How to make your team more productive: Start with your shadow

Productivity is one of the key issues encountered by organisations of all sizes, and it’s often one of the most misunderstood, especially by managers. Many leaders look at their teams and at the skills and experience within them, and are baffled that their productivity isn’t greater.

But what they’re failing to look at is closer to home: themselves.

As a manager, the first step towards making your team more productive is to lead by example. Your team’s productivity starts with you. This is why, when we work with an organisation on any productivity issue, more often than not we start with the leaders.

You may not be aware of it, but you are the main influence on your team. And we don’t mean in the sense of giving orders or targets. We’re talking about how your behaviour, attitude and work ethic is noticed and adopted by your people. There’s a saying that your staff leave at the end of the day with the same mood that you walked in with in the morning, and this is often true.

This concept of the unconscious influence of a manager is known as ‘The Shadow of the Leader’ which, as the name suggests, relates to the influence – for better or worse – of the leader on their team. People absorb their leader’s values, and tend to mirror their leader’s behaviour. On a wider level, a leader’s shadow may be cast so wide that it affects the culture of an entire organisation.

Your leadership shadow reflects everything you say and do. Whether you intend it or not, you cast your shadow over your team. Your people will, either consciously or subconsciously, take clues from you about their behaviour, values, motivation and work ethic. They will mirror what you do and say, and how you react to situations.

So, as a leader, ask yourself: Are you aware of the shadow you cast over your team? Is this shadow a positive or negative one? Are you displaying the behaviours that you would expect see from your people?

Why a growth mindset is key to productivity

At Thinking Focus, we work with many organisations on issues around productivity. We’ve met some great teams of people with fantastic skills and experience. So why is it that their productivity levels are not as high as they could be?

Low productivity is often the result of a fixed mindset. This is a mindset that says: I have the skills to do this job so I don’t need to try, my talent is enough. If a team has a fixed mindset, they won’t fulfil their potential and will be complacent, unmotivated and unproductive.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, says: There is always more I could learn, it’s up to me to develop my skills and abilities, I’m open to new ideas. This way of thinking enables people to push the boundaries, become more creative, try things, and do the best they can. People with a growth mindset do not fear a new challenge, and view a mistake or setback as an opportunity to learn.

So, if a productive team needs a growth mindset, how do you help your people to adopt one?

How to instil a growth mindset in your people

The first step is to look at yourself. As leaders, the mindset we get from our people is the mindset we create ourselves. People mirror the actions and behaviours of their leaders, as we discuss in our blog about The Shadow of the Leader here. As a role model for your people, if you display a growth mindset, it’s likely they will adopt one, too. While it can take work to develop a growth mindset, fixed mindsets can be contagious, so if you have one, they will probably have one to.

Help your team identify a goal, and focus not just on what you want them to do but also where the boundaries are, so they have some scope to develop their own ideas. Think of the goal as the pins at the end of a bowling alley. Your role as a leader is to point out the pins and the direction the ball needs to go in, then put up the lane guards on either side of the lane (normally used for small children and me!). But to create a growth mindset, you should neither tell your people how to throw the ball nor throw the ball for them. Trust the strengths, knowledge and skills of your people. Give them guidance, set the direction and the purpose, but don’t identify the ‘how’.

Leaders with a growth mindset inspire their people to do the best they can, and promote a culture of learning and freedom. Praise your team for effort and learning, not talent and experience. Encourage them to adopt a have-a-go attitude and even to take risks without fear of the consequences should there be a setback or a mistake.  This is where the boundaries are helpful, as it ensures that if they do fail, they fail safely.  Help them accept that things don’t always go to plan but, with a growth mindset, they will learn from setbacks and mistakes. This will instil confidence, ambition and innovation in your team.

Behave in a consistent manner and act in a way that is consistent with the culture and ethos you are trying to achieve for your organisation. Understand what motivates your team and ensure that it’s aligned to your organisation’s objectives.

So, set an example to your team by displaying a growth mindset yourself, and helping them adopt one too. By demonstrating that you have made mistakes, and used them to help you grow, you can help your people feel safe and allow them to learn, have a go at new things, push boundaries, and become better at what they do. And that, ultimately, will create a more productive team.

Why you need to take a summer holiday

As leaders and  managers, we all sometimes fall into the trap of thinking we can’t take time away from work.

