Why is empathy a vital leadership skill?

Do you need to understand others to be able to lead them, or is a compelling idea or vision enough?

In this podcast, Richard and Paul explore the role of empathy in our lives, talking through what empathy is, and the advantages and disadvantages of empathy to leaders. Can people who master empathy can utilise this trait to become more effective leaders?

Is it possible to lead without trust?

How important is trust for leaders?

Is it possible to lead teams without building trust between leader and followers, or is trust an essential leadership skill?

Rob and Paul explore trust in leadership relationships by exploring what trust is and how that impacts leadership when it is done well, and what happens when trust is missing.

How can I help team members who are feeling overwhelmed?

Lockdown just seems to go on and on, and even though the end is finally in sight, for lots of people it feels like this last bit might be the hardest.

If you have people in your organisation that look like they are running on empty, then in this podcast, Ricky and Paul will help you understand what might be causing this and provide practical tips to help you to help them.

Why do I feel like I am failing?

As we start 2021, still in lockdown, managing teams that we no longer get to meet each other, while teaching the kids and learning to live without leaving the house; it is easy to imagine that you may not be winning.

As people take on more and more, finding their own way through the new ways of working and living, this may be the time to re-think what success looks like. Ricky and Rich explore how, at times, we set unrealistic expectations and miss the real successes we have.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash.com

It’s time to face the facts – you need to focus on your managers.

How many well-intentioned organisational transformation fads, sorry, projects are you going to embark on before you address the brutal facts that it’s your people who can make the most significant bottom-line impact? And that goes both ways, by the way.

Let’s list a few of those so-called transformation programmes; Lean, Six Sigma, TQM, offshoring, digitalisation, virtualisation, artificial intelligence. All of them start with the best intentions, yet, if McKinsey are to be believed, 70% will have failed to deliver their intended outcomes.

Take the late 90’s and early 2000’s which saw a plethora of large businesses in pursuit of the holy grail of cost reduction offshoring their call centres – only to find that the brand damage was too much to bear. A mass U-turn ensued, and we are still reminded today that our contact centres are UK based!

Every year Boards of Directors are challenged to grow, become leaner and deliver a better yield and rightly so. The problem is they’re so focused on the tangible and the measurable they ignore what’s really important – their people. People are viewed as a cost that can be trimmed in hard times, not the asset that can deliver significant value. People are intangible; they’re unpredictable; they’re amazing and frustrating all at the same time.

“culture eats strategy for breakfast”

Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and yet despite this erudite insight, we continue to overlook the potential in our people. We give them poorly trained managers who fail to inspire or motivate and to compensate we turn to another fad, another silver bullet destined to fail due to lack of proper involvement and engagement. And so, the vicious circle continues.

The brutal fact is your people need leadership, direction and above all, purpose. Jim Collins shares the importance of purpose in his book, “Good to Great”. He argues you should recruit for fit with your purpose not merely someone who can do the job – this is the first pillar of the ‘good to great’ journey: getting the right people on the bus.

When you consider that your managers are responsible for 80% of your workforce, (yes, 80%!), that’s an awful lot you’re leaving to chance with poorly trained managers! Yet we continue to under-invest in this population: the sheep-dip of knowledge and skills doesn’t work without an embedding strategy or high-quality coaching and mentoring; rendering any development you do a complete waste of time and money. Worse, this lack of proper investment in skills only serves to unwittingly sabotage strategic projects and transformation programmes, so you lose out twice! Worse still you keep repeating these mistakes!

The pandemic has exacerbated things, companies have, understandably, adopted a conservative approach with everything in a holding pattern, waiting to see how the world evolves. It is over a year since the onset of the coronavirus, a year in which managers have been left to fumble their way through without the skills to support their teams remotely.

Yes, things remain unclear, the future uncertain, but the past has taught us that your people are your secret weapon – or your Achilles heel.
You will need to trust them to execute the short-term strategy as you navigate to clearer waters. So, isn’t it time you started to invest properly in your managers and develop the capability you need, and your workforce deserve?

What culture are you creating in your business?

As Leaders and Managers, we very influential in the creation of the culture in the teams that we lead. Taking an idea from sports psychology, are we creating a Challenge or a Threat culture? A Challenge culture that encourages our people to step up and take risks, whereas a Threat culture creates limits as our people, focusing their efforts on remaining safe.

