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Management Principle: Thinking and Staff Development

In today’s world we’re not really encouraged to think, and by that I mean to wrestle long and hard over issues that involve different mindsets, considering tradeoffs, and then arriving at specific well thought out conclusions. Rather, we are asked to adopt and accept certain belief systems and simply conform. Since Pavlov’s famous experiment with man’s best friend, humanity has become the target of social conditioning, where like food shopping, we pick our favorite brand off the shelf–a concoction that if we could only see how it was made, we would likely decide to raise it and cook it ourselves. As the late Dr. Glenn Martin, professor at Indiana Wesleyan University would say, “Ideas have consequences.” What this means for organizational leaders is that developing today’s staff will present a very different challenge compared to other eras. Applying time-tested professional techniques are going to feel foreign, strange and even unsettling, particularly with the emerging generation.

Thinking and Staff Development, business planning, business management, employee engagementIf we want to effectively mentor and develop others then we must get them to think. Why? Good thinking yields good judgment; good judgment yields good decision-making; good decision-making yields win-win scenarios for all parties involved. It produces an owner mindset if we are careful to create a culture that supports risk-taking and innovation. Yet in juxtaposition to thinking cultures are many of today’s business environments, where we’ve followed the same protocol as the rest of society, engaging in telling platforms, communicating conformity rather than encouraging the originality and creativity that come from contemplation and having our conclusions tested by the questions and thinking of others.

If we really want to develop staff into people that can ultimately take our place, we have to engage in a more radical approach. I remember becoming aware of this truth when my boss walked into my office one day as I was standing in front of my window, staring at the outside world. He snuck up behind me and said in a pronounced voice, “Caught you!” I was so embarrassed–I knew I wasn’t really “working.” I’ll never forget his next statement… “I caught you thinking, and just so you know, that’s what I pay you to do.” He then walked out. This boss of mine is the reason I am who I am today, thanks to his ability to know the right and professional thing to do to make me a better man and a more professional manager.

Below are some keys steps to develop thinking in your staff:

  • Ask Questions. A professional manager will ask discovery-based questions rather than provide answers when employees approach them with problem-solving needs. This can feel uncomfortable for staff, since it exposes their current (and usually inadequate) thinking and makes them feel vulnerable. A safe culture is a prerequisite. In school, when taking tests, we are presented with questions for which we must provide answers. We study because we know we are going to be asked difficult questions. And if we’ve studied hard enough, we’ll give the right answer. Telling bosses stunt the growth and development of their staff.
  • Next Steps. To ensure an employee fully owns their job, all next steps must be placed on them. If we say to our staff, “Let me think it over and I’ll get back with you,” we’ve stumbled in our professional role. What we are really saying when this happens is, “I don’t trust your thinking, so I’m going to use my thinking until I come up with the right answer.” One of the key principles when training a soldier how to shoot is to keep the instructor’s finger off the trigger. If we hope to increase our employees’ competency over time, we need to push the thinking down, keep the problem-solving on them, and avoid doing their work.
  • Insure Decision-making. It would be a disaster if, by only asking questions and assigning next steps, our employees went out like the old cartoon character Tennessee Tuxedo and acted on their half-baked ideas. We’d spend much of our time accounting to our boss, making excuses for the actions of our employees and our inability to lead. This is why I like Bill Oncken’s Freedom Scale. Depending on our anxiety level, there are certain levels of freedom we assign to employee decisions to insure sound actions. If we don’t like their ideas, rather than give them the answer, we find the next best question to ask to help them see the bigger picture.

I know what you are thinking. All this sounds great but it takes too much time. And, time it does take. But, like a good financial investment, it means delaying current gratification for long-term gain. The truth is, for a telling boss, he or she will spend most of their time answering the same questions over and over again, which is a waste of time. By applying these principles on the front end of staff development, we’ll produce people who will ultimately think and judge the same way we do. If you want your staff to improve in their judgments and decision-making, then you must cultivate your thinking in them. This same process works well with teenage children, by the way.

Coaching questions: When your employees seek your direction or some version of problem-solving, how do you usually respond? How can you take steps to make sure your thinking is being developed in them, so that they can ultimately replace you in a succession process? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.

Management Principle: True Leaders

What are the beliefs and the behaviors of true leaders? With so many people articulating different views, it’s hard to decipher a universal model upon which everyone would agree.

Some people believe in the “end-justifies-the-means” approach suggested by the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” while others relate to the more servant-leader approach articulated by Jim Collins’ in his book, “Good to Great.” We could easily move to a debate about what’s ethical versus effective, and totally miss the fact that all leaders work with human beings who possess the facilities of mind, will and emotions, rather than the hoped-for robots that respond to commands with precise execution and blind obedience.

The bottom line is this: those leaders who focus on winning the active support of those they lead, utilizing wholesome influence skills, historically have better results than those who use the coercive, stern discipline approach, supported by shame and humiliation, to get people to act. Anyone I know, if asked to choose between William Wallace and Adolph Hitler to be their leader, would align with William Wallace based on his ability to lead from the front and inspire his people, and, whose dedication and love for his men were clearly known and demonstrated. So what guidance does this provide for us in our quest to become true leaders?

True and good leaders are those who have the ability and energy to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves, while focusing on the welfare of those under their charge, leaving their own personal concerns and desires for last. This choice and lifestyle is professional behavior, and not something one arrives at easily–anything less than this is something other than true leadership. If our motive for becoming a leader is rooted in a desire for power and/or money (cast as “career growth”), we will likely harm our people and the overall cause, doing ourselves no good in the end. The proper motivation for leadership is rooted in the discipline of service. And, while we may fool ourselves regarding our true motives and desires, they will be crystal clear to everyone else.

Here is a good prescription to follow, to make sure we are walking down the right path.

1- Do justice. Do right by the company and its clients, as well as your staff. When there are tensions between any of these constituencies, ask yourself the question: What creates a fair, win-win for all concerned? Don’t be satisfied with anything less. If someone is misbehaving in some way, violating the principle of justice, move toward them in a spirit of wholesome conflict and stand strong. Follow the principles of justice and fairness.True Leaders

2- Love mercy. The way to get people to act as a volunteers, and serve with a whole heart, is to adopt a development mindset and avoid being accusational or judgmental. Being judgmental harms people, regardless of your intention. Most people are eager to learn when given a true opportunity in a safe environment. Just because someone can’t read your mind doesn’t mean they are intentionally trying to make your life hard.

3- Walk humbly. The egotistical leader is a total turnoff to almost all followers. For those who embrace the narcissistic model, people will bemoan their leadership. Don’t assume that you are exempt from this pitfall. We can’t see pride in the mirror. If you’ve made it about you (put yourself in the center) and fail to truly serve your people with whatever degree of power you have, you’ll never have the respect and therefore the sacrificial volunteerism of your people. If you make it about them, versus making it about you, they’ll follow you forever.

Coaching questions: Where might you need to grow in your own motivations and therefore in your leadership skill? Who can help you to manage that growth and provide accountabilities for your success? Write your answers in your journal.

Read more coaching principles from Dean Harbry on the Internal Innovations website.