We worry about what might happen in our absence and we look at our ever-growing to-do lists and decide it would be better just to keep at it. With other team members taking their own holidays, we often feel it’s down to us to provide consistency to the business by staying at work.

Yet there are sound reasons why taking a summer break is not only good for you, but could actually lead to a productive breakthrough that will accelerate your projects and goals.

Change the setting

Research into problem-solving and innovation has shown that we have our best ideas and breakthroughs when our brain is able to make connections between different things. Great ideas are not really ‘a-ha!’ moments; they are more like the collision of different contexts or worlds.

Yet often, when we are trying to see the world differently we do it in the same old environment, surrounded by the same old things. This conditions and limits our thinking to the known; not the best place to make a break through.

To get new ideas, take a break from your normal environment, go somewhere different to spark different thoughts and memories.  The more different the location, the more chance the environment will help you see the world differently.

Unleash the subconscious

We also know that our subconscious mind is at its most intuitive when our conscious mind is occupied by a task that is not too taxing. When we are doing something that requires focus, the subconscious focuses on supporting what we are doing. Conversely, when we are not really doing anything, then the subconscious mind is not allowed to wander, as our conscious thoughts become distracting as they wander.

To create the best conditions to allow your subconscious to focus on breakthroughs, new ideas or problem solving, occupy your conscious mind in something engaging enough to keep it occupied, while not too demanding. This is why you have your best ideas in the shower, out on a run or diving the car! So, chilling in the pool, or spending some time playing on the beach with family or friends could be just what you need.

The great outdoors

There is a whole area of psychology that focuses on our relationship with nature.  Open natural spaces, especially where there are lots of green and fractal shapes (think plants and trees) create a restorative environment, helping to restore us to our baseline levels.

That sounds a bit technical, but basically the evidence indicates that being in these spaces allows us to reduce stress and recharge. Yet where do we spend most of our time? In man-made spaces, focused on neutral colour tones and straight lines.

In a nutshell, if all you can do is get out of the office and go for a walk in the park, it will make the world seem better. If you can take a few days out to explore more of the natural world, even better.

Accessing positive emotions

On top of this, positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, gratitude and even serenity, enable us to think more widely and see connections and new possibilities. By contrast, negative emotions act to focus our thinking on the problem at hand, limiting the scope of ideas available. This concept of positive emotions was developed by the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson in her ‘broaden and build’ theory which shows how positive emotions help us thrive.

Continuing with the same old routine isn’t going to bring new, positive emotions into our lives. Staying at work day in, day out will just serve to keep us focused on the same old problems. Instead, getting away, doing something different that brings us positive emotions – whether that’s heading out onto the golf course or taking the kids for a day at the beach – will open up our minds to new opportunities.

 

So if you are thinking that you don’t have time to take a break this summer, that you are too busy, or up to your neck in alligators, then it might be time to think again. Some time in a different environment, especially a natural, restorative space, that gives your subconscious the time it needs to process the challenges and goals you are facing is probably just what you need.

In fact, you probably can’t afford not to go on holiday.  If nothing else, it will make you smile, and that alone may be enough to create the breakthrough you need.

Ten questions you need to ask if you want to develop high quality leadership

by Graham Field

Ensuring high quality leadership within any organisation, large or small, has always been a challenge, and much has been written on this subject. Pick up any leadership book or read any leadership material and it must seem like the Holy Grail is waiting to be found!

From our own extensive research and experience, we at Thinking Focus believe that there are three key areas to focus on to become a quality leader, which in turn will bring about organisational success.

Below, we discuss these three areas, as well as giving tips for leaders to focus on in order to improve performance. When reading the following, consider yourself now against the areas mentioned: where do you see your strengths and where are your development areas? What do you, or others in your organisation, need to concentrate on to become high quality leaders?

Ask yourself our 10 questions – and answer them as honestly as you can. Then act on the information you have to make the improvements needed to achieve your aims.

 

  1. Shaping The Business: This is about getting any organisation ready for success, and as a leader the key areas for you to work on are:

Creating, and continually encouraging, a supportive, inclusive environment: Environments don’t just happen; they need to be created. The most basic question any leader should be asking themselves is “what type of environment do I want to create?” The most successful organisations worldwide ensure that the environment they create supports everybody – through effective HR policies, great inductions, mentoring and coaching schemes, and other forms of employee engagement. High quality leaders recognise the value of having these in place as a motivating factor and ensure their people are really included in decision making processes.

Shaping your organisational structure and processes for great success: Once quality leaders understand the ‘what’ (environment) they focus on the ‘how’ (structure and process). As a great starting question, and one that should be constantly revisited, these leaders know the answers to “what structure, systems and processes would be the most helpful to support our overall vision/aims?” This question allows leaders to focus on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of their business considering, for instance, whether the structure actually supports people, really is customer focused or can demonstrate attention to quality. High quality leaders know structure and process must help, not hinder, organisational success and implement them rigourously.

Master the fundamentals of your business: Any great leader works at mastering what makes organisations tick – particularly their own – whether this be through self-learning, through mentoring or through development programmes. High quality leaders make understanding “what key business principles do I need to learn and master?” a daily task.

 

  1. Strengthening The Team: Focus on the people side of leadership, and the importance of developing and motivating the best team a leader can have working with them.

Ensure the team you have has the right people doing the right things: Any leadership text will highlight that leaders need followers – and in the world of the organisation, this is about having the right team. High quality leaders not only recruit the right people, they place them where their skills will be used to maximum effect, ensuring both business success and individual motivation. As a leader, knowing the answer to the three-part question “what does each of my team bring to the party, how effectively are their skills being used and how might their skills add even greater value?” is essential. And this is not a one-time question, but an ongoing one. High quality leaders are constantly aware of the skills mix of their people and move their teams around for maximum success.

Make sure everyone fully understands their role – and how this fits with your vision: There’s a great analogy often used to demonstrate this point about two stone cutters working in a quarry and they are both asked what they are doing. Stonecutter one replies “I am cutting stone” – clearly demonstrating they understand what they are doing. Stonecutter two responds “I am part of a team building a cathedral” – clearly demonstrating they know not only what they are doing, but how it fits with a bigger picture. High quality leaders understand this point and make sure that the people they work with know not only what they are doing, but also why. These leaders ask the question “what can I do to bring my vision to life for everyone?” and then engage everyone in answering it.

Understand that relationships matter: Everyone in an organisation, or indeed who interacts with it, is important – and high quality leaders understand this and work at it. Knowing how to interact with people, how to effectively delegate to motivate and develop people, how to develop a relationship of trust and how to communicate effectively are all important factors that great leaders understand. Answering the questions “which of my people skills need the most work?” or “which relationships do I need to focus on the most?” gives great insight – and helps to forge a development path to gaining new skills, or brushing up on existing ones!

 

  1. Seizing The Opportunities: Focus on building on all of the above, then allow high quality leaders to be the most proactive they can be and either make the most of opportunities as they arise or, ideally, create new opportunities for success.

Dig around in your organisation – find the opportunities: When everything is running smoothly, as it will be if the organisation has been shaped and the team strengthened, reflecting on how everything is working is a key trait of high quality leaders. Unwilling to rest on their laurels, effective leaders will be constantly exploring how things are working, highlighting areas for improvement and seizing these opportunities. Ignoring the rule of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they probe what’s going on with a view to continuous improvement. Make answering the question “where is there an opportunity for improvement in this?” one of your daily habits.

Reduce reaction times on vital knowledge – and create sources of information: Opportunities are always presenting themselves through the information that surrounds us – high quality leaders not only make the most of this, but also find ways of ‘being in the know’. Regularly reading trade journals, attending seminars and networking events, following the news, and really listening to what’s being said in meetings are all seen as opportunities to take in something vital before turning it into meaningful action. Knowing something and filing it for future reference may be helpful, but turning that knowledge into an opportunity for creative thinking and speedy action is the way of the high quality leader. Make sure when vital knowledge comes your way you can immediately answer the question,“what’s the most creative way of using this information for organisational success?”.

Make innovative leaps in everything you do: High quality leaders know that unleashing their own creativity, and that of their people, holds the key to so many problems, challenges and opportunities. Creativity is no longer the gift of the select few in organisations: a function of leadership is to harness the creativity in everyone. Most managers and leaders are able to look at where incremental improvements can be made; the most effective leaders look to move things  up a gear; consider how to develop creativity and innovation to ensure that they are prepared to make giant leaps, not small steps. Answer “what’s the most creative and innovative thing I can do with this?” regularly – and make sure your creativity skills are topped up at all times!

