Leadership Through Respect

Today, I am inspired to blog because recent events at work have taught me that reputation spreads far and wide; no matter whether it is good reputation or bad reputation. Leaders should be mindful of their own reputation as it affects how subordinates perceives you; it also affects how other people perceives you.

Sometimes, one may have the best of intentions, but the wrong method of voicing out could mean a total loss; people lose respect the moment you open your mouth, and you might have won the battle, but overall, you might have lost the war. The same intentions, when led by different people, have different results.

While I won’t go into details of the events that had happened, generally, there were some disagreements on how to carry things out. These are common, natural occuring situations in any organisation as people have different views. I thought, it is important to convince others, and it is key to win the respect of those who initially oppose your ideas.

If as leaders, we insist on our way without according proper respect to the other individual, your counterpart may feel wounded, as though his views do not matter and only yours does. However, sometimes if you sit down and ponder, both persons come with good intentions, and sometimes it just may be that they both are looking at the same thing with different lens. With different lens, there is a different focus and that means the considerations to evaluate a situation is different as well. Naturally, the decision made is not the same. But that is not to say that the other person’s idea is worthless.

Even if we disagree, the minimum we could do as leaders is to acknowledge the other person’s stance and seek to understand. Respect the individuals thoughts and guide him through your own mental model. This way, if you manage to convince him, he will work according to your demands, no questions asked. However, if you belittle him and adopt a “I know all” approach, he would still follow you, albeit grudgingly. At the end of the event, your reputation is in tatters as someone who is hard to work with and doesn’t listen to alternative opinions.

Reputation and respect matters. Both, when lost, is hard to regain. Sometimes as leaders, we must accept that we can still learn from others. Show that you are a team player that is helping them, and they will be willing to accept your leadership. Show that you are a tyrant, and you will only get the lip service but not respect.

Respect and Successful Delegation

Today, I am going to share something which struck me today in my own personal experience. I shall eliminate unimportant details to keep this simple.

I was approached by A who had asked me to help to do something. Person A is someone who doesn’t command any respect from the people around him. He constantly delegates all his work, does not contribute to much input but requests people to do his work for him. He conducts long meetings of which time is wasted doing nothing because he couldn’t conduct a good meeting. He has no idea what is going on.

Knowing that I am overwhelmed with things on my to do list, I politely requested for the job to be reassigned. However the reply was that everyone else was also assigned jobs. 

That does not sit well with me because it felt unfair. Surely there are so many other people? But on hindsight, the situation was made worse because of a total lack of respect for this person who do not know how to lead. Neither does he know how to motivate. In the end I concluded that nobody wanted to work for him anyway, so he keeps appointing people who respond to him.

That might be a wrong impression because he might have other thoughts that I am unaware of. But because of the impression he portrays, it is easy for the human mind to stereotype and come to a conclusion. And it feels good too.

Contrast this with Person B who works hard. You stay till 8pm and you see him around too. One day you need some help and he goes out of his way to help you. He politely requests for your assistance on some work, and does not phrase it in a manner that you are expected to help; rather, he is asking.

The result is very different. I said yes to helping. The feeling you get out of saying yes feels good. It definitely feels better than if I had said yes to Person A. But because Person B exhibits helpfulness and a sense of bonding, it is easier to accept an additional task even when you are already overwhelmed. 

It is the same theory as the emotional bank account. When you help someone, you put in money in his emotional bank account. He will feel more obliged to return the favour, and it will be easier for both parties to continue the kind act of helping. 

Fill the emotional bank account of your colleagues or friends today. Show that you value his or her time and effort. Smile. Take the opportunity to communicate and build the friendship. Be hardworking and be empathetic.

You can be sure that nobody liked Person A. It will result in a negative downward spiral where people start to ignore him and cease communications. You will spread bad comments about him, not because you are a gossipy bitch but because he doesn’t command that sense of respect.

In a nutshell, when you command respect among your friends and subordinates, it is easier to delegate certain work downwards. Plus, they will feel happy doing it. The contrast where there is no respect, delegation is hard and people don’t like doing it. They spread the work and you will find it difficult to command respect from other people as well. Command respect and you can achieve more with less.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

I bought this book titled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni on Saturday. It was an extremely light book to read and I completed it within 3 hours. The book is written as a leadership fable, which means it is in a story form and easy to digest. The story follows how a new CEO observed how dysfunctional her team was and set out to change things. Naturally, at the end of the story, all was well.