In our last podcast of 2020, Richard, Rob, Ricky and Paul explore what a Challenge culture might mean for us as leaders, and how we might unknowingly be creating the threat culture that limits our potential.

Why do the people I am working with not get that we need to step up?

At some point in our career, probably when we feel like we are giving everything we have, someone above us in the organisation tells us that now is the time to step.  This has never been more true than this year where all of our plans have gone awry, yet we still need to close out the year and get things back on track.

Maybe you are that manager, being asked to have the difficult ‘stepping up’ conversation with your team, yet sensing that they don’t see the situation quite the same way you do.

In this podcast, Ricky and Paul explore why we all react differently when being asked to give more at work, and how as managers we can communicate better with the people around us so that they do not interpret stepping up as secret code for longer hours.

Photo by Jaz King on Unsplash.com

Is coaching all that?

Before we can answer whether coaching is limited in this way, what might be helpful is to define what coaching is – what is the definition by which I challenge the assertion! 

Coaching draws its roots from sports. It is typically a one-to-one relationship between a coach (the person ‘helping’) and a coachee (the person being helped). When you look at sports, the problem is that this type of coaching is subjective, and the coaching techniques used are really for helping high potential athletes to become elite.

In elite sports, the coach is developing the coachee (athlete) who is highly motivated. The nature of the development takes time and effort, meaning their relationship is generally a long term one. The coach will observe technical aspects of a particular routine and provide feedback to the coachee. The coach will also work with the coachee’s physical and mental performance. The high-level goal of the coach is to improve the coachee’s performance level and prepare them for competition. 

More commonly, when people think of coaching, they link it to something they are familiar with, something like childrens football, for example. The problem with this is this type of ‘coaching’ is, in reality, more akin to teaching.

So, what’s the same, and what’s different, outside of the world of sports?

According to the CIPD, “Coaching aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction and confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period of time or forms the basis of an on-going management style.”

The CIPD acknowledge that a universal definition is hard to come by due to a lack of agreement among coaching professionals. That said the CIPD suggest common characteristics for coaching in an organisation. These highlight coaching as being:

  • A non-directive form of development
  • Focussed on improving performance and developing an individual
  • Directed more on performance at work, but may include personal factors
  • Something that works with both individual and organisational goals.
  • An opportunity for people to assess their strengths and development areas better.
  • A skilled activity best delivered by trained people which could be line managers and others trained in coaching skills.

Without question, coaching in organisations can be powerful if done correctly but it can also be limited in its effectiveness. Typically, the line manager will be the coach as there is an existing, hopefully strong, relationship. However, their agenda can dominate the discussion; risking them becoming overly focused on the impact on their own goals and less on the development of the individual.  

Let’s also face up to the reality that line managers are hardly blessed with time; they are often spinning many plates at the same time as they attempt to satisfy both the needs of their manager and their people. Yet, they are expected to find quality time to coach their people. Whilst they get the intellectual argument, they may lack the skills to coach effectively, and they will often lack is the time to do it right. Their own time pressures inform where they choose to focus their time.

Additionally, managers may ignore their top performers because they believe (wrongly) that they’re alright and often choose to focus on improving their weaker performers. The contradiction here is that this will almost certainly not give them the best return on their efforts.   Because coaches can only work with one person at a time, and coaches who are line managers typically attend to performance issues, this combination feeds a belief that ‘coaching’ is what you get when you are underperforming. 

The pressure of time causes further conflict for coaches; do they do the tasks where the output is visible, and often demanded by others, or do they coach? It is much easier to defer the coaching conversation as the payoff is rarely immediate. A task with quick, visible results creates a dopamine rush that validates their decision to put off the coaching, slowly moving coaching down their agenda.

At Thinking Focus, we fundamentally believe that developing people through coaching is an essential part of any organisation’s development toolkit. We also challenge the assertion that coaching is purely a one-to-one relationship, the same skills can easily be used to facilitate group development as they would develop individuals.  

Developing skills and behaviours in groups requires three core elements – the skills (including confidence) to run the session, a defined outcome (what is the purposes of the session) and a structured process to follow. It’s likely you will have a skills matrix and behavioural template that will drive the outcomes you are looking to develop in your session, but ensure your session includes the following pillars:

  1. Psychological safety to enable the individuals to feel comfortable being vulnerable among their peers.
  2. Encourage individuals to access their experiences against the development topic 
  3. Create a shared pool of understanding for what works, doesn’t work and why – this will lead to a better answers/results
  4. Collective buy-in to the way forward
  5. Peer pressure to doing the right thing in the right way

Doing this in this way works and creates a host of individual and organisational benefits:

We know that time pressures are not going away any time soon; group coaching is highly efficient, which means you can develop more than one person at a time.