 

From working with our clients, we believe that by following the nine tips above, and putting in the time to answer the ten questions within them, anyone can start to increase their leadership capability. You may already be doing some of the above, and only need to work on just a few of the areas. Whichever approach you need, and decide, to take, as a high quality leader make a commitment to do something with the information above!

How gamification can help your business

A range of organisations are turning to gamified learning as a way of motivating employees, boosting engagement and driving business success.

The technique allows companies to deliver effective learning content and training strategies combined with an element of fun. Applied successfully, it can help businesses achieve goals and outcomes by using game dynamics to connect with employees, gain feedback and measure performance.

What is gamified learning?

‘Gamification’ is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context to engage users and/or solve problems. It uses achievement, reward, creativity and self-expression and then uses points, badges, levels, leader boards and various challenges to motivate employees.

But these mechanisms don’t always make a difference on their own. The focus of the approach needs to centre on individual development – the ‘human aspect’ – to help employees feel valued and enhance their problem-solving skills.

Board games

Many companies apply gamification within their apps, websites or e-learning tools but the good ‘old fashioned’ board game can have equally positive benefits, as well as some extra ones. A key difference is that they bring people together to play and discuss the game face-to-face. This leads to a greater sense of engagement and a more productive session.

When it comes to the way we behave in different scenarios, board games can develop areas such as communication, resolving conflict, team work, creativity negotiation, empathy and decision-making. They can help to increase learning and create a sense of achievement.

As an example of how even ordinary board games can teach us business skills, take Amazon’s best-selling board games in 2017. They include the classic Monopoly, which teaches us how to seal a deal and use negotiating skills as each player looks to build up their position on the board.  And the fast-talking description game Articulate is not only a lot of fun but also tests skills of creativity, communication and team-work as players work together to achieve a common goal – with the added, high-pressure element of having just 30 seconds in which to describe as many words as possible.

So think how effective a board game would be that’s specifically created to be played in a business environment, and focuses on work-based scenarios. This was our thought process when one of our clients, world-leading car seat manufacturer Adient, asked us to help find an innovative solution to their management training needs. The result was that we created a gamified learning solution based on a traditional board game, using a simple game play premise to improve leadership skills, engagement, and communication between peers.

What Would You Do? is a scenario-based game which tests decision-making abilities both in an immediately reactive as well as a more considered way. Although points are awarded for preferred answers, enabling participants to move up the board and win, the mechanics of the game are really just a vehicle for generating discussion and debate, and sharing experience and expertise. It allows peers to work through business issues in a fun and engaging way.

What Would You Do? is available to all businesses and is aimed at first line managers, team leaders and supervisors. It also works as a resource to develop graduates and identify management potential.

It was launched in May and received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with the board game approach proving particularly successful in engaging participants and helping to make learning stick.

Why do change leaders focus on the plan rather than the people?

It is not uncommon to find elaborate, well-thought-through change plans missing just one ‘small’ component: the people.

Why does this happen? Why do some change leaders get so lost in the detail of their planning that they forget to bring the people involved along with them on the journey?

Paul and Richard discuss why it can feel easier just to focus on the plan – and what happens when people get left out of it.

Effecting change involves two things: there’s the practical side of it and then there’s the ‘transition’ of taking people through it. Focusing on both elements leads to successful change. Having an awesome plan without the engagement and support of your people will mean it won’t be as effective as it could be.

A change plan can take up a lot of time and effort but, in a way, it’s the easy bit. Most change leaders have technical or project management skills, and know how to create a strong plan. It’s an area they feel comfortable with. But when it comes to taking people through the transition, the process is more unpredictable.

So, if you’re leading change and have a great plan but haven’t really looked at the people side, where do you start?

We’d suggest taking a step back and assessing where people are on the change journey. Ask two questions: 1, What is their attitude to this specific change? 2, How much energy are they putting into this?

Answering these questions about each individual will help you place them in one of four categories:

  • Spectators
  • Champions
  • ‘Corporate Corpses’
  • Saboteurs

The likelihood is that at least half of the people will be Spectators. They are in the neutral zone, supportive of the change but with low energy. However, the great thing is that they can become engaged with the process if they are given information and choices.

The Champions are the people who are supportive of the change and are putting a lot of energy in to it. They can help the leaders by taking some of the burden and acting as positive role models for the Spectators.

