in Jack and for many weeks, saw him every day, to go through his targets and report card. A major commitment for a head teacher.
  3. He was always clear and succinct about expectations and targets, ensured Jack had understood these, and involved both Jack and me every step of the way.
  4. When it became clear that the strategies weren’t changing anything, he was able to step back, and consider the best options for everyone. Jack now has a permanent place at a specialist unit with an almost one to one teacher – student ratio, which will serve Jack’s needs better. The Head didn’t let pride or ego get in the way, even though he said he felt he’d failed Jack in some ways
  5. Finally, and from our perspective, most importantly, he visited us at home to finish his current contact with Jack on a positive note. He again emphasised all Jacks strengths and what he had enjoyed about having him in school. He then gave him a nicely wrapped present of a pen, and explained what it meant about communication, believing in himself and staying in touch.

I don’t know what Jack will make of his life but I do know that this was a significant moment that he’ll always remember. It speaks volumes that the man who made some really tough decisions over the last couple of years, decisions that made Jack really angry at times, has built such a good relationship that Jack is in no doubt about the fairness, and commitment with which he’s been treated.

My questions to you are:

  • How are you building that level of respect within your team?
  • How do you maintain good relationships whilst dealing with tough decisions and situations?

Is Gender on the Agenda?

Having worked for a long time in the area of behaviour and communication at work I know there are a whole host of diverse influences on how we behave and communicate including religion, race, geographical location, class, role position, company culture, personality and… gender. If you are a man reading this, are you now about to hit the delete button? Perhaps the men didn’t get past the title. I really hope not because the point of this post is to explore whether this is on your radar or not.

When I talk to women about how it impacts them, particularly when working with male dominated work teams they quickly relate to the subject. They’re usually very aware of how it affects their working relationships, and open to understanding how they may undermine their own credibility and apparent confidence and are keen to learn how they can change it.

I recently tweeted about a talk I had given to a large group of women entitled “How to Talk So Men Listen” One man responded by asking how I help men talk so women listen. Fair point, and the question it raised for me is do men care?

Women are interested because they are usually in a minority on senior teams, can site numerous examples of when they’ve felt frustrated that they’ve not been listened to or acknowledged and can frequently see the potential implications for their personal and business success.

Do men have the same incentive to address this? If the senior team of your business has always been  male and has well established conversational norms, what’s in it for you as a man, to consider anyone joining the team, whose style of communication doesn’t fit those norms, whether that is due to gender or any of the other influences, for that matter.

I’d really value your input on this because I don’t want to approach it as purely a women’s issue. I want to learn more about your experiences and thinking.

Whilst acknowledging that none of these are absolute measures and more on a spectrum of styles, what do you think about men and women having different ways of behaving and communicating?

  • What has been your personal experience?
  • What have you noticed when men and women work together in teams?
  • What impact can these differences have?
  • What, if anything, is in it for men to acknowledge or address any differences?

Do you have the courage to stand up and be counted?

Journalists are definitely not flavour of the month here in the UK, and Johann Hari has made errors of judgement himself recently (though nothing to do with phone hacking.) However, when I saw him give this talk on 5th July, I felt compelled to share it with you as an impressive example of outstanding leadership and effective communication.

Leaders know what they stand for and aren’t afraid to stand up for it. Johann Hari makes a compelling case for freedom of speech particularly in the face of religious fundamentalism, and delivers it with courage and passion.

He also demonstrates another key leadership skill. He is not afraid to share his vulnerability by owning up to mistakes and errors of judgement even though it’s uncomfortable.

With phone hacking, super-injunctions, and twitter privacy all hitting the headlines recently this speech is particularly pertinent. I urge you to pay attention to both the content and the process and note what it evokes in you. It’s 15 mins long so take a break, grab a coffee and prepare to be moved.

If it speaks to your heart, what is it about the way Hari delivers his message that works for you? If it evokes a different reaction, why is that? What can you learn from this that will help you communicate with passion and influence in the future? I’d love to hear your comments.

Engineers are useless at business!

In a recent episode of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar said “I’ve never met an engineer that was any good at business.” Let me tell you, I’ve worked with many engineers as a leadership and management specialist, and I know different.

Engineers can make excellent managers, who produce good business results; they just need to be shown how. They’re usually bright, open to learning, work well with the right processes and aren’t afraid to experiment and adjust until they get it right. All the same qualities that makes them good engineers.

Whether you believe your engineers were born with those qualities or not, they still needed to be taught the technical skills and given the chance to practice them on the job.

My management development programmes provide the same kinds of learning opportunities and I structure them to suit how engineers prefer to learn.

How are you supporting your managers to increase profits, performance and productivity?

If you’d like to know how I can help, please email me at info@jkld.co.uk