But I am writing because the story seemed to reflect the way my workplace is now. Not the dysfunctional part, but the things that we do or are told to do are similar to what the CEO does to build her team. This means that my workplace had it all thought out and provided the resources and efforts required to make us less dysfunctional. So much so that if we are still dysfunctional, it would be our fault and not the organisation’s. And if you know where I work for, you would understand that there are many complaints about it. However, my opinion is that it is the people that made it this way and if we want to change the organisation, we should change from within.

The story starts off with a series of retreats being planned where they discuss personality types. In the fable, the Myers-Briggs personality model was discussed. People talk about one another’s personality and how they would like to be treated. Drawing a parallel to my workplace, we had sessions called the Command Effectiveness Programme where the boss bring us all together to chart the way ahead for the next year. In this programme, we go through a personality “test” called the Tetra Elements. Briefly speaking, the test groups us into one of the four elements and each elements have some specific personality and character. Each element have a special way of doing things and a preferred way of being approached. That the reactions you get from your colleagues are based on their personality and not what you think by standing in your own shoes.

I won’t go into detail of what the five dysfunctions are, but I will briefly talk about the few which had impacted me.

The first is “Absence of Trust”. Trust does not mean the belief that your colleague will do the things he need to do. Trust is a little less straightforward in this example, but what it means is that you do not feel comfortable enough to have constructive criticism and discussions with one another. Meetings are spent feeling bored because people keep to themselves. They do not trust each other well enough to voice out; nor do they trust each other well enough to know it will be appreciated or taken the right way.

When I first read the “Absence of Trust” chapter, I thought that it was quite an easy dysfunction and that it does not happen in the workplace. But upon further thought, this is the bedrock of how we have been conducting ourselves for the longest time. Most teams we form do not have “trust” in them. People still feel guarded and do not contribute. I reckon part of it is due to our Asian values and the other part is the structure; the rank that tells you he is your boss and hence he knows best.

As leaders we need to foster “trust”, but it is not an easy task. We need to build the culture and show that it is alright to have constructive criticism. That no criticism only leads to failure and not team success.

The next and final dysfunction that impacted me the most is “Absence of Accountability”. Without trust, we don’t criticise. We don’t exert accountability on people and make them responsible for their actions. This “Absence of Accountability” can happen because of two reasons. First, the person is someone you didn’t want to bother about. You do not feel close to the person to want to hold him accountable. You might be afraid that he will lash out and conflict will arise.

Secondly, it can happen because the person is someone who had contributed a lot but had that one little time where he didn’t perform well, but nobody held him accountable. It is difficult to criticise someone who had put their heart and soul into something. But if you do not hold him accountable for his misgivings, he might not be able to learn and overcome this weakness of his. It doesn’t matter what type of person he is; we have to hold everyone accountable. Thing is, to do it in a respectful way.

I am quite glad that I can rattle off 2 out of 5 dysfunctions easily to a certain depth. It might mean that I have slightly internalised the lessons. With the lessons on the five dysfunctions, I will try to build a team who will work for one another and bring us into greater heights.

Managing Yourself & Your Team

As part of reading a new book each month, I want to try and internalise the lessons learnt by writing about them on my blog. In this way, I will get reminded of what the lessons are and at the same time help spread some interesting concepts. I will not be writing about the entire book though; I will only focus on a few key areas which I wanted to highlight. Today I will be sharing some concepts involving managing one-self and managing a team as a leader.

1. Developing Yourself As A Leader

The main theme in managing yourself as a leader is having self-awareness. Why do we need self-awareness? Do you realise that there are different versions of “myself” that is available out in the world today? I’m not talking about piracy or identity theft. Think about it this way. Your colleague sees one version of you, while your spouse sees another version. The versions could be vastly different due to the common experiences and the different ways you choose to interact with different persons. Saying the same thing to somebody might trigger different results to another person. Furthermore, everyone has different expectations of how you should be. In addition, the version you see yourself is different from how other see you.