The ‘Corporate Corpses’ are the zombie brigade – people who have very low energy and a very bad attitude, although they’re not being disruptive or causing any trouble.

The Saboteurs are usually the very noisy vocal minority who have a bad attitude and lots of energy. They are the people who are trying to hold back change and undermine leaders. They tend to attract attention and effort which should instead be focused on trying to engage the Spectators.

The importance of trust in organisations and developing trusting leadership

by Graham Field

When we ask organisations about the challenges they face, one recurring theme is trust – how organisations gain, and can easily lose, the trust of their people, and from a leadership perspective, the importance of developing trust.

Trust has been seen as important as far back as Aristotle, who noted that trust (or ethos as he called it) was built upon three perceived factors: intelligence, character and goodwill. These factors were also commented on in a dissertation by Dr Duane Tway (A Construct of Trust – 1993) who similarly suggested that trust was a construct of three parts: the capacity for trusting, the perception of competence and the perception of intentions.

What makes trust important in running a 21st century business?

If you, like many of the HR community we collaborate with, have wondered whether trust is alive and well in your organisation, first of all take a step back and consider how important a role trust should be playing.

As an example, let’s look at the current UK climate of trust with regards our own country’s’ leaders – the politicians.

Like leaders anywhere, this group of people should be role models for ‘the way we do things around here’, but in the back of many people’s minds there has always been a question of how much these leaders are there for their people, or how much they are in it for themselves. ‘Catching them in’ and spotting when they are fulfilling their leadership potential often goes unnoticed, but ‘catching them out’ is quickly picked up, reported and commented on. And in one fell swoop trust gets damaged, role models are lost and leadership is no longer respected.

How many times does this happen in organisations?

If trust is so easy to damage, what makes it important for us in running modern businesses? We believe, as have many others before us, that trust is the bedrock for any organisation structure. It’s part of what makes your business what it is and forms the basis for organisational culture.

As such, trust is important for:

  • Building high performing teams – trust needs to exist for true co-operation and developing great teamwork amongst team members
  • Developing strong relationships – the kind where we can depend on our people doing things reliably and in a timely fashion
  • Effective communication – people need to believe what they hear and read within organisations; the absence of trust generally means communication could be seen as little more than ‘propaganda’
  • Creativity and risk taking – people need to believe that they have the freedom to be creative and take risk in order to seize opportunities
  • Embedding change and managing change effectively – in a trusting environment people will believe that change is ‘for the best’ and will support it accordingly

How can we build trust?

We can still use Aristotle’s three factors as a guide:

  1. Intelligence: In today’s organisations we can translate intelligence for knowledge and skills – how skilled are your supervisors, managers and leaders? And possibly more importantly, how is their skill perceived by their people? This aspect of trust is the easiest to develop, and for us is part of strengthening your teams. What might a skills audit of your leaders highlight as development needs, which could be impacting on how people trust them?
  2. Character: Reliability and honesty are key components here.  Recruitment interviews, references and ongoing performance reviews ascertain the character of the people leading our organisations, but the true test of reliability and honesty will come from an ‘all staff’ approach. When was the last time you fully reviewed your leaders adopting a 360 degree approach – and if you haven’t so far, what could be the benefits of doing this?
  3. Goodwill: The intentions of leaders, as perceived by their people. Unfortunately there’s no easy approach for this – goodwill develops over time, but if intelligence and character are supportive of trust, goodwill will follow. How do leaders develop, and maintain, goodwill in your organisation?

More recently, the arena of trust seems to have been dominated by Stephen M R Covey and his book, The Speed of Trust. A valuable addition to any library, this book clearly highlights ‘five waves of trust’ and thirteen ‘trust behaviours’.

What can we learn from ‘The Speed of Trust’?

Many of the above ideas are echoed in Covey’s work. He emphasises the importance of trust as an aspect of leadership (even going so far as to say inspiring trust is the ‘number one job of any leader’) and suggests that trust is part competence and part character.

Building on this is the suggestion that trust affects the speed of activity and cost within an organisation: where trust is prevalent speed goes up and cost goes down (and vice versa) and that when trust is built between individuals, it builds across a team/department/organisation.

