How do You Rate Against the 9 Characteristics of Secure Base Leadership?

The concept of ‘secure base leadership’ is taken from Bowlby’s work on attachment theory, which describes the dynamics of long term interpersonal relationships.

I first came across it in the context of leadership when I was reading George Kohlreiser’s Care to Dare.   Kohlreiser talks about how important it is for the leader to offer a secure base to those he/she would lead and to have secure bases for themselves.  A secure base is a long term personal relationship that provides us with enough ‘care’ that we can choose to ‘dare’.  The strength of the relationship allows us to take risks, knowing that whatever happens we will not be judged badly.  Cultivating secure bases then becomes a critical feature of leadership.

Secure base leaders display 9 key attributes:

1. Stay Calm

Especially under pressure—when other leaders may respond impulsively and unreasonably.

2. Accept the Individual

Acceptance and acknowledgment of the basic worth of others as a human beings—beyond being employees or embodiments of job descriptions.  Secure Base Leaders show caring for the human being before focusing on an issue or problem. They separate the person from the problem. As far as possible, they avoid  criticising people.

3. See the Potential

Secure Base Leaders see potential talent rather than current functioning or “state.” This goes beyond acceptance of the person’s inherent value and may go beyond what the person expects from him/herself. This is not about short-term potential. Instead, it is about a deeper vision for the person’s deepest potential—not in one year, but in 10 or 20 years.

4. Use Listening and Inquiry

Secure Base Leaders listen and inquire rather than “telling” and advocating. They ask open-ended questions and engage in a dialogue to seek a greater truth.

5. Tell a Powerful Story

They affect people deeply with single sentences or gestures that carry tremendous power and often are remembered for many years. Short, inspirational stories give people direction at times when fear, uncertainty, and doubt permeate the environment.

6. Focus on the Positive

Secure Base Leaders are good at helping people to focus on the positive rather than the negative. They focus on benefits, create images of hope and possibility, and help people visualise goals. They set positive expectations that contribute to improved performance. They help others to see their potential and inspire learning, even in a crisis or time of difficulty. They can give critical feedback while retaining a positive perspective.

7. Encourage Risk Taking

Secure Base Leaders give people opportunities to reach their potential, often with some personal risk attached.  Secure Base Leaders dare people to explore their potential by providing opportunities for risk taking. They support autonomy and provide a minimum of control.

8. Inspire Through Intrinsic Motivation

Understand the importance of “intrinsic motivation” to get the best out of people rather than relying on extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting, enjoyable, or fulfilling. Extrinsic motivation gets something done because it leads to an outcome that are not inherent in the task. When intrinsically motivated, a person acts for the learning, enjoyment, or challenge involved rather than because of external pressures or rewards.

9. Signals Accessibility

They remain available and accessible, not appearing ‘too busy for a conversation’.  They recognise that supporting others is both urgent and important.

So how do you measure up against these 9 characteristics?

Managing and the Dancing Bear

It is true that we don’t see with our eyes as much as with our brain. Sure the eyes capture the photons – but it is in the brain that we actually do the seeing – largely based on what we are looking for.

If you need proof, try this.  NB you will need to hear the soundtrack!

Our ‘findings really do follow our seekings’, and our brain only lets us see what makes sense in the context.

This is especially important when we start to form opinions about people or projects. If we believe that they are good – then all we will see is the good stuff (as our subconscious filters about what does not fit in with our pre-conceived ideas). If on the other hand we think that people are bad or lazy then all we will tend to see is the behaviour that serves to confirm our beliefs.

Learning to observe and feedback on a range of work behaviours in a non judgemental, non-evaluative way is a key skill for the effective manager.

PS: there is some evidence that women in general tend to be more open to ‘peripheral’ stuff, to pick up on the background and make more sense of it than men.  I wonder if there are gender differences in spotting the dancing bear!

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Management: Bottom Up and Top Down

Top down management is characterised by a small number of people recruited, promoted or hired to develop a ‘strategy’ that will hopefully lead to progress.

The ‘strategy’ is usually accompanied by a ‘plan’, where costed elements are prioritised and scheduled for delivery in the full expectation that things will, as a result of the implementation of the plan, get better.

The strategy and its associated plans are usually supported with evidence and feasibility studies showing just why this is the right course of action, and how benefits will accrue.

Top down management is also characterised by:

  • delegation down a chain of command to manage implementation
  • fierce discussions about the correct allocation of scarce resources
  • disputes about chosen methodologies and the viability of alternatives
  • piloting and subsequent rolling out of schemes and plans
  • attempts, with varying degrees of honesty and legitimacy to encourage participation in the top down planning process – phrases like consultation and engagement are used liberally.

Bottom Up Management

Bottom Up Management is characterised by people using their own power to develop their own self interest. Self interest is not selfishness but means ‘self amongst others’.  It is about establishing our role and identity in the organisation. Usually the best way to develop ones own self interest is to look after the self interests of others.  Effectively managing the polarities of looking after self and looking after others is at the heart of the healthy and successful organisation.

Sometimes bottom up management is also characterised by groups of people coming together when they have shared self interests.  In bottom up development this coming together around common cause requires little engineering. It just happens.

Bottom up management is characterised by:

  • People working in their own self interests in the way that they see fit
  • People looking for  the resources (help, money, time) that they need to make progress
  • People pondering their options and taking decisions rather than awaiting instructions from above
  • People coming together around common causes – forming associations and organising in order to increase their power to make something happen.
Bottom up is the only way to really get large numbers of people engaged in their own development and developing agency in their own lives and organisations. Bottom up is about participation and engagement.

Bottom Up AND Top Down

Both bottom up and top down processes are necessary.

Top down to plan and provide the structure and resources required and bottom up to allow individuals and groups to use it effectively.

But few organisations and managers succeed in keeping top down and bottom up in balance.

Management today is challenging because we are, I believe, in the midst of a seismic shift from top down management towards a much more bottom up approach. Very few managers are equipped with either the skill sets or the systems that they need to manage this shift.

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Mike Chitty

9 Ways to Be A Better Manager

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1  Value Your Role as a Manager

I meet so many apologetic managers.  Managers who really wish they weren’t. Managers who see entering management as a step towards the dark side.  The truth is that as a manager you can have a profound effect on how your staff experience their work, and how your clients experience your staff and your organisation.  Embrace this responsibility with creativity, imagination, courage and a systematic approach and you can deliver positive results all around.  See management as a necessary evil, and that is just what it will become….

2  Communicate clear performance expectations

Get REALLY clear about what you expect from the people you manage and then find ways to communicate those expectations clearly and consistently.  This is likely to include the results that you expect them to achieve in their work, but it is also likely to include some criteria for HOW the work is to be done.  For most of us it is not JUST about results, but also how those results are achieved.  I might argue that most managers spend too much time obsessing about results and not enough time creating the process, systems and cultures that allow the results to be produced.

3  Provide regular performance feedback

By ‘regular performance feedback’ I don’t mean an annual appraisal.  I mean daily, preferably more than daily, feedback that is based on what people are actually doing at work.  Appraising performance in real time, all the time. You see someone modelling values and behaviours that matter to your organisation, and you give them performance feedback.  You see someone modelling values and behaviours that undermine what your organisation is trying to achieve, and you give them good performance feedback.  Giving good performance feedback need not be a big exercise involving lots of emotion.  It should take just a few seconds of your time, and is perhaps the most powerful thing that great managers can do to improve performance.

4  Consider all relevant information when appraising performance

Annual appraisals are great.  Annual appraisals supported by quarterly mini-appraisals are even better.  Quarterly mini-appraisals supported by documented, weekly 121s better yet!  But how can you get the voice of the customer to inform the appraisal process?  What about the voices of other colleagues?  Develop a culture and systems that ensure that you have considered all the relevant information when you are appraising performance.

5  Observe staff at work

You can’t just manage people by monitoring performance data. At least, you can’t manage them well.  You might be able to prevent them slipping beneath minimum acceptable standards, but you certainly won’t be able to help them do their best work. Take the time to watch staff at work. Especially watch their interactions with colleagues and customers.  Observe the details, the mannerisms, the language patterns.  Understand how they do what they do, and help them to reflect and improve – mostly by giving them timely feedback on performance, but also by coaching them where appropriate.

6  Help staff develop self-improvement plans

You should not only expect people to ‘do their job‘ but to get better at doing their job too.  Self development is primarily their job, not yours.  Of course you stand by ready roll up your sleeves and help – but primarily the expectation is that they will be the architects of their own success.

7  Recognise and reward high performance

More often than not when I see where managers spend their time, effort and attention, it on the underwhelmers.  The staff that come in late, leave early and do as little as they can get away with while they are at work.  Now, of course underperformance has to be managed.  And managed effectively, robustly and quickly.  However you should be rewarding and attending to those that performing well.  Thanking them praising them, developing and encouraging them in whatever way you can.  Time spend recognising and rewarding high performance is likely to reward you with more high performance.  Leave it unrecognised and it is likely to whither over time….

8  Provide help, training, and guidance

This isn’t about the annual performance development plan.  This about building a culture of ‘just in time’ help, training and guidance. It is about providing role models and ensuring that everyone is looking to learn from their experience. It is about giving people the skill of self managed learning and an expectation they use them to improve performance

9  Build a working relationship

This should really be number 1 on the list, because without a working relationship you can’t manage people.  Take time to understand people and their motivations and aspirations.  Be curious about them. Don’t judge them too quickly and work out your role in helping them to do the very best work that they are capable of.  Build a 2 way relationship; where they respond to your management and leadership and you respond to their wants and needs too.  Recognise where relationships aren’t working and commit to either making them work or ending them.  Don’t let non working relationships drag on.

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Rules for Being Amazing

Risk more than is required.

Learn more than is normal.

Be strong.

Show courage.

Breathe.

Excel.

Love.

Lead.

Speak your truth.

Live your values.

Laugh.

Cry.

Innovate.

Simplify.

Adore mastery.

Release mediocrity.

Aim for genius.

Stay humble.

Be kinder than expected.

Deliver more than is needed.

Exude passion.

Shatter your limits.

Transcend your fears.

Inspire others about your bigness.

Dream big but start small.

Act now.

Don’t stop.

Change the world.

Robin Sharma