Now that we have squared away the concept of having multiple versions of yourself, we can move on to learning how to understand what others feel about you. This will be about obtaining feedback and giving feedback:

1.1 Obtaining Feedback: Feedforward Concept

Everybody talks about getting feedback about ourselves. However if you are a leader of a team, you might find yourself being in a position where nobody would be comfortable about giving you feedback as that would involve criticising your leadership. Hence there is a new concept called “Feedforward” which essentially means, “How can we do it better the next round”. The focus shifts from what had happened (and thus assigning blame) to what can we do to make it better (and thus generating forward looking suggestions). Feedforward can then be self-extrapolated backwards to discover what was not right that needs moving on.

1.2. Giving Feedback: What went Well, Even Better If

This was something that I had learnt as part of my National Service (who says we don’t learn anything productive) that can be applied for everyone in a leadership position. In the SAF, we call it the “After Action Review” and as part of it we talk about what went well and what went badly. The book suggests though, to concentrate on “What went well” and then move on to the “Even better if” concept. The “Even better if” concept is similar to that of a feedforward as we talk about what we can do even better the next round. But this is applied mainly to when we are giving feedback to our subordinates. The book says not to use the word “but” as it has a negative connotation. E.g. “You did a great job managing the database of information but you could really speed things up a little” vs “You did a great job managing the database of information. And it would be even better if you could find ways to speed the process up.”

I don’t know if anyone can see the difference but from my point of view, I can.

1.3 Coaching

Coaching is an important part of being a manager. To me, coaching is an opportunity to align your team mates to the same vision and motivate them to achieve success. It is also a chance to guide them back on the right path and provide the clarity of leadership to them. Coaching is essentially an investment of time in yourself and your team mates.

An interesting model mentioned is the GLOW model which stands for Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward. These are the possible steps that we can take during coaching sessions. Identify what the goal is, talk about the current reality, guide them towards providing some options on their own and show them a possible way forward. Easy?

There are also some qualities of a coach which I felt was necessary to share, so here goes:

  • Self Aware
  • Confident
  • Approachable
  • Patient
  • Generous; believes in other’s potential
  • Authentic
  • Open & Receptive
  • Always learning & improving
  • Good role model

2. Developing yourself as a Employee (and well, also applies to being a leader)

2.1 The other part of Self Awareness

The other part of Self Awareness has nothing to do with feedback or feed forward. It is about how well we know ourselves in terms of our strengths and weaknesses. Following which we will be able to use our strengths to our advantages and find out ways to improve on our weaknesses so it would become a strength.

2.2 Time Management

Time Management is such a big concept that it could be an entire post on its own. I have read many different books with different theories of how to manage time and sometimes I try them out to see how effective they are. However the essence of time management is the question, “Do we want to control work or to have work control us?” Judging by how most people place work life balance relatively high on their priority list, it does seem like we should learn how to control work.

Essentially time management is about planning. To plan requires us to come up with some form of to-do list where we can allocate the tasks we require of the day. It is about prioritisation and the end ability to act on it.

What essentially we need to do at the start of the day is to plan what we need to do. At the end of the day, we have to do some self reflection. For me, I thought what was important is to have a week in review as well where we look at the meetings we have of the week and do the necessary to prepare for such meetings.

Leadership on 93.8 FM

It had been some time since I listened to 93.8FM in the mornings when I drive to work, primarily because I have not been going back to the same office for a few weeks. The journey to the different site forces me to leave earlier, and I will not be able to enjoy the same segments that I like in my daily drive to work.

There was a segment talking about the principles of leadership. The speaker used the term the 3 Ls to talk about them.

The first L is listen. As leaders we listen to our followers. We listen intently, and we genuinely care for the wellbeing.

The next L is learn through listening. I am sure there is no requirement to explain this, but here goes: we learn many things talking to our subordinates and listening to them speak. Personally I grew to learn about them as a person, their character, likes, dislikes and I can then formulate a plan to engage and groom him.

The last L is love. Love our subordinates. Be real to them. Care for them like you care for yourself. I’m sure they will be able to feel it too.

The 3 Ls are just general guidelines for leadership and are by no means exhaustive. There are leadership models that are more in depth in the SAF, and everyday I am learning something along the way. Do take some time to think about what kind of leader you are, and how best to suit the team dynamics you are in.