Within all of this, there are ‘five waves’ of trust:

  1. Self-trust – with the underlying principle of credibility. This can be developed through personal integrity, intent, capabilities and results.
  2. Relationship-trust – with thirteen underlying behaviours covering how we speak honestly, demonstrate respect, create transparency, right any wrongs, show loyalty, deliver results, continuously improve, confront reality, clarify expectations, practise accountability, listen before speaking, keep to our commitments and extend trust to others who have earned it and are still earning it.
  3. Organisational-trust – that is aligned trust inside your organisation, This is part of your company culture and Covey believes it is established through systems and structures which support the culture you want to have.
  4. Market-trust – trust generated by reputation. We all know the importance of our external reputation and how this affects our overall performance, but the implication here is that the way we treat external contacts, whether customers or suppliers, is vital.
  5. Societal-trust – trust generated by contribution, often referred to as corporate social responsibility. Rather than a box-ticking exercise of having a charity of the year or doing a day’s work in a community garden, this is about making a genuine positive contribution to your community in the long term.

What loses trust – and how do we restore it?

Trust, once built, can be lost. Common causes of lost trust are:

  • Internally – miscommunication, withholding information, acting against agreed values, mis-handling change, being self-serving and ‘looking after number one’.
  • Externally – poor service, not doing what you say you will do, squeezing suppliers in times when record profits are being made and damaging local communities and/or the environment.

However, even lost trust can be regained if we act quickly to restore that which we have lost, exceed expectations in correcting our mistakes, be honest about why things have gone wrong and not only repair the damage now, but ensure it will never happen again and accept full responsibility.

Finally remember that trust is a relationship built over a period of time, as author Marsha Sinetar said: “Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exterior or our expertly crafted communications.”

Why do some people find it easier to play the victim card than to get on board with change?

Facing change can lead to some people playing the victim – refusing to engage, pointing out the problems in the plans, and not joining in with the rest of the team.

In our latest podcast, Rob and Paul discuss why change can often bring out victim behaviour – and what managers can do to tackle that response.

 

Playing the victim is the path of least resistance: you get attention for being the victim without having to do anything, and it doesn’t hold the associated risks of failure if you try something new.

Sometimes, victims seek out fellow victims to support their view and reinforce their position. They will collude to come up with reasons why the change is negative or won’t work.

In a situation where there are several victims, the group will often begin to dwindle as individuals get on board with change, and those remaining begin to wonder if they are in the wrong. One person is often the most dedicated victim and can be so negative that it puts others off agreeing with them even if they were feeling slightly negative.

Yet many victims don’t realise they’re doing it until they have done the same thing several times, or perhaps hear it coming from someone else. So often, victim behaviour needs to be challenged by an external factor.

How can you as a manager help these people?

Behaviour and language are key: you help people to understand the consequences of them continuing with their current pattern. Ask them how long they want to continue as they are and what they think is likely to happen as a result. For many people, this is all that’s needed for them to realise what they are doing and move on.

Ask questions of the victim to find out if they are deeply held beliefs or they’re just releasing frustration. If they fundamentally believe that things won’t work out, you have a bigger issue to address.

Tackle this behaviour by being consistent. Offer help to everyone involved in the change so they can move through the stages required as easily as possible. Make it clear that this support is on offer to the victim as well, showing that while they choose not to take part, they are refusing the help that everyone else is receiving.

The victim will either join in when they are ready, or they will eventually decide they are not going to engage at all and will remove themselves from that situation.

Are the best intentions of leaders accidentally stressing out the people they lead?

The ability for anyone to keep going in stressful times – that pool of energy that we have inside us that helps us to cope – has several names.

We might call it grit, resilience or hardiness, and it has been investigated by psychologists looking to understand why some people can cope better than others.

One of the most surprising things is that this capability is not fixed: it is something we learn and can be built up. Think of it like a large tank, like a water cooler or coffee urn.  As things happen, we open the tap, and some of our resilience drains away, enabling us to cope with ebbs and flows of life.  With practice and experience, we can learn to quickly fill up our tank, and even upgrade the tank size, making ourselves more resilient.

Research in the early 80s into hardiness identified the traits that help us top up the tank.  Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba identified three underlying beliefs or attributes that come together to create the pool of coping behaviours required. They called them the three Cs:

  • Commitment – This is all about being aligned to a purpose, having a belief in what you are doing
  • Control – a belief that you can influence your surroundings, make a difference to how events transpire
  • Challenge – that the struggles and pressures allow you to grow. This is as much from the bad things that happen as the good.