When developing in groups, you can leverage collective peer pressure, accelerate the adoption of knowledge and skills, which means you gain a return on your time, effort and your training investment.

Bring mixed ability groups together and share their different experiences to create a deeper pool of shared understanding. When they learn from each other’s experiences, it vicariously reinforces the desired behaviours and actions. This collaborative sharing means that groups are more likely to adopt the desired behaviours.

The shared experience, discussion and debate underpinned with purposeful coaching creates a shared understanding that leads to collective buy-in to the ‘best way’ for your team, department or organisation, which means more durable changes in behaviour.

Developing people in a group forum, when set up in the right way is more inclusive and psychologically safer. Contribution levels are higher, robust challenge more likely and outcomes more effective. This shared coaching experience means that coaching is no longer perceived to be a performance management tool with negative connotations.

Group coaching is an excellent forum for knowledge transfer, unwritten rules and undocumented practices that somehow make the company function now have an outlet. Sharing these ‘Spanish customs’ means reduced mistakes by people learning through error, which can be embarrassing and disengaging when they realise everyone else knew!

When groups work together on shared goals, it creates an endowment effect which means they are more likely to be committed and see it through. This collaborative approach means projects are delivered more efficiently and effectively.

Bring cross-functional groups together to create a broader systemic awareness of how to work more effectively together. This appreciation of others means that problems are owned and more quickly solved. This improved collaboration and cooperation mean organisations not only save enormous cost at the time, but they also build enduring cross-functional relationships that deal with issues more quickly, with less wasted time, effort and money.

Group coaching is not as well-known as traditional coaching and rarely utilised in development. The reason perhaps is because there is little development available to acquire the skills, so we decided that we wanted to help managers, coaches and organisations to realise the benefits available to them from Group Coaching.   

Back in 2017, we researched what was available and found very little – and less that could actually be used practically in organisations.

With this in mind we developed a product that would bring group coaching to the mainstream. Our goal is to enable coaches to coach more than one person at a time, to make group coaching practical, relevant and easy and to deliver a greater return than one-to-one coaching.  

We built a structured process, which supports and guides any coach and combined it with contextual and relevant subject matter. We harnessed social learning to enable organisations to raise the level of mixed ability groups at the same time. Reflection is in-built not just to land critical learning but transfer it to the day job.  

‘What Would You Do?’ (WWYD) is the plug and play, group coaching solution that improves results and changes behaviour. 

WWYD is available online and offline, from small groups to conferences and is engineered with social learning and group coaching to deliver durable behavioural change and improve results. It comes preloaded with ready-made content contextualised to the workplace. Scenarios frame a facilitated discussion among peers. The inclusion of game mechanics serves to create an environment where participants feel safe and openly share; the same mechanics include progress and jeopardy, and friendly competition maintains interest with the inclusion of scoring and league tables, all of which make for an engaging learning experience. 

So, going back to the original question – is coaching all that? We firmly believe so, and while coaching may typically be limited to a one-to-one activity our own research has highlighted it can be much more than this; and our own desire to build on this has led us to create a unique product to support this. Just because coaching has historically been delivered one-to-one doesn’t mean that that’s the only way, or indeed the best way, of delivering it!

WWYD is interactive and experiential, to experience it for yourself you can:

  • attend one of our monthly open demos
  • book a personalised experience
  • have a go yourself by downloading a DIY kit

Why have I started to micromanage the people around me?

Has the lockdown experience impacted the way that you manage or interact with the people around you?

The current high levels of uncertainty might be causing you, or your boss, to become much more hands-on in the day to day workload than you used to be.

Ricky and Rob talk about what might be driving this change in behaviour and how you can let go to empower the people around you again.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.com

Why do I feel like a fraud even though I am doing great?

Ever feel like you are out of your depth? It is estimated that 7 out of 10 people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life.

In this episode, Richard, Rob, Ricky and Paul explore this common phenomenon; looking at the causes, sharing personal experiences of having to deal with it and considering strategies to help people to use the feeling to help them become more successful.

This is the 50th episode of our podcast series, The Question is…

Thanks for listening, let us know the topics that you think we should be covering in future podcasts.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash