Friday, 24 May 2013

Accountability That Rests On “Tell Me More”

A significant responsibility of those in leadership is to hold others accountable for their opinions and/or for actions they have taken.  Holding others accountable is a difficult task at best and at worst, it leaves those with whom we are working feeling dismayed or even destroyed.  Is it possible to hold someone accountable while allowing them to walk away from our conversation with them with their head held high?  I offer the following phrase as a starting point:  “Tell me more.”

Let us assume that you are leading a meeting and someone at this meeting has offered an opinion with which you disagree.  And let assume that the opinion that was offered was laced with an ounce or two of bitterness, possibly over a decision that did not go as the speaker had anticipated.  Our temptation in these moments is simply to respond to the statement that was made, offering information and possibly defending the decision that was made.  The problem with this approach is that as we defend our position, the speaker tends to become defensive as well.  And in their defensiveness, the speaker entrenches into his/her position.  Further, the speaker has not been effectively held accountable for the opinion they offered – an opinion sometimes based on limited information.
Alternately, let us consider the impact of the phrase:  “Tell me more.”  When the speaker offers their opinion and we respond with a curious question or an invitation for them to tell us more, two things happen:   
1) The speaker must back up their opinion with more information – this is a form of inviting accountability on the part of the speaker for the statement he/she has just made.  
 2)  As the speaker shares more about his/her opinion, he/she is more likely to feel heard, especially if we listen well.
Most people do not actually need to agree with the decision that was made.  What they do need is to feel as though they have been heard – that they have had a voice in whatever issue is being addressed.  “Tell me more” not only ensures people feel heard, in the process it also holds the speaker accountable for the opinion he/she is offering – but doing so in a way that meets the speaker’s need (to be heard) and your own need (to encourage accountability) at the same time.  For a three word phrase, this is not a bad deal at all.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Leadership & Unconditional Positive Regard

In my work, I spend a lot of time thinking about leadership and the impact of leaders on organizational life.  For quite some time now, I have found myself saying the following to the people with whom I work who are seeking to enhance their leadership and/or to become facilitators:  Love the people you are leading.  In fact, in my more bold moments I have been known to say:  If you don’t love the people you are leading, you have no business being in leadership.  This may sound pithy and trite or it may sound too “soft” for the business world, but I believe that if we allow ourselves to really live into this statement, the impact on us and those around us will be profound. 

Recently a student reminded me that the psychologist Carl Rogers more or less said the same thing when he advocated relating to one’s client through the lens of unconditional positive regard.  What Rogers believed and what I have found to be true is that when people recognise themselves as valued unconditionally they are much more likely to change than when these same people are only cared for conditionally.  Rogers, of course, was referring to the therapist-client relationship.  From my experience, the same can be said of the leader – subordinate relationship.  Leaders, like therapists, are frequently engaged in seeking to support and/or challenge another’s behaviour.  The problem is that people who do not feel genuinely accepted as they are will frequently respond to their leader with resistance and defensiveness.  The great irony is that the more we accept people as they are, the more they will feel free to change to become the person they could be.
This does not mean that underperforming is ok.  It also does not mean that we accept poor behaviour in the workplace.  It does mean, however, that the people we lead will more likely reach the high bar we set when they know in their bones that we first accept them as they are.