Increasing focus

This is where I think the problem lies. If you look at how leaders manage through times of change or when the ‘chips are down’, they become laser-like in their focus on what they want and how they can get it. That is normal. It is actually what negative emotions like fear and worry are designed to do: they reduce attention and focus it on the problem at hand.  Really useful when the problem was getting away from something that might eat you!

However, in modern working life, this focus can cause them to do three things:

  • They focus on the ‘what’. What needs to be done, what they want, what they want others to do. This focus on the ‘what’ drowns out the ‘why’, removing the connections that help people maintain or rebuild purpose through the difficult times.
  • They take control. It is just easier for everyone concerned if a small group make all the key decisions; everything will get done faster.  This is inevitable and probably the right thing to do for some key decisions, but it is never true for all decisions.
  • They only focus on the next problem. The conversation goes from one problem to the next, without ever taking stock of what has been done so far.  It starts to feel like that whatever is done will not be good enough, no learning, no gratitude.

Building resilience

So, if you want to be a leader that builds resilience and not be a walking cause of stress then think about how you might be able to consistently stimulate the three Cs.

  • Connecting people to the ‘why’. Partly this is about starting every ‘what’ conversation with reminders of the ‘why’.  However, to be successful at this you will have to help people make the connections between their role and the higher purpose of the team or organisation.  Some people do this naturally for themselves, but you should not leave it to chance.
  • Create opportunities for people to take back some control. You don’t need to make all the decisions, so focus on the ones you need to make and give up the rest.  If you need to, create choices for people so that they have a sense that they have a say in how this affects them, even if that means they get there in a less efficient way.
  • Stop and reflect. Remind the people around you how far you have come so far, and what that says about their skills and abilities.  This might be building in time for formalised structured reviews, but it can be as easy as asking a question that creates a moment of reflection.  Reminding people to think about their growth and learning will help them to build their resilience.

Just in case you think that the people around you just need to ‘man up’, then a word of caution.  If you allow their resilience to drain away, they will burn out.  This means that you need to pick up more of the responsibility, so you may be putting your own wellbeing on the line as well – unless you are lucky enough to have someone helping you recharge.

Is there a topic that leaders and teams just never talk about?

We get asked this all the time. The answer is yes: mental health.

The thing is, mental health is often such a taboo topic that we don’t even realise that it is not being discussed, we treat it like it does not exist.

It does exist, and it effects businesses every day in subtle and often hidden ways.  Research carried out by Mind (a UK-based mental health charity) identified that 1 in 5 people had called in sick because of stress in the workplace, and over half had resigned or considered resigning because of workplace stress.

If anything else had this impact on the bottom line of a business, there would be a project team and a war room!

So, as Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May 2018) is focused on stress this year, I want to talk about talking about it.

Stress, like all mental health issues, is not as easy to identify as physical illness. When someone walks into the office with the flu, that is easy to spot, so you can do something about it.  When they walk in feeling so stressed they are not sure if they can get to the end of the day, you may have no idea – the clues can be difficult to spot.

This is one of the main reasons that when it happens to you, very quickly you believe that you are the only one; there must be something wrong with you.  You are not – remember the research statistics: 50% of people have thought of quitting because of stress.  This is why it is so important to ensure that mental health or stress or wellbeing, or whatever you want to call it, gets discussed.  This is the first step to making things better.

I know this from personal experience.  I have been part of that 50%, feeling like I was failing, feeling like I had no more to add.  I was lucky though, I had managers and colleagues who were prepared to talk and, more importantly, were prepared to listen.

As I think back to those times, I appreciate that these were difficult conversations for them: they were terrified of getting it wrong or making it worse.  Even so, they took time out and listened, talked, shared some of their own fears and worries, but mostly they helped me put my worries and fears into perspective and put plans in place to resolve issues, so I could move forward.  They told me through their actions that they had my back.

At the heart of it all, they cared.  They cared enough to have a conversation that they were not comfortable with.  They cared enough to give someone else time when they were busy.  They cared enough because they thought that one day they might need someone else to care about them.  I am not sure I ever really thanked them enough, so I am left with the only other option, to pay it forward.

So, during this mental health awareness week, just talk about it.

Start the conversation, acknowledge the issue exists.  If we can start to talk openly about stress in the workplace, then together we stand a chance of